Middle Eastern Night

One of my favorite nights of the summer comes when my friend C. and I get together to cook.  We did it three years ago to celebrate Julia Child’s 100 birthday.  We did it last year and focused on Italian food and Lidia Bastianich .  This year, because I was given a great cookbook and she was given a beautiful tagine, we focused on Middle Eastern food.

The menu was:  stuffed grape leaves, a number of Israeli salads (roasted eggplant dip, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, corn salad, taboulegh, hummus), marinated grilled lamb with tzatziki, a chicken tagine, couscous with a lemon vinegrette, ptitim (pearl or Israeli couscous) and pita.  For dessert we had baklava and a Cake of Kohevet (Chocolate Nut Cake).  My HipstaPrint 987039433_39C. made the tagine and I’m hoping to get her over here to blog it out for you.  Meanwhile, I’ll toss you a few photos of it:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_92 My HipstaPrint 987039433_60She also made an amazing lamb chop.  Amazing.  She plated them as well, in a very professional manner.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_62 My HipstaPrint 987039433_83 My HipstaPrint 987039433_8 My HipstaPrint 987039433_71The salads all came from either my memory of working in Israel or from the Ballabosta cookbook I was given in April.  I feel a bit uncomfortable providing those here since I feel like it’s somehow a copyright violation but I encourage you to check out the cookbook.  It’s really fantastic.  And I’ll provide you with some photos of the salads.

First up is the eggplant salad that I’ve blogged about before as well as the traditional Israeli salad.

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My HipstaPrint 987039433_23My HipstaPrint 987039433_58From the cookbook I made a traditional corn salad:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_47 My HipstaPrint 987039433_68 My HipstaPrint 987039433_56 My HipstaPrint 987039433_77I also made traditional taboulegh.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_64The last recipe from the cookbook was for a cabbage salad.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_87 My HipstaPrint 987039433_12 My HipstaPrint 987039433_33Plus the couscous (small and large- I apparently forgot to photograph the large):

My HipstaPrint 987039433_50Oh, and I threw together humus, because why not?

My HipstaPrint 987039433_73The second couple that joined us brought homemade stuffed grape leaves and baklava.  So good, both of them.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_19 My HipstaPrint 987039433_81What I can give you the recipe for, however, is the amazing cake I made.  It is a cake of Kohevet and it was, once again, delicious.  Whenever I make one of her cakes, there is always a moment in which I doubt her.  I push through and she has never failed me.

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A reminder that when I work from her recipes, this is what I have:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_59So, this cake is in three stages.  The base dough, the filling and the topping.  Ingredients are organized accordingly.

Kohevet’s Chocolate Cake With Nuts

For the dough:

1 1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of sugar

100 grams (a touch more than 7 tablespoons) of salted butter (I used unsalted but added a pinch of salt to the dough)

1 egg yolk

Special equipment:  springform cake pan

For the filling:

200 grams (about 7 ounces) bittersweet chocolate

100 grams (a bit more than 7 tablespoons) butter (I used unsalted)

1/4 cup cold water

1 packet of plain gelatin (you won’t use all of it, maybe a teaspoon or so)

4 eggs separated

2 tablespoons brandy (I only used one)

2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder

1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, pecans and almonds)

2 tablespoons sugar

For topping:

2 cups heavy/whipping cream

2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar

Directions:

Make the dough.  Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (356 Fahrenheit).  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour sugar, butter and egg yolk.  It helps if the butter is soft and cut into small pieces.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_26I mixed in the butter with a fork, a pastry cutter and then my hands.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_3I then added the egg yolk.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_24It will be a dough that sticks together if you press it- kind of like a shortbread.  Grease your springform pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_57Press 2/3 of the dough into the pan to form the bottom.  If the dough isn’t stiff enough, add another spoon or two of flour and then press it into the sides of the pan to form the crust.  I didn’t need to so you’ll have to eyeball it yourself.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_67Bake for 15-20 minutes or until it is a golden brown.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_44Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a double boiler, heat the chocolate and butter.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_34While it is melting, combine the gelatin and the cold water in a small bowl.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_76When the chocolate and butter are melted, smooth and combined,

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add the water/gelatin and cook for about two minutes.  Then take it off the heat.

In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, brandy and instant coffee powder.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_1Once it is combined, add a few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk.  You’re bringing the eggs up to temperature so that you don’t scramble them.  Once it’s up to temperature, add the rest of the chocolate and whisk until combined.

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Add the nuts and stir.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_9In (yet another) bowl, whip the egg whites and sugar, until they reach stiff peaks.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_18Fold the egg whites into the chocolate nut mixture by hand, so that it becomes mousse-like.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_28Take the ring of the springform pan off the base.  If you can, remove the base cake from the base of the pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_70Place it on the cake plate you plan to use for serving.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the base.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_91Cover and put it in the fridge.  Let it set for an hour or two.  About an hour before you want to serve it, whip the cream with the sugar until it is a lovely whipped cream consistency.  Spread it over the cake. My HipstaPrint 987039433_85

 

My HipstaPrint 987039433_10If you want to be fancy, you can grate some chocolate over the top of the cake just before you serve it.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_52This cake was so good.  It was just sweet enough with a hit of salt from the dough at the bottom.  One bite and I was back in Kohevet’s kitchen in Israel, at her table, on a Saturday afternoon, eating cake and laughing.

5773

L’shana tova!  It is once again Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year.  We celebrated on Sunday night with our usual Big Dinner.  I tend to make the same foods each year- mashed potatoes, brisket, roasted chicken, steamed green beans and squash soup.  This year I also made honey-ginger glazed carrots, spinach with pine nuts and raisins and noodle kugel. More on the kugel later.

We had many of our regulars and a few new faces. Some came from the next town over, one came from across the ocean. One person announced a pregnancy (not me, thank goodness!  I’m all set for now!), another reflected on family bonds.  One of my dear friends from high school arrived with a notebook full of memories that made us laugh and miss another friend who is no longer with us.  Overall, it was a wonderful night, full of laughter, wine, love and yummy food.

I spent all day cooking.  Plus juggling the two kids. It was not the easiest meal I’ve made.  Usually my husband helps a bit but he was otherwise occupied this year.  I have some pride that I got it all done!  I even remembered to provide after naptime snacks.

I can’t believe it, but I did remember to take some photos.

Carrots, peeled and waiting for slicing.

Potatoes.  They look so healthy.  Just wait until I boil them and then add gobs of butter and cream.  The result?  Delicious and decidedly not healthy.  At least for the body.  I’ve been told that my mashed potatoes heal the heart and soul.

Chocolate, at the ready for….

…these strawberries, washed and waiting.  When they meet?  Heaven.

The main course wasn’t pretty but, oh, it was tasty.  Every year I buy a bigger and bigger brisket and every year, I am left with nothing but the sauce.

Not pretty at all. But so, so yummy.

Ok, so the kugel recipe.  Kugel is a traditional Jewish dish.  It’s a kind of noodle pudding.  Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes savory.  If you use dairy in it, it’s often served to break the fast on Yom Kippur.  The thing about kugel is that is it deceptively heavy.  As you eat it, you think, “hmm, ok, this seems to be noodles and some cheese or some sort of creamy something.  It’s ok, kind of yummy.  No biggie.”  However, it sits in your stomach and later you are left with a fullness that can only come from kugel.

After my grandmother died we sat shiva for quite some time.  People brought us food, as is the tradition.  Someone brought kugel and one of my cousins liked this particular type.  She ate some.  Over the course of the day, she had a few more servings.  That night, as we were getting ready for bed, she was overcome with the heaviness.  The kugel had sort of expanded in her stomach, taking up more room than it should.  All she could do was sit in one spot and sort of grunt/moan, “kuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuullllllllllll” over and over until it had digested a bit and she could go to bed.  This has become a family joke.  Try it- saying “kuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuuullllllllllll” in a sort of low, moaning way- it really does embody that over-full feeling.

So I had to make kugel, of course.  I morphed a few recipes to make mine this year.  I went with sweet rather than savory.  The Rosh Hashanah meal is associated with honey and other sweets, eaten in order to ensure a sweet year to come.  I give you my sweet kugel.  Eat it sparingly, lest you have the kugel moans later.

Kuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuulllllll

Ingedients

1 package of egg noodles

1 cup of dark brown sugar, with 1/4 cup set aside

1-1/2 sticks of butter, melted

3/4 cup pecans, chopped

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup cottage cheese (this is not the place for low fat)

1- 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch or two of salt

Directions

Boil water and cook your noodles.  The package suggests 8-9 minutes.  You’ll want them to be on the less done side- al-dente.  They’ll cook in the oven with the custard so they’ll get a bit of liquid there.

While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter.  Pour about 1/3 of it into a baking dish.  I used a 9×12 dish.  Spread it around the bottom and sides.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the brown sugar on the bottom, covering evenly.

Press the pecans on top of the sugar, again, covering evenly.  I may toast the pecans before I do this step the next time I make this, just for some added crunch.

Drain your noodles (did you forget about them?) and then mix them with the rest of the melted butter.  I do this in the cooking pot since it’s big enough to hold everything.

Drained and waiting for butter bath.

In a medium bowl mix the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cinnamon and vanilla. If you like that sort of thing, a bit of lemon or orange zest might be nice here.

Mmmmmm. Dairy.

Mix the diary into the noodles and make sure it’s all incorporated.

At this point, if you can stand it, you should taste (for those of you with an aversion to raw eggs, don’t taste this.) and adjust the seasoning.  Mine needed a little bit more salt.  It also needed a little bit more sweet so I added that last 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Once it’s all mixed, spread it into the pan, on top of the butter/sugar/nut mixture.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes. You want it to be crispy on the edges but not overdone- if it gets too dry, it’s really gross.

Let this cool for about fifteen minutes before you cut into it.  The sugar/butter/nut mixture will sort of harden and become sticky.  If you know that everyone is going to eat it at once, you can flip it over onto a platter and have a very pretty dish.  Otherwise, cut into squares and serve from the pan.

It was such a wonderful night.  All the kids were really well-behaved and had a great time playing together.  They didn’t want it to end- neither did I.

I went to bed feeling full of hope for the new year.  I wish you all a wonderful year to come, filled with sweetness and… as a loyal reader is fond of saying…enough.  Peace.

200th Post

Not only is this my 200th post, according to WordPress, it is also the post that follows my Julia post, which was chosen to be “freshly pressed” by WordPress.  So, no small amount of pressure here.  It’s sort of paralyzing, really- should it be a Grandma recipe?  A family story?  A long over-due letter to my six month old son?

Yipes.  The pressure….

After much thought, I’m throwing caution to the winds and giving you a recipe from my father.  On this blog, I talk a lot about my grandmother who was a fantastic cook and poke fun at my mother, who was not.  I’ve written a bit about my father before but perhaps now I can say a bit more.

My dad and my mom divorced when I was 8.  They had been married 13 years and together for many years prior to that.  They were college sweethearts and managed to maintain a strong relationship after the divorce.  In fact, they remain friends now. Part of this was due to a mutual desire to co-parent me, part of it is just who they are.

A large piece of it was how close my dad was to my mother’s family.  Dad wasn’t close to his own family after high school and he and my (maternal) grandmother hit it off right away.  In fact, my parents are together- they both say- because when they broke up after college, my dad still spent time at the house with my mother’s brothers and parents.  When my mother pointed out to her family that they’d broken up and so maybe my dad shouldn’t be around all that much, her family replied, “But we didn’t break up with him, you did!”  My parents could see they weren’t going to win that battle and so, got married.

My father’s favorite memories of my grandmother are from when he would stay at the house.  He and my grandmother were morning people and so would sit together at the table, before anyone else was up, and have coffee, toast and chat about everything: stuff they read in the paper, things about the family, random thoughts.  They were very close.

So it’s only natural that my father was the other big cooking influence in my immediate family.  I mostly recall him cooking breakfasts for me but when I was in college, he’d cook dinner for me when I visited.  His range has expanded over the years but I most associate Tex-Mex with my college visits.  This is because we were in Colorado, not New England.

So, it’s no surprise that when he was here last, he cooked enchiladas for me.  He likes to cook when he comes to visit.  I cook with him- much like I did with my grandmother- and we chop vegetables, stir and gossip as we go.   In the end, we’re rewarded with yummy food and another bonding experience to add to our list (which includes wiffle ball games, walking on the beach, cook outs and attending CC  hockey games.  It also includes having “adventures”- which were everything from getting lost to trips to historical places.).

Here he is with my daughter, having an adventure (we visited the zoo). I’m pretty sure I have the exact same photo somewhere, only it’s me and we’re wearing more 70’s clothing.

I give you Dad’s bean enchiladas.  They’re quite good and other than the filling/rolling, not too hard or time-consuming.  You could, if you wanted to, add chicken or another meat but they don’t really need it.  The spice level can also be tailored to suit your tastes.  Dad eyeballed it and may have added a touch more cayenne than we meant to but in the end, it was all good.

Ingredients

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 green bell pepper, chopped (I don’t like green so we used one orange pepper)

1/2 onion, chopped

28 oz can tomato sauce

1 1/2 cups of corn (frozen is ok)

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

2 Tablespoons cilantro, chopped (if you’ve been reading along you will not be surprised by my hiss as I left this out- cilantro is the devil)

2 Tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2- 1 teaspoon cayenne or 1 chopped jalapeno with seeds

1 package corn tortillas

4 cups of shredded mexican cheeses (usually cheddar and montery jack along with others)

1 28 oz can red enchilada sauce (you can actually make your own enchilada sauce without too much fuss- Cooks Illustrated has a great recipe)

Directions

Saute the peppers and onions in a little bit of olive oil over medium-high heat.  I’d throw in the onions first and let them brown a bit and then add the peppers. You want them soft but not burnt, crispy or caramelized.  Stir in the tomato sauce and the beans.  Then add the corn and seasonings.

Here’s Dad, adding ever so slightly too much cayenne pepper. Spicy!

You can vary the amount of sauce, adding a bit more if it seems too dry or thick.  Once it’s all combined, simmer over low heat for about five minutes.

Meanwhile, line a 9 x 13 baking pan with foil.  Trust me- it makes for easier clean-up.

I was going to add these tomatoes to the sauce but we ended up just snacking on them as we cooked.  Sungold tomatoes may be the best thing about summer.  I’m just sayin’.

Here is where I diverge with my dad.  He says to use the faucet to thoroughly wet two tortillas at a time and then to microwave them on a paper towel for 8-10 seconds.  He claims this will heat and soften them enough to fill and roll them without cracking.  This was not true for me.  Mine cracked anyway.  I usually dip each one in the enchilada sauce and then roll them.  And they crack anyway.  So, I’m open to tips on how to do this without cracking?  I suspect the brand of tortilla as well as its age may be a factor.

At any rate, pour a little bit of enchilada sauce into the baking pan and preheat your oven to 375.  Get your tortillas ready any way you please and spoon a bit of the filling into each one.  Be careful, the filling is probably hot.  I’d say about a solid tablespoon or two should do it.

Add some cheese. Or put in the cheese first.  Either way.

Then roll it up- carefully, as it will crack, unless you’re a wizard or something- and place it, seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have run out of filling.  Or are too impatient to do any more. (If that’s the case, the filling is yummy over rice or pasta or just all on its own).

Pour the rest of the enchilada sauce over the pan, making sure to cover all the tortillas so they don’t dry out.  Top with cheese.  Lots of cheese, if you’re me.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is all melted, gooey and yummy.

These freeze really well, too, so pop a few into a freezable container and then you’ll have dinner all ready when you’re craving something warm and comforting.

A Tribute To Julia

As mentioned here, August 15, 2012 would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  I’ve mentioned this before, my grandparents were friendly with the Childs.  They bought wine from my grandfather in his store and my grandmother and Julia knew each other through a few gourmet cooking groups.

One of my prize possessions is framed and hanging in my kitchen.  It’s a letter written to my grandmother a few months before her death.  My grandfather had reached out to Julia to let her know that Grandma was sick so she wrote to her in response.

It’s a bit hard to read so I’ll re-type it here:  “Dear Grace, Just a little note to wish you well.  Myron tells me that you have been having a mean rotten time.  No fun!  Things have been going well with me, thank heaven, and we’ve a new television series on Public TV starting in October- hope you’ll see it.  On baking this time- breads, brioches, gooey chocolate cakes and all kind of good things.  Not fattening if you keep to small helpings.  Here’s wishing you all the best, and sending you my love- Julia Child.”

Sadly, my grandmother died almost exactly a month later so she never saw the baking series (it was Baking With Julia).  I found that letter years later when I was going through stuff at our house.  My grandfather had saved it, along with this bill of sale from his store:

Julia and Paul loved their wine!

You’d think with these letters and the connections that I’d remember Julia Child.  I do not.  I recall tall and that’s about it.  I feel connected to her, nonetheless.

As a tribute to Julia and her 100th birthday, a friend and I planned a dinner party composed of her dishes.  My friend made her Beouf Bourguignon, roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes with parsley.  It was all delicious and when we were done, there were no leftovers.  My friend will guest blog that one soon.  It was a meal worthy of Julia- several bottles of wine, lots of laughter and so much good food.

I was in charge of dessert so I made Julia’s Bombe aux Trois Chocolats.  It’s a large chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse and topped with chocolate ganache.  Incredibly rich and decadent.

While the recipes themselves aren’t complicated, they are a bit time-consuming due to all the steps.  I did mine over the course of two days.  I suppose you could do it all in one day but I think you’d need the whole day.  The recipes are really three separate things plus one set of instructions for putting it all together.  As usual, I ended up putting my own twist on this for reasons I’ll explain as we go.  Rather than making one whole cake, I made individual ones.  Either way, it’s a delicious way to end a meal.

Kate’s Great Chocolate Fudge Cake

Ingredients

1 stick (4oz) of unsalted butter

4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate

1 more stick of unsalted butter

2 cups white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of white, all purpose flour

*For this you will need a jelly-roll (sheet) pan, 11 x 17 inches

Instructions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter (or spray) your jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper.  Leave about two inches hanging over the edge of the pan.  Then butter and flour your parchment. I actually just sprayed mine with baking spray.  It worked just fine.

Make sure to use good quality chocolate.

Melt it with the butter in a double boiler.  Julia says to have about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and to let it simmer (over low heat).  This will let the chocolate in the top part melt slowly, without scorching.

Combine the butter and the sugar.  Julia actually offers three different ways to do this in her book- by hand, in a mixer or in a food processor.  I chose to use the mixer.

Once the butter and sugar is sort of light and fluffy, add the eggs one by one and mix well.  Add the vanilla and salt.  Then stir in the yummy melted chocolate/butter mixture.

Don’t taste the chocolate mixture- remember that it’s unsweetened chocolate.  Mix it well.

Add the flour (Julia says to do it in thirds but I will admit that I just dumped it all in, lazy cook that I am) and mix well.

Pour it into the sheet pan and spread it evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.  It should be set but the top should be spongy.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out with a few crumbs on it.  It’s important that it not overcook- you need it to be chewy for texture in the dessert and you need it to be bendy in order to assemble it.

When you take it out to cool, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes.  Then turn the pan upside down over a cake rack and unmold the cake, gently.  Peel off the parchment and let it cool at least 10 more minutes.  Since I’d made mine the day before, I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight.  Before I used it the next day, I let it come to room temperature.

Chocolate Mousse (Chocolate Mougins)

Ingredients

12 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 1/2 teaspoons plain unflavored gelatin (this was about a packet and a half of the kind I bought)

3 Tablespoons Dark rum, cognac or bourbon whiskey (I used Godiva chocolate liquor)

3 large eggs

2 egg whites (about 4 Tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

large pinch of salt

3 Tablespoons white sugar

Directions

Break up the two chocolates and place them in the top of a double boiler.

Meanwhile, pour the gelatin into a small bowl and pour the liquor over it.  Let it sit while you do the rest and it will soften.  Soften means it will start looking like this:

and end looking like this:

So the chocolate is melting, the gelatin is setting.  Time to get the rest of the mousse going.  Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a mixing bowl and the yolks into a saucepan.

Beat the yolks with a whisk until they are thick and sticky.

Then add the cream and stir it slowly over low heat.  It is important not to let come to a boil or else it will curdle.  If this happens to you, according to the hippo, you can strain it and no one will be the wiser.  (I think that Julia would have liked that tip.)Julia has all kinds of tips to know when the custard is ready.  None of them have worked for me in general.  The only one that sort of works for me is to let it coat the back of the spoon.  Or to let it heat to 156-185 degrees Farenheit.  Either way, immediately remove it from the heat and stir it for a minute so that it stops cooking.

Stir the gelatin into the custard.  It will be in one big lump (actually one big shape of whatever it was in) but keep stirring and it will melt into the custard.  Once it has dissolved into the custard, add vanilla and then the melted chocolate.

Beat the eggs whites (remember them from earlier?) with a mixer at slow speed until they get foamy.  Then add the salt and increase the speed to fast.  Keep beating until the egg whites form soft peaks.  Add the sugar and beat more, until the egg whites are forming stiff, shiny peaks.

The magic of egg whites, they go from this….

….to this. Cooking magic!

Fold these egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Gently, so as to keep as much of the air as possible. Cover the mousse and put it in the fridge to set.  It should be soft but not runny.

Chocolate Ganache for topping

I improvised a bit here.  Julia uses the same chocolate as the mousse, recipe, melted and drizzled over.  I made a ganache, using the ratio of 3 parts chocolate to 1 part cream.  This means I heated 1 cup of cream over low heat to just under the boiling point and then added 3 cups of milk chocolate (good quality please) chips.  I let it sit off the heat and then whisked it together until smooth.

Putting it all together

Ok so this is where I drove myself a little bit nuts.  Julia calls for a 6 cup bowl, about 8 inches in top diameter.  She says that you could use a charlotte mold “or even a flowerpot could be used, of course, and either is fine because they are both tall enough for drama.”  I found a bowl that fit the requirements and lined it with plastic wrap as Julia instructed.

One of my favorite bowls, given to me at my wedding by a dear Irish friend.

Then it was time to cut out the template.  Julia suggests that you cut out a template using parchment paper so that you know how to cut the cake to line the bowl.  I am  not exaggerating when I tell you that I worked on this for a solid half an hour.  Let’s just say that I am not spatially gifted.

This was the aftermath after a half hour of working on the template. Again, not spatially gifted.

I did finally end up with a template that fit the bowl.

But when I tried it on the cake, I couldn’t see how I was going to have enough cake.  At all.  Aside from the pieces pictured above, I also needed one to “cap” the cake- a round piece the same diameter as the bowl.  I thought for a bit and then decided that I could make individual ones in ramekins.  The best part about that?  I didn’t really need a template.  Though, I did make one- it was slightly easier than the large bowl.  Not much but slightly.

So, this is where Julia and I diverged.  If you want to make one big cake, I hardily recommend you consult her recipe because her instructions for the template are good.  Unless you’re me.  The steps are sort of the same, small or big.

Line each ramekin with plastic wrap.  Place a circular piece of cake on the bottom, good side out (it’s going to be the top of the cake so make it pretty).

Then line the sides.  The cake will sort of squish together, kind of like making pie dough.  Keep the edges of the cake at or just below the edge of the container.

Fill with mousse.

Top with another circle of cake, sort of pushing down in order to keep the mousse inside.

Wrap in plastic wrap (I just pulled up the sides that were overhanging) and put into the fridge to set.  Let them set for six hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, whip up some cream, make or heat up your ganache and then get ready to unmold.  Unwrap the plastic from the top and then place a plate over the opening.  Flip the ramekin over and tap it.  It should come out- you may have to wiggle the plastic wrap a bit.  Peel the plastic wrap off and you should be left with a little chocolate bomb.

Top with the ganache, chopped nuts or sliced strawberries.

There you have it!

Happy birthday Julia.  You are missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stonewall Kitchen

Have you heard of Stonewall Kitchen?  They’re a local New England place, based in Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut.  They’re known for jams, jellies, sauces and other gourmet fare.  One of the places up in Maine offers cooking classes.  I bet you think I’m about to tell you that I’ve gone to one.  Nope.  Before I tell you who did attend one, a quick overview of the cooking hierarchy in my life.

My grandmother was the first cook in my life.  My dad was the second.  The third was actually a number of people- parents of my friends, aunts, uncles, other friends.  My mother always brought up the rear, so to speak, because she simply didn’t cook.

And when I say didn’t cook, I mean that she didn’t cook.  We had an instant hot water spout in our kitchen so that she didn’t have to boil water for tea.  When I went away to college, she had to call me to ask me how to use the oven.

At one point, after my grandmother died and everyone was home, my mother stood in the kitchen and cooked.  The entire family- all the cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and a few friends- stood around and watched.  One uncle even videotaped it because, as he put it, who knew when it would happen again?!

Mom took a gourmet cooking class at one point when I was in middle school.  She had a great Friday night and then never cooked again.  At least not until that day in my grandmother’s kitchen.

Since those days, my mother has become a more accomplished cook.  Which is not to say that she loves it but she does finally see the value in cooking for herself.  We’ll often play a version of the Food Network show, “Chopped” wherein she’ll call me and tell me what she has in the fridge and I will create a dish for her to make.  Good times.

Which brings me back to the first paragraph.  Recently, my mom and a good friend attended a cooking class at Stonewall Kitchen.  It was taught by Dave Martin, one of my favorite chefs from the Bravo Series Top Chef.  Mum reported that he was highly entertaining and that she learned a great deal.  Then she promptly handed me the recipes from the class.

She also bought me tasty gifties.

From top left across, that would be roasted apple grille sauce, pomegranate grille sauce, and dark chocolate sea salt caramel sauce.  They were all delicious.  But I’ll show you the best one first.  It went extremely well with some simple vanilla ice cream.

So damn good.  (Psst, don’t tell but I’m just sayin’ that maybe it was good straight from the jar on a spoon.  Not that I did that.  Or something.)

I used the pomegranate sauce on chicken.  First I seared the chicken (after seasoning with salt and pepper) in some olive oil.  I used boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Once they were nice and browned, I took them out and let them rest.  I threw some chopped onions into the pan and let them soften.

Then I added the chicken back in and topped it with the yummy pomegranate sauce.  I put it into the oven and let it bake until the chicken was cooked through.

I served it over some leftover mashed potatoes.  I had to stop myself from drinking all the sauce.  It was so. good.  Tangy and sweet and savory all at the same time.

Not the best plate for showing this off- the colors are all too similar.

I also used the apple sauce on pork chops, made in the same way.  I seared the pork.

I topped it with the apple grille sauce.

I let the pork cook (on the stove) until it was done.

It was very good.  I did prefer the pomegranate but the husband liked the apple best.

So, if you find yourself somewhere that sells Stonewall Kitchen or if someone gives you something from Stonewall Kitchen, don’t hesitate to use it!  So very delicious!!!

Summer Dinner

When I asked a few people long ago what they remember most about my grandmother’s meals, they all replied in the same way.  They said they couldn’t always recall what she made but they did recall how delicious it was and how comfortable and loved they felt while they were eating it.  Of course, then, depending on who replied, they also remembered her chocolate chip cookies, her summer squash and zucchini, and her potatoes.

The other common memory?  Lobstah Dinnahs.

Forever, when the whole family would gather at my grandmother’s house every summer, we’d have a lobster dinner.  Grandpa would pick up lobsters from the harbor and Grandma would set up the pot to boil them.

Grandma would also make corn on the cob, potatoes and salad.  People would generally not have room to eat these sides, but she made them every time.

A side story for you, my grandfather used to buy the lobster bodies only because they were cheap and he’d bring them home for dinner.  This means that anyone who grew up with my grandparents is able to find all the meat in the lobster body- no easy feat.

My father was visiting this week so it meant that we had the perfect excuse for a big lobster dinner.  Everyone was invited and almost everyone came. We ended up with 18 people but lobster is incredibly cheap right now so that was just fine with us.  We gathered around our big table and cracked our way to full bellies.

Another side story for you, when my cousins and I were younger, we had one of these dinners.  My cousin, M., was somewhat inexperienced with lobster so we were coaching her through the process.  As we did, there was much giggling and laughing.  At one point, she cracked a claw and parts of it went flying, just like in Pretty Woman, landing in the living room.  There was much mirth and we’ve never let her forget it.

You know it’s been a good lobster dinner when you’re left with this:  dirty tablecloth, used butter dishes, empty wine and beer bottles and a bowl full of shells.

A bit of lobster info for those not from this area:  there’s hard-shell and soft-shell lobster.  Soft-shell is lobster that has grown and shed the old shell and is just getting comfy in the new one.  The downside of this is that there’s less meat for the weight.  Hard-shell lobster is lobster that has gotten into its shell and has more meat for the weight.  It’s also more expensive.  Since there was an early summer this year (so I’ve been told), there’s an abundance of soft-shell lobster around here.  The nice fishmonger that sold me 20 of them packed them nicely in boxes with damp clothes and ice.

So, we boiled the water.  Lots and lots of water.  Now, my grandfather used to tell me that you can hear the lobster scream when you put them in the pot (untrue).  My father tells me that lobsters can’t feel pain (untrue).  My cousin-in-law and my husband tell me that it doesn’t matter because we are higher up on the food chain (true) and they taste good (also true).  Nonetheless, I can’t put them in the water.  So I called on the aforementioned men to do it for me.

Into the boiling water the creatures went.  Once the water comes back to a boil (putting them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size.  (Useful cooking time chart here).  You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t either.

It’s impossible to have lobster without butter.

Empty butter dishes, patiently waiting.

 

I melted about a pound and a half of butter.  It’s a lot.  But so worth it.

I also made the requisite sides:  corn and grandma’s potatoes.

I even made mashed potatoes because it’s not a real dinner at my table without them.

Once the lobster was done, the butter was melted and the sides were ready, we put it all out on the table and served, buffet-style.

We all got busy eating.  The table was quiet for a few minutes, just the sounds of cracking, empty shells hitting the sides of the bowl and chomping.  Then, slowly, there was chatting among the adults, the sounds of children babbling and laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.  People lingered at the table long after the food was gone.  Some of us took the kids swimming in the backyard. Others of us arrived fashionably late, ensuring that the dinner went on for several hours.  In the end, all the lobsters were eaten, all the butter was used up and only a few pieces of corn and potatoes were leftover.  People began to arrive around 4, we sat down at 6 and the last person left at midnight.

It was just as I’d always remembered it.  And for that, I am so very grateful.

Happy summer!!

 

 

 

Auntie Rachel

In the very early morning hours of July 18, 2012, my Aunt Rachel passed away, quite unexpectedly.  We’ve spent the last two weeks traveling to be together as a family as often and for as long as possible.  We are a family that is spread out across the country but one which will drop everything to be near each other when needed.  It was needed this month.

This is my Auntie Rachel, with one of the loves of her life, one of her grandsons.

My Auntie Rachel was not really my aunt.  She was my mother’s cousin but in our family we don’t really pay attention to the exact nature of the connection, choosing instead to focus on the content of the relationship.  Rachel had one daughter, E., with whom I am extremely close.

When E. and I were little, E’s father, Rachel’s husband, died in an accident.  It was awful- so hard for both of them.  Later, Rachel would tell me and E. and others that her husband was the love of her life, describing it as “getting weak in the knees” when she saw him.  She didn’t remarry.  Instead, she fiercely loved her daughter, her son-in-law and her grandchildren.

Rachel and my mother were close and for many years the four of us (Rachel, E., my mother and I) would spend Thanksgiving in New York City.  We’d see as many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows as we could possibly cram in and eat as much good food as we could.  We laughed a great deal and we all had good memories of those times.

My Auntie Rachel was the one who taught me how to cook and eat an artichoke.  It was the summer that I went and spent two weeks with her and E. at their home outside of Washington, D.C.  It was a fantastic time.  E. and I giggled to sleep every night (we were young, absolutely everything was funny), we played all day and we ate delicious food each night.  I can recall going to the Hot Shoppes which was a buffet unlike one I had ever seen before.  (Apparently, they may be bringing them back!) One night, we went food shopping and the store had artichokes.  Auntie Rachel was so excited- this was long enough ago that they were a relative rarity in the stores- and I had no idea why.  “Oh, honey,” she promised me, “you’re going to love it.”

I watched her prepare it and then cook it for what seemed like hours.  When she offered me a leaf that had been dipped in melted butter and told me to sort of scrape off the pulp- “like eating lobster legs!” (she obviously knew her audience)-  I thought she was crazy.  But, oh, how right she was.  It was a taste I couldn’t even begin to put to words- sort of creamy and green. We worked though the leaves and then she showed me the thistle.  She carefully cut it out and then sliced me a piece of the heart, dipping it in butter and handing it to me.  Heaven.  Since that moment, every time I eat an artichoke, I think of my Auntie Rachel.

Rachel had been diagnosed with Cancer just a week prior to her death.  Rachel was a women who was smart, brash, funny, passionate and loving.  She cherished her daughter and was fiercely attached to her family.  While she didn’t always get along with everyone, you always knew where you stood with her and when she cared about you, you knew it.  Rachel loved good food, good theater, good books and good times.  When we got together as a family, there was always good food, good times and most of all, good love.  In the early hours of July 18th, E. was by Rachel’s side.  She was with her when she died and E. told me later that Rachel had been trying to say, “love”.  There could be no more fitting last word for her.

I had an artichoke for dinner a few nights ago, in honor of Rachel.  She will be missed in ways we can’t even begin to understand. I ate it slowly, to savor it, and to think of my aunt.  It may become a tradition for me- to eat one each month and think of Rachel.

Artichoke

Ingredients

Artichokes (one for each person)

Butter (for melting and dipping)

Directions:

First, prepare your artichokes. Pull off the tough leaves at the bottom. Next, cut off the very tops, about a quarter of an inch from the point. Also cut the stem so that the base is almost flat.

Next, cut each of the remaining leaves so that they are cut in half horizontally.  This takes off the tops of the leaves which have sharp points- be careful!- plus, it makes them look pretty and somewhat uniform.  Rinse them under running water.

 

Many recipes tell you to rub the cut top with a lemon  but I never bother.

I use my pressure cooker to make mine (it’s faster) but you can use a saucepan, with a steamer basket and a lid.

Put a few inches of water at the bottom, along with two peeled cloves of garlic and the lemon if you used it and heat over medium heat.  Place the artichoke cut down (top down, step should be facing you) into the steamer basket.

Steam until soft, about 30-45 minutes (depends on the size.).  You’ll know they’re ready when the leaves come off easily.

I like mine with melted butter, just like my Auntie Rachel taught me.

Oh, how do you eat them?  Well, peel of each leaf and sort of scrape it along your teeth to get all the yummy pulp.  Discard the leaves.  You know it was a good artichoke when you have a pile like this:

Once you’ve pulled all the leaves out, you’ll have this:

Use a spoon to scrape out all the thistle (the little hair-like things that are spiky and not at all for eating) and you’ll be left with the best part- the heart.  Slice it,  dip it in butter and enjoy.

Grandma’s Potatoes

When I emailed my family and friends a few weeks ago, asking them for their food and fond memories of my grandmother, almost all of them mentioned these potatoes.  Which is funny because, while I remember these potatoes fondly, I don’t remember them being as amazing as everyone else does.  It was one of Grandma’s standby sides, however, and they are pretty easy.  I’m not sure what made them so special except that maybe it was Grandma making them.

Because as I’ve said, it was something about Grandma.  She was able to make everyone feel welcome, comfortable and a part of the family.  When you sat at her table you felt like you were one of the gang, regardless of which particular gang was present.

Which reminds me of a story via my Uncle P.  He had some friends from Canada who were, shall we say, rough. One of them was very big and very tough and very scary-looking.  While I can’t remember his name it was something like “Bubba” or “Killer”.  For the sake of this story, we will call him Killer.  Anyway, P. was living at home but was away for a few days and Killer came to visit.

My grandmother opened the door and was faced with a large, tall, gruff, bearded, tattooed man.  He asked for P. and my grandmother replied that he wasn’t there but Killer should come in and wait for him.  She showed him into the den and brought him food and asked what kind of beer he wanted.  Killer tried to say that he’d just come back later but my grandmother, all five feet of her, insisted.  Two days later, my uncle came home and found Killer, still in the den, still eating and drinking beer.  He asked him why he hadn’t left and Killer replied, “I would have but I was afraid of your mother!” All five feet of her.

That was Grandma- small, powerful and fiercely loving.  She made everyone feel welcome regardless of the color of your skin, the language on your lips or your affiliations, religious, political or otherwise.

So in honor of that, I give you grandma’s unforgettable potatoes.  For all I know, she served them to Killer.

Ingredients

small red (new) potatoes, scrubbed and eyes removed

1 onion, thinly chopped

mushrooms, sliced (optional)

salt, pepper, dill (dried or fresh, chopped, about a teaspoon, also optional- I personally hate dill)

Oil- maybe a tablespoon or two- olive or canola would do

Directions

Keep in mind that I’m making these from memory as I couldn’t find a written recipe.

Wash and clean your potatoes.  (Funny tip, the Hippo uses her fingernails to get all the eyes out. Who knew?)

Put them in a pot and cover them with water.  Put it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Let them boil until they are soft but not mushy.  You should be able to put a fork in easily but without them falling apart.  On my induction burner it took about ten minutes.  It may take longer on a gas/electric range.

Meanwhile, chop your onion.

And your mushrooms.

Heat a large, shallow pan over medium high heat.  I use a wok.  Grandma also used a wok.  If you don’t have a wok, then I think a large, shallow pan will do. Add the onions and mushrooms.

 

Let them cook until they start to brown.

When your potatoes are ready, take them out of the water and let them cool.  Slice them in half.

Throw them into the wok (or pan) with the onions and mushrooms.  Stir frequently but let them get brown and crispy on the outside.

At this point, season the potatoes with salt, pepper and dill, if you’re using it.  Serve alongside whatever you like.

These potatoes are like the perfect mix of crispy and soft. The outside has a slight crunch and the inside is soft and smooth.  The onions and mushrooms add a nice flavor and texture to go along with the creamy potatoes.  If you like dill, it adds a nice freshness to the dish.  Really, you can’t go wrong.

Not Pass-ive

It’s Passover again!  I was looking back over the blog and was surprised to see that I hadn’t posted much about Passover last year.  I showed you our Passover Plate (here) and how I organized my menu and planning (here).  But I didn’t talk much about the food!  Strange.

Each year at Passover, I think about traditions. (I also think about the playwriting class I took as an undergrad. One of the students wrote a play called, “Passing Over.”  It was a family drama about a son coming home for Passover, bringing his girlfriend.  The mother was the main character and it was about her letting go.  The scenes alternated between present time and the son’s childhood from the mother’s perspective.  I thought it was incredibly well written and I loved the title.  No idea what happened to this student or the play but I think of it every year.  But anyway, traditions.)

Some of the traditions I think about are food-related (shocking), while others are family-related.  Each Passover we make sure to have some non-Jews at the table.  Each Passover I serve hard-boiled eggs after the service, before the soup (My grandmother always did).  Each Passover we make certain to call our family in Israel.  Each Passover we serve Mama’s Sponge Cake (Even though we tend not to eat it).  For me, these large holidays are all about passing on traditions- using the same plates, cooking the same foods, telling the same stories- so that we can pass down a bit of our family through the generations.

It means that I can tell stories about my great-grandmother, even though I don’t remember her.  It means that I make my matzo balls the same way my grandmother did and, by extension, so will my children.  It’s a way of connecting us over time, through generations, across geographical borders.  Which is true of food in general- when I make the tuna salad that my cousin in Israel makes, I’m bringing a bit of her to my table- but becomes more true when it’s a traditional food at a traditional holiday time.

Which is what Passover is all about for me.  Traditions and connections.  When we open the door for Elijah, I know that many families that live on my street, and the next street over and the next town over and the next state over and the next country over (well, you get the idea) are all doing the same thing.  When we giggle and look for the afikoman, I know that other families are doing it at the same time we are.  It’s a connection.

This year we’re celebrating Passover a day late in that we’re having our first seder on the second night.  Some families do a seder on the first and second nights but we’ve always just done the one on the first night.  This year, what with me going back to work this week and with two young kids, I decided to not aim for perfection but instead to relax and have dinner on the second night. It feels just slightly wrong but I’m mostly over that.

I spent some time today cooking and will the majority of the cooking tomorrow.  When I can, I’ll have my daughter help me (she’s a good stir-er for a few minutes at a time) and this year, because it’s on a Saturday, my best friend from elementary school will be joining us and has offered to help cook.  That is the other piece of the holiday for me- the friends.  Standing side by side in the kitchen, chatting and cooking, is something I value.  Some of my best conversations have happened that way.

At any rate, this year we’ll be having chicken and brisket Holiday mashed potatoes, of course, and Chocolate Caramel Matzo.  And no Passover meal is complete without matzo ball soup.  Plus the seder plate. I’m trying a few new dishes as well- balsamic roasted veggies and apple matzo kugel.

Here’s the state of my fridge, the night before:

Hard boiled eggs are cooked and peeled (white bowl on bottom left); brisket is cooked and ready to be put back in the oven to be warmed (middle left).  Veggies are waiting to be prepped (in two bottom drawers), and the chicken is waiting to be roasted (bottom left).

My daughter discovered the seder plate today.  She is a bit obsessed with birthdays now and spent a good twenty minutes stacking, counting and arranging the smaller plates on the bigger one, while saying, “Happy to you….happy to G-“.  I think she thought they were small cakes.

Hopefully I’ll remember photos tomorrow and will be able to post a bit more next week about the new dishes and the tried and true ones.

Chag Pesach Semach (happy passover holiday) and Happy Easter!

Old Friend Cornbread

I have spoken here before about one of my oldest and dearest friends, S.  We’ve known each other since the second grade and while we’ve traveled far and wide from each other, we have remained close.  Naturally, we’ve been cooking together since the second grade.  Back then, I was the more “experienced” cook.  These days we’re about equal (this is a lie, she is far more advanced than I, especially when it comes to healthy food.  Hey, she made me like both kale and quinoa- that’s no small feat!) and I often turn to her when I need a good, hardy, healthy recipe.

But when we were kids we got into more than one snafu with food.  There was the time we made scallops for my mother.  Should have been easy, right?  Yeh, well, we didn’t know how long to cook them and we didn’t want to undercook them so…  rubber.  Yick.  My mom was nice about it- had a few bites and said they were great but didn’t finish.  To be fair, these days, my darling friend makes a really delicious scallop dish that’s usually eaten around Christmas, a dish that’s so good, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night craving it. And the scallops are never overdone.

Then there was the time we were going to make cookies and S. was reading the recipe as I gathered the ingredients.  “Oh no,” she cried, “We can’t make this!”

“Why not?” I asked, running through the ingredient list, thinking we had everything we needed- butter, sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla…

“It says, ‘cream the butter and sugar’ and we don’t have any cream!”

I burst out laughing, rather unkindly, and explained to her that the recipe meant for us to mix the butter and sugar well, not to actually add cream.

The joke’s on me these days because she can make some kick-ass cookies (she’s not always healthy).

The other wonderful thing about my friendship with S. is that we’re always in sync.  We’ll often email/call/text the other when she’s thinking of us- it’s that weird ESP-telepathy thing that women develop between themselves when they’re close.  Often when one of us is struggling with a particular situation, the other one is going through something similar.  And sometimes it’s just funny.  S. taught me how to make this cornbread once when I was visiting.  It was delicious and I make it often.  Last year I made it for the first time in a while and after I got it in the oven, I sat down to check my email.  One came in while I was checking, from S, asking me if I could send her the recipe since she was at her cousin’s house and wanted to make it.  See?  Telepathy!

Old  Friend Cornbread

I’ve never, ever been able to make cornbread.  Which has always made me feel a bit dumb—I can make Beef Wellington, cook for 200 with ease and improvise with the best of them but something as simple as cornbread eluded me.  Luckily, S saved me.  The following recipe is delicious and I’ve been able to emulate it many times.  Of course, the first few times I made it, it was awful because I was using baking soda instead of powder.  See?  The cornbread gods hate me.  Luckily, S corrected me and once again saved my cornbread from disaster.

This recipe makes an extremely large pan of cornbread- lasagna sized pan.  I tend to halve it and make an 8 inch square size since that’s a more reasonable amount of cornbread for us.  If you’re serving many (when the whole S family is together it’s something like 11 people, minimum), go ahead and make the full recipe I’m giving you here.

Ingredients:

4 c. flour

2 c. yellow cornmeal

1 ½ c. white sugar (although we’ve used brown as well and it’s been delicious)

1 tsp. salt

2 tb baking powder

4 eggs

3 c. buttermilk

2 ½ tb vegetable oil

½ c. butter, melted

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Sift your flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.  You know me, lazy, so I whisk them together rather than sift.

Stir in the eggs, buttermilk and oil.  I used a whisk but a spoon might actually work better- I switched halfway through.

As you stir, it will come together but be a bit rough and sort of sticky and dry-ish.

At this point, add the melted butter and mix to combine.  It will smooth out and moisten the batter.

Pour into a greased pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes (for 8 inch pan), about an hour to an hour fifteen for a larger pan.

It’s done when the top is sort of crackly and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.