Something Sweet for Tu Bishvat – Chewy Fruit Bars

We’ve got the soup, we’ve got the chicken, now we need something sweet for Tu Bishvat.

I searched for a recipe that wasn’t the obvious “fruit cake” that’s popular on Christmas. Personally, I’m not a fan of traditional fruit cakes as they’re just too heavy for my liking and have too much alcohol in them for kids to be able to enjoy them. And in my house, if my kids can’t enjoy the dessert then I don’t really see the point of making it.

My first attempt at a non-traditional fruit cake was a dismal failure. I found a recipe on an obscure website that had the potential to be good. When it came out of the oven, it looked fine, but it had the consistency of a rock and by the next day, it’s weight and texture could have placed it in a category with any weapon capable of inflicting serious blunt force trauma. So note to self: Beware of recipes from obscure websites!

I was not going to let that unpleasant experience deter me. I continued the search and stumbled on an interesting recipe in Stephanie Alexander’s wonderful recipe book “The Cook’s Companion”. The recipe has few ingredients, but her instructions were scarily precise and I was very nervous that the slightest change in temperature inside my kitchen or a even someone turning the overhead lights on by mistake, might have instantly turned these fruit bars into toxic waste. But I must have done something right because they came out beautifully, and between you and me, I think this recipe is more resilient than Stephanie let on.

Chewy Fruit Bars

I have stuck to her weight measurements because if it works, it works and I’m not messing with it. I will omit all the warnings and alerts because I don’t see the need to alarm you! Life’s too short to get stressed out over a recipe.

I love the dominance of the brown sugar in this recipe as it makes the bars chewy and rich, and the flavor combines perfectly with the dried fruit. I used as many different dried fruits as I could, trying to get an assortment of colors and flavors to make these bars look good as well as taste good. Just make sure you cut them into smallish pieces so you don’t land up having to hack your way through large hunks of baked dried fruit when you’re cutting the bars up.

CHEWY FRUIT BARS

Ingredients

125 g (5 oz) butter

1 cup brown sugar

1 lightly beaten egg

225 g (9 oz) assorted dried fruit cut into small pieces (I used apricots – naturally dried, cherries, prunes, dates, figs, apples, strawberries and yell0w raisins)

150 g (6 oz) self raising flour

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

2. In a medium sized saucepan, melt the butter and add the brown sugar. Stir until melted together. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

3. Stir in the egg, making sure to beat the mixture quickly so the egg does cook, and then stir in the fruit and finally the flour.

4. Line a 28 cm x 18 cm (11×7 inch) or the equivalent size, with baking paper and spray with non-stick spray. Pour the batter in and spread it evenly into the corners. Bake for 20 minutes or until the bars have developed a caramel colored crust.

5. Remove and allow to cool and cut into squares.

Makes 20-24 bars.

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A Tu Bishvat Main Course – Chicken with Dried Fruit

With Ti Bishvat around the corner, I went looking for inspiration for a main course with relevant ingredients that touch on the seven species. All over Israel, you can find these wonderful little spice shops that have changed very little in the past 60 years, selling fresh spices and dry goods by weight, and the town I live in is no exception. I love walking into “The Shkeydiyah”, where my senses are overwhelmed with the strong aroma of a vast mixture of freshly ground spices, the large hessian sacks filled with all the legumes and pulses you could wish for, and the stand that’s filled to the brim with the most wonderful assortment of dried fruit.

Over the past years, the assortment of dried fruit in Israel has grown significantly. We finally get a lot of the naturally dried fruit that isn’t overly sweet and provides the enticing combination sweet and tangy. This is a great flavor for chicken. I love chicken with a tangy sweet sauce. So when I saw this wonderful array of dried fruit, I knew that they had to find their way into a chicken dish. To ensure that wonderful balance of sweet and sour, make sure you get the naturally dried apricots – in Israel, they’re the ones that don’t look bright orange and shiny, but rather are darker in color and actually look dry – and if you can, also get some dried cherries. Combining them with dried figs, dates and prunes makes for a wonderfully sweet and tangy sauce for your Tu Bishvat chicken. As the sauce cooks, it gets stickier, darker and richer, and makes a wonderful gravy.

Chicken with Dried Fruit served with Mashed Potatoes

CHICKEN WITH DRIED FRUIT

Ingredients

1 chicken cut into pieces

1 cup (or more) cut up dried fruit (naturally dried apricots, cherries, prunes, figs, dates and any other fruits you like)

1 onion chopped

100 g (4 oz) tomato paste

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley

3 cloves of garlic crushed

1 cup chicken stock

How to do it

1. Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and add the chicken pieces. Marinade for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)

3. Spray a roasting pan with non-stick spray and pour the chicken and sauce into the pan. Cover with foil and bake for half an hour.

4. Remove the foil and turn the heat down to 190°C (375°F) and bake for another 20 minutes. Check the breasts with a fork to – if they are done (not pink in the middle and the meat starts flaking), remove them and set aside. Turn the remaining pieces over and continue baking for another half an hour, turning once again in the middle, or until the meat is browned and cooked through.

Serves 4-6

Tu Bishvat is Coming: Let’s Start with Soup

As someone who loves to cook, Tu Bishvat, coming up on February 8 this year, is more than just “The New Year of the Trees”. I love the directive to eat the fruits of the Land of Israel, particularly those that are singled out in the Torah. The beautiful verses of Deuteronomy 8:7-9 say “For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land with brooks of water, fountains and depths, that emerge in valleys and mountains, a land of wheat and barley, vines and figs and pomegranates, a land of oil producing olives and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, you will lack nothing in it…” are so poetic and inspire me.

This week I’ll be sharing recipes I’ve come up with that include some of the seven species of the Land of Israel that we should eat at on this day, the species that have always exemplified the fertility of the Land of Israel: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. As time has moved on, Israel has become a global center of agricultural excellence and since the days of our forefathers, we’ve emerged as a leading innovator and developer of some wonderful new species of fruits and vegetables. This week’s recipes celebrate Israel’s rich and wonderful growing tradition that began in the days of the Torah.

Barley, Mushroom, Bean and Leek Soup

Barley is one of the seven species. With Tu Bishvat falling in the cold days of mid-winter, a steaming pot of hearty barely soup is the perfect start to a Tu Bishvat meal. As with many soups, you can really have fun with this recipe and add any additional vegetables you like.

BARLEY, MUSHROOM, BEAN AND LEEK SOUP

Ingredients

1½ cup pearl barley

1½ cup navy beans (small white beans or any small beans you like)

3 cloves garlic crushed

1 bay leaf

1 leek chopped

3 medium carrots diced

3 stalks of celery diced

10-15 mushrooms chopped

2 large ripe tomatoes peeled and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

2 liters (2 quarts) parev chicken soup stock

Salt and pepper to taste

How to do it

1. Rinse the beans and barley and in a large pot, soak the beans and barley overnight  in water (make sure you have at least 3 times the amount of water than the beans and barley. Remove any beans that have floated to the top.).

2. Drain the water and add more cold water – about 3 times the amount of water than the beans and barley. Add the garlic and bay leaf and bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 1 hour or until both the beans and the barley are soft. (Most of the water will cook away and you’ll be left with a very porridgey mixture – don’t worry.)

2. Add the leeks, carrots, mushrooms, parsley and stock, bring to the boil and simmer for about 15 minutes. Then add the tomato, parsley and salt and pepper to taste and simmer for another 15 minutes.

This will make a nice big pot of soup that will easily feed 10. If the soup is too heavy, you can dilute it with some additional chicken stock.

Serve with thick slices of whole wheat bread to add to the Tu Bishvat experience.

Very Israeli Stuffed Vegetables

Stuffed vegetables are prevalent in many Middle Eastern and  European countries, each with their own twist and their own flavor profiles. The Greek “gemista” stuffed veggies will use pine nuts, cinnamon and mint; Italian “verdure ripieni” include Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; “filfil rumi mahsi”, Egyptian stuffed peppers, use allspice, currants and tumeric;  Balakan stuffed peppers (names vary by country, but are called  “punjena paprika” in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro) are characterized by their use of paprika; and Ashkenazi stuffed cabbage, naturally, has a sweet sauce.

My favorite are Israeli stuffed vegetables. I think that the version we make in my house (my husband is the stuffed vegetables master) is a combination of the best of all the recipes, with all the exciting and palate tickling flavors that define Israeli cuisine. The addition of hot paprika, cumin, chili and coriander give this recipe its distinctive Israeli character.

Israeli Stuffed Peppers

Admittedly, making stuffed vegetables is a bit of a project, but the results are mouthwatering. The combination of meat, vegetables and rice all in one dish also means that once you’ve made this, you don’t need a whole lot more to round out a full meal, so it may take some time, but it really is a meal in a pot.

The Israeli version doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the vegetables. Any vegetable that can be scooped out or can wrap around the filling can be used in this dish. Wegenerally  use peppers, zucchini and onions, but you can also use tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, or any other vegetable that can be stuffed. This recipe can also be made as vegetarian by simple omitting the meat. It’s just as delicious without it and is a great vegetarian main course.

ISRAELI STUFFED VEGETABLES

Ingredients

Vegetables to stuff: About 6 red peppers; 4 thick zucchinis halved; 1 large onion. (Quantities will vary depending on the size of the veggies)

Vegetables to stuff

½ kg (1lb) minced beef

1 cup raw long grained rice (Basmati is best)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions finely chopped

4-6 cloves of garlic crushed

100 g (4 oz) tomato paste

1 grated carrot

½ small chili chopped

¼ teaspoon turmeric

½ teaspoon cumin

½ teaspoon sweet paprika

¼ hot paprika

Salt and pepper

4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

½ cup chicken stock

For tomato broth

1 800g (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes

200 g (8 oz) tomato paste

About 4 cups of chicken stock (or as much as required to cover the vegetables once they’re in the pot)

¼ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon sweet paprika

2 cloves of garlic crushed

Remove the tops of the peppers, seeds and white bits

1 teaspoon sugar

Salt and pepper

How to do it

1. Prepare the vegetables: For the peppers, slice around the top of the pepper, near the stem and remove the “lid”, setting aside. Remove the seeds and pulp. For the zucchini, from the cut side, using a very small teaspoon or an apple corer, remove the seeds making sure you don’t pierce the bottom. For the onion, place the peeled onion in a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes. Then make a cut from the top to the bottom of the onion and carefully remove as many of the large outer layers of the onion as you can and set aside.

Remove seeds from the zucchini

2. In a large wok or skillet, heat up the olive oil. Saute the chopped onion until soft. Add the garlic and saute for less than a minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mince and cook until there is no longer any pink meat. (For vegetarian, omit the meat) Add the 100g tomato paste and mix. Add the rest of the herbs and spices and saute for another few minutes until it’s all releasing lots of wonderful aromas. Add the stock and mix.

3. Remove from the heat and add the rice, mixing well till combined. Add some of this mixture to each vegetable – fill to no higher than 1 cm from the top of the vegetable and fill it loosely as the rice will expand when cooking. For the onion, place one or two sheets of onion on a clean surface and put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle and loosely wrap the onion around the filling so that there is a double layer of onion around the filling. You can do the same for cabbage leaves that you have also boiled in water for a few minutes.

Loosely add filling no higher than 1 cm from the top

4. Place the peppers bottom side down in a large, wide pot, and place the “lids” of the peppers back on top (this is just for show). Add the rest of the vegetables in the spaces, making sure the openings are facing upward.

5. Mix together the ingredients for the tomato broth and pour over the vegetables, making sure the liquid covers all the vegetables. This is essential to ensure that all the rice cooks.

6. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the rice begins to overflow from the peppers and the vegetables are all cooked.

Serves about 6-8.

A Welcome Twist to a Chocolate Cake

It’s Tuesday and I haven’t posted a dessert recipe yet. I have to remedy that situation.

So here’s a really simple way to upgrade a very simple chocolate cake and turn it into a cream cheese topped cake that will have everyone oohing and aahing. And while you may need to use two bowls for this, you don’t need a mixer and it’s super simple.

I adapted this recipe from my friend Julie’s wonderful Black Bottomed Cupcake recipe, that I’ve been making for years. Like many of my adaptations, this one originates from laziness. When I got tired of filling cupcake liners with two layers of batter each, I decided to see if the same recipe would work as a whole cake. It did, and this is the result. Of course, you can make this as cupcakes if you’d like.

BLACK BOTTOMED CHEESE CAKE

Ingredients 

Black Bottomed Cheese Cake

Cheese Topping

240g (8oz) cream cheese

1 egg

1/3 cup sugar

Pinch of salt

180 g (6 oz) chocolate chip (semi-sweet or white)

Cake

1 cup sugar

1½ cups all purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup oil

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup cold water

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. In a small bowl, whisk the egg and sugar until well combined. Add the cream cheese and salt and mix till smooth. Mix in the chocolate chips and set aside.

3. Mix all the dry cake ingredients in a large bowl. Pour all the liquid ingredients on top of the dry mixture, and mix till combined.

4. Line a 26cm (10 inch) spring form pan with baking paper and grease with non-stick spray. Pour the chocolate cake mixture into the pan. Then spoon the cream cheese mixture on top of the cake, spreading it evening across the top of the batter.

5. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cheese part starts browning and a toothpick inserted into the cake part comes out clean.

Brynn’s East Meets East Noodle Salad

This past Shabbat, I ate the most delicious Asian-style noodle salad I’ve eaten in a long time. My sister-in-law Brynn had added her own twist to an Asian recipe by adding, of all things, tehina, to the sauce. It’s a combination that really works and gives the salad a wonderful depth. I suppose if you don’t want to use the tehina or can’t be bothered to make it, then you can use about 4 tablespoons of peanut butter instead. But I highly recommend this version, which I have dubbed East Meets East Noodle Salad, as it brings together ingredients from the Far and Middle East into one dish.

I am so glad that Brynn agreed to share this recipe with all of us! It will certainly become a regular on my table and I’m sure it will on yours too. It works beautifully as a first course as well as a side dish. And the tehina raises the nutrition bar on this dish. It’s also easy to remember as you’ll see by the quantities.

Thanks Brynn!

EAST MEETS EAST NOODLE SALAD 

Ingredients 

East Meets East Noodle Salad

500 g (1 lb) spaghetti (I recommend #3 but use what you prefer)

Dressing

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

6 tablespoons soy sauce

6 tablespoons white, apple, or rice vinegar

6 tablespoons white sugar

2 tablespoons sesame oil

A splash of chili oil

Tehina

1 cup of raw tehina (sesame paste)

About ¾ cup water

2 large crushed garlic cloves

salt and pepper to taste

About 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Spring onion or toasted sesame seeds to garnish.

How to do it

1. Cook the spaghetti according to the instructions, till al dente

2. Mix all the dressing ingredients together in a jar

3. Prepare the tehina (do not add parsley)

4. Mix the dressing, tehina and spaghetti together.

5. Garnish with chopped spring onions, or roasted sesame seeds or both!

Serve cold or room temperature.

Chinese Custard Tarts: Who Knew?

We don’t usually associate creamy desserts with Chinese food. But in Bill Granger’s wonderful book “Bill Granger’s Everyday Asian” there’s a rich desserts section that I plan to work my way through. The first recipe I tried was for Chinese custard tarts. According to the book, they are inspired by Portuguese tarts (Portuguese traders arrived in China in 1514 and set up a colony in Macau that remained under their control until 1999), hence the uncharacteristic dairy dessert in an Asian recipe book.

Chinese Custard Tarts

But for me, the attraction was the similarity between these tarts and the South African classic “melktert” , meaning milk tart, which is extremely popular down there. The fact that this recipe uses store bought puff pastry makes the process quite easy. The most time consuming part is lining the holes of the muffin tin with the pastry, but once you get going, it’s really not a problem.

I loved making these as they came out perfectly and were creamy and delicious. And even though they use puff pastry, they taste good leftover the next day (if you manage to save any).

CHINESE CUSTARD TARTS (AKA MINI MELKTERTS)

Ingredients

5 egg yolks

80g (3 oz) cater sugar (you can finally get caster sugar in Israel now – look for “Sucar Dakdak”, White Extra Fine Sugar  by Sugat)

Sugat White Extra Fine Sugar

125 ml (4 fl. oz) sweet cream

125 ml (4 fl. oz) milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

500 g (1 lb) puff pastry (half a package defrosted)

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and grease a 12 large hole muffin tin (holes the size of a #5 cupcake liner)

2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, cream, milk and vanilla will well combined.

Pastry rolled and sliced

3. Cut the sheet of pastry in half and put one half of top of the other and set aside to rest for 5 minutes.

4. Roll up the pastry from the short side and slice the pastry roll into 12 rounds of under 1 cm each. On a floured surface, with a rolling pin, roll out each pastry disk to a 10cm (4 inch) diameter and get it as thin as you can but leaving the pastry easy to handle without breaking (they don’t have to be perfectly round).

Trim the excess pastry

5. Carefully place each piece of pastry into the muffin holes ensuring they fit snugly in and leave no spaces. Trim the overhanging pastry with a sharp knife in line with the top of each hole.

6. Spoon the custard mixture into each pastry case until the liquid is just under 1 cm from the top (use all the mixture).

7. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the custard is golden on top.

Golden and gorgeous

8. Remove from oven and allow the tarts to cool before removing them from the tin. For some added (melktert) flavor, sprinkle a little freshly ground nutmeg on top of each tart.

Real (Wo)men Bake Quiche

My quiche recipe has evolved over the years. I can’t even attribute it to any one source any more because it’s now a combination of various aspects of various recipes and some of my own ideas. Admittedly, there is work involved, but even though this is a meatless dish, it’s hearty and can easily be served as a main course of a light meal, naturally accompanied by a large, fresh green salad.

This particular recipe for an antipasti quiche came about after I bought an antipasti quiche a few years ago and in spite of its attractive appearance, it tasted dreadful. So I sprung into action and created my own. The advantages of this recipe is that it doesn’t require cream, so it’s not very heavy and it freezes really well, so you can make it in advance and reheat it before serving.

While the filling for this version is antipasti, I also make the same quiche using other fillings – peppers, onions or both. You can have fun and experiment with any fillings you like. Also, you can play with the vegetables you use in the antipasti – exclude veggies you don’t like, add what you do like. Just make sure they’re all cooked before you bake the quiche.

ANTIPASTI QUICHE

Ingredients

Filling*

2 tablespoons olive oil

Antipasti vegetables

2 red peppers cut into quarters (I slice the cheeks off the core of the pepper to avoid using the white bits)

1 medium-sized sweet potato peeled and sliced into 2 cm (½ inch slices)

1 very small eggplant or 3-4 mini-eggplants peeled and sliced into 2 cm (½ inch slices)

1 red onion peeled and cut into 8 segments (cut the onion in half then with the round side down, slice from the middle outwards at an angle so you get 4 crescents from each half)

3 small zucchinis halved

3-4 large mushrooms washed and stemmed (leave whole to roast)

1 whole head of garlic (remove the loose papery skins on the outside by hand but leave the inner layers on)

Salt

Crust

1½ cups flour

¾ cup butter cut into pieces

¼ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons cold water

½ cup grated cheddar or any other hard cheese (for after the crust has baked)

Custard

4 eggs

1½ cups milk

3 tablespoons flour

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon dried basil

¼ teaspoon dried oregano

How to do it

Antipasti

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

Roasted antipasti

2. On an oven tray lined with baking paper, sprinkle the olive oil and place all the cut vegetables in an even layer, turning them through the olive oil so their tops are lightly oiled. Make sure the peppers are skin side down. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

3. Place in the upper part of the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Then, using tongs, turn over all the vegetables except for the onions. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the pepper skins start blackening.

4. Remove from the oven and place the peppers in a small plastic bag and seal. Leave the peppers for about 15 minutes while the rest of the veggies cool. Then remove the pepper skins – they should slide off easily.

5. Slice the roasted mushrooms, zucchini, peppers and eggplant (if using mini-eggplant, you don’t have to cut them further). Separate the layers of the onion, removing any dry outside layers. Squeeze out the roasted garlic from each clove (it comes out like toothpaste). Set all aside.

Pre-baked Crust

1. Sift together the flour and the salt.

Combine butter into the flour to get coarse crumbs

2. Using a pastry blender (worth buying if you regularly make crusts) or two knives, cut the butter into the flour until you have a mixture that looks like coarse crumbs.  Add enough of the water to make the dough stick together, using your hands to create a ball.

3. Generally, it’s recommended to wrap in plastic and chill the dough for 30 minutes. I usually don’t and rather immediately press the dough into a pie pan using my hands. I first pat the dough out to form a circle then I work the dough over the bottom of a 9 inch ungreased pie pan, trying to keep the dough even, and working it as far up the sides as possible. When using a pie pan, you can them crimp the dough, using a knife handle or your finger to make a fluted pattern. Or you can just use a sharp knife and cut the top to even it out. Prick the surface of the dough with a fork.

Trim uneven edges with a sharp knife

4. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. This is a great tip to prevent the dough from shrinking down too much when you pre-bake it.

5. Pre-heat your oven to 200°C (400°F). Line the dough with baking paper that come up the sides and place either baking weights or dry beans on the paper. This prevents the dough from rising as it bakes. Bake for 15 minutes. Then remove the paper and weights and bake for another 5 minutes. As soon as it come out of the oven, sprinkle the cheese evenly over the bottom of the crust and allow to melt.

Custard and assembly

1. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

2. Beat together well all the custard ingredients.

3. Arrange the antipasti vegetables in the pre-baked crust evenly. I keep the sweet potato and the red peppers for the top as they have the most color.

Pour custard into the dish when it's already in the oven to prevent spilling

4. Place on your oven rack and carefully pour the custard mixture into the dish, making sure you only fill to the top of the crust, no further, so it doesn’t overflow into the dish (if it does, it’s not the end of the world). You may not have to use all the custard mixture, depending on how many vegetables are in the crust.

5. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the filing is solid.

You can freeze this and reheat covered with foil for about 20 minutes in a medium oven.

Antipasti Quiche

*Alternative fillings (For these fillings, omit the basil and oregano from the custard mixture and instead add ¼ teaspoon mustard powder or ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard)

  • Onion filling: Peel and slice 3 large onions and saute in olive oil until they are golden brown. Add 3 cloves of crushed garlic and saute for another 1 minute while stirring the garlic around. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Leek and Onion filling: Use one large leek with the outer layer removed, wash and slice into think slices, and saute with one large onion in olive oil until all soft. Add 3 cloves of crushed garlic and saute for another 1 minute while stirring the garlic around. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Pepper filling: Slice 3-4 peppers (any combination of red, yellow and orange) and saute in olive oil until they are soft. Add 3 cloves of crushed garlic and saute for another 1 minute while stirring the garlic around. Add salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Mushroom filling: Saute one medium-sized onion in olive oil until soft. Add 250g (¼ lb) fresh, washed and sliced mushrooms and saute until soft. Add salt, pepper and a sprinkle of dried thyme.
  • You can also use any salty cheese or goats cheese  – about ½ cup in any of these fillings will give it extra flavor.

Cooking or Science: Chicken in Salt

Years ago a friend of mine told me about this insane way to make roast chicken only using coarse salt. She was shocked that I had never heard of it before. Many of you may already know this method, but for those of you who don’t, this is really a must-have recipe/method to add to your cooking arsenal. I really believe that anyone who cooks in any way should know how to cook chicken like this because it’s the chicken you’ll make when you have absolutely no time to cook.

I decided to post this following a conversation I had last Shabbat at shul with one of the women in my community. She told me that she reads all my recipes, with the emphasis on “reads”. “I won’t make anything that takes more than one bowl to prepare,” she answered when I asked her why she doesn’t take the next step and cook the recipes. So this chicken is for her – if she doesn’t make this one, then I admit defeat!

This is less of a recipe and more of a method as there’s nothing to it. Clearly, science is at work here, as the evaporating salt interacts with the chicken and does its magic. With absolutely no ingredients besides the chicken and the salt, you end up with a succulent, golden brown, very tasty roast chicken. An added bonus is that the salt draws the fat of the chicken out, so the chicken isn’t sitting in oily goo at the end of the cooking process.

I serve this with roast potatoes (recipe below) but you can serve it with anything you want.

ROAST CHICKEN IN SALT

Ingredients

1 whole chicken (about 1.5 kg / 3 lbs)

About 500 g (1 lb) coarse salt (“melach mitbach ragil” in Hebrew)

Line the roasting pan with coarse salt

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. In a roasting pan lined with baking paper or a disposable roasting dish, line all the sides with about 2-3 cm (1 inch) of coarse salt. Leave enough room for the chicken to be placed in the center without touching the salt.

3. Place the chicken breast side down in the middle of the pan and cook for 1 – 1¼ hours. You can test to see if the chicken is cooked by pricking the thigh with a fork. If clear juice runs out then the chicken is cooked. It should also be a golden brown color.

Place the chicken in the middle of the salt

Roast chicken - done and golden brown

ROAST POTATOES

1. Peel and rinse about 2-3 potatoes per person (when I make this, no matter how many I make, there are never leftovers.)

2. Cut the potatoes into either bite sized pieces or cut in quarters for larger roast potatoes.

3. For quartered potatoes, par boil the potatoes first (Israeli potatoes are very hard and require par boiling. If your potatoes are softer, you may not need this step). Place potatoes in a large pot of cold water. bring to the boil and allow to cook for about 5 minutes – make sure the potatoes don’t cook, they just need to get to a stage where a fork can start piercing them. Drain till dry.

4. For par boiled potatoes and bite sized pieces (which you need to pat dry with paper towels): Line a large roasting pan with baking paper. Pour a good layer of oil into the pan (make sure that the whole surface of the pan is covered). Add the potatoes and toss them in the oil until all sides of all the potatoes are coated in oil – if necessary, add more oil. Sprinkle a little salt and finely ground pepper and toss around.

5. Place the pan in a pre-heated 180°C (350°F) oven and bake for about 40 minutes. Then stir the potatoes around and bake for another 20 minutes. Stir again, and keep going until all sides of the potatoes are rich golden brown. Be careful not to tear the baking paper when you are stirring the potatoes or to break the potatoes – I recommend using a rubber spoon or lifter and only stirring once in a while.

Salt roasted chicken served with roast potatoes

Home Made Hot Chocolate on a Very Rainy Afternoon

Doesn’t that just sound perfect?

Baseball practice was not only rained out this afternoon, it was hailed out. So my son and I arrived home soaked to the bone and very cold. In my house, there’s only one antidote for this condition: home made hot chocolate.

Home made hot chocolate with marshmallows

Of course you can boil some water and add some powder and mix, but making your own takes hot chocolate to a whole new level. The extra five minutes of work are well worth the very happy faces of the kids who get to experience hot chocolate as it really should be – thick, chocolatey and ultra-yummy.

HOME MADE HOT CHOCOLATE

Ingredients

100 g (4 oz) semi-sweet or dark chocolate chopped up

Melt chocolate and sugar in the milk

¼ cup sugar

5 cups of milk

10 marshmallows or many mini-marshmallows (optional but very yummy)

How to do it

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, add the chocolate, sugar and ¾ cup of milk. While stirring, bring to the boil.

2. Add the rest of the milk and heat until hot but not boiling.

3. Ladle into mugs and add 2 marshmallows to each mug.

Makes about 5 cups of hot chocolate. Prepare yourself to make seconds!