Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Panettone Bread Pudding



First of all, I have to thank our friend Trish for bringing us a beautiful loaf of panettone (which I had never tried before, but always wanted to) and therefore inspiring me to take on this recipe (This is kind of my version of Better Homes and Garden's bread pudding recipe).

Panettone is a type of sweet Italian bread that is traditionally enjoyed for Christmas. It has a wonderfully fluffy texture and a beautiful smell and may contain ingredients like different types of candied fruit, chocolate chips and some flavorings. Therefore it is actually a perfect option for taking the simple bread pudding to the next level.


Ingredients: (Serves 6-8)

  • 4 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
  • 5 cups (about 1/2 loaf) panettone, cut into 1 inch-cubes
  • Vanilla ice cream, for serving

Directions:

  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Place the panettone cubes onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes, stirring twice (every 5 minutes). This will dry the bread cubes and help them soak the custard and keep their texture.
  • In a bowl beat together the eggs, milk, sugar and vanilla (and the optional ingredients, if desired).
  • Add the bread cubes into the bowl and make sure they are all coated with the custard.
  • Pour the custard into a 2-quart baking dish (preferably a square 8x8x2-inch baking pan).
  • Bake in the 350 F oven for about 40-55 minutes, or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean (Start checking after 40 minutes - do not over bake!).
  • Cool slightly. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.

Additional points:

  • If you can't find or do not want to use panettone, you can just use 5 cups of cubed regular bread - just do not skip the step of drying the bread in the oven first. Since panettone contains some ingredients and flavors, just adding a tablespoon of good old vanilla will do (although I would still add all the optional ingredients). But if using regular bread, I recommend that you add all the flavorings; plus, add 1/3 cup of your favorite dried fruit(s).
  • If you have never baked with cardamom before, definitely try it. It will fill your home with an enticing aroma.
  • Although it is always best to serve the bread pudding freshly baked, to serve the leftovers take the pudding out of the fridge and let it sit to come to room temperature; then heat each portion for 30 seconds in the microwave.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Pudding with Mastic and Shredded Dough (Kadayifli Sakizli Muhallebi)


This clever recipe was passed to me by my best friend Pelin who got it from Hulya, one of her colleagues at work. Well, I'm eternally grateful to both for this recipe, because it combines two traditional and popular desserts in Turkey, Greece and Middle East: Kadayif and Muhallebi, which means it combines "crunchy" and "syrupy" with "soft" and "creamy"...Yum!..:)
Plus, it uses one of my favorite spices: Mastic (Mastic, Wonderful Mastic (Sakiz), which takes it to the next level. 

   
Ingredients:

  • 1 3/4 sticks butter (divided into 1 and 3/4)
  • 1/2 lb. shredded fillo dough/Kataifi (Recommended brand: Apollo)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar (divided into 1 and 1)
  • 1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 4-5 oz. clotted cream or mascarpone cheese
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon smashed mastic tears (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)


Directions: (Serves 8-12)

  • In a shallow pot, melt 1 stick of butter over medium heat. Add the shredded dough, breaking it up into pieces (do not break up too much, since it will break up further when sauteing) and saute until it starts turning color, stirring frequently.
  • Add 1 cup of the sugar and the walnuts and continue sauteing until walnuts are nicely toasted, stirring frequently (you will most probably start smelling the walnuts when they are toasted - be careful not to burn them tough). Set aside to cool down.
  • Put the flour in another pot; by adding the milk gradually, whisk flour and milk to make sure there are no lumps of flour left. Put the pot on medium heat, add the remaining 1 cup sugar and stir constantly, until it comes to a boil.
  • Add the remaining 3/4 stick of butter, the clotted cream or mascarpone cheese and the mastic or vanilla; remove from the heat; and mix with an electric mixer at medium speed for 15 minutes (This will give the pudding the desired consistency).
  • Cover the bottom of a 10x10 square or 9x13 rectangular serving dish (preferably glass or porcelain) with half of the shredded dough mixture. Pour the pudding over it to cover. Cover the pudding with the remaining half of the shredded dough mixture.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours for the pudding to set (overnight is always better).

Additional points:
  • To save time, you can cook the pudding and the kataifi topping simultaneously. Just have all your ingredients and tools ready by your side when you start cooking, since you need to check and stir both the pudding and the topping constantly. This way the cooking should all together take about 20-30 minutes.
  • This is a rich dessert; if you want a lighter version, you can reduce the amount of sugar and butter to 3/4 or even to half of above given measurements (both for the pudding and the topping).

I love you, Mahlep!..



Mahlep is one of those spices which you think you do not miss or remember at all, until after a while you smell it again... It immediately takes you to places and sentiments... And you always fall in love with it all over again...

Just like nutmeg (another wonderful spice), although quite aromatic in the sense that "a little bit goes a long way", you are not hit by mahlep. It kind of sneaks its way into your heart, because some recipes are just not special or authentic without it.

I only started loving mahlep even more, when I learnt that it is actually the seed kernel of St Lucie cherries ground to a powder... So cute..:)

Please find more information about mahlep within the below link:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahlab

Mahlep is sold in ethnic stores where they sell Greek and Middle Eastern foods. But if you can't find it in stores, you can order it from this website:  bestturkishfood.com/
In fact, you can also find some other ethnic foods in my recipes in this online store.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Weekend Breakfast Oven Frittata



Frittata is an Italian style omelet which can be cooked on the stove top or baked in the oven (or both), and to which several ingredients can be added either before adding the eggs or with the eggs (not after, like a traditional French omelet). It is not served folded like a traditional French omelet, but rather cut into slices, almost like a pizza.

Making a frittata for your weekend breakfast is easy and, in a way, special, too. You can start preparing breakfast by putting together your frittata first; just pop it in the oven; and you can prepare the rest of the breakfast table while it bakes.

The ingredient combination in this recipe happens to be my daughter's favorite, so far our guests for breakfast also liked it; but you can most definitely create your own favorite combination, I just think it is important to put together a balanced mix of a cheese, a meat/protein (I would prefer deli meats), a veggie and a herb/spice.


Ingredients: (Serves 2-4)

  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cured dried beef strips (bastourma), cut or torn into pieces
  • Sprinkle of salt
  • Sprinkle of ground black pepper
  • No-stick cooking spray (or melted butter to coat the skillet)
  
Directions: 
  • Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  • Crack the eggs into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and beat to mix.
  • Spray an ovenproof 10-inch skillet with no-stick cooking spray. Pour egg mixture into the skillet. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean.

Additional points:

  • If you use more eggs (to feed more people) or use a narrower skillet (which will give you a thicker, fluffier omelet, if that's what you prefer), the baking time will be longer; therefore always check the doneness by inserting a knife into the frittata (start checking after 15 minutes).
  • The ingredients I used for above recipe did not need to be pre-cooked. But if you use a type of meat or vegetable that will not be cooked in the same time the eggs cook through, then you should definitely use pre-cooked meats and veggies. You can first cook/saute the meat and veggies in the pan, then add the egg-cheese-spice/herb mixture to the pan and put it in the oven. This recipe is actually a great way to use up bits of leftovers.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ground Beef Stuffed Peppers (Etli Biber Dolmasi)


Vegetables stuffed with meat are very common and popular specialties in many cuisines around the world. Well, here's a real staple from Turkish cuisine we cannot live without... The most wonderful thing about this dish for me is the unique green pepper flavor infused into the meat and into the juice/sauce, as everything cooks together in one pot... Eating the stuffed peppers with yogurt and a slice of fresh bread... A happy happy combination...


Ingredients: (Serves 6)

  • 1 pound ground beef (preferably 80/20)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped or grated
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup medium-grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 7 large cubanelle peppers (OR 14-15 small Turkish green bell peppers)
  • 1/2-1 cup water


Directions:

  • Put the first 7 ingredients into a shallow bowl and mix gently with your hands (put on latex gloves for this task) until evenly combined. Set aside.
  • Cut and discard the tops of the cubanelle peppers. Cut the peppers in half, clean the insides (seeds and membranes) and put them in a shallow pot (with a lid) standing up (The end of one of the halves will not be flat; cut a very thin piece from that end to make it flat, so that it can stand up in the pot).
  • Stuff the peppers gently with the meat mixture, until they look completely full; do not try to squeeze too much filling into the peppers, otherwise they will fall apart during cooking.
  • Pour 1/2-1 cup water into the bottom of the pot, close the lid. Cook it over medium heat until the water in the pot comes to a gentle boil.
  • Lower the heat to medium-low (or to low, depending on the size of the burner - this dish should be cooked gently). Cook for 30-60 minutes until the rice in the meat stuffing looks cooked (the rice gets longer and becomes soft). Start checking after 30 minutes.
  • Serve the stuffed peppers with the juice in the pot poured over them as a sauce and with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Additional points:

  • Since I cannot find Turkish green bell peppers here in America which are much smaller and have a thinner flesh than American bell peppers, I try to bring the cubanelle peppers to the size of Turkish bell peppers, because flavor wise cubanelle peppers are the closest to the bell peppers which are traditionally used for this dish.
  • If you can find Turkish bell peppers, do not discard the tops after cutting them off. After cleaning the insides and stuffing them with meat, put the tops back on the peppers and let them cook with the tops on. It is a wonderful embellishment for this dish; plus, it adds flavor and keeps the moisture inside.
  • By the way, you can definitely use a mix of other veggies to stuff for this dish, like zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes etc. You just need to scoop out and clean the insides and cut them into a size to make them fit and stand up in the pot.

Rice with Collard Greens (Karalahana Diblesi)


This is a regional rice recipe from north of Turkey which is satisfying both as a main and a side dish, and you get the health benefit of the collard greens with it. If you do not like collard greens as a vegetable, try eating them in this dish... And you need to use real butter to make it authentic...


Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 16 oz-package frozen chopped collard greens, thawed OR 2 bunches of fresh collard greens, washed, stems discarded and finely chopped
  • 2 small onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup medium-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 cups boiling hot water


Directions:

  • Melt the butter in a pan or a shallow pot (with a lid) on medium-high heat. Add the onion and saute until it is translucent.
  • Add the collard greens, mix and saute for a few minutes until they wilt down. Close the lid and lower the heat to low. Let the collard greens steam for about 15 minutes, until they are almost cooked through. Mix occasionally (do not burn the veggies, and always put the lid back on).
  • Turn the heat back up to medium-high, add the rice, salt, pepper and hot water and stir to mix. Let it cook for 4-5 minutes and stir occasionally. The rice will have absorbed most of the liquid during that time.
  • Lower the heat to low, stir one last time and close the lid. Let it cook on low heat for 18-20 minutes (do not open the lid during that whole time).
  • Turn off the heat, open the lid and stir very gently to fluff up the rice. Put a clean kitchen towel or 2-3 layers of paper towel over the pot and close the lid; let it sit for 15 minutes for the towel to soak up the excess steam from the rice.
  • Fluff up the rice one more time and serve.


Olive and Sun-Dried Tomato Tapenade



This is a very easy and elegant party appetizer from celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis; quite a popular one among my party guests. I just slightly changed the ratio to my liking.
Serve it both with your favorite crackers and with endive leaves for a fresh and juicy crunch.


Ingredients:

  • 5 oz. sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • 6 oz. pitted black olives (pitted and sliced is better), drained
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 heads endive
  • Crackers

Directions:

  • Process the olives and sun-dried tomatoes (and the oil it was packed in) in a food processor until smooth, but still a bit chunky.
  • If the mixture is too dry, add more extra-virgin olive oil and pulse a few more times.
  • Spoon into a serving bowl. If not serving immediately, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 2 days. Be sure to bring to room temperature and mix it thoroughly before serving.
  • Cut the ends of the endive and separate the leaves, being careful not to tear them. Wash and dry the leaves completely.
  • Serve the dip with crackers and endive leaves.

Additional points:

The size of cans for canned olives may change from store to store. Some stores may have 8 oz-cans, while others have 6 oz-cans etc.
Same goes for sun-dried tomatoes; some stores have them in jars, others have them in cans; and all in different sizes.
So just try to reach above given ratio (5 oz. sun-dried tomatoes to 6 oz. olives) with the size of cans/jars you can find. You may even play with that ratio depending on which flavor (tomato or olive) you want to be more dominant in the dip.