Bitter Herb

I’m tempted to start a new category on the blog: what to do with your leftover x that you bought for Passover and is still in your fridge a month and a half later. This year it was the fresh horseradish that my family always uses. Think E.T. but with a mop of curly green hair. It gets grated into the jarred stuff that is served alongside a few pieces of gefilte fish at a Saturday morning kiddush.

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The thing about the horseradish is that I can’t stand it. That entire category of foods doesn’t agree with me (Why would you ruin sushi with wasabi? And you do realize they make poison from mustard?) I debated just tossing the offending root in the trash, but that seemed like a waste. So I went to my cookbooks.

Luckily, it only took five minutes of searching until I was reading a pickled beets recipe that calls for fresh horseradish. It’s from Deborah Madison’s terrific cookbook, America: The Vegetarian Table, a book which has served me well in the past, but which I hadn’t opened in years.

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of coarsely grated fresh horseradish, which I toned down to about a teaspoon and a half. And honestly, the recipe really did benefit from the root. It gave it a little heat and was a great counter balance to the warm spices: brown sugar, fresh nutmeg, fresh ginger and whole cloves.

Madison points out that tiny garden beets, about the size of “large marbles,” are prettiest in this recipe. I used what was in my fridge, which were large ones. I simply peeled them, cut them into smaller pieces and steamed them before the pickling.

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I’ve served these alongside whatever we’re having for dinner: quinoa with arugula stirred into it; arugula sautéed with tons of garlic, strips of fresh red pepper and finished with golden raisins; roasted carrots topped with fresh dill; chunks of fresh avocado; eggs, boiled hard but with jammy yolks. Or, just grab a fork and the jar and have yourself an afternoon snack.

Pickled Beets from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table

Ingredients

About 3 cups of beets (20 small beets)

1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup water

1/2 cup white or brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1 scant teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 ounce fresh ginger, peeled and sliced into strips

Up to 2 Tablespoons coarsely grated fresh horseradish

7 whole cloves

Directions

Trim the beets, leaving on ½ inch of their stems, and scrub them well. Or, peel and cut larger beets into 2-inch pieces. Steam them until tender but still a little firm, about 15 minutes. Let the beets cool. If the skins are tender looking and free of roots or coarse patches, leave them unpeeled; otherwise, peel them. Fit them into a clean quart jar.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan and bring them to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the beets, immersing them fully, Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator. They are best served after sitting for at least a day and will keep for one to two months.

 

 

Little Monsters

So so sorry for disappearing, especially after promising you all sorts of Passover recipes and Passover cookbook reviews. My little girls, blessings in my life, destroyed my laptop. It was a combination of spilled chocolate milk and frustrated little fists banging away on the keyboard. Little Monsters. (They are huge Lady Gaga fans, so it’s OK that I call them that.)

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But thanks to having an April birthday and generous family members, I bought a refurbished laptop at the computer shop in town. I even had a coupon. Rich was chagrined to discover it doesn’t have a camera, although I’m pleased that it has a disc drive, something we now know is hard to come by in newer laptops. It’s a very basic machine. To put it in perspective, we spent more on our cat today than on my “new” computer. (It was a very expensive day.)

But now it’s May, and just like everyone said would happen, the asparagus popped in my front yard — right on schedule, just as April ended and May began. We technically live in “Asparagus Valley,” which means it’s all over menus in the area, and people start complaining about there being too much of it. I personally can’t fathom there being “too much asparagus,” just as I was secretly pleased when a colleague started to complain about the rhubarb taking over her yard. (She’s bringing some in for me. Will report back with a recipe as soon as that happens.)

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But yes, I have my favorite asparagus recipe for you, but first I do want to mention the terrific pickled beets in my fridge which I’m looking forward to telling you about. Soon, my friends. Soon.

We saw this recipe on Anne Burrell’s Secrets of a Restaurant Chef what seems like a million years ago. It’s very simple to make — all you need is a sharp knife and a few ingredients: asparagus, red onion, pecorino, a touch of extra-virgin olive oil.

The key is to go small. The asparagus is raw, so it needs to be cut into very thin coins — think a couple nickels stacked. The red onion is also a teensy, teensy dice — centimeters, not inches. Once everything is cut, you need about an hour for the flavors to mingle.

Asparagus, Pecorino and Red Onion Salad by Anne Burrell

Ingredients
1 bunch pencil asparagus, tough bottoms stems removed
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 cup coarsely grated pecorino
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

Directions
Slice the asparagus, including the tips, into very thin slices crosswise and place in a medium bowl.

Add the red onion and pecorino and toss to combine.

Dress with the vinegar, olive oil and salt and toss again. This salad should be fairly heavily dressed. The vinegar will sort of “cook” or tenderize the asparagus.

It is best to do this about an hour or so in advance to let the flavors “marry”.

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.

Teach Your Children Well

My mother’s family is German-Jewish. They lived in a small village in Germany for hundreds of years. They were successful and a part of the fabric of the community. Some owned shops; one served as the headmaster for the entire town. My grandfather was a scholar, earning his PhD in Classics and Archaeology before he was 27. One of his brothers was a chemist; the other, a doctor.

One day in the early 1930s, my grandfather woke up to find he was no longer allowed to sit on park benches. So they left. During World War II my grandparents hid in Provence, France, taking on the roles of French peasants and ran a silk worm farm. That’s where my uncle and mother were both born. Thankfully, they survived, but the Vichy turned in my Great Uncle Freidl.

After World War II they were blessed with the opportunity to come to America in the late 1940s. My grandfather, who had two PhDs at this point, spent his days working in a factory. At night he taught Classics at Yeshiva University. Eventually, he secured a job as head of a language department at a small college in Springfield, Mass.

When I was a little girl, my sister and I would spend Shabbat with my grandmother, my Oma. I will never forget hearing her screams in the middle of the night. We’d run into her room, and she would say that she had a nightmare that the Nazis found her. “You’re safe, Oma. You’re in America.”

It’s been just about a week since Donald Trump was awarded the electoral votes he needed to become the President-Elect of the United States. Yesterday he appointed Steve Bannon, an avowed anti-Semite and white nationalist, as his Chief Policy Advisor.

And I am terrified.

I keep on thinking about my grandparents, my grandmother’s screams, and my own children’s safety. I worry about my sister, a gay Jew, and the status of her marriage and the status of her wife’s adoption of their son. I worry about my fellow Jews, Muslims, people of color, and especially women of color.

There are petitions going round, people encouraging others to take a stand and sign. But I won’t sign anything. I’m too scared to have my name on a list.

The recipe I have for today was chosen for a few reasons. The first is because it’s from Yotam Ottolenghi, a gay Israeli who is married with two sons and has a Palestinian business partner. I would worry about him if he lived in the United States right now, but he’s currently based in the United Kingdom, a country that is also going through a hard right turn.

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The second reason I am sharing this recipe is because it features sweet potatoes. When my family hid in France, they ate what they grew and had access to. Apparently sweet potatoes were a daily part of their diet. After they made it to America, my Uncle Marcel vowed to never eat another sweet potato. As far as I know, he has kept his vow for nearly 70 years.

I can only assure him that this dish is very delicious and the roasting of the fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs fills the house with a warm, lovely scent – very comforting after a terrible week.

Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 parsnips (1 ½ lbs. total – I just used the entire bag)

4 medium red onions

2/3 cup olive oil

4 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

1head garlic, halved horizontally

Salt and black pepper

2 medium sweet potatoes (1 ¼ lbs. total)

30 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Tbsp lemon juice

4 Tbsp small capers (roughly chopped if large)

½ Tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel the parsnips and cut into two or three segments, depending on their lengths. Then cut each piece lengthways into two or four. You want the pieces roughly two inches long and ½-inch wide. Peel the onions and cut each into six wedges.

Place the parsnips and onions in a large mixing bowl and add ½ cup of the olive oil, the thyme, rosemary, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Mix well and spread out in a large roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the parsnips are cooking, trim both ends of the sweet potatoes. Cut them (with their skins) widthways in half, then each half into six wedges. Add the potatoes to the pan with the parsnips and onion and stir well. Return to the oven to roast for further 40 to 50 minutes.

When all the vegetables are cooked through and have taken on a golden color, stir in the halved tomatoes. Roast for 10 minutes more. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, capers, maple syrup, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon salt.

Pour the dressing over the roasted vegetables as soon as you take them out of the oven. Stir well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Scatter the sesame seeds over the vegetables if using and serve at the table in the roasting pan.

Memory Aid

Last week Lilli used the term “feet wrists.” I almost didn’t want to correct her and let her know most people prefer to use the term “ankles.” After it happened, I wanted so badly to write it down somewhere, so I wouldn’t forget how precious my little girl is. And then I thought of this space. I come here to share recipes and stories with you, but I realize now it’s also so I won’t forget them.

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Cheap Beets turned 6 this week. I’ve shared stories, a birth, another birthjobs, and now a move. But it always comes back to the food, and I have so much more sharing to do. But for some reason, I forget to blog about it. It took me until nearly the end of June to remember how I love tossing coins of summer squash with more garlic than I think I need, some fresh thyme, olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and then roasting it all in a hot, hot oven. If only I wrote it down somewhere, I thought to myself.

And last night I thought to myself, if only I could write down somewhere that the perfect corn salad is three ears corn, half a zucchini, quartered, three radishes, chopped, and just a smidge of  chopped sweet Vidalia onion. (Honestly, it didn’t need the feta, although it was a nice touch.)

A friend was once flipping through one of my cookbooks and laughed when she saw my annotation about there being too much onion in the recipe as it was written. But of course you have to write notes in the cookbook! That way you’ll know the next time you read the recipe and think it sounds pretty good, you’ll be forewarned about the onions.

That brings me to this watermelon caprese salad, which I found in a Rachael Ray magazine floating around my mom’s house. It was a solid concept, but the 6 Tablespoons of EVOO was far too much. I ended up dumping much of it out and adding more vinegar and sugar, although that may have more to do with how much I like vinegar. My mom, on the other hand, could not be persuaded to try the salad because of the dressing.

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Of course, the salad would have been better if I’d had basil on hand. I didn’t, but it was still wonderful, and it will make it onto our summer table for years to come. I think it’s easiest to taste the dressing as you make, or even leave it on the side, if you remember to.

Watermelon Caprese from Rachael Ray Every Day, September 2016 issue

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons EVOO (6 in the original recipe)

3 Tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar or white wine vinegar, or to taste

¼ teaspoon sugar

1 ball (8oz.) fresh mozzarella, sliced into 8 rounds

8 square watermelon slices (seriously though, the shape isn’t essential)

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions

In a medium bowl, whisk oil, vinegar and sugar to taste.

On platter, layer cheese and melon. Drizzle with dressing; top with basil.

 

The Happy Valley

By now you know the drill: I disappear for a while, then show up again talking about a new job, or sharing photos of a new baby. Nope, no new babies, but I do have news: We moved! After 20 years away from Western Mass, I finally made it back home late this spring. And I do mean literally: we’re living with my very dear, very patient, very generous parents until we find a home of our own.

My new gig is in the Donor Relations department at Smith College, where both Sylvie and Miriam went (although they actually met on JDate, for those keeping track). We were very lucky that Rich’s boss asked him to stay and telecommute, so he’s also based in Northampton at a shared workspace.

There were many reasons why I wanted to be in Western Mass: like being closer to my parents, having a house with a yard, and wonderful schools for the girls. Lilli goes to Fort Hill, the early childhood education center through Smith College where arts and crafts is referred to as “staging a provocation”. Bea is at The Little Schoolhouse, a home daycare where they provide the organic bamboo diapers that get composted via bicycle, the milk and yogurt are delivered every day from the farm, and they grow their own fruit. As my New York friend Jason quipped, “You’re living on the set of Portlandia.”

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My commute. I’ll make sure to snap some photos during peak foliage this fall.

When I can, I’ve been taking Lilli to Shabbat Shabloom, a Friday morning sing-along on Abundance Farm. Afterwards we pick flowers on the farm for the dinner table. And of course it’s great to have Shabbat with Oma and Zayde every week. So when I received an offer to review a book called A Month of Sundays: Striding Toward Spiritual Refreshment with Good Food for the Road, I smiled and said I’d love a copy. Sure, the book’s author Paula Hartman and I observe different Days of Rest, but I still get it. The book promises “food for the body as well as the soul” across 31 chapters of reflections and meals. To be honest, most of the recipes didn’t sing to me, and there’s no index, which is somewhat frustrating. But one recipe, for corn fritters, caught my eye.

Lilli at Emily Dickinson Museum

My friend Mark snapped a series of wonderful photos of the girls at The 19th Century Circus – Creatures of Mystery and Bliss, at the Emily Dickinson House in Amherst.

It’s August in Western Mass, which means there is fresh corn, tomatoes and squash wherever you turn. Honest to goodness, you turn down a street and there will be a sign for those foods, grown in someone’s backyard, for sale in the driveway. The farm stand my mom took me to growing up is still going strong, so now I take Lilli to get the corn and tomatoes.

I had actually asked my mom to pick up some corn for a braised corn recipe I bookmarked in another new cookbook, but since I had everything else on hand, I chose to try this one instead. And it was great! The recipe doesn’t call for salt, although I’ve added it, and Rich and Mom both agree it could benefit from some spice. I liked it as is, but I don’t disagree with their input. My mom doesn’t bake and only had self-rising flour in the house, which I knew would work perfectly. I actually had fancy corn meal on hand; someone gave it to me on the Fourth of July, although I have no idea who it was.

This last thing is very important so I will write it in BOLD ALL CAPS: PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN FRYING THESE FRITTERS. Fresh corn spurts and jumps about in the pan. You’ll need to wear long sleeves while frying and keep kids and pets out of the kitchen while you make these.

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Mom’s Corn Fritters Adapted from Month of Sundays by Paula Hartman

Ingredients

½ cup (125 mL) of milk

2 cups (450g) of corn cut from the cob, or 16 ounces (450g) of canned corn

1 cup (225g) of flour

1 cup (225g) of cornmeal

2 teaspoons (9.2g) of baking powder

1 egg

2 Tablespoons (30g) of finely chopped onion

Two pinches salt

Cooking oil

Directions

Beat milk and egg. Add corn and onion to egg mixture. Add dry ingredients alternately. Batter will be stiff.

Heat oil in a large bottomed skillet with sides. (I prefer non-stick for my frying projects; Rich prefers cast-iron. I will leave that up to you.) To test the oil, drop a dot of the batter into the hot oil; if it sizzles, continue by dropping by teaspoons into the skillet. Cook until browned, then turn the fritters over and cook until that side is brown. This should take no more than 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels to remove excess fat.

The recipe says it makes approximately 12 fritters, but I got closer to two dozen using an actual teaspoon that you use to stir your tea.

 

 

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.

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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.