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.

We’re calling it a “Suede Cake”

Baking projects with Lilli are a weekly thing in our kitchen. Sometimes I’ll ask if she wants to bake, but most of the time I’ll watch her go into the kitchen, grab her apron and push her Kitchen Helper to the counter while shouting “Cook! Cook!” (This is also her word for cookie, so you really have to watch for context clues to see if she wants a cookie or to bake one.) Last weekend, during the latest blizzard, she got out her apron and started pushing her way to the counter while calling out “Cake! Cake!” so I knew what she had in mind.

Suede Cake

Although Lilli loves spending time in the kitchen, she still has the attention span of a two year old, so it’s better if the recipes are easy to manage and can be done quickly. So I was pretty excited when I found this red velvet cake recipe in the Lemonade cookbook a few weeks ago. It looked really easy, and I already had buttermilk for the batter in the fridge as well as two blocks of cream cheese for the frosting. (There had been a sale and I figured there would be a frosting recipe soon enough that called for them.)

It turns out the recipe was ridiculously easy and took only a couple of minutes to pull together. You sift the dry ingredients in one bowl, and whisk the wet ingredients in another, then you add the dry to the other and continue to whisk. Or, as Lilli said as she stirred the batter: “Mix! Mix!” I should add here that whenever I read “sift flour” in a recipe, I ignore that and grab a whisk. Couldn’t be easier.

You’ll notice in the photo (go me for actually managing to snap one this time) that this is more of a tan velvet cake. Rich even suggested calling it a “suede cake.” We made the executive decision to eliminate the food coloring from the recipe and keep it out of our bellies. As it happens, there was a study released late last week about artificial colors and hyperactivity in children. Of course, I can’t find it right now, but I’m sure you can find it if you’re really curious.

tea party

But about this cake: It’s terrific. Deceptively delicious given how simple it is to throw together. We baked a pineapple upside down cake this morning, and you could see how disappointed Lilli was when she was served a slice of that rather than this cake. I know you’re probably thinking the ingredients are a little strange, but to quote the cookbook, “While the ingredients may sound odd, vinegar and cocoa powder are crucial to the batter, lending its distinctive tang and subtle chocolate taste!”

My only other suggestion aside from eliminating the food coloring is to take the cream cheese and butter out of the fridge when you start this project. It will be room temperature by the time the cake is ready to be frosted.

Man, this is a great cake. Trust me.

Suede Cake from The Lemonade Cookbook by Alan Jackson and Joan Cianciulli

Ingredients

BATTER

Nonstick cooking spray, for coating the pans

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups sugar

1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

1 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

(2 tablespoons red food coloring)

1 teaspoon white vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FROSTING

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, at room temperature

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line three 9-inch round cake pans with wax or parchment paper and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Remove the cream cheese and butter from the refrigerator and set it on the counter to come to room temperature.

To prepare the batter: In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt; set aside. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs (food coloring), vinegar, and vanilla extract until well combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients, continuing to whisk until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the surface with a spatula; the pans should be one-half full. Tap the pans a few times firmly on the counter top to level and knock out any air bubbles. Place the pans on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when touched. Cool the cake in the pans until completely cool. In the meantime, prepare the frosting.

To prepare the frosting, put the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or use a hand-held electric beater. Beat on medium speed until very smooth and lump-free, about 2 minutes. Stop the machine periodically to scrape off the paddle and the sides of the bowl. While beating, gradually sprinkle in the powdered sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and continue to mix until combined.

Once the cakes are cool, turn them out from the pans and remove the paper. Trim off any uneven edges. Save these crumbs for decorating the top of the cake. Using a metal spatula, spread half the frosting on top of two of the cake rounds. Carefully place the cakes on top of each other. Set the last layer on top. Frost the top and sides of the cake thoroughly. Crumble the reserved scraps with your hands and sprinkle on the top of the cake, letting the (red) crumbs fall on the sides. Refrigerate the cake for 45 minutes before cutting.

A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

Turning Two

Lilli turned two on Sunday. We celebrated with cupcakes and an ice cream sundae bar at the Inside Playground down the road. Thankfully, the party was sandwiched in between two snowstorms, ensuring that the guests and grandparents from outside of Boston were still able to make it.

It’s been a while since I planned a party and I’d wanted to share how it turned out, like my friend Molly always does with her own awards show viewing parties. Of course, I forgot to snap photos of the sundae bar. Sorry about that. We bought a case of small, wide-mouthed jars from the local hardware store for a few dollars which will obviously now be used for canning things. Then I filled the jars with candies like M&Ms, chocolate chips, jelly beans, crushed Oreo cookies, and mini York Peppermint Patties. Next to the jars I placed cut up strawberries and bananas, fresh homemade whipped cream, hot fudge, salted caramel sauce, marshmallow topping and a jar of cherries.

ice cream party

Daddies were very appreciative of having a place for their toddlers to play.

After consulting with mommies at work, I decided to forgo a fancy bakery cake for Lilli and just buy some mini cupcakes from the grocery store. As it turned out, the bakery at the market couldn’t guarantee they would have enough, if any, in stock that Sunday morning, so Lilli and I donned our aprons and got to work in the kitchen. We have weekly baking projects, although most of her participation ends with me sweeping flour and sugar off the kitchen floor. Papa and Grammy got her a Kitchen Helper for Christmas which is nice because I was always a little nervous about her slipping off a dining room chair.

I was sent Hello Cupcake! years ago to review, but hadn’t found the right moment to dive into the recipes in it until I needed to bake these birthday cupcakes. If it had been a birthday party for me, I probably would have gone with the sweet potato cupcakes with cream cheese frosting or saffron cupcakes. And if nuts weren’t an issue, Lilli would have loved the Nutella cupcakes. We settled on the “Classic cupcakes” recipe, which had a nice lemony base and a cream cheese frosting.

cousins playing

The author is British and the recipe is measured in weights, so get out your kitchen scale. The recipe says it makes 12 regular-sized cupcakes, but it made 48 mini-cupcakes, more than enough for the party. The smaller cakes took about 13 minutes to bake. I think the frosting was a bit too sweet, but I think that’s because I had a little slip up with weighing out the sugar. Many of the guests thought it was divine, but that’s just my two cents.

Classic Cupcakes from Hello Cupcake! by Leila Lindholm

Ingredients

3 eggs

250 grams (9 oz) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

100 g (3 ½ oz) butter

100 ml (3 ½ fl oz) milk

350 g (12 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 pinch salt

Grated peel and juice from 1 lemon

Cream Cheese Frosting

60 g (2 oz) softened butter

500 g (17 ½ oz) icing (confectioner’s) sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

100 g (3 ½ oz) cream cheese

Sprinkles or flowers, for garnish

Directions

Preheat oven to 345F (175C)

Whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla until white and really fluffy.

Melt the butter, add the milk and mix this into the eggs.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt and carefully fold into the other ingredients until combined.

Mix in the grated peel and juice from one lemon.

Set out paper cups in a muffin tin and fill the cups until two-thirds full with the mixture.

Bake them in the middle of the oven for about 15 minutes. Once they cool a little, move them to a cooling rack to cool down.

Frosting

Mix the butter, icing sugar, vanilla, lemon juice and cream cheese until creamy.

Spread the frosting on the cakes and garnish with sprinkles or flowers.

 

It’s a Brooklyn Thing

Well, we are two for two with baking times being totally off with cake recipes from The Mile End Cookbook. But, like the honey cake for Rosh Hashana, I’m still sharing this olive oil cake with you in time for Chanukah because the result was that delicious. It’s soft and fluffy and lemony. Pillowy, even.

olive oil cake

Lilli and I put this together when we got home tonight. The recipe, as written, says it should bake for about 40 minutes, and there’s something about a thermometer which I found useless since the cake was near-liquid 35 minutes in. In total, this took about 75 minutes to bake. While we waited, Lilli and I did some coloring and enjoyed some halva my mom gifted me for Chanukah. (Rich would like me to note that she’s not a chatty one, but actually said “halva” tonight in between popping sweet bites into her mouth. This is actually a really big deal considering she has yet to say her own name.) She was already asleep by the time the cake was cool enough to cut. Sorry about that, kiddo.

The authors describe this cake as not a “traditional Jewish thing, or even a Montreal thing. It’s a Brooklyn thing – it’s based on cakes you’ll find at some of the old Italian bakeries in Carroll Gardens…” They say the cake is still good for up to a week after it’s been made, but it would be a miracle if it lasted to the eighth day.

Olive Oil Cake

Ingredients

3 large eggs

Zest of one lemon

3 cups sugar

1 ½ cups olive oil (or substitute 1 cup canola oil and ½ cup olive oil)

1 ½ cups whole milk

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Powdered sugar, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh berries, and crème fraiche (optional), for serving

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Place the eggs and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix on medium speed for a few seconds. While the mixer is running, add 1 ¼ cups of the sugar and mix until it’s dissolved, 10 to 15 seconds. Keep the mixer running and add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Continue mixing for another minute, and then add the milk in a slow, steady stream. Mix for another few seconds.

Stop the mixer and add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and remaining 1 ¾ cups of sugar to the bowl; mix on low speed for a few seconds to bring the ingredients together, then on medium speed for about 3 minutes, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until you have a smooth and fairly thin batter.

Line a 12-inch round cake pan with a circle of parchment paper trimmed to fit snugly in the bottom of the pan; grease the lined pan with a light film of oil or cooking spray. (I used a 12-inch spring-form pan for easy removal.)

Pour the batter into the pan and bake for approximately 75 minutes, rotating the pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking, until the top has split and become a deep golden brown and a thin metal insert comes out clean.

Let the cake cool, and then turn it out onto a serving plate. Garnish with a dusting of powdered sugar and drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with fresh berries and crème fraiche, if you like.