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Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hummus with Tahini

I had no cause to make this hummus other than the fact that I simply wanted to. Unlike many of my other posts, hummus holds no special memories for me (except perhaps one recent incident). Although I love the tasty dish of pureed chickpeas and have often found myself scooping up the stuff at various Turkish, Lebanese, and Greek eating establishments, I have no recollection of where I was the first time I tried hummus nor any subsequent burst of inspiration from having experienced it (although I did go through a highly transformational felafel period somewhere around my sophomore year of college). Great Grammy Culpepper never used to make hummus when I was a boy, nor is anyone in my family Israeli. At all.

However, various pictures accompanying an article about Jerusalem and a few of its traditional recipes strewn about the pages of Saveur (November 2009, No. 124) looked fabulous and spurred me on to make my own Hummus with Tahini for the very first time. I soaked the dried chickpeas overnight with baking soda, pureed the tender result the next day with garlic, olive oil, fresh lemon juice and Achva tahini (crushed sesame seeds) that I went all the way across town to fetch from an Israeli market in the East Village near Tompkins Square Park. What an incredibly delicious nosh!

Hummus B'Tahina (Hummus with Tahini)
Makes 4 cups
5 oz. dried chickpeas
1 tsp. baking soda
6 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/4 cups plus 3 1/2 tbsp. tahini, preferably Achva brand
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt, to taste
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for garnish
1/8 tsp. sumac or paprika, for garnish
1 tsp. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish
Sliced pickles, for garnish
Pita, for serving

1. In a medium bowl, combine chickpeas with 6 cups cold water and stir in baking soda; cover and let soak overnight. Drain chickpeas, transfer to a 2-qt. saucepan, and cover with 6 cups fresh water. Cover and bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until very tender, 40–50 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool slightly.
2. Drain chickpeas, reserving cooking liquid. To the bowl of a food processor, add chickpeas and 5 cloves garlic and process for 2 minutes. Add 3/4 cup of the cooking liquid, along with 1 1/4 cups tahini, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and 2 tbsp. olive oil; season with salt. Process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is very smooth, about 8 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until flavors have melded, about 4 hours.
3. Bring hummus to room temperature. Finely chop the remaining clove of garlic and sprinkle with salt. Using the side of a knife, scrape the garlic against the work surface while chopping occasionally to make a paste; set aside. In a small bowl whisk together the remaining tahini, lemon juice, 3 1/2 tbsp. ice water, and the garlic paste until the mixture is creamy; season with salt and set aside.
4. To serve, place hummus in a bowl and make a small indentation in the middle using the back of a spoon. Pour the reserved tahini mixture into the indentation and garnish hummus with olive oil, sumac or paprika, parsley, and pickles. Serve with pita.

This article was first published in Saveur in Issue #124

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese

Over a year ago now, a friend of a friend of a friend told us about this recipe where cauliflower subs for cream. It was one of those nights where we'd all had a few drinks, said things like 'oh boy does that sound good' and 'we'll have to try that sometime!' and kept drinking. Well, the FOFOF took my email address, promising to send me the recipe, and she actually did. I just recently found it tucked away in my recipe folder and since Baby had a very successful week on Weight Watchers, I thought that this would be a perfect way to celebrate, practically guilt-free (only 14 Weight Watchers points).

If you don't know about Better Than Cream Cheese from the Tofutti brand already, please discover it for yourselves. It is better than cream cheese. That's my addition to the recipe, as well as the dose of low-sodium Bacon Salt, which indeed has the flavor of bacon, without the fat. I also toss in a clove of garlic and a capful of beer (or white wine) at the end for even extra flavor.

I hope you enjoy this diet-conscious dish and will serve it to your friends, and friends of friends--they'll never taste the difference!

Cauliflower Macaroni & Cheese
Serves 4/appetizer
1 1/2 cups macaroni
1 Tb margarine or olive oil
1 Tb flour
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butternut squash or cauliflower puree
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
4 oz fat free cream cheese or Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese

1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp Bacon Salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp paprika (or cayenne—or both!)
1/8 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, smashed
1 capful beer or white wine

Cook macaroni and drain.
While macaroni is cooking heat large saucepan over med heat. Add the oil then the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes, until the mixture resembles a thick paste but has not browned.
Slowly simmer milk and add in, stirring every now and then until the mixture begins to thicken (3 - 4 min). Add the vegetable puree, cheddar and cream cheese or Tofutti - season and stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Stir in macaroni, garlic, beer or wine and serve warm.

Serving suggestion: top with 1 crushed Saltine per bowl, and a fat-free hot dog grilled with Pam and then sliced.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Shouldn't You Just...?

Shamelessly indulge in this sudden shock of Spring? Muddle cucumber slices, lime wedges and mint sprigs with a soupcon of simple syrup--add cracked ice and fizz with seltzer water! Toss in some frozen berries too for a remarkably thirst quenching virgin cocktail. Of course, it is always an absolute delight when either vodka or cachaca drop by for a visit.

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Eggs-ellent Easter!

I served my Jews ham on Easter, which happened to coincide this year with the last day of Passover. They couldn't eat any of the leavened items such as the croissants and Pepperidge Farm cake but boy did they chow down on practically everything else.

The ham in question was prepared from Martha Stewart's Menus for Entertaining, featured in the Celebrating Spring section. I've been wanting to make this for years! After securing a really good smoked ham from our local market (10 lbs for only $15!), I made small incisions all about the ham, stuffing them with garlic and alternately sprigs of thyme, chervil, and basil leaves. I laid out bunches of parsley, chives and tarragon in a roasting pan with slices of blood oranges topped with basil and a few dried bay leaves and smashed cloves of garlic still in their skins here and there. The studded ham went on top, I poured a bottle of white wine over the whole thing and it went into a 325 degree oven for 2 and 1/2 hours covered in foil--the first and last half hours were foil-less, to brown the meat. After removing the ham from the pan, while letting it rest, covered for a 1/2 hour before serving, I strained the cooking liquid into a sauce pan and simmered it down by half. The resulting sauce was little salty but the ham was absolutely delicious anyway, quite on its own!

We also served smoked salmon, whitefish salad and I made a meat pie.

Homemade croissants from Cuisine at Home took three days. I even started early in case they were an utter disaster and had to buy some Pillsbury Grands or something. Feeling it was going well, I froze them and then thawed them overnight before serving on Sunday. Yes, they were tricky to make the first time out, but I was so pleased with the results I would definitely make the effort again.

The Basic Steps:
DAY 1 Make your dough and butter block (three sticks of butter put together and pounded flat). Let sit overnight.
DAY 2 Roll out the dough to a 12" x 15" rectangle, or something reasonably similar. Place butter block on top, folding top and then bottom over, like a business envelope. Do this twice, with 35-45 minutes in between. After the third time, leave it in the refrigerator overnight.
DAY 3 Roll out the dough to an 11" x 23" rectangle. Cut the dough in half horizontally and then cut the halves into 3" x 5" rectangles, cutting those into triangles. Roll them up, coat them with egg wash and put them in a 400 degree oven for 18 to 22 minutes, taking care that they don't burn.

Here they are, fresh from the oven...

...and like a proud Papa, I delivered them to the table!

Another glimpse of the Butchers' Frittata. Thanks to the Williams-Sonoma pan, this hearty 10 egg dish with sausage, bacon (I subbed for ham), mushrooms, white cheddar cheese and scallions was most eggs-ellent.
So what are those side dishes lurking about (note the ham is gone)? Roasted carrots with cayenne pepper in an orange glaze with mint; roasted asparagus tossed with lime juice and olive oil, topped with bearnaise sauce (I used a package of the Knorr mix--much easier much cheaper, and pretty good!), peas in butter sauce with vermouth-soaked cocktail onions.
Here's the Pepperidge Lemon Layer cake my guests devoured. I would serve this store-bought cake to the Queen of England were she ever to visit. I love it, always have. Here, I dressed it up with some outrageously ripe blackberries.

I put all of my eggs in one stoneware, oven-ready basket, used here purely for decorative purposes, and as a vessel to hide M&Ms and Starburst jelly beans. Rather pretty, don't you find?

Et voila, the peeps de resistance!

Soundtrack: Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66, Foursider; Pizzicato Five, MADE in USA; Austin Powers Soundtrack; Beck, Midnite Vultures; The Ting Tings, We Started Nothing