Monthly Archives: February 2010

Margarita Madness

Smokin' Good Margarita

I absolutely love a good margarita.  In Texas, these were very easy to come by.  In New York, not so much.  Mexican food in New York is another story entirely.  If you think it’s hard to find a good margarita, it’s even harder to find decent Mexican food.  And by decent Mexican food, I mean Tex-Mex.  New York just doesn’t get it.

Certain that I will find a close substitute one day, I have tried just about every Mexican restaurant in New York. Locals love to point out that such and such place is the best or that this one is really, really good.  And yes, the food is decent and probably even good by Mexican food standards, but it is a far cry from Tex-Mex.

We recently ate at Sueños on 17th Street in New York and have been back several times, so that says something. However, I find myself returning there not so much for the food, which I like a lot, but  for their sublime smoky margarita. We like these so much that we have taken to making them at home whenever we can.

The key ingredient in this margarita is Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal.  A distilled alcoholic beverage made from the agave plant and bottled in Oaxaca, Mexico, this particular mezcal has a distinct smokiness to it.  A tablespoon or so floated on top of your margarita takes it to another place, a place of smoky wonderful-ness.

Here is the recipe…

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Filed under Alcoholic, Beverages

Turkish Coffee and Zaatar

Our dear friend and soon-to-be sister-in-law, Gail, sent us the most lovely gift from the Middle East – ground Turkish coffee, an ibrik (special Turkish coffee pot) and a baggie full of a spice combination called zaatar.

I have only had real Turkish coffee once, at a restaurant in New York.  My not-so-funny dining companion (you know who you are)  instructed me to give it a good stir before I drank it.  Luckily, he called off the prank because that is not how you drink Turkish coffee.  More on this later.

Turkish coffee is derived from the Arabica bean and is ground to a very fine powder.  Cardamom pods are sometimes added to the beans as they are being ground (ours was of this variety and …delicious).  Gail suggested that we visit YouTube and check out a video by Mustafa Arat on how to make this tasty concoction before we went any further.

I watched this a couple of times and made my first, and definitely not last, pot of Turkish coffee.  Important note!  There will be a lot of undissolved, leftover sludgy stuff in the bottom of your cup.  Do not drink it!

Now, what about this zataar?

Gail let us know that zaatar contains oregano, basil, thyme, savory and sesame seeds and is used on everything – from Greek yogurt with olive oil to bread to meats.  I thought we should try it on bread first and used it on the remaining flatbread dough from when I made the coca mentioned in an earlier post.

The ibrik, coffee, and zaatar (also spelled zaa’tar) can all be found in New York at Kalustyan’s, a gold mine for hard-to-find ingredients and an amazing place to kill a couple of hours.  Luckily, they also have a website with online ordering.

The Turks have a saying that “one cup of coffee is worth forty years of friendship.”  Thanks, Gail.  We look forward to it.

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Filed under Beverages, Breads, Non-alcoholic, Savory

Cuckoo for Coca

Onion, red pepper, and eggplant coca

I mentioned that we had a Meditteranean coca with our controversial tuna and cinnamon meatballs.  It turned out so wonderfully and was such a pleasant surprise that I have decided to share the recipe here.

The recipe is from another of our many (and favorite) cookbooks, Moro East by Sam and Sam Clark, the husband and wife team behind the acclaimed Moro Restaurant in London, known for its award-winning Moorish cuisine.  Traveling and books play a vital role in their menus and I love that they often read about a dish in a book, and then travel to that particular country to find someone to show them how to make it.  I want to do that.

Moro East follows a year that the couple spent on their first allotment at Manor Garden.  I wasn’t exactly sure what an allotment was so I did a little research and here’s what I found out about the Manor Garden Allotments.

They were established in 1900 by philanthropist Arthur Villiers to provide small parcels of land for deprived locals to grow vegetables and occupied 4.5 acres between the River Lea and the Channelsea River in Hackney Wick, East London.  In keeping with conditions of Villiers’ bequeath that the allotments be maintained in perpetuity, the 80 individual plots have been tended for over a century by a tight-knit and diverse multicultural community of Londoners.

Here is a video I found on youtube in which the Clarks talk about their allotment experience.

The saddest part?  The Manor Garden Allotments were demolished in October 2007 to make way for landscaping for the 2012 London Olympics Park.  The good news?  The allotments will be reinstated on the original site once the Olympics are over.

Now, on to the coca.

Coca is pizza from the Catalonia region of Spain.  It is thin, crisp, chewy and amazing.  There are many variations of coca – I made the onion, red pepper and eggplant version.  Flatbread dough is used as the base.  Although I have included the Clarks’ recipe, I made a few small changes.

1) I substituted all-purpose flour for bread flour.  This seemed to work just fine.

2) I did not knead the flatbread dough by hand.  I used the dough hook and our awesome Kitchen-Aid stand mixer.

3) I changed the word aubergine to eggplant.  OK, not such a big change.  I just brought that aubergine across the pond.

4) I used less olive oil than what the recipe calls for.

Here are the recipes…

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Filed under Breads, Savory

Almond Spice Wafers

M sure does like his cookies so I’m always happily on the lookout for something new and different to try.  There are several tried-and-trues that, although easy to make and proven successes, have lost their luster for me, the baker.  M’s cookie texture taste tends to veer more toward the thick, chewy and chunky so I set out to make the complete opposite, something thin, light and crispy.

These Almond Spice Wafers are a variation on Moravian Spice Cookies, which are traditionally made with molasses, rolled, and have the reputation of being the world’s thinnest cookie.  The Moravian Spice Cookie originated from the Moravian Church community during Colonial times in Old Salem, North Carolina, are similar to the German debauchee and have additional roots in Austria.  There are recipes that date back as far as the 1700s.  Quite the lineage!

My recipe originated from a very different and more contemporary source… Martha Stewart.

Almond Spice Dough

The main difference is that these Almond Spice Wafers are made with brown sugar instead of molasses and instead of being rolled thin, the dough is pressed into a mini loaf pan, frozen (I allowed mine to freeze overnight) and sliced thin before the cookies are baked.  A sharp knife and a steady hand are key to completing the task of slicing the cookies as thin as possible.

The finished product was indeed thin but a far cry from being the thinnest cookie in the world.  I leave that to the Moravians.

Almond Spice Wafers

Here is the recipe in case you are in the mood for something a little thin, light and crispy.

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The Best Tuna Meatballs

Cinnamon and…tuna?  You better believe it!  I think of cinnamon often but rarely do I think of it and tuna at the same time.  Cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon toast.  Cinnamon and oatmeal.  Sure.  But cinnamon tuna?

Jamie Oliver has a recipe in his cookbook, Jamie’s Italy, called Le Migliori Polpette di Tonno (The Best Tuna Meatballs) that combines these two flavors and the result is out-of-this-world good.

As an aside, whenever a recipe claims it is the best, the skeptic in me has to find out for myself.  So, I set out to make these “migliori” meatballs and believe me when I say that they are indeed the best tuna meatballs and dangerously close to the best meat flavored meatballs I have ever had.  Jamie says they can be served with spaghetti or linguine but we ate ours with a side of sautéed spinach and a Mediterranean coca.  What’s a coca?  Stay tuned…

The finished product

Here’s the recipe…

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Filed under Entrees, Seafood

Lavender Honey Biscotti

We once made our own bitters.  It was quite the exhausting process sourcing all of the hard to find ingredients – tonka beans, gentian root, cassia sticks.  Huh?  Many were found in New York’s specialty markets, some online, and others in our kitchen cupboard.  The brew was assembled in a mason jar with charred oak chips and then put at the top of a closet to cure? ferment? whatever it is that bitters do for six months or so.  The result was an incredible tasting treat that is the highlight of many a cocktail.

But I digress… One of the key ingredients was dried lavender, that we now have an abundant supply of thanks to the minimum mail order quantity.  I have been looking for a use for it and finally decided to bake with it.  The resulting Lavender Honey Biscotti are delicious, low in fat and extremely easy to make.  In addition to adding a distinct, yet light, taste to the cookies, the lavender also provides a nice aroma while the biscotti are in the oven.

Now if I can just find a use for all that leftover gentian root.  Ideas, anyone?

Lavender Honey Biscotti

Cook’s Illustrated won’t share the recipe with you but I will…

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Filed under Breads, Cookies, Sweet

Milk Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Hazelnuts and Espresso

They had me at caramel!

I’m trying to get used to Bon Appétit as a replacement for Gourmet and, sadly, it has not quite happened.  Every now and then, however, I am surprised by a recipe that I must try.

This month it was the Milk Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Hazelnuts and Espresso, a dessert that speaks to two of my weaknesses – caramel and coffee-flavored anything.  Check out the description:  This delicious tart has a buttery shortbread crust, a rich hazelnut-caramel filling, a creamy espresso-chocolate topping, and a sprinkling of crunchy cacao nibs (pieces of roasted cacao beans).  Amazing, right?

Instead of one large tart, however, I busted out the tartlet pans from overstock and got to work.  I halved the recipe which then yielded four mini tartlets – two for Valentine’s Day and the other two for, well, the day after Valentine’s Day.  Oh, and because I’m also crazy for Maldon salt, I added a few flakes to the top of the tartlets.

Milk Chocolate-Caramel Tart with Hazelnuts and Espresso

Here’s the recipe if you’d like to give it a try…

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Filed under Pies and Tarts, Sweet