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Archive for February, 2009

Tomatoes in the winter can be a real bummer. They’re blah and tasteless. And around this time of year, as my thoughts begin to turn to summer (not the frizzy-hair humidity, thighs sticking to the car parts of it, because, honestly, I’m OK with a few more weeks in my comfy tights… I just ask for a little warmth and sunshine), tomatoes begin to re-enter my vocabulary.

So, what to do with that tomato craving when the farmer’s market comes up empty and the supermarket comes up, well, pathetic and  pricey? You can concentrate. The tomatoes, that is. You can think really hard, but that won’t help much with the tomato issue.

Sun-dried tomatoes are OK.

You can buy them in a jar in oil but they’re too oily.

You can buy them dried in a bag, but when you reconstitute them, they seem either too mushy or too hard. Unlike Goldilocks (an apt attempt at analogy, given my name, Zahavah, which means gold in Hebrew despite my very brown tresses) I can’t seem to get them just right.

But then I discovered how to make my own slow-roasted tomatoes.

I first learned about slow-roasting tomatoes from my cousin’s (and just this week, a brand new mom!) blog – My Husband Hates Veggies. After research and experimenting with several different online suggestions, I came up with a technique that works for me for plum tomatoes (3 hours with oven on, overnight with oven off….don’t open the oven!) and grape tomatoes (the latter of which I use in this salad), and helps make the most of blah winter tomatoes. I can’t wait to try this with summer tomatoes.

All I can say is… this is SO. JUST. RIGHT.

NOTE: slow-roasting does take some advance planning, but very little prep time, and is really worth it.

Slow-Roasted Grape Tomatoes

Preheat oven to 225°F.

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Lay tomatoes on aluminum foil lined (for ease of clean up) baking sheet with cut side up.

grape tomatoes, cut-side up, ready for the oven

grape tomatoes, cut-side up, ready for the oven

Bake for 3 hours. Tomatoes should be somewhat shriveled and dried, but when pressed, some liquid should remain.

Can be eaten right away, added to salad, or refrigerated for a few days. I read that it is better to store these in olive oil, but I had no problems just storing them in refrigerator in a covered bowl, sans oil.

NOTE: you can also roast garlic cloves (unpeeled — the garlic will steam in the peel) at the same time; roasted garlic is sweet and can be squeezed out of its papery skin and spread onto bread with a little salt or incorporated into recipes, vinaigrette, etc.

slow roasted tomatoes

grape tomatoes, after 3 hours in the oven

Spinach Salad with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms

This is one of those salads created with whatever vegetables I had in the fridge and was meant to showcase the slow-roasted tomatoes. It’s very simple and I purposely kept the dressing very light, just barely grazing the leaves.

Baby spinach

Grape tomatoes

Cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

Extra virgin olive oil

Good balsamic vinegar

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

Assemble the salad: Fill a bowl with baby spinach and add sliced cremini mushrooms. Toss greens with olive oil — to ensure that salad is not overdressed, pour oil onto your hand and use hands to mix well.  Repeat with balsamic vinegar.

If you are the type who needs measurements, start with 2-3 T of olive oil and 1 T balsamic (traditional ratio is 3 oil: 1 vinegar or lemon juice) and adjust as necessary, but allow the salad to sit for about 5-10 minutes before tasting.

Add a few pinches of kosher salt and a few turns of fresh pepper.

Add roasted tomatoes. Toss again.

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noodles and nuggets

I had a dinner party earlier this month (shabbat dinner) and invited 6 adults and 3 children. I love having kiddies in my home, but my home is NOT child-proofed. I have a lot of things lying around. A lot. So much so that when my friend Lau in London told me she redecorated her place to be “minimalist chic” I remarked that mine must be “cluttered chic.” Lots of dangerous stuff that kids can knock over, or worse…ingest.

But, having kids over is such a delight.

In addition to having a less-than-kid-safe place, I don’t really cook kid food. I don’t know what kid food is. But, being  new to the Cambridge community, I figured I should at least be open minded. I IMed my friend Caroline, the mother of two adorable kids to get some suggestions for what to make that would be “normal food” but wouldn’t leave three kiddy tummies grumbling.

Netanel and Eden (Katz) Gold - Caroline's kids

Caroline is my friend Meira’s sister, and the Katz family in Atlanta “adopted” me when my parents moved to California and it was too hard to travel home for Jewish holidays. I got to know the Atlanta Toco Hills community quite well and I always aspire to incorporate into my own home their warm southern hospitality.

My online conversation with Caroline went something like this:

me: i’m  having people over and 3 kids. any suggestions what to make? i want to make real food

caroline: how old?

me: not entirely sure. 1 boy, maybe 2. 2 girls – 2+ and maybe 5ish? one of the moms said her kids eat ‘kid stuff, you know, carbs.’  UMMM, NO, I DON’T KNOW!

caroline: ok. make noodles and nuggets

me: i don’t like noodles and i’m not making nuggets. i’m making one main dish for everyone. hmm…not sure what main to make, but i’ll figure that out later. does orzo count as noodles? i want to make arugula pesto orzo

caroline: yum – i’d like that. it sounds good. but just make noodles. noodles and nuggets

me: i don’t have noodles. i don’t eat noodles. i don’t make noodles. and i’m not buying nuggets

caroline: i’m telling you, noodles and nuggets

me: well, she said carbs — how about potatoes? that’s carbs, right? and i prefer to make veggie carbs than pasta carbs

caroline: potatoes are good, but noodles and nuggets are a winner

me: ok, well maybe i’ll find some fun shaped noodles just in case. wait…maybe I can make meira’s pretzel chicken — is that sort of like nuggets?

caroline: that could work

With that direction, I created a menu, trying to follow my typical formula and determined to not cater to the kids, but to make adult food and accommodate them as appropriate.

My typical formula is: starter = soup or appetizer; salad; challah; main; 2 vegetables; 1 starch; dessert (often chocolate).

For this dinner, I made:

Chocolate & Zucchini’s Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric and Hazelnuts/Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette

C&Z's Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette - NOTE, mine is much yellower than Clotilde's

C&Z's Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette - NOTE, mine is much yellower than Clotilde's

Homemade challah; hummus, baby carrots, grape tomatoes

Spinach salad with slow-roasted tomatoes and mushrooms

Meira’s pretzel chicken (in lieu of nuggets)

Roasted potatoes

Roasted butternut squash with balsamic vinegar

Tri-color noodles (naked)

Espresso shortbread

Lavender cake, made into cupcakes (some with sprinkles)

This was definitely a much simpler meal that I might normally have made, and the noodles for the kids was my biggest compromise. The shocker was the soup’s popularity with Yedidya – the 2-year old boy who kept eating spoonfuls from his mother’s bowl. Even though my soup did not look as elegant as  Clotilde’s (actually, Yedidya’s father guessed that it might be cauliflower and mustard soup…), it still is a sophisticated soup.

The funniest part of the evening was when I had no toys for the kids to play with, but found some empty SweetRiot and Godiva Pearls metal boxes that the younger kids has a ball playing with. Forget the expensive toys…just give them some little metal boxes to play with and they’ll entertain themselves all evening. Or at least for an hour of two.

I keep the sweetriot and chocoiste boxes near my makeshift pantry...

I keep the sweetriot and chocoiste boxes near my makeshift pantry...

Many of the recipes from this meal will follow in the coming days, but I can’t leave you without the “nuggets” recipe.

pretzel chicken close up

Meira’s Pretzel Chicken (aka, nuggets)

Based on Meira’s directions. This is a very approximate recipe and quantities can be increased as necessary. This is a really easy recipe and the chicken stays quite moist even if you have to reheat it. When I made the recipe for dinner, I marinated the chicken overnight, but breaded and baked it in the last minutes before sundown, so I didn’t have time to photograph the final product and there were very few leftovers. I made a second smaller batch using a slightly different process, with a shorter marinating time (which didn’t much alter the taste) and a quicker, less clean-up required, pretzel crushing method (which resulted in a less even coating). The pictures are not as pretty, but perhaps more realistic for what my friend Yael sometimes refers to as “harried housewives make shabbat” – and this is how she refers to one of her favorite synagogue-sponsored cookbooks!

Serves 2-3

2 Boneless skinless chicken breasts; can also use drumsticks

1/4 C soy sauce

1 T mustard (I used moutard a l’ancien, a whole grain mustard, but this isn’t necessary)

1 t lemon juice

1 T honey (optional)

Pretzels – I used a mix of regular mini twists and healthier whole wheat, low salt pretzels

Marinade chicken: mix soy sauce, mustard, lemon juice and honey (if using) in a bowl or zip-lock bag. Cut chicken breasts into strips perpendicular to the grain of the muscle (should get about 10-12 strips for 2 chicken breasts) and marinate in liquid for at least 30 minutes or overnight (depending on how much time you have).

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Make coating: crush pretzels by hand with rolling pin in a bag (will have larger pieces) or using a blender (for a finer, more even coating). Meira usually does this by hand, but I think I prefer the blender method. The pictures were taken with the rolling pin method.

Dredge the marinated chicken strips (and drumsticks) in pretzel crumbs to coat. Place in single layer on cookie sheet or pan. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until chicken is fully cooked.

Can be reheated in oven at ~200°F for 15-20 minutes.

nuggets in the pan

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I’m sure you’ve heard about molecular gastronomy. You’ve probably even seen some of it in practice on Top Chef – remember Marcel from season 2? Marcel might not be the expert, but he definitely brought MG into many a living room.

The expert, many would say is Ferran Adrià of elBulli restaurant outside Barcelona. And since I’m living here in Cambridge, how could I resist mentioning Adrià’s recent visit to that small liberal arts college down the road (and my alma mater) to explore the connections between science and food and to participate in an interchange of ideas, some academic but largely applied. He had lessons for Haaaahvaaaahd professors and students, sitting in on classes across various science and engineering disciplines and even marketing and innovation classes in the B-school (there was even an HBS case written about his restaurant). And apparently he came across the Atlantic with the intention of bringing some lessons back home as well as to sign an agreement for an ongoing collaboration with Harvard scientists.

Here is an interesting clip of a lecture where he demonstrated some of his techniques, speaking in his native Catalan. It’s just beautiful to watch! Not just the food preparation (melon caviar) and results, but a comment that Adrià makes before the first demonstration, translated by Professor Roberto Kolter — “‘The whole world gives him adjectives, but he wants to be a cook. He wants to be happy with what he does, and he wants to make people happy.”

I predict that Adrià will receive an honorary PhD from Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences this year, or better yet,  from HBS (take that Clayton Christensen… the Innovator’s Recipe?).

Now, if you’re thinking, “I keep kosher. I won’t be able to partake in all of these foams and caviars that seem to personify today’s molecular gastronomy” — fear not. Even though many of the experimental techniques use less traditional and some non-kosher ingredients, MG is largely about scientific process, experimentation, and understanding food. And a week and a half ago ago, Canela in Jerusalem held a special Sunday evening feast featuring many of these avant-garde techniques, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, apparently the second such meal in Israel. Of course, let’s see when it comes to NY…

Additional (selected) press coverage on Adrià’s visit to Cambridge:

- Time Magazine

- Harvard Magazine – December 19, 2008; February 18, 2009; March – April, 2009

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on the radio

… public radio that is

But, I love that Donna Summer song even though it’s an oldie.  And how true it is, well sort of, today.

My recent post, sticky fingers, was featured today on Public Radio Kitchen – a collaboration between Boston’s NPR station (WBUR 99.9) and its listeners. OK, so I actually submitted the post, but don’t let that take away from my glory! Check out their site and some other local food-related bloggers.

And, if you have an old Donna Summer CD (tape? record?) play it or just go watch it on YouTube because I can’t figure out how to add music to my site.  Actually I can’t seem to add anything but pictures and PDFs. Tech support anyone?

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I never brought cool lunches to school. I actually can’t remember what I used to bring at all. But I do remember that Tali, one of the Israeli kids in my class, used to bring chocolate and peanut butter sandwiches. Chocolate and peanut butter! How was this a sandwich? But it was. And her mom (or dad) packed it for her almost every day. hashahar parve

This was before Nutella was on all the grocery store shelves. And it was a pure chocolate spread on one piece of bread, peanut butter on the other. Let’s just say that Tali was pretty popular at lunch time.

I assume the chocolate spread her parents had brought over from Israel was the the famous Hashahar which I just learned has been part of Israeli memory and taste buds for over 50 years:

The [Hashahar] factory is a Romanian invention. It was established by six brothers and two sisters from the Weidberg family – Yaakov, Shaul, Haim, Alter, Yeshayahu, Shabtai, Rivka and Elka – who immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s from Romania. The family settled in a hut in Kiryat Ata, near Haifa, which the eldest sibling, Yaakov, had organized ahead of their arrival. Among the make-work jobs they did, a few of the siblings specialized in the production of sweets at the Davidovich factory in the Ir Ganin neighborhood.

“They were a poor family and were looking for a way to make a living,” says Moshe Weidberg, Alter’s son, who today heads the factory together with others from the family’s second generation.

In the 1940s the brothers decided to join forces. They found an investor, bought a plot of land in the industrial zone of Haifa Bay and in 1949 opened the factory. At first they made a range of sweets. “They started with candies, chocolate substitutes and boxes of chocolates,” Weidberg continues. “But what really caught on was the chocolate spread.”

When candy imports increased in the 1980s, they decided to abandon most of their products and concentrate on the main thing. Today the plant, which has 50 employees on two production lines, also makes baking chocolate and cocoa powder, but mainly chocolate spread. It comes in three flavors: classic dairy, parve and nuts. “They are a traditionalist, modest family,” says Weitz, who is also connected to the family, by marriage. “They did not want to be an empire and they are not looking for gimmicks.”

The factory produces many tons of chocolate spread a month. Sales figures place it first in the chocolate spread market in Israel, ahead of competitors such as Elite and Ferraro. The company also exports goods to Australia, Europe and America. “In the United States our main competition is from peanut butter,” Weitz notes. “But recently there is an increased demand there for substitutes, because it turns out that many children are allergic to nuts.”

- Haaretz.com: Things Only Israelis Know, Part 1: Hashahar Chocolate Spread

Now, eating chocolate spread in Israel feels like part of the cultural experience and a rite of passage to me. I’m sure there are other rites of passage that people will be more than happy to share about their teen tours of Israel, but let’s keep this blog about food, OK?

When I went to Israel for a month in college with Sar-El/Volunteers for Israel to work on an army base, some of my fondest memories include the three marriage proposals I got (in English, Hebrew and French) from soldiers driving through the fence pictured below as I painted it (if only the proposals would keep coming….), fixing nagmashim (non-armored personnel carriers), and late night conversations over spoonfuls of chocolate spread that Orit (we gave one of our fellow volunteers a Hebrew/Israeli name since she didn’t have one) bought in town as she shared with us her gems and pearls of wisdom. Orit was about 5 years my senior, so she had a lot of gems and pearls to share.

Sar-El

I painted this fence. It was the site of several marriage proposals. 3 to be exact.

On a trip to the Netherlands last year, where I visited friends in Amsterdam and Den Haag (I love pronouncing it the Dutch way — with the guttural “h” ending), I learned about a very different version of a chocolate sandwich spread which is also kosher (dairy) and has a fair bit of history and local tradition.

De Ruijter has been around since 1860, making chocolate (and other flavors) sprinkles and flakes. Apparently the pink and white sprinkles (“muisjes”) are traditionally used to decorate cookies when a girls is born and the blue and white ones for a boy. The chocolate sprinkles and flakes are eaten on toast for breakfast. I didn’t have a chance to buy any when I was in the Netherlands since I had very limited luggage space, but when I moved to Cambridge  I was thrilled to find that Cardullo’s in Harvard Square carries them!

Rejoice — another version of the chocolate fix. I bough a box of milk chocolate flakes and and every once in a while, I make a little midnight snack, recalling my time in Holland. The flakes have a slightly gritty texture when eaten out of the box, but they manage to keep their shape while melting ever so slightly on a warm piece of buttered toast, and the grittiness fades.

De Ruijters chocolate sprinkles on toast

the flakes are starting to melt

What I also find so clever about the DeRuijters packaging is that the opening for pouring out the flakes is in the shape of a classic piece of bread.

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

check out the spout...a little slice of bread!

I think I’ll buy some sprinkles next.

KASHRUT NOTE:

In the Netherlands, there is a local Dutch kosher list available in a searchable format online in English and Dutch. The Dutch one seems to be more comprehensive for some reason. On the English list, these flakes and sprinkles are listed under the category “sandwich spreads” and are spelled “de Ruyter.” The pink and white sprinkles are not kosher for some reason — hmmm….gender discrimination? Unlikely. Probably the red dye.

I also have a friend in Amsterdam whose family runs a kosher grocery store and will gladly answer questions or help out with local kashrut issues. I can put people in touch if you’re going to visit and want help.

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Walking home tonight through the most recent snow and ice storm (I predict at least 1-2 mini storms before the flowers push through), I got lost listening to my iPod and dreaming about leftovers from last night’s squash and bean salad. So, my 15 minute walk took 40. I entered my home cold, dripping, glasses foggy. After dropping my bag and coat and hat and scarf and gloves, I raced to the fridge, grabbed the lemon-painted mixing  bowl that I made yesterday’s salad in, and popped it in the microwave for a minute. No fire. No atmosphere. Just food.

Sitting on the counter were the now-dried squash seeds that I had cleaned the night before. I recalled really enjoying making and eating roasted pumpkin seeds when I was in kindergarten. (I went to one of those Montessori Schools so we did a lot of hands-on experimentation and practical things. Why they needed to take a school picture of me polishing silver is a whole other discussion….) So, I prepared them quickly and threw them in the oven as a second experiment in as many days.

Less than an hour later, after virtually licking my dinner bowl clean, I pulled the seeds out of the oven, put them in a little Japanese dipping  bowl and could barely take a few pictures before eating all of them in a few minutes flat, licking the salt off my fingers between the warm crunchy bites.

roasted squash seeds

Roasted Squash Seeds

Serving size depends on number and size of squash. 1 medium acorn squash yields 1/4-1/3 C seeds.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds and pith. Rinse seeds under water to free seeds from strings. Let dry overnight (you can probably skip this step).

Toss with oil (or just coat with spray oil such as Pam) and salt and lay in single layer on cookie sheet covered with aluminum foil.

Roast in oven at 300ºF for 30-40 minutes until golden brown and dry.

There are tons of other options for spicing the seeds, but since I haven’t done this before, I stuck with the basics and they were fantastic. Other thoughts:

- sweet and salty: toss with sugar and salt

- sweet and spicy: sugar, cayenne and salt

- curry powder and salt

- rosemary and salt

- lemon pepper, salt and citrus zest

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not quite clotilde

windowsill herb garden

I mentioned early on that Clotilde/Chocolate & Zucchini is one of my inspirations for starting this site. When I am hungry, I often look to her site for ideas, and one of my favorite foods to cook when it’s cold outside is squash. It is the epitome of autumn and winter.

A few weeks ago, I ran a search for squash on C&Z, and the first recipe that came up was Salade Tiède de Potimarron et Haricots Blancs/Warm Hokkaido Squash and White Bean Salad (until she posted another recipe yesterday: Brussel Sprouts with Onions and Squash Seeds). I’ve looked at the recipe so many times and have been jealous of her stories of wandering through the streets of Paris, buying exotic ingredients in the markets, and overhearing fascinating conversations in chic cafes. Ahhh…Paris.

But, I figure…what am I waiting for? The albeit brief Boston thaw is ending, it’s cold again, and I’m super hungry. I have an acorn squash that I bought yesterday. It may be the most common of the squashes around here but it’s a pretty little creature nonetheless…so, I took a few pictures harnessing my inner Clotilde (“Hello, Gorgeous!“):

Acorn Squash ("Hello Gorgeous!")

Then, I created a little bit of atmosphere.

Fireplace

And since I had all the ingredients including fresh rosemary from my windowsill herb garden, I got to work recreating Clotilde’s recipe with a host of short-cuts, getting from cutting board to plate in 45 minutes (though I still have dishes in my sink!).

And then a taste. Indian-style spices co-mingled with the sweetness of squash, the scent of Middle-Eastern orange flower water, heartiness of the beans and slight bite of the rosemary. A surprising melange of flavors that work so well together, especially on a cold night in front of the fire.

Not quite Clotilde, but pretty damn good!

Now, what to do with the acorn squash seeds? Maybe I’ll roast them like pumpkin seeds…

Quick Warm Squash and White Bean Salad

Quick Warm Acorn Squash and White Bean Salad

Adapted from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Chocolate & Zucchini (Salade Tiède de Potimarron et Haricots Blancs/Warm Hokkaido Squash and White Bean Salad).

Serves 2

For squash:

1 medium-sized acorn squash

2 t crushed garlic (I used garlic in a jar)

drizzle olive oil

1 t balsamic vinegar

1 t curry powder or ras al hanout (a Moroccan spice mix)

dash salt

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds. Cut into 8 slices and remove skin with vegetable peeler. Cut into 3/4 inch cubes. Toss with remaining ingredients and put on baking sheet into oven for ~40 minutes until tender and slightly browned, stirring half-way through.

For beans:cannelini beans with rosemary

1 can of cannellini beans

sprig of fresh rosemary

kosher salt

Drain and rinse beans. Put in small pot, with rosemary and pinch of salt; cover with water and simmer on low for ~20  minutes. Try not to let them get mushy. Drain beans and remove rosemary sprig.

For dressing:

1 T almond butter

2 t olive oil

1 t orange flower water

1 t balsamic vinegar

fine sea salt, freshly ground pepper

fresh cilantro (optional)

Make dressing: In a medium bowl in which you plan to serve salad, mix together all ingredients except salt and pepper. Thin with a drop or two of water if necessary.

Compose salad: Add beans to dressing and toss gently. Add squash and agian toss gently. (I did not toss very gently and you can see that I squashed the delicate beans…and squash <groan>.) Add salt and pepper if necessary and cilantro if desired (I forgot). Serve.

QUICK UPDATE: ADJUSTMENTS TO MAKE FOR A CROWD

-  for squash: 2 large butternut squash (~6 lbs); quadruple squash ingredients (but curry/ras al hanout to taste); will need 2 cookie sheets for baking

- for beans: 2 cans beans

- for dressing:

1/4 C almond butter

3 T olive oil

1 T orange flower water

1 T + 1 t balsamic vinegar (though, I add a little extra)

fine sea salt and freshly ground  pepper to taste

fresh cilantro (optional)

- otherwise, follow directions as above

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only in NY…

I’m running out of some key pantry ingredients and since I’m going to NY in a few weeks, I’m starting my shopping list of kosher things that I can’t seem to find in Boston without a car:

- balsamic — not just the Bartenura stuff, but a unique Italian brand, probably from Fairway’s; the one that I just finished is pictured below (Manicardi Aceto Balsamico di Modeno):

aceto-balsamico-di-modena- good Parmesan cheese — again, I’ll probably get it in Fairway or Zabar’s

parmigiano-reggiano

- fancy sugar cubes: Roland rough cut demura (I think the hechsher is from South Africa)

roland-rough-cut-demsugar_z

- Artisan (kosher) olive oil: I had an amazing olive oil in a San Francisco restaurant that was SOOO good you could taste the olives. I would like to recreate that experience in my home with a great dipping olive oil.

What else should I get?  Where else should I go besides Fairway and Zabar’s (my UWS staples)?

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sticky fingers

Tuscan almond biscotti

Tonight was girls’ night out. Our plan was a few bottles of wine, good food, and a chick flick. Courtney, our camp counselor for the evening, and I had attended KH Krena‘s art exhibit at the Alliance Francaise (aka the French Library) earlier in the week. When she inquired whether there might exist an analogous Italian Library in Boston, and she mentioned that she lives in the North End, I offered to make biscotti for our girly evening.

Granted, I did warn her that the last time I made biscotti was for a Thanksgiving dinner when someone sat down next to me and whispered, “Don’t eat the cookies, they’re hard as a rock.” Heathen!

It has been a few years since I’ve baked biscotti, so it took me about an hour to unearth the right recipe. I recalled I used to make one almond version, and one chocolate hazelnut version. But which recipe was the right one? I would have to go by touch. Literally. I skimmed through some likely cookbook culprits, narrowed down my options based on ingredients and then felt my way through the pages to find one correct recipe. Bingo — Biscotti di Prato — dogeared and Post-it® flagged like many others, but most importantly, covered in a bas relief of my sticky biscotti dough fingerprints.

When I made the biscotti this morning, I remembered the immense stickiness of the biscotti dough and how I used to liberally flour my hands when shaping the logs for the first baking. I like the little bit of excess flour all over the logs, reminding everyone that the biscotti are homemade and very authentic.

Tuscan almond biscotti dough

Tuscan almond biscotti

Adapted from Lou Seibert Pappas’ Biscotti (recipe for Biscotto di Prato) and Nick Malgieri’s Cookies Unlimited (recipe for Cantuccini – classic Tuscan biscotti). Both recipes mention that these are meant to be dunked into sweet wine or coffee and are a bit crispier than most Americans are used to (take that, “‘hard as a rock'”). I attribute this crispness to the lack of shortning; these are on the lowish fat side, though they are still quite caloric. I used the Pappas proportions and toasting of the almonds, and the Maglieri cinnamon addition. The cinnamon flavor is not very strong — it just gives a hint of extra “flavor texture” if there is such a thing.  Or is this complexity?

Makes approximately 3 dozen

3/4 C sliced blanched almonds

3 eggs

1 t vanilla

2 C unbleached or all-purpose flour

7/8 C sugar

1/2 t cinnamon

1 t baking soda

dash salt

Preheat oven to 350°F

Toast nuts: place nuts on baking sheet in preheated  oven for 6-8 minutes, checking frequently, until golden brown. Do not allow nuts to burn. Let cool.

Turn oven down to 300°F

In large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Make deep well in center and beat eggs with vanilla, then gradually incorporate dry ingredients into wet until well blended.

Add cooled almonds and mix in.

First baking: Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have parchment paper, liberally grease and flour cookie sheets. Flour your hands, divide dough in half and pat dough into 2 logs about 1/2 inch thick, 1 1/2 inch wide, and 12 inches long. Make sure to space the logs at least 2 inches apart. Bake in middle of oven at 300°F for 50 minutes until golden brown.

Transfer from baking sheet to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. NOTE: this is different from most other biscotti recipes that call for a full cooling after the first baking. With a serrated knife, slice logs diagonally into 1/2 inch slices.

002

Lower oven to 275ºF

Lay slices flat on cookie sheets (I usually find that I need 2 cookie sheets by this point) and return to 275ºF oven for 20-25 minutes, turning over once. Cool on rack.

Tuscan almond biscotti second baking sliced

Store cooled biscotti in tin or plastic container with tight-fitting cover.

Or wrap and bring as a gift.

Tuscan almond biscotti, wrapped

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labo(u)r of love

One night last week, I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. I tried everything. I read the New Yorker by my bed —  yes … I might live in Cambridge, but I still subscribe to the New Yorker, New York Magazine, the weekend New York Times … you get the picture. I listened to my flying piggy music box. This was a gift from my dear friend Lau who lives in London and here is the picture I sent her a few years ago when the little piggy and I lived in my very NY apartment.

piggy in ny

I’ve tried to load the video so I can share the music which just adds to the piggy charm, but I’m new at this techie thing and I just can’t seem to make it work.

Back to sleepless in Cambridge…

… Despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t fall back asleep, so … I decided to bake.

Now, mind you, I am NOT a baker. Baking is chemistry, and I am no chemist. That poor unfortunate soul who was my lab partner in Orgo can attest to that! But, some things are really worth the effort, and at 4 in the morning, I needed to channel my inner chemist (?!?) to focus, relax, and help me get back to sleep. So, I made espresso shortbread. Well, I made the dough and then stuck it in the fridge to chill for a few hours while I went back to sleep.

Now, this might seem strange — why would I make anything with espresso in it in the middle of the night if my goal was to go back to sleep? Well, for me, coffee is less about the caffeine and more about the ritual. Don’t get me wrong, caffeine has an effect on me. But the real wake-up call is that first (and usually only) cup in the morning, the steam rising as I warm my always-cold hands on the mug full of delicious. I only drink it cold when it’s unbearably hot outside…and it’s just not the same.

So, espresso is just another ingredient. Well, not just. It’s an extraordinary ingredient. And in these shortbread, it magically gives a chocolate hint.

My take on baking is that if I’m going to bake, there is usually a special unique or unexpected ingredient  that I want to showcase, and the experience – the process – really comes from the heart. That’s the only way I can focus enough to actually follow a recipe exactly. When I made these shortbread, I used a birthday gift from Eva, the first and fastest friend I made up here in Boston. She just gets me.

baking with love from eva

My love affair with shortbread began in my early teens when I started babysitting for the same family almost every weekend. Penny was English, Medhat was Egyptian, and I cared for their three children for five years, two of them from birth. One Saturday night, soon after “Weezy” (Louise) had been born and Lilah was not yet tired of playing mommy, Penny left some fresh homemade shortbread on the counter. Now, until then my main exposure to shortbread was Walker’s. Which is good, but can not compare to the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that is homemade. Penny apologized for leaving things out on the counter in a mess, but was in a rush and the shortbread had to cool. She told me to help myself to a few shortbread. And help myself I did. After I put the girls to sleep. And one more story. And a glass of water. And finally silence.

As any babysitter knows, this is the time to rummage around in the fridge, check out the pantry, and get a snack before settling down for an evening of homework and maybe a little TV, turned low. So, I had a bite of shortbread, plucked from the rack of now cooled little diamonds. Wow! I opened the fridge and saw a mound of dough, wrapped in plastic, and sitting in a bowl. Raw shortbread cookie dough. Enough said. I was hooked and kept stealing little nibbles by the spoonful, always carefully remolding the dough and tightly rewrapping the plastic. I couldn’t eat very much or Penny would notice. Eating some chips is acceptable babysitter behavior. But raw dough…I don’t think so. And Penny is a very proper British woman.

That night when I got home, I prepared my own version of shortbread dough … to eat raw of course. I had noticed that Penny had left confectioners’ sugar out on her counter, so I found some in our pantry, mixed it with a little flour and butter, mashed it all together with a fork in a little bowl, squished it to form a nice mound and didn’t bother with the plastic because it wasn’t going to make it to the fridge. Who has time to waste? I just pinched off little bites of delicious, melt in your mouth … raw … shortbread … dough.

And for years, I made that little concoction when I wanted a little something sweet. It wasn’t until I was all grown up and had my own apartment and started to entertain that it ever occurred to me to actually bake the shortbread.

espresso shortbread can 2

Espresso Shortbread

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. The main substitution I make here is to use (parve) unsalted margarine instead of butter so I can serve them after eating meat. I know, I know … the horror! If you made 2 batches, one with butter, one with margarine, and compared them side-by-side, I’m sure the butter would win.  And I admit, these are not quite the same as Penny’s. But, I like them just the same. This is definitely an adult cookie and they’re worth the work…

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted margarine softened (or you can use butter…)

2/3 C confectioners’ sugar

21 t vanilla extract

2 C all-purpose flour

1/4 C ground espresso — make sure it is ground really fine (i.e., for an espresso maker).

1/2 t salt

Make the dough: With electric mixer and paddle attachment, beat margarine and sugar until creamy, approximately 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat well. Turn to low speed and mix in dry ingredients – flour, espresso, and salt until just espresso shortbread doughcombined. The dough will be brownish-gray, a little sticky, and firm. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. (It was at this point that I went back to bed at 5:30 am).

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap (keep the rest refrigerated) to 1/4 inch thick. I’ve never really been very good at measuring thickness — so, if you can’t measure 1/4 inch, the most important thing is to make sure that each batch you put in the oven is the same thickness so everything bakes evenly. If you’ve ever eaten Walker’s shortbread — the little sticks — I think they’re about 1/2 inch thick…so use your best judgment.

Cut the dough into diamond shapes. I find that using a pizza cutter is the easiest way to get straight, clean lines. Place diamonds on Silpat or parchment covered baking sheet (recipe says to use an ungreased baking sheet, but I prefer to cover).

[An aside: Most recipes including this one typically say not to re-roll the scraps, but honestly, unless you can eat all that raw dough...it's such a waste. The re-rolled shortbread might not be exactly the same consistency as the "originals" but I'm not going to tell anyone if you don't. I re-form any scraps into  a mound, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour, then roll out the next batch.]

Prick the shortbread with a toothpick in the middle and bake until pale golden around the edges, 20-24 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

espresso shortbread

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