It’s Strawberry (Cupcake) Season

It’s strawberry season! Over the years, in Israel this season has grown longer and longer as our farmers figure out how to grow these berries for longer periods. The result is that we see them in our stores for months on end, and eventually we even get a little blase about their presence at the green grocer’s. So besides getting out the jam pot and cooking up a batch of strawberry jam (which I never do because I don’t like strawberry jam), here’s another use for your leftover strawberries, or even better, a reason to go out and buy some more.

This a recipe for strawberry cupcakes that I found on The Idea Room, a website with some really creative craft projects, recipes and more; and its origin, as far as I can tell, is Recipe Girl.  I make it with fresh strawberries as frozen are hard to come by in Israeli supermarkets, and with our extra-long season, who needs them! While this recipe does take a little more work than I usually prefer, the end result is worth the extra “patchke” (Yiddish for “fuss”, but a much nicer sounding word than its English counterpart, I think).

While the recipe calls for red food coloring, which does make for a really pink cake, I leave it out because it tastes just as delicious and if you add a pretty frosting, it will look gorgeous anyway. Speaking of frosting, I’ve made these with cream cheese frosting that I have spread on with the back of a teaspoon, so it’s a relatively thin layer. I’ve also made them with piped frosting, which means more frosting on top, so double the frosting amount so you’ll have enough.

STRAWBERRY CUPCAKES 

Strawberry Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients 

2¼ cups flour

1½ cups sugar

2¾ teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

¾ cup butter, at room temperature

¾ cup pureed frozen strawberries – about 8. Cut them up before you freeze them so they’re easier to puree when they’re frozen.

4 large egg whites

1/3 cup milk

Several drops of red/pink food coloring or gel paste (optional)

How to do it

1. Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F)

2.  Whisk the egg whites until stiff.

3. In a mixer bowl, blend butter, sugar and strawberry puree. Add flour, baking powder and salt alternately with the milk until blended (batter is very thick).

Cupcake batter with coloring

4. Add whites gradually to the batter mixture, mixing until just incorporated but there’s no white showing. Note: Stop beating occasionally to scrape the bottom of the bowl so all the batter is properly incorporated.

5. Place cupcake liners (#5) into muffin tins and fill them to about ¾ full.

6. Bake 18 to 22 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Ready for baking

6. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting. I use my cream cheese frosting. For frosting you will spread, you will need one recipe. For piped, increase the butter quantity to ½ a cup, and increase the amount of powdered sugar until you get a relatively stiff frosting that barely drops off a spoon.

Cupcakes with frosting and fresh strawberry garnish

You can add food coloring to the cupcakes – for my daughter’s birthday, I did as she wanted them to be totally pink! I topped these cupcakes with pieces of fresh strawberries, but only add them just before serving as the strawberries start to bleed quite quickly and will make the capcakes look messy if they’re sitting for too long.

Makes about 20-24 cupcakes

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While we’re on the topic of salads…

While I’m on the topic of salads, here’s one that is less of a “salad recipe” and more of a salad idea. Winter or summer, this is a fun way to serve corn.

All it involved is cooking about 5 ears of corn (or more). Once they are cooked and cooled down, slice the ears into 1 centimeter-wide (half an inch) rounds that look like little wheels, and cover them with your favorite vinaigrette dressing. I love serving this at BBQs but it works for any meal that takes place inside as well. So while little is required in the way of a recipe, here’s one anyway.

CORN WHEEL SALAD

Ingredients 

Corn Wheel Salad

5 ears of corn

For dressing:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons grainy Dijon mustard

¼ teaspoon granulated garlic powder

Salt and ground black pepper

How to do it

1. Cook the corn in boiling water for about 10 minutes (or until cooked when a fork tine easily pierces the skin of a kernel)

2. Let the corn cool and then slice the ears of corn into 1 centimeter-wide (half an inch) rounds

3. Whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour over the corn wheels.

Serves about 6.  Eat with your hands!

A Salad that’s a Keeper

I’m always on the lookout for new salads that are more exciting that the usual lettuce cucumber combo, but without too much work involved. I mean, let’s face it, by the time you’ve finished cooking your entire meal, you don’t have too much energy left for making salad. So I was delighted when an Asian slaw I recently tried out from Bill Granger’s beautiful “Bill’s Everyday Asian” recipe book (which has great recipes in it) ticked all the salad boxes for me. It didn’t take very long to make and it was so delicious that when I wanted a second helping, I was too late!

I didn’t have any fresh mint or red cabbage in the house when I made this, so I left them out out and increased the white cabbage quantity  Next time I will definitely add the mint, but I can honestly say that without it and the red cabbage, it was still wonderful. In fact, it was really the dressing that was the star here, with all the best in Asian ingredients turning this one into a keeper in my house.

ASIAN SLAW

Ingredients 

Asian Slaw

1 small red onion halved and very thinly sliced

500 g (1 lb) white cabbage thinly sliced

200 g (7 oz) red cabbage thinly sliced

2 peppers (yellow or red) thinly sliced

A handful of shredded fresh mint leaves

Dressing Ingredients

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons lemon juice

100 ml (3.4 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

2 crushed garlic cloves

4 tablespoons smooth peanut butter

How to do it

1. Place all the sliced vegetables in a large salad bowl.

2. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together well. Note: This makes a lot of dressing and I didn’t put it all on the salad, but I am very glad I have some left over to use again!

3. Toss the salad and allow to sit for about half an hour before serving.

A Stay-at-Home Staple: Sweet and Sour Chicken

Now that the craziness of last week’s Hanukkah blogging is subsiding, it’s time to get back into a routine and resume serving you up some regular food again.

Latkes are great, but enough is enough! Eventually you have to feed your family some protein. So here’s a recipe for sweet and sour chicken that I often make when it’s just my family for dinner, as the kids enjoy it and so do their parents. I’ve been making this for years, and it’s just one of those recipes that’s evolved and generally tastes a little different every time because I don’t use a recipe.

When I’m lazy I serve it with rice, but you can also make it with noodles.  It’s a little extra work, but I think it’s worth the effort. The vegetables I use are based on the fussiness of my family members. You can use any vegetables you would normally add to a stir fry, such as mushrooms, broccoli, bean sprouts, cabbage, etc. Just make sure you add the vegetables at the right time so they don’t get soggy (bean sprouts and cabbage last – I’ve added these to this recipe because I think they really work well in this dish even though I never get to eat them in my house!).

Sweet and Sour Chicken

I have also included the method for “velveting” chicken. It’s a great way to pre-cook your chicken for any stir fry so it doesn’t dry out in the wok.

SWEET AND SOUR CHICKEN

Ingredients 

About 800 g (1.5 lb) chicken breasts or chicken schnitzels

Ingredients for velveting:

1 lightly whisked egg white

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon rice wine or sherry

1 tablespoon corn flour

2 tablespoons oil

1 liter boiling water

********************

2 tablespoons oil

1 large onion

1 large red pepper

2 carrots

4 cloves of garlic crushed

1 chunk of fresh ginger (about 1 inch square) finely chopped – you can use ginger powder if you don’t have fresh, but fresh is recommended

1 cup frozen thin green beans

1 cup frozen corn

1 cup bean sprouts

1 cup shredded white cabbage

1 large can pineapple pieces (with juice)

1 tablespoon chicken soup powder

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

A few drops of sesame oil

1 tablespoon corn flour

2 tablespoons chopped coriander

300 g egg noodles (optional)

How to do it

1. Velvet the chicken: Cut the chicken up into strips and marinade them in the lightly whisked egg white mixed with the salt, rice wine or sherry, 1 tablespoon corn flour and 1 tablespoon oil for half an hour in the fridge. In a large wok, bring 1 liter of water to the boil with 1 tablespoon of oil. Throw all the chicken in at once and stir. As soon as all the chicken turns white (about 1 minute), remove from heat, pour through a colander to drain and set aside. This will keep your chicken moist.

2. Cut the onion and pepper into bite sized chunks, slice the carrots finely or julienne them. Heat the oil in the wok and when it’s very hot, add the onions, carrot and peppers, and stir fry for a few minutes (until the carrots start to get tender).

3. Add the green beans, garlic and ginger, and stir fry for another few minutes until the beans are tender (add any other vegetables you choose except cabbage)

Sauce added to the wok

4. In a large measuring cup, add the soy sauce, vinegar, all the juice from the can of pineapple, brown sugar, soup powder, tomato paste and sesame oil. Mix together till blended. Add the corn flour and mix well until there are no lumps of corn flour. Add boiling water until you have about 2½ cups of liquid. Mix and add to the wok and stir. The sauce will start thickening.

5. Add the corn, chicken and some of the pineapple pieces (less than a cup). Allow the mixture to simmer for about 10 minutes. Add cabbage and sprouts right at the end and let wilt in the mixture. Add the chopped coriander.

6. (Optional) Make the noodles according to the directions on the package, making sure not to over cook them. When they are drained, add them to the wok and mix through well.

If you don’t add the noodles, serve with rice. Makes about 6 servings.

More Hanukkah Fun in the Kitchen with Cookies

I promised that I’d be posting recipes this week that you can make with your kids during the Hanukkah vacation, and nothing much beats baking cookies. Whether it’s making the batter or shaping the dough on the tray, there’s always lots for young hands to do.

Here’s a recipe I’ve been making for years. I’ve always made these cookies with chocolate chips. Recently I made them with dried cranberries and white chocolate chips and they were terrific. And while cookie recipes generally insist on butter, and I DO like making them with butter, these work perfectly well with margarine so can also be parev.

I always freeze them after I’ve baked them so that they get a little chewy. So even if I am serving them the same day, I pop them in the freezer for a couple of hours after they’ve cooled down to get that chewiness in them.

Without further ado…

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES 

Chocolate Chip Cookie with Dried Cranberries

Ingredients

1 cup soft butter/margarine

1 cup white sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

1½ cups flour

1½ cups oatmeal ground up (I use the quick cook Quaker oatmeal so I don’t grind them as they’re quite soft)

½ salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

150 g (5 oz) chocolate chips/white chocolate chips

1½ cups walnuts chopped (I chop them finely in a food processor. You can also take half a cup and chop them coarsely by hand if you want to feel the nuts in the cookie)

1 cup dried cranberries (optional, use with white chocolate chips) You can also use raisins.

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. In a mixer, mix the butter, sugars and vanilla until smooth and creamy

3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition

4. Add the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and baking soda and mix till combined (the mixture should be quite stiff)

5. Fold in chocolate chips, nuts (and cranberries)

6. Place about 1 tablespoon of dough per cookie 3 cm (1 inch) apart on a baking tray line with baking paper (do not grease)

Ready for baking

7. Bake for about 12 minutes or until cookies start to get light brown in color (remember that when you take the trays out of the oven and let the cookies cool, they continue to bake on the hot tray). Note: Because most ovens don’t cook completely evenly, I suggest checking the cookies halfway through the baking process and if you see that they are coloring unevenly (e.g., darker in the back) then turn the trays around.

8. Cool for a few minutes on the tray and with a spatula, remove the cookies and allow to cool completely on a drying rack.

9. When the cookies are completely cool, store in airtight containers and place in the freezer. (I always do this if I want a slightly chewy cookie, even if it’s just for an hour. When you leave them out without freezing, they will get crunchy, so if you want them to be crunchy and not chewy, don’t freeze.)

Green note: When I put a second batch in, I flip the baking paper over and use the other side. It works perfectly and is another small way to be less wasteful.

White chocolate chip cranberry cookies

Home Made Pizza – Make it with Your Kids

Pizza day is always a fun day in my house. My kids all get involved, and it turns into a project (and we’re not “project” people). For us, pizza making has always been my husband’s territory, and he’s perfected his recipe over many years. So while it’s much easier to pick up a phone and order, making this by hand is very satisfying  and taste-wise leaves the version that arrives on the back of a bike in the dust. So here’s a recipe that will keep you and the kids occupied (and fed) for a while this Hanukkah.

Even though this requires leaving the dough to rise a couple of times, overall, it’s not too time consuming, and it bakes in minutes. Add whatever toppings strike your fancy – my favorite is to top it with thinly sliced antipasti vegetables (peppers, zucchini, onion, garlic) that I’ve lightly pan fried in olive oil – wow! Of course you can add the usual favorites – olives, corn, Bulgarian cheese, mushrooms, etc.

We don’t have a “proper” pizza pan, and bake them instead on regular oblong baking trays – amazingly, the pizza tastes just as good when it isn’t round.

Thanks, Peter, for your great recipe and for your hard work over the years in perfecting it.

HOME MADE PIZZA 

Home Made Pizza

Ingredients

Pizza Dough 

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon active dry yeast (Shimrit)

¾ cup very warm water

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pizza Sauce

200 g (7 oz) tomato paste

Water

Garlic (fresh or powder) to taste

Salt and black pepper

Dried basil and oregano

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

Cheeses 

About 250 g of grated Kashkaval and Mozzarella cheese (or any combination you’d prefer – Mozzarella recommended for the stretch factor)

and…cornmeal

How to do it

1. In your mixer’s mixing bowl, add the flour, salt, 2 teaspoons of sugar and yeast.

2. Add the warm water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and start mixing on low speed with your dough hook until the dough forms a ball (you can also do this by hand if you wish, but it’s far easier with the mixer). If it’s very sticky, you can add a little more flour until it’s a manageable ball of dough (not too much)

Pizza ready to go into the oven

3. Remove from the bowl, knead the dough for no more than a minute and place in a bowl you’ve lightly greased with olive oil. Turn it over so both sides of the dough are oiled. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until the dough doubles in size (about 1-1¼hours)

4. Pre-heat your oven to 200°C (400°F)

5. Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down and roll it out onto baking trays covered with baking paper onto which you spread olive oil and some cornmeal (if you don’t have, then you can just use flour instead, but the cornmeal gives it an authentic feel). Cover and let rise for about 15 minutes.

6. Mix together all the ingredients for the tomato sauce – add water just to get a spreading consistency. Spread over the pizza.

7. Sprinkle the cheeses generously over the pizza and any other toppings you’d like.

8. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the top starts getting bubbly and brown (you know what to look for!)

This recipe makes about 2 medium sized thinly rolled pizzas. We always double it!

Note: You can use this recipe to make focaccia bread. Omit the sauce and cheese and add instead some olive oil, slices of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary. It’s a great starter to any meal.

Throw Away Your Frying Pan: Oven Baked Potato Latkes are Here

Prepare to save yourselves hours of toil and sweat this Hanukkah by simply baking your potato latkes in the oven. In response to my post earlier this week with a recipe for Oven Baked Cauliflower, Zucchini and Leek Latkes, I received some requests for a traditional potato latke version. So quite simply, here’s how you do it. It’s pretty much the same recipe as the pan fried latkes but now, it’s just oven baked. Using this oven baking method, you can really have fun and add whatever else you want to the latkes. I’m keeping my version simple for the sake of the children!

Serve this with home made apple sauce (prep instructions to follow) and sour cream, and you’ll taste the difference only in that these are far less oily and don’t leave you feeling like you need a good dose of Pepto Bismol afterwards.

OVEN BAKED POTATO LATKES

Ingredients (for about 10 latkes)

Oven Baked Potato Latkes Served with Sour Cream and Home Made Apple Sauce

3 medium sized potatoes (to make about 3 cups of grated potato)

1 small onion

2 eggs

2 tablespoons of flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons oil

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. Grate the potatoes (not finely) and the onion.

3. Rinse the potatoes in water to get rid of the starch and place them in a colander to drain – leave them to drain for about half and hour (at least). (Don’t worry if the potatoes start getting brown, it won’t make a difference once they’re baked.) Squeeze out as much liquid as you can with your hands.

3. In a mixing bowl combine the potato, onion, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt.

4. Place a piece of baking paper on a large baking tray and spread the oil on the paper evenly. Drop about one tablespoon of the mixture on the paper and flatten it a bit with the spoon or a spatula and tuck in any loose strands of potato so they don’t burn. Squeeze any excess egg mixture out of the batter before you drop it on the tray.

Baking in the oven – this is when you make yourself a cup of coffee instead of standing over the stove

5. Bake for 15 minutes. Then turn over each latke and bake for another 15 minutes or until both sides are browned (you don’t have to add more oil – there will be oil left on the paper).

6. Place the latkes on a double layer of paper towel to dab off any excess oil.

Serve with sour cream and home made apple sauce.

HOME MADE APPLE SAUCE

I’ve seen so many recipes for apple sauce, and most include added sweetener. Home made apple sauce really doesn’t need the added sugar – apples contain enough of their own natural sugar, which is brought out in the cooking process. So it really couldn’t be easier than this. I’ve been making this since my eldest son was a baby: He loved it then and today it perfectly complements potato latkes.

Use large green or yellow apples.

1. Peel and cut your apples into chunks (about 12 chunks per apple) and put them into a microwave safe bowl

Home Made Apple Sauce

2. Add 4 tablespoons of water per apple

3. Cook on 90% for 5 minutes (or until the apples are completely soft)

4. Puree the apples either by hand with a potato masher or in a small blender

And that’s it!!

Easy to make gooey brownies

Brownies with Marshmallows

As promised, I am going to be posting a few recipes this week that you can make with your kids (or have them make themselves if they’re old enough) for the Hanukkah vacation.

Here’s a brownies recipe that my 13-year-old son has been making for a few years now (since he was old enough to know how to deal with a stove). I’ve been making these for years, and because they are so quick and easy, they’re great to make for those last minute guests or just when you feel like something sweet and there’s nothing in the house…

The original recipe is from The Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, but for an extra twist of gooey-ness, I’ve added marshmallows. You can leave them out, and add walnuts instead for a more “mature” brownie. Either way, they are easy to make and very delicious.

You can easily use margarine instead of butter to make delicious parev brownies.

BROWNIES WITH MARSHMALLOWS

Ingredients

½ cup butter/margarine

100 g (3.5 oz) parev dark chocolate broken up into pieces

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

¾ cup flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup mini marshmallows or chopped marshmallows

½ cup chopped walnuts or pecans

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. In a medium-sized saucepan, melt the chocolate with the butter/margarine over low heat, stirring until melted. Remove from the heat.

3. Add the sugar to the chocolate mixture and stir till combined. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until combined. Add the vanilla, flour baking soda and salt and mix.

4. Add the nuts (optional) and half the marshmallows.

5. Line a medium sized baking pan (20 cm/8 inches square) with baking paper and grease well with non-stick spray.

6. Pour in the batter and then sprinkle the rest of the marshmallows on top of the brownie batter.

7. Bake for 30 minutes.

8. Leave to cool and then cut into bars.

The Jewish Hostess’ Beautiful Hanukkah Table

A beautiful Hanukkah table by The Jewish Hostess

Another confession: I am not very creative when it comes to table settings. For me, a pretty table is one where the napkins match the plates and are carefully rolled and stuck in the glasses. That’s usually because I’m busy finishing the final touches to my food and don’t leave much time for table arrangement. But happily, The Jewish Hostess is on hand with some wonderful tips and ideas for a gorgeous Hanukkah table.  (While we may not have as many of the resources on hand in Israel as you’ll read about here, this is great inspiration.)

Check out her post on arranging a gorgeous Hanukkah table.

Finally…low carb, low fat latkes just in time for Hanukkah

Hanukkah is coming up fast, and I must confess that of all the chaggim, it’s my least favorite when it comes to food. Too much oil, too much frying (which I hate), too many wasted calories. So when my friend Jessica Apple, who is the Editor in Chief of “A Sweet Life“, a comprehensive website for the diabetic community, asked me to come up with a low carb latke recipe she could publish for Hanukkah, I was excited to take up the challenge. In addition to nixing white flour, potatoes and of course sugar, I also elected to eliminate the pan frying stage, as there’s nothing I dislike doing more in the kitchen than frying food (except for washing dishes).

Using cauliflower as the creamy base instead of potatoes significantly reduces the calories. But the addition of leeks, zucchini, fresh dill and parsley means these latkes aren’t low on flavor. When my daughter  tasted them, knowing they were made with cauliflower, which she doesn’t usually like, she said: “Make these for Hanukkah this year!” For me, that’s the real taste test.

These oven baked latkes are my personal Hanukkah miracle as the baking means minimal use of oil, and whatever oil you spread on the baking paper that isn’t directly underneath the latke batter does NOT get absorbed. In addition, you can bake about 24 latkes at once on two baking trays, without having to hover over a hot pan of oil for ages. It’s win-win-win!

So Happy Hanukkah to all, and may the coming year be filled with miracles and light.

OVEN BAKED CAULIFLOWER, ZUCCHINI AND LEEK LATKES

Ingredients 

Oven Baked Cauliflower, Zucchini and Leek Latkes

½ head of a small cauliflower (about two cups)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small leek

1 small zucchini

2 eggs

2 tablespoons whole wheat (or white) self-raising flour

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1-2 tablespoons Canola oil

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C  (350°F)

2. Wash the cauliflower, cut into small florets and steam until the cauliflower has just softened (about 10 minutes). When the cauliflower is ready, place the pieces on a cutting board and chop (I smack it with the back of a chef’s knife – as you would garlic – and then do a rough chop). You don’t want any large chunks but it doesn’t have to be pureed.

3. Cut the white part of the leek lengthways and then cut each half lengthways again so you have the four quarters of the leek, and finely chop the leek (each slice should be about 2-3 mm). Saute in a pan in which you’ve heated the olive oil.

4. Grate the zucchini on a coarse grater and add to the leek, stirring until both the leek and the zucchini have softened (about 5 minutes), and set aside to cool.

5. In a bowl, beat the eggs and add the herbs and seasoning. Add the vegetables (make sure they have cooled slightly so they don’t cook the eggs) and mix.

6. Add the flour and mix together.

7. Place a piece of baking paper on a baking tray and spread the Canola oil on the paper evenly. Drop about one tablespoon of the mixture on the paper and flatten it a bit with the spoon or a spatula.

8. Bake for 15 minutes. Then turn over each latke and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until both sides are browned (you don’t have to add more oil – there will be oil left on the paper).

9. Place the latkes on a double layer of paper towel to dab off any excess oil.

Serve with sour cream or lemon wedges.

This recipes makes about 12 latkes.