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.

Weeknight Hero

I spent most of March really wanting a hot bowl of broccoli and cheddar soup. I have no idea why it took me five weeks to realize I could make an entire pot of it in my own kitchen. But last week I did, and even shared a bowl or two with Rich and Lilli. I wasn’t going to mention it here, as I had made up my mind to share an asparagus recipe with you because it is finally, officially springtime, and hot creamy soup seemed so unseasonal.

sugar snap peas

But then I noticed a post on Facebook from an old friend of mine, saying he was going to try and recreate Quizno’s broccoli and cheddar soup. He explained that he likes to make big pots of soups and stews and freeze them for when he and his wife both worked late. “Make some popovers or some fresh corn bread and I’m a hero.” Clearly the universe was sending me a message, and that message was to share this soup recipe with everyone so that we could all be weeknight heroes.

So I made this soup a second time over the long holiday weekend, and froze it for the next time I want this soup, whether or not it’s in season.

A few things worth mentioning: I totally Sandra Lee’d this one. Rich tells me to not be so hard on myself and that Sandra Lee would have doctored a can of stuff from the pantry, but I definitely cut a bunch of corners on this one. And you know what? I’d do it again. For instance, instead of buying a head of broccoli, I chopped up a bag of broccoli florets. I used a bag of shredded cheddar cheese instead of standing at the counter and grating a block of it. And I used a box of organic vegetable stock I keep in the pantry.

The recipe is from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss, a cookbook I know I snatched off a pile of books to review from when I worked at a Jewish paper over a decade ago. Every recipe I’ve tried has been great, and the author not only categorizes the recipes by dairy, meat, parve, and Passover appropriate, but also says whether each recipe is good to freeze or not.

So there you have it. A great soup that comes together in less than a half an hour. Have it for dinner tonight. Or have it for lunch next month. The choice is yours.

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup from Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss

Ingredients

1 small yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped (I used two large shallots)

2 Tbsp/25 mL olive oil

1 lb./500 g broccoli florets (stems optional) cut into small pieces

1 tsp./5 mL salt

¼ tsp. /1 mL black pepper

5 cups/1.25 L stock

1 cup/250 mL half-and-half (I used heavy cream)

5 Tbsp./75 mL all-purpose flour

½ lb./250 g grated cheddar cheese

Directions

Over medium-low heat, sweat the onion in olive oil for 5-8 minutes. Wilt the onion, but don’t brown it.

If you are using broccoli stems as well as florets, peel them with a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove the tough, fibrous skin from the tender flesh, then chop them up.

Add the broccoli, salt, pepper and stock to the soup pot, cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down so that the soup simmers on low and cook approximately 10 minutes. The broccoli should be tender but not overcooked.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the half-and-half (or heavy cream) and flour. Whisk this mixture into the soup and allow to simmer another 2-3 minutes, until the soup thickens.

Stir in the cheese until it is well incorporated and serve.

Little Black Dress

My mother swears that the only thing I ate until the age of 12 was broccoli. Sylvie agrees, and a family friend once reminisced about my being in a high chair, too young to form full sentences, but making my points using fistfuls of broccoli. Well, Lilli is a bit like her mom in that regards. She is a broccoli fiend. It’s very cute to watch because she eats it upside down: She holds the floret in her fist and starts at the stalk. I keep on trying to explain to her that the stalk is the perfect handle, but she seems very set in her ways for now. Hey, she only learned her name about a month and a half ago. Baby steps.

Lilli and her broccoli

I’ve only served it to her roasted, which, in my humble, broccoli loving opinion, is the yummiest way to eat the vegetable. When you roast it, bits of the shrub brown and caramelize and taste almost candy-like. Sylvie was in Seattle last January, and something called blasted broccoli had become very chic in the city. That, and Macklemore. I kind of can’t believe I just wrote that there’s a hot new broccoli dish around, but I did. I poked around online and gave blasted broccoli a shot. It was good, but unnecessary. All you need is a sprinkling of kosher salt, some olive oil, and a hot, hot oven.

I mention my broccoli love well into the third year of writing this blog, because there is a farro and roasted broccoli salad that I make pretty constantly. For me, it’s a bit of a little black dress recipe: Something that’s totally reliable and always tastes good. It’s so the norm in my kitchen that I’ve never bothered to mention it, but, it’s been a weeknight staple in our house for a long time. Roasting broccoli takes about 20 minutes, which is how long it takes to cook the farro in my pressure cooker.

roasted broccoli and farro salad

When both are ready, I heat a pan with oil, add some minced garlic, break off about a tablespoon of tomato paste I keep on hand in the freezer, then add the farro and roasted broccoli and cook it all up for about five minutes. I’m not exactly sure where I came up with this method, but a few months back I was reading about the history of Israeli cous cous (extremely fascinating and worth the read) and I noticed that the tomato paste sauté is a popular way to serve the pasta in that country. I don’t remember learning that at any point, but perhaps it’s my Zionist leanings leading the inspiration.

Although I’ve read a few places online recently that you don’t have to soak your farro, I consistently do. I can’t risk having uncooked grains when we need to have dinner. I promise you, soaking grains is simple and not a big deal. Right before I go to bed, I pour a cup of farro into a bowl on my counter top, cover it with water, and walk away. That’s pretty much my go-to with all the grains and beans in my pantry. Except for lentils; those I know for certain don’t need any soaking. At some point, I’ll share a killer lentil soup recipe. Good freezer recipe, I might add. Speaking of freezers, farro, like most grains, freezes beautifully. I wouldn’t freeze this salad, but if you have extra farro in your fridge and worry you might not get to it, just pop it in the freezer. It defrosts like a dream.

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

BONUS PHOTO! Leo eating roasted broccoli

Roasted Broccoli and Farro Salad

1 bunch roasted broccoli

Pinch of kosher salt

About a Tablespoon and a half of olive oil

1 cup dry farro

2 cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

Directions

Soak your farro the night before. See note above for more of an explanation why I insist on doing so.

Preheat oven to 400F.

When ready to cook, add the farro to your pressure cooker. Cover with water. I tend to add water until it’s a half an inch past the grain.– I always add a bit more water to the cooker than I might need to. I’d rather drain off water than scorch my pot. The farro will cook in 20 minutes once pressurized.

While the farro is roasting, clean your broccoli by giving it a good rinse, trimming the green leaves off the stalk, and cutting it into bite-sized pieces. I use my stalks too; just trim off the woody parts and it’ll be fine.

Cover a baking sheet with tinfoil. I do this first, a. because my hands are about to get oily because of the broccoli toss and b. so I don’t have to give the pan a good scrubbing in my kitchen clean up.

In a large bowl toss the broccoli with the kosher salt and enough olive oil to coat. Dump the broccoli onto the foil-covered baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

While the broccoli roasts and the farro is cooking, mince up two garlic cloves.

When both are done cooking, and you’ve drained your farro in a colander in the sink, heat up a skillet with enough olive oil to coat the pan, and add the garlic and tomato paste. Because I always use frozen tomato paste, it really becomes a matter of melting the paste into the garlic and oil. Once the tomato paste has coated the garlic, add the farro and broccoli. The farro will turn an orangey hue. Add a pinch of kosher salt. Heat everything together so that it combines. This should take about five minutes. Serve and enjoy.

Last week I decided to add a little chile pepper to the tomato paste step. Good stuff if you have it on hand, but not necessary.

Special Delivery

Jason and Lisa were married last October. It was outdoors, in a state park. But before you start to comment about how cold us guests must have been, Lisa nipped that one in the bud by having greeters pass out warm apple cider when we pulled up. Just charming. Jason is a Southern gentleman, so after the ceremony, as we walked into the reception, each guest was handed a mint julep to sip. Loved that. Oh, and Lisa and her mom had gone to the orchard and made pounds of apple sauce that they’d canned and topped with lace. Another perfectly lovely little detail.

apple sauce

And about six weeks ago, Lisa and Jason had baby Emma. Considering that I may have left the wedding with more than one jar of her applesauce, it was time to pay it forward. I know there’s only so much cooking one can do with a newborn (can you believe that baby Miles is now walking?!?!), so last week I spent a little time in the kitchen making a meal for the new parents. Then we packed up the car and headed over to JP for a visit and snuggle with their little peanut.

Baby Emma

Pasta travels well, so I went with a favorite dish of mine from the Zuni Café cookbook. I’m surprised at how many times I’ve made this but hadn’t shared it here. It’s full of things I love, like well-fried broccoli and cauliflower, salty capers, chopped anchovies, and briny olives There’s crushed fennel seeds, though the recipe does suggest using minced fennel bulb if you have it on hand. They also suggest substituting pecorino romano if you don’t feel like bread crumbs, and trading out the black olives for green ones, or even skipping the olives and anchovies. But, they plead, “don’t sacrifice the 8 to 10 minutes of care it takes to cook the vegetables to the delicately frizzled crispiness that gives the dish its great texture and variety. The sautéed vegetables are great by themselves, or a side dish with grilled or roasted poultry or meat.”

Zuni Pasta

I also put together a fennel, orange and beet salad, which Lisa dubbed “the winter salad”, that I packed up in an old yogurt container and snapped a few rubber bands around for the car ride.

winter salad

Notes: My best advice for the pasta dish is to prep everything beforehand. Mise en place, people. Yes, there are some recipes that you can prep as you go, but it is much easier to have everything good to go for this one. I used whole wheat spaghetti as my pasta, and they say that this one works with all sorts of chewy pasta – penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, or shells.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower from The Zuni Café Cookbook

For 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

About 1 cup fresh, soft bread crumbs (about 2 ounces) made from crustless, slightly stale, chewy, white peasant-style bread (optional)

About ¾ cup mild-tasting olive oil

About 12 ounces broccoli, trimmed, with a few inches of stem intact

About 12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed and stem end trimmed flush

Salt

1 generous Tablespoon capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and slightly chopped

1 pound penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, fusilli, or medium shells

1 Tablespoon chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets (4 to 6 fillets) (optional)

6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

About ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes

1 Tablespoon tightly packed, coarsely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 to 5 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Nicoise, Gaeta, or Nyons (rinsed first to rid them of excess brine)

Directions

If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425.

Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of the oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Keep the crumbs on the stove top until needed.

Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally length-wise. Most of the slices will break apart as you produce them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and few delicate slabs with stem and flower both. Don’t worry if the slices are of uneven thickness; that will make for more textural variety.

Warm about ¼ cup of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, conveniently leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board for the moment. (They’ll burn if you add them to soon.) The oil should sizzle quietly. Swirl the pan, and leave the vegetables to cook until you see the edge bits browning, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly and toss or stir and fold gently. Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan. Add the capers and swirl gently. Continue cooking over medium heat until the edges begin to brown, another few minutes, then give the pan another stir or toss. Don’t stir too soon or too often, or you will get a homogenous, steamy pile of vegetables instead of a crispy, chewy one. Most of the capers and vegetable crumbs will shrink into crispy confetti-like bits.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with a scant 2 tablespoons  salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook al dente. Set a wide bowl or platter on the stovetop (or in the still-warm oven if you made bread crumbs) to heat.

Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender, reduce the heat, add another few spoonfuls of oil, and scatter the chopped anchovy, garlic, fennel, and chili over all. Give the vegetables a stir or toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the parsley and olives. Taste – every flavor should be clamoring for dominance. Adjust as needed.

Toss with the well-drained pasta and garnish with the warm, toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Winter Salad

Notes: For this salad, I used a mandolin to thinly slice the fennel. For the orange prep, using a serrated knife, I sliced off the top and bottom of a navel orange, then sliced the skin off the fruit by following the outside curve. Then I rolled the orange onto its side, and thinly sliced the orange. Each fruit yielded about 8 slices.

I had roasted the beet the day before by preheating the oven to 400, setting the beet in a small baking pan with sides, filling it water about halfway up, adding the beet, and tenting it all with tin foil. It took about an hour to roast. When it was time to peel, I simply ran the beet under cold water and rubbed the skin off into the sink.

My apologies for not measuring out exactly how much cumin I used in the dressing. I grind my cumin seeds in a coffee grinder I use specifically for spices. I was literally taking pinches of cumin for the dressing. The same goes for the brown sugar. My best advice for the dressing is to taste until it tastes right to you. That’s really the best way to handle homemade dressings, anyways.

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on a mandolin

2 oranges, sliced thin

1 beet, roasted, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes – make sure to prep the beet last, otherwise all your other ingredients will be stained magenta

5 black olives, sliced

Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl or lay out on a platter

For the dressing:

In a small glass jar, shake together:

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 pinches cumin

Taste-test the salad dressing using a piece of fennel. If it’s to your liking, pour the remaining dressing over the vegetables.

A Remembrance of Things Past

Most people talk about eating three squares a day — unless you’re a Brit, in which case there’s also tea, or a hobbit (second breakfast, elevensies) or a stoner (Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal). For the Jews, that somewhere-in-between meal is called kiddush.

Following Shabbat services, Jews gather, ritually sanctify wine – the root of the word kiddush – and have a bite to eat. In some congregations, that bite might be a crunchy cookie called kichel and a piece of gefilte fish or herring on a toothpick, all washed down with a shot of schnaps. Or, it could be a sit-down luncheon where the group breaks bread together (its own extremely important ritual), and then eats kugel, salads and maybe some bagels.

Sylvie actually texted me about one she went to on Saturday morning which involved a veggie cholent, sable, whitefish salad and several whiskeys — all at 10:30AM. Some congregations have an early start – think 7:30AM on a Saturday – which means they get out early, before 11. (Yes, our prayers take about three hours to complete. I’m always amazed that Mass takes an hour, homily included.)

Syl’s kiddush report reminded me of the kiddush of my childhood. It’s strange now that I think about it, because, due to merger and attrition, neither my mom and stepdad’s congregation nor my father’s exist anymore. But on Saturday morning, if I wasn’t in services, I’d be helping prep platters of cookies and visiting with the kitchen crew, many of whom, like the congregations themselves, have also passed on.

At my mom’s shul, Ruthie ran things. When Syl started talking about the kiddush, I remembered Ruthie’s broccoli salad. It was crunchy and sweet, with the perfect touch of bite from red onion. About 20 years ago the congregation put together a cookbook of Ruthie’s dishes. I called my mom for the recipe but quickly realized that I would need to adjust the measurements of things. (A cup of mayo? Ick.)

I recreated Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad for dinner tonight. Rich was at a meeting, and I had the perfect amount of broccoli in the fridge for one serving. My stomach is not a fan of raw broccoli, so I steamed mine, but only for a minute or two. This salad calls for a crunch. The recipe here serves one, but obviously, it can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled — enough for a whole congregation.

Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad

Ingredients

1 ½  cups broccoli, cleaned

2 teaspoons red onion, finely chopped

3 teaspoons golden raisins

Dressing

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons white vinegar

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over broccoli, onions and raisins. Refrigerate for several hours.

Choppin’ Broccoli

Darn it, shoulda used extra-firm tofu.

I think Rich and I broke a holiday party record yesterday: four parties in nine hours. And the food. Oh boy, the food. Highlights include warm ricotta dip, fig and caramelized onions on parmasean tarts, Swedish meatballs, homemade marshmallows, roasted Brussels sprouts, two separate brie en croutes –all warm and melty with caramelized onions and cranberries spilling from underneath their puff pastry shells — a divine cheese platter and rich chocolate ganache cookies. I also drank some wonderful homemade merlot and was introduced to a fresh cranberry and vodka drink that needs further exploration.

So it’s no surprise that Rich and I woke up this morning still pretty full, and a little, just a little bit, grossed out by how much food we ate yesterday. So tonight I turned to my favorite dish I cook up when I think we need to hit pause on our holiday eating.

This recipe is adapted from Mollie Katzen’s Still Life With Menu Cookbook. I’ve found her original recipe to be too vinegary and lacking in soy sauce, so over time I have rejiggered it. She also calls for water chestnuts, which I never seem to have on hand, although last time I made this, I tossed in a can of baby corn. The dried black mushrooms are a pantry staple, thanks to Ocean State Job Lot. Tonight I added a block of medium firm tofu, although looking through the photos, should have been extra firm. Nonetheless, it still tasted great. The red chili flakes give it a good kick, so if you think it’s going to be too spicy for you, just use less than a teaspoon. Rich loves the extra kick and even adds Siracha sauce to his.

Broccoli and Black Mushrooms in Garlic Sauce

Adapted from Still Life with Menu Cookbook

Preparation time: 40 to 45 minutes (The actual stir-frying, once all prelimanaries are ready, takes only about 10 minutes.)

Yield: 4 main-dish-sized servings

Helpful hint: Put your rice on as you start to collect the ingredients, and it will be warm, ready and fluffy when the dish is done.

6 Chinese dried black mushrooms

2 cups boiling water

1/4 cup rice vinegar (cider vinegar will also work in a pinch)

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup (packed) brown sugar

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 medium-sized cloves garlic, coarsely minced

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 tablespoons peanut or sesame oil

1 bunch broccoli (1 to 1 1/2 lbs.) stems trimmed and shaved, cut in 2-inch spears

salt, to taste

1 8 oz. can water chestnuts, drained and sliced, OR 1 can baby corn, OR 1 package extra firm tofu — the choices are really endless, and entirely up to you

1) Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl. Add boiling water, cover with a plate, and let stand at least 1/2 hour (preferably a whole hour). Drain the mushrooms, squeezing out all excess liquid. (You may wish to reserve the soaking water for soup stock.) Remove and discard mushroom stems, and slice the caps in half.

2) Combine the vinegar, 1 1/2 cups of water, brown sugar, soy sauce, salt, garlic and red pepper in a bowl.

3) Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Add some of the sauce, whisk until dissolved, then return this mixture to the rest of the sauce. Leave the whisk in there; you’ll need it again.

4) Have all ingredients ready and within arm’s reach before starting the stir-fry. Place a medium-large wok over high heat for about a minute or two. Then add the oil. After about a minute, add the broccoli. Salt it lightly, and stir-fry for several minutes over consistently high heat, until the broccoli is bright grean.

5) Add the black mushrooms and water chestnuts, or tofu or baby corn, and stir-fry a few minutes more.

6) Whisk the sauce from the bottom of the bowl to re-integrate the cornstarch. Pour the sauce into the wok, turn the heat down just a little and keep stir-frying over the medium-high heat for another few minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats everything nicely. Serve immediately, over rice.