Gaga over Tahini

Mornings can be hectic. There are days when I am lucky to get out the door wearing matching shoes—let along eat anything.  It’s at those times in particular I know I must grab something to eat along the way—and hopefully it’s beneficial.

Here’s my latest solution to eating on the run. It’s not designed as a meal replacement; it’s a tasty energy booster with food value that keeps me going until real food surfaces.

tahini bites

These wholesome raw bites are jet fueled morsels of sweet dates, toasted oatmeal, and my current fascination, tahini.  Since I’ve gotten pretty gaga over tahini, I thought it best to do a little more research—and was amazed at its nutritional value.

Call it a seed butter, in that tahini is made from roasted sesame seeds which give it a high oil content. In a 2-tablespoon serving, this powerhouse contains 178 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams carbohydrates and 5 grams of protein; with no sugar and 3 grams of fiber.

What that means, is tahini is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats known to lower harmful cholesterol levels, as well as lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. It is rich in thiamine (30% of daily requirement), magnesium (24%), phosphorous (22%), iron (14%), and calcium (12% daily requirement). Tahini’s list of benefits goes on.   It naturally helps lower blood pressure, aids in bone health and arthritic issues.

Yes, moderation is important, but in a full recipe of 20 or more Tahini Date Bites, only 1/3 cup of tahini is used. These are so satisfying that two or three sweet bites will certainly get the job done. I’m fortified, and ready to go the distance.

 Tahini Date Bites

Few ingredients and simple to make, these hold well and improve with age.  Suggested variations are noted.

Ingredients
1 cup Medjool dates (var include 2 Tbsp candied ginger), seed and chop well
1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1-3/4 cup oats, (var part almonds or other nuts) toasted
Finishing options
1 tablespoon cocoa powder (var pinch cinnamon)
1 tablespoon matcha tea powder
¼ cup raw coconut flakes
½ cup diced pistachio/pumpkin seed blend

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl combine the dates, tahini, honey, vanilla and salt.
  2. Stir in the oats, it will be sticky.
  3. Divide into approximately 20 portions and shape into 1” rolls.
  4. Allow to chill in refrigerator for at least an hour to set.
  5. To finish, dust tops finish as desired. Yield: about 20.
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Shades of Van Gogh

I bought a jar of tahini the other day and cannot leave it alone.  It should be sold with a warning label.

I am hooked. I put tahini on or in everything, and it keeps tasting better.  I write these words as I eye my latest showstopper. I am worried because I may polish this cheesecake off before the sun comes up.

It all began with my musing over the possibilities of a tahini cheesecake.    Mmmm.      That’s when the not-so-obvious addition of turmeric registered.  Now that’s intriguing.  Yes, turmeric interests me, too.  I want to explore its rumored health advantages, its lovely color, its mysterious flavor…  But, wait! Why not throw in a gingersnap and date crust and see what happens?

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I hit the kitchen and gather up what’s on hand: Greek yogurt and Neufchatel cheese.  Ah, yes.  Elegant, nuanced… a bit of honey for sweetener is spot on.  Into the pressure cooker it all goes for 30 minutes.  That’s it.

Well, what can I say?  The filling’s golden color is worthy of a Van Gogh painting.

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The flavor is subtle—yet profound. It evokes the question, “Is it really that good?” Perhaps another bite… or two.

Ah, yes, it is certainly good for me. I have no shame.  Call the doctor.

Tahini-Turmeric Cheesecake with Ginger-Date Crust

Inspired by cheesecake from:  http://flavorrd.com/2016/07/instant-pot-greek-yogurt-cheesecake/

Ingredients
Crumb crust
1 cup ginger snaps, fine crumb
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ cup dates, chopped
Filling
4 oz. cream cheese, regular or Neufchatel, softened
1/3 cup tahini
½ teaspoon turmeric, toasted
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch sea salt
1 1/2 cups whole or 2% Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Spray a 7” springform pan with non-stick spray and line bottom with parchment.
  2. For the crust: crush the cookies into fine crumbs, using either a food processor or a ziploc bag and rolling pin. Stir in the melted butter. When well combined add the dates and stir to distribute evenly. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a 7-inch springform pan, pressing firmly and spreading the crust about halfway up the sides of the pan (the bottom of a drinking glass works well for this job).
  3. For the filling: toast the turmeric in a small bowl in the microwave about one minute, until aromatic. In mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until light.  Whip in the tahini, then the turmeric honey, vanilla and sea salt until well combined. Add Greek yogurt and whip until smooth.  , sugar and vanilla in a large bowl, and whip together until very smooth. Then add the eggs, mixing until just combined.
  4. Pour the filling into the springform pan, being careful to fully cover the crust around the edges (if any crumbs are exposed, they can become soggy from the moisture in the pressure cooker).
  5. Place a trivet rack into the pressure cooker, and pour in 1 cup of water. Place the cheesecake on top of the trivet and close the lid. Set the valve to sealing position, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes. When done, turn off cooker and let stand for 5 minutes without disturbing, then release pressure.
  6. Open the lid and use the trivet handles to lift out the pan. If water has settled on top of the cheesecake, gently blot any excess with a paper towel.
  7. Allow the cheesecake to cool on a rack at room temperature for 1-2 hours, then transfer it to the refrigerator to chill completely (at least 4 hours). Serves: 1 to 8.

Party Time

Who doesn’t love a good Reuben sandwich?  What a combination. A flavorful dressing spread on pumpernickel or rye bread and topped with layers of corned beef, sauerkraut, and Swiss cheese. It’s definitely over the top when grilled  until toasted and  the cheese is melted.

Here’s a Reuben riff that brings it into the realm of mass production for entertaining and game days.  It’s an open-faced sandwich that can be prepped ahead and run under the broiler for a last minute fix.Mini Reubens

My chief hang-up on the Reuben has always been the sandwich spread, with a definite thumbs down on sweet ones, like Thousand Island and most Russian dressings.  A simple solution is to go with a straight forward, unadulterated combination of mayonnaise and sriracha with a little minced green onion for interest.

For maximum compatibility, serve these tasty morsels with sour dill pickles and crunchy sweet potato chips.

Open-Faced Mini Reubens

 Ingredients
1 loaf cocktail rye or pumpernickel bread
Dressing
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 green onion, minced
Toppings
3/4 pound thinly sliced corned beef
1-1/2 cups sauerkraut, rinse and drain well
3/4 pound sliced Swiss cheese
Garnish:  ½ cup chopped dill pickle or gherkins

Instructions

  1. For dressing: blend the mayonnaise and other ingredients and set aside.
  2. Preheat broiler. Set rack about 6” from top.
  3. Warm the sauerkraut. Slice the corned beef into 1-1/2” strips to fold neatly across the rye. Cut the Swiss cheese slices into quarters.
  4. Arrange cocktail rye slices on a baking sheet. Spread each slice liberally with a heaping teaspoon of dressing. Fold the corned beef in 2-3 layers over the bread. Drape a forkful of sauerkraut across the corned beef. Cover the sauerkraut with 2 pieces of Swiss cheese.
  5. Run the open-faced Reubens under the broiler for about 3 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Sprinkle with chopped pickle if desired and serve warm. Yield: 36 or more pieces

 

Friday Night Special

There are times when admittedly, my meals are a little wacky.  They can be downright self- indulgent and make little sense to others.  Especially on Friday nights.

It’s the end of the official work week and it’s time to relax. There are no rules!  My refrigerator looks deranged with a mere mishmash of odds and ends and pathetic leftovers. Since I will likely do a grocery shop over the weekend, I resist a stop—and prefer to pass on fast foods.

In my experience, there’s always a pizza in the works. Like another stand-by, the taco, a few toppings can become a full meal.  To that end, I like to stock at least one pan-size portion of pizza dough in the freezer. It easily defrosts in the microwave and is ready to go in no time. Occasionally, I have even stashed a pre-baked crust in the freezer. It’s a matter of gathering up a few compatible toppings and tucking it all in the oven for a quick bake.

That was the situation this past Friday night, between Christmas and New Year’s. Thanks to the holidays, my fridge was ripe pickings for fabulous toppings. No pathetic odds and ends here; I had a little hard Spanish chorizo, a collection of fontina and other cheeses, pasilla peppers, sweet onion, Greek dried olives and — fresh green tomatillos.

Tomatillo Sauce 1Whatever.  I treated the 8 tomatillos as if they were treasured San Marzano tomatoes. I removed their husks, chopped them up, and made a fast sauce with onion, garlic, jalapeno, oregano. I simmered it briefly, then ran the immersion blender through it until thick and cohesive. The results: a light, bright sauce worthy of this splendid occasion.

Turns out, the sparkling sauce brought all of these disparate characters together.

The final topping was another gift that kept on giving, too.  I had a little cheese mixture left from making stuffed mushrooms earlier in the week: a combination of shredded mozzarella, Parmesan, green onion, garlic, herbs and Panko. These amazing bread crumbs kept the stuffing light, absorbed moisture, and allowed for a beautifully browned top. Who knew it would one day end up on my pizza?

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It’s another Friday Night Special…  and that’s the way it goes.

Friday Night Pizza

Ingredients
1 pizza crust
Tomatillo Sauce
2 tablespoon olive oil
½ onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, partially seed, chop
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon dried oregano
8 fresh tomatillos, husk and chop
½ teaspoon.dried thyme (or Herbes de Provence if available)
½ cup chicken bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Toppings
1 pasilla pepper, seed and cut into strips
½ cup hard Spanish chorizo, cut up
½ smoked ham chunks (if available)
½ sweet onion, cut into strips
A handful of dried Greek olives, or other
1 handful shredded fontina cheese
1 cup cheese combo: mozzarella, parmesan, green onion, garlic and @ ¼ cup Panko
Dried oregano

Instructions

  1. For Tomatillo Sauce: in saucepan over medium heat, add olive oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the pepper and stir, then the garlic and allow to cook until aromatic.  Add the dried herbs, then stir in the chopped tomatillos.  Just barely cover with chicken bouillon and allow to simmer until thick, about 7 minutes.  With immersion blender, whirl until the sauce is thick, cohesive and still has texture.
  2. Prebake pizza crust at 425° in lower 1/3 of oven to set, about 7 minutes.
  3. To assemble: cover the crust with a coating of some of the sauce. Top with a layer of green pepper, then the meat selection, the onion, olives, and cheese.
  4. Sprinkle with dried oregano and bake another 12 minutes or until browned and bubbly. Cut into portions and serve hot.  Serves 2.

 

Behind the Curve?

Cream of tartar is one of those odd little pantry ingredients that many of us haven’t a clue what it really does. Beyond stabilizing egg whites when making meringue, what really is its value?

While contemplating a slew of Snickerdoodle recipes recently I was stumped that many included cream of tartar as an essential ingredient. Turns out cream of tartar is an acid that causes a reaction when combined with baking soda. The leavening effect results in soft, chewy, addictive, cookies that you simply cannot leave alone.snickerdoodle (1)

In some circles Snickerdoodles are viewed as an American institution. With such lofty status no wonder they are added to commercial ice cream, as if frosting on a cake.

Their powdery cinnamon-sugar finish makes them iconic, too, so don’t omit.  Since many recipes are quite lavish on that count, the following amount of cinnamon may seem wimpy by serious aficionados.  From my limited perspective they are balanced and need nothing more than a cup of tea or a glass of milk.

Snickerdoodles

Inspired by Lil’ Luna’s Snickerdoodles

Ingredients
1 cup butter (softened)
1½ cups sugar
2 eggs
2 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
Cinnamon-sugar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
  2. Sift together flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt.
  3. In a mixing bowl beat the butter until light, slowly add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.
  4. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. In 1 tablespoon scoops, roll the dough into balls, then roll each into the cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.
  6. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, until the edges just begin to brown slightly. Carefully remove to rack to cool. They will be fragile, but firm up as they cool.  Yield: about 48 cookies.

What Sounds Good?

We all have our comfort foods.  When nothing else sounds good, we reach for familiar touchstones to soothe us.  They many not mean much to anyone else, but we have our favorites.

Years ago I wrote a heritage cookbook for my family with the odd title, What Sounds Good?  It was just that,  a crazy assortment of cherished recipes that were a regular part of our food repertoire when my daughters were growing up.  At our house, there was always a debate underway about what to eat for the next meal or upcoming food event. The discussion would typically include what sounds good?

Some of the recipes in What Sounds Good? were from my own childhood; some I picked up in my early days of cooking from friends and family. Some were regional, like Santa Maria Style Beans and Boston Clam Chowder. They still hold a place in my heart.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was cold and rainy and I was feeling the aftermath of the long Thanksgiving weekend.  I needed something that reached down and warmed my soul.  Of course, it was no further away than my pantry shelves.  I always have the makings for clam chowder tucked away somewhere.

I pulled out my soup pot and found a familiar rhythm. The smoky scent of bacon always perks me up. There’s nothing fussing here: some onion, potato, a bit of celery, a few herbs… In no time I had hearty soup cups ladled full of thick and creamy clam chowder.

Funny thing.  This morning I pulled out the recipe to take a look at it.  It has been a while since I made it, and without thinking, I made it as written in the cookbook, down to ingredients and quantities.  I guess somethings are too good to change.

Boston Clam Chowder

From What Sounds Good?

Ingredients
4-5 strips bacon, chopped
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 stalks celery with leaves, chopped
2 medium red potatoes, skin on, diced
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
2 cans chopped clams, 4-5 ounces each, liquid reserved
1 bottle clam juice, about 8 ounces
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup water
2 cups milk, of choice, including diluted condensed milk, if necessary
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Garnish:  chopped parsley, butter, or paprika, serve with oyster or pilot crackers

Instructions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon over medium heat until it begins to color. Drain off all but 1-2 tablespoon of the fat.
  2. Add the onion, and cook to soften, then add the celery and toss briefly. Add the potato, herbs, white pepper. clam liquids, and enough additional water to barely cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook until potatoes are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.
  3. Combine the flour and water into a slurry and slowly stir into the potato base and allow it to thicken.
  4. Stir in the milk and clams and heat well, but do not boil. Adjust seasoning.  Serve with garnish of choice.  Serves 4.

Quick and Painless: Hard Cooked Eggs

Posting another blog on how to hard cook an egg does seem a little silly. We have covered that territory before, and by now, most of us know how to boil an egg.  It is more than  dropping an egg into simmering water and cooking until done.

Anyone who really appreciates a well prepared hard cooked egg likely has their own preferences, too.  I am partial to an egg with a slightly soft yolk without a green rim from oxidation; a firm, but not rubbery white; and equally important, a shell that peels easily.

A few years ago when my daughter presented me with an electric egg cooker I could not see its merit. I did not need another gadget; a saucepan and a little water works just fine.  It took me a while, but I finally warmed to it for her sake, and I still appreciate its precision and convenience.

Friends rant about how foolproof the Instant Pot is for hard cooking eggs.  Well,  fine, I have my egg cooker. Of course, that all changed the day I needed more hard cooked eggs than my tiny egg cooker could hold.  Besides,  I reasoned, who wants the angst of fretting over a carton of eggs that refuse to peel?

It may have something to do with the pressurized process of the Instant Pot, but the eggs peel like magic!  It is fast. Within five minutes the eggs are done, without any exploding eggs or unnecessary drama.  Give it an additional 3-4  minutes for natural pressure release, a fast flip of the valve for quick release of any remaining pressure, and into a cool bath they go—ready and waiting for a quick and painless peel.  Sweet!

For the record, here is one more solution for hard cooked eggs.

Hard Cooked Eggs

Made easy, via the Instant Pot

Ingredients
1 to 12 large eggs, cold from fridge, or as many as will fit comfortably in one layer
1 cup water

Instructions

  1. Pour 1 cup water into the Instant Pot liner. Insert a raised rack and place eggs in pot.
  2. Seal lid and set steam valve to Pressure; set Pressure function to High, and set timer for 5 minutes.
  3. When complete, let Pressure Release naturally for 3 minutes, then set the steam valve to Vent and resume with Quick Release.
  4. Cool the eggs in cold water. If desired, chill further in refrigerator.