Saturday, February 27, 2010

PB & J Hamantaschen

Perhaps you've seen pictures of small, triangular shaped cookies filled with ooey gooey goodness floating around the food blogs in the past week or so and wondered... what's the fuss over these funny little things?

The festive celebration of Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the offing of a certain pointy hat wearing bad guy, starts this weekend. Jewish folks are to eat, drink and be merry... not too bad as holidays go right? The celebration includes reading of the Book of Esther, and whenever you hear the aforementioned bad guys name, Haman, you're to make as much noise as humanly possible. Holler, scream, stomp your feet, and make a general ruckus. The purpose of the noise is to drown out his name each time its read.

The other cool thing? Jewish folks are to drink until they can't differentiate the name of Haman and other names read. The goal is to achieve a perfect balance of inebriation, located squarely between inability to distinguish names, but not tipsy enough to violate the commandments or become seriously ill. Sounds like a lot of people have been celebrating Purim for awhile now and didn't even know it!

Back to the pointy cookies. Haman (BOO! HISS!) wore a triangular hat, and Hamantaschen, literally translated to mean Haman pockets, commemorate his downfall. Typical fillings include poppy seed and fruit jellies. Go figure, I went all non traditional and added a kid friendly (and Mr. Socal friendly!) twist to the recipe.

This recipe is loosely based from one found here, plus tweaks that I added from my memory of making and eating Hamantaschen as a kid.

PB & J Hamantaschen

2 eggs
1/3 cup oil
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup orange juice
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
Extra flour for dusting and rolling

3/4 cup peanut butter
2 tsp powdered sugar
Jelly or fruit preserves (I used strawberry, blackberry and sour cherry)

Soften peanut butter for 15 seconds in microwave, and mix in powdered sugar. Spoon small (less than 1 tsp) rounded scoops of peanut butter onto a wax paper lined plate using a small spoon or melon baller. Make 20 small scoops, and place plate into freezer.

Combine softened cream cheese and sugar in a stand or electric mixer. Add oil, eggs, baking powder, salt, orange juice and vanilla until well mixed. Slowly add flour until completely incorporated into the dough.

Generously flour a rolling pin and flat work surface. Place 1/2 dough on work surface, and place remaining dough in the refrigerator. Roll out dough until its 1/4 inch thick. Cut into circles using a cookie cutter or a pint glass. Repeat with remaining chilling dough.

To assemble Hamantaschen:
Scoop 1/2 - 1 tsp of jelly into center of dough

Remove peanut butter scoops from freezer and place one on top of the jelly. Press peanut butter scoop down firmly to slightly spread the jelly

Pinch each of the three corners together firmly. Don't be afraid to really be an aggressive corner pincher; this will prevent the dreaded Hamantaschen blowout later.

Repeat for the remaining Hamantaschen. Place all on greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Makes 20 of these pointy little lovelies.

Now, about those blowouts... A Hamantaschen blowout is the Purim equivalent to a Matzoh ball sinker. You really try to your best to avoid them, but despite your best efforts, they happen.

The good news is, even the blowouts still taste good. And if you follow Purim traditions to the letter of the law, I bet you won't even know the difference.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

English Muffins & A Free Short Stack

I've been talking about making these for a long, long time. The simple joy of hot, steamy muffins with their nooks and crannies filled with butter, jam, peanut butter or whatever else you choose is tough to match. It's been cooler here lately, I guess its what Californians consider winter. Having been on a recent breakfast smoothie kick, this fresh griddled delight is a welcomed start to the mornings when the temperature is a bit less California like.

You may have noticed I said griddled, not baked... that's right, griddled like a pancake. That works as a convenient coincidence as it as National Pancake Day. If you have a hankering for flapjacks, head on out to your local IHOP and they will serve up a free short stack today until 10 PM. While you're there, why don't you make a donation to Children's Miracle Network... there are lots of kids out there who would love your help.

And I digress...

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour recipes and can be found here.

English Muffins
1 3/4 cups (14 ounces) milk, warm*
3 Tbsp butter
1 1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp granulated sugar**
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 - 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

* I used Silk Vanilla Light Soy Milk
** I used 2 tsp honey

Place the ingredients in a stand mixer with dough hook attachment. If using bread maker, use the "dough" or "manual" setting. Mix the dough thoroughly until it pulls away from the side of the bowl in a uniform ball.

Transfer the dough to a cornmeal-sprinkled surface and roll it out to 1/3 to 1/2-inch thick. Cut out circles with a 3 inch cutting ring. Re-roll and cut out the leftover dough. Cover the muffins with a damp cloth and let rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a frying pan or griddle to low heat (I used a dry cast iron skilled). Before placing muffins on griddle, coat both sides with cornmeal. Cook for four minutes at a time with lid of pan on. Remove lid, flip muffins and repeat for four more minutes.

Check after about 3 to 4 minutes to see that the muffins are browning evenly. If they are cooking either too fast or too slowly, adjust the temperature of your pan.

When the muffins are brown on both sides, transfer them to a wire rack to cool, and proceed with the remaining muffins. Serve hot with your favorite shmear and enjoy

Friday, February 12, 2010

Winner Winner, Pasta Dinner

Thank you all for your entries in the pasta maker giveaway. Your food misadventures and mishaps cracked me up, I love that so many of you shared them!

Congrats to Scott at Fight the Fat Foodie for being randomly selected using as the giveaway winner. Please email me your shipping information and your brand spanking new pasta maker will be on its way!

Thanks again everyone.. let's do this again real soon ok? :)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sweet Potato Shao Mai Dumplings

A quick lunchtime fridge expedition yielded these delightful, delicious dumplings. A quick note of disclosure before you jump all over these... My dumpling folding skills admittedly leave something to be desired. Google, being the all knowing wonder tool it is, gave me a perfect solution. Shao Mai dumplings are make with round cut wonton skins, and have the added bonus of simplicity as well as being able to see the beautiful contents contained within. Shao Mai are typically served in dim sum, and are a quick and easy to throw together with any filling you choose. If you are a dumpling rookie like me, you definitely want to check this out.

Sweet Potato Shao Mai Dumplings
(Yields 8 dumplings)
1 1/2 cups mashed sweet potato
8 wonton skins
3 cloves roasted garlic, minced
1 1/2 Tbsp Parmesan Reggiano cheese, shredded
1/4 cup pine nuts

Place a small, dry saute pan over medium heat. Add pine nuts, and toast until golden brown. Turns pine nuts often, making sure to avoid burning them.

Place a wonton skin on a cutting board. Using a round cookie cutter or knife, cut out circles. Repeat with all remaining wonton skins.

Mix sweet potato, garlic, parmesan cheese and toasted pine nuts in a small bowl. Spoon rounded tablespoons into each wonton skin. Holding wonton skin in left palm, make small pinches around the diameter of the skin. Fill remaining wonton skins with potato mixture.

Place wontons in steamer basket* for 8-10 minutes. Remove carefully and serve while still hot.

*Don't have a steamer basket? Me neither!

Here was my solution...
Place a small saucepan of water on the stove top and bring water to a boil. Place a metal colander or strainer atop the saucepan, and gently place dumplings in the bottom on the colander. Top with lid of a larger saucepan and steam for 8-10 minutes.

Worked like a charm! Hope it works for you too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Caprese Gratin with Balsamic Poached Tomatoes

In the wake of post Superbowl feasts, parties and soirees, I'm sure many of your refrigerators look as bad as mine does right now. Tin foil wrapped bowls, assorted mystery condiments and odds and ends are running amok in the old chill box. Somehow we acquired a cooler full of various foodstuffs from a party we attended in San Diego this weekend. Among the acquisitions were at least a dozen plain white dinner rolls. The rolls and a pint of near forgotten cherry tomatoes were the base components for the idea of this gratin. I realize I am interpreting the term gratin rather loosely, but whatever you want to call it, its pretty darn good.

Caprese Gratin with Balsamic Poached Tomatoes
3 round white dinner rolls
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 oz mozzarella
1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp salted butter
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp Parmesan reggiano cheese, shredded
3 cloves garlic

In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt 2 Tbsp butter. Place thinly sliced onions in pan and cover with melted butter. Slowly cook until the onions are caramelized, stirring often.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully slice dinner rolls with a serrated knife into 1/4 inch slices. Combine olive oil with grated Parmesan, salt and pepper. Grate garlic cloves with a zester or microplane and add to oil mixture. Stir thoroughly, and using a basting brush spread oil on slices. Place slices on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes, until golden brown.

While slices brown, place balsamic and tomatoes in a small saucepan. Place over medium low heat until simmering. Stir gently and cook for 10 more minutes at a simmer, until the skins of the tomatoes start to blister. Remove from heat.

In a casserole dish, place an even layer of caramelized onions. Pour reduced balsamic vinegar and poached tomatoes gently on top of onions. Top with toasted roll slices, and place thinly sliced pieces of mozzarella between slices. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until cheese is just melted. Remove from oven, garnish with fresh basil and serve.

By the way, have you entered the GIVEAWAY yet?

In your friendly reminder news, if you haven't signed up for SoCal Sustenance's very first giveaway, a super amazing wicked awesome (yea, I said it) pasta maker, you can do so here. The winner will be randomly selected on Friday, February 12th. Get your entries in and good luck!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Flourless Almond Torte

A few weeks ago, I read an article entitled Cancer Fighting Foods:What to eat before, during and after Chemotherapy. Written by Rebecca Katz, it provided some fantastic, specific, science based information for patients undergoing chemo. I snooped around for other things by the author, and lo and behold Ms. Katz just so happens to be the go-to gal on the forefront of cancer nutrition.

As per her website, Ms. Katz is a nationally-recognized expert on the role of food in supporting health during cancer treatment. She has a Masters of Science degree in Health and Nutrition Education, and received her culinary training from New York's Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. As a consultant, speaker, teacher and chef, she works closely with patients, physicians, nurses, and wellness professionals to include the powerful tool of nutrition in their medical arsenal.

Rebecca has published two books that read like friendly, thoughtful, educational guides to a getting the best out of a rotten situation through the healing and restorative powers of food. They include a wealth of creative, healthful recipes with spectacular images to boot. Her first book, One Bite at a Time was written in 2008, and followed up with Cancer Fighting Kitchen. Her latest book includes a wealth of nutritional resources, including strategies to thrive during treatment and the Culinary Pharmacy, which we should all spend some time exploring.

So what gives with all the cancer talk? The topic is something that is close to my heart. My father died of Osteosarcoma more than a decade back, and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma claimed my uncle's life less than a year ago. Currently, my mother is battling Multiple Myeloma, a rare and particularly nasty cancer of the blood cells. Cancer is an uninvited nightly guest at my dinner table, and I am determined to carve my future path without its legacy carrying on to me. I staunchly believe in the power of preventative practices, especially those that lie within food.

This recipe is from Rebecca's first book, and it came together unbelievably fast. In a matter of mere moments, and looked, smelled and tasted phenomenal. This can easily be a go to dessert that will fool your guests into thinking you slaved away all day at this beauty, and no one will ever be the wiser. Did I mention there is no processed sugar, no dairy or no gluten in this? And its STILL exceptional.

Flourless Almond Torte
1 1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup maple syrup
3 large organic eggs
1 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup fresh raspberries
3 cups bing cherries, halved and pitted

Preheat oven to 375° F. Cut a parchment paper circle to fit the bottom of an 8 inch springform pan*

Grind almonds until flour-like in a food processor, about 2 minutes. The oil from the nuts may cause the mixture to stick to the sides. Run a spatula around the edge to loosen the mixture. Continue to process about 1 minute.

Pre-measure the maple syrup, eggs, extracts and salt in a measuring cup, stir well to break up the eggs. While the food processor is running, pour through the feeding tube and process until smooth.

Pour into the pan (or pans) and bake 25 minutes. Torte is ready when the top is lightly golden brown and center is firm. If the top browns too quickly, tent with foil and continue baking.

Place two cups of bing cherries in a small saucepan over medium heat. As saucepan warms, compress cherries with a potato masher or a fork to release the maximum juices. Simmer cherry juice until its reduces and thickens slightly. Strain cherry reduction juice and pour over tarte shell (or shells). Top with remaining whole cherries and raspberries. Garnish with whipped cream if desired and serve.

* I used small tartlette pans and this recipe made six small tarts.

Thank you for bearing through my personal soapbox in this post. I strongly encourage those of you who've had the misfortune of cancer touch your life as a patient, family member, or caregiver to explore the resources within this post. Cancer has the power to strip those waging war on it of nearly every bit of control within their lives. Having the resources to make comforting, delicious, nutritionally sound meals may be a small gift to give, but the impact of providing health, hope and kindness is immeasurable.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The First SoCal Giveaway!!!

We've all had our share of food mishaps and calamities. Most of mine seem to involve large scale drops, spills or fumbles resulting in speckled furniture, a colorful smattering of naughty words, and one heck of a mess. There was the agua fresca incident, an epic vegetarian lasagna bobble that covered everything below hip height in my kitchen, and an unfortunate gnocchi episode where they actually bounced when dropped. No really, like little pasta-esque bouncy balls that you used to get out of the 25 cent machines at the supermarket.

Needless to say, I have not braved pasta making since. But thanks to the amazing folks at, you now have a chance avoid any future pasta incidents with the amazing Cucina Pro Pasta Fresh 5 Machine, shown above. Wouldn't you love to check your mailbox and have this waiting for you? This fantastic addition to any kitchen makes spaghetti, fettuccine, angel hair, ravioli and lasagnette while being stylish and not taking up a ton of valuable kitchen space. Want to whip up some fresh, healthy pasta any time you darn well please? Well then check out the rules below.

The winner will be selected at random on Friday, February 12th. Consider it your first of hopefully many lovely gifts for Valentine's Day! This contest is only open to the continental United States, so my apologies to my friends in Canada and points beyond.

I bet you'd like to know how to get your hot little hands on this beauty. Here's the low down.

Entrants will receive one vote for each of the following actions;

* Share your best cooking misadventure story by commenting on this post
* Become a Fan of SoCal Sustenance on Facebook
* Follow @Socalsustenance on Twitter
* Follow SoCal Sustenance with Google Friend Connect

Thank you so much for continuing to support and read SoCal Sustenance through its growing pains and misadventures. It means so much that you continue to read, comment, laugh and encourage the things you find here. Best of luck and I look forward to reading about your best culinary mishaps as well!