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The Jew-Factor: Just Follow the Matzo Crumbs… Passover Carrot Cake

Photography by Asia Upward, Styling by Ali Nardi

Except there are no matzo crumbs.

Being a Jew in Australia is both comical, and a little difficult to swing.

Here’s an example of the comical: Many Aussies assume that because I am Jewish, I am an expert on the Jewish religion– even though I am more of a Jew by heritage if you catch my drift. A friend wrote Anders an email when she returned from a trip to NYC: “While we were in New York, there were all these Jewish people dressed in traditional clothing going into these makeshift rectangle rooms. I think they were celebrating something? And the young boys were going around asking people if they were Jewish. Does Ali know what they were celebrating???”

The Difficulties: It’s not that I feel unwelcome or anything. It’s just that there isn’t really much of anything Jewish going on if you are a “casual Jew” like myself (something like a half-blood from Harry Potter, who grew up celebrating all Catholic and Jewish Holidays but never really tied any religious significance to either). So it’s hard to keep up with Passover, Yom Kippur, Chanukah. It’s also difficult to find egg noodles to make kugel with, and this is the real tragedy of it for me.

Being a Jew has always been a bit like wearing an accessory in my case–something I identify with to a certain extent and enjoy having as an extra flourish, but not something that I defined myself by…. until that is, I started living abroad and until I met Anders. In New York I am one of many who get called out while in the NYC subway: “Are you Jooeesh?” Here, it’s more of a novelty, because I am the only Jew most of my Aussie friends have ever encountered, or rather, known personally. And whether or not I chose to tell people doesn’t make a difference, as Anders has made it a well-known fact. It’s cute… sort of.  I didn’t understand how widespread the word was until people were leaving bacon just off of my plate (I do not keep kosher for the record). My favorite bit though is when Anders told his father I was Jewish before his father met me, and he said “Well don’t hold it against her!”

But like I said, no one I know has an issue with it. For the most part, they just didn’t grow up with it as part of their lives. During December holidays in Brisbane, there was no such thing as saying “Happy Holidays!” It’s just, “Merry Christmas!”

Bottom line: it’s good that people have a curiosity to know what it’s all about. I just wish I knew so I could tell them!

I feel like I should participate a bit in this inherited culture though, even without mom and dad and the olds here to organize Passover. I gotta represent! So this year, I have decided to do a mini Seder on the second night of Passover (tomorrow). In Brisbane, finding Passover products just wasn’t happening. But now we are in Melbourne, where the possibilities are endless (and the laksa is amazing!). Sure enough, there is Carlisle St. in Saint Kilda, an area that feels a lot like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, about 45 minutes away from me via bike. So I took my wheels on an adventure yesterday, and got the necessary bits for passover. Matzo meal to make matzo balls, matzo bread (this is also nice to have in the house to snack on), and red horseradish (my favorite). The rest I can find at Vic markets tomorrow.

I also made a Passover Carrot Cake (flourless) that we can enjoy at the mini Seder and throughout the week, because I like having something sweet around that is nutritious enough to eat as a meal. I’m not a big fan of chocolate, and the typical flourless chocolate cakes at passover are too sweet and heavy for my taste, but I love a good carrot cake.

I’ve adapted this recipe from Elana’s Pantry. I’ve spiced it differently, added dried figs, and since I originally posted this, I have altered the frosting, as her cream cheese frosting didn’t really do it for me and can now give you an awesome cream cheese frosting recipe! Also, I simply don’t use gave in my food.

Instead of doing a two-layer cake, I do a one layer cake, and then make the rest into cupcakes, or do them all as cupcakes as a sweet snack to have during the  week– no frosting when going for the snack idea! (You might notice two are missing in the photo. Photographer Asia Upwards dog Bear got to them when we turned our backs for a second!)

Note: This cake is flourless (almond-meal), and can also be made dairy free by swapping out the melted butter with your oil of choice (I recommend coconut oil, or the original recipe calls for grape seed oil).

carrot cake 2 Asia

Flourless Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Elana’s Pantry

  • 3 cups blanched almond flour (DO NOT use Bob’s Red Mill. It is too coarse)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 eggs
  • ½ cup honey or agave nectar
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 3 cups grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup raisans
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup walnuts (plus a few extra for decoration)

Frosting

  • 1 cup creamcheese (about 250 grams)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 stick (115 grams) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease two 9 inch cake tins, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, using your fingers to break up any clumps of almond meal.
  3. In a seperate bowl, mix together eggs, honey and melted butter. Stir in carrots, raisans, figs, and walnuts.
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry, and divide batter evenly into cake pans.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil. Allow to cool before removing from cake pans.
  6. For the frosting: With an electric beater, beat cream cheese until smooth in a  medium bowl. Add butter and honey and beat until smooth and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat cream until you have a nice thick whipped cream (don’t let it go to butter!). Combine with cream cheese mixture. Store in Fridge for up to a week, and store in freezer after that. To revive it, just beat it til smooth again.
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Possum Wars and Indian-Style BBQ

Indian Spiced Lamb Chops with Tamarind

Indian Spiced Lamb Chops with Tamarind

I’m in the middle of moving (arrgggg) but I won’t bore you with that. Hearing about the ups and downs of someone’s move is just about as interesting as hearing stories about airport delays or how your cat really is the cutest cat ever (impossible, because mine are)…. But, made some rad food for a farewell barbecue, and got the thumbs up from my guests to post my Indian barbecue recipes to the blog (not authentic Indian food, just some stuff I made up). These recipes are great on the barbie in summer, but could also be moved from the barbecue to the oven for a hearty winter m. They were a hit, thank goodness. Wouldn’t want to leave on anything but a tasty note!

The Barbecue: Anders and I had a “farewell barbecue” to see our friends before we head south. Everyone got along great, except for our resident possums, who were duking it out.  The neighbors recently cut down some well established trees and the possums that used to dwell in that territory are now trying to move in on the possums living in the branches above our roof. Possums are anything but stealthy, and we could hear them tumbling around overhead. Pictured below is a possum that couldn’t hold it’s ground and joined our barbecue for a while. Unlike those fangy looking, pink-eyed possums in the US, possums in Australia are adorable, except for when they are in your kitchen nibbling on leftover salad, and refuse to budge even when you are waving your arms like a mad man and shouting at them.

Just want to say the friends I have made in Brisbane are fantastic people, and I will miss you (but we’ll be all up in your face when Anders and I are back to visit family). Take care and enjoy the recipes!

DSC_0339

Indian Spiced Lamb Chops with Tamarind
Recipe by: Alexandra Nardi

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2 1/2  teaspoons tamarind paste*
  • 1 tblspn honey
  • 2 tsp melted coconut oil (or oil of choice)
  • 6 lamb chops (from the shoulder, a few more if you are using lamb loin chops)
  • 1 lime (optional)
  • Raita to serve (recipe follows)

Raita Ingredients:

  • 3/4 grated cucumber
  • salt to taste
  • 2 cups Greek yogurt
  • good handful of fresh mint, chopped (plus a sprig for garnish)

*You can find tamarind paste in Indian/Asian grocers

  1. Grind coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds in mortar and pestle until the seeds are broken down (but not yet a powder). Transfer to a bowl, and add paprika, salt, garlic, ginger, tamarind paste, honey, and oil. Add lamb chops and toss well to coat. Cover bowl and marinate in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours.
  2. Heat grill (barbeque) to high, and cook lamb chops a few minutes on each side (I like them medium rare, so about 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Cook a few minutes longer on each side for medium or well done).
  3. Squeeze lime juice over lamb chops and serve with raita.
  4. For raita: Grate cucumber and sprinkle with a bit of salt. Allow to rest for a few minutes than squeeze out and discard excess liquid. Mix cucumber and mint into yogurt. Add salt to taste. Garnish with a sprig of mint

Indian Spiced Yogurt Chicken

Recipe by: Alexandra Nardi

Indian Yogurt Chicken

Indian Spiced Yogurt Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes, more if you like it spicy
  • 1 tsp Garam Masala (see recipe below)*
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (fresh coriander), including stems, and a few sprigs for garnish
  • thumb size piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt (I use Greek yogurt)
  • 1 whole chicken, cut into 6 or 8 pieces
  1. Grind cumin, coriander, and mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle until broken down (but not into a powder). Pour into a medium bowl and add turmeric, salt, chili flakes, garam masala, cilantro, garlic and ginger. Add yogurt and stir to combine. Add chicken pieces and coat with yogurt mixture. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to four.
  2. Heat the grill (barbeque) to medium heat. Cook chicken for about 20-25 minutes, turning over once (wings and drumsticks will cook faster than the breast and thigh pieces).  Garnish with cilantro sprigs and serve.

*You can of course buy garam masala, which is a blend of different spices in powder form. I like to make my own, as I have found that it really makes a difference if you use fresh spices. So, if i plan to cook with garam masala, I make the garam masala myself and keep it in a jar, where it stays potent for a few months. I use one of the garam masala recipes from Indian Vegetarian Cookery, by Jack Santa Maria. This no frills book (no pictures!) is a really good book to use as a launch into cooking Indian food, and it has been a great learning tool for me.

Garam Masala (by Jack Santa Maria)

To make your garam masala, in a mortar and pestle grind together:

  • 4 parts black peppercorns
  • 4 parts coriander seed
  • 3 parts cumin seed or fennel seed (i just do both)
  • 1 part cloves
  • 1 part cardamom seeds (just crush the pod to release the seeds)
  • 1 part cinnamon

Flourless Vanilla Thyme Loaf and My Friend Lil

It’s been a few weeks since I have posted any new recipes. I usually cook and shoot over the weekend, and last weekend, our apartment was a flooded watery mess. Three times! It wasn’t even close to the same impact as Sandy, and I’m not complaining. In fact, it made me feel oddly closer to home, and perhaps prepared me only slightly for what I will see when I visit NYC at the start of next year.

I wanted to complain while trying to contain the water flow in the apartment though. My back was hurting, the floor was looking more warped by the second, everyone was arguing about where the water was coming from and the most effective way to stop it… But I found my strategy early on. Just get into a bailing rythm, and channel my friend Lili.

My friend Lili (Olivia) has an insane work ethic, and she never bails (no pun intended). She also happens to be the most talented pastry chef I know. She can do everything from amazing novelty cakes to simple, delicious, down-home treats. If you’re lucky, you will taste one of her legendary Oaties– a cookie that, before Lili, was a myth no one could succesfully make into a reality.  Since she moved to Barcelona a few months ago, the time difference and our work schedules have made it virtually impossible for us to skype, but I wanted to keep channeling Lil! So after the floods had passed and a new weekend arrived, I brought some Lili inspired ideas to the kitchen.

She makes an amazing Vanilla Thyme Loaf, and I decided to use her brilliant flavor combo in a flourless version. The thyme and vanilla are subtle–the thyme, like the vanilla, acts as an essence–and after a hectic few weeks, the flavors are also calming and comforting. This flourless version is super moist and it’s great with tea or coffee. I shamelessly smear butter over a slice and have it with my morning tea.

Flourless Vanilla Thyme Loaf

(Adapted from Olivia Figel’s Vanilla Thyme Loaf)

  • 2 1/2 cups almond meal*
  • 2 tblspn coconut flour*
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup melted butter, cooled to room temp
  • 1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 tspn chopped fresh thyme leaves

* You can find almond meal and coconut flour at health food stores. In Brisbane, a lot of the big supermarkets are also starting to carry them. Coconut flour is just very finely ground coconut. I usually make my almond meal at home by grinding raw almonds finely in a small food processor or bar mix.

1. Preheat oven to 350 F /175 C, and butter a loaf pan (I use 8.5 by 4.5 by 2.5 inches).

2. In a medium bowl, mix first five ingredients.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Add honey, butter, and vanilla extract and mix well. Add egg mixture and thyme to dry ingredients, and mix until well combined, making sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl.

4. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Cover the loaf pan with foil and bake for another 35 to 45 minutes. The loaf is ready when a toothpick comes out clean and the edges of the cake are firm and center has some resistance.

The Underground Pizza Party: Whole Wheat Pizza Crust and 3 Yummy Pizzas

Pizza needs no introduction.

Italy and I are on much better terms now. After making my Honey Pickled Figs, I made contact with a very distant relative in Italy who offered his help in getting the documents I need, reminding me of the genuine hospitality I often encountered there from complete strangers. From that memory, the positive ones started to replace the negatives, and after having a few friends over for delicious homemade pizzas, Project I Love Italy was a complete success. Italy, I love you (But I might very well hate you again if there is another snafu). Thus is the nature of the love-hate relationship you inspire, especially Rome.

Making homemade pizza dough is so easy and so good, and serving up pizza made from scratch somehow never fails to impress. It gives the impression of hours of work, but as long as you have your ingredients organized well, actual hand-on time isn’t much and it’s fun. Plus, everyone loves a pizza party, and yes, I am talking about adults. I often have a few friends over to make pizzas and I’ll get the dough and ingredients ready, and everyone can build a pie they like. Or sometimes they just want me to feed them, which is okay too. Everyone always wants the crust recipe though, and before you know it, there is a bizarre kind of underground pizza party circuit (and if you are my friend Zach, who called me up for my pizza dough recipe and then secretly held several pizza parties, it becomes an exclusive affair. You owe me a pizza!). And so, a mighty tasty trend begins.

I adapted my pizza crust recipe from of the pizza dough recipe of one of many red-headed chefs in the US celebrity chef circuit–Bobby Flay (recipe). It’s really solid, and works if you only have all-purpose flour on hand. I’ve added whole wheat flour to the recipe and I take it through the fermenting process to give it better flavor and extra nutrition. This means, if your pizza meal is not a last-minute throw together, you should plan to make your dough about 24 hours before you actually serve it so it has time to ferment properly (I explain the easy process below in my crust recipe).

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 sachet dry yeast (7 grams/ .25 oz / 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (I use raw sugar but white sugar, brown sugar, and honey also work)
  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour plus extra for kneading
  • 1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons good salt
  • 2 tablespoon olive oil plus a few teaspoons extra for coating

1. In a large bowl, add lukewarm water, yeast, and sugar. Allow to rest at least ten minutes, or until surface is covered in little bubbles.

2. In a small bowl, mix flours and salt.

3. Add olive oil to yeast mixture, then add flour mixture and combine. If it is too sticky, add a bit more bread flour.

4. Lightly dust surface with bread flour, and knead dough for a solid 10-12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and very elastic. Add more flour to your hands and surface as needed. Roll dough into a ball.

5. Ferment: Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl in which it has enough room to rise by 2x its original size and cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Put the bowl in the fridge and allow it to ferment for 8 to 36 hours.

(If you don’t plan to ferment the dough, leave bowl in a warm spot in the house, cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until doubled in size–about 1 1/2 hours. Separate the dough into 2, 3, or 4 pieces depending on how big you want your pizzas, roll into a ball, and allow to rest for 20 minutes under loosely fitted plastic wrap. Then they are ready to use).

6. The second rise: About an  hour before you want to serve your pizza, remove dough from the fridge. Gently push the air out with your fingertips, and divide the dough into 3 equal parts ( two for large pizzas, or 4-6 pieces for small pizzas). Roll the three pieces into balls, place on a lightly oiled tray and cover loosely with lightly oiled cellophane. Allow to rise again for about 45 minutes.

7. Pre-heat oven to the hottest it will get–most standard ovens will go to about 500 F. Roll out your dough to 1/4 inch thick or a bit thicker if you like a thick crust, brush with olive oil, and add topping. Bake until crust is nicely browned. (I make one pizza at a time, and we eat it before making the next.)

Other pointers:

  • Depending on the brand of  flour you use, the amount you need will vary. Always start with a bit less than the recipe calls for and add more if necessary. If you are using all-purpose flour instead of bread flour, you won’t need nearly as much. Start with half the quantity and add more as you go. I recommend using bread flour if you can find it though, as it makes for a much crisper crust, while all-purpose flour will give you a more chewy and somewhat tough crust. They stock bread flour in most supermarkets.
  • I roll my crust out thinly instead of rounding it with my knuckles, and the crust perimeter comes out nice and crisp. The hotter the oven, the crisper your base (put it on full whack), and pizza stones really help with that crisp bottom in a standard oven.
  • I usually make three pizzas with 1 crust recipe, and it easily feeds four people. Then again, if I make it for only me and Anders, we somehow manage to get through it on our own. Instead of baking three or four pizzas when it’s just the two of us, I make pizza with about half the dough, then par-bake a few pizza bases with the other half. I keep them in the freezer for when we get sudden pizza cravings and want to throw together a quick meal. To par-bake: roll or flip your dough into the size you want, poke it all over with fork, and bake it in the oven for 4 or 5 minutes. When it is completely cooled, lay it flat in a plastic bag and freeze it. When you are ready to use it, pull it out of the freezer and let it defrost (only takes about 20 mins), brush with olive oil, and add whatever toppings you want. Cook for 10 to 15  minutes at 425 F. I use my pizza bases within a month.
  • I make my crust the old-fashioned way–kneading. If you prefer to use a stand mixer, go to Bobby Flay’s pizza dough recipe where you can find stand mixer instructions.

Ideas for Pizzas:

Here are a few of my favorite Pizza combos. They make substantial pizzas that give you a meal that isn’t all crust and pizza sauce (which is good too of course):

Pickled Fig and Ricotta Pizza

 Ingredients:

  • Honey Pickled figs (follow link to recipe)
  • Plain or smoked ricotta cheese*
  • Milk (optional)*
  • Rosemary
  • Orange zest
  • Honey
  • Olive oil, sea salt, pepper

*I use good quality ricotta for this, and it tends to be light and creamy. If you are using denser stuff, you can mix it with a splash of milk to soften it up a bit before adding to pizza. In the past, I have also used cream and feta, or mascarpone and goat’s cheese with this pizza.

Pre-heat the oven to the hottest it will get–most standard ovens will go to about 500 F. Brush olive oil onto rolled out dough. Spread a thin layer of ricotta onto base, then place larger spoonfuls of ricotta on top. Scatter chopped pickled figs and fresh rosemary needles over ricotta.  Bake until crust is nice and brown. Drizzle with honey, and sprinkle with orange zest, sea salt, and black pepper before serving.

*If you are in NYC, you might be able to find smoked ricotta from Salvatore Bklyn. They usually carry it at Union Market. It adds an extra element to this pizza and I am definitely missing it! I plant to start making ricotta soon, so perhaps I will try smoking it as well… I’ll share if it is a success.

Fennel, Sausage, and Leek Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 free-range pork or chicken sausages, casings removed*
  • 1/2 fennel bulb, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 leek, halved lengthwise then chopped crosswise about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 red or white onion (optional), sliced 1/4 inch thick
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • Mozzarella (I use sliced bocconcini, but shredded or chopped mozzarella are good too)
  • Parmesan
  • Olive oil

*If you are in the Brisbane area, Coles recently started carrying a line of affordable free-range pork products

1. Pre-heat the oven to the hottest it will get–most standard ovens will go to about 500 F. In a hot pan with just a little bit of olive oil, add sausage and break into small pieces with a spoon as you cook. Cook for about 4 minutes, til almost done, but still a bit pink in the center. Put pork to the side, add a bit of oil to the pan, and saute fennel, leeks, onion, and fennel seeds until veggies start to soften, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat.

2. Brush Pizza base with olive oil. Scatter veggies, sausage, and mozzarella onto base, and grate some parmesan cheese over it. Bake until crust is nice and brown, and serve.

Egg, Salami, and Olive Pizza

Ingredients:

  • 3 or 4 Eggs
  • a few pinches chili flakes (optional)
  • Pizza sauce
  • Mozzarella (I use sliced bocconcini, but shredded or chopped mozzarella are good too)
  • Salami, like sopressata or pepperoni, thinly sliced
  • Olives, halved lengthwise
  • Olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to the hottest it will get–most standard ovens will go to about 500 F. Brush a pizza base with olive oil, and coat with think layer of pizza sauce. Scatter mozzarella, olives, and salami over pizza and sprinkle with a few pinches of chili flakes if you want a bit of heat. Cook pizza until crust is almost browned and pizza is approximately  a minute or two from done. Remove pizza from oven, and gently crack 3 or 4 eggs onto pizza. Carefully put pizza back in oven, and cook about 1 minute longer for a runny yolk, or 2-3 minutes for a firm yolk. Serve with some fresh basil if it is in season.