Sunday, February 28, 2016

Choreg, Armenian Easter Bread: Great Anytime

      I love egg based breads, whether it be Jewish challah, French brioche, tsoureki tou paska (Greek Easter bread), or the Italian pane di Pasqua - all are delicious.  My earliest memories of egg bread go back to earliest childhood and Armenian Choreg, which would be my memories answer to Proust's madeleines, such an iconic memory are these small braided sweetbreads to me.  Of course my mom and aunt made the best Choreg in California - of course.  Though made with yeast, this is a more time-consuming recipe, than it is difficult.  I usually bring the dough to the first rising, then divide the dough in half, freezing it for future baking.


4 cups(plus) unbleached flour (these doughs always need more or less flour  
    depending on the flour)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mahlab (optional). But I love the flavor of this spice from the 
   kernel of the black cherry stone with its sweet fragrance.  Available at
   Middle East markets.  Keep in freezer to ensure freshness.
2/3 cup milk, low fat, 1 or 2 percent is fine.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast (preferably not rapid rise - it's usually the amount in one 
      individual package)
1/4 cup warm (not hot) water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Note: depending on my energy level I mix my choreg either  by hand(high energy) or for lower energy days, in my mixer (I have a kitchen aid), starting with the paddle attachment then changing to the dough hook after about half of the flour has been added.  Even with the mixer a few minutes of hand kneading with a bit of bench flour is necessary.
  1. In large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and Mahlab (if using); set aside.
  2. Heat milk in saucepan, then add butter until melted.  Cool to lukewarm.
  3. Proof yeast: in measuring cup mix 1/4 cup warm water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar.  Sprinkle yeast over water.  After a minute or so mix yeast in with fork and set in a warmish place.  Should start rising within several minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs in large bowl.  Add milk-butter mixture.  While mixture is luke warm, add the proofed yeast (sometimes the yeast doesn't rise, so you need to do step 3 again - it's rare, happened only twice in my 55 years of baking).
  5. Add the flour-sugar mixture about a cup at a time until dough no longer can absorb the flour.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured board and knead adding flour until dough is no longer sticky.  Some judgement needed here, since this dough will not be as dry as most bread doughs lacking butter and eggs.
  6. Place dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
  7. "Punch " down the dough.  If dough feels too sticky at this point, knead in more flour, a little at a time.  As mentioned above, I immediately freeze half the dough for use in the next three  months. (When ready to use, simply thaw out the dough and proceed as follows).
  8. On lightly floured board, pinch off enough dough to make balls approximately 2 1/2 inches in circumference. Roll each ball into rope shape approximately index finger width (about ten inches long).  Then make a simple two strand braid (see picture above). Place each braid on parchment lined cookie sheet (the heavier insulated cookie sheets such as cushion-aire, work best since they keep the bottoms from browning too much.)  Continue making the braids, placing them a couple of inches apart, they double in size from the yeast action.  Repeat using another parchment-lined cookie sheet until the dough is used up. (Any extra dough can also be covered and refrigerated for a couple of days.) Now follow the next stage for second rising:
  1. Cover Choregs with tea towel for second rising.  This usually takes about 45 minutes, so after a half hour of rising time, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix one egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and gently brush over the raised choregs just before putting cookie sheet in oven. (You can chill second cookie sheet in fridge so it stops rising while first batch bakes.)
  3. Bake for eight minutes, then turn the cookie sheet around in oven to ensure even baking.  Bake an additional 7 minutes or more until the Choregs are light golden brown.  Bake second cookie sheet in same way.  Let cool for five minutes on sheet, then transfer Choregs to wire rack to cool.  Eat that same day.  Any choreg left over should be frozen, since they are not as wonderful the next day.  Enjoy with tea, coffee, or as bread with a meal.
Note: for this type of recipe, or any baking you do, I highly recommend an oven thermometer which can be affordable - some good ones are $10.  My oven was 25 degrees too low, while my former stove was 50 degrees too high.  It happens.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Poppy seed "thumbprint" cookies with lemon curd filling

 Why Didn't You Make More Cookies ? [see update at the end here - 9/2/18]
         With any wonderful new recipe there seems to be a story.  This started with two ingredients.  The first were Meyer lemons, plump juicy ones, my oldest (not oldest in age, but oldest in time known) friend Janeen sent me from Chico, California.  The second were poppy seeds I bought on a trip to our local Penzey's (a wonderful spice and herb store).  Magic happened when I combined my favorite thumbprint cookies with the poppy seeds and substituted home made lemon curd for the jam, using the Meyer lemons.  Everywhere I serve these cookies huge raves follow.  The Meyer lemons are long gone but regular lemons work very nicely, though you may need more of them, since they are less juicy.  Perhaps you have an excellent lemon curd that you purchase, and it would probably work well too. I make enough to freeze since these cookies freeze very well.

Thumbprint Cookies
         Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Ungreased cookie sheets.  Yield: 48 cookies
2 cups flour (gently spooned into measuring cup to avoid too tightly packing the flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter(2 sticks) - bossy tip: nothing but butter for the great taste. Room 
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup poppy seeds (I keep these in the freezer to ensure freshness along with other 
       seeds and nuts).
  1. Combine flour and salt in small bowl, I use whisk to mix thoroughly.
  2. Cream butter and sugar  until light and fluffy.
  3. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. 
  4. Gently mix in poppy seeds
  5. At this point I usually freeze half the dough unless I need a large batch of cookies.
  6. Shape dough into one inch balls, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart on 
       ungreased cookie sheet.
   7. Bake for 5 minutes, remove from oven and make thumbprint in center of each 
       cookie.  Clever tip: cover regular sized wine cork tightly with foil and use cork to 
       make  "thumbprint".  Rinsed off cork can be used again and again.
    8. Return cookies to oven and bake a total of 15 to 20 minutes, turning cookie sheet
         around 1/2 way to ensure even baking. When cookies are golden, remove from 
         oven and cool on wire rack.  
     9. When cookies are completely cooled fill each cookie with lemon curd.  Keep  
          well wrapped in fridge until serving time.  I do this since the lemon curd contains 
         eggs.  If using jam instead, the cookies can be kept at room temperature.(Papa 
         Metafora also loves these cookies filled with apricot jam when there is no lemon

Homemade Lemon Curd
    Basically this is a "Joy of Cooking" recipe, still a bit of a bible for many basic recipes. As mentioned above I was lucky enough to have the wonderfully flavorful and juicy Meyer lemons on hand, a gift from my dear friend, Janeen. Regular lemons will work just fine.

3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar
Lemon zest, grated from one lemon
  1. Whisk the above ingredients together in medium sized stainless steel saucepan until light in color.     Then, Add:
  2. 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice, strained.
  3. 3/4 stick unsalted butter (6 tablespoons), cut in small pieces.
  4. Place the saucepan over medium heat until the butter is melted.
  5. Then whisk constantly until mixture thickens and simmer gently a few seconds. Longer simmering could curdle the eggs, don't want that!
  6. Scrape the filling using spatula into medium -mesh sieve placed over a bowl. Let cool, cover and refrigerate until ready to fill cookies.
  7. When cookies are completely cool fill evenly with the chilled lemon curd.  May need a small metal spatula to even top.
  8. Taste one with tea or coffee.  Very yummy! 
UPDATE on September 2, 2018:  Poppy Seed Lemon Squares

I offered to bring cookies to a recent event and my "Why Didn't You Make More Cookies" we're requested (from post on  February 27, 2016)This is the recipe I developed for lemons sent by my dear friend from California - it was a poppy seed thumbprint cookie topped with homemade lemon curd.  I took them to a friend's party and they were gone within minutes. Many guests asked "Why didn't you make more?' Hence the cookie's name.  

However, a recent request was denied for lack of time. But not I have come up with a quicker and very nice alternative - a variation on classic lemon squares. These were also a big hit. and they are much faster to make.

Crust-preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place rack in bottom 1/3 of oven, and use an 8-inch square pan, lined with foil.
8 Tablespoons unsalted butter(one stick) softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar.
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon poppy seeds

1. Melt butter which has been cut in chunks in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Remove from heat and stir in the sugar and salt.  Mix flour with poppy seeds and add to the pan. Mix a little, just until the flour is incorporated.
2. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of the pan, and bake for about 20 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

1/2 cup  plus 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 Tablespoons flour
2 eggs
1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel
1/4 cup lemon juice

1. While crust is baking, stir the sugar and flour together in a medium bowl until well mixed.
Whisk in the eggs, stir in the lemon juice and zest.
2. When crust is ready, turn oven down to 300 degrees F. Pour filling over the crust.
3. Bake about 15 minutes or until topping is puffed at the edges and no longer jiggles in the pan when tapped.
4. Set on rack to cool completely.  Lifting ends of foil, transfer to cutting board.
Use sharp knife to cut into 16 or 25 squares.  I do the 25 - less calories.
5. Sieve powdered sugar on the bars just before serving.

The lemon bars may be stored in the refrigerator, airtight, for about 3 days.  I usually freeze the extras.  

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Recipes for Delicious Kufta, bouglur pilaff, and sauteed peppers

    In mid-February, here in Cleveland, the temperature was 11 degrees.  The wind-chill factor made it minus 11 degrees.  A good time for comfort food.  So I made Izmir kufta.  Izmir, Turkey's third largest city, was known as Smyrna, the Ancient Greek city. 
Mom's Izmir  kufta was a childhood favorite.  Served with pilaffe, either bouglur or rice, and green salad it is a great,affordable meal.  In the early fifties in the Central Valley of California, only a few friends of my parents had swimming pools. (Now pools are everywhere.). Their friends, the Karyians, not only had a pool but a large beach house alongside.  It was a favorite destination  in those hot valley days of summer. Not only the pool lured but the excellent food Roxie Karyians prepared.  She had actually lived in Izmir, so I looked forward to eating her kufta in the beach house. (A good summertime meal too.). I was a child who loved food, often the more exotic, the better.  So when Roxie passed around the platter of her kufta,  I took a large helping.  
These must be wonderful I thought since they were made by a native from Izmir.  One bite was a huge disappointment.  It tasted way over spiced, nothing like mom's more subtle approach.   Took another bite, then left the rest on my plate.  No one noticed. Wish I could taste them today, probably would love them now.
     I use ground turkey  or chicken with a little fat instead of the ground lamb or beef that Armenians would have used in my childhood.  I don't feel the change compromises the dish.  I use as little red meat as possible, for health reasons.

Izmir Kufta (also called soutzoukakia in Greek)
                           Serves 4 to 6
1 pound ground turkey or chicken
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs (panko works well)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice 
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon salt(kosher preferred)
1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper, about 3/4 teaspoon 
1 large egg
1/4 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley 

Two tablespoons olive oil 

Tomato sauce 
14.5 ounce can tomatoes,finely diced or crushed by hand
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup water

  1. Whisk egg lightly.  Add the rest of the ingredients, except for the olive oil.
  2. Mix well, I use my hands.
  3. Pat into ovals, shaped like tapered teardrops.  The recipe should yield 25 to 30 little kuftas.
  4. Heat oil in large heavy skillet.  Sauté half the kuftas at a time. 5 minutes on each side.  I find them easier to turn over by taking the skillet off the heat for two or three minutes.  Remove to plate and sauté second batch in the same way. Remove second batch to plate.
  5. Deglaze the pan.  I usually use 1/4 cup water, but chicken broth or white wine works well too.
  6. Return all the kuftas to the pan.  Mix all the tomato sauce ingredients together and add to skillet.  
  7. Bring to slow simmer.  Cover and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Check after 15 minutes to see if more water(1/4 to 1/2 cup needs to be added.  Should be saucy, not dry.

Delicious with pilaffe, rice or bouglur,or with couscous.  My favorite is my mom's simple bouglur pilaffe.  It is whole grain wheat and very healthy.
Simple bouglur pilaffe: sauté one small finely chopped yellow onion or shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil in smallish saucepan. Add one teaspoon dried mint.  Can use a tablespoon of finely chopped fresh mint,but still use a half teaspoon dried with the fresh for that certain flavor. Add 3/4 teaspoon salt, freshly ground pepper, and one cup bouglur,coarse or medium (not the fine tabouleh bouglur).  Mix ingredients together over low heat a minute or so.  Add two cups water, increase heat and bring to boil.  Turn heat down to simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Fluff with fork and serve with the Izmir kuftas.  I serve side by side, but kufta on top of pilaffe is an option.

Quick sauté of peppers
     When small sweet peppers are on sale, they are a wonderful addition to the kufta 
dinner.  My sister-in-law Josette, an exceptional cook, makes the most wonderful peppers.  She roasts small curly ones that she can find at California's farmer's markets.  I can't find those peppers here in the east, so I have to rely on my local super market or Trader Joe's.  I like spicy, so sometimes I throw in a few jalapeño or Fresno chilies.  This is quick and easy and can go with so many meals. 

One pound little peppers, red and yellow
A couple of hot peppers-optional 
Two tablespoon olive oil (extra virgin works well)
Sea salt
Aleppo pepper, optional 

1.Prepare peppers by washing,cut off tops, and take out seeds and white plup.  A demitasse spoon works well.  Dry off peppers on paper towel.
2.Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat.  Add peppers carefully so you won't be splattered by the hot oil.  Sauté ,stirring off an on, for about four minutes. Crispy
Is the desired result.
3.Line a platter with paper towels.  Transfer the peppers to the platter,using a slotted spoon.sprinkle with sea salt.  If you like a little heat add some Aleppo pepper.  Discard the paper towels a serve,hot or room temperature.