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Oct 29, 2014

Pack it In

Cooking en papillote—steaming small portions of food in a wrapper―is a classic technique. Some cultures use grape leaves, banana leaves, cornhusks, or other natural materials to wrap delicate foods before cooking. They add vegetables, herbs and spices for seasoning.

Steaming requires little or no added fat; steam builds up in the packet to cook food quickly yet gently. The nicely wrapped package allows you to add juices, spices, or herbs.
Steaming en papillote (pah-pee-YOHT) requires no special equipment, other than a roll of parchment paper And, of course, cleanup is easy―just toss the parchment when you're done.

Perhaps the best part about cooking en papillote is that it's a solution for busy weeknight dinners. There's something inherently festive about opening a packet at the table to free a cloud of fragrant steam.

 A few important things to keep in mind: Never substitute wax paper for parchment when steaming. Wax paper tears easily, and more importantly, it will burn and eventually leak liquids. Parchment paper can safely be used in an oven at temperatures up to 450°.  The parchment will be puffy and slightly browned when the dish is nearly done.
Cooking en papillote works best with tender foods that cook quickly like chicken breasts and salmon.  Also vegetables with high moisture content like onions, zucchini, or bell pepper.
Think about the size of the foods cooking together in a parchment packet; consider the amount of time it will take for the main ingredient to cook, and cut the accompanying items into sizes that will cook in the same amount of time. If you're preparing a fish fillet with potatoes, for instance, you'll need to slice the potatoes thinly so everything will be done at once. Otherwise, you'll end up with undercooked potatoes or overcooked fish.
Add flavor with fresh or dried herbs, salt, pepper, and other spices, and liquids like wine, broth or juice. Adding a drizzle of olive or canola oil goes a long way towards adding taste as well.

Follow these simple steps to making parchment packages:
·        Cut a 15- x 24-inch piece of parchment.
·        Fold parchment in half crosswise, making a crease down the center.
·        Draw half of a heart shape on paper. Cut out heart, and open the parchment.
·        Layer ingredients in one half of the sheet, making sure to leave at least a 1-inch border around the cut edges.
·        Starting at the round portion of the heart, fold paper, tightly sealing edges with narrow folds.
·        Twist the tip portion of the heart to seal.
·        Place packets onto an ungreased baking sheet, and bake.

Mediterranean Chicken en Papillote

4 boneless, skinless, chicken breasts
1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons za'atar or other spice mix
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, sliced thin (seeds removed)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Slice each chicken breast on the bias, into three or four equally thick pieces. Place chicken in large bowl and toss with the onion, pepper, tomatoes, Za'atar, oil, parsley, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Place chicken and spice mixture near the center of each square of parchment paper as instructed above. Place slices of lemon on top.

Working one package at a time, fold the parchment over the chicken. Repeat with remaining packets.
Place the packets on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the chicken is cooked through, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer each packet directly to a serving plate and serve, breaking open the packets at the table.

Oct 27, 2014

Honey in Hand

With Rosh Hashanah just a few weeks away, you may be thinking of ways to add honey to your dishes. If you substitute honey for sugar in your favorite baked recipe here are a few tips to keep in mind:  
1-Reduce the other liquids in the recipe by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used. 
2-Add a half teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey.
3-Reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent over browning.
4-A 12 ounce jar of honey is equal to a standard 1 cup measuring cup.

Honey cakes seem to be the more common choice for home bakers but in our family we prefer honey cookies. The children enjoy them all year but Rosh Hashanah would not be the same without them.
We also prefer easy-to-hold, neat cookies to crumbly cake when it comes to the younger generation. Most honey cookie recipes are “drop cookies.” They are made with a thick batter that is dropped by the spoonful onto a cookie sheet. The easiest way to do this is using a cookie scoop. This also ensures that every cookie is a uniform size and shape.

1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening or oil
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cream together honey, brown sugar, and shortening in your mixer. Beat in egg; then add flour sifted with baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Allow the batter to rest in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours or overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Using a medium-sized cookie scoop drop batter onto a sheet pan lined with a silpat or parchment paper.  Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on a rack and remove from the pan. Store airtight or freeze.

Roll our cookies that use honey are a little more unusual but we found a tasty recipe if you prefer to roll your cookie dough instead of scooping.

3 cups all-purpose flour plus more for rolling
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. table salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
8 ounces or 2 sticks margarine, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking soda. Whisk until well blended.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the margarine and sugar on medium speed until well blended and slightly fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl and the beater. Add the honey, egg, and vanilla. Continue mixing on medium speed until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the dough is well blended and comes together in moist clumps, 30 to 60 seconds.

Divide the dough roughly in half. On a piece of plastic wrap, shape each dough half into a smooth 5-inch disk. Wrap well in the plastic. Refrigerate until chilled and firm enough to roll out, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two or more cookie sheets with parchment or silpat liners. 

Working with one disk at a time, roll the dough on a floured work surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Dust with additional flour as needed. Cut your cookies with apple or shofar-shaped cutters. Place the cookies about 1 inch apart on the lined cookie sheets. Gather the scraps and gently press together. Re-roll and cut. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bake one sheet at a time until the cookies’ edges are light-brown rim, 11 to 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the sheet for about 10 minutes and then transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

If anyone in your family is allergic to eggs you will want to try our next recipe. Shortbread cookies contain no eggs making them perfect for allergic children.

Try this twist on honey cookies—you’ll love the sweet-salty taste!

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup or 1 ½ sticks cold margarine, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 Tbs. honey
1 tsp. kosher salt

Spray a 9-1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom with cooking spray.
In a food processor, briefly pulse the flour and sugar. Add the margarine and pulse until incorporated and the mixture is sandy and uniform. Press the dough evenly into the prepared pan with your fingers. There will be some loose crumbs around the edges, but most of the dough should be solid and compact. Refrigerate until chilled, least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.   Using the tines of a fork, prick the dough evenly all over. Bake the shortbread until golden in the center, 40 to 45 minutes.
Heat the honey in the microwave until warm and liquid but not boiling, about 10 seconds. Pour the honey over the shortbread and spread with a pastry brush over the entire surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the honey. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 3 minutes more.

Transfer the pan to a rack and let the shortbread cool slightly, about 15 minutes. While still warm, remove the tart pan ring and cut the shortbread into 12 wedges with a sharp knife. Cool completely before serving or storing. The cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for 1 week.

Plum Job

In the 17th century was slang for £1000, a very large sum of money in those times. It often applied to some political jobs, thought to involve little work for a lot of money. From there the word entered wider use for an easy, choice job. Plum also meant soft so a plum job was a soft job, a metaphor still used today.

One of the unique things about plums is that there are so many varieties available. Not only do over 2,000 varieties of plums exist, but over 100 are available in the United States alone. So, if you are looking for a juicy, sweet tasting fruit that comes in a panorama of colors, plums are for you.

There are few fruits that come in such a panorama of colors as the juicy sweet plum. The plum season extends from May through October, peaking in August. There are dozens of species and their shapes and colors vary. Although they are usually round, plums can also be oval or heart-shaped. The skins of plums can be red, purple, blue-black, red, green, yellow or amber, while their flesh comes in hues such as yellow, green and pink and orange - a virtual rainbow.

With the large number of plums available, it is not surprising that the various types have different places of origin.  The European plum is thought to have been discovered around two thousand years ago, originating in the area near the Caspian Sea. Even in ancient Roman times, there were already over 300 varieties of European plums. European plums made their way across the Atlantic Ocean with the pilgrims, who introduced them into the United States in the 17th century.  Japanese plums were introduced to the U.S. in the late 19th century.  Today, the United States, Russia, China and Romania are among the main producers of commercially grown plums.  Plums are now the second most cultivated fruit in the world, second only to apples.

Plums are a good source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, vitamin B2, vitamin C, dietary fiber and potassium.   Plums also promote absorption of iron into the body.  They are relatives of the peach, nectarine and almond.

Plums can be eaten fresh or used in jam-making or other recipes. Plum juice can be fermented into plum wine; as well as a brandy known in Eastern Europe as Slivovitz.
When buying plums, select unwrinkled, smooth-skinned fruits with no blemishes, free of soft spots or discolorations. If the plums seem a little hard, leave them at room temperature for a few days to soften up, but they will not actually ripen further.  Refrigerate ripe plums in a plastic bag and use within four days. Plums and prunes can be frozen for later use.  Adding plums to fruit compotes will yield deep red and purple color.  Most of the color is from the skin so be sure to leave it on. 
Use some of these tasty plums in our upside down cake. It’s a large recipe for so you can eat one now and put the second in the freezer for Yom Tov.

For the fruit syrup:
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine, room temperature
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups light-brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 1/2 pounds plums, about 10 to 15
3 cups flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup (2 sticks) margarine
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus more for sprinkling fruit
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
 In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the margarine, maple syrup, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt until well blended.

Spray two 9 inch round cake pans or three 12-cup standard muffin tins with baking spray; if using cake pans, line the bottoms with parchment paper and spray the paper as well. Divide fruit syrup evenly among cake pans or muffin tins and spread with an offset spatula to make smooth.

Slice fruit into 1/4-inch wedges. Starting from the inside and working outwards, arrange fruit slices in a fanlike, circular pattern on top of syrup. If you are making mini upside-down cakes, slice fruit into circular slices about 1/4-inch thick, using one round slice per muffin cup. You can also use thin wedges or small slices, and arrange in a decorative fashion.

Make the cake:
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the margarine and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in eggs, one at a time, and then beat in vanilla. Stir in the orange juice. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and baking powder.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans, and carefully smooth with an offset spatula over the arranged fruit. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the cakes are golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes for the 9 inch cakes, or 20 to 25 minutes for the mini upside-down cakes.
Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool 30 minutes, or 20 minutes for minis. Loosen side of cake with small offset spatula or paring knife. Invert cakes onto a rack set atop a baking sheet; peel off the parchment if you made it in the cake pans. Serve warm or cool.

Plank It!

If you think you’re an expert at the grill and you have mastered every technique, it’s time to try planking! Put simply, planking is cooking food directly on a piece of hardwood. When cooked this way, the food touching the wood picks up some of the plank's natural flavors. Although there's some debate on the origins of planking, it's been documented that Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest pinned their salmon to large wood boards, then slow cooked them—planking.

Salmon is a commonly planked food but in actuality any food cooked on a grill can be planked from fish to chicken to beef to vegetables.

Grilling planks are cut from a variety of trees. Some, like oak or hickory have strong flavors and are best used with beef. Others like maple, apple and pecan wood are a bit milder and lend themselves to chicken.  For delicate foods, like fish, the more gentle flavors of woods like cedar and alder are a good match. Each wood has its own uniqueness, so it's worth picking up a variety and playing around to see how each imparts a different flavor. Taste here can be incredibly subjective.

Plank preparation is very important to achieving smoky but not burnt flavor. Planks must be soaked in water for at least 30 minutes prior to grilling to avoid over-charring or catching fire. Rimmed sheet pans are perfect for soaking planks—just place a plank in the pan, add enough water to completely cover it, then weigh the plank down to keep it submerged (try using a medium-sized pot for this). It’ best to soak planks for a minimum of an hour, flipping halfway through to ensure they're evenly and thoroughly soaked. Some experts suggest using other liquids to soak the plank—like apple juice or wine—as they add both extra flavor and aroma to the food being cooked on the plank.

The simplest method for grilling on a plank is to prepare a two-zone cooking area—one hotter than the other. Place the plank over the hot side of the grill. Let it go until it just starts to smoke, then flip the plank, place the food on the charred side, and move it to the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook. 
Starting on a scorched and smoking plank gives a deep wood flavor.

As long as the plank hasn't been charred through and through, you can reuse it.  To clean a plank, start by scrubbing it down with water and a scouring pad without soap—you don't want soap soaking into the plank and staying there. If there's some excess food that just won't dislodge, then you can use some sandpaper to rub it off until the plank is clean. Let it completely dry out before storing it away to prevent molding.

Once the food is done, either remove the whole plank with a pair of grilling mitts or slide the food onto a platter using a spatula.

For the glaze
¾ cup soy sauce
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup toasted sesame oil

10 skinless chicken thighs (with bone), each 5 to 6 ounces

Soak the cedar plank in water for at least 1 hour.

In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Cook until reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Cool slightly and then whisk in the oil. Reserve ½ cup of the glaze for basting the chicken.
Put the thighs in a large bowl or zip-loc bag, pour in the glaze, and toss to coat. Refrigerate until you are ready to grill.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking or medium and low heat. Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After 5 to 10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over.

Remove the thighs from the bowl and discard the glaze. Arrange the thighs on the smoking plank and cook over direct medium heat, with the lid closed, for 5 to 10 minutes. Then move the plank over indirect medium heat and continue cooking, with the lid closed, until the juices run clear, 20 to 30 minutes, basting occasionally with the reserved glaze during the last 10 to 15 minutes of grilling time. Remove from the grill and baste with the glaze once more before serving.
Serves 5-6

1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
an untreated cedar plank (about 17 by 10 1/2 inches)
2 1/2-pound center-cut whole salmon fillet with skin
1 bunch scallions, checked and sliced lengthwise

In a small heavy saucepan simmer maple syrup, mustard, lemon juice, soy sauce, garlic, and salt and pepper to taste until reduced to about 1 cup, about 30 minutes, and let cool. Divide glaze in half—one part to be used on the raw salmon the other on the cooked.

Prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking or medium and low heat. Place the soaked plank over direct medium heat and close the lid. After 5 to 10 minutes, when the plank begins to smoke and char, turn the plank over.

Lightly oil the plank and arrange scallions in one layer on plank to form a bed for fish.  Place salmon filet, skin side down on the plank and brush generously with glaze.  Season the salmon with salt and freshly ground pepper. Move the plank over cooler side of the grill and continue cooking, with the lid closed for 20 minutes.  Remove plank from grill to serve. Drizzle salmon with reserved sauce.
Serves 6