Monday, December 24, 2007

A Perfect Little Cookie

Many years ago, while setting up my first post-college apartment with the man who later became my husband, I began to get serious about learning to cook. I took a job with a catering company and began to absorb mountains of information about preparing food. I bought some of my first cookbooks and started to very slowly build my cookware collection. And I began asking anyone and everyone for recipes.

My grandmother was a source of recipes (some from her mother) for many delicious baked goods including sublime lemon cookies, a spectacular fruit tart, and a cheesecake that I simply cannot duplicate. But one of the first recipes she gave me is the simplest of all: brown sugar shortbread. The name says it all, and doesn't it sound lovely? It is: intensely buttery with a deep, rich flavor from the brown sugar. And it's easier to handle than traditional shortbread.
My grandmother made these simple cookies and embellished them with a terra cotta cookie stamp made by this company, leaving a raised design on the buttery cookies. I flattened mine with a fork until my grandmother gave me a cookie stamp of my own as a Chanukah gift many years ago. You can still purchase them in numerous designs on their website if you're interested.
A couple of weeks ago I went to make a batch of these to give as gifts and couldn't find the cookie stamp anywhere. The dough was made up so I decided to try rollling and cutting them in star shapes which worked quite well. But I was delighted to locate the stamp the other day while engaged in an extensive search for something else (MonkeyBoy like to make my life interesting when he unloads the dishwasher).

Clearly another batch of brown sugar shortbread was in order. I highly recommend these cookies which you can make with or without a terra cotta cookie stamp though I do think it adds a certain something. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007


Here's what I just realized--I already wrote about this dish, back in March. I wrote out this whole post and went to type out the recipe when I saw that I'd already done so. Oy. So if you want to read the first post, it's here. Feel free to read on for my more current thoughts on the topic of macaroni and cheese. I'm sure this type of thing never happens with the fancy, professional food blogger types.

I don't know if perfection is a goal I should be aiming for giving that sometimes it's a major accomplishment just getting everyone around here to eat. But some things you shouldn't have to settle for. Sometimes you just want to find that one, perfect recipe--the one that will allow you to end your search.

That's how this recipe for macaroni and cheese came into my home. I love a good macaroni and cheese but for years wasn't able to get to what I wanted: cheesy, of course, and nicely chewy without the sludge of a heavy, milky sauce. I tried any number of recipes, most of which were OK though one stands out as being inedible (John Thorne, what were you thinking with the evaporated milk?) but nothing really came close to what I wanted until I found Jack Bishop's recipe in A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen.

This is the simplest and tastiest version of macaroni cheese I know and can be varied endlessly with different cheeses from plain old Tillamook medium cheddar to a liberal amount of crumbled Cougar Gold. The bread crumbs make a slightly crunchy topping and you can control the texture depending on how you cook it. A large shallow baking dish will give you chewy macaroni with lots of topping and a deeper vessel makes for a creamier dish. Either way is great as far as I'm concerned. The recipe is here. I hope it goes over well in your home.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Apple Latkes

It's that time of year again....

Chanukah always falls during the darkest part of the year when daylight is scarce and everyone is chilled. The lights, of course, are a welcome part of the 8 day festival but so too are the traditional foods. You've just got to love a holiday that requires us to eat fried foods. Potato latkes are perhaps the best known Chanukah food in the Ashkenazic world. Sufganiot (doughnuts) are another classic and I will try to share my recipes for both this week.

But when the first night of Chanukah falls on a work night that's been preceded by a day of juvenile illness, a big holiday dinner just isn't an option. Instead I came home from work and made apple latkes to enoy by the light of the first candle. Most Jews light the candles at sundown but given the requirement that no work is to be done while the candles burn, I make everyone wait until I get home from teaching my night class.And so it was that I arrived home, donned an apron, and got busy. The Spouse had brought home some beautiful Braeburn apples which turned out to be perfect in this recipe--just tart enough. An apple latke is really just a pancake, but a very special apple pancake indeed. Sweet-tart and dusted with powdered sugar, they make a delicious Chanukah treat. I suppose you could just as well have them for breakfast though we never do. I like having some recipes set aside just for holidays. If you'd like to give these a try, the recipe is here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Last Meal?

I was recently listening to KCRW's Good Food podcast whose focus mostly on Thanksgiving cooking, but there was a brief and touching segment in which callers described, in their own voices, their chosen last meal. I found it very poignant as well as quite thought provoking.

My last meal? Hard to say. I might let the good folks at Nuestra Cocina cook anything they wanted for me. I might ask for dosas from Chennai Masala. Or maybe my grandmother's beef brisket with baked potatoes and her tooth achingly sweet fruit salad.

If it were the last meal I ever cooked, well that's easy. I'd have my friend Laura join me once again to make buttery fresh corn tamales.

And what about you?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Things just didn't go that well for me on the biggest cooking holiday of the year here in the US. My apple crostata slumped and sagged while the shell for my maple cream pie was powdery above the filling and soggy underneath. I used slightly different dough recipes for each and both were off, so I'm blaming the flour rather than the recipes or the cook. Neither were inedible--we decided the crostata was too ugly for the Thanksgiving table and polished it off midday and the maple cream pie was silky and delicious despite its subpar crust. I thought there was too much nutmeg in the recipe and will cut way back next time because I want my maple cream pie to taste more like maple and not so much like eggnog but it was still quite delicious.

See how I started off talking about dessert? That's just like me.

The dinner itself was fine. I made a kosher turkey with cornbread stuffing, sweet potato kugel, mashed potatoes, roasted cauliflower, challah rolls, and fruit salad. I'm not much of a meat eater so the whole process of cooking a giant bird makes me a bit queasy and I end up eating one slice of breast meat and moving on to the other dishes. The reality is I like cooking meat even less than I like eating it and I'd be perfectly happy with a vegetarian Thanksgiving.

We had lots of leftovers. I put the turkey carcass in my huge stockpot with onions, celery, and carrots to make turkey stock which I put to good use last night. Our Shabbat dinner included lots of Thanksgiving leftovers along with a Greek style egg-lemon soup using some of that rich turkey stock. The Picky Ones declared it "weird" and focused on the potatoes, but everyone was up for dessert, an old favorite from Please to the Table: The Russian Cookbook by Anya von Bremzen. This cookbook is a delightful tour of the cuisines of the former Soviet Union. I have used many of the recipes over the years and it's also great reading.
The apple charlotte is very simple and thus only as good as the apples you use. The spouse brought home some beauties the other day and they shone in this recipe in which piles and piles of chopped apple are bound together in a light, eggy batter scented with vanilla, and cinnamon. This isn't a fancy dish--no one will be impressed at its appearance. But it has a rustic sort of no-fail charm about it which felt comforting after my recent dessert disasters. And, I happen to know, leftover apple charlotte makes a fine breakfast. The recipe is here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something a Bit Different

I had so been looking forward to cooking a huge meal this week to serve on the turkey plates. However, given recent events I thought it might be wise to call off the extended family and have a simpler Thanksgiving with just the five of us.

The turkey has been ordered and the leftovers will surely be used. I won't make nearly the number of dishes I usually do and I can skip gravy altogether because none of us actually like it. Mashed potatoes, a sweet potato kugel, green salad and some fruit should round out the meal. We'll eat early and then, much later, dessert, allowing me to work around the whole meat/dairy separation thing. I've never found a good dairy-free pie crust and dessert just needs butter as far as I'm concerned. Luckily we won't be joined by Orthodox Jews who would rightfully shriek in horror at this extremely loose interpretation of kashrut but it works for us. I'm hoping to give this a try along with a tasty apple crostata a friend recently introduced me to.

A recipe recently caught my eye in Julie Sahni's Savoring India, a giant glossy coffee table book I found at our library. Apparently there is a South Indian fruit which is enough like a cranberry that immigrants to the US have happily made the substitution. I gave it a try today and didn't even feel like I was cheating on orders to rest. The cranberry chutney couldn't be easier--a bag of cranberries and few spices. I'm looking forward to perking up my Thanksgiving table with this, enjoying a little something spicy and fresh alongside my turkey. The recipe is here.

Cranberry Chutney Update: the chutney might not make it to my Thanksgiving table as it turns out (unsurprisingly) to be a splendid topper for uppma and I've been "sampling" enough that there's not much left!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

It's the End of the World as We Know It......

I don't think I ever would have known about this had the good folks at The Jew and the Carrot not pointed it out. Wow. It's not like pancakes are hard to make. "Just point, blast and cook". Oy.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cold-Fighting Chickpea Curry

Most sick people, it seems, want simple food: broths and juice, nothing too complicated or taxing for a body already fighting invaders. Not me! When I have a head cold all I want is food that's hot and spicy. I can't taste it unless it's highly spiced, but there are good reasons for spicing up the sickroom food: onions, garlic, and chiles are all great for the immune system.

Spicy chickpeas with tomato over rice is a perfect cold-fighting dish. The tomatoes provide lots of vitamin C, the onions and garlic have antiviral properties, and cumin, coriander, and turmeric boost the immune system. All that spice clears the head quite effectively, too!

I got the recipe from a friend who copied it out of her favorite Indian cookbook for me. I had to adjust to what I had on hand (no more fresh chiles, alas). While it hasn't cured my cold yet, it was a delicious dinner and an even better breakfast reheated.

I think the only reason I got this darned cold is because I've failed to brew up a fresh batch of The Tonic yet. Clearly that needs to happen before we get much further into cold season.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My Nod to Halloween

I don't have a whole lot of use for Halloween (as explained here). I usually have to work and the kids only bring home junk candy so as far as I'm concerned there's only one good thing about the day: Spider Web Munch. It's one of those ridiculously cute things that I'm embarrassed to admit to, but it's got the heavenly chocolate-peanut butter combo going on. Made with bittersweet chocolate chips it's almost respectable as desserts go, and you get to play around while decorating. I found the recipe in the newspaper years ago and it's become my one concession to the holiday. It beats an old, stale fun size Snickers bar any day!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Pupusa Frenzy

Now that I have a child in school I am beginning to get used to last minute announcements relating to school assignments and projects. The latest was the proyecto cultural for The Dark Lord's Spanish class. I love that his teacher asks the students to think about the language outside the classroom but the announcement came during a very harried day which included a number of hastily changed plans, evening classes, a child care scramble--nothing unusual, but having to come up with an interesting yet simple dish with a little sabor latino was not exactly compelling at 9 pm when everyone was finally back home and The Dark Lord was able to focus on the task at hand.

Given our time frame, most of the delicious Latin American dishes I know were not in the running. Tamales and enchiladas were simply too complicated. My delicious posole verde was out because The Dark Lord doesn't think much of it (I suspect it's too nutritious). Racking my brain I suggested pupusas which require little more than masa harina, water, oil, and a bit of something to tuck inside.
With a fresh bag of masa harina from Bob's Red Mill, we were in business. A little salt and some water, and we had something the consistency of Play-Doh. We pulled out plum-sized balls, put in a bit of filling made of shredded cheddar and roasted green chile, pulled the edges of the dough up around the filling to cover, and flattened them into discs before slipping them into hot oil where they cooked, about 4 minutes per side until golden. We drained the pupusas on paper towels and then gobbled the down. Here you see The Dark Lord attempting to shove a too-hot pupusa into a mouth tender with new orthodontia. Not the recommended technique. Since the pickiest of The Picky Ones was away with a friend all weekend we decided take The Dark Lord out to give professional pupusas a try at El Palenque, Portland's venerable Salvadoran restaurant. We ordered a vegetarian family meal for 4 which included pupusas, fried yuca, a tamal, fried plantains with cream, black beans, rice, and banana empanadas, and the delicious sweet cheese bread Salvadorans call quesadilla which has nothing to do with the Mexican variety. It was a delicious meal but, interestingly, The Dark Lord decided he liked his pupusas better than those made by the little old Salvadoran lady who had no doubt been making them for decades. So last night, another batch, these filled with shredded cheddar and sliced scallions and served alongside the posole verde, which proved to be an ideal combination.

The recipe is here.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Return of the Mini Muffin

I've written before about my preference for mini muffin over their full sized counterparts. Back in August I made them with zucchini but now it's fall, there's a fire blazing and we've had lots of wind and rain. It's time for pumpkin mini muffins.
I've made these by the hundreds over the years. Kids love them and adults do, too, often to their surprise. These have fueled many a homeschool co-op morning and many a preschool play date because along with being nutritious and tasty, they're a snap to throw together, even while getting kids up and ready for the day. Thirty minutes, tops, from beginning to end. What could be easier?

You can play around with the spices if you like. Ground cardamom adds a little something exotic, perfect along a warm cup of milky chai tea. These muffins are equally good made with all purpose flour or healthier whole wheat pastry flour, and you'll hardly notice a difference.
The recipe is here. Do give them a try on a chilly fall morning. You'll find that you'll have plenty leftover from the standard can of pumpkin puree. I already have plans to make this in the next few days. And when I write about it I feel sure that I will be breaking some kind of blogged bread pudding record unless there's a blog out there that's all bread pudding all the time. Hmm....maybe I should do a Google search.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Birthday Babka

I have this friend who's all about cupcakes. She loves making cupcakes and brings them to every birthday, every bar/bar mitzvah dessert table, wherever a little something sweet is needed, you can count on her for cupcakes. She's also a knitter and when I came across a pattern for a knitted cupcake, I knew I'd found the perfect gift for her upcoming significant birthday. Some of the other women in our knitting circle also joined in and we were able to present her with a pink bakery box full of knitted cupcakes.

The connection between babka and cupcakes? Only this--I'm not a baker of cupcakes, but I knew this friend was a fan of my chocolate babka and I wanted to bring something along to share at yesterday's knitting circle. There are a number of food allergies among our members and I try to keep those in mind when I bring food, but yesterday was a birthday celebration after all so wheat and dairy sensitivities were ignored as I started baking.

Babka is a sweet, rich , almost cakey bread wrapped around some kind of delicious filling which may include dried fruit, nuts, and spices. This is the simplest babka I know, but the fragrant combination of cocoa and cinnamon flavors in the filling is always enchanting. I make the dough in my trusty old bread machine, but it isn't a challenging dough and could as easily be made by hand or with a heavy duty mixer, I'm sure.

Once the dough has risen, it's divided and rolled out, brushed with melted butter and sprinkled with a cinnamon-sugar-cocoa filling. Everything gets rolled up and tucked inside. There's a second rise in the pan and then into the oven, emerging 45 minutes later looking plain as can be. Once cut, the bread slices will show attractive spirals of filling which I can't show you because I didn't bring my camera (although a photo was snapped by cameraphone---I'll share that when it arrives).

This is one of those breads that fills the house with delicious aromas and you'd be hard pressed to find something better to serve with coffee. And yet sometimes I will simply forget this recipe, for months on end and then find myself delighted to bump into this old friend again. Give it a try and see what you think. The recipe is here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Two Winners

I haven't been cooking anything very exciting of late. Lots of the same old standbys which are seen again and again in effort to nourish picky kids: pasta with red sauce, burrritos, scrambled eggs, potatoes and the ever-popular boxed cereal with milk. Yikes. Where did I go wrong?

Fridays have become schlepping hell for me as my kids need to be all over the city throughout the day. It's been nearly impossible to make a proper Shabbat dinner when kids need to be picked up after 4 pm. Last week, however, a friend offered to pick the boy up before joining us for dinner which actually gave me time to cook. Hooray! We had homemade challah, a green salad with pears, toasted hazelnuts, and crumbled feta cheese, a fruit salad, Elizabeth's vegetarian pastitsio and peanut butter brownies from Smitten Kitchen.

Both of the borrowed recipes were splendid. The Spouse and I actually argued over who deserved the leftover serving of pastitsio more. It was a second try on the brownies which I now know need to come out of the oven when they look slightly undercooked. And better chocolate for the ganache made all the difference. Normally I wouldn't bother frosting brownies, but it's crucial here. Just make sure you use something dark and not too sweet--Trader Joe's bittersweet pound plus made magic here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007


We went apple picking recently and came home with 37 pounds of Gravensteins from an orchard with the rather worrisome name of GM Farms. The bushel basket has been sitting in the kitchen where it's slowly being emptied by hungry kids . Before they all disappeared I wanted to make sure to make an apple pancake or two, just like my dad used to make for us. One of the things I always loved about this dish was the slightly salty crust that forms. I rarely buy salted butter, but it's what takes this dish right back to my childhood. The flavor is just like my father's version but we differ in technique. I saute the apples and cook the pancake in the same pan. He likes to preheat the pan in the oven, melting a stick of butter at the same time and sautee the apples separately on the stove. Then he puts the batter in the preheated pan and places the apples on top. I've done it both ways and haven't noticed much of a difference except my way uses less butter and saves the washing of a pan. Sorry, Daddy--I hate to be more efficient than you are!Another nice thing about this one: you probably always have the ingredients on hand so you can make up an apple pancake at a moment's notice. The recipe is here. Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sukkah Food

Sukkot is not a holiday that has its specific dishes in quite the way some of the other Jewish holidays have. Chanukah is for latkes and donuts, Rosh Hashana requires a round challah, and hamantaschen are essential for Purim. While Sukkot doesn't have quite the same associated foods, we've developed a few dishes that have become standards when we invite guests to come and dwell in the sukkah with us. Sadly, there wasn't a whole lot of dwelling going on in today's chilly nonstop rain, but there were guests and there was food, essential for any gathering.

Two dishes generated repeated recipe requests: the white bean and rosemary "sukkah soup" and the ginger squares.

The soup is so easy there's no real recipe (and homely enough that no photos made the cut). Soak a pound of small white beans overnight. Saute a couple of chopped onions and some chopped garlic in olive oil, add the soaked beans, and a quart of stock along with a couple of peeled potatoes cut in l chunks. Simmer until potato is cooked and beans are tender, then add lots and lots of minced fresh rosemary, chopped garlic, and freshly ground black pepper and simmer for a while longer until the garlic mellows a bit. Serve with a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese.

As for the ginger squares--don't even bother unless you really like the flavor of ginger which is very strong here and enhanced by a tart lemony glaze. Heaven for ginger lovers! I was given this recipe years ago by another Jewish homeschooling mama who thoughtfully shared both the original and her much healthier version which I confess I've never bothered to try. The original is delicious and I'm not going to go messing it up with applesauce and brown rice flour, thank you very much. Give these a try when you need a little something to spice up a gloomy day. The recipe is here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Breaking the Fast

Our congregation breaks the Yom Kippur fast together after the conclusion of the final service. Jewish law forbids eating or drinking anything from sundown to sundown on Yom Kippur and most Jews I know take this very seriously. It makes for a long and intense day and when we all descend upon the tables, we are ravenous.

I start, always, with a few glasses of water because my body feels that lack even more than the lack of food. The next need is for protein: cheese, egg salad, tuna, and hummous are always available with fresh challah and downing bit of this makes me feel considerably calmer. A bit of fruit, more protein, and then at last, the sweets tables.

I always volunteer to bake something. Honey cakes abound at this time of year so I stay away from those. We have a lot of fine bakers of cookies and brownies in our congregation and one lady who specializes in baklava, lucky us! In the rush of getting a pre-fast meal together, I hadn't really checked my baking supplies and ended up casting about online for a recipe using ingredients I had on hand. When the recipe for Sour Cream Chocolate Chip Cake appeared, I knew I was good to go. It has that perfect combination of chocolate and cinnamon which always makes me think of my great-grandmother even though, honestly, I'm not sure she mixed the two. I used toasted hazelnuts in place of the walnuts and pecans and never missed them. This is not a fussy recipe, you don't dirty too many bowls, but the result is delicious. With that first cup of coffee after the long fast, it's just about perfect.

Look What I Found!

I have at least two things I'm hoping to share with you soon but here's the thing--my photos are stinky and I don't want to use them. Stinky photos are pretty much the norm around here as most shots are taken at night in poor lighting with sticky hands. For every passable shot there are 40 that, well, stink. I'm still learning to use this marvel of a camera but slogging through the manual isn't an approach well suited for my learning style (which might best be defined as chaotic-experiential and yes, I did make that up).

Imagine my joy last night when I stumbled upon The Kitchen Wench, an Australian food blogger who is currently writing a very informative and comprehensible series of posts on making the most of one's digital camera for food photography, especially without the $900 camera setup. Her recipes look delightful, too, but the photography lessons were what really grabbed me. I'm already playing around using her information on white balance and looking forward to more. Most of you with digital cameras have likely already studied your manual and have this all figured out but if you're still baffled by all those settings and the manual isn't doing it for you, take a peek at these articles and see if you don't learn something.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One More for the End of Summer

Years ago, we spent a year in rural Northern California. I was quite miserable there, for a variety of reasons, but a saving grace was the garden. California gardens and Oregon gardens are wildly different. Summer treasures that we coax along gently here in the Northwest grow like crazy down there. We had piles of peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes the likes of which I'd never be able to manage here in Portland. It wasn't just the climate, though that surely helped. The year we lived in California I had a toddler and a newborn and wasn't working, which is to say that I didn't have a paid job. We were miles from anywhere so we either went to town for the whole day or stayed put. Most often we stayed put. I had all the time in the world (in between constant nursing and diaper changes) to work in the garden and prepare meals. It was wonderful to be able to grow so much of our own food back then, but I never really adjusted to the garden's prolific output.

I found a recipe that made good use of all the tomatoes and eggplant: Midi Poche. The Bert Greene cookbook from which the recipe came years ago has mysteriously disappeared so I'm not even sure if I'm entirely faithful to the original but even in its evolution it's become a late summer requirement around here. Sadly, my own eggplants were tiny, woody specimens so the farmers market had to provide for us. The tomatoes, however, were my own.Midi Poche is an eggplant and rice casserole with Provencal flavors. The sauce is what makes the dish really distinctive: bright tomato flavors mix with a hint of allspice to make an unusual (and very tasty) sauce. It will take some time to make as the eggplant needs to be salted, drained and sauteed before layering with the rice and the sauce, but the baking time is short and it's truly worth the effort. Go out and grab a few eggplant while they're still around and give this dish a try. The recipe is here. Oh, and I redecorated a bit. I was hoping to make the text easier to read. Any better?

Friday, September 14, 2007


We've had two days of Rosh Hashana dinners, potlucks, and good food galore. And somehow I managed to come home with leftover apple challah. It was delicious but there was so much food at our friends' house that there was no way we could eat it all. With about a quarter of the whole giant loaf left, I figured it was destined for bread pudding greatness once I got around to cooking again.

We have a friend who says we eat more bread pudding than anyone he's ever known. But here's the thing--most Friday nights, at least when things are relatively calm, we have homemade challah with our Shabbat dinner. Admittedly, sometimes things get crazy and storebought is the only option, but we've never found anything that comes close to homemade in flavor or texture. We never eat all the challah and you'd think maybe we'd just make less each week, but two loaves are traditional and that's what we make. Leftovers are either made into French toast guessed it....bread pudding. So that's why you're getting my second bread pudding recipe in this here blog.

I actually made meat for tonight's dinner, which happens only a few times a year. My grandmother's famous beef brisket cooks for hours and hours in a sauce of deeply browned onions and stewed tomato until it becomes so tender that chewing is really just optional. The kids will hoover it down and sleep well, guaranteed.

Jewish dietary law forbids the mixing of meat and milk in the same meal and this is the sad truth of my mostly-vegetarian diet: I'd much rather forgo flesh than butter in my desserts and cream in my coffee. That's why I dithered around all day trying to decide on tonight's dessert. Without the option of butter, I feel cruelly limited. I keep a few sticks of non-hydrogenated nondairy margarine in my freezer for our rare meat meals, and it will do hidden in brownies, but I sure don't want to taste the stuff. Eventually my tired brain returned to the bread pudding option.

Bread pudding can easily be made without dairy with the use of almost-foods like rice milk but I thought it would be a little dull without at least a splash of cream. I wanted some kind of something extra and eventually I hit on butterscotch sauce. I took down a simple, dairy free sauce after a Google search and now I am embarrassed to say that I can't find it again to give credit for the recipe. But since I added a slug of dark Indian rum, can't I now just call it my own?It came out much better than I expected. The apples in the challah made the pudding nice and moist and the butterscotch sauce added just the perfect touch. Most people don't have apple challah on hand--ours normally disappears quickly. I'm thinking one could achieve something similar using regular challah and a couple of chopped tart apples that have been sauteed in butter(margarine if necessary) for a few minutes with a hefty dash of cinnamon. If you give this option a try, do drop me a line and let me know how it turns out. The recipe is here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Apple Challah

Hi! Remember me? Given my absence from the food blog, you might think we haven't eaten in two weeks or that we've somehow managed to eat out every day. Neither is true. We're eating well enough but they've been old summer standbys, pastas and salads mostly--nothing exciting to write about. Yes, we all love summer's bounty and tomatoes and zucchini have been our constant companions. But just when it seems slightly dull, along comes yet another Jewish holiday, complete with lots of traditional foods.

Most of us get our traditional holiday foods through family and I do have a few of those though none are really strongly connected with holidays. I'll make my grandmother's brisket now and again but not for any particular occasion (though she would often make it for Rosh Hashanah). But my sheaf of go-to holiday recipes comes from another source altogether. Through the magic of the internet and, more specifically, a mailing list I've been a member of for 10 years, I've amassed a wonderful collection of recipes for all the Jewish holidays. When I start leafing through the smudgy pages, I'm always delighted when I realize I'm not doing so alone. There's a lovely group of women around the world who are making some of the very same dishes, year after year.

One of the best of these is apple challah, which is now essential at our Rosh Hashanah meals. Foods that are round and sweet are traditional for ushering the new year and this challah fits the bill perfectly. Because I am a bum, I make the dough in my bread machine. It took me a few tries to find the best method of baking and I've finally settled on a large, well oiled angel food cake pan which allows the dough to rise to impressive heights and pretty well eliminates sticking. You'll find the recipe here, along with my comments and suggestions.

We'll bring this challah tomorrow night when we have dinner with friends. We'll likely have it again in a few weeks when the sukkah goes up, but more on that later. L'shanah tovah (a good year) to all those who are celebrating this week and, for those of you who aren't, do give it a try anyway as apple season is certainly worthy of celebration.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Teeny Weeny Zucchini Muffins

Wasn't I just whining about the piddly zucchini output from my garden? It's funny how things change. A few tiny specimens have suddenly morphed into monsters. It's Attack of the Godzini around here these days. Happily the plants I chose at the grocery store are of a variety that can get large and remain fairly tasty without a bunch of tough seeds. I went out to do battle with the squash this morning and came back with enough for dozens upon dozens of tiny zucchini muffins.
Apart from babies and hedgehogs, I don't think I'm terribly susceptible to cute, so my fondness for the mini-muffin seems to make little sense. It isn't that they're petite and charming (though they are). I find it much easier to properly bake a mini-muffin than those of the standard sized variety. They cook all the way through and they seem nice and sturdy so no topless baked goods. They're a great size for picky kids who can take one bite and then turn up their noses at your lovely treats without wasting a full twelfth of the batter.
The recipe takes its inspiration from a few sources, but I think it's fair to call it my own. It's full of zucchini, of course, and also warm spices. No nuts to mess up the texture though you are welcome to toss them in your muffins if you like that sort of thing. And I should think you could make a dozen standard size muffins from the quantities given though you'll really want to watch the baking as the zucchini is very moist. Better yet, just make some mini-muffins and wallow in their spicy cuteness!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Birthday Cake

We keep food coloring on hand primarily to tint homemade playdough and to make fake blood. Really, it's never used for food. But then when the just-turned-five-year-old asks for the rainbow cake for her party, what's a mom to do?

The cake recipe comes from a Lubavitch cookbook and yes, those ladies know how to feed a crowd. Their zeal for kashrut can lead to recipes with nasty fake ingredients. The results are dairy-free cakes which can be served at a meat meal. When you're already using non-dairy creamer, food coloring probably seems minor, but nonetheless it generally stays out of our food.

Today, however, I tinted three separate bowls of batter all sorts of garish colors and stirred in the zest of lemons, limes, and oranges. The cake itself was at least redeemed with real food: butter and half-and-half took the place of the suspicious nondairy ingredients. There was lemon custard filling to go between the layers and excessively sweet orange frosting. It wasn't the prettiest thing, but my brilliant husband suggested a light scattering of calendula petals which made the whole thing presentable. Three layers of sugary, multicolored cake? What could be more perfect for a fifth birthday party?

I said, with some contempt, that it tasted more like a bakery cake than homemade. Not delicious, but showy. If you simply must make it, let me know and I'll type up the recipe. Or you can just look at the pictures.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Summer Latkes

We visited Kruger's Farm and came home with a dozen ears of freshly picked corn. I love corn on the cob as much as anyone, but when I saw those heaped up ears of corn all I could think of was corn fritters or summer latkes.

I'm starting to think my children will eat anything if it's called a latke. We eat piles of potato latkes during Chanukah, of course, but I've tucked all kinds of things into a savory pancakes, called them latkes, and watched them disappear. So while the more common name is corn fritters, we called them summer latkes and called them good: fresh corn, scallions, and finely minced bell pepper (all right, I admit, I lied and told The Picky Ones the red bits were tomato which is acceptable whereas bell pepper is, for some reason, an abomination) all held together in a light batter and served with salsa and sour cream alongside a leafy green salad.

An impulse purchase at the farm stand made this process one hundred times easier. If you find one of these for under $5 just go ahead and buy it already and save yourself from a bloody corn-related knife disaster. I am impossibly clumsy in the kitchen and it's a wonder I still have all my fingers, so anything that decreases the likelihood of losing a digit is fine with me, especially if it actually works well which this marvelous little item does.

If you come across some freshly picked corn in the coming weeks, give these a try. The recipe is here.

Friday, August 17, 2007


Our prior home included a number of ancient fruit trees on the nearly 1/2 acre property. The apples were nasty and the pears so wormy that I cut most of the fruit away before making chutney and pear butter, but the Italian plums were always perfect. The trees looked so spindly that I was pleasantly surprised by improbably heavy yields nearly every year.

I love the meaty, flavorful Italian plums more than any other variety I've tasted, though there was a delightfully juicy honey-sweet golden plum that grew on a now-deceased tree when I was a kid, but I've never seen another of those succulent beauties as an adult and have no idea what the variety was. Italian plums are easy enough to find this time of year. They dry beautifully, of course, and they are very pretty for baking (and don't these look lovely?) but in my opinion, jam is where they shone most brightly.

I was recently lamenting the loss of those plum trees to a friend who offered up this year's crop off her trees in exchange for a few jars of the resulting jam. We picked the plums slightly under ripe so I gave them a few days to soften and develop more flavor. I made a lower sugar jam using LM pectin and was delighted at the yield: a half grocery bag of plums became 16 pints of delicious jam . Of course some goes to the plum-supplying friend, but the remainder is a treasure to tuck away for winter breakfasts. And I really need to think about planting an Italian plum here in my yard.

Monday, August 13, 2007


There are few things I love as much as fresh zucchini. Isn't it odd, then, that I should be the only person in the known world who isn't completely inundated with squash this time of year. I've heard all the jokes about keeping one's doors locked lest someone sneak in zucchini--and I want to be the victim of such a crime. I'm good at growing the plants--they are always lush and gorgeous and covered with blooms which, sadly, produce very little.

I've been hoping for a bumper crop as I read other blogs so that I might try making these or this or even this. But what I'd really been waiting for was to make another zucchini-feta tart.

I have a subscription to Saveur magazine and I admit to feeling rather sheepish about it given the number of ads for luxury vehicles and fancy vacations that fill the pages. But once you move past all the eye candy for the well off, the articles are engaging and informative and I have a found a number of recipes which have become standards in my kitchen. Last May, the cover featured a photo of a zucchini-feta tart which looked absolutely heavenly.

I love anything with feta, especially the Pastures of Eden feta which is shipped (I know, I know, using lots of fossil fuels) from Israel to my local Trader Joe's where I snap it up in alarming quantities. But really, it's the best. And then there's the tart's base--who doesn't love puff pastry? And Trader Joe's now carries an all butter, non-hydrogenated variety which I had waiting in my freezer for just such a dish.

The combination of the slightly sweet, light-as-a-feather pastry with the creamy cheese and bright zucchini is brilliant. This is a bit of a fiddly dish what with salting some of the zucchini and blanching the rest, and the pastry does require a bit of pre-baking. But every step is worth it, I promise you. The finished tart is good warm, cool, or cold and is quite pretty as well so it would make a lovely addition to a party table.

The recipe is here. I ended up having too few zucchini in my garden to make this all from homegrown but it was delicious nonetheless.