Wednesday, June 28, 2017

It's HOT outside! It's time to make Frozen Yogurt and Fruit Pops.

With temperatures soaring outside, it’s time to turn off the oven and focus on the freezer.  

It’s berry season around here so blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are abundant, sweet, and very reasonably priced. Peaches, cherries, and other summer fruits will be ready soon, and they’ll be just as delicious in this recipe.

I combed the aisles of my local market to find one of those cute popsicle molds with the idea of making frozen yogurt and fruit pops.

My recipe yields 5 to 6 pops, depending on how much you fill each section, but the only mold I could find makes four pops at a time.  Since I had some fruity yogurt left over, I was forced to sample what I couldn’t freeze! J
Doug, my resident taste-tester, as he takes his first bite! 

Here’s how to make these very refreshing frozen delights …

Frozen Yogurt and Fruit Pops

Yields 5 to 6 fruit pops
Yogurt-fruit pop ingredients

Ingredients:

1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt (2% or whole milk)
1 cup of your favorite fresh or frozen berries or summer fruit (peaches, mangoes, cherries, etc. – pitted, of course!)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 Tbsp. honey (amount will vary depending on sweetness of fruit – or your own sweet tooth)

Directions:

1. Purée yogurt, berries/fruit of your choice, lemon juice and honey in food processor, using the metal ‘S’-blade, until smooth. If you prefer chunkier pieces of fruit, pulse rather than purée.

Yogurt-fruit purée

 2. Transfer yogurt-fruit mixture to freezer-pop molds, leaving about ½ to 1-inch of space at the top. Insert the stick that comes with the mold. Freeze until completely firm, about 6 hours.
Ready to freeze

 3. To unmold, dip mold for a few seconds in a bowl of hot water.
The final product - minus a few bites!


NOTE: Don’t have freezer pop molds? Use 3oz. or 5 oz. paper cups. After filling each cup, place a sheet of plastic wrap over top, cut a small slit in center and add a popsicle stick which can be purchased at craft stores. To remove frozen pop, simply press on the cup’s bottom, and the frozen pop should slip right out. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Spinach - Stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms

I couldn’t resist buying an over-sized box of gorgeous baby Portobello mushrooms the other day. I figured mushrooms always cook-down in recipes, so this giant container of mushrooms certainly wouldn’t go to waste.

The remaining mushrooms 
I added a bunch to a mussels- onions- garlic- white wine sauce - served over angel hair pasta; made a fluffy mushroom and cheese omelet; and finally, prepared spinach-stuffed mushroom caps which are great as an appetizer or as a side dish, depending on the size of the caps. There are still some mushrooms left for another day.

We thoroughly enjoyed all of those dishes, but I think Doug particularly favored the stuffed mushroom caps – perhaps because they were part of his Father’s Day dinner!




Spinach-stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms
Spinach - Stuffed Baby Bella Mushrooms

Ingredients:

12 Baby Bella mushroom caps, wiped clean with a damp paper towel
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped sweet onion
1 medium garlic clove, minced
5 oz. frozen chopped spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
2 to 3 Tbsp. light cream
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill -or 1 ½ tsp. dried dill (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled.

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Remove stems from mushroom caps and finely chop them.
3. Heat olive oil and butter in a skillet on medium-high heat. Add onions cooking them until soft, but not brown. Add chopped mushroom stems and continue cooking for about 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Reduce heat; add minced garlic to onion-mushroom mixture; cook for another minute. Add spinach and cook 5 more minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in light cream until well-combined.
5. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add cheese, salt and pepper, and dill, if using.
6. Arrange mushrooms caps (bottom-side facing up) on a parchment-lined baking dish. Divide filling mixture evenly among them.

7. Bake uncovered about 20-25 minutes or until filling is browned and mushrooms are thoroughly heated.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Spinach, Sorrel and Rice Soup

Aveluk (wild sorrel) Soup
I became enamored with aveluk, wild sorrel, after having dined on aveluk soup in a restaurant in Yerevan in 2015. Aveluk grows wild on the hillsides in certain regions of Armenia, and is a commonly served in soups and salads. Finding it in the US is next to impossible, unless you live in or near Glendale, CA where you can find almost every Armenian product.


The first leg of our trip to Armenia that year took us to London where Doug and I met Rubina Sevadjian Kingwell at the London Book Fair. They both presented their books at the Armenian Pavilion - Doug’s, “Stories MyFather Never Finished Telling Me; Rubina’s, “In the Shadow of the Sultan”
The three of us instantly became friends.



Rubina travels constantly, continues to write, has speaking engagements on various continents, yet manages to find time to garden and cook. When I told her I couldn’t find sorrel in Florida, this dear woman shipped me a packet of sorrel seeds from England!

Doug, our resident gardener, had the privilege of planting and sowing the seeds. We don’t have a proper garden because our community’s homeowner’s association doesn’t permit residents to grow edible plants unless it’s done in the confinement of our private patios. So be it.

Our mini sorrel plant!
Despite the fact that our sorrel was grown in a small pot, we managed to get a mini crop. We watched in amazement as the sorrel grew! 
Tender sorrel leaves
The young, tender leaves have a delicate tartness, but as the leaves get larger they become more acidic.

Rubina sent me 2 of her favorite recipes using sorrel, but I made something a little different. All three recipes are listed below.

I can't thank Rubina enough for her kindness, and for giving us the opportunity to have the ‘sorrel experience’ in south Florida.

The recipe I made …
Spinach, Sorrel and Rice Soup
Spinach, Sorrel and Rice Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
½ cup coarsely chopped onion
1 clove crushed garlic
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth (You could add a little bouillon to enhance the broth’s flavor, if you wish.)
3 to 4 Tbsp. uncooked white rice
4 oz. fresh young spinach leaves, stemmed and rinsed
One handful fresh sorrel leaves
1 to 2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice, optional
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it begins to soften. Add the garlic, and sauté for about 30 seconds, but don’t let the garlic burn.

Cooking in progress
Add the broth (and bouillon, if using) and increase the heat to medium-high, bringing it to a boil. Stir in rice, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook for about 12 to 15  minutes or until the rice softens. Stir in spinach and sorrel. Add the lemon juice, if using; season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cook, covered, for an additional 5 minutes on a gentle boil.

Pureeing the soup in a blender
Remove from heat and allow soup to cool for about 10 minutes. Puree in batches in a blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. You can make the soup as smooth as you like. (We like it velvety-smooth and the rice thickens the soup ever so nicely.)

Return soup to pot, taste, adjust seasonings if necessary; heat soup through on medium-low heat; serve.

To Serve: Serve as is, or you can swirl in a bit of cream just before serving, or top it with a dollop of plain yogurt!


Rubina’s first recipe - also a soup…

Sorrel Soup
Serves 4

Ingredients:
4½ oz. fresh sorrel—chopped
2 cloves garlic
1¾ pints chicken stock
olive oil
2 medium eggs

Directions:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Peel the garlic and crush them whole, then cook them in the oil until just browning.  Add the chopped sorrel and stir. As soon as it is wilting, add the stock and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

Puree the above and reheat until it begins to quiver, add salt and pepper to taste.
Just before serving, whisk the eggs and then fold into the soup, whisking all the time. It should make a ‘foam’.

(This is a quite a strong tasting soup and you do not need much per person. I tend to serve it in a tea cup.)

Another way of using sorrel is that when you make spinach beuregs--you add a bit of sorrel to give the filling a lovely lemony tang. Try it.

Rubina's second sorrel recipe …

Here is another favourite of ours. If you don't have enough sorrel, you could squeeze in some lemon juice and use a few spinach leaves to make up the quantities:

Pork Tenderloin (fillet) with Sorrel

Ingredients:

1 pork tenderloin—cut in ½” thick slices
Butter
2 cloves garlic
Handful sorrel—sliced finely (chiffonade)
4 tbsp. stock—chicken or vegetable
1 cup cream (what you call half and half I think—it needs to be thickish)
salt & pepper
more sliced sorrel for garnish

Directions:

Sauté the tenderloin slices in butter until done, about 4 mins each side. Remove and keep warm.

In the same pan cook the garlic, but do not allow to brown. Add the stock and reduce by half, add the sorrel and cream, cook for 5 minutes until thickened. Season with salt & pepper.

Place pork on a plate and pour sauce over. Garnish with more sorrel.

This goes best with simple boiled and buttered rice, preferably basmati.





Friday, June 9, 2017

Americans call it okra, we call it Bamiya. I call it delicious. My wife thinks I'm nuts.

Doug's  Home-cooked Bamiya
Okra was frequent fare at our house when I was growing up, and I loved it.

I’ve since learned that I have a lot of company in many places, including the American South and pretty much the entire Near and Middle East. 

Armenians, Greeks, Persians, Turks and Arabs all favor similar preparations and have similar names for the tomato-and-okra stew we call bamiya.

A notable exception to okra’s fan base is my wife. “It’s too slimy,” she says. I discovered early in our courtship that there was no point arguing.

I have succeeded over the years in persuading her to take an occasional taste, but only if I assure her the batch I’ve prepared is free of ooze. (I would never lie about anything as important as okra!)  

The most enthusiastic reaction I’ve ever gotten is, “I guess it’s OK for what it is.” It’s not hard to figure what she means, as she’s never taken a second bite. 

We rarely bother cooking anything we won’t share, so okra has become a distant memory for me—but definitely a fond one.

When I think about the rich tomato-and-okra stew we call bamiya, I picture myself running into my parents’ house on a cold winter evening and sliding my chair up to the kitchen table. Nothing could possibly be as warming or comforting as a hot ladle of bamiya poured over a mound of Mom’s pilaf and sopped up by a fat slice of fresh, crunchy bread.

We don’t have much use for winter warm-ups of any sort here in Florida, but this all came back to me in April on a chilly day in London, England.

Robyn and I took an unplanned cruise across the Atlantic and booked a few days in a London hotel as a fun finale. Just my rotten luck, I came down with the flu before the ship docked at our next-to-last port in France. By the time we reached Southampton, my fever spiked at 102.

Bon Appetit, London
I don’t remember much about the two-hour ride to London, where I spent the first two days of our three-day visit in bed. With plenty of time on my hands, I did a bit of Yelping to see what we were missing in the neighborhood. That’s when I spotted the Bon Appetit Lebanese Restaurant just over a block away.

What little I’d eaten of the hotel food was OK, but we decided something a little closer to home cooking might boost my appetite as well as my spirits.

So I got dressed, bundled up and trudged down the street. The restaurant was little more than a take-out counter, but it did have a few tables in a sparse but neat back room. The friendly young man in charge assured us that everything was made from his grandmother’s recipes. “It’s what we eat at home,” he said.

That’s just how I felt when I scanned the menu and spotted Bammieh B’zeit: “Generous chunks of okra slow-cooked with lamb, tomato, onion, fresh garlic and olive oil. Served with rice.” 

Bammieh B'zeit, London style
I not only ordered it, I ate every bit with a smile. No, it wasn’t just like Mom’s and it didn’t cure the flu but it sure beat fish and chips!

Two weeks after returning home, we were  shopping at a nearby Persian market when Robyn spotted a display of fresh okra. “Treat yourself,” she said, so I did. We bought just enough for one, and I was definitely the one. My big bowl of bamiya had me smiling again.

Before I share our simple recipe, I want to offer a few further thoughts on okra. Many cooks who share Robyn’s aversion to slime swear that soaking okra in vinegar reduces or eliminates the problem. I don’t much care for sour okra, so I don’t bother.

Others recommend cooking the okra whole, or at least in large pieces. I disagree. I find the key to reducing slime is simply to avoid overcooking, and it helps to keep the pieces small. Okra gets slippery when it breaks down, but it’s delightfully crisp when cooked until it’s just tender.

It’s essential to  choose young, fresh okra. Older, bigger pods tend to be tougher and can be so fibrous you can’t chew them no matter how long they’re cooked.

Stewed Okra (Bamiya)

Ingredients:

One half pound fresh okra, the smaller in size, the better!
One 1 cup  of canned diced tomatoes (including some of its liquid)
One small onion
Olive oil
Salt, pepper and ground coriander to taste

Directions:

Wash and dry the okra, then slice the large end from each pod just below the stem. Cut into half-inch pieces and set aside.
Slice the onion and saute in olive oil until lightly browned.
Add the tomato and its liquid.
Add the okra.
Season to taste, then simmer with lid on for 12-14 minutes. Check a piece of okra for desired tenderness and cook as desired.

You can use different seasonings if you like. Many like allspice, some prefer za'atar.

Meat is optional, lamb being preferred. It will take much longer to cook than the okra, so cook the lamb first and add it to the bamiya when ready.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Hye Tea Social - a 10-year tradition at St. Leon Armenian Church, NJ

My sister, Dawn, and brother-in-law, Ara, visited us in Florida last week. They brought several gifts as a way to thank us for our hospitality – specialty chocolates, 2 dozen of our favorite chorags, made by the women at St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ,  and a copy of their Women’s Guild ‘Hye Tea Social’ – 10th Anniversary recipe booklet created by Barbara Hovsepian, a long-time family friend. We couldn’t have been more pleased with these gifts – and, of course, their company.

The Women’s Guild at St. Leon has a large, incredibly active, membership which organizes exciting functions throughout the year.

For the past ten years the Guild has hosted a popular event generally held in the month of May called ‘Hye-Tea Social’. For their first Tea, each member was asked to bring their own favorite tea cup. Each year after that another item was requested – ‘hat, gloves, parasol, fan, nosegay, brooch, pearls, and shawl’. This year’s request was to ‘wear your Hye-Tea best!’ My sister reported that most came all decked-out for this festive occasion.

Besides dressing to impress, the bite-sized refreshment assortment really takes center-stage. There is a dedicated committee which plans and prepares countless recipes to serve the eager guests. The Hye-Tea fare includes ‘traditional English tea items as well as some Armenian dishes’. This year’s booklet contains many of the recipes they have served over the past ten years, and I understand the social attracted over 200 women (members with their mothers, daughters, and granddaughters). Very impressive!

The Hye-Tea is all about the eye-appealing food, assorted teas, fun entertainment, and lively comradery. The menu varies from year-to-year, but favorite bites make it onto the menu year-after-year.

Here are a few of the recipes that are easy to prepare and can be served for any occasion ...

Appetizer: Zhazhig and Crackers (Cheese Ball)

Ingredients:
4 oz. softened cream cheese
8 oz. softened Farmer’s cheese
½ cup sweet onion, finely chopped
2 stalks inner celery ribs, finely chopped
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
Salt to taste

Directions:
Mix the ingredients together until well-combined. Spread on crackers or 3-inch lengths of celery stalks.

Tea Sandwich: Basturma and Egg Salad (Makes 24)

Ingredients:
6 hard-cooked eggs
¼ cup mayonnaise
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 slices of basturma, cut into short slivers
24 mini pitas

Directions:
Peel and chop the eggs. Add the mayonnaise, salt and pepper; mix to combine.
Cut a small slice off the edge of each mini pita. Gently open and stuff with some egg salad. Gently push in some of the basturma slivers, leaving a little of the basturma exposed at the opening.

Dessert: Butter Balls (Yields 4 to 5 dozen)

Ingredients:
1 cup butter, softened
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. almond extract
2 cups sifted flour
1 cup walnuts or pecans, finely chopped
Powdered sugar – enough to coat butter balls

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Mix butter with sugar until creamy. Add salt, extract and flour; mix without over-mixing. Add nuts and mix lightly.
Place dough in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until light brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on rack. Shake powdered sugar over the cooled cookies.