Shakshuka and Bell’s

Shakshuka at Bell'sWhen we moved to Catskill, NY, we had only been to the town three times. We didn’t research the area much. As foodies, you would have thought that we would have done our due diligence in the food department, but we didn’t. We were charmed by the town and in love with the house and that was enough for us.

As we got to know the area, we felt like we lucked out food-wise. The grocery store was much better than the one in our old Brooklyn neighborhood, there was a weekend farmers market and we could walk to Bell’s Café.

Bell’s Israeli inspired menu focuses on locally sourced ingredients. Their beef and poultry are sustainable, grass fed, antibiotic and hormone-free. That’s right up my ally, so I am happy it’s just a few blocks away from us.

The first time we went to Bell’s we decided to stop in for a quick bite before we went to the movies next door at the Community Theater. We learned that Bell’s isn’t the place to go for a quick bite. Once we got our dinner, we quickly forgot about the movie and focused on the delicious food. With dishes like duck tacos with a chipotle sofrito, mussels in a spicy basil and coconut broth, Moroccan spicy fish and brie & crispy shallot burgers, you want to savor it and you definitely want to stay for dessert!

Chefs Yael Manor-McMorrow and Keith McMorrow were nice enough to invite me into Bell’s kitchen and teach me how to make shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a classic Israeli dish of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s traditionally eaten for lunch or dinner. Yael told me that in Israel, hummus is more common for breakfast than eggs. Personally, I’d eat this delicious dish any time of the day.

Yael’s French Culinary school training started to show as soon as we stepped into the kitchen. She doesn’t measure ingredients, is quick with a knife and cleans as she goes. When I asked her what insider culinary graduate info she could pass on to the average cook, she paused, lifted her knife and said, “Start with a good knife.”

She also recommended a well-stocked pantry. She always stocks brown rice, coconut milk and curry paste. For produce, Yael buys what is fresh and in season, which ensures she is getting the best quality and the best price.

“Cook less and use the ingredients more,” she said. Fresh food does the work for you and is traditionally how people cook in Israel.

To accompany our shakshuka, Yael quickly made a chopped salad. In Israel, every meal, including breakfast is served with some type of fresh salad. For ours she used fresh grilled corn cut off the cob, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, fresh mint, basil, and dressed it lightly will lemon juice and a little olive oil. It tasted just like summertime and was the perfect cooling counterpart to the spicy shakshuka. Yum!

Shakshuka

This recipe is my interpretation of Yael’s version. I was taking notes but if it doesn’t taste as good as hers, you’ll know whom to blame.

Take this basic recipe and run with it. Add any vegetable or herb that you have on hand. Summer suggestions: add bell peppers and zucchini.

Note: Harissa is a mixture of hot peppers, coriander, red chili powder, caraway, and other spices. It can be found as a paste or powder. Look in the ethic section of your grocery store. It’s worth seeking out.

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
5-6 fresh large tomatoes, quartered, the juicier the better
2 tablespoons harissa (More or less depending on the amount of spice you want.)
1-2 teaspoon sea salt (more to taste)
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or other fresh herbs, divided)
4 large eggs

  • In a medium-sized frying pan heat oil, garlic and tomatoes over medium heat. Stir in harissa and salt. Continue to heat until tomatoes break down. You want a nice bubbly sauce. Turn heat down and continue to cook until the sauce has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes depending on how much juice your tomatoes have.
  • Stir in half of the parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning. Gently crack eggs into the pan, giving each a bit of room. Simmer until eggs whites are set but yolks remain runny, about 8 to 12 minutes. Sprinkle remaining parsley. Divide into four bowls, each getting an egg and serve with warm pita bread or baguette.

Serves 4

Bell’s Café Bistro is at 387 Main Street in Catskill, New York. Hours are: Dinner from Thursday through Saturday 5 to 10 p.m.; Brunch from Friday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. 518-943-4070

Maple Berry Syrup—The perfect topping for buckwheat pancakes

Ingredients

1 cup berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries)
1 cup water
1/2 cup maple syrup

Method

  • In a small pot, add berries and 1 cup of the water. Crush the berries with a potato masher and bring to a gentle boil. Cook until about half of the liquid evaporates.
  • Add the maple syrup and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5 minutes.
  • Strain if you want, but I just pour it all over the pancakes.

Buckwheat Pancakes (gluten free)

It’s maple syrup season and, while thinking if it sends my mind in many directions (maple glazed pork chops, maple bread pudding, maple candy), it always comes back to pancakes.

Usually my husband makes the pancakes in our house. He makes delicious, fluffy ones that really soak up the syrup. This week, I stepped onto his turf to make buckwheat pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes are not fluffy, but they’re flavorful and hearty. While I do love a big pile of buttermilk pancakes, I always want to take a nap after I eat them. Somehow, buckwheat pancakes don’t have the same effect on me.

I’ve started to think of buckwheat as a bit of a wonder plant. I was tempted to write “wonder grain,” but buckwheat isn’t a grain and the only thing it has in common with wheat is its name. Buckwheat is actually classified as s fruit rather than a grain.

According to the Ag Marketing Resource Center (http://www.agmrc.org), buckwheat is one of the best sources for bio-available protein in the plant kingdom. It contains all eight essential amino acids, vitamin E and almost all of the vitamin B complex.

The Ag Marketing Resource Center goes on to list health claims, including it may lower blood glucose levels, help to lower high blood pressure and lower high cholesterol.

They also cite a study about buckwheat honey which states, “Honey collected from bees feeding off of buckwheat contained levels of antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, 20 times higher than that of other honey tested.”

The website World’s Healthiest Foods notes that, “Buckwheat contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving. Magnesium relaxes blood vessels, improving blood flow and nutrient delivery while lowering blood pressure — the perfect combination for a healthy cardiovascular system.”

See what I mean about it being a wonder food?

Buckwheat pancake mixes are pretty easy to find. They are, however, usually mixed with wheat flour. This isn’t a problem unless you want to avoid wheat or want to try a pure, unadulterated buckwheat pancake.

Buckwheat flour isn’t as easy to come by. I usually have to travel to Kingston or Albany to find it. If you aren’t up for the drive, ask your local grocer if he/she can pick some up for you. The Birkett Mills, in the Finger Lake Region, is one of the country’s largest buckwheat producers. You can buy many buckwheat products from them online at http://thebirkettmills.com/.

The Birkett Mills has a page about growing buckwheat. I’m going to find some buckwheat seeds and toss them in our backyard. They say it’s easy to grow, flourishes in poor soil and needs only a 10-week growing season. We’ll see if it can tolerate shade. If so, I’m going to be harvesting buckwheat come August.

Buckwheat Pancakes
This all-buckwheat flour recipe makes delicious, earthy, nutty pancakes.  Adapted from the blog, Wrightfood

Ingredients
1 cup of buckwheat flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 cup of milk
1 tablespoon of butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 egg, separated

Oil or butter for the skillet

Method

  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, powder, salt and cinnamon.
  • In a separate bowl, mix together the egg yolk, maple syrup, vanilla extract, melted butter and milk.
  • Pour the liquid mix into the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  • Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks (an electric hand mixer makes quick work of this). Gently fold the egg white in to the pancake mix. Don’t over mix.
  • Cook on a lightly buttered or oiled griddle or electric skillet at 375 degrees F. Working in batches, pour 1/4 cup of batter per pancake onto the griddle. Cook until the pancakes form bubbles and the edges look cooked. Flip the pancakes and cook for 1 or 2 more minutes.
  • Transfer to a serving platter and keep warm. Repeat with remaining mix.

Makes about 10 five-inch pancakes

What I will do for a good ginger scone and hot cup of chai

chaiI will brave Washington, DC traffic in rush hour to get a ginger scone and hot cup of chai from Teaism, one of my favorite DC cafes. I also love their cilantro scrambled eggs with naan and never leave without getting one of their salty oat cookies. But their chai and scones are worth the agony of sitting on the beltway.

Chai is an Indian spiced tea. It’s become quite popular and you can find it in many coffee shops and markets. While I’m not a picky eater in general, I am a picky about my chai and there are few places that meet my high standards. I don’t like it overly sweet and I don’t like it with a cloying vanilla flavor. I don’t want it to taste like a ginger snap. I like it complex, slightly sweet but with a nice bite. Teasim makes the perfectly balanced chai. Since I live six hours away, it was necessary for me to learn how to make my own perfect cup.

If you must be lazy, you may order both chai and ginger scone mix from Teaism’s website.

Ginger scones

These are a snap to make. I altered this recipe from the blog, Orangette. I used honey and white whole-wheat flour and was very happy with the results. If you want to be decadent, use white flour and sugar.

Crystallized ginger can be found in better food markets. If you can’t find it, ask your grocer to pick it up for you or make your own.

These are best served warm with a pat of butter.

Ingredients
2 cups white whole-wheat flour (or whole-wheat pastry flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup milk
1 large egg

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter. Using your fingers, blend the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. You may also use a pastry knife or a fork. The goal is to incorporate the butter into little pea-sized or smaller pieces. This will give you a flakey scone.
  • While gently stirring the mixture, drizzle the honey over it. Add the ginger and stir to mix.
  • In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk together. Save a tablespoon for the glaze and pour the rest into the flour mixture, stir gently to just combine. Using your hands, press and knead the dough into a rough ball. It will be a little dry. If it isn’t holding together, add a little water.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured board, and knead it. Do not overwork the dough, a half dozen kneads should do it. Pat it into a round disc about 1 inch thick. Cut into 8 wedges.
  • Place the wedges on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush them with the reserved milk/egg mixture.
  • Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until golden. Cool briefly on a rack, and serve.

Makes eight medium-size scones

Up next, spicy chia…

Spinach Smoothie…make Popeye proud!

As a child, my husband went through a phase of eating canned spinach because he wanted to be strong, yes, like Popeye the sailor man. He felt it was important to pay his own way in this endeavor and used his allowance. I guess Popeye wouldn’t stand for having his mom buy his spinach either.

I can’t think of any worse way to choke down spinach than by the can. I’m not a fresh-spinach snob by any means, I use frozen spinach quite a bit. In fact, it is one of the things I keep stocked in my freezer. But canned spinach does nothing for me.

Luckily, spring is here and with it comes fresh greens. Hallelujah!

Spinach is a good source of iron, calcium, vitamins A, C, K, and magnesium. It is also high in antioxidants— all of this with just seven calories a cup (raw).

Fresh spinach often collects sand and dirt, so you need to wash it well to avoid an unpleasant grit feeling in your salad. There is a trick to washing spinach. First trim off the roots and separate the leaves and rinse. Then place spinach in a large bowl of water and swish it around a bit. It’s important to lift the spinach out of the water since sand and dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to repeat this a couple of times.

Spinach Smoothie
This is not a pretty drink, so if you want to slide this by your kids, blindfold them and call it Strawberry Surprise. Except for the color, it’s hard to tell the smoothie is loaded with spinach. This delicious drink has a serving of vegetables and two servings of fruit. The ground flax seeds add a shot of omega 3. The yogurt adds calcium and probiotics (beneficial bacteria.) Have it for breakfast and get a jump start on your fruits and vegetables for the day. We usually have ours with a hard-boiled egg.

Note: spinach contains oxalates and purines, which in some people, may play a part in causing kidney stones. So, Sean, go easy on these!

Ingredients
8 oz. plain yogurt
1 cup orange juice
1 cup fresh or frozen strawberries
2 cup fresh spinach, well washed
1 frozen banana
1 teaspoon ground flax seeds

Chop banana, place in freezer bag and freeze overnight. This makes the smoothie extra smooth. If you are starting with fresh strawberries, slice and freeze those as well.

Puree all ingredients together in a blender. Pour into glass and make Popeye proud.

Makes two 12 once smoothies.

Soaked Flour Honey Wheat Bagels

I look forward to Tuesday nights for two reasons. First, we watch Lost. We are helplessly addicted to the show. It is the one show we plan around. Second, it has become bagel and lox night. It’s an easy, healthy dinner. We use wild salmon lox, cream cheese, red onions, tomato slices (in season) and a squeeze of lemon, all on a homemade bagel. We round out the meal with a salad or whatever vegetables we have on hand.

Yes, I did say homemade bagel. I’ve started making my bagels from scratch. And yes, I still consider it an easy dinner. This dinner is not as quick as it would be if you used already made bagels, but homemade bagels are easy and much healthier for you than store bought bagels.

As with all things you make from scratch, you know exactly what is going into it.  Bagels from a bakery probably have less junk than pre-packaged bagels (find a bag and see if you can pronounce all of the ingredients), but those jumbo bakery bagels can pack 400 calories (before you add the cream cheese). Make your own and you know exactly what you are eating and you can make normal sized bagels. These bagels have about half as many calories (even less if you make 3-ounce bagels) than a bakery bagel.

There are bagel recipes that you can make from start to finish in less time than my recipe, but since I like to do things the long way, you’ll need to start my version the night before. Don’t be afraid, this actually saves time. I can get home from work, shape and bake the bagels in a jiff with the already-risen dough.

There is also an extra benefit to letting your dough rise overnight. The yogurt helps breaks down the phytic acid. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, soaking grains, “… neutralize phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors. Vitamin content increases, particularly B vitamins. Tannins, complex sugars, gluten and other difficult-to-digest substances are partially broken down into simpler components that are more readily available for absorption.” Sounds good to me, especially if all you really need to do is add yogurt to your dough and let it rise overnight.

There is more than one way to roll out a bagel. I’m always impressed with the speed and grace of a professional bagel baker. It’s like some sort of slight of hand trick. They roll a long rope, cut with one hand and somehow make a perfect bagel with the other. I have neither grace nor speed when I’m forming bagels. I use a more pedestrian method of rolling a ball and poking a hole through it. It works just fine.

It may take more than a few tries before you can pull off H&H quality bagels (and you would probably not be able to do that using my whole-wheat-only recipe). But in my book, I’ll take a hot out of the oven bagel over a store-bought one any day!

Ingredients
2 cups water
1 cup yogurt
3 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons honey plus 2 tablespoons honey (for the water bath)
5 to 6 cups whole-wheat flour (if you want a less dense bagel, use half regular unbleached white flour or white wheat flour)
Oil for coating bowl and baking sheet

Method

  • Combine the water, yogurt, yeast, flax seeds, salt and 3 tablespoons of the honey. Mix by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. I just mix it by hand.
  • Gradually add 5 cups of the flour and mix until the mixture comes together.
  • Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour.
  • Grease a large bowl with oil. Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 12 to 24 hours. The dough should almost double in size.
  • Remove from the bowl and punch down the dough. Divide into 12 to 14 equal pieces.
  • Form each piece of dough into a smooth ball. The smoother you make it, the smoother your bagel will be. No worries if it is a bit lumpy, it will still taste good.
  • Punch a whole in the middle of each ball and widen the hole to about 2 inches. Repeat with the remaining dough. Place on a lightly greased surface, cover with a clean cloth and let rest until risen, but not doubled, for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Lightly grease or line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  • In a medium sized, heavy pot, bring 1 quart of water to boil. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of honey.
  • In batches, add the bagels to the water and boil for 30 seconds on each side.  I use a smallish pot, so I only do one bagel at a time. You don’t want to crowd them. Place bagels onto the prepared sheet pan and place in preheated oven.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack.

Want to make your our cream cheese? Go to Cream Cheese and Whey.

Big Apple Pancake

applepancakeMy husband is the pancake maker in our house. He made this one for us this morning. Yu-umm. This recipe is from Gourmet Magazine. (Sniff, sniff, I am very, very, very upset about the demise of this wonderful periodical).

Ingredients
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 large apple peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch-wide wedges
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Method

  • Preheat oven to 450°F.
  • Melt butter in 10-inch oven-safe skillet over moderate heat. Add apple wedges to skillet and cook, turning occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  • While apple slices are cooking, add milk, flour, eggs, granulated sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt to a bowl and blend until smooth.
  • Pour batter over hot apples, sprinkle with brown sugar and place skillet in oven. Bake until pancake is puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Serves 2

Homemade Maple Granola

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been seeing granola recipes all over the place. One of my favorite food magazines, EatingWell had one in their October issue. Martha Stewart had one in her November issue. My sister and good friends Ellen and Christine have all been making it. Who am I to buck the trend? Especially when it is so darn good.

Granola also makes a nice gift (see a recurring theme here?)…and it’s cheap. What more could you want?

My sister makes granola in her crock-pot slow-cooker. Click here for a recipe.

Ellen has a good recipe on her site, Ellen Cooks.

Eating Well has a tasty recipe and includes a pdf gift tag.

Here’s my version. Note, I’m using coconut oil, but if you don’t want to adhere to 19th-century ingredients, you can use canola oil. Canola oil was not used in food until well into the 20th century (1974 in fact).

5 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips or flakes (Click here for using a fresh coconut, something I highly recommend and isn’t as difficult as you’d think)
1/2 cup sliced almonds or other nuts
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup dried fruit
1 Tablespoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract

1. Preheat oven to 275°F.

2. Combine oats, coconut, almonds, brown sugar, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds in a large bowl.

3.Heat coconut oil until melted, combine with maple syrup, cinnamon, vanilla extract and water in a medium bowl. Pour over the oat mixture; stir until well combined. Spread the mixture into a large roasting pan or large rimmed baking sheet.

4. Bake for 35 minutes. Remove from the oven, stir, and bake about 35 minutes more until golden brown and it begins to crisp. It will become more crisp as it cools.

5. Stir in dried fruit. Let cool completely before storing.