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Archive for the ‘parve’ Category

Some things get easier as we get older. But making new friends is not one of them. Sure, we make acquaintances. We have people to go out to dinner with. And brunch. We befriend the parents of our kids’ friends based on play dates and carpools and school projects. But friends who know you like your high school and college friends do? Those are few and far between, and they get fewer and farther between as time goes by.

When my parents moved out to Palo Alto over a decade ago, they were in a bind. New coast, new city, new life. They knew no one. They were, to some extent, starting over. They quickly joined a synagogue, but lived several miles away, too far to walk to shabbat services as the congregation was wont to do. So they stayed in a nearby hotel on many Friday nights and relied on the community’s hospitality for shabbat dinners and lunches. It’s a hard position to be in, not being able to reciprocate.

One of my mother’s first friends in California was Stephanie. In a recent email, my mother described Stephanie as “the quintessential Palo Alto hostess … If there was an extra person or two in synagogue who needed hospitality, she could always stretch a meal to accommodate them and no one knew it was a stretch.  That was definitely a talent.” It may sound strange to think of people “needing” to be fed, but on shabbat, one of the main tenets, at least my favorite one, is eating with family and community. While she started by welcoming my parents to the community, Stephanie quickly became family. She and my mom spoke nearly every night. They even shared a birthday – February 12 – and my parents threw Stephanie a celebratory brunch when she hit a big something-oh.

Stephanie and her mother both died of ovarian cancer a few years back. In their matriarchs’ honor, the family started the Stephanie Sussman and Ann Nadrich Memorial Fund through Sharsheret, an organization that supports Jewish women facing breast and ovarian cancer. Soon Stephanie’s  daughters, Adeena and Sharon, started the Pies for Prevention Thanksgiving bake sale to raise ovarian cancer awareness and to support Sharsheret’s Ovarian Cancer Program. The bake sale has grown, gained press coverage and, now in its fourth year, you can buy pies (and breads) in eight cities across the nation, including up here in the Boston area (more on that later).

(Stephanie was clearly beautiful on the inside, and her daughters are testament to how stunning she was on the outside.)

When my family crowded around our Thanksgiving table last year, drowsy from too much turkey, we greeted our pies with greedy eyes and large plates that were soon crumb-covered. Our bellies were full, and so were our hearts.

If you’re in the Boston area and would like to order some goodies but can’t make it out to Sharon to pick them up, I’m going to be making a pie and bread run so you can grab their orders from my place the two evenings  before the holiday.

Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adeena Sussman shared this recipe with me. She’s a great chef and food writer, and this quick bread is a good example of her talent for recipe development.  When we ate it last year, we couldn’t figure out whether to serve it with the meal or for dessert. If you can, hide a few leftover slices, then toast them up and slather them with butter for breakfast the next morning. You can always go to the gym next week.

Makes two 9-inch loaves or three 8-inch loaves  

- One 15 oz can solid-pack pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)

- 4 eggs

- 1 cup vegetable oil

- 2/3 cup water

- 2 cups white sugar

- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

- 2 teaspoons baking soda

- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt

- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

- 1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch or three 8-inch loaf pans and reserve.

In a large bowl, mix together pumpkin puree, eggs, oil, water and sugar until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger.

Stir the dry ingredients into the pumpkin mixture until just blended. Gently stir in cranberries. Pour into the prepared pans.

Bake for 60-65 minutes in the preheated oven. Loaves are done when toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

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I’ve been seeing all these signs for NaBloPoMo and thought I was in New York looking for a newly-named-by-a-realtor neighborhood somewhere between TriBeCa and DUMBO. But no, I’m safely back in Boston. The portmanteau (oooh, getting fancy!) stands for National Blog Posting Month and is a challenge to bloggers to write one post per day in November. People have been doing it for years. When Jess brought it to my attention, I figured, why not do it this year? This is just the type of challenge that I need to push my writing in new directions and to experiment.

What if I write a post without a picture? What if I have pictures without words? How many different voices can I adopt (I already have the he-said-she-said down pat)? The opportunity to play during a condensed timeline, especially in a month so filled with cooking and preparation and family and craziness, will be an adventure. There’s definitely value in keeping up with the Joneses on this one.

Wanna join me?

If don’t have a blog, but do have a Y chromosome, why not take up the Movember challenge instead? Grow a mustache, raise awareness about men’s health issues such as prostate and testicular cancers, and encourage donations to fund education, outreach, and research.

And with that public service announcement, I’ll begin my catch-up NaBloPoMo

Let’s talk a little bit about yesterday, November 2. A friend recently challenged me to make dinner for four in under an hour (in desperation, I can have 90 minutes). I invited three friends over, and made just two simple, well-balanced dishes that seemed like they could be made in an hour. I decided to make a chicken and a kale barley beet salad. And for dessert, some biscotti I had made the day before.

I skimmed the recipes and figured I’d be able to make the chicken and the salad in parallel. Not quite. The chicken needed time in the oven at 425ºF. The beets at 375ºF. The beets took longer than expected. The barley took longer than expected. And then I read that the kale had to sit in dressing for 3 hours to wilt.

New challenge: read recipes from start to finish. And then let’s see how this 60-minute dinner for four thing unfolds.

Nonetheless, the chicken was great, the salad was great, the biscotti were great.

As for those  biscotti, that brings me to the day before yesterday, November 1, when I baked them.

They were my third attempt at some sort of cornmeal biscotti. The first attempt was tart cherry lime – hard as a rock, gritty, and too sweet. The second, blueberry lime – too dry and brittle. Then lucky number three, cranberry almond lime – crispy, crunchy, sweet, nutty, with a hint of lime. Exactly what I’ve been looking for. Another time, we can discuss the science behind my adjustments and how I carefully calculated the exact chemistry for (stumbled upon?) the right recipe. We’ll have loads of time for that this month.

For now though, let’s just stick with the kale salad.

Kale and barley salad with beets

The original recipe was a barley salad with kale, but I wanted more of a kale salad with barley. I cut the barley nearly in half and reduced the amount of beets as well. This salad would be great with feta, as the original indicates. Make sure to give yourself enough prep time. There’s only a little bit of chopping and prepping you need to do, but you do need to spend a fair amount of time watching – checking the beets, checking the barley, giving the kale a few hours to wilt. If you’re really organized, make the barley, beets, and dressing in advance. Chop and dress the kale in the morning – it won’t get soggy. Then toss everything together while your chicken is roasting. One hour after you’ve draped your coat over a chair, dinner can be on the table. In theory. This month, I’m going to try to make that happen. 

Serves 4

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T unseasoned rice vinegar

- 2 t light brown sugar

- 1 orange for zest

- 1 shallot

- 1 big bunch of Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur kale) or 5 oz (3 big handfuls) baby kale

- 2 medium beets, trimmed

- 3/4 C pearl barley

Preheat oven to 375ºF

Make dressing. In a glass jar, shake together the  olive oil, vinegar, sugar, and orange zest (set aside a pinch or two of zest to sprinkle on the assembled salad). Adjust for salt and pepper. Very thinly slice shallots into rings. Add them to the jar and keep shaking.

Wilt.  If you’re using large kale, separate leaves from ribs and cut the leaves into bite sized pieces. If you’re using the baby kale, rough chop the leaves, also into bite-sized-pieces. Add half the dressing (including some of the shallots), and massage it into the kale. Let sit for three hours until the leaves start to wilt and  become tender.

Roast. By now the oven should be hot. Wash and dry the beets, put them in a small baking dish, drizzle them with oil, and then roll them around so they’re coated with oil. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes. Start checking around 45 minutes – the beets are done when a sharp knife can easily pierce through to the center without hitting much resistance. If the beets are large, or aren’t roasting fast enough for you, cut them in half and roast another 10 minutes and check again. Keep checking until they’re ready. Take them out of the oven, making sure that they foil is still tightly covering the beets. Let them cool covered before handling them. When you can touch them, use a peeler, a paring knife, or your fingers to peel off the skin. Cut the beets into 1/2-inch cubes.

Simmer. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (at least 4 cups). Salt the boiling water and then add the barley. Stir once and then reduce the heat to a medium simmer (there should be a few bubbles every second, but you don’t want a full on violently roll). Cook for 45 minutes to an hour. The barley is ready when it is al dente – just barely tender. If the barley feels like it has a little hard grain inside, it’s not quite ready yet.

Dry. Drain the barley and spread it onto a cookie sheet to dry out and cool.

Assemble. Gently toss the wilted kale with the barley and another tablespoon of dressing, or to taste. Top with beets and the reserved orange zest.

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Last night as the wind whistled outside my window and the city prepared for Sandy to blow through, I flopped into bed and flipped open Tamar Adler‘s book which I’ve been slowly devouring. The bookmark was stuck between pages 198 and 199. The book opened to Chapter 17, fittingly called “How to Weather a Storm.” (Fair warning: this post might read like a dissertation with its quotes galore, but the passages I cite are too good, their sentiment too true, for any clumsy paraphrasing. I hope you’ll understand.)

Right up front in the introduction to her book, Adler explains that she modeled An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace after MFK Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf. She describes her inspiration as “a book about cooking defiantly, amid the mess of war and the pains of bare pantries.” There’s no war around here, but there is a mess outside. The pantry may not be bare, at least not in my kitchen, but there’s nothing like a hurricane to make  you think about what might happen if  you have to subsist on whatever you have on hand with little hope of rapid replenishment.

Reading Adler’s chapter on eating out of cans in the face of little, I was reminded of my favorite chapter in Luisa Weiss‘s first book, My Berlin Kitchen, another recent bedtime companion. The chapter is called “Depression Stew” and the way I read it, it’s about the loneliness of Paris. I couldn’t help but relate to Luisa’s story (we met a few weeks ago, so I think it’s OK for us to be on a first name basis) of living in Paris and wanting to be an insider, wanting to have someone to share the city with. She writes, “I went to classes by day and walked the streets alone in the evening, sometimes ducking into one of the city’s myriad one-room movie theaters tucked away in small side streets to escape the increasing seclusion I felt.”  I too spent time in Paris, often alone, often lonely. One summer, I too took (dance) classes and wandered the streets on my own.  And while I did go on a few dates with a guy, when it was quickly clear that there was no future for us, he said, “I’ll never forget you as the girl who was lost in Paris.”

Reading Luisa contemplate the “Depression Stew” she made in her barely-wingspan Parisian kitchen felt familiar to me. Luisa had learned to make Depression Stew from her father who liked to think of it as “the kind of food  you’d eat during a financial depression, cheap and filling and healthy.” When she made it that year in Paris, she felt  that the stew could also serve as “a remedy for more personal lows.” Even though I preferred to eat out with a book that summer rather than cooking anything in the similarly tiny kitchen of my one-room rented Left Bank apartment, I knew what she was talking about.

When I first bookmarked Luisa’s stew, I thought I’d make it when I was feeling a bit blue and I’d write about being lost in Paris. But after reading Adler’s Chapter 17 last night and watching reports of the strengthening storm and its havoc this morning, it seemed more fitting to write about the stew’s humble beginnings.

I imagine Adler would approve heartily of Depression Stew. She recommends that you “get out a pot and a pan, and decide that no matter how hard the wind is whipping at the windows, you will be well fed through the storm.” She talks a lot about canned tomatoes and canned beans. The latter she says need a good long simmer in olive oil to “become really likable.” Even better if you cook them up with onion and garlic. And that’s where Luisa’s stew begins. And then Luisa fills out the aromatics with whatever is in the fridge – carrot, potato, zucchini – and a can of tomatoes. Luckily I had everything I needed for Depression Stew. A couple of carrots that were a bit droopy, a handful of potatoes a bit soft, half a baguette a bit stale — food that might otherwise be headed for the garbage had this stew not saved them.

I’m weathering hurricane Sandy just fine so far. Thanks, ladies, for keeping me company. I’m very lucky.

PS – a quick thank you to What’s Cookin for sharing my blog with their readers

Hurricane Stew

This is one of those clean-out-the-fridge-and-pantry recipes. Use whatever vegetables you have on hand, just make sure to add the harder ones (e.g., carrots, parsnips) early and the more delicate ones (e.g., potatoes, zucchini) later. If you have a bit of stale (or fresh) baguette on hand, cut it into thin slices and make garlic toasts to float on top of the stew. If you have lemon and parsley lying around, a quick squeeze and a sprinkle really brightens up the dish. 

Serves 2-3

- 3 T olive oil, and more for drizzling

- 1 medium yellow onion

- 4 cloves garlic, divided

- 2 carrots

- 5-6  baby Dutch yellow potatoes (or 1-2 large potatoes; any thin-skinned potatoes will do)

- 1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes

- salt

- red pepper flakes/crushed red pepper

- 1 15.5-oz can Roman beans (also called cranberry beans and barlotti beans)

- stale baguette

- lemon

- parsley

Heat. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Dice. While the oil is heating, dice the onion and mince three cloves of garlic.

Cook. Add the onion and garlic and cook,  stirring every once in a while, for about five minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. If the onion starts to brown, turn down the heat.

Dice again and keep cooking. While the onion is cooking, dice the carrots and potatoes. Add them to the pan and keep cooking for another five minutes or so. Continue to stir every once in a while.

Squish and keep cooking. This is the really fun part. Pour the tomatoes in a large bowl and squish the tomatoes  between your fingers, squeezing to break them up into small pieces. If there are any cores that feel rough, throw them out.  Add the tomatoes, salt to taste, and a shake or two of red pepper flakes to the pot. Continue to cook for another five minutes. And continue to stir periodically.

Drain and keep cooking. Drain the beans and rinse in cold water several times. Add them to the pot, stir gently, and bring the whole thing to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and keep the stew at a slow simmer for about 30 minutes. Cover the pot and add extra water if the stew gets too thick.

Toast. Slice the stale baguette – you’ll want two pieces per person. Cut the last garlic clove in half and rub the cut edge on the baguette slices. Then drizzle or brush each slice with olive oil. Pop the baguette slices on a piece of aluminum foil and into a toaster (or regular) oven set to 350ºF. Toast for a few minutes on each side until the baguette starts to brown.

Serve. Squeeze lemon juice over the stew right before serving. Spoon into a bowl, sprinkle with minced parsley, and float a couple of pieces of toast  on top.

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in focus

She stopped, mid-snap, lens nearly abutting the plate. My camera broke, she said.

Your camera broke? he said.

I don’t know. Yes. Maybe. Do you hear this? It clicks when it’s supposed to focus.

Nah, I don’t hear anything.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on another one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

It focused. OK, she announced, it’s not the camera, it’s the lens.

The lens? he said.

The lens.

How’d it break? he said.

I don’t know.

Are you sure it’s the lens?

Yes.

She pointed the camera out the window and depressed the button halfway. With a whirring sound, the lens zoomed forward and back. Hear that? she said. See that? It made a zooming sound. It moved.

Yes.

OK, let’s try the other lens, the one that didn’t work a few seconds ago.

She twisted off the lens and twisted on the first one. Please focus, please focus, please focus, she whispered.

She pointed the camera down the hall and depressed the button halfway. Click. The lens stayed put.

OK, it’s definitely the lens which is good. But, she said looking at him, this is the lens. The darling of all food bloggers lens. The lens.

She twisted off the lens. Squinting, she held it up to her eye and moved it forward and back until his face came into focus. Upside-down, but in focus.

You have manual override on the lens? he asked.

Yes, on the camera.

On the lens?

No, on the camera. I think. I don’t know. Maybe I should get the manual. Maybe I should read the manual, she muttered.

He took the lens. He turned it around in his hands. He fiddled with the rings, the ones that spin, the ones that don’t budge. He pulled, he prodded. The lens didn’t move.

She turned away to tap on her computer, downloading the manual.

He tapped her shoulder. I think I got it.

Really?

Yeah.

Really?

Try it.

She twisted the lens back on. She took a few steps back and pointed the camera at his hands. She half  pressed the button. His hands came into focus. She exhaled and smiled. She turned the camera away from her face, pointed to the right and pushed the button again, watching the lens move forward and back.

You fixed it!

Yeah, I fix shit. Can we eat now?

Tortilla española

As I mentioned in my last post, tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I adapted Mark Bittman’s recipe in How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  My tortilla differs from the traditional Spanish dish in a few ways. In Spain, the tortilla is more egg than potato, is very light in color, and is flipped over onto a plate so that it looks like a thin, slightly domed cake. I brown my potatoes, add parsley, and serve my tortilla right out of the skillet. Recipes generally either call for russet (“Idaho”) or thin-skinned potatoes – I tried both and preferred the russets (over fingerlings). 

While we’re talking about following recipes (or, more accurately, not following recipes), check out this recent NYTimes article about Chris Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and his philosophy of the art vs science of cooking. If you want an authentic tortilla española and are good at following recipes, check out my friend Molly’s recipe or a couple of others I found online here and here

Serves 4, at least.

- 2 – 3 medium-sized russet potatoes

- salt and pepper, to taste

- 1/3 C olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 2 cloves garlic

- 6 eggs (or more, depending on how much potato you have)

- 1 bunch parsley

- 1 t hot paprika

Slice.  Cut the potatoes width-wise into 1/8-inch slices (don’t bother peeling them). I use a mandoline on the 3-mm setting. If you don’t have one, get out a sharp knife and a cutting board and slice the potatoes as thinly as you can.

Cook. Over medium-high, heat the oil in a large skillet (I used a 10-inch one; non-stick is best) until shimmering. Pile the potatoes into the skillet – it’ll be pretty crowded. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Every few minutes, turn the potatoes over carefully, bringing some of the top layer down to the bottom, and trying not to break them (too much), until the potatoes soften and start to brown. This should take about 20 minutes. Traditional recipes suggest that you not brown the potatoes, but I prefer them a bit crispy, almost like hash browns. If you notice your potatoes browning, and you want to make a tortilla that could be served in a tapas bar, turn down the heat.

Slice again. While the potatoes are cooking, use your mandoline/knife to slice the onion into very thin half-moons. Mince the garlic.

Preheat.  Around now, you’ll want to turn on your oven to 375°F.

Keep cooking. Add the onions to the potatoes, continuing to turn everything over every few minutes, and cook for another 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and mix everything together again, cooking for another 2 minutes. If you’re counting, that’s 32 minutes on the stove top.

NOTE. The original recipe suggests that you take the potatoes out of the skillet and cook the onions and garlic on their own. I didn’t want to dirty another bowl, but it probably would have made my life easier. If you are going to do that, here’s the deal: After cooking the potatoes for 20 minutes, transfer them to a bowl. Pour a bit more oil into the skillet and cook the onions for about 10 minutes. Then add the garlic and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Then, add back the potatoes and mix everything together, letting it cook together for another 5 minutes.

Beat. In a bowl, beat the eggs. Finely chop the parsley and add 1/2 cup of it to the eggs along with the paprika.

Shake. Once the potatoes are tender – try one, it should taste good – turn the heat to low and pour the egg into the skillet. Shake the skillet around to distribute the eggs. (If it looks like you don’t have enough egg, quickly beat another one or two with the parsley left in the bowl, and pour it into the skillet.) Gently lift the potatoes here and there so that the egg can get into all the nooks and crannies. Then let everything cook for about 5 minutes until the edges of the eggs begin to set.

Bake. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set, around 10 more minutes.

Serve. Let the tortilla cool to room temperature. I like to slice up the tortilla right in the pan.

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It all started with apples.

Poor apples. They’ve had a rough go at it this year, and I missed apple picking. Unless you were on the ball, you probably missed apple picking around here too. Luckily, two of the farms at my Monday market still proudly display a full range of red and green and yellow beauties. I buy them in twos and threes and they hold me over until the next week.

My favorite varieties are Jonagold and Honeycrisp. In the afternoon, I pull out a paring knife and balance the dull side of its blade against my thumb, pushing through the rough, unwaxed skin and covering a plate with apple slivers. I pair the slices with a spoonful of sweet creamy peanut butter. Sometimes two spoonfuls.

Last week, I barely saw home, and the apples piled up. I had enough for a tarte tatin. But a tarte tatin can’t be eaten alone, so I invited a group over for dinner.

The group grew to ten, the tarte grew to two, and the apples, well, I no longer had enough of them. A quick run to the store for a few more apples, and dinner was on the way.

The guests arrived and we crowded around the table for eight set for ten.

It was a simple dinner. We started with soup. Next up, a kale salad with roasted beets and orange. Another salad brought by a friend. And a tortilla española* that was a last-minute addition when I realized soup and salad might not be enough.

Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, we drank wine and prosecco out of tumblers.

Ten soup bowls were swiped with bread, ten plates were scraped with knives. When I rose for seconds, I found on the buffet (also known as a microwave cart hastily cleared moments before everyone arrived) a few kale leaves swimming in a large bowl, a cube of avocado embracing a spoon, and a Molly scratching the last few dark bits of egg and potato stuck to a 14-inch (!) pan.

“Did I not make enough?” I whispered. Molly solemnly nodded.

I looked around. My guests were sprawled on the sofa, chairs, and floor.

Retreating to the kitchen, I pulled out the tarte tatins, apples still tucked under crusts whose edges were tinged with sticky scarlet pomegranate caramel. I covered each pan – first the blue skillet, then the orange – with a plate and flipped. I expected an apple or two to latch on to the skillets. I didn’t expect some of the apples to have turned into circles of mush. I guess a few of my mismatched apples** were better for sauce than pie.

I hid in the kitchen for a few moments, thinking. I spooned the clinging apples and mush from the skillets and arranged them as artfully as I could.

A smile on my face and a Times article in my head, I emerged with a tarte in each hand. “Pomegranate applesauce tarte tatin for dessert!”

* The tortilla española. A tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  For the recipe from the updated version of Bittman’s book of the same name (the red cover) , check out Molly’s story of her trip to Spain. Let me know if you’re interested in the version I made – I’ll gladly whip another tortilla and report back to you.

** The apples. I used a mix of market- and store-bought apples that included Mutsu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. I did a  bit of research and I think the Honeycrisps were the sauce culprits.

Pomegranate apple(sauce) tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French upside-down caramelized apple tart. Still obsessed with pomegranate, I found a recipe that combines this tart fruit with this sweet tarte (hehe!). I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup and the tarte was still plenty sweet. I know that the recipe might seem daunting – make caramel? flip over a burning hot skillet?  – but if I can do it, so can you. I’ve made tarte tatins with pears and tomatoes, and there are a bunch of things I’ve picked up along the way.

First, the caramel. It’s pretty easy to burn the caramel, so you need to watch it closely. If you’re afraid the caramel is starting to burn, take the skillet off the heat immediately and assess the situation: let things cool down a bit, dip a fork in the caramelizing syrup, and carefully taste it. Carefully because you don’t want to burn your tongue. A slight burnt flavor – think crême brulée – is fine, but if you taste smoke, start over.

Then, the flip. The tarte will be prettier if you flip it just out of the oven. Get out your oven mitts and extra kitchen towels. Place a plate on top of the pan and cover the plate with a towel. Grasp the pan-plate-towel pile with oven mitted-hands, hold your breath for a moment, and turn the whole thing over. Some caramel might spill out onto the towel, but you’ll be fine because your hands will be protected. If you want to wait until the tarte cools, it will turn out almost as pretty, but a few apples will probably stick to the skillet. Just scoop them off and put them back on the tarte. 

1 pie crust or puff pastry (I make this sweet pâte sucrée or pâte brisée, or just buy puff pastry)

- 1 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/2 C pomegranate molasses/pomegranate syrup (thickened pure pomegranate juice; don’t bother with the ones that add sugar)

- 4-8 of  your favorite baking apples, depending on size (you want enough to fit tightly into your skillet); for me, the most reliable are Granny Smith

- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) butter (or margarine for a non-dairy tarte)

- 1/2 C sugar

- large pinch kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 400ºF and let pie crust/puff pastry come to room temperature.

Reduce. Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil until it reduces by a third (down to 1/2 cup ) into a thick syrup. If you use purchased pomegranate molasses/syrup, you don’t need to boil anything.

Slice. Peel and core the apples, then slice into halves or quarters. I like halves, but you can fit more apples in if you use quarters.

Caramelize. Melt butter in a heavy oven proof 9- or 10-inch skillet and then sprinkle evenly with sugar. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the mixture begins to bubble all over and turns lightly golden. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove from  heat.

Cook. Tightly fill the skillet with apples, cut side up,  and sprinkle with salt. Keep in mind, the apples will shrink as they cook and you might be able to slip  in a few more slices midway. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the apples without stirring  until a thick, deep amber syrup bubbles up between the fruit. (OK, even though you’re supposed to leave the caramel alone to do its thing, I usually flip the apples once or twice to make sure they soak up the caramel evenly. Just make sure to leave the cut ends up because when you flip the tart, you’ll want the rounded sides facing the top.) This will take about 20 minutes. Pour the pomegranate syrup over the apples – the mixture will bubble up. Cook until the juices further thicken. The apples will be a deep burgundy color. Remove from heat. With a spatula, make sure that the apples are tightly packed.

Tuck. Roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper into a circle one inch larger than the skillet (i.e., leave an extra inch all around). Slide the crust over the skillet and tuck it in around the apples and at the edges of the skillet. The crust doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to flip it over anyway. Cut a few slits in the crust to let air escape.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust browns and the juices at the edge are thick and scarlet in color. This takes 25-30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for five minutes minute. (If you let the tarte cool for too long, the caramel will thicken and the apples are more likely to stick to the pan. But if you’re nervous, just flip it later.)

Flip. Place a large plate over the skillet. Using oven mitts and kitchen towels, hold the skillet and plate together and carefully flip over the tarte. Lift the skillet — if any apples are stuck to the skillet, just put them back into place on the crust. Let the tarte cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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a slam dunk

I’d like to introduce you to an old friend.

Every time I see him, it’s like a high school reunion. Not the kind of reunion with the awkward conversations (hi, how have you been, where do you live now, what do you do, how many kids do you have?) and prom flashbacks and cliques that somehow never go away. I’m talking about the real re-union with the friends who knew you when you were still living at home, who have met your parents, who have watched you on the court/in the pool/on the field/on stage. The friends whom you phoned after your first kiss, the night before the SATs, when you received your college admission letter. You may not see these friends very often – sometimes only in times of tragedy and celebration – but when you do, you just pick up where you left off.

The old friend is a cookbook. I’m not sure why he’s a he, but he is. Perhaps it’s because my mother gave him to me and she’s always trying to set me up with boys. This book was one of the first I ever cooked from. Unlike the baby steps I took with the Better Crocker’s Cookbook  and  Julee Russo’s Great Good Food and  the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, this one was a keeper.

Betty, printed before I was  born, I left behind in the pantry of my parents’ kitchen when I went to college. I lived on campus and took all my meals in the dining halls. Without a kitchen, there was little need to refer to her sticky and crumbling page 57 (pancakes) and page 136 (chocolate chip cookies).

Julee, with its line drawings and low-fat recipes of my dancer days, disappeared. I think I lent it to a friend and never got it back (it’s OK, Veronica … if that was you, all is forgiven).

Fannie was a gift from my aunt to my grandmother. She traveled with me state to state, home to home, getting buried in the bottom of the cookbook box with each move, eventually landing in the corner on the bottom shelf of my cookbook bookshelf. The color-coded tabs mark the basics – basic method for cooking green beans, basic method for cooking broccoli, pan-roasted potatoes – and now remind me how far my cooking self  has come. Quickly, though, Fannie found herself covered in dust as my cookbook collection grew and the bookshelf seemed to shrink. I haven’t cooked from her in nearly a decade.

But we’re here to talk about the cookbook that made it to real old friend status. His name is The Southwest, and he’s part of the Williams-Sonoma New American Cooking series. Cooking with Southwest was my first break from cooking the foods I grew up with. Unsure of how to mix flavors for a cohesive dinner menu, I relied on theme meals, and he provided a geographic crutch. One of the first times I entertained, I studied his pages day after day and cobbled together a handful of matching dishes. We started with a sopa de lima of chicken and limes, the main dish was salpicón beef  burritos , and dessert was brownie-mix brownies tinged with cinnamon.

I moved on from the Southwest to Japan (sushi rice salad and soy scallion grilled steak, anyone?) and the Middle East (mezze and kabobs), to Spain (once  you start with the Sangria, it doesn’t really matter what you cook) and France (ahh, France), but I always returned to my old friend.

Over the years, I’ve cooked my way through nearly half of his sixty recipes. A few have shown up on this site, and I turn to them so frequently that I think of them as personal signature dishes. But that first dinner Southwest and I prepared together never leaves my side. Whenever I’m looking for a slam dunk, I turn to salpicón.

So, when two food bloggers, Molly and Jess, plus husbands joined me for shabbat lunch, I pulled out Southwest, and flipped right to good old reliable.

Mia, Jess’s and Eli’s 11-month old daughter, slurped the salpicón from a bowl like it was spaghetti. With Southwest by my side, I won over the most honest of critics.

Thanks, old friend. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.

Salpicón

Salpicón is Mexican shredded beef that can be piled on salad or stuffed in a tortilla. This recipe is from The Southwest, one of Williams-Sonoma’s New American Cooking series. It’s easy  but does require a bit of planning as you need to cook the meat for 2 hours, let it cool (at least another hour), and then add the dressing. I like to make it a day in advance so that the flavors intensify. I always at least double the recipe, making 4+ pounds of brisket. In this case, the double recipe served 5 hearty meat eaters (plus baby) with only a tortilla or two worth of leftovers.

Serves 3-4 (with ample leftovers)

- 2 pounds beef brisket (second cut is best)

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 onion

- 1 head of garlic

- 1/4 C chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I use La Costena)

- 3-4 T cider vinegar (or white vinegar in a pinch)

- 3 cloves garlic

- 1/2 C olive oil

- pinch of sugar

- kosher salt and pepper

- vegetables to accompany: romaine lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, 1 red onions (plus 1/4 C white vinegar, 1 T salt, and pinch sugar for pickling)

- flour or corn tortillas

Brown. In a heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm oil. Pat the brisket dry and brown well on all sides, around 5 minutes. Make sure that all brisket surfaces get dark brown.

Simmer. Peel the onion, cut it in quarters through the stem end, and add to the pot. Take an entire head of garlic and slice through it horizontally, and add it, skin and all, to the pot. Cover the meat with water, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.

Cool. Take the pot off the heat and let the meat cool in the water (now a sort of stock).

Shred. Remove the cooled meat to a large plate. Using two forks or your fingers, thinly shred the meat.

Make dressing. In a small food processor, puree the chipotle and its sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil and keep pulsing until emulsified. Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Mix. Add half the dressing to the shredded meat and mix. Add more to taste, depending on how much heat you want.

Make the fixins. Finely shred romaine lettuce. Chop tomatoes. Cube avocado.  Thinly slice the red onion (I use a mandoline). Mix together 1/4 C white vinegar, 1/2 C water, 1 T salt, and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for about 30 minutes until the liquid turns bright pink.  Put each of the vegetables in a bowl and serve with the tortillas.

Heat. Place tortillas in a pan, cover, and heat in a low oven until soft and pliable.

Put it all together. Fill a tortilla with meat, vegetables, and refried beans (see below) and roll it all up.

Refried beans

I made these beans for my vegetarian friend Ilana, and the meat eaters devoured them. I adapted this recipe from one for refried black beans in, you guessed it, The Southwest. To give the beans a smoky flavor with using meat, I douse them in liquid smoke, which, if you’ve never tried, is really cool for vegetarian recipes. 

Makes about 2 cups

- 2 15.5 ounce cans of pinto or kidney beans

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 onion

- 2 garlic cloves

- 1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 1 t pre-ground cumin

- 1/2 t cayenne pepper

- 5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme

- 1-2 C water

- 1/2 t liquid smoke (I use Colgin brand)

- salt and pepper

Drain. Rinse and drain beans.

Saute. Finely chop onion and garlic. Saute onion in olive oil over low heat until translucent, adding garlic after about 5 minutes. Saute 5 minutes more for a total of about 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic. Add cumin seeds, cayenne, and thyme (you’ll remove the stems later), and mix quickly.

Simmer. Add 1 cup of water and scrap up all the good stuff that’s stuck to the pan. Then add the beans and liquid smoke. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme stems (most of the leaves will have fallen off).

Mash. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans. Add water as needed to get the consistency  you want. Season with salt, pepper, and additional liquid smoke to taste.

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5773

I don’t like honey cake, which seems heresy to state right before Rosh Hashanah. After apples and round challah, honey cake is probably the most ubiquitous symbol of the New Year. Unfortunately it’s right up there with the green- and red-speckled fruit cake as a food more about tradition than about flavor.

You’ve probably figured out where this is going. I challenged myself to make a honey cake that I could be proud of. I spent every evening last week making honey cakes. You can read all about my trials (and finally success!) in my most recent column in the Jerusalem Post. If you’re in a rush, scroll down just a bit for the recipe and you’ll bake yourself a cake that’s really all about the honey. No nuts or fruits or coffee or alcohol. No fancy honey – plain old clover honey works great. You don’t even need a stand mixer.

If you’re still looking for a few good Rosh Hashana recipes, scroll down even further to a few dishes that I’ve made in years past. (And if your menu is set, please let me know what you’re making. I’m going down to Atlanta again, and somehow I always volunteer, er get roped into, cooking something.)

And finally, a quick housekeeping note: I’ve added a new page entitled Published. Check it out to catch up on some of the articles I’ve written.

Caramelized honey cake

I developed this cake to celebrate honey for a sweet Rosh Hashanah. It’s based on a Martha Stewart recipe that I made parve and adapted to better showcase the honey. I used soy milk, but almond milk should work well: use plain (not vanilla-flavored), full-fat milk alternative. Don’t go for the non-fat versions. Before you bake the cake, drizzle the batter with extra honey which caramelizes in the oven, helping the cake develop a crispy edge. I’ve tested the recipe with and without a stand mixer and both work well – so go ahead and make this one by hand if you’d like.

Serves 8-10

- 2 eggs

- 1/4 C granulated sugar

- 1/2 C packed dark-brown sugar

- 1/2 C plain unsweetened soy milk (don’t use vanilla flavor or non-fat; plain almond milk should work well too)

- 1/2 C vegetable oil, plus more for greasing the pan

- 1 C honey, divided

- 1 lemon for zest and juice (1 t zest, 1 T juice)

- 2 C all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan

- 3/4 t baking powder

- 1/2 t baking soda

- 1 t kosher salt

- 1 t ground cinnamon

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 10-inch springform or two 8X4-inch loaf pans.

 Mix. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix eggs and sugars on high speed with the paddle attachment until pale and thick, about 3 minutes. No mixer? Use a whisk and a little muscle – this will probably take 3-5 minutes depending on how strong you are! Add the soy milk, oil, 3/4 cup honey (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup for later), lemon zest, and lemon juice and keep mixing until everything is combined.

Fold. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl (I use a fine mesh strainer to get out any lumps), and whisk together to mix. With a spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet in two batches until well mixed. Don’t overwork the batter.

Fill. Fill the greased and floured pan(s) with the batter. Drizzle the remaining 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) of honey over the batter, getting most of it around the edges.

Bake. Bake the cake – about 50 minutes for a round cake, 40 for two loaf pan until golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Try not to open the oven until almost the end of baking because this cake does have a tendency to fall a bit in the middle if you move it too much. You should be able to see through the door when the center is no longer jiggly – give it another few minutes and poke it with a toothpick. I tend to start looking (through the door!) about 10 minutes before time is up. When it comes out, the top should be slightly sticky because of the honey.

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and carefully remove it from the pan.

***

Still planning your Rosh Hashanah menu? Here are a few things that I’ve made in the past that tie right into the New Year symbols and seasonal produce. Simanim, Hebrew for signs or omens, are the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashanah. A few years ago, my friend Sarah wrote up a great explanation of the simanim, many of which are based on word play – a great read!

Already know what you’re going to make? Please share!

- Round challah- If you have a tried and true challah recipe, I’ve figured out how to weave it into a round loaf.

- Darna challah – If you need a challah recipe. This one is from Ayelet, a chef in Panama City.

- Bread machine challah – If you need a challah recipe and have a bread machine (though, I’m sure you figured out that one on your own).

Arugula and pistachio salad with orange blossom dressing – A very simple salad, though some people don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah (they’re believed  to represent sins).

Spicy butternut squash soup – Squash is a siman (singular of simanim). I wrote about this soup here and my wish for a spicy new year.

- Squash mash with balsamic onions – Yup, squash again.

- Pomegranate roasted carrots – Two simanim in one here – pomegranate and carrots. Pomegranate molasses (pomegranate syrup) is one of my favorite ingredients these days. It’s sticky, tart, and slightly sweet and perfect for the New Year.

- Two more recipes with pomegranate molasses, this time meat: Ana Sortun’s spoon lamb and then my adaptation of the recipe for French roast or brisket.

- Roast a chicken, using either the classic flavors of lemon and thyme or something more creative – maybe apple and cinnamon or roast atop a pile of leeks (siman).

- Fish is another siman. Here are recipes for sea bass and two salmon dishes; the techniques can be applied to other fishes as well.

- Honey cake (see above)

- Easy apple cake – A one bowl, one pan apple cake. No stand mixer necessary. Oh, and truly fabulous.

Apfelstrudel with cinnamon caramel – Apple strudel, using store bought puff pastry. A German classic. Leave out the pecans if you don’t eat nuts on Rosh Hashanah.

Tarte Tatin aux Poires et Vin – Upside-down pear tart with red wine caramel. If you’re feeling fancy.

- Plums are finishing up their season – try any of the three plum cakes I’ve made over the past few weeks.

I wish you all שנה טובה ומתוקה, shana tova u’metukah, a wonderfully sweet year filled with fun, adventure, and good food! See  you in 5773.

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I’m starting to sound like a broken record: I went to the farmers market, I bought too much, I  baked, I cooked, I baked.

But how anyone doesn’t fall into this pattern eludes me, especially as August draws to a close. I wrote my most recent Jerusalem Post column about the lush rainbow of tomatoes and berries and stone fruits here in the northeast and finding ways to savor them during the last days of summer. I wrote about the rush to relax, the urgent joie de vivre that these fruits instill. (For more on this topic, check out what my friend Leah recently wrote about peaches in Saveur.)

In the JPost article, I shared two recipes that do more than just use the best of summer. They do more than just highlight the best of summer. They intensify the best of summer.

First, what do you get when you toss a handful of baby tomatoes with thick pomegranate molasses and slip them under a puff pastry crust? You might remember this recipe – it’s a tomato tarte tatin the produces the most concentrated tomato taste that I’ve ever tasted. The pomegranate molasses sweetens and tartens the tomatoes as they melt into a jam-like pulp.

Second, what do you get when you slip a handful of plums into a cake batter tinged with lime and rose? Well, you’ve already seen that cake with its tart plum juice dripping into the sweet floral cake. On a plum kick these days these days, I recreated the flavors in a much simpler cake with a batter that uses only one bowl and five minutes of your time. Because, as we all know, the less time in the kitchen, the more time to bask in the sunshine and drink rosé in the evenings.

But I’m going to let you in on a little secret. These recipes are also dig-your-heels-in, don’t-let-summer-go kinds of recipes that recreate that summer feeling when the farmers markets are in the rear view mirror. The small tomatoes, with their high flesh-to-seed ratio, used in the tarte tatin are also the best kind to buy year-round when other tomatoes are wan and mealy. In fact, I first made this tarte tatin towards the end of spring.  As for the cake, use it as a base for any summer fruit that freezes well. I freeze fresh blueberries (I have a whole bag of wild ones in my freezer) and my mother likes peaches. Any change in texture of the fruit due to freezing doesn’t impact the cake since the fruit cooks and mushes and melts into the batter.

But, enough about looking ahead. For right now, let’s just look around.

***

P.S. Click here to catch up on any JPost articles that you might have missed.

***

Plum cake with lime and rose

This recipe was adapted from Rivka’s Easiest Cake Ever on Not Derby Pie. It lives up to its name as the simplest cake I’ve ever made. All you need is one bowl, one spoon, a cutting board and knife, and a pan. The batter is thick, but is still pourable. A few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. The plums I used were on the tart side, which played nicely against the sweet cake. I added lime zest and rose water (available in any Middle Eastern store, rose water is a nice complement to any red fruit including berries), but they can be replaced by equal amounts of lemon zest and vanilla.

Any type of juicy fruit works. Come fall, I make this cake with apples that I briefly cook them down with a bit of sugar to help them release their juices.

Serves 8-10

-  6-8 small plums or 4-6 large plums

-  1 C flour

-  3/4 C sugar

-  2 eggs

-  1/2 C canola oil

-  1 t baking powder

-  1 t rose water (or vanilla)

-  1 lime for zest

- Optional: 2-3 T demerara sugar, also called sugar in the raw or turbinado sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan, springform or square pan. (If you want to plate this, use a springform; otherwise, just serve it out of the pan.) Cut the plums into wedges (6 wedges per small plum, 8 wedges per large).

Mix. Mix together the remaining ingredients (except for the demerara sugar). You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the plum slices however you want and sprinkle with demerara sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

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My great-uncle Ludwig lived in Paris where he and his wife Marta owned a fur shop in the center of the city. The first time I visited Paris with my family, Ludwig and Marta invited us to Furriers Tuileries for coffee. We walked along a small street nestled between the shops of Rue Saint Honoré and Rue de Rivoli to find Ludwig standing in the doorway of the cozy store, his bright blue eyes smiling when he saw us approaching.

Surrounded by coats and hats, we sat on straight-backed cafe chairs around a small round table laid with cheese and crackers and fruit – tiny plums and peaches. The fruit was sliced. The conversation was somewhat formal as the grown-ups caught up on the years since my parents’ last visit.

I balanced a small plate on my knees and covered it with crackers and fruit. When I was ready for seconds, I tentatively reached for another cracker, this time spreading it with soft creamy cheese, leaving behind the chalky white exterior. It was my first taste of room temperature cheese. It was not my last.

Ludwig and Marta eventually sold the store and Marta passed away. Whenever I visited Paris, Ludwig and I would meet in his apartment and sit on his brocade sofa and share a platter of cheese and crackers and slices of ripe fruit. Gradually our conversations became less formal. We shifted from English to French and had more to talk about than how I was doing in school.

When Ludwig visited New York, the whole family would go out to eat. When it was my turn to choose a place for lunch, I’d suggest a brasserie for steak frites. When it was his turn, he’d suggest a diner in Queens. He liked fried eggs and hash browns.

He once brought my mother an Hermès scarf that had belonged to Marta. As we sat in the diner, waiting for our food to arrive, I fingered the scarf’s hand-rolled edge and slightly rounded corners that indicated it was a vintage piece.

The last time I saw Ludwig, he sliced fruit in his tiny Parisian kitchen while I browsed the living room walls, the paintings, the books concealed behind the paned glass doors of the cabinet. There were a lot of history books.

After we chatted, he insisted on accompanying me in a taxi to my rented apartment. We chatted easily in the back seat as we rode from one end of the city to the other, crossing the Seine into the Left Bank. He got out of the taxi and walked around to open my door, asking the driver to wait until I disappeared through the courtyard and into my temporary home.

As I tell this story, I realize that it seems to have written itself and meandered to where I didn’t expect it to.

I meant to start off with a phrase that my mother told me was Ludwig’s life philosophy: n’achetez pas des bananes vertes - don’t buy green bananas. Though I never heard him say it, I often repeat this phrase to myself when I’m in an outdoor market at the peak of the season. Even though I didn’t know Ludwig well, his life always something of a mystery to me, my memories of our rare visits are strong. This French side of my family that introduced me to petite Parisian apartments, stores of another time, and fruit that you slice rather than chomp.

The recipe that reminded me of Ludwig is a blueberry peach tart. The peaches, whose scent welcomed me to last week’s farmers market, are sliced and arranged atop an almond frangipane layer. The blueberries nearly bursting with juice scatter in the center. The tart was baked for a celebration – my friend Shoshana had just defended her dissertation. Our friends gathered at my place for tart and many glasses of champagne.

The moral of this story may be obvious, but I’m not a moral-of-the-story kinda gal. Nonetheless, the tart makes me think of Ludwig and Ludwig makes me think of beautifully fresh fruit, careful preparation and making family feel like beloved guests and guests feel like family.

Blueberry peach frangipane tart

This recipe is very similar to the pear frangipane tart I made several months ago, but I changed the citrus flavor from orange to lime. This recipe may make a bit more frangipane than you need. You only want to fill the crust about halfway to the top.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage step: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will help make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter (or margarine if making non-dairy)

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also make your own by grinding up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t vanilla

- 1 lime for zest

- 2 eggs

- about 3C fruit: 3 C blueberries or 3 peaches and 1.5 C blueberries; other stone fruits will work as well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 10-15 minutes until it just starts to turn golden. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Mix. Melt the butter (I use my microwave). In a medium bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, vanilla, and lime zest. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Slice peaches (or other stone fruits) into even slices. I got about 16 per peach because I like the slices thin.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about half of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the fruit. Arrange the fruit as artistically as you’d like, but keep it in a single layer.

Bake. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check the tart after 30 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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ritual

I’ve got pistachio on the brain.

It might be because I bought a huge bag for a certain salad that I’ve made several times in the past few weeks.

I keep a jar of these beauties on my coffee table and my friends and I scoop out a handful or two at a time.

Shelling them is half the fun. There’s the plip-plop of each shell half falling into the bowl, their sounds dampened as the empty shells pile up. Then the undivided attention we pay to one another as the repetitive activity occupies our hands but frees up our minds to focus on what we’re talking about. Finally the satisfaction of reward for work done.

After the shelling, there’s the eating. There’s the layer of salt that gets you salivating. Then the dusky purple papery skin that slips and slides between your teeth. Finally the bright green kernel that rolls around sweet and unctuous on your tongue and yields to a gentle bite.

It reminds me of the Israeli ritual of sitting around a few cups of mid-day or after-dinner coffee, kibbutzing about the day’s news while pausing every few seconds to pop another sunflower seed into your mouth, crack the hull between your teeth, find the seed meat inside, and casually drop the remains into the napkin lining your palm.

During these hazy hot humid days punctuated by flash storms, the pistachio shelling ritual is soothing, the plip-plop echoing the rain drops outside.

But there are only so many pistachios that one girl can eat before starting to think about baking. Especially this girl.  Especially on a rainy day.

And so, with pistachio on the brain and a few hours until the rain lets up, I sit and I shell and I skin and I toast and I chop.

Then I mix and I sprinkle and I bake and I slice and I bake and I cool.

And I crunch away. And the rain stops.

Pistachio rose biscotti

These biscotti are inspired by the flavors of baklava, studded with toasted pistachio and tinged with rose water. You can buy pre-shelled pistachos to simplify this recipe, but I find the act of shelling and skinning the pistachios very soothing. (I found a cool trick to remove the skins from pistachios and almonds by soaking in hot water for a few minutes.)  Do whatever is easiest for you. I adapted this recipe from one for biscotti di Prato in Lou Seibert Pappas’ Biscotti (you might remember seeing these cookies on here before). The rose flavor is very subtle and next time I make these,  I’ll amp it up to 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons of rose water.  

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

- 2 C unshelled pistachios (or 1 C shelled pistachios), divided

- 3 eggs

- 1 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 7/8 C sugar (i.e., one cup minus 2 tablespoons)

- 1 t baking soda

- pinch of kosher salt

- 3 C flour

- turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”) for sprinkling

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Shell. Remove the pistachios from their shells. You should end up with about one cup (assuming you don’t eat too many).

Skin. Fill a bowl with the pistachios and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 3 minutes until the water is cool enough for you to reach in and pluck out a few pistachios at a time. Squeeze them between your fingers and the skins should slip right off. This step also removes the salt.

Toast. Spread the pistachio on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes until they’re dry and fragrant. Let them cool.

Chop. Chop the pistachios with a knife or pulse a few times in a food processor. You should still have chunks, not a fine powder.

Mix. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, rose water, and sugar (I use my stand mixer). Add the baking soda, salt, and flour and mix until everything is blended. Mix in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Shape the dough into two long, skinny loaves (about 15 inches long and 2 inches wide). They will spread a lot during baking, so make sure to leave enough room between them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pistachios and a few pinches of turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Cool. Let the loaves cool for about 5 minutes until you can touch them. Lower the oven to 275ºF.

Slice. Slice the loaves on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide slices.

Bake again. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet (you may need two) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet(s) and flip the slices over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Store. Keep the biscotti in an airtight tin or jar. I usually put half of them directly in the freezer to save myself from them.

***

Update 4/14: Here are a few more photos that I took recently for an article in the Forward.

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Pistachio rose biscotti

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