The Best Thing I Ate All Day in Israel: Part 1

A few years ago, on a trip to Umbria, I started playing a little travel game in my mind. Each day I  kept track of all the things I ate. At the end of the night, I decided which bite reigned supreme. I had the opportunity to play last month when I visited Israel to attend my nephew’s induction ceremony into the Israeli army.Richard Flag and RileyThis was my 13th trip to Israel. Each time I visit, I marvel at how much there is to do and see in this tiny country. If you have never been, or it’s been a while since you last visited, you will be amazed by how modern and sophisticated the culinary scene has become. It’s not all hummus and falafel. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.sabichfalafel at at miznonTo understand how the new Israeli cuisine evolved, you need to take a look in the rear-view mirror to examine the roots of the people of this nation.  One of the most multi-ethnic countries in the world, Chef Rozanne Gold said that “I can’t think of another group of people with a spoon in so many pots.” Immigrants from Eastern Europe, Germany, France, England, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Syria, to name a few, have all influenced Israeli cuisine. Add to that the proclivity of Israeli youth to travel the world once their mandatory military service is over, bringing back with them ingredient and techniques of a multitude of cuisines, and the result is a new Israeli cuisine that is boldly flavourful, unabashedly joyous and wildly innovative. 

The best bite of our third day was at OCD, in Tel Aviv. This restaurant is the brainchild of Chef Raz Rahav. At only 25 years old, he is creating some of the most exciting food in Tel Aviv in a stunning setting.Raz Rahav forbesI don’t think that industrial-barn falls under any design style I have ever heard of but it describes the interior perfectly.seatingAs the name suggests, Chef Rahav is obsessed with precision and complex artistic plating. But flavour does not take a back seat.plating duckThere are 2 seatings every night, each accommodating 18 guests around a u-shaped bar with an open kitchen in the center. Watching the chefs plate each course, you get the sense that this is more theatre than restaurant. There is no written menu. As each course is set before you, the chef gives a verbal explanation, either in English or Hebrew.

The day before our dinner, the restaurant emailed us to find out if we had any dietary restrictions. They will tailor the meal for you if there are certain things you do not eat, but, they ask you to come with an open mind. On their website they promise that there are no insects on the menu!

Often restaurants offering tasting menus can be a little formal and stuffy. Not OCD! You know that any meal that begins with a donut is going to be a fun night. Just a heads up here, we shot  with my daughter’s iPhone and the lighting was not the greatest for food photography. Luckily Elliott S over at trip advisor had many of the same courses and got way better shots than we did. I have tagged his photos appropriately. Thanks Elliott! I also used some of Chef Rahav’s  photos from his instagram account @razi_barvazi

We were greeted with a Sufganiya (hebrew for donut). A tiny little bite, about the size of a Timbit, filled with smoked labneh, sherry vinegar, and a rosemary and olive tapenade. A little flavour bomb. 001. SufganiyaWatching them plate the dishes was almost as much fun as eating the delicious results.plating Israeli dounutsThe first course was a Red Snapper Tartare. It was served with a Whipped Tomato Bavarois, Seaweed and a Poppy Seed Parker House Roll. What surprised us was that the tomato component was white—because it was made only from the water in which the tomato was simmered.  The tartare was fresh and delicate, but it was the Parker House Roll that stole my heart. Chef Rahav respects textural contrasts. The crunch of the wafer thin fried seaweed garnish and those poppy seeds made me very happy.002. Red Snapper TartareThe second course was a Trout Sashimi with Smoked Cucumbers, Melon, Sorrel Flowers and Nigella Seeds Crackers.03. Trout SashimiThe tartare was followed up with an amuse bouche of Fried Mochi with Shallot Cream, Pickled Shallots and Cured Sardines. Our server suggested we eat it in one bite. We obliged and were rewarded with a flavour explosion in the mouth.004. MochiThird course was Beef Tartare with Smoked Ratte Potato and Red Sorrel.

Our fourth course was Steamed European Seabass with Oats, Cashew and Pumpkin-Curry Crab Bisque. That crispy thing you see on top is an oat tuile! Chef Rahav is a master at contrasting textures. 006. Steamed European Seabass 2The fifth course was a love letter to the humble parsnip. The parsnips were roasted to coax out their natural sweetness. Salted pecans provided the crunch and a bone marrow maple jus added the perfect sweet-savory balance. instagram ParsnipsCourse number six was Duck Breast with Turnips, Brandy and Bone Marrow Crumble.duck-breast by elliott SThe careful attention to detail extended even to the bathrooms where the hand towels are lined up like little soldiers.towels in bathroomWhen dinner begins with a donut and ends with three desserts, it’s a good night in my world.

Course seven was the best bite of the day! Aerated Honey Parfait, (dusted with carrot powder)  Candied Walnuts, Goat Cheese and Raisins. The texture of the aerated parfait was like chiffon. It just dissolved in my mouth. It reminded us of carrot cake, but a very sophisticated one!honey-parfait by ElliottScarrot powderThe honey parfait was followed up with the most unusual palate cleanser I have ever eaten. It was a G&T Granita with Sour Cream, Pears, Parsnips and Pine Nuts. Not being a gin lover, it was the only dish I did not finish.g-t-granita by elliott sThe second dessert was called, Buckwheat Textures, which featured pickled cherries and salted caramel. Enough said!011. Buckwheat texturesOur final course of the night was a Sweet Pea Ice Cream Bar. A perfect end to a very special evening.012a. Sweet pea Ice cream Bar

 

Smoked Almond Shortbread Sandwich Cookies

dipped 1cookies with jar of caramelized white chocolateI’m not going to lie. One of the reasons I wanted to make these cookies was that they gave me an excuse to buy one of these. I have always wanted a pastry docker. They look like so much fun to use. Of course the docker is not mandatory. You can always poke the dough with a fork to prevent it from puffing up. But a docker is so much more amusing. Plus, it doubles as a great back scratcher. DockingThe recipe for these comes from the brilliant mind of cookie wizard, Mindy Segal. I wrote about her book, “Cookie Love”, a few weeks ago.

I strongly urge you to bake these cookies very soon. My lame-ass description of these cookies can’t possibly live up to just how delicious they are. A filling of caramelized white chocolate buttercream and raspberry jam is sandwiched between two smoked almond shortbread cookies. To further embellish them, Mindy asks us to dip them  into bittersweet chocolate. I have learned to do exactly what Mindy tells me to. She has yet to lead me astray. circle 625 sqIf you are a passionate cookie person, you owe it to yourself, and your loved ones, to make these cookies. Admittedly, in typical Mindy style, there are a few recipes required to produce these cookies, but you can spread the work out over 2 days if you like.

Start with the dough. You will need to grind salted smoked almonds with some all purpose flour in the food processor.Cookie IngredientsGround almonds and flourDo yourself a favour and roll out dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper while the dough is still soft. Then, chill dough and cut into shapes.Cookie Dough 1Divide dough into 2I drew a rectangle on my parchment paper, so I would know exactly how much to roll it out. rolling dough 1
rolling dough 2cutting cookies into squaresThe caramelized white chocolate filling begins with roasting good quality white chocolate in the oven for about 20 minutes. Give it a stir and continue roasting and stirring until it looks like peanut butter. You can buy caramelized white chocolate if you wish to save some time. White ChocolateCaramelizing 1Caramelizing 2Caramelizing 3About 1/4 cup of the caramelized white chocolate is incorporated into a butter and icing sugar frosting. To make your life easier, put frosting into a piping bag, fitted with a round tip. Mindy also gives a recipe for making your own raspberry preserves, but I decided to use a good quality store bought raspberry jam.

Start by piping a W on half the cookies. Piping buttercream 1Piping buttercream closeupDollop on a scant spoonful of raspberry jam and swirl with the buttercream. Raspberry jamjam closeupswirling jamTop each frosted cookie with a lid and chill just until filling firms up. Then dip in chocolate and chill to set the chocolate. dipping

Click here to print recipe for Smoked Almond Shortbread Sandwich Cookies. Smoked Almond Shortbread Sandwich Cookies.

rectangle

broken cookie

 

Egg-in-a-hole-Avocado Toast

4 toasts 2
Egg-in-a-hole used to be one of my favourite meals as a child. I loved taking the little round piece of toast and poking it into the center of the egg, watching the runny golden yolk ooze out. I had completely forgotten about this egg dish until Tieghan Gerard, over at Half Baked Harvest, had the genius idea to turn it into a new way to eat avocado toast.

She topped hers with mashed avocado, corn, nectarines and feta cheese. We are not quite in nectarine season here, so I decided to roast some little cherry tomatoes with the corn. Mine got a topping of ricotta salata, basil and cilantro. A squirt of hot sauce or some pickled jalapeños would also be quite delicious if that’s more your jam. What you'll need

tomatoes and corn ready for roastingThe tomatoes and corn spend about 20 minutes in a hot oven, getting all golden brown and delicious. This gives you time to mash the avocados and make the egg-in-a-hole toasts.avoeggs in hole2 toasts 1This is comfort food at its finest. It would make a beautiful brunch, but I love it best for dinner. There is something a little bit indulgent about having breakfast for dinner. 1 toast

Click here to print recipe for Egg-in-hole Avocado Toast.

1 toast yolk broken 1 625 sq

Cinnamon Brickle Rugelach

with tea 2 dpiAccording to my sister Bo, if I post any more of Melissa Clark‘s recipes I will be veering dangerously close into stalker territory. We both have a bit of a girl crush on Melissa. She is pretty awesome. To date, I have posted 9 of her recipes on my blog. I think that 10 is the line I must not cross or the restraining order will be shortly forthcoming.

Not to worry Melissa, I have a new girl crush. Her name is Mindy Segal. Although her book, Cookie Love, was released in 2015, for some reason, I just discovered it last month. Which, for a cookie fanatic like me, is kind of surprising. Mindy has turned the cookie world on it’s ear, taking the classics and updating them into fun and most decidedly delicious little bites.

Deciding which cookie to bake first, from this gem of a book, was not easy. As you can see, I have bookmarked lots.cookie loveThis is not a book for those looking for simple mix and scoop cookies. Many of the recipes in this book involve multiple steps and several “mini recipes” within a recipe. If that sort of thing bugs you, then this is not the book for you. If you are looking to up your cookie game, and enjoy spending time in the kitchen, creating little master pieces, then look no further, you have found your guru.

I decided to start with her cinnamon brickle rugelach. Rugelach, for the uninitiated, are a small Jewish pastry, of Eastern European origin. You can learn more about the history of rugelach in this post.

For these cookies you need to make a cream cheese dough, cinnamon nut brickle, and caramel sauce. All three of these components can be done several days ahead and you can assemble and bake the rugelach on another day if you like.

I started with the caramel sauce. Mindy’s recipe makes a generous 4 cups, and you really only need about 1/4 of this amount for the rugelach. But the caramel sauce keeps in the fridge for 6 months and it’s always a good idea to have some caramel sauce around in case of emergency.  I don’t know about your emergencies, but some of mine can be resolved with a spoonful of salted caramel sauce. You can of course buy caramel sauce in a jar, but please don’t. Homemade is so much better. caramel sauceWhile the caramel sauce is cooling, make the cream cheese dough.cream cheese doughcutting circleThis is a supple dough, easy to roll, with no cracking. Mindy suggests you roll it into a rectangle and then cut it into triangles. I read her instructions for doing this 3 times and could not figure it out. Geometry was never my strong suit. I decided to form mine into a circle, and used a 13 inch round plate to make my circle perfect, because that’s how we roll around here.

The dough needs to chill for about 30 minutes before you can make the rugelach, so go on to the cinnamon nut brickle. Brickle refers to something with little elasticity; hence it is easily cracked or fractured or snapped. Does anyone else remember Butter Brickle Ice Cream from their childhood? My mom used to buy the “light” version and we’d end up eating twice as much.

We’re essentially making nut toffee here. Butter, sugar and cinnamon are heated until melted. Mixed salted nuts are coated in this concoction and then tipped out onto a baking sheet to harden.nut brickleThen get out the food processor and make some noise. There will be leftover brickle after forming your rugelach. It will keep for over a month, and is excellent on yogurt or ice cream, in case of another emergency.chopped brickleNow for some fun.

 

I altered Mindy’s recipe slightly, using less caramel sauce and less brickle than she does. spreading caramel saucesprinkling brickleA pastry wheel or pizza cutter make quick work of forming the wedges. You could also use a sharp knife. cutting rugelachrolling rugelachMake sure you brush with beaten egg whites so that the cinnamon sugar will stick. Mindy topped her rugelach with more brickle, but I found that most of it just fell off and burned on the baking sheet, so I left that step out. I did however, sprinkle them lightly with flaked sea salt (Maldon), before baking. The salt really balances out the sweetness of the caramel sauce and brickle filling. ready for bakingThe rugelach will ooze quite a bit of their filling so don’t be alarmed. Those little pools of ooze will harden into a delicious toffee. Keep a ring of the toffee around each rugelach for a more delicious treat. caramel oozing on baking sheet

Click here to print recipe for Cinnamon Brickle Rugelach.

with tea 1one rugelach

 

 

 

Roasted Butternut Squash and Israeli Couscous Salad

in white round bowlHope life is treating you well this week. We are in full-on purge mode around here. We’re planning to downsize shortly. It’s amazing the amount of junk you can accumulate in 23 years.  Getting rid of stuff is not my husband’s forte. He still has all his high school essays. (He got an A+ in his Family Studies paper on “The cost of setting up a home for newlyweds” – it was the 70’s!) He kept all the cards from our wedding. We have been married for over 30 years. He also kept every birthday and father’s day card from me and the kids.

I wasn’t hopeful that he would be able to dispose of very much. But once he began shredding, he couldn’t stop. And then he discovered Kijiji. Things have been flying out of here at an alarming rate. It has become quite cathartic for him. I’m afraid that if I stay still for too long he might put me up for sale on Kijiji. I can just imagine the ad:

“Pre-owned, but very well-maintained wife for sale. All parts original. A little slow to start up in the morning, but motor begins purring after an extra-hot latte.” Will accept any reasonable offers.”

This salad was inspired by a forgotten bag of Israeli couscous I discovered sitting at the back of my pantry in a cleaning spree. The addition of roasted butternut squash is the clever idea of Daniel Gritzer over at seriouseats.com. Start by toasting the uncooked Israeli couscous in a bit of olive oil.Toasting cous cousAdd boiling water and salt and cook couscous.adding boiling waterI recently learned that squash is an excellent source of potassium. Apparently acorn squash is the champion, but butternut is a close second, and I find it much easier to peel. All those ridges in acorn squash scare me. If you need a primer on peeling and cutting butternut, check out the video in this post.chopping squash Toss squash with some olive oil, salt and pepper. Add some smoked paprika too, because everything is better with smoked paprika.ready for roastingA jolt of freshness is provided by lots of green (scallions, mint and parsley) and yellow (lemon).lemon and herbsready to assemble

Click here to print recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash and Israeli Couscous Salad.

in white oval bowl