Tag Archives: family

Knafeh: A sweet treat for the whole family

A half-eaten tray of knafeh

Last week, I wrote about my favorite Middle Eastern meal. I’d like to tell you about my favorite dessert, the dessert that I look forward to having every time I go home: knafeh, also known as künefe in Turkey, and kadaifi in Greece. This popular Middle Eastern dessert originates in the Palestinian city of Nablus, which is a historically busy commercial center located in a valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. This city is well renowned for its white, brined cheese made from sheep’s milk, known all over the Middle East as “Nabulsi cheese.”

The soft, mild Nabulsi cheese is the main component of the knafeh, which is made by sandwiching a tray-full of cheese between two layers of noodle-shaped semolina dough. Once baked, the knafeh is soaked in a sweet sugar and orange-flour syrup, and topped with some crushed pistachios. Made in big, circular trays, this dessert is served at very, and I mean very, large family gatherings, where everyone gets to cut off a slice from the tray at the center of the table. Enjoying the knafeh in a communal setting is a tradition all over the Middle East. There aren’t many desserts that bring families together like the knafeh does, and it is because of this, and its delicious, gooey sweetness, that knafeh is by far my favorite Middle Eastern dessert.

Craving it once in a while, I find myself heading to Falafel on Broadway for a bite of their knafeh. But, if you want a place that serves an authentic slice of this dessert, take the M60 towards LaGuardia Airport, and stop at Steinway street, otherwise known as Little Egypt, in Astoria, Queens, where you’ll find many Middle Eastern bakeries serving it warm and freshly made. It is also worth making this thirty-minute trip for the great Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha lounges concentrated in the neighborhood.



Family Catering

Croque-en-Bouches with Mixed Berry and Crème de Cassis Sundae

A couple months ago, my mom told me that she had offered to cater a party for my grandma as a birthday gift and that I was invited to be her catering partner. The catering “service” would include brainstorming, preparing, plating, and serving a five-course, gourmet menu to eight hungry and self-claimed foodie guests. I was 100% on board.

So as soon as I got back home from my end-of-the-spring-semester activities, my mom and I started to prepare for the event. We worked on developing a few dish ideas by looking through all of our recipes from books, Word documents, online bookmarked pages, and collaged cutouts from magazines. We discussed and debated, and about a zillion ideas later, finally put them together into a cohesive and appetizing menu. A shopping list was written and a few days before D-day we began the incredibly long (and tiring) process that was the cooking.

However much time and energy it might have taken, the final result was well worth the effort that it took to develop the menu and then make it a reality—with a few exceptions of course. The gazpacho and avocado mousse with two Parmesan crisps was a much-enjoyed appetizer, but the tomato and avocado lollipops served alongside it, for example, were more of a failed experiment in molecular gastronomy than anything else. Visually, they were perfect, but their rubbery texture and imbalance between the flavorless avocado and acidic tomato was definitely a turnoff. At least we had the delicious and popular pancetta-wrapped fig skewers (stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey) and grilled eggplant dip served with rosemary flat bread to wash it down. Not to mention the paired rosé, whites, and port that my dad served throughout the meal.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Food successes and failures aside, the best part about this catering event was, oddly enough, everything but the taste of the food. I loved watching people decipher the menus we’d printed out when we brought out the mini croque-en-bouches and mixed berry sundaes, or listen to the “oohs” and “ahs” and diplomatic “very interestings” in reaction to tasty or not-so-great dishes. It was a time- and energy-consuming endeavor, and I am so glad that everything turned out well (or almost). But more so than that, it was amazing to experience the meal coming together and to then present and share it with my grandma and her closest friends and relatives.

Importing Tamales: It runs in the family

Manon’s winter break story is filled with TSA trials and tribulations, but her good humor and amazing cooking skills leads us once again to a fantastic recipe.

Every time my family and I go to France, my parents manage to bring the most outrageous things with them in the suitcases. A couple years ago for example, they were able to fit a Weber barbeque into the bags, accessories and all. We have one in California and my dad swears it’s the best outdoor grill on the market. He’d been wanting to introduce American, barbequed burgers to his French in-laws, so naturally, the Weber was the only way to properly do so. Interestingly enough, it turns out that the summer we imported the barbeque was the year that that particular brand and model became available in France. Oh well..

In other years past, my mom’s brought back fabric for curtains or crabmeat for crab cakes (we haven’t found good crab meat in France). One time she even tried to bring back a bottle of sake for the sushi night we’d been planning on having, but it didn’t go through security. The incident that really topped them all was when my mom bought a 9 x 12 foot rug for the living room and brought it to France. I still don’t understand how she was able to fold and fit it into a TSA-approved bag, but somehow it got through. The rug was, to be sure, a beautiful addition to the living room, but I think the hassle of that particular trip officially stopped my parents from bringing any more crazy things back to France.

Even though my parents have finally stopped importing crazy things, I always crave the foods I can’t have while in France, so I’ve now taken up their old task. I had extra room in my suitcase this winter, so the day before the flight I went out and bought a bunch of salsa, chili powder, Maseca, and cornhusks: we were going to make tamales. Little did I know what I would be getting myself into.

When I had decided to make tamales I knew it was going to be a time consuming process, but I had not anticipated it taking quite as long as it did. By God, it literally took forever. I mean, the preparation itself is pretty easy: you basically just stew the meat, mix together the dough (masa), and stir a chili preparation into the meat. But it’s the assembly that takes time. I guess part of the problem was that since I had so much meat I had to double the recipe, so I ended up having an incredible amount of masa to use up. Good thing I had bought the big bag of maseca and two cornhusk packages, because after a bowl-full of masa and 40 corn husks later I had only used up half of the meat filling and needed to make a new batch of dough. Finally, after a full afternoon of filling and folding cornhusks, victory was mine, and the freezer was full of chicken and beef tamales. All that was missing to have a perfect Mexican-themed dinner party was a couple of ripe avocados for guacamole and a fresh batch of margaritas. Continue reading Importing Tamales: It runs in the family

Potato and Leek Gratin

As usual, Manon’s Thursday posts give us a reason to feel hungry and adventurous in the kitchen.  This week, she explores one of her favorite comfort dishes (with a surprise twist at the end), with flavors just right for that post-midterm self-loathing.

When it gets around to being midterm season, I seem to have less and less time to do anything, and with the impending winter season slowly creeping upon us, I am increasingly in the mood for warm, comfort food. So here’s the perfect dish: gratin. Traditionally, these are made with alternating layers of sliced potatoes and cream, topped with freshly grated Gruyère, and then thrown into the oven until the potatoes are cooked through and the cheese is golden and crispy. By replacing the potatoes with other ingredients, many variants are possible, such as cooked pasta, leeks, zucchini, and more. In fact, this is a great dish to make if you have a bunch of leftovers that you don’t really know what do to with. Just throw anything in, pour in some cream, add a pinch of ground nutmeg if appropriate, and grate some cheese on top. It always turns out delicious.

Well, most of the time… I’m used to having my mom or grand-ma’s deliciously rich and creamy gratin, and when they make theirs it always looks so easy. You just throw everything in the dish and then in the oven, and voilà! A beautiful dinner. I soon figured out that it’s not that simple, but this turned out to be the result of some oven temperature confusion. Here’s the full story:

A friend and I had decided to make dinner since the people she nannies for were going to be out of the house that night. I was so excited about the fact that I’d be able to cook in a fully equipped kitchen where I wouldn’t have to worry about the fire alarm going off due to a malfunctioning fan, and then having my whole dorm building evacuate on my account. This was such a perfect opportunity to make something I knew would be delicious. So the menu for the night featured chicken with caramelized onions and a white wine-reduction cream sauce with a potato gratin on the side. The chicken was great. The gratin…

Continue reading Potato and Leek Gratin