Thursday, October 29, 2015

Meet Lisa Kouchakdjian, creator of 'Love on a Plate - Armenia'

It’s been over a week since I did my cooking demonstration at the St. Leon Food Festival in NJ. I’d never seen so many people and so much delicious food in one place at one time. It was incredible!
 Lisa Kouchakdjian (R)  and me (L) with her 'Love on a Plate - Armenia' display. 
I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Kouchakdjian who drove down from the Boston area to participate in this very popular event. Lisa not only did a cooking demonstration, but served as my emcee, and displayed and promoted her line of Armenian cooking DVD's, mugs, magnets, etc. – tenderly named ‘Love on a Plate - Armenia’.

I’d read an article about Lisa in The Armenian Weekly a few months before the festival and thought, ‘What an enterprising young woman!’ I never dreamt I’d be meeting her and becoming fast-friends. Life is full of surprises.

To give you an idea of Lisa's goal, she explains the following on her site:

"There is a misconception that traditional Armenian foods are too hard to make, or too time-consuming to make in this busy, modern-day world. Love On A Plate – Armenia will dispel these myths." The recipes developed for Love On A Plate – Armenia:
  • Celebrate our heritage and our small ethnic group through food
  • Teach Armenians who might not have watched their family members cook certain foods that they enjoyed
  • Teach Armenians who want to try traditional foods that they have never tried making or eating
  • Teach anyone who wants to learn how to cook healthy traditional Armenian foods
  • Make traditional Armenian foods in a simple, easy and efficient manner
  • Put a modern twist on traditional Armenian recipes
With Christmas coming soon, you should take a look at Lisa’s merchandise, and order one – or - more of her gift baskets for family, friends, or yourself. It's a gift that will surely be treasured!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cheese-filled Bird's Nests

Cheese-filled Bird's Nest
If you missed seeing my demonstration at the St. Leon Food and Art Festival, you’re in luck. 

Here's the YouTube video.

And here is the recipe I made. Hope you'll like it!

Cheese-filled Bird's Nests        
Yields about 16 to 18 nests


1/2 of a 1-lb.package of shredded phyllo dough, aka kadaif
8 to 10 tablespoons melted, unsalted **butter, clarified
1/4 lb. (1 cup) fresh mozzarella cheese, grated
1 – 15 oz. container part skim ricotta cheese
½ tsp. cinnamon, optional
1/2 cup ground pistachios, optional

Shredded phyllo dough (kadaif), cheese mixture, ground pistachio nuts, clarified butter 


1.     Preheat oven to 375°F.

2.     Place the dough on a stabilized cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut kadaif dough into 2-inch pieces. Place in a large mixing bowl. With your hands, separate the dough strands, removing any clumps.

3.     Drizzle the melted butter into the kadaif dough and, with your hands, gently massage the butter to coat the dough.

Buttered kadaif dough in muffin cups
4.     Using two 12-cup muffin tins, place some kadaif mixture on the bottom and up the sides of each cup, making sure the bottom has enough dough to support the filling.

Cheese-filled nests with ground pistachios on top
5.     Mix together the cheeses and cinnamon, if using. Place 1 or 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture in each cup. Sprinkle chopped pistachios on top of the cheese filling, if desired. 

Extra kadaif dough on top of cheese filling
     Top each cup with additional shredded dough. (Note: If you prefer, you may omit the additional shredded dough on top.)

6.     Bake for about 17 to 20 minutes, or until the dough is lightly golden.

7.     While the kadaif is baking, prepare the simple syrup.

Simple Syrup Ingredients:
2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Simple Syrup Directions:
Make a simple syrup by bringing the sugar and water to a boil. Add lemon juice. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and liquid reduces by a third, about 10 to 12 minutes. The syrup should coat the back of a spoon.

To Serve: As soon as the kadaif comes out of the oven, spoon some of the syrup over each while still in the muffin tin. Allow them to sit a few minutes to allow the syrup to soak through. Use a spoon to loosen and remove each kadaif cup from the muffin tin. Place nests on individual serving dishes.
Serve the remaining syrup to those with a sweet tooth. 
Best when served warm or hot.

NOTE: Only pour syrup on those nests which will be served immediately. Any leftover cheese nests can be covered and refrigerated for a few days. When ready to serve, heat them in a preheated (350°F) oven or toaster oven  for about 10 minutes. 

**How to clarify butter:
Melt about 1 lb. unsalted butter over low heat until foam appears on the surface. Skim foam and keep on low heat for about 15 minutes or until solids settle to bottom of pan. Cool about 15 to 20 minutes. Carefully pour clarified butter into container, leaving solids at bottom of the pan. Discard solids.
Use the amount of clarified butter needed for the recipe. Cover and refrigerate remaining butter for another use.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pumpkin Bread

One of my go-to autumn recipes is Pumpkin Bread. It’s not too sweet, is easy to make, and goes perfectly with a cup of hot coffee or tea. Add a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of good vanilla ice cream, and you’ve got yourself a dandy dessert.

I’m not ashamed to say that I use canned pure pumpkin for this recipe; it certainly beats carving and cooking a fresh pumpkin – a real time-saver.

Since this recipe makes 2 loafs, I keep one available to serve immediately, and the other in the freezer for unexpected occasions.

Pumpkin Bread with Vanilla Ice Cream
The Recipe…

Pumpkin Bread
Yield: 2 loaves

3 1/3 cups sifted flour (Note: sift first, then measure!)
2 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 ¼ cups granulated sugar (Note: If you prefer a sweeter product, increase the sugar to  2 ½ cups.)
4 large eggs
1 ½ cups canned pure pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup water


1.    Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of 2 loaf pans. Set aside.
2.    In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients – flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar.
3.    In a separate bowl, combine the pumpkin, eggs, oil and water.
4.    Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until well blended, but don’t over-mix.
5.     Divide the batter evenly between the 2 pans. Run a knife or straight-edge spatula lengthwise down the center of the batter.
6.    Bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Insert a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean or with dry crumbs, the bread is done. Cool, in the pans, on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the loaves from the pans and continue to cool on the racks. 

To freeze pumpkin bread:
Slice the loaf into portions, then tightly wrap the entire loaf in plastic wrap. Place the wrapped loaf in a plastic bag suitable for freezing.

To serve from the frozen state:
Before serving, remove as many slices as you plan to serve. Place slices on a plate, cover, and defrost in the refrigerator. Slices can heated in a toaster oven.

To defrost using a microwave oven:
Loosely wrap a frozen slice in a paper towel. Then heat for about 30 seconds or so on low (50%) power. 


Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Halva with Toasted Pine Nuts

I realize it’s only October, but, it’s never too early to start thinking about the holidays.

Before you know it, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here, so I’m taking the opportunity to practice making some recipes I plan to serve when the jingle bells start ringing.
Halva with Toasted Pine Nuts
I’m starting with an old-time favorite, halva. It takes very little time to prepare and is easy enough for a beginning cook to master. If you like this recipe, check out my version of Baneerov Halva (Halva with Cheese).

Serves 4

NOTE: This recipe can easily be doubled for a larger crowd, but use a 12-inch skillet instead.

Simple Syrup Ingredients:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Prepare simple syrup:
Bring sugar and water to a boil. Reduce heat, add lemon juice, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Keep syrup warm until ready to use.

Halva Ingredients:
1 cup farina (Cream of Wheat may be used)
½ stick unsalted butter (4 Tbsp.)
½ cup lightly toasted pine nuts or chopped pecans or chopped walnuts

  • Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet, over medium heat. Allow butter to brown a little – do not   let it burn!
  • Add the farina (or Cream of Wheat), stirring so it absorbs the butter and starts to turn a light brown. Slowly ladle-in the warm syrup, stirring until smooth, about 5 minutes.
  • Add nuts; continue to cook for 5 more minutes, stirring so nuts are evenly distributed. Remove skillet from heat; cover the pan and allow rest to for 30 minutes.
  • Serve warm with cinnamon sprinkled on top, if desired. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Can’t Get Enough Lahmajoun!

Doug felt like having homemade pizza for dinner, but I didn’t feel like messing around making dough from scratch because it’s still really hot here in the south.

Doug’s solution was to purchase commercially prepared, ready-to-bake crust. So, we bought two 3-packs of Mama Mary’s 7-inch, thin and crispy crusts.

Lahmajoun made on a small pizza crust
What Doug didn’t know was that I had other plans for the crusts. He wanted pizza, but I was in the mood for lahmajoun – guess who won!

I had a need to experiment making lahmajoun with this crust. 
When I use flour tortillas as a lahmajoun shortcut, the tortillas can become soggy resulting in a disappointing product. 

I wanted to see how these crusts would hold up as the base.

Here’s what I did:

Mama Mary's small pizza crusts

Crusts covered with lahmajoun topping
I made my traditional lahmajoun topping (see below) using ground turkey. I spread a generous amount of the topping on the six crusts and placed 3 crusts on two baking sheets. 
Each tray was baked at 425°F for 7 minutes on the bottom rack and then another 7 minutes on the top rack until the topping was cooked through.

There was enough topping left to cover another 2 or 3 crusts which I didn't have.  I made 2 'burgers' for another meal instead.

The lahmajoun was served with a tossed salad – a hearty, simple meal!

I’m happy to report that Doug was very pleased with the recipe swap; I was happy with the simpler preparation. 

Although the crusts held up well for a lahmajoun base, they were just too thick. One apiece was more than enough to satisfy us.

Regardless, we enjoyed every bite.

Lahmajoun Topping Recipe

Yield: Enough topping for 8 or 9 small pizza crusts 

1 lb. ground lamb or beef (or a combination of the two) Note: Ground turkey may be substituted
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium red pepper, chopped
1/2 small green pepper, chopped
½ bunch parsley, washed well, stems removed, chopped
1 - 15 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained well
2 Tbsp. tomato paste or red pepper paste
1 to 2 Tbsp. flour
2 tsp. dried mint
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sweet paprika
dash cayenne pepper

1. To save time, process the onion, peppers, and parsley in a food processor, using the metal “S” blade. Squeeze out any excess liquid - this is VERY important! Be careful not to over-process. Vegetables should still be a bit chunky, not pureed. Note: If chopping by hand, be sure to finely chop the vegetables.

2. In a large bowl, combine all of the topping ingredients, mixing well.