Intermezzo

Friends,

Just taking a quick break from the table — as my sister says when describing our house during the holidays: Eat, Pray, Laugh — to share this interview with you. I was very lucky to have been asked to share my experiences writing this blog for my friend Kevin at The Mighty Rib.

I’ll be back in a few days with more stories and recipes.

Slosh Hashana

Wednesday night marks the beginning of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana. Many of the traditional foods for the holiday, like apples dipped in honey, are sweet, symbolizing our wishes for a sweet new year. But my favorite food moment actually comes on the second night of Rosh Hashana. Not all Jews celebrate a second night, but those who do usually make a point of eating a “new” fruit – one that’s just come into season and we haven’t gotten to eat yet — so we can make the blessing shehechiyanu, giving thanks for the new and unusual experience.

Now my mom takes this as an opportunity to serve fruits that are well out of ordinary, like the golden star fruit or the dimpled passion fruit. But no matter what exotic produce she finds, there is always a pomegranate which my sister will have expertly deseeded in a bowl of water. Pomegranates, or rimonim as they are called in Hebrew, are in season right now in Israel, and have popped up in Jewish thought since Biblical times. They are ripe with symbolism; tradition holds that each fruit contains 613 seeds, which is the number of mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah.

Most blog posts I’ve seen for Rosh Hashana offer a good apple dish or honey cake, but in honor of our second night tradition, I’m sharing a tasty cocktail featuring pomegranate molasses, honey and rum. You can find the molasses at most Middle Eastern shops for just a couple of dollars; I’ve heard that Whole Foods sells it as well. And while the rum isn’t exactly a symbol of the Jewish new year, it is sweet. Besides, if you’re hosting guests for both nights of Rosh Hashana, you might be ready to say shehechiyanu over a stiff drink.

Pomegranate Cooler for Rosh Hashana (with help from Martha Stewart)

Ingredients

1 ounce dark rum

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses

5 mint leaves

Ice cubes

4 ounces seltzer

Directions

Stir together dark rum, honey, pomegranate molasses, and mint leaves in a small glass, crushing mint with the back of a spoon. Add ice cubes and top with seltzer.

Bridging the Seasons

I’m writing this while wearing my slippers, which I had to dig out of the front hall closet. The cat is curled up like a cinnamon bun in Rich’s lap, hoping to enjoy his body warmth (and vice versa).  This week’s CSA box had both a butternut squash and six ears of corn – one box, two seasons. Summer is tiptoeing its way out and fall is tap dancing its way in.

Fresh corn pudding, I have discovered, is the perfect mix of late summer and early fall. Each creamy bite of this comforting dish is both sweet and savory, a reminder of why this time of year is my favorite food season. This recipe is from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table, which is where I found the persimmon pudding recipe. What can I say, the woman knows her puddings!

Fresh Corn Pudding by Deborah Madison

Ingredients

18 saltine crackers, or ¾ cup cracker crumbs or fresh bread crumbs

6 large ears of corn

1 ½ Tablespoons corn oil or butter

1 cup finely diced yellow onions

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 cup evaporated milk

2 eggs, lightly beaten

2 cups loosely packed orange Colby or mild Cheddar cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Paprika

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Lightly butter a 6-cup shallow casserole or gratin dish. If using saltines, put them in a bag and roll over them with a rolling pin to make coarse crumbs. There should be about ¾ cup. Set aside. Shuck the corn and pull of the silks. If you slice your corn in a deep bowl, you’ll keep it from spattering all over. Holding an ear of corn stem end down and using a sharp knife, carefully cut off the top halves of the corn kernels; do not include the fibrous base, the part that gets caught in your teeth. Then turn your knife over and, using the dull side, press it down the length of the cob, squeezing out the rest of the corn and the milk. You’ll end up with a mushy substance in the bottom of the bowl along with the kernels. Repeat with the remaining ears.

Warm the oil or butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook just until limp, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes without letting the onions brown. Add this to the corn and stir in the milk, eggs, 1 cup of the cheese, and ½ cup of the cracker crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer the mixture to the prepared dish and top with the remaining cracker crumbs and cheese. Bake on the center rack of the oven until puffed and golden, about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle paprika over the top, and serve.

Just Married

It’s not every day your friends elope. Well, ours did. On Friday.

We should have known something was up when Suzie and JoJo sent us a printed invitation for a Shabbat potluck in the park. Technically, there was no way it could have been a wedding invitation, because observant Jews can’t marry on the Sabbath. (And since Suzie is in rabbinical school, she definitely knows the rules.) Well, they surprised us all and got married at Cambridge City Hall on Friday morning. Our Facebook news feeds announced the good news, and we were all able to enjoy the photos from our desks at work.

For our contribution to the wedding feast, I made beet tzatziki, using a recipe of Ana Sortun’s (of Oleanna and Sofra Bakery). There’s something about beets that makes me think romance: the deep pink color, their sweet earthy flavor. I used an entire bunch for the recipe, and their prep couldn’t be easier. Trim the stems if it’s a whole beet, wrap each individually in foil, place them on a baking sheet (this protects your oven from beet drippings) and toss them into a preheated 450 degree oven for about an hour. I say an hour because there’s no hard and fast rule for a beet; you’ll know they’re done when a sharp knife slides easily into the root. When cool enough to handle, rub the skins off with a paper towel or clean kitchen towel if you’re not scared about staining one. (I personally am.) Grate the beets using the large holes of a box grater.

And don’t toss those stems and leaves! They are a fantastic dish unto themselves; think of them like a leafy green, like a Swiss chard. Sauté them up in some olive oil and chopped garlic for another tasty dish.

Beet Tzatziki from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun

Ingredients

1 cup cooked, shredded beets

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic (about 1 clove)

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (about ¼ lemon)

1 teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups whole-milk plain yogurt (I actually used a low-fat Greek yogurt and no one knew the difference)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Black pepper to taste

1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Directions

  1. Place the garlic into a medium mixing bowl with the lemon juice and salt. Let it stand for about 10 minutes. This takes some of the heat out of the raw garlic.
  2. Stir in the yogurt, olive oil and black pepper.
  3. Fold in the shredded beets and dill, and re-season with salt and pepper to taste if necessary. Serve the beets cold or at room temperature.

The Last Hurrah

Rich heard the clanging and crashing from the back room and came running. My guess is he was worried that a plate had fallen to the floor, or maybe a pot had slipped from its hook off the rack on the wall. The noise turned out to be the sound of a serving spoon scraping the last bits of the buttermilk dressing off the serving dish directly into my mouth.

“Oof. Yuuwersppdtuseethif,” I said by way of explanation. (For those of you who don’t ordinarily deal with people talking with serving spoons and platters in their mouths, what I said was “Oops. You weren’t supposed to see this.”) I swallowed, licked the spoon, and put the dish back on the table.

I couldn’t help myself. Really, I couldn’t. I saw this dinner as a final farewell for my tomatoes and peaches. Sure, I knew there’d be a few more to come in next week’s CSA box, but something had happened overnight in Boston. As soon as we’d turned the page on Labor Day, the sky grew dark, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees, and a near-constant rain started to fall. Summer, the clouds seemed to say, is definitely over.  All I had left to remind me of the season were some ripe tomatoes and peaches. These needed to be treated with utmost respect; something special for their last hurrah.

I’m not sure if it was the storm or a dream, but the night before I sat straight up in bed and whispered “buttermilk,” which had taken on a kind of reverence that perhaps someone’s childhood sled name whispered by a fireside might. The thought of buttermilk haunted me the next day, its creaminess, its twang. I wanted it to bathe my tomatoes in it. And, if I was lucky and found the right recipe, my peaches could enjoy a buttermilk treatment as well.

I found the dressing recipe I was looking for via Deb, who found hers via Gourmet. I changed mine up a little bit, using a summer sweet Vidalia onion instead of a shallot. I have leftovers of the dressing, and I plan on drizzling it on top of every vegetable in my crisper, then perhaps going out to the market and buying a plain old head of iceberg lettuce to continue the dressing-fest.

The peach cake came via the food community Food52, which was founded by Amanda Hesser, a food writer for the New York Times, and Merrill Stubs, a freelance food writer and recipe tester. The site’s first project was a crowd-sourced cookbook, and this recipe was one of their first contests winners: You submit a recipe, readers vote, and each week the winning recipe makes it into a cookbook, hence the name Food52. I think the tasting notes on this one sum it up:

The cake is chock full of juicy summer peaches, and the addition of ground almonds sets it apart from other simple butter cakes. It’s luscious and a bit custardy in the areas surrounding the peaches — a texture that works when the cake is either warm or at room temperature. Don’t be alarmed if the batter seems to curdle when you add the buttermilk, as it will come together again once you mix in the dry ingredients.

If you’re on the fence about purchasing an entire bottle of buttermilk, add 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to a cup of milk. In five minutes, you’ll have enough buttermilk for both these recipes.

Buttermilk Dressing

Ingredients

1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons cider vinegar

2 Tablespoons minced Vidalia onion

1 Tablespoon sugar

3 Tablespoons finely chopped chives

Directions

Whisk together buttermilk, mayonnaise, vinegar, onion, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl until sugar has dissolved, then whisk in chives.

Simple Summer Peach Cake

Ingredients

3 ripe peaches

3/4 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

1 cup sugar

6 Tablespoons softened unsalted butter

1 large egg

1/2 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Turbinado sugar

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.

Cut the peaches into bite sized pieces. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 tablespoons sugar. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and remaining sugar with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the egg, buttermilk and extracts, and stir to combine.

Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this flour mixture to the butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Pour into the prepared pan.

Press the peaches into the top of the cake. They can be nicely arranged, but it made more sense to cram as many peaches as possible into the cake. Sprinkle Turbinado sugar over the top.