Snack-O-Lantern

Rich and the girls went on a corn maze adventure last Sunday, and somehow brought home EIGHT pumpkins at the end of the day. Two were painted by the girls, and we’re halfway through carving the two big ones into jack-o-lanterns:

But the small sugar pumpkin, whose stem Lilli accidentally broke off, was roasted immediately and is now pumpkin pudding. I suggest you do the same with your sugar pumpkins. 

To rescue the broken pumpkin, we cut it in half lengthwise and removed the seeds and stringy guts with an ice cream scoop. Then we roasted the pumpkin, cut-side down and brushed with olive oil in a 400F oven, for about 50 minutes.

The recipe couldn’t be simpler; everything goes into a blender. The cookbook – The L.L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery, by Judith and Evan Jones – was inherited from Nana Parr. A friend commented on the photo of the pudding, noting how she also had inherited cookbooks and recipes. “It’s so special to pass on that love.”

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As for this recipe, I skipped the amaretto liqueur. I know a cup is a lot of honey. I personally made a point not to use the expensive kind I own for this recipe. I used golden raisins for my raisins. I find the pudding tastier a little warm, so I’ve been scooping myself servings, then heating it up in the microwave for about a minute before serving. This would be great with whipped cream, although we have been enjoying it with plain yogurt with a little maple syrup drizzled in. This is a pumpkin pudding that tastes like autumn without tasting anything like pumpkin spice. 

Put your kettle on for the water bath before you start making the pudding; it comes together that quickly.

Pumpkin Pudding from The L. L. Bean Book of New New England Cookery by Judith and Evan Jones 

Ingredients 

2 cups pumpkin puree 

4 eggs

½ cup water

1 cup honey

½ cup raisins

½ cup currants

4 Tablespoons flour 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Heat a kettle of water. 

Put all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and mix thoroughly. 

Pour the batter in a shallow, lightly buttered baking dish, and place the dish in a pan containing about 1 inch of hot water.

Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. 

Serves 6 to 8.

Magic Tofu

I did a quick glance through the past few posts that I managed to get up on this site, and I’m slightly embarrassed to realize they are all desserts. And what’s more, I came to tell you about our local and sustainable Rosh Hashana, with a recipe for a scrumptious carrot cake. 

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Lest you think we eat dessert all day long, I will instead share a recipe I’ve been meaning to post for months now. It’s actually a recipe that I’ve already shared, but with enough tweaks that it is a completely different beast. It’s now the best darn tofu I’ve had in my life. 

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Remember the special, special tofu that people flipped for last year? Well, I’ve made it better. And instead of a three-day marinade, this is now a less-than 20 minutes from start to finish recipe. First you’re going to blot dry your tofu, then cut it up, toss it with some corn starch, then fry it in a nonstick pan. Flip it, fry the other side, pour the sauce on top of your golden, crisped up tofu. Soon enough, you’ll be looking at the prettiest, glossiest tofu. And it tastes even better than it looks. 

There is one thing about this recipe that has stopped me from posting: It tastes best right out of the pan. I can’t figure out how to reheat the leftovers, so you’ll need enough people to eat all the tofu. Unless you want to stuff yourself, but please don’t do that!

The Best Tofu You’ve Had in Your Life, adapted from Saladish by Ilene Rosen

Ingredients 

1 (14 oz [400 g]) block extra-firm tofu 

2 to 3 Tablespoons (16 to 24 g) cornstarch

1 Tablespoon  (15 ml) oil, for pan

Sauce

2 Tablespoons mirin

3 Tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

4 ½ teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil

1 Tablespoon Tamari

1 Tablespoon honey 

Directions

Drain the tofu and squeeze it between your hands over the sink to get the excess water out. Slice it into cubes, or slabs. Sprinkle 1 heaping Tablespoon (about 8 to 12g) cornstarch into a large container, add the tofu in a single layer , then sprinkle another heaping tablespoon (8 to 12g) of cornstarch. If you can, cover the container and shake to coat the tofu with cornstarch.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the tofu in a single layer and fry, flipping once when golden, until crispy on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. (While the tofu is frying, prepare the sauce.) Lower the heat to medium and pour in the sauce. Let the sauce simmer and thicken for a couple of minutes, flipping to tofu to coat it on both sides. 

Serve immediately. 

 

Island Born and Unicorns

The heat was on us like five bullies, even in the shade of the tree in the front yard. But the line-up of little sluggers didn’t seem to care. They were waiting to take their swings at the unicorn piñata hanging from the lowest branch. As the final blow spilled erasers, glow sticks, kazoos, and temporary tattoos onto the lawn, one of the grown-ups yelled out, “Call Alex Cora, we have a new slugger the Sox need!”

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But let’s back up a month, when our younger daughter, Beatrix, turned 4. June is a crazy month for us, full of birthdays, Father’s Days, and our anniversary. So the 4th birthday party was put off to mid-July. Little did we know it was going to be in the middle of the first heat wave of the summer.

It’s actually fitting that it was so hot that day because the theme for the party was inspired by Bea’s favorite book, Island Born by Junot Diaz. It’s a beautiful book about a little girl named Lola who goes to a school where all the students are from somewhere else.

Lola’s class assignment is to draw a picture of where they are originally from. Lola is from “the Island” (the Dominican Republic) but left before she could remember. She goes through her neighborhood asking everyone what they remember. She discovers the sun “can be as hot as five bullies.” She eats crispy empanadas and waxes poetic about mangoes. She learns about the music, the vivid colors, and finally, why her family left the Island.

I took the idea of a Dominican-themed birthday party as a challenge. I convinced a local restaurant to fry up a batch of crispy, vegetarian empanadas. I’m not sure Big Papi would have approved, but they were quite delicious even without meat. Dominican mangoes were magically on sale at the international store this week. We also served agua de cocoa, agua fresca, and pizza for the kids.

It wasn’t all on theme. Using this week’s CSA I made a massaged kale salad with grated carrot, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and cucumber, and dressed it with a fresh lemon thyme dressing. I also made a corn salad that was more Mexican than Dominican, with pickled onions, grape tomatoes, avocadoes, radish, topped with Cotija cheese, and dressed with a cumin lime dressing.

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At some point in the home stretch the party morphed slightly with some last minute rainbow-unicorn purchases: a massive balloon, wading pool, and the aforementioned piñata. The pool paired nicely with the used bouncy castle I found online for a hundred bucks late this spring. When they weren’t hiding from the heat in the house, the kids dashed between the pool and the bounce house.

But really, I’m here to talk about the dessert bar Bea and I devised. Rich says now that if he knew what I was up to, he would have put a stop to it, or at least thrown himself in front of the train. But last week I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. Nellie’s Free Range Eggs reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try out their products. Even better, they offered me a gift card to help pay for the groceries.

I try to eat local eggs and dairy, so the first thing I checked was where these eggs were coming from. New Hampshire is close enough for me. Then I learned the hens live on free-range, small family-run farms, and are Certified Humane. This was just what I needed, especially because my colleague who I usually get my eggs from is on vacation this month.

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For the dessert bar I baked:

(When I type it out in bullets, it does seem like a bit much.)

These blondies were inspired by a recipe I made a few weeks back for blondies with rhubarb and white chips. I had read about a recipe from Sister Pie, which we got to visit last summer when we went to Detroit. I don’t actually own that cookbook, so I used my own blondie recipe and enhanced it. Those blondies are great, but I’m guessing most of you don’t have a pound of rhubarb squirreled away in your downstairs freezer like I do. On the other hand, it is cherry season right now.

Whether you use rhubarb or cherries, the secret to this recipe browning the butter, which lends a butterscotch flavor to the final blondies. It takes just a few more minutes than if you’re melting a stick of butter in a small saucepan. Stand by it and watch as it goes from yellow to brown but make sure to stop it before it burns. I timed it, and it took about 7 minutes to brown on my induction stove.

Rich bought me an olive pitter years ago that does double duty during cherry season. I still pit my girls’ cherries before I serve them. It also came in handy for a clafloutis that I made last week. If you don’t have one, you can just halve the cherries to de-pit them, or just squeeze the pits out by hand if you don’t mind getting cherry-stained fingers.

Brown Butter Blondies with Fresh Cherries and White Chocolate Chips

Ingredients

½ cup melted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, preferably Nellie’s Free Range Eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2  cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan.

Melt a half cup (one stick) of butter in a small saucepan. In about seven minutes, the yellow butter will develop brown spots as it turns from frothy to brown. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Mix all of the ingredients together, in order of appearance in the recipe, combining them well. Spread in the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut into small squares.

This post was in part sponsored by Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, now in partnership with the Boston Red Sox!

Rings a Bell

It was a Baker’s Dozen at our house for first night seder. I recently eliminated fish from my diet, making this year’s seder completely vegetarian. For those curious, I served quinoa stuffed mushrooms; this mushroom and spinach egg bake; beet, orange and pickled fennel salad; roasted asparagus; roasted Japanese yams with an herby yogurt sauce; and matzo pizza for the kids. My parents brought a broccoli kugel and roasted potatoes to round out the meal.

But I’m not here to talk about dinner. Nope, we’re going to focus on the gluten-free dairy dessert that was a big hit at dinner, and on the Internet, this weekend.

 

20190419_194511.jpgSometime last month I decided on doing a pavlova: a bed of airy meringue, topped with fresh whipped cream with fresh berries piled on top. This gave me ample time to find a good recipe. I cruised the Internet to find a reliable kosher-for-Passover pavlova recipe. I settled on one from Jamie Geller’s The Joy of Kosher. I made her tahini halvah brownies back in January, and they were superb.

As a lucky bonus to my quest for the perfect pavlova, this week I caught an episode of Simply Ming on PBS Create, in which he made pavlovas with Joanne Chang of flour bakery fame. I watched it carefully, taking notes as to how, why, and when Joanne added her sugar to the egg whites a spoonful at a time, and how long she cooled her meringue after it baked in a very low oven.

The big changes for a kosher-for-Passover pavlova were using potato starch instead of cornstarch and adding a smidge of vinegar; this helps with drying the meringue out. Although this recipe isn’t such a big deal to put together, you do need time. I did this at night so I could let the meringue dry out overnight in the oven as it cooled. I’d suggest you do the same.

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The hardest part of this recipe is separating five egg whites, but then your machine does the rest of the work. Although I have hand-held egg beaters for Passover, it took me until this year to realize my Kitchen-Aid Mixer’s attachments are metal and could easily be kashered with some boiling water. If you can chill your bowl and whisk ahead of time, so much the better. The eggs are supposed to be cold, as well, so they can come right out of the fridge.

I made this Thursday night and whipped up the cream Friday midday, stuck that in the fridge, and put the dessert together during the seder. The whole process was simple and fuss-free. The results were no less than spectacular.

Mixed Berry Pavlova, adapted from Jamie Geller

Ingredients

For the Pavlova

5 cold egg whites

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons potato starch

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

Whipped Cream (recipe follows)

Garnish: Mixed Berries  (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250°F. Using a dinner plate, trace a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper so ink does not get on the meringue and set aside.

Whip whites, salt, and vanilla on high in a mixer until firm. With the motor running, add sugar, a spoonful at a time, until whites are glossy and very stiff.

Gently fold potato starch and vinegar into meringue with a spatula.

Transfer meringue to prepared parchment paper. Form meringue into a rustic bowl. It’s not necessary to make it perfect. Just be sure to make the center thick enough to support the filling.

Bake pavlova at 250°F for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven and do not open the door for at least 6 hours or, better yet, overnight. The residual heat will crisp up the meringue and keep humidity out.

Place pavlova on a serving platter. Pile whipped cream on pavlova. Add berries.

WHIPPED CREAM

With a mixer, or by hand, whip cream and sugar in a chilled bowl will chilled beater until soft folds form.

Whip until soft peaks form.

 

Carpe Diem

Let’s see, it’s been a month since we celebrated Lilli’s birthday party, and I have just a few weeks before Passover starts. Apologies for those expecting a gluten-free recipe for the holiday, but I’ve wanted to share these whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies for years on the blog. It’s 6:51 am, and it’s the weekend. Carpe Diem, my friends.

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This year Lilli made it clear she did not want a cake, but rather these cookies by Kim Boyce that made the rounds, let’s see, oh, nine years ago. We baked dozens and froze them two weeks before the party, along with these spectacular and very simple blondies. We also made these halva tahini brownies that were so simple, and so so delicious, that really, the only thing you should be doing right now is melting some chocolate into olive oil.

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But yes, these cookies. They are a fan favorite. The whole wheat makes for a deeper, nuttier taste. The butter remains cold so you don’t have to plan in advance to made them as you do with most cookie recipes that call for softened butter. I promised my friend Ben a care package, and I do plan on mailing some to him. We got up early the day of Lilli’s party and made the smaller sized ones into ice cream sandwiches because, well, Carpe Diem, my friends.

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We had about 50 people in total to the house that day. A mix of current kindergarten friends, friends from PreK, friends from my Hebrew school class that Lilli comes to every Sunday with me, and a few pals from around town. Parents were invited to drop off or stay. Most stayed once they saw the spread in the kitchen.

This year I served: Michael Solomonov’s hummus (we used the Instapot for the first time to (intentionally) overcook the chickpeas; caramelized onion dip;  butternut squash and chickpea salad (which was kind of eh); Brussels sprouts with leeks, parmesan and chestnuts; Vietnamese tofu; peanut butter noodles; farro with dried apricots, mushrooms and hazelnuts; marinated roasted red peppers served with fresh mozzarella and crusty bread. You know, the usual fare for a six-year-old’s party

There was also the usual chips, dip, Pirate’s Booty, Lilli’s stuffed dates, pizza, and crudite for nibblers.

The kids clearly had a blast playing dress-up, doing art projects, and for some of the boys, playing tag inside the house. There may have been a lightsaber that needed confiscation.

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We sang happy birthday and enjoyed the aforementioned desserts, along with a Panda chocolate chip cookie cake by Papa, and some melon. It was a great party. And I still have about a dozen cookies in the downstairs freezer, despite Rich’s best efforts to finish them.

Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Dry Mix

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Wet Mix

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is useful for these cookies because the large chunks of chocolate can stick to the pan.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
  3. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Cooking for a Crowd

I feel a little silly coming to this space to tell you about a recipe that took the internet by storm  (checks notes, squints eyes) TEN YEARS AGO. I’ve been making it for years without a peep on this blog, but this fall I learned it’s very easy to double, triple, and even sextuple the recipe. So now I’m here to share the gospel of chickpea and butternut squash salad with tahini dressing.

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A local friend who I met through this blog has developed a crew of kiddush makers for the Conservative synagogue in town. Our volunteer group gathers in the kitchen every few weeks when it’s our turn to get the meal on the table. I’ve been tapped to do the menu planning, and it’s been a learning process. I think December’s Chinese food themed luncheon, with lo mein, magic tofu, Asian slaw, and gingery roasted broccoli salad, all served on top of white rice, was the best one we’ve churned out so far.

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Catching you up on the girls: here’s Bea at her ballet recital from December.

But for one of our earlier meals this fall, I made this chickpea and butternut squash salad with a tahini dressing using six butternut squashes I had piling up in my kitchen from the end of the fall CSA. I made it again this week in my own kitchen with tahini I picked up from Buy Nothing Northampton. As you can see in the photo, Rich tossed his with arugula we had in the fridge for a little something extra.

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And here’s the birthday girl Lilli at school this past Friday!

I think this is technically supposed to be served warm, but since it travels well and makes great leftovers, I’m not too picky about the temp it’s served at.

Butternut and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Dressing (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Ingredients

For salad:

1 medium butternut squash (about 2 to 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt

One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (1 1/2 cups)

1/4 of a medium red onion, finely chopped

For tahini dressing:

1 medium garlic clove, finely minced with a pinch of salt

Juice from half a lemon

3 tablespoons well-stirred tahini

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash, olive oil, and a few pinches of salt. Toss the squash pieces until evenly coated. Roast them on a baking sheet for 25 minutes, or until soft. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile, make the tahini dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic and lemon juice. Add the tahini, and whisk to blend. Add the water and olive oil, whisk well, and taste for seasoning. You might need to add more water to thin it out.

To assemble the salad, combine the squash, chickpeas, and onion in a mixing bowl. Add the tahini dressing to taste, and toss carefully.

Anytime Tofu

I just sat down to share my Rosh Hashana menu from last month, but then had second thoughts because that was 12 dishes, plus three desserts. I will say this about that meal: The unsaid goal of the meal I set for myself was to build up to such a crescendo that by the time dessert was served, the vegans would want to eat the all three cakes served. Mission accomplished.

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Making Chocolate Granola.

But I worry I would bore you with all the details. I will instead, in honor of the vegans who were willing to eat the honey, share this tofu dish which I now have to keep in a Google Doc because people keep asking me for the recipe. It started, as it does quite frequently, at a Tot Shabbat. A little boy enjoyed the tofu so much that he declared that tofu was now his favorite food in the world and demanded his mom track down the recipe. I tripled the recipe at Rosh Hashana and have been pleasing folks right and left, since.

It’s from Saladish, which I wrote about last time I found my way here, and I’m OK still talking about this cookbook because it is such a good one. I marinate my tofu in a gallon-size Ziploc bag for a good three days before roasting and serving it. It’s actually part of a salad that I’ve never completed because I’m so stuck on the tofu.  

20181008_104047.jpgI always skip the sambal oelek to make sure young mouths won’t find it too spicy. I also cut up my tofu before putting it in the marinade, although the recipe is written to soak it whole.

Tofu (From a recipe called “Vietnamese-Style Tofu Salad” from Saladish by Ilene Rosen)

Marinade

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons sambal oelek (skip this because I skipped it. Too spicy for little ones.)

3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

4 ½ teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil

1 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Marinate the tofu: Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade together in a bowl. Transfer to a covered container or plastic storage bag. Add the tofu and turn it over several times so it is well coated. Cover or seal and refrigerate for at least 1 day, and up to 5 days – the longer the better – turned the tofu (or bag) occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Set the tofu on a sheet pan, reserving any excess marinade. Swipe the tofu around to grease the pan. Cut the tofu horizontally in half, then cut the still stacked halves into quarters. Cut the quarters in half to form triangles and spread them out on the pan. [Or, you can cut the tofu before marinating.]

Baste the tops with the reserved marinade and bake for 10 minutes. Then flip the tofu over and return the oven for another 10 minutes. Let cool, then serve.