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Archive for the ‘sweets’ Category

I pause

Meyer lemons

The weeks following February 22nd were the lemoniest weeks of my life. On that Friday, a box of two dozen child-picked Meyer lemons landed on my doorstep. (Thanks Jo!).

And just over a month later, I used up the last of these thin-skinned, almost sweet lemons. It was Passover and I zested the final five into macaroons.

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I was actually relieved to be done with all of those lemons. Which is strange. Or at least strange for me.

See, lemons and I have a funny relationship. There’s always at least one rolling around in my fridge or perched in a bowl on my counter. But instead of reaching for one when a recipe calls for its juice, I pause.

What if there’s another recipe just around the corner that really needs a lemon or two. Chicken skewers tomorrow? Joanne Chang‘s lemon poppy seed cake over the weekend?

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lemon poppy seed cake

So, I pause.

And then today’s salad gets dressed with a mild vinegar. One made from rice or maybe apple cider.

The first week I had the Meyers, I meted them out. I made some scones with fresh cranberries and another batch with blueberries and then hoarded the rest.

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Soon the irrational fear that I wouldn’t have a lemon when I needed it was replaced with a slightly more rational one.

What if those lemons go bad?

So there I was, struggling to use up all the lemons.

I scoured cookbook index after cookbook index for recipes that needed lemons.  

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I found recipes that feature lemons.

preserved lemons

I added lemons to recipes that don’t call for them. And that’s how I came up with Meyer lemon coconut macaroons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALucky for me, last week when I was in San Francisco, Jo and I met for coffee. I now have another twenty lemons in my fridge.

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***

Before we get to the recipe, here are a few links I’ve been meaning to share.

Gabrielle Hamilton‘s article about a road trip to cook and eat with five home chefs in the South.

And while you’re at it, listen to the Tedx talk  that Penny de los Santos, the photographer who accompanied Gabrielle down South: “Yeah, I photograph food. I’m a a food photographer. But really what I do is capture human moments.”

Saveur senior editor Gabriella Gershenson’s writes about a trip to the Galilee (don’t forget the photos).

Jonathan Safran Foer’s opinion piece in the New York Times about the negative impact technology is having on our ability to provide undivided attention. “Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life.”

The Huffington Post on Sushi Yasusa’s recent decision to not accept tips.

***

Meyer lemon coconut macaroons

Adapted from Jess at Sweet Amandine who adapted it from Molly at Orangette who adapted it from Bon Appetit. The genius in Jess’s recipe is that it uses unsweetened coconut so you can control the level of sugar. Next time I’ll use even less sugar. 

Makes 40 small macaroons

- 3 C (9 ounces) lightly packed unsweetened shredded coconut

- 1 1/2 C granulated sugar

- 3/4 C egg whites (about 5 or 6 large)

- 1-2 pinches kosher salt

- 5 Meyer lemons (or 3 regular lemons) for zest

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Heat. In a medium heavy-bottom pan, mix the coconut, sugar, egg whites, and kosher salt. Stir in zest. Cook over medium-low heat stirring frequently, for 10-12 minutes. It will start out looking sticky and creamy. As the mix heats, it will become drier and pastier. It’s ready when the mixture is still somewhat moist and still very sticky. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Scoop. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. Once the mixture is cooled, scoop level tablespoons of  it onto the parchment, leaving about an inch between (they won’t spread). If you want your macaroons to be smooth, you can roll the spoonfuls into balls, but I prefer to leave them a little shaggy.

Bake.  Bake for 30 minutes until the coconut toasts and browns slightly. They should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container. They’ll soften a bit by the next day.

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I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

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by my count

Look what arrived in the mail.

Picked with love from Evan and Mia

They were preceded by an email from Joanne:

“lemons arriving friday!!!!!!  organic, pesticide free, california meyer lemons picked just for you by child labor. enjoy!!!!!”

Here’s Evan.

Evan going to the post office

He and his sister Mia are the child laborers. The last time I saw Evan, he and I picked lemons together. Now he’s big enough to pack them up and take them to the post office.

Jo said he only dropped the box twice.

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones, ready for the oven

The lemons, all twenty-five of them, arrived swaddled in towels and perfectly intact.

Two went straight into these scones, dotted with chopped cranberries that I froze a little while ago. By my count, that leaves me with twenty-three more.

What would you make if you had a wealth of Meyer lemons? Because right now I feel like the wealthiest woman alive. Thanks Jo!

meyer lemon and fresh cranberry scones

Meyer lemon and cranberry scones

Adapted from Gourmet. I used some cranberries that I froze a few months ago (via Smitten Kitchen) and made a lemon glaze to cut the sweetness (via White on Rice Couple). Without cream on hand, I made a milk (1%) and Greek yogurt (2%) mixture. The resulting dough was more liquid-y than most scone doughs are, and they spread as they baked, but they were still delicious. I used a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop because forming by hand was too difficult. Next time, I’ll make these with blueberries (I also have a large bag in the freezer)

While I generally like to bake things that will keep for a few days, these are truly best right out of the oven and you’ll want to eat them within a day of baking. Shouldn’t be a problem, but you may need to invite a few friends over. If you think you’ll have too many, freeze half the raw dough. 

Makes 18-20 2-inch scones

- 2 Meyer lemons for zest (~2 T) and juice (~1/4 C)

- 2 1/2 C all-purpose flour

- 1/2 C plus 3 T white sugar, divided

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t salt

- 1 stick (8 T or 1/4 C) cold unsalted butter

- 1 large egg

- 1 large egg yolk

- 1/2 C Greek yogurt (I used 2% fat)

- 1/2 C milk (I used 1% fat)

- 1 1/4 C fresh cranberries

- 3 – 4 T confectioners sugar

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Pulse. In a food processor, pulse together the lemon zest, flour, 1/2 cup of white sugar, baking powder, and salt until it resembles a coarse meal. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and add to the processor bowl, pulsing a few more times.

Mix. Whisk the eggs, yogurt, and milk.

Pulse again. Add the liquid mix to the processor bowl, and pulse until the dough just comes together.

Chop. Coarsely chop the cranberries and mix with 3 tablespoons of white sugar in a bowl.

Stir. Stir the cranberries into the dough.

Scoop. Cover 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Use a 1/4-cup scoop (or a measuring cup with a spoon for nudging) to drop dough on to the parchment, leaving at least 1 inch between scone since they’ll spread a bit.

Bake. Bake the scones for 15 – 20 minutes until light golden.

Brush. While the scones are cooling, whisk together the lemon juice and confectioners sugar to make a glaze. I only used 3 tablespoons because I didn’t want the glaze to be too sweet. Brush the cooled scones with the glaze.

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we met and we ate

almond cake with orange flower water

Most people are watching the Super Bowl as I type. But instead of making chili and guacamole this evening, I threw a brunch this morning. Well before Beyonce rocked the halftime show and a blackout darkened the field (Oreos anyone?), four lovely ladies knocked on my door, arms full of food.

It all started in November with crowd-sourcing recipe site Food52, their second cookbook, and a give-away. I saw an announcement that the first forty people to sign up to host potlucks celebrating the book would receive free books and some other goodies. With a guest list of cooking friends in mind, I offered up my home to other Boston-area Food52-ers and secured the freebies. Four months later, we met and we ate.

Jenn walked in first with a blue Le Creuset pot of roasted carrot soup that we set on the stove to reheat. Megan, a friend of mine from high school, showed up with a bottle of Veuve and an apology for not being able to prepare a dish. (Full time job plus working husband plus two boys? No apology necessary, Megan.) Jenn chopped up some thyme in the kitchen while I reached around her to grab silverware and dishes and glasses that Megan set out on the table. We started in on the cheese and pears.

I pulled an almond orange cake out of the oven, clipped broccoli trees for roasting, and whisked together a smoked paprika vinaigrette.

Another knock on the door, and I took coats from Christine who had driven down from Portland and her friend Elizabeth. Christine brought the nibbles – chevre devils and blue cheese savouries – and her own contribution to the cookbook – decadent salted pumpkin caramels. Elizabeth presented a pan bagnat – salade Nicoise in sandwich form.

I lit a fire and we filled our plates, sitting around my coffee table and chatting. Cheers to new friends.

almond cake with orange flower water

So, the game just ended. Let’s celebrate with cake. Let’s mourn with cake. Let’s all eat cake.

Almond cake with orange flower water

Adapted from Food 52’s second cookbook, this is a pretty classic yogurt cake, enriched with almond meal and soaked in an orange flower syrup. I made my own almond meal by pulsing almonds in a food processor. I skipped the syrup and instead added orange zest to the cake batter and replaced the vanilla with orange flower water. I used 2% Greek yogurt because it was what I had, but next time I’ll use full fat because the cake didn’t rise as much as I thought it would and was a bit crumbly. I also think I topped the batter with too many sliced almonds, weighing the cake down. No worries, I’ll be making the cake again. 

Makes one 9×5-inch loaf pan.

- 2 large eggs

- 1 C 2% plain yogurt (original recipe called for full fat)

- 1 C sugar

- 1/3 C vegetable oil

- 1 t orange flower (blossom) water

- 1 orange for zest

- 1/8 t salt

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 baking soda

- 1 C flour

- 1 C almond meal

- 1/3 C sliced almonds

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan to make it easier to lift out the cake.

Whisk. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, orange flower water, and orange zest.

Fold. Switch to a spatula. Mix in the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flours gradually to the wet ingredients, folding until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top.

Bake. Bake for 50 minutes (the original recipe recommends 40 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

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and, lo

Welcome to the second and final installment of celebrate Hanukkah without frying (or, at least without frying in your own kitchen).

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Someone asked me yesterday which extra virgin olive oil I used for the cake, and, lo, I had forgotten to mention it in my post.

Whoopsies.

For the recipes (yes, recipes – today we get ice cream), I used a delicate Israeli oil from Havat Philip in the Negev. A more universally easy-to-find oil that would work great in these recipes is Unio, a Spanish extra virgin made from Arbequina olives with a low 0.2% acidity). It has a slightly more assertive flavor without too much kick, an olive oil that really tastes like olives.

The two other extra virgins that I mentioned buying in the grocery store felt too peppery for sweets. The first, Olympic, is made from Kalamata olives with a slightly bitterness and a peppery finish. Some people describe peppery oils as one-, two-, or three-cough oils. This one is a two-cough. The Italian, Di Molfetta Frantoiani, is very mild at first but has a real kick at the end – it’s a three-cougher. I’m saving these two for salad dressing and bread dipping.

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, above

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, side

Olive oil ice cream

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Making ice cream does require a lot of pots, bowls, spoons, and whisks, but you don’t need an ice cream maker. Instead, freeze the custard in a shallow pan for a few hours and periodically give it a whir with an immersion blender. For other tips on making ice cream by hand, check out what David Lebovitz, ice cream aficionado, has to say on the subject.

Makes 3-4 cups

- 2 C whole milk

- 1 C heavy cream

- 5 large eggs for yolks only

- 1/2 C white sugar

- pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

-  1/2 C fruity extra virgin olive oil

- 2 t vanilla

Prep. Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and keep in the refrigerator. Set a strainer over a slightly smaller heatproof bowl (you’ll be pouring the cooked custard through the strainer). If you have a candy thermometer, this is a great time to get it out.  If you don’t have one, that’s OK too.

Boil. Bring the milk and cream to a slow boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once you see some bubbling around the edges, turn the heat down to medium and follow the “cook” step below.

Whisk. While the milk and cream are heating, whisk the yolks and sugar in a large bowl until very well blended and just slightly thickened. I did this by hand. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in 1/3 of the hot liquid – you want to do this very slowly to avoid cooking the eggs. (In case some of the eggs do get cooked, you’ll strain them out later, so all is not lost.) I placed the bowl on a towel to keep it from wiggling around while I whisked with one hand and poured with the other. Once the eggs have acclimatized to the heat, you can pour the rest of the liquid in more quickly. Add the salt and whisk to incorporate.

Cook. If you have one, clip the thermometer to the side of the saucepan and pour the mix back in. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and making sure to get into corners of the pan. Stir until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon: run your finger down the back of the spoon – if the custard does not run back into the track your finger leaves behind, it is ready. If you have a thermometer, it should reach 170°F but no more than 180°F.

Strain. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl. Throw out whatever remains in the strainer.

Whisk again. Add the olive oil and vanilla and whisk vigorously.

Chill. Remember that large bowl of ice water you put in the fridge? Take it out and set the bowl of custard over the ice, making sure that no water overflows into the custard. Put the bowls in the fridge and stir the custard every half hour or so until the mix is cold (about 2 hours).

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. If not, pour the chilled mix into a large bowl and place in the freezer (you might need to clear out some room first). It will begin to freeze from the edges. After 45 minutes, remove the bowl from the freezer and mix it with a whisk or use an immersion blender to break everything up. Repeat this every 30 minutes. It will take about two to three hours to full freeze.

Serve. Take the ice cream out of the freezer ten minutes before you plan to serve it to allow it to soften.

***

Salted balsamic caramel sauce

Of course, what goes great with olive oil ice cream? Balsamic caramel! I added two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to a basic caramel sauce recipe from Simply Recipes. Make sure to use a large saucepan, at least 2 quarts, because when you add the butter and cream the mix will bubble vigorously and foam up to the top of the pan.

Makes about 1 cup

- 1 C sugar

- 6 T butter

- 1/2 C milk or cream (I used whole milk for a thinner sauce)

- 2 T balsamic vinegar

- large pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

Prep. Before you get started, you should get the ingredients measured out because you don’t want to fuss with things while you have hot sugar bubbling on the stove, threatening to burn.

Melt. Over medium-high heat in a heavy large saucepan (2 quarts or larger), heat the sugar. Once it starts to melt, whisk it until all the sugar has melted, comes to a boil, and turns amber. Then add the butter and continue to whisk until all the butter has melted.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Once all of the butter is mixed in, take the pan off the heat. Slowly pour the cream into the pan, continuing to whisk. This is when the mix will bubble and foam to the top of the pan, so be careful. Whisk until the caramel sauce is smooth, and then add in the balsamic and salt.

Cool. Pour into a glass jar to cool at room temperature.

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Happy Hanukkah, folks. Have you had your latkes yet? Your sufganiyot?

If so, let’s try something different. Cake!

Olive oil Cointreau cake. cooling

At the Hazon Food Conference last week, my friend Leah taught a cooking class on fried Hanukkah foods from around the world. We made perashki kartoskagi (Bukharian potato turnovers) with tamat (fresh tomato sauce) and frittele de riso (Italian rice fritters). I helped man the fry station — you should have seen me trying to figure out how to use an industrial oven. We staved off the fire alarm for a full twenty minutes.

Later in the day, Leah and I sat next to each other on a food writers panel, sharing the stage with Liz Reuven, Liz Traison, and Mary MacVean from the LA Times. As we waited for the audience to trickle in, Leah whispered to me “we’re going to smell like fried for the next few days.”

I still smell like fried.

This year, I left the latkes to the experts, opting to cook and bake with olive oil rather than fry with it. Faced with which extra virgin olive oil to buy, one that would really shine in the recipe, I stood in the store for almost half an hour. I had no idea how to decide between the different varieties.

So I guessed and came home with two different bottles – a Greek one for authenticity and a well-known Italian one just in case – and set up a tasting, throwing an Israeli one from my cabinet into the mix. The Greek was too peppery, the Italian too mild, the Israeli just right.

And then I researched how to choose a good extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually much more complicated than I thought, and there is significant fraud in the industry*. The gist? That “extra virgin olive oil” you just put in your cart might not be extra virgin, and in fact might not even be olive oil at all.

In this  month’s article for the Jerusalem Post, I shared some tips on how to find a good extra virgin olive oil. Here are some of the main points:

Certification symbols are a good starting point. They indicate that an oil was properly made, for example demonstrating adherence to national or state olive oil association standards or conveying Protected Destination of Origin (“PDO,” or “DOP” in Italian) status confirmed by quality control committees overseeing production processes.  Or course, just like kosher certification agencies, the symbol is only as reliable as the organization behind it.

Second, providing notation of acidity level is another positive, even better if the acidity is well below the 0.8% standard.

Further, good olive oils report the processing or pressing and best-before dates.

Finally, always choose a dark bottle over a clear one, as light exposure causes oil to go rancid. There are several online sources listing reputable, high-quality extra virgin olive oils (links below), including some sold in mainstream grocery stores.

Once you’ve hit upon your favorite oil, you’re ready to get cooking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from above

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from the side

Check out Tom Mueller‘s recently published Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, discussed on NPR here, in which he explores corruption within the olive oil industry, spurred by his 2007 New Yorker article. Thanks Molly and Sara for turning me on to this guy!)

***

A few fun holiday links I think you’ll enjoy.

Traditional vs innovative latkes? Two chefs duel. I think the wrong one won.

A conversation with Max and Eli Sussman, co-authors of This is a Cookbook, including the recipe that Eli made in the video.

An electronic advent calendar with holiday cookies behind each door? Why yes! No peeking, guys, no peeking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, sliced

Olive oil orange cake

This recipe is adapted from Food & Wine magazine and I think it is one of the best cakes I have ever made with its moist crumb, crackly top, and aflash of citrus to complement the fruity extra virgin. You can use any orange liqueur you’d like – I chose Cointreau. Or you can go the lemon route and use limoncello (replacing the orange zest with lemon and the orange blossom water with vanilla).  For a non-dairy option, substitute full fat, unflavored almond or soy milk.

The original recipe had a hefty 1 ¾ cup sugar which I reduced to 1 ¼ cup – the cake is still quite sweet. The recipe also called for a 10-inch round cake pan which I didn’t have, so I used a 9-inch round instead. The batter filled the 2-inch high pan about ¾ of the way up and rose a lot during baking, reaching the top of the pan at the edges and at least an additional inch above that in the middle. If it looks like your pan won’t be big enough for all of the batter, leave some out and make a few cupcakes.

Makes 8-10 servings                                                                                                                 

- 3 large eggs

- 1 ¼  C sugar

- 1 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 C whole milk

- 1 t orange blossom water or vanilla

- 1 orange for zest, about 2 t (then, eat the orange)

- ¼ C Cointreau or other orange liqueur

- 3 C flour

- 1  ½ t salt

- ½  t baking soda

- 1 t baking powder

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch round cake pan.

Mix. In a bowl (I use a stand mixer), whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and yellow, 2-3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, orange blossom water, zest, and liqueur. Continue to whisk until everything is mixed. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Bake. Fit the cake pan with the parchment, and lightly grease the sides. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. (This actually took 65 minutes in my oven.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan, about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake over a rack, peeling off the parchment. Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours.

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snowbird

Monday was salad. Tuesday was cookies. Wednesday was salad. Thursday is…

Oh, and these are not just any cookies. They’re chocolate-covered graham crackers. Let me say that again, for full effect. They’re graham crackers that I made (!), that I covered with chocolate (!), and that I didn’t eat all in one sitting (!). I will admit, however, that I also didn’t share them.

I’ve been slow to jump on the DIY food bandwagon (actually, I’m generally slow with these bandwagon things), but I’ve made an exception for graham crackers.

Because  when the holiday lights and decorations come out of storage, and the carols play on every radio station, I think of  chocolate covered grahams, pink grapefruit, and Chinese food.

My mother’s mother was a snowbird, leaving her Manhattan home every October to spend the coldest months in Miami. Each December when my sister and I were kids, our parents drove us down from Maryland to the tip of Florida for two weeks of sun.  As we pulled up to the building, no matter what time of night, Bubbie would be sitting in the lobby, perched between a twinkling plastic pine tree and an over-sized candelabra. Riding up the elevator, luggage still in the car, Bubbie would hand my father a list of chores – hang a picture, re-wire a lamp, fix a television.

When the elevator door opened, my sister and I would grab the key and race down the hall, bursting into the apartment and making a beeline to the kitchen. In the middle of the table, next to a bowl of the pink grapefruits that Bubbie sliced and sectioned before every dinner, sat a plate of chocolate-covered graham crackers and two glasses of milk.

We knew the deal. No milk, no sweets. We drank a lot of milk during those two weeks.

The highlight of each visit was going to the kosher Chinese restaurant on Christmas eve. We’d order the usual – egg drop soup, mu shu chicken, beef with broccoli, and Kung Pao chicken. And a steak. Bubbie figured that if we were going out, she was going to go all out. I don’t like Chinese food, she would say. So we’d order the steak.

The waiter would pile all the dishes on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table, and pass around plates. My grandmother would hand back her empty plate and place her steak plate in front of her. We’d spin the Susan to the pancakes, pass hoisin sauce under Bubbie’s nose, and then spin the Susan  back to the mu shu. And Bubbie would smile and slice into her steak. Soon, she would sneak a fork into the mu shu. Then into the beef. She’d make room on her plate for rice, pushing the steak aside. It’s too tough, she’d say. We’d pass her the Kung Pao. My dad would finish the steak.

Maybe one day I’ll bribe my own kids with some chocolate covered grahams. And then my grandkids. For now, though, they’re all for me to nibble with my coffee. Sorry Bubbie. I still don’t like to drink milk.

Chocolate covered graham crackers

I adapted Alton Brown’s graham cracker recipe, and frequently consulted Joanne Chang’s recipe in Flour (Thanks, Molly, for lending me your extra copy). You’ll need to give yourself enough time to chill the dough for 30 minutes before you can roll it out.

Makes over 3 dozen cookies

- 6 T unsalted butter
– 1 1/2 C T graham flour
– 5 T  all-purpose flour
– 5 T packed dark brown sugar
– 3/4 t aluminum-free baking powder
– 1/2 t baking soda
– 1/2 t kosher salt
– 1/2 t ground cinnamon
– 3 heaping T dark molasses or honey (I used 1 tablespoon of molasses, 2 of honey)
– 2 T low-fat or whole milk
– 1/2 t vanilla extract
– 1/4 – 1/2  lb  dark or milk chocolate (If you plan to drizzle, use less; if you plan to dip, use more)

Chill. Cut the butter into 1/4-inch cubes and place in freezer while preparing the other ingredients.

Pulse. Place in the bowl of a food processor both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Pulse several times to combine. Then add the butter and continue to pulse until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Add molasses/honey, milk, and vanilla and process for about a minute until the dough forms a ball.

Chill again. Press the ball into a 1/2-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Roll. Remove the chilled dough and divide it in half. Return the other half to the fridge. Roll the dough out between two sheets of parchment until it is 1/8-inch thick .

Slice. Remove the top sheet of parchment and slide the other sheet onto a cookie sheet. You want to cut the dough into squares – a traditional graham cracker is 2 X 2 – but I made mine about 1.5 X 1.5 or so (I skipped the ruler). Use a pizza cutter and straightedge to make vertical and horizontal cuts all the way across the dough. Don’t trim the excess! (You’ll see why in a moment.) Use a fork to make holes in the crackers in whatever pattern you’d like. Don’t separate the crackers.

Bake. Bake the crackers in the middle of the oven for 25 minutes until the edges just start to darken (luckily, you kept on the extra dough and these jagged edges get too dark, leaving all the crackers perfectly golden.)

Cool. Remove from oven, set the sheet pan with the crackers on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely. As the crackers cool, they’ll harden.

Break. Once the crackers are completely cool (20-30 minutes), break them up.

Temper. Fill a small pot with 1/2-inch of water and bring to a slow simmer. Chop the chocolate into small chunks and place half of them in a large metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over the simmering water, making sure that the water doesn’t touch the bowl. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, mix the chocolate until it melts. Take the bowl off the pot and wipe away any moisture from the bottom. Slowly add the remaining chocolate pieces, continuing to stir until each small addition melts, and then add another pinch or two. The chocolate will start to get glossy. The more you stir, the glossier your chocolate will be. If you have a candy thermometer, keep stirring until the chocolate reaches 90ºF. No thermometer? No problem. Keep stirring and after about 15 minutes, dip a metal spoon in the chocolate, and then stick it in the refrigerator for 2 minutes for dark, 5 for milk. If it comes out set and glossy and not tacky to the touch, it’s perfect. If it’s still sticky – it’s not cool enough, and not tempered, so keep mixing and add any remaining chocolate pieces.

Drizzle. Lay the cooled crackers in a cooling rack. Drizzle the chocolate in a crisscross pattern over the crackers. Let the chocolate harden.

Dip. Dip each cracker in the tempered chocolate, coating half of each side. Lay the dipped crackers directly on parchment.

Eat. Don’t forget the glass of milk. 

Store. Store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

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good stuff

I normally read my magazines from front to back. I might sneak a peek at the New Yorker’s cartoon contest on the last page, but for the most part, I’m a cover-to-cover gal.

But when I pulled the plastic off of this month’s Bon Appétit, I jumped right to page 96 for Dorie Greenspan‘s cover recipe. She made speculoos.

I first encountered speculoos on a flight to California. This was back in the days when you not only got stuff on airplanes, you got good stuff. Around this time, Belgian cookie maker Lotus contracted with airline food suppliers and literally flew their cookies into the US to expand their market from Europe . As we boarded that plane and struggled with our luggage, the crew handed out two thin little rectangular cookies wrapped in red cellophane. One pack per passenger. This cookie  hooked me in just one bite (well, maybe two, then three, then … I stole my sister’s pack of cookies). They were crispy and delicate and caramel-y and just a little spicy and they managed to melt away in my mouth.

If I first encountered speculoos on a plane, I first truly experienced these cookies visiting my friends Janouk and Regina in the Netherlands. In light of that, I’m going to refer to these cookies as the Dutch do — speculaas (pron: spek/you/lahs) — going forward.

I met Janouk and Regina during the summer of 2006 while we were taking a stage – a dance workshop – in Nice. We danced for 3-5 hours a day and then relaxed together afterwards — sitting on the pebbly beach, grabbing a bite (and we ate a lot more than salade Niçoise), and walking back through vieille ville, the old part of town, to our rented apartments.

So, the following year at just around this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I flew out to Den Haag for a few days en route to Belgium. I stayed with Janouk (then a student, now a teacher), toured around a bit, shopped more than a bit, and spent a day in the dance studio, taking a few hours of class with Regina, the owner. After class, we climbed the stairs to Regina’s home above the studio and hung out like we had in Nice. But this time, we ate Dutch food. Regina set out a few beers and tossed a big red bag to me. I caught it and tore it open, finding small button-shaped cookies inside. Regina said not to bother putting them in a bowl as they’d disappear before long. Those little quarter-sized nubbins were called kruidnoten (“spice nuts”) and had a taste very similar to that of speculaas. But they’re more fun that speculaas (and more dangerous) because you can wrap your fingers around about a half-dozen and pop them in your mouth as if they were seedless grapes. 

Janouk and Regina gave me a little history lesson about these cookies and Sinterklaas‘ holiday. As they tell it, Sinterklaas travels by boat from Spain (where he lives the rest of the year) to the Netherlands with several short black Zwart Pieten child servants*. They arrive on the evening of December 5th and Zwart Pieten give out candies and kruidnoten to good children. Judging by the bag we finished in one evening, we must have been very good girls that year.

As I made Dorie’s speculoos  buttons, I fashioned them closer to kruidnoten, a little smaller in diameter, a little higher in height. I wanted to make sure that I could grab a  nice handful at once.

* There is some controversy about these characters and their costumes, but that’s a topic I’d prefer not to discuss here.

Kruidnoten (or speculoos/speculaas buttons)

I adapted this recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s speculoos buttons recipe in Bon Appetit (December 2012). I skipped her glaze and colorful decorations, opting instead for a very humble looking cookie that really lets the spices and caramel flavor shine. I also made mine slightly smaller (diameter 1.25 – 1.5 inches) and thicker than recommended, so my yield was a bit lower than Dorie’s expected 90 cookies. I’ve kept the original directions. The main difference is that I rolled the logs a little bit longer and thinner (about 9 inches each instead of 8) and made slightly thicker cuts (on the liberal side of 1/4-inch). I might make them even smaller and thicker next time.

Makes 90 small cookies (with my modifications, I only made 70)

- 2 C all-purpose flour

- 1 T ground cinnamon

- 3/4 t ground (dried) ginger

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/2  t freshly grated nutmeg

- 1/8 t ground cloves

- 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

- 1/2 C  (packed) light brown sugar

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1 T dark blackstrap molasses

- 1 T honey

- 1 large egg, room temperature

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 large egg white

- Sanding or other decorative sugar – I used raw sugar

Whisk. Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter in a medium bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars, molasses and honey; continue to beat until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla; mix for 2 minutes.

Mix. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients and mix to blend well.

Shape. Scrape dough from bowl and divide into thirds. Using your palms, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs tightly in plastic or parchment paper.

Chill. Freeze the logs for at least 3 hours. (For neater edges, remove logs from freezer after 1 hour and roll on counter.)  Dough can be made up to 2 months ahead, just keep it frozen.

Preheat. At least 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat to 375°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Cut. Whisk egg white in a small bowl to loosen; lightly brush all over 1 log. Roll in sanding or raw sugar. Using a long, slender knife, slice off a sliver of dough from each end of log to make ends flat. Cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to a baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart; place in freezer while you cut the next log. (The cookies hold their shape better if you bake when dough is cold.) Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake. Bake 2 sheets of cookies, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 6 minutes, until tops are golden brown and centers are almost firm, 11-13 minutes.

Cool. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Repeat with third sheet of cookies. Cookies can be baked 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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Well, people, it’s the night before Thanksgiving.

I’m eating applesauce.

In all the fuss about getting my pressure cooker up and running, I forgot to tell you why I made applesauce in the first place.

It’s for my father. Well, and anyone else who can get to it before he does. But mostly, it’s for my father. Normally I whip together something chocolate and throw it in his general direction and he’s happy. This is the guy who used to pour Hershey’s syrup in his Cheerios.

But when he was a kid, my Bubbie used to make him applesauce. I’ll be missing his birthday this year* and wanted to bring something special for him to the Thanksgiving table. So I asked him how he liked his applesauce.

A little chunky, he said, not like baby food. And I used to put ketchup on it. And I’d mix it with my mashed potatoes. 

??!!!????

Potatoes I can sort of understand. You’ve got the salty and the sweet, like a mashed up version of latkes with applesauce. But ketchup? Ketchup**? No matter what he said, he could give no satisfactory explanation.

When I asked if he’d be open to cranberry applesauce, he said it sounded perfect and it would look like it had already been mixed in with the ketchup.

Perfect. But I’ll be hiding the bottle of Heinz 57 this year.

* I’ll be in Peru for a wedding on his birthday. Stay tuned for more on that trip in January!

** Have you heard about the non-stick ketchup bottle that was developed in an MIT lab?

Pressure cooker applesauce

As Molly said yesterday, applesauce takes three minutes in a pressure cooker. 

Most recipes for pressure cookers seem to be written assuming that you know how to use one. And the cooker (my manual says I should call it the Cooker) is very straight forward once you’ve gotten used to it. But for the uninitiated, here are a few things I learned between yesterday and today about my stove-top pot-bellied Fagor and pressure cooking in general.

Bring to pressure. It sounds so simple. A recipe might begin, “Mix fruit and spices in the pressure cooker, bring to pressure, and cook for three minutes.” (And actually, it might end there as well.) Bring to pressure, like it’s a pittance of a step. Here’s what they don’t tell you, people. It can take a really long time to pressurize. As a way to check whether my cooker (I mean, Cooker) was working, I decided to boil some water. I filled the Cooker with a few inches of water, did all the stuff you’re supposed to do (the lid, the lock, the valve), and waited. I watched the pot. I emailed Molly. Steam started coming out, but the indicator stayed put. 

The indicatorThink pop-up turkey timer (the old-school ones, not these newfangled ones). You’ve got to sit around and watch for it. With such short cooking times, you need to know when you’re pressurized so you can begin timing. Perhaps it’s different on more advance or electric models, but what’s the fun in that? So I watched the little yellow dot next to the lock. Nothing. And then. A tremble. A titter. A wiggle. And slowly the dot became a nub.  But there was no pop, no noise, no way I would possibly know it had come to pressure had I not been standing and watching and watching and watching.  NOTE, my manual says that the steam should start to come out after the indicator pops, but this was not my experience.

Heat. Once at pressure (twenty minutes later, people, twenty minutes), you lower the heat to medium. They don’t tell you that in recipes. I found it on page 10 of the manual. You want to keep a gentle, steady stream of steam, so you might need to then adjust your heat up or down as appropriate. 

The cooking. This is the best part. The cooking itself goes quickly, and the Cooker cooks well. Each apples piece was the same amount of tender as the next, and we cannot attribute that to my uneven cutting skills. A quick whisk broke up all the pieces into perfect sauce. 

I’m not sure if it’s normal for it to take so long for a cooker to come to pressure, or if there’s something wrong with mine. I haven’t given up, Molly, but if anyone out there has any pressure cooker tips, please, please do share. 

Since I’m taking my applesauce on a plane tomorrow, I canned it. This was my first canning experience and I followed my friend Jess’s very clear instructions. I don’t have any special equipment other than the jars themselves; I used a silicone pot holder at the bottom of the pot to protect the jars from heat, plain metal tongs to lift things out of the boiling water, and a narrow wooden spoon to scootch the applesauce into jars.

And, finally, the recipe, based on yesterday’s applesauce made-in-a-regular-pot applesauce. Again it’s good cold, but great warmed up a bit. 

Makes 3-4 cups

- 4 lbs apples (approximately 8 medium) – today I used a mix of Fuji, Gala, and Mutsu (Crispin)

- 2 T sugar

- 1/2 lemon for juice (2 T)

- 1 C water

Chop. Peel and chop the apples into approximately 1-inch pieces.

Cook. Add all the ingredients to the pressure cooker. Close the lid, lock the pot, and turn the valve. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Eventually the indicator will pop and the pot will steam. Lower the heat to medium, adjusting the temperature as needed to maintaining a gentle, steady steam. Set your timer for three minutes.

Whisk. When your timer goes off, release the pressure (I used the “automatic” method by turning the valve). Use a whisk to break up the apples.

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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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