Saturday, February 26, 2011

Recipe: Almond Cardamom Cookie Bites (Hajee Badoom)

Today is the 1 year anniversary of my grandmother's death.   Once a year, she would bake a batch of these, my favourite cookies for me.  They are a Persian cookie called Hajee Badoom, made with ground almonds, and they are usually prepared for the Persian New Year (first day of spring).  She always promised to teach me how to make them, but we never made the time..... Then she died, and I couldn't find the recipe, anywhere.... not on the Internet, not with my went with her.  But for the entire year, I kept asking, and luckily a dear friend of my Grandmother's knew how to make them, and shared her recipe with me.  Although they are delicious, I seem to remember my grandma's cookies being a bit lighter in texture - but maybe that's just because SHE made them.  They are crunchy (almost biscotti like) with the beautiful scent and delicate flavour of cardamom.  They are relatively healthy, as far as cookies go and they are gluten free (this is a terrific recipe for those with a gluten intolerance!).  I have yet to find anyone who doesn't like them.  My little man devours them by the dozen! 

For me, these cookies will always remind me of my grandmother's unconditional love.  It felt right to make them today - on the anniversary of her death. While I miss her beyond words, I felt close to her, and I could almost hear her praising my ingenuity and perseverance at finding the recipe..... praising me as only a grandmother can do.  I hope you enjoy them.

Almond Cardamom Cookie Bites (Hajee Badoom)
  • 150g of icing sugar
  • 200g of almond flour (which is essentially just ground blanched almonds)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • just a trace of egg white (1/4 of the white you would find in 1 egg)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cardamom (be sure to use fresh ground cardamom, or grind the pods yourself!)
  • 1 tsp baking powder

  1.  Sift the icing sugar into the bowl of your mixer and add the egg yolks and egg white.   Mix thoroughly until the mixture is light and fluffy (this takes about 3 minutes).
  2. Add the baking powder and the cardamom and mix briefly to combine.
  3. By hand, gently stir in the almond flour (may also be referred to as ground almonds) until everything is just incorporated.  Put the mixture onto a piece of saran wrap and bring it all together into a log or a disk - wrap it carefully and put it in the fridge for an hour or so. 
  4. Preheat the oven to 275°F.
  5. Take the dough out of the fridge.  Cut about a quarter of it off and roll it into a log (about 1/2 inch thick).  Cut into little bite size pieces, roll into a ball, and place 1 cm apart on a parchment lined baking sheet (they don't spread very much).  Be sure to keep the rest of the dough wrapped as you work, so that it doesn't dry out.  Continue with the rest of the dough until you have all the little balls done. 
  6. Place in the oven for 20 minutes.  DO NOT open the oven for the first 20 minutes of baking.  After 20 minutes open the door and check to see if they are done.  When they are done, they will be firm to the touch and slightly golden brown.  Keep setting your timer for 3 minutes, and check again, until they are done.  I find my cookies can take anywhere from 20-30 minutes, depending on how big I made my little balls.
  7. Take off the tray and place on a cooling rack to cool completely (they will still be a little chewy until you cool them completely).  Enjoy!
I hope you try this recipe - or if you have a variation of this recipe, please share it with me! 

I like to roll the dough into logs and then cut and roll out the little balls - but my grandmother's friend just takes the dough by the teaspoonful out of a bowl and rolls them into balls.  I like my cookies really small, you can try experiment with other sizes (just remember to adjust the baking time accordingly).

Try to make your little dough balls the same size so they bake evenly.

Crunchy airy texture inside.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Organizing: Kitchen Command Centre

In the spirit of spending just a few minutes tackling an area of the house that irritates me, I turned my attention to the small counter area in our kitchen which I'll call the Command Centre - really, it's a place with the phone, and where all mail and junk gets dropped off.  It's the first thing you see when you walk into the kitchen/family room area, and I am certain that my blood pressure rises a bit every time I see it! It had gotten out of control lately, so I decided to spend a few minutes cleaning it out.

The catch-all area for things without a home.
 About 20 minutes of work, (this one took a little longer, because I had to go through the mail and sort it) - and I am so pleased with the results!  Let's see if we can keep it looking like this!

I purchased the grey wooden box to hide all the little things that we need access to, but clutter the counter (like keys, hand sanitizer, etc).

I encourage you all to take a few minutes to tackle a problem area that has been getting on your nerves!  I have spent the last several weeks getting aggravated every time I walked into the kitchen, and 20 minutes is all it took?  Do you have any problem areas in your home?  Do share!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Dads out there - always be your daughter's Valentine

Valentine's Day isn't the horrible, white-knuckle, cold sweat inducing day it used to be in my early 20s.  Now, it's simply another day where I am happily in love with my husband and can chastise him for being ripped off buying flowers on Valentine's day, while secretly being glad he did.
In our early 20s, some of my girlfriends were in relationships, and some weren't.  So for some of us, Valentine's day was at best, well, awkward......girls at work getting deliveries of flowers and chocolate, swooning over a gift from a secret admirer (you know those girls, every office has one, they giggle, wear pencil skirts and tight sweaters....have MANY admirers).  Me, I would try and become invisible, seem really busy.... oh, is it Valentine's day today!?  But not for my friend Lesley.  She always had a Valentine.....her dad.

I clearly remember one Valentine's day when neither Lesley nor I were in a relationship, and whereas I came home from work feeling sad, lonely and pathetic, she came home with a smile on her face.  Her dad had sent her a cute Valentine's Day arrangement to her office.  She had a Valentine to proudly display on her desk, for all to see (eat that you giggling, pencil skirt wearing twits).  On Valentine's day, if you are not in a relationship, it is easy to feel wretched and sorry for yourself....but if you have a Valentine (even if it is your dad), it helps to remind you that you are loved and important.

When my daughter was born, I told hubby the story of Lesley's dad always sending her a Valentine's day gift, and I asked him to always make sure our little girl gets a Valentine from him..... especially when she is an adult.  So far, even though she is only 7, he gets her a Valentine every year, an annual reminder, that she is adored.

So, to all you dads out there - send your daughters a Valentine, especially if they don't have anyone else to make them feel special on Valentine's Day.  By the way, it always helps to sign the card "your secret admirer" - so even though she knows who sent her the Valentine, the girls at the office won't!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Making Home-made Organic Yogurt

I love yogurt - my parents come from a Persian background where yogurt plays a very prominent role, as a side-dish for pretty much every meal (you should try it with rice, or with potato ships as an alternative to traditional dip, it's terrific!).  In my household, yogurt isn't as prevalent, but we do enjoy fruit yogurt and I do serve it occasionally when I get up the energy to make some Persian recipes. 
I remembered that my mom used to occasionally make yogurt when I was a child (and I also remember there were rather mixed results) - and when I thought about it, trying to make my own yogurt made sense to me on many fronts:
  1. I can make an organic yogurt that has the taste profile I want (I like my yogurt to have a nice sour twang to it).
  2. Cost savings - the organic yogurt I like isn't always available, and when it is, it's quite expensive (about $7 per litre). 
  3. Yogurt has many health benefits - and when I make it myself, I am certain that it contains all those live pro-biotics that are so good for us.
  4. Helping the environment - this yogurt doesn't require packaging, and shipping beyond the original re-usable supplies I purchase.
  5. I can make fruit yogurt and vanilla yogurt using pure ingredients where I control the sugar and there are no artificial ingredients.

I am happy to report that I found success!  I have now produced over 6 batches of yogurt, with consistent results - so, I am ready to share, and I hope you are inspired to try making it on your own.
4L of Milk produces just under 4L of final product. 
It will produce less if you choose to strain it for a thicker yogurt.

I make 4L at a time (because I have pots big enough, we consume that much, and 4L is a convenient amount given that I can buy 4L of organic milk at Costco for under $8).  But feel free to try it out with a smaller amount - it is a very scalable process (that's right, it's not really a recipe, but a process).  Please don't be intimidated by the amount of text - I just want to clearly describe the process - it actually takes very little hands-on time!
Organic Home-made Yogurt
Here's what you will need:
  • Organic Milk (as much as you would like to make, I tend to make 4L of 2% - I think this recipe will work with any fat content, I have used 2%)
  • Organic plain yogurt with live bacterial cultures or a yogurt starter (you will need approx 2 tbsp of plain yogurt for each litre of milk, or alternatively you can buy yogurt starter in the organic dairy case of some grocery stores).
  • A large metal pot to heat the milk in on the stove (again large enough to comfortably fit the amount you are making)
  • An oven safe container (again large enough to comfortably fit the amount you are making - I use a big corningware/pyrex dish I have)
  • Kitchen Thermometer (I like to use a digital probe thermometer)
Put your milk into your pot, and turn on the heat to med-high (be sure not to turn it up too high, as the milk at the bottom of the pot can easily burn) - bring the milk up to 180°F.  Be sure to stir occasionally so that a skin doesn't form.  I like to use a digital programmable probe thermometer and set the alarm to notify me when my milk reaches 180°F. 
**Please note I have put the link to one of my favourite local kitchen stores, not because I want you to buy it from there, but just so you can see what one looks like, they are very readily available at many kitchen supply stores.  If you don't want to invest in a digital thermometer, you can use any other type of kitchen thermometer, you will just have to frequently check the temperature so that you hit the right temperatures.  I have learned that making yogurt is a temperature game - if you can accurately control the temperature, you can control the quality of your yogurt!

Once your milk has reached 180°F, now it's time to let it cool.  I like to transfer my hot milk to another oven safe container.  I do this because it helps the milk cool down faster and I don't want my big pot occupied for 24 hours, just in case I need it for something else.   Let the milk cool down to 112°F.  Be sure to stir occasionally so that a skin doesn't form, and set your digital thermometer to notify you at 115°F so you can get your yogurt starter ready while the mixture continues to cool the last few degrees. 

Once your yogurt hits 112°F, you have to add your starter (either yogurt  you made in a previous batch, yogurt you purchased, or starter you purchased).  Add 2 tbsp of your starter for each litre of milk you have heated.
**You have a bit of wiggle room here, the addition of the starter should take place between 112°F and 108°F. 
My probe thermometer is letting me know it is time to add my starter!

From here it's easy - cover your container and put it in a warm, toasty place.  I like to heat my oven for a minute or so (until it is warm) and then leave the oven light on and tuck my yogurt in for the night.  Some other people I have spoken to wrap their container in an electric blanket and plug it in, and my mom used to wrap the container in a blanket and put it on a heat register in the kitchen.  Whatever method you use, the goal is to keep the container warm to the touch.  Just slightly warmer than body temperature (between 108-112°F). 

I think the yogurt should sit at least 8 hours - and probably no more than 24.  I have found that the longer you keep it warm, the more sour twangy the flavour.  My magic number sits at around 12 hours.  Take a peek and give it a jiggle, it should be set by this point.  Put it in the fridge and let it cool completely.  (this usually takes around 12-24 hours for my 4 litres - the less you make the less time it takes). 

After the yogurt is cool, put it in jars and keep in the fridge...... mine have been known to last as long as a month and a half.  If you like your yogurt thicker than what it set at, simply set some cheesecloth over a strainer, set the stainer in a larger bowl, and ladle your yogurt on top of the cheesecloth.  This separates they whey (liquid) and will give you a very thick yogurt - just let it strain until you are happy with the thickness! 

Happy yogurt making folks - I hope you try it - it's super easy, and very satisfying.  feel free to ask me any questions if you need some help!