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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

foolproof

Contrary to what you may believe, I do, every once in a while, make simple dinners and desserts. More often than you’d think, in fact. I’ve been trying my hand at a few classics. I mean, classics are classic for a reason. They’re tried and true. Reliable. Foolproof. So it’s high time I shared with you a few classic, good old standbys that I can throw together after a long day of work and know that they’ll be good. This way, you can throw them together too.

This look into classic dishes was inspired by a slow food campaign at my company. Our café sold, for $10 (!!!), all the ingredients (except for a chicken) necessary for a hearty,  healthy dinner for a family. They even provided recipes — chicken, salad, greens and pasta, and fresh fruit for dessert. This was too good to pass up. So I lugged home my bag of groceries and laminated recipe card.

I made the chicken with just a few modifications, using chicken cutlets instead of a whole chicken and a nice addition of lemon juice. I used chard to make a minestrone. And voilà – a few dinners and lunches for the week.

These recipes aren’t rocket science, but they’re great ones to have in your repertoire. They pretty much use ingredients that are probably already in your fridge and pantry. The most difficult step is rough chopping some vegetables. And then you leave the dish to cook while you write a blog post. You just need to check on the chicken or soup every once in a while. C’est tout. That’s all there is, folks.

Chicken and root vegetables

This chicken takes about 45 minutes to an hour, from start to finish. Most of the time, the chicken is just baking in the oven and you need to check it every 10-15 minutes to mix and baste.

- 1+ pound of boneless skinless chicken breast (cutlets) – or you could use chicken parts, or boneless thighs

- 3 large carrots

- 3 large parsnips

- 4-5 celery stalks

- 1 onion

- several cloves of garlic

- 3-4 sprigs fresh rosemary

- olive oil

- 1/4 C lemon juice (to taste)

Prep. Preheat oven to 425ºF. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Rough chop all the vegetables – try to get them approximately the same size (except the garlic of course).

Fill. Scatter the vegetables in a pan large enough to fit them more or less in a single layer. Douse with olive oil (maybe 2T) and sprinkle generously with salt and freshly ground pepper. Season the chicken with salt and pepper too. Place the chicken on top of the vegetables and douse the chicken with a little more olive oil (another 1-2 T) – you can omit this if you are using chicken with skin. Pour in the lemon juice.

Bake. Bake the chicken for about 45 minutes, stirring and basting every 10-15 minutes. Add water or more lemon juice if you notice that there aren’t many juices and the corners of your pan are starting to burn. The chicken is officially ready when it reaches an internal temperature of 160ºF. I generally take mine out at 155ºF, but I’m wild and crazy. If the vegetables don’t cook as fast as the chicken, take the chicken out when it is ready and let the vegetables finish baking. Add the chicken back to the pan to warm back up for 5 minutes.

Eat. Take it out. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes, and then serve it straight from the pan. You can even eat it out of the pan if no one is looking.

 

Chard minestrone

I found this recipe in the New York Times earlier this year. You can freeze the soup before you add the chickpeas and chard. When you want to eat, just re-heat and add in chickpeas and chard for about 10 minutes.

- olive oil

- 6 carrots

- 1 onion

- 1 T chopped garlic (yup, I use the stuff in the jar)

- several handfuls of chard – separate stems from leaves

- 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

- 7 C water

- 1 t dry thyme

- 2 bay leaves

- 1 parmesan rind

- 2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans

- 1 C pasta

- extra parmesan

Prep. Rough chop the carrots and onions – try to get them approximately the same size chunks. Wash the chard really well. Remove the stems from the chard and rough chop as you would celery. Make a few lengthwise cuts in the chard leaves and then cut them widthwise into thin strips (“chiffonade” if you want to be all fancy about it).

Simmer. Pour enough olive oil to coat the bottom of your pot. Add all the vegetables except for the chard leaves. Saute until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, water, thyme, bay leaves, and parm. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. Be careful not to set the heat too high because the soup will  bubble over. Believe me – I know.

Store (optional). If you’re going to eat the soup at a later time, you can freeze or refrigerate the soup at this point. When you want to serve, proceed with the rest of the steps.

Simmer again. Rinse the chickpeas and add along with the chard leaves. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes until the chickpeas heat through and the chard wilts but still keeps its color.

Boil. Don’t boil the soup! Boil the pasta as directed, to just shy of al dente. Spoon into the soup right before serving (otherwise it will absorb the hot soup liquid and get overcooked and mushy).

Eat. Carefully. Let the soup cool off a bit before eating. I managed to burn my lip – and I was in pretty bad shape. Sprinkle with extra parm if you want.

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mischievious

Last week, I asked Gedalia, an excellent photographer, over for dinner with his wife Rachela so that he could take a few pictures of me. No, they’re not for an online dating profile. I’ve sworn off of those. (I’ll keep you posted on how that’s going.) The head shot is for PresenTense magazine, which asked me to contribute content and photographs to their upcoming magazine. I’ll tell you more about that when it gets published, but for now, let’s chat about the picture.

Rachela helped me pick out an outfit and Gedalia snapped away. We all agreed that the mischievious ones were best.

Mischievious, not mischievous. Miss-cheeeeeee-ve-us. Rhymes with devious. That’s me. Mischievious, that is. Not devious.

To incentivize (bribe) Rachela and Gedalia to come over after a long day, I rewarded them with dinner. Check out what I made.

Penne alla vodka

A vodka sauce made with tomatoes, cream, and of course vodka, is one of my favorite pasta sauces and does take a little more effort than opening a jar, but this whole dish takes about 20 minutes. There’s no chopping! If you’re starving, snack on a few olives and pour yourself a glass of wine. I use Lidia Bastianich’s recipe as a starting point. Boil the pasta just shy of al dente because it will continue cooking when you add it to the sauce. Beware the sauce does splatter and make a mess of your stovetop. On second thought, that might just be me…whenever I cook I make a mess!

- 1 pound penne

- salt

- one 35-ounce can tomatoes (San Marzano are really good) – whole or chopped – if you use whole tomatoes, given them a quick whirl in a blender or food processor to break them up (but don’t over blend or you will end up with pink frothy aerated tomatoes)

- 2-3T olive oil

- 6-10 cloves garlic (depending on how big the cloves are)

- Crushed red pepper flakes

- 1/4 C vodka

- 1/4 – 1/2 C cream (I use a bit more than 1/4 C light cream but the original recipe calls for 1/2 C heavy cream)

-  3/4 C parmesan cheese (and more for sprinkling)

Boil. Put a huge pot of water on to boil. When the water comes to a rolling boil, add several large pinches of salt. The water should be as salty as chicken broth. Pretty salty. Cook pasta just shy of al dente and drain (don’t rinse), reserving a cup or two of the pasta liquid.

Saute. While pasta is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat (large enough to hold the cooked pasta too). Whack garlic cloves with the side of a heavy knife to remove skin and crush the meat a bit. Add the cloves to the hot oil and cook until light brown.

Step back. Add the tomatoes carefully and step back. There will be a fair amount of sputtering and splattering here.

Boil. Bring tomatoes to a boil and add salt and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, and boil 2 more minutes.

Simmer. Pour in the vodka and lower the heat so the sauce simmers and continues to splatter. When you first add the vodka, it seems to float on top, so simmer until the vodka gets fully incorporated (about 10 more minutes). Take out the garlic cloves and pour in the cream.

Mix. Add the pasta to the sauce and gently simmer until the sauce sticks to the pasta. If it gets too dry, add some of the pasta liquid to bring the sauce to the right consistency. Add grated parmesan to the pasta and mix. Serve with lots of extra cheese.

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my daily bread

The food at our resort in the Dominican Republic was…

…well, it was there.

To be fair, it was plentiful. And there were some nice mangoes. And I had some lovely crêpe Suzette (the chef let me flambé them myself). But by day 2, and every day thereafter, I found myself stuffing a zip lock bag full of the corn bread served at breakfast to sustain me on the beach until dinner. Because we skipped lunch. Because there just wasn’t anything worth leaving that hammock and sunshine for.

So, let’s talk about that cornbread. Cornbread? Not really. It was more like a buttery pound cake with some corn meal thrown in for good measure. There were chocolate and strawberry versions as well, but I stuck with the original. I could fit 4, sometimes 5 slices into a zip lock bag. Bubbie would be proud!

So, imagine this. I’m wearing a little bikini, lying on a hammock on a tropical island, warmed by the sun … and eating pound cake. Actually, better to not imagine me. But you get the picture.

Cornmeal pound cake

I tried a few poundcake recipe and landed on Chocolate and Zucchini’s yogurt cake (“gateau au yaourt”).  It takes longer to pre-heat the oven than it does to mix together the ingredients.  I replace some of the flour with cornmeal to approximate the breakfast cake I had in the DR. The key here, like with pancakes, is not to overmix the batter. The cake is not nearly as rich and butter-laden as the original — and I like it even better. It’s especially great toasted and buttered.

- 1/3 C melted buter

- 2 eggs

- 1 C nonfat plain yogurt – don’t use Greek yogurt….it’s too thick

- 1 C sugar

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1/2 C fine ground corn meal

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 t baking soda

- good pinch of salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pan (I used a 9X5) with spray oil (or whatever you like). Melt butter (to minimize dishes, I microwaved it right in my large mixing bowl).

Mix. Gently combine butter, eggs, yogurt, sugar and vanilla until well incorporated.

Fold. Sift into the mixing bowl flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Fold the ingredients together until just mixed. The batter should be somewhat thick and bubbly.

Bake. Bake cake 30-35 minutes until top is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Cool. Cool in pan for 10 minutes and then transfer to rack. Don’t cut until fully cool.

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Just a quick hello and recipe.

I  bought a few cool colored veggies a few days ago at the farmers market. Green zebra tomatoes. Purple beans.

Granted, the star here really was the corn. You might need to click on the link to see the beads of steam clinging to the kernels after a quick oven roast.

The purple beans were the coolest part. A quick online search for recipes ended in disappointment. These beauties turn a dull green with cooking. Boo! A bit more digging, mystery solved, and a potential solution discovered.

Are you ready for your science lesson? Don’t remember too much plant biology? Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.

Purple beans, like other purple veggies contain anthocyanins, a water soluble vacuolar pigment. Vacuoles are organelles that “eat” proteins and are responsible for maintaining the acidic pH in plant cells. Anyway, anthocyanins in vacuoles give color to different berries and vegetables (beets, red cabbage, eggplant). Anthocyanins are very pH sensitive and require an acidic environment to maintain their purple color. Raise the pH (more basic), and they disappear along with their color. Heat breaks down anthocyanins directly and bursts the plant cells apart, diluting the acidity of the beans. The green, previously masked by the anthocyanin, emerges and takes over. Dull green beans.

I like a challenge. I read about cold shocking to keep the purple beans purple. About cooking in vinegar to raise the acidicty. About butter braising. Better yet, a butter bath. It’s unclear to me how the butter helps, but seriously, pamper the purple pods in a bubbling bath of butter? What could be bad about that?

I decided to start with a lemon juice dunk followed by the butter bath. I watched the beans carefully and the second they started to turn color, I poured them in a bowl and stuck them into the freezer. Ice water shock? I don’t think so. I wan’t about to throw out the beans babies let alone the bath butter!

As I finish typing up this recipe, the purple beans slowly turn green. A reminder that my little break is over and it’s time to turn back to work.

Summer succotash

Remove silks from an ear of corn and rewrap it in its husk. Throw it right onto the rack of a hot oven and cook until the husks start to brown and and the scent of corn fills the air (less than 10 minutes). Meanwhile, rinse and trim a handful of purple beans and douse with a few tablespoons of lemon juice in a bowl. Let the beans sit for about 5 minutes. Heat a few pats of butter in a skillet until bubbling. Pour the beans and juice into the bubble, er, butter, bath. Quickly sauté beans, moving pan constantly over the heat. Did you know that the French verb, sauter, means to jump? Keep those babies jumping back and forth in the pan. At the first sign of green, pour the beans, juice, and  butter back into the bowl and race it over to the freezer. Shave corn kernels off the cob, and toss them with two tomatoes, coarsely chopped. Pour the now chilled green beans mixture on top and be sure to scoop out all that butter and lemon juice as a vinaigrette. A few pinches of salt and toss. Eat quickly. Write a blog post.

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late to the party

I went to Thinking Cup Cafe the other day before settling in for a picnic and a little Shakespeare on the Common with my friend Dee. One sip of their cold-brewed iced coffee had me begging for the recipe and buying a 12-ounce bag of Stumptown Egyptian Mordecofe, medium grind.

I had heard about cold-brew in the past, but never thought to make it myself until my friend Chavi started asking around about it.

A quick search online pulled up the 2007 NYT recipe that may indeed have started it all.

2007!

Where was I four years ago when the rest of the world made this discovery? My excuse – I only get the Times on weekends.

Cold-brewed iced coffee

Since Thinking Cup’s recipe is scaled to make several gallons of coffee at a time, I opted for the widely available NYT recipe tested by trustworthy Deb of Smitten Kitchen.

The nice thing about cold brewing is that it isn’t bitter the way hot coffee or espresso poured over ice can be. I’m not entirely sure why that is – does the heat draw out the bitterness? Does the heat draw out good stuff that masks the bitterness? Does anyone know the science behind this? Anyone?

Anyway, on to the recipe…

- 1/3 C medium ground coffee beans (you can ask your for a medium or french press grind)

- 1 1/2 C cold water

Brew. In a jar or liquid measuring cup, add 1/3 C coffee to cold water. Cover and let sit 12-20 hours at room temperature.

Filter. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve. This filters out the grounds.

Filter again.  Strain again through a paper filter this time. This second filter helps remove any remaining sediment.

Drink. Pour equal parts concentrate and cold water over ice (or to taste – I like mine pretty strong, so I don’t add much water). Add milk and/or sugar.

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oh my, indeed!

As I write this, I’m snacking on a handful of blueberries fresh from this Monday’s farmers market. It’s where I get most of my food these days. I’ve stocked up on berries and plums (remember this? have you made it yet?) and greens, oh my! Heirloom tomatoes, spring onions, oh my! Green beans and pea shoots and mint, oh my! 

Oh my, indeed!

But oy my … the past two Mondays, I’ve gotten drenched in massive downpours. And the weather has been so chilly and rainy that I could swear it was Fall. I’ve been turning on my oven and stove far too much for a summer day in August. Chard. Roasted corn and roasted zucchini.  Schnitzel. Muffins.

And then today arrived. Bienvenue le soleil. Bienvenue les ciels bleus. Bienvenue la chaleur. Au revoir le four!

Unable to fathom turning on the oven in this gorgeous heat, I turned to a no-cook salad with the zucchini in my fridge.

Oh my, indeed!

 Zucchini ribbon salad with Middle Eastern spices

Admittedly, long strands of shaved zucchini are impressive to look out, but difficult to eat. I’d say definitely not first date material! I used an inexpensive mandoline to shave the zucchini, but I’ve heard you can also use a vegetable peeler. This recipe is similar to another favorite zucchini recipe – I used the same spice mixture and added labne to the dressing for a nice creaminess. If you want to be really fancy, make a zucchini cage over baby arugula — I’ll show you how at the end of the recipe.

- 1 medium to large sized zucchini

- 1 lemon

- 2-3 T olive oil

- good pinch of cumin

- small pinch of aleppo (or cayenne) pepper flakes

- 1T labne (Middle Eastern savory yogurt)

- salt and pepper

Shave. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, shave zucchini lengthwise to make long thin ribbons. Arrange ribbons on a plate.

Whisk. Zest and juice the lemon into a bowl. Add olive oil, cumin, aleppo and whisk. Then add the labne and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour. Drizzle dressing over the zucchini ribbons. Let the zucchini marinate for a few minutes before serving.

Get a little fancy. When you really want to dress to impress, here’s what you do. Weave a cage of zucchini and serve with arugula. Cut the zucchini ribbons in half. Create a basket weave in a cereal-sized bowl – starting in the middle, weave the zucchini strips under and over each other. Cut the ends with scissors around the edge of the bowl. Fill the bowl with baby arugula and place a plate upside down over the bowl. Flip. Suround with arugula to cover up any imperfect spots. Drizzle dressing over the top. Await oohs and aahs.

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in the works

Hi there.

Summer’s going by fast, isn’t it?

There’s a lot of stuff in the works over here.

What started out as a little project to catalog my recipes has turned into something I’m incredibly proud of.

That’s about all that I can say right now. More later.

Blueberry oatmeal muffins

These muffins are based on the raspberry oatmeal muffins in The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook. I’ve been involved with Hadassah on and off for the past few years through their Young Hadassah International group, including traveling to Rome with them for a conference. I was even asked to contribute a few recipes to the cookbook – how cool is that?! This recipe made exactly a dozen muffins.

- 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter

- 1/2 C brown sugar

- 1 egg

- 1/2 C milk (I used skim)

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 C flour

- 1 t baking  powder

- 1/2 t baking soda

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 C instant/quick cook oats

- 1 C fresh blueberries

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line cupcake tray with cupcake liners.

Melt and Mix. Melt butter on stovetop or in microwave. Mix with brown sugar until fully combined (I used my mixer). Add egg, milk, and vanilla and mix until thoroughly combined.

Mix again. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in a few batches, mixing in between. Add oats and mix again. Add the blueberries now and mix very gently. If you want your muffins a bit neater, add the blueberries to the batter once it’s been scooped into the tins and press them down into the batter.

Scoop and Bake. Scoop the batter equally into the 12 cupcake liners. I used a 1/4 C scooper which made this a cinch. Add a few extra blueberries if you’d like. Bake 18-20 minutes. You can try to use a toothpick to test whether the muffins are done, but mine just came out blue. If the muffins are dry on top and a little bit springy, they should be good. Cool on a rack.

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I’m back! I’m such a tease, I’m sorry. But I promise you, these brownies are worth the wait. And the anticipation.

Alyson, Ilana, and I had five days of sunshine, swimming, and general silliness. Let’s just say that the phrase whoo whoo got thrown around quite a bit during our vacation, inspired by the little red train we took through our resort one evening when we got lost. As in, chugga chugga chugga chugga choo choo! Yes, really. The arm gesture of pulling a bell was optional.

There was, however, no whooing when our flight landed and I looked outside our window.

As we disembarked and filed down the stairs, I snapped this photo before the police threatened to confiscate my camera if I took another picture on the tarmac.

In case you didn’t figure it out already, we were not in the Dominican Republic. The policeman’s shorts should give a clue. Shorts! And knee socks! We had an emergency landing in Bermuda (Bermuda!) due to a smoke signal coming from our engine. Yeah. Definitely no whooing at that stage.

Turns out, everything was alright. Four hours later we were back in the air. My requests for a short field trip to the beach were ignored.

During our trip, I took a break from everything in life. Including my camera. So, I don’t have any pictures of me on a hammock in the sun. Or of Alyson and Ilana lounging in the shade of a palm-covered cabana. Or the aqua blue Caribbean water.

Now home, I’m very tan.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about home recently and where my home is. Maybe it’s because my lease is almost up and I’m probably renewing. Maybe it’s because after 3 years here in Boston, I have a very strong chevra – a group of close friends. Boston is my physical home, but home is so much more than that.

I saw the band Stornoway a few months ago when my sister came to visit. (If you haven’t listened to them, you should. They have a folksy British vibe. So they have those swoon worthy accents. And as my sister says, they’re not too hard on the eyes either!) My favorite song, Fuel Up, captures my feelings perfectly:

Home is only a feeling you get in your mind
From the people you love and you travel beside

A few weeks ago, I was in DC, visiting my friend Reva.

Reva has a lovely home and I’ve always loved being part of it. During med school, we named her guest room “Gayle’s room.”

We did a lot over the weekend. And there was a fair amount of domestic bliss. Really, bliss for me. We went to her older son Isaac’s baseball game (and later performed some delicate hand surgery on his season-end trophy). We played board games and legos with her younger son, Eli. We drove first in her minivan and then in her husband’s white convertible. It reminded me of the days in med school when we used to drive around in my own white convertible. Except there was no car seat in the back of mine. Reva and I went out to dinner, but as usual, most of our time was spent in the kitchen, catching up, slicing and mixing, and cleaning. (Well, I’m not so good at the cleaning part.)

The boys got in on the action too when her husband Aaron and I made breakfast one morning — hash browns and eggs  — with Isaac’s help.

And then Reva and I made brownies together. In my experience, making brownies from scratch was a waste of effort since I really like the Duncan Hines ones. But, Reva explained, this recipe is worth the few extra bowls and elbow grease. After waiting patiently for the brownies to cool, one bite was enough. Well, enough to convince me to try these at home. After having a few more bites to make sure that I really liked them.

So, a few days later, I made a batch. But they just didn’t match up to Reva’s batch. I texted her that my brownies weren’t as good as her’s. She sent back instructions:

Over-brown the butter, I think! Leave out the nuts, add chocolate chips, and be careful not to over-bake. Also, chat with a friend during!

I made these a second batch the next day. (My office was quite happy to test both batches). I left the butter to brown and hand-beat the batter while balancing my phone between ear and shoulder and chatting with Meira and then Rachela. I only dropped my phone once. Luckily it missed the batter by a few inches. Lucky not because the phone didn’t get dirty, but because I didn’t lose a drop of batter.

Maybe I should call these whoo whoo! brownies.

Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter and Fleur de Sel

These brownies are adapted from Alice Medrich‘s recipe in this February’s Bon Appetit. See that cover? Oh yeah, these brownies are on the cover. And never have I seen a dish so worthy of a cover.

The key to this recipe is the butter. Using cocoa means that all the fat comes from the butter. And browning the butter gives the recipe a nice nutty flavor. Don’t skimp here. It’s worth the extra pan to clean. And from me, that’s saying a lot. Or, you can brown the butter in a larger saucepan and then add all the other ingredients to the pan. One pan. Not bad! Before popping into the oven, sprinkle the brownies with a few pinches of fleur de sel.

- Vegetable oil spray

- 10 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/4 C white sugar

- 3/4 C cocoa powder – I’ve tried some of the fancier ones, but I’ve found that Hershey’s is the best for this recipe. Crazy, I know!

- 1 t vanilla

- 2 t water

- 1/4 t salt

- 2 eggs, chilled

- 1/3 C + 1T all purpose flour

- 3/4 C chocolate chips chopped into chunks

- a few pinches fleur de sel

Pre-heat and prep. Move rack to bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line an 8X8 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. The aluminum foil is key.

Brown the butter. This bears repeating – don’t skip this step! Got it? Melt butter in small saucepan or pan over medium heat. The butter will start to foam. Keep stirring and cook until the butter browns and little brown bits form at the bottom. When the foam starts to subside (in my experience, the foam never dies until I take it off the heat), take it off the heat and pour into a bowl. Scrape up those browned bits and add them to the bowl.

Mix. Add sugar, cocoa, vanilla, water, and 1/4 t salt. Stir to blend – it will be grainy.

Wait. Let butter sugar mixture sit 5 minutes until lukewarm (not cool).

Mix again. Add eggs to warm mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition. Keep beating until thick and glossy. This does take some work.

Keep mixing. Add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. I’m not sure why 60 is the magic number of strokes, but fewer and the brownies bake up grainy. Add chocolate chunks and stir to blend.

Bake. Scoop batter into prepared pan (it’s thick, so you won’t be able to pour it) and smooth out with a spatula. Set timer for 25 minutes (but it may take up to 30 minutes) and bake until a toothpick comes out almost clean. There should be a few moist crumbs attached. If it’s really undercooked, put back into oven for up to 5 more minutes. But, don’t over-bake. Even if, like me, you like the crunchy corners.

Cool and cut. Cool in pan on rack and then remove brownies on the foil. DON’T cut while hot. Or warm. I know, it’s hard to wait, but do it. Then, when you cut them, use a big sharp knife. You’ll probably need to wipe the knife after every few slices. Cut into 16 squares or 24 bars.

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I got home from work last night inspired by chard. Again. Though this time, a little less frenzied.

Like last time, I balanced my Diet Coke with a glass of Cabernet. I was craving something creamy and earthy and rich. I replaced the pasta and feta with polenta and provolone, added mushrooms to the chard, and doused the mix with some wine from my glass (and then refilled my glass). I called the vegetable mix a ragoût. Because I like how that sounds. Ragoooo. And because it’s French. It comes from the verb ragoûter – to restore the appetite, to stimulate, to stir up; goûter means to taste. I didn’t need my appetite restored, but I did need my appetite fed, and this did the trick.

Sitting on my kitchen counter is a little wooden sign that says

I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food. (W.C. Fields)

This statement is true. Very true. But I’d like my to add wine to the food more than sometimes.

Mushroom Chard Ragoût over Creamy Polenta

Make these two dishes at the same time. It takes about 30 minutes from start to finish. Scoop a nice mound of polenta in the center of a wide bowl and spoon the ragoût around the

Creamy Polenta

- 1C medium or coarse grind corn meal

- 4.5 C water

- salt

- 2 T butter

- 1/2 C provolone cheese, shredded

Add polenta and salt to cold water in a small pots. Whisk a few times and bring to boiling. Turn the heat to low and whisk every minute for the first 5 minutes. Continue to whisk every few minutes until all the water is absorbed, about 15-20 minutes for a total cooking time of 20-15 minutes. Add butter and shredded cheese and salt to taste.

Mushroom Chard Ragoût

- 1 T butter, 1 T olive oil

- 1 onion, chopped

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

- 3/4 lb mushrooms, sliced

- 1 big bunch of red chard

- 1/2 C red wine (I used a rich Cabernet)

Heat butter and oil in a wide skillet large enough to fit all the chard. Sauté onion and garlic until transparent. Add sliced chard ribs, cover, and cook on medium heat for 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and stir for another ~8 minutes until mushrooms darken, release their fluid and then reabsorb it. Add chard leaves and cover for another 5 minutes to wilt. Add wine and heat until liquid reduces, another 5 mintues or so. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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I  bet you thought I was going to talk about Thanksgiving. Nope. Too predictable. Instead, I have a very special gift for you.

Today, I want to introduce you to Julie. She has been thinking about starting her own food blog, so help me encourage her with this baby step she’s making. Julie has actually been with me on my entire blogventure. We were in Paris together exactly 2 years ago when I met Clotilde Desoulier at a book signing and decided to start little cooking diary. We spent that night figuring out where we were going to spend the next 5 days and how to actually get there, with periodic breaks for me to gush about how excited I was to start a blog. We checked airlines, train schedules, and travel sites, finally formulating our plan at 3 am. We would take an overnight train from Paris to Berlin, spend the day and a night in Berlin, and then go to our main destination, Prague the next morning.

Arriving in Berlin, we toured around, drank some beer (I know, me, beer!), cancelled our hotel, and spent the night in a casino. We jumped on the early morning train, snoozed, and a few hours later, disembarked when we heard commotion in the aisle and the conductor shouting something in Czech (well, we assumed it was Czech). We found a taxi and showed the driver a printout of our hotel address. He loaded our luggage into his trunk and then started driving into a residential neighborhood in the mountains. We looked at each other in the back seat and shrugged; I mouthed to Julie, “I thought we were just a few minutes from downtown Prague.” Neither of us spoke Czech and our driver didn’t speak English (or Russian for that matter). The driver pulled up next to another car parked near the driveway of a house. A quick exchange of words with the driver of the parked car and our driver was gifted with a GPS. Again, Julie and I shrugged at each other. We started driving and driving and finally, from the back seat, we were able to inquire as to why this was taking so long. Turns out, we had managed to detrain right after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic, over an hour from Prague. Our driver returned us to the border station and refused our money. We took another train to the right stop this time.

Prague was freezing. We went to the castle, the opera, the Alte-Neu synagogue. We ate venison (first time ever for me) in a restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. We took a mini-cruise along the Vltava River.

The prior year, Julie and I had spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving together in Amsterdam and Brussels. It seems Thanksgiving has become a bit of a tradition for us. This year, we are both in Miami with our families. I’m hoping Julie and her parents will come over for dessert.

You know, I said this wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving post. But apparently it is. Thanks, Julie, for being a great friend and travel partner!

***

I was asked to write a guest blog a while back by my friend, Gayle, and I procrastinated because I really didn’t know which dish to write about.  I love food, and all cuisines—from the most complex and authentic to the simplest of dishes. Having a wide range of different dishes prepared by my mom, who is one of the best cooks I know, and by experiencing the cuisine of different countries through the travels I’ve done over the years, I’ve developed a special love for food.  And of course, if there is an idea about a dish in my head, I always try to make it at home. As I was deciding on the menu for the blog post, I really wanted to combine something old and traditional with something new and fresh that I could relate to my every day life.

Back in February, I was in Amsterdam for a friend’s wedding and was invited to one of the sheva brachot. The hostess informed everyone that she wasn’t going to be cooking much, just dunne pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I was very excited to try real traditional Dutch food. Finally, when she brought out a huge plate of what seemed to me a stock of typical Russian blini, I was pleasantly surprised to see a taste of home. “This is not Dutch,” I thought to myself,these are Russian blini!” I grew up with blini, topped with caviar, lox, Nutella, jam or whatever other toppings you could think of.  After seeing 30 Dutch people eating their Dutch dunne pannekoeken and folding them a different way, I realized that food is what binds us together; we may come from different corners of the world but we all eat the same food. The only difference is that we call it our own, and by our own names: blini, blintzes, crepes, or dunne pannekoeken. It’s that comfort food that is universal and loved by the whole world.  This is the reason I chose to share the blini recipe with you, along with another episode from my life—that reminded me of my childhood—that would complement the Russian blinis.

Blini

<<note from Gayle: I made these and they came out so well that I ate the entire batch for breakfast. I used skim milk and it worked very well. I think I could have thinned out the batter a bit with more hot water to make the blini easier to spread in the pan. Julie recommended experimenting with the right “ladle size” to give you just enough batter to cover the bottom of your pan. I used ~1/3  cup of batter and made 10 blinis. Julie’s thinner batter made closer to 15 blinis. >>

- 1 cup of milk (or soy milk)

- 1 cup of flour

- 2 eggs

- 1/4 cup of oil

- pinch of baking powder

- pinch of salt

- 2 tablespoons of sugar

- 3 -4 tablespoons of hot water

Blend all the ingredients, except for hot water, with a hand blender until smooth; add the hot water, mix everything well; add more water if needed to get the right smooth consistency.  Heat up and grease a frying pan and pour a ladle full of batter into the center of the pan and quickly move the frying pan in a circular motion, so that the batter spreads evenly all around until it’s all set. Cook for a minute on each side or until brown.

Stack the ready blinis up one on top of the other until all the batter is used. If the first blin didn’t come out right, don’t get discouraged! There is a Russian saying that says that the first blin isn’t meant to come out right: “Pervi blin komom!

Now that you have the recipe for authentic Russian blinis, I would like to share a recipe for home-made lox fillet that you can eat along with your blinis.  Recently, my mom’s friends were visiting from Canada and at one of the meals my mom served lox, one of the sisters said: “Why do you buy lox, it’s so much better to make it at home.” Huh?! Home-made lox? I thought lox was Scandinavian, and one of those foods that can only be bought, like canned tuna. And then I was quickly reminded that her father used to bring fresh and salted fish direct from the Caspian Sea and sell it in my hometown.  I didn’t realize that he was the one salting the lox. It’s almost as if I could still taste of delicious, fresh, and juicy lox in my mouth from when I was about 10 years old. The recipe sounded simple, so I decided to try it—and it was too easy to make and too delicious to not continue making again and again.

Lox

Take a fresh salmon fillet with the skin on, wash it, pat dry it with a paper towel and put it in a glass dish. Cover the fish with salt all around about 2mm (or if you use kosher salt I use 1 layer of salt all around). Cover with a lid and keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 16-22 hours. Wash off the salt, pat the fish dry with a paper towel, dip the towel in some olive oil and smear it all around the fish.  Slice fillet as you like and enjoy it with anything from a cracker to home-made blinis for Sunday brunch, or as a starter for Shabbat lunch. Enjoy!

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