Bakin’ Challah

Bakin’ Challah

With its familiar rich, tender crumb, Challah bread is a dough steeped with Jewish tradition. In this whole wheat version, honey lends sweetness, while tart raisins add a chewy bite.

Whole wheat Challah bread

Inspiration from the recent Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah lend itself to this moist, sweet Challah recipe. Challah is a traditional braided bread, eaten on the Sabbath and holidays by Ashkenazi and by most Sephardic Jews. The six-legged braid of the traditional loaf represents the six challot that Moses was to place before the Lord.

Observant Jews recite three blessings prior to their meal on Friday evenings, and the last blessing is over two covered loaves of challah, giving thanks for the bread of the Earth. As Joan Nathan states is her book, The Jewish Holiday Baker, “On the Sabbath, the bread becomes a symbol of holiness…[t]he blessing over the bread at the beginning of every meal connects the Jews continuously to the food that grows in the earth and to God.”

The traditional Rosh Hashanah challah is braided and then rolled into a circle, a symbol of the year’s cycle. A honey glaze is sometimes added, with hopes for a sweet year. An easier method is to shape the portions into loaves, and bake in loaf pans. The dough can also be braided and left as a long loaf.

Representing religious and historical significance, Challah bread is an integral part of Jewish life. Families make the bread each week before the Sabbath or purchase it from a Jewish bakery.

Of course, many non-Jews enjoy the rich bread as well, and bakeries around the world prepare Challah in many ways, adding honey, raisins, seeds, saffron, cardamom, or other flavoring agents to increase flavor. Challah is a sweet bread, perfect for toast with jam or in making french toast. An egg bread similar to brioche, it is enriched by oil instead of butter or milk. This recipe uses a portion of whole wheat flour and honey, for a sweet, earthy flavor and raisins plumped in orange juice, for a tangy chew.

Whole Wheat Challah recipe
*makes two loaves

1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast
3/4 cup warm water, 90 degrees Farenheit
1 tbsp sugar
5 eggs, room temperature, +1 for egg wash
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp salt
4 cups AP flour
4 cups whole wheat flour

1/2 cup raisins, soaked in warm orange juice and drained
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for garnishing

1. In a medium sized bowl, or bowl of stand mixer, combine water, sugar and yeast. Let sit for 10 minutes, until yeast is frothy.

2. Combine the eggs, honey, salt, vanilla, and oil in a second bowl. When yeast is frothy, add the egg mixture to the yeast. Add one cup of flour at a time, until all the flour has been incorporated. When you have a shaggy dough, turn out onto board and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, at least 10 minutes. If using a mixer, mix with dough hook until smooth. Soak the bowl in hot water during kneading process to prepare for proofing.

3. Grease the bowl with a small amount of vegetable oil and place dough inside, rolling over to coat both sides with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm space to proof to double in size, 1-2 hours depending on your kitchen. You can also proof inside a warm, but turned off oven.

4. Punch dough down, by pushing down on the center of loaf, to release gas build up. Cover and proof for another thirty minutes.

5. After proofed, knead raisins into dough. Divide dough in two pieces and shape as desired, either in loaves or breads. If braiding, divide dough into six pieces and roll into logs. Stick logs together at one end and braid. When finished, stick dough ends together to seal. Keep as long braid, or bring ends together for a ball shape. Place on a greased sheet, with two inches between the loaves or in  loaf pans for normal loaves.

6. Beat egg with 1/4 cup of water. Brush onto loaves. Let rise one hour.

7. After the third rise, pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and re-brush the loaves with egg wash and honey. Sprinkle with poppy seeds or sesame seeds if desired. Bake in the center rack of oven for 40-60 minutes, until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool loaves on rack. Once cooled, you can freeze loaves for future use, or store wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator.

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End of Summer Lasagna

End of Summer Lasagna

Tomatoes are in full bloom, a sign that summer is fading into chilly fall afternoons. This hearty lasagna, filled with summer squash and crisp heirloom tomatoes, is the perfect way to celebrate the last burst of summer’s produce.

Summer's Bounty: Basil, heirloom tomatoes, and squash

Summer's Bounty: Basil, heirloom tomatoes, and squash

As the last days of summer go by, the farmers markets are full of rich, flavorful tomatoes. At Santa Monica’s farmer’s market, Munack Farms offers customers a wide array of heirloom tomatoes, deep in flavor. Fans flock to bins full of bright yellow and red Pineapple tomatoes, tiny green and yellow striped Zebra Striped tomatoes, and deep red and yellow Brandywines. These tomatoes are so complex, they need little more that a simple seasoning of salt, pepper and olive oil. This lasagna goes one step ahead, highlighting the beautiful fruit in a squash and tomato sauce, artfully layered with pasta, squash and sliced tomatoes. A hearty meal, it’s the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer.

Tomato and Squash Lasagna
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 white onion, small diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3 large squash, or zucchini, or a combination; 1 diced and the others cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 cans whole plum tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce
4 large tomatoes of your choice; 1 diced and the others slice into 1/4 inch thick slices
1 bunch basil
160z ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Greek style yogurt
2 eggs
1 package no boil lasagna noodles
16oz shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp honey
salt
pepper

1. Place a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp of oil and allow to heat, for around 3 minutes. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until they become slightly translucent. Add the diced zucchini and cook until both are translucent. Add the tomatoes, and cook 2 minutes more. Using your hands, crush the whole plum tomatoes, being careful as the juices will squirt out. Pour in the tomatoes and tomato sauce, honey, and half of the basil bunch. Season well with salt and pepper and cover the pot. Allow to cook over medium low heat.

Saute oninos, zuchini and garlic

Saute oninos, zucchini and garlic

2. Place a heavy bottomed saute pan over medium high heat. In a bowl toss the squash slices with 2 tbsp oil and a generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Add the last tbsp of oil to the pan, and working in batches, saute the squash slices. The squash will begin to look translucent. Flip over and cook until the squash is sightly soft. Place on tray or plate, and saute the remaining pieces.

3. In a bowl, mix the ricotta, yogurt and eggs together. Season with salt and pepper. Chiffonade, or thinly slice, the remaining basil and add to cheese mixture.

4. Preheat the oven to 375. Spread a thin layer of cheese mixture onto the bottom of a 12×8 pyrex pan. Cover with dried noodles, carefully cutting to fit the entire pan. Spread a thin layer of the cheese mixture onto the noodles. Spoon a thin layer of tomato sauce on top of cheese. Lay the squash slices on top of sauce, covering the entire area. Top with a thin layer of shredded cheese.

5. Add a layer of noddles on top of shredded cheese. Top with thin layers of the cheese mixture and tomato sauce. Line the sliced tomatoes on top the sauce, covering the entire area. Top with mozzarella cheese. Repeat these steps to make a third layer with sliced tomatoes. Top tomatoes with shredded cheese and pasta noodles. For the top of lasagna, spread the remaining cheese mixture onto noodles, add a thin layer of tomato sauce, and cover with the remaining mozzarella cheese.

Top tomato sauce with a layer of sliced tomatoes

Top tomato sauce with a layer of sliced tomatoes

6. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour. Lasagna will be done when bubbling, cheese is golden brown, and sides are crisp. Remove from over and let cool for 10 minutes before slicing and serving. Or allow to cool completely and freeze for later use.

Bubbling finished lasagna

Bubbling hot, finished lasagna

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Slow Food for fast Change

Slow Food for fast Change

This past Labor Day, Slow Food USA sponsored over 300 potluck eat-in’s in support of their Time for Lunch campaign, urging change in the school lunch system. According to the organization, a little change can go a long way.

One of the many eat-ins held this past Sepetember 7th, at Spiraling Orchard Park in Los Angeles.

One of the many eat-ins held this past Sepetember 7th, at Spiraling Orchard Park in Los Angeles.

With over 30 million children eating school lunches each day, Slow Food USA asserts that change cannot wait. Health-food advocates, environmentalist, and those concerned with the state of the National School Lunch Program rallied together this past Labor Day to support the group’s platform on the issue of what is served in school lunches. In parks, stores, homes, and community gardens across the nation, groups gathered for eat-in potlucks, asking attendees to sign the Time for Lunch petition and help make change happen now.

The main goal of the campaign, which was launched this past June 2009, is to convince Congress to allocate $1 more per student lunch, raising the reimbursement rate from $2.75 to $3.75. Other key objectives of the campaign include reducing the “junk” and “fast” food found in schools, gaining grants for school farm and garden programs, and establishing financial incentives for buying local products.

“It is time to give kids real food: food that tastes good, is good for them, is good for the people who grow and prepare it, and is good for the planet,” stated Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA.

The National School Lunch Program, which sets the standards for school lunches, falls under the Child Nutrition Act. The legislation is reauthorized every five years, and this year’s deadline is September 2009. During the 300 plus Labor Day potlucks, Slow Food USA acquired over 20,000 signatures online and 10,000 written signatures for it’s petition. Combined with the attention garnered from the eat-in’s, the group hopes to make Congress reform the standards of the current Child Nutrition Act.

The issues of child obesity and poor nutrition, which lead to health care issues of high -blood pressure and diabetes, support the debate for an increase in the quality of food that children are served. Slow Food USA hopes to develop standards for all food sold in schools, reducing children’s exposure to unhealthy products and promoting in them healthy habits.

To support these changes in school lunch system, go online and sign the petition, asking Congress for change. And, through the month of September, become a Slow Food USA member for a donation of any amount and join this group’s efforts for real food for children throughout the country.

View more picture’s of the Labor Day eat-in’s at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ tags/timeforlunch/.

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Skip the ice cream, cool down with semifreddo

Skip the ice cream, cool down with semifreddo
A chocolate, honey, peanut dessert speaks to our inner child’s sweet tooth cravings. This two-in-one dessert is a decadent chocolate cake that gives way to a cooling, honey semifreddo. Toasted peanuts add an earthy crunch.

Whisk a few eggs together, sweetened and held by honey, and lightened with whipped heavy cream and you’ll have semifreddo. With an airy mousse texture, this frozen treat is easy to make, smooth and creamy on the tongue, and a versatile alternative to ice cream. This recipe hides the rich mousse inside a chocolate cake enhanced with peanut meal. It’s addictive; try even a small slice and you’ll be hooked.

Chocolate and peanut cake with Honey Semifreddo
For Cake

100g peanuts, toasted, cooled and ground into fine meal with food processor
230g bittersweet chocolate
6 large eggs, separated
150g granulated sugar
10g salt
25g cocoa powder

For Semifreddo
3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature for 30 minutes
60g honey
150g heavy cream, chilled
100g toasted peanuts, cooled, and chopped finely

To make the cake:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degree Fahrenheit. Spray at 10×10 inch baking pan and line with wax paper, allowing a 1-inch overhang.

2. Slowly melt the chocolate in a microwavable safe bowl, stirring frequently and melting for thirty seconds at a time(be careful chocolate will burn easily!) Set aside to cool.

3. Beat the yolks, 75g of sugar, and 5g of salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer or with a hand held mixer at medium high speed until they are pale yellow and thick, about 6 to 8 minutes. Mix in the melted chocolate.

4. In a clean bowl, beat whites until frothy, then rain in the remaining sugar and salt, mixing on medium until whites just hold stiff peaks. Fold one third of the whites into the yolk mixture, mixing completely but gently, then add the remaining whites and carefully fold together.

Mixing the yolks, chocolate, and whites

5. Pour batter into prepared baking dish and carefully spread until even. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until top is no longer wet and cake springs back when pushed.

6. Allow to cool for 10 minutes of rack, then run a knife along the edges, and invert the cake onto a piece of wax paper.

7. Lightly spray a loaf pan and line with plastic wrap or aluminum foil in strips so that each section is covered. Cut the cake in pieces to fit the loaf pan, using the pan as a stencil. Cut a rectangle for the bottom and top, two long pieces for the sides, and two small pieces for the short sides.  Fit all the pieces into the pan, gently pushing the pieces into the pan, leaving the top piece off.  Wrap the cake pan and piece in plastic wrap and place in freezer while assembling the semifreddo.

Filling the pie pan with cake

To make the semifeddo:
1. Beat together the eggs and honey in a medium sized bowl and place over a pot of simmering water. Mix with an electric mixer until egg temperature reaches 160 degree Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

2. In a chilled bowl, whisk the heavy cream together until it is thick and holds soft peaks. When the egg mixture is cooled down, about ten minutes, mix a portion of the cream into the eggs, gently folding together. Add the rest the the cream, fold together and fold in the chopped peanuts.

3. Remove the cake pan from the freezer. Evenly fill the pan with the semifreddo and place the last cake piece on top. Gently cover the cake with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 9 hours, or overnight. Before serving, remove the top layer of plastic wrap, and invert the cake onto a long platter, using the lining to help remove the cake. Garnish with sifted cocoa powder, toasted peanuts, or chocolate shavings. Slice, serve, and enjoy.

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Think about what you eat

Think about what you eat

The film Food, Inc makes it plainly clear that we really have no idea what is in the food on our dinner plate.

foodinc

With 2006’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan sets the tone for the way we eat, calling his readers to look at labels and understand what makes up our food. Three years later, the phrases organic, sustainable, and free-range have become more common place, and yet Food, Inc is still a startling, eye-opening look at the food industry, intended to show, not just tell, what the trouble is all about.

The movie asks the prime question “How much do we really know about the food we buy and eat?” Throughout the 93 minute film, journalist Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan, and an array of farmers, meat producers, politicians, and citizens, shed light on that question. Scenes shift from unkempt chicken coops to employees struggling in unfair labor situations in slaughter houses; watching scenes of farmers who are left with little choice but to follow unsettling corporate policy, it is hard to not demand change.

Food, Inc insists that Americans are eating without thinking, and eating choices affect the environment, the food industry, politics and labor practices. The film discusses new strains of E.colli, caused by feeding cows corn(when they naturally feed on grass), which is spread into the water through their feces. It showcases the politics of subsidizing the corn industry and the dismay caused by patenting a crop and controlling individual farms. The film highlights the poor practices that arise when 80% of a market is controlled by four companies and details these companies’ unfair labor policies and treatment of employees.

Looking at the problems with the industry, Food, Inc also showcases farmers and companies who stand up to these practices. There is an insiders view of organic companies, sustainable farms, and farmers who stand up to corporations, even when it means loosing their jobs. The film emphasizes the burgeoning organic food industry, and promotes the men and woman who promote food safety.

In the end, the film asks it’s viewers to make choices about what they eat. While many people choose to shun fast food choices, they do not realize the meat they purchase from the supermarket is the same meat they would be eating at these chain restaurants. Colas and packaged goods packed full of preservatives and corn derivatives are supporting these industries, intentionally or not. The question is asked again, “What is in the food you eat?” Food, Inc‘s answer is found in supporting local farmers markets, reading labels, buying locally, and eating at home more often. Food, Inc suggests these 10 simple things to change our food system.

This is a must see film, because changing the way we eat is not only important, it is imperative. With the state of our food industry, environment, and labor practices, this shocking film is sure to educate and change your mind about the way your eat and what you put on your plate.

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Destination Dinners: Let your cooking take your away

Destination Dinners: Let your cooking take your away

Enjoy traveling the globe without ever leaving your home. With these cooking kits, discover a new culture and destination on your dinner plate.

If you dream of traveling to Bangkok or Istanbul, but the reality is your suitcases haven’t left storage in quite some time, Destination Dinners answers your traveling prayers. The company offers recipe kits with easy to make dishes from all over the world. Try traveling to Thailand with pad thai, Korea with bulgogi, or Bangladesh with chicken garam masala. Decide where you want your dinner to take you and order the kits on line.

Each kit makes cooking a breeze; the primary ingredients are included along with a shopping list for meats and vegetables, trivia about the destination, and cooking instructions. Inside the sleek box, the pre-measured ingredients are found attached to a cardboard sheet. Following the easy instructions, one simply adds the ingredients together to create an international dish in less than an hour. With everything pre-measured, it almost seems too simple, and without listed measurements, feels a bit like blind cooking. Although, for those intimidated by ethnic cooking, it’s a great first step and introduction to spices, sauces and dry goods. After enjoying the meal, sip on a cup of the included tea and learn something new about the destination with the trivia questions. 

A great idea for a gift, date activity or party, the Destination Dinner kits range from $25-30 and are delivered in a few days. The kits feed 4-6 people, and for parties, the company offers Party Kits, which include the recipe kit along with serving dishes, necessary cookware, and a cd with music from your destination. Or sign up for the Passport, a 3,6, or 12 month pre-paid package, for a recipe kit each month with a coordinated gift. With so many options, Destination Dinners makes a trip around the world easy, by bringing culture and cuisine into your kitchen and your dinner.

Travel to Bangkok, Thailand with Khao Ob Sapparod Baked Pineapple Rice with Chicken & Cashews

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Tips for a Traveling Gourmand

Tips for a Traveling Gourmand

Weave a trip abroad around passion for food and you have quite an adventure on your hands. Dodge tourist traps, discover cultural experiences and taste the real foods of a country.

European travel is a food lovers dream come true. Italian wine, French cheese, Belgium chocolate; each country promises the best of so many foods. Farmers markets and gourmet shops are found in each city and town, and the world’s best restaurants crowd into these countries. A good meal is always nearby. With such an affinity for fine food, unfortunately the market for poorly made imitation goods and restaurants flourishes. With visitors from all over the world, many of Europe’s streets have become overrun with tourist restaurants and shops selling expensive and poorly made items. To avoid these misses, a little research goes a long way for a travelling gourmand. Here are some suggestions for traveling abroad with a food agenda.

1. Subscribe to travel newsletters. Fill your inbox with travel ideas and you’ll have a head start for the next trip you take. Most travel newsletters cover dining options and they tend to stray away from tourist spots. Subscribe to newsletters from Daily Candy Travel, Frommers, Smartertravel, Rick Steve’s Europe, and Travel Smart.

2. Use online guides. Chances are, where you are going, someone has traveled for food before. Reading online guides(and checking to make sure the suggestions are still around) is a good way to plan a foodie’s day. The New York Times has a series of articles covering 36 hours in many different European city’s which includes off the beaten path restaurants and dining spots. Bon Appetit and Gourmet have food focused guides on several cities, and the Travel and Leisure Food+Drink section is full of advice for travelling gourmands.

3. Take advice from other foodies. Forums on Chowhound and Slowtravel have comments and reviews of restaurants all over Europe. Ask questions on forums about specific cities or search posted information for advice from other travellers. It may take some time to do the research, but taking advice from those you have traveled before you will help unearth great places to try.

4. Book ahead. Make reservations, especially during the high tourist seasons. Walking into the charming restaurant you’ve researched may be disappointing when you find yourself being turned away from the full house.

IMG_6399
Many Europeans vacation during the summer, closing their restaurants for several weeks. Plan ahead to avoid disappointment.

5. Ask the locals. When dining out, ask the people around you for suggestions. Look for information at hostels and from your hotel concierge for nearby special places. Pick up a copy of the local community newspaper or stop into the tourism office for schedules of upcoming food events.

6. Look for locals tips. Belgium has Useit Maps, helpful maps with locals tips, published every year. In Italy you can pick up a copy of Osterie d’Italia for a comprehensive listing of local, sustainable restaurants. Tourism information guides walk through the trains outside of Budapest helping travelers. Seek out local advice and you will find the true food destinations.

7. When in doubt, stay away from fast food or expensive. Local specialties shouldn’t set you back too pretty of a penny.  Wander away from the tourist area and you will probably find the same items for less. Although sightseeing is important, these areas tend to be the touristy ones, so try and find some time to discover a more secluded area of your cities. These are the places you will stumble upon hidden gems.

Venetian farmer's market
Most European city’s have a farmer’s market to explore where you can try fruits, vegetables and local specialties.

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