Monday, April 27, 2015

Cheese Babka

I just returned from trip #3 to Poland.  This trip was quite different than the others.  We weren't on our genealogical journey this time; we were there for Actor Boy's marriage to the lovely "M".  If you believe in fate, this union is one to put in the journal.  Both AB and M were attending the same conference, she from Warsaw and he from Toronto and met in Montreal.  Although many say that long distance relationships are particularly challenging, this one seemed to thrive and after many cross Atlantic visits for extended periods at a time, they decided to tie the knot.

Each trip reminded me of my European roots; the phrases people use to describe things, the quirky shared history that summons both grief and uncontrollable laughter, words in a foreign language that I remember hearing my parents say and most familiar - the food.  I would often think to myself that I used to have this or a version of it at home. And the pastries - simple, plentiful (every street corner type of plentiful) and delicious.  It's easy to see how I developed a love for, no... love isn't exactly the word, it's more like obsession for European cuisine.  It started with Polish recipes and has now spread to the rest of Europe and moving into Asia.  I keep thinking that one of these days my European recipes on Pinterest will just explode but for the time being, we'll go through them one at a time.  It's a good thing there's a fair amount of overlap in European cuisine; often different names for the same thing with maybe just a little twist here or there.  Some recipes have ingredients that are similar but not the same as North American varieties so the challenge is always to recreate flavours with twists here or there.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much.

Today I decided to give the Cheese Babka a whirl.  Even the name "babka" is endearing - it means "grandmother" so we associate this sweet with a kindly old grandmother kneading and filling pastries for her family to enjoy.  What could give you a warmer feeling of home than that vision?  Afraid of yeasted doughs?  Don't be.  This recipe is so simple and the hardest part of the whole thing is waiting for the dough to rise.


2 pkg active dry yeast
1/2 tsp and 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup 110 degree water
1 cup milk
4 oz. (1 stick) softened butter
1 tsp salt
3 large beaten egg yolks - reserve 1 egg white for basting top before baking
5 cups all-purpose flour


36 oz. softened cream cheese ***
3 large egg yolks
1 1/2 cups sugar

Crumb Topping

8 Tbsp all-purpose flour
8 Tbsp sugar
4 Tbsp cold butter

*** The cream cheese in this recipe is a dry curd cheese or quark cheese that's a full milk variety and when you mix it, becomes very smooth and cream cheese like.  Don't use the Philadelphia style cream cheese.

Prepare 3 - 9x5 bread pans (you can either spray them or grease with a little canola oil)


Stir the yeast and 1/2 tsp sugar into warm water.  Set aside until frothy.

Scald the milk and place in a large mixing bowl or stand mixer.  Add soften butter and stir to melt.   Add 1/2 cup sugar, salt, yeast mixture and the 3 beaten egg yolks.

Add the flour and knead until shiny and elastic.  Place in a greased bowl, turning to coat both sides; cover with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled.  This could take a couple of hours.

The Crumb Topping

Mix the flour and sugar and cut in cold butter as you would for a pie crust until it's crumbly.


Punch down dough and divide into three equal parts.  Working with one part at a time while covering the rest, roll into a large rectangle 1/8 - inch thick.

Spread dough with 1/3 of the cheese filling.  Fold the short sides towards the centre (about1 1/2 inches of dough) and roll up the long side away from you.( the way you would make a jellyroll)  Place into prepared bread pan.

Brush with beaten egg white and sprinkle with 1/3 of the crumb topping.  Repeat with remaining two dough balls.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest until the dough rises above the rim of the pan.

Place the rack in centre of the oven and heat to 350 F.  Bake babkas for 40-50 or until an instant-read thermometer registers 190 degrees.  Let cool in pan for 5 minutes.  Using a knife, loosen babka from sides of pan.  Cool completely in the loaf pan.

There's always some learning when we follow a recipe for the first time.  I learned:

1.  Make sure there isn't an overabundance of moisture in your final mixed cheese filling.
2.  Don't be impatient with the rising process.  It takes as much time as it takes and works better when your dough is in a warmer part of your kitchen.
3.  Just because you may like raisins, overloading the babka with goodness isn't always going to get you the outcome you're looking for.  I think I went a little crazy on the raisins.
4.  I didn't put the crumble on the top - I think having it there would have been a good addition  OR I can still put icing sugar over the top.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Roast Chicken and Spinach Panini

Not that long ago Psychgrad and "R" were having visitors for a few days.  I was asked what an appropriate gift would be for them.  Who knows??  But ... rather than ask them which is probably what I should have done in the first place, I said "get them a panini press, I'm sure they'd love it".  This was not a "my bad" situation but rather one of those moments that I probably should have thought about whether or not they had the space to store another appliance.  What I thought about was how simple and yummy it would be to create new flavours rather easily and open up a new sandwich world.

Well, I wasn't wrong!  "R" seems to have taken to panini making rather passionately and tells me that he's already made  Prosciutto and Pesto , Pear and Brie , Toasted Whole Grain Apple and Cheddar , and  Roast Chicken and Spinach

To me, the beauty is really in the flavour - choosing great combinations, putting them on wonderful bread and letting the magic create.  Ultimately, don't they all pretty much look alike?  I can't usually tell an Italian panini from a Cuban sandwich in appearance, but taste, well, that's a whole other story.

"R"'s Roast Chicken and Spinach Panini  looks absolutely "to die for".  I'm really not sorry I suggested this gift since I am planning a trip in the not to distant future and would be more than happy to have "R" demo several different sandwiches for my eating pleasure.

I want this right now!!!


Monday, February 16, 2015

Eggplant Caprese Stacks

Where has the time gone.  Seriously, I always have really good intentions about getting a post completed today.  Everyday is "today" and I guess you know the rest of the "good intention" story.  

We're in sunny California and so grateful to be out of the gripping cold that has this firm grip on the north east.  My brother arrived the other day and brought with him what he calls his "new favourite cookbook".  He's determined to cook every recipe in the book.  Maybe we'll see a "Wheat Belly, The Musical" opening on Broadway.  He's already  tried several of the recipes and suggested that we would absolutely love them.  We took the challenge and decided to try one for dinner.

We were pleasantly surprised.  My brother, who is affectionately known as the health nut of our family always has new natural remedies for everything that ails.  When he brought his new favourite we all admitted a little skepticism.  I take it back - this book is the bomb!  Who even knew that ground flax works as efficiently as bread crumbs.  Now I know!!  I would make this recipe again - it's wonderful and we're going to continue with the recipes in the book.

Makes 4 servings

1 eggplant cut into eight 1/2" slices
1/4 cup ground golden flaxseeds
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 tsp Italian Seasoning Mix (see recipe below)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg, beaten
4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2 tomatoes, each cut into four 1/2" thick slices**
16 large fresh basil leaves
8 oz fresh mozzarella, cut into 4 equal slices

Lightly grease a baking sheet.

In a shallow bowl or dish, combine the flaxseeds, 1/4 cup of the Parmesan, the seasoning mix, and salt.  Place the egg in another shallow bowl or dish.  Dip a slice of the eggplant into the egg until both sides are moistened.  Dredge in the flaxseed mixture to coat.  Place the breaded eggplant on a plate.  Repeat until all the slices have been coated.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat 2 Tbsp of the oil until hot.  Cook the eggplant, covered, for 8 minutes, turning once, or until browned on both sides and tender when pierced with a fork.  If needed, add 1 Tbsp of the remaining oil during cooking  Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.

Meanwhile, preheat the broiler.  Place the tomato slices in a single layer on the baking sheet.  Drizzle with the remaining 1 Tbsp oil and sprinkle each with 1/2 Tbsp of the remaining Parmesan.  Broil for 4 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Remove and set aside.

On 4 plates, place the 4 largest eggplant slices.  Top each slice with a broiled Parmesan tomato, 2 basil leaves, and a mozzarella slice.  Top with the remaining eggplant slices, a Parmesan tomato and 2 basil leaves.

Italian Seasoning Mix

2 Tbsp dried basil
2 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp dried rosemary, crushed
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 Tbsp dried garlic powder
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 tsp ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients and store in an air tight container