A Fair Bargain

We’re raising the girls Jewish. It was non-negotiable for me, and Rich was fine with it.  This means we have Shabbat dinner every Friday night, attend services most Saturday mornings, and celebrate all sorts of holidays no one’s ever heard of. Rich did ask we celebrate two of his holidays – Christmas and Halloween – and given how much he’s agreed to do, it seemed like a fair bargain.

Shabbat Christmas

This mixing of traditions has had some funny side-effects. For instance, earlier this year I had to explain to Lilli that, no, we do not open the door for Elijah the Prophet on Passover because he’s trick-or-treating. It also means my almost three-year-old thinks Santa is magic. I was actually a little taken aback by this one, and I suspect she learned about it from Connor at daycare. It certainly wasn’t from Aziz, whose mother wears a hijab.

It’s hard to explain Christmas to someone who didn’t grow up with it. The outpouring of generosity and thoughtfulness is incredible; I’ll probably never fully get used to all the gifts that come with the holiday. Even though Lilli received something for every night of Chanukah, each candle in the menorah just meant we were one day closer to Christmas.

This year Christmas fell on a Friday, and we all gathered on Christmas Eve morning at Rich’s brother’s home for a festive breakfast and gift exchange. The presents we all received were amazing, although I did start to break out in a sweat as I stared at the four massive bags of treasures that I somehow had to find a place for in our 1117 square-foot condo.

Frying pancake

For Christmas on Friday, we marked the holiday the way my people do – Chinese food and a movie. Rich and my tradition is to watch Badder Santa – the Bad Santa director’s cut – to mark the holiday. I also borrowed Die Hard from the library, something I’d never seen before. It was great, in case you were wondering.

For Christmas/Shabbat dinner we made a Chinese banquet: veggie potstickers, scallion pancakes, green beans and Chinese eggplant. The scallion pancakes have become a bit of a holiday tradition for us. It’s from Joanne Chang’s flour, too, although we saw her make them on local public television cooking show a few years ago and took it from there. The recipe yields three pancakes, which was far more than we needed for our guest, Eric, and us.

You can use Chang’s focaccia recipe, which is the same as her pizza dough, which I owe you guys because that’s become our recipe and it’s a great one. But you can also use store-bought pizza dough to make it easier on yourself. That’s what we did this year. Mind you, there’s still a bit of work: The dough has to rise, and there’s the frying, of course.

Plate

Even if you don’t end up using the pancake recipe, bookmark the dipping sauce recipe. It’s a keeper.

Scallion Pancakes from flour, too by Joanne Chang

Ingredients

8 or 9 scallions, white and green parts, minced

¼ cup/60 ml sesame oil

1 ¼ tsp. kosher salt

½ batch Flour Focaccia dough, or 1 lb./455 g. store-bought pizza dough

About 1 ½ cups/360 ml vegetable oil, for frying

Soy Dipping Sauce

3 Tbsp soy sauce

½ tsp Sriracha sauce

½ tsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp peeled and finely minced fresh ginger

1 tsp rice vinegar

1 Tbsp granulated sugar

1 scallion, white and green parts, minced

Directions

In a small bowl, mix together the scallions, sesame oil and salt

Cut the dough into thirds. On a well-floured work service, roll out one portion of the dough into a thin 5-by-10-in/12-by-25-cm rectangle. Repeat with the remaining two dough portions. Spread the scallion mixture evenly over the dough rectangles, leaning a ½-in/12-mm border uncovered on all sides. Starting at a long side, roll up each rectangle jelly-roll style and pinch the sea with your fingers to seal. Spiral each cylinder into a tight coil and tuck the ends under the coil. Place in a warm area, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for about 2 hours to allow the dough to proof and relax. (At this point, the dough can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge overnight or in the freezer for up to 1 week; thaw in the fridge overnight before using.)

Line the baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Set aside.

On a generously floured work surface, press each coil into a flat circle, deflating any air pockets and squishing the scallions gently into the dough. With the rolling pin, slowly and carefully roll out each flattened circle into a 10-in/25-cm round. Flour the dough and work surface as needed to prevent the dough from sticking. (It’s okay if some of the scallion mixture comes out.) As you finish rolling each round, set it aside.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until it is shimmering.

While the oil is heating, make the dipping sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, Sriracha sauce, sesame oil, ginger, vinegar, sugar, and scallion until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside. (The sauce can be made up to 1 week in advance and stored in the fridge in an airtight container.)

To check if the oil is ready, sprinkle a bit of flour into the skillet. If it sizzles on contact, the oil is ready. Carefully add one pancake to the hot oil and fry, turning once, for 1 to 2 minute per side, or until golden. Transfer the pancake to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining pancakes, always allowing the oil to return to temperature before adding the next one.

Cut the pancakes into quarters, arrange on a platter, and serve hot with the dipping sauce.

Mango Mango

I don’t know about your market, but around here, mangoes have been on sale for the past few weeks. A good sale on fruit is something I can’t just walk by – note the four pints of raspberries currently resting on the second shelf of my fridge – so on-sale mangoes always make their way into my cart. The last time I was in the market, I bought five mangoes. As soon as they ripened, I ate one and used two of them to make this fresh mango bread from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking. 

Leo and Lilli

I brought this bread to Western Mass for a visit with my parents. (I also brought this double chocolate banana bread, which was a hit.) My sister-in-law had her 10-year Smith reunion at the same time, so Sylvie and Leo came up for a visit as well. Leo and Lilli had Cousin Time, where Leo’s diminutive size did not stop him getting whatever toy he wanted — even if Lilli was using it.

The bread was a big hit, so much so that there was none left for Rich, who was away for the weekend at a conference. Because I’d promised him some, I zipped home that Sunday and made the bread a second time with the remaining two mangoes. Yes, that’s right, I baked this bread twice in a four-day period.

Quick bread refers to the batter not needing time to rise like normal bread dough. But this quick bread also whips together in a flash. Sure, the baking takes about an hour and a half, but you certainly don’t need to be anywhere near the kitchen while that’s happening. The recipe calls for light brown sugar, but I used dark brown. I think it gave it a nice caramelly flavor to it.

This is a dairy-free recipe, and if you want to keep it parve, use Earth Balance instead of butter for when you butter the pan.

Fresh Mango Bread from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

Ingredients

3 large eggs

¾ cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup (packed) brown sugar

2 cups diced mango

¾ cup moist, plump golden raisins

Grated zest of ½ lime

Directions

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8 ½ -x – 4 ½ inch loaf pan, dust the inside with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on an insulated baking sheet or on two regular baking sheets stacked one on top of the other. (This extra insulation will keep the bottom on the bread from overbaking.)

Whisk the eggs and oil together.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, spices and salt. Rub the brown sugar between your palms into the bowl, breaking up any lumps, then stir it in. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry, switch to a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon and mix until blended – the batter will be very thick (really more like a dough than a batter) and not easily mixed, but persevere, it will soon come together. Stir in the mango, raisins and zest. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.

Bake the bread for 1 ½ hours, or until it is golden brown and a think knife inserted into the center comes out clean. (If the bread looks as if it’s getting too brown as it bakes, cover it loosely with a foil tent.) Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before running a knife around the sides of the pan and unmolding. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up on the rack.

A Family Affair

I’m doubting that Lilli will remember her first Fourth of July with her cousin Leo (son of Sylvie and Miriam, and now about 13 weeks old), but we certainly will. Each year we head up to York Harbor, Maine, to stay with Syl’s in-laws. As you might expect, this year involved many cute photo ops with our babies.

Lilli examines Leo

I like to bring a nice baked good whenever we head up (you’ll remember I sent them the date nut bread for Chanukah this year), but because Sylvie is deathly allergic to walnuts, and Miriam is allergic to all nuts, I went to work on a fruity dessert.

Super Baby!

I found my solution in a gift bag I received last week at a blogger lunch. I don’t usually go to such events, and rarely do they make their way onto my blog, but it was a great meal and I’m really happy with the product. Briefly, there is a family-run Hawaiian bakery called King’s Hawaiian. They bake a sweet bread, like one of those Portuguese breads — which, I read, is where the grandfather who started the company found his inspiration.

Cousins!

They are a West-Coast brand and are just getting started on the East-Coast, so they invited some local bloggers to a meal at the Cambridge restaurant Catalyst. Chef William Kovel did all sorts of incredible things with the bread: white gazpacho sips with marcona almonds and King’s Hawaiian garlic chips; a Greek salad with grilled ahi tuna and olive crostini. He even did a little chef demo at the end with a white chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce.

It was the first time I was really away from Lilli for an afternoon of fun, and I got a little carried away with the guava mimosas. And so, of course, I took zero photos of my meal, and only took shots of the magnificent centerpieces. I was pretty psyched to win one as a door prize, and I actually brought it up to Maine.

centerpiece

I also brought a loaf of the sweet round bread and used it to make this red, white and blue bread salad. It features strawberries from the CSA, and Syl gets special props for suggesting the addition of blueberries, making this a perfectly delicious patriotic dessert.

strawberry bread salad

Because our holiday barbecue featured meat and this bread is dairy, we had to eat our dessert first, before dinner. Unlike most of the recipes I share, this one takes some time; the bread needs to dry out overnight, so plan ahead.

Red, White and Blue Bread Salad aka Patriotic Panzanella

Ingredients

1 King’s Hawaiian Original Sweet Round Bread

1 quart strawberries

1 Tablespoon white sugar

¼ cup plus 2 Tablespoons brown sugar

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

Pinch of kosher salt

1 cup blueberries, washed

Directions

The night before you want to serve this, slice the round bread into one-inch cubes. Set them aside on the counter overnight on a large baking pan.

The next day, clean, hull and quarter your strawberries. Macerate them by putting them into a medium sized bowl and sprinkling a tablespoon of white sugar on them. While you do the other steps of this recipe, make sure to poke them every 10 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 275F. (Yes, I know it’s July, but this oven temp isn’t exactly sultry.)

In a small saucepan, melt the stick of butter with the brown sugar and pinch of kosher salt. After it melts, pour the sauce on top of the dried out bread. Toss as if you were making a salad, with some large serving spoons. Make sure everything gets coated.

Put the pan in the oven for approximately 10 minutes.

After 10 minutes, remove the pan, scraping all the bread and the pan’s sugar bits into a large bowl. Now add the macerated strawberries and their juices to the bowl. Add the cup of blueberries. Toss everything real good. Maybe even use your hands to make sure this is done.

Serve and enjoy.

Regifting, Sort of.

Recently, someone on our floor at work went to a far off land and brought back a box of dates. (You’ll remember that the boxes of Turkish Delight are brought directly to my desk.) After watching them go untouched for a few days, I took it upon myself to bring them home for a baking project. The result was a date nut bread, which my boss told me it was “the best one she’d ever had”. The New York Times apparently agreed; the title of the recipe is “An Incredible Date Nut Bread”.

a package for marilyn

The recipe calls for pouring boiling water over baking soda, and then pouring the mixture onto the pile of chopped dates and raisins. When The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor Amanda Hesser found this recipe, she wrote food scientist Harold McGee to get his take. He replied: “My guess is that the baking soda step is a quick way of hydrating and softening the fruit, and probably turns the date bits into mush, which would help moisten the cake more than discrete pieces.” McGee also thought the baking soda would help make the cake brown, and indeed, as Hesser puts it, “the cake emerges from the oven dark and tawny.” And I can report that it smelled even better than it looked; at one point the scent of the loaf baking in the oven literally stopped me in my tracks.

steeping the dried fruit

Over Thanksgiving we had a visit with Sylvie and her wife Miriam at Mir’s parents place up in Maine. I had wanted to bring a loaf up as a thank you to our hosts but Syl is deathly allergic to walnuts. As it turns out, so are half of her in-laws, so I think I made the right move. But Mir’s mom said she loved date nut bread, so, using the rest of the purloined dates, I baked her a loaf and sent it to her for Chanukah. It was only after I took it out of the oven that I noticed the title of the December 1977 article from which the recipe came: “Food Gifts You Can Make at Home.”

Baking Notes: I’ve been experimenting with flours lately, and the loaf I sent to Mir’s parents was made with white whole wheat flour. I was a little nervous it would be too dry, but the feedback I’ve received has been very positive. The flour choice is entirely up to you.

An Incredible Date-Nut Bread

Ingredients

1 cup diced pitted dates

¾ cup raisins

¼ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¾ cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper. Butter the rectangle and sprinkle with flour; shake out the excess flour.
  2. Put the dates and raisins in a medium bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and pour it over the date mixture.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the date mixture, including the liquid. Add the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is dark brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 3 to 5 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, remove the paper, and let cool.

MC CSA

Our summer CSA started last week. While some people complain that receiving a box of predetermined vegetables every week is too limiting, I’ve really grown to love working with ours. I’m really at my happiest with our magic box of tricks on the counter. Rich jokes that if I was a rapper, my name would be MC CSA.

So far this week, the arugula has been made into a garlicky pasta topped with golden raisins. The leaves have also made their way into a salad of roasted beets (also from the box) and stinky blue cheese. Last night, we had an outstanding miso soup featuring steamed mizuna (a Japanese lettuce) and carrots, both from the CSA. To the pot I added a few pantry goodies, dried shiitake mushrooms, some absolutely ancient seaweed, and fresh matchsticks of ginger. I filled the bottom of each bowl with a ladleful of barley (pressure cooker, ‘natch) and tied it altogether with another CSA goodie, spring onion.

Which brings me to the main event. This past weekend I made spring onion and cheddar biscuits. It was Rich’s birthday, and I promised him weeks in advance I wouldn’t plan a thing. It worked out for the best because our neighbors had a BBQ featuring hours-smoked ribs. For my husband, any birthday involving pork is a good one. Given the menu, these biscuits just seemed to make sense. (I also brought the mighty bean salad.)

I did a bit of digging around for a green onion and cheddar biscuit recipe, but couldn’t come up with something that pleased me. Or, as I lamented to Aleza, “Why is there bacon in every one of these biscuit recipes?!?” She comforted me with the knowledge that people are stupid when it comes to pig, and suggested I find a biscuit recipe, add the cheese to the dry ingredients, and then add the onion when I added the cream. Simple enough. I found the recipe in The Fannie Farmer Cookbook — about as American as you can get. It’s a James Beard recipe, which to me makes perfect sense: leave it to a Southern gourmand to have a perfect biscuit recipe.

Spring Onion and Cheddar Biscuits adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

Ingredients

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup cheddar, shredded

1 – 1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ cup chopped green onion

6 Tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F. Use an ungreased baking sheet.

Combine the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar and cheese in a mixing bowl. Stir the dry ingredients with a fork to blend and lighten. Slowly add 1 cup of the cream to the mixture, stirring constantly. Halfway through adding the cream, add the green onions. Stir constantly.

Gather the dough together; when it holds together and feels tender, it is ready to knead. But if it seems shaggy and pieces are dry and falling away, then slowly add enough additional cream to make the dough hold together. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and knead the dough for 1 minute.

Pat the dough into a square about ½ inch thick. Cut into twelve squares and dip each into the melted butter so all sides are coated. Place the biscuits 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned. Serve hot.

Mea Culpa

Forget Wes “Butterfingers” Welker, forget Gisele. It’s my fault the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. But I promise you I didn’t mean it.

Rich and I thought we were doing our fellow party-goers a favor by sharing this lemony olive oil banana bread that we’d whipped up that morning. But when we announced the addition of banana bread to the table of delights, Sarah and Mike both let out a yelp. They’d just returned from a trip to New Orleans where they been told, randomly enough, that it’s bad luck to bring banana bread on a shrimp boat – and by extension, naturally, to a Super Bowl party.

We didn’t even know we’d be bringing the banana bread to the party, because we didn’t even know we’d be baking it that morning. But when the bananas, which Rich had picked up for me in an attempt to find something sweet, nutritious and low in acid, began to look like giraffe necks, I knew it was time to try out this recipe in Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. And you know how I am about Melissa Clark recipes.

Sure, I’ve already posted a banana bread recipe, but really, you can’t have enough banana bread recipes.  We switched things up a little bit with this one, trading out reflux-inducing chocolate chips for walnuts. I think pecans would also be nice. The result is moist, almost fruity because of the olive oil, but all that gets wiped away in the most pleasant of ways by the terrific lemony glaze.

My apologies to the fans of New England. And, to all the Giants fans out there (and I know some of you reading this are – Hi Russ!) you’re welcome. Next time you have a Super Bowl party bring some banana bread. Apparently it’s good luck, for the G-men, anyhow.

Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (or nuts) from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or walnuts)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3 to 4 bananas)

¼ cup sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt Add the chocolate pieces (or nuts) and combine well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

While the cake is almost cool, prepare the glaze. In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, spreading with a spatula to cover.

Ba-na-na-na

Last week, I bought bananas. As a general rule, I don’t buy the yellow fruit. I used to buy them for Rich so he could enjoy them with his bowl of cereal in the morning, but at some point last year he let me know that he actually doesn’t care much for them. I like them well enough, but it really does bother me to eat a piece of food that’s traveled such a long distance to get to me. You know how I am about even the delicious mango. And then there’s the socio-economic issues: low wages and heavy chemical use in the industry, to say nothing of the history monopolies, colonialism and union busting. (If you’re interested in learning more about it, Peter Chapman wrote a very good book about the history of the United Fruit Company, the largest banana supplier in the world.) And don’t even get me started on the waning Cavendish.

But last week was my mom’s birthday, and this past summer I discovered a banana bread she absolutely adores. She, like me and my sister, doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth; we’re much happier eating baba ghanoush on challah for breakfast than challah French toast. So when I took my parents to Flour bakery for a little snack after a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum over the summer, Mom ordered the banana bread, noting it was one of her favorite baked goods — sweet but not too sweet, moist and soft but still sturdy. And she loved it, proclaiming it the best banana bread she’d ever had. A perfect afternoon snack, — or, in my mom’s case, a perfect birthday cake.

So on Sunday, I bought yellow bananas. I set them on the counter until they ripened to mottled, baked-good-worthy status by Wednesday night, just in time to make the bread and mail it for Mom’s birthday on Monday.

This recipe calls for a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. I had two slightly smaller sized loaf pans, so I filled one pan about ¾ high, and baked the leftover ¼ in the other loaf pan for us to munch on. Side by side, they reminded me of the movie Twins; mom got the Arnold loaf and we kept Danny DeVito to munch on.

Although the recipe calls for two tablespoons of sour cream or crème fraîche, I used Greek yogurt instead. I toasted the nuts for about 8 minutes in my toaster oven set at 350 degrees. Keep an eye on the nuts as they go from perfectly toasted to burnt in a matter of 30 seconds.

Special note: My friend Tania tipped me off to these equal exchange bananas so I don’t have to fret about my bananas when I do buy them.

Flour’s Famous Banana Bread from Joanne Chang’sflour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Cafe

Makes one 9-inch loaf

Ingredients

1 ½ cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (230 grams) sugar

2 eggs

½ cup (100 grams) canola oil

3 ½ very ripe, medium bananas, peeled and mashed (1 1/3 cups mashed/about 340 grams)

2 Tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (I used Greek yogurt and had no ill-effects)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup (75 grams) walnut halves, toasted and chopped

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat together the sugar and eggs on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy. (If you use a handheld mixer, this same step will take about 8 minutes.)

On a low speed, slowly drizzle in the oil. Don’t pour the oil in all at once. Add it slowly so it has time to incorporate into the eggs and doesn’t deflate the air you have just beaten into the batter. Adding it should take about 1 minute. Add the bananas, crème fraîche, and vanilla and continue to mix on low speed just until combined.

Using a rubber spatula, fold in the flour mixture and the nuts just until thoroughly combined. No flour streaks should be visible, and the nuts should be evenly distributed. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and smooth the top.

Bake for 1 to 1 ¼ hours, or until golden brown on top and the center springs back when you press it. If your finger sinks when you poke the bread, it needs to bake a little longer. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes, and then pop it out of the pan to finish cooling.

The banana bread can be stored tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature for up to 3 days. Or, it can be well wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen for up to 2 weeks; thaw overnight at room temperature for serving.