Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Today is a day of remembrance and thanks – a commemoration of the men and women who have died in military service for the United States.

Let us thank those who have fought for the freedoms we cherish, and pray for those who continue to do so.

A postscript from Doug: For my commemoration of Memorial Day, I invested a little time and a few tears thumbing through the late James H. Tashjian's book The Armenian American in World War II.

Mr. Tashjian reviewed countless sources to tell the stories of young men and women from Armenian communities across the country who served in every branch of the service. Most powerful even after so many years is the chapter called ‘A Register of the Hero Dead’.

In his introduction, Mr. Tashjian acknowledges that the list may be incomplete, and many summaries of the service members' lives and deaths are no more than a  paragraph or two in length -- and still, the accounts go on for 108 pages!

Benjamin Varjabedian
What strikes me, and humbles me, is that these young people were nearly all the children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. Their willing sacrifice is a lasting expression of thanks for the country that welcomed them and their families.

I wish I could relay all of their stories, but I chose Benjamin Varjabedian's.

Born in Baku, he came to America with his parents and enlisted in the Navy when he graduated Central High School in Manchester, New Hampshire in 1938.

He died aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown on June 4, 1942, when the aircraft carrier was attacked by Japanese dive bombers during the Battle of Midway.

The Yorktown was lost that day, but America won the battle. It proved to be the turning point of the war in the Pacific.

Every one of the heroes of that war deserves to be remembered. I think Benjamin Varjabedian represents them well.














Friday, May 25, 2012

Anthill Dessert Update

In case you haven’t read the comments regarding the anthill dessert request from Astghik, I am re-posting them, and asking for your thoughts.

The first comment is from Ara:
Croquembouche Wedding Cake
“To me, it sounds more like an Armenian variation of croquembouche. The name implies that the balls of dough are piled up into a "hill". Maybe using something like bishi instead of the choux a la creme?”

The second comment is from Christine:
“This is in response to your latest blog post, I entered a comment on both your blog and Facebook page and neither showed up, don't know if you got it ... so this is my last attempt. I'm pretty sure it's what your reader is looking for.


Ant Hill Dessert
Astghik is talking about “ Tkhvatsk Mrchnapouyn (Gargantag) ”, an Eastern Armenian dessert. Basically it is a cookie dough, either grated or passed through a meat grinder before baking, or baked and then broken into tiny pieces. Once cooled, it is then mixed in with condensed milk or dulce de leche, butter, walnuts, cream, honey and shaped like an anthill ( just as you would shape a Mont-Blanc aux Marrons dessert); then drizzled with chocolate ganache glaze or salted-butter caramel and refrigerated.”

Both sound good to me; which do you think it is??


Monday, May 21, 2012

Looking for "Merchana Boon" or "Ant Hill"

Struffoli, from www.italian-food-recipes.net
I am remiss in posting this request which was sent to me a few months ago. Somehow, the request was set aside, but it caught my attention recently. I sent what I thought was a suitable suggestion to the requestee, but now realize I never heard back.

Please read on. If this recipe sounds familiar, please let me know if I was on the right track – or- if my suggestion was totally off base.
The request:
“My name is Astghik and me and my mom are trying to find out a recipe for "Merchana Boon" or "ant hill"? I was wondering if you or somebody you knew may know the recipe...“

Astghik described the sweet dessert thusly,
“It's small, small pieces of dough that is like fried or baked very well then it'll be put together with like honey or a syrup and made into balls. The dough is also sometimes in long pieces of dough made the same way. It's very, very good. Hope this helps I'll see if I can find out more from my mom. Thanks a bunch :)

What I suggested:
“Your description almost sounds like an Italian dessert call struffoli, which is tiny balls of fried dough, covered in honey."
I asked Astghik to check out the struffoli website and give me her thoughts. Since I never heard back, I don’t know if this suggestion was even close.

Any ideas??


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Noyan Products - More Sweets from Armenia

You know how I enjoy ‘Harvest Song’ preserves – they’re natural, delicious, and made in Armenia.
NOYAN Fig Preserves
While strolling through the St. Mary Food Fest recently, I noticed a booth selling some attractive jars filled with a variety of preserves with the NOYAN label. Also made in Armenia, this brand was unfamiliar to me.
Being the curious sort, I felt it necessary to purchase at least one of their items. The choices included one delicious fruit after another - blackberry, Cornelian cherry, fig, mulberry, raspberry, rose petal, sour cherry, strawberry, and whole walnuts. I chose the fig preserves which were left whole – not mashed, and delectably sweet. Sliced and served with a cup of Armenian coffee, it did not disappoint!

Looks as though Harvest Song has a bit of competition.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

A VERY Special Mother's Day

My mother, Mary, and my daughter, Mandy, 2011
My mother has had a difficult year – several falls, a fracture or two, in-and-out of the hospital and rehab. Yet, nearing 90, she has managed to struggle through it all.

Mom comes from hearty stock. Her parents came from Musa Dagh, where hard work and struggling were part of everyday life. Fortunately, my grandparents were able to escape to America to start their lives from scratch.
My mother’s work ethic is unmatched – she held a full-time position  working for the State of NJ for about 40 years, maintained the home, raised 3 children, taught Sunday School for 20 years, earned an Associates’ Degree after putting us through college, and so much more. Did I mention that she continued to work until age 84?

Growing up, we lived on the first floor of my grandparents’ 2-family house. They lived upstairs because Nanny felt safer at a higher altitude. My aunt and uncle lived next door. We did everything together.
When our expanding family outgrew the first floor space (5 people sharing 2 bedrooms and one bath was a stretch), my parents bought a single-family home 1 mile away from the rest of the family. My grandmother was NOT pleased!

One year after our marriage, Doug and I moved to south Florida for a job opportunity, and we’ve been here ever since - 34 years and counting. Needless to say, we’ve missed a lot of family time.
I’m thrilled that today I’m in NJ spending time with my mother, my sister, my niece, and my own daughter who lives in Manhattan.

This is a Mother’s Day I will always cherish!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Badem, a Marzipan treat for a Special Occasion

Love is in the air!

Bridal season has a special meaning for our family this year. My niece will be getting married in a few months, and as the aunt-of-the-bride, I don’t have a specific role, but I will help, wherever needed.

I wanted to see if there were any traditional Armenian recipes associated with bridal showers or weddings, so while flipping through my Armenian cookbooks, I found a recipe for ‘badem’, or marzipan. The recipe, from the ‘Recipes and Recollections’ cookbook by St. Leon Women’s Guild, Fair Lawn, NJ., was submitted by family friend, Ruth Bedevian.  According to Ruth’s note at the end of her recipe, Armenians in Jerusalem prepare badem for christenings, engagements, and weddings. Ruth submitted this recipe in memory of her  sister-in-law who welcomed her as a young bride. Years later, Ruth served this at her own daughter’s bridal shower.

When I was describing badem to my aunt Arpie, she recalled her mother making this recipe for special family occasions, but said they called it ‘lubsounia’ in their Dikranagerdtsi dialect. She also remembered that traditionally, it was cut into diamond-shapes.
Soon I'll be heading to NJ to attend my niece's bridal shower, so I thought I'd try my hand at making a simpler version of badem. If my taste-testers give this a thumbs-up review, I might make this for the shower guests. 
Badem, my short-cut version

My Badem-Making Experiment:
Almond paste, rose water, and mini cutters
As an experiment, I bought an 8-oz. can of almond paste (found in the baking aisle of my local grocery store). It was already sweetened, so that eliminated the need for powdered sugar. I did, however, want the rose water flavor, so I added ½ tsp. of rosewater to the prepared paste and kneaded it in. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly enough for the rose flavor to stand out.

I gathered the paste into a ball, flattened it with the palm of my hand, and sprinkled a little powdered sugar on the work surface to help keep the paste from sticking. I then used a rolling pin to gently roll the paste to about ¼ inch thickness.
Rolled almond paste and mini cutters

Instead of cutting the rolled paste into diamond shapes, I bought a box of adorable mini ‘romance’-shaped cutters (hearts, wedding bell, flowers, and a butterfly) from a local arts and craft store to create shapes suitable for a bridal shower.

I baked the marzipan shapes on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 250°F for about 30 minutes. If I’d had decorative sprinkles, I would have added them before baking. The 8-oz. can of almond paste yielded just about 30 pieces.
Almond paste creations before baking
Taste-wise, I don’t know how this short-cut compares to the real thing, but it certainly is a suitable substitute if you’re in a time crunch.


If you’d rather prepare badem the traditional way, here’s the recipe from Ruth Bedevian:



Badem (Marzipan)
Ingredients:
12 cups ground blanched almonds
1 cup rose water
6 cups powdered sugar
Silver nonpareils for decoration

Directions:
1. Grind almonds to resemble coarse semolina.
2. Mix sugar and almonds, then add rose water, kneading mixture until well-blended.
3. Shape into wedding bells or flowers and decorate with silver nonpareils. Bake on a low heat about 200° to 300°F for 10 minutes.
4. Badem should not be baked until brown. Bottoms should not be browned either.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Chilled Green Pea Soup with Yogurt


Chilled Green Pea Soup with Yogurt
We’re all familiar with chilled, yogurt-based soups, but have you ever tried chilled green pea soup enhanced with yogurt ?
It’s quick and easy to prepare, eye-appealing, nutritious, and tasty. What could be more satisfying on a hot (or warm) day?


Chilled Green Pea Soup with Yogurt
Yield: about 4 cups

Ingredients:
3 cups frozen baby peas, (14.4 oz. bag of frozen baby sweet peas), thawed
1 cup water or vegetable broth
¼ cup Vidalia or other sweet onion, coarsely chopped
½ cup seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped
¼ to 1/3 cup plain low-fat yogurt
¼ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp. za’taar, optional
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Soup Ingredients
Blending the ingredients








Directions:
1. Process or blend all of the ingredients until well-combined.
2. Pour into a large bowl, cover and chill, 1 to 4 hours.
3. Place chilled soup in individual bowls. Top each serving with a dollop of plain yogurt and a sprig of mint.

NOTE: This is a great make-ahead recipe.






Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Farro and Pine Nut Salad



Farro and Pine Nut Salad
While doing a spring inventory of my pantry, I noticed a partial bag of farro still hanging around. Remember when I posted the Farro-Vegetable soup? Farro is similar to barley, but is harder to find in stores, and is costlier.  While I was trying to figure out what to make with the remaining farro, it occurred to me that a hearty salad with some of the pine nuts I had in the freezer would do nicely. (That’s right, I keep pine nuts – and other varieties  of nuts– in the freezer to keep them fresher longer.) Rummaging through the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, I found a little of this and a little of that, and finally put together a farro and pine nut salad worthy of company fare.

Farro-Pine Nut Salad ingredients
Here is the result:





Farro and Pine Nut Salad 
 
Ingredients:
1 cup uncooked farro**  
2 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 cup seedless cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped  
1 clove garlic, minced
 
¼ cup sweet onion, coarsely chopped
 
1 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained
 
1/2 cup flat-leaf  parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil  
Juice from 1 lemon
1 tsp. za’taar, optional 
Salt and pepper, to taste
 
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
 
Directions:
 
1. To cook faro:
  In a large pot, stir in 1 cup farro, 2 ½ cups water, 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain off any excess liquid. Set farro aside to cool. 
2. Place the chopped tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, onion, chickpeas, parsley, and cooled farro in a large bowl. Gently toss together.
 
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, za’taar (if using); salt and pepper. Pour dressing over the salad ingredients and toss to coat.
 
NOTE: This recipe can be made one day in advance up to this point. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.
 
4. If serving immediately, allow the salad to sit at room temperature about 15 minutes before serving.
 
5. Just before serving, toast pine nuts in a dry non-stick skillet until slightly browned (about 3 to 4 minutes); stir occasionally; allow to cool. Sprinkle toasted pine nuts on the top of the salad at the last minute. Serve.
 
**NOTE: Farro can be found in Italian markets or at gourmet stores.