Instant Karma’s gonna get you

Friends, I have a confession to make: I had some pasta in mid-February that made me so sick that I needed medical attention. The doctor instructed me to balance everything out with tons of probiotics and to avoid white flour. So I guzzled kefir like a frat boy at a kegger contemplating taking health care away from millions of Americans and ate a questionable amount of lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchee.

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Now, I adore cabbage and anything pickled, so that part wasn’t too much of a stretch. But the no white flour thing? Le sigh. Rich teases me and says it’s my comeuppance for mocking Paleo for so many years. Still, I like to find a silver lining to every situation, and for you that means I’ve been rocking Passover recipes for the past month.

This is another cauliflower-as-baked good recipe, just like the last recipe for turmeric and cauliflower muffins. I swear I’m not trying to ride a trend, but when you can’t eat white flour – and let’s be clear, most whole-grain breads have at least some white flour in them – you don’t have many options. One inspiration for this somewhat “healthy” cauliflower flatbread was the cauliflower grilled cheese sandwich that was floating around Facebook last month. I made that, and it was terrific, if even a little too cheesy, if that’s possible.

I hadn’t worked with riced cauliflower until very recently, and because my food processor is still missing its blade (anytime now, Cuisinart) I had to improvise. For me, that meant steaming a head of cauliflower on the stove top, then mashing it up with a potato masher. (Or, you can go to Trader Joe’s and buy a bag of frozen riced cauliflower and call it a day.)

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I made this flatbread on the tray of the toaster oven, using half a head of cauliflower. A friend mentioned she always has difficulty getting the center to brown, but mine seemed to all over on its own. I sautéed a mélange of vegetables while the “crust” baked, then topped it with the vegetables and a nice amount of cheese, then put it back into the oven for some hot melting action.

The result was terrific and extremely delicious. I’m reticent to seriously call it healthy given the amount of cheese I used, but it’s definitely a keeper for the Passover collection, even if my toaster oven will be unplugged for Passover.

Cauliflower Flatbread

Ingredients

For the flatbread

Half a cauliflower, steamed and mashed/riced or whizzed into a pulp in a food processor

Two eggs

¾ cup parmesan cheese

Pinch of salt

Pepper, to taste

For the topping: Up to you, although I used half an onion, sliced into moons; half a red pepper, half a yellow pepper, julienned; half a zucchini, quartered and cut into ½-inch pieces; a handful of mushrooms, chopped.

To finish: A gratuitous amount of shredded cheese. A cup, maybe more. If you can find it and like it, sprinkle goat cheese onto it as well.

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Prepare your cauliflower: I steamed a half a head in a covered saucepan that had about ¾ of an inch of water at the bottom. You can also steam it in a microwave-safe dish with a little water in it, covered tightly with Saran/Stretch-Tite, what-have-you. If you have a food processor, chop the cauliflower, then place half in a food processor and whirl it until it breaks down into small pieces.

Either mash or rice your steamed cauliflower or place your processed cauliflower into a dish towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture over the sink.

Once your cauliflower has been appropriately prepped, place it into a large bowl. To this, add the two eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix with a spoon.

Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread the cauliflower mixture onto the sheet and place in the preheated oven for at least 12 minutes. Keep an eye on it – you’re looking to see it nicely browned all over.

While your “bread” is baking, heat about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to turn golden. Add the rest of the vegetables and another pinch of salt and continue to saute. In all, the vegetable saute will probably take about 20 minutes, if you really want everything to be nicely softened and on its way to caramelized.

Once your vegetables are prepared and your flatbread is the color of butterscotch, spoon and evenly spread the vegetables onto it, then liberally sprinkle with cheese. Slide back into the oven until the cheese has melted.

Slice – I found a pizza wheel to be the best way to portion this meal – plate, and enjoy.

 

 

You Don’t Have to Take My Word for It

Do you ever come across a recipe that haunts you until you make it? It doesn’t happen to me that often, but it’s happened a few times in the past couple of weeks with one cookbook in particular, Diana Henry’s latest, Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors.

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The cookbook is outstanding, but with blurbs from Nigella Lawson and Yottam Ottolenghi, you don’t have to take my word for it. Henry seems like a pretty big deal in England: a weekly newspaper column, a broadcast on the BBC, and numerous awards, and I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve barely heard of her on this side of the ocean. Hopefully after this book she’ll become a household name, because it’s smashing.

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I’m posting these Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili because it’s almost Purim and Mordechai, Esther, Achashverosh and Steve Bannon all live in Sushan, in the Kingdom of Persia. Diana says she first had a similar recipe in the Iranian food shop Persepolis in south London, served to her by the owner Sally Butcher. The café had it as a breakfast, but Diana added some greens and onions to it to make it into a more substantial lunch.

We had it for dinner last week when I felt pressed for time. I doubled the recipe and left out the chili, in hopes the girls would eat it. Bea had some, but Lilli was not keen on it. But the grown-ups loved it. It was easy to put together and just marvelous, even without the chili.

Persian-Inspired Eggs with Dates and Chili from Simple by Diana Henry

Ingredients

½ tablespoon olive oil

½ onion, finely sliced

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

¼ teaspoon chili flakes

Handful of baby spinach

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Salt and pepper

2 soft dates (such as Medjool), pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon coarsely chopped cilantro leaves

Greek yogurt and flatbread (pita), to serve (optional)

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a small skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium heat until it is golden and soft. Add the cumin and chili flakes and cook for another 30 seconds or so, then add the spinach. Keep turning the leaves over in the heat so they wilt and the moisture that comes out of them evaporates, then reduce the heat and add the eggs, seasoning and dates.

Cook quite gently, just as you would if you were making creamy scrambled eggs; the mixture should be soft set. Finally scatter the cilantro. Serve immediately, with a little yogurt on the side (if you’ve made quite a spicy plateful you’ll need it) and flatbread, if you want.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.