Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Musakhan - مسخّن‎

I'm always looking for inspiration to create new dishes.  Even a personal chef can get into a rut at home- quick, healthy and easy is a priority.  Earlier this month, I attended a dinner party hosted by friend for her Syrian in laws.  This invitation thrilled me since I have not tried many Syrian dishes.  I assisted with a few last minute dishes that have inspired an entire menu.   One dish in particular intrigued me - Musakhan.  My friend described it as a Middle Eastern flavored chicken fajita; Wow, I'm in love already!   Musakhan is a dish that one typically eats with one's hands.  Literally translated it means "something that has been heated or warmed".  It can be served as an appetizer, snack or meal.

I searched for a little history on this particular dish and I found that there are MANY variations to this recipe.   After looking here, here, and here I found the basic ingredients: chicken, sauteed onions, pita/lavash and sumac.  The evolution of classic dish: a traditionally slow cooked dish is transformed into it's modern version for the every day cook.  Slightly different, but still maintaining the integrity of the original.

This is a great way to use left over rotisserie chicken, or Thanksgiving turkey.  As it happens, I roasted Turkey breast  from dinner this weekend.  Along with the chicken I have  the onions, garlic, lemons and herbs that were part of the roasted Turkey.  I picked and then shredded the turkey meat.  The bones were then boiled down with remainder of the drippings and roasted veggies to create my own stock.   Now I have stock for the rest of the week and shredded turkey for Musakhan and chicken salad.


Makes 6-8 medium sized wraps


2 large chicken breast, bone in, shredded
2 large onions, sliced
3 heaping tablespoons sumac
2 tablespoons baharat, or arabic spice/seven spice
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
3 cups chicken stock - purchased or home made
3 tablespoons olive oil
8-10 whole wheat or white tortillas (traditionally Arabic kuhbuz or pita bread is used)


Heat a medium saute pan on medium high heat.  Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add onions and saute for 5 minutes.  

Add 2 1/2 cups of broth, 2 tablespoons sumac, bahart, cumin, garlic, and salt and pepper.  Lower to medium heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the onions are soft.

Meanwhile, shred the chicken into small pieces.

Remove onion from the pan and set aside. 

To the remaining sauce from the onion mixture, add the remaining 1/2 cup of stock, mix in the shredded chicken, the remainding oil and sumac.  Cook for a few minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

Shredded Chicken
Once the chicken and sauce are incorporated the dish will take on a pinkish hue from the sumac.

Allow both the chicken and onions to cool off - about 5-10 minutes.

Time to assemble.  Spray baking dish with cooking spray.  
On a tortilla, place the onion mixture, then top with shredded chicken and toasted pine nuts.  

Roll up and add to your baking dish. Continue until you've filled your entire baking dish.  

Spray with  cooking spray or olive oil spray and bake on 350 for 5-10 minutes or until the wraps are golden brown.  

For my family, I filled the entire baking dish and then we heated individual wraps as needed.  This could be a great snack or lunch option for families with different schedules.

Serve with Hummus, turnip pickles or tabbouleh salad.

Note: To serve these as side dish use smaller tortillas.  For an appetizer: use phyllo dough to wrap the chicken mixture.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Story of a Non-Baker

I've been challenging myself to push out of my comfort zone - in all aspects of my life.  Earlier in the week, I cold called a few customers, as call centers staff would say.  Something I would normally never do; however, I was pleasantly surprised that each person I spoke to was excited to hear from me.  They were aware of my service and have been meaning to call "me".  

On the cooking front: I have been attempting to bake more often.  The measuring, the scalding, the melting, the tempering, the beating, the folding, and most importantly the icing - all this only to put it into a 1960s oven that sometimes over heats or never heats at all.  With all those reasons not to bake, I chose to tackle a German chocolate cake.  I purchased all the ingredients earlier in the week to make life easier, and not fight the holiday rush.  I pulled out my recipe and proceeded to prepare the icing.   Ok, separate some eggs, heat a couple of things add butter and sugar...easy enough.  Cook till lightly golden - yay!  Icing done...confidence in check.  Next up the cake, standard ingredient - done (with flour all over of course).  Then I see BEAT the egg whites!! Seriously?  In the time I've spent on this cake I could have cooked 3 different entrées.  Oh well, can't quit now; egg whites done and folded.  Great, we must be done now, right? Nope! Two more directions on the card:  COVER bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round pans with waxed paper. ARE you kidding me?  Is this baking or craft time in kindergarten?  Ok, I've done my part  -- let's just hope the oven does his.

Obviously I don't enjoy baking.  I appreciate all of those who enjoy the art of baking.  It is certainly labor intensive for ONE item.  I admire those who spend the holiday season baking for their loved ones.  As I was preparing the icing, I felt transported back to my grandmother's kitchen.  She was one of those who made 7 types of cookies, pies, cakes and fudge and still had enough energy to cook dinner for her family.  I felt surrounded by the love of both grandmothers (Evelyn and Peggy).  One who inspires me every time I use her Kitchen Aid and the other for teaching a grandchild how to love a made from scratch cake.  For all those grandmothers I say....THANK YOU.

Here is the recipe and frosting/filling.:

Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting


4 egg yolks
1 can  (12 oz.) evaporated milk
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups  sugar
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine
1 pkg.  (7 oz.) sweetened Coconut (about 2-2/3 cups)
1-1/2 cups  Chopped Pecans


Beat egg yolks, milk and vanilla in large saucepan with wire whisk until well blended. 

Add sugar and butter; cook on medium heat 12 min. or until thickened and golden brown, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

Add coconut and pecans; mix well. Cool to room temperature and of desired spreading consistency.

You will see that as I get into the actual cake baking the pictures become more scarce. 

German Chocolate Cake


4 oz. Good Quality Sweet Chocolate
1/2 cup  water
4 eggs, separated
2 cups  flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp.  salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 cups  sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup  buttermilk


HEAT oven to 350°F.

Microwave chocolate and water in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 1-1/2 to 2 min. or until chocolate is almost melted, stirring after 1 min. Stir until chocolate is completely melted.

Mix flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar in large bowl with mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each. 

Blend in melted chocolate and vanilla. Add flour mixture alternately with buttermilk, beating until well blended after each addition.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites in small bowl with mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form; fold into batter; stir gently until well blended. Pour into prepared pans.

Cover bottoms of 3 (9-inch) round pans with waxed paper; spray sides with cooking spray. 

Bake 30 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Immediately run small spatula around cakes in pans. Cool cakes in pans 15 min.; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. 

Spread Coconut-Pecan Filling and Frosting between cake layers and onto top of cake.

The original recipe does not call for icing the entire cake, but some how I did not read that step at all.  Oh well,  I was done, and I was very happy to have baked such a great dessert to share with friends and loved ones.  It was a labor of frustration at times, but still one of love, and if the frosting is any indication this cake is going to ROCK.


The cake was an amazing success!  One bite into a cake that melts in your mouth, and you forget for one moment of bliss all of the heartache that gets you there...until next Christmas.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Turnip and Beet Pickles - Shalgham wa Shwandar

Just thinking of these pickles makes my mouth water.  I ran out of these pickles a few weeks ago and have been reminding myself to make MORE.  These pickles are crunchy, sour and tangy; they add an unbelievable depth to any salad or sandwich.  It will perk up your mundane Turkey sandwich or liven up a boring salad.  I call these my comfort pickles... OK don't go there, but when I've had a bad day or I am PMSing these are the first pickles I reach for.  When I'm in a hurry and need a snack, I open the fridge, stab a few of these pickles with a fork and off I go.  There is usually a few drops of pink vinegar juice at the bottom of the fridge from these snacks, but a girls got to live a little.

It amazes me that a humble vegetable like turnips or beets can transform into such beautiful pickles.  Beets and turnips are a wintertime vegetable so take advantage of their season.  Growing up, my father would buy a bushel of turnips and a kilo of beets so that we could stock up on this winter treat.  When dad returned from the market, guess who got to wash and clean every turnip and beet?  Yes, you guessed it.  On the back porch we would set up a large plastic basin, filled it with water and then toss in a couple of arm loads of veggies.  The first wash was to remove the mud, the second wash was to scrub and scrape away blemishes or brown areas.  I remember my hands would be frozen during this entire process, but for some reason I didn't care.  I knew it was completely worth it...I should have known I would grow up to be a foodie.

The beets will give the turnips such a beautiful pinkish hue.  I remember watching my mom pour the brine into the jar and watching the crimson red, turn the white turnips a vibrant shade of pink.  Once she sealed the jars we were allowed to flip the jars over and watch the color fill the jar.  The following is the quick method of making these pickles:

Pink Pickled Turnips - Turshi Shalgham wa Shwandar

2 pounds small turnips, halved and then sliced
4-6 garlic cloves
2 small beets
3 cups water
3 cups white vinegar
4 tablespoons of pickling salt

Start by washing the vegetables very well.  If you've purchased your turnips from the farmers market (and you should) you will need to rinse them off first, then scrub.

Scrub and scrape away blemishes or brown areas.  Do not peel, if the turnips are small, just cut across.  Note:  Some recipes call for peeling the turnips, but I find that the peel adds crunch.

Wash and peel the beets as the outer peel is tough.  I prefer to peel the beets under running water to prevent my hands from staining.  Of course, you can always use gloves. Peel and half the garlic cloves.

When all the veggies are ready, then it's time to layer the pickles.  In a large jar, place a couple of garlic and beet slices.  Pack in the turnips.  I top them off with another couple of slices of beets.  

Continue until you fill all your jars.

Combine the vinegar, water and stir in the salt until it dissolves.  Pour the liquid over the turnips, and cover the jars tightly with a nonreactive cap.  Close jars, and turn them upside down 2-3 times to allow the color to distribute evenly.  Let it stand at room temperature.  Let sit at room temperature in a dark place for 3-5 days. I suggest tasting them after 2 days, to experience how the flavor develops.  From time to time turn jars upside down to allow the color to distribute evenly.

These pickles keep very well for 2 weeks unrefrigerated and will last much longer if kept in the refrigerator.

An hour later!  see how quickly they transform.

Traditional Iraqi Fritters - Uroug or Kebab Tawa

New friendships and reminders of childhood meals have made me hungry for "home" cooking. These days I look at ingredients and think of Middle Eastern dishes.  Today I decided to make Uroug.  These fritters were so tempting to me as a child that I often got in trouble for sneaking the fritters when mom wasn't looking.  She would make a large batch and have them cooling on wire rack and I would sneak in, take one fritter top it with Amaba "pickled mangoes", a slice of tomato and then top it with another fritter thus Uroug sandwich.  So you can see why mom could never make enough of these when I was around.

Uroug is fritter composed of meat and vegetables mixed with dough then fried as patties.  Thus the name Kabab Tawa or meat patties cooked in a frying pan.  Recipes for Uroug vary from family to family.  Some make it with ground lamb others make it with finely minced beef.  They are traditionally prepared for supper, or during Suhur ( pre-dawn breakfast during the Ramadan fasting).  Left overs can also be torn up and mixed with egg for breakfast. 

Uroug or Kabab Tawa


1 pound lean ground meat or finely minced meat (beef or lamb)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley chopped or dried
1/2 cup water or broth
2 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon baharat 
1/2 teaspoon chili powder, or more to taste
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 cup of vegetable, canola or grape seed oil for frying


In a large bowl, mix meat, onion, tomato, parsley, egg, spices and tomato paste.  Add flour, baking powder, and water then mix well to combine.

Knead light with your fingers.  The final dough is little on the sofe side.  Add a little more flour
if the dough is too runny.  It should be similar to a thick pancake batter.

Heat oil in a medium pan.  Carefully drop a couple of tablespoons (2 tablespoons should be enough to form a patty) into the hot oil.  Cook for about 2 minutes or until golden brown, flip and cook the other side another minute. 

Remove and drain fried uroug on wire rack lined with paper towel.

These fritter cook quickly.  Serve with slices of tomatoes, onion, scallions, chopped parsley and turnip pickles or Amaba.  

I know this is not traditional holiday fair, but if your looking for something different to add to your dinner table you should give these fritters a try.  I think you will love them.  They are similar to Indian Pakoras.


Cooks Note:    This recipe yields about 20 medium sized fritters, or 40 small fritters.  This batter holds up well in the fridge over night - you may need to add a couple of tablespoons of warm water to loosen up the batter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pizza Dough

Baking is not a skill that comes easily to me.  I loath measuring, flour all over the place and tedious measuring spoons.  Last weekend it was time to experiment with pizza dough.  I needed to find a quick and easy dough recipe that I could make in advance and freeze for later use.  I've tried several recipes, but for some reason, I have yet to find one that I like.  Here is a modified recipe based on basic instructions from the yeast packet.

Somer's Pizza Dough


3 1/2 to 4 cups all purpose, plus more for rolling
1 teaspoon sugar
1 envelope instant dry yeast
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water, hot tap water
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 teaspoons


Combine 3 1/2 cups flour, sugar, yeast and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and combine. While the mixer is running, add the water and 2 tablespoons of the oil and beat until the dough forms into a ball. If the dough is sticky, add additional flour,I added the remaining half cup 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough comes together in a solid ball (I believe I ended up using 3 3/4 cups total).  If the dough is too dry, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead into a smooth, firm ball.

Grease a large bowl with the remaining 2 teaspoons olive oil, add the dough, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in a warm area to let it double in size, about 1 hour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Cover each with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let them rest for 10 minutes.  Makes 2 14 inch pizzas or 4 calzones.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mustard Greens

I was doing a little research on Mustard Greens' nutritional benefits and came across some interesting information. Mustard greens originated in the Himalayan region of India and have been grown and consumed for more than 5,000 years. The are also a staple of Southern American cuisine.  While India, Nepal, China and Japan are among the leading producers of mustard greens, a significant amount of mustard greens are grown in the United States as well.  Mustards are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and manganese.  They have also been found to have cancer fighting properties.

During a recent cook date, my client had a couple of pounds of mustards sitting in the fridge.  She asked if I could cook them up for her and make them light but hardy.  Well, I love a challenge!  I looked in her fridge and found 3 slices of turkey bacon, and one link of spicy turkey sausage.  

Mustard Greens with Turkey


2-3 pounds mustard greens, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 small onion, chopped
3 slices of turkey bacon, chopped
1 link of turkey or chicken sausage, broken into small chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
1 tablespoon local honey
salt and pepper to taste


Heat a large heavy, bottomed pot on medium high heat.  Add olive oil allow to heat for 30 seconds; add garlic, pepper flakes, onions, bacon and sausage.  Cook for 2- 3 minutes.  Add chopped greens to the pan in batches and turn until they wilt, then add more greens.  Season greens with honey, pepper and salt. Add chicken broth to the pan and cover. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer greens 15 to 20 minutes then serve.

My customer was so delighted with the greens.  In fact, she used the left over greens to make an omelet the next day.  Don't be afraid to experiment with your lefts over.  Honestly, I don't think I would have ever thought of using the leftovers for breakfast.