Sunday, February 26, 2012

One of my pet peeves and one great cookbook

In my mind cookbooks are just plain useless without great photos.  When I’m making something for the first time I want to know how it is going to look.  I know it is cliché, but truly a photo of a dish is worth a thousand words.   OK, maybe I exaggerate a bit, but why scrimp and produce a book that gets ignored because it offers nothing visually.   And no, illustrations don’t count. I want pictures.  Many, many pictures, not a meager selection inserted into the center of the book.  This is essential in a great cookbook. Phew, got that off my chest.

Lentils with Broiled Eggplant
So here is a cookbook that more than meets this criteria:  Gorgeous, gorgeous photos, innovative recipes that are easy to read and follow, and short anecdotes that are interesting and informative.  

The collection is based on the author’s weekly food column for the Guardian newspaper.  Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi was first published in Britain and won a Galaxy National Book Award in 2010.  The vegetarian recipes have a strong Mediterranean and Mid-Eastern influence that reflect the author's Jerusalem heritage. 
Figs With Basil, Goat Cheese & Pomegranate Vinaigrette

Roasted Parsnips & Sweet Potatoes With Caper Vinaigrette

Avocado, Quinoa & Fava Bean Salad
Wild Mushroom Parcel
I have already tried 4 of the recipes and have many other dishes I’m looking forward to making soon.  I don't often buy cookbooks since I work in a library and have access to so many, but I'm getting a copy of Plenty! Here are two great recipes that will go into the regular rotation at our house. 

Green Pancakes
Popeye approved!
The recipe includes a lime butter for the pancakes, 
but I topped ours with sour cream and a wedge of lime.

½ pound (about 8 cups) spinach, washed
¾ cup flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 egg
1 egg white
4 tablespoons butter melted
2/3 cup milk
6 green onions finely sliced
2 fresh green chiles, thinly sliced (I omitted)
olive oil for frying

Wilt the spinach in a pan with a splash of water.  Drain in a sieve and, when cool, squeeze hard with your hands to remove as much moisture as possible.  Roughly chop and put aside.

Put the flour, baking powder, whole egg, melted butter, salt, cumin, and milk in a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add the green onions, chiles and spinach and mix with a fork. 

Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold it into the batter.

Pour a small amount of olive oil into a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat.  For each pancake, ladle 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan and press down gently.  You should get smallish pancakes, about 3 inches in diameter.  Cook for about 2 minutes on each side or until you get a good golden-green color.  

Transfer to paper towels and keep warm.  Continue making pancakes, adding oil as needed, until the batter is used up.

Eggplant with Buttermilk Sauce
This is a very easy dish!
(The directions call for the eggplant to be cooked at 200 degrees 
but I believe this is an error and should be about 350-400 degrees)

2 large and long eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
1 ½ teaspoon lemon thyme leaves
(It may be hard to find lemon thyme, but it adds a fantastic scent and taste to this dish)
salt & black pepper
½ cup pomegranate seeds
1 teaspoon  za’atar (I omitted this Middle Eastern herb mixture)

9 tablespoons buttermilk
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 ½ tablespoon olive oil, plus a drizzle to finish
1 small garlic clove, crushed
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Cut the eggplants in half lengthways.  Use a sharp knife to make 3 or 4 parallel incisions in the cut side of each eggplant, without cutting through to the skin.  Repeat at a 45-degree angle to get a diamond-shaped pattern.
Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up on a baking sheet lined with  baking parchment.  Brush them with olive oil – keep on brushing until all of the oil has been absorbed by the flesh.  Sprinkle with the lemon thyme leaves and some salt and pepper.  Roast for 35-40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft, flavorful and nicely browned.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool down

While the eggplants are in the oven,  seed the pomegranate and make the sauce.  Whisk together all of the ingredients.  Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.

To serve, spoon plenty of buttermilk sauce over the eggplant halves.  Sprinkle za’atar and the pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with lemon thyme.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
I'm being brave here since I know my photo isn't nearly as wonderful as the one on cover of the book.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

I Heart Hearts

There is something so charming and sweet about hearts.  I like them in any form, -- well except for the graphic realism of an actual human heart.  I am talking about the heart- shaped symbol.  With the big day around the corner, I thought I would share some ideas for being creative with your Valentines.

Let's start by putting aside the ubiquitous standard candy hearts that one can find anywhere.  Now let's consider that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and a heart shaped breakfast would make it a fabulous way to start the day.
 Have fun experimenting with pancake rings.

Or how about a bowl of sugar cubes to go with tea or coffee?
Find the recipe in this great new book- Gifts from the Kitchen by Annie Rigg

Maybe you're trying to stay away from sweets and want to share something heartier.  Try making ravioli and using a small heart shaped cookie cutter.  Recipes and instructions can be found in Lidia's Family Table by Lidia Bastianich or Biba's Taste of Italy by Biba Caggiano. Or look for ready made, I found these at Costco.  Skip the heavy sauces in order to really see the shape of the ravioli.

Another special book to either give or use for ideas is Monday Hearts for Madalene by Page Hodel.  Each Monday Hodel would leave one of these beautiful and creative hearts crafted from diverse and unique materials on Madalene Rodriguez's doorstep.
Definitely check out this book since these small pictures don't show the 
amazing details from each of the hearts.

For the paper addicted crafters- get yourself a small heart-shaped punch and find an old magazine, catalog, or scrapbooking paper and glue or stitch small hearts in rows on a gift tag.

Or just rely on mother nature, your eyes and a camera.
Now go and be creative!