Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snowstorm Soup

I know, I know--not very pretty, is it? But it's tasty so read on......

We've been pretty much housebound for four days now. We were able to send the boys through the snow to the local beer and cigarette emporium we fondly call The Crappy Mart for milk and eggs of questionable quality but otherwise it's all about the pantry.

In honor of our epic arctic blast (the most snow in 40 years!) I'm calling last night's dinner Snowstorm Soup. It's a tomato-based lentil and pasta soup with a sample of all the vegetables in the house. When cooked together long enough my picky kids hardly realize they've consumed bok choi and sweet potatoes. They key was having some of last summer's basil pesto tucked away in the freezer. Hearty and warming, this is just the thing for a chilly, snowbound evening meal. Try serving it with a crusty no knead baguette and I don't think you could ask for more.

The recipe can be found here. I hope it warms you on a frozen night some day soon.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Bread Pudding

At the risk of overdoing it, I'm going to share yet another delicious bread pudding with you all. I wish I could talk about my Chanukah donuts but they were so weird that for the first time in recorded history, we had some left over this morning and that was with three teenage boys in the house last night. I don't know what happened but I'm blaming it on the yeast and moving on.

This morning, as I watched the sky dump white stuff for the third day in a row and looked through our remaining provisions I came across last Friday's challah, some heavy cream nearing its due date, and a few bananas. Just like that, a new bread pudding was born and, my friends, this was a winner.

I started with bananas briefly sauteed in butter, sweetened with dark brown sugar and finished with dark rum. I tipped these into a dish of cubed challah and topped with a custard of eggs, heavy cream, and vanilla. Another sprinkle of brown sugar produced a sweet, crunchy topping and my goodness, this was delicious! It was just the thing to have come out of the oven when my intrepid husband returned home after his two hour long attempt at getting to work. He never made it, but got to have bread pudding and a cozy nap instead so I think it all worked out for the best, don't you?
You'll find my recipe here and I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Rice Pudding for a Chilly Day

I'm not a very enthusiastic meat eater mostly because I don't much like the smell of cooking flesh or the way most meat feels in my mouth and this meat has never really been part of my cooking repertoire. As we transitioned to a kosher kitchen, meat meals came to mean more fuss and trickier meal planning. The laws of kashrut forbid mixing meat and dairy and thus we have two sets of dishes, utensils, and cookware. And meat meals tend to be followed by not so spectacular desserts given that there can be no butter, cream, or other dairy products.

I could never eat meat again and be just fine but when my growing children request it, I try to respect their wishes, which is how I ended up with a 5 lb organic free range (but not kosher) chicken in my cart on Friday. The same chicken spent a couple of hours roasting to perfection after being rubbed with fresh rosemary, olive oil, and tangerine juice and was declared delicious by everyone except me. This time around, oh irony of ironies, I was the picky one! We followed the meal with my non-dairy dessert standby: apple charlotte.

The leftover chicken became part of a stir-fry the next night but when the dessert request came I was stumped. But only briefly. I thought a coconut milk rice pudding with Indian spices might be just the thing and set about coming up with a recipe by combining elements from Claudia Roden and this recipe from the web. Coconut milk makes a fine alternative to milk without all the weird additives in most milk substitutes. This dish takes a bit of patience since it calls for cooking the rice in the milk rather than working with leftover rice as in many rice pudding recipes. But the result is lovely: thick and creamy and slightly exotic and perfect with a steaming mug of masala chai on a chilly night. You'll find the recipe here.

Friday, November 28, 2008


While working on my contributions to Thanksgiving dinner yesterday I got a mad hankering for bagels. Nice, chewy, highly imperfect but always satisfying homemade bagels.

I first made bagels eons ago while in college. Our chilly little apartment grew warm and steamy as we boiled then baked our first attempts. They were ugly: dimpled and deflated and a little bit clammy to the touch. But the taste was great and they had a wonderful chewiness to them.

Once I was given my bread machine I decided that it was perfect for bagels. The dough is much stiffer than for regular loaf bread and very heard to work by hand so I was happy to let the machine do the work for me. The resulting bagels were a bit nicer to look at. There was still the dimpling problem but they did rise better. And they tasted great.

I'd been wanting to try the no-knead bagels in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I got the book back in June and quickly became hooked on the dough for baguettes and pizza. I confess I haven't done much else but the standard baguette recipe alone was worth the price of the book.

The bagel recipe, as it turns out, is almost exactly the same dough as for the pizzas and baguettes I've made. It is much softer than other bagel doughs I've worked with but it has the same relaxed timetable as other doughs in the book. I mixed it up last night, let it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours, and then put in the refrigerator overnight. This morning I got up, put a big pot of water on to boil, preheated the oven and began shaping bagels. Because the dough is so soft, it's a bit tricky to handle, especially given the need to boil before baking. The bagels were quite floppy after boiling and getting them onto the baking stone in the oven was no picnic, but in the end they were fine.

Having the dough ready to go shaved a good 90 minutes off the process which was a big help in terms of eating before noon. They still came out dimpled and funny looking but with a good dusting of poppy or sesame seeds, who's to know? They were devoured before they even reached room temperature so I think the flavor made a stronger impression than looks.

I'm posting the recipe here, but I really do encourage you to get your hands on the book as it is a wealth of information on this easy, low stress form of bread baking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Amazing Potatoes

I think I've mentioned here my undying love for potatoes. I can eat them baked, boiled, fried, roasted, and mashed and never ever get tired of them so it's a wonder I ever come up with anything new in the potato department. Why bother when there are already so many fine ways to cook a spud?

The other night I came home from work to a small pile of baked potatoes awaiting me. Normally I would have been happy to eat them just like that. I love to make hash browns with leftover baked potatoes, too. But I was craving something complex and spicy and thus a new dish was born. Actually, it's probably not a new dish at all. I imagine there are variations of this all over India and they're probably even tastier. Nonetheless I'll call this my own creation since I was improvising away with nary an Indian cookbook in sight.

And I have to say--I struck gold! This is one of those dishes that has everything I need: heat, color, and a savory blend of spices that's hard to resist. But it's not a long simmered curry with multiple steps and stages. If you have baked potatoes on hand you can have this on your plate in under half an hour. And oh how happy you'll be.Two slightly odd ingredients which I hope won't put you off. First: tamarind concentrate. I have something called Tamicon which isn't hard to find in Asian groceries. It's thick like molasses but with a serious tang to it. If you can't find any near you, I imagine a good squeeze of lemon would give you the sour you need for this dish. Or you could just quickly order a jar from Amazon!

The other thing you'll need is fresh curry leaves. Or fresh curry leaves that have been frozen. Any Indian market should have them and here in Portland I am delighted to report that they can be found on the east side at Fubonn on SE 82nd. I am so happy to have these available a few blocks from where I work as before I had to make a 30 mile round trip journey in search of curry leaves. Which actually seemed quite reasonable. Once you start cooking with then you'll find them irreplaceable as they add a distinctive savory flavor to any dish. Buy a bunch and when you get home, rinse the leaves, shake them dry, then strip the leaves from the stems. Packed in a heavy ziplock bag they'll keep in the freezer for months.

You'll find the recipe here. I have eaten these heavenly potatoes twice this week with a big dollop of good yogurt. And I've been very happy. I hope you love them, too.

Let me know. Please? There has been rather a dearth of comments here at Magpie Eats and I am wondering if anyone is out there and trying my food.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Warming Soup for a Cold, Wet Day

It occurred to me that this blog has gotten really dessert heavy. It's not so much that all we eat are desserts but more that my kids are likelier to try new desserts than anything else. I can safely experiment in the world of sweets but deviating from the few savory foods they like seems to get me in no end of trouble.

But sometimes I just don't care. Which is why today I made up a simple, spicy soup which they will likely deem unfit for consumption. Too bad for them--more for me!

It's gray and soggy here in Portland, entirely typical for late November. Just the kind of day that makes a person want something hearty and warming and this soup is just the thing, thick with potatoes and a bit spicy from chorizo.

For those who think I've given up kashrut--fear not. It's a meatless chorizo I found at Trader Joe's and while I generally avoid soy based meat analogs, this seems like just the way to use such things. Of course I'm sure it would be delicious with pork based chorizo as well. I think I've seen chicken chorizo though if it's stuffed in a pork casing I won't be trying it.

As far as I can tell, this is a vegetarian version of the classic Portuguese dish caldo verde, but I only realized that after putting everything together. In any event, it is rich and spicy enough to take the chill off a cold November evening.

Do give it a try and let me know what you think. The recipe is here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Carrot Halvah

Yikes! It's been a little while since I've shared anything with you, hasn't it?

I had a number of things I wanted to write about but (and this is going to sound so lame) all my photos were stinky. The dishes I'm thinking of were not exactly photogenic and on top of that, the lighting was horrible. Really. We've had lots of dark skies and rainy days lately and none of my photos were remotely appetizing. I so want one of these in my kitchen for the cloudy days but I can't exactly call it a necessity.

Anyway--the sun came out again today just in time for me to show you one of the most brilliantly exotic dishes I know: carrot halvah. It's not halvah in the Israeli sesame seed sense, but a dense, sweet, highly flavored delight which makes a perfect ending to an Indian meal with a cup of spicy chai. Also, it's not bad for breakfast.

Long, gentle cooking is the key here so while it's not a complex recipe, do make sure you can pay attention as it's cooking. You will be rewarded with a sweet, buttery delight absolutely bursting with the flavor of freshly crushed cardamom.

If you ignore all the sugar and ghee, and focus on the many benefits of carrots, you can really feel good about this one. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fast Food

At sundown tonight we, like other observant Jews around the world, begin a 25 hour fast in observance of Yom Kippur. Not surprisingly, all I can think about is food.When I am healthy I find fasting to be a very intense but satisfying experience which is magnified by being in community with others who are in the same place.

Yom Kippur is an intense day and removing distractions (like eating) does help me focus on the spiritual work of the day. I don't have too much trouble fasting apart from the demon caffeine but I've been 100% decaf for months now so I don't expect any raging headaches. However, this will be the first year both of my boys will join me in the fast. As one pointed out, this milestone is the down side of the bar mitzvah. I am concerned about how they will handle and have tried to make sure they go into this well fed and happy--or as happy as teens can be when stuck in services all day long.

When I asked what they wanted for their last meal, brisket was promptly suggested. I ordered a 4 pound hunk of beef from our local natural foods store and sent The Spouse to pick it up the other night. They couldn't find the reserved brisket under his name or under mine, but finally handed him the wrapped meat that had been set aside for "Nice Lady" which I found most amusing. I'm so glad someone thinks so.

I fast best when I've eaten heartily the day before, not just just that final dinner, but the entire day. I craved something substantial but not bland when I woke up on this cool and foggy morning. Remembering the fresh chiles I picked up at the farmers market last weekend, I dug through the sheaf of recipes adorning my refrigerator to find a small slip of paper I picked up from the chile roaster at a different farmers market a few weeks ago. (Yes, we are blessed with an abundance of wonderful farmers markets here in Portland).

The recipe for green chile and potato gratin couldn't be simpler but the results are spectacular. I like potatoes in almost any form (though frozen and reheated is spud abuse) but this preparation yielded an especially fabulous result. The potatoes were lovely and soft with a slightly chewy top surface and the flavor of the chiles was vibrant and delicious. I had a hard time not eating the entire pan today. You'll find the recipe here.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Help! My Camera is Possessed!

It was a perfect kind of morning with nothing to do but cook for tonight's dinner in a a leisurely fashion and catch up on some housework. Since I never got to have a proper Rosh Hashana meal, I decided to make this week's Shabbat dinner more festive than usual. It's suddenly rainy and cool here, perfect weather for Elizabeth's Vegetarian Pastitsio which most of my family adores. I started a batch of apple challah and then moved on to dessert. I've never had a particularly good honey cake but they are the classic Rosh Hashana dessert so when Deb posted a recipe on Smitten Kitchen promising that this was unlike all other honey cakes, I took her at her word.

I tweaked the recipe slightly, most noticeably replacing the called for whiskey with rum and Cointreau as that's what I had on hand. Also, after reading all the comments about caved-in tops, I reduced the baking powder by one teaspoon and ended up with perfetly domed, golden, fragrant honey cakes. I was bummed that I failed to oil the corner of one pan properly and a little bit of the cake remained behind. But the unsightly wound in the cake allowed me a taste and yes, this is not like other honey cakes. I was excited to photograh my lovely, golden creations but my camera has apparently been taken over by demons. Not only did it refuse to focus properly, but it kept snapping pictures without my pushing the button, giving me weird images like these:Luckily there are the usual gorgeous shots over at Smitten Kitchen which are much more likely to inspire you to go into the kitchen than my own photos.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Nice Surprise

Maybe all the dire economic news is getting to me. For the last few weeks I've been cooking and canning, stocking my shelves and stuffing my freezer. It helps that a friend said I could come pick as many apples and Italian plums as I wanted. We now have applesauce, plum jam, and numerous containers of slow-cooked tomato sauce to brighten our winter meals.

After I filled the slow cooker one last time this morning I sat down and caught up on some of my favorite food blogs. 101 Cookbooks had something called Nikki's Healthy Cookies which caught my eye in that they're both wheat-free and vegan. I personally love my wheat and never turn down dairy or eggs, but I often find myself in the position of needing to feed people on more restrictive diets. I recently read Shauna James Ahern's Gluten-Free Girl and found it a real eye opener, making me both grateful for my relatively easy diet and full of compassion for those who have to turn down so many of the things I regularly enjoy. However, I am as yet unwilling to invest in a pantry full of the expensive and esoteric alternative baking supplies her baked goods call for.

I used to regularly be part of a knitting group that met weekly. I loved getting up early on Wednesday mornings to make the treat of the day be it cheese scones or babka. As time went by numbers dwindled and the steady members adopted increasingly restrictive diets. My ability to bring food to share was limited either to frankly unsatisfying packaged gluten-free "treats" or fruit. I realize that this shouldn't matter but it really affected my feelings about these gatherings.

All of this is getting back to the point that even though I don't require gluten-free vegan treats, people that I love do and I'm happy to have something to feed them which is why I went back in to the kitchen today out of sheer curiosity and I am glad I did. These cookies are a delicious combination of appealing flavors and textures with ground almonds, coconut, and mashed banana. They're even sugar-free (apart from whatever chocolate you use). Sugar free? Vegan? Wheat free? I know, I know...they sound far too earnest to be tasty but you'd be silly not to try them the next time you have some bananas going brown in the fruit bowl.

And--here's a real news flash--Mr Pickiest of All Picky Children turned up his nose at these on his first pass through the kitchen but then came back, no doubt for the chocolate, and pronounced them "better than they look"! Given that this boy has some kind of built in sensor that calculates nutritional value and then rejects anything high on that scale, the fact that he happily downed a handful of these tasty nuggets is really saying something.
Nikki's Healthy Cookies on 101 Cookbooks. Yum!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Not Exactly Tasty

Normally I only write about the tastiest things from my kitchen but cold season is rapidly approaching and I decided today was a good day to share a great (but not exactly tasty) recipe with you. I wrote about it nearly two years ago on my other blog but I know I have some new readers who might appreciate this.

The Tonic is a fearsome brew of garlic, onion, horseradish, cayenne, and turmeric steeped in apple cider vinegar and eventually sweetened with honey. It's like salad dressing for Satan, really. It's hard to choke down but this stuff works. With its powerful combination of natural germ-fighters, it will kill the bugs that try to make you sick.

This needs to sit for3 or 4 weeks before it reaches full potency so run out and find yourself some fresh horseradish root today. Then when those sniffles start up in late October you will be prepared.

The recipe is here. Good luck.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Egg Curry

Thank goodness for Colleen who is not only responsible for my first taste of egg curry (made by her Indian mother-in-law)--she also reminded me to give it a try and gave me a copy of her favorite Indian cookbook where I found the recipe. What a friend!

I've made egg curry twice now and it's been absolutely heavenly: rich, complex, and hearty. I served it over basmati rice steamed with a cinnamon stick and a few crushed cardamom pods and it made a perfect meal.

This low budget cookbook is packed with a huge variety of recipes but leaves something to be desired in terms of instructions so I tried to re-work the recipe and make it somewhat more user friendly. Nonetheless, it may look a bit daunting. Full disclosure: the first page is just ingredients. But it's really not that hard and most definitely worth every ingredient.

You'll find my adapted recipe here. After typing all that out I think it might be time for another batch.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Saving Summer

I've been on break for two weeks and cooking up a storm. I have lots of tasty things to share with you but my photos have been stinky and I haven't found the time to tend to my blogs. I know--excuses, excuses.

One of these days, I'll sit down and write out the recipes for egg curry and piroshki, I promise. But until then, I have a late summer/early fall offering to tide you over (and make you very happy) in the meantime.

Is your garden overflowing with tomatoes? Mine is. Plus I was lucky enough to get a vacationing friend's CSA delivery for two weeks--more tomatoes! Though tomato sauce is a staple food around here, the thought of gently simmering a cauldron of tomato sauce for hours on end just didn't appeal to me during these warm late summer days. I inevitably get sidetracked while simmering sauces, resulting in a not-very-lovely scorched flavor. Mmmmm....

Wouldn't you know, the newspaper's food section came to my aid with a story on preserving summer's bounty with that most dowdy of devices: the crock-pot. Maybe you have one of the snazzy new ones? Mine is an earth-toned relic of the 70's complete with line drawings of herbs on the outside. It was old when it was given to me years ago but still works perfectly well.

The crock-pot method of making tomato sauce has numerous advantages. Your sauce can cook down to perfection without stirring because it won't scorch. It won't send bubbles of thick sauce all over your stovetop and your forearms. And it won't heat up the entire house on a late summer day. Having used the crock pot for apple and pear butter in the past, I knew it had potential in helping me handle the tomato avalanche.The recipe included in the newspaper wasn't quite what I wanted so, in classic form, I fiddled a bit as I went along, adding lots of garlic and upping the onions. I would imagine that bell peppers would make a fine addition.

I filled the crock pot with large chunks of tomato and cranked it up to high. Meanwhile I browned onions, garlic, celery, and carrot in a large skillet and then tipped it all in to the crock pot along with a bunch basil and another of parsley. The original recipe suggests throwing everything in the crock pot but I wanted a deeper flavor so I opted to brown the onions, celery, garlic, and carrots in a skillet. It was no big thing to use the stove for 20 minutes.

I covered the pot, and let it simmer for a couple of hours. Then I propped the lid slightly open with a wooden spoon so moisture could escape and proceeded to cook for 10 hours or so. Once cooled, I ran everything through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. I added a bit of salt to taste and then packaged everything up for the freezer. Filling my 6 qt stockpot gave me about 8 cups of delicious sauce.

The fist batch was made of all different types of tomatoes including many juicy slicers. The sauce was very tasty but took longer to cook than my second batch which used only paste tomatoes. It hardly matters. This is about the easiest thing in the world.

If you don't have a crock pot, ask around. Someone you know is bound to have one lurking on their pantry shelves. Offer them a pint of sauce in exchange for the loan. And then hang onto it and make another batch or two. I hate to say it but winter is coming. I know I want to go into it with a bit of summer saved.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Chocolate Cake To Go

The three month long family birthday season has come to an end. I didn't make Monkey Boy's 13th birthday cake--I left that to the good folks at New Seasons given that it had to serve 50 people at his bar mitzvah party. The Dark Lord got a classic chocolate layer cake which was notable in that it was devoured in under 10 minutes by a herd of teenage boys, some of whom had never, or so they told me, had a home baked cake before. I this possible? How sad. I've already promised one of them that I'd bake his birthday cake next year.

The Princess turned six last week and we celebrated with a beach trip. Relatives from both sides of the family joined us at Neskowin where the weather simply refused to cooperate. In short stretch of time the weather went from cool and misty to downright wet and rainy. Our potato chips grew soggy, sand stuck to everything, and we were all shivering by the time we packed it in and headed to my parents' hotel room.

But here's what went right: the birthday cake. I knew I couldn't schlep an iced, layered cake to the beach with any success but the birthday girl had asked from something of a chocolate-orange variety. What to do? Happily, Nigella saved the day with the Pantry Shelf Chocolate-Orange cake.

This cake is admittedly sturdy, but it's also delicious. There's an entire jar of marmalade stirred into the batter making for a cake that's slightly tart and chewy. I added a bit of extra sugar knowing that a 6 year old has slightly different tastes than us old folks, but it still wasn't too sweet.

I suppose one could frost this cake but it's not necessary. A simple dusting of powdered sugar did the trick this time around.

You'll find the recipe here. I hope you give it a try because it's very tasty.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

What's for Breakfast

I have this weird relationship with eggs. I think I can't stand them and if you put a plate of scrambled eggs or an omelette in front of me, chances are good I'll have to walk away. On the other hand, there have been a few well loved but rather bizarre egg dishes in my life proving that I don't hate eggs, I just can't deal with them in their simplest forms.

My dad used to poach eggs in milk and serve them over shredded wheat with lots of butter, salt, and pepper. This used to horrify my husband, but now he's a convert as there's nothing better on a cold morning.

In college I frequently made and ate a dish I called SPEGS (slimy potato egg stuff) which involved cracking an egg or two over home fries with cheese and onions and was absolutely delicious as long as the egg wasn't too cooked, hence the slimy part. I know...weird.

When I was pregnant with my second child, a neighbor kept us well supplied with fresh eggs. I mostly avoided them until it occurred to me to hard boil them and make them into into tacos topped with liberal dollops of Mrs. Renfro's green salsa. This I never converted my husband to--he remains horrified to this day. However I once ate a classic dish of hard boiled eggs wrapped in tortillas in Yucatan so I wasn't not completely off base though I imagine no self-respecting Yucateco would have touched my crazy pregnant version.

Lately, in my ongoing attempt to eat more protein, I'm hitting the eggs again. Eggs can give me the same problem that nearly all meats do. I'm not really opposed to eating either, but the smell of them cooking tends to leave me too nauseated to think about eating. Aren't I just about the craziest person ever?

Anyway, the trick for me is to hide the eggs as much as possible. Lately I've been making a big mess in a skillet that has so much happening it's hard to even notice the eggs. I think the original inspiration for this dish came from Joe Esparza who, in the early days of his very successful restaurant, would make migas for me and it was an astounding breakfast. There's a great post here that goes into the nuances of various torn tortilla dishes should you care to dig deeper. We just tend to call the dish tortilla eggs.

My quickie version is rarely the same from one time to the next though corn tortillas, eggs, chiles, and cheese are all required components. Sometimes I like it on the mild side but lately smoky ground chipotle is making me very happy. Late summer additions have included diced zucchini and corn kernels. Though no real recipe is required for a seat-of-your-pants dish like this, my best approximation is here.

This dish has so much going on that the eggs pretty well get lost for me but the explosion of flavors and textures is spectacular. I'm sure you'll find a way to make tortilla eggs your own.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Chocolate Sorbet

Does chocolate sorbet sound good to you?

I thought "eh". It sounded thin, watery, just not worth trying. But then Deb at Smitten Kitchen wrote a rapturous post about it and I've never known her to lead a reader astray in the dessert department so I gave it a try. Yum.

It's another David Lebovitz recipe from The Perfect Scoop. It's simple as can be: sugar,water, cocoa, and chocolate. No dairy. Which means that all my vegan, allergic, and kosher keeping friends should be very happy to have this recipe. It does pack a serious chocolate punch that's as good as the chocolate you choose. I'm not very fancy--Trader Joe's bittersweet Pound Plus bars do the trick for me at a fraction of what you'd pay for the fancy stuff. But I'm sure the fancy stuff would work, too.

The reprinted is recipe is here and I strongly suggest you get started making this today. It's that good.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Fruit Happy

Summer is here and I am in sticky, juicy, fruity heaven. Last weekend I bought some of the first peaches and apricots, 3 pounds of cherries and a whole flat of late strawberries. It's hard to declare a winner. The peaches and apricots weren't up to their full flavor yet but having to choose between the berries and the cherries would be tough.

I've seen lots of tasty looking recipes using fresh cherries but honestly all that pitting doesn't hold any appeal when I could just gobble them down as is and gleefully spit the pits out. And that's just what I've been doing, for days on end. I don't know how many more times I can hit the farmers market and stock up so I will gobble while I can.

In my cherry stupor I almost missed the strawberries altogether. I'd gotten a box here and there but when I went looking for full flats to freeze at my local farmers market there were none to be had. I headed north to another market and I was in luck. I found someone selling flats of deep crimson colored Tillamook strawberries which are highly fragrant and extremely tasty. Half of them immediately went into the freezer for midwinter smoothies. We ate many of the remaining berries as is, some went into a cobbler along with rhubarb from our garden, and I made the last two boxes into a truly special frozen treat.I've written before about David Lebovitz' fantastic book The Perfect Scoop. This man knows his frozen desserts like nobody's business. I had all the ingredients for his strawberry frozen yogurt on hand and I made up a double batch yesterday. It is so tasty. I think these were just about the most flavorful berries ever, and mixed with creamy whole milk yogurt and a dash of Cointreau--there's nothing better on a warm night. This does require the use of an ice cream maker but surely you have one by now, right? If not, the Donvier machine is simple and effective. I've been using mine for 13 years without a hitch.
You'll find the recipe here. Let me know how it goes. Also--is anyone having trouble accessing the recipes? Is the hosting site bombarding you with annoying ads? Things seem to be changing there and I'm not so sure that's where I want to keep my recipes. Any suggestions?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Barley Salad

My goodness it's been hot here the last few days. Really hot, the kind of heat that I take personally. There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for this as far as I'm concerned and it makes me lethargic and grumpy. And strangely hungry. Because the fact is, there are only so many cool drinks and smoothies I can consume before I realize that I really haven't eaten much of anything at all.

I'm always on the lookout for a good, substantial salad that can be made ahead and kept cool in the refrigerator. No one in my family will touch potato salads and pasta salads seem to get old fast. But leafing through my new copy of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian I came across a salad that looked substantial and and cooling with its dressing of lemon juice and fresh dill tossed with cooked barley, scallions, and chunks of cucumber.

We ate this the other night on the patio along with freshly baked challah, homemade mozzarella, marinated carrots, lemony-garlic chickpeas, and fresh fruit. The barley salad was crunchy and toothsome and the yogurt and cucumbers somehow seemed to cool down the sweltering air.

This would make a lovely traveling dish, whether for a brown bag lunch, a potluck, or a picnic. The recipe is here. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


I just got my own copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and I am in love! I had it out from the library last month just long enough to experiment with the challah recipe which was delicious but kind of funny looking. Only this week did I start with the basic bread recipe and ....wow!

Here's the deal: you make a wet dough, let it rise once, and set aside until needed in the refrigerator. For days, if that's what works for you. No kneading, no proofing, no careful timing. The downsides are these: the wet dough can be tricky to work and you need to have space in the refrigerator to store the dough. If you can handle those, then give this book a look because the upsides are many: delicious, wholesome bread on your timetable with virtually no effort whatsoever.

While I love fresh bread as much as anyone, I am not one of those cooks to rhapsodize over the meditative glories of kneading dough. I freely admit to using a bread machine for making my family's challah week after week for most of the last 10 years though of course I braid it and bake it in the oven for the characteristic shape. And the machine has been a workhorse for turning out loaf after loaf of hearty, whole grain bread which is perfectly serviceable for sandwiches and toast. But the machine simply can't do anything in the realm of crusty peasant breads. And all the recipes I've looked at over the years involving numerous carefully timed rises and knock-downs, sponges and starters, and complex baking equipment left me cold.

The other afternoon, after I bought the book, I put some water, yeast, flour, and salt in a big bowl, stirred it together, and went to work. While I was gone, the rest of my family pulled off chunks of dough and and made numerous pizzas, some with standard mozzarella and tomato sauce, others with roasted red peppers, basil, and goat cheese. My kids have never gone for homemade pizza but everyone declared this to be the best pizza ever. So there.

I took the last of the dough and made a quick baguette this morning which was almost immediately devoured. I considered posting a video of the knife slicing through the crackling crust but without the aroma it wouldn't have been complete.

I immediately mixed a new batch of dough in the same bowl without washing so as to collect all the old dough bits and incorporate their sour flavor into the new dough. I am looking forward to experimenting with many of the recipes in the book and I encourage you to give it a look, too. Normally I would post a recipe at this point, but I think it's worth reading the book to get the technique down.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Meal for Midsummer's Eve

So we had a bar mitzvah last weekend. And fed somewhere around 100 people. There were bagels with whitefish salad, huge pans of spanakopita, quinoa salad, fruit, green salad, and hundreds cookies, nearly everything cooked by friends just for us. The night before the bar mitzvah, a very dear friend brought us a delicious Shabbat dinner of moussaka, asparagus, and tiny jewel-like pastries among other delights, with a spare pan of moussaka just in case. We've been eating well on all these leftovers and only last night did I really get around to cooking a proper meal after finally cleaning out the refrigerator.

There were lots of reasons to make something truly memorable. Our very dear friends are still staying with us, and not only was it Friday night which always calls for a special dinner, but it was also the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. The weather was lovely enough that I decided it was time to haul the trusty old Weber kettle out of the garage even though we're not big grill people. Maybe it's that we eat so little meat. And, honestly, it's kind of pain. We never seem to have charcoal on hand which wouldn't be such a big deal except that I won't eat food that tastes like gasoline so only Lazzari will do. Luckily it's easier to find than it used to be. And it seems to take forever to get enough heat to cook, after which the fire seems to fade all too quickly. Really, a big production and yet only the grill would do.

The meal I had in mind is a summer favorite of mine: grilled vegetables with a basil aïoli. I confess that my usual approach to this tasty sauce has been to mix crushed basil and garlic in to store bought mayonnaise but, perhaps feeling a bit too full of myself, I decided yesterday was the day to make my own from scratch. I started using Mark Bittman's basic mayonnaise recipe from this book, met with utter failure, and saved it using Deborah Madison's instructions from this book. Despite a few pitfalls and blender-induced temporary hearing loss, in the end I had a beautiful, velvety and perfectly emulsified sauce that made the grilled eggplant, zucchini, and peppers sing. To complete our feast, we had fresh challah, Orangette's simple but insanely tasty chickpea salad, a variety of cheeses, and the first summer fruits of the season. Of course we ate outside next to my bubbling washtub fountain surrounded by the sound of birds tucking in for the evening. You simply can't do better than this: tasty food and dear friends on an early summer evening. I'll give you a recipe for what I made but of course you can use this approach to grill and serve anything your heart desires. Just make sure to enjoy it outside, on a perfect evening with people you really love.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Love This

I received the following in the comments:

This blog could be more exciting if you can create another topic that everyone can relate on.

Who can't "relate on" food?

This blog would be more exciting if I cooked more often and had more to write about. And if the spambots went away.......

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Salsa Verde

If you keep up with my other blog at all, you know that my son's bar mitzvah is coming up in a matter of, well, days. So there hasn't been a great deal of excitement on the cooking front. A lot of pasta, salads, smoothies, and veggie juices as we try to get one kid through final exams and another ready for his big day on Saturday.

But when your kid says, "Mom, your green salsa is the best. You'll make it for my bar mitzvah party, right?", what's a mother to do? In addition to buying 3 pounds of coffee, 2 bottles of Manischevitz, numerous 6-packs of Hansen's soda at the supermarket today, I added a few pounds of tomatillos, some fat jalapeños, limes, and a few bunches of scallions to the party supplies in my cart. Because if my kid wants my salsa verde for his bar mitzvah party, you can bet he's going to get it.

This particular salsa is thick and tangy. The tomatillos are very gelatinous so you want this to come to room temperature before serving or it's just a bit weird. Obviously the heat can be managed by your use of chiles, but then again, you never know when you're going to get surprise firecracker. The tomatillos and chiles are roasted but that's the only time consuming part. Then everything is tossed in the blender and whizzed until smooth. So simple, and so very tasty. My recipe is here. Do give it a try.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bengali Inspired Greens

Have you seen this book? While I have no shortage of Indian cookbooks in my collection, this is the one I dream about owning. I haven't bought it because it's huge and expensive and unwieldy and frankly so gorgeous that I'd be hesitant to bring it into my kitchen and slop it up with turmeric and coconut oil. Instead, I check it out from the library in fairly regular rotation, then lie around and the couch, lazily leafing through the pages, gazing at the stunning photographs, and idly wondering what it would be like to tramp around The Great Subcontinent for months on end.

Until today, my ritual with this book hasn't actually included cooking anything. How's that for irony? Despite the clarity of the recipes and the informative descriptions I think I felt somehow intimidated. But after working in the garden yesterday and noticing that we quite suddenly have mountains of rainbow chard about to bolt, the recipe for Bengali Spiced Greens caught my eye today.

I made up a small batch of panch phoron, a Bengali five-spice powder made up of cumin, nigella, mustard, fenugreek, and fennel seeds. Keeping a wide array of spices on hand makes it easy enough for me to make up fresh blends but I keep almost everything tightly sealed in zip-top bags in the freezer where the spices remain fragrant for a good long time, or at least until I can schlep across town to an Indian market and restock. The recipe said to use whole spices, but I gave everything a good bash with the mortar and pestle for good measure.

I cooked the panch phoron in some oil, added onion and garlic and cooked everything gently until good and soft. At the same time, I'd thrown some potatoes in the microwave to bake for a quickie version of the masala potatoes I use to fill dosas. When the potatoes were just about done, I added the greens to the onion and garlic spice paste and and cooked until everything was wilted but not cooked to death. With a bit of basmati rice and mango pickle, this was a delicious 20-minute lunch. The bright green chard and the brilliant turmeric-yellow potatoes looked gorgeous on the plate, making me almost feel OK about the rain starting up. Again.
The farmers markets around here have lots of locally grown greens right now. I think you'll find this a tasty way to prepare them. The recipe is here.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Is there anything in this world that's been more abused and mistreated than the cheesecake? I have come across so many cheesecakes that are overly sugary and flavored with far too heavy a hand. Mocha, grasshopper, raspberry, oreo....I'm sorry, but yuck.

I was raised on my grandmother's cheesecake, a simple thing of understated beauty which no one could top. She would happily make it for us whenever requested and it added something special to many of our family celebrations. But I'm not giving you her recipe. She wrote it out for me once but my results never resembled hers. I always kind of thought she left something major out of either the ingredient list or the directions, but she insists she gave me the very recipe she used. I long ago gave up on that one and have realized that there are some of her dishes whose flavor I'll never be able to duplicate.

But a number of years ago, craving the heavenly flavor of a simple cheesecake, I came across a recipe somewhere on the internet and have been using it ever since. The problem is I have no idea where the recipe came from and who should be praised. I feel terrible about this because this cheesecake is a marvel: simple to make and absolutely heavenly.

For those looking for a heavy crusted chocolate turtle mudslide experience, you'll need to look elsewhere. No crust here--just the simple flavor of sweet dairy with a hint of lemon and vanilla. Fresh strawberries served alongside are all the adornment needed but even they aren't truy necessary.If you've never tried making a cheesecake, this is where you want to start. There's no crust to muddle around with and as long as you can separate eggs you are good to go. Do plan ahead in that you want this cake chilled before unmolding and serving. The recipe is here. I'd love to hear how it goes for you.

Monday, April 28, 2008


About halfway through Passover I started craving granola which, being made of oats, is definitely on the forbidden list for the week. I tortured myself looking at recipes I couldn't make until Passover ended and finally purchased the needed ingredients yesterday. I still haven't switched my dishes, but by 9 o'clock last night I had a big batch of granola cooling on top of the stove.

I've made granola plenty of times and yet I 'm always delighted at how a good mix of ingredients and only the slightest effort produces something so much tastier than can be bought. I tried the recipe from Nigella Lawson's Feast which has gotten rave reviews all over the place and I wasn't disappointed. Yes, I know, there's an awful lot of Nigella around here what can I say? She 's never let me down.

Her granola recipe includes applesauce which seemed a little weird to me but I think it helps everything stick together without a frightful amount of oil and also softens the texture just enough that you don't fear cracking your teeth.
This batch was made with sliced almonds, cashews, pepitas, dried cherries and dried apricots. Yum. Surely you want to make some yourself. The recipe is here. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Matzoh Crack

We used to call it toffee matzoh around here, but the description from Smitten Kitchen seems to have taken hold this year and for good reason. This stuff is delicious and, yes, downright addictive. In fact, it's what gets us through the long, tedious, post seder days of Passover.

It takes all of 10 minutes to make and the only hard part is waiting for it to cool. Heat a stick of butter and a half cup of brown sugar in a saucepan and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add a pinch of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Set aside to cool. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil and cover completely with matzoh, breaking the sheets as necessary to fill in gaps. Spread the melted sauce evenly over the matzoh and pop into a 350 degree oven until caramel starts to bubble. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Wait 5 minutes or so, until the chocolate is soft, and spread evenly over matzohs. You can top the melted chocolate with chopped nuts if you like. Put trays in the refrigerator to cool. Then eat. Not all at once if you can help it.

I probably should have brought this up before the end of Passover, but the good news is you should be able to find marked down matzoh in stores now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iraqi Macaroons

The seder meal is rarely terribly innovative at my house, especially when I am serving to my older relatives. We start with gefilte fish and matzo ball soup and then move on to some kind of vegetarian main dish alongside brisket or chicken, allowing me and the kids who are concerned about such things to keep vegetarian while the meat eaters are satisfied, too. There's asparagus, tzimmes, and fruit salad as well along with charoset and horseradish.

Even dessert is pretty standard. Unless the holiday falls super early in the year and edible berries have yet to arrive on our supermarket shelves, I make a flourless sponge cake rolled around whipped cream and strawberries which, I'm sorry to say, does not photograph well. This year's berries were not so good, especially after the exuberantly fragrant ones we ate last month in San Jose, but liberal additions of sugar and vanilla brought them to life. Plus, when surrounded by clouds of whipped cream, what's not to like?

It was feeling a bit too formulaic for me this year and I started looking around for something to spice things up. While re-reading the Passover chapter in Nigella Lawson's Feast, I came across her recipe for Iraqi Macaroons which looked more or less like the standard homemade variety with the addition of freshly ground cardamom and rosewater. Freshly ground cardamom? I'm there!

Aren't they cute? So plump and nutty, and vaguely exotic. And they were the surprise hit of our seder. I thought they'd be politely declined (more for me!) but everyone requested a few in their take-home packages.

Do give these a try as they are quite delightful. Being quite sturdy I imagine they would likely travel well. Also, as I'm finding more and more folks eschewing wheat, I like having a few wheat free options for sharing. The recipe is here.