Tu Bishvat Fruit & Nut Bars

We went to a lovely memorial service for my cousin who died on Tu Bishvat and in his blessed (z”l) memory his synagogue planted a almond tree in their garden. I can’t wait to see the beautiful almond blooms next spring. I really miss my cousin Michael: his wonderful laugh, his boundless knowledge, and his dry sense of humor. He was there for me when I needed him and I feel a deep void when the holidays come around.

I have written about the origins of Tu Bishvat before and I always try to make a dish with dried fruits and nuts in observance of this minor holiday. I decided to make very simple, but delicious fruit and nut bars from the seemingly endless supply of dried fruits and nuts that are sold daily in every shuk and supermarket around the country. The recipe looks a bit strange because you will think that there can’t possibly be enough batter to bake into bars, but it works, and the brown sugar does not make the bars sickeningly sweet.

Fruit and Nut Bars

Yield: 16 bars

1/3 cup of flour

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup walnuts, chopped

3/4 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup cranberries

3/4 cup dates, pitted and cut into quarters

3/4 cup prunes, pitted and cut into quarters

1 cup dried apricots, cut into quarters

1 large egg

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 160C (325F). Line an 8 x 8 inch (20 x 20 cm) baking pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

Put the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and mix with a fork. Stir in the brown sugar, walnuts, pecans and dried fruit. Mix with your hands making sure that the fruit and nuts are coated with the flour mixture.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg and the vanilla with a whisk or stick blender until pale and thick. Add the egg mixture to the fruit and nut mixture and mix until all the fruit and nut pieces are coated with the batter. Spread into the prepared pan, pressing to even it out.

Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, or until the batter is golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. Cool the bars on a wire rack and use a sharp knife to cut into squares.


Happy 2010!

The first year I moved to Israel I invited a few friends over to my flat for a nice New Year’s dinner. I bought sparklers and really bad champagne in  Shouk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv. A few minutes before midnight we went out to my rooftop terrace, lit the sparklers and started yelling out “Happy New Year!”. Much to my chagrin, a neighbor yelled out of his window “Sheket!”, which means “shutup!” I never really celebrated New Year’s Eve again.

New Year’s Eve is not celebrated in Israel like everywhere else. Religious Jews do not recognize it as the new year because the start of the new year in the Jewish calendar is Rosh Hashana, which falls during the early autumn. So, even though you will see people celebrating in restaurants, pubs, and discos around the country, most people do not celebrate it.

Mr BT and I had a quiet dinner at home.

I knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to cook on Thursday, so I had to find some dishes that I could make quickly, but were gourmet. I found an interesting salmon recipe from Chef Eric Ripert, who is chef of the famous Michelin three-star restaurant, Le Bernardin. I have never eaten there, but I have seen him on few cooking shows and his dishes always looked delicious. The recipe called for the salmon to be wrapped in phyllo pastry, so I went to the supermarket to buy a package of phyllo the day before. I took the box out the night before and when I came home to start cooking I discovered, to my annoyance, that I had bought puff pastry! The dessert I was making also called for phyllo, so what was the Baroness to do?! I improvised, like any good chef would do. I had a package of rice paper wrappers that I hadn’t used yet. I had Mr BT check on the internet if rice paper would crisp up like phyllo, and he reported that it was crispier than wonton wrappers. So,  I  replaced the phyllo  with the rice paper and it was a huge success. The dish is light and delicious and I will definitely make it again. We began the meal with a steamed artichoke with aioli, then I served the salmon on a bed of sauteed mushrooms with a side of Creole Orange Rice. The rice is spicy with a nice hint of fresh orange. It was perfect with the salmon.

Rice Paper Wrapped Salmon with Sauteed Mushrooms

Serving Size: 2

The Salmon:

2 (250g or 1/2 lb) salmon fillets, boneless and skinless

4 large round sheets rice paper

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

The Soy-Mustard Vinaigrette:

1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

4 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon cut chives

Salt and pepper to taste

Sauteed Mushrooms:

1/2 lb mixed mushrooms

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 small shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup white wine

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

Salmon wrapped in rice paper

For the Salmon:

Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper. Soak two sheets of rice paper, one at a time, in warm water for 20 seconds. Place the sheets on top of each other and place one fillet of salmon in the middle. Wrap the rice paper around the salmon like an envelope. Repeat with the next two sheets of rice paper and salmon fillet. Set aside.

Mix together the soy sauce, mustard, lemon juice and olive oil in a small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the thyme and parsley. Set aside.

Place the oil in a medium frying pan and heat over medium heat. Add the two fillets of salmon and saute for about 4 minutes on each side, until the rice paper is lightly browned or crispy to the touch.

For the Mushrooms: Trim the ends off the mushrooms and cut them in half, depending on size. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the minced shallot and garlic and saute until soft. Add the mushrooms and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and reduce adding the butter to create a silky delicate sauce. Add the herbs to the pan and remove from the heat.

To plate, place a fillet on top of a bed of mushrooms. Sprinkle the soy-mustard vinaigrette on top of the salmon.



Creole Orange Rice

Serving Size: 4 to 6

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 medium navel orange, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

1 cup rice

2 cups water

Saute the onions in the oil until translucent. Sprinkle the salt and cayenne on the onions. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, cover and cook the rice for 20 minutes.


I wanted to make individual cranberry strudels for dessert, but I didn’t have any phyllo, so I decided to make bourekas instead. Mr BT suggested that I serve them to guests and not tell them what is inside. I would say that I didn’t have time to make dessert and thought we could have a savory dessert instead.

Cranberry Bourekas

Yield: 10 to 12

1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen

1/3 cup water

2/3 cup Granny Smith apple, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon chopped candied orange peel

1 package puff pastry

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Line a baking sheet with silicone and set aside. Put the cranberries and water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, about 3 minutes or until the cranberries pop. Drain them, discarding the liquid and return the cranberries to the pan.

Add the apple, raisins, walnuts, sugar, cinnamon, and orange peel; toss gently until mixed.

Cranberry-Apple Bourekas

Unroll the puff pastry and cut strips about 5cm (2 inches) wide. Place a rounded tablespoon of the cranberry mixture near the bottom edge of the puff pastry.

Cranberry Bourekas

Take the bottom right corner and wrap it over the filling and roll the filling up into a triangle. Repeat with the remaining strips.

Cranberry Bourekas

Place on the baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until the bourekas are golden. The bourekas make leak slightly during baking. Transfer the bourekas to a wire cooling rack and cool completely.


Holiday Stollen

It was my turn again to bring goodies for my team’s weekly Kabbalat Shabbat. Since my turn fell on Christmas Eve and given the fact that none of us celebrate Christmas, I thought I would do something unusual and make a typical German Christmas fruit cake that no one on my team had ever seen or tasted.

Stollen is something that is very familiar to me because my family would eat it along with lebkuchen, speculaas, and my grandmother’s famous butter cookies for Hannukah and the end of the year family celebrations. My grandmother never made a stollen at home, but she always received one from family friends in Germany. I thought it would be fun to make one. Now I know why my grandmother never made it and only served it once a year. It is an absolute calorie bomb! Only make this if you are giving 99.9% of it away as I did. Of course, you are welcome to eat as much as you want, it is absolutely delicious, but don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about your growing hips.

I think most of the team liked it because they are still talking about it this week and asking me when I am going to bake another one.

I would like to wish all of you a very Happy Holidays and a Peaceful 2010 from the Tapuzina baronial dynasty.

Holiday Stollen

Yield: Makes 2 loaves, each about 700 grams (1 1/2 pounds)

2/3 cup black raisins

2/3 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup dried cherries or dried cranberries

1/3 cup dark rum

1 cup almond halves, lightly toasted

1 package active dry yeast (25g fresh yeast)

1/2 cup milk, at room temperature

4 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar

2 3/4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped and reserved

450g (4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg yolk

1/2 cup chopped candied ginger

1/4 cup chopped candied orange

1/4 cup chopped candied lemon

2 cups icing sugar


The night before baking, put the raisins, cherries or cranberries, and rum in a small bowl.


Put the almonds with 1/4 cup water in another small bowl. Cover both and let sit overnight at room temperature.

Stollen Starter

The next day, in an electric mixer with paddle attachment, set on low speed, make the starter by mixing the yeast with milk until dissolved. Add 1 cup flour and mix until a soft, sticky dough forms, about 2 minutes. Transfer the starter to a lightly greased bowl, cover with oiled or buttered plastic wrap, and let rest for 40 minutes at room temperature.

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and set on low speed, mix the remaining 3 cups of flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, salt, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, lemon zest and vanilla seeds. With the motor running, pour in 1 cup of melted butter. Mix at low speed for 1 minute, then add the egg yolk. Mix until liquid is absorbed, about 1 minute more. You may have to add a little milk if the mixture is still too dry.

Divide the starter into 3 pieces and add it to the mixing bowl, 1 piece at a time, mixing at low speed until each addition is thoroughly combined, 2 to 3 minutes after each addition. After the starter is absorbed, mix the dough on a medium speed until glossy, 4 to 5 minutes.


Add the almonds, candied ginger, candied orange and candied lemon, and mix at low speed until combined, 2 to 3 minutes. Then add the raisins, cherries, and rum, and mix until combined, 2 to 3 minutes more.

Stollen Dough

Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and knead until the fruit and nuts are well mixed into the dough rather than sitting on the surface, and the dough is smooth and glossy, about 5 minutes. Place the dough in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 1 hour to let rise slightly, then knead it once or twice, cover with plastic and let rest for another hour.

Shaped Stollen

Divide into two equal pieces and shape each into an oval loaf about 20cm (8 inches) long. Stack two rimmed baking sheets on top of each other, lining the top sheet with parchment paper. Place the loaves on top and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the loaves to rest for 1 more hour at room temperature.

Baked Stollen

About 20 minutes before the rise is completed, preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Remove the plastic wrap and bake for about 1 hour. The loaves should be uniformly dark golden brown and the internal temperature taken from middle of each loaf should be 88C (190F).

Stollen covered in Ginger Sugar

Meanwhile, mix the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and 2-1/4 teaspoons ground ginger in a small bowl. When stollen is done, transfer the top pan onto a wire cooling rack (leave stollen on pan). While still hot, brush the stollen with the remaining 1 cup of melted butter, letting the butter soak into loaves. Sprinkle the ginger sugar on the tops and sides of the loaves. When the loaves are completely cool, cover loosely parchment paper or foil and let sit at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight.

The next day, sift 1-1/2 cups of confectioners’ sugar over the loaves, rolling to coat the bottom and sides evenly with sugar. Wrap each loaf in plastic and let sit at room temperature for at least 2 days before sifting the remaining 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar over the loaves before serving.


Molasses Crumb Cake

I don’t always make a dessert for Shabbat, but sometimes Mr. BT requests something a little sweet. I haven’t made anything with molasses in years, in fact, I think it was when I was a child and I helped my mother make and decorate gingerbread men for a holiday party at my school. The supermarket near my home had regular and robust molasses for sale. I was a bit surprised since most of the people who shop there are Yemenite, but maybe they make something with molasses that I don’t know about.

Mr. BT was not too excited about anything with molasses, so I had to find something that would appeal to his love of anything ginger. I found an interesting recipe for Molasses Crumb Cake from the King Arthur Flour website. Usually their recipes are a bit too American for my taste, but every once in a while they surprise me with an interesting recipe. The cake is a one bowl cake that is perfect to make on short Fridays during the winter. It is moist and has a burst of spiciness that made Mr BT say “Yum!” A half recipe turned out fine.

Molasses Crumb Cake

Serving Size: 24

Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground ginger

220g (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, cold and cut into 2-1/2 cm (1-inch) pieces

1 cup robust molasses

2 large eggs

1 cup hot water

1 teaspoon sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease and flour 22cm x 33 cm (9x13-inch) pan.

Mix the flour, sugar, and ginger in a large bowl. Cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly, like coarse cornmeal. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture. Add the molasses, eggs, water, and baking soda to the remaining crumb mixture and hand-whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture evenly over the top of the batter.

Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool to lukewarm before serving.


The Cake with the Heart of Gold

Quince season is just about over here and I wanted to make one last quince dish before they left the market. I found an interesting spice cake recipe from a lovely blog called Hungry Cravings. I adapted her recipe slightly. I like more spice flavour so I added more ground ginger and added cardamom. I also substituted yogurt for sour cream and used dark brown sugar instead of light. This is a delicious and moist cake, and would also be nice with pears or plums.

Quince Spice Cake

Serving Size: 8 to 10

Adapted recipe from Hungry Cravings

For the quince:

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla paste

1 cinnamon stick

10 whole cloves

2 quinces

For the cake:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

113g unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature

1/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup plain yogurt, at room temperature

Combine the water, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, vanilla paste and 1 cup of the sugar in a small pot. Heat until the sugar dissolves. Peel, quarter, and core the quinces. Add the quinces to the pot and drape them with a piece of parchment paper. Bring to a boil and simmer for about half an hour, or until tender. Remove the quinces to a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the poaching syrup for another use, and let cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease a loaf pan. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, cardamom, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

In a mixer beat together the butter, brown sugar, and sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined and then beat in the vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the yogurt, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the yogurt, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix.

Place the batter in the loaf pan. Slice three of the quince halves thinly, but not all the way through, fan out the slices atop the batter, spacing them evenly apart. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the edges of the cake start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and finish cooling completely.


Erev Yom Kippur 5770

I think my grandmother (z”l) would have been quite shocked by my erev Yom Kippur menu. It was definitely not the usual family fare. But, I have finally realised that we shouldn’t have a heavy meal before the 25 hour fast. It is just not healthy. So, I collected some interesting recipes for the meal.

I found a very interesting Iraqi fish dish that was adapted from a 13th century Baghdadi cookbook called Kitab al-Tabikh.

Al-Baghdadi’s Kitab al-Tabikh was for long the only medieval Arabic cookery book known to the English-speaking world, thanks to A.J Arberry’s path-breaking 1939 translation as `A Baghdad Cookery Book’ which was re-issued by Prospect Books in 2001 in Medieval Arab Cookery. For centuries, it has been the favourite Arab cookery book of the Turks. The original manuscript is still in Istanbul, and at some point a Turkish sultan commissioned a very handsome copy which can still be seen in The British Library in London. – From Amazon.Com

The recipe called for 1/2 cup of sumac and I was a bit skeptical, but the dish was outstanding. I used a large drumfish, called  מוסר in Hebrew or Mussar, which is a nice firm, meaty fish that was perfect for this dish. The Iraqis probably made this with a type of carp that is found in the Tigris river called Mangar.

I only stuffed one fish for the two of us, so I have enough stuffing left over for one more fish.

Baked Fish with Sumac Stuffing

Serving Size: 4

(Samak Mashwi bil Summaq) From A Baghdad Cookery Book (Kitab al-Tabikh) by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Baghdadi

1 to 2kg whole fish, such as drum fish, barramundi, grey mullet or gilt-head sea bream (you may need 4 fish, depending on the size)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

Sumac Stuffing for Fish

For the stuffing:

1/2 cup sumac

1/4 cup fresh za'atar or thyme

1/2 teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, and cinnamon

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

About 3 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 220C (450F).

Place all of the stuffing ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste, as pictured above. Add more water, if needed.

Cut 2 to 3 diagonal slits in the fish and rub the oil and the turmeric on the outside and inside of the fish. Stuff the fish with the sumac mixture and close the incision in the fish with kitchen string, tooth picks, or the silicon ties as shown in the picture above.

Place the fish on a roasting rack and bake in the second level of the oven for about 20 minutes or until the fish is flaky. Cooking time will vary according to the size of the fish.


Israeli Couscous with Roasted Butternut Squash and Olives

My husband is not a big fan of ptitim (in Hebrew and maghrbiyya  in Arabic) or what the rest of the western world calls Israeli couscous. I have been trying to convince him to let me make it, so when I found an interesting recipe on Epicurious, I decided to push him a bit. He said ok. I found some whole wheat ptitim at the supermarket and I could have bought spelt ptitim, but I didn’t want to scare him off too much. This dish calls for preserved lemon which I like very much, but I didn’t have any at home, couldn’t find any in the olive sections of two different supermarkets, and didn’t have time to make any. So, I decided to add some lovely tart Tsuri olives instead that I cracked and pitted. The sweetness of the butternut squash with the tartness of the olives and the crunchy pine nuts and the fragrant hint of cinnamon gave a wonderful texture and taste to this dish. It was a perfect accompaniment to the fish and the salad I made. I think I have converted Mr. BT.

Janna Gur’s Carrot and Date Salad

I am in love with this carrot and date salad. I do not like tzimmes in any shape or form, but I really loved this dish. It calls for fresh dates which I have never cooked with.

Fresh dates are high in vitamin C. They are also a special food for Rosh Hashana. Moroccan Jews dip a medjhoul date in anise seeds, sesame seeds and powdered sugar to “mark the new year that is beginning as one of happiness and blessing and peace for all mankind.”

The crunchy dates and the cooked carrots were perfect together. And the silan (date honey) did not make the dish too sweet. I will definitely make this again.

The finishing piece to this meal was the semifreddo I made the day before. This is a very easy dish to make and would be perfect for any dinner party. I recommend using a strong-tasting honey such as chestnut, eucalyptus, thistle, or heather. The rosemary was quite subtle, so I will steep more rosemary in the milk next time. You need to factor in the cream that you will be folding in later. It will mute the honey and rosemary flavor.

Chestnut Honey, Rosemary, and Goat's Milk Semifreddo

Serving Size: 8

2 cups goat's milk

3 sprigs of rosemary

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup chestnut honey

Pinch of salt

2 cups heavy cream

Put the goat's milk in a heavy saucepan and heat until the milk is steaming, but not boiling. Turn off the heat and add the rosemary. Let it steep for 45 minutes. Taste the milk to make sure that it has a significant rosemary taste. If not, let it steep for another 20 to 30 minutes.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the egg yolks, honey and salt together.

Strain the milk mixture and place the milk in a clean heavy saucepan. Reheat the milk on medium heat, but do not boil. Gradually whisk the hot milk mixture into yolk mixture; return to same pan. Stir over medium-low heat until custard thickens and leaves a path on back of the spoon when a finger is drawn across (do not boil). Strain into another medium bowl; chill covered until cold.

When the custard is cold, whip the cream to soft, thick peaks. If the cream is added when the custard is still warm, it will melt the cream.


Shana Tova u’Metukah

I have been busy preparing for Rosh Hashana and have finally completed everything I intended to make for Friday and Saturday.

I made 4 round challot, one plain and three with dried apricots, dried cranberries, raisins, dried cherries and dried apples. I used the new Kitchenaid to knead the dough and I am very happy with the results. I am back making challah like I used to make in the States. I finally learned how to braid a round challah from this website. I found the website by chance and called Mr. BT to come to my study so I could butter him up to help me with the braiding. He said, “It looks a bit complicated, maybe you should just do it the way you always do.”. I said, no, I would like to give this a try and if we start bickering over it, I will go back to the old way. Well, we figured it out and we didn’t fight about it. Happy days!

For dessert, I am bringing poached pears and Mr. BT’s pomegranate sorbet. We decided to do a light dessert this year. The pears are not too sweet and have a lovely spicy aroma that permeates from the kitchen. I think they will be a big hit.

Poached Pears

Serving Size: 8

1 bottle semi-dry white wine, such as Emerald Reisling

1/4 cup brandy

1/4 sugar

2 strips of orange zest

1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced

2 cinnamon sticks

10 whole cloves

8 firm ripe pears

Juice of 2 oranges

In a pot big enough to hold the pears snugly, put all of the ingredients except for the pears. Bring the liquid up to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the pears, cover the pan, and gently poach the pears for about 30 minutes until the pears are soft, but not mushy. Turn off the heat and let cool.

The pears can be poached up to 2 days ahead and kept in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator.


Saturday, I am serving chicken soup with kubbeh which I will blog about in a few days and Sunday, I am making a surprise, so you will have to wait.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova u’Metuka to you and your family.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life and we hope you have happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Chag Sameach,

Mr. BT and Baroness Tapuzina

Birthday Cake

It was my turn to bring goodies for my team’s weekly Kabbalat Shabbat, which literally means “Receiving Sabbath”. Kabbalat Shabbat is usually celebrated by reciting Psalms and prayers before Shabbat begins on Friday evening, but in Israeli companies and offices it has also come to mean a break on Thursday for colleagues to get together informally over savory or sweet munchies and drinks. Weather permitting, we have our break on the rooftop of our building where there are nice niches with tables and chairs to sit and look over the Sharon plain. Since my birthday was the next day, I decided to bring a birthday cake. Usually we bring coffee cakes or cheese and nuts, but when someone has a birthday, they try to bring something more special.

When I was a child, I always asked for a German Chocolate cake for my birthday. Talk about sickeningly sweet! I am not sure when I stopped asking for cakes with tons of frosting, but now I really dislike buttercream, or even worse, frosting made with shortening like they put on cakes in the States with cups and cups of icing sugar.

But I don’t mind the sour icing that is put on a carrot cake. Usually, it is icing made with cream cheese, but I found an interesting frosting made with mascarpone and fromage frais, which is a low fat cheese from France. It is similar to German quark. I decided to use labane, a yogurt cheese, that is readily available in the Middle East and is 5% fat. This carrot cake is a moist spicy cake that goes well with the sharpness of the icing.

The team enjoyed the cake and took seconds and thirds, but fortunately there was enough left to bring back to Mr. BT, who would have been disappointed if hadn’t got any.

Carrot Cake with Mascarpone, Labane, and Cinnamon Icing
For the cake:

300g (2 3/4 cups) self-raising flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Pinch of salt

4 eggs

335ml (1 2/3 cup) sunflower oil or other light vegetable oil

450g (2 1/4 cup) caster sugar

2 cups grated carrots

1 1/4 chopped walnuts

2 tablespoons hot water

Butter and flour for the tins

For the icing:

500g (1lb) mascarpone

400g (3/4lb) Labane, 5% fat (or drained greek-style yogurt)

1/4 cup icing (confectioner's) sugar, sifted

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the cake:

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Lightly grease two 23cm (9-inch) spring-form cake tins with melted butter. Line the bottom of each tin with parchment paper. Butter the paper and then dust the tin with flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, spices and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Separate two of the eggs.

In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the oil and the sugar. Slowly add the whole eggs and the egg yolks, beating well. Add the carrots, and then add the walnuts. Then add the flour followed by the hot water. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form and fold them into the cake batter.

Divide the cake mixture between the prepared tins. Place the baking tins on a baking tray in the middle of the oven and bake for approximately 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cake comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes and then remove them from the tray and let cool on a baking rack.

For the icing:

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Cover with clingfilm and chill for 1-2 hours, until you are ready to ice the cake.

With a palette knife, spread a layer of icing on one cake, then press the other on top. Spread the rest of the icing over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours before serving. Keep refrigerated.


Fish, Fish, and more Fish with a Smattering of Cherry

I love to experiment with all of the wonderful fresh fish we can get here in Israel. And the other day, they had some small fish at the fish monger in the supermarket. I don’t usually buy fresh fish there, but this looked especially fresh. I have been buying my fish from Dubkin Brother’s located at Moshav Tekuma near the border with Gaza. They sell their fish to restaurants and come up to the center of the country every two weeks to make deliveries to individuals. They are lovely people, have good prices,  and most importantly their fish is a high quality and very fresh. The fish comes packed in ice in a Styrofoam cooler that they take back with the next delivery. So far I have ordered baramundi, sea bass, gilt-head sea bream, and red mullet.

The best way to cook it is to not do too much to it.  Most of the time I saute it in a pan or grill it under the oven, depending the type of fish. If I saute it, I slice garlic thinly and place it in a hot pan with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, add the fish, and then add the juice of two large lemons and a couple of tablespoons of chopped thyme, fresh zaatar, oregano, or chives. If I grill it, such as trout, then I stuff the cavity with rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon slices, and sliced garlic and grill in the oven.

I bought small red mullet and another fish that I have never heard of and don’t know the name in English, but they were both wonderful. I just lightly coated them in flour and cooked them in a shallow pan of oil for about two to three minutes on each side. I served them with basil-garlic red potatoes and steamed broccoli.

Mr BT made red mullet with a mango sauce. He sauteed the fish in a little butter and olive oil. He added mango juice, white wine and a splash of balsamic vinegar, removed the fish and reduced the sauce. He has also made drumfish with a sour cream and herb sauce. You could also make it with yogurt. Skies the limit.

For one of the meals, I used the last of the cherries that we picked at the cherry festival. I had frozen them and they were perfect for a nice fruit crisp. It brought back childhood memories when my mother used to make a delicious apple crisp. She didn’t make the topping with oatmeal, but this recipe is British fruit crisp. The crisp was delicious and the cherries didn’t need any additional sugar.

Fresh Sour Cherry Crisp

Serving Size: 6 to 8

4 cups pitted sour cherries

4 tablespoons flour

1 cup quick-cooking oats

1 cup flour

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

100g (1/2 cup) butter, melted

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Butter medium size baking dish, approximately 22 x 32 cm (9 x 13 inches).

In a medium bowl, mix the cherries and the flour. Evenly distribute the cherries in the baking dish.

Combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and melted butter. Crumble evenly over the cherry mixture. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until the crumble topping is golden brown.


A Bowl Full of Summer

There are some things that I regard as “Food of the Gods” and cherries are one of them. It is cherry season here in Israel and that means the annual Cherry Picking Festival at Kibbutz Rosh Tzurim is on. Last year, I blogged about the festival and took a visiting colleague from Germany. This year we took Mimi from Israeli Kitchen and her youngest daughter. We brought a picnic, not quite as fancy as last year, but still quite tasty. Mimi brought a delicious cheese, mushroom and swiss chard tart. Mr BT made a tuna salad sandwich on a baguette, and also made a rocket, nectarine and walnut salad. I made a whole wheat pita with a runny chevre from Jacob’s Dairy in Kfar Haroeh in the Hefer Valley, near Netanya. We also had green olives and garlicky cured black olives from Morocco. We definitely didn’t starve.

Of course the most important reason we went was to pick the juicy ruby cherries, and we definitely succeeded in picking enough of them to make a couple of different dishes and still have a few to much on. I decided the first thing to make was frozen yogurt. I used low fat cow yogurt that I drained in a fine mesh sieve until most of the water had drained. You can use the greek-style yogurt they sell in the States. The yogurt tastes like a big bowl of ripe cherries and has a nice creaminess from the yogurt. Next time I am going to use sheep yogurt for a little extra tang. Mr. BT’s face lit up after eating it and he still has a glint of summer in his eyes. He said that it was good enough to have come from a gelateria in Firenze. Now the Baroness has a glint of summer in her eyes.

Frozen Cherry Yogurt

Serving Size: 6

3 cups of fresh cherries, pitted and cut in half

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup sheep , goat, or cow yogurt

1 tablespoon cognac

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Place the pitted and cut cherries in a medium size pan with the sugar and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes until the sugar has dissolved and the cherries have softened a little. Don't let them get mushy.

In food processor, with knife blade attached, pulse the hot cherries until the cherries are in small chunks. You can blend them smooth if you wish, but I prefer little chunks of cherry in my frozen yogurt. Place the cherry mixture in a medium size bowl and cool to room temperature.

If the yogurt is not really thick (Greek-style), then put the yogurt in a fine-mesh sieve and drain out as much liquid as possible; set aside.

When the cherries have cooled, add the yogurt, cognac and vanilla and mix until the yogurt is completely incorporated. Refrigerate the yogurt mixture for approximately 2 hours. Transfer the yogurt mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Take the frozen yogurt out of the freezer 15 minutes prior to serving.


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