Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mega gluten-free chocolate cookies

Passover is the not just the holiday of freedom or spring, it is a known fact that here in Israel it is the holiday of the Celiac inflicted. Except for matzo and matzo flour, everything in Passover is gluten-free: from pasta to wafers. We sometimes stock up gluten-free provisions for the whole year because it is available cheaply only in Passover.  There is also the issue of eating and cooking for the Seder night where the best part is the desserts; they are all gluten-free for Passover (unless they're made with matzo).  
Now some recipes make the transition to non-gluten flour very easily and some fail entirely but the cookies I present here pass the gluten-free test in flying colors. This is due to the fact that they comprise more than 1kg of chocolate and not much more. In my household of severe chocoholics these cookies are a huge success and they are quick and easy to make. They will also impress people very much because homemade cookies are not that common anymore. The best thing about them besides their divine taste in that the house smells like a Parisian patisserie for hours.
Here is the recipe. It is based on Carin Goren (a baking guru here in Israel and admired by my daughters like a rock star.) 
450gr dark chocolate chopped
300gr dark chocolate chips
300gr white chocolate chips
170gr butter or butter tasting margarine
 4 eggs
300gr sugar
70gr (half a cup) gluten-free flour (cornflour)
1/2 tea spoon baking powder
1 tea spoon salt
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 centigrade
  2. Line 3 to 4 baking form or trays with baking paper
  3. Melt in the microwave the butter and dark chocolate and mix well.
  4. Whip in a mixer the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes until a light fluffy mixture forms.
  5. Fold the chocolate and butter into the eggs.
  6. Sift the dry ingredients into a separate bowl and add them to the batter, mix till all is unified but not too much.
  7. Add the dark and white chocolate chips, fold them gently into the mix, the consistency will be quite liquid but that is okay.
  8. Form the cookies with an ice-cream spoon or a small cup: place a dollop of mixture and leave sufficient spaces between the cookies because they expand.
  9. Bake around 15 to 20 minutes, until the cookies appear shiny and solid.  If you don't have enough trays, bake the cookies in turns, keep the batter in refrigerator and cool the tray before lining them with another set of cookies.
  10. Wait till the cookies cool and then separate them from the tray and store them in cool and dry place. They're supposed to last a few days but they disappear in a blink of an eye.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Matzo brei version 2.0

Balkan style matzo brei with spinach and Cascaval cheese

Disclosure: the writer was a guest of Landver Coffee in Givataim.
Here in Israel during the week of Passover holiday, practically no bread is sold or any similar baked goods. The people of Israel have to do with matzo, a form of unleavened bread made only of wheat flour and water.  Now in my family we are not religious and we stack our freezer with bread to last us the whole week, but we still eat the obligatory matzo. The best way in my opinion to eat them is in the form of matzo brei; when you take the matzoth soak them in either water or milk and then crumble them into beaten eggs and fry the mixture with either butter or olive oil or margarine or any type of fat that'll make you happy.  Every ethnic group has a version of the dish but the basic ingredients are the same.
This week I've ate a completely new and tasty version of the traditional matzo brei. It was an upgraded version which I like to call "matzo brei version 2.0."  This new and improved version of the traditional dish is a part of a Passover menu that will be served in the Café Landver chain of coffee shops.  Landver is an old company of coffee vendors here in Israel; I like their coffee shops because they serve unsophisticated but good food and excellent coffee so I was really pleased to be invited to the menu launch in the newly opened Café Landver branch in the city of Givataim, a few minutes' drive from Tel-Aviv.
Landver Cafe in Givataim

The café is a neighborly venue; its interior décor in brown and yellow retro style gives it a cozy and inviting atmosphere. The food was excellent: from the breakfast menu of omelets with mushroom and goat cheese or the rustic pasta pesto with chicken and broccoli. The highlight though was the different types of matzo brei served in the new Passover menu.  There were two savory kinds; the Balkan with spinach and caşcaval cheese and the Greeck one with eggplants and goat cheese both really delicious. The best one in my opinion was the dessert dish of matzo brei with apples and cinnamon with whipped cream on the side, very decadent!

Eggplant roles Greek style matzo brei 
Viennese style dessert with matzo and apples

So if you're here for the holiday visiting or traveling try one of  the Landver Café branches for a delicious leisurely branch and don't forget to order matzo brei, the price range in between 27 to 29 NIS (about 7 US dollars) per dish.
Happy Passover!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The View from Belvoir

Brave knights in the hot sun
Oh look at us, brave knights crossing this mote infested with crocodiles to get into the castle where we'll slay the dragon and free the beautiful damsel in distress. Well, okay it's just me and the kids crossing the reconstructed bridge while exploring the wrecks of what once was Belvoir Fortress. Medieval relics hold a certain charm in my opinion. The picturesque images of walls, towers, motes and secret passages always ignites my imagination that was fed from a very early age in the Arthurian Tales of the Knights Of The Round Table, Robin Hood and Richard the Lionheart, Ivanhoe and more. Those tales have little to do with the actual facts and history but they make such great stories!

The Fort of Belvoir
Now let's get a few facts straight. Belvoir Fortress is a Crusader fortress in northern Israel, on a hill 20 km. south of the Sea of Galilee. It is a reconstructed fortress which is now a National Park. It is the most complete Crusader fortress in the country. Unlike Europe where medieval sites grew and developed over the years (like many towns in Tuscany, Italy or in the South of France), here in the Holyland with its many conquerors throughout history, most structures are ruined. Belvoir Fortress was initially part of a feudal estate of a French nobleman named Velos who lived in Tiberias. In 1168, it was sold to the Order of the Hospitaliers which turned it to a concentric castle.  The fortress served as a major obstacle to the Muslims invading the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem from the east. It withstood the attack of the Muslim forces in 1180. During the campaign of 1182, the Battle of Belvoir Castle was fought nearby between King Baldwin IV of Jerusalem and Saladin. Following Saladin's victory over the Crusaders at the battle of the Horns of Hittin, Belvoir was besieged. The siege lasted a year and a half, until the defenders surrendered on 5 January 1189. The fortifications of Belvoir were dismantled in 1217–18 by the Muslim rulers. In 1240 Belvoir was ceded to the Crusaders by agreement but lack of funds did not permit restoration of the fortifications and the fortress returned to Muslim control. In Hebrew it is known as Kohav Hayarden, meaning – Star of the Jordan which preserves the name of Kohav – a Jewish village which existed nearby during the Roman and Byzantine periods. 
A decorated stone that was probably taken from the Jewish settlement of Kochav.

I think we had enough of geography and history lessons, let's have some adventures! We wondered through the ruined fort built in black (basalt) and white (lime) stone letting our imagination run wild. We were a bit sorry that we didn’t take with us our sons' wooden sword and shield for duels and knight tournaments. We creped under the mote in secret passages that were meant to bypass the fortifications. I could actually see us as a brave bunch of spies finding our secret way into the castle with only a candle lighting our way. We climbed on the outer walls and enjoyed the wonderful view seen from the top of this hill, the Jordan Valley spread below us.

Trying to snick into the castle through a secret passage
As foodies and amateur cooks it is understandable that one of our favorite places in the fortress will be the kitchen. We stood in front of the stone ovens where the cooking fires burned, bread was baked and game was roasted for the brave (?) knights. It was easy for me to imagine a round table with the cavaliers sitting and munching roasted boar from the tips of their swords.
The castle's kitchen

Obviously all this food envisioning left us hungry. So we fared well to the ruined citadel on the hill and drove down to the valley to a restaurant that quickly became a favorite of ours, Rutenberg in Old Gesher (mentioned them before in this post) which is a 5 minutes' drive from the site.
There our jolly bunch of brave knights sat drinking wheat beer (or lemonade for knights under 18) feasting on terrific food like Tartar steak and fish in white sauce with prawns. 

Some good food from Rutenberg restaurant.
 The brave Sir DH took us in his lovely carriage while the rest of us were snoring peacefully all the way home.