When I dip you dip we dip

The new year has come and gone, and so has Chanukah and Christmas, two holidays that filled our house with guests and lots of gifts for the girls. We had our bathroom floor replaced before the break, and now we, and the contractors know, that the pipes are in the wall, rather than the floor. Live and learn. 

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We hosted a latke bash for the last night of Chanukah, and served latkes made with veggies from our winter CSA: sweet potato, potato, and celery root and carrot. We also used potatoes Lilli planted with her kindergarten at the farm at her school last year. They weeded and composted, and cared for the potatoes since last April. 

We served the latkes with your choice of sour cream or apple sauce. For those wanting to guild the lily, you could also have creme fraiche, chives and caviar I found in my pantry when we were cleaning up from the aforementioned bathroom floor incident.

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I also made a gluten-free mac and cheese, with local milk, cheese and butter. (At Sylvie’s suggestion, I used corn starch in the roux; it was very easy to work with.) We had a big Greek salad, and this spinach and artichoke dip. 

I’ve been serving this dip for years, and it’s always a hit. Apologies for not sharing it sooner. The combo of fresh spinach and garlic, chopped artichoke hearts, cream cheese, cheese, a touch of mayo, and more cheese on top, is a winner, regardless of the gathering. 

It has about a pound of fresh spinach in it. That may seem like a lot, but as we say in this house, spinach is a lie. Plus, when you realize how much dairy the recipe calls for, the spinach seems to shrink even more than it has already. 

I tend to make this and bake it hours before serving, and then pop it into a hot oven for a brown crust on top right before serving. 

Amazingly, we had some left over from the party, and this weekend Rich put it in the waffle iron with batter for breakfast. Proof that you really can waffle anything!
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Spinach and Artichoke Dip 

Ingredients

1 lb. fresh spinach, cleaned

2 cloves garlic, slivered

1 can, chopped artichoke hearts

⅓ cup mayonnaise 

1 package cream cheese, softened

2 cups shredded cheese (think mozzarella or provolone)

1.5 cups shredded parmesan 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F

In a very large pot, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Add garlic, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the spinach, in batches if you have to. Cook it down – add a little water to help it cook down. This should take about seven minutes.

While the spinach cooks, chop your artichoke hearts and cut up the cream cheese. 

Once the spinach has shrunk, add the artichoke hearts and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add the rest of the ingredients, except for the parmesan. Stir until everything is combined and soft. 

Pour mixture into a lasagna pan and bake in the 350F oven for 20 minutes. 

Before serving, raise the temperature of the oven to 400, sprinkle the parmesan on top, and bake until golden and bubbly. 

Serve with tortilla chips, pita chips, or cut up vegetables. Up to you, really. 

Regifting, Sort of.

Recently, someone on our floor at work went to a far off land and brought back a box of dates. (You’ll remember that the boxes of Turkish Delight are brought directly to my desk.) After watching them go untouched for a few days, I took it upon myself to bring them home for a baking project. The result was a date nut bread, which my boss told me it was “the best one she’d ever had”. The New York Times apparently agreed; the title of the recipe is “An Incredible Date Nut Bread”.

a package for marilyn

The recipe calls for pouring boiling water over baking soda, and then pouring the mixture onto the pile of chopped dates and raisins. When The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor Amanda Hesser found this recipe, she wrote food scientist Harold McGee to get his take. He replied: “My guess is that the baking soda step is a quick way of hydrating and softening the fruit, and probably turns the date bits into mush, which would help moisten the cake more than discrete pieces.” McGee also thought the baking soda would help make the cake brown, and indeed, as Hesser puts it, “the cake emerges from the oven dark and tawny.” And I can report that it smelled even better than it looked; at one point the scent of the loaf baking in the oven literally stopped me in my tracks.

steeping the dried fruit

Over Thanksgiving we had a visit with Sylvie and her wife Miriam at Mir’s parents place up in Maine. I had wanted to bring a loaf up as a thank you to our hosts but Syl is deathly allergic to walnuts. As it turns out, so are half of her in-laws, so I think I made the right move. But Mir’s mom said she loved date nut bread, so, using the rest of the purloined dates, I baked her a loaf and sent it to her for Chanukah. It was only after I took it out of the oven that I noticed the title of the December 1977 article from which the recipe came: “Food Gifts You Can Make at Home.”

Baking Notes: I’ve been experimenting with flours lately, and the loaf I sent to Mir’s parents was made with white whole wheat flour. I was a little nervous it would be too dry, but the feedback I’ve received has been very positive. The flour choice is entirely up to you.

An Incredible Date-Nut Bread

Ingredients

1 cup diced pitted dates

¾ cup raisins

¼ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¾ cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper. Butter the rectangle and sprinkle with flour; shake out the excess flour.
  2. Put the dates and raisins in a medium bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and pour it over the date mixture.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the date mixture, including the liquid. Add the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is dark brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 3 to 5 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, remove the paper, and let cool.

Oy, Tannenbaum

There’s a Christmas tree in my dining room. You can’t see it from the street, or even when you walk into the house, but you can smell it. In less than two weeks, that woodsy pine scent will be covered by the scent of fried latkes; perhaps we’ll do parsnip ones this year.

I put up a fight over the tree. I was worried the strings of lights would out-shine my Shabbos candles, turn the kiddush wine to eggnog and the challah into gingerbread. I wasn’t exactly on board with having one the first year we were together, even though we had agreed to share things we loved from our religions with each other. (Rich dances a very good hakafa, by the way.) But then December came. I flinched, I argued, I put up the good fight. But I wasn’t doing the sharing that we had agreed to.

I worried about my future children. Could they be good American Jews if there was a tree in the house? And what about Santa? I don’t know if I would call myself cynical about the jolly old elf, but if you asked a seven year-old me if Santa existed, I would probably have rolled my eyes. If you had asked me if it was possible for one drop of oil to last for eight days, I would have been as certain about its existence as my husband was about Kris Kringle. Not yet sure how we’re going to tackle that one, but Rich has pointed out that our children will have very well-behaved Catholic cousins who will certainly believe in Santa, and we will teach them nothing to the contrary.

The first year we had the tree, I refused to have anything to do with it. I told Rich it was entirely up to him to find it, bring it back to the house and decorate it on his own. But when I came home from work to find a tree covered in blue, silver and white tinsel, I let out a gasp. “It’s the colors of Israel!” Rich explained. “I thought you’d be happy.” Tinsel is not my style, and so, as I do with most things, I took over. Looking back, I realize I was being ungrateful, but oh Lordy, that was an ugly tree.

I was secretly happy when we skipped having a tree during Rich’s lay-off, and the next year I decided not to bring it up. Rich didn’t either, but by early February he let out a sigh and said he wished we’d had one. My good friend Shira put things in perspective: “Your husband can’t even have bacon in his own house. The Christmas tree makes him happy and reminds him of happy moments in his childhood. He needs the tree.” So this November, I found a sparkly bacon-shaped ornament and brought it home for Rich after a particularly hard week at work. “Does this mean we are having a tree?” he asked, wide-eyed. “Yes.” “Does this mean I can make bacon?” “Don’t push it.”

I told some of my friends a few weeks back that we were gearing up for our tree, and they all said the same thing: “Oh, I always wanted to trim a tree. It looks like so much fun.” And so I decided to start a new tradition: My Jews-only tree trimming party. I invited about a dozen friends, all frequent Shabbos dinner guests. (Rich was allowed one gentile guest, as if it were a birthday party for one of his younger brothers.) They were all thrilled to come, except one who explained he had no problem with a tree but didn’t like the idea of Jews feeling they missed out on something.

I plotted and planned my party. Rich was in charge of the drinks – eggnog, coffee, mulled cider and holiday beer — and I would take care of the cookies. I made whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin whoopee pies, peanut brittle, popcorn, and some ginger snaps. I was going to make a macaroon from a recipe I found in last month’s Food and Wine, but when I ran the recipe by my classmate Joyce who is a professional baker, she shook her head. “Not enough egg whites to make a decent macaroon. They are going to be like lead.” I ended up making Molly’s macaroons – which translates to a great Pesach recipe, by the way – and Joyce gave me this recipe for fudgy cookies to use up the can of sweetened condensed milk I had purchased. (Side Note: If you’re as worried as I am about BPA, you can make your own sweetened condensed milk from scratch.) Because these cookies were so fudgy I left the ganache off the macaroons.

Our guests started trickling in after 8 last Saturday night. The table was covered in cookies. As our friend Sarah put it when she walked into the dining room: “This is the platonic ideal of what a tree trimming is supposed to be.” I smiled, happy to know I had achieved what I set out to do. Friends brought their own ornaments: Some had made their own. One friend brought a fancy glass ornament of Yoda holding a light saber. One friend brought me an ornament with a striking likeness to our cat. There was a Barack Obama ornament — “soon to be a collector’s item” Rich quipped.

One friend brought his new girlfriend who joked she thought she was going to a melavah malka – a special gathering on Saturday nights to escort the Shabbos Queen on her way out, which usually involves singing, dancing and tasty bites. We drank eggnog, and strung popcorn and cranberries. By the time everyone left, the most perfect Christmas tree that ever was stood in our dining room. Each ornament was perfectly placed, every rope of popcorn and cranberries was evenly hung.

Fudge Cookies

I actually halved this recipe and had great success with it.

Ingredients

24 oz. bittersweet chocolate

4 oz. butter

2 – 14oz. cans of sweetened condensed milk

2 tsp. vanilla (optional- could use mint or orange for the holidays)

2 cups flour

1 pound of nuts, chopped (optional as well).

Directions

Fill a saucepan halfway with water and bring to a simmer. Place a metal bowl on top, making sure the bowl does not touch the water, to create a double boiler. Melt the butter and chocolate and remove from heat. Stir in milk and flavoring, then flour and nuts. Using a small scoop, drop onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350F for 7-8 minutes.

Cookies will not look done, but take them out any way. Let cool before removing from sheet. They should be like a ball of fudge when you bite them.You can freeze these cookies for up to 3-4 months with good results, otherwise keep in air tight container.

Enjoy!