Pay to Play

As happy and proud as I would be if Lilli were one day president, or perhaps another rocking female senator from Massachusetts, I’m a little concerned about how well she responds to bribes. Then again, I don’t know of any other way to get a two and a half year old to do anything without the promise of a sticker, or perhaps a special treat.

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“If you let me brush your hair, I’ll give you a sticker.”

“If you get into bed I’ll give you a sticker. You have to stay in the bed to keep the sticker, though.”

“If you let me rest next to you while you quietly watch Mr. Maker, you’ll get a surprise!”

The surprise turned out to be baking chocolate cupcakes, something Lilli asked to do several times last week. And because she sat and quietly watched Mr. Maker until 7AM, we tied on our aprons and got to work.

Finding a good chocolate cupcake recipe proved much more challenging than I would have expected. For instance, Joanne Chang’s version from her first cookbook,flour, was inspired by a dump cake, where you dump all the ingredients into a bowl. I know, sounds easy, but then you have to let it sit at room temperature for at least an hour, or store it in the refrigerator for up to three days. I can’t do anything with a two and a half year old for an hour, so that one was out of the question. Oh yeah, and Chang’s magic frosting calls for three sticks of butter.

ferris wheel

I found the perfect chocolate cupcake recipe in Greg Patent’s Baking in America: Traditional and Contemporary Favorites from the Past 200 Years. I have to admit this isn’t my book. A former co-worker brought in the book to show me a recipe for an Election Cake, a yeast bread flavored with nutmeg, mace, brandy and Madeira, with a pound of dried fruit kneaded into it. Election cakes date back to the 1600s and were served at musters, election-day picnics and other festivities.

I think my co-worker must have brought it in for the 2012 elections, or one of the innumerable special elections we have had here recently. If I was your colleague, I’d warn you against lending me any cookbooks. Then again, I might bring you in cupcakes on Monday morning.

Sleeping Bea

The recipe is for “Chocolate Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting” and it’s a terrific cupcake. The headnotes say it makes 12 cupcakes, but I made 24 mini ones. I kept out six of them, and put the rest in the freezer. They’ll go into Lilli’s lunch bag, and probably be served to her as an afternoon snack.

I actually didn’t use the frosting recipe in the book, but used my go-to: Deb’s frosting recipe, which is made in the food processor.  Patent says to bake these cupcakes for 22 to 25 minutes, but they took 15 minutes on the dot as mini ones.

This weekend Lilli had her first carousel ride, rode a ferris wheel, went to a sand castle competition, and flew a kite. But when I asked her what was her favorite part of the weekend, her response was, “chocolate cupcakes.”

Chocolate Cupcakes

Ingredients

1 ¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ Dutch-process cocoa

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 large eggs

½ cup milk

Directions

Adjust an oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners, or a 24 mini muffin pan with liners; set aside.

Resift the flour with the baking soda, salt and cocoa; set aside. (Please note: I “sifted” all dry ingredients together at one time by whisking them in a bowl.)

In a medium bowl, beat the butter on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until smooth and fluffy; stop to scrape the bowl as necessary. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each.

With a rubber spatula, stir in about one third of the flour mixture, just until incorporated. Gently stir in half the milk. Stir in half the remaining flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and finally the last of the flour, stirring after each addition just to combine well. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups; each cup will be about half full. Don’t bother to smooth the batter; it will level itself during baking.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes (or 15 if you’re doing mini), until the cupcakes spring back when their centers are gently pressed; do not overbake. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Fish Sauce Junkie

My shoulder has really kept me from the kitchen, but last week I went to Russo’s for the first time in months. There were plums and peaches and pluots, although the apricots were still a touch more than I wanted to spend. And the radishes were a vivid pink, so much so that I couldn’t leave them behind. I started plotting a salad using plums and radishes. Rich was skeptical, but I pushed forward, throwing in cucumber and tomatoes, and a touch of butter lettuce.

I bought plums, but Lilli got a cupcake.

I bought plums, but Lilli got a cupcake.

But what really made this salad was the dressing, the recipe for which has been sitting in my drafts folder for well over a year. I think it’s from Gwyneth Paltrow. I borrowed her cookbooks from the library last year and was happy I did. Think what you will about GOOP, but her dressings are great.

It’s called Vietnamese Salad Dressing, and I think it’s wonderful. Rich does not. I’m an admitted fish sauce junkie, and I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. If you like Vietnamese food, you’ll probably love this dressing, too.

asleep

My friend Caitlyn, who lived in Thailand, advises that Squid is the brand of fish sauce you want to use. I don’t own spicy sesame oil, just regular, so I used that, instead. I keep mine stored in the fridge, by the way. Agave nectar isn’t as healthy as once thought to be, so I use honey; I think palm sugar would actually be perfect for this recipe if you have it on hand.

Vietnamese Salad Dressing

¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon hot pepper sesame oil
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion or shallot

Combine all ingredients in a jar. Screw on lid, give it a good shake, and go for it.

The Halvah “Problem”

I’ve made no secret of my love of halvah, and how Lilli, who seems to be vying to at least place at the picky toddler championship, loves to munch on it, too. This is a known fact in my family, and so when everyone assembled for Beatrix’s baby naming, I found myself with a curious problem: a surplus of halvah.

bea in maine

She arrived, and so did a whole a mess of halvah

First, my dad brought two huge chunks of it, which he purchased at the shuk in Jerusalem. (He also brings those candied pecans, possibly my most favorite thing in the entire world. The only place I’ve located them stateside that actually taste like the Israeli version is at Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side. A store that sells smoked fish and those pecans is my heaven on earth.)

Then my mom came to town with a bagful of food for our first week home from the hospital: salmon, pesto, asparagus, and an enormous brisket. And she brought halvah as a special treat for Lilli and me. Finally, I rescued some from Sara’s kitchen, as no one in her house enjoyed it. (Sylvie’s comment: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand that sentence.”)

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Lilli practicing “gentle”

As delighted as I am that my parents clearly read my blog and have both gotten the memo about halvah, I have about three pounds of it in my kitchen right now. A fridge full of vegetables actually provided the answer for what to do about my halvah dilemma. I was on the hunt for something new to do with broccoli and was flipping through Ottolenghi’s latest, Plenty More, the sequel to his extraordinary vegetable bible, Plenty. And there they were: a recipe for halvah and walnut cake, followed by a recipe for halvah ice cream. (For those wondering what I did with the broccoli, I made Heidi Swanson’s broccoli gribeche salad from Super Natural Every Day.)

So Lilli and I grabbed our aprons — or kitchen smocks, as she calls them — and got to work on the ice cream. The cake will have to wait because it’s too darn hot to turn the oven to 400F. The result was excellent if you’re into halvah and ice cream — so, pretty much everyone.

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Lilli in her “kitchen smock”

This is a traditional custard-based ice cream, with heated eggs, making it safe for pregnant women. You drizzle in tahini, then add halvah at the very end of the churn. I’m including the directions for those without an ice cream maker, but honestly, do what we did five years ago, and buy one off of Craig’s List for $25. This reminds me that I was sent a no-churn ice cream cookbook which I need to take for a spin. Will report back soon.

Three small things: I couldn’t find my jar of vanilla beans, purchased for cheap in the gourmet food section at Home Goods, so I used a teaspoon of extract, as a classmate/baker once taught me to do. Two: I also didn’t have  superfine sugar, so I made some by whirling regular white sugar in the food processor. Three: place the container you’re going to freeze the ice cream in before you get going, because Ottolenghi only mentions this as you finish up the churning.

The full recipe is actually for halvah ice cream with chocolate sauce and roasted peanuts. Ottolenghi likens it to a “luxurious Snickers ice cream: sweet, nutty, and comforting. The chocolate can mask the halvah flavor a little, so better not drench it with sauce; just drizzle lightly.” Since the point here is halvah, we skipped the chocolate sauce – for now.

me as a little girl

I think Lilli is the spitting image of me as a little girl in this picture, and not because she’s chowing down on halvah ice cream

Halvah Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce and Roasted Peanuts from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups/350 ml whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped – alternatively, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 egg yolks

Scant 3 1/2 tsp/40g superfine sugar

2 tbsp/30 g tahini paste

3 1/2 oz/100 g halvah, cut into 1/4-inch/5-mm dice

Scant 1/2 cup/60 g salted roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped (store bought are best)

1tsp black sesame seeds (or white, if available)

Chocolate sauce

2/3 cup/150 ml heavy cream

Scant 3 oz/80 g dark chocolate (70 percent cacao), finely chopped

1/2 tsp brandy

Directions

Heat the cream, milk, and vanilla bean and seeds (or teaspoon vanilla) in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture just comes to a boil. Remove from heat.

In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until combined. Use a ladle to spoon a little of the hot cream mixture into the egg mixture, whisking the whole time. Continue with more cream mixture until it is all incorporated. Return to the saucepan and place over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon continuously for 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens to a light custard consistency. Remove from the heat and whisk in the tahini. Leave to cool for 20 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean pods if using.

Pour the custard into an ice cream machine and churn for about 35 minutes, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions (for my machine it’s about 20 minutes) until semifrozen but creamy.

Alternatively, transfer it to a freeze-proof container and place in the freezer for 4 to 5 hours, removing it every 30 to 45 minutes and beating it vigorously with a spatula or whisk to break up the frozen areas. Stir in the halvah halfway through freezing.

Remove from the machine and stir in the halvah pieces. Place in a prefrozen container and freeze. Remove from the freezer 10 minutes before serving to let it soften.

Make the chocolate sauce just before serving. Place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat and bring to a gentle boil. Immediately pour this over the chocolate and stir until soft and uniform. Stir in the brandy. Divide the ice cream among bowls and drizzle some warm sauce over the top. Sprinkle with peanuts and sesame seeds and serve immediately.

New arrival!

I’d like to introduce you to Beatrix Louise Parr. Lilli’s little sister joined us on June 6, and has done an exemplary job of being a newborn: sleeping, eating, and filling up diapers. I wish she’d had gotten the memo about being an ace burper, but I’ll give her a pass on that one for a few more weeks.11401510_10102174805364411_4153459263116242899_n

For those wondering about her name, she was named for my Oma’s sister Bertel (a nickname for Bertha). As some of you may recall, Lilli was named for Oma, so we decided to reunite the sisters. Louise is for Nana Parr – Lois – and yes, we did distribute copies of her amazing cookie recipe at her naming ceremony. Beatrix’s Hebrew name is Bayla Ruth, Tante Bertel’s Hebrew name, and the Ruth in honor of Rich’s Grams as well as his Aunt Ruthie who just passed.

We’re still working on her nickname. I find myself calling her “Bea” although there is definitely a vocal Trixie faction, with one friend even giving us a copy of Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny to hammer the point home. Most amazing of all: Our neighbors welcomed a daughter on May 19 and we just found out her name – Ramona. So Bea or Trixie, she will forever be known as Beezus when she goes next door to play.

Having a toddler and a newborn is hard work, so this site has been unusually quiet these past few weeks. Added to the mix is a shoulder injury that has really kept me off the computer as well as being in the kitchen. (This is being written on my Galaxy S5 with additional help from Rich). Thankfully I finally started physical therapy for it last week – they couldn’t treat me until I had a baby – so I should be back in the kitchen soon.11428543_10101893535127222_3839312636187220219_n

Weeknight Hero

I spent most of March really wanting a hot bowl of broccoli and cheddar soup. I have no idea why it took me five weeks to realize I could make an entire pot of it in my own kitchen. But last week I did, and even shared a bowl or two with Rich and Lilli. I wasn’t going to mention it here, as I had made up my mind to share an asparagus recipe with you because it is finally, officially springtime, and hot creamy soup seemed so unseasonal.

sugar snap peas

But then I noticed a post on Facebook from an old friend of mine, saying he was going to try and recreate Quizno’s broccoli and cheddar soup. He explained that he likes to make big pots of soups and stews and freeze them for when he and his wife both worked late. “Make some popovers or some fresh corn bread and I’m a hero.” Clearly the universe was sending me a message, and that message was to share this soup recipe with everyone so that we could all be weeknight heroes.

So I made this soup a second time over the long holiday weekend, and froze it for the next time I want this soup, whether or not it’s in season.

A few things worth mentioning: I totally Sandra Lee’d this one. Rich tells me to not be so hard on myself and that Sandra Lee would have doctored a can of stuff from the pantry, but I definitely cut a bunch of corners on this one. And you know what? I’d do it again. For instance, instead of buying a head of broccoli, I chopped up a bag of broccoli florets. I used a bag of shredded cheddar cheese instead of standing at the counter and grating a block of it. And I used a box of organic vegetable stock I keep in the pantry.

The recipe is from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss, a cookbook I know I snatched off a pile of books to review from when I worked at a Jewish paper over a decade ago. Every recipe I’ve tried has been great, and the author not only categorizes the recipes by dairy, meat, parve, and Passover appropriate, but also says whether each recipe is good to freeze or not.

So there you have it. A great soup that comes together in less than a half an hour. Have it for dinner tonight. Or have it for lunch next month. The choice is yours.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss

Ingredients

1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped (I used two large shallots)

2 Tbsp/25 mL olive oil

1 lb./500 g broccoli florets (stems optional) cut into small pieces

1 tsp./5 mL salt

¼ tsp. /1 mL black pepper

5 cups/1.25 L stock

1 cup/250 mL half-and-half (I used heavy cream)

5 Tbsp./75 mL all-purpose flour

½ lb./250 g grated cheddar cheese

Directions

Over medium-low heat, sweat the onion in olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Wilt the onion, but don’t brown it.

If you are using broccoli stems as well as florets, peel them with a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the tough, fibrous skin from the tender flesh, then chop them up.

Add the broccoli, salt, pepper and stock to the soup pot, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down so that the soup simmers on low and cook approximately 10 minutes. The broccoli should be tender but not overcooked.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half-and-half (or heavy cream) and flour. Whisk this mixture into the soup and allow to simmer another 2-3 minutes, until the soup thickens.

Stir in the cheese until it is well incorporated and serve.

There Is No Wrong Answer

Growing up, Passover was the special time of year when my mom let us eat junk food. Looking back, I realize that had a lot to do with the availability of kosher junk food. The stores only stocked it at Passover, which meant it was the one time of year we got to have marshmallows or sugary rainbow fruit jells. Now that I’m a mom, I realize I’ve developed the same sort of habit in my own house. I lay low on rainbow hued candies, but Lilli is enjoying chocolate and Bissli, my favorite of the Israeli junk foods.

Lilli at zoo

As a general rule, I don’t serve matzo at my table; not worth the stomach ache. We do enjoy Tam Tams, and lucky for us, we haven’t had to convince Lilli to eat dried fruit alongside her crackers. She ate seven prunes in a row this weekend, and calls dried apples “apple candy.”

For the past few years I have purchased one box of matzo for the entire holiday, and it’s to fuel my Passover junk food tradition. Matzo crack, or matzo toffee if you’re feeling fancy, is pretty much the best thing you can do to matzo. Even better than shmearing it with Temp Tee whipped cream cheese and topping it with cherry preserves. I swear.

Research has told me that variations of this recipe have been floating around since 1985, which is the year that Marcy Goldman – she of the divine honey cakedeveloped this one. Now, I’ve seen many versions: Salted butter, unsalted butter, margarine. Sprinkled with salt (unnecessary if using salted butter),topped with nuts. White sugar, brown sugar. Let me be clear: IT’S ALL DELICIOUS. My recommendation is to trust your own palate and go with what suits you. There is no wrong answer for this one.

I saw a recipe earlier today that called for 2 cups, or 12 ounces of chocolate chips. Tonight I noticed that the Liebers’ bag of chocolate chips I always use is actually 9 ounces, and it works perfectly. This year I got all fancy and purchased a whisk and an offset spatula. But a fork to stir the sugar and butter into toffee and a butter knife to spread the chocolate works perfectly fine.

Matzo Crack

Ingredients

3 or 4 pieces of matzo, broken into large and small pieces to fit the pan

¾ cup or (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup packed brown sugar (white sugar is fine if that’s what you have)

1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 275F.

Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Place matzos in an even layer on the baking sheet. You will need to break the pieces of matzo to fit the pan. I find four pieces is generally how many it takes to fill the entire pan.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add sugar and immediately reduce the temperature to low. Cook, stirring until the sugar has completely dissolved, thickens and begins to bubble.

Drizzle the now-toffee over the matzo and spread it to cover using a butter knife, spatula or offset spatula.

Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and bake until the toffee gets shiny, which should take about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and evenly sprinkle the entire pan with the chocolate chips. Let stand for five minutes. The heat of the toffee will have begun to melt the chocolate; spread the chips across the matzos with an offset spatula, spatula or butter knife. If you’re using, sprinkle with salt and/or nuts.

Transfer the entire pan of matzo crack to the fridge and chill it for at least two hours.

Break the chilled matzo crack into pieces. Best to keep it stored in the refrigerator, although you probably won’t have leftovers.

Going Rogue

I’ve gone rogue this month. Honesty, nothing really grows in March, and eating seasonally is a bit of a downer, especially with the six foot high snow drifts lining our street. So for the past few weeks I’ve filled my grocery cart with green, out-of-season things, and haven’t looked back. We’ve had fresh zucchini stuffed with rice and beans, crowned with melted cheese. We’ve had eggplant rollatini, and fresh avocado for snacks. We’ve eaten strawberries nearly every morning, and tonight we enjoyed some mango. And then there were these Brussels sprouts.

Purim Monkey

I guess the sprouts are most “in season” around Thanksgiving, when I posted that Ottolenghi salsa. It looks like last year I posted these Brussels sprouts with shaved parmesan at the end of February. But I know I’m really pushing the envelope with these, but I don’t care. This was a fantastic dish, warm and comforting and great for the end of winter. I sopped the remains of my plate with leftover challah.

Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from All About Braising by Molly Stevens

Ingredients

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
3 Tbs unsalted butter
1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Directions

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are nicely browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Stir in the cream, then cover the pot. Reduce the heat to low. You want to keep the pan at a slow simmer. Braise until the sprouts are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a paring knife, about 30-35 minutes.

Remove the lid, and stir in the lemon juice. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as necessary.

Serve immediately.