A Sukkah of One’s Own

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I’m teaching Hebrew School this year at the Reform Temple in town, where we go to Tot Shabbat every month. Last week we had our Open House where I met seven families whose children, ages Pre-K through second grade, will be in my class this year. I somehow convinced the rabbi we could definitely handle making a really easy plum cake recipe – with each family. We ended up making 10!

One of the bonuses to teaching Hebrew School, I mean, on top of making my parents unbelievably proud, is to fulfill my dream of having a sukkah.  (Daycare costs are KILLING us, so I used this extra income to purchase a sukkah kit we found online.) Well, on Sunday we hosted a sukkah building and decorating party for our friends and neighbors. It kind of reminded me of the Christmas tree decorating party I held back in Boston, mostly for my Jewish friends who’d always wanted to decorate a tree.

 

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Rich filled a cooler with cider, beer and seltzer, and I set up a craft project: build your own sukkah out of cream cheese, graham crackers and pretzel rods. I covered a table in arts and crafts projects: sequins, pre-cut paper for a colorful chain, popsicle sticks, beads, fishing line, pipe cleaners, paint, brushes, stickers. Just a ton of materials, much of which ended up in the grass courtesy of Beatrix.

 

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I filled a second table with tons of baked goods: blondies, whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, apricot bars with an oat and whole wheat crust, one of the plum cakes from last week (defrosted that morning). I also made chive and cheddar scones because Sylvie thought I needed something savory in the mix. I adapted a sweet scone recipe, using 1 Tablespoon of sugar instead of 3, and sprinkled shredded cheese and chives, cut with kitchen shears, when it called for currants to be added.

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So, yes, that’s a lot. In fact, one of the reasons I didn’t post last week was I was too busy baking! But the recipe I’m most excited to share with you are the salted fudge brownies. I realized as I made them last week I don’t have a brownie recipe in my collection. But I think these are going to be my go-to brownies because they’re wicked easy to make, and quite tasty.

They’re from Desserts, from the editors and writers of Food & Wine which, as you all know, is my favorite of the food magazines. (Moment of silence for Lucky Peach, please.) The first thing I cooked from the book is a recipe that both Rich and I singled out: a chocolate chip cookie for one. It was terrific, took five minutes to put together, and cooked up nicely in my toaster oven. I’ve bookmarked the salted caramel pie, but I need to find the time to cook the sweetened condensed milk. And I’m going to need a few hours to put together the pumpkin pie bars.

One feature about the cookbook I’m really appreciating is that it tells you an estimate of how long a recipe is going to take to put together, bake and also cooling down time. Very helpful as I plan projects with the girls.

These brownies, however, are great because they were so easy to put together. It only took a few minutes, and it’s all done in one pot, so there’s very little to clean up. You start by melting baker’s chocolate and two sticks of butter in a pot. Once everything has melted together, you add the rest of your standard brownie ingredients, stir it up, then put it in a brownie pan that’s been covered in foil and then buttered. Couldn’t be easier. It is worth mentioning that I only had 1 ounce of baker’s chocolate and used chocolate chips for the other ounce, so I cut down the sugar from 2 cups to one. It didn’t seem to make a difference, and I’m sure they’re even better if you follow the recipe.

Salted Fudge Brownies from Desserts by Food and Wine

Ingredients

1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped

¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. unsweetened cocoa

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

1 ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ tsp. Maldon sea salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a 9-inch square metal cake pan with foil, draping the foil over the edges. Lightly butter the foil.

In a large saucepan, melt the 1 ½ sticks of butter with the unsweetened chocolate over very low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat. Whisking them in 1 at a time until thoroughly incorporated, add the cocoa, sugar, eggs, vanilla and flour. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the batter. Using a butter knife, swirl the salt into the batter.

Bake the brownies in the center of the oven for about 35 minutes, until the edges are set but the center is still a bit soft and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out coated with a little of the batter. Let the brownies cool at room temperature in the pan for 1 hour, then refrigerate just until firm, about 1 hour. Lift the brownies from the pan and peel off the foil. Cut the brownies into 16 squares and serve at room temperature.

The brownies can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to a month.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

A Feast for the Eyes

Like clockwork, it’s practically Sukkot and I have a butternut squash recipe from Aunt Sydney and my Cousin Mark for you. I know some of you served her butternut squash, leeks and grapes dish from last Sukkot every week until the marketplace ran out of squash. I hope you’ll like this butternut squash hummus recipe just as much.

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I first had this hummus at a brunch Aunt Sydney hosted when we were all in town for my cousin Caleb’s bar mitzvah. (You know, the weekend when I had that salted chocolate rye cookie.) Cousin Mark snapped a photo of the brunch which might be the most beautiful photo of the most beautiful brunch that ever was: Roasted salmon, tomato tart, homemade grape leaves, rice salad, carrot salad, red pepper and eggplant caviar, this hummus. Just a magnificent spread.

In addition to being an excellent photographer (and a general technology wiz), Cousin Mark is also the source of this recipe. You see, he serves as vice president of the Macular Degeneration Foundation. Macular degeneration affects the central vision and is the leading cause of legal blindness in people over 55 years old in the Western World. In the United States alone it affects ten million people. This year the foundation put together a cookbook of recipes for healthy vision. Its contributors include Lidia Bastianich, Ina Garten, Jacques Pepin and Alice Waters. So, yeah, if you were on the fence about the cookbook, it’s time to hop on over.

When I checked in with Mark earlier today to make sure it was OK to talk about the cookbook, he said it was fine and recommended the butternut squash hummus. “How did you know that was the recipe I wanted to talk about?” I asked him. “Because if I were Molly that would be the one I’d want to share. Also, that’s the one I would make if someone handed me the book.”

The book is on presale now but won’t be shipped until February. I’ll be back to share more recipes from it.

This recipe was a breeze to put together. I actually kicked up the oven from 350F to 450F because that’s just how I roll when I roast things. I’m using the rest of the squash tomorrow night in the butternut squash Thai curry. Because Thai food.

Roasted Butternut Squash Hummus from Eat Right for Your Sight

Ingredients

1 small butternut squash, peeled and seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 2 cups)

1 Tablespoon plus 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained

¼ cup tahini

3 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 Tablespoon freshly chopped cilantro

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon hot sauce

½ teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne, more for serving

Directions

Preheat over to 450 degrees. Toss the squash with 1 Tablespoon of olive oil, place on a baking sheet and roast until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a food processor, pulse the chickpeas until coarsely chopped, then add the cooked squash, tahini, lemon juice, coriander, cumin, cilantro, garlic, hot sauce, salt and pepper; process until smooth. To serve, ladle mixture into bowls and drizzle with the remaining 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and dust with cayenne.

Makes 3 cups

The Luckiest

My cousin Mark, who is best described as tall, dark, handsome and phenomenally successful, is also the world’s luckiest vegan. I say this based solely on the fact that his mother, Aunt Sydney, is the best cook I know, and she makes sure that his belly is always happy and full when he’s home for a visit. Whether it’s a bowl of fluffy quinoa tabouli for Pesach, or a jar of pickled beets, he is always well-sated.

Aunt Sydney lives only a few blocks from my parents, so when we are all home for the holidays, like we were a few weeks back for Rosh Hashana, the cousins, nieces, nephews, spouses and grandchildren all gather at Sydney’s for an afternoon visit. We try to catch up as best we can. Sometimes there’s plum cake; this year there was stellar mandelbroit. The visit always begins with Sydney asking what Mom served, and us clamoring for her menu.

I actually didn’t hear the full details of her menu on this last visit (I was distracted by the mandelbroit – it was that good), but Miriam, Syl’s wife, reported back to me about one of the vegan dishes she’d served. I honest-to-goodness gasped when I heard about the pan of butternut squash, leeks, sage and grapes, and may have even started to moan when I began to imagine what it must have tasted like. It sounded like pure autumn to me, a perfect harvest dish, which meant that it would be on my Sukkot table.

Sukkot is one of the three Jewish pilgrimage holidays, Pesach and Shavuot being the other two. Like Pesach, it starts with festive holy days (praying, eating, no work), has interim days (more praying, but back to work), and ends with some more holy days. (At some point I’ll write about my favorite holiday of all, Simchat Torah, but one thing at a time.)

Sukkot means, roughly, Feast of Booths, because the Children of Israel were commanded to spend the days of the holiday eating all their meals in a temporary structure, called a sukkah, to remind us of the 40 years in the desert. (Some people also sleep in their sukkahs, although I’ve never done it.) We also have some rituals involving a lulav (a palm branch) and an etrog (a citron), with a few pieces of myrtle and willow leaves tucked in between.

Sorry to bore you with the details, but it’s a really wonderful holiday for the whole family. A definite highlight of being a little kid is making colorful paper chain rings to string throughout the sukkah. We always had a sukkah growing up, and my parents have kindly offered their sukkah to me and Rich. We borrowed someone’s station wagon over Rosh Hashana to bring it back to Boston, but it turns out we’ll need to rent a truck to do it. Someday…

But yes, Sukkot is a harvest holiday, and nearly everything in this dish came in last week’s CSA. When Rich saw me take the dish out of the oven, he made two observations: that it looked like fruit salad at first glance, and that it looked like a Thanksgiving dish to him. Yup, I said, that’s exactly right. It is a Thanksgiving dish.

Aunt Sydney didn’t actually give me a recipe for this dish, but I guessed it in the same way that I guessed how to make her sweet potato and cilantro soup. I’ve taken to waking up earlier than Rich on the weekends, so I had actually cleaned the butternut squash earlier in the day making this a pretty quick dish to put together. Using a sturdy peeler, I simply peeled the squash, cut it in a half at its waistline, sliced those pieces in thirds, scraped out the seeds from its bulb, then cut those into thirds, or approximately two inch cubes.

For the leek, I chopped off the top, peeled away its stiff, dark green outer layers until I got to very pale green part, sliced the leek in half vertically, and ran the stalks under running water and wiped out any dirt stuck in its crevices. To make certain that the leeks wouldn’t burn in a hot oven, I kept those pieces and their layers altogether in rather large pieces, about 2 inches. I intentionally photographed the pieces of leeks so you could see for yourself.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Leeks, Grapes and Sage

Ingredients

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed into 2-inch pieces

1 leek, halved, cleaned and sliced into 2-inch pieces

2 sage leaves, sliced into a thin chiffonade

1 cup red grapes, rinsed

2 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions

Preheat oven to 450. If you didn’t wake up earlier in the day to clean a butternut squash, my advice is to preheat the oven before you prep any of the vegetables.

In a large bowl, toss together the squash, leek, sage, olive oil and salt. Place all ingredients into a roasting pan with sides or medium-sized casserole dish, and cover tightly with foil. Place into the hot oven for approximately 30 minute. At the end of 30 minutes, remove the foil, and give everything a stir. Things should have softened very nicely by now. Remove the pan from the oven and add the washed grapes and give everything a stir. Place the casserole dish, uncovered, back into the oven for approximately 15 minutes more. Your goal at this point is to soften the grapes. In 15 minutes time, check on the pan. If everything is softened, and perhaps a little bit browned, remove from the oven, and serve.