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Apr 2010 18

I love light, custardy desserts. I love caramel-y desserts. I also love individually plated, pretty “presentation” desserts. Ergo, I love creme caramel – a light, smooth, egg-rich custard bathed in a pool of bittersweet caramel – and it tastes amazing even when “pareved”!

This dessert can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge. I made them in those little disposable aluminum tart shells, but you could just as easily use proper ramekins. I had initially tried this with saffron, but found that the dominant flavour of the caramel cancelled out any saffron taste – a waste if you ask me, considering the fact that saffron is the most expensive spice ever!

Creme caramel ranks about a medium in terms of the level of skill required. The custard part is easy, but making caramel can be tricky. A word of caution. Do not attempt to make the caramel when there are distractions around – curious kids, other things on the stove, etc. ESPECIALLY do not make the caramel with children around! Hot sugar is a gajillion times hotter than boiling water and any contact with skin can leave you scarred for life. (Have I freaked you out yet?)

Don’t be scared, just be organized about it. Clear off your countertops, get your little ramekins lined up. Then, when you are ready to tackle the caramel, put the dog in the basement and stick the kid(s) in the playpen or somewhere else where they can’t escape for 20 minutes. Turn your phones off, pull on some long rubber gloves and make sure your arms aren’t exposed. And NEVER add ANYTHING to the sugar once it has turned into liquid caramel, or it will explode in a very bad way! Hot sugar is scary stuff, you guys! (But when it’s done safely, oh, is it ever worth it!)

While the caramel is cooling, you can get on with the custard (but don’t let the kids roam free again until the caramel is cool).

You will need:

12 ramekins or mini pie shells

1 1/2 c sugar for the caramel

8 eggs
1 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 c soy milk (vanilla favoured is fine)
3/4 c coconut milk
1/4 c water
1/4 tsp ground cardamom – or 8 whole cardamom pods

To make the caramel, put the sugar into a medium stainless steel pot (preferably one with a long handle) over high heat. Using a long wooden spoon, stir the sugar continuously. After a few minutes, the sugar will start to clump together – that’s how you’ll know it’s working. Keep on stirring, and eventually the sugar will begin to liquify. When the sugar is all liquid, and starts to give off some colour, turn the heat down to meduim and keep stirring until the sugar is a rich golden/light amber colour. Then take the sugar off the heat and pour a little bit – quickly and carefully! – into the bottom of each ramekin, enough to coat the bottoms with caramel.

Then put the pot down, either on the floor or somewhere it won’t be touched or knocked over. After about 15 minutes it will have cooled and you can fill the pot halfway with water and set it on simmer – all of the hard candy will easily dissolve and cleanup will be a cinch!

Hooray, you’ve just made caramel! Give yourself a pat on the back – that was no easy feat! Now you can relax, and leave it all to cool while you get started on the custard.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. In a pot, whisk together the soy milk, coconut milk, water and cardamom (if you’re using whole pods, bruise them by crushing them a little with the back of a spoon), and place on meduim heat to heat up gently. Keep an eye on it, as soy milk tends to curdle with too much heat.

When the milk begins to steam, remove it from the heat and whisk it into the egg mixture. Then strain this mixture into a large measuring cup, pitcher or bowl. This will ensure that your custard has an even texture and a smooth mouthfeel.

Preheat the oven to 320F. Pour the custard into the ramekins (you can fill them almost to the rim if you have enough).

Prepare a water bath by arranging the ramekins in a large baking/roasting pan (you may need to bake them in batches if your baking pan is not big enough to hold all of them). Then carefully pour water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes. The custard will still be slightly jiggly when done, but it shouldn’t look liquidy. Allow the custards to cool and chill them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve them.

To serve, loosen the custards by running a knife along the edges. Place a dessert plate upside-down over a ramekin and invert it, then give the ramekin a little jiggle on the plate to release the custard. All you need as garnish is a fresh berry or two – or just serve, as you may prefer, au naturel.

Makes 12.

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Apr 2010 13

Many Indian recipes call for a highly flavourful spice mixture (masala) known as garam masala. Garam masalas vary from region to region and from chef to chef. There is no single standard formula, but the general idea is that all of the spices blend together evenly and harmoniously – no single spice stands out as a prominent flavour.

The following is my father’s garam masala recipe, and can be used in any dish calling for garam masala. Ideally, you would use whole spices and grind them up together in a small coffee grinder. But, since we don’t live in an ideal world, it’s fine to use pre-ground spices and just mix them together. (Let’s not be too hard on ourselves.) And, of course, I’ll show you how you can use your masala (after the recipe).

You will need:

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp anise seed (if available)

Mix and/or grind spices together and store in an airtight container or a ziplock bag.

Makes about 8 tbsp of masala

Now, what to do with your freshly prepared garam masala, you ask? Why, make a curry, of course! I suggest you try a cauliflower curry using the method and recipe in a brief introduction to curries. Just use fresh, cut-up cauliflower florets in place of the chickpeas, and cover the pot to steam the cauliflower when you add it to the spices. I like to tear up pieces of whole wheat tortillas (a fab stand-in for chapati) and use it to scoop up the curry. (In this case, I will gleefully eat with my hands.)

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Mar 2010 22

It’s that time of year again! The harried quest for a delicious, kosher-for-Passover menu is on. Luckily, one of my favourite desserts (which, hooray, is pareve!) just happens to be great for Pesach, and it’s easy and exotic to boot. I love the way the ginger in this ice cream offers a sharp, slightly spicy balance to the rich sweetness of the mango. This would be perfect as a light and refreshing dessert, just when you need that little pick-me-up before bentching at the end of a long, heavy seder.

You will need:

12 eggs, cleanly separated
1 c sugar, divided
1 c + 1 tbsp vegetable oil (not olive!)
2 ripe mangoes, peeled & diced – you want a heaping cup of diced fruit
scant 1 tsp fresh ginger, finely grated
pinch salt

Start by throwing the egg yolks and half a cup of the sugar into a blender or food processor, along with the oil, mangoes, ginger, and salt. Blend the mixture until the mango has been thoroughly pureed and everything is smooth.

In a mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a very large bowl with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites until they are thick and foamy. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and continue to whip until stiff peaks form.

Carefully fold the mango mixture into the egg white mixture with a whisk until it is more or less incorporated. Pour this into two 9 x 13 baking pans (I use the disposable aluminum ones for Passover) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Place immediately into the coldest part of your freezer, and allow the ice cream to set, about 6 hours.

To serve, just scoop the ice cream right out of the pan. Bejewel your dessert with a few bright red pomegranate seeds or simply dust the tops with a little shredded coconut.

Makes 10-12 servings

Have a Chag Kosher v’Sameach!

 

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Mar 2010 09

I have to be honest about the provenance of this salad, as I cannot claim it to be authentically Tunisian; rather, it is a modified, modernized variation on a simple Tunisian salad comprising thinly sliced fennel marinated in lemon juice. If you’ve never tried fennel, the flavour is somewhat surprising: it looks like celery but tastes like anise (liquorice), and is crisp and refreshing. You can make this salad as is, or you can toss it with a mixture of salad greens (frisee, mache and arugula, for instance) if you’re into “leafy” salads – just add a little more dressing. It is important that the apple you use here is tart – so don’t settle for anything less than the green (granny smith) variety. This salad is also perfect for Rosh Hashana – pomegranate adds colour and crunch, its plentiful seeds reminding us to increase our mitzvot for the coming year.

You will need:

2 bulbs fennel
1 pomegranate
2 granny smith apples
1 lemon
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by trimming and discarding the tough green stalks, as well as the root ends, of the fennel. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and wash the sections, then slice the fennel as thinly as you possibly can. Core the apples and cut them in half, leaving the bright green skins intact. Slice the apples thinly and add them to a bowl with the fennel.

Cut open the pomegranate and separate the seeds from the membranes. You can use whatever method you like, but I find the easiest (and most fun) way is to first cut the pomegranate in half crosswise (i.e., so that you end up with the stem end on one half and the flower end on the other). Then, holding one half cut-side down over a large bowl, whack the top of the fruit repeatedly with something heavy – a soup ladle or a rolling pin should do the trick. Be patient, and you’ll find that eventually, the seeds will rain down into the bowl while the membranes will miraculously remain in the shell.

Add the pomegranate seeds to the fennel and the apple. Add the juice of a lemon, then add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad to coat, then allow it to marinate in the fridge for several hours before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings

Maple-Chili Salmon

Spicy Roasted Pepper Soup

Tandoori Chicken

Cumin-Roasted Eggplant

Lime Pilaf

Mango-Cardamom Ice Cream (pareve)

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Mar 2010 04

This is the chicken version of lamb tagine, a decadently rich Moroccan stew that is traditionally served on a bed of fresh couscous. I will always prefer lamb, but substituting chicken helps lighten the dish (in both calories and cost), while still retaining the slightly spicy, honeyed sweetness of the original. Don’t be put off by the idea of prunes – when simmered long enough, they practically melt in your mouth, and give the sauce body and richness. Try to use prunes with pits, if you can find them, as the pits keep the prunes moist and tender. The honey in this dish also makes it perfect for Rosh Hashana.

You will need:

2 lbs. chicken thighs (bone-in, with skin)
2 onions, sliced
1 tsp ground (powdered) ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c chicken or vegetable stock (or, in a pinch, water)
large pinch saffron
3/4 c unsweetened prunes
1/4 c whole unsalted almonds
1/4 c sultana or golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped chives or cilantro (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a wok or heavy pot. (I often use a wok to prepare this dish, because it allows me to brown more meat at once. A regular heavy pot will do just fine, you just might have to brown the meat in batches.) On medium-high heat, sautee the onions until they are soft, then add the chicken. Sautee them together, sprinkling with the turmeric and ginger, until the meat is browned.

Add the broth, almonds, and prunes to the chicken. Rub the saffron strands between your fingertips to crush them, and add this to the chicken. Cover, reduce the heat to low and allow the chicken to simmer for about 30 minutes. (In the meantime, you can throw together a basic couscous.)

Stir the chicken around a bit, then add the raisins and simmer, covered, for another 20-25 minutes – the chicken should end up very tender. Transfer the meat to a casserole or serving dish and cover to keep warm. You should be left with a pool of sauce studded with fruit and nuts. To this, stir in the cinnamon, honey, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Simmer gently until fragrant and slightly thickened, about 2-4 minutes.

Spoon this sauce over the chicken, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish with an additional sprinkling of finely chopped chives (not green onion) or cilantro, if desired.

Makes 4 servings

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