Saturday, February 26, 2011

CHICKPEA SOUP or GREEK REVITHOSOUPA (Ρεβιθόσουπα)


Revithia is the Greek word for chickpeas or garbanzo beans. I made revithosoupa for dinner today, and it was about time! We hadn't had it in a while, so it was good to eat a simple, meatless, warm bowl of soup. Revithosoupa is a filling Greek soup that is a standard in the Greek cooking repertoire. Some versions are kind of plain, others like mine are well flavored.

I like to mix in spices and vegetables, always trying to come up with a version that can produce applause from my family. I know that's a lost cause. They are not the sort to applaud a cook unless Emeril Lagasse himself enters our kitchen. I still keep trying, though. Plain or spiced up this soup is good. It's the chickpeas that give it a lot of favor. Ideally, it should be made with dried chickpeas that have been soaked overnight in water and a little bit of salt. That's when revithosoupa has a lot of flavor. Cooking it that way however, requires prior planning, and I don't always know the day before what I'll be making for tomorrow's dinner. In those cases, when I feel like making revithosoupa, I use canned chickpeas. So, that's why the "extra" ingredients and spices are needed, to bring out the flavor that is missing in the canned chickpeas.

Ingredients:
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cans of 15 ½ ounce canned chickpeas rinsed and drained.
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup celery diced
  • 3 carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 leek, white and light green part only, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mint or 1 teaspoon fresh
  • 2 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 cups water

Directions:
  • Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion, leek, garlic, celery and carrots. Sauté until the onions are soft.
  • Add the chickpeas, and stir them around for about two minutes or so and then season them with salt and pepper.
  • Add the liquid, oregano, rosemary and mint. Bring to a boil and cover, then lower the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
  • Add the parsley and lemon juice during the last 15 minutes of cooking. Serve while hot and enjoy!


This post will be submitted to Souper Sundays over at Kahakai Kitchen (http://kahakaikitchen.blogspot.com/).

Monday, February 21, 2011

DOUBLE CHOCOLATE PISTACHIO BISCOTTI


A Martha Mondays in February needs a dose of chocolate. Ana (that would be me), over at "Sweet Almond Tree," chose these double chocolate biscotti from Martha Stewart's web site. So welcome to Sweet Almond Tree blog, and let me tell you: If you are a chocoholic these biscotti were meant for you.

I think the recipe I chose is pretty decadent. Shame on me! These biscotti are made with a double dose of chocolate: a bar of semisweet chocolate, plus 1/2 a cup of cocoa powder. In addition, they have pistachios mixed in them, and how can one not be nuts about those nuts. The biscotti should also contain raisins, but I used dried cranberries instead, because even though I searched I could not find my jar of raisins. I know it's somewhere in my kitchen, but where? While searching for the raisins I found some almonds. Wow, almonds are really good, I thought. So I threw some almonds into the mix, too. One thing about these biscotti: the dough is soft and gooey, so be prepared for it to stick all over your hands. Have a butter knife handy so that you can scrape that stuff off. After the first bake, the cookies could still be a bit soft. Let them cool very well, and then slice them very carefully. A few biscotti are bound to crumble. That's all right. It's the cook's treat, those little crumbles, and you can nibble on them while your chocolaty biscotti are getting ready.

Ingredients:
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup whole shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
  • 3/4 cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 cup golden raisins or dried cranberries

Directions:
  • Soak the raisins or dried cranberries in water until they plump up, about half an hour.
  • Heat the oven to 350 °F.
  • Melt the butter and the chocolate in a double boiler. Stir until smooth.
  • Sift together the cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • In an electric mixer, beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until lightened. Add the vanilla.
  • On low speed, add the chocolate mixture
  • Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed until incorporated. Stir in the nuts, raisins or dried cranberries.
  • Dough will be soft. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Form two 9 inch long by 3 inch wide logs and carefully place on a parchment lined baking sheet.

  • Bake until dough sets, about 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Cool for 1 hour and then heat the oven to 275 °F.
  • Cut the dough into 1/2 inch slices.
  • Place cut side down on a baking sheet.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the cookies over and bake for another 20 minutes, until slightly dry.
  • Let them cool on a wire rack, and store them in an airtight container
***You will have a cookie/biscotti that is crunchy, nutty and very, very chocolaty. If you are a chocoholic you will love it!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

DORRIE GREENSPAN'S LOUZY ORANGE-ALMOND TART

I'd like to share with you the story of a disaster. All disasters have names, and this one is called the "the orange-almond tart disaster, courtesy of Dorrie Greenspan." I cook along on French Fridays with Dorie, with recipes from the book "Around my French Table," written by Ms. Greenspan. This last Friday we had to make an orange almond tart. There was a gorgeous picture of it in her book, which by the way is very elegantly photographed, so who wouldn't want to make such a tart?
Well, I was busy, I had to do this, I had to do that, and time got away from me. I never baked the darn thing. I had bought the ingredients though, and always on my mind there was the thought of that beautiful picture of the orange-almond tart. It was calling out to me. So I decided to bake it and post it even if it was going to be late. Almost a whole week late. I looked closely at the recipe and I encountered my first problem: butter. A pâte sablée dough makes up the 9 1/2 diameter crust, and along with flour and confectioner's sugar and an egg yolk, it requires 9 tablespoons of butter. That's bad. Too much butter. Now I know that in order to make a good pâte sablée or even a pâte brisée, a large amount of butter is needed. Hence I overlooked the fact that I had to use 9 tablespoons of the stuff. On top of the crust is spread an almond cream. Made with 6 tablespoons of butter. And lots of sugar. Sinful. As in too much butter in one place sinful. Keeping the dessert photograph in my mind though, I persevered. I made the crust. Buttery, sweet and delicious. I made the almond cream. Buttery, sweet and delicious. And now for the disaster: Arrange some orange slices on the tart and bake. Well, I arranged the orange slices, thinking all the while that peaches or apples would probably be a better choice. The tart came out of the oven. I let it cool, and then I tasted it. It was horrible. The pâte sablée was good, the almond cream was good, but the orange slices destroyed the whole concept. They were biter and hard. What a shame. Even though the oranges were juicy and sweet when I sliced them, baking them on top of the tart made them loose all their flavor. All the trouble I went through: made a nice pâte sablée. Made a nice almond cream. All the compromises I made: Never mind about too much butter, never mind about the sugar. In the end it will be worth it. Guess what? It wasn't. Everything got destroyed by using orange slices as a topping. Ms. Greenspan, your idea of an orange-almond tart quite plainly sucks. I was and still am very angry. I remember a comment I read on Amazon.com by a reviewer of Ms. Greenspan's book: "This is a collection of recipes that feels like it comes straight out of Greenspan's kitchen: which means that if your cooking style and tastes run with hers, you will like this book. If they don't, you won't." As far as this orange tart is concerned, my culinary taste and Ms. Greenspan's culinary taste could not have been more far apart.

The tart right before going into the oven. Looks good, doesn't it? If only those oranges were peaches. There would have been no problem at all.

Once the tart comes out of the oven powdered sugar is sprinkled on top.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

SAUTÉED SOLE WITH LEMON AND ALMONDS


On the menu today I've got grey sole topped with almonds and a lemon butter sauce. This recipe was chosen from Martha Stewart's web site by Lyndsey who blogs over at the Tiny Skillet.

Who doesn't love Dover sole? When I was growing up in Greece, we had it for dinner about once a week. At the time it was a plentiful fish in the waters of Europe, although today, unfortunately, it has been over-fished. Grey sole is a version of an American sole found throughout the coastal regions of North America. It has a light, sweet and delicate taste. It's low in calories, high in protein and packed with B-12 vitamin and omega-3 fatty acids.


The sole was enjoyable and easy to make. I served it with a lettuce and Gorgonzola cheese salad, on top of which I tossed some of the sliced almonds I hadn't used on the fish. I doubled the recipe because
the original, which is presented here, gives amounts for just two servings. Even though I doubled it, rather than using extra butter I added some olive oil. Thanks for choosing this Lyndsey, it made a light and really tasty dinner. Fast, easy, delicious. And healthy, too!

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 grey sole fillets (about 6 ounces each)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • juice from 1 lemon
  • zest from one lemon
  • lemon wedges for garnish

Directions:
  • Wash the sole and pat it dry with paper towels. Make sure it dries well so that the flour can adhere and not crumble away during cooking. Season it on both sides with salt and pepper. Dredge the sole in the flour, coating both sides, and shake off the excess flour.
  • Heat the canola oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat and add the fillets. Cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer the fillets to a serving plate and sprinkle them with parsley.
  • Discard the canola oil and clean the sauté pan. Place it back on the heat and add the butter. When the butter begins to foam add the almonds, lemon zest and lemon juice to the pan. Let the sauce cook for about a minute, making sure the butter doesn't burn. Spoon it over the fillets and serve them with lemon wedges.
  • Bon Appetit!!!

Friday, February 11, 2011

CORNED BEEF AND CABBAGE WITH BEETS


There is an online event (I believe it’s quarterly), called Novel Food. It’s hosted by Simona from Briciole and Lisa from Champaign Taste. I fell in love with the concept for this event: Cook something that has been inspired by a published literary work, and create a post about it. I love to read and I love to cook so there was no doubt that I would join Novel Food right away!!!

I had a month until the posting deadline, plenty of time to prepare, or so I thought. Here I am rushing to finish. Anyway, I pondered on the book I was reading: Cleopatra, A Life," by Stacy Schiff. Although I was charmed by the book, thinking about it did not give me that certain ache necessary for culinary inspiration. Which book, which author, I asked myself? James Joyce came to mind. In my opinion he is, along with Shakespeare, the greatest author in English literature. Joyce's the "Dubliners," I suppose because it was the first of his books that I read, holds a special place in my heart. "Dubliners," is a collection of 15 short stories first published in 1914, written in realistic detail and permeating with everyday scenes of middle class Dublin. The characters live ordinary lives, but as their stories unfold the reader becomes aware of intensely personal and often tragic revelations about them. It’s the glimpse into their emotional lives that always has had a profound effect on me. One of the short stories in particular, moves me to tears every time I read it. The title of that story is “A Painful Case.”



“A Painful Case” is a story about isolation. It concerns the brief intermingling of the lives of Mrs. Sinico, a married woman who feels unfulfilled and is neglected by her husband, and Mr. Duffy, a bank cashier who leads a solitary and meticulously orderly life. The two start a relationship that is innocent, but grow close, developing a deep friendship. One day Mrs. Sinico impulsively takes Mr. Duffy’s hand and places it on her cheek. He is taken aback by her action and ends their relationship. At a farewell meeting Mrs. Sinico seems distraught and unwilling to say goodbye. Four years go by, during which Mr. Duffy resumes his old routine. One evening, while eating a dinner of corned beef and cabbage in his usual restaurant, he reads a newspaper article entitled “A Painful Case.” The article details the death of Mrs. Sinico, who was hit by a train at a Dublin station. A coroner’s inquest revealed that Mrs. Sinico had taken to drinking during her last years, and it is inferred from the narrative that her death may have been a suicide. Slowly, Mr. Duffy begins to feel remorse. He believes that by having rejected her he condemned her to loneliness and eventual death. He reflects on his own solitary life, devoid of her companionship. He realizes that he has lost his only chance for happiness and will remain isolated from "life’s feast" because he lacks the courage to pursue happiness.

So besides the connection with Joyce, why did I decide on corned beef and cabbage? Well, St. Patrick's Day is around the corner, and I have lots of Irish neighbors. Corned beef and cabbage will be on many dinner tables around here. I've never made it, but I have always wanted to. This way I can brag about it to my Irish friends, and especially to Lillian, who lives next door. No doubt about it, corned beef and cabbage is a comfort food. Nothing fancy or sexy about it, just homey and of course delicious.

Corned beef and cabbage is briefly mentioned in "A Painful Case," but it's mentioned at the moment when the main character is about to undergo a significant psychological change. It's the moment when his epiphany begins, the moment when he begins to realize how paralyzed he is emotionally. Joyce's epiphanies are momentous and rare occasions, when meaning floods a character's conscience and he or she has a profound experience of recognition of a particular situation. Along with emotional paralysis, epiphanies are recurrent themes in the "Dubliners." In part, Joyce uses them to symbolize the colonization of Ireland. A defeated and powerless nation as Ireland was at the time, is juxtaposed with defeated and powerless individuals. Not much changes in Joyce's Dublin, and that fact has a horrible effect on the human spirit.
Well, we covered food, literature, politics, emotional isolation, what else is there? How about some of Joyce's astonishingly beautiful language in the form of quotes from "A Painful Case?" Here are Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico together:
"Her companionship was like a warm soil about an exotic. Many times she allowed the dark to fall upon them, refraining from lighting the lamp. The dark discreet room, their isolation, the music that still vibrated in their ears united them. This union exalted him, wore away the rough edges of his character, emotionalised his mental life."Mr. Duffy reads of Mrs. Sinico's Death:

"One evening as he was about to put a morsel of corned beef and cabbage into his mouth his hand stopped. His eyes fixed themselves on a paragraph in the evening paper which he had propped against the water-carafe. He replaced the morsel of food on his plate and read the paragraph attentively. Then he drank a glass of water, pushed his plate to one side, doubled the paper down before him between his elbows and read the paragraph over and over again. The cabbage began to deposit a cold white grease on his plate. The girl came over to him to ask was his dinner not properly cooked. He said it was very good and ate a few mouthfuls of it with difficulty. Then he paid his bill and went out."


The phrase "the cabbage began to deposit a cold grease on his plate." is rather startling. It prepares one for the upcoming chilling events. Here is the quote where Mr. Duffy realizes what Mrs. Sinico's death means for him:

"Why had he withheld life from her? Why had he sentenced her to death? He felt his moral nature falling to pieces... He gnawed the rectitude of his life; he felt that he had been outcast from life's feast. One human being had seemed to love him and he had denied her life and happiness: he had sentenced her to ignominy, a death of shame... No one wanted him; he was outcast from life's feast. He turned his eyes to the grey gleaming river, winding along towards Dublin...He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone."

Chilling. Insightful. Powerful. Masterful. Thank you, thank you, thank you so much Mr. Joyce.

James Joyce photographed by Berenice Abbott in 1926 (National Portrait Gallery, London). The author had problems with his eyesight throughout his life.
So I made corned beef and cabbage with a recipe based on one I found at the Food Network web site. It includes beets served alongside the corned beef, and I thought the beets would introduce a Greek twist to an Irish dish, considering that beets are kind of popular in Greek cooking.

OK, Those white pieces on top of the sliced corned beef are potato pieces that were mixed up in the broth. Don't want you thinking it's fat....


Ingredients:
  • 3 pound piece of corned beef
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 30 black peppercorns
  • 12 garlic cloves peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 5 carrots, peeled and cut into 3" pieces
  • 2 small turnips peeled and quartered
  • 4 small onions -small like the size of shallots -peeled and left whole. I thought of using shallots but we are having such a bad winter here, that they cost (pre-packaged), one shallot for $1.99.
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1/2 head cabbage, cut into wedges
  • 3 beets, peeled and sliced
  • chopped parsley for garnish
  • a little salt and pepper, a little lemon juice, a little olive oil and a negligible amount of oregano and garlic powder
Directions:

  • Corned beef is made by brining beef brisket in a mixture of spices. It comes with fat attached to it. I trimmed away and discarded as much fat as I could.
  • In a large heavy pot, combine the corned beef, bay leaves, peppercorns, 6 garlic cloves cut in half, and a pinch of ground cloves.
  • Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 3 hours, low and slow as they say. Remove the meat from the pot and reserve it on a plate, keeping it warm.
Beets - good to eat, but oh so difficult to photograph.
  • While the meat is cooking prepare the beets: Line an ovenproof pot with aluminum foil and place the beets inside. Season them with salt and pepper, a slight amount of olive oil and some lemon juice and just a bit of garlic powder and oregano. Close the aluminum foil around the beets bake them in a 350° F oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until they are soft.
  • You can also boil the beets, but remember not to add them in with the corned beef or vegetables, because they will turn everything red.
  • All right, let's get back to the pot where the meat was cooked. I tasted the liquid and I found that it was very salty. Extremely salty. Now, most recipes call for boiling the vegetables in that liquid, but I couldn't in good conscience submerge my vegetables in what was essentially a brine. So I discarded the liquid, washed the pot and to it I added a quart of low sodium chicken broth. I added the same amount of seasonings I had when cooking the meat: 6 garlic cloves cut in half, about 15 peppercorns, 2 bay leaves, and a pinch of ground cloves.
  • When the broth came to a boil I added the turnips and carrots, lowered the heat and and simmered for 20 minutes.
  • Then I added the onions and potatoes. By now I had a layer of vegetables covering the whole surface of the pot. I placed the cabbage on top of the vegetables, covered the pot and cooked for an additional 30 minutes.
  • The cabbage was steamed by the aromatic broth, and the turnips absorbed so much flavor that they were the best turnips I had ever tasted.
  • If the meat is cold, put it back in the pot next to the cabbage and give it a steam bath until it warms up.
  • And that's it. Mission accomplished. Slice the meat and serve warm, accompanied with the broth which is really tasty, and the vegetables.
  • You can serve the beets alongside the other vegetables, or better yet, you can present them separately as a salad.
  • You can decorate your creation with some chopped parsley if you like.
















I am contributing this to the 12th edition of Novel Food.