A Is For Apple

We didn’t make it to an apple orchard this year. Oh, there were definitely invitations, and I do love fresh cider doughnuts. But the timing was never right, and I try and avoid apples because they do hurt my tummy.

This is not to say we didn’t have apples all season long. Just the opposite: A half dozen in the week’s CSA box, plus some generous houseguests bearing bags from their favorite orchard, meant that we definitely had plenty of fresh, local apples. So many in fact, that I became quite a fan of this recipe.

I’ve been on the fence about sharing the recipe. Not that I don’t love it, but it just takes a bit of time. Coring and slicing five apples very thinly takes a while, the eggs and orange juice have to be at room temperature, and the cake takes about an hour and a half to bake. So you really do need a little time set aside to make the cake, but it’s totally worth it. And even though it is practically December, there are still plenty of apples to go around.

I found this recipe in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and I always get a laugh when I say the name of it: “Jewish” Apple Cake. When Joan Nathan labels something “Jewish,” you know it’s authentic. It’s probably because it’s parve; it uses oil, rather than butter or lard in the batter. Joan Nathan goes on to say that she found the recipe in two local Maryland cookbooks, and that the crumbly exterior and moist texture reminded her husband of all the Polish-Jewish cakes his mother and aunts made during his childhood.

For me, whenever I take a bite of this cake, I am transported to the end of a Friday night dinner or a nice kiddush at shul. Really. This is the cake that’s served at your aunt’s on Rosh Hashana, or the cake that your grandmother used to make. If your aunt/grandmother was Jewish, of course.

If you’re not familiar with Joan Nathan, I highly recommend checking out one of her guest posts in The New York Times. She’s their go-to Jewish cookbook author, a title that she definitely earned and deserves. She is not the only good name in Jewish cookbooks, but is definitely the most famous. And with good reason.

“Jewish” Apple Cake

5 large apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala or Jonathan) unpeeled

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups unsifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan (ie, a bundt pan) and dust with flour.

2. Core and cut the apples into thin slices. Place in a large bowl, toss with the lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of the sugar.

I'll be honest. It does take a bit of time to prep all these apples.

3. Beat the eggs and gradually add the remaining sugar, oil, orange juice, and vanilla.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly with a spoon.

5. Pour one third of the batter into the pan. Layer with one third of the apples. Repeat for 2 more layers, ending with apples on top.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top. Let sit a few minutes and then run a knife gently around the sides of the mold. Cover with a plate and invert to remove from the pan.

Apple-y goodness, fresh from the oven.

To remove from the pan, place a plate on top and flip...

Viola! We've done this with a bourbon vanilla glaze on top, but it's delicious on its own.

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Genuine Ginger Beer

We don’t go out very often. I think it boils down to two basic things: 1. I have trouble justifying the cost of most nice meals when I know I can make it in my own kitchen for a fraction of the cost, and 2. When I make it in my own kitchen, I can season the dish to just my liking. When we go out, I become a mash up of Goldilocks and Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally. “Um, waiter, I’d like my porridge to be served in a medium, heated, bowl, but don’t fill the whole thing with porridge, leave room for a splash of heavy cream, and a dash of nutmeg, oh, and can I have a side of honey?”

Although not visible in this picture, this glass of homemade soda is very bubbly.

We met up with friends over drinks in Harvard Square last week, and the Moscow Mule — homemade ginger beer, vodka and lime — caught my eye. Or really, the homemade ginger beer did. I had been thinking a lot about homemade sodas lately. There’s a great raspberry one at Flour Bakery, and  Clover Food Lab has really neat flavors like vanilla bean and hibiscus.

So I ordered just the ginger beer. It was very tasty but much too sweet, and the truth was, could really have used some vodka to cut it. So I ordered a shot of vodka. Then it was good, but not quite there. It was missing lime. So I ordered some limes. Well, after realizing I had just deconstructed and reconstructed an entire drink, I figured I might as well order it the way it was meant to be. But the vodka in the drink overpowered its gingery sweetness. Third time was a charm when I ordered a glass of ginger beer, a shot of vodka and some limes. It was nice to finally have the drink taste just right, but not the most cost effective way to go about doing it.

And, I asked myself, if this bar serves homemade ginger beer, why can’t I?

I sifted through some recipes and was tickled when I realized I could. All I needed was to ferment sugar with baker’s yeast, generating carbon dioxide which would carbonate my homemade soda. Also, this way I could control how much sugar went into the soda.

The recipe I have here is a combination of a few recipes, and I highly encourage you to fiddle with it until it’s to your liking. I think a teaspoon of vanilla would work really well with this basic recipe; a couple of whole cloves or even a cardamom pod would be great, too. I happened on a sale of turbinado sugar last week, so I had that on hand for this recipe, but I would have ordinarily used brown sugar. White sugar would also work. It’s entirely up to you.

You can make the ginger beer and add the vodka and lime to it like the restaurant did, or add rum and make a Dark and Stormy. I’ve recently discovered that Marty’s Liquor has an overstock store in my neighborhood. It’s like Ocean State Job Lot, but for alcohol. With recipes like this one, I will be making frequent trips!

Homemade Ginger Beer

For this recipe, you will need a clean 2 liter plastic soft drink bottle with cap. Do not use glass, as the pressure from the fermentation could cause it to shatter. A funnel really comes in handy, as does a box grater for the ginger.

Ingredients

1 cup brown sugar

2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root and its juices.

Juice of half a lemon

1/4 teaspoon granular baker’s yeast

cold water

Directions

Pour the cup of sugar into the bottle using the funnel

Add the bakers yeast through the funnel into the bottle

Shake to disperse the yeast grains into the sugar granules.

Grate the ginger and then place it into a measuring cup

Juice half a lemon directly into the measuring cup

Stir to form a slurry

Add the slurry to the bottle

Rinse the measuring cup and add the rinsings to the bottle, cap and shake to distribute.

Fill the bottle to the neck with fresh cool clean water, leaving about an inch of head space, securely screwing the cap down to seal. Invert repeatedly to thoroughly dissolve sugar.

Place in a warm location for 24 to 48 hours. Do not leave at room temperature longer than necessary for it to feel “hard.” The excess pressure may cause an eruption when you open it or even explode the bottle

Test to see if the carbonation is complete by squeezing the bottle forcefully with your thumb. It if dents, it is not ready.

Not quite ready, as I can still make an indent.

 

Once the bottle feels hard to a forceful squeeze, place in the refrigerator. Before opening, refrigerate at least overnight to thoroughly chill.

Filter the ginger beer through a strainer before serving.

Ummmmami

Not the prettiest of dishes, but I get giddy when I think about how it tastes.

In kindergarten I learned that I had four different taste buds on my tongue, and to prove it, Mrs. S. put salt, sugar and lemon juice on their designated spots on the front and sides. I must have blocked out what we used to taste bitter, and maybe that’s why, on some level, I’ve never gotten used to bitter things like hops and mustard.

That lesson in tastes stuck with me for the next 20 years, and I would dance salty, sweet and sour foods into their “sweet spots” in my mouth. Well, usually. I always did have a little trouble deciding where to roll a Sour Patch Kid. And then, everything changed.  Even though it had been discovered nearly 100 years ago, Umami, roughly translated from the Japanese to mean “meaty” or “savory,” started making headlines about three years ago. Umami occurs naturally in foods like meat, parmesan cheese, soy, red wine, MSG, anchovies and mushrooms. And it is this taste sensation that has me loving this dish.

I make up excuses to cook this stew. We would eat it every week if I didn’t think Rich would mind. The potatoes always get cooked to a perfect velvety texture, and the mushrooms, cooked in the soy and sherry, feel as rich as meat on my tongue. I’ve actually recently read about a new taste, Kokumi,  but I’ll hold onto my umami and savor this dish.

This Chinese vegetable stew is hearty, and I’ll admit, not the prettiest of dishes. The vegetables don’t retain any of their crispness or their color. They turn soft from the slow cooking and get quite dark from the soy sauce. But did I mention how delicious this stew is? Try and keep potatoes on hand at all times, stored in dark cool place, and far away from onions, which will spoil the potatoes more quickly. Although I’ve stuck to button mushrooms for this recipe, dried shiitake mushrooms (which can be found at OSJL for $2 a package) will work great.

Potato Stew from Madhur Jaffrey’s World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking(serves 4-6)

Two notes about this recipe:

  1. Although it calls for carrots, I leave them out because they hurt my tummy. I am sure they taste delicious in this recipe.
  2. I don’t actually have sherry on hand, but have used sherry vinegar and am delighted with the results.

Ingredients

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

2 quarter-sized slices of fresh ginger, lightly crushed (I use my frozen ginger root, and just take it out of the freezer for about 10 minutes before I cut off the slices)

3/4 pound boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths

Cook's Illustrated Tip: Line up your green beans and you'll only need one cut

2 carrots, peeled and cut crosswise into 1 1/2 inch-long segments

6 ounces mushrooms (if possible, with approximately 1 1/2-inch caps)

1/4 cup Chinese dark soy sauce

2 cups water

4 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons shaohsing wine or dry sherry (or sherry vinegar)

Heat the oil in an 8-inch-wide, heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the garlic and ginger. Stir and fry for 15 seconds. Add the potatoes, beans and carrots. Stir and fry for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms. Stir and fry for another minute. Now put in 2 cups water, the soy sauce, sugar and wine. Bring to boil.

Cover, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are just tender. Remove cover and turn heat to high. Boil away most of the liquid.

You should have about 1/8 inch of sauce left at the bottom of the pot. Stir the vegetables gently as you boil the liquid down. Remove the ginger and garlic, if you like.

Tarragon, where have you bean all my life?

i’m obsessed with this bean salad.

I’ll be the first to admit that as much as I love cooking with fresh veggies and herbs, there’s tons for me to still learn. It wasn’t too many years back that my entire trivia team was stumped by the question “What herb is the basis of a bearnaise sauce?” There were actually a few “foodies” on the team, so my embarrassment was mitigated some. The star of bearnaise sauce, it turned out, was tarragon, and I chalked that up to it being one of those herbs that’s used to flavor things like chicken, eggs, fish and steak. Stuff truly out of my repertoire

This past summer however, all that changed. I was at my friend Mel’s graduation party — Ph.D. in neuroscience, no less — which was hosted by another friend, Abby. And, boy, what a spread! Platters full of salads, grilled things and cupcakes completely covered an enormous dining room table. And it was there that I came face to face with the bean salad THAT CHANGED MY LIFE.

A new day, a fresh bowl of bean salad

Seriously, I kind of sat and ate and moaned at a table in the yard. “What is this? Tell me everything!” I begged my hostess. Abby just kind of shrugged, saying it was the simplest of salads, just stuff from her pantry. “But what is it I’m tasting?” I asked when not moaning and stuffing my face.

“Just a vinaigrette with some fresh tarragon.” Tarragon, that devilish herb, my trivia team’s downfall, had come back to haunt me. And thus began my love affair — really, lust affair — with this aromatic “King of herbs.” I got hold of a bunch of tarragon and no joke, made this salad no less than nine times in a six week period. This is one of those salads that tastes great on the third day, as the anise undertones of the tarragon really seep into the beans.

Rich used the tarragon in a marinade for the trout and fennel he grilled.

The bean salad I’m obsessed with. (Abby tells me that it’s Fosters Market in Chapel Hill, NC, that really deserves the credit for this one.)

I think the thing that I love most about this salad, I mean, aside from it being so so so delicious, is that it is made of things that I always have on hand in my pantry. Some might find my own version too full of its ingredients, so I actively encourage you to experiment until you find amounts that suit your palate best.

Ingredients

One can of little white beans (Or a cup of dried beans, soaked overnight)

Half a red onion, sliced into rings and roasted*

*Abby also introduced me to another fantastic idea, which is roasting the onions to take the bite out of them. I’ve found my happy medium tossing them into my toaster oven set at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. Feel free to play with times for that as well.

Before…

… and after

Half a can of artichoke hearts

Five pepperocini

For the Tarragon Vinaigrette

Four tablespoons olive oil

Two tablespoons red wine vinegar

A clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard (for emulsifying)

Two heaping tablespoons tarragon

Pinch of salt

Directions

Open can of beans, pour into a colander, and give them a good rinse (or cook beans according to package — it should take about 7 minutes in a pressure cooker)

Slice the half onion and roast in oven for 10 or so minutes

Quarter the artichoke hearts

Slice up the pepperocini into rings

Toss all together in a bowl

Place all dressing ingredients in small glass jar, give it a shake, and pour it on the bean salad

I clean out jam jars and use them for dressings

Yes, that’s all.

Do you have a favorite recipe for tarragon?