Purple Balloons and Pickled Onions

And then in a blink of an eye, my baby turned two! For Beatrix Louise’s second birthday party we filled the playroom with two dozen purple balloons to match the purple balloons on the invitation, and set up tables topped with play dough and oodles of stickers. I served the kids pizza and a massive pot of boxed macaroni and cheese.

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My father came in from Jerusalem to see his grandchildren. So, in addition to Bea’s friends and family, we also had over some of our older relatives, including Aunt Sydney, who I’ve mentioned is basically our grande doyenne when it comes to food. Although my cousins assured me I could definitely serve her pizza, I took this as an opportunity to make a spread worthy of a small bat mitzvah. We had:

It was from his weekly column in The Guardian; this one focused on quick pickled onions. I actually didn’t use his pickled onion recipe – I love my own too much to cheat on it – but followed the rest of his recipe, coated with allspice and sugar, roasted, and topped with cilantro lime salsa and goat cheese. I kept the almonds on the side, as per Aleza and Sylvie’s suggestion. Nut allergies are no joke.

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The amount of cilantro salsa is small, and he recommends doing it in a spice grinder. My own grinder – a coffee grinder I picked up for $15 at Ocean State Job Lot years ago – is used so much for cumin that it reeks of the spice. To clean it, I used a trick I just read about (but can’t for the life of me remember where): grind up a piece of bread. And it worked!

For dessert we made a Princess Leia cake, per the birthday girl’s request, plus the frozen banana peanut butter pie, and Needhams, a chocolate-coconut treat from Maine that’s a little bit like a Mounds Bar. But that’s another recipe for another day. Definitely before the third birthday!

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Roast sweet potatoes with pickled onions, coriander and goat’s cheese

Ingredients

Pickled Onions
2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper
5-6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 5cm x 3cm chunks
1/3 cup olive oil
½ tsp ground allspice
¼ cup cilantro leaves
¾ cup soft mild rindless goat’s cheese, broken into rough 2cm pieces
1/3 cup roasted salted almonds, coarsely chopped

Directions

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. In a large bowl, combine the sweet potatoes with three tablespoons of oil, the allspice, the two teaspoons of sugar, half a teaspoon of salt and plenty of pepper. Transfer to a large oven tray lined with parchment paper, and make sure the sweet potato chunks are spaced apart. Roast for 20 minutes, until crisp and golden-brown, then toss in any oil left on the tray and leave to cool.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, blitz the coriander [cilantro], grated lime zest, the remaining three tablespoons of oil and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt to a smooth, bright green salsa. Use a spice grinder to do this (don’t use a food processor – the quantities involved are too small); if you don’t have one, very finely chop the coriander and mix the salsa by hand.

Once the sweet potatoes have cooled, arrange them on a platter and dot evenly with the pieces of cheese. Drain the pickled onions, and scatter on top. Finish with a drizzle of salsa and a sprinkle of almonds.

 

Teach Your Children Well

My mother’s family is German-Jewish. They lived in a small village in Germany for hundreds of years. They were successful and a part of the fabric of the community. Some owned shops; one served as the headmaster for the entire town. My grandfather was a scholar, earning his PhD in Classics and Archaeology before he was 27. One of his brothers was a chemist; the other, a doctor.

One day in the early 1930s, my grandfather woke up to find he was no longer allowed to sit on park benches. So they left. During World War II my grandparents hid in Provence, France, taking on the roles of French peasants and ran a silk worm farm. That’s where my uncle and mother were both born. Thankfully, they survived, but the Vichy turned in my Great Uncle Freidl.

After World War II they were blessed with the opportunity to come to America in the late 1940s. My grandfather, who had two PhDs at this point, spent his days working in a factory. At night he taught Classics at Yeshiva University. Eventually, he secured a job as head of a language department at a small college in Springfield, Mass.

When I was a little girl, my sister and I would spend Shabbat with my grandmother, my Oma. I will never forget hearing her screams in the middle of the night. We’d run into her room, and she would say that she had a nightmare that the Nazis found her. “You’re safe, Oma. You’re in America.”

It’s been just about a week since Donald Trump was awarded the electoral votes he needed to become the President-Elect of the United States. Yesterday he appointed Steve Bannon, an avowed anti-Semite and white nationalist, as his Chief Policy Advisor.

And I am terrified.

I keep on thinking about my grandparents, my grandmother’s screams, and my own children’s safety. I worry about my sister, a gay Jew, and the status of her marriage and the status of her wife’s adoption of their son. I worry about my fellow Jews, Muslims, people of color, and especially women of color.

There are petitions going round, people encouraging others to take a stand and sign. But I won’t sign anything. I’m too scared to have my name on a list.

The recipe I have for today was chosen for a few reasons. The first is because it’s from Yotam Ottolenghi, a gay Israeli who is married with two sons and has a Palestinian business partner. I would worry about him if he lived in the United States right now, but he’s currently based in the United Kingdom, a country that is also going through a hard right turn.

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The second reason I am sharing this recipe is because it features sweet potatoes. When my family hid in France, they ate what they grew and had access to. Apparently sweet potatoes were a daily part of their diet. After they made it to America, my Uncle Marcel vowed to never eat another sweet potato. As far as I know, he has kept his vow for nearly 70 years.

I can only assure him that this dish is very delicious and the roasting of the fresh thyme and rosemary sprigs fills the house with a warm, lovely scent – very comforting after a terrible week.

Roasted Parsnips and Sweet Potatoes with Caper Vinaigrette from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 parsnips (1 ½ lbs. total – I just used the entire bag)

4 medium red onions

2/3 cup olive oil

4 thyme sprigs

2 rosemary sprigs

1head garlic, halved horizontally

Salt and black pepper

2 medium sweet potatoes (1 ¼ lbs. total)

30 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 Tbsp lemon juice

4 Tbsp small capers (roughly chopped if large)

½ Tbsp maple syrup

½ tsp Dijon mustard

1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375F. Peel the parsnips and cut into two or three segments, depending on their lengths. Then cut each piece lengthways into two or four. You want the pieces roughly two inches long and ½-inch wide. Peel the onions and cut each into six wedges.

Place the parsnips and onions in a large mixing bowl and add ½ cup of the olive oil, the thyme, rosemary, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and some pepper. Mix well and spread out in a large roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.

While the parsnips are cooking, trim both ends of the sweet potatoes. Cut them (with their skins) widthways in half, then each half into six wedges. Add the potatoes to the pan with the parsnips and onion and stir well. Return to the oven to roast for further 40 to 50 minutes.

When all the vegetables are cooked through and have taken on a golden color, stir in the halved tomatoes. Roast for 10 minutes more. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon juice, capers, maple syrup, mustard, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon salt.

Pour the dressing over the roasted vegetables as soon as you take them out of the oven. Stir well, then taste and adjust the seasoning. Scatter the sesame seeds over the vegetables if using and serve at the table in the roasting pan.

Kevin’s Grandma’s Soup

Lately, Lilli has been crawling over to her book chest – a soft cloth toy chest that I filled with books instead of toys – pulling herself up, pushing the cover aside, and taking out book after book. Sometimes we read the books, sometimes she eats them. It’s a mix, really. Watching her with her books reminds me of the books I used to love to read when I was a little girl. One in particular I was reminded of lately, and it’s because of a recipe.

Lilli and her books

Kevin’s Grandma, by Barbara Williams, sounds like a pretty cool lady. She’s been a performer in the circus – riding a unicycle on a tightrope, no less. She knows judo, and goes sky diving. She is also quite the chef, because, according to Kevin, she makes a mean peanut butter soup. But Kevin’s friend, the narrator, has a hard time believing Kevin, and doubts about the peanut butter soup most of all.

This summer I was sent The Leafy Greens Cookbook by Kathryn Anible. It’s not a vegetarian cookbook, so I haven’t checked out every recipe. Kale, chard, spinach, bok choy, and collards are some of the greens with recipes in here. I tested the Dijon mustard greens salad with capers and eggs on Rich this summer and he really enjoyed it. (I’m not a mustard person, so it was all him, and he licked the plate clean.) But it was the African Peanut Stew that caught my eye. Just like Kevin’s grandma, I thought.

This week, when both a bunch of kale and a bag of sweet potatoes came in the CSA I thought of the recipe immediately. Turns out I had everything else already in the house, including the fresh ginger I keep in the freezer. The only slight change is that I had a hot red pepper and not a habanero chile pepper in the fridge. Like all recipes, use your best judgment with how spicy you want your dish to be.

Anible suggests serving this over rice or another grain; I cooked up a cup of barley in the pressure cooker in 20 minutes while I was cooking this on another burner. I’m not going to use the times of how long each step took, because, like with most recipes, it’s a lie. I’ve never met an onion that becomes soft and translucent in 3 minutes, and sweet potatoes and carrots take more than 10 minutes of simmering to soften, but you’ll get the idea. Rich and I each had a serving the night it was made, and I had enough for 3 more Tupperware containers for lunches for the rest of the week. Of course, just like with the apple cake, I failed at taking a photo of the stew. It was very good, though. That’s the truth.

African Peanut Stew

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 cup finely diced onion (I just used an onion and was done with it.)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 chile pepper, seeded and minced

4 cups (1 quart) vegetable broth or water

1 (15-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 large carrot, peeled and diced into ½ -inch cube

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes

¼ cup creamy peanut butter

½ teaspoon coriander

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups packed chopped spinach or packed de-stemmed chopped kale

¼ cup packed and chopped cilantro

Salt and pepper

¼ cup chopped unsalted peanuts

Directions

In a 6-quart stockpot over medium heat, warm the oil until it shimmers. Cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and chile pepper, cooking for another 30 seconds. Add the broth or water, tomatoes, carrot, sweet potato, and peanut butter. Cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for at least 15 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender. Stir in the coriander, cayenne, spinach or kale, and cilantro. Simmer for an additional 3 minutes, until the spinach or kale is wilted, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot over rice or another grain. Top each serving with chopped peanuts. This stew can be cooled, covered, and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Twists of Fate

It feels like I moved to Boston a million years ago, but it was actually the fall of 2004. Gas was $2 a gallon, the Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series since before women had the right to vote, and not many people knew what a levee was.

I had moved to town to write for a small Jewish newspaper. Which one makes no difference, really, but like so many things in life, I credit fate, some sort of divine plan that brought me here: My mom’s best friend sat next to a distant cousin at a family bar mitzvah. The long-last relative, Richard, was the editor of said Jewish newspaper, and he was on the search for a new writer. Less than two months later, Richard had hired me. I signed a lease, bought a T-pass and was on my way.

We were a small staff, but managed to create a 40-page paper every week. I averaged nine stories an issue. Richard quickly recognized our strengths and weaknesses, and knowing passion always creates a better product, I was lucky enough to interview such famous Jews as Joan Nathan, Susie Fishbein and… Joe Lieberman. (One of these things is not like the others…)

My fellow writers had their own passions: Shira focused on religion and politics, and Penny focused on education and parenting. We were a team. Richard was our coach, creating the roster and calling plays. “Frame a story,” he would tell me as he created a box with his arms at 90 degree angles.

A million years later – or, this past weekend – Richard gathered his team for a reunion potluck. We drove down to Rhode Island listening to the end of another lackluster Patriots’ game. The Pats failed to blow out their opponent, our car managed to blow out a tire on Route 95. Undeterred, we finally made it to our destination, albeit an hour late.

Richard had made big pot of winter borscht, with large chunks of root vegetables and cabbage that floated in a ruby broth. There was a salad full of fruits – pomegranate, kiwi, apple and citrus – thick bread and a bean salad. I brought this sweet potato gratin as a side and a cranberry molasses pudding (think Charles Dickens-type pudding) with a hard sauce for dessert.

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My gratin was a mere twist of fate – our friends Will and Gabi bequeathed their CSA last week to us, and I dug the recipe from that accidental Ottolenghi cookbook that’s turned into a tidy box full of tricks. Even trickier math was involved than last time, as I had one third less sweet potatoes the recipe, written in grams, called for. I had the heavy cream in the house because it was on sale a few weeks ago and thought that the need for heavy cream would reveal itself soon, what with all the holiday parties we were scheduled to attend.

The recipe calls for a medium-sized pan for the gratin, and I found that my medium-sized lasagna pan was perfect for the tightly-packed orange coins. I used both sage and thyme because I had both on hand; I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you only have one of the herbs. I would strongly advocate using a mandolin for this project.

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The pudding was even more unexpected: I was trying to come up with something for the remaining two cups of cranberries that hadn’t been strung on our tree, and I’d dug up a jar of molasses in the pantry during my clean-up a few weeks prior. I’d never steamed a cake before, and I did have to ask myself several times if I was doing it correctly. It turns out I did, although my bundt pan was a little tilted and the cake looked like it had a club foot. Don’t skip the cholesterol-laden hard sauce. It really makes the dish. I had hoped to use some more of the on-sale heavy cream for the sauce, but I opened Richard’s fridge and he magically had the half-and-half the recipe called for. Richard took out his family china for our fancy dessert. Couldn’t have planned that one better if I’d tried.

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Danielle Postma’s Sweet Potato Gratin from Ottolenghi The Cookbook

This dish is simple but effective, due to the way the potatoes are arranged in the baking dish. You can prepare everything a day in advance and have it ready in the fridge to just pop in the oven. The sage can be replaced with thyme, or you could use both. Make sure you choose orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (as opposed to the paler variety).

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients

6 medium sweet potatoes (about 1.5kg in total, about 3 lbs.)

5 Tablespoons roughly chopped sage, plus extra to garnish

6 garlic cloves, crushed

2 tsp. coarse sea salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

250 ml whipping cream (About 8 oz. or 1 cup)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas Mark 6 (400 F). Wash the sweet potatoes (do not peel them) and cut them into discs 5mm thick. A mandolin is best for this job but you could use a sharp knife.
  2. In a bowl, mix together the sweet potatoes, sage, garlic, salt and pepper. Arrange the slices of sweet potato in a deep, medium-sized ovenproof dish by taking tight packs of them and standing them up next to each other. They should fit together quite tightly so you get parallel lines of sweet potato slices (skins showing) along the length or width of the dish. Throw any remaining bits of garlic or sage from the bowl over the potatoes. Cover the dish with foil, place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and pour the cream evenly over the potatoes. Roast, uncovered, for a further 25 minutes. The cream should have thickened by now. Stick a sharp knife in different places in the dish to make sure the potatoes are cooked. They should be totally soft.
  3. Serve immediately, garnished with sage, or leave to cool down. In any case, bringing the potatoes to the table in the baking dish, after scraping the outside clean, will make a strong impact.

Cranberry-Molasses Pudding with Vanilla Hard Sauce from “CottageGourmet” on Food52

Ingredients

1egg, lightly beaten

1 Tablespoon sugar (a heaping Tablespoon)

1/2 cup molasses

1/3 cup hot water

1 1/2 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups fresh cranberries, picked over, washed and drained

1 cup half and half

1 stick unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Gently fold together all of the ingredients through the cranberries in the order listed. Pour into a greased mold (I used a Bundt pan), and tightly wrap with several layers of foil so no water sneaks into the pudding.
  2. Put a steamer basket in a large pot and fill the pot with an inch or so of water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the water is barely simmering. Rest the pudding on top of the steamer basket and cover the pot snugly with a lid. Steam without uncovering the pot for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, until the pudding is cooked through but not totally dry. (A cake tester should come out sticky, but not wet.)
  3. To make the sauce: combine the half-and-half, butter, sugar and salt in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar and butter are melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Serve the sauce warm over the warm pudding.

Cold Day, Hot Soup

I love soup — not only warm, thick soups to heat me up in the winter but cold soups like gazpacho and cucumber yogurt to cool me down in the summertime. I keep a spoon and bowl at my desk at work. I eat it for breakfast. I own more than one soup cookbook. So when I read that January is National Soup Month, and the 22nd is National Soup Swap Day, I got excited.

The soup I have here is not for everyone, including my mother and Julia Child. It’s a sweet potato cilantro soup with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce. If the thought of putting cilantro into anything makes you cringe, you’re not the only one, and it’s not your fault. As food scientist Harold McGee writes, some people actually have a genetic disposition to hating the herb, but that it can be improved over time.

But I love this soup. It’s got a bit of a kick, so feel free to cut down on the chipotle peppers, or even leave them out. The marriage of sweet potato and cilantro might be enough for some, but if you love a little heat, go for it! I make this soup in a pressure cooker, so it takes about 7 minutes to cook. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, it’ll just take a bit longer. I also have an immersion blender, so I puree it directly in the pot. If you use a regular blender or food processor, do it in small batches and be very careful. Put a towel over the top of the machine to prevent any of the hot soup from spraying out. If you are concerned about processing the hot liquid, allow the soup to cool beforehand.

The potatoes don’t need to be diced perfectly, but make them around the same size so they all cook at the same time. I keep the peppers in their can in the fridge, with a lid of tin foil. As long as the cilantro isn’t super gritty, I use the Rachael Ray method (no judgment!): swirl it around in a bowl with cold water.

Sweet Potato and Cilantro Soup with Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce

4 medium shallots, peeled and chopped

2 chipotle peppers and about a teaspoon of their adobo sauce, chopped

6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered

4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into thirds

1 quart stock (a box of stock works perfectly)

A hearty handful of cilantro

Pinch of salt

Directions

Over medium heat, saute the shallots (with a dash of salt) and the peppers in their sauce in olive oil for about 7 minutes, until the shallots are wilted but have not started to brown. Add the garlic and cook about two minutes longer. Stir in the potatoes and sweet potatoes, and saute for 1-2 minutes. Add the stock and cook in pressure cooker for 7 minutes (double check your pressure cooker instructions for exact times on cooking potatoes), or reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, until the veggies are fork-tender, approximately 25 minutes. Add the cilantro and puree the soup. If the soup is too thick, add some extra stock or water. Check the soup for salt and pepper and serve.