So Hot Right Now

Passover is almost here, but before I start sharing my growing stash of Pesach recipes, I need to talk about these spiced cauliflower muffins I became slightly obsessed with last month. I’d been looking for something interesting to bring to the Tot Shabbat potluck, and since Lilli was the cover girl in the article in the local paper about the program, I felt like I needed to bring it.

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This recipe taps into two hot food trends right now: cauliflower and turmeric. It seems 2016 was the year of the cauliflower, with recipes for its meaty “steaks” and cauliflower flatbreads. (More to come on those). But it was also the year of turmeric. I admit to being a little late to this one. My Aunt Bev brought my mom an enormous stash from her recent trip to Israel. She talked all about its healing properties, all of which I was completely unaware of. My only associations with turmeric up to that point had been stained clothes from Indian food. But then I started seeing recipes calling for it all over, and then the inevitable backlash as the wave crested. Sigh.

I made this recipe the very day I clipped it. It’s by the Israeli couple Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, who helped Yotam Ottolenghi grow his empire and now run the bakery Honey & Co. in London. Their second cookbook Golden: Sweet and Savory Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. reminded me that I have a sweet spot for Israeli-run bakeries, be it the Tatte empire in Boston, or Breads in New York City. The recipes, like the shops, are a mix of savory and sweet, with flavor touches like tahini and cardamom that I love.

This recipe is dead simple; no heavy equipment needed. Although the recipe calls for six enormous “trees” for six muffins, I used small florets and ended up with many more. The first time I baked these I used a mini muffin pan, and the batter was the perfect amount for all 24. I had more steamed cauliflower left after that batch, so I made a second round in regular-sized tins. That made nine perfect regularly-sized muffins.

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I ground the cumin and coriander seeds together in a spice grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot a decade ago. I have the white pepper in the house specifically for hot and sour soup, so I was happy to finally have another use for it. I have seen turmeric everywhere from “international” stores, Whole Foods, and even Target. I have yet to find my pumpkin seeds since we moved, so I skipped them. The muffins were great without.

The muffin is this wonderful mix of warm spice and sweet, and then there’s the soft bite of cauliflower. I stored these in a plastic container on the counter but I have no idea how long they are good for because they fly pretty quickly when they’re around.

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Spiced Cauliflower Muffins from Golden: Sweet and Savory Baked Delights from the Ovens of London’s Honey & Co. by Itamar Srulovich & Sarit Packer.

1 small head of cauliflower
3 cups (700 grams/milliliters) water
1 teaspoon table salt

For the muffin batter
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (40 grams) granulated sugar
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon table salt
A pinch of white pepper
4 eggs
5 ounces (150 grams) unsalted butter, melted

For topping (if you like)
3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
3 tablespoons grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

1) Break the cauliflower into florets, making sure there are at least six large “trees.” (You will most likely have more than six; cook them all and save the unused florets to eat another time or use them for more muffins.) Put the water and salt in a large pan and boil the cauliflower in it until soft (this will take 5–10 minutes). Check to see whether it is done by inserting a knife tip into the stem; it should penetrate without resistance. Drain well and set side.

2) Preheat the oven to 375°F/350°F convection and butter six muffin molds. Mix all the dry ingredients for the batter together. Add the eggs and use a spoon or spatula to mix until combined, then slowly mix in the melted butter and fold until it has all been incorporated.

3) Place a spoonful of batter in the center of each mold and stand a whole floret stem-down in each. Cover with batter to fill the molds to the top. Mix the pumpkin seeds and cheese, if using, sprinkle on the muffins and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the tin and eat while still warm — they are best this way.

 

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.

 

Trust In Me, Baby

You guys, I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve had one recipe for years, truly one of the most delicious things I’ve served, but I haven’t shared it here. Why? Firstly, because I lost the recipe years ago. Secondly, when I found it, I was reminded of how, well, icky, the ingredients are. To wit, when I called Sylvie to tell her I’d found the recipe for the broccoli kugel last year, her response was very telling: “Don’t tell me what’s in it.” When I talked to my mom about the recipe last week, she said it sounded “disgusting.” This despite the fact that I am convinced I got the recipe from her. She has no recollection of this, or the time I called her from Jerusalem and made her recite the entire recipe over the phone. (In 1999, when a long-distance call meant something.)

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Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to share the recipe here, but then #kugelgate happened, and I saw my opening. First, I want to be clear that there are many different types of kugels – roughly translates as “baked puddings” – out there. You’re probably most familiar with dairy lokshen kugel. Lokshen means noodle, and it’s usually sweet and creamy. But that can’t be served at a meat meal. For those meals, you might see a potato kugel as a side, or a yerushalmi kugel, full of black pepper and caramelized sugar (it’s really a magnificent dish). Or you might see a broccoli kugel similar to this one.

The recipe has a few more ingredients than Ivanka’s – er, I mean Jamie Geller’s, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say mine is far tastier. One of the secret, and essential, ingredients in this dish is… drumroll…French onion soup mix. In my defense, back in the day when I was working on a master’s in Gastronomy and Food Studies, I happened upon a book about Jewish American Cuisine. I can’t remember what project I was working on, but I do remember the authors clearly stating that French Onion Soup mix is essential to American Jewish cuisine. Still don’t believe me? Go ask your mom or your grandmother what’s in their brisket.

Because this is a parve kugel, there’s mayo to make the kugel fluffy, and non-dairy creamer and margarine to finish it off. Like my mom said, disgusting. I actually made this recipe last year with heavy cream and butter, and while that might be “better”, I found both versions equally delicious. When I served it to a Shabbat dinner guest, she and I spent a good chunk of the evening cutting sliver after sliver of it, in that way you do to just “straighten the edges” in the pan.

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Opposite Twins

The crust is made with Corn Flakes. Please use Kellogg’s if you can; it’s time to speak with our wallets. While you’re at it, please consider making a donation to publications like The Forward because it looks like there will be some First Amendment issues coming to a head in the next couple of years. They need all the help they can get.

Update: I’ve checked online and perused my Jewish cookbooks, and this recipe looks like it’s the creamy broccoli kugel in The Spice and Spirit Cookbook, a truly outstanding cookbook I wholeheartedly recommend.

And now, the broccoli kugel:

Ingredients

1 large bunch broccoli, or one frozen bag of florets

1 cube vegetable bouillon

1 1/2 Tbps. margarine

1 1/2 Tbps. flour

1/2 cup nondairy creamer

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. onion soup mix

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup corn flake crumbs

Thoroughly wash broccoli and trim off tough ends.

Cook broccoli in 3-quart saucepan with water to cover until tender but not too soft.  Add vegetable bouillon to water and continue to cook.  Drain water and mash broccoli.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine margarine, flour, and nondairy creamer in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan.  Simmer over a low flame until thickened. Remove from flame and allow to cool 5 minutes.

Add mayonnaise, onion soup mix, and eggs and mix well. Add cooled mixture to broccoli and mix until well combined.

Grease 8-inch square pan.  Pour 1/4 cup crumbs on the bottom of the pan and pour broccoli mixture on top.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup corn flake crumbs.  Bake for 30 minutes.

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.

The Second Time Around

Man, things are so different the second time around. With Lilli, we were so clear with our rules: No sugar until her first birthday, no screen time until she’s two. And now with Bea? She had Fluff last week and has seen every presidential debate to date. (And let’s just say Lilli is making up for lost time with the screens.)

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Now, now, it’s not as bad as it sounds. We’d made Lilli a Fluffernutter which she obviously rejected after one nibble. Since we’d been given explicit directions by the pediatrician to expose Bea to all the allergens that trip kids up – her first bit of peanuts was mushed-up Bamba a month ago – we figured, why not give her a little? And she loved it. I mean, what’s not to love? It’s all sugar.

fluffernutter

We’re not doing that much better for our own dinners. We ate nachos for dinner last week. To be fair, it was National Nachos Day, and the nachos involved roasted butternut squash that had been tossed with maple syrup and sprinkled with cayenne and cumin. There were also sweet balsamic onions that did a perfect job of balancing the spice of the squash. They were phenomenal, and would have been even better if I’d used the gruyere that the recipe called for instead of the shredded cheddar we have on hand for Lilli’s quesadillas. (She likes them best with stars and moons carved into them. Thanks, Ranger Rick Jr. magazine for that pro tip.)

quesadilla

The recipe comes from The Ultimate Nachos cookbook, which is home to the horchata recipe I just shared with you guys. Some might be surprised to hear how much use a nacho cookbook gets used in my kitchen, but I’m really serious about my nachos. There’s a taco shop very close to us, Lone Star Taco, that makes my favorite ones in town. I went there solo on my birthday for them, and that’s where I’ve chosen my Mother’s Day brunch two years in a row. What can I say, I really dig nachos. Incidentally, Guy Fieri featured the place on his Boston show and we once totally sat next to some fans of his who had come specifically on his recommendation. And yes, I told them to get the nachos.

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Being a nacho recipe, it’s pretty straight forward, except that I found the directions for prepping the squash a bit confusing. After I peeled the squash, I cubed half, then sliced each piece thinly, and saved the other half for this recipe. It honestly didn’t take very long to do.

Autumnal Nachos

½ butternut squash

2 Tablespoons maple syrup

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon sugar

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

7 ounces corn tortilla chips – approximately half of a store-bought bag, or, if prepared fresh, use 15 corn tortillas, each cut into 6 triangles

6 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese (about 1 ½ cups)

¼ cup sour cream

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Peel the butternut squash and then cut it in half lengthwise. Remove the seeds and fibers from the center. Thinly slice the squash and then cut it in half again lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, toss the squash with the maple syrup, cayenne, and cumin.

Place the squash on a parchment paper or aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. Roast the squash for 20 minutes, or until tender.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter in a skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderate heat until a deep brown color, 10 to 15 minutes. Be careful not the burn the onion.

Stir in the sugar and balsamic vinegar and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook the onion for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Reduce the oven temperature to 350F.

Layer the tortilla chips on a 9×13-inch baking sheet. Evenly distribute the squash and onion over the chips. Cover the chips with the shredded cheese.

Bake the nachos for 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Serve the nachos with sour cream on the side.

A Tall Kale

Last week at Russo’s I bought the largest bunch of kale I’d ever seen. I took a photo so you could get a sense of how enormous this vegetable was.

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Yes, yes, I know. I tend to take photos of my daughters and not of food, so you get a two-for-one with this post.

I bought it because we were having pizza night on Saturday, and I wanted a nice kale salad alongside my slice. (Yes. Kale and pizza. It’s totally a thing at shmancy pizza places, at least in Boston.) The next morning, a kale salad recipe arrived in my inbox. As my mother would say, it’s a siman, a sign, to make this kale salad.

The recipe is from a new cookbook I’m dying to get my hands on. (I’m number 34 on the wait list at the Boston Public Library.) The book is Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. Solomonov is the genius behind the Philadelphia-based Israeli restaurant Zahav. Rich and I had a chance to eat there about five years ago, and I still think about the buttered hummus.

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Zahav means gold in Hebrew, and I swear that man has the Midas touch. He also has a fried chicken and donut shop called Federal Donuts, and even better, he started Citron and Rose, a glatt kosher restaurant in a suburb of Philly. I don’t think he’s there anymore, but dishes like crispy duck spring rolls and wild citrus salmon with black lentils and asparagus have them lining up at the door.

The recipe is called Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh, but it’s a lot simpler to put together than the name suggests. The one trick is to start the onions first so they have some time to pickle before you throw everything together. The onions make one cup and the recipe calls for 1/4 cup. That’s ok, because since this was the kale that never ended, I ended up making this recipe four times this week. I first served it for Shabbat dinner, next to roasted delicata squash tossed with thyme breadcrumbs, and tomatoes sprinkled with Maldon salt and basil chiffonade. Then I served it for the aforementioned pizza night. Then I brought the salad, along with the most delicious, time consuming and complicated noodles that ever were, to a friend’s house on Sunday.

pizza night

It was at this point that I started feeling like Homer and that sandwich that just kept on going and going. I tossed the kale with beets, sweet potatoes, more apples, golden raisins, pepperoncini — basically everything I found in my fridge.

I had never thought about apples, walnuts and kale until this recipe, but just yesterday Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted and posted to Instagram a photo of a salad of kale, apples, walnuts and radish. Is it an Israeli chef thing? Maybe, and I’m right there with a fork.

kale and noodles

A few other things: Yes, I know this is my third recipe in a row with walnuts, and no, I’m not trying to kill my sister. The next few recipes I plan to share are walnut-free. I buy my sumac at the Armenian shops on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown. The Butcherie in Coolidge Corner also sells sumac in their Israeli spice section. Although the recipe calls for a Honeydew apple, I used a Fuji I had left over from last week’s baked apples. I never have pomegranates in the house so I skipped them, but they would be terrific.

Finally, a few of you have requested more Lilli and Beatrix photos. I do a pretty good job of posting photos of them to Instagram, I’m @cheapbeets, so for all you needing a Parr baby fix, that’s the place to go.

Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh  — Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook

Ingredients

For the pickled sumac onions

1 cup finely diced red onion (1/2 large red onion)

2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons ground sumac

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the Tabbouleh

2 cups packed shredded kale

¾ cup finely chopped walnuts

½ cup diced apple (1/2 Honeycrisp)

¼ cup pickled sumac onions

½ cup pomegranate seeds, plus more for garnish (not necessary, but nice if you have them)

3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 Tablespoons olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Directions

Make the pickled sumac onions: In a small bowl, toss the onions with the red wine vinegar, sumac and salt. Let the onions macerate for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Makes 1 cup. Make ahead: The pickled onions can be made, covered and chilled for up to 3 days.

In a separate bowl, combine all of the tabbouleh ingredients and toss. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt. Sprinkle with more pomegranate seeds and serve.

Eating My Words

This week I did something I’m not proud of: I flipped through Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook Deceptively Delicious in the cookbook section of my local library. When her book came out not quite 10 years ago, I scoffed at its premise. Hiding vegetables in foods? I shook my head at parents who served their children pizza and chicken fingers for dinner. Just feed them what you eat; enough with the coddling of palates.

Of course, now I look back at the childless me and shake my head at my ignorance and naiveté. My toddler subsists on a diet of Cheerios, fruit, yogurt, cake, cheese, pizza, fish, rice, farro (?!), and plain pasta. It has to be plain: last week Rich deigned to put a pat of butter on her noodles and Lilli promptly announced it was now “garbage.”

mac and cheese

Oh look, a toddler eating mac and cheese.

I asked the pediatrician for advice. And you know what she said? Make sauces of things and hide them in foods she will eat. So there I stood in the library, looking through Mrs. Seinfeld’s cookbook. Let me be clear: Lilli loves helping out in the kitchen. She loves going to the grocery store with me and requesting mushrooms and broccoli and carrots. She loves choosing cookbooks off the shelf and bringing me photos of recipes that look good to her. She loves pulling up her Kitchen Helper to watch me slice summer squash and helps move it into a bowl. She just won’t eat what we cook.

But then it occurred to me: She loves learning about new foods, loves preparing vegetables and adores baking. Why not combine those things into one dish? And that’s how I found myself having her press the “on” button on my food processor as we grated zucchini for a very nice chocolate zucchini cake.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: is chocolate cake really the right sort of thing to be sneaking veggies into? But my approach was validated this week by our Shabbos dinner guests. Ellie, a very bright political science student at UMass, exclaimed that her mother Deborah used to do the exact same thing when she was a kid. Considering that Ellie seems poised to run the government some day, I think I might be on to something.

We found our recipe in Marcel Desaulniers Death by Chocolate Cakes: An Astonishing Array of Chocolate Enchantments. This book was handed off to me by my friend Gayle, who, if I’m not mistaken, just posted a recipe for chocolate zucchini cake on her own blog. I’d never heard of this baker, but Rich tells me there used to be a television show with the same name.

touchdown!

The recipe is called Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake, and it is pretty simple to throw together, although you have to wait a bit for it to cool down. Although the recipe says to bake for about an hour and 50 minutes, I found it was done in about an hour. I suspect it meant to say bake for 50 minutes to an hour. Whenever I see the direction to sift dry ingredients, I always whisk them in a bowl a few times. Works like a charm every time. I melt by chocolate in a glass in the microwave in 20 second spurts. If you use Earth Balance instead of butter this recipe can be parve.

And did it work? Did we succeed in Lilli eating food with zucchini folded into it? Not really, and really chocolate cake is not a healthy vehicle for even the most virtuous of vegetables. But Rich and I enjoyed slices for breakfast, trimmed slices whenever we walked by it in the kitchen, and were also happy to have it on hand when friends stopped by unexpectedly.

If you don’t need to sneak any vegetables, consider this a recipe to get rid of some of the zucchini your neighbors have been leaving on your front porch.

Mimi Montano’s Chocolate Zucchini Cake

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 large zucchini (about ¾ pound), washed and stem removed

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

4 large eggs

1 ½ cup vegetable oil

3 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate, coarsely chopped and melted

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (one 12-ounce package)

Directions

Preheat oven to 325F. Liberally coat the inside of a 9 ½ x 4-inch nonstick Bundt pan with the 1 tablespoon melted butter. Set aside.

In a sifter combine 3 cups of flour, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt. Sift onto a large piece of parchment paper (or wax paper) and set aside until needed. (Or, just mix all these ingredients in a bowl and stir with a whisk a few times.)

Grate 1 large zucchini in a food processor fitted with a medium grating disk (or use a box grater). Set aside.

Place 1 ½ cups sugar and 4 eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on medium-high speed for 2 minutes until light in color and thickened; then use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Operate the mixer on medium while slowly adding 1 ½ cups vegetable oil in a steady stream (it’s a good idea to use a pouring shield attachment or to cover the top of the mixer and sides of the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap to avoid splattering oil outside of the mixing bowl). Combine to mix until the batter is yellow in color and thick, about 1 ½ minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the melted chocolate and mix for 30 seconds on medium speed.

Continue to operate the mixer on medium speed and slowly add the sifted dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the grated zucchini and mix on low for 15 seconds. Add 2 cups chocolate chips and mix on low for another 15 seconds. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing the batter until thoroughly combined. Transfer the batter to the prepared Bundt cake pan, using a rubber spatula and spreading evenly.

Place the pan onto a baking sheet with sides on the center rack in the preheated oven. Bake until a wooden skewer inserted, between 50 minutes and an hour. Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan for 30 minutes at room temperature. Unmold the cake from the pan. Place the cake, baked top facing up, on a cake circle (or onto a cake plate) and cool at room temperature for 1 additional hour before slicing.

To Serve: Heat the blade of a serrated slicer under hot running water and wipe the blade dry before cutting each slice. Serve immediately, or wrap in plastic wrap and take a piece or two of cake along for the ride.