He Had a Hat

Let me begin this with a classic Jewish joke: A Jewish grandmother takes her baby grandson to the ocean for the first time. For the occasion, she has dressed him in a smart little sailor outfit. Without warning, a large wave folds over the young boy and swoops him out into the ocean. The grandmother looks up at the sky, “Please God, save my grandson. I will do anything if you return him to me. I will pray daily, I will volunteer weekly. Please God, I will do anything.” In a flash, another wave hits the beach, and the grandson washes up on the sand. The grandmother looks the boy over, then looks up at the sky and says, “He had a hat.”

gooey cinnamon bars

For Chanukah this year, my parents sent me The Smitten Kitchen cookbook. (My dad in Jerusalem sent me Jerusalem; more on that later.) Deb’s magnum opus really is fantastic. We’ve enjoyed the cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices, and the slow-cooker black bean ragout. And last Friday, I made the gooey cinnamon squares. These really are a revelation. They are part snickerdoodle, part gooey butter cake, with a cinnamon top that’s a bit like crème brûlée. As Deb explains, “The base is slightly more cake than cookie, the topping is a cross between a toasted marshmallow and cinnamon toast, and if you just read that and haven’t shut this book to make this happen in your kitchen immediately, I’ve failed.”

So I made them. They were fantastic. But I have one quibble. The way the recipe is laid out in the cookbook is, well, it’s frustrating. On the first page is Deb’s wonderful story about her love of snickerdoodles, and in a column running alongside the story are the ingredients for two parts of the recipe. But to see what to do with said ingredients, you have to turn the page for the actual recipe directions and the cooking notes. So, I found myself flipping back and forth to make sure I had all the right ingredients for each section.

So yes, these bars are a miracle. But Mr. Cookbook editor, he had a hat.

Notes: If you’re feeling a little queasy at the thought of using corn syrup, or if you’re in England (Hi, Bloom cousins!), both golden syrup and honey work equally well.

cat and bars

Gooey Cinnamon Squares from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Ingredients

Soft Cookie Base

8 tablespoons (115 grams or 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature. Plus more for the pan

1 ½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

½ teaspoon baking soda

(Or, Deb says, substitute 2 teaspoons baking powder for the soda and the cream of tartar.)

¼ teaspoon table salt

¾ cup (150 grams) sugar

1 large egg

¼ cup (60 ml) milk

 Gooey Layer

¼ cup (60 ml) light corn syrup, golden syrup, or honey

¼ cup (60 ml) milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

12 Tablespoons (170 grams or 1 ½ sticks) butter, at room temperature

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) sugar

¼ teaspoon table salt

1 large egg

1 ¼ cups (155 grams) all-purpose flour

 Topping

2 Tablespoons (25 grams) sugar

1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch cake pan with at least 2-inch sides with parchment paper and either butter the paper and sides of the pan or coat them with a nonstick spray. Set aside.

Prepare the cookie base

Whisk together the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 8 tablespoons butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and the milk, and beat until combined, scraping down bowl and then beating for 10 seconds more. Beat in dry ingredients until just combined.

Dollop cookie base over the bottom of the prepared pan and spread it into an even layer with a butter knife or offset spatula. Set pan aside.

Prepare the gooey layer

Whisk liquid sweetener, milk and vanilla together in a small bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg, scrape down the sides of bowl, and mix for 10 seconds more. Add 1/3 of flour and mix, then ½ of vanilla mixture and mix. Repeat again, twice, until all of the flour has been mixed until just combined. Dollop over the cookie base and spread carefully with an offset spatula or butter knife.

Make the topping

Mix the sugar and cinnamon in a tiny dish and sprinkle it over the entire gooey layer. It will be thick but will come out of the oven almost like a crème brûlée lid, i.e.m awesomely.

To bake and serve

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the cookies have bronzed on top. The gooey layer will rise and fall in the oven but will still be a bit liquidy under the cinnamon crust when the squares are done. Let cool completely on a rack, then cut into 1-inch squares.

These square keep at room temperature for at least a week.

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Jason and Lisa were married last October. It was outdoors, in a state park. But before you start to comment about how cold us guests must have been, Lisa nipped that one in the bud by having greeters pass out warm apple cider when we pulled up. Just charming. Jason is a Southern gentleman, so after the ceremony, as we walked into the reception, each guest was handed a mint julep to sip. Loved that. Oh, and Lisa and her mom had gone to the orchard and made pounds of apple sauce that they’d canned and topped with lace. Another perfectly lovely little detail.

apple sauce

And about six weeks ago, Lisa and Jason had baby Emma. Considering that I may have left the wedding with more than one jar of her applesauce, it was time to pay it forward. I know there’s only so much cooking one can do with a newborn (can you believe that baby Miles is now walking?!?!), so last week I spent a little time in the kitchen making a meal for the new parents. Then we packed up the car and headed over to JP for a visit and snuggle with their little peanut.

Baby Emma

Pasta travels well, so I went with a favorite dish of mine from the Zuni Café cookbook. I’m surprised at how many times I’ve made this but hadn’t shared it here. It’s full of things I love, like well-fried broccoli and cauliflower, salty capers, chopped anchovies, and briny olives There’s crushed fennel seeds, though the recipe does suggest using minced fennel bulb if you have it on hand. They also suggest substituting pecorino romano if you don’t feel like bread crumbs, and trading out the black olives for green ones, or even skipping the olives and anchovies. But, they plead, “don’t sacrifice the 8 to 10 minutes of care it takes to cook the vegetables to the delicately frizzled crispiness that gives the dish its great texture and variety. The sautéed vegetables are great by themselves, or a side dish with grilled or roasted poultry or meat.”

Zuni Pasta

I also put together a fennel, orange and beet salad, which Lisa dubbed “the winter salad”, that I packed up in an old yogurt container and snapped a few rubber bands around for the car ride.

winter salad

Notes: My best advice for the pasta dish is to prep everything beforehand. Mise en place, people. Yes, there are some recipes that you can prep as you go, but it is much easier to have everything good to go for this one. I used whole wheat spaghetti as my pasta, and they say that this one works with all sorts of chewy pasta – penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, or shells.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower from The Zuni Café Cookbook

For 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

About 1 cup fresh, soft bread crumbs (about 2 ounces) made from crustless, slightly stale, chewy, white peasant-style bread (optional)

About ¾ cup mild-tasting olive oil

About 12 ounces broccoli, trimmed, with a few inches of stem intact

About 12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed and stem end trimmed flush

Salt

1 generous Tablespoon capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and slightly chopped

1 pound penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, fusilli, or medium shells

1 Tablespoon chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets (4 to 6 fillets) (optional)

6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

About ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes

1 Tablespoon tightly packed, coarsely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 to 5 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Nicoise, Gaeta, or Nyons (rinsed first to rid them of excess brine)

Directions

If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425.

Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of the oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Keep the crumbs on the stove top until needed.

Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally length-wise. Most of the slices will break apart as you produce them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and few delicate slabs with stem and flower both. Don’t worry if the slices are of uneven thickness; that will make for more textural variety.

Warm about ¼ cup of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, conveniently leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board for the moment. (They’ll burn if you add them to soon.) The oil should sizzle quietly. Swirl the pan, and leave the vegetables to cook until you see the edge bits browning, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly and toss or stir and fold gently. Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan. Add the capers and swirl gently. Continue cooking over medium heat until the edges begin to brown, another few minutes, then give the pan another stir or toss. Don’t stir too soon or too often, or you will get a homogenous, steamy pile of vegetables instead of a crispy, chewy one. Most of the capers and vegetable crumbs will shrink into crispy confetti-like bits.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with a scant 2 tablespoons  salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook al dente. Set a wide bowl or platter on the stovetop (or in the still-warm oven if you made bread crumbs) to heat.

Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender, reduce the heat, add another few spoonfuls of oil, and scatter the chopped anchovy, garlic, fennel, and chili over all. Give the vegetables a stir or toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the parsley and olives. Taste – every flavor should be clamoring for dominance. Adjust as needed.

Toss with the well-drained pasta and garnish with the warm, toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Winter Salad

Notes: For this salad, I used a mandolin to thinly slice the fennel. For the orange prep, using a serrated knife, I sliced off the top and bottom of a navel orange, then sliced the skin off the fruit by following the outside curve. Then I rolled the orange onto its side, and thinly sliced the orange. Each fruit yielded about 8 slices.

I had roasted the beet the day before by preheating the oven to 400, setting the beet in a small baking pan with sides, filling it water about halfway up, adding the beet, and tenting it all with tin foil. It took about an hour to roast. When it was time to peel, I simply ran the beet under cold water and rubbed the skin off into the sink.

My apologies for not measuring out exactly how much cumin I used in the dressing. I grind my cumin seeds in a coffee grinder I use specifically for spices. I was literally taking pinches of cumin for the dressing. The same goes for the brown sugar. My best advice for the dressing is to taste until it tastes right to you. That’s really the best way to handle homemade dressings, anyways.

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on a mandolin

2 oranges, sliced thin

1 beet, roasted, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes – make sure to prep the beet last, otherwise all your other ingredients will be stained magenta

5 black olives, sliced

Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl or lay out on a platter

For the dressing:

In a small glass jar, shake together:

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 pinches cumin

Taste-test the salad dressing using a piece of fennel. If it’s to your liking, pour the remaining dressing over the vegetables.