By the Way

My mother asked me last week if I was still writing The Four Questions column over on JewishBoston.com, and I realized I had been negligent in cross-posting the interviews with my blog. To make up for this oversight on my part, here is an interview with award-winning local chef Michael Leviton, the man behind Lumiere and Kendall’s hot new spot, Area Four. He’ll be hosting seders at Lumiere the first and second nights of Passover. They’ll even be serving matzos they’ve baked in the pizza ovens at Area Four throughout the whole holiday for people who want to eat out but still respect the holiday.

Advertisements

Spring Cleaning

The door of my fridge is home to at least two dozen condiments: Heinz ketchup, Hellman’s mayo, grainy mustard, soy sauce, sesame oil, sauerkraut, pickled sugar snap peas, sriracha, ghee, olives, Branston pickle, tamarind paste, and more. (Truth be told, the ketchup and mayo are the least used and are more on-hand for guests.) Six weeks ago I counted no less than three separate jars of capers.

This past weekend I added to the collection working on a review of a healthy Passover cookbook for Jewish Boston.com. One recipe I tested called for two tablespoons of light sour cream, and a second recipe called for ¼ cup of apricot jam. Having neither of these products in my kitchen meant I had to pick them up, and so onto the fridge door they went. This is usually not a problem, and in the big picture it really isn’t, but Passover is two weeks away and I have same major purging to do.

We’ve also been working our way through the flours and grains in the pantry as best we can. The whole wheat and saffron waffles from Maria Speck’s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals cookbookwere glorious but barely put a dent in the flour. It was pretty clear by Sunday morning my fate would involve a day of baking, and so, with a very pleasurable Prairie Home Companion that kind of made me miss New York City in the background, I got to work.

I found an apricot bar recipe from my ancient Common Ground Dessert Cookbookthat called for whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup. Instead of making the apricot jam by soaking dried apricots the way these granola bars had me do, I took the liberty of using most of the new apricot jam for the filling. But I’d feel so lame if I gave you a granola bar recipe so soon after that one, like in November when I shared Jacque’s Pepin’s apple galette, Joanne Chang’s pear and cranberry crostata and then my own take on the pastry. (And don’t even mention the dueling banana breads.)

Coffee cake was a natural first use for the sour cream, but then I found this recipe for sour cream spice cake. The cookbook included a “sweet tip”: “This cake is tasty with a little warm apricot or cherry jam. Some have been known to eat it toasted and spread with butter.” Sold.

The recipe is from a cookbook written by two local women – sisters, actually. Marilyn and Sheila Brass live in Cambridge and wrote this cookbook a few years ago. They both worked at WGBH when Rich was there, and he was lucky enough to enjoy their goodies as they tweaked the recipes they’d written and other ones they’d discovered in family journals and were testing. The station also produced a really lovely cooking show with the sisters where the viewer journeyed with them to their local butcher, cheese monger, and into their kitchen and dining room.

Whenever I think about this cookbook, I always smile at the memory of one very stressful time during the layoff. As I left for work one morning, I asked Rich if he could find a zucchini bread recipe in one of my cookbooks, in hopes of saving the three squash in the fridge. I came home to find a very proud Rich putting the final glaze on a Mexican Devil’s Food Cake with Butter-Fried Pine Nuts. (Yes, there was a half pound of zucchini in there, too.) Not at all what I was expecting, but was surprised and delighted with the offering. Never a slacker, my husband, even when he was without a job.

According to the sisters, this recipe is from the 1950s and was “a favorite of The Harmony Club, the select group of women from the Sisterhood at Temple Tiferith Abraham who made up their mother’s bridge group. The twelve women met frequently to play bridge, lend each other support, and go on educational field trips. Unfortunately, The Harmony Club later broke up because the members couldn’t get along!”

Sour Cream Spice Cake from Heirloom Baking with the Brass Sisters

Ingredients

2 cups flour, divided

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup raisins

1 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sour cream

Directions

Set the oven rack in the middle position. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line the bottom and ends of a 9-inch by 5-inch by 3-inch loaf pan with a single strip of wax paper. Coat the pan and wax paper liner with vegetable spray. Dust pan with flour and tap out the excess.

Sift together 1 ¾ cups of the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and baking soda. Toss remaining ¼ cup flour with raisins.

Place butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until soft and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and mix well. Add sifted dry ingredients alternately with sour cream. Fold in raisins.

Pour batter into loaf pan. Bake approximately 1 hour, or until tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack 20 minutes before removing from pan. Store loosely covered with wax paper in the refrigerator.

Put a Ring on It

About six months ago, my left ring finger started to itch and sting. I removed my wedding ring for a few days and applied Cortisone, but as soon as I put the ring back on, the itching returned. I switched the ring to my right ring finger, but the same symptoms appeared a few days later. After talking to friends and poking around on the internet, I realized that at some point I had developed a nickel allergy. Nickel, I recently learned, is mixed with gold to make the white gold my engagement ring and wedding band are made of. As I write this post, my hands are jewelry-free. At some point I’ll probably go to the jeweler and pick up a plain platinum band so there’s some sort of marriage marker, but I’m not interested in buying a new engagement ring.

We’ll be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary in June, and in the six years I’ve owned my engagement ring, I’ve received piles of compliments on it on a near-weekly basis. It’s not your typical metal band with a stone in the center, but an original creation based on an Edwardian design. It’s a band full of filigree, diamonds and lots of character. And they’re Canadian conflict-free diamonds, which was key for me. When Rich found the ring, he knew right away it was the right one. (Of course he knew, I had given him explicit instructions and design ideas for what I wanted.) He brought me to the jeweler to take a look, and I took it out for a test-drive. We brought it back, and then, because I’m me and like to make sure everything is just as it should be, we then went to 11 jewelers the next day. Just to make sure. Rich was not happy.

When we’d decided on my ring, we asked the designer, Ana-Katarina, if we could maybe replace the center diamond with a higher grade. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “You’re getting married. You need to save your money so that you can buy a home and have children. Don’t spend any more money than you have to on a piece of jewelry.” That summer was a hot one, and the store had a special discount depending on the temperature. When the thermometer hit 102, Rich made his move.

My sister and her wife loved my ring so much, that they also went to Ana-Katarina when they decided to get engaged. Their rings are both incredibly unique and inspire oohs and aahs wherever they go. I met someone last year and complemented her on her ring. It was also by Ana-Katarina.

I’ve been trying to make the best of the situation, making dishes that would have required me to remove my rings, like last week’s granola bars, these chickpea patties or this cabbage salad that required an even distribution of the dressing with a few down-and-dirty hand tosses.


I found this recipe earlier this week in “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s column in The New York Times, and you know how much I love her stuff. I’ve changed things up a bit, and employed my friend Tania’s baked tofu method in lieu of the one Clark suggests. I’ve also replaced the brown rice the salad rests on with wheat berries I soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker.

March is one of those in-between months when it comes to vegetables: You’ve become a little sick of winter’s root vegetables, but asparagus and artichokes are still a few weeks away. Sometimes there are some nice, sweet parsnips that the farmer has picked, but there’s always cabbage. As Clark points out, one head of cabbage can make at least three separate dishes. I used a third of the cabbage I had in the fridge for this dish, and it fed three of us with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope to use the rest of the vegetable for a warm borscht I’ve been plotting; more on that later.

Ironically, my nose ring is made of titanium, so, for the time being, that’s the one piece of jewelry that’s a constant in my life. And, I guess if this was India or certain African countries, it would be quite evident from that piercing that I am, indeed, happily married.

(Editor’s Note: Because there have been several off-line requests for a photo, I’ve “borrowed” this from one of AK’s albums. I’m a little worried I’m breaking some sort of copyright law by using this photo, so if anyone thinks this might end in a lawsuit, please feel free to chime in.)

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Baked Tofu

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced (note: I had a red Thai chili and used half. I think any hot pepper will work in this recipe)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 large carrot, grated

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.

Pat the block of tofu dry using a paper towel. Slice the slab into thirds, and then slice those into thirds. Using your hands, gently toss the slices in a large bowl with a few glugs of olive oil. Place the tofu pieces on an oiled baking sheet and place in the hot oven. At 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Using a silicone spatula, test one piece by flipping it over. You’re looking for a nice crust; it should be golden and beginning to caramelize. If it’s not there, place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip over a piece. If it’s golden, flip the rest of the pieces and put the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes. You’re looking for the tofu to be a deep golden and the pieces will be spongy, with just a hint of crispness. Trust me, the texture has an amazing mouth feel and you’ll want to pop pieces of this all night long.

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients, then gradually whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.

Just Like Woodstock

Through trial and error, I came to the realization that if I take a pain-killer for my back pain in the morning, going to work is out of the question. (Rest-assured, there is no trip to the Bette Ford Clinic in my future; I think I have about 40 pills left from a prescription of 60 which was written to me at the end of December.) On days where a pill and nap were necessary, I would feel better by mid-afternoon, but not well enough to go into work.

When left to my own devices and if I’m in charge of my own time, my go-to plan is always a trip to Flour Bakery + Cafe. Stopping in is mandatory whenever we visit the Institute of Contemporary Art or anywhere else in the Fort Point Channel. But standing in a museum for few hours – let alone getting from Lower Allston all the way down to the harbor — is still difficult to manage.

Fortunately, Flour has recently opened up another location in Central Square in Cambridge. So one afternoon, still slightly addled from pain medicine, I checked the real-time bus schedule on my Android and wobbled down to the bus stop. Yes, I was a little high at the time, and clearly was not in the right state of mind to sign any legal documents, but have you ever had their sticky buns? Their dacquiose? Recently, my pastry of choice has been the granola bar. The journey was a success, although I decided to not mention it to Rich. (This is the first he’s hearing of it.)

This weekend Rich went to the Museum of Fine Arts to watch a film about drumming, and although I absolutely adore their collection, I didn’t think I was up for the trek and standing on the hard floors for two hours. Obviously, my first instinct was to head to Central Square for a granola bar, but the line is a good 30 people deep on weekends. So, why not make my own? I had been lucky enough to score one of the coveted copies of the Flour cookbook from Santa when it first came out, and so far I’ve made the cornmeal lime cookies, banana bread and cranberry pear crostata.

This recipe for me is a pantry recipe, but as you know, I have a somewhat unusual pantry. Most people have flour, walnuts, sugar, oats, dried fruit, and honey on hand, but I cannot guarantee you’ll have millet, flax seeds and sweetened coconut readily available. I must confess, I didn’t have an entire cup of dried cranberries, but had a surplus of dried raspberries in my collection. I was less worried about any seeds in the fruit given the multitude of seeds called for in the crumble topping. I also changed out flax seed for so-hot-right now chia seeds; they’re rich in Omega-3s and are a complete protein.

About half-way through the process I realized my first-edition cookbook was missing the crucial instruction of what to do with the toasted walnuts. Luckily, Joanne Chang is amazing at responding to Tweets; I’ve since discovered the cookbook corrections are in a sidebar on the Flour website.

joanne chang-myers @jbchang replied to you:

@CheapBeets they go in w oats. So sorry! Corrected in later printings (u have a 1st printing!)
In reply to…
@jbchang Having a granola bar freakout Where and when do I add the walnuts? Into the flour/oat mixture?Can’t find that step in the cookbook.

Well, the granola bars were a success, but, well, the baking project took an entire afternoon, and that’s not even counting the three hours the bars needed to rest after baking. Ms. Chang is a brilliant woman: I suspect her degree in applied mathematics and economics from Harvard College helped her realize that, even if she released a cookbook sharing all her store’s secrets, it would have very little impact to the bottom line. Yes, I am thrilled to have an entire pan of my favorite granola bars on my kitchen counter, but I can’t wait until I’ll be healed enough to ride my bike to the store. The ride will take about 10 minutes, so even if I have to wait in line for 20 minutes, it will still be a fraction of the time it took to bake these. But don’t let me frighten you away. These are superb baked goods.

Granola Bars from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

If you have a kitchen scale, I strongly suggest you utilize it for this recipe. To “speed up” this recipe, I did the first two steps of the granola jam, and, while it was cooling, made the crust in the food processor, cleaned the bowl and continued making the jam.

Chang notes that the bars stay moist for several days and actually get better with age. (She prefers them best after 2 or 3 days.)

Ingredients

Granola Jam

1 cup (80 grams) dried apples

1 cup (160 grams) dried cranberries

1 cup (160 grams) dried apricots

½ cup (70 grams) granulated sugar

2 cups (480 grams) water

Crust and Crumble

1 cup (100 grams) walnut halves

1 ¾ cups (245 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ½ cups (150 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)

2/3 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar

2/3 cup (80 grams) sweetened shredded coconut

1 teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 cup (2 sticks/228 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 8 to 10 pieces

6 Tablespoons (128 grams) honey

3 Tablespoons flaxseeds (or Chia seeds)

3 Tablespoons sunflower seeds

3 Tablespoons millet

Directions

To make the jam: In a medium saucepan, combine the apples, cranberries, apricots, granulated sugar, and water and bring to boil over high heat. Remove from heat and let sit for about 1 hour. Transfer to a food processor and pulse 8 to 10 times, or until a chunky jam forms. (The jam can be made in advance and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.)

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and fragrant. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Leave the oven set at 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13 inch baking pan with parchment paper.

In the food processor, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, coconut, walnuts, salt, cinnamon, and butter and pulse about 15 times, or until the mixture is evenly combined. Dump the mixture into a medium bowl and drizzle the honey on top. Work in the honey with your hands until the mixture comes together.

Press about two-thirds of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Place the remaining one-third of the mixture in the refrigerator.

Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until light golden brown throughout. Remove the pan from the oven, spoon the granola jam on top, and spread in an even layer with the spoon or rubber spatula, covering the surface. Remove the reserved granola mixture from the refrigerator, and break it up with your fingers into a small bowl. Add the flaxseeds (or chia seeds), sunflower seeds and millet and stir to combine. Sprinkle the mixture, like a crumb topping, evenly over the jam.

Return the pan to the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 2 to 3 hours, or until cool enough to hold its shape when cut. Cut into 12 bars.

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

In a Jam

I must admit, I was getting worried.

Purim is fast approaching – it will be here on Wednesday night – and I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to fulfill the four mitzvot – commandments – that are prescribed for the holiday. I know I could take care of the first three, no problem:  listen to the megillah, the Scroll of Esther which tells the miraculous story of the holiday; attend a feast; and give tzedekah, charity. Now, the fourth mitzvah, making and delivering shaloch manot baskets, is probably my favorite mitzvah of all 613, and things are going to be tricky this year with the whole back thing.

The baskets must contain at least two types of ready-to-eat foods, and I deliver them the day of the holiday. (Yes, I take some vacation to take care of that task.) I love the making of the baskets, and given the proximity of Purim to Easter, finding fun baskets is never a problem. I love gathering the foods – usually some fruits, nuts, candies, a little nip for the 21+ crowd, some chips, and, of course, my homemade hamantashen. But, as I’ve mentioned in the past, I’m a little slower in the kitchen these days, and the making of the dough, the rolling, the cutting. Well, making the hamentashen seemed like a very exhausting, almost daunting task this year.

This afternoon, Sara made sure I don’t have to worry anymore. We had been plotting for a few weeks to make this blood orange and pistachio tort, and, while we were already in the kitchen, she made the executive decision to make hamantashen at the same time. (OK, I had been hinting pretty strongly about the idea and she got the hint.) And little E helped us make the cookies. I assured Sara that making hamantashen, along with challah, is one of the best baking projects for little ones so there would be no child labor laws broken.

I had had no idea what could out-do last year’s fillings, but Sara came through with homemade plum jam and blood orange marmalade.

If you’re not sure you’re going to have the time to do some canning between now and Wednesday night, there’s always last year’s recipes featuring pistachio, honey and cardamom and pine nut, honey and thyme.