Snowstorms and Squash

 

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Oy, 2016. There were many moments I (we? Most everyone?) would like to forget, although I am happy that this year brought me back to Western Mass. The last week of the year, for me, at least, was really lovely. My girls and I all had off from our schools so we spent the entire week together. When Beatrix wasn’t watching Frozen (“Elsa! Elsa!”) we squeezed in a few adventures.

We explored Great Barrington in the Berkshires (only about an hour from here) in search of the best grilled cheese in the Northeast. We had fun at Forbes Library, whose cookbook and media collection continues to impress me. (More on those in upcoming posts.) We made it to two children’s museums, including a New Year’s Eve Jr. celebration that allowed Bea endless rides on the carousel.

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One of Rich’s brothers gave us a gift card for Marshall’s/TJ Maxx/Home Goods for Christmas, and Lilli was quite pleased to find both dinosaur pasta and a cookie and cupcake decorating kit in the “Home” section. The design kit came in very handy during last week’s snowstorms, again between Frozen screenings.

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That decorating kit also brings us to today’s recipe. Because one cannot decorate cupcakes without frosting, and the only frosting worth making involves cream cheese. Which means I had cream cheese in the house, and that was the one ingredient I was missing to make this twice-baked butternut squash.

I knew it was a keeper as soon as I saw it, and, given its cheesiness, it was a good addition to our Chanukah table. I served it next to potato latkes, a salad of butter lettuce, dates, slivered red onion (soaked in ice cold water to take the snap out), sprinkles of blue cheese and a balsamic brown sugar dressing. Now that I think about it, there was also a lentil stew with rutabaga and kale to start things off.

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Grandparents, don’t panic. She got a haircut soon after this photo was taken.

The recipe actually calls for the squash to first get a steam in the microwave, so it moves the process along a bit quicker than if you did everything in the oven. Ditto with the sweet potatoes, which I know you can do in a microwave, as my old co-worker reminded me every day. I don’t own a 9×13 microwavable dish, so I used a glass pie pan and the squash ends hung over the sides. It still worked. I then transferred the squash halves to a large baking sheet.

This is not an everyday recipe, although it’s not as rich as the stuffed pumpkin that makes me giddy. I hope you’ll give it a shot. It’s actually very simple to make and tastes even better than you think it will.

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Learn from my mistakes. Don’t use parchment paper to bake and broil. It burns after a certain point.

Twice-Baked Butternut Squash from “Real Simple” December 2016

Ingredients

1 (3- to 3 ½-pound) butternut squash

¼ cup water

2 (8- to 9-ounce) sweet potatoes

3 ounces cream cheese, softened

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1½ teaspoons table salt

¾ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon black pepper

3 tablespoons shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

3 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives (optional – I skipped it.)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut squash in half lengthwise. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash halves, cut sides down, in a microwave-safe 13- x 9-inch baking dish and add ¼ cup water. Cover dish with plastic wrap and pierce 3 to 4 times with a knife. Microwave on HIGH 10 minutes. Carefully drain water out of dish. Turn squash halves over, and bake in preheated oven until tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Let stand about 5 minutes. Scoop flesh from squash, leaving a ¼-inch-thick shell and transfer to a medium bowl; reserve shells and return to baking dish.

Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork several times then microwave them on HIGH until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Let stand until cool enough to handle, about 5 minutes. Peel potatoes and add flesh to bowl with squash along with cream cheese, butter, salt, nutmeg, and pepper; mash with a potato masher or a fork until mostly smooth.

Preheat broiler with oven rack 6 inches from heat. Scoop squash mixture into reserved squash shells and top with cheddar and Parmesan. Broil until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle with chives.

 

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.

Return Again

We lost my Great Uncle Harry this year. He really was great. He always had a fun story to tell, or a perfect song to sing. He was a vegetarian and for decades built these wonderful, multilayered Dagwood sandwiches for Shabbat breakfast. We were all lucky enough to visit Uncle Harry and Auntie Julie about two months before he died, because we went to a family reunion in London right around New Year’s. We flew in from Boston; Sylvie, Miriam and Leo flew in from DC; my Cousin Larry and Ashley flew in from New Jersey; and my dad came in from Jerusalem. It was Sylvie’s idea, really. She wanted the kids to meet the British relatives before it was too late — a good call on her part.

Weinbergfest

We were only in London for a couple of days, but we were able to score a table at NoPi. We ordered every vegetable dish on the menu, and a perfect piece of fish. I had a kumquat and passionfruit mocktail and rhubarb Eaton mess. It was everything I wanted it to be. Pro tip: They only have two high chairs in the whole restaurant, and no changing table in their amazing mirrored bathroom, so plan accordingly.

Lilli and I caught something on the plane on the way over, and because I was 20 weeks pregnant and had no immune system, I couldn’t really do much touring. Or stand. Or make conversation. But Rich did get to see a real football match with my cousin Jonah. By the time I made it to my doctor’s office on New Year’s Eve, my temp had spiked to 102.8F. But the trip was still well worth it, and I really miss my Cousin Jenny. Hopefully we’ll get to see Jonah soon; he is in Philadelphia for the year studying at Temple and drinking American beer.

Nopi

It was never the right time to talk about finally eating at Ottolenghi’s restaurant, because it never felt right to talk about Uncle Harry. But it’s Day of the Dead on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to joining my friend Tania and her family for her holiday, so it seems appropriate to honor Harry, as well Rich’s Uncle Tommy and Auntie Ruthie and his professor Svetlana Boym, all of whom we lost far too soon this year.

If I find my blanched almonds in time, I’ll be making this horchata for the occasion. It’s a traditional Mexican sweetened rice drink, and it has become my litmus test of whether a Mexican restaurant is worth my time. Aleza introduced me to the beverage when we stumbled into a real hole in the wall in Williamsburg. This was in 2002, back when there were still holes in walls in Williamsburg.

mirrored bathroom

This particular recipe is from the Ultimate Nachos cookbook, also the cookbook for these pickled red onions I use all the time. The drink is vegan, and you need a blender and an overnight to make it work. Sure, it’s really meant for a hot summer’s day, but I think it will also work at the ofrenda.

Horchata from Ultimate Nachos by Lee Frank & Rachel Anderson

Ingredients

1 cup long-grain rice, rinsed and drained

1 cup blanched almonds

4 cinnamon sticks

1 quart water

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups ice cubes

Ground cinnamon, to taste

Ingredients

Put the rice, almonds, and cinnamon sticks in a blender. Blend the mixture into a powder.

Add the water, sugar, and vanilla and blend for 90 seconds.

Chill the mixture overnight in the fridge.

Strain the liquid into glasses over ice cubes and serve, sprinkled with ground cinnamon to taste.

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.

I’ve Had My Eye On This One

Elijah the Prophet visits us on Passover, but Yotam Ottolenghi was at our table on Rosh Hashana. I already told you about the fish we had on first night from his cookbook Jerusalem. But I cracked open both Plenty and Plenty More for our vegetarian guests the second night.

first day of daycare

I know I should be talking about the fresh corn polenta and eggplant because it’s September and both of those foods are pretty much perfect right now. But my guests and I both agree that it’s the roasted red onions with walnut salsa that needs to be talked about.

I’ve had my eye on this salad for as long as I’ve had this cookbook in my collection. Roasting the red onions until they’re golden on top and near translucent in the rings takes the bite out of them and renders them almost sweet. The arugula provides a nice contrast, and the goat cheese connects the two with its tang. And the walnut salsa. Oh, the walnut salsa.

The third thing is a slice of mushroom tart that I whipped together.

Because I know a lot of you are wondering — it’s a mushroom tart.

Ottolenghi recipes are often pretty labor- and time-intensive, but not this one. Yes, the roasting of the onions will take about 40 minutes, give or take, but everything else comes together very quickly – you put the walnut salsa together while the onions roast to give them some time to get to know each other. I set the half cup of parsley in two rounds of cold water to clean it. As per usual, I only used about half a hot pepper, but how much you use is entirely up to you. Where it says to brush the onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, I just tossed everything in a large bowl and then lay them out on a baking pan covered in parchment paper.

hula hoop

I have a five pound bag of red onions, a 10 lb. bag of walnuts from Costco, a second log of goat cheese, two bunches of parsley, leftover arugula and the remaining half of hot red pepper. So, basically, I’m making this again for dinner tonight. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t.

Red Onions with Walnut Salsa from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 medium red onions (1 1/3 lb/600 g)

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup/20 g arugula

½ cup/15 g small flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 oz/60 g soft goat cheese broken into 3/4-inch/2-cm chunks

Salt and black pepper

Salsa

2/3 cup/65 g walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped (use your discretion)

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Peel the onions and remove the tops and tails. Cut each crosswise into 3 slices, about 3/4-inch/2-cm thick, and place on a baking sheet. Brush the slices with the olive oil, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and some black pepper, and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the onions are cooked and golden brown on top. If they haven’t taken on much color, place under a hot broiler for a few minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

While the onions are cooking, put all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt, stir and set aside.

To serve, put the arugula and parsley in a large bowl. Add the warm onions, the cheese and half the salsa and toss carefully so the onions don’t fall apart. Divide among shallow plates, spoon the remaining salsa over the top, and serve.

Counting Blessings

We had some scary moments this weekend, which culminated in an overnight stay at Children’s Hospital. They are very nice there, but it’s a place you’d rather never be. Thank goodness, it was all just a scare, and I have two healthy daughters.

Bea at Children's

Mostly it was a lot of waiting for test results, and so I found myself with something I haven’t had a lot of: time. (Big sister was with her grandparents.) I got to read two back issues of Food and Wine, something I just don’t have the time to do right now. Sylvie and Miriam actually had Indian food delivered to our room on Saturday night, and I enjoyed the leftovers this morning as my Sunday brunch. It was great Indian food — my stepdad calls it the $10,000 meal.

I kept in contact with my family via text. This morning, as I texted Sylvie a third time to thank her for the for the awesome food, we fell into a discussion about Rosh Hashana meal planning. I’m hosting for the first time in my life next week, and I’m busy plotting my menus and testing out recipes. Soon we moved to the phone to really have a conversation about the meals.

We are in a book

One of my guests first night is a pregnant woman allergic to quinoa. (Apparently this is an allergy they find they need to mention when they are hosted by Jews.) The second night there will be a vegetarian allergic to soy. I don’t do a ton of soy things, although I did just break the code on stir fried green beans of my adolescence last week. (More on that in a future post.)

I’m still figuring out a lot of the menus, but I am pretty sure I’m going to make this Ottolenghi fish dish. It’s tradition to serve fish on Rosh Hashanah — fish head, actually, but close enough. Ottolenghi calls its sweet and sour fish, but it’s more sweet than sour —  perfect for the new year, and very delicious. Ottolenghi suggests “serving it at room temperature, preferably after resting for a day or two in the fridge, with a chunk of bread.” I can confirm this, so I plan on making this on Saturday night for Sunday.

It's good to be home

When I tested this recipe last week I used four pieces of frozen cod from Costco that I always keep on hand. “Small whole fish are also good here: red mullet, sardines, or a small mackerel, scaled and gutted,” writes Ottolenghi. The peppers and tomatoes are end of summer foods at their finest hour.

Marinated Sweet & Sour Fish from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons olive oil

2 medium onions, cut into 3/8-inch/1cm slices (3 cups/350 g in total)

1 Tablespoon coriander seeds

2 peppers (1 red and 1 yellow, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut into strips 3/8 inch/1 cm wide (3 cups/300 g total)

2 cloves garlic, crushed

3 bay leaves

1 1/2 Tablespoons curry powder

3 tomatoes, chopped (2 cups/320 g in total)

2 1/2 Tablespoons sugar

5 Tablespoons cider vinegar

1 lb./500 g pollock, cod (sustainably sourced), halibut, haddock, or other white fish fillets, divided into 4-equal pieces

seasoned all-purposed flour, for dusting

2 extra-large eggs, beaten (I used large)

1/3 cup/20g chopped cilantro

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large ovenproof frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and coriander seeds and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the peppers and cook for a further 10 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaves, curry powder and tomatoes, and cook for another 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the sugar, vinegar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and some black pepper and continue to cook for another 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a separate frying pan over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the fish with some salt, dip in the flour, then in the eggs, and fry for about 3 minutes, turning once. Transfer the fish to paper towels to absorb the excess oil, then add to the pan with the peppers and onions, pushing the vegetables aside so the fish sits on the bottom of the pan. Add enough water just to immerse the fish (about 1 cup/250ml) in the liquid.

Place the pan in the oven for 10 to 12 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Remove from the oven and leave to cool to room temperature. The fish can now be served, but it is actually better after a day or two in the fridge. Before serving, taste and add salt and pepper, if needed, and garnish with cilantro.