Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Etrog Marmalade

It's the last day of sukkot. Your lulav is on the table getting brown, and your etrog is still in the fridge, getting dry. Same story, every year: what on earth are you going to do with a palm branch, some willow and myrtle leaves, and a fruit that really doesn't have all that much fruit inside? My answer is usually...uh...throw them away? I know, you're not supposed to. If you have a better suggestion...

Leave it to my mother to be creative; that's really her forte. She's been using the etrog in her Thanksgiving cranberry sauce for years now, and a few years back she started making marmalade. Now she doesn't go to all the trouble of soaking jars in a hot water bath, sealing them professionally and destroying any possibilities that bacteria will sneak in and give all of us botulism -- but hey, these marmalades aren't around for long enough that we really have to worry about it. Her no-nonsense packaging solution is mini tupperware containers. They stay just fine in the fridge until Passover, and by then my dad makes sure to finish them off.

While it may sound like a complicated project, it's really not: the ratio of sugar:liquid:fruit is one:one:one, and once it's on the stove top you just stir until it drips off the spoon in a particular way. The catch is that it's incredibly time-consuming. Pick up a paper, 'cause between the measuring, the waiting, the stirring, the checking, the packaging and (finally) the tasting, this is an all-day affair. Actually, make that an all-day-and-the-night-before affair, since if you don't like your marmalade to taste horridly bitter, you have to soak the peels overnight.

But it sure it worth the trouble.

So as I've already mentioned, when my mom told me she was doing this, I literally dropped everything and went on over. The smell of citrus and sweet sticky stuff assaulted me as I walked in the door -- not that that's a bad thing. My mom was slaving away over the stove, and I did what any good daughter would do: popped my camera out of its case and started snapping away! There's no recipe for marmalade; there are proportions, and there are steps, and then there are steps that you can't skip. At least, that's how I see it. Every recipe always has skippable steps. I've skipped a lot of steps that recipe authors claim are crucial -- is my food bad? you tell me. But in this recipe, there are a couple things you really should do, like soaking the peels and checking marmalade regularly. Don't skip 'em. :)

Etrog Marmalade

Ratio of fruit:sugar:water/juice is one:one:one.
fruit: we use etrog, apricot, orange, kiwi, pomegranate, name it.
equal amount of sugar
equal amount of water.
**My mom substituted some lime syrup she had lying around for a bit of water in one batch, and some juice she had for some water in another. If you sub juice or fruit syrup or other sweet liquid for any of the water, cut the sugar accordingly. By "accordingly" I mean if you use, say, 1/2 a cup of juice, cut the sugar by about 1/8-1/4 of a cup, say.

Begin the night before you plan to make the marmalade.
Wash and scrub the peels of any citrus fruits you plan to use. Then peel the fruit, pick out any pith (that's the white stuff between peel and fruit) (optional), and grind peels in the food processor until they're in small bits. I warn you -- this stuff is fragrant!

Soak the peels in water overnight. You'll drain them the next morning. This should help remove some of the bitterness that the peels would have imparted to your marmalade.

The next morning, drain the peels.
If you plan on using apricots or any other dried fruit, you have to reconstitute them before using them. Reconstituting dried fruit involves letting them soak in boiling water until they puff up a bit and get juicy. I enjoy some reconstituted dried fruit more than their fresh versions, and apricots are no exception: they're juicy like fresh apricots, but softer, and their flavor is greatly intensified. If you do reconstitute any dried fruit (and I recommend apricots), save the liquid and use it instead of some of the water in your recipe.

Here's a cheat sheet of how we used each fruit in our marmalade. This can serve as inspiration for you when you make yours, but it is in now way exhaustive.

  • Apricots: reconstituted, then pureed, and saved the liquid
  • Etrog: no real "fruit" in etrog, just peels -- so ground and soaked peels
  • Orange/Lemon: ground and soaked peels, chopped segments of fruit
  • Lime: lime syrup (can also use fruit and peels)
  • Pomegranate: syrup, juice
  • Cranberries: these cook very quickly and have a lot of natural pectin in them, so they firm up easily. Add them to your marmalade about 5-7 minutes before it's finished.
  • Kiwi: mushed up fruit/pulp

Now you're ready to make marmalade.

Into a heavy saucepan, put equal parts of fruit, sugar, and liquid. Turn the heat on high until it reaches a boil, then lower the heat to low-med and let the mixture simmer. This will take between 15-20 minutes. The idea is to check for doneness with a wooden spoon. Every so often, stick your spoon deep into the marmalade, remove, and hold it horizontally over the pot, letting everything drip off of it.

  • At first, the marmalade will be liquidy and will dip easily, in a steady stream.
  • As marmalade reduces, it will start to coat the spoon and drip a bit more slowly.
  • When marmalade is nearing doneness, it will form two points on the spoon from which it drips.
  • When it's done, the two points will merge into one, and it will sort of dribble off the spoon in one slow motion.

Basically, you'll stop cooking it when it's thick to your liking. There's no real rule about this -- it's a matter of taste.

As for cranberries, I mentioned about that they should go in about 5 minutes before your citrus fruit are finished, if you choose to use them. They'll gel much more quickly than the rest.

When your marmalade is finished cooking, transfer it to a pyrex or coated glass bowl and allow it lots of time to cool. It will thicken further as it comes down to room temperature. When it's gone down to warm, you can start putting it in your tupperware containers. (If you want to do this the professional way, see here for canning instructions.)

You can eat your marmalade on toast, as a sauce on chicken or meat, as a condiment on most anything, or out of the tupperware with a spoon. And can I tell you? It's pretty darn great.

Read more!

Monday, October 29, 2007

What to do with leftover challah, if you're that lucky

Indulgence doesn't always need an occasion. Leftover challah and a good appetite are reason enough to enjoy this "special" breakfast. I guarantee you, though -- it's a real treat.

It was Sunday morning; I had a big mug full of Peet's coffee and two newspapers to read. I had a book full of coupons to clip, Meet the Press to watch, and four slices of leftover challah just getting stale.

me: "There's all this challah...would it be alright if I made french toast tomorrow?"
(I don't know why I bothered to ask.)
D: "umm, well....fine. Twist my arm."

It doesn't take much to get me into the kitchen. Just say the magic words and I'll happily drop everything to cook. (a case in point: Sunday afternoon, my mom made etrog marmalade. That's a once-a-year event, people! Everything else just had to wait. I'll post pictures and recipes another day.) Within moments, I was at the kitchen counter, my second home. My french toast recipe is relatively unfussy, but it being Sunday, I cranked the fuss up a notch with some strawberry sauce and whipped cream. Now I know strawberries and whipped cream and french toast don't sound like an everyday thing -- and they're not, in my world -- but that doesn't mean that they're not the perfect breakfast for a random Sunday morning. If you make 'em, I'm confident that you'll agree.

Challah French Toast with Whipped Cream and Strawberry Sauce
serves 3.

6 3/4-inch-wide slices of challah, slightly stale
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
a dash of cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp sugar, optional

1. Let the challah slices stale a bit on both sides; this will give your french toast a custardy texture, since the challah will be dryer and have more capacity to soak up the egg mixture.

2. Mix all the other ingredients in a shallow pan or bowl. Start by whisking the eggs a bit, then add the milk, and then add everything else.

3. It's time to soak your bread. The idea is to soak them for just long enough that they sop up all the delicious liquid, but not long enough that they get soggy. Sop, not sog. I leave each side in the mixture for 30 seconds, and then let the slices drain a bit over the bowl before putting them in the frying pan.

4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put a heavy saucepan or omelet pan (I use my trusty castiron pan) on low-medium heat. Drop a pad of butter into the pan. (Yes, that's right, I said butter!! this recipe doesn't tolerate any of that smart balance or Pam stuff you have lying around.) Watch that wonderful fat sizzle away.

5. Lay your french toast slices down into the butter without crowding them -- one or two per cycle maximum. Let them fry until each side is golden, about 2 minutes each on my stove. Transfer the fried slices to the oven to cook the rest of the way through.

6. By the time all your slices are fried and in the oven, the first slices should be ready to plate.


12 Strawberries, stems removed and sliced
1/8 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup brandy

Toss all the ingredients into a saucepan over medium heat, and let them boil down about 10 minutes, until syrupy.

Whip 1/2 cup whipping cream with an electric or stand mixer until stiff.

Plate two pieces of french toast, a hefty dollop of whipped cream, and a ladleful of strawberry sauce....


Read more!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ima's Challah (now with whole wheat instructions!)

Growing up, there was one option for challah in town: that was Shalom's, the kosher supermarket in Wheaton, MD. Every Friday my mom would swing by Brookville supermarket and pick up two challot, which were delivered from Shalom's that morning. The challah was truly uneventful: it was never dense enough, far too airy, not sweet or eggy, and usually even a bit crumbly. A lame excuse for challah, if you ask me.

My mother started making her own around the time I left the house, and she's never gone back. Before she had the kitchenaid, she did it all by hand, which is actually less time-consuming and labor intensive than one might think. Now that she has the kitchenaid, challah is a snap to make.
Over the years, I've collected three fantastic recipes for challah. I make each with some regularity, but my mother's recipe is a standout. First off, the basic recipe makes 2 very small challot, or 1 very large one, which is perfect for me, since I often cook for two and don't need all that extra bread lying around. (Not that D or I would object to Sunday morning french toast....) Second, it's just sweet enough without being cloying. Third, it's very easy to substitute some whole wheat flour and wheat gluten for white flour, which makes for a healthier, more rustic loaf of bread. And finally, she's my mom. Moms' recipes are best.

A warning about this challah. Once, I was bringing challah to a meal for 17 people, and I made three loaves; traditionally, the challah is served at the beginning of the meal, while everyone's still hungry, so it tends to go quickly. Sure enough, we sat down to dinner and within an instant, both loaves were entirely devoured. I offered to bring out the third, but everyone said they had had enough and didn't want more. They continued to resist at my urging, so I left well enough alone. After dinner, people had moved toward the couch to schmooze, and I went into the kitchen to help clean up....and found three girls holding the third challah between them, ripping off big pieces and devouring the loaf as though dinner had never happened.

Yep, this stuff is pretty addictive. It ain't no subwayeatfresh, but it's close.

Ima's Challah
makes 2 small challot; double if you're having company
directions for a kitchenaid are in italics
see end of post for whole-wheat substitution instructions.

1/2 cup warm water
tsp. sugar
1 packet (2-1/2 tsp.) yeast

3 c. flour
tsp. salt
1/4 cup plus a few Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup water
2 eggs

1. Put 1/2 cup warm water in a small bowl. Add the tsp. of sugar, sprinkle the yeast overtop, and leave it to proof for five minutes (just to make sure the yeast is alive).

2. Mix flour, salt, and 1/4 cup plus few Tbsp. sugar in a large bowl (or in a kitchenaid bowl fitted with the dough hook.) Stir to incorporate or blend on low speed.

3. While yeast is proofing, mix wet ingredients together.

4. Add yeast mixture to the flour; add wet ingredients to the bowl, and mix or blend on low-medium.

5. Knead the dough for about ten minutes, until everything is well incorporated. Add flour by the Tbsp, with a light hand, until dough is stretchy but not sticky. Blend on low-medium until dough comes together. Make sure flour at the very bottom of the bowl gets incorporated as well; this usually entails some incorporation by hand.)

6. Cover the dough, in its original bowl, with a moist towel. If you have to, use plastic wrap and cover loosely.

7. You have two choices for the rise: either leave the dough to rise for one hour, or (as I do) let it rise twice, for 45 minutes each, with a punch-down between rises.

8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

9. After the rise(s), the dough should be soft and more flexible than before. Separate dough into three (six if using a double recipe). Roll each ball into a log almost 1-foot long. Braid the logs together to create your loaf. Trick: I start in the middle and do not pinch the top ends together before starting. After I've braided from halfway down to the bottom of the loaf, I turn the loaf over and upside down, and braid the other half. This way, both ends look identical. Tuck the ends beneath the loaf when braiding is finished.

10. Put each loaf on its own baking sheet; brush with egg wash, if desired.

11. Bake at 375 degrees for 20-22 minutes, until challot are golden and baked through.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

**For whole wheat flour, use the same amount as white, but add one Tbsp. wheat gluten for every cup of flour. This ensures that the bread will have that same chewy but soft texture as with white flour. You can find wheat gluten at wholefoods or Trader Joes -- and perhaps at your local supermarket as well. As for which whole wheat flour, my mom recommends King Arthur organic white whole wheat flour: in her words, "it gives the white bread consistency with whole wheat nutrition."

Read more!

Friday, October 26, 2007

When time is of the essence

Take this.

In ten minutes flat, you can have these cookies made. Including prep time.


Because they're from the box.

I might love to bake, but I sure as hell can't make cookies with cute pumpkins in the middle like this. Leave that to Nestle.

I don't need to point out that they're perfect for halloween...just go buy these guys. People will think you're really talented, and best of all, the cookies actually taste great.

In your grocer's freezer section!
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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lemon curd raspberry tartlets

It is super-duper chilly this morning and fall is finally setting in. Crisp air in my face and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet give me a serious hankering for some pumpkin soup!

But this post is about tartlets.

Everyone makes muffins; nobody makes tartlets. Yes, they're not as quick and easy to make as muffins are, but they're so much cuter and (IMHO) more delicious. Can't compare muffins and tartlets? Yes, yes I can. I just did! Tartlets > Muffins. Make some tartlets!

Here's the good thing about the tartlets I make: they're delicious. Ok, just kidding -- they're also not as time-consuming because the steps overlap with each other, as follows:

make the dough (about 5 minutes in a food processor)
make the filling while you refrigerate the dough
make and bake the tartlet crusts while you refrigerate the filling
let the tartlet crusts cool while you get the filling ready to pipe
fill tartlets and serve

See? Not so bad.

And the lemon curd filling is really not too hard to make. It does involve some pot-watching and some vigorous whisking, but it's worth the effort; whatever extra filling you have after finishing the tartlets is wonderful eaten out of the bowl, just so.

Today's post is about the lemon tartlet in the background of the picture above; the tartlet in the front of the picture is a posting for another day.

Lemon Curd-raspberry tartlets
makes about 25 tartlets.

Tart Crust: taken from Tartelette
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 stick plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk

Blend dry ingredients with a hand or stand mixer. Add butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk; blend until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while preparing ingredients for the tart.

While the dough refrigerates, prepare the curd:

zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs

1. Bring the zest, lemon juice and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan.
2. Meanwhile, beat the 2 eggs until light.
3. When all the sugar has dissolved, add some of the hot lemon juice mixture to the eggs by the spoonful while beating the eggs, to temper them (in order to ensure that they don’t get scrambled.)
4. After you’ve added about 10-15 spoonfuls of the hot liquid and successfully incorporated it, pour the egg mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the lemon juice mixture, and bring to a simmer (not a boil) over medium heat until it thickens, about 5 minutes.
5. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until cooled completely, at least 1 – 1.5 hrs.

Back to the tarts…

After about half and hour, the tart dough should be just chilled enough that it can be worked with, but will not disintigrate. Take a walnut-sized piece of the dough in your hand, roll it gently into a ball, and, using your thumb, press it into a tartlet mold (in my case, I have a tartlet pan wth 24 molds). Try to ensure that the dough is spread evenly throughout the mold. This will make for even baking.
“Dock” the dough by spearing each tartlet a couple times with a fork – this ensures that they’ll keep their shape as they cook. Bake the empty tarts in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until golden.


Scoop cooled lemon curd into a plastic bag, and cut off the very tip of the bag. Hold the bag just above the inside center of a tartlet, and squeeze, raising the bag as the tartlet fills. Repeat for each tartlet.

Top with either fresh raspberries or (as I did) frozen raspberries that I cooked down with a bit of sugar.


Read more!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yellow Squash with basil and pine nuts

On last week's episode of The Splendid Table podcast, actor and writer Michael Tucker spoke of his experience living as an American in Italy. Aside from the obvious challenges adapting to a foreign language and culture, he has learned an entirely different way of cooking since moving to the small town of Umbria. Something he said about cooking really struck me: he said that his cooking trajectory has been much like a bell curve. As he learned more about food and cooking and discovered his love for all things culinary, he acquainted himself with new, often obscure ingredients. He bought many a kitchen gadget. Basically, his cooking became more and more complicated. But being in Italy changed that. In Italy, Tucker and his wife eat mostly at home and in family-owned restaurants, where food is composed entirely of local, fresh ingredients, preparations are dead simple, and nothing is more delicious. He's learned to focus less on how many ingredients go into a dish or how labor intensive the process is, and focus instead on using few but quality ingredients and precise but simple methods. The locals of Umbria, he says, consider these "rules" of good cooking nothing less than homage to long-time traditions.

I'm trying to go with the simple theme these days. It may not be evident from some of the recipes I've posted lately, which I admit are often more intricate and work-intensive than I intend. But I do usually find that simple is best; it allows me to have maximum control over what I put into my food and what it looks like when I serve it.

This was one of the dishes we served on Sunday. As I was rummaging through my vegetable drawer to make Ina Garten's vegetable torte, I saw four cute baby yellow squash from last week's CSA that I'd totally forgotten about. Never sure about how much food it takes to feed an army of guests, I figured I might as well use what I had. This squash antipasto is super quick to throw together, and as you can see, it looks really pretty.

Yellow Squash with Basil and Pine Nuts

four small yellow squash
good olive oil
good balsamic vinegar*
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a handful of pine nuts
a few sprigs of fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Slice squash lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices.
3. Spread squash in a single layer on a non-stick or sprayed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle salt and pepper overtop.
4. Roast squash for about 20 minutes, until soft and golden but not burnt.
5. Fan out squash decoratively on a small plate. Top with pine nuts and basil, another drizzle of olive oil, and several spoonfuls or balsamic vinegar.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

*a note about balsamic vinegar: I don't have the real stuff, which can cost 50 bucks for a teeny little bottle. Instead, I buy good regular balsamic from the grocery store, several bottles at a time, and then reduce it to about a third of its original volume. Real balsamic has a syrupy texture that's much less liquidy than what's sold here in grocery stores, and a balsamic reduction like the one described here mimics that thickness well. Danielle from Habeas Brulee will be the first to warn you, though -- when you do this, it makes your whole house smoky and vinegar-smelling, so do it when you're home alone!

Read more!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Ring

On Sunday, D and I are hosting thirty-ish people for a housewarming. Our freezer is full to the top spinach-feta filo pies, tartlets and muffins, all shaped like my one tartlet pan. I'm making a meringue pavlova tomorrow, but I wanted another dessert, and I can't make any more tartlet-shaped things or my house will become one big tartlet. Enter David Lebovitz -- acclaimed chef, lucky Parisian, and expert food blogger. His pumpkin-chocolate chip ring recipe looked tasty, but I had no applesauce or orange juice in my fridge. I did, however, have some homemade yogurt (thanks to my new Salton yogurt maker). So I took David's recipe and messed around with it a little, substituting yogurt for the applesauce and orange juice, altering some other proportions slightly, and doubling the recipe. I also added some toffee bits, which practically melt into the cake while it bakes. The result is an incredibly light yet moist cake that tastes rich with pumpkin and chocolate but won't break your calorie bank. I'll most definitely be making this again.

Here's my one confession about the recipe: David Lebovitz is a professional. He used to be the pastry chef at The French Laundry, an acclaimed restaurant, and has written several fantastic cookbooks (including The Perfect Scoop, which has the best ice cream recipes EVER.) The point is, being a pastry chef means that he's very precise in his instructions, and I'm sure he's right that following those instructions will yield a better, lighter cake. having said that, I didn't follow any of his instructions (see all my asterisked notes throughout) and my cake came out fine. Do as you please....but I'm telling you, my "wrong" way works, too.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Ring
adapted from David Lebovitz.
serves 10-12, or 20ish if you cut thinner or half pieces.

2-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
2/3 cup chocolate chips

2/3 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup plain yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup plus 3 Tbsp brown sugar
2 large eggs
3 teaspoons oil
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

2. Mix together dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

3. In another bowl, mix together the wet ingredients and blend with a mixer on high until frothy, 1-2 minutes.*

4. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Stir together JUST UNTIL MIXED and add the chocolate chips. DO NOT OVERMIX.**

5. Grease a non-stick ring pan. If using a regular ring pan, grease and flour to ensure that the cake comes out cleanly. Spread the batter into the pan (and as usual, other pans will work -- the ring does look pretty, though.) David says "spread using a gentle touch."

6. Bake until top of the cake springs back when touched, about 40-42 minutes depending on your oven. DO NOT OVERBAKE.

7. Let cool on a wire cake rack, then invert. Let cool completely, then sprinkle with powdered sugar.

*I didn't use a hand mixer -- I just whisked the wet ingredients with a fork for a minute or two, until well mixed and light.
** I committed the sin of adding dry to wet -- and my cake still came out light and fluffy.

**Note: I've gotten a couple questions about how to make this pareve (non-dairy). The answer: subsitute David Lebovitz's wet ingredients for mine:

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon canned pumpkin
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
grated zest of 1 orange
1/4 cup fresh orange juice or water
3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg 1
1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

The instructions in this recipe are the same for a pareve version of this cake, as they're mostly taken from Monsieur Lebovitz himself. Read more!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Not Derby Pie (revised, with recipe!)

One Friday night many years ago, this dish landed on my dining room table. Being the ever-obnoxious 9-year-old that I was, I immediately spat, "what's that?"
"Not Derby Pie."
"Not Derby Pie?"
"Well if it's not Derby Pie, then what is it?" and, after a moment's hesitation, "what is Derby Pie, anyway?"
My mother laughed, as she often does -- then told me to just try it already.

The backstory: Derby Pie® is the exclusive product (and name) of Kern's Kitchen. According to their website, "Derby Pie® was born nearly a half century ago as the specialty pastry of the Melrose Inn, at Prospect, Kentucky. Once developed, a proper name had to be given. Because each family member had a favorite, the name DERBY-PIE® was actually pulled from a hat." While I've never had the original, the concept of the pie is genius. A deep-dish pie shell is sprinkled generously with chocolate chips, then loaded to the top with nutty nougat filling and baked just until set. What more can a pie-lover want?

In 1982, in an article by Phyllis Richman profiling Kern's Kitchen, The Washington Post featured a recipe for Not Derby Pie. My mom took hold of this recipe and never let go -- she made it very often and it was an instant hit among friends. Admittedly, I was a nut-hater at the time, and the pie didn't much strike my fancy. I did, however, manage to eat the entire bottom layer of two slices and pick through the nougat a bit before calling it quits. Once I discovered how fantastic nuts are, this pie quickly climbed high on my favorites list. It's one of my go-to recipes for Friday night dinner parties, and an unfailing success.

Not Derby Pie (adapted from the Washington Post)
serves 8-10.

1 pie crust or graham cracker crust
1 stick margarine or butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped or ground walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

1. Combine sugar, eggs, vanilla, and flour; mix until ingredients are incorporated.

2. Melt butter, and allow it to cool a bit; pour butter into mixed ingredients very slowly. Mix to combine. Add nuts and stir just until incorporated.

3. Sprinkle chips into the bottom of the pie crust. Pour mixture over.

Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour.

...really, that's it.
Read more!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Asian Cabbage Salad

I promise lots of posts this week with various recipes and pics from our housewarming, but this recipe was requested multiple times tonight with varying degrees of urgency, so it gets first attention. My mom and I first encountered this salad at a potluck. One of the guests showed up with four ziploc bags, and in a matter of minutes had a beautiful salad ready to go. Naturally, we went home and attempted to copy the fantastically sweet and tangy dressing for our own cabbage slaw. After a little tinkering, my we got it just right. Ever since then, it's been a family favorite. I've been known to devour this salad whenever it's in the fridge -- and that's pretty often, considering my mom always keeps around tupperwares of toasted "crunchies," dressing and the other ingredients. This will soon become a staple in your house -- and it's quick to prepare. I should add that this salad will welcome whatever you toss its way: yesterday, I had leftover chopped and spiced water chestnuts, carrots and fennel from some Asian dumplings I had made, so I added them to the salad and they worked quite nicely.

Asian Cabbage Salad
serves 6-8.

1 bag sliced cabbage or 2 small heads of cabbage, one green and one purple sliced thinly
2 scallions, washed and slivered
1 can mandarin oranges
1 avocado, sliced (optional)

1 bag instant ramen, broken up into small pieces
1/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds or pine nuts
1/4 cup sesame seeds

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
several dashes sesame oil

1. Preheat over to 300 degrees. Put ramen noodles, nuts and sesame seeds onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake 10-15 minutes, or until ramen are golden. Cool completely.

2. Toss all vegetables in a large salad bowl.

3. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk with a fork.

4. Toss together shortly before serving. Noodles will gradually get soggy, so the sooner served, the better. Read more!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Friday Night Conundrum

You and I know how hard it is to get a meal on the table Friday night (let alone Saturday morning) that's well-cooked but not over-cooked, tasty and colorful, and not entirely dried out after a long tenure on the blech. It's not easy! In honor of these hardships, here's a laundry list of questions from my dear friend Sarah about how, exactly, to coordinate a Friday night dinner service....and my answers.

Sarah: I need some food related advice. I'm making Shabbat dinner for friends on Friday. I have the day off on Friday but have a 3pm doctors appt that will make the afternoon kind of rushed and give me only an hour to cook. I'm making zucchini and pumpkin muffins before hand and roasting squash and potatoes (your recipe!) beforehand too and just reheating. Is that a bad idea?

The main dish is terriyaki salmon. Was just going to Marinate and broil... but then I realized I really dont know hot to broil! How long do you leave it in for and do you leave the door ajar? You rock.. thank you!

-Stumped in Seattle

Rivka: Sarah you rock! Ok... in answer to your qs:

muffins are a perfect idea! The potatoes should also hold up really nicely; you might stick them in the oven just before you leave for the dr, so that by the time you return they'll have been in for a good two-ish hours. If you're using small potatoes, this is more than enough. If you're using large ones, you can leave them in for a bit longer. In any event, the reheating should be fine. Just check their moisture level when you're about to stick them back in the oven; if they're a bit dry, add a splash of olive oil and a splash of water or stock and reheat covered for a few minutes, then finish uncovered; if they're soft, crisp them by reheating without a cover.

Squash will also keep very well. If you're doing delicata, make sure you only par-cook it in advance (say about 15-20 minutes) so that your re-heat won't overcook the squash. Butternut, acorn and other winter squash varieties will withstand a reheat without getting mushy.

Teriyaki salmon -- yum! Broiling can happen two ways: some ovens actually have a broiler, usually found beneath the regular oven. To use this, turn your oven on broil and when it's nice and hot, stick your salmon inside. My broiler has a metal tray with three shelf heights, and I use the second from the top for fish. If your oven doesn't have a broiler, just turn the knob to broil, put your fish on the highest rung in your oven, and yes -- leave the door ajar. This allows the steam to escape so that you achieve the crispy crust of a good broil. Baste the fish at least once in the middle of the broil. Also, a note on reheating -- make sure that you don't overdo it, so that it doesn't dry out when you reheat it. I'd estimate about 10 minutes per inch of fillet. My fillets are usually an inch and a half at their thickest. I'd say broil it for 10-12 minutes, then check for doneness. You don't want it to be raw inside, but if the very center is a bit underdone, you can finish cooking it during the reheat.

I want to be at your Friday night table! :)

Happy cooking and coordinating and's a delicate dance, indeed. Read more!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chicken Cholent

I think I officially have enough blog traffic that my Jewish friends aren't the only ones reading! This means that I actually have to explain what cholent is. (This is very exciting.)
Cholent is what Ashkenazi Jews (from Eastern Europe) used to eat every Saturday for lunch. Sephardi Jews ate something similar, but they called it "Hamin" (which means "hot stuff" in Hebrew...funny, no?) We still make this today, and to my knowledge, little has changed in terms of the basic ingredients -- though every cook adds his or her special touch.
The key to cholent is cooking time. Because traditionally, no cooking is allowed on the Sabbath, people start cooking cholent by sundown Friday, and don't touch it until they're ready to eat it on Saturday for lunch. By Saturday afternoon, the watery, murkey pot-o-goodies is an entirely different animal: the barley has soaked up all the water and turned soft and supple; the meat (or, as here, chicken), having been braised for about 18 hours, falls off the bone unprodded. Potatoes have turned dark brown from steeping in chicken stock and whatever else is in the pot -- and the marrow in the bones is creamy, flavorful and delicious. Sound appealing?
Over the years, the basics of cholent have stayed the same (meat, potatoes, barley), but the little things change from chef to chef (and, in my case, from time to time). I find that meat sits in my stomach like a brick when I eat it on Saturday afternoon, so my new thing is subsituting chicken. Sometimes I add apricots and carrots, sometimes prunes or dates. Once I even did a tagine style and included preserved lemons. As for the liquid, I frequently add chili sauce or bbq sauce, which are both pretty common -- but anything will do.
The best part about cholent is that it only improves with age; leftovers are even thicker and more flavorful. I've included a recipe below, but that's really not necessary, for two reasons:
a) cholent is a method, not a recipe. Just throw some protein and carbs in a pot, cover with liquid, and cook forever.
b) my actual cholent recipe is someone else's prized posession, and it was given to me on strict condition that I never write it down, let alone pass it on. I wasn't even allowed to transcribe it as I heard the holy words uttered; I merely had to remember it as best I could, and try to replicate the recipe according to my (very flawed, very human) memory. You may not be surprised to know that he who gave me this recipe actually called it "Torah She-B'al Peh," or "Oral Law."
So that's that.
serves lots.
1 whole chicken or many strips of flank steak
several potatoes or any kind, washed and quartered
a few cups of barley
a couple marrow bones, optional
salt and pepper
any or all of the following things and more: carrots, apricots, prunes, dates, raisins, gosh I don't know -- preserved lemons, olives, tomatoes, you name it.
Dump all this in the crock pot.
Cover with water by at least a couple inches or more.
Add any or all of the following sauces, if you wish: bbq, teriyaki, sweet chili sauce, tomato sauce, soy sauce, etc.
Turn on high until boiling, then switch to low and leave it alone until ready to eat!
I should mention one note: some people stick balls of tinfoil between the actual crock pot and the heating device in which it sits, so as to avoid the burnt crust that forms at the bottom of the pot. I like burnt, so I leave well enough alone.
Happy Cholent!
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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

how to temper chocolate

People, I couldn't have said this better myself. Watch this video on Chowhound for thorough and user-friendly instructions on how to achieve that glossy coat of chocolate deliciousness that hugs strawberries, almonds, candybars and more. Then go out and buy yourself a candy thermometer: I did this last week, and it cost me a grand total of...3 bucks. Do it! Precision is key in tempering chocolate, and you can't be precise without a thermometer. The results, which I will post as soon as I temper some chocolate, are well worth the effort. Read more!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The easiest cake ever

Many thanks to Elena, who gave this recipe to my mom, who practically forced me to make it. This cake is deceiving: its ingredient list and instructions are so short and sweet, you could make it blindfolded. But don't let the ease deceive you; this cake is definitely better than the sum of its parts. Throw the ingredients in a bowl, mix (by hand!), chop the fruit, throw it all into a springform (or regular pan), bake, and voila, a perfect dessert is yours.

Make sure your fruit are ripe; this will really add to the overall flavor and moistness of the cake. Also, as this recipe is so darn basic, feel free to improvise! Here are my favorite variations:

-pears, lots and lots of pears
-plums and peaches
-blueberries and pears
-raspberries and peaches

You get the drift -- do whatever you like. One last note: I tend to arrange sliced fruit on the bottom of the springform, so that when I turn the cooled cake onto a serving platter, the bottom (now the top) looks pretty. This is entirely optional. In fact, I didn't do it this time because my pears were very ripe, and too delicate to mess around with. If you're using a regular, non-springform pan, you can do as my mother does, and arrange fruit on top of the batter. They will sink in a little as the cake bakes, but you'll still be able to see them.

The Easiest Cake Ever
serves 8-12.

1 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tspoon baking powder
1 tspoon vanilla
zest of 1 lemon
3 cups of fruit, any variety, but soft and juicy!

Combine all the above ingredients, reserving 1 cup of the sliced fruit.

Grease and flour a 9" round or rectangular baking pan or springform pan.

At this point, EITHER:
1) pour in batter and add the last cup of fruit on top OR
2) arrange the remaining sliced fruit in spiral design in the springform, and pour batter overtop.

I sometimes sprinkle a bit of sugar ontop for a crunchy crust.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.

I often serve this cake with a fruit sauce or reduction; it's pictured here with quince sauce, and I'll post that recipe soon. Read more!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

delicata squash -- an addiction

Are you a squash hater? Please don't be. Squash get a bad rap among carnivores for being a lame substitute for meat; it gets boiled, mashed, sugared, buttered, and baked into squash soufflé, yet so many people refuse to eat it as is. Well, if butternut and acorn and spaghetti squashes don't do it for you, delicata is a wonderful last resort. It has a thinner flesh than other squash varieties, and the inside has a crevice running the length of the squash (as opposed to the small crevice at only one end of a butternut) that can be filled with all sorts of deliciousness. As for the flavor, it's simply remarkable. Delicata is buttery, nutty, and smooth.

My dad gets all the credit here; he introduced delicata squash to our family, and I'm pretty sure it was an instant hit. I find it's best prepared simply: my preference is to bake it plain, as my mom does and drizzle a lemon-garlic butter over top just before eating.

Delicata Squash
serves 2.
1 delicata squash, halved, seeds removed (and preserved...I'll post a recipe for roasted squash seeds soon)
half a lemon
3 cloves garlic
1 tbsp. butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Put squash halves, flesh-side down, in a pyrex or other baking pan.
Add water to the pan until 1/2 and inch of the squash is submerged.
Bake squash for half an hour, or until flesh is soft and a fork goes right through.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan. When it starts to sizzle, add garlic. Toast until garlic just starts to turn brown, and then remove from heat. Garlic will continue to toast.
When squash are ready, flip right-side up onto plates; drizzle with garlic butter, and finish with a squeeze of lemon.

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Black Raspberry-Brie Bites

I just joined a cooking club in DC called "Ladies Who Cook....Sometimes." My guess is that it started because people found that they were too busy to take their cooking seriously, and wanted to set aside some time each month to celebrate fun in the kitchen. Ideally, we'd all get together and cook, but everyone's so busy that the club has taken a potluck format. Each month has a theme, and people make dishes in accordance with that theme. Then we all get together and gorge. Sounds fun, right?

Well, this month's theme is finger food. I had originally planned to make brie and onion tartlets, but a last-minute morning walk meant I had less time than I thought I would. In a pinch, I grabbed frozen Trader Joe's puff pastry out of my freezer (it's sold flat, so it takes a mere 10 minutes to thaw) and made these brie-raspberry bites. They're the perfect appetizer to make in a pinch, and they're sweet without being dessert-y.

Black Raspberry-Brie Bites
2 sheets puff pastry, thawed and rolled to 1/8-inch thick
1/2 cup raspberry or black raspberry preserves
32 frozen raspberries or black raspberries, thawed and drained
Wedge brie cheese, cut into 32 bite-size squares

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Working with one pastry sheet at a time, slice into 16 squares. I start by slicing into four equal quarters, then slice each of those into four quarters to make each square the same size.

In the center of each square, place 1 piece of brie, 1 raspberry and a dallop of jam.

to make turnovers:

Wet your fingers, and run them along two connecting edges of one of the squares.

Fold the far corner onto the near corner, and using two fingers, press the edges together to form a triangle. You may have to really press to make the dough stick to itself, and wetting the dough should help.

to make bundles:

Wet your fingers, and run them along all four edges of a square.

Bring the four corners together, pinch at the center, and pinch along the edges to seal.

When all turnovers/bundles are created, place them 1/2-inch apart on baking sheets. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until golden. let cool 5 minutes, then serve warm.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with Almond Streusel

Rhubarb is finally, finally in season ... it's about time.

It has the perfect sweet-tart flavor that complements the summer's last strawberries and pairs perfectly with many fall foods. If you can't spot rhubarb in a crowd, think "sweet, red celery." That's what rhubarb looks like. It's incredibly versatile; I use it most frequently to make sauce, jam, cake, crumble, and pie.

When I got my CSA box this past week, I was pleasantly surprised to find rhubarb among the contents. I later realized that this was because I had ordered rhubarb, then forgotten about it...but still, what a pleasant surprise! I'm entertaining this weekend, and rhubarb is a great place to start.

I promise to post more rhubarb recipes as more of it pops up in my CSA box. For now, this tart is a riff on my usual strawberry rhubarb pie recipe. Unlike pie crust, tart crust is sweet and less crumbly. While my pies usually have a lattice or crumble top, this tart is open-faced, garnished with a simple almond streusel. I do enjoy a good lattice crust, but this tart is an opportunity to show off your fruit-arranging skills. What? Yes, your fruit-arranging skills.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tart with Almond Streusel
serves 8.

Tart Crust: taken from Tartelette
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 stick plus 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 egg yolk
Blend dry ingredients with a hand or stand mixer. Add butter and blend until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk; blend until dough comes together. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate while preparing ingredients for the tart.

After about half and hour, the tart dough should be just chilled enough that it rolls nicely. Place dough between two sheets of plastic wrap and roll out into a circle slightly larger than the size of your tart pan. (I use a round fluted tart pan, but any shallow baking pan will do.) Peel off the top layer of plastic wrap. Hold the dough from the layer of plastic wrap beneath, and carefully turn onto your pan. Once your dough is on the pan, remove the top layer of plastic and start fitting your dough to your pan, pushing it delicately into the crevaces and corners without changing the thickness of the dough too much. trim the ends, and make a decorative outer lip if you desire.

"Dock" your dough to the pan by spearing it with a fork in several spots, and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350. This will ensure that the crust holding the (liquidy) ingredients will still taste flaky, and not mushy.

  • 3 stalks rhubarb, cleaned and cut into 4-inch-long slices
  • 1 piece of the rhubarb thinly sliced (for the tart's center)
  • about 12 nice strawberries, cleaned
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar, more for dusting
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • grated zest of one orange
  • powdered sugar for dusting, optional
Mix sugar, zest, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.

Put your rhubarb into the bottom of the pre-baked tart crust as spokes of a wheel, with their tips touching at the center. You'll find that the center will have an empty circle, where all the tips of the rhubarb slices meet. I usually fill this with thinly sliced rhubarb and sugar, as in the pic below.

Slice strawberries one at a time, and arrange, fanned out, between the rhubarb slices. Sprinkle the whole thing with the sugar mixture.

  • 1 cup sliced almonds (I prefer toasted but raw is fine too)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • pinch salt
  • half a stick of butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp. flour

Bring butter to a simmer in a small sauce pan until it melts and starts to turn golden. Add sugar and let it dissolve completely. When mixture has no remaining sugar granules, add almonds, make sure heat is on low-med, and stir. When almonds are fully coated, add 1 tbsp. of the flour and stir. the mixture should turn cloudy, and thicken. if mixture isn't thick and goopy, add the second Tbsp. Stir. When mixture starts to clump, remove from the heat and allow to cool. When it's cool, break it up with your fingers and sprinkle it on top of the tart.

Bake the tart at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, or until rhubarb is soft and has released some of its natural juices.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

my office desk stash

york peppermint patties
mini applesauce cups
those ginger cat cookies from Trader Joe's
honey wheat pretzels

what's yours? Read more!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Tilapia en papillote, purple potatoes, chile verde sauce

Ok, lots of words in the title, I know, but it's not really all that complicated to make.

I was in a creative mood last night, and I'd just read a post from Elise at Simply Recipes describing a recipe for Chile Verde. Pig is pretty high on the treif list, but I love tomatillos, and hot peppers are my new favorite food, so I figured I'd take a stab at making the dish sans pork -- which basically amounts to a yummy and versatile green sauce. I made several adjustments which I've spelled out in the recipe (below).

Now, tilapia en papillote.

"En papillote" is French for "in paper." This cooking technique involves creating a steam packet out of parchment paper, which seals flavors and juices into whatever steams inside. I ususally layer a protein (fish, meat, tofu, even) with fruit and/or vegetables, spices, salt and pepper, and just a few dashes of sauce or scented oil, depending on the recipe. Last week, my mother served salmon en papillote with peaches, julienned carrots and red peppers, and a dash of sesame oil -- simple and absolutely delightful.

The technique is a very healthy way to cook: it requires no oil, and ingredients are cooked just to doneness, so that they retain most of their nutrients. It's also relatively easy and quick: Just place the fish on the parchment paper, top with the other elements (or place them beneath the fish), fold up, and bake in the oven. Finally, en papillote makes for a beautiful presentation, as the fish and all its accoutrements are unwrapped and plated tableside. I know, it sounds like a lot of fussing, but it's really not that bad. Think of it as a ziploc sip n' steam bag but it's cheaper because it's just a piece of paper. Plus, it won't leak dioxins into your dinner the way plastic does. One rule of thumb about en papillote cooking: everything you cook inside the paper must have more or less the same cooking time. This means that if you're including carrots, potatoes, or other starchy things that take a while to soften, you must slice them very thinly so that they will cook more quickly. When you make this (yes, you will make this), let me know how it goes.

Chile Verde Sauce
2 Anaheim (or other) chiles -- Elise uses jalapeños
3 tomatillos, husks removed and cleaned well
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic
olive oil

Put tomatillos and garlic cloves under a broiler for about 12 minutes, until the tomatillos' skins are a browned and the flesh is soft. Remove, and allow to cool. Meanwhile, sauté the onions in the olive oil over low heat, until soft, translucent and caramelized.

Roast peppers naked on a gas stove (as seen above -- yowza!) until their entire skin is charred. Put in a peper bag and allow to steam for a couple minutes; then remove, run under water, and slide the skin right off, exposing the flesh of the pepper. chop coarsely.

Put the tomatillos in a blender and pulse. Add, then chiles, and season liberally with salt. Transfer to a bowl and store, covered, in the fridge for up to a week.

Tilapia en papillote with purple potatoes
serves 2.
2 filets of tilapia
2 pieces parchment paper, about three times the size of the filets
2 purple potatoes
1 lemon
salt and pepper
buckwheat honey

Lay tilapia filets in the center of the pieces of parchment paper.
Slice the potatoes VERY thinly (otherwise they will take longer to cook than the fish)
Slice the lemons. Stack the lemons and the potatoes in a domino-effect on top of the filet (I did them separately, but one may alternate them also for a more exciting presentation.) Alternatively, place the potatoes beneath the fish and the lemons on top.
Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle 1/2 a teaspoon (max!) of buckwheat honey atop each filet.
Wrap the filets as follows:(Like my elementary school drawings?)
Step 1: place fish in the center of paper with potatoes, lemons, salt, pepper and honey.
Step 2: fold the LONG sides of the paper over the fish toward the center so that they overlap.
Step 3: making sure that the paper stays overlapped, fold the short ends BENEATH the fish toward the center. In the finished packet, the fish should be resting on the two short sides of the paper (folded so that they're each in a double layer), keeping the packet closed.

Ok, that was the hard part. Now put the packets on a baking sheet, and insert into a 350-degree oven for about 15 minutes. You may have to leave them in for 20, depending on the thickness of the filets. I always open my own to check it so that I don't serve anyone accidentally undercooked fish.

That's basically it: for this dish, I drizzled a bit of honey over the chile verde, then plated the fish atop the sauce, and garnished with a sliced pear to complement the acidity of the chile verde. I'd probably skip the honey on the chile next time, as it tends to overpower the flavor of the chile.

*Phew!* enjoy.

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Where is Fall?

As fall-themed recipes have started popping up on other people's blogs, I've begun to notice my own reluctance to dig out the pumpkin puree from the pantry. Normally I make fall recipes too early, out of sheer excitement for sweater season, but this year the transition is taking a while. It's already mid-October and the weather has not let up one drop. As my friend Dave so eloquently put it, "where is the cold, apple-crisp air of fall? Things seem unnaturally fecund, overgrown, about to rot."

Perhaps this post will trigger a weather change. If only I had that much influence... Read more!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Slow-roasted onions, fennel and tomatoes

If you're an onion hater, this dish will convert you. Slow-roasting onions releases their natural sugars slowly without burning them, so that by the end they're smooth, slippery and taste like caramel.

The tomatoes undergo a similar transformation: they become soft and sweet, and their flavors become incredibly concentrated.

And the fennel...well, you get the drift: soft, sweet and delicious.

The technique is simple (I feel like I've said that before...): roast thick slices of the veggies in a medium-hot oven for an hour or so. Instructions below are in slightly more detail, promise.

Slow-roasted onions, fennel and tomatoes
serves 4-6.
3 nice, large, red tomatoes, cut into four slices each
2 white (not yellow) onions, cut into four-five slices each
1 bulb fennel, fronds removed, cut into five-six slices each
good olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
Places the slices randomly on two cooking sheets. feel free to smoosh and squeeze them so that they all fit. It'll only make things taste better. Plug the spout of your olive oil bottle with your finger and drizzle the oil over the vegetables. use your fingers to spread the oil so that it coats the exposed surface of the vegetables. Season liberally with salt and pepper.

Cook on 300 degrees for about an hour, flipping onions and fennel once at the halfway point. Leave the tomatoes alone as much as possible. You'll know it's done when onions are caramel-colored and soft and your kitchen smells ridiculously good.

To serve: layer vegetables on a white tray: onion or fennel on the bottom, then tomato, then fennel or onion.

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