Bookends

There’s an old cliché that comedy is tragedy, plus time. Well, I’m doing a variation on that this week. Shavuot blintzes are Passover crepes plus time. Seven weeks, to be exact. As I think I’ve mentioned, I was off the blog for a while this spring because the girls finally delivered a knockout blow to my old laptop. Somewhere between the chocolate milk spills and the pounding from frustrated little fists, the keyboard stopped talking to the rest of the machine. Using Rich’s MacBook was a non-starter, so no blogging until I got a new (used) computer.

Of course, this put a big crimp in my publishing schedule, especially since it happened over Passover. I was particularly excited this year because I received, back in March, a copy of Perfect for Pesach by Naomi Nachman. Naomi knows a thing or two about Pesach. Her parents ran the Pesach hotel program in Sydney, Australia, for 28 years, so cooking for Pesach is in her blood. I think the Fish ‘n Chips recipe, which is flounder, cleverly coated with potato sticks and baked, is probably the recipe I’m most looking forward to making. Will report back. Moroccan salmon also sounds wonderful, and even though I don’t cook meat, the Flanken Butternut Squash Soup made Sylvie go, “Wuuuut?” when I told her about it.

I wish I’d had a chance to talk about this cookbook back in April, because I really think it’s a keeper. But given that the book’s tagline is “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year,” I’m going to press ahead. Shavuot is basically the bookend to Passover, so in a way I’m getting in under the deadline, right?

IMG_20170425_112911739The recipe is for “No-Flip Pesach Crepes,” which means they are gluten-free (a quickly growing section on this blog) and super easy to make.  Naomi uses them as a starting point for variations, like Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls, or Vegetable Egg Rolls. Now, if Beatrix had her way, we’d only eat ‘Tella crepes, although today I will offer the recipe with a cheese blintz filling from a Joan Nathan recipe. It is a Shavuot post after all.

No-Flip Pesach Crepes from Perfect for Pesach: Passover Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Year by Naomi Nachman

Ingredients

12 eggs

6 Tablespoons potato starch

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup water

Directions

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat well (preferably using hand mixer).

Heat a 9-inch nonstick frying pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Coat pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.

Pour enough batter into the pan to just cover it, about 1/3-cup. Gently swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom with batter. Cook until the top is just set and the crepe is cooked through. Remove from pan to cool.

Repeat with remaining batter.

Cheese Filling from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook

2 cups farmer cheese

1 egg yolk

½ teaspoon salt

1 Tablespoon

2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

In a small bowl, mash the farmer cheese. Stir in the egg yolk, salt, butter, sugar, if using, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Spread 1 heaping Tablespoon of the cheese filling along one side of the pancake. Turn the opposite sides in and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll.

If you’d like, you can then fry the blintzes in butter or oil or bake them in a single layer in a 425F oven until brown. Serve dairy blintzes with sour cream.

The Cookie Thief

The Jewish ways of mourning are very precise in their thoughtfulness. Doors are left unlocked so there’s no need to ring a bell or knock, as this could startle a mourner. One doesn’t start a conversation with the mourner, but waits to be engaged; it’s entirely up to the griever if they want to talk or not. The visitors are there to show support. And, this is key: Since the mourner isn’t allowed to cook or do anything for himself, visitors always bring food. Of course, the food isn’t just for the mourner, but also for the visitors.

rugelach finished

I mention a few of these rules here because Rich and I made a shiva call – that’s the word to describe a sympathy visit, coming from the word “to sit” because that’s what a mourner does as a part of his bereavement process – for a very good friend of ours last week who just lost his mother. Baked goods are usually the way to go when making a shiva visit: They can be eaten in hand, with a napkin or a plate, and can be frozen for another time. We brought coffee rolls and muffins baked by Rich’s mom.

We sat with our friend, and I popped up to make him a plate of fruit, a few slices of different cakes and a handful of cookies. Lilli, who doesn’t know yet about all these rules (and hopefully won’t have to for many, many years) cruised her way over to our friend’s plate, grabbed a piece of melon and kept on going. Of course we were embarrassed that she’d taken food off the plate of the bereaved, but our friend smiled and said he’d never stop a child from eating fruit.

She must have felt emboldened by this allowance, because she then cruised over to our friend’s father’s plate, looked at the goods, grabbed a huge chocolate rugelach cookie and took a big bite. Rich and I were mortified, first because she’d taken a cookie off the plate of a man who’d just buried his wife of 61 years, and also because that bite was much too big for a wee one. Also, she’d never had a cookie before, let alone had seen rugelach. We grabbed the cookie from her little fist, apologized profusely to the mourner, and found a replacement for him.

making rugelach

I’d like to say I’ve done a good job of keeping Lilli away from sweets. The original plan was to keep her away from sugary things until her first birthday, but plans change when real life gets in the way. Sure, things started out innocently: We fed her pieces of homemade pumpkin and apple pies at a friend’s house this past fall. But by last week, our Saturday afternoon snack had turned into the two of us munching on halvah.

The rugelach Lilli had grabbed was not the best-looking cookie I’d ever seen, not by a long shot. I could see by its sheen it was a parve cookie, meaning it was made with shortening instead of dairy products. If you ask me what makes a good piece of rugelach, it’s one with a cream cheese dough. So when we got home, I ransacked both the baking and Jewish sections of my cookbook library. Most of the Jewish cookbooks had parve rugelach recipes, although Joan Nathan explained that rugelach is a traditional cookie at Chanukah because of the American addition of the cream cheese which celebrates the dairy aspect of the holiday.

All those recipes looked pretty complex, and, I have a bad back and a very active 11-month-old to watch. I found my solution in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking cookbook. Hers had a cream cheese dough, whipped up in a food processor in less than three minutes. The dough had to be chilled, allowing me do make the cookies in a series of steps. The closer I read the recipe, the easier I realized this cookie was to make.

So this morning, while Lilli took her morning nap, I finished the cookies. They really were a breeze to put together, making this cookie I thought was a bakery treat into something I can do in my own kitchen. In a few years, I’m sure Lilli will help me with the rolling of the sweets.

Greenspan’s recipe calls for a brush of melted jam – I used marmalade this time, but I think I’d do the apricot or raspberry (seedless) next time round. (And there will be a next time since the recipe calls for 4 oz. of cream cheese and the package is sold in 8 oz.) Next came a sprinkling of cinnamon and sugar, followed by a scattering of chopped pecans, then currants (or chopped raisins if you can’t find them), and finally the mini-chocolate chips. Because the dough is halved into disks and you apply everything as you would to a pizza, I divided the nuts, dried fruit and chocolate into two sets so I wouldn’t have to guess when half of the goodies were used and there would automatically be the right amount for the second disk of dough.

lilli rugelach

Please don’t be intimated by the length of the recipe. It was very manageable, and remember, I have a very willful 11 month-old. Of course, after all this work, it turns out these were a little too complex for her palate. I’ll go simpler for her first birthday. More for Rich and my offices in the meantime!

Rugelach from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking

For the Dough

4 ounces cold cream cheese, cut into 4 pieces

1 stick (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

¼ teaspoon salt

1 cup all-purpose flour

For the Filling

2/3 cup raspberry jam, apricot jam or marmalade

2 Tablespoons sugar

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ cup chopped nuts (I prefer pecans, but you can use walnuts or almonds)

¼ cup plump, moist dried currants

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

For the Glaze

1 large egg

1 teaspoon cold water

2 Tablespoons sugar, preferably decorating (coarse) sugar (I used Turbinado which I had in the pantry)

To Make the Dough

Let the cream cheese and butter rest on the counter for 10 minutes – you want them to be slightly softened but still cool.

Put the flour and salt in a food processor, scatter over the chunks of cream cheese and butter and pulse the machine 6 to 10 times. Then process, scraping down the sides of the bowl often, just until the dough forms large curds – don’t work it so long that it forms a ball on the blade.

Turn the dough out, gather it into a ball and divide it in half. Shape each half into a disk, wrap the disks in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 1 day. (Wrapped airtight, the dough can be frozen for up to 2 months.)

To Make the Filling

Heat the jam in a saucepan over low heat, or do this in a microwave until it liquefies. (I did this in the microwave in 30 second intervals; it took about 2 minutes to do.) Mix the sugar and cinnamon together.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats. (Silicone baking mats are great for rugelach.)

To Shape the Cookies

Pull one packet of dough from the refrigerator. It if is too firm to roll easily, either leave it on the counter for about 10 minutes or give it a few bashes with your rolling pin.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into an 11-to-12-inch circle. Spoon (or brush) a thin gloss of jam over the dough, and sprinkle over half of the cinnamon sugar. Scatter over half the nuts, half of the currants and half of the chopped chocolate. Cover the filling with a piece of wax paper and gently press the filling into the dough, then remove the paper and save it for the next batch.

Using a pizza wheel or a sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 wedges, or triangles. (The easiest way to do this is to cut the dough into quarters, then to cut each quarter into 4 triangles.) Starting at the base of each triangle, roll the dough up so that each cookie becomes a little crescent. Arrange the roll-ups on one baking sheet, making sure the points are tucked under the cookies, and refrigerate. Repeat with the second packet of dough, and refrigerate the cookies for at least 30 minutes before baking. (The cookies can be covered and refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 2 months; don’t defrost before baking, just add a couple of minutes to the baking time.

Getting Ready to Bake

Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

To Glaze

Stir the egg and water together, and brush a bit of this glaze over each rugelach. Sprinkle the cookies with the sugar.

Bake the cookies for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back at the midway point, until they are puffed and golden. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool to just warm or to room temperature.

My Favorite Food: A Riddle

In a History of Food course I once took, the instructor spent a great deal of one class trying to get us to understand what the Conquistadors saw when they arrived in the New World. As detailed in The Columbian Exchange by Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., the Spainards beheld an entirely new universe of fruits, tubers, vegetables, and animals. Could we, if asked, be able to fully describe a new food to an awaiting court?

She asked us to each think of our favorite food, and describe it to our classmates — kind of like the game show Password. I’ll be honest and admit that I couldn’t identify many of the dishes described. There was lots of fancy stuff involving parts of animals I had never sampled. I’d never heard of a crayfish, although I don’t think I’m missing much based on my classmate’s description of eating one.

Finally, it was my turn to describe my favorite food, and I managed to stump the class. Try to guess: It grows on a tree and has a pit;  it starts as one color and changes to another; it’s salty and has a bit of a twang to it; most importantly, it is only edible after adding poison to it.

The answer is the olive, and I have adored them for as long as I can remember. (The poison is lye, which is used as a curing agent.) Black or green, Spanish, Greek or French, oil- or salt-cured, if a dish of them is near me, soon enough there will be a pile of pits on a nearby plate.

I remember once, when I was in high school, sharing an olive pizza with my Oma (German for grandmother), happily popping the canned California ones into my mouth. “In France,” my Oma began, “we had olive trees.” (I guess they were next to the persimmon trees.) I looked up excitedly from my slice and asked her if they were green or black olive trees. She looked a little surprised at the question. “They all start green, and then change to black,” she said, looking for a moment a little worried that her granddaughter might be a little dim. I’ve told that story many times in the past 17 years, and I am a relieved to say every single person who has heard it has remarked that they had no idea about the color-change.

The recipe here employs both the green and black olives, and lots of them. I think we used nearly an entire jar of pitted black Kalamata olives from Trader Joe’s, plus a whole container of house-made green olives with lemon and garlic from Whole Foods — one of my favorite tastes in the world. The recipe comes from Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today, a much-appreciated present from my dad for Chanukah this year. I had been looking for a good olive loaf recipe for a while, and this one is great. There are so many olives in this recipe that they bleed and streak through the dough, making it look more like a marble rye. Two pieces would make a great backdrop for a sandwich of roasted red peppers and shmear of goat cheese. But I have also enjoyed munching it plain, enjoying each salty bite.

As Rich loves baking, I enlisted his help with this recipe during one of our January snow days. Although the recipe says it will yield 5 small loaves, serving 2 to 3 each, Rich made four round loaves of three servings each.

Hanoch’s Olive Bread (From The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan)

Ingredients

5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 2 teaspoons for sprinkling

1 package dry yeast (1 scant tablespoon)

1 1/4 cups water

1 to 1 1/2 cups Mediterranean black olives, pitted and chopped

1 to 1 1/2 cups Mediterranean green olives, pitted and chopped

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 tablespoons melted butter of pareve margarine

Directions

1. Put 4 cups of the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the center.

2. Dissolve the yeast in 1 cup of the water and pour into the well. Incorporate the flour into the liquid, then turn the dough out onto a board and knead until smooth. Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 hour.

3. Punch down the dough, then work in the olives, salt, oregano, 1/4 cup of water, and remaining cup flour. Knead again for a few minutes, and let rise, covered, in the same bowl for another hour.

4. Divide the dough into 5 portions and form into ovals about 6 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide (or four rounds). Using a sharp knife or razor, cut 3 slits horizontally across the tops and allow to rest, covered, for 20 minutes.

5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and grease 2 cookie sheets. Brush the tops with the melted butter or margarine and sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of flour. Place the loaves on the cookie sheets.

6. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the breads sound hollow when tapped. Serve warm.

Note: This bread freezes well. Remove from freezer an hour before serving and neat in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Food-drunk at Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen

I have a problem. I don’t know if it’s treatable, or if it’s just one of those lifelong maladies. When I am at a function — bar mitzvah, wedding, food blogger’s cocktail hour — I lose all sense of control and eat until I’m food-drunk. Literally, intoxicated. We once went to the Phantom Gourmet block party, and a few hours in, Rich found me stumbling around Landsdowne Street,  Zeppy’s bagel in my left hand, and a chunk of chocolate in my right. I still don’t remember how we got home.

This is all by way of explaining why I have no pictures to show you from Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen on Sunday night. Oh, I brought my camera, and even the tripod. But how can I take photos of food AND eat it at the same time?

Words will have to suffice. First, there was moist brisket, crowned with onion confit and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds,  cooked by Julio de Haro of Estragon. But I had to hustle, because rumor was Erwin Ramos from Ole! was about to run out of chocolate tamales! (Not to worry, they brought strawberry tamales as a back-up — vanilla custard sauce, people!) I may have had more than one bowlful of Tony Maws’ from Craigie on Main’s kasha varnishkes with homemade pasta and duck confit. Have I mentioned Michael Leviton of Lumiere‘s sweet, yet savory, Purim-inspired poppy seed “Oreo” cookies with poppy seed filling, which were served with a Bourbon-spiked milkshake? No? Oops, because I had three.

Somehow, I managed to stay lucid enough to meet Jewish cookbook writer extraordinaire Joan Nathan. But a funny thing happens to me when I am around certain cookbook authors. They are my version of rock stars, so I get really nervous, a bit giddy, and start talking really fast. Honestly, put me in a room with any of this year’s Oscar nominees, I’d be as cool as a bourbon-spiked milk shake, but put me near a cookbook author who has a section in my cookbook collection, and I’m a puddle. God help me if I’m ever near Mollie Katzen or Deborah Madison. This fall I met Mark Bittman, and I’m still not 100% sure what I babbled at him.

The recipes I have here, homemade ricotta and pickled beet salad, are from Jeremy Sewall of the Eastern Standard — sort of. His recipes were a bit sparse — Hemingwayesque, really — so I’ve added more detailed directions.  Also, I couldn’t help but modify the beets for my favorite kitchen companion, the pressure cooker.

Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients

1 gallon whole milk

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon salt

Hardware

A large pot

Thermometer (not necessary, but helpful)

Wooden spoon

Cheesecloth — The regular grocery store on the corner sells this, I promise. If you can’t find it, just ask.

Colander

Twine

Directions

Place milk and salt in the large pot, and bring to a slow simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil or scald. It should take about 45 minutes. Every so often, stir the milk, from the bottom, with the wooden spoon, to ensure the milk doesn’t brown and get stuck to the pot. (I speak from experience.)

While the milk is heating, line the colander, which should be sitting in your sink, with a double layer of cheesecloth.

When the milk reaches 175 degrees ( a gentle simmer) add the fresh lemon juice, and stir gently with your wooden spoon. Then, the most magical thing happens: curds and whey begin to separate in the pot. This should take no more than 10 minutes.

Next, take your pot over to your colander and spoon the curds and whey into the awaiting cheesecloth. Do not pour it, as that will destroy the delicate curds. Gently fold up the corners of the cheesecloth, and tie them up with the twine. DO NOT SQUEEZE. If possible, hang the cheesecloth above the pot as the whey drains.

In two hours, cut the twine, open up the cheesecloth, and gaze at your homemade, pillowy clouds of fresh ricotta.

Quick Pickled Beets

1 large beet, peeled, washed, stem and root removed.

(I had two small beets in my fridge, just hanging out — it is Cheap Beets — so I used those.)

Equal parts sherry vinegar and water, to one-half part sugar.

(Again, I wandered away from the directions. I used about a cup of water, 3/4 cups red wine vinegar, and a half-cup sugar.)

Preheat oven to 375

Place all ingredients in a small pan that is large enough to hold the whole beet. Cover with foil and braise in oven until you can pierce through the beet with a paring knife; it should take between 60 – 80 minutes.

(I used my pressure cooker, placing all ingredients in the pot and cooking for about 20 minutes. It was perfect.)

Sewall serves his salad with segments of a blood orange. I did not have any on hand, but if you do, I am sure it would taste delicious.

Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen

My grandmother’s brisket was epic. Her cheese blintzes were so remarkable, I can never bring myself to buy the frozen kind. So when I found out about Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen, where 15 of the Boston area’s most talented chefs put a new twist on traditional Jewish dishes, I took note. The event is put on by Prism, the New Center for Arts & Culture’s program for Jewish young professionals.

Here’s the entire menu for you to peruse. I can’t wait to try Julio de Haro of Estragon’s take on brisket, which will be braised in pomegranate juice, and served with pomegranate seeds and onion confit. Or Erwin Ramos of Ole’s blintzes: tamales de chocolate with sweet fruit topping.

The event will be hosted by Michael Schlow of Radius. Several chefs will provide short demonstrations. All guests will receive a booklet of recipes for the dishes prepared that evening; last year’s included Ming Tsai of Blue Ginger’s East-West Brisket Potstickers.

Plus, my personal Jewish cookbook hero, Joan Nathan, is the guest speaker.

Tickets are an amazingly reasonable $36 if you’re 39 or younger, or $136 for 40+.

Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen will take place on Sunday January 30th at 5:30 PM at the Moakley Courthouse, 1 Courthouse Way, South Boston.  For more information call 617-531-4610 or go to NewCenterBoston.org.

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.