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.