Making New Friends

Choosing what dish to bring to a potluck is tricky, especially when it’s a new community. So last week, when I narrowed down my choices to three for the Tot Shabbat vegetarian potluck (no nuts, please), I held a lunchtime poll topic on Facebook for my community’s input. (Rich is not the only pollster in this house.)

the-upside-down

The choices were thus: Vegan chocolate pudding, mushroom and farro salad, and brie and a nice baguette from one of the great bread bakeries in town. The clear winner was the chocolate pudding. You don’t win friends with salad.

This recipe is a good reminder that just because something is vegan does not automatically make it healthy. Case in point: my Cousin Mark eating a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips dipped in horseradish hummus for lunch. Sure, this pudding is made with silken tofu, so it has protein going for it. But it also calls for a ton of sugar.

A recent Facebook “memory” popped up in which I shared something I’d overheard Rich say to Lilli: “Finish up your dinner, because Mommy is cutting up some fruit for dessert. But that’s not real dessert. Real dessert is cake and cookies. Fruit is what Jewish people call dessert when they have a meat meal.”

But now, you can have this chocolate pudding, and it’s way simpler than cutting up a pineapple.

Ingredients

1 pound silken tofu

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¾ cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Directions

In a blender, combine tofu, cocoa, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Process until completely smooth, scraping down sides with flexible spatula as needed.

Pour into a small bowl and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours before serving.

 

 

 

Do You Believe In Magic?

Man, out of all the food “diets” that have come and gone, I think Paleo rubbed me the wrong way the most. I could post a few dozen articles explaining why it’s a bad idea to not eat whole grains and beans, and how a diet based on meat is, frankly, elitist. But I won’t. I will, however, take this opportunity to mention a former colleague who microwaved herself a sweet potato for lunch every fricking day, hogging the one machine on the entire floor. She sucked.

magic-shell

If there is one good thing to come out of Paleo, it is that it brought coconut oil to my attention.  I have some Paleo cousins who swear by the stuff, so I bought a jar, and then forgot about it. The truth is, I prefer cooking my food in butter or olive oil, and I saw no need for its purpose.

But I am here to share with you the one recipe I use coconut oil for. It’s basically the opposite of what Paleo folks had in mind, and the irony only makes it more delicious. I’m talking about Magic Shell.

Yes, Magic Shell. You remember that hardened chocolate shell that covered the ice cream scoops of your childhood? One moment it’s liquid, but after it touches the ice cream (or after you tuck the bowl in the freezer for a minute or two) it forms a hardened shell, a thick varnish you have to whack away at with your spoon. Perhaps not as satisfying to crack as the crust on a crème brulee, but it’s loads simpler to make.

The magic in Magic Shell is the coconut oil, which is solid at room temperature, but melts when heated, and then solidifies as it cools down, like when it hits ice cream. To make it, all you have to do is melt chocolate – in chip form or otherwise – with the coconut oil. That can be done in a double boiler on the stove, or in the microwave. Just zap on high for 30 seconds, check, stir and repeat until it’s melted enough to be stirred smooth with a spatula or spoon.

So, thank you, Paleo diet. Because of you I was able to recreate a beloved treat from my childhood in mere seconds. I guess you were good for something after all.

Magic Shell

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s done by ratios, so you can scale up or scale down depending on your needs.

Ingredients

1 cup of chocolate, chopped

2 Tablespoons coconut oil

Directions

Place coconut oil and chocolate in a microwave safe bowl.

Microwave, in 30 second intervals, stirring intermittently, until both are completely melted.

Pour or spoon the chocolate sauce over ice cream. Place your bowl of ice cream in the freezer for a minute or two to aid in the magic.

All Of Us Under Its Spell

Ever catch one of those Tasty videos in your Facebook feed? Mesmerizing, right? Lilli caught one over my shoulder a few months back, and ever since she’s been hooked on watching recipes on the Internet. It wasn’t long before she and I discovered that you can basically watch a recipe of anything on YouTube. Her favorites are the intricate cake recipes, of which she, and now I, have watched have watched far more times than I would like to admit.

done

There are teen bakers, baking bloggers who do all sorts of incredible things with food coloring and pastry bags, an Australian baker who leans heavily on using chocolate bars on his cakes. Lilli likes this last one a lot, and so I promised her we would make our own cake using her leftover Halloween candy. This turned out to be a lie, because certain adults in the house have been nibbling away at it over the past three weeks. Ahem.

But we finally made our cake this weekend, and it went off without a hitch, just like we saw on the Internet. I didn’t use person’s recipe per se, but created one out of what I learned watching countless hours of online videos.

What I have prepared for you are directions on how to make a rainbow cake. I promise you it’s easy; it just takes a little bit of patience and time. (Ours took about two hours from start to finish.)

batter

First thing’s first: Find yourself a vanilla cake recipe. Make sure it’s a vanilla cake, not a yellow cake, because that will mess up the colorings. This is the recipe we used.

Next, secure your frosting recipe. I always vote for cream cheese frosting, and this is my go-to, but if you have a vanilla frosting recipe – remember, it has to be white – then use that one instead.  Take out the ingredients for your frosting to come to room temperature when you start preparing your cake batter.

Now, I had never used food coloring until this cake. I’ve always been a little skittish about such things, so I went to the nice kitchen store in town and bought them there. The ones they had on their shelf were the same ones that the online bakers all use. But if you have a favorite brand you use, then please, do what you feel.

We used Kit Kats around the outside of the cake and M&Ms to decorate the top. The Halloween sized ones would have been the right height for the cake, but fortunately the large bars we used also fit when cut in half. Skittles will work as well for the décor, but I’m the only one in the house that likes fruity candies, so I would be the only one who’d eat the cake. I’m actually not a fan of M&Ms, so this was a guarantee that I wouldn’t sit and eat the entire cake myself.

Now that you’ve assembled the ingredients, assemble the cookware and utensils you’ll need. Grab as many 9-inch cake pans as you have. I had three so I ended up using each one twice for my six separate colors. I had Lilli butter them, but then I sprayed a layer of Baker’s Joy on top of that.

If you are using six separate colors, then get out six separate bowls and six separate spoons. An ice cream scoop, if you have one, is very useful.

Now, it’s time to start making your cake. As you can see from my photos, it was six very thin layers. If you want a cake that will have your friends and family oohing and ahhing, I mean, even more than this, then double the recipe to make thicker layers.

Now that your batter is prepared, evenly divide it into the six bowls. This is where the ice cream scoop comes in handy. Next, add your food coloring. We had to mix colors to make the orange and the purple, and it was a fun way to practice our colors. I hope you’re wearing an apron!

use-a-scoop

making-colors

Now it’s time to bake. Carefully scrape the first bowl of colored batter into your first cake pan. It’s probably very thin, so gently push the batter to the sides of the pan with the spoon.

I baked my cake layers three at a time in the oven. Please keep an eye on them; mine were done in about 13 minutes. When they are baked through, remove the pans from the oven and set them on cooling racks to cool, which they will do very quickly. Turn the cakes out, let the pans cool, wash them, then repeat baking the remaining colors of batter.

with-a-spoon

While this is going on, have a small child practice their sorting skills by separating the Skittles or M&Ms into small bowls. This is also when you can make your frosting.

sorting

Lilli, auditioning to be a roadie for Van Halen.

Once your cakes are completely cool, it’s time to assemble. I find the easiest way to frost a cake is by placing it on a plate covered in wax paper, and place that on a Lazy Susan, if you have one.

Layer of cake, little bit of frosting on top, spread with an offset spatula, then next layer of cake, and so on.

 

It’s honestly up to you to choose a design. Rich pointed out that I’d actually stacked my cake layer colors in reverse. Make sure you save enough frosting to cover the outside and sides of the cake; your frosting acts like a glue.

in-the-process

Once it’s assembled, put it in the fridge for about an hour to set and firm up.

And how was it? Very tasty, although Lilli simply picked off the M&Ms and Kit Kats, ate those, and left the cake.

PS – This was Lilli’s theme song all summer long.

Semi-homemade

Has anyone else noticed that a head of cauliflower now costs $6? I’m not sure when it happened, and the truth is, that’s what it should cost. It’s winter. Wherever it was grown and picked – most likely by someone being paid a disturbingly low wage – it had to be transported here. Cheap gas or not, fresh produce is getting more expensive.

I mention this because it gets to the whole premise of my blog, which is that eating a vegetable-based diet is more affordable. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what that exactly means, especially considering that I don’t get to come by this space very often these days. For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve found to be the most affordable foods I can find at the grocery store: frozen vegetables and canned beans.

girls on couch

I’ve used frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli, frozen peppers, frozen leeks and frozen spinach. I’ve found all these things at Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even Target. There are still some things that are more affordable fresh. A two-pound rutabaga is more affordable than a one-pound bag of frozen rutabaga. Ditto for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Frozen zucchini makes for a kind of soggy dish, but so does fresh zucchini.

A few weeks ago we had a wonderful green curry made with frozen spinach and frozen fish from Costco. Sitting on rice noodles I can buy for a couple of dollars at the Asian super market, the whole meal cost less than $6 to produce.

Of course, starting with dried beans is an even more affordable way to go, but my pressure cooker is broken, and I have no idea where to get it repaired. And honestly, I can buy a can of chickpeas at Stop & Shop for 79 cents. (I think it’s 89 cents at Trader Joe’s, but I’ve had a heck of a time opening their cans. Has that happened to anyone else? Impossible to open cans from Trader Joe’s?)

A lot of this has been going into soups: butternut squash with miso and coconut milk; sweet potato with a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. Tonight I made a green soup with frozen broccoli and frozen spinach. For Rich’s I added a dollop of plain whole yogurt and a swirl of jarred pesto I had in the fridge. One of the main reasons I’ve been making all the soups is for Bea who loves eating but isn’t yet very good at it.

The recipe I have for you today came via a mommy blog I get updates from, even though I don’t remember signing up for them. It’s for a chocolate cake made with black beans. The original recipe called for a can of chickpeas, but Lilli always breaks out in a rash whenever she eats hummus. I guess this is another trick to hide something healthy, like the chocolate zucchini cake from this summer, although the flavor is even more subtle here. I made some guests I had over for Chanukah sample the cake, and they described it as “very creamy.”

It’s a dead simple recipe – you dump the ingredients into a blender and press the button – so it’s very kid friendly. Instead of making a loaf, I make these in mini muffin tins, perfect for lunch sacks. It’s gluten free, and since the Conservative Movement announced that kitniyot (beans, rice and corn) are now permissible to eat, it’s now kosher for Passover. But you don’t have to wait until April to give this one a try.

Flourless Black Bean Chocolate Cakes

Ingredients
1 14 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup mini chips

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan.

In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except for the mini chocolate chips, until smooth. If necessary add more milk one teaspoon at a time.

Pour batter into the prepared muffin pan.

Sprinkle chips evenly on top of the pan.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

Make sure to let the muffins cool completely before you remove them.

A Spoon Also Works

Last week I made a terrible curry. Well, maybe terrible is too strong a word, but not by much. Lately I’ve been testing out different slow cooker cookbooks that have made their way to my mailbox. With the full time job and two little girls, I’m trying to find just the right recipes for our weeknights, with the hope, of course, to share the really good ones with you.

Bea in a Bjorn

The big issue with this curry was the carrots. The recipe called for thin slices of the vegetable to be cooked for five or six hours on low, but they were still crunchy when it was time to have dinner. Rich had less of an issue with the recipe than I did and dutifully ate all the leftovers for the following week. Lilli, who I have taken to calling “Picky Picky”, ate the rice.

Still, the curry wasn’t a complete disaster because it meant I had a leftover cup of coconut milk in the fridge. I had bookmarked a recipe a year ago that called for a scant cup of coconut milk, which had I promptly forgot about until last week. So the recipe I have for you today is for coconut curd; yes, like lemon curd, but with coconut instead. And yes, it’s just as amazing as it sounds. I think when I licked the spoon while I was working on it I actually said out loud in my empty kitchen, “Oh dear God, this might be one of the best tasting things I’ve ever made.”

It’s from Artisan Preserving, a really beautiful cookbook I was sent last year. It’s full of really incredible sounding preserves and jams and curds, like black pepper and cumin jelly, gingered plum chutney, and, irony of ironies, Thai curry paste. Apparently coconut curd, also known as Kaya, or Coconut Egg Jam, is a popular preserve in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. The authentic version calls for screwpine, or pandan, leaves which apparently have a pine and citrus taste. I am including it here, just in case you happen to have a screwpine tree growing in your backyard. If you do have a screwpine tree growing in your backyard, can I come over in say, mid-February? Coconut curd is served on toast, although I think a spoon also works.

robot

The recipe calls for a balloon whisk, but I just fudged it with the whisk I had in my kitchen. I’ve always fudged on sterilizing, but Ms. Macdonald made it sound so simple that I went and did it, and it was! She offers several ways to sterilize a jar, and I am only including the version I chose as it was the easiest. My sister Amanda gave me these bright green rubbery heat resistant oven gloves for my birthday, which were absolutely perfect for handling the hot metal lids and glass jars.

As for other ingredients, I still had palm sugar in the house from when I made this secret eggplant salad. I found the bag in the food section of Home Goods, a wonderful aisle full of goodies like fresh vanilla beans and pink peppercorns. Please don’t let not having palm sugar stop you from making this; I think brown sugar will make a fine substitute.

Coconut Curd from Artisan Preserving by Emma Macdonald

Ingredients

Scant 1 cup coconut milk

¼ cup palm sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

4 fresh screwpine (pandine) leaves (optional)

4 large eggs

Makes about 10 ounces (1 cup). Preparation time: 20 minutes Cooking time: 25 minutes

Sterilize enough small jars in the oven so that they are ready to use (directions to follow)

Put the coconut milk, palm and granulated sugars, and screwpine leaves, if using, in the top of a double boil set over gently simmering water. Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved.

Break the eggs into a bowl and, using a balloon whisk, beat together well. Whisk the eggs into the coconut mixture.

Heat gently and cook about 20 minutes, whisking frequently, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Do not let the mixture boil or it will curdle. If the curd does start to split, remove from the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth.

Remove the screwpine leaves, if you have used them.

Pour the curd into the warmed, sterilized jars. Cover immediately with sterilized lids. Let cool completely before storing in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Once opened, eat within 3 days.

Sterilizing Bottles & Jars

The importance of sterilizing cannot be emphasized enough; it is essential so that your preserves do not deteriorate during storage. Always sterilize an extra bottle or jar in case it is needed. Remove any labels if you are reusing bottles or jars, and wash all in very hot, soapy water.

Do not dry the washed bottles or jars but put them upright on a baking sheet, about 2 inches apart, and put in the oven. Turn on the heat to 350F and once the oven has reached this temperature, leave the bottles or jars in the oven 20 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized. Most preserves will be hot when they’re canned so it makes sense to keep the bottles or jars in the oven until needed; reduce the temperature slightly. Wear protective oven mitts when handling the hot bottles and jars.

Sterilizing lids: Put the lids in a pot of water, bring to a boil and boil 10 minutes. Make sure they are dry before using to avoid condensation forming. An alternative method is to fill the hot sterilized bottles or jars with the hot preserve, screw on the lids and then turn the bottles or jars upside down 1 minute. Wear protective oven mitts or cover the bottle or jar with a kitchen towel when you do this to avoid burning yourself. This effectively sterilizes the insides of the lids.

A Holiday Meant for Guests

My parents always had a sukkah. It was large and wooden, and my sisters and I loved getting to decorate it before the holiday began. We always hung colorful paper chains and gourds, and sometimes strings of cranberries and popcorn. That was always kind of risky given the large squirrel population of Western Mass.

Be careful, Daddy. Don't fall. I gotchu.

Be careful Daddy. Don’t fall. I gotchu.

Their sukkah was always full of visitors, which is what you’re supposed to do when you have a sukkah. In fact, we are taught that each night we welcome ushpizin – characters from the Bible who each hold a mystical trait: Abraham the first night, who embodies love; Isaac the second night who offers discipline; and so on.

My parents usually had help building it from our handyman, Fitz, a retired firefighter, but one year my parents and another couple – David and John – built it on their own. Afterwards, as they toasted each other with Camparis they joked that only a hurricane could knock it down. Turns out they were right; Hurricane Gloria did, indeed, throw their sukkah across the deck and into the backyard.

crafting

Sukkot, like Passover, has two holy days at the beginning, four regular days in the middle, and two more holy days at the end. There was always a steady stream of people for the entire eight days. My mom always cooked a corned beef for the holy days and a large pot of chili with a side of corn bread for the rest. (Her special secret for moist cornbread: a can of creamed corn.)

By the time I was in college my parents realized how exhausted they were from hosting the world for more than two decades, so they downscaled the large wooden sukkah for a premade one with metal beams and canvas sides. And a few years ago they gave up on the sukkah altogether, deciding to just use the one in the synagogue every night. Sylvie and Miriam drove off with the pieces attached to the roof of their Subaru Outback, and now they put it up in their yard in DC.

This year Rich, Lilli and I were lucky enough to help decorate our friend Eric’s sukkah. You might remember him as the one from whom Lilli so brazenly stole food a few years ago. Eric’s sukkah is very large; he actually hosts a Sukkot barbeque every year for our synagogue. This year he had us over for the first night of the holiday. I brought a refreshing cucumber salad, a dish my mother always made to go with meat meals growing up. I also made a very peculiar sweet potato kugel (a recipe in progress) and for dessert, baked apples, something my mother always, always, always served for dessert at Sukkot.

I had worked out a recipe in my head but called my mom for things like oven temperature and baking time. “Oh, how funny,” she said. “I was just thinking about making baked apples for tonight.” Well, duh, it’s Sukkot. She actually had a Martha Stewart cookbook out, which has you preheat the oven to 375F. My mom and I both agreed that is a lie, kind of like when a recipe says to cook the onions until they’re translucent, “between five and seven minutes.” We both agreed the oven would have to be at least 400F to get anywhere close to a baked apple you can cut with a fork.

lulav

I poked around online and most recipes call for brown sugar which is supposed to caramelize in the oven. We’ve never used brown sugar. It is New England, so maple syrup all the way.

The apples I used are Fujis which are much sturdier in the oven than a Macintosh. Any hearty apple will do, but please, no Red Delicious. Make sure their bottoms are flat so that they stand upright in the pan and on your plate. I used a paring knife to start coring the apples and changed over to a rounded teaspoon to scrape away at the core. A melon baller or small ice cream scoop will also work.

I think walnuts work best here but check with your guests ahead of time to make sure no one is allergic to them. There was an incident at a potluck last weekend, and Sylvie had to get epi-penned and rushed to the hospital because of walnuts lurking in a veggie burger. I had currants around because I made this caponata for Rosh Hashana, but raisins will also work.

baked apple

These apples are parve and vegan, and are great for a dessert, a snack, or even a nice breakfast. I start the apple pan in a tented steam bath, kind of the way I roast my cauliflower.

I hope you get a chance to make these before Sukkot is over. It’s our harvest holiday, so extra points if you use apples you’ve personally picked from an orchard. Hopefully you’ll eat these after a meal where this butternut squash dish is served. That recipe is particularly fantastic.

Baked Apples

Ingredients

Five medium to large apples with flat bottoms

1/4 cup dried apricots, slivered

1/4 cup raisins or currants

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Mix the dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and maple syrup in a small bowl. Set aside.

Carefully core the apples, making sure to stop about an inch from the bottom.

Using a small spoon, carefully ladle the fruit and nut mixture into each hole.

Stand the apples upright in a baking dish with sides. Pour enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil. Slide into the oven. At around the 20-minute mark, carefully remove the foil, then bake them for another 20 minutes, checking periodically. You will know they are done when they are very wrinkled. They will be soft enough to cut with a fork.