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.

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An Apple (Cake) a Day

Last week the acupuncturist told me that apples are full of qi and that I should be eating one every single day. “Oh, that’s not a problem at all,” I quickly replied. “The CSA gives us pounds of apples every week, and I’ve been baking apple cakes pretty constantly this year.”

“We really need to work on your filter,” Rich observed, not for the first time, when I recounted the conversation. But it’s true, I’ve been on a bit of an apple cake tear. This gingerbread upside down cake with apples and bourbon cream by Sally Pasley Vargas might be the best apple cake I’ve ever had. Jess’ Teddie’s was another good one; we loved the walnut crunch. We each made a set of these apple chunk breakfast loaves from Liz. The second round was brought to my parents for Rosh Hashana for a nice breakfast cake. I think the apples she found at her shuk in Israel are much smaller than my stateside apples, because I could only squeeze in two per recipe, as opposed to her four. This one, also by Sally, was pretty good, although I think I’d reduce the cinnamon in the topping the next time. And this Dutch Apple Cake from last year is always a fine treat.

But I digress. Anyways, I’ve been following the acupuncturist’s advice all year long, and I’ve been feeling great, so I figured it’s best to do what she says.  I’ve incorporated a peeled apple (sans skin; better for my tummy) with some peanut butter in its core as part of my breakfast on most mornings, although I’m still on a constant lookout for new apple recipes.

So when the good people at Knopf asked me if I was interested in checking out Lidia Bastianich’s new cookbook that she wrote with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, I immediately said yes. I think I’ve mentioned in the past how much I adore Lidia – her show on WGBH Create is one of the few cooking shows I watch, and I am a big fan of her Lidia’s Italy cookbook. Although, looking through my archives right now, I don’t think I’ve ever shared a recipe of hers with you. Strange, because I’m a huge fan.

When the new cookbook arrived, I did a quick read of the introduction and looked over the “100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrées” in hopes of a new apple cake recipe to use up the bowlful on my counter. Sure, there was a strudel, and a roasted beet and beet greens salad with goat cheese, but the recipe that caught my eye was like none I’d ever heard of before: Spaghetti in Tomato Apple Sauce. We actually don’t eat a lot of pasta in this house, but the acupuncturist also did encourage the eating of deep red and colorful fruits and vegetables, so a dish involving bright red tomatoes and apples piqued my interest.

Lidia does note in the introduction to this recipe that the combination of the two might sound “odd,” but apparently in Tretino-Alto Adige, one of the most northerly regions of Italy which is known for its apples, this recipe wouldn’t be too surprising.

My back was feeling a bit cranky, so I assigned Rich the task of putting together this dish. (This actually served the dual purpose of keeping me off my feet, and seeing how well-written the recipe works for the kitchen novice.) The result? It was incredible. Honestly, one of the better pasta dishes I’ve had in my life.

We continued to cook our way through the CSA with this cookbook, enjoying the butternut squash in the marinated winter squash, and the chard melted ever so nicely when I braised it with tomatoes and cannellini beans. I think tonight I’m going to try out the Brussels Sprouts braised with vinegar for a new take on a beloved vegetable. (At least it is in our house.)

Spaghetti In Tomato Apple Sauce from Lidia’s Favorite Recipes: 100 Foolproof Italian Dishes, from Basic Sauces to Irresistible Entrees

One thing I noticed about this recipe was that it called for a food processor or blender to purée the tomatoes. I’m a big believer in the food mill, but it looks like Lidia has acknowledged that there is more likely a chance of a home cook having one of those two machines than an old-fashioned food mill. This shouldn’t stop you from purchasing a food mill. It’s almost winter time, and the persimmon pudding won’t make itself!

I would also suggest putting the pasta water on to boil before starting on the sauce. Big pots of water take a while to boil, even if you’re not watching them.

Ingredients

3 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)

6 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 large stalks celery, cut into 1/4 –inch dice (about 1 cup)

1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta pot

1 pound tart and firm apples, such as Granny Smith

1 pound spaghetti

1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus more for passing

Directions

Pour the canned tomatoes into a food processor or blender, and purée until smooth.

Pour 4 tablespoons of the olive oil into a skillet, set it over medium heat, and strew the celery and onion in the pan. Cook and stir the vegetables for about 5 minutes, until they wilt and start to caramelize. (Rich says this took a lot longer than 5 minutes.)

Stir in the puréed tomatoes, season with the salt, and heat to a bubbling simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or so. As the tomatoes perk, peel and core the apples, and remove the seeds. Shred them, using the coarse holes of a shredder or grater.

When the tomatoes have cooked about 5 minutes, stir the apples into the sauce. Bring the skillet back to a simmer, and cook the sauce, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then, until it has reduced and thickened and the apple shreds are cooked and tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, drop in the spaghetti, and cook until just al dente. Lift the spaghetti from the water, let drain for a moment, and drop it into the warm sauce. (Reheat if necessary.)

Toss the pasta with the sauce for a minute or two, until all the strands are coated and perfectly al dente. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta, and toss well. Drizzle over it the remaining olive oil, toss once again, and heap the pasta in warm bowls. Serve immediately, passing more cheese at the table.

The Missing Piece

For nearly half a year, I’ve been searching for the disc stem for my food processor. It’s in my kitchen, somewhere. I have this vague memory of me removing the stem from the disc and the processor and saying to myself, oh, I’ll just put this right here so I won’t lose it. But now I don’t know where that place was.

My friend Mike is a neuroscientist, and he hypnotizes patients for his sleep studies. I’ve asked him to hypnotize me to that moment in time when I was last with my stem. He says he’ll do it, but there’s a 50% chance he’ll make me squawk like a chicken instead. I don’t know if I can take that risk.

I’ve opened drawers and cupboards, stood on ladders, and peered into pots. Nothing. Last week, I made my friend Ben, who towers over everyone in the room at 6’5”, search the kitchen. I figured, given his bird’s eye view of the world, he could see things I cannot. He spent 45 minutes in my kitchen. Still no luck.

I’ve gone on eBay, the Black and Decker replacement parts page, and Sears and Roebuck. It turns out my processor, purchased in 2001, is a discontinued model. “Obsolete,” is the actual wording used to describe my missing stem. I prefer the term “vintage.”

The funny thing is, I didn’t even know I was in the market for a food processor when I found out I needed one. The fall after my college graduation, my boyfriend at the time and I were given the task of making the stuffing for his family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I called my mom for a recipe. “Step 1,” she said, “get out your food processor.” “But Mom,” I said, “I don’t have a food processor.” “Step  1: go to Macy’s and buy a food processor.” Off to 34th Street I went, and I have to admit, shoving two bags of celery stalks and carrots down the chute and through the grater made my life much easier.

The machine has helped me whip up countless pestos, a dead simple romesco sauce I really need to post at some point, dips, and piles of perfect bread crumbs. Heck, even Alice Waters, who abhors all sorts of things electric, has a food processor.

This summer, before I knew the predicament I was in, I made these biscuits. They were perfect.

But now we’re in November, I’ve got stuffing on my mind, and as I pointed out to Rich as I was turning over the kitchen looking for the stem yet again, I’m on a Chanukah countdown. He assures me that he will grate every potato, or onion, or parsnip, or sweet potato, or zucchini that I see fit to be fried in oil and deemed a latke, but I still want to find the missing piece.

I am relieved that although I cannot find the stem for the grater to my food processor, I can still make this apple galette recipe by Jacques Pepin. In a food processor, it takes about 15 seconds. It’s the easiest dough recipe I’ve ever used, even easier than the Dutch apple cake, and is up there as one of the most delicious things I’ve ever baked. Since it’s a Jacques Pepin recipe, you know it’s going to be perfect.

It’s such an easy recipe, in fact, that the first time I made it, I whipped up the dough and stuck it in the fridge (it’s one of those recipes where you have to put the dough in the fridge for a bit), and had Rich take it the rest of the way. He did. It was perfect. Weeks later, after I raved to someone else about the perfect galette, Rich whispered to me that he didn’t even follow the directions about decoratively arranging the apples into concentric circles. “I just kind of dumped it in the middle.” Inelegant? Yes. Perfectly delicious? Yes. Dead simple? Yes.

The dough can surround either fruits or veggies; there is so little sugar in this recipe – just a little more than a teaspoon – that I often toy with the idea of making a savory filling, maybe adding a little sage to the dough. I haven’t yet tried that, so if anyone does, I’d love to hear about the results. In the meantime, I’ll use up more of my CSA apples, and do a few more go-arounds of my kitchen in search of my disc stem.

Apple Galette

Because the pastry is free-form, it can be rolled into a circle or rectangle. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly shaped; there’s a rustic quality to this dish which makes an uneven galette even more charming. Pepin suggests serving this as a buffet offering, slicing it into pizza-style slices to be eaten standing up.

Active Time: 30 Minute

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients

Pastry

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice water

Topping

4 Golden Delicious apples (really, any apple will do)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon honey, preferably wildflower

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Directions

PREPARE THE PASTRY In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. Sprinkle the ice water over the flour mixture and process until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds; you should still be able to see small pieces of butter in it. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled. (You can also roll out the pastry and use it right away.)

PREPARE THE TOPPING Peel, halve and core the apples and slice them crosswise 1/4 inch thick. Set aside the larger center slices and coarsely chop the end slices and any broken ones; about half of the slices should be chopped. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the pastry to a 12-by-14-inch rectangle and transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet. Spread the chopped apples over the pastry to within 1 inch of the edge. Drizzle the honey over the chopped apples. Decoratively arrange the apple slices on top in concentric circles or in slightly overlapping rows. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the apples and dot with the pieces of butter. Fold the pastry edge up and over the apples to create a 1-inch border.

Bake the galette for about 1 hour, until the pastry is nicely browned and crisp and all of the apples are tender. Transfer the pan to a rack and let the galette cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Ahead: The buttery pastry can be refrigerated overnight.

(Un)seasonal

kosher vegetarian

“It was like hundreds of gunshots.” That’s how one family friend described the sound of tree branches snapping and falling to the ground last Saturday evening. Western Massachusetts’ best asset, the foliage that people travel from around the world to see, proved to be its undoing during this very early Nor’easter. My little town, Longmeadow, was hit with 12 inches of snow, which fell onto trees still wearing their autumn finest. The combined weight of snow and leaves proved too much for the branches, which took out power lines as they crashed down. Most of the town has been without power since Saturday night. My parents, who had no electricity or heat, were our houseguests until today, when they got word that their power was restored.

One friend from high school reported that her parents said it will be 100 years for our town to once again look like the town we grew up in. A century is a long time, although it’s doable for my town. Settled in 1644, we still celebrate an annual May festival on the town green, a long strip of grass on the outskirts of town that farmers would take their cattle out to pasture on. Lining the green are colonial houses, marked with stars to indicate their historic status. It is believed that John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed, once lived in one of those houses. His myth continues, even if many of his trees do not.

In just a few weeks, it will be my 15 year high school reunion. I’m a little nervous to return to see a town so different than the one I left.

This simple recipe is from one of our favorite cooking shows on PBS: Caprial & John’s Kitchen. It’s not just the recipes in the show, but the chemistry this real-life married couple has on screen. Well, calling it chemistry isn’t exactly accurate; it’s more like watching a married couple who have to work, cook, and go home together. There’s a lot of correcting by Caprial to anything John does or says. Example: John will suggest a shortcut to the viewer, which Caprial will promptly veto as a terrible idea. We showed an episode to our friend Ben, a clinical psychologist, and he dubbed them the passive-aggressive chefs. But judging by this recipe, it’s working for them.

Roasted Apples with Shallots and Thyme

5 apples, peeled, cored, halved and sliced into quarters

5 shallots (about ¾ cup), peeled and halved

1/2 Tablespoon of fresh thyme (about 4 sprigs)

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of salt

Directions

Place a metal pan in the oven and preheat it to 500.

Toss apples, shallots, thyme, olive oil and salt in a bowl. Carefully pour the ingredients into the piping hot pan – it will sizzle – and close the oven door. After 5 minutes, give them a stir with a wooden spoon. Close the door, and check them again in another five minutes and give a stir. Follow up one more time, for a total of 15 cooking minutes. The apples will have softened, many will have completely lost their shape and integrity, making an herbed, savory apple dish. This will make a wonderful side dish for your Thanksgiving table.

UPDATE: I sauteed these leftovers with some frozen pierogies last night for dinner and it was really terrific.

A Is For Apple

We didn’t make it to an apple orchard this year. Oh, there were definitely invitations, and I do love fresh cider doughnuts. But the timing was never right, and I try and avoid apples because they do hurt my tummy.

This is not to say we didn’t have apples all season long. Just the opposite: A half dozen in the week’s CSA box, plus some generous houseguests bearing bags from their favorite orchard, meant that we definitely had plenty of fresh, local apples. So many in fact, that I became quite a fan of this recipe.

I’ve been on the fence about sharing the recipe. Not that I don’t love it, but it just takes a bit of time. Coring and slicing five apples very thinly takes a while, the eggs and orange juice have to be at room temperature, and the cake takes about an hour and a half to bake. So you really do need a little time set aside to make the cake, but it’s totally worth it. And even though it is practically December, there are still plenty of apples to go around.

I found this recipe in Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook, and I always get a laugh when I say the name of it: “Jewish” Apple Cake. When Joan Nathan labels something “Jewish,” you know it’s authentic. It’s probably because it’s parve; it uses oil, rather than butter or lard in the batter. Joan Nathan goes on to say that she found the recipe in two local Maryland cookbooks, and that the crumbly exterior and moist texture reminded her husband of all the Polish-Jewish cakes his mother and aunts made during his childhood.

For me, whenever I take a bite of this cake, I am transported to the end of a Friday night dinner or a nice kiddush at shul. Really. This is the cake that’s served at your aunt’s on Rosh Hashana, or the cake that your grandmother used to make. If your aunt/grandmother was Jewish, of course.

If you’re not familiar with Joan Nathan, I highly recommend checking out one of her guest posts in The New York Times. She’s their go-to Jewish cookbook author, a title that she definitely earned and deserves. She is not the only good name in Jewish cookbooks, but is definitely the most famous. And with good reason.

“Jewish” Apple Cake

5 large apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala or Jonathan) unpeeled

Juice of 1 lemon

2 teaspoons cinnamon

2 cups sugar

4 eggs, at room temperature

1 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup orange juice, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups unsifted flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch tube pan (ie, a bundt pan) and dust with flour.

2. Core and cut the apples into thin slices. Place in a large bowl, toss with the lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of the sugar.

I'll be honest. It does take a bit of time to prep all these apples.

3. Beat the eggs and gradually add the remaining sugar, oil, orange juice, and vanilla.

4. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly with a spoon.

5. Pour one third of the batter into the pan. Layer with one third of the apples. Repeat for 2 more layers, ending with apples on top.

6. Bake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top. Let sit a few minutes and then run a knife gently around the sides of the mold. Cover with a plate and invert to remove from the pan.

Apple-y goodness, fresh from the oven.

To remove from the pan, place a plate on top and flip...

Viola! We've done this with a bourbon vanilla glaze on top, but it's delicious on its own.

CSA SNAFU

Fresh from the CSA... ignore the plastic bag.

I feel like I’ve been an unwitting contestant on Iron Chef: CSA for the past week, trying to use up my box of picked-for-me produce. Some things have been great. I made the basil into a pesto, roasted the cherry tomatoes, and tossed the whole kit and caboodle together with some pasta and black olives. The Kentucky Wonder Beans were delicious in a Chinese stew I made with some potatoes I found in the cupboard and a few mushrooms who were just waiting to fulfill their dinner destiny at the bottom of my crisper. Of course, I failed at taking photos of either dish, but I promise to make the stew in a few weeks and share it with you. I would make it again next week, I loved it so much, but I think Rich would prefer a little more variety on his plate.

And then there were the four poblano peppers and the butternut squash.

What do you do when half your CSA makes you sick?

By some miracle, I came across this recipe off a blog I read about in this New York Times article about a doctor who believes eating well is essential to being well. It looked easy enough, and I had everything the recipe called for in my pantry — quinoa, pecans, and dried cranberries. I had stock hanging out in the fridge, and I ignored the call for non-fat sour cream, which is how I usually deal with dairy in recipes. It sounded easy enough.

But it was a DISASTER. The poblano pepper skins did not peel as easily as the words on my screen said they would. And, it burned. A lot. Now I know I should have known better and used latex gloves to peel the peppers, but honestly, um, yeah, I don’t have any lying around my kitchen because a. I am not a surgeon, and b. really spicy things hurt my tummy, so owning a box of latex gloves seems silly. (Of course, I also received a set of steak knives as a wedding present, but I digress) So the skins didn’t peel right, the seeds burned my fingers, and the pepper just kind of fell apart in the process, making them impossible to stuff. Then I had a bite of one of the roasted peppers and thought, oh uh, I have to eat four of these? I could barely swallow a bite of one, they were so hot. In true Iron Chef fashion I made do with what I had and added some of the poblano peppers to the butternut squash sauce, in lieu of flavor from the non-fat sour cream. I sauteed up the bunch of kale and placed it atop the quinoa mixture and sauce.

Trust me, it looks a lot better than it tasted.

And, well, it was a pretty crappy dinner. It just wasn’t very good.

I didn’t bother signing up for the CSA box this week. My body can’t handle apples, pears, carrots or super spicy things — what I am going to do with with SIX habenero peppers, let alone another bunch of carrots, a half dozen apples and an Asian pear? I would love to get all my produce from a CSA, but it actually turned out to be a wasteful experience for me. I guess other CSA participants have no food intolerances, but I do. What I’m trying to say is, even though I would love to support the farmer, and be with him through floods and tomato blight, I can’t actually eat most of the produce he produces. When I have to give away half my CSA box, I’m not saving any money, I’m wasting the farmer’s time by not using his food he’s worked hard at growing, and then I still have three or four nights of dinners I need to find food for. I guess I do need a little more choice when it comes to what I put in my body.

Perhaps a CSA is just not for me.