Monday, September 27, 2010

Middle Eastern Pickled Vegetables

true confessions time
I used to be a professional belly dancer
this happened because I went to some
Greek Restaurants back in Chicago
fell in love with the food
the music
and the dancer’s costumes
picking out recipes to make
from my extensive cook book collection
I became a fairly good middle eastern cook
the dance lessons were
part of my post partum recovery exercises
one thing led to another,
I finally had the costumes
and a job
my son grew up on middle eastern music
lying there in his bassinet while Mom slimmed down
when his school needed fund raising events
I threw “Time Travel to Tut’s Table at Thebes”
with a course of food and a course of entertainment
I went to visit Naji Baba to get some recipes
this pickle recipe is one of those
after tasting the pickles at his place
I went home without washing my hands
and mixed up the brine, tasting up and back
between my dirty fingers and the new mix
until I had a match
to the best of my knowledge and tongue memory
this is what they were:
half apple cider vinegar, half lemon juice
thinned with an equal amount of water
for a pint of vinegar and a pint of lemon juice
add about 1/8 cup of salt
bay leaves and dill weed to taste
about 2 medium heads of garlic
the vegetables include:
red onions
and perhaps beets, (peeled and cut up)
peel the turnips and cut into bite sized chunks
poach a broken head of cauliflower
and a head of cabbage cut into wedges
until tender
add thickly sliced red onion
mix all in brine
wait 2 to 3 days
taste and make adjustments

© 2010 Sandy Vrooman

Mujedara, a Mess of Pottage

in Genesis, Esau sells his birthright
for a mess of pottage
it is thought that a stew of lentils
and rice or barley is the same dish
can it be so after thousands of years
mujedara is served in almost all
middle eastern countries
in one form or another
there are many spellings of the name
it is a side dish or a main dish
most of today’s recipes on the web
use a mix of rice and lentils
I’m making the assumption
that rice was not known
to those who made the first pottage
I’m using a mix of lentils and barley
and caramelized onions
cooked in the same manner
one makes a pilaf
using a flavored bouillon
like vegetable or chicken
in a quantity of good virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
1 medium sized sweet onion
let them cook until translucent and golden brown
then add:
½ cup pearl barley
½ lentils
toast lentils and barley in the frying pan
mixing frequently
2 cups of water and bouillon (if using)
cover and cook about 25 minutes
a pinch of sumac if desired
this astringent spice adds to and enhances
all the flavors
may be serves with yogurt

© 2010 Sandy Vrooman

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Moon Cakes

today is the fifteenth day
in the eighth month
on the Chinese calendar
a time to celebrate
harvest moon
when the moon is most large and beautiful
it is a family celebration
that includes moon watching
in China and other Asian countries
there is a lady on the moon
the story of Chang O is tragic
and mostly forgotten*
on this joyous occasion
this was brought into focus
during a drive by lunch
at Hong Kong Chinese Bakery
when I saw more than half
the display case filled
with various moon cakes**
a pastry that is mostly filling
usually red bean
if you can locate and
eat them tonight
you will have good luck
for the coming year

© 2010 Sandy Vrooman


I have not figured out how to make the links work in this format.
Sorry, you will have to cut and paste

Hong Kong Bakery
210 Castro St
Mountain View, CA 94041-1204
(650) 969-3153

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yom Kippur Challah

I was invited to a break fast, the feasting that is held the evening of Yom Kippur. This meal marks the end of the Day of Atonement, a solemn observation spent in prayer and fasting. I felt I should bring something appropriate. I decided on Challah, a rich egg bread and traditional Sabbath food. In my usual cloud of fog, I forgot the eggs, but any bread fresh from the oven is a real treat. I took the loaf over just as it finished baking. I have requests for the recipe. So I had to forsake my usual pinch of this, dash of that cooking and re-make the Challah by measuring.

For two large loaves take:
2 cakes yeast
1 ¾ cups of warm water
½ tablespoon of salt
¼ to ½ cup honey, dark and rich
¼ cup of olive oil, good virgin kind
pinch of saffron
Let this mixture sit until the yeast becomes foamy
If you are making egg Challah
Add 4 eggs and mix well
Omit for water Challah
I do this in a mixer with a dough hook
But start with my regular beaters
Adding 7 cups of sifted flour or more as needed (can’t be exact here)
One cup at a time, using regular beaters until the dough begins to get too thick
Then switch to a dough hook
Mix for about 5 minutes per cup
This saves a lot of kneading
Place on floured board and Knead until satin smooth
This step creates a mesh of linked gluten molecules that gives bread is shape
Return dough to bowl, coat lightly with olive oil and cover with a damp towel
Let rise until doubled in bulk
Punch down and cut into six equal-ish pieces
Form each piece into a log with a satin finish
This means the dough should be smooth without any breaks or folds
Let rest for about 5 minutes
Roll and stretch logs
Let rise again until doubled in bulk
Brush with egg for a glossy finish, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds if desired
Bake for 45 min to an hour in a 350 degree oven
Bread is done when you knock on it and it sounds hollow

© 2010 Sandy Vrooman

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Properly Improper Tea

Tea was brought to Great Britain by Catherine of Bragan├ža from Portugal when she married Charles II in 1661. The custom evolved over the centuries into a light repast between three and five in the afternoon, a slight meal to tide one until a late dinner. As customs continue to evolve, tea became an intimate gathering, more for socializing rather than sustinance. Servants were banned from the room to encourage conversations that would not be repeated through staff. Tea became important enough that how to manuals were written, even one by Emily Post.

An evening meal for laborers was served between five and six in the evening. It was called high tea* or a meat tea. There is a rumor that high tea meant they didn’t have time to sit and therefore took tea on high.

These days a tea can be many things. High tea has been assumed to be more special that just tea, especially in the US. Also it is served any old time you feel like it.

Today I went to a Mad Hatter Tea Party put on by the Greater Bay Area Costumer’s Guild. It was held in a park, out of doors and had the required white bread crust trimmed sandwiches cut into quarters. There were the customary cucumber sandwiches, a fish sandwich and egg salad, scones, sweets and savories. There were some delightful cupcakes, as good tasting as their looks. Kudos to Phil and Kathe Gust who made most of the food. We did have the required parlor games, a bit of Alice trivia, a caucus race, and some poetry reading. Croquet was set up with flamingo mallets.

We all felt delightfully decadent, true to our costumes in an attitude of playful fun.

(C) 2010 Sandy Vrooman

Phil added this quote this am:
"There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible
things." "I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen.
"When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why,
sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before
breakfast!" -- Lewis Carroll.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tart from Bill in Texas

Perhaps a photo at a later date...

It’s taken some time,
but I have finally come to the conclusion that I am simply not very skilled
at tart dough.

Shrunk too much,
Tore and crumbled,
Got tattered,
Pasted together in scraps
Big diet in the oven as well.

I’ve tried everything–
pricking the dough
weighting the dough
freezing the dough
sacrificing countless boxes of butter and hours of my life to the dough
closing my eyes in a brief prayer before checking on their baking status
but still,
they fight me every time.

I decided it time to,
once and for all,
stop fighting the tart dough timeline.
Take it slow,
stop lopping corners off the chilling and re-chilling time,
following a recipe from a respected tart-maker to the exact letter.

This caramel, cranberry and almond tart from
Maury Rubin at the City Bakery,
is pure holiday decadence.
If you’re bored of standard Thanksgiving and Christmas desserts,
or you just want to show off a new instant classic,
you have to make it this winter.

The caramel is to die for and
plays off the tart/sour cranberries and
nestles against the almonds

But you’re on your own with the crust.

Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Adapted Maury Rubin, City Bakery

Yields: 1 9-inch tart or 12 4-inch tartlets

13 tablespoons (1 stick plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tablespoon heavy cream

1. Let the butter sit at room temperature for 15 minutes, until malleable.

2. Place the powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Add the pieces of butter and toss to coat.
Using a paddle attachment with a standing mixer,
combine the sugar and butter at medium speed,
until the sugar is no longer visible.

3. Add the egg yolk and combine until no longer visible.

4. Scrape down the butter off the sides of the bowl.
Add half of the flour,
then begin mixing again until the dough is crumbly.
Add the remaining flour and
then the cream and
mix until the dough forms a sticky mass.

5. Flatten the dough into a thick pancake,
wrap it in plastic and
refrigerate at least 2 hours
before preparing to roll out the dough.

6. Lightly butter a 9-inch pastry ring (or fluted tart pan) and
place it on a baking sheet lined
with parchment paper or
a nonstick Silpat pad.

7. Once the dough has thoroughly chilled,
cut it in half,
then cut each piece in half lengthwise.
Rotate the dough 90 degrees and
until you have 16 equal pieces.

IMPORTANT: Work quickly with the dough so that it remains chilled.
Sprinkle your work surface with a thin layer of flour.
Knead the pieces of dough together
until it forms one new mass and
shape it into a flattened ball.

Flour a rolling pin and
sprinkle flour again on the work surface underneath the dough.
Roll out the dough into a circle one-eighth-inch thick.

8. To easily transfer the dough into the ring or tart pan,
fold it in half gently,
then in quarters.
Move the folded dough to the tart ring or pan,
with the point of the dough in the center,
then unfold it,
gently patting the dough into the bottom and
up the sides of the ring.
Trim the edges so that they are flush with the top of the ring.
Dock the dough with a pastry docker or
prick the dough all over with a fork.

9. Put the baking sheet and pastry ring into the freezer for 1 hour.

10. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Place the baking sheet and ring in the oven and
bake 20 to 25 minutes or
until the dough is lightly browned.
Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature before filling.

Filling and assembly

1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
1 cup granulated sugar
1 3/4 cup frozen cranberries
2 cups unblanched sliced almonds

1. Keep (or preheat) the oven to 350 degrees.
Measure the cream and butter into a saucepan and
heat it over low heat.
When the butter has melted completely,
remove from heat.

2. To make the caramel,
spread the sugar evenly in a perfectly dry, deep 10-inch skillet and
place it over medium-low heat.

3. The sugar should turn straw-colored,
then gold and
then a nutty-brown caramel after about 10 minutes.
If the sugar cooks unevenly,
gently tilt or swirl the pan to evenly distribute the sugar.
Remove from heat and
slowly whisk the cream and butter into the sugar,
which can splatter as the cream is added (long sleeves are a good
If the caramel seizes,
return it to the heat and
continue to stir until it is smooth and creamy.
Strain the caramel into a bowl and cool it for 30 minutes.

4. Stir the frozen cranberries and the almonds
into the caramel and
mix until all the fruit and nuts are coated.
Spoon the filling into the partially baked tart dough mounding toward the

5. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes,
until the juices and the caramel are bubbling slowly around the edges.
Remove from the oven and
let stand for 1 hour,
then gently lift the tart ring off the pastry.

6. Carefully transfer the tart to a serving platter.
Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Almond Pear Tart

had a couple of hours between activities
and decided I wanted to make a tart
having a short crust in the freezer
(doesn’t everyone?)
some ripe Bartlett pears
and almond nut butter
I set out to see if I could fake
a French tart
mixed three quarters of a cup of nut butter
with an equal amount of sugar
and added an egg
a dash of booze, in this case rum
no need for butter as the almond paste
already had oil
Bartlett pears are not really good for cooking
you can’t poach them, they fall apart
Comice or Anjou pears can be poached
adding a delicate flavor for the pears
and creating the glaze one sees on tarts
I carefully sliced and arranged my raw pears
over the almond filling I had created
baked for about 50 minutes
one can glaze a hot fruit tart with jelly or jam
being fresh out of apple jelly
I melted down some ginger chutney
and brushed it over the tart
I’m thinking of peanut butter and apples
maybe two eggs in the nut layer
to make it lighter

©2010 Sandy Vrooman

Short Crust for Tarts

where to start on this one
I guess by talking about gluten
this is the stuff most prevalent in wheat
your outcome depends
on how you treat the dough
when you knead dough
you create long chain molecules
of gluten, most desirable
when making bread
but would make a pie crust or cookie
with a tough texture
to maintain flakeyness
you need a very light hand
short crust or any crust
involves quick breaking down
of solid lumps of shortening
shortening is “cut” into the flour mix
I do this by hand either
with two knives, one in each hand
running the knives across each other
there is also a pastry cutting tool
and food processors
sort crust is made with butter
flour and some powered sugar
after the cutting results in
a mealy like texture, mix in one egg
(or if you are a French chef, egg yolk)
there are many recipes on the net
if the butter is really soft
chill the dough before using
pat, do not roll into a tart pan
for fruit tarts, prebake about 15 min
for quiche, this is not necessary

©2010 Sandy Vrooman

Saturday, September 4, 2010


sweet and sour savory
those things they give you
to munch on while waiting
for your Japanese food
all of them some form of pickle
my fav is the thinly sliced cukes
in a sweetened rice wine vinegar
with a few drops of sesame oil
and some pickled ginger slices
using the thinnest slicer
on your food processor
slice up English or small Japanese
salt them and let them sit
for about ten minutes
rinse and drain
sprinkle with the vinegar
add the sesame oil
and finely sliced pickled ginger
stir and serve
if the seeds in the cucumbers
are large, then the cukes
should be seeded
use only the flesh and not the seeds
if you happen to be Scandinavian
you would use apple cider vinegar
with a bit of sugar and
thinly sliced onions

©2010 Sandy Vrooman


what the bacon and onions look like when ready

something that started out
as Grandmother’s onion tart
simple yet elegant
has become a delicacy
served in the best restaurants
there are many variations
the one I just made
has a short crust
slightly sweet and full of butter
it is patted into the pan
being too soft to roll
on the bottom of this shell
are sweet onions
delicately simmered with
apple smoked bacon
until the onions begin to caramelize
add about a cup of coarsely grated
Irish white cheddar
make a custard of four eggs
about half a cup of milk
and a pinch of nutmeg
bake at 350 degrees
about 40 minutes or until done
good hot or cold

©2010 Sandy Vrooman