An Afternoon at Irit’s

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I’m lost in Tel Aviv, again. I picked a random street to walk down in the general direction of my destination, and I’m lost, but it’s okay. Wandering just on the outskirts of Shuk HaCarmel, I peer into each shop, my eyes fruitlessly searching for a notebook. Just something small to jot down my thoughts and dreams. I am so intent on my quest to discover new shops and find my perfect notebook that I fail to recognize the street that I’m walking down, that I’ve walked down a few times before. If it wasn’t for the brilliant blue doors and emerald green awning which mark the entrance to her little restaurant, I might have passed Irit’s, but it is the solo outdoor table that catches my eye. An elderly gentleman is seated there, enjoying a tall glass of orange juice. I suddenly snap back to reality as I realize where I am.

Irit's: Tel Aviv restaurant review

I feel a small smile creep across my face as I step into her place. Although Irit likes to keep the radio on, a mishmash of American 90′s, Top 40 and Israeli songs, the real music of Irit’s is the sound of her voice calling over the others. She once told me her age, swiftly followed by the jubilant exclamation that her soul is young! And it is; you can hear it in her voice and see it in the twinkle in her eyes and her glowing skin.

Irit is middle-aged, about the same age as my own Mother, though her cheerful, raspy voice and caring nature leads me to feel as though she is everyone’s bubby.

My intent is to say hello and continue on my way, but soon I am sitting at one of her mismatched tables in a mismatched chair sipping freshly squeezed orange juice prepared by one of her friends, Yosi. Although she is married, I imagine that Irit has many admirers, and Yosi may even be one of them. Irit once told me that she had to turn down many marriage proposals in just one day, and I believe her.

Irit's unique cafe in Tel Aviv

I share the news with Yosi and Irit, although it isn’t really news; I am leaving Tel Aviv in about 10 days, and Israel not long after that. They erupt, as all Israelis do when they hear that the Americayi is leaving.

ARIZONA! boasts Yosi, You are SLEEPING in Arizona! The excitement is here! 

I try to tell him that Arizona can be exciting, but he presses on.

Sometimes (Arizona can be exciting), but here, the excitement is every day!

It’s true, there’s hardly a dull moment here.

Trinkets galore in Irit's tiny restaurant

Fire-Roasted Eggplant with Lemon and Tahini // Tsiporah Blog

I join Irit in her small kitchen and lean over the stove to find out how exactly she makes her fabulous eggplant. Is it low heat? Magic?
Low heat, she tells me, the same low heat used to make lachoch, a spongy and porous flatbread that she makes daily.
Soon I am greeted with a plate of Irit’s eggplant, my favorite dish of hers, along with a fresh pita and the last of the tahini. I am ready to adopt her as my 3rd grandmother.

When I am done, all that remains are 5 little lemon seeds, evidence of the whimsical, erratic method of Irit’s cooking.

Irit's cooking

Irit’s small restaurant is lit by bright daylight pouring in through the two open front doors. The sunlight spills into her small restaurant, and into the hearts of her loyal patrons. Irit is exuberant, always. Everything she prepares is the best I have ever had; the best shakshouka, the best eggplant, the best orange juice. Love is the main ingredient in her recipes, and you can taste it.

Irit’s Smokey Eggplant with Lemon and Tahini

Irit's Smokey Eggplant with Lemon and Tahini // Tsiporah Blog (recipes from Israel)

Ingredients

Love
1 Eggplant
Sea salt – a sprinkle, plus more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove of garlic, finely grated
Freshly prepared tahini
Parsley, for garnish

Tools + Method

To achieve the flavor of this dish you need to have a flame. Irit uses a gas stove on low heat along with a metal basket to separate the eggplant from the actual stovetop. You can use a cooking grate on top of a gas flame.

Directions

Wash and dry the eggplant. Light your gas stove and place a metal grill rack on top of the flame. Put the flame on the lowest setting and place the eggplant on top of the grill rack. Turn the eggplant occasionally until the outside of the eggplant is very charred and crispy and the inside is very soft.

Smoked Eggplant

Smokey roasted eggplant

Meanwhile, grate 1 garlic clove and juice half of a lemon and set aside.

Once the eggplant is done, transfer it to a plate. Using a small knife, carefully remove the blackened skin from the eggplant. You don’t have to get every single tiny piece of the charred skin; leaving very small bits and pieces enhances the flavor.

smoked eggplant

peeled eggplant

Massage the eggplant with a generous pinch of salt and grated garlic. Then top with lemon juice and a spoonfull or two of tahini and fresh parsley leaves. Serve alone or alongside pita bread to soak up all of the smokey, fragrant juices.

eggplant with garlic and lemon

eggplant massaged with salt, lemon juice and garlic

Smokey Eggplant with Tahini // Tsiporah BlogIf you have leftovers, mash everything up (or if you’re fancy, put it in a Cuisinart) to make a smokey eggplant dip or spread for toast/pizza/spooning into your mouth…

Enjoy!

Discover Israel’s Tasty Side

I first discovered Irit’s little cafe through my work with Delicious Israel. Inbal, the owner of Delicious Israel (and my boss here in Tel Aviv), took me to Irit’s for the first time on a culinary tour during my very first week as her intern. I have since returned to Irit’s many times, and I have Inbal to thank for that. If you are visiting Israel, check out Inbal’s Culinary Tours to get the tastiest view of the country and to discover more hidden gems like this one!
Delicious Israel | PH: +972 525 699 499 | info@deliciousisrael.com

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Russian Pelmeni

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The past few days have been rainy and cold, which left me longing for warm, hearty homemade meals. I’m writing this bundled up in my blankets with a very happy belly, a cup of tea and gratitude for the heater which we finally figured out how to use. As you may have read in my last post, I’m currently living abroad. I share a tiny apartment with my wonderful roommate Noam in the heart of Tel Aviv. It has been hard to adapt to minimalistic living, and please forgive the poor lighting in my photos. I feel confident enough to say that I have mastered the art of toaster oven cooking! I’ve used our little toaster to make homemade pizza, roasted chicken, baked meatballs as well as mini pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving. How to Make Russian Pelmeni Our program is mainly composed of other Americans, but I have also made some friends from all around the world. Our Friendsgivukkah (Thanksgiving) table was filled with dishes from America and abroad. We had American sweet potato casserole (without marshmallows), latkes instead of traditional mashed potatoes, traditional roasted turkey and gravy, avocado salad, and Russian Pelmeni. We were all so enchanted by the Pelmeni, which was prepared by my friend Roman and his girlfriend, that the last few were lovingly fought over. For dessert we had mini pumpkin and pecan pies with freshly whipped cream and sliced strawberries – strawberries are a winter fruit here in Israel!

After dinner (or maybe in the middle of indulging in my 2nd helping of Pelmeni), I asked Roman if he would teach me how to make them. He said he would if I taught him how to make pies in exchange, which of course I agreed to!

Pelmeni are small round dumplings that resemble Italian tortellini. They are typically filled with meat, and their exact history is questionable. They are thought to have been brought to Siberia by the Chinese, and then evolved and spread throughout the region. Depending on where you are eating Pelmeni, the recipe and accompanied sauce can vary from sour cream or butter to soy sauce. Handmade Pelmeni Recipe // Tsiporah Blog Pelmeni is not a quick weeknight meal. It involves (easy) handmade dough, but the most time consuming step lies in gently folding each pelmeni by hand. It took us about a half an hour to 45 minutes to fold enough pelmeni to serve 5 of us, and it was well worth it. The resulting delicate and delicious dumplings were warm and so satisfying on a cold winter’s night. We served ours with a dollop or two of sour cream and a sprinkle of pepper, but we also discovered that it pairs well with a sweet soy BBQ sauce. This shouldn’t be surprising, given Pelmeni’s origins. We had a fun little dinner party with holiday music in the background, the pitter-patter of rain on the windows, and small glasses of Becherovka to accompany our Pelmeni feast. Here is the method and recipe that we used, which I’ll refine once I make it again on my own. This is because we didn’t make the dough with exact measurements.

Homemade Pelmeni

Ingredients

1/2 kilo of ground beef
1/2 kilo of ground turkey, chicken or pork (Pork is traditionally used)
1 onion, chopped very small
3 tsp salt
3 tsp pepper
4+ cups flour
4 eggs
Water and extra flour (you will need at least 1 cup extra flour plus flour to roll out the dough)
2 sprigs rosemary
Sour cream, to serve

Directions

Combine meats in a large mixing bowl. Finely chop the onion and add it to the meat with the salt and pepper, stir to combine. Set the meat aside and start on the dough.

For the dough: We made the dough in 2 batches which was easier than making a giant batch, and the dough stayed very fresh and soft.
In a large mixing bowl combine 2 cups of flour and 2 eggs and whisk together with a fork until it forms a shaggy mess of dough. Then slowly add in enough water, mixing the whole time, to form a wet and sticky dough. From there sprinkle in flour 2-3 tbsp at a time, mixing all the while, until you have a soft ball of dough that is not sticky. Split the dough in to three sections (they don’t have to be even).

Flour your work surface and roll out one section of dough until it is about 1/4 inch thick. Using a standard shot glass, cut out rounds of dough (about 1.5 inches across). Flatten the dough a bit in your hand to make it thinner and larger, and then place about 1 tsp of meat in the center of the disc of dough. Fold the circle of dough in half to make a half-circle shaped dumpling. Then, take the two corners and press them together to form the traditional round pelmeni.

Set the prepared pelmenis on a plate. As you fill up the plates, place them in the freezer and grab a new plate. This recipe made about 4 dinner plates of pelmeni. When you run out of your first batch of dough, make the 2nd half and continue until all of the meat is gone.

Making Pelmeni Family Dinner // Tsiporah Blog

A team effort

Once all of your pelmeni are prepared, fill a large pot with water as if you were going to boil pasta. Add the rosemary sprigs and about 1 tbsp of salt to the water and bring it to a boil. Add 1/2 of the pelmeni and cover. Bring to a soft boil until the dough is cooked through. Fish the cooked pelmeni out of the water with a slotted spoon and set aside in a large bowl. Using the same water, repeat with the other half of the prepared pelmeni.

Learn how to make Pelmeni via Tsiporah Blog

Roman, our Pelmeni teacher

Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh pepper. Enjoy! Russian Pelmeni served with Sour Cream // Tsiporah Blog

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10 Homemade Holiday Gifts

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My favorite kind of gifts to give are always homemade – they make the most wonderful and memorable presents. This Homemade Holiday Gift Guide contains some of my favorite recipes just for this purpose.

I think homemade holiday gifts are even more thoughtful than a store bought gift, especially when they come from your kitchen! I love knowing that someone created a special treat just for me. These are great presents to give to loved ones, friends, and even teachers, neighbors and coworkers. They are perfect for the person who seems to have everything. It would be easy to pick 2 or 3, make a big batch, and then wrap them up to spread some holiday cheer!

10 Homemade Holiday Gifts // Tsiporah Blog

Last year I threw a holiday party and I pulled out all of the stops: white elephant gift exchange, photo booth, ugly sweaters and a cookie exchange! It was amazing, and the cookie exchange was a great way to experience the special holiday treats that my friends enjoy. I can’t create the same winter wonderland in my tiny apartment, but I can enjoy a little piece of it by creating some yummy gifts for my friends and family – and so can you! Put down those candy canes and checkout these 10 gift ideas:

1. Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoons

Peppermint Hot Chocolate Spoons - Holiday Gift Idea // Tsiporah Blog

Peppermint hot chocolate spoons are a cute and easy gift to give (and enjoy for yourself!). I’ve made these multiple years in a row. The first year I made them for my best friend, and after that she has requested them each year, so I make enough to give to all of my close friends. They’re fun to give to everyone on your list because they’re just so easy! I like to include peppermint marshmallows too.

2. Apple Butter

Apple butter goes well with so many foods, from your morning toast to a sweet and tangy marinade. Your gift recipients will be impressed – they’ll have no idea that apple butter so easy to make! It’s easy to pack in a glass jar with a pretty label .

3. A Box of Homemade Cookies

hanukkah cookies for the holidays

Cookies are one of the greatest and most quintessential holiday gifts. Let me tell you three reasons why I love cookies as a gift: First, I often come home and I want a quick, sweet bite, and cookies are just right for this craving. Second, a box of cookies is nice to have around during the holidays to share with guests who come by. Third, it’s fun to try new cookies that you haven’t had before. To spice up your cookie box, check out these recipes from my family to yours:

Holiday Butter Cookies
Lavender Cookies with Lemon Glaze
No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies
Vanilla Bean Cookies

4. Homemade Chocolates

These handmade Peanut Butter Chocolates are the perfect gift for your chocoholic loved ones! Plus, the fact that they are handmade means that you can customize them however you like to suit your friends’ and family’s tastes.

5. Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar

Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar - Holiday Gift Idea by the Kitchn

by the Kitchn

I’ve wanted to make this Chocolate Balsamic Vinegar for 2 years now, and somehow I still haven’t. I have had chocolate balsamic before and I think it would make a beautiful gift. It’s great paired with strawberries, or even… dare I say… vanilla ice cream! Yes, my friends. Yes.

6. Apple Cider Caramels

Deb from Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite bloggers, and her Apple Cider Caramels look to die for. I haven’t made this specific caramel recipe before but they’re so perfect for the season that I had to include them!

7. Peppermint Crunch Truffles

These Peppermint Crunch Truffles are a fun play on traditional peppermint bark. Plus, these truffles look super fancy and classy, yet they only have 3 ingredients and they are so easy to make!

8. Holiday Spice Pecans

Sweet spiced pecans are one of the best scents ever. You know what I’m talking about, and so does Melanie at A Beautiful Bite. She says, “You know when you go into the mall and smell that wonderful scent that can only mean that there’s a nut vendor somewhere close by? That heady cinnamon sugar smell..?” THAT is what your kitchen will smell like. Yum!

9. Salted Chocolate-Pecan Toffee

Salted Chocolate-Pecan Toffee - Holiday Gift Idea by Sunset

by Sunset Magazine

If you’ve read my blog long enough you’ll know that I love Sunset recipes. Toffee is always welcome in my home, it is one of my favorite desserts! This Salted Chocolate-Pecan Toffee really could not be better. Seriously. Make this and give it to someone. Or make it and mail some to me!

10. Flatbread Crackers with Thyme & Honey

Lastly, a savory recipe, for your friends and family who don’t like sweets (I know, whaaaat, but these people exist). Smitten Kitchen has created a wonderful flatbread recipe that would be just amazing in a gift basket with some fresh sprigs of thyme, a wedge of good cheese and a jar of local honey to enjoy along with it. This would also make a great holiday party appetizer!

If you are looking for clever ways to wrap up all of these goodies, check out my Gift Giving & Holidays Pinterest board! I also pin holiday inspirations, gift ideas and more. Let’s be friends!
What is your go-to homemade holiday treat? Tell me in a comment!

*A Note on Sharing: If you are going to pin the recipe for one of these yummy gifts, please do so from the original source!

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Toaster Oven Baking: Homemade Pizza

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Toaster Oven Baking

Toaster oven recipes are really convenient for those who are oven-less, or even if you just want to save some electricity.

During the holiday season there are countless recipes that require an oven, but not everyone has one. Including me at the moment. While living abroad, my kitchen is limited to a hot plate, a 1/2 sized refrigerator, a microwave and a toaster oven. I would share a photo with you but it’s just sad.

We also have a convenient hot water kettle which we use daily, but it is our only kitchen tool (no crock pot, no blender, etc.). It was hard to adjust, to say the least. It took me a few months to even experiment with the toaster oven, and I wish I had done it sooner.

Butternut Squash Pizza - homemade pizza in the toaster oven // tsiporah blog

There are actually a lot of toaster oven recipes out there, which I now know after doing some basic research. I want to share with you my new favorite toaster oven recipe, a quick and easy homemade pizza. I borrowed this recipe for the dough, and spiced it up a little with herbs for flavor. The dough has 5 simple ingredients; from there you can add other seasonings if you would like to kick it up a notch. You can top it with whatever you want; we made 3 personal-sized pizzas from one batch of dough. A double batch of dough comfortably made 5 good sized pizzas. One of our pizzas had roasted butternut squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs, served with tahini, which is the one that I’m sharing with you today because it was super delicious. The double batch of dough was for a successful make your own pizza night with some girlfriends.

How to Make Fresh Homemade Pizza in a Toaster Oven

I was so excited for this recipe that I busted out two of my favorite and most prized ingredients: fresh rosemary from our windowsill garden, and a special tuscan spice mixture.

Homemade Pizza with Garden Spices

Roasted Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Pizza with Tahini

Makes 1 large pizza. For a toaster oven it is best to cut the dough in half and make 2 smaller pizzas. Serves 2, or 1/2 recipe serves 1.

Ingredients

Crust
3/4 cups warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
2 cups flour, plus extra for kneading
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
Herbs, seasonings, etc. if you wish; I used fresh rosemary and a tuscan spice mix

Toppings
Roasted Butternut Squash (directions below)
-Olive Oil
-Fresh herbs and spices
~1/2 cup caramelized onions
Roasted garlic rosemary oil or regular olive oil
Cheese; I used bulgarian cheese because it was on sale and I’m poor, but this recipe would be fantastic with soft goat cheese or fresh parmesan
Fresh tahini

Directions

Pizza Dough

In a cup, mix 3/4 cup warm water with sugar to dissolve. Add the yeast and set aside for about 10 minutes or until it is puffy. Put the flour, oil and optional seasonings in a separate bowl.

homemade pizza dough

super puffy yeast

Super puffy yeast!

Once the yeast is puffy, pour it into the bowl. Use the handle of a spoon as a makeshift dough hook and mix mix mix until it forms a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-10  minutes, until the dough is soft and smooth and springs back a little when you poke it. You will need to add extra flour to keep it from being too sticky.

mixing pizza dough toaster oven recipe

Using a spoon as a makeshift dough hook. Small apartment living is all about innovation!

Easiest pizza dough recipe ever via Tsiporah Blog

Put a drizzle of oil back in the bowl that you mixed it in and turn the dough ball around in the oil to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm to allow the dough to rise for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make all of your yummy toppings!

Roasted Butternut Squash

roasted butternut squash

To make squash for the pizza, preheat your toaster oven to the highest bake setting with both the top and bottom heat on. Cut off the more narrow top of the butternut squash and peel off the skin. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and then slice it into thin half-moons. Drizzle the squash with olive oil and sprinkle with spices and herbs of your choosing. Be sure the pieces of squash are evenly coated with the oil and spices. Line your toaster pan with foil and lay the squash out in an even single layer. Cover with foil. Toast on the highest bake setting for about 10 minutes, or until the squash is softened (but not mush!). Repeat with a 2nd batch, if necessary.

Finally, assemble your masterpiece

If your toaster isn’t already on, turn it on to preheat to the highest bake setting with both the top and bottom heat on. Lightly roll the rough to make a disc and then use your hands to stretch it into an oval that will fit your toaster oven pan.

Line your toaster pan with foil and then sprinkle lightly with flour or, if you have it, corn meal. Place the dough on the pan and prick it with a fork, leaving a 1″ rim to make the crust. Drizzle with the oil of your choice. Use your fingers or a brush to spread the oil all over the dough, including on the crust. Lay the butternut squash half moons all around the pizza and then top with caramelized onion, cheese of your choice, and extra herbs and spices if you want. Sprinkle the crust lightly with rock salt if you’re feeling fancy.

how to make pizza in a toaster oven

Place in the toaster oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Remove, admire your awesome small apartment cooking handiwork, and chow down. I mean, enjoy and be ladylike… but chow down. You earned it.

pizza with tahini

Eating straight off of the cutting board, true small apartment style.

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