25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

From our family to yours!

Red and Green Harissa Gift Packs!


20 December 2013

Paul's Kifli Cookies

I had so many tasty holiday recipes I wanted to try this month, cookies to bake and new recipes to share with you readers. Instead, this month has been pretty much a disaster. We have been in a family spate of loosing things (wedding rings! check books! though the former was luckily dug out of a trash can full of coffee grounds).

We learned this week that we have to move out of our home because of a major mold problem, which had caused some health issues, and that we had to move immediately (tomorrow actually). Moving, in case you didn't know, is pretty terrible. We've lived in our home for a year and a half and we love our neighborhood, I know all the shop owner's names and I finally figured out the donut guy's schedule. Also, moving five days before Christmas, and one day before you leave on your Christmas holiday, with no advance notice, is pretty stressful.


In a twist of humor, the only available place for us to move to is a palatial residence which is a former embassy. So tomorrow we'll be taking up residence in a mansion replete with hand-painted murals of galloping horses, tile work, a hammam, lemon trees, and more chandeliers than anyone should ever have. The one piece of bad news is that the home does not currently have internet.


Luckily, we did have time to make a few cookies in the past few weeks. Several years ago Paul embarked on a project to make kifli cookies, a Hungarian delicacy with a myriad of spellings. He settled on a recipe, and has been making it for the past few years. It involves a delectable cream cheese dough wrapped around a jam or nut filling. We had saved a carefully hoarded jar of cream cheese just to make these cookies. Paul had to stop me from eating massive quantities of dough, and we got to share cookies with some of my coworkers. I like that we are starting to build a family repertoire of cookies, and that one day maybe people will remember us fondly every year for our holiday kifli cookies. It's a good reminder of all that things that make a family and a home that have nothing to do with four walls or perfectly wrapped presents.


Paul's Kifli Cookies
This recipe was written by Paul and is therefore probably far more thoroughly thought-out than my usual recipes! Makes about 3 dozen.
1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for work surface
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
4 ounces (½ cup) unsalted butter, softened
⅜ cup granulated sugar
1 cap-ful of vanilla extract

For the filling: Your favorite jam or spiked walnut frangipane (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
1. Whisk the flour, salt, and spices together in a large bowl and set aside.
2. Cream the cream cheese, butter, and sugar together until pale yellow and fluffy, about 10 minutes using a hand-held electric mixer. Cream in vanilla extract.
3. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter and cream cheese in two batches, stirring until just combined after each addition. The dough will be quite soft but should not be sticky.
4. Divide the dough into two equal squares. Wrap each square in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour until firm. The dough will keep for several days in the refrigerator or can be wrapped tightly and frozen for up to a month.
5. When the dough is thoroughly chilled, liberally flour a work surface, a rolling pin, and one of the dough squares. Roll out the dough into a ¼-inch thick square. (You can also roll out the dough between two pieces of wax paper.) Use a sharp knife, pastry or pizza cutter to cut the dough into four equal strips lengthwise and then four equal strips crosswise, creating 16 small squares. Repeat with the remaining dough, or working in batches, move onto the filling.
6. Spoon about 1/4 to 1/3 teaspoon of jam or frangipane filling in the center of each square. (If using frangipane, it’s best to use slightly less filling because the frangipane will expand during baking.) Pinch together two opposite corners of each square, and then fold the resulting point over to one side.
7. Arrange the cookies on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or silpats and bake for 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow to cool thoroughly.
8. Dust the cooled kifflies thoroughly with powdered sugar sifted through a fine mesh sieve. Cookies may be stored in an airtight plastic container in layers with parchment paper between each layer.

Spiked Walnut Frangipane Filling

½ cup finely ground walnuts
1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon Amaretto or rum (or your favorite nut extract)
1 egg white, stiffly beaten
Stir together ingredients with a fork.

15 December 2013

North African Shortbread Cookies

This is how I feel about Christmas cookies the week after Thanksgiving:
  • Yay, it's time to make cookies! There are so many kinds, what will we make this year?! Maybe I'll finally make Martha Stewart worthy cookies with royal icing and perfectly placed glitter. And of course we have to make the traditional ones,  cut out in shapes, and then there's those ones I bookmarked last year....
This is how I feel about Christmas cookies on December 15th:
  • Argh! Why have I not made Christmas cookies yet! I'm just too busy at work and I still need to get presents for people. Okay, I'm going to make cookies tonight. [Cut to me making cookies, the kitchen covered in powdered sugar, and realizing it's 9 pm and there's no food for dinner.]
If this sounds like a familiar tale, than have I got the cookie recipe for you! You don't have to roll out anything, there's no pesky icing to swirl with tooth picks, you only need a bowl and a spatula. These are a classic Algerian recipe for ghirbiya. Ghiribiya basically means shortbread, and you find them all over North Africa and the Levant. They are addictively delicious, crumbly and melt-in-your-mouth. In Algeria they dust the tops with cinnamon, which is a delicious touch.

There is one thing you'll have to get over about these cookies: they are made with vegetable oil. But wait, isn't everything better with butter? I thought so too, but trust me, these cookies are not better with butter. I tested this recipe with vegetable oil, and my office devoured the delicious buttery cookies in minutes. Then I tried the recipe with butter .... you should not try the recipe with butter. The dough crumbled and wouldn't stick together, and the baked cookies formed weird lumpy bumps. They were tasty, but ugly. So use the oil, and the rest of the recipe is a snap!

Need more cookie ideas? Check out the finally updated recipe index, for more! There's lots of cookie recipes under the holiday tab.


North African Shortbread Cookies (Ghiribiya)
This may be the easiest recipe on earth, as I learned it, it's just: one part sugar, one part oil, three parts flour. I've tweaked it a bit for deliciousness, but it is extremely straight forward. They also make the same cookies in Algeria with semolina flour and with chickpea flour (which is gluten free), but I haven't tried those variations.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (crushed sea salt is good)
1/2 cup neutral oil (safflower, canola, etc)
cinnamon, for sprinkling

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Place all the dry ingredients in a bowl and mix gently. Add in the oil until the mixture becomes a paste. If the mixture is still too dry, you can add 1-2 tablespoons more oil. Press the mixture together with a spatula to form a lump in the bowl.
3. Pinch off rounds of the dough and form into gentle pyramids. Place on baking sheet. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon. Bake for 14-16 minutes -- you will see small lines form along the edges of the cookies, but they should not brown. Let cool completely befoe eating, the cookies will harden as they cool.

11 December 2013

Sweet Potatoes Anna

 A lot of expat life is about assessing what you don't have in a particular location, and then trying to figure out how to get it. Booze, brussel sprouts, Christmas trees, you name it and an expat has smuggled it, grown it, or Macgyvered it. In this case: sweet potatoes. Much to my surprise, they actually sell sweet potatoes in Algeria, but they bear little resemblance to American sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes here look similar on the outside, but inside they are white and oddly starchy/sticky in consistency. Sometimes I think produce here is like one long botany lesson. (These specimens may be a true yam? And not what New York city groceries mistakenly called yams.) I eat them sometimes, but without the joy of a gloriously orange sweet potato.

When I hoarded some precious sweet potatoes back from America in November, I knew exactly what I was going to do with them. I was going to make Sweet Potatoes Anna. This recipe first appeared in the NYTimes several years ago, it had a brief flourish on some cooking blogs, and then faded into relative obscurity, except in my kitchen. I made Sweet Potatoes Anna probably 50 times over one winter. I may have been in danger of turning orange. I credit this recipe with turning my husband, previously an avowed sweet-potato-hater, into someone fighting me for the last scraps of gratin. It's so great, I think I've made it for Thanksgiving three years in a row. It helps that it is also super easy when you have a big meal to plan.

It's so good that people often ask me for the recipe (even French friends who tell you they can't cook at all and then invite you to their party where they serve a massive spread of homemade pate and rilletes on toast and those little savory loaf cakes French people make, even those people!). And, even worse, I'm only finally telling you about this recipe now! I know, I'm a terrible friend. But if you'll forgive me, there's still plenty of time left for more Sweet Potatoes Anna this winter.*

*Although not for me, but I'm considering asking someone to ship me a box of sweet potatoes. They'll keep in transit for three weeks in the cold, right??


Sweet Potatoes Anna
This recipe is easily adjustable to any size you want. I often make a very large gratin of this for Thanksgiving or for a crowd. Adapted from the New York Times.

4 medium-sized sweet potatoes (about 2.5 lbs), peeled
8 tablespoons (4 oz) butter, melted
3 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes (both work equally well)
equipment: a 10-inch round ceramic or glass baking dish or cast iron skillet

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place the sea salt and Aleppo pepper in a bowl and mix to combine.
2. Using a mandoline thinly slice the peeled sweet potatoes (about 1/8" thick). Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl, add the melted butter, and stir to coat.
3. Layer the sweet potatoes slices in concentric overlapping circles over the bottom of your dish. Sprinkle the layer lightly with the salt/pepper mix. Continue to make overlapping layers, sprinkling each layer with salt/pepper, until all your potatoes are used up. You will not use all the salt mixture. (You can try and save your prettiest slices for the top layer if you're OCD like that). Scrape up any butter that's stuck to the bottom of the bowl and dab it over the top of the gratin.
4. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil, place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover the dish and bake for another 20-30 minutes, until tender when pierced through with a knife. If the potatoes start to brown too much you can cover the dish lightly with foil again. Serve warm.

07 December 2013

Seeded Buckwheat Butter Cookies

I was hesitant to post this cookie recipe at Christmas time when everyone is making over-the-top sugar coated confections. These little cookies are extraordinarily tasty, but they're a bit plain jane to look at. They're like a shortbread cookie in texture, but they are headily scented with vanilla and have a lovely crunch from a scattering of sesame and poppy seeds. In the rush of Christmas cookie tins, these cookies might not look like much, but their flavor should win them a legion of fans.


The recipe is adapted from the quite-famous-on-the-internet Alice Medrich buckwheat and cocoa nibs cookies. Needless to say, that recipe is beloved because it's pretty darn good. I didn't have cocoa nibs, so I originally thought to substitute walnuts, but I worried that their large size would make the delicate cookie crumble. Plus, with my tendency to make late night Amazon orders of random health foods (hello spirulina!), we have a pantry burdened with a variety of seeds.


The cookies are very easy to make and, though the dough is a bit delicate, you could also roll them out and cut them into shapes for the holidays. Just make sure to keep your dough well-chilled if you do that. You can choose any kind of seeds you like - I used a mix of poppy seed, chia seeds, and sesame seeds. Sadly, it didn't make much of a dent in our over-burdened pantry, but it made some very tasty cookies.


Seeded Buckwheat Butter Cookies
I haven't tried this, but I would imagine these cookies could be made gluten-free by substituting a GF-flour mix in for the half cup of regular flour.

1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, softened
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup mixed seeds (for example, 2 tbl sesame, 1 tbl chia, and 1 tbl poppy seeds)
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 cup flour

1. Cream together the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Add in the salt and vanilla. Add both the flours to the bowl and the seeds and stir until just mixed in, do not overbeat.
2. Form the dough into a log, wrap the log in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours, until chilled and firm.
3. Preheat oven to 325F. Slice cookies 1/4 inch thick and arrange on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake 16-18 minutes, until edges are just barely golden (do not let cookies brown). Let cool on a rack.

03 December 2013

Freekia, Squash, and Apple Salad with Honey-Harissa Dressing


First of all, let's get one thing out of the way. That red saucy stuff up there? That is harissa. There is no such thing as harissa powder or some super stiff harissa paste, just that good ole super spicy oily soft peppery harissa. There isn't a lot I get to share from Algeria, but this is one thing I know for sure. (So please don't ask me about Algeria's recent currency fluctuations, I still haven't wrapped my head around that!) There. Aren't you glad we got that out of the way? I don't know about you, but stuff like that really bugs me.

So, second of all, there are approximately 3 million recipes out there on the internets for a farro and squash salad. Seriously, google it. This is my version, inspired by what I have access to, and what was lying around in the fridge that day. We can't get farro so I used freekia (toasted green wheat), but you can use any sort of hearty grain you'd like. I threw in the white beans because I had some leftover ones waiting in the fridge. Personally, I think beans in salad can quickly turn into gloopy smushy things, so I like to toast my white beans, leaving them crisp on the edges, before adding them to salads.


The real genius here (and I will admit I borrowed it from this site, who borrowed it from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook), is the honey-harissa dressing. You need some honey-harissa dressing in your life folks. Think of all the things it can brighten up: salads, boring old chicken, rice pilafs, etc. I recommend you make the dressing according to taste, rather than following the recipe exactly, since it will depend on how spicy your harissa is and how mild your honey is. Happy harissa hunting and stay tuned for some holiday cookie recipes soon!

P.S. You would think after a year and a half of living in Algeria I would have a harissa recipe for you. But alas, like most other Algerians I buy my harissa from a vendor (my preferred guy in right near the date section at the back of Premier Mai). However, I'm hoping we'll learn when the harissa peppers come back into season in the spring.


Freekia, Squash, and Apple Salad with Honey-Harissa Dressing
There are several ingredients and steps here, but really, everything comes together very quickly once you get going. You could even chop and prep the vegetables a day or two before to help expedite things. This is a nice one-bowl weeknight dinner this time of year.

1 cup freekia (or farro, wheatberries, etc)
1/2 teaspoon each allspice and nutmeg
1/4 of a red onion, minced
juice of 1 lemon
750 grams of peeled and diced butternut squash or pumpkin
1 small apple
4 sprigs of mint
1 cup of white beans
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese
olive oil, salt
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon harissa* (depending on how spicy yours is, if you don't have harissa, Sriracha sauce is a great substitute)

1. Preheat oven to 425F. Place the minced onion in a small bowl and add the lemon juice to cover. Let the onion sit while you do the following steps.
2. Heat some olive oil in a small pot. Add the freekia, allspice, and nutmeg and saute gently until fragrant. Add a large pinch of salt and 2 1/4 cups water. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot and let simmer for 30 minutes, or until puffed and water is absorbed. (For farro or wheatberries, check package directions for cooking time and water ratio).
3. Toss the squash with olive oil and salt and roast on a foil-lined baking sheet until tender and browned on the edges. About 20-30 minutes.
4.  Heat some olive oil (if you have it, duck fat or bacon fat also work nicely here) in a pan, enough to thickly coat the bottom of the pan. When the pan is nice and hot, add the white beans and cook until nicely browned on both sides. Set aside.
5. Finely dice the apple, set aside.
6. Drain the lemon juice from the onions into a small bowl. Add 1/3 a cup olive oil, the honey and harissa to the lemon juice. Whisk together the dressing and taste for seasoning - you may need more honey or more harissa. The dressing should be thick.
7. Fold the mint and 1 tablespoon of the dressing into the freekia. Spread the freekia on a platter. Scatter the white beans, apple, and squash over the salad. Scatter the goat cheese over the salad. Drizzle the remaining the dressing over the salad. Serve.

* Sur La Table and other specialty food stores sell a decent version of jarred harissa.