Saturday, December 14, 2013

Staying Warm in a Snowy Jerusalem

Israel has been struck by the worst snowstorm in decades. Being from New York I was happy to see the snow, as I've mentioned before I love the cold but this is taking it to an extreme. The best place to stay warm is in the kitchen, so that's where I've been for the past few days cooking up my own storm and coming up with some new recipes to stay cozy on these chilly days.
I love tomato soup but I used to only eat the canned stuff, don't get me wrong I still have a soft spot for that but I decided it's time to grow up and make something that's actually good for you. 

Tomato Soup with Fennel Grilled Cheese 

Tomato Soup
28 oz/800 gram can of whole peeled tomatoes 
cooking spray
1 tsp olive oil 
1 large onion diced 
1 clove garlic minced
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried basil 
3 cups water

Preheat oven to 410°F/210°C 
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray. Drain the can of tomatoes, reserving the liquid. Place the tomatoes on the cookie sheet in an even layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. If you're short on time you can skip this step but it definitely adds another layer of flavor to the soup. While your tomatoes are roasting heat olive oil in a large pot, add onion, garlic, salt and pepper and allow everything to soften. Add the tomatoes and the dried basil. Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and cook for 3 minutes. Add the reserved liquid and water. Bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Puree and serve with grilled cheese. For a little indulgence add some heavy cream. 

Fennel Grilled Cheese
1 fennel bulb cored and thinly sliced
cooking spray 
8 slices of bread 
shredded mozzarella 
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 410°F/210°C
Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat with cooking spray. Place fennel on the sheet in an even layer and toss with salt and pepper. Roast for 10 minutes until softened. In a pan or panini grill heat cooking spray or butter over medium heat. Toast 4 slices of bread on both sides add cheese and roasted fennel. Top with another piece of bread and cook until bread is toasted and cheese is melted. For a homemade panini press put a piece of foil on top of the sandwich while it's in the pan and place a can on top to weigh it down. 
Slice each sandwich on a diagonal and serve with tomato soup. 

Serves 4 

Enjoy and stay warm!  

Our little Israeli soldier snowman 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pumpkin Challah

It's not going to happen for another 77,798, but I still wasn't able to fully embrace Thanksgivukkah or Chanksgiving as my father called it. I felt that Chanukah was being overshadowed and why is Thanksgiving getting top billing in the name? But I do love Thanksgiving and I definitely love Chanukah. Both are filled with warmth and bring together family and friends. So in honor of this once in a lifetime occasion I used some of the Thanksgiving/Autumn (something that doesn't really exist in Israel) flavors and one of my favorite Jewish foods, challah. The warm flavors of pumpkin and the spices of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg made me feel cozy in my kitchen even though it doesn't feel like Fall in Jerusalem and the comfort of kneading my dough by hand reminded me of making challah with my mother in New York. Since Chanukah and Thanksgiving won't be meeting up for a very long time I suggest making this recipe for this shabbos and bring some new flavors to a classic.

The recipe calls for canned pumpkin, an ingredient that they do sell here in American style stores but it is a little pricey because it is imported. Thanks to my parents I have a few cans here from America but I know that you can substitute with the chunks of squash that are sold in every supermarket. Peel and boil until very tender, mash with a fork or puree with an immersion blender and then strain it pressing out as much moisture as you can.

This recipe is from The Shiksa in the Kitchen be sure to look around the site she has a lot of other great ideas.

2 Packages active dry yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
1 cup lukewarm water, divided (make sure it's not too hot or else you will kill the yeast)
2 Tbs white sugar
1 whole egg
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup honey (I used the cheaper silan/date honey)
2 Tbs canola oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger
pinch of cloves
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree (homemade or canned)
7-9 cups all-purpose baking flour

Pour 1/2 cup lukewarm water into a large mixing bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer) add yeast and 1 tablespoon of white sugar to the water wait 10 minutes to activate the yeast. If the mixture doesn't get bubbly and foamy then your yeast is not good and your bread won't rise.
Once the yeast is activated and the remaining 1/2 cup of water and white sugar to the bowl along with the egg, yolks, honey or silan, oil and spices. Whisk to combine. Add the brown sugar and pumpkin puree. Whisk together to form a thick liquid.
Begin to add the flour by the half cupful, stirring in each addition with a wooden spoon. When it gets too hard to mix with a spoon switch to the best tools in the kitchen, your hands. Keep adding flour until your dough is smooth, elastic and not sticky. Form the dough into a ball and spray the bowl with cooking spray, cover with a damp towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.
When your dough is ready, flour your work surface and dump the dough out onto it. Knead the dough a few times and then separate with a bench scraper or knife into equal pieces. The original recipe says that this makes two large loaves but I was making rolls and was able to make 18 large rolls. Shape the dough however you like, braids, pull apart, or rolls.

Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. The recipe calls for an additional egg to brush the challahs with but  you can use the leftover whites from all those yolks. For a little extra crunch and color I topped my rolls with pumpkin seeds. Let the formed dough rise for another 30-45 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350°F/175°C. Baking times vary depending on how you shaped your challah.
Enjoy and Happy Chanukah!