Category: Free Inquiry (page 1 of 2)

And finally, Chocolate Babka

I’ve been meaning to try making chocolate babka for a couple years now. After putting it off for so long, and it being our last day of tech class today, I knew this was the push I needed. So yesterday I picked up some yeast and extra chocolate just in case and headed home to make the Bon Appetit Chocolate Babka recipe.

This was my first time using the dough hook on my electric mixer, but I followed the recipe dutifully and tried it. I wouldn’t say it did the job super well and I might just knead by hand next time. But on further reading I also found out you don’t want to over knead babka dough either, so maybe the light touch of the dough hook was the right call. I found the dough VERY sticky though, and when I turned it out to knead by hand it was impossible to work with without incoporating a lot more flour. So I ended up adding an unknown amount of extra flour, the dough was still sticky but workable. Then I proved it for 2 hours, and chilled for a 1.5 hours (dinner time with the kids got in the way). I wish I had buttered the bowl even more than I did, because I had some sticking, and next time I will put the plastic wrap cover directly on the dough to stop a skin from forming.

When I got back to the babka, punching the air out and rolling it to 22″ by 12″ went fairly smoothly. As did melting and spreading the chocolate. I think I should have pulled it tighter when I rolled it up though because it ended up so think I had trouble getting the right number of twists. So there were only 3 twists as opposed to 5. I left it to prove again while I made the streusel topping. I baked it for 50 mins, but it came out of the oven quite dark. My oven usually runs cold so this was a bit of a suprise but oh well!



I took the babka into our class today to share, and when I sliced it up the inside looked perfect! It had a nice fluffy texture and people seemed to like it overall. I guess sweet chocolate bread is always going to be appreciated but I was a bit skeptical on how it would actually taste.

Aside from the babka taking MUCH longer to prepare and prove than I was expecting (and the timing being exactly the opposite from what was going on with my family and dinner and chaos), it was not too taxing to make and it was super delicious. I’ll try it again, and add more streusal topping for sure!


More cookbooks

I went to the Nellie McClung Library a couple weeks ago to get some books for my Literacy learning plan. Since I was by myself, I stopped by the cookbook section to see what the selection was (last time I tried to do this I had two wild kids with me and abandoned all hope of trying to get an idea of what was there). This is the Middle Eastern cuisine section at this branch:

They were all super inspiring and delicious to look at. It was hard to decide what to get! I ended up selecting Levant by Rawia Bishara, a Palestinian-American chef who opened the restaurant Tanoreen in Brooklyn in 1998, and Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich and Sarit Packer, two Israeli chefs who opened a restaurant with the same name as their book in 2012.

One of the things that jumped out of Levant was several recipes for “Kibbie”. I didn’t know what this was, but it is a dominant thread through the book. Turns out it’s the national dish of many middle eastern countries, and is traditionally a mix of lamb and bulgur wheat that is baked, fried, grilled, eaten raw or covers in sauce or broth. Kibbie has now expanded to also use chicken, fish or vegetables too. The spices use are generally allspice, coriander and cloves. In this one cookbook, she provides recipes for baked pumpkin kibbie,  baked chicken kibbie, baked fish kibbie, with leg of lamb eaten raw, as kibbie cups with eggplant hash or grilled corn, with potatoes in lentil stew, and an Aleppo-style kibbie stew with carrots. It really sounds like I need to try this!


From wikipedia

SInce it was the end of term and things were crazy I didn’t get a chance to make any thing from Levant yet, but I just renewed the book on my account so hopefully sometime in December I will get there! It’s a gorgeous book and the recipes seem like they will really push me further into authentic middle eastern cuisine.

Honey & Co. is also mouth watering to look through. Not quite as decadent looking at Levant, but the recipes also seem a little simpler and approachable. Lots of recipes for pickled foods and fish which is exciting. The book feels very personal for the authors. It’s filled with stories of their life together (they are married), and the process of moving to London and slowly becoming the restauranteurs they are today. You can tell that their restaurant is truly their baby and their staff and customers are like family. They have another cookbook called Honey & Co. at Home that I would like to check out some day. I made a chicken recipe from this cookbook that I will post about shortly.


PSA: How to get the seeds out of a pomegranate!

I learned this several years ago, but when I made the halloumi recipe again for some friends recently (double the amount), a lot of them didn’t know this awesome way to get the seeds out of a pomegranate. So here it is!


Pomegranate molasses again, with chicken!

I made the pomegranate molasses chicken recipe from Honey & Co. for dinner this week. Because it was a weeknight I prepped and marinated the chicken the night before. I learned something about pomegranate molasses that I wasn’t expecting – all the solids had settled in my bottle so even though it looked like I had a lot, only a small amount of liquid was actually left. I think I was supposed to be shaking it before use each time? Lesson learned, because then I didn’t have enough for the recipe, but only by a little bit. Back to Fig to get more I guess!

It was super easy so I will definitely be making the chicken again. The recipe also included a bulgar wheat salad with pomegranate seeds, toasted pistachios (only toast them for 10-12 mins, not 15 because they will go too dark!), mint, parsley, and more pomegranate molasses. Since I was out I just used some of the juice from my pomegranate. You serve the chicken on top of the bulgar and pour some of the sauce/juices from the pan over the whole thing. I would add more salt next time overall, but it was excellent. I really love mint and need to plant much more in my garden in the spring.

Bonus: my kids love pomegranate seeds almost too much, and it made great leftovers

Middle eastern flavours

A post I’ve been working on all term (and it will probably never be truly complete so here it is anyway) is a summary of the common spices and flavours used in Middle Eastern food. Other than the traditions and stories behind the food, the flavours are always a defining feature of any cuisine. I’m still learning and am no expert but fro m my reading and exploring these are some of the ingredients that weave throughout Middle Eastern food:

Cumin seedsCumin – popular all over the world, and very prevalent in the Middle East. Strong, fragrant spice, probably reminds most people of falafel. I love it with coriander, and basically everything. Cumin is actually related to parsley. It’s often used in meat and bean dishes or stews.

Harissa – a blend of hot peppers, oil and spices. I haven’t tried this one out yet because my kids won’t eat spicy food and I don’t get a chance to cook food very often that they don’t also need to eat .

Aleppo style pepper – a mild pepper that can replace red pepper flakes or even paprika. The heat is only moderate and it has a cumin like flavour and salty undertones. It’s named after the city in Syria.

Preserved Lemon – used throughout the middle east to add umami style lemon flavour. Basically it’s pickled lemons. Apparently they are easy to make, they just take time to cure. I have some store bought ones in my cupboard that I need to get around to using. I love lemon and pickled things so I assume I will love these.

Dukkah – from Egypt, a mix of nuts, seeds and spices that are crushed up. Often used as a topping on bread, dips, salads and fresh vegetables.

Za’atar – wild thyme mixed with sumac, salt and sesame seeds, kind of used as a jack of all trades spice that’s sprinkled on anything. It has a nutty, citrus and herbal flavour.

Sumac – dried, powdered berries with a sour lemon flavour and a dark purple colour. It can be substituted for lemons in recipes actually. It’s used in meat dishes, stews and dressings.

Baharat – truly a “mix of spices” – black pepper, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, cardamom, nutmeg and paprika.

RosewaterLemon and Semolina Syrup cakes, or Ghraybeh

Orange blossom water – fruity syrup that can be stirred (sparingly) into drinks and desserts, but can also be used in savory dishes, like lamb

Pomegranate molasses

Tahini – sesame seed paste, one of my favourites!

Cardamom seeds in a bowl

Cardamom – usually used ground, in desserts or in coffee. Sometimes used as pods, toasted. It has a fairly strong warm,  flavour with. It’s expensive, just behind saffron and vanilla in price by weight.

Saffron – as seasoning and colouring agent in food. The threads are stigmata from the saffron crocus flower. It gives food a yellow-orange flavour and is one of the world’s most expensive spices by weight. Famously used in Persian Rice, which I still haven’t tackled yet.

Close-Up Of Turmeric Powder By Bottle On Wooden TableTumeric – a bright yellow ground spice that adds colour and earthy flavour.

Also: cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, allspice, aniseed, cloves, coriander, honey and more!

Info and photos from here and here

Bon Appétit Podcast

Bon Appétit is one of my forever favourites. The magazine, website, their facebook page, the youtube videos. It’s just the best food content that I could soak up all day long. I only recently discovered they have a podcast as well (of course they do!). I took a quick browse and found that episode 102, from March 2017 was “All About Middle Eastern Food (Perfect Rice! Man’oushe! Rose-Water Brittle!)“.

In this episode, Reem Assil, a first generation American chef talks about  her business. Then BA Senior Food Editor Andy Baraghani talks about creating a feast for the Persian New Year. These are my notes from listening to this podcast. I tried to focus on what the two chefs were saying about Middle Eastern Food in general, and I got a lot out of it.

Reem Assil is a community organizer turned restaurant owner 2011

  • Her restaurant is Reem’s Wraps (now Reem’s California I believe)
  • She was inspired to make a career change because of the connection of food and community
    • Restaurants, bakeries, and food in general can create a sense of home for immigrants
    • A place to gather with people you relate to
  • She is Syrian and Palestinian
  • She sees a cross over between food and activism
    • Food can bring people in, to build trust and to engage them in real issues
  • Their signature dish is Levantine flatbread x California cuisine
    • It’s called Man’oushe and flavoured with za’atar
    • Za’atar is wild thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and  olive oil. It’s like a pesto
    • Bread is cooked in a high heat oven or griddle called a saj
    • Topped with fresh veggies – tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh mint
    • Also, labneh (thick strained yogurt) and avocado
    • Or with shakshuka sauce – roasted peppers and tomatoes and aleppo-style pepper
    • Other flavours are sumac, parsley, turmeric, pomegranate molasses, pine nuts, cardamom, and orange blossom
  • Levantine region of the middle east is a temperate climate
    •  mountains, ocean and woods all in driving distance

Then, Andy Baraghani, a resident chef at Bon Appétit, frequent video host, talks about the menu he put together for Persian New Year, Nowruz, that came out in that month’s magazine.

  • Nowruz is a 13 day holiday
  • For the gig meal, rice is the most important dish
    • Before cooking, basmati rice should have a golden hue
    • Rinse the rice until the water is clear, then soak for hour at least
    • Parboil it in salted water, then drain
    • Add fresh herbs – cilantro parsley dill, a little fenugreek, tarragon, mint
    • Put in back in the pot, piled up like a mountain. Poke holes in the top. Cover with lid and towel to absorb the steam. Cook on low heat for 25-35 mins
    • Add butter 3/4 way through. More butter than you think
    • Then, could invert the pot on a plate. This isn’t a tadig though, but it does retain its shape.
    • Need lots of salt and butter
  • All the food on table at once
  • For the main dish – fish. Either a smoked whitefish (from store) or baked fish. Andy’s mom always made baked salmon with saffron, tumeric, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil
  • There’s a cecipe for whitefish in March issue
  •   Also, Kuku Sabzi – Persian frittata
    • This has LOTS of herbs – parsley, dill, cilantro. 4.5 cups total and only 5 eggs
    • Fenugreek – bitter celery tasting leaf – just a sprinkle
  • And a special yogurt with cucumber, somewhat similar to a tsaziki. With garlic, chopped and toasted walnuts, golden raisins soaked and chopped.
  •  Barbari Bread – a very thick flat bread. 4-5 feet long traditionally.  With ridges on top from finger tips
    • Topped with sesame and nigella seeds, sea salt.
    • Brushed with a flour x hot water x baking soda mixture to help brown the top
    • Serve with a platter of feta, herbs, and radishes
  • After dinner, table games and brittle
    Sohan brittle  – made with corn syrup, butter, saffron, rose water and topped with fresh pistachios, rose petals and sea salt. Mmmmmm

I found this podcast really interesting and will definitely be subscribing to more!



Ingredients: Halloumi

When I was looking through the Zaitoun cookbook, I saw an appetizer recipe for halloumi. We happened to have some halloumi cheese in the fridge, and this weekend was the spark I needed to make it. It was Thanksgiving and we were headed to some friends’ house for dinner. When I checked the recipe out again, it seemed super quick and easy, and the ingredients were simple/things we mostly had. It was also perfect because it used Pomegranate molasses which is now the flavour of the week I guess.

Halloumi is a cheese associated with Cyprus, and eaten throughout the eastern Mediterranean (the Levant). It is a semi hard, unripened cheese with a high melting point, making it ideal for frying and grilling (see right, photo from Wikipedia). Traditionally halloumi was made with sheep or goats milk, or a combo, but as it becomes more popular, cow’s milk is also used. I’ve eaten halloumi in restaurants a lot of times but never cooked it myself.

It was a great recipe to take to a friend’s because I could prep most of it beforehand, there was only one cooked element (the cheese!) and the rest was just topping. Basically the recipe is orange segments, chopped dates, and fresh mint sprinkled on top of crispy, browned, fried halloumi, drizzled with pomegranate molasses and olive oil. I fried the cheese at our friends and assembled it in front of everyone. Not only did it look like a showstopper, it was unbelievably delicious. One of our friends hadn’t even heard of halloumi, so it was a fun dish. They asked several times for me to send over the recipe too. I know this one will be made again.

My friend took the top photo with portrait mode which seemed to help a lot. But I’m still working on this!

Flavours: Pomegranate molasses

Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup made by reducing pomegranate juice. It becomes a sweet, tart and tangy syrup. (It’s not actually molasses at all). It is regularly used in middle eastern cooking, particularly in Iran, Turkey and Lebanon. I bought the Cortas brand again, which it turns out was recommended here. It can be used in many different ways – marinades, salad dressings, even in cocktails when mixed properly.

After looking through the Zaitoun cookbook (on cloudLibrary of course!), a recipe that caught my eye for a relatively simple weeknight meal was Lentil, eggplant and pomegranate stew. I made it tonight (with some characteristics omissions). I swear that before I got groceries on the weekend, I checked and I had brown lentils, but when it came time to cook, I could only find red. And somehow I completely forgot to buy sumac (another ingredient on my flavours to explore list). So anyway, red lentils and no sumac, I forged ahead.

The recipe was pretty simple: lentils, spices, eggplant, pomegranate molasses, shallots and garlic. Served with basmati rice. For a simple meal, it really packed a punch. Pomegranate molasses has a really complex flavour which came through well in this dish. I added extra to my bowl to play around with the flavours more too. It’s a very tangy, sweet and rich flavour overall. The combination with the smooth flavours of the shallots and eggplant balanced perfectly. My 1 year old liked it too, but my three year old stuck with her macaroni.

My photo of this really did not turn out well (note to self, learn to take better food photos). Here is what I’m going to pretend mine looked like:

Lentil, eggplant and pomegranate stew from Zaitoun

In researching pomegranate molasses, I have also found this recipe for pomegranate glazed chicken from Bon appetit which I now want to try next!

Top photo from here

Rosewater Take Two: Once is Not Enough

After the ghraybeh (Lebanese butter cookies) didn’t show off the rose water very well, I knew I wanted to try again. We were going for Sunday dinner at my dad’s house so I said I would make dessert. I had been perusing the Zaitoun cookbook by Yasmin Khan and Sweet by Ottolenghi and there were a couple cakes in them that were calling me.

My original plan was to make the Semolina and rose water slice cake from Zaitoun (the picture to the right), but I got a bit confused when it came down to starting. I blame cloudLibrary somewhat here because it is way too easy to flip back and forth between books and lose track of whats happening. So I prepped the ingredients for the Lemon and Semolina syrup cakes from Sweet instead before I realized what had happened. The problem was this recipe said in the introduction that it could be flavoured with rose water syrup (or orange blossom), but only gave the directions for a citrus syrup instead. So I took some of the measurements from the Zaitoun recipe to try to approximate the rose water amounts.

The recipe was super simple to follow and the batter mixed up quickly. It makes 8 mini cakes using a muffin pan. Making parchment collars was a new skill for me, and not one I have totally mastered yet but I am not afraid to try again! The batter has lemon zest in it and each mini cake has a thin lemon slice on top. I had to trim the edges of the slices to get them to fit.

My oven always runs a little cool so I would bake these at 350 rather than 325 next time, but that’s probably different for everyone. It just took a little extra time to back and I never got the caramelization on the lemons that the recipe called for.

When it came to making the syrup, first I followed the ‘Sweet; recipe (1/4 cup each of sugar and lemon juice) and added just a 1/2 tsp of rose water. But the lemon was so strong and really over powered everything. My kids were going to be eating this too so I didn’t want it to be quite so strong with lemon flavour. So I added a 1/4 cup of water and another 1/2 tsp of rose water. Then even more rose water just by eye! The flavour of the syrup at that point had a perfect balance (to me) of lemon, sugar and rose water. Just enough floral to give that turkish delight style magic. Then the syrup just gets brushed on as soon as the cakes come out of the oven, with the cakes still in the pan. They really soaked it up!

At my dad’s house the cakes were a major hit. The recipe suggested serving them with yoghurt or creme fraiche, but we went with whipped cream just to be a crowd pleaser. I found I like the cake plain though to really let the rose water flavour come through. The tops of the cake, which had the most syrup were the best part. My dad, granny, cousin and husband all loved the cake. The kids were a little more fond of the whipped cream.  But the adults even gobbled up the lemons from the top.I will make these again, or probably try the Zaitoun recipe first, but this is definitely worth a repeat. I would like try it as a round cake though rather than the minis. I would use parchment on the bottom of the pan too because  I had a lot of sticking even with liberal butter on the pans. I would make double the amount of syrup to make sure the cakes were drenched all the way to the bottom with syrup. Yum!

Yottam Ottolenghi also made a version of this cake for Bon Appetit (my forever fav website) which you can find here. This version has slightly different measurements than the one from Sweet but from a first glance I think it might just be for a larger batch. This recipe also doesn’t have lemon slices on top. But I recommend giving it a try! (The featured photo up top is from this recipe)

Exploring digital cookbooks

In July, Helen Rosen (@hels), a food writer that I follow on twitter (starting to realize that I love to read about food), wrote an article about the top 10 cookbooks since 2000. One of the books mentioned was ZAHAV by Michael Solomonov, with an honourable mention for the books by Yottam Ottolenghi. I checked the Greater Victoria Public Library site and eagerly put them on hold. Ottolenghi Simple came in first and I devoured it. I read it like a book and quickly made several recipes which I will recap in a later post. When ZAHAV came in I read all the introductions and immediately went out and bought a better quality tahini. I had to return the book before I got a chance to dive in further so I hope to get another chance with that book again soon.

Recently I went to check the books availability again and some of the Ottolenghi books are available as ebooks. There are a lot of different way to view their digital content, so I chose and  downloaded the app for cloudLibrary. I was immediately able to borrow Simple and start rereading it.

At first using cloudLibrary seemed weird because I couldn’t see the entire pages. But once I figured out how to change the text size, it pretty conveniently shifts the spacing across the pages around to make it easy to read at various sizes. The headings can get a little bit messed up when you navigate through the book but overall it’s not too hard to figure out. The tables of contents are clickable so it’s very convenient for navigating through something like a cookbook where you may not read it straight through from the beginning. And the search function is amazing for finding different ingredients being used throughout the book. Not only can you use cloudLibrary to view ebooks, but you can browse the digital catalogue for the GVPL and check books out right there. I do prefer to read most books in hard copy, but for cookbooks, and especially ones that are often unavailable it’s a pretty nice resource.

Yottam Ottolenghi has many cookbooks, so far I like “Simple” because it seems a little more achievable for my life right now. Browsing on cloudLibrary, I also found Zaitoun, a Palestinian cookbook by Yasmin Khan, and I am loving the recipes and reading about different parts of the country. Even though they are ebooks the library only has so many licenses for them, so there are still waits for books that are in demand. But you can make lists of interest and put things on hold the same way you would for a hard copy. Unfortunately there’s no digital version of Zahav yet so I will have to get myself on the hold list again asap.


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