Saturday, March 31, 2007

Lemon Curd

Passover is nearly here, my long stage of denial is over and I'm now in the frantic activity mode. I've had years when I really went nuts getting rid of every speck of chametz and completely changing over the kitchen to dishes and cookware used only during Passover. In the past we've been joined at our seder by friends who are considerably more detail-oriented Jews than I am but I always wanted them to feel comfortable so I prepared a bit more thoroughly . This year is simpler but nonetheless there's a ton of cleaning to do, all the regular cookware and flatware I'm intending to use needs to be made kosher for Passover through immersion in boiling water, the counters are scrubbed, the refrigerator is throughly cleaned and the cupboards are emptied of non-Passover foods and wiped down. And, with a houseful of guests coming Monday night for the first seder, there's plenty of regular old run of the mill housecleaning to do as well.

I try to look for the spiritual metaphors of liberation, freedom, and rebirth as I scrub but honestly, I just want to prepare the kitchen so I can get to the cooking. I was pretty wiped out after cleaning tonight, but I simply had to start my official Passover cooking with a batch of Meyer lemon curd.My email pal Ruth gave me this recipe years ago and it's become tradition in my home. When eating matzoh for a week, it's nice to have a special spread. The original recipe called for regular old lemons but I love Meyer lemons so much that I tried using them a few years ago and found that they make a delightful curd though I did cut the sugar back slightly as I like my lemon curd quite tart. It's remarkably easy to make, one of those things that comes out looking far more fabulous than the work really merits. I make a few jars each year, enough for us and to share with friends. The recipe is here.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Eating at Pike Place Market

We found ourselves suddenly able to take a day off today and decided to pack up the kids and head for Seattle. We had neither the time nor the money for an overnight stay but figured a change of scenery and a few hours at the Pike Place Market would be a perfect outing.

I hadn't visited the market in years but it was a regular stop on visits to my aunt when I was young and I figured there would be enough there to keep all the kids amused for the day. We made a few stops that honored my childhood memories. At The Crumpet Shop I was delighted to buy my kids warm crumpets with butter and honey--a sweet, sticky, and perfect snack. My aunt took me there during my Anglophile phase and I never lost my fondness for a good toasty crumpet. At Market Spice I was able to pick up a bag of their famous tea, rich with orange and cinnamon which was a favorite of mine growing up.

Though the kids found it dull as anything, I was loving all the gorgeous produce. But after a fair amount of aimless wandering we found ourselves good and hungry and needing a proper meal. With all three of The Picky Ones giving input, choosing a lunch spot was tedious as no one could agree on anything. We tried one of the venerable old restaurants in the middle of the market but once seated we were rather abruptly moved from a perfectly nice booth with a lovely view to a table back in an upstairs corner with a view of cleaning supplies. After the move we were ignored by the waitress, which gave a us a long time to contemplate a menu that, though extensive, grew rather less appealing with each reading. Despite rumbling stomachs, we (politely) up and left in the hopes of escaping an unpleasant and overpriced meal. I'd run out of patience for juvenile kvetching and made everyone grab a stool at Piroshky Piroshky which proved to be a brilliant move. The kids had the potato and onion pastries which were hearty and savory and absolutely without surprises or green matter so they were happy. My selection was filled with deeply browned onions and cabbage that was sweet and delicious. The pastry dough was both light and rich and had I not been perfectly satiated I might have sampled some of their sweet pastries which also looked divine. If I hadn't been so busy hoovering down my food I might have taken a photo or two. I wish I had because in addition to being extremely tasty, the piroshki were also very pretty.

Once fed I made a stop at Beecher's Cheese for some of their Flagship cheese. I was quite proud of my foresight because I even remembered an insulated lunch bag just in case anything needing needing to be chilled caught my eye. Later I couldn't pass up a giant molasses cookie at Cinnamon Works bakery which had the perfect chewy/crunchy thing going on and had just a bit of a kick from the ginger.

All in all it was a fine day, a perfect little escape, and a lovely chance to share some of my childhood memories with my kids.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Old Favorite

A simple dinner tonight: creamy polenta topped with garlicky sauteed chard and crumbled sheep's milk feta. There's not a whole lot to say about this dish except that it's easy, healthy, and delicious. My friend Laura and I often share this meal when we're lucky enough to spend the day together.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Macaroni and Cheese

Passover is rapidly approaching and I find that my cupboards are still brimming with chametz, the various grain products that Jews are prohibited from eating or possessing during the eight day holiday. Forbidden foods include oats, barley, corn, and the vast number of wheat related products that we rely so heavily on: bread, pasta, tortillas, crackers, and so on. While I rather enjoy having a week that's so very distinct from the rest of the year, getting ready is rather tiresome.

A dish of delicious homemade macaroni and cheese could serve two purposes: using up pasta and reviving my spirit for there's little in this world I love more than a good homemade macaroni and cheese. It's taken me years to settle on just the right formula. Many pounds of perfectly good cheese have been wasted in the search for the perfect mac. I settled on Jack Bishop's recipe (with a few alterations) sometime last year and haven't looked back. His preference is for more bread crumbs and I prefer somewhat fewer and with a garlicky kick. He's adamant about specific cheeeses and I am far more flexible with good old Tillamook cheddar often providing the bulk of the cheesy goodness. My take on Mr Bishop's fine recipe is here.

The pickiest of The Picky Ones won't touch homemade macaroni and cheese with a ten foot pole. Announcing my dinner plans, he began to work himself up into a frenzy of indignant kvetching about how I never make anything he can eat. I regularly offer to teach him to make anything he thinks he could choke down but his general response to that is a rather loud refusal. Oddly enough he decided he'd try this time so while I made our macaroni and cheese, he made a simple red sauce and we were able to use up two pounds of pasta in one meal. The yummy macaroni was served with leftovers of what we now refer to as Orangette carrot salad followed by slices of leftover orange cake. All in all, a perfect little meal.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

An Indian Supper

I spent much of the afternoon in an overstuffed chair at a cafe with a new library find: The Indian Spice Kitchen by Monisha Bharadwaj. This treasure covers, in delicious detail, the spices, herbs, produce, and other ingredients that make the cuisines of India so distinctive and includes a couple of recipes to highlight each ingredient. Needless to say, dinner would be Indian. We made a quick stop at the local Vietnamese market for ginger, chiles, cabbage, cilantro, and a few other things because, naturally, surrounded by all that produce, the menu just kept growing in my mind.

I came home and whipped up the following three dishes: Punjabi aloo, chana masala, and spiced cabbage. Aloo means potatoes, and this dish is the first Indian dish I mastered years ago using a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. It's very versatile and can be made in a number of different ways. Sometimes I add peas for color, greens for the vitamins, or chickpeas for extra protein. It hardly matters what you do as the dish will still be delicious. You can find my take on the the original recipe here.

The chana masala I've written about before. I found the recipe on Orangette a few weeks ago and have now made it 4 times. It never disappoints, especially reheated for breakfast.

As for the cabbage, it was a snap. I heated some coconut oil and added mustard seeds, waiting until they popped. Then into the pan went a thinly sliced red bell pepper and a good pinch of turmeric. Once the pepper was soft I added half of a green cabbage, very thinly sliced along with a pinch of salt. I stirred and fried until the cabbage was soft and sweet.

Early on in the process I'd thrown some rinsed basmati rice into my darling little rice cooker along with a broken cinnamon stick and a few crushed cardamom pods. Of course I wished for some freshly baked flat breads and a nice chutney or two, but this was spur of the moment and I was quite happy with the meal I'd whipped up. I think The Picky Ones ate sandwiches, which left us with lots of tasty leftovers.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Egg Salad

Egg salad? What's the big deal, right? Who doesn't know how to make egg salad? But this egg salad is something special.

I'm not a very enthusiastic egg eater but my doctor is now urging me to consume what strikes me as an insane amount of protein. I think she'd be happy if I consumed half a cow a day. She knows my feelings on meat and has consequently encouraged me to up my egg intake.

You won't see me wolfing down a plate of scrambled, fried, or over-easy eggs. I like my eggs hidden, disguised, tucked away. A sandwich is perfect but the standard, bland, full-of-mayonnaise egg salad has never really done much for me. Years ago I read the wonderful memoir Miriam's Kitchen in which author Elizabeth Ehrlich explores both the spiritual and culinary sides of Judaism at the side of her mother-in-law, a Holocaust survivor. I loved the book, but all I ever cooked from it was the egg salad which is so distinctive that it really has little to do with the pale yellow goo we call by that name. This egg salad is special, you need to plan ahead just slightly and everyone who eats it will ask for more.

It starts, as so many good things do, with lots of deeply browned onions. Three or four onions to half a dozen eggs is a good ratio. Slice them thin or dice and then sauté in a mixture of 2 tablespoons butter and the same amount of olive oil. Here is where you need patience because the darker and sweeter you let the onions get, the better the egg salad will be. Boil half a dozen eggs, cool, peel, and chop finely in a good sized bowl. When the onions are perfectly dark and sweet, scrape them along with all the pan oil over the eggs. Add salt and pepper to taste, along with finely chopped fresh dill. That's it, really.

I served this today along with some freshly baked honey-whole wheat rolls and it was just about perfect with the windows open and a lovely blossom-scented spring breeze drifting through the kitchen . The friends who were supposed to come for lunch were unable to make it (now they know what they missed!) but we enjoyed the meal nonetheless.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Not even a recipe

...more of a reminder, really, that such simple, tasty things exist. When I was pregnant with my daughter 5 years ago I gave up coffee, wanting to do what I could to make up for the ancient, broken down body the poor child had to grow in. But I never lost my need for something warm to get my day started. Most mornings during that winter and early spring I'd make hot chai-spiced milk sweetened with a touch of honey. I have no idea why tonight it struck me as the perfect follow up to a delicious pizza 'festosa' from Pizzicato but once the little one was asleep and the males of the family headed downstairs to watch a movie, I wanted nothing else to keep me company as I do some writing and catch up on what's going on in the world.

Heat milk (even faux milk works) with a dash each of ground cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger and the tiniset bit of freshly ground black pepper. Add a splash of honey and, if you're feeling extravagant, half a vanilla bean. Simmer gently for 10 minutes or so and squeeze the vanilla seeds from the pod into the milk. Drink slowly from your very favorite cup--mine was appropriated from my husband who bought it at a ceramics sale last December. It's without a handle and has darling little feet. I'd never use it for coffee but it's my vessel of choice for anything warm and milky.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Dinner

It must have been this morning's 4 mile walk that caused me to be ravenous enough at midday to plot out a relatively complex meal for dinner. It wasn't really a complex meal in the least, but since I've been spending so little time in the kitchen lately, it felt like a big deal.

I started some bread and then went to Jack Bishop's A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen for inspiration. The recipes are simple, use relatively few ingredients, and make the most of seasonal produce. I ended up making a salad of tiny lentils with dill and feta and served a pecan and arugula pesto over fresh linguine. I wasn't thrilled by either dish but I think the lentils will improve overnight. The pesto was just a bit odd, I guess. I love the flavor of arugula with mixed greens in a salad or tucked into a sandwich, but the heat of the pasta caused that distinctive flavor to dissipate and the final dish just Not a bad thing, but not what I was hoping for.

The surprise was dessert. While I am in no hurry for Passover to be here, I am mindful that the holiday is approaching and there's quite a bit of flour around here needing to be used up so I spent some time with King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking which I'd recently checked out from the library. It's a huge book full of all kinds of things, but the whole grain orange cake caught my eye. Made mostly with whole wheat pastry flour, it was delightful: moist, light, and with a heavenly orange aroma. It had tasty glaze which surely would have made a white flour cake cloying but took this more substantial cake from sturdy to special. The resident teen was only to happy to gobble it down, as were the rest of us (in a slightly more restrained fashion). The recipe is here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Not a Lot of Cooking Going On

Weekends are one thing....but now it's Tuesday. The last of the chana masala over freshly steamed basmati rice was a perfect breakfast. I really did think about cooking some proper food for everyone today but the sun was out and the garden was begging for attention. With any luck I'll be writing in a few months about the fruits of my lovingly tended blueberries. So far I haven't really had much luck with them, but I think last year's early February warm spell followed by a hard freeze really threw things off.

I could have cooked lunch. I should have cooked lunch. But with the sun shining and my tax refund newly deposited I thought it was surely time for lunch out. I gathered up the kids and we met The Spouse for lunch at Bumblekiss, my favorite tiny restaurant in NE Portland. They have a huge menu with lots of choices even for those who avoid meat and mushrooms. I've had a number of delicious pasta dishes there. Today I chose the rigatoni with blue cheese, broccoli, and toasted almonds. It was delicious. Sitting outside in the warm, almost-spring sunshine it was a heavenly meal.

But this gets me no closer to my goal of making good, healthy everyday food for my family.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Miraculous Chana Masala and Butterscotch Layer Cake

This morning I made uppma for the third time this week. I am hooked! Today's version had bell pepper and peas and I forgot the cashews. I chopped a few and sprinkled them on after the fact, but I much prefer the texture when they're sauteed early on.

I spent much of today reading food blogs, trying to learn a thing or two. There are so many great writers out there! I've always loved Orangette, surely one of the best of the best: lovely writing, beautiful photos, tempting recipes, and a format that is easy to navigate. While visiting there today I looked up a chana masala recipe from some time back, gave it a try and I was not disappointed. It was easy enough to make and turned out absolutely delicious over steamed basmati rice. That would have been enough for me but an actual miracle occurred when I placed it on the table. Neither boy turned up his nose. There were no disparaging comments, and no one went off in search of the peanut butter. They actually ate the richly sauced chickpeas, "weird" spices and all.

That unexpected blessing put me in a fine enough mood to tackle a cake I've long wanted to make. Butterscotch Layer Cake (another Nigella Lawson item) always sounded divine but that bit about making caramel always threw me. I've done it before, but I always find it ridiculously stressful as you stand over the stove and wait and wait and check to see if it's dark enough yet but it's not and you wait some more and then it's burned and you have to start all over again. That whole routine makes me grumpy.

I guess I felt unusually strong this evening. I held out until the caramel just barely smelled burnt and the resulting sauce was delicious and disaster free. The cake itself was not spectacular, it was rather nondescript. Also, while I was certain that I had 8" cake pans, they were nowhere to be found. There's probably a box of baking items somewhere that failed to return from Passover exile--it happens every year--but I foolishly thought I could wing it in 9" pans. And, of course, the cakes were thin and skimpy looking. I was trying to think some way to improve the height factor when bananas came to mind. Nigella even suggests the option of inserting dead ripe bananas between the layers but I decided that bananas sauteed in butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar might be perfect. It wasn't--it was all too sweet and cloying but perhaps I'd simply done too much sampling of the splendid cream cheese-caramel icing. Everyone else was pretty happy with the cake.

Shabbos Dinner

One of my goals here is to work on my photography skills. I look at some of the food blogs out there and am blown away by the gorgeous photos. Me, I'm just learning so if it looks totally amateur, well, there's a pretty good reason for that. I keep thinking about how my way of seeing food has become so dull over the last few years and I really need to bring the color and the focus back into my kitchen. I'm hoping the photos are one way to enhance the whole process of making and enjoying food.

We had friends over for dinner last night. Friday night is the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, a time for rest and enjoyment and, ideally, a special meal. My only complaint about Friday night is that it comes on Friday night, after a long and busy week. When Friday afternoon rolls around I'm rarely in the mood for a long stint in the kitchen, especially when it's just us (as if there's anyone more important than my family). So, because I enjoy Beth and Liz immensely, and because I really was ready to do some cooking and hang out for hours around the dining table, I made the invitation and got down to bringing the meal together.

I was working with some dietary restrictions which affected my choices but this is how it shook out:

Challah (photo above, shaped and baked by my son)
Hungarian Sweet Potato Soup
Individual Sharp Cheddar Custards
Roasted Multicolored Potatoes
Fruit Salad (pineapple, blueberries, clementines, and Manila mango)
Green Salad (red leaf lettuce, homegrown arugula, carrot, scallions)
Molten Chocolate Babycakes

It was a good meal, not at all difficult to prepare, a little heavy on the custard cups but who can't use a few more tiny Pyrex bowls, right?

I wanted to share the recipes for the soup and the dessert as they have been enthusiastically received by anyone who's eaten them. The soup comes from Passionate Vegetarian, a giant treasure trove of meatless recipes that a good friend recently gave me. This is a delicious soup, rich with the flavors of sauteed leek, dill, and lots of sweet paprika. I first made it to share with friends on a crisp autumn night in a sukkah where it was happily gobbled down by everyone including the pickiest of my three picky offspring who now regularly asks for it. I've made it a number of times since and have somewhat streamlined the author's original process with no ill effects.

The dessert is really only appropriate for people who really, really love chocolate. As I was making it up last night I realized how much like truffle filling the batter is, so be warned. But with a bit of freshly whipped cream and a piping hot cup of coffee I can't think of a better ending to a meal.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


The Jewish holiday of Purim is rapidly approaching which means two things around here: a scramble for costumes and baking hamantashen. Hamantashen are the customary Purim treat for Jews of Eastern European origin. Triangular pastries enclosing tasty fillings, they are said to represent the pockets (or ears) of Haman, the evil villain in the Purim story.

One thing I truly enjoy about living Jewishly is that time is marked in many ways, including through specific foods. Some have longstanding traditions behind them, others I've made traditional for our family. I only make latkes and doughnuts at Chanukah, I only have lemon curd at Passover, and I only make hamantashen at Purim.

There are probably hundreds of recipes out there for hamantashen dough but I was lucky to find this one early on in my holiday baking experience. It's an easy dough, fragrant with the aroma of fresh orange which compliments traditional fillings perfectly. I've never had any reason to look at any of the other dough recipes because this one is delicious and a snap to make with a food processor.Many people fill their hamantashen with jam or even canned pie filling, both of which are too sweet for my tastes. I like to make fillings from poppyseeds, apricots, prunes, and, for the kids, there are always a few filled with bittersweet chocolate chips which go splendidly with the orange-scented dough. Filling recipes are here. Hamantashen are not the simplest thing to make. Admittedly, they're a bit fiddly and time-consuming. But for a once yearly treat, they're hard to beat.