Friday, 27 August 2010

A day in the country

I don't own a summer house in Provence or a beach hut in the South of France. I've been hot and sweaty and immensely grateful for having an air conditioner, a piece of useful machinery that has kept me sane the past few weeks. This week I left Tel Aviv for a day trip to the land beyond, for a short yet effective vacanza.
A two- hour drive takes me to the tip of the country, a small village in the upper Galilee, called Matat. This is the closest thing to faraway in the nearby area. There is a house and a balcony, a fire place and a selection of furnaces, all conducted under the crafty hands of Erez Komarovsky.
Erez realized his fantasy, left the big city in favor of a small piece of land. Noise and pollution have made way for a fertile orchard, where everything is edible. There are forgotten local herbs, fresh spices, seasonal fruit and indigenous vegetables, all grown, picked and prepared with love and care, as they ought to be.
This is outside. Indoors is the kitchen; the core of the house. The floor is always covered with bowls overflowing with colorful goods from the garden and baskets with their remains, on their way back to the garden, as compost or chicken feed.
On the morning I arrive a crate of mushroom is quickly transformed to a table centerpiece resembling a giant coral reef that has been pulled out of the water. The furnace is working on full power scorching tomatoes as fresh cheese and mushroom focaccias are proofing.
I spent the morning strolling the terraces, picking herbs, munching on leaves and breathing the the cool breeze. Conveniently, the neighbors are bee keepers and honey is on the tap. Between plum, sage, Marjoram and wild flower honeys, I choose them all. One of each. You can never have too much of a good thing.
Here is a miniature version and as close as it gets to the garden of Eden. Every hour of the day, every month and season nature is echoed; the ever changing surrounding terraced hills, the goods of the land and the celestial food prepared with so much care, love and attention it can bring a grown person to tears.
This would be the equivalent of an artist developing custom made & bespoke pigments with which to paint his masterpieces. Erez has surrounded himself with the finest raw ingredients, making his fantasy edible and digestible, sharing his love for the land and nature through food and conviviality, while making it all seem effortless.
The epitome of local, seasonal, good, clean & fair, on my way back to the city I simply had to balance it out, making a quick stop at IKEA for some consumption therapy and unnecessary carbon foot print acquisitions.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Compost Cookie

Crunch. The word alone has a satisfying texture.

I have infinite love and appreciation for the crunch. No dish is complete without it, be it the floating croutons in a hearty soup, a sprinkle of crunch on top of salad or covering whatever dessert is with speckled of crunchy granules. Sweet on top of savory or vise versa, the crunch is like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.

Morning cereal is not about sugar intake. Its about the crunch. How can anyone sleep with all the noise and havoc munching away?

A quick look in my pantry I realize the wide selection of crunch enhancing foodstuff, from crushed toasted pecans, caramelized chickpeas and coriander seeds (these would be mind blowing on ice cream as well as salad), to homemade Graham nuts (an old Amish recipe) and several crumble toppings in the freezer.

It’s addictive and comforting, sensual and satisfying, it is the X factor, the oomph and the pazzaz. It deserves a celebration. It could think of an entire workshop dedicated to the crunch, its history, various forms, production methods, local & seasonal variations... in the meantime I keep hearing and reading about Momofuku’s milk bar, and its famous compost cookies. Any cookie that contains both sweet and savoury “has me at Hello”. What’s more, they’re basically all about various crunch-es stuck together with some cookie dough. I managed to track down the recipe and it did not disappoint.

The batter contains a bit of this and a bit of that, as the name suggests; compost, with dark chocolate chips, roasted coffee beans, salted pretzels, potato chips chopped peanuts and rolled oats (these more chewy then crunchy). This may sound random and over the top but in reality it all comes together nicely and it works. The contents spread evenly in the batter so every bite is different and unique with a balance of sweet and savoury, crunchy and chewy, coffee and pretzels, peanuts and chocolate.

Isn’t this all one ever wants of a cookie???

Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookie

By Christina Tosi

Slightly modified from this recipe


1 cup Butter

1 cup Sugar

3/4 cup Light Brown Sugar

1 Tbsp golden Syrup

1 tsp Vanilla Extract

2 Large Eggs

1 3/4 cups all purpose Flour

2 tsp Baking Powder

1 tsp Baking Soda

2 tsp Kosher Salt

1 1/2 cups a mixture of dark chocolate chips, coffee beans, rolled oats

1 1/2 cups potato chips, pretzels, and roasted peanuts, chopped.

cream butter, sugars and golden syrup on medium high for 2-3 minutes until fluffy and pale yellow in colour. You can do this in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer.

Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.

On a lower speed, add eggs and vanilla to incorporate. Increase mixing speed to medium-high and start a timer for 10 minutes. During this time the sugar granules will fully dissolve, the mixture will become an almost pale white colour and your creamed mixture will double in size.

When time is up, on a lower speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix 45-60 sec just until your dough comes together and all remnants of dry ingredients have incorporated. Do not walk away from your mixer during this time or you will risk over mixing the dough. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl with a spatula.

On same low speed, add in the chcolate, coffee and rolled oats and mix for 30-45 sec until they evenly mix into the dough. Add in the snack foods last, paddling again on low speed until they are just incorporated.

Using an ice cream scoop, portion cookie dough onto a tray lined with parchment paper, a minimum of 10cm apart in any direction.

You can also arrange them in a container and keep in the fridge up to a week. they can also be kept in the freezer, ready to pop in the oven whenever you crave them.

Wrap scooped cookie dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 1 hour.

DO NOT BAKE your cookies from room temperature or they will not hold their shape.

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Bake 9-11 min. While in the oven, the cookies will puff, crackle and spread.

At 9 min the cookies should be browned on the edges and just beginning to brown towards the centre. Leave the cookies in the oven for the additional minutes if these colours don't match up and your cookies stills seem pale and doughy on the surface.

Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pan before transferring to a plate or an airtight container or tin for storage.

At room temp, cookies will keep fresh 5 days. In the freezer, cookies will keep fresh 1 month.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Kubaneh, Jewish Yemenite Saturday morning bread

A loaf of Bread encapsulates within it the cultural, historical and geographical makings of a place. Like a genetic code, the ingredients’ origins, preparation methods and formed shape deliver a story enhanced when spread with a thick layer of butter. Flour, water and leaven are code to endless combinations of bread (The addition of salt to the equation came at a much later point, but had a significant contribution to the flavor factor).

Breads are made from the earth and the goods of the land, be it cornmeal in America, garbanzo beans in India or durum flour semolina in Italy. The daily routine and the annual calendar also play a role with some are breads eaten on certain days of the year and others that accompany each mealtime throughout the day. Flat, tall, round or square, breads are commonly baked, but also boiled, fried and even cooked.

In Israel, being 'Jewish' is the basic fundamental commonality among the majority of ethnic communities. A close examination of the modern 'Israeli foodscape reveals influences from some 80 different nations and many distinct culinary backgrounds. Food is linked to family, home and ancestry, not with land, and this is demonstrated by the diversity in the available variety of local breads.

In the days leading to Passover, it is enough to observe the general panic at the prospect of a week with no bread to understand that bread has reached the status of a national obsession.

A closer inspection reveals the special status of bread in Judaism. We may be used to Medieval Christian artwork depicting the fruit of knowledge as an apple, yet ancient classical Jewish texts such as the Talmud have reached a different conclusion, or rather, several. According to these texts the citron, figs, and fruit of the vitis could all have been the forbidden fruit. Another interesting theory proposes wheat was the forbidden fruit, and that Eve had sawn, reaped and ground wheat into flour before she baked a loaf of bread and offered it to Adam, making a clear connection between bread and wisdom.

The Halacha (the collective body of Jewish religious law) also recognizes the significance of bread. According to the Halacha discarding bread, using it as a vehicle to transport food from the plate to the mouth or to soak up liquids are acts of disrespect, and thus forbidden. This is not a matter to be taken lightly and so, to avoid any confusion or a sign of disrespect, a set of specific guidelines defines and clarifies the do’s and don’ts of handling bread.

As observant Jews do not cook on the Sabbath (Saturday), and in order to provide food for the Sabbath day, various cooking techniques developed, and are still practiced to this day. The food is prepared before the Friday night, after which it is left to slowly cook overnight on a hotplate or in the oven. This often results in heavily caramelized, heartily satisfying dishes.

Bread is no exception and one such example is the Kubaneh.

The Jewish Yemenite Saturday breakfast bread is not available at any bakery, but instead is made on a weekly basis at Yemeni households. The sticky yeast dough is prepared and leavened. It is then fortified with Smen, also called samneh; smoked and aged clarified butter, usually made from goat or sheep milk, characterized by a strong rancid taste and smell.

It is then baked overnight in a covered aluminum pot, and, on a low heat, caramelizes from bottom to top. By breakfast time the entire pot is filled with puffy golden brown bread rolls and the stimulating aroma of baked yeast dough spreads through the Saturday morning air.

In addition to its rich flavor, soft texture and good looks, Kubaneh is also the edible solution that developed in response to the constraints set by a religious practice and the available local ingredients of a particular terroir.

Traditionally it is served as part of a savory breakfast alongside a hard-boiled egg, a fresh tomato salsa and a spicy chili sauce, but it would also be the perfect start to the day served with butter and jam.


Serves 10

The Kubaneh is baked overnight in a covered aluminum pot but any casserole or baking dish with a tight cover will work.

What with Smen not being widely available, the recipe calls for butter as an equally satisfying alternative.


1 kg / 2.2 lbs/ 7 cups unbleached all purpose flour, sifted

1½ Tbs active dry yeast

1Tbs sea salt

500ml / 1 pint / ½ quart Luke warm water

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup / 1 stick butter, melted and brought back to room temperature

2 Tbs sugar or honey

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and yeast.

Mix in the honey, water and oil. once all the ingredients have been incorporated add the salt.

Knead the dough until it is smooth, but still soft, about 10 minutes.

Cover the bowl with a plastic bag or a towel and allow to rest for ½- 1 hour

Put dough in a clean, well-oiled bowl, cover with a with a plastic bag or a towel, and allow to rest for ½- 1 hour, until it has doubled in volume.

Divide the dough into 10 pieces, place on a lightly floured work surface, Cover with a plastic bag or a towel and allow to rest 20 minutes.

Prepare a large saucepan:

Grease the bottom and sides of the saucepan with either butter or oil. cut out parchment paper the size of the saucepan and place at the bottom.

Lightly oil the work surface, and using an oiled rolling pin roll out the dough to a circle, about 15 inches diameter. Its ok if the dough tears or raptures.

Generously spread with butter and fold as you would to make an envelope: roll 1/3 towards the centre, then fold the opposite 1/3 towards the centre. You should end up with a 2.5 inches wide strip.

Roll to a spiral (not too tightly) and place in a saucepan, with the spiral facing up, and the seam against the saucepan wall.

Make sure the saucepan is double the height of the Kubaneh and allow about an inch space between each piece.

Continue with remaining pieces of dough, arranging them in the saucepan to the shape of a flower.

Cover the saucepan, place in a warm place and allow a final rest of 30 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200°F and bake overnight. Alternatively, place on a hot plate and bake overnight.

Turn the bread out onto a wire rack to cool.

Serve warm.