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Hagarita -  the love of cooking and sharing food

Passover in NYC

It's been more than a month that I had 18 of my dearest friends and family gather in my Brooklyn apartment, for an evening of food, wine and lots of laughing.Passover has always been a very significant holiday to me, and one that I highly favor. It was also my grandmother's holiday so this year's celebration was, to me, in her memory.

We started by reading the Haggadah, but didn't read the whole thing, there was just too much going on and 20 minutes were plenty..

With the help of my good friends, Ben and Greg we worked out quite a feast: to start we had the traditional matzo ball soup, followed by a grouper and flounder ceviche, served on a base of eggplant cream:

Then we served an insane amount of food, fingerling potatoes in duck fat, crispy brussel sprouts, white rice with an accent of wild black rice and nuts, roasted root vegetables, herb roasted chicken and the star of the evening, Ben's braised leg of lamb served with parsley and horseradish puree.

The best part was the dessert, my sister made, in the spirit of our beloved grandmother, many kinds of fruit and vegetable shaped marzipan, and set up an incredible display, that was as beautiful as it tasted.

And Matt, with the help of Kayla, iced a hand full of hand shaped passover cookies for our enjoyment.

As you can see, I was highly excited for dessert...

This was a very happy passover, Thanks to this lovely NY family I got.

Say Cheese

Its Shavuot, the holiday that commemorates God giving the Torah to the Israelites, and we celebrate it by wearing all white and eating dairy. That might seem odd, but somewhere, someone, had an argument good enough to make others agree, and therefore I wear white (actually I wore purple) and eat cheese. And I can't complain, as I LOVE dairy in most of its edible forms. Earlier this week I visited Liat and was handed a bag full of passion-fruit, different from most fruit, the best passion-fruit are the dark and wrinkly looking ones. I love Passion fruit, and it's Shavuot, what else was I to do? Short side story, while visiting Hawaii last year I was introduced to the local version of Passion-fruit, Jamaican Lilikoi, a yellow-orange colored fruit, that looks very much like the familiar passion-fruit, but is much sweeter. During that trip I became slightly obsessed with the idea of topping a cheese cake with this wonderful, delicious, tropical fruit, but that never happened. With the combination of the fruit in my bag and the arriving holiday the outcome was inevitable.

Passion-Cheese cake it is.

The recipe is easy as can be, but it is made with an Israeli soft cheese that doesn't have an American equivalent... You can buy it in Israeli/Jewish supermarkets if you really wanna give it a go or use kwark or fromage blanc instead.

For the dough base: 1/2 cup (100g) sugar 2 cups (280g) AP flour 3 egg yolks 200g cold butter, diced

mix all ingredients together until a uniform dough is formed, placed in a buttered baking dish and shape to make an even base.

Bake on medium heat (180°c, 350°f) for 30 minutes. once the dough is baked scrape it with a fork to make crumbs, cool down and place in an air-tight box.

For the cheese cake, mix 500 ml heavy cream and 1/3 cup (70g) sugar whip to form a thick cream, then mix in 500g white cheese (Israeli soft, white cheese, should be drained in a cheese cloth over a bowl, in the fridge, for at least two hours prior to mixing in the cake), and some lemon zest.

once the base is completely cool, pour the cheese mixture over the dough and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.

Before serving let stand in room temp for 15 minutes, then, either sprinkle with the crumbs or top with passion fruit, or berries.

A two years old cake, goes up in flames.

On Christmas day I was invited to the Pacheco's to take part in their traditional Christmas feast. Soon as I walked in I was handed a glass of bourbon and egg-nog ,I was expecting a delicious meal and so I wasn't surprised to see turkey and ham, brussel sprouts, mashed potato, home baked bread and some stuffing on the table, but nothing would have got me prepared for dessert. A brown, mountain shaped cake was placed in the middle of the table, so far nothing extraordinary,and then our host started pouring whiskey right on top of the cake, now we are talking A LOT of whiskey, so at this point my attention was only on this cake.

As expected, after the liqueur came the match

Now let me tell you a little about this cake; it is at least 2 years old (no joke) and was made by the sister of our host, this cake is made of different fruit, plump up with whiskey and/or rum, steamed and then left to age for a few years, it was sitting in her fridge for at least 2 years and according to her "these will last forever". Oh wow, all I know at this point is that my taste buds are ready!

The cake was delicious! It was moist and fruity with a strong yet not over-powering flavor of the whiskey and was served with a light home-made cream.  I don't have the recipe since it was made in Ireland by a relative of a family I only pretend to be related, but it is might mean I have to join them on their next trip over.

mouth watering layers of meat sauce, ricotta and pasta, or as some call it : Lasagna

When it comes to pasta I must admit, I am pretty spoiled. Ever since I got a pasta maker as a birthday gift a few years back I had a really hard time going back to the pre-packaged dry version. Now don't think that every time I want pasta I pull it out and start rolling, but I definitely prefer buying fresh pasta if I'm too lazy to make my own.Lasagna is one of those wonder dishes that allows you to, pretty much, put whatever you want in it, and know that it will come out delicious. Today's Lasagna was constructed from a spicy lamb meat sauce, ricotta bechamel, kale and some Parmesan-Gruyere to top it off.

I use fresh pasta sheets, ground lamb meat, kale and half and half, you can change those basic ingredients and still follow the recipe.

In a sauce pan cook 1 1/2 cups of half and half with 1/2 an onion, 1 bay leaf and 2 cloves, simmer for 15-20 minutes, don't let it boil! While the cream is cooking dice 1 big onion, and 2 chopped cloves of garlic, in a cast iron or your favorite "meat sauce making" pan, sauté the onion and garlic in some oil (I like a combination of high heat oil, like sunflower oil, and some bacon fat) for 2-3 minutes, add 1 T salt, 1/2 T fresh pepper, 2 T paprika, sweet or spicy or both, 2 T dry oregano and a bay leaf or two. Cook for 1-2 minutes then add the meat and break into small chunks with a wooden spoon, cook for a few more minutes. Add 1/3 Cup red wine and cook for 8-10 minutes until the alcohol is cooked off.

Add 1 cup of diced tomatoes, either fresh, blanched and peeled or out of a can, 2 T of tomato paste and a pinch of sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Wash the kale and saute it in a wok for a few minutes until soft.

Remove cream from heat, discard the onion, cloves and bay leaf. In a second sauce pan on low heat melt 1 T butter add 1 T flour and whisk together until well blend, slowly add the cream, whisking constantly until all incorporate, remove from heat. Add 1 cup of ricotta, salt, pepper and a few shaving of fresh nutmeg.

Assemble the lasagna (yum): Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Pick a deep, large baking dish, first layer should be meat sauce, not too much, just a thin layer at the bottom, follow by a layer of pasta, then kale, ricotta sauce, another layer of pasta, some meat sauce, etc. The order is completely optional, just make sure to start with a layer of sauce before the pasta, or else you might have a dry bottom. I never boil my pasta before layering it, not the fresh nor the dry. Top the whole thing with some grated cheese, Parmesan and Guryere are my choices. Stick it in the pre-heated over covered with baking paper and topped with foil for 20-25 minutes if using fresh pasta, 10-15 minutes longer if using dry pasta, then remove the foil and baking paper and cook for 10 more minutes or until the cheese is nicely crisped and golden in color.

Let cool for at least 10-15 minutes, its hard, I know, but you can do it. I find that taking it out of the oven before sitting down and then starting with some soup or salad is usually enough time, but it is most delicious the next day (like I can wait...)

Enjoy with some fresh arugula and red onion salad.

Roasted Chestnuts Cookies

Another pound of Chestnuts miraculously found its way into my kitchen, it seems like that is all I want to eat this days, chestnuts and soups. There is something so comforting about roasting chestnuts in the winter, and the fact that they are so cheap right only makes it easier for me to buy them.I saw this recipe last week, when browsing through the smitten kitchen, and been dreaming of these cookies since.

I always favored food that requires some sort of getting your hands dirty, some peeling action, breaking and cracking, and chestnuts are exactly that. In the last few weeks, while slowly realizing I'm obsessed with chestnuts, I noticed how easy it is to over roast them, at least two batches were dried out because I left them in the oven too long (thankfully they are only $3 a lb these days), but 20-25 minutes, on 450°F is all it takes, you can also shake them once or twice while roasting, to get an even spread of the heat. A shallow X cut on top helps you to later crack and peel the skin off as it will start rolling back during the roast.

Start with a pound of chestnuts and cut an X on top of each one, with a sharp knife or a bread knife, try not to cut too deep into the "meat" but deep enough that the skin will peel back while roasting. Start with a pound, even though you will need less for the recipe, sometimes the chestnuts end up having rotten middles. After roasting, let them cool and then peel them, chop coarsely and measure one cup, place in a food processor and pulse until very fine, add 2 sticks of soft butter and pulse to combine, add 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon salt, a few fresh shavings of nutmeg and 2 cups all-purpose flour. pulse until even dough is formed. If you don't have a food processor chop the chestnuts as fine as you can, whip the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl, add vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, chestnuts and flour and beat to form dough.

Divide the dough and wrap each half in plastic, cool in the fridge for about an hour. Preheat the oven to 350°F . Working with each half of the chilled dough at a time start rolling out balls, about two teaspoons in size and place on a baking sheet, they won't spread so you don't have to leave more than 1/2 inch between the cookies. Bake for about 14 minutes, until just lightly golden in color on top. The cookies will very easily go from buttery and creamy to dry, so be careful not to overbake them. I always like testing out 2 or 3 first, every oven is different and many times I find that I need to adjust the baking time or temperature from the original recipe.

Let the baked cookies cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet and then roll them in 1 cup of powdered sugar mixed with a few pinches of cinnamon, and allow to cool completely. Be aware! These cookies are a buttery creamy goodness and they are addictive (I had 5 while writing this, 3 more when taking pictures and 2 just because).

Molasses spice cookies

Taking a baking sheet full of hot cookies out of the oven beats opening a package of cookies, every time!If you didn't notice it until now, I love simple recipes, it doesn't appeal to me to bake a cake that calls for 8 hours in the oven or that is so complicated you must follow a long list of specific directions. I like simple and delicious food, now that being said, I don't mind working hard for good food, I just believe that a difficult recipe does not necessarily produce a good meal. With those intentions I decided to bake some molasses cookies today, and as soon as the word cookies left me mouth and reached the ears of Tacuma, he started jumping up and down. That's it, there is no going back now...

* The recipe below is modified from a few different recipes I found online, Martha's recipe and Brenda hall's were the most influential.

Ingredients.

  • 3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted
  • 1 cup unrefined sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup  sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, 1 cup sugar, and egg until smooth. Stir in the molasses. In a bowl combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger; blend into the molasses mixture. Cover, and chill dough for 1 hour.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Roll dough into walnut sized balls, and roll them in the remaining white sugar. Place cookies 2 inches apart onto ungreased baking sheets.
  3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until tops are cracked. Cool on wire racks.

Apple pie.

Apple pie is a quick and easy desert that I always love making, and I love it even more now that I have a kitchenaid and I can make a crust in 5 minutes.That was pretty much the first thing I did this morning and it came out perfect. I just love easy, delicious food.

Crust: Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cup All purpose flour
  • 10 tablespoon cold butter, cut into cubes
  • 3 tablespoon vegetable shortening
  • 3 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup cold whole milk

in a mixer bowl mix all dry ingredients together until combine, add butter and shortening and mix on low-speed until butter pieces are pea size. add milk slowly and mix until dough is formed. Do not over mix! Divide the dough to two pieces, wrap in plastic and let rest in fridge for 15 min.

Filling: Ingredients:

  • 7 medium granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cut chopped pecan
  • 3-4 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 oz whiskey

Directions:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees (175 Celsius)
  2. in a sauce pan melt butter, add apples, sugar and cinnamon, mix together and cook until apples are soft  (about 10 minutes)
  3. remove from heat and into a bowl, add vanilla, whiskey and pecans and mix together
  4. take dough out of the fridge and roll out of a floured surface till dough is about 1/4 inch thick - .5 cm
  5. butter a 9" pie pan and place dough in the pan, pour the apples into the crusted pan
  6. you can cover the pie with the second ball of dough by rolling it out and placing over the apples or cut stripes of dough and create a lattice
  7. brush the edges and top of the crust with milk or cream and sprinkle with sugar
  8. bake for about an hour-75 minutes until apples are soft and the crust is golden
  9. allow the pie to cool before serving

Best enjoyed warm with some good vanilla ice-cream...

Birthday celebrations!

December 7th was my birthday, I am now 28 years young!My lovely lover Tacuma, arranged a wonderful surprise party in our house and cooked up a delicious sit down dinner to 17 of my good friends and family. In my celebratory excitement I didn't take any pictures, I will tell you, however, that he made some unbelievable lamb chops, two whole roasted chickens, green cauliflower casserole, mac and cheese, and with some help from our friends we also had a green salad, bok-choy, some cucumber-lemon-lime sake and mulled wine, and for dessert a strawberry shortcake and biscotti. What a feast!!!

Thank you friends for coming and celebrating the day I came to be and thank you Tacuma for being in my life. I love you all !

Chicken with Chestnuts and Couscous

When food that I love is in season I buy it all the time and I try to cook all sorts of dished with it. Chestnuts, as I mentioned before, are high up on my "favorites" list, they are great in savory dishes, desserts and also just roasted with nothing but salt. Their rich and creamy texture is delightful and when I have some around I can't stop eating them. For the last few weeks I have been buying them in abundance with the intention of roasting, peeling and freezing them so I can have some even when the season is over. I say "with the intention" because the truth of the matter is that I have been cooking them more then I have been saving them, and there is nothing wrong with that, especially if the result is dishes like this one. This recipe comes from a book by the Israeli chef: Israel Aharoni.

Ingredients: serves 6

  • 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 6 chicken legs, separated to thigh and drumstick
  • 1 onion, diced roughly
  • 2 cloves of garlic, sliced
  • fresh ginger about 1 inch long, chopped
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • salt and fresh black pepper
  • 500 gr Chestnuts - in the recipe he uses jarred chestnuts, I used them fresh, roasted for 30 minutes and peeled.

Directions:

  1. In a wok, heat up the oil, Sautée the chicken and brown it nicely on all sides. Remove from wok and put aside
  2. add the onion, garlic and ginger to the oil and Sautée for 5 minutes
  3. place chicken back in the wok and add soy sauce, wine, sugar, salt and pepper, bring to a boil and reduce to simmer
  4. cover and simmer for 30 minutes
  5. add chestnuts, stir and cook for another 20-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the chestnuts are soft

Easy and delicious.

You can serve this with rice or quinoa, I used couscous, hand rolled by my grandmother, Miriam, who I believe is one of the only people that still hand roll their couscous. It is a long, long process but you will never hear her complain, and I won't complain either, it is the best couscous one can eat, and I am thankful to still have 1/2 a pound in my freezer.

Bon appetit!

Baked Asparagus and Potato cakes

Last Night we had Aoife and Greg over for dinner, on the menu: some bread, cheese and olives, baked asparagus, chicken in red wine and chestnuts and potato cakes (latkes).Baked asparagus is one of the easiest side dishes to make, and it is always delicious. Aside from the fact you have  to peel the skin of the asparagus, a task that can get a bit tedious at times, it is a quick and easy winner.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch Asparagus
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 pint heavy cream or half and half
  • 2 tablespoons Paprika
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese, or a mix of both
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon or chili flakes
  • salt and pepper to taste

Direction:

  1. preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. gently peel off the skin of the Asparagus with a vegetable peeler, making sure you are not taking off to much of the flush
  3. in a bowl mix together cream, garlic, paprika, half of the cheese, chili, salt, pepper and half of the bread crumbs
  4. place Asparagus in a shallow baking dish and pour mixture over it, mix with your hands to insure the mixture is coating the asparagus in all layers
  5. mix the remaining cheese and bread crumbs together and sprinkle on top
  6. cover with baking paper and foil and bake for about 30 minutes
  7. take off foil and bake uncovered 10 more minutes or until the cheese is nice and golden

In the spirit of Channukah we also made some potato cakes, these little fried devils are so tasty its is basically impossible to stop eating them. They are pretty simple to make, the one thing you must pay attention to is squeezing as much of the liquid out as you can, that will assure you will get a nicely crisped potato cake. As far as a recipe goes for these ones, I usually sort of eye-ball everything when I make them, mostly because  you have to adjust the amount of the eggs and flour according to how wet the potatoes are, but here is a basic recipe to give you an idea of what to do.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups peeled and shredded potatoes, stored in cold water until ready to use. I use either white, russet or Yukon gold, you can use any kind of potatoes you like
  • 1 medium onion, shredded
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • black pepper
  • I had some Parmesan and Gruyere , mix left over from the baked asparagus so I added it in as well
  • vegetable oil for frying

Directions:

  1. drain potatoes and squeeze as much of the water as you can
  2. in a bowl, mix all ingredients together
  3. heat oil, about 1/2 inch in depth, in a cast iron or your preferred frying pan
  4. take a spoonful of the mixture in your hand and squeeze it to get as much of the liquid out, then place it in the hot oil and flatten it a little with a spoon or your fingertips
  5. flip the cake over once it start browning
  6. take out of the oil and place on a cloth or paper towels to soak access oil
  7. serve warm with creme fraiche or sour cream

Happy Chanukkah

As a kid Hanukkah was my favorite holiday (not because you get tons of gifts, this Americanized tradition is an adaption of Jews, who I believe wanted  to keep up with the Christmas gifting mania) but because it usually comes around my birthday and you also get to eat as many donuts as you desire.The story of Hanukkah is about a group of people who got tired of being suppressed under the government of Antiochus IV and stood up to reclaim and rededicate the temple, that was desecrated by the Greeks. There was a little oil left in the temple, enough to keep the menorah lit for only one night, miraculously though, it burned for eight days, the exact time it takes to press a fresh supply of oil. sigh. Don't you just love it when that happens? In commemoration of this miracle we light 8 candles and eat goods that are deep-fried in oil, here's to you another reason why Hanukkah is so great. Big puffy donuts filled with jam and covered with powdered sugar, and potato cakes (latkes or as Israelis call them: levivot). Yum, yum and yum! I didn't eat either of those today, but the holiday has just began and I have 7 more days to deep fry and eat anything that can remind me of the brave and glorious Maccabbes.

Not too long ago I was working with a group of guys in the kitchen of one NYC restaurant, and they loved playing the: "what should we fry for dinner" game. Anything from poached eggs to a whole shepherd's pie got dipped in those fryers and luckily I was always able to make myself a sandwich and could just watch their experiments and get entertained. For the next seven days I promise to try and find some goodies for you to deep-fry, at the top of this never ending list there is definitely some butter, personally I have no desire to try any deep-fried butter soon, but if you do, here is a recipe for fried butter balls by the queen of southern cooking, Paula Dean. Honestly, I bet these are banging!

Ingredients

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • Peanut oil, for frying

Directions

Cream the butter, cream cheese, salt and pepper together with an electric mixer until smooth. Using a very small ice cream scoop, or melon baller, form 1-inch balls of butter mixture and arrange them on a parchment or waxed paper lined sheet pan. Freezer, form until solid. Coat the frozen balls in flour, egg, and then bread crumbs and freeze again until solid.

When ready to fry, preheat oil in a deep-fryer to 350 degrees F.

Fry balls for 10 to 15 seconds until just light golden. Drain on paper towels before serving.

Butternut squash Pie

In the spirit of Thanksgiving and so I will have an excuse to use my new KItchenaid I made my first squash pie yesterday. Squash and pumpkin pies are not as popular in Israel as they are here, in face the first time I had one was probably two or three years ago. Needless to say I fell in love immediately and now that I know how easy it is to make I finally have an excuse to buy all sort of funky looking pumpkins and squashes.

yum.

Below is the recipe, modified from a pumpkin pie recipe, found on Allrecipes.com

Ingredients (makes 2 pies)

  • 2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 3 cups mashed, roasted butternut squash
  • 1 (12 fluid ounce) can evaporated milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. Prepare pie crust by mixing together the flour and salt. Cut shortening into flour, add 1 tablespoon water to mixture at a time. Mix dough and repeat until dough is moist enough to hold together.
  3. With lightly floured hands shape dough into a ball. On a lightly floured board roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness. With a sharp knife, cut dough 1 1/2 inch larger than the upside down 8 to 9 inch pie pan. Gently roll the dough around the rolling pin and transfer it right side up on to the pie pan. Unroll, ease dough into the bottom of the pie pan.
  4. In a large bowl with mixer speed on medium, beat squash with evaporated milk, eggs, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. Mix well. Pour into a prepared crust. Bake 40 minutes or until when a knife is inserted 1 inch from the edge comes out clean.