30 November 2013

Holiday Weekend Reading List

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I thought I would share some of our holiday pictures here for those of you who don't follow along on Instagram. I was really excited to get to share Thanksgiving with some of our Algerian and French guests, not to mention our American friends. At dinner we were dicussing how Thanksgiving is such a wonderful holiday because of all the things it's not -- not religious, not about giving gifts, not about a manadatory guest list. Thanksgiving can be with your family, with your oldest friends, or a chance to make new friends. It's about sharing a meal and quality time with people you enjoy, something we don't do often enough in my opinion.

One of our international guests even told me at the end of the evening that she wished her country had a holiday like Thanksgiving, which pretty much made my day. Plus several people asked for recipes and one guest even insisted (really truly insisted!) on helping do all the dishes before he left. I'm pretty sure there's nothing better than waking up the day after Thanksgiving and not having to do any clean-up! I hope you all are having relaxing holiday weekends, and I thought I'd share some things I've enjoyed reading recently.

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Spot-on Turkey Day cartoons over at the New Yorker.

Pie Crust Decorating Ideas in time for the holiday season. I made the decoration on our rye pie (below) with a grapefruit spoon, which has serrated edges. Also this Salty Honey Pie keeps popping up everywhere.

An article on Camus and Algeria, who would have been 100 this year.

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I am totally obsessed with this recipe for homemade almond extract over at Ciao Samin (a great blog). I know what I'll be doing with this spring's apricots.

Also on the list of recipes I'm obsessed with: Libyan Sfinz. Fried dough with a poached egg in the middle? Sign me up.

A little bit outdated, but I loved this post about the last of the summer tomatoes from Saipua (incidentally, Saipua helped me find our amazing wedding planner, and they do beautiful things with flowers). Read it some cold dreary winter day and dream about your next summer tomato.

I finally watched the movie Frances Ha (Netflix/iTunes) which is so sweet and endearing. A movie about a young modern dancer trying to make her way in New York, well I can't imagine why I would be interested in that?! But really, I think anyone would enjoy this little black-and-white film.

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Hope everyone had a great and delicious holiday!

25 November 2013

Thanksgiving Ideas

Bringing Thanksgiving to North Africa, one frozen turkey at a time.

Well, I was going to share a wheat, squash, and apple salad with you today, but let's be real. You're not doing anything except planning for Thanksgiving and nibbling at this or that this week. Plus, I went searching for my own cornbread dressing recipe on this site only to find the little search recipe on the right there is broken! (I cannot figure out how to fix it, but I'll keep flexing my coding skills). So, in lieu of that salad -- you'll get it next week -- let's talk turkey.

I've made Thanksgiving enough times to know that I can kind of wing it. I was in the U.S. last week so I got to bring a whole Thanksgiving meal home in my suitcase (much easier than trying to convince Whole Foods that yes, I really did want them to freeze their fresh turkey). My turkey roasting technique is pretty simple: cover with butter and salt, roast, turning it half-way through, use a digital thermometer, and that's about it. The cranberry sauce I make up every time, and it always ends up tasty. Ditto the gravy. For other dishes I'm making our usual favorites. The menu as I've planned it is:

Appetizers: Latkes with creme fraiche and salmon roe (happy Hannukkah!)

20 November 2013

Sicilian Semolina Swirl Rolls


(I know, I have to stop it with the aliteration. I just can't help myself.) We spent two weeks in Sicily in October and, for all its similarities with North Africa, I couldn't help remarking on how different it felt. Everywhere I went people pointed out the parallels to me: "we use this Arabic word for this tree/neighborhood/food," "in this town couscous is the specialty," "this church was built but North African craftsmen," "we make orange and fennel salads too."  But of course, all I could see were the differences: infrastructure, working ATM's, bars, wine, capacity for production, historic preservation, lack of checkpoints, clean streets!


But of course, perhaps I loved Sicily so much because it is so close to many things I love. All the Arabic architecture, the muqqarnas and mashrabbiyyas. The emphasis on seasonal local produce. The tiny regional specialties that are everywhere in one small town, but completely absent at the next town over. The fierce opinions about how food should be made and enjoyed. Like in Algeria, where almost every traditional bread is made with semolina flour, Sicilian bread is also made with semolina flour, often called pane giallo for its yellow color.


At home I found this recipe in one of Anissa Helou's books and thought it appropriate to make for our weekly bread. The bread is easy to make, just make sure to use fine grade semolina flour. At first, I thought the resulting bread was a bit too plain, although Paul, official blog taster, quite liked them. But then I toasted them with butter, and dipped them into some soup, and they started to grow on me. There is something lovely about their plain cornmeal-y sweetness, sort of like my grandmother's no-nonsense cast iron skillet cornbread. Crackly and ready to absorb up other flavors, and perfect for fall.


Sicilian Semolina Swirl Rolls
Heavily adapted from Anissa Helou.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast or 1 1/2 teaspoons instant SAF yeast
3 cups fine semolina
1/4 cup + 1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons salt
all-purpose flour for kneading
olive oil for greasing
1/4 cup sesame seeds for sprinkling

1. Place yeast in the bottom of a large ceramic bowl and add 1/4 cup warm water. Let sit until bubbly. Add in the semolina and salt, stirring with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the remaining 1 cup of warm water and stir until a rough dough forms. Begin to gently knead the dough with your hands so that it comes together. Continue to knead the dough, adding a little bit of flour as necessary to keep from sticking. I usually knead in the bowl, since I'm lazy, but you can turn it out and knead on a board also. Knead the dough for a good 5-8 minutes, semolina doughs need extra kneading to become smooth and supple.
2. Lightly coat the dough ball with olive oil to prevent sticking, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
3. After one hour, knock down the dough, turn it over, and cover it again with plastic wrap and let rise another 45 minutes - 1 hour, until doubled in volume.
4. For the next step, I work directly on my countertop, or you could use a marble board. Grease the counter top well with olive oil, pull the dough apart into 6 or seven easy sized balls. Roll the balls around on the countertop to grease them, then let rest for 15 minutes (don't skip this step!).
5. Preheat oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a nonstick mat and scatter the mat with sesame seeds. Roll out each dough ball into a long rope. Roll each end of the rope in opposite directions to form an S swirl. Transfer the rolls to the baking sheet and sprinkle the top of the rolls with more sesame seeds. Cover the rolls lightly with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise for 45 minutes.
6. When the rolls are risen, transfer them to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffed and lightly golden. Cool on a rack.

16 November 2013

Fennel, Turnip, and Apple Soup

You know it's fall in Algiers when it starts to rain. All the time. It happened on Wednesday, constant steady rain, letting up briefly and then pouring down in thick sheets. The same for Thursday. And now I sit here Friday, where we had a few hours of brightness in the early morning, before the clouds rolled in and I could hear the pitter patter on the windowsills.

I like the rain. After nearly five months of straight sunshine, the rain seems to tell you that it's okay to stay inside. To read a book or curl up with a cup of good coffee and my laptop. To wear fuzzy socks. (I think fuzzy socks make far more appearances on this blog than one would think necessary for a cooking blog). I'm sure in March I will be cursing the constant rain, but for now it's pleasantly indulgent.

Naturally, we've been making a lot of soups these past two weeks. Simple soups like butternut squash, or red lentil and tomato. I've made this soup a few times now using both turnips and winter squash. Both versions are lovely and very different. Turnips are always, always available here, whereas at the markets the fennel and winter squash seasons are in full swing. The unusual thing about this soup is that I have you dry-roast the vegetables. I figured there's no need to coat the vegetables in oil if they are just going to go in a soup anyway (besides the oil ends up making the soup greasy). Dry-roasting is very simple and brings out the natural sweetness of the vegetables. I leave the skins on the apple which adds a nice color and flavor to the soup, and is healthier that way too!


Fennel, Turnip, and Apple Soup
You can also make a fennel, pumpkin, and apple soup. Simply substitute 1 kilo of peeled, chopped winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, kabocha, etc). Because both turnips and fennel are rather watery vegetables you don't add a lot of extra liquid to the soup.

1/2 of a medium-sized onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 fennel bulbs
3 large turnips (about 1 kilo, 2.2 pounds)
2 large apples
1/4 cup white wine (optional)
1 1/2 cups chicken stock (preferably homemade)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (or to taste)
Toppings: creme fraiche, sauteed bacon or pancetta, more nutmeg, or thyme

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Slice the fennel bulbs, peel and chop the turnips, and chop (don't peel) the apples. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone baking mats. Scatter the fennel, turnips, and apples on the sheets. Roast the vegetables until lightly browned on the edges. They will be slightly softened but not all the way cooked through. Set aside.
2. Heat a large glug of olive oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Add in the diced onion and saute, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and starting to caramelize, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, allow to soften for about a minute. Deglaze the pan with white wine, stirring to scrape up any brown bits.
3. Add in the chicken stock, the vegetables, and the salt. Bring to a simmer, cover the soup pot and simmer for 30-40 minutes. The liquid should come up just to the sides of the vegetables, it will seem like less liquid than normal, but that's okay. If the pan starts to look dry add a touch of water.
4. Turn off the heat, stir in the nutmeg, and let cool for about 10 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender or with a hand blender. If the soup is very thick you can add some water to thin it. Taste for seasoning. Reheat the soup and serve with any desired toppings.

11 November 2013

Paul's Plum Pandowdy


How's that for aliteration, huh? Paul's plum pandowdy. But the best part of this dish, the file-away-in-the-recipe-box part, isn't even in the title, because it's the delicious rye crust. But before we get to that, first, the plum pandowdy. Algerians can grow some serious plums. Tiny glowing orange ones, dark purple prune plums, red plums, plums are available here for most of the year (eclipsed in winter by citrus season) and are reliably delicious. There aren't many pies and tarts made with plums, but they work beautifully. If you're worried plums would be too runny for a pie, aim for firm-ripe (not over-ripe mushy) plums, and dash of cornstarch takes care of the rest.


A pandowdy is, simply, a pie without a bottom crust. Halfway through the baking, you cut some slits in the top crust to "dowdy the pan" allowing the juices of the pie to bubble through the slits. We started off with this cornmeal pandowdy for inspiration, but instead of a cornmeal crust I made a rye crust from the excellent Kim Boyce. I've talked about how much I like putting rye into baked goods so often here, if I talk about it again you'll probably want to poke my eyes out. But seriously, rye pie crust needs to be in your arsenal stat.


Luckily, this recipe makes a double crust so you can make a pandowdy, and then still make another pie. A pear pie with rye crust and rye crumble? Oh yes, that's happening next. There might even be a rye crust at Thanksgiving. What about you all? Are you making pies, pandowdies, buckles, or crisps for the holiday? Do you have a secret crust weapon? Let me know in the comments.


Plum Pandowdy with Rye Crust
A couple notes: one, don't make the fluted crust like you see in the pictures here, it will prevent your crust from dowdy-ing. Is there anything worse than an undowdied crust?! Second, you need slightly less crust than normal for this, since it only goes over the top and not the sides of the pie. Therefore, when dividing your dough make one dough ball slightly smaller than the other, and use the small one for the pandowdy.

10 medium-sized firm-ripe plums, sliced
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 level tablespoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons butter
1 squeeze lemon juice (omit if your plums are on the tart size)
Rye Crust:
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups rye flour
pinch salt
1 tablespoon sugar
16 tablespoons (2 sticks, 8 oz) butter, cold and cut into small pieces
1/2 to 2/3 cup ice water
1 1/2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 beaten egg white and 2 tablespoons white sugar for glaze

1. Make your crust: Combine flours, salt, and sugar in a large bowl. Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers, two knives, or a pastry cutter. Mix the water and vinegar in a small bowl, measure out 1/2 cup of of the liquid. Quickly stir the 1/2 cup of liquid into the pie crust. Mix until the liquid is evenly distributed and the dough holds together when you squeeze it. It will be fairly dry. If you need more moisture add the liquid 1 tbl at a time.
2. Divide the dough into two, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (You can freeze the second crust, since you won' t be using it).
3. Make the filling: Preheat oven to 375F. Combine sliced plums, sugar, cinnamon, cornstarch and lemon in a large bowl. Toss to combine.
4. In a small skillet over medium-low heat, brown the 2 tablespoons butter until the butter solids are brown and toasty smelling. Pour browned butter over plums and stir gently.
5. Roll out crust: Remove one crust from the fridge, let warm up slightly, then on a floured working surface roll the dough into a rectangle, about 10x14 inches. Fold the dough over itself in thirds like a letter (this will make the crust flakier). Now roll the dough out into a circle that is the same circumference as your pie pan. Don't worry about trimming the edges. 
6. Pile plums into a pie pan. Fit your rolled out crust over the pan and tuck the edges of the pie crust down into the pan (this will help the juices bubble over later). Cut four small slits in the pie crust. Brush the pie crust with the beaten egg white, then sprinkle with the two tablespoons of sugar.
7. Place pie on a baking sheet to catch any bubbling juices. Place pie in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the pie form the oven and, using a sharp knife, cut a crosshatch pattern into the top of the pan. Press the crust down just a little bit to encourage to juices to bubble over. Return to the oven.
8. Bake the pie for another 20-30 minutes, until bubbling and browned. Cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

08 November 2013

The Loot

I have so many things to talk about from our recent trip to Sicily, but right now I'm just happy to be home. I'm a pretty frequent and experienced traveler, but I'm also a bit of a homebody, and after three weeks of living out of a suitcase and moving around, all I want is a bowl of my usual oatmeal, my kitchen, and a well-organized dresser.


I've been trying to put together notes on all the delicious things we saw, ate, and tasted, but there are too many to count! Gelato in brioche for breakfast? Paul snacking on spleen sandwiches. The tiniest fried squid. Wine making in the shadow of a Mt Etna eruption. There are too many to count! We'll be home, sorting through our photos, stirring up pots of soup to make home smell like fall. In the meantime, here's a peak of the stuff we crammed into our suitcases to bring back to Algiers:


Olive oil from Occhipinti, balsamic vinegar (I couldn't resist the cute packaging), and colatura oil, an oil made from pressed anchovies that's a specialty of Cetara.
Wines: Occhipinti SP68 and Frappato, Passopisciaro 2012, Bue Apis, and we also recommend the COS Cerasuolo di Vittorio, Graci Etna Rosso, and Valle del Acate Cerasuolo di Vittorio.


Prosciutto, pistachios in all forms from Bronte (whole, powdered, and paste), the tiniest cutest chickpeas, two kinds of farro pasta, and seeds for zucchini, cherry tomatoes, and arugula.

Back soon with a recipe!