From the Test Kitchen

We’re a PBS household around here. The worst part of moving from Boston was losing our DVR, and with it the Paul McCartney: Live in Performance at the White House, which had been on there since I think 2011. Some afternoons Rich will turn on WGBY to have the cooking shows on in the background, including the OCD tandem of cooking shows: America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country. It’s like The Odd Couple, but they’re both Felixes. I find most of their takes overly complicated, but I do like their taste tests of common products and ingredients.

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That may have been where I got the idea for my own taste test. This summer I received two separate chocolate hazelnut spreads to sample. I jumped at the offer, as Beatrix is a Nutella fiend. (I know, mother of the year.) So we held our own blind taste test with Lilli, Beatrix and a pal of Lilli’s. And yes, I double checked with the mom before serving him three different types of chocolate hazelnut spread.

 

The spreads were served on challah from Tart Baking Company, which has become our go-to for challah. It’s got a hint of sourdough while still managing that slight cakey texture.

 

The spread of spreads comprised: Nutella, the gold standard, the control group; Nutiva, a dark organic hazelnut spread made with palm oil, touted to have 40% less sugar, 450mg of omega-3 per serving and certified gluten-free and vegan; and Nocciolata, organic, non-GMO, vegan, palm oil-free, gluten-free, and certified kosher.

The clear winner was the Nocciolata, which, according to the promotional materials, takes “36 hours of artisanal preparation to develop its rich and complex flavor and easy-to-spread texture.” Honestly, it was like Nutella, but, well, richer and more complex. And the Nutiva? It was remarkably not good. We couldn’t really taste the chocolate or hazelnut, and it was quite bitter from the lack of sugar.

With the children sufficiently sugared, we set out for the side yard, with its new picket fence and hand-me-down swing set. It’s nice to be able to host playdates for Lilli and Bea’s friends. And now we know what kind of fancy hazelnut spread to offer our guests.

 

Stirring the Pot

Rich had to shush me and drag me away from the potluck offerings at Tot Shabbat last month. Lilli is now four and can be trusted to eat things like popcorn and cherries, but Beatrix is just two, so I winced a bit too dramatically when I saw those on the table. (Yes, I still halve their grapes and cherry tomatoes. Better safe than sorry.) And don’t get me started on the farro walnut salad. There was an incident at a neighborhood potluck where Sylvie ended up in the emergency room. Nut allergies are no joke.

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Still, there was a moment at the tables that made me smile: It was plain to see who also used Mountain View for their farm shares. It’s beet season, and the vivid pink Chioggia beets, and the sunbursts of the golden beets, dotted the salads on the table. Roasted and diced into quinoa, sliced into salad greens, beets were on full force at the potluck.

It’s also summer squash time, and today I bring you the summer squash cake I brought to Tot Shabbat. It takes minutes to pull together and is really, really tasty. Rich first thought of zucchini bread when I talked about making this cake, but this is in no way a “bread.” This is clearly a cake. A moist, sweet one, with a cream cheese frosting. Without the frosting, it’s still moist and sweet, and dairy-free.

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As you can see, the frosting in our version was pink, as per the request of Lilli. You certainly don’t need to dye yours. Confession: I overestimated how much squash to grate in our food processor, so I used the leftovers the next night to make summer squash ricotta fritters. I recommend you do the same if you also end up with too much squash.

The recipe is from the new cookbook Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak, a pastry chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America and has worked in California kitchens. The recipes in this charming book are seasonal and use produce one finds at the farmers’ market, or in my case, the CSA. It begins in the springtime when we enjoyed a very lovely mango mousse. She is a California chef, after all, so some of her fruits and vegetables are a bit more tropical than my Western Mass options. There’s also a blueberry crisp I have my eye on, and a roasted beet panna cotta with candied walnuts that is just singing to me. But first, I had to share this dead simple summer squash cake, since I’m sure you have too many summer squash in your crisper right now.

Summer Squash Cake from Farm to Table Desserts Farm to Table Desserts by Lei Shishak

Ingredients

Cake

3 large eggs

2 cups grated summer squash

1 ½ cups sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

Cream Cheese Frosting

3 ½ cups powdered sugar

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, room temperature

¼ unsalted butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

Cake

Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9- or 10- inch round pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, squash, sugar oil, and vanilla extract well. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until incorporated. Transfer to prepared pan and bake for 55 to 60 minutes, or until inserted toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely.

Frosting

Sift the powdered sugar and set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla on medium speed until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 30 seconds to ensure no lumps remain. Add the powdered sugar all at once and mix on low speed until sugar is just incorporated. Scrape bowl well and beat on high speed for 10 seconds.

Remove cooled cake from pan and place onto a serving platter. Cut the rounded cake top off, if desired. Spread cream cheese frosting on in a decorative design. Store cake in refrigerator.

 

Blueberries for gals

It was only after we’d returned from our annual trip to Maine for the Fourth of July that the berries out back really started to ripen. Now, every day after work and camp, the girls and I head out back. Bea is still a little too young to only pick the ripe berries, but Lilli gets it. In bowls, Tupperware, and sometimes in the folds of our dresses, we collect the day’s berries.

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There’s another Maine connection to this post, in that I’d been waiting for ripe blueberries to make this recipe from The Lost Kitchen cookbook. The Lost Kitchen is this restaurant in Freedom, Maine, that opens up its doors to reservations only a few months a year. The chef is Erin French, and she forages her ingredients, and sources things directly from the farmers and fishermen. She’s considered a true visionary when it comes to farm to table, or, in some cases, ocean to table.

And this cookbook, oh my, this cookbook. We started the book in the spring with the macerated shallot vinaigrette (shallot, rice wine vinegar, olive oil and a couple twists of pepper) drizzled over asparagus from the front yard. I made the rest of my colleague’s yard rhubarb into compote, which I then baked into a rhubarb spoon cake. And the parsnip needhams were a smash hit at Bea’s birthday party.

But really I was just working my way up to this recipe: Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream. And yes, this recipe truly is seasonal: The basil started coming in the farm share last week, right on time to be paired with the ripe blueberries out back. And yes, the recipe is as astoundingly delicious and delightful as it sounds.

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First you steep the basil in warmed heavy cream, milk and sugar for 20 minutes. Then you make a custard with four egg yolks and chill it. If you’re anything like us, while that’s all steeping and chilling, you use the leftover egg whites to make meringues. I’m including a bonus recipe after the main one so you’ll have something to do with your four egg whites. Rich broke up his meringues into the custard and had himself an Eton Mess. I personally preferred the recipe as written, but still thought it was a great idea.

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Eton Mess or not, this recipe is a stunner. In the next day or two I’m going to take some more of our berries and make Summer Berries with Ginger-Cream Shortcakes. It is worth noting that because this book is set on the coastal shores of Maine there’s a ton of shellfish in the book. Not my thing, but if it is yours, you’ll love the book even more than I do, and that’s saying a lot.

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Fresh Blueberries with Basil Custard Cream from The Lost Kitchen by Erin French

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk

3 cups heavy cream

¼ cup sugar

1 cup basil leaves, plus more for garnish

4 large egg yolks

1 pint blueberries

Directions

In a small saucepan, combine the milk, 1 cup of the cream, and the sugar. Bring to a slow boil over low heat, just to let the sugar dissolve. Remove from the heat.

Tear the basil leaves and add them to the hot mixture. Let steep for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl. Slowly pour the cream mixture into the yolks, whisking constantly until well incorporated. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens slightly but does not boil. Strain it through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the basil and any curdled egg bits. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely.

Whip the remaining 2 cups to stiff peaks. Fold in the custard and serve in bowls with the blueberries, garnishing with basil leaves.

Meringue Clouds from flour by Joanne Chang

We skipped the almonds and halved this recipe with perfect results. I prefer a chewy meringue, so ours were done at the 3 hour mark. I have read about some meringue bakers who set their cookies in the oven at night and open the oven door the next morning. It’s entirely your preference.

Ingredients

8 egg whites

1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (140 grams) confectioners’ sugar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup (100 grams) sliced almonds, toasted

Directions

Position a rack in the center of the oven, and heat the oven to 175 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes, or until soft peaks form. (This step will take 6 to 8 minutes if using a handheld mixer.) The whites will start to froth and disappear. Keep whipping until you can see the tines of the whip leaving a sight trail in the whites. To test for the soft-peak stage, stop the mixer and lift the whip out of the whites, the whites should peak and then droop.

On medium speed, add the granulated sugar in three equal additions, mixing for 1 minute after each addition. When all of the granulated sugar has been incorporated into the egg whites, increase the speed to medium-high and beat for about 30 seconds longer.

In a small bowl, sift together the confectioners’ sugar and salt. Using a rubber spatula, fold the confectioners’ sugar mixture into the beaten egg whites. Then, fold in the almonds, reserving 2 tablespoons for garnish.

Use large spoon to make baseball-size billowing mounds of meringue on the prepared baking sheet, spacing them 2 to 3 inches apart. You should have 8 mounds. Sprinkle the reserved almonds evenly on top of the meringues.

Bake for about 3 hours, or until the meringues are firm to the touch and you can remove them easily from the baking sheet without them falling apart. For meringues with a soft, chewy center, remove them from the oven at this point and let them cool. For fully crisped meringues, turn off the oven and leave the meringues in the closed oven for at least 6 hours or up to 12 hours.

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

 

 

Bookends

There’s an old cliché that comedy is tragedy, plus time. Well, I’m doing a variation on that this week. Shavuot blintzes are Passover crepes plus time. Seven weeks, to be exact. As I think I’ve mentioned, I was off the blog for a while this spring because the girls finally delivered a knockout blow to my old laptop. Somewhere between the chocolate milk spills and the pounding from frustrated little fists, the keyboard stopped talking to the rest of the machine. Using Rich’s MacBook was a non-starter, so no blogging until I got a new (used) computer.

Of course, this put a big crimp in my publishing schedule, especially since it happened over Passover. I was particularly excited this year because I received, back in March, a copy of Perfect for Pesach by Naomi Nachman. Naomi knows a thing or two about Pesach. Her parents ran the Pesach hotel program in Sydney, Australia, for 28 years, so cooking for Pesach is in her blood. I think the Fish ‘n Chips recipe, which is flounder, cleverly coated with potato sticks and baked, is probably the recipe I’m most looking forward to making. Will report back. Moroccan salmon also sounds wonderful, and even though I don’t cook meat, the Flanken Butternut Squash Soup made Sylvie go, “Wuuuut?” when I told her about it.

I wish I’d had a chance to talk about this cookbook back in April, because I really think it’s a keeper. But given that the book’s tagline is “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year,” I’m going to press ahead. Shavuot is basically the bookend to Passover, so in a way I’m getting in under the deadline, right?

IMG_20170425_112911739The recipe is for “No-Flip Pesach Crepes,” which means they are gluten-free (a quickly growing section on this blog) and super easy to make.  Naomi uses them as a starting point for variations, like Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls, or Vegetable Egg Rolls. Now, if Beatrix had her way, we’d only eat ‘Tella crepes, although today I will offer the recipe with a cheese blintz filling from a Joan Nathan recipe. It is a Shavuot post after all.

No-Flip Pesach Crepes from Perfect for Pesach: Passover Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Year by Naomi Nachman

Ingredients

12 eggs

6 Tablespoons potato starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat well (preferably using hand mixer).

Heat a 9-inch nonstick frying pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Coat pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.

Pour enough batter into the pan to just cover it, about 1/3-cup. Gently swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom with batter. Cook until the top is just set and the crepe is cooked through. Remove from pan to cool.

Repeat with remaining batter.

Cheese Filling from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook

2 cups farmer cheese

1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon

2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a small bowl, mash the farmer cheese. Stir in the egg yolk, salt, butter, sugar, if using, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Spread 1 heaping Tablespoon of the cheese filling along one side of the pancake. Turn the opposite sides in and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll.

If you’d like, you can then fry the blintzes in butter or oil or bake them in a single layer in a 425F oven until brown. Serve dairy blintzes with sour cream.

There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand!

Remember how last week I kindly suggested you peel five ripe bananas and put them into your freezer? It’s time to remove them. There’s a frozen chocolate peanut butter banana pie in my freezer right now and my kids have no idea. Please don’t tell them. They had melon for dessert, and I’d like to keep it that way.

This pie is probably my favorite recipe from the new cookbook The Chubby Vegetarian: 100 Inspired Vegetable Recipes for the Modern Table, from the folks behind the eponymous food blog. It might have something to do with it also being the easiest recipe in the entire cookbook, but more likely my inclination towards all things chocolate-peanut butter.

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There are other recipes that I’ve bookmarked: Baked Cauliflower Wings with Black and Bleu Dressing; Crispy Baked Avocado Tacos with Purple Cabbage Slaw; and Egg Foo Young with Sriracha Gravy. But other recipes have me asking why someone would go out their way and put tricky ingredients into a cookbook, like the Huitlacoche and Sweet Potato Quesadillas with Chipotle Cream. (Huitlacoche is a mushroom-like fungus that grows on corn and is apparently a delicacy in Mexico.) Still, I have a huge bag of masa on my kitchen table with which I will be making pupusas, but I’ll be skipping the pickled loroco flower.

But yes, this pie. Oh man, this pie.

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This photo is a lie: My children don’t actually eat food. Unless it’s lox, in which case, Bea would like another slice.

But back to the pie. Those frozen bananas are going to get whirled in your food processor (yay for my blade finally coming!) along with some peanut butter, dried dates, a little cocoa powder, almond milk and a touch of Maldon salt. If you don’t have Maldon salt, just use a pinch of kosher salt. Close enough. You’ll be making the crust first, and that’s just peanuts that have been pulsed in the bowl of the processor.

Honestly, this recipe couldn’t be simpler, although I would encourage you to really chop the dates and cut the bananas into smallish pieces. Your food processor will really get a work out with this recipe, and the smaller pieces will make it easier to blend.

This pie is vegan and gluten-free and “is just about perfect for summer birthday celebrations and backyard grilling parties.” I’d make this for Bea’s second birthday party in a few weeks, but she’s made it clear she wants a Princess Leia cake. May the force be with us.

Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from Frozen Peanut Butter Banana Pie from The Chubby Vegetarian by Justin Fox Burks & Amy Lawrence

Ingredients

5 ripe bananas

1 cup roasted and salted peanuts

½ cup peanut butter

5 dried dates (pitted)

1 Tablespoon cocoa powder

½ cup unsweetened almond milk

½ teaspoon Maldon sea salt flakes

Chocolate syrup (to garnish)

Directions

Peel the bananas and freeze them for at least 3 hours. Into the work bowl of your food processor, place the peanuts and pulse until finely chopped. Into the bottom of a springform pan, spread the finely chopped peanuts in an even layer.

Slice the frozen bananas into chunks. Into the work bowl of the same food processor, place the bananas, peanut butter, dates, cocoa powder, almond milk, and salt. Blend until smooth. Gently pour mixture into the springform pan so as to not disturb the layer of peanuts on the bottom. Smooth the mixture with a rubber spatula by pushing the mixture to the edges. Place the springform pan in the freezer for at least an hour. For the best consistency, remove the pie from the freezer 10 minutes before serving so it softens a bit. Slice and drizzle with chocolate syrup.

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.)

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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.

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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.