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.

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I Remembered In Time

About two days before my birthday this year, Sylvie popped up online. “Do you already own this cookbook?” she asked, sending me a link. I told her I didn’t but that it looked promising. She was pleased and apologized for being so blunt. The next day, the cookbook arrived.

The Passover recipes – more than 45, the front cover boasted – looked great. Literally — I must have flipped to the recipe for the lemon tart with basil nut crust and gazed at the photo every night for about a week. Alas, the recipe called for a candy thermometer, and I didn’t own one that is kosher for Passover. Also, I don’t have time to stir a lemon cream for 30 minutes. Maybe when Lilli is 6.

Cheese Babka

But while I had the cookbook out, I figured it made sense to check out the Shavuot recipes, as that was the next holiday to think about. I settled on the cheese babka, and then promptly forgot about it until last week, when I started poking around my cookbooks for cheesecake recipes. You’ll be pleased to know I remembered this recipe in time, and, actually put it together this morning while Lilli and I hung out. If I’m going to be up before 6AM on a Sunday, I might as well get a babka out of it.

Now, you’re probably wondering, if she doesn’t have time for a lemon tart, why would she make a babka, which calls for yeast? I’ve discovered that yeasted things are actually a safe bet because it’s just a matter of putting together a dough and then literally walking away for at least an hour to do what needs to be done. In our house, that probably means watching Cookie Monster on Youtube.

I have to say, this recipe is flawed. Things like what sort of pan to bake the pastry on were flat out missing from the instructions. As I tested the recipe I kept thinking I wasn’t going to actually end up talking about it. But then I removed a golden ring of light, sweet pastry from the oven and all was forgiven.

I’m posting this up tonight in hopes you’ll get a chance to make it in time for the start of Shavuot on Tuesday night. I had everything already in the house. I hope you do too.

A few things about the recipe: My dough did not rise after 45 minutes so I turned my oven on to 275F and placed the metal bowl on top of the stove for another 45 minutes. If it had been winter, I would have just put it over the heating grate; that always works. My cream cheese filling did not come together the way it was supposed to, but I’ve had that problem before when baking with cream cheese. I ended up putting the wet mess of cheese in the freezer while I made the topping and the dough continued to rise. But the results were great, and I’m sure your cream cheese mixture will be just fine.

Cheese Babka from The Holiday Kosher Baker by Paula Shoyer

Dough

1/3 cup (80 ml) milk

¼ ounce (1 envelope; 7g) dry yeast

¼ cup (50g) plus 1 teaspoon sugar, divided

2 ½ cups (315g) all-purpose flour, plus one tablespoon, if needed, plus extra for dusting

½ cup (1 stick; 113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature 30 minutes

1 large egg plus 1 white (reserve yolk for glazing)

Filling

8 ounces (230g) cream cheese (not whipped)

½ cup (100g) sugar

1 large egg, divided

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Crumbs

½ cup (65g) all-purpose flour

1/3 cup (75g) light brown sugar, packed (I only had dark and had no complaints)

½ teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons (57g) unsalted butter

To make the dough

Heat the milk over the stovetop or in a microwave oven until warm, not boiling. Pour the milk into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar and let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, until thick. Add the remaining ¼ cup (50g) sugar, 2 ½ cups (315g) flour, butter, and egg plus one white. Combine the ingredients with a wooden spoon or with a dough hook in a stand mixer on low speed until they are all mixed together. If the dough sticks to the bowl, add the additional tablespoon of flour and mix it in; the dough should come together into a ball. Cover the bowl with plastic and let the dough rise for one hour.

To make the filling

MEANWHILE, remove the cream cheese from the fridge and put it in a medium bowl. Let the cream cheese soften for 45 minutes. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla and combine using an electric mixer. (I moved the dough to another large metal bowl, washed the mixing bowl and used it for this part of the recipe.) Cover and place in the fridge until the dough is ready.

To make the crumbs and bake the babka

MIX THE FLOUR , brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub the mixture between your fingers until you have small clumps. Set the bowl aside.

PREHEAT OVEN to 375F (190C). Sprinkle a 12×14-inch (30×36-cm) piece of parchment paper with flour. Roll the dough on top of the parchment paper until you have a 12×14 inch (30×36-cn) rectangle. Sprinkle more flour on the parchment paper if the dough sticks to the rolling pin. Remove the filling from the fridge and use a silicone spatula to spread it evenly over the dough. Roll the dough up the long way. Bring the ends together into a large ring, and press them together. Use a sharp knife to make cuts in the dough, every inch or so, on the outside of the ring, but cut only about three-quarters of the way into the ring, not all the way through. After you have made all the cuts, pull the slices apart slightly and turn each one so the swirl part is facing the next slice, partly facing up. Repeat all the way around.

The recipe falters here, but I moved the ring to large rimmed baking sheet covered with a silpat liner. If you can manage to get that piece of parchment paper you’re working on on to a rimmed baking sheet that will also work.

BRUSH THE DOUGH all over with the remaining egg yolk mixed with a teaspoon of water. Sprinkle with the crumbs. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Let it cool for about 20 minutes. Store covered at room temperature for up to three days or freeze for up to three months. Reheat to serve.

Milk and Honey

Last week I went outside to Rich who was busy working on his bicycle. “Honey, right now I’m cooking some wheat berries in the pressure cooker. They should be done in about 15 minutes.” “Um, OK…” Rich responded. I could hear the skepticism in his voice.

“But I’ve realized that the dish I had in mind would instead be a perfect dish for Shavuot,” “Jewish Pentecost?” he asked, making sure he was thinking of the right holiday.  “Yup!” I said. “So tonight, we’re having macaroni and cheese,” then I paused, “from a box!” (There weren’t a lot of kosher mac and cheese options growing up, so it’s a totally foreign dish to me.) “Yippee!” Rich replied with a genuine enthusiasm for a true dish of his childhood.

Let me unpack this a little, starting with the wheat berries. A few months back, I went a little wild in the bulk bin aisle. I had come across some new recipes, and was so excited by them that I filled up my sack with all sorts of goodies. Along with wheat berries, I now have containers of mung beans, Kamut and other grains lining the shelves of my pantry.

But excited as I was with my bounty, I quickly remembered that I wasn’t going to be the only one enjoying the new dishes. Rich, of course, would be dining with me, and as willing as he is to try something new, quite often something completely foreign to him, I realize that sometimes I’m asking a lot of him. I took a good look at the small, round green mung beans and asked myself, Am I really going to feed my husband mung beans?

You see, Rich comes from a world of meat and potatoes, with a strong dose of dessert (cake and ice cream, not fruit). I, as you can probably gather from the blog, was brought up kosher and with a vegetarian streak. Our childhood palates are only the least of our different beginnings. When I first met Rich, I could have never imagined him ever being my husband. And how could I? He was raised in a very traditional Catholic household – an altar boy until 18, no less.  And I was raised in an equally if not more traditional Jewish household, with years of Jewish day school and a degree from Jewish seminary to boot.

So when we first got together, I asked myself the same question that I did looking at those mung beans: Is this really going to work?  And it’s been challenging at times, but my husband has proven to be a very capable student of Judaism. And he’s taught me about Christianity, especially where the New Testament has borrowed from the Old. More importantly, being in a relationship with Rich has taught me tolerance and acceptance of the unknown.

Next up: Shavuot. It’s the day the Jewish people celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We actually count down the days from the second day of Passover, when the Children of Israel left Egypt, to their arrival at Mt. Sinai — in total, a seven-week journey. As Rich put it after I explained it to him: “So that’s where we got Pentecost from.”

Shavuot is also one of the three harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. There are more customs than laws for this holiday. Some observant Jews mark the occasion by staying up all night studying Torah. Reading the Book of Ruth, the story of the righteous convert which takes place during the barley harvest, is another popular tradition.

Jews eat dairy on the holiday. There are many explanations to this one, but most focus on the Children of Israel receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And with the Torah, they also received the kosher laws and discovered that their pots and pans, and even their meat itself, would not pass muster.  Eating dairy, even today, is considered the easiest way to circumvent these issues.

This recipe is all of three ingredients, but each one touches on a Shavuot tradition. The Ricotta cheese is straight-up dairy, and the wheat berries pick up on the harvest theme. Finally, the whole thing is mixed with honey – as in “the land of milk and.” But most importantly, it’s an accessible dish for my husband, who’s still impressing me with his openness to my religion and cuisine.

Wheat Berries with Ricotta and Honey from The Italian Country Table by Lynn Rossetto Casper

This dish has its origins in southern Italy, where it is eaten for lunch, dinner or a snack. In the United States, it’s viewed as more appropriate for brunch or dessert. I cook my wheat berries for 18 minutes in the pressure cooker.

Ingredients

1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)

Water

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups high-quality creamy ricotta

Honey to taste

½ cup currants or raisins

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)

  1. Soak the wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator
  2. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. The kernels will open up slightly.
  3. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste and the currants or raisins. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.