Foods of the World: Middle Eastern Cooking

Foods of the World: Middle Eastern Cooking

My well-used copy of the Middle Eastern Cooking recipe guide

Some 40 years before Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem,
Time-Life Books introduced American home cooks to the wonders of Middle Eastern cuisine with its Middle Eastern Cooking – Foods Of The World. Some of the books in the series dumbed down the flavors and simplified the ingredients but this was the real deal, unapologetically endorsing calves’ feet, lamb’s liver, pomegranate juice and an otherwise conventional skewered swordfish recipe that includes 30 bay leaves.

I was lucky enough to have access to this book as a tyke, and it gave me one of my first cues that there was good food to be had beyond fried chicken and black-eyed peas. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I recently acquired a well-used copy and have been discovering it anew. The preps in general are pretty straightforward, but the way the ingredients are combined creates some flavor excitement.

I’ll be sharing my take on a few of the recipes from time to time, but it’s worth springing for your own copy. There’s both a hardcover coffee table book and a spiral bound recipe guide. Normally I’d just recommend the latter (which I believe includes recipes not in the hardcover) but the context is important to some of the dishes so I’d say if you have to buy them separately get them both. Don’t pay for any condition higher than “acceptable” since you’re going to be spilling stuff on it.

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Recipe: Cheese Steak Sandwiches

Cheese Steak Sandwich on one of my Po' Boy rolls

Cheese Steak Sandwich on one of my Po’ Boy rolls

I use mustard which anyone from Philly will tell you is heresy. Fine; all the more for me. Makes 3 sandwiches.

Ingredients:
1 lb shaved steak*
1 medium onion, sliced
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms (optional)
Olive oil
Yellow mustard
Vinegar peppers (recommended, if you can get them) or pepperoncini, crushed pepper spread etc.
6 slices sharp or regular Provolone
3 8-inch Po’ Boy rolls or generic sub sandwich rolls

Method: Heat a generous spoonful of oil in a skillet; add onions and saute till limp; add optional mushrooms and saute till light brown; add shaved steak and saute, moving it around in the skillet, till it has lost any pink color. The meat will give off a lot of liquid; continue cooking 2-3 minutes to reduce it slightly.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees**. Slice each roll lengthwise and slather a generous amount of mustard on each side. Spoon on 1/3 of the steak/saute mixture and a couple spoonfuls of the cooking liquid. Add a good helping of peppers then finish with two slices of Provolone. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and bake 20 minutes or until cheese is melted. Eat right away.

shaved steak

Shaved Steak

* To make shaved steak, freeze a sirloin or other tender cut (or defrost a frozen steak) just to the consistency when you can cut it with a sharp knife. Shave into very thin slices. Don’t worry about the appearance of the slices since everything will melt together in the sandwich.

** If you have some hard, stale rolls you can actually heat the assembled sandwiches in the microwave and save 15 minutes. But fresh, tender rolls will yield an unsatisfactory, mushy result.

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Recipe: Po’ Boy Rolls

Po Boy Rolls

Po’ Boy Rolls (the third one in had an accident with its plastic cover during proofing)

These are a little softer and more compliant than most of my breads, which makes them good for po’ boys, subs, hoagies etc. Evolved from this thread on The Fresh Loaf which in turn attributes it to a succession of other people. It’s all good. Makes four 8 inch rolls.

Ingredients
375 g all purpose flour
50 g rice flour
1.5 t instant yeast
1 t salt (approximately 8 grams)
1 T sugar (approximately 15 grams)
1 T dried milk powder (approximately 10 grams)
300 g lukewarm water
2 t softened butter (approximately 10 g)

Method: place everything except the butter in a Kitchenaid/orbital mixer bowl and mix on low speed 2 minutes till thoroughly combined. Add butter and mix on second speed 8 minutes until dough is well developed but still sticky (it should barely clear the side of the bowl). Remove dough hook, cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a pate and rise 90 minutes or until doubled.

Po Boy Dough

Proofing…

Turn the dough out on a floured board, divide into quarters, form into balls, cover and let rest 20 minutes. Shape each ball into a cylinder about 8 inches long and place on a silicon non-stick sheet in a half-sheet pan. Cover and proof at room temperature until doubled, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray the rolls generously with water and bake, with steam, 20 minutes. Turn the pan and lower heat to 375 degrees and cook another 20 minutes or until brown, but not dark.

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Where to eat lunch in Saratoga Springs, NY

Welcome to my fellow bloggers who are in town for Wordcamp on October 11, 2014. The following list is not exhaustive but covers the spots I recommend. These are quick, grab-a-bite places so sit-down spots are not included (though some of these do have seating).

In order of distance from the City Center at 522 Broadway:

1. Hungry Spot. 480 Broadway, next to City Hall. Hole-in-the-wall with decent sandwiches.

2. Mrs. London’s. 464 Broadway. World-class pastries; somewhat precious quiche and sandwiches on croissant or baguette.

3. Comfort Kitchen. 454 Broadway. Great burgers, mac and cheese and other comfort food made with ingredients sourced from local farms. Go in the arcade entrance on Broadway, then down the stairs and all the way to the back.

4. Putnam Market. 433 Broadway. Gourmet grocery and take-out store with a serve yourself buffet and sandwiches made to order.

5. Alpha Dog. 6 Phila (walk down Broadway to Phila and turn left). Hole in the wall serving a wide variety of hot dogs.

6. Four Seasons Natural Foods. 33 Phila (walk down Broadway to Phila and turn left). Pretty decent vegan buffet.

7. Parkside Eatery. 42 Phila (walk down Broadway to Phila and turn left). Gourmet caterer has its own smoker. Brisket, pastrami and other sandwiches; excellent soups; hot and cold entrees sold by the pound.

If you want to get in the car:

8. Roma Importing. 222 Washington (drive down Broadway to Washington, turn right, drive down Washington about ¾ mile). World-class Italian deli with great subs and sides.

Also, almost forgot: there’s a Farmer’s Market in High Rock Park, down the hill behind the City Center. Exit toward the parking lot, go down several flights of steps till you reach the next street which is High Rock. Turn left and walk a block or so down to the Farmer’s Market. There is a pavilion as well as several individual vendors selling prepared foods. If you like to drink or cook with buttermilk, get some from Argyle Cheese Farmer. It will blow your mind.

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Vinegar Peppers

Vinegar Peppers

Casa Visco Vinegar Peppers

We’ve talked about sport peppers and Pastene ground peppers and Crystal hot sauce, but vinegar peppers deserve their own post. They’re an Italian American specialty item in which greem bell peppers are pickled in a mild white vinegar bath. The brand I commonly see in stores in upstate New York is Casa Visco, a Schenectady-based processor. Amazon has no idea what a vinegar pepper is, but you can mail order them from Pastene as long as you don’t mind a hefty shipping charge.

The classic application of this product is “Pork Chops with Vinegar Peppers” which is just what it sounds like. Get some thick pork chops, salt and pepper to taste and sauté them in fat, either their own trimmings or bacon grease, along with some sliced onions and some diced potatoes which have previously been boiled till almost tender; at the last minute toss in some vinegar peppers along with a little of the juice. Easy, foolproof and delicious.

I have also had vinegar peppers in cheese steak sandwiches, an application to which my teenagers are especially partial. If you want to make your own, recipes are easy to find on the internet. The jarred peppers are still crunchy, not fully cooked but not raw either. I expect they are blanched to just the right stage by having boiling pickling liquid poured over them and then being immersed in the canning bath. I haven’t tried this myself, however, and probably won’t since the commercial product is of good quality and so readily available. One of the few indisputable benefits of living in the cold and the snow.

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Five tips for handling bread dough using the stretch-and-fold method

Here are a few useful tactics and problem-solving tips I’ve discovered making lots and lots of loaves of bread by hand using the stretch-and-fold method. I haven’t seen these elsewhere so am publishing in the hopes they’re useful to you as well.

  1. Do your first stretch-and-fold by hand. I like to use a bowl scraper/dough spatula for S&F because I don’t have to constantly clean my hands after handling the dough. But getting your hands dirty for the first mix allows you to make sure that flour and liquid are evenly distributed and, god forbid, get rid of any pockets of dry flour.
  2. Wet your hands or dough spatula before you handle the dough. This will dramatically reduce sticking. I’ve heard some people oil their hands but I don’t think this is necessary at all.
  3. Salt as you go. If a recipe calls for 24 g (a little more than a tablespoon) for two 1 ½ lb loaves, I’ll typically start with about 15 g, shaken out of the Kosher salt box into my palm and then distributed on top of the dough. I’ll then taste after the next S&F (yes, I do taste raw dough and there’s nothing dangerous about that) and adjust as needed. You can always add more salt, but you can’t take it out.
  4. Add solid ingredients after your second or third S&F. I use olives, ground nuts and other add-ins in large quantities in some of my bakes. Once they’re in the dough they dramatically reduce the ability of the fibers to interact and create a strong, well-developed dough. On the other hand, you don’t want to add them too late because then they won’t be evenly distributed by the time the S&Fs are done.
  5. Have a strategy for managing excess flour. Unused flour does not go away. It sticks to your counter, to bowls and utensils, and ultimately to the sides of your drain if you haven’t gotten rid of it. Professional bakers keep lots of disposable towels on hand to wipe up the dry or semi-wet flour before it becomes a problem. One way or another you’ll have to deal with it. It’s a bonus that, as you become more experienced, you’ll have less stray flour because more gets incorporated in the actual dough.
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Recipe: Sourdough Olive Bread

Olive Bread

Olive Bread

I like an olive bread that has a LOT of olives in it, my favorite being the loaf at Acme Bakery in the Bay Area. Problem is that olives are expensive compared to the other ingredients. The best solution I have found is to use green pitted Mediterranean style olives from Amazon, which are currently about $3/can in a pack of six, each giving you enough for two loaves. They’re packed in a mildly salty brine which is what you want; the brine becomes part of the liquid in your recipe. 2 1.5-lb loaves.

Ingredients:
200g 50/50 whole wheat/white flour starter at 100%
Lukewarm water+brine from olives to total 700 g
800 g all purpose flour, unbleached
200 g whole wheat flour
about 1 1/2 t Kosher salt
24 oz can Galil pitted green olives or equivalent in brine, not oil

Method: The base recipe is my Kettle Bread so see that as well as Country Style Miche for more detailed dough handling instructions. Refresh your starter according to your preferred method. Add 200 g to a large mixing bowl and reserve the rest for next time. Add about 500g lukewarm water to the bowl and stir to mix; add the brine from the jar of olives then top it off with more water to 700 g total. Add flours and mix thoroughly then autolyse for at least 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the olives. Stretch and fold the dough at 30 minute intervals, adding 1 t salt before the first S&F and olives after the second S&F and covering with a plate or plastic wrap between foldings. Taste as you go and add salt as needed, but you won’t need as much as usual because the olives and brine are salty.

When dough is smooth and cohesive and passes the windowpane test (after 2-3 hours) cover and let it bulk ferment 4 hours. Transfer to a floured board, divide in half, and shape into two rounds. Cover and let rest on board 30 minutes. Turn into well floured bannetons and put each in a plastic grocery store bag (or wrap in plastic) and allow to rise for 2 hours. At 1 1/2 hours, preheat oven with two dutch ovens inside to 500 degrees. Handling the cast iron pots carefully (Bruce Frankel’s fire gloves are good for this), place them on the stovetop and flip in the loaves from the bannetons. Score the top, cover and return to oven. Immediately lower heat to 450 degrees. After 20 minutes remove the lid; loaves will have risen dramatically. Continue cooking for another 30-40 minutes until the loaves are dark but not burned and the internal temperature of the bread reaches 205 degrees*. Turn out onto a counter and cool for a couple hours before slicing.

* After a couple of recent episodes with gummy bread, I’ve started checking internal temperature with a BBQ probe to confirm doneness.

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Five most popular recipes on Burnt My Fingers (2014 edition)

Another year has gone by and either the balance of my readers has changed or your taste buds have, because there are some real shake-ups in the recipes most often clicked on Burnt My Fingers. Take a look.

1. Vincent’s Garlic Cole Slaw. This intensely garlicky concoction, made famous at a Dallas seafood restaurant, wasn’t even in the top five last year. But it’s good so I’m glad to see it on the podium. Just be sure you don’t throttle back the garlic… you really do need as much as the recipe says.

2. Wilted Kale Salad. Last year’s #1 still makes a strong showing but it’s been fading a bit in recent months. Maybe we’re less interested in healthy eating as evidenced by…

3. General Tso’s Shrimp with Garlic Sauce. I invented this one from scratch in an attempt to replicate the Spicy Garlic Prawns at Taiwan on Clement Street in San Francisco, and came up with something even better. Wonderful balance of sweet/sour/spicy if I do say so myself.

4. Sizzling Chicken Sisig. I predicted this would become #1 based on burgeoning traffic last year, but instead it’s almost fallen off the charts and is unlikely to even make the list next year. Perhaps I did something to make Pinoy Google mad?

5. Fried Calamari Chinese Style. Another from-scratch concoction. If you like Italian-style fried squid you’ll like this even better, because scallion and jalapeño chili rings are fried right along with the cephalopods. This recipe also includes a bonus exploration of alternate sources for “squid”.

I’m also excited about two offal recipes which were recently published so don’t have the big numbers, but are trending in recent months: Chinese Tripe Stew and Pickled Tripe. The first came from my Yelp friend Chen Z and the second is a speculation about Amish traditions, but both are as good as they can be. Assuming you like innards, that is. But if you didn’t, you probably wouldn’t be here.

In case you want to compare, here’s last years top five list.

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Men, fire and food: a visit with Bruce Frankel of Spitjack

Manly Tools

The view from the entrance to Spitjack’s store in Easthampton, MA

Bruce Frankel was a chef with an idea. Tired of long hours and not great financial success at a Boston nouvelle cuisine (remember?) fine dining place in the 1980s, he decided to do something entrepreneurial. He looked at molecular gastronomy and cooking for men and chose the latter, and that led him to Spitjack in Easthampton, MA. (It’s well worth a detour if you’re in the area, but you can also buy everything online at spitjack.com.)

Bruce Frankel Manly Cleaver

Bruce Frankel with a manly cleaver. You need this.

Spitjack (the name describes the doohickey that holds the spit when you are cooking on an open fire) is on the second floor of Eastworks, one of those grand 19th Century mills that has been converted to residential and commercial use. You have to know where you are going—through the broad lobby, past the RMV, through the set of double doors, up the stairs—but once you get there it’s like a candy store for guys who love to cook.

Spit Roaster

Spit roaster invented by Bruce Frankel

Bruce’s principle is to offer gear for the guy who wants better than the frou-frou instruments sold in the basement at Macy’s. Need a spatula? Here’s a sturdy but plain one, like you’d find in a restaurant supply. Do you like cole slaw? Then you need a giant cabbage grater, which looks like a mandoline scaled for Shrek. He has also invented a couple of items: an electric spit assembly that expands to maybe six feet in length, intended for cooking a whole animal. And a line of sturdy fire gloves lined with aluminum and quality felt; these got dinged in a Cook’s Illustrated test because they weren’t flexible enough but he points out they’re not meant for holding a measuring spoon but grabbing a burning log.

manly spatulas

Manly spatulas

Why cooking for men? Because of the changing dynamic of the American family. Up until the 70’s or 80’s most men didn’t feel it was appropriate to cook, and their wives wouldn’t let them in the kitchen anyway. The cookbooks were all written by women, for a woman’s point of view. But fewer and fewer women cook today (because they’re in the workforce and because they can buy quality prepared foods, maybe), leaving a void and an opportunity.

Men, of course, were always allowed an exception for back-door cooking on the patio—and smoke and fire cooking is what Spitjack specializes in. There’s something primal about roasting over an open fire. (Which reminds me to thank Paula Marcoux for pointing me toward Bruce.) It’s a symbol of a man’s joy and responsibility: bag an animal, roast it, feed the family. Man, food and fire and all the primal urges are satisfied. In addition, fire/smoke cooking tends to be a matter of instinct. No long ingredient lists, no frilly packets of this and that, no cutting off the crusts of your tea party sandwiches. You just have to know when it is right. No questions, no hiding.

Fire gloves

Fire gloves (in the background, behind the grill)

(From this we seque into a side conversation about what it means to be a chef. Is it an art or a craft? Both. You can just be a line cook or short order cook and turn out “product”. Or you can get satisfaction in pleasing your customer through surprising and memorable presentations.

His observation reminded me of something I’d read in Lucky Peach, and with a bit of searching I found it quoted on the battermilk blog. It’s from from Joe Morin, chef and co/owner at Joe Beef in Montreal.

Meat syrings

Giant meat syringe. You need this too.

“I think chefs get drawn into the lifestyles of our customers, sometimes forgetting that we make $40,000 a year. We get to think we are a part of the elite. But we’re not. I think the thing that’s changed the profession is that kind of crossover.

The nature of the beast is not going on the stage, fucking chopping little egg yolks with a fork in front of 500 people just ‘cause they wanna hear you say “fuck.” Dave Chang is a food personality and we are becoming food personalities, but restaurant management is a trade.”

Giant Cabbage Shredder

Giant cabbage shredder. (The box is a little faded due to slow turnover of this SKU)

Bruce’s trouble with being a chef was that [unlike Joe Morin] he didn’t understand the lifestyles of his clientele. He didn’t live the lives they did; as a single guy in an apartment he didn’t understand why business was always better on the weekend and loyal diners stopped coming when they had kids. Now he’s married with a 7-year old daughter and gets it. End of seque.)

But there’s a problem selling to men, which is they are men. The man says, “I don’t want anything too fancy. Why? Because I’m a guy.” But he also says “I want the biggest and the best. Why? Because I’m a guy.” So how do we find the sweet spot in this nexus of inconsistency? Bruce knows a guy with money who buys and discards gadgets at a frustrating rate. (Make his own cole slaw? That’s something you pick up at the corner deli.) Another guy, with less money or time, just might not bother. Which is why I’m the only visitor in this magnificent emporium on a Thursday afternoon.

Not A Urinal

An example of male cluelessness is this former eyewash station in the men’s room…

Bruce has excellent margins and a good business selling the spit roaster and the gloves; most of his other products are now sold as an associate on Amazon, which yields easy sales but small profits. He knows he should expand his internet presence and has some good ideas for blog posts, like “5 mistakes men make when grilling meat”. (Maybe I’ll borrow that one and give him credit.) We could talk all night, and are tempted to, but I am on my way to Cambridge where two hours later I will have a truly awful “barbecue” sandwich sourced at Whole Foods.

Not a Urinal Sign

… which apparently looks like a urinal to some guys.

Before I leave, Bruce Frankel hands me a pair of fire gloves and exacts the promise that I will return in the springtime and rent a spit from him and cook an entire animal along with several of my male friends, because it is inevitable that something changes in you when you do that. I can’t wait.

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We’re in the top 100 food blogs…

Here is an interesting infographic. We barely squeezed in at 82 out of 100, though I don’t know the criteria. (I’m somewhat skeptical of Alexa ratings which can vary hugely from one visit to the next.) But in any event, we’re in good company and there are a number of other sites I plan to check out.

The link in the graphic will simply take you to the site sponsoring this, rebateszone.com. (Which is the idea, I guess.) If you want to go directly to any of these sites, type in the URL which appears in the listing.
Top food blogs

An infographic by the team at Rebateszone

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