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Archive for August, 2009

onion and honey

powdered sugar

Bad days come and go. Some seem to last forever. Yesterday was one of those days. Absolutely interminable. I was waiting. For a package that never arrived. Well, delivery was attempted, apparently. But the delivery guy never buzzed up to my apartment. And the delivery report said “The receiver was unavailable to sign on the 1st delivery attempt.” I was sitting by my phone. All day. I missed dance class. Waiting. I felt like I was trapped in my own home.

When I called my friend Noam (half of the Shakespeare on the Common picnic planning duo) in the evening, he told me about an Israeli phrase adopted from the Arabic proverb:  יום אסל ,יום בצל transliterated from Hebrew as yom asal, yom batsal (I believe the transliteration from Arabic is a bit closer to yawm asal, yawm bazal). It means “one day honey, one day onion.” While the phrase is applied is various different settings with nuanced meanings, in this context, Noam told me to just chalk up the day as an onion day, and turn the next day into a honey day.

So, with him on the phone, I uncorked a 10-year old Haut-Médoc that I had been saving for a special occasion, poured myself a glass, and decided to ride out the evening.

Haut-medoc

To start the honey flowing, along with some smooth sips of left bank Bordeaux, I contemplated baking a chocolate cake, but then remembered a more literal idea. A favorite petit goût, a little morsel of goodness, neither cookie nor cake — or possibly both — for which I have yet to find the perfect recipe, but that is often flavored with honey. I have the special pans (though I will soon be trading in my silicone for old-fashioned metal), and would be waiting at home once again for re-delivery the next day. And the batter for these little cookie cakes is best chilled overnight, all but guaranteeing that my wine-induced slumber would yield a honey-full tomorrow.

- 014

When I woke up this morning, my wine glass sat unwashed on the counter, the batter chilled in the fridge, the pan ready to be prepped and filled, and  after a quick pre-heat and about ten minutes in the oven, my sweet sweet breakfast was ready.

And the day just flowed from there.

Honey Madeleines

bowl of madeleines


I love madeleines with their little scallop shape and their big honey taste (and, of course, they’re French!). On a search for olive oil cakes, I recently came across this discussion and recipes for a Quartet of Olive Oil Sweets and tucked it away for the right time. I had found a similar recipe in the August 2009 Gourmet, but I can’t seem to link to it online, and it calls for 1.5 C of arbequina olive oil. Honestly, I just can’t part with this much of my prized liquid gold. So I adapted Mike Ahmadi‘s recipe for olive oil citrus madeleines by doubling the honey (um, yeah, wasn’t that the point?), cutting out the citrus (I know, that sort of kills the whole citrus madeleine thing), and using orange blossom water instead of vanilla, again doubling the quantity to pull out the sweetness. Compared to other madeleines that I’ve made, these were a bit cakey — I prefer them slightly more dense (more cookie-like?).

The only special equipment you need for madeleines is the molds to get the scallop shape. I have a single silicone tray that somehow manages to NOT be non-stick. I think it’s just time to invest in the old-school metal ones. I hear you can get some non-stick ones which might be the way I go. Sorry I can’t make any better recommendations here. I did some experimentation and the best strategy I came up with for getting the madeleines out of my mediocre silicone tray was to oil and lightly flour the molds.

NOTE: this recipe requires an overnight chilling. I warned you. Don’t come crying to me if you start making the recipe and get half-way through, wanting to put them in the oven and see the overnight chilling recommendation. You can probably get away with a few hours, but madeleines hold their shape best when the batter is cold. Ideally, you want them to get a little hump on their back. I have seen some recipes even suggest putting the molds in the freezer before and/or after filling with batter. I didn’t bother experimenting with this since I was using silicone.

Makes 2 dozen+ madeleines.

- 3 large eggs

- 1 pinch kosher salt

- 2 T honey – I used Granja San Francisco Blossom Honey from Spain (I bought mine at Fairway in NY, but it is also available at Cardullo’s in Cambridge, MA — see Resources page)

- 2/3 C granulated sugar

- 6 T olive oil (I used Unió brand, discussed here)

- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

- 1 C  all-purpose flour

- 1 t baking powder

Beat eggs, salt, honey, and sugar with whisk attachment on mixer until very light and fluffy – the mixture approximately doubled in size.

With the mixer still running, slowly pour the olive oil into egg mixture; then add the orange blossom water.

Turn off the mixer and sift the flour and making powder into the batter, then gently mix in until just blended in.

Cover bowl and refrigerate the mixture overnight. (A few hours is probably OK.)

The next day, preheat oven to 400º F.

Oil and lightly flour madeleine molds and then fill ~ 3/4 full with the batter. Bake for a total of 9-10 minutes, turning the pan 180 degrees after the first 5 minutes. taking the madeleines out when the edges are golden brown. I personally prefer mine a little darker.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pans for approximately 5 minutes, then remove from the pans.

fresh from the oven

Clean the pans and repeat the process until you are out of batter.

I love eating the madeleines warm as is, but if you can wait and will serve them cooled, especially if they’ve stuck to your not-so-non-stick pan and you’re willing to share, give them a simple dusting of powdered sugar to cover up any less-than-pretty spots.

a simple dusting

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confession

I went to a high school with an honor code. Our teachers would leave the room during exams, trusting that since we had signed the honor code, there would be “no lying, stealing, cheating, or plagiarism.” We sometimes even chatted with one another during exams, knowing that whatever topics we discussed would not be related to the test we were taking.

the last slice

So, I come to you today, my head hung low, to confess that I sometimes — no I often — cheat in the kitchen. I use pre-minced garlic. I use margarine a lot (for parve desserts). My biggest shortcut though is that I sometimes use lemon juice instead of fresh lemons.  Even when a recipe has this citrus component as its main ingredient. A little squirt in a stir-fry when a lemon is not to be found– not such a big deal. But, I have done it for lemon bars. Yes, lemon bars. Where the main flavoring is lemon.

And, here I present to you my latest and greatest cheat – a bastardization of a beautiful recipe for lemon mascarpone blondies with a few modifications, including the use of bottled lemon juice in lieu of freshly squeezed lemons and their zest. But, I have to tell you, this must be one kick-ass recipe because despite my cheating, it rocked.

This lemon mascarpone “tart” tastes like a lemon bar whose lemony top and cookie bottom merge into one. It is rich and decadent without being overly sweet. That being said, it was not overly citrusy either — perhaps the downside to cheating with jarred lemon juice. I imagine one could play up the tart part of it a bit more by making a chocolate crust of sorts, even using a thin layer of brownie base if you like the combination of lemon, made rich with mascarpone, and chocolate.

Cheating Lemon Mascarpone Tart

cooling, pulling away from the pan

I found this wonderful recipe for Lemon Mascarpone Blondies developed by Garret McCord and posted on Simply Recipes. Rather than using lemons, I was going to use limes because I had brought back some key limes from my recent trip to Miami, but having made some “caiparina mojitos” with them at a picnic last week, I didn’t think I could bear to juice the 2 dozen I would probably need to get 2 T of juice. But I did have some Goya lemon juice in my fridge. I didn’t have an 8X8 pan to bake the blondies in, but my 10-inch solid bottom tart pan worked nicely and made the blondies look fancy though a bit flat.

I made the batter by hand because my Kitchen Aid is parve, and this is very easy to make the “old-fashioned way.” It took less than 15 minutes to make the batter. This could be a great holiday recipe for those who are observant during the upcoming Rosh Hashanah.

Serves 8-10 and best eaten chilled.

- 1/2 C butter, melted
– 1 cup of tightly packed dark brown sugar
– 1 egg, lightly beaten
– 1/4 t vanilla
– 8 ounces mascarpone cheese (I used Vermont Butter & Cheese brand – Kof-K)
– 2 T Lemon juice (I used Goya brand lemon juice in a bottle; original recipe calls for 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice)
– 2 1/2 t lemon zest (I left this out)
– 1/2 t baking powder
– 1/8 t of baking soda
– Pinch salt (omit if using salted butter)
– 1 C all-purpose flour

Bring mascarpone to room temperature for ~15 minutes while preparing other ingredients so it will be easier to work with later on.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease and lightly flour pan (8X8 pan or 10-inch solid bottom tart pan).

Melt butter in saucepan or microwave. As someone who often substitutes margarine, I have to tell you that the smell of the melting butter was absolutely heavenly. I might be converted to a more frequent butter user.

Pour melted butter into large mixing bowl and mix in sugar with whisk. Then add egg and vanilla and continue to whisk. Add mascarpone, juice (and zest if using) and switch to a spatula for mixing. Finally add in baking powder, baking soda, salt, and flour, continuing to use spatula for final mixing.

When all ingredients are incorporated, the batter will be pretty pourable. Pour into prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean and without clinging crumbs, and the blondies start to pull away from the edge of the pan. In my oven, this took a full 30 minutes even though my tart was a bit thinner than an 8X8 square would be.

I suggest chilling before serving. It makes the tart easier to slice, less crumbly, and more dense.

(I tried to candy a few thin lime slices to decorate the top, but unfortunately they didn’t taste very good (thought they looked pretty). This wasn’t worth the effort and I wouldn’t do it next time.)

I had to take a small taste

I had to take a small taste before bringing to my friends

slice from above

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tweaking tradition

close-up

Tradition is good. Family memories. In my bedroom, the chair that Bubbie once rocked me and my sister on.

Bubbie's rocking chair

The hat pins that she used to keep next to her sofa.  They were her mother’s.

hat pins

I like holding onto these things. And sometimes too many things (I have a friend who keeps threatening to come to my place with 5 contractor bags and to start the “clean-up” process by discarding something with sentimental value). And while food no doubt creates memory — strong memories — every so often there is the need to recreate new traditions or update old ones..

Growing up, I recall that almost every time my mother  entertained she would make what seemed to me to be a quintessential Thanksgiving dinner: turkey, roasted potatoes (or some variation thereof — sweet potatoes, or maybe mashed potatoes), green beans almondine, “dirty” rice with mushrooms and onions, and apple pie or chocolate chip pound cake. Now, I have never made a turkey and this menu is relegated to my mother’s kitchen and glass dining room table (having always been assigned to clean the fingerprints off the table before dinner and any food remnants after, I now only buy wood furniture). This menu tastes to me like family coming together.

As much as I like to hold on to tradition, I also try to create some of my own. Anything from a few variations to turning the world upside down. This recipe is about tweaking and in my mind, improving on a classic. It started with some yellow beans that I got from my CSA.

haricots jaunes

I reinvented my mothers green beans almondine and turned it on its head from methodology to ingredients. Whereas growing up we boiled or steamed green beans (to keep things lower fat) and threw on some sliced or slivered almonds, here I substituted yellow beans for green and sauteed them, toasted some hand-chopped whole hazelnuts, and added lemon juice and a lush slightly sweet drizzle of sweet hazelnut oil.

Haricots Jaunes aux Noisettes (Yellow Beans with Hazelnuts)

fork

This recipe can easily be be made with green beans and almonds — just leave out the hazelnut oil (which truth be told can be difficult to find). Haricots jaunes – yellow beans - taste just like haricots verts, the green ones, though to the best of my knowledge haricots verts normally refers to the really skinny green beans. When I did a summer exchange in France (in Mont-près-Chambord in the Loire Valley) during high school, I was taught to choose the skinniest of the bunch while still plump, and to pick les haricots one-by-one rather than just grabbing them by the handful. To this day, I still pick my haricots comme ça. I received these haricots jaunes from my CSA.

I always toast the nuts first for a few reasons. First,this enables a dry roast. Second, it makes it less likely to burn them. Finally, if allows me to make some extra for things like topping chocolate ice cream. Oh, what a perfect dessert. Actually, I’m thinking gelato.

Serves 2-3.

- 1/4-1/3 C hazelnuts

- 1.5 C yellow beans

- 1 shallot

- kosher salt

- 2 t olive oil

- 1 lemon

- 2 t hazelnut oil: I use Philippe Vigean brand (OU; info in Resources tab); La Tourangelle also makes a hazelnut oil, but theirs is not kosher.

Phillipe Vigean hazelnut oil


Prepare ingredients: Chop hazelnuts. Remove tips from beans. Thinly slice shallot.

mise en place

Toast hazelnuts: Using the pan you plan to use for the haricots, dry toast the chopped hazelnuts with a few pinches of salt over medium heat until fragrant (5-7 minutes). Remove from pan.

Cook beans: Pour olive oil in pan and heat over medium heat with sliced shallots. Add yellow beans and toss in oil for 2-3 minutes. Add juice of lemon to  pan and cover to allow beans to steam another 3-5 minutes (depending on how crunchy you like your beans). Uncover and add toasted hazelnuts (you don’t need to use all the nuts) with hazelnut oil, continuing to toss beans in the mixture, adding more salt to taste.

Serve beans immediately. And don’t forget the throw any leftover slighty salty toasted hazelnuts on your ice cream.

ready to eat

Some of the toasted hazelnuts fall to the bottom of the plate — I love this part.

last few bites, crunchy salty hazelnuts

The hat pins that she used to keep next to her sofa.  They were her mother’s.

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oh la vache!

I really get a kick out of being a foodie and my newly-minted status as a food blogger. I get excited when I receive food samples to try. Even when they don’t turn out to be very good. So I was particularly excited when I received not one, but two packages on the same day. One from Ermitage, the other from Stonyfield Farm.

envelopes

Back in June, I submitted to Ermitage my zucchini raclette tart recipe (props to Natalie of 5-Star Foodie for inspiring the recipe). This French company makes a lot of kosher French and Swiss cheeses like raclette that they import, and they sent me this little cow timer as a merci.

La vache l'ermitage

This cow makes me laugh so much because even thought it’s a mere kitchen timer, when you click on the Ermitage link, there is a little video of mooing cows making French puns…when cows moo in French, they apparently say meuh, which sounds like “mais” – which means “but” and is part of an emphatic expression “mais oui” – but of course! — or “mais non” – of course not! Ok, it’s not so funny when you explain it to death (or at a dinner party like I tried to do after receiving my little vache timer …). But listen to the mooing cows on the Ermitage site. And think of me giggling.

And giggling.

And giggling.

Vachement très drôle. Truly very funny.

Apparently Ermitage is a fan of word plays (or maybe it’s just all French) – check out the tagline on their stamp: Prenez l’air, prenez l’Ermitage – take flight, take l’Ermitage (the cheese). Or maybe it means something different – Frenchies…please help here!

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

Prenez l'air, prenez l'Ermitage

I guess I picked up an affinity for trying to figure out some of these French puns of sort when I started learning them in high school as a way to learn French pronunciation. The first one I mastered was that “un oeuf is enough.”

As for Stonyfield Farms, no puns here. Just a lot more vaches. And some coupons.

Stonyfield Farm

I was contacted by Stonyfield out of the blue because they found me while looking for kosher blogs (!!) and wanted me to test their relatively new line of kosher, organic, Greek yogurt called Oikos. I warned their PR person that I would not guarantee a good review. I plan to taste the yogurt plain and to probably make one sweet dish, one savory dish (mmm…tzatziki?) to test it out.

It has taken me some time to get around to this because I went on a few little vacations, but I’ve been walking around with these Oikos coupons in my wallet and can’t wait to pick up the yogurt when I have a chance. And I am also at work on a more formalized policy on how to work with companies that approach me for product reviews or endorsements.

In the meantime, feel free to send me your favorite Greek yogurt recipes and French puns.

A bientôt, mes amis.

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uncommonly good

Watermelon Feta Salad close-up

On Thursday night, some friends organized an evening picnic on Boston Common to watch a little Shakespeare. The Commonwealth Shakespeare Company was putting on Comedy of Errors. Having spent at least a half-dozen summers in Manhattan and never making it to see Shakespeare in the Park (despite living anywhere from a few steps to a few blocks from said Park), I was very excited to finally partake in a little outdoor drama.

And of course friends, good food, and wine.

Our hosts, Noam and Tammie, invited picnic contributions, quoting the first Shakespeare play that I had ever read (and whose prologue I still have memorized), “Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers” (Romeo and Juliet, 4.2).

Well, lick we did…read on, my friends.

Having been privy to some little cherry tomatoes from my CSA (they called them pear tomatoes, but they were more globular than narrow) and a few tiny fruits from my tomato plant, I wanted to incorporate these precious beauties, especially rare this summer due to the blight, into a salad.

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my window sill garden

CSA tomatoes and a few tiny ones from my windowsill garden

I picked up a beautiful seedless watermelon and made what is a very common salad in Israel and the Mediterranean but whose mix of salty and sweet caused several of my friends to look at me somewhat askance when I announced, “Voilà, watermelon-feta salad!” as I unpacked my  savory-sweet delight.  Of course, Noam, the Israeli in our crowd, came to my defense when no one wanted to try the salad, saying (my apologies for paraphrasing), “This is a classic salad in Israel, but we tend to make it with Bulgarian cheese. It’s a great combination.” I dressed the salad and served up bowls with an encouraging smile during the intermission. By the end of the play, we were picking out the last bits of watermelon flecked with feta and basil ribbons, licking our fingers (well, that might have only been the cook, er, me).

And the salad was so good, I made it the next night too.

Watermelon-Feta-Tomato Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

salad with red leaf lettuce

I first heard of and tried this seemingly strange and uncommon combination in Israel and wanted to get some background on why is so popular there. A source on Wikipedia suggests that watermelon originated in the Nile valley. Add this fruit that is 92% water to some sweltering heat, described by a favorite food blogger as “wading through warm honey,” in a Mediterranean area known for salty semi-firm yet crumbly cheese, and the experimental combination seems inevitable. Once tried, the desire to repeat the experiment is nothing short of addictive. The juxtaposition of textures – the creamy saltiness of the feta, the crisp sweet chill of the watermelon – play off one another nicely. I added the crunch of fresh-from-the-farm tomatoes and added some basil from my windowsill garden. There are so many variations and I’ve made a bunch of suggestions at the end. This salad is best served cold; make sure to add the dressing no more than 20 minutes before serving, as you don’t want the watermelon to lose its turgor.

Serves 6-8 people.

4-5 handfuls of spinach (1/2 a 10 oz bag…i.e, 5 oz) or a head of red leaf lettuce or other leafy greens.

10-12 pear tomatoes

- 1/4 of a seedless watermelon

- ~ 1/4 C feta — I use Israeli goat milk feta that is softer and more like Bulgarian cheese than a hard Greek-style feta (the brand is Pastures of Eden and I buy it at Trader Joe’s; I like it because it is not too salty; I found a nice review about it in the San Fran Chronicle). It is best to keep the store the feta in water and change the water every few days.

- white wine vinegar – 2 T

- extra virgin olive oil – 5 T

- basil (20 leaves)

- salt and pepper

Assemble salad: Rinse and spin the spinach or greens and rip into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the tomatoes. Cut the watermelon into ~1-inch cubes. Crumble feta over the salad.

feta crumbled over spinach

Make dressing: Chiffonade the basil and put into a small bottle (I use an empty spice container).

- 003 (2) crop

The dressing is a standard vinaigrette (typically 3:1 oil: vinegar) that’s just a tiny bit lighter on oil – add oil, vinegar, a few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt. Shake up to emulsify. Dip a green leaf into dressing to taste for salt and adjust seasoning for taste.

dressing

Chill salad until ready to serve. Dress ~ 15-20 minutes before serving.

chilled, dressing on the side

This is such a versatile salad and there are so many variations you can play around with:

- Shake up the greens – mild greens work here as do those that are more bitter (like arugula)

- Add more salt with capers or olives

- Add some bite with thinly sliced or chopped red onions (I like to quick pickle them in a little white vinegar to cut some of the raw onion’s sharpness, described here) or spring onion

- Use a different acid in the dressing: instead of white wine vinegar, use a sweet balsamic or lime or lemon juice

- Try different herbs: mint, cilantro instead of basil

- Add some heat to the dressing with peppers

Here are a few more recipe ideas I found when looking around the web, one from Janna Gur for Watermelon Cubes with Salty Cheese and Capers and another Ynet article including a salad from Erez Komorovsky that adds blackberries and red onion to the mix.

watermelon-feta salad with spinach


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a fine mess

“But I have never tasted meat,

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens”

- James T. Cotton Noe*

collard slaw from above

My CSA is yet again challenging my taste buds and culinary prowess.

I received collards last week. I associate these hardy greens with the South, and though I grew up in a border state and affect an accent and a “y’all” when it suits me, I’m pretty Northern and city to the core. In looking around for some collard recipes I could relate to, I learned a bit about the history of collards but came up with very little that I could actually envision cooking eating because most recipes call for hamhock or fatback, neither of which fit into my kosher cooking repertoire.

While these greens were imported from Europe, they became part of Southern “soul food” in the 1800s as they were quite prolific and cooked with other kitchen extras using a long simmering method from Africa. These greens cook down quite a bit, not unlike bok choy, kale, or spinach, and the phrase “a mess of greens” usually refers to a whole lot of southern collards that reduce down to a hearty dark green, somewhat stinky (even though I do go for stinky sometimes) slightly slimy in my book, beloved-by-Southerners delectable dish. The better part of the poem that supposedly popularized, or at least codified, this phrase is copied at the end of the this post.

As true Northern folk (and with apologies to my dear dear “Atlanta family”) I just couldn’t bear to cook down a mess of collards. So I sought out alternatives. I found a collard green slaw recipe – bingo! No cooking means no stink. And no pork. I’m no raw food vegan, but I guess this fits the bill if you’re into that. The one thing I can say is that when you eat this slaw, it tastes like you’re eating something healthy. But in a good way.

Collard Slaw

016 sharp crop square

The inspiration for this no-cook salad came from Red Menace over at A Chow Life. Check out her beautiful blog for great ideas and lovely photography. While I didn’t use her sweet slaw recipe, I did filch the idea of marinating the collards in a vinegar to break down some of the fibrous bitterness in the raw greens. I followed my more savory, Asian-inspired slaw recipe that I use for other cruciferous greens- cabbage, broccoli – rummaging through what was handy in my cupboard. This was great after about 30 minutes of flavor mingling and even better the next day when a bit less crisp, but more intensely flavored.  After 18-24 hours, your greens will reduce by about about half, so you still need to start with “a good mess.”

This recipe doesn’t really have exact quantities, but I’ll do my best. I prepared enough for 3-4 small side salads.

- A mess of collards – I received about 20-25 medium-sized leaves from my CSA share

- 2 carrots

- rice vinegar (~2T)

- toasted sesame oil (~1 T)

- hot pepper sesame oil (~ 1-2 t)

- salt or soy sauce (a pinch or 1/2 t to taste, I used pink salt)

- sugar (a pinch or two to cut the bitterness)

- sesame seeds

Soak and gently agitate collards in a big bowl of cold water several times until the water runs clear.

Pat collards dry and chiffonade: roll up 5-6 leaves at a time lengthwise. Because the leaves are pretty wide, I made a cut on each side of the stem. I kept the stem intact because the collards I had were pretty young, but if yours are really fibrous feel free to discard. Then slice widthwise into thin (~1/4 in) strips.

Peel the carrots and julienne them. I used my julienne peeler which made this pretty easy. You could use a food processor, but what a pain to clean (plus, I don’t have one).

Mix the greens and carrots and add the the vinegar, oils, and a little bit of salt and sugar to taste. Start with just a little bit of salt and sugar (and spicy) because you can always add more later. The sugar is important to cut the bitterness of the greens. The salt draws out some of the flavor. Add a few pinches of sesame seeds for taste, texture, and looks.

Let marinate for at least 30 minutes for a crunchier salad, or overnight for a softer slaw. The spiciness does intensify with time.

Variations: if you don’t have hot pepper sesame oil, leave it out, or add some red pepper flakes. Try peanut oil instead sesame oil.

bowl o greens

* THE FIRST MESS OF GREENS

… to me the woods a-ringin’

With the notes of happy birds / When the April buds is springin’

Is a song too sweet for words: / And the beautifullest, since you ask it,

In art or nature’s scenes, / Is Kate with knife and basket,

A-getherin’ of greens.

It pears to lift the veil of years / And opens up to view,

A scene that brings me soothin’ tears

As sweet as tender dew / To grass that suns have withered dry :

I can see her jist as plain, / Though Father Time has dimmed my eye,

And ricollect the pain, / I suffered while she paused a-thinkin’

What such an answer means; / And the “Stay and help us, John,” a-winkin’

“Eat our first mess of greens.”

But I have never tasted meat, ‘

Nor cabbage, corn nor beans, / Nor fluid food one half as sweet

As that first mess of greens.

It’s not the pictur near as much

As the thoughts that gethers round, / That always gives the paintin’ such

Distinction and renown. / There’s nothin’ in a grassy knoll

So beautiful to see, / And yit I think within my soul

It beats a flowery lea. / And oh, I git Munkasket,

If I only had the means, / To paint me Kate with basket

A-getherin’ of greens.

- James T. Cotton Noe (1864-1953), American writer and poet,

from the Loom of Life

close-up

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sunday morning any time

stacked

As a teenager, I used to make breakfast for my family almost every Sunday morning.

When I turned 16, that sometimes meant driving to our local bakery to pick up a dozen bagels. But before I got my license, somehow the Sunday morning ritual involved my father running out to get fresh OJ, my mom making coffee, and my manning the pancake griddle with commentary from the peanut gallery. My dad’s main rule of thumb was “always double or triple the amount of sugar.” Sort of funny because he envisions himself a scientist (actually both of my parents are computer scientists), making backseat driver comments like, “never put reagents back into the bottle” if I measured flour over the big pink container in which we stored our flour, as I perfected my burgeoning foodie-worthy technique of slicing the flour with the back of a knife and then knocking any excess back into the “reagent source.”

Today, when I came home from a meeting with a massive headache, craving some comfort food and knowing I had at least a half-quart of milk that was approaching its expiration date, I was inspired to make this childhood memory, satisfying my carb craving and hoping for the best after popping a few NSAIDs and trusting my doctorly instincts.

The prognosis after eating this impromptu meal: pretty tasty… I think I’ll survive another day. But I may need another dose tomorrow.

Sunday Morning Pancakes – perfect anytime

stack with warm syrup

I unfortunately cannot place the source of my recipe. Years ago I must have written the ingredients on a sticky and placed it on the inside cover of The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (12th ed). This cookbook was given to my grandmother in 1980 and eventually passed on to me. It was the source of recipes for some of my first entertaining endeavors (Chicken Marengo, Mushroom-stuffed Chicken Breasts), but was clearly NOT my first source of inspiration. Once I find the original recipe source, I’ll update this post. Nonetheless, the steps are embedded in my memory. The trickiest part is getting the burner to the right and consistent heat.

Makes about 12-15 pancakes, depending on how large you make them. This recipe easily doubles or triples and can be kept in the fridge for a day or two, or you can make extra pancakes to freeze, and then lightly toast them during the week.

- 1 egg (I used a jumbo egg today)

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 C buttermilk (I used skim milk today)

- 2 T shortening (I used canola oil today)

- 1 C flour (can substitute up to 1/2 whole wheat)

- 1 T sugar (or a little more, if you’re following my father’s formula)

- 1 t baking powder

- 1/2 t baking soda

- 1/2 t salt

- Extra shortening for the griddle

Mix together egg, milk, and shortening (if you use butter or margarine, make sure to melt first) in large bowl. Add dry ingredients to bowl and mix gently to incorporate. It’s OK for this to be lumpy, i.e., don’t beat or over-mix or make in your Kitchen Aid or other mixer. Just do this by hand.

If  you are going to eat with syrup, open your bottle of pure maple syrup (yum!) and gently heat it up in a pot of simmering water while you make the pancakes.

Heat up your griddle or frying pan to medium (this always requires a bit of experimentation, but I liked it on 3 on my electric stove). You’ll know the pan is hot enough when you flick a drop or two of water and it dances around.

Melt a little butter (or cooking spray if you’re saving calories) on the griddle and drop about 2 T of batter for each pancake (I have a small pan that I use, so I scoop with a 1/4 C measure to make 2 cakes per batch).

I find that the first batch rarely comes out well, so I usually only make one per batch until I get the temperature right. This first one was set at a bit too low – you can see it’s a little light-colored. (But, that didn’t stop me from eating it!)

first pancake of the bunch

Adjust the flame (er, electric temperature) accordingly based on the outcome of the first pancake or two.

The way you know that the pancakes are ready to flip over is that the bubbles break and don’t cover over.

not quite ready - bubbles filling in

not quite ready - bubbles filling in

ready to flip - bubbles remain open, especially at edges

ready to flip - bubbles remain open, especially at edges

Don’t wait for all the bubbles to pop — it will be too late. But, once the bubbles are still forming and closing but a few start to remain open, this is the perfect time – FLIP the pancakes over now. NOW. Don’t wait for a few more bubbles. Cook the pancakes on the second side for about a minute, maybe two.

flipped

Repeat with the remaining batter. A little word to the wise: I often find that I need to lower the heat a little after the first few batches – maybe I just stop paying such close attention, or maybe the electric burner just isn’t so reliable. As I said, keeping a consistent temperature is the trickiest part of the recipe.

In my family, the pancakes disappeared as quickly as I could make them. But, if you are waiting to serve everyone at the table all at once, you can keep the pancakes warm on a cookie sheet in the oven set at ~200ºF.

If you have extra batter, you can refrigerate for 1-2 days, or better yet, make all your pancakes and stick them in the freezer. Defrost them briefly, lightly toast, and voilà — quick breakfast.

I only serve these with pure maple syrup, and hopefully by the time you’re done making your pancakes, you have heated up the maple syrup in your water. Don’t pour cold maple syrup on your nice warm fresh pancakes. It’s insulting and sad.

all mine!
a nice stack with warmed maple syrup

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the hummus

From the outside, The Hummus (18090 Collins Ave, Sunny Isles Beach, FL; 305.974.0031) looks like it might be just another of the trendy hummus houses that have popped up all over NY in the past few years (my favorite being Hummus Place in my old ‘hood). With a sign above the door that says “Fresh Hummus, Healthy Proteins” and the emphasis is on the nutritional value of the chickpea, this newly opened niche player is aimed at a vegetarian and health-conscious clientele.

wall

Walk in, and there is a bright friendly Miami vibe and a distinctive Israeli feel. The color scheme is apple green (or, what I personally call Kate Spade green) from the walls to the chairs. The A/C is on, but the door is open to let in the breeze just a block off the Atlantic in this strip mall (location might not be ideal, especially being perpendicular to Collins, but that’s kind of par for the course here in Sunny Isles, and this aint South Beach). And of course there’s a bar with high stools, wifi, and a laptop browsing Ynet (English version here).

I wasn’t sure what to order and stared at the menu in English and Hebrew on the wall for a few minutes, finally querying, “hummus shakshuka?” at this combination of familiar favorites. Alon, who I would soon learn is the owner-chef, said that it is their specialty and to the best of his knowledge, he is the first person to put these two dishes together. That was enough to convince me to try it along with some lemonana (lemonade with nana, fresh mint).

I felt perfectly comfortable walking in, dropping down my backpack, and plugging in my computer. Before I was even able to log on to the free wifi, setting up to do a little work out of the beating-down sun, Yael the waitress, set down several small dishes: pickles and marinated olives with lemon rind, radishes and onions, and seasoned toasted pita. Admittedly, I mainly nibbled on the pickles and olives.

little dishes

When my steaming hummus shakshuka was ready, Yael looked at my table already scattered with my papers and laptop and said, “Eh, there’s no place for your food,” and I promptly moved my bags over and pushed my computer to the edge. She serves everything up with a sweet but no-nonsense, “B’seder?” — Is everything OK? — and the patrons nod, already too engrossed in their food to mutter much more than a grunt and a simple non-verbal cue and a smile.

hummus shakshuka

I started by dipping the fresh pita, crisp on the outside, fluffy on the inside, into the center of the plate, scooping up some slightly runny egg bathed in a spicy tomato and pepper sauce. A great shakshuka reminiscent of what I’ve eaten in Tel Aviv. Eventually I made my way towards the outside to hummus, mixing it with a bit of the sauce, another good combo, essentially a fresh, warm, dense hummus with matbucha. I couldn’t finish everything on my plate, and brought home nearly a pint of hummus and sauce which my family later devoured.

When my snapping pictures of all the food (including standing on chairs) made it clear to owner-chef Alon that I was more than a mere hummus consumer, he insisted that I try some falafel – refusing to take no for an answer when I explained that I was already quite full.

I passed up a full order…

falafel and tehina, hummus pitriot (with mushroom-onion stew)

falafel and tehina, hummus pitriot (with mushroom-onion stew)

… but did accept the filfil (singular of falafel) that he had fried up special for me.

030 crop sharpgreen

The falafel crust was uber crispy – the way it’s supposed to be (not baked the way that Chickpea in NY does it) — without being greasy. When I commented that the falafel was green the way I like it — Alon, eager to share his love of food and recipes, explained that there are two types of falafel: Egyptian which is completely green and made from fava beans, and Lebanese which is yellow and made purely from chickpeas. He said that most Israeli falafel is a mixture of both fava beans and chick peas, and that’s how he makes it. I had actually always thought that the green color came from parsley and other spices.

While I could had no room for dessert, I couldn’t resist one final picture of a gorgeous malabi, an almond pudding, covered with rose water sauce, that one of my neighboring diners ordered.

Malabi

While there is a familiar and homey feeling to the restaurant, I did stop short of asking my neighbor if I could grab a spoon and taste his dessert, so unfortunately I can’t report on how the malabi tasted.

The restaurant was a bit empty when I arrived around 11:30, but as I sat working on my computer, there was a rush of quick business lunches and beach picnic-ers around noon. And after a short lull, business really picked up around 2 pm with many families drawn in by the colorful and relaxed atmosphere, grabbing a late lunch, and several pre-shabbat snackers munching at the bar.

As a newly opened restaurant, there are some minor kinks to work out. A few diners seemed annoyed at the delay in getting checks promptly just before closing, coming up to the register rather than waiting for at their tables. But the staff, seemingly committed to ensuring that service quality remain high,was firm but pleasant in leading the customers back to their tables and bringing checks within moments.

The Hummus does a few dishes and does them well, reaching beyond the kosher customer. Overall, the food, atmosphere, and friendliness take the best of Israeli dining and culture and transplants it to the area of Miami that until recently was known as “Little Tel Aviv.”

Notably, The Hummus is open from 11 am – 3 am, or “until we run out of hummus” Sunday-Thursday, until 3:30 pm on Fridays, and 1 hour after sundown on Saturday night. I would suggest calling to confirm Saturday night hours. The restaurant is under the supervision of Kosher Miami.

The Hummus on Urbanspoon

***

As I was sitting in the The Hummus, there was mostly Israeli music playing in the background, including the band Shotei Hanevua (“Fools of Prophecy”) whom I had first heard when my dance company in New York performed to their song “Kol Galgal”…

… and then I later bought a few of their CDs. Below is one of the songs that was playing in The Hummus the afternoon when I visited.

Yefifiah

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Modern conveniences make our lives easier, no doubt. I remember when we got our first car phone. It actually had to be attached TO the car. And when my dad went out grocery shopping and my mom forgot to put something on the list, she could call to remind him not to forget the OJ. What a revolution. I remember remarking, “what did we do before car phones???” Now, I travel almost everywhere with a cell phone, a BlackBerry (my “BB”), my tiny Nikon digital camera, an iPod, and if I’m going somewhere for more than 3 days, my computer – because I never know when there might be a blogortunity.

The same holds true for me in the kitchen. I never thought I needed a mixer, but now I can barely fathom making a cake without mine. (And I recall when a newly smug married entered my apartment and exclaimed, “Zahavah, you have a Kitchen Aid, you don’t need to get married!”…I just looked at her husband and could not utter the pitying comment that I would not come up with until hours later.) Even in my 6X6 Manhattan kitchen (and now in a larger, newer Boston abode), my “work space” was somewhat cluttered with a mini food processor, blender and multiple immersion blenders, crepe maker, waffle iron, and George Foreman grill, and don’t forget the 3 sets of pots and pans. Yes… in addition to basari (meat) and chalavi (dairy), I have a small collection of parve (neutral) batterie de sine (Ok, it’s not really batterie de cuisine, but after finishing Julia Child’s My Life in France this weekend and visiting The Breakers and The Elms in Newport, RI last week, I have decided to adopt this terminology. And, anyway, a girl can dream!)

outside the Elks, reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive batterie de cuisine inside)

Outside the Elms. The juxtaposition of stone and sea reminded me of Rimini (unable to capture the extensive copper batterie de cuisine inside the massive kitchen)

But every once in a while, it’s refreshing to leave a lot of the fancy things behind and keep things (relatively) simple.

This weekend, I visited the condo in Sunny Isles, Florida that my snowbird grandparents (whom you met briefly; I have referred to my grandmother as “Grapefruit Bubbie” because we always had a grapefruit half waiting on each plate before dinner) left to my mother after their passing, and that my parents just finished gutting and renovating. While this was normally our winter get-away, my sister and I joined my parents to toast our new southern abode this past weekend.

My job was to start to outfit the kitchen and my sister, the architect, is in charge of any design decisions that have yet to be made.

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

a simple lunch as we take a break from unpacking and escape the August sun at high noon

Since no one will be living here full-time, we’re really trying to keep things pretty basic. We’ve thrown out a lot of things,  but have kept some stuff worth saving. Starting from the beginning means I’m out buying measuring cups, cookie sheets, and salt (and parchment paper and Callebaut chocolate…maybe you see where this is going…) and making do with some oldies but goodies, like Teflon pots and pans that were probably bought when Teflon was a novelty and are still in their original boxes.

Being here in the heat of August that does not let out even in the evenings means that I am barely in the mood to cook. We do a lot of take-out from the local kosher markets – my favorite is Sarah’s Tent in the Waterways.

But there are just a few things that no one can make for me, and that I made with the most basic of equipment. Fresh iced tea from tea bags seeped in a Corning Ware percolator, voided of its percolating bits. Lemon balm-infused simple syrup to sweeten said iced-tea. Salad with marinated zucchini and other veggies, some of which, like the lemon balm, are from my CSA and I could not bear to leave to languish in my fridge.

one last pot of fresh iced tea, seeping at 6 am before I caught my flight (excuse the flash)

making an early morning pot of fresh iced tea for the day (excuse the flash)

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

lemon balm-infused simple syrup

And of course, a family favorite – chocolate chunk cookies (with only chocolate chunks, no nuts). I meant to bring down a jar of almond butter, but in my rush to catch my flight, I grabbed peanut butter instead. I hoped the recipe would be pretty adaptable and my father had been talking about these cookies for over a week (I made them for  him for father’s day and he and my mother have been asking for another batch since then.) For the past few days, in between dealing with plumbing problems, last minute meetings with the contractor, and the-ever-important few hours in the late afternoon sun, I’ve been amassing ingredients in the store. After lunch today, I grabbed a few old school bowls, measured out my dry ingredients, let the margarine get to room temperature, measured out the peanut butter, and chopped up the Callebaut chocolate with a Ginsu knife (remember those? Yup, Bubbie had one!).

pouring the PB

The first step: “Using electric mixer, beat butter/margarine, almond butter, and both sugars in large bowl until light and fluffy.”  Hmm, I have never done this without a mixer. Ok…well, back to good old-fashioned elbow grease. I grabbed a spatula and set to work, first just beating together the butters. So far so good. A nice even creamy mix. OK, I was ready to add in the sugar. And I set to work with the same intensity as before.

Crack.

The first kitchen casualty.

kitchen casualty

Without missing a beat (well, I did snap a few photos), I pulled a big spoon from the drawer and finished up the dough, adding in the chocolate chunks and then throwing the dough in the fridge to cool before running out to the pool for a few late afternoon rays.

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

if you look real close, you can see the reflection of my flip flop in the bowl

After returning from the pool where I finally caught up on my New Yorkers (funniest line in the 8/3 issue: “You know who looks fabulous in a bathing suit? A mannequin. Also, a hanger.”), my sister arrived, we grabbed a quick dinner and then toasted our new apartment with some sparkling wine and peanut butter cookies.

In my opinion, they are not as good as the original recipe, too crispy where the others have the perfect chewy bite,  but my family seemed to like them, because when I woke up this morning for my early flight home, there seem to have been a few cookie monsters in the middle of the night.

the cookie monsters attacked overnight

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