Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Green Posole in a Green Kitchen

I don’t know what has overcome me. My, oh my. It must be in the beans. In the quest of trying to be healthier my husband has requested a diet of more beans and less white stuff. I know you know what I’m talking about. Because, it’s like, my favorite category of foods. Like sugar. And pasta. And rice. Let’s not forget about bread. Oh, it pains me just thinking about it.

But I’m trying to incorporate more of the good stuff, though in all honesty we didn’t overdue on the bad stuff. It’s just that our aging bodies need a kick in the ass butt. So this week without really intending to we started with black bean burgers on Monday. (They were pretty good and this morning my man ate them for breakfast with a fried egg on top. Perfect, I was told. I’ll give you that recipe one day.) Last night I came up with a  lemon, sage, shrimp, cauliflower, white bean pasta. Light on the pasta. It was pretty good, too.

And today I made this green posole with hominy and black beans. That can of hominy in the pantry was calling my name.  When it comes out of the food processor it is so intensely green that it looks like it could be too healthy for you. But then it cooks and it turns a bit dull. Except of course for the flavor. That was superb. Tart and garlicky and corny and fresh. (I can’t believe I just wrote that.) Perfect for any season and that’s the truth. It’s not too heavy and the texture of the hominy is so good. Soft and chewy. Kind of like my favorite chocolate chip cookies but not chocolate. And not sweet. Just corn like. And I like corn.

Typically the posole I find in Colorado is made with red chile and pork or chicken. This is a vegetarian posole though I do admit I used chicken broth. Feel free to substitute. I don’t eat a lot of meat so this was right up my alley. It comes together pretty fast after you get it all in the food processor. And it only needs a half hour to simmer. After pureeing the greens I decided that my kitchen and the puree matched perfectly.

 Don’t you agree? Whatever. This is good stuff and good for you.

Green Posole (Adapted from Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain)
1 roasted poblano chile or 1 small can of green chilies, drained 
1 11 ounce can of tomatillos drained, (these give tartness)
2 serrano chilies (seeded and deveined)
½ medium onion rough chopped
4 garlic cloves
1 c cilantro
½ c parsley
½ c kale or spinach (my daughter tells me there is a shortage of kale due to a freeze in CA. This is an unverified fact.)
1 t ground cumin
1 t oregano
¼ t allspice
2 15 oz cans chicken or vegetable broth
1 15 oz can black beans, drained
1 30 oz can hominy, drained
¼ c half and half, optional

Garnishes-Thinly sliced radishes, Crumbled or grated cheese, sour cream, lime wedges

Notes: I did not need salt. Lime juice is traditional but I thought it was tart enough.
Place green or poblano chilies, tomatillos, serranos, onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, kale or spinach , cumin, oregano, allspice and 2 c of broth in food processor. Blend until smooth.

Pour into pot with rest of broth, the hominy and black beans. Bring to a boil then turn down to low. Let simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Stir in ½ and ½  before serving.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Carne Asada, Yes Chef, and The Homesick Texan

 I love to exercise. Well, I do love to stretch. Does that count? Exercise is something I desperately need to improve at. Really, what I love to do is read. I love to go the library. I dream of being locked in overnight. That wouldn’t be a nightmare for me. I’d bring lots of good healthy food to keep me company. Just kiddin’.

 In any case, I’ve read a few good books lately. Check out Marcus Samuelsson’s book, “Yes, Chef.” You may have seen Marcus on the Food Network channel. I, of course, would rather see him in his restaurant in Harlem the “Red Rooster.” That is if I ever get to New York again. It is a good read and he has a good story. It shows how small our world really is and what one can overcome on the road to success. Speaking personally, I admire his persistence and his perseverance while working through personal hardships. Yes, we all know the value of hard work and though we don’t always know where it might lead it proves to me that giving up is not an option! I need that attitude right now!

Restaurant kitchens have always fascinated me. The hierarchy, the craziness, the fraternity like atmosphere, combine to make what I imagine a murky pit of adrenaline would look like. And after reading this book it only reaffirms what a great chef must go through to reach the top. What a life! Stop and think every time you have  a memorable meal what it takes to get that food to your mouth.

I tell my husband that every night when making dinner. He’s lucky to be served a home cooked meal most nights of the week. All I ask is that he show his face about 5 minutes before plating time to set the table and feed the dogs. I mean really, is that asking too much? Tuning to his right channel on the TV, is not assistance in my book.  And so when he says “What do I do? I tell him. Usually the same thing every night. His response is always the same, “I know.” Now I tell him that is the WRONG answer. The correct response is “Yes, Chef.” It has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?

I also read “The Homesick Texan’s” cookbook this week.

 My husband is from Texas. All I can say is that I wish I would have seen that food in Texas. What have I been missing? It makes me want to visit again. This is a book I would love to have on my shelf. It covers everything from salsas to various pickled veggies, to Corn Chowder with Roasted Jalapenos and Bacon, a variety of chilis, coffee chipotle brisket, and Dr. Pepper ribs, tomato cobbler and coconut tres leche cake (which I better lose 10 lbs before making). It made me hungry and isn’t that the best thing you can say about a cookbook?

And so I ventured to the little Mexican grocery not far from here. I picked up some pasilla dried chilies that I couldn’t find in my regular grocery,  some chorizo. and a well trimmed very beautiful boneless pork shoulder at a lot less than I would have paid at my above mentioned grocery. Go figure.

Earlier in the week when I was not being a bitch being nice, I asked my husband what he would like me to make for him. Quickly scanning the book he decided on the Carne Asado. It was a good choice. This is a great dish for the upcoming Super Bowl, of which I freely admit I have no idea who’s playing. But I  digress. This is good to serve for a crowd. Easy to do in a slow cooker. Serve it over rice in a bowl. or with tortillas to make your own burritos or tacos. It makes the house smell spicy and warm and is perfect with a beer or margarita. Make that two.

But back to my husband… Last night when he emerged for the second weekend of cleaning his office he immediately was drawn to my beautiful royal blue Le Creuset Dutch oven, which was a great gift from my parents. He didn’t stop at the TV. He just took a spoon and tasted while inhaling. He immediately set the table, fed the dogs, etc. He then asked ”Is there anything else I can do, DEAR? I responded that a margarita might be nice. To which he so smartly replied,”Yes Chef.” I think this is going to be a great week!

West Texas Carne Asado  (From Homesick Texan by Lisa Fain)
Serves: About 6-8
Time To Make: About 3 hours-not all active!
12 dried ancho chilies (stems and seeds removed)
3 lbs boneless pork shoulder cut into 1 inch cubes
Salt and Pepper
2 T lard, bacon grease or vegetable oil, divided
½ medium onion chopped
10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 t dried oregano
1 t ground cumin
¼ t ground allspice
1 ½ chicken broth or water
Cotija, lime wedges, flour tortillas for serving

In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the ancho chilies for about 10 seconds or until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover the chilies. Leave the heat on until the water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chilies soak, about 30 minutes, until they are soft. Once they are hydrated, discard the water and rinse the chilies.

While the chilies are soaking, sprinkle the pork with salt and pepper. In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 T of the oil, grease or lard on medium heat, and brown the pork on each side. (You may have to do this in batches, otherwise the pork will not brown.)

Remove the browned pork and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. While occasionally stirring, cook the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Turn off the heat.

Place the onion and the garlic into a blender or food processor along with the drained, soaked chilies, oregano, cumin, allspice and ½ c of the chicken broth. Puree into a thick paste. Add salt to taste. Pour the chili paste back into the pot along with the remaining 1 c of chicken broth. While occasionally stirring, cook the chile sauce for 5 minutes on medium heat. This may gurgle!

Add the meat back into the pot and cook covered on low heat for 2 ½ hours, occasionally stirring. After an hour of cooking, taste and adjust seasonings and add water or broth, if the pot looks to dry. You do not want it too saucy, though! When done serve in bowls with Cotija cheese (I used feta because I like the saltiness) sprinkled on top, along with warm flour tortillas and lime wedges.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mexican Style Quinoa (Keen-wah) or 2013, The Year of Quinoa

Mexican Style Quinoa
Quinoa (keen-wah) was on my table the other night. That and cauliflower salad. I was satisfied with both but my husband wondered where the rest of the meal was. You know-the protein? I tried to explain that quinoa had plenty of protein for his dinner and I had added chicken to it, too. But you can’t take a man away from his protein. Especially those that need to be sliced.

Quinoa is a seed. A very healthy seed. It has been on the radar screen for years but the last few years it is finally getting its due. It is considered a complete protein with 6g per cup, has lots of fiber, some calcium and lots of iron. It can be prepared like rice and makes a great cereal, too. Prices are dropping as it becomes more popular. I encourage you to give it a  try at least as an alternative to other starches in your diet such as rice, potatoes, or pasta.

Little did I know until I started looking up facts for this post that the United Nations has declared 2013 the year of quinoa. Not that I put much stock in the UN but I think they made a good choice here. And at least they took a stand on something. Quinoa was considered by the Incas to be the mother of grains and was considered sacred. When the Spanish and Portuguese colonists came over they stopped the Incas from growing quinoa and introduced wheat. At the same time they introduced the spice cumin and that is how cumin became popular in Mexican food. (I had always wondered how it travelled from the Mediterranean.) Leave it to the colonists!

I served my husband what I will call a Mexican style quinoa. It can be eaten warm or cold and is simple and quick to prepare. Feel free to serve it as a side dish and leave out the chicken. Next time I will just plop that breast right on top, front and center, and I know I will hear no complaints. He liked it. He just missed using his utensils. Poor baby!

Mexican Quinoa

1 c quinoa
2 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 smashed clove of garlic
½ of a red pepper diced
½ of a can of green chilies or Hatch chilies
½ an onion diced
½ an avocado cubed
2 T cilantro
½ t cumin or more to taste
1-2 chipotles packed in adobo chopped
1 grilled chicken breast sliced and cubed (I used leftovers from my Banh Mi)

Bring chicken or vegetable broth to which the garlic clove has been added to a boil. Add quinoa. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until seeds are translucent and have spiraled out. This takes about 15-20 minutes. Liquid should be absorbed but if it isn’t and the quinoa is done then just drain your quinoa.

Now- stir in the rest of your ingredients. You may or may not need salt. That is it. 

From Banh Mi's to Mexican style quinoa-yes-This is how I cook!

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Banh Mi Uncovered

I love a good sandwich. Though we all have our own definition of what  a good sandwich is- well, this what mine looks like.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi Wrap
 My favorite sandwich is the Vietnamese Banh Mi. By now they are everywhere, except at your local Subway. Boy, are they missing out. In Denver they can be found over on Federal Blvd which is my not so secret stomping ground. I love Federal. It makes me feel adventurous but I don’t have to show my passport when crossing over. I love the thrill of discovery and the excitement it brings. And that is how I found this sandwich at  Ba Lee – a tiny sandwich place stuck in a nondescript strip 


 A true piece of heaven if heaven was so easy to find. And no I did not take the picture.

A banh mi sandwich is something I love. Truly. If you haven’t had one, don’t. Otherwise you will crave them forever. And I mean forever. They are that good. Few foods combine the sweet and salty and spicy better than this. Not to mention the crunchy veggies and the warmth of the bread. Add in the crinkle of the butcher paper and the price of $3.50. Well, I don’t want to give you a heart attack. And did I mention the beauty of the sandwich? I am not a great photographer but hopefully you can see how the colors play off of each other. The dark greens, the orange and white- well, it brings out the artist in me.

 Did I mention I am a huge fan of Vietnamese food? And I think we have some of the best in Denver. I love it all. But the reason I love the banh mi is because of its simplicity and the fact that you can cram so much flavor onto a little bit of bread. It is totally satisfying both in the mouth and on the pocketbook. Many of the components are easily made at home. The hardest part to get right is the bread. Banh mi bread is really a French baguette. But it is a French baguette made by the Vietnamese. It is crisp but tender and for a Banh Mi it is always served warm. When I make them at home that is the part that is always lacking so the next time I go to Federal I am going to buy a dozen baguettes and put them in the freezer next to my bialys from Phoenix. Yes they are really different from what you buy at your local grocer. So I now make a Banh Mi wrap. They look like this

 and I buy them at the Pacific Ocean grocery on Alameda, just East of Federal. (They just went through a major re do and it is now a super great store.) Though they aren’t as great as a true Banh Mi  we still manage to scarf them down.

Oh-but the protein. I’ve seen lots of choices. Pates are typical (that French influence don’t ya know?) pork meatballs, grilled chicken, grilled pork, pork belly, tofu, and I could go on. But I am giving you the chicken version. I also love the pork meatballs but it is January and I am still thinking to try to be healthy.

The other components of a Banh Mi are the mayo, and the veggies. Now  Ba Le does not use mayo that I know of and I don’t miss it. But when we do our wraps I do add a bit of Sriracha infused mayo which adds a bit of zip or you could just add the Sriracha on its own if you like spicy. The carrot and daikon mixture is easy to make but you can also buy that at the Asian grocery for about $2 bucks. Then you add your fresh jalapenos and cilantro and you are looking at a thing of beauty. Not so beautiful though that you can’t sink your teeth into it. Yeah, This is How I Cook!

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi (Makes about 4)

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 garlic cloves
4 shallots
2 t sugar
2 T fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 T light soy sauce
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Blend garlic and shallots in a blender or food processor. Add seasonings and smear on POUNDED breasts. Marinate several hours and even overnight. Grill until done. Slice into thin strips for Banh Mi.

Carrot Daikon Pickled Salad

Carrot Daikon Pickled Salad
2 c carrots (Slice carrots lengthwise in half. Then cut each half into long flat slices. Then stack these slices and cut into thin strips.)
2 c daikon (Japanese white radish-our grocery sells them in the produce section.) Cut like carrots.
¼ c unseasoned rice vinegar
¼ c sugar
1 t kosher salt

Toss all together in a bowl. Let stand 1 hour tossing occasionally. Drain before putting on Banh Mi.

Other Ingredients
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Jalapeno (Slice thin with seeds or deseed if you don’t want as spicy)
Baguettes or Wraps (I use a paratha wrap that I buy in the frozen section at the Asian grocery. You then heat them in a medium high preheated dry skillet until golden on each side. This takes about 2-3 minutes.)
Sriracha hot sauce or Sriracha Mayo (I combine 2/3c mayo with 2 finely chopped green onions and 1T sriracha.)

To assemble: Using a warm wrap or split baguette spread a little bit of mayo (if you are using) on bread. Add sliced chicken. Then top with carrot mixture, a few sprigs of cilantro and a few slices of jalapeno.

Eat to your heart’s content.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Cheesy Pasta and Chicken Gratin and the Flu

cheesy chicken pasta casserole

 My daughter calls me often. She makes me happy. Yesterday she told me she cloroxed her desk. It appears many around her have been getting sick with the flu. She then went to get a flu shot. It was good thinking on her part as Pennsylvannia is considered a high risk state. And then she started feeling achy. And she couldn’t lift her arm. And she went home from work-all because she got a flu shot. And then she found out it doesn’t take effect for about two weeks. And that was my fault-but she doesn’t blame me. Can a mother ever win?

Well, my baby, if you were home I would take care of you. I would let you sleep in my bed on the flannel sheets and I would bring you lots of hot tea. And I would massage your feet and George would lay next to you, nudging Freddie out of the way. And we would find a good movie to watch on TV and we would snuggle under the down comforter. But you aren’t home and so I can only hope that you take care of yourself which you have been doing. And you have been doing it sooo well. But I wish I could be there to help. Like a mother does.

George- Really Happy

And if you were home I would make you this. It has all your favorites in it. Pasta and chicken. Cheese and cheese. It is soothing on a cold winter day. I doubled it so it made a lot which means I froze half for when you come home. I miss you sweetie. Be well.
Cheesy Chicken Pasta Casserole #casserole #chicken

Pasta and Chicken Gratin (adapted from Gourmet Today)
(Serves 4-5)
Time to Make: About 20 minutes
 1 roast chicken from the grocery
2 cups chicken stock
Cheese Sauce and Gratin
4 T butter
1 minced garlic clove or maybe two
¼ c flour
1 ½ c milk
½ c crème fraiche or sour cream
½ t pepper
¼ t cayenne
1 t dried thyme
2 ½ c or 8 oz  grated gruyere or vintage gouda
3/4 c  finely shredded Parmigano Reggiano
½ lb penne pasta
3 c fresh bread crumbs

1 3 qt buttered shallow gratin dish

Pull meat from chicken and reserve. Discard skin. (You could make your own poached chicken and use the broth.)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees with rack in center of oven.

Melt butter in 4 qt heavy pot. Add garlic and whisk for 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and add flour, and cook whisking for three minutes. You are making a roux. Add milk and chicken stock whisking constantly while bringing to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking frequently, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in crème fraiche or sour cream, 1/2 t salt, pepper, thyme, cayenne, 1 c gruyere and ¼ c parmesan.

Cook pasta in a 4 qt pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Do not overcook. Drain well and return to pot. Add chicken and sauce and toss to coat.

Toss bread crumbs with remaining cheese and sprinkle evenly over pasta mixture. Bake gratin until crumbs are golden brown and sauce is bubbling, 20-30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve to someone not feeling well and make their day.

Other Food for Sick People:

Chicken, Artichoke and Mushroom Casserole
Chicken Soup Chicken
Matzoh Ball Soup
Thai Chicken Noodle Soup

Please share and pin for future use!

Cheesy Chicken Pasta Casserole #casserole #chicken

Monday, January 14, 2013

Boboli Pizza or Dinner in Denver

Boboli Pizza

Baby, it’s cold in Denver. And after Saturday’s Bronco loss I think it got even colder. Frigid perhaps. I don’t get excited about football but the rest of my family does. And I am sorry for them and the rest of the Denver fans. But now my husband will have time to clean the basement, and more to the point-his office. Now that I can get excited for.

Saturday before the big game he graciously offered to go out into the arctic blast and head for the grocery. I suggested making a pizza and he wholeheartedly agreed. So off to get a  Boboli he did. Now I am not a big fan of processed food but this is one that I rely on for convenience. It also has a great taste and though every ingredient is not stellar it sure comes through in a pinch. Such as Sunday evenings when the kids were young, or older for that matter. It is a good crust which makes it a good base for many types of pizza. And we still make it quite regularly.

I have made seafood pizzas by using red sauce and shrimp and scallops as toppings. I have grilled it with a bbq chicken topping but most of all we have just made regular pizza. When my daughter was young and only wanted cheese pizza I was able to buy one of their individual sizes and make a “baby” pizza to her liking.

One thing I do not like is the boboli sauce. It is sweet and I don’t like a sweet tomato sauce. It also has corn syrup in its list of ingredients and that is one ingredient I try to avoid. I like pizza sauce flavored with oregano and garlic and lots of hot chili flakes. I usually add fresh basil to the toppings so don’t include it in the sauce. Feel free to adjust your seasoning and toppings as you like.

My preference is for the thin crust boboli though it does come in three thicknesses and I think also whole wheat though I haven’t seen that in the stores near me. I bake it directly on the top rack of my oven at 450 degrees. When I baked it on the middle rack it seemed to burn quickly on the bottom of the crust and I just hate it when the smoke alarm goes off. It takes a little longer this way but I’d rather wait a bit than have a burnt crust.

Give it a try. When the kids were younger I did use to buy the individual sizes and set up a pizza topping bar. It was fun and everyone could make their own. This is a good idea for parties but most young kids I know eat only cheese and a few may add pepperoni. Which, of course, creates a lot of extra work on your part if the party is for kids! But maybe a good super bowl idea-that is if your favorite team made it to the super bowl!

Going In.

Boboli Pizza (serves 2-3)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Pizza Sauce
1 15 oz can of tomato sauce
1 T olive oil
1T oregano
1 t chili flakes
½ t sugar
1 ½  t garlic powder
1 T fresh Italian parsley (this really gives a hint of freshness to the sauce)
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Open tomato sauce and pour into a big measuring cup. Add seasonings and feel free to adjust to your taste. This makes enough for two pizzas.

½ c fresh grated parmesan
6 oz fresh sliced mozzarella
1c grated mozzarella
 A few dollops of goat’s cheese if you have it
½ of red pepper slices
Turkey Pepperoni
6 oz Italian Sausage (I use turkey) Place in bowl and cook in microwave about 1 and a half minutes. Drain grease. This should be cooked well to go on top of pizza.
¼ of a sweet onion sliced thin
Fresh basil if you have it

Top crust with ½ of sauce. Sprinkle with parmesan. Top with sausage. Add shredded mozzarella. Top with peppers and onions. Add pepperoni. (Feel like an artist and fling your hands) Top with fresh mozzarella slices. And goat’s cheese. Tuck in basil. Fling a few pepperocini on to give your pizza zip.

Place pizza into preheated oven directly on to oven rack. Bake about 15-20 minutes until as golden as you like. Take out and let rest for about 5 minutes. Slice and serve while rooting for your favorite team.

He couldn't wait!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Chocolate Krantz Cake or Babka and Jerusalem

 It has been almost a year since I’ve been in Jerusalem. It is calling me. The past year was difficult as many things that were supposed to happen didn’t, and well-that’s the way the cookie crumbles-so to speak. Being Jewish I get the equivalent of two new years, and I really do try to make both count. This year is all about starting over-once again- and I am grateful that I still get that chance.

But back to Jerusalem. Don’t I wish? It had been so long since I was there last, but the feeling that I felt the first and second time was identical to the third. I felt at home. I felt energized. I felt loved. Three very good feelings from someone who’d been feeling lost and lonely for a long time.  Now I am trying to regain those feelings as January gets started and I still don’t know what the year will bring.

The end of 2012 brought me the magnificent "Jerusalem" cookbook and that was a good thing. The sense of smell I think is so under rated, but looking through this book- well, I could smell Jerusalem. I swear. January is a cold month there, but upon entering the Old City, at least from the Jewish quarter, you are greeted with this intoxicating, addicting aroma of  bakeries. Whether they are making pita or bagels or burekas-it doesn’t really matter-because it’s all good. The smell alone is enough to make you think you are home. Walking by the bakeries and feeling the warm, steamy air gusting through the open doors, laden with the smell of chocolate and flour, makes me think that must be the scent of love. Well, at least it is for me.

A Bakery (See the Jerusalem stone in the reflection?)
And so it is that I had to make this recipe. A chocolate krantz cake. I always called it a babka of which I’ve made plenty. This is better. Waaaaay better. And it smells like Jerusalem. This is the aroma I was smelling. I know it. This is the smell of love. This book is worth it for just this recipe and the hummus alone. I swear. (Yes, I’ve been swearing way too much lately.) It takes me back to Jerusalem. Don’t I wish?

A couple notes: Do exactly what the recipe says. It is not hard and looks complicated but if you are familiar with bread you should not be afraid of this. And if you aren’t familiar with yeast or the like, you really should start somewhere. Like here. I googled krantz cake and still have no idea what krantz really means. Images showed rolled “cakes” with a filling. No, I don’t really consider this a cake. I consider this a bread, such as one might consider a cinnamon roll. It is great with tea or coffee. It is better in the middle of the night when you sneak into the kitchen, open the foil and cut yourself a slice preferably when no one is looking. And then you must gulp directly from the milk carton. (Don’t wear lipstick.) It is perfect for brunch, but I wouldn’t serve it as a dessert after dinner. But that is me. Do use all the syrup. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a recipe made like this. They are not kidding. Use it.  And it will keep for a few days, if well wrapped. If of course, you can contain yourself for that long.

Chocolate Krantz Cakes or Babka
Makes 2
Time to Make: About 1.5 hrs active
4 ¼ c all purpose unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting
½ c superfine sugar (This comes in a milk looking carton in the baking section)
2t fast rising active dry yeast
Grated zest of 1 small lemon (I do not like lemon in baked goods. I added 1t of vanilla extract and left the lemon out.)
3 extra large eggs (I only had large eggs on hand so I used those plus 1 extra yolk.)
½ c warm water
2/3 c unsalted butter at room temperature, cut into small ¾” cubes
Canola oil for greasing

Chocolate filling
Scant ½ c confectioners sugar
1/3 c cocoa
4 ½ oz dark chocolate, melted
½ c unsalted butter, melted
1c pecans coarsely chopped (I used walnuts and if you don’t like nuts just leave them out)
2T superfine sugar

2/3 c water
1 ¼ c superfine sugar

For the dough: Place flour, sugar, yeast and zest (if you are using) in a stand mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed for one minute. Add eggs, water and vanilla (if you are using) and mix on low speed for a few seconds. Then increase speed to medium and mix for 3 minutes, until the dough comes together. Add the salt and start adding the butter a few cubes at a time, mixing until it is incorporated into the dough. Continue mixing for about 10 minutes on medium speed until the dough is completely smooth, elastic and shiny. (A side note: Do not leave your mixer unattended. It was while I was making babka and stepped away during this process and my Grandma’s Kitchen Aid ended up on the floor still spinning with the bowl attached. This is how my tile floor ended up with a 2 inch hole in it. Needless to say, the Kitchen Aid still works fine. Yes, they are worth it. And this one must be over 41 years old, I’ m guessing.) During the mixing, you will need to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and throw a small amount of flour onto the sides so that the dough doesn’t stick.

Place the dough in a large bowl brushed with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.

Filling: Mix together confectioners sugar, cocoa, chocolate and butter. You will get a spreadable paste.

Grease two 9x5 loaf pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Divide dough in half and keep one half covered. (I will tell you that my dough was very cold when I took it out of the fridge. I let it warm up before I started rolling it. You don’t want it to warm up to much as the butter will start to ooze out of it but this made it easier for me to work with.)

Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle measuring 15x11. Position the longest side closest to you. Cut off ends to make them even. Spread half the chocolate over the rectangle leaving a ¾ inch border all around. Sprinkle half the nuts on top of the chocolate, then sprinkle on half the superfine sugar.

Brush a bit of water along the long end furthest away from you. Use both hands to roll up the rectangle like a jelly roll starting from the side nearest you and ending at the long end. Press to seal the damp end and then use both hands to even out the roll into a perfect thick cigar. Rest the roll on the seam.

Trim the ends with a serrated knife. Now use the knife to gently cut the roll in half lengthwise cutting through from the top to the bottom seam. You are essentially dividing the roll into two long even halves with the layers of dough and filling visible along each length. With the cut sides facing up, gently press together one end of each half and then lift the right half over the left half. Repeat the process, but this time lift the left half over the right to create a simple two pronged plait. Gently squeeze together the other ends so you are left with the two halves intertwined showing the filling on top. Carefully lift the loaf into prepared pan. Cover the pan with a clean damp towel and leave to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1/1/2 hours. It will only rise by 10-20 percent. Repeat for second cake.

Preheat oven to 375. Remove the towels, place the cakes on the middle rack and bake about 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. They should be golden colored.

Make the syrup while the cakes are in the oven. Heat water and sugar in microwave for one minute. Stir. Do this again and maybe again until the sugar is dissolved. Let this cool. As soon as the cakes come out of the oven, brush all the syrup over them. Use it all. Let the cakes cool until they are just warm to the touch and remove from pans. If you can cool completely before serving.

 Slice and serve. Tear and serve. Just devour it like a hungry dog. You know you want to. But most important-Inhale the aroma. That, my friends, is Jerusalem in January.

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