This has been a moderately stressful week. The burn I got from when I was cooking from Ireland two weeks ago is finally healing up. I think the healing process hurt worse than when I first burned my arm. Maybe I should buy myself a set of welding sleeves when I take things out of the oven. The kids finally got out of school, and the car show we normally enter our customized lowrider truck in moved their show up a week earlier this year. And what an unfortunate difference that has made. We’ve been scrambling all this week to buy more materials to finish it up in time for the show, trying to dodge pop-up showers and working in 90º weather. But today is the last day of the show, and I’ve been left here by myself to cook in peace and quiet. (Well, it’s me and the music of Lack of Afro).
|Perfection by itself and a thing of beauty. Although I'm tempted to turn this into French toast.|
Today’s bread is challah bread, a given. I’ve seen photos of challah bread, and I’ve certainly made braided breads before, but this one is a little different. I started out by dissolving my yeast in water with a pinch of sugar. In a large bowl, I mixed my flour, sugar, and salt. Then I added in my eggs, an egg yolk (keeping the egg white for later), and oil in with my flour mix. Once I mixed all of this together, I poured in my yeast mix. Adding little bits of flour as needed, I kneaded my dough until it was the right consistency, elastic but not sticky. I formed my dough into a ball and let it rest into an oiled bowl, covered in plastic wrap for about an hour and a half. Once it finished resting, I divided my dough into six pieces and rolled them into ropes that were about one inch thick and about 16 inches long. Instead of a three-strand braid, I wanted to try my hand at a six-strand braid today. In order to do a six-stranded braid, I took the outer right strand and crossed over the next two strands, and then under one, and over the last two strands until it’s now the furthest left strand. When I repeated this until the entire bread was braided, I squeezed all of the strands together at the end and folded them underneath the entire loaf. Then I put some parchment paper on a baking sheet and transferred my bread to the paper. I sprinkled a little flour on top and covered it with towel to let it rest another hour. I preheated my oven to 350º and brushed the top of the challah with the egg white I saved when the hour was up. After about 30 minutes, I took it out and transferred it to a cooling rack. I have to say that this bread is beautiful. And not just beautiful, it had a good crumb and flavor on top of it. The crust looks like it would be thick, but it’s not really that tough; the inside was soft and pillowy. I was told this makes an excellent base for French toast, which I may just have to try.
|I really struggled not to just eat a plate of latkes for lunch.|
The second thing I made was latkes. I’ve always called these potato pancakes and are some of my favorite things to eat. My mother would occasionally make something similar when we were growing up. I took four potatoes and grated them into a bowl of water, letting it soak for about 15 minutes. Then I drained them and squeezed out as much water as I could. I put the potatoes back in the bowl and mixed them with some flour, egg, salt, and pepper. I also added in some chopped chives to add a bit of flavor. In a skillet, I poured enough oil to fry, and I dropped spoonfuls of potato mixture into the hot skillet, flattening them out to make them look like patties. Once it started to brown on the bottom, I flipped it to brown the other side. Latkes are often served with sour cream or applesauce. But I also like them plain. These were a hit with the family, and they got the approval of my super finicky son who ate two. The chives were definitely a good addition, although I was really tempted to add a bit of cumin.
|I think its beautiful. So colorful, so delicious.|
The main dish today is called chakchouka (sometimes spelled as shakshouka or other variations). Using my deep skillet, I heated some oil and stirred in the paprika. Next I added my chopped onions and garlic. After a few minutes, I threw in a can of chopped tomatoes and let it simmer for a few minutes before adding in chopped red and green bell peppers, some water, salt, and pepper. After the water started boiling, I turned down the heat a bit and let this simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Then I took a spoon and made four indentions in the mixture where I cracked an egg and let it slip into the indention I made. I put the lid on and let it simmer for another 10 minutes or so until the eggs were cooked through. I served this over rice. You can also really spice this up and add other vegetables or meat to the mix if you want. I thought this was really good, but I couldn’t help but thinking I was eating breakfast for dinner. I also think it would have been better if I added in a little bit of cayenne pepper or something.
|Not such a hit with the kids, but I thought this was wonderful.|
Finally, the last dish I made was a dessert called lokshen kugel. I have had something similar to this before, and it was delicious. I took a 12 oz package of egg noodles and cooked them according to the package. I rinsed them with cool water when they were done and drained them. Then in a large bowl, I mixed 8 oz sour cream, 8 oz cream cheese, 3 beaten eggs, and 3 Tbsp melted butter together until it was a smooth consistency. (I probably should’ve used my hand mixer, but to be honest, I was just too lazy to dig it out.) I added in 1/3 c sugar, ½ tsp cinnamon, and a pinch of salt until it was mixed in well. Then I stirred in the noodles and a ½ c dried cranberries (in lieu of raisins). After everything was mixed together, I poured this mix into a greased baking dish and then topped with my crust: ½ c breadcrumbs, 2 Tbsp melted butter, ½ tsp cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp sugar all mixed together. I baked this at 350º for about 45 minutes until it is set and the top is slightly browned. It’s meant to be cut into squares and served warm or at room temperature, which is mostly the same thing right now. This was absolutely fabulous, just like the show. I was very happy that I added in the cranberries instead of using raisins. I will definitely keep this recipe around.
|All in all, this was a great meal. Everything turned out really well.|
I really liked this meal, even though I pretty much ate by myself tonight. My husband grabbed a bowl and ate quickly standing in the kitchen after they came home, but he did confirm that he did like it. And, as a native Chicagoan, he did confirm that the latkes tasted authentic. But while we were briefly in the same room at the same time, we were discussing the use of eggs in the dish. As Americans we’re more accustomed to eating eggs for breakfast. And if we do have eggs for lunch or dinner, it’s almost always hardboiled and then used in a dish, such as deviled eggs or in a salad. But there are many countries/cultures where eggs of various animals are often a main source for protein because meat is expensive. And of course, there are some places where even eggs are a delicacy. (Ten years ago here in the US, a dozen of large eggs used to be around a dollar. And now because of this bird flu crisis, I paid $3 for a dozen of large eggs. They better figure this all out quickly.) But I realized that even though all of the ingredients of many of these dishes are commonly found in any grocery store, often for very cheap, it’s the order and in which we put them and the variety of methods of cooking that makes the dish. But it’s all good to me. (Well, most of it.) At least this meal was. And now, for more lokshen kugel.
Up next: Italy