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The past week or so, I’ve been on the RAT diet (aka the BRAT diet, but I don’t like bananas). With most meals limited to applesauce, tea, electrolyte drinks, broth, and challah rolls, my dishwasher is full of mugs, bowls, and spoons.

When I felt ready to move to more solid foods, I went cautiously. I craved protein and needed something pure, with nothing that might offend my stomach – no fat, no spice, no acid, no dairy, no nothing. A search for “bland recipe” didn’t really turn up anything inspiring. But I had some chicken breasts in the freezer and, still not up to an excursion to the grocery store, decided to poach.

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Admittedly, this isn’t my prettiest dish. My vegetarian sister commented that she hoped it tasted better than it looked. Sure, the chicken looks anemic, but I like to think of it as a blank slate – a tabula rasa if you want to get all philosophical. First, I nibbled the chicken as is. The next day, I shredded some meat and heated it up in a bowl of broth and noodles. And then one night I dipped slices into a mix of mayonnaise and dijon. Hopefully soon, I’ll be able to slice it into a sandwich or cube it over a salad.

Looks aside, I stand by this chicken, as it stood by me. Even though it’s one of the most boring recipes in the world, I’m posting it here as a reminder of how good those first bites taste after being sick and with the hope that someone else on the mend will find it helpful.

Poached chicken

Adapted from The Kitchn. You can use whatever you have in our kitchen to gently flavor the chicken – here I used the basics, but on a more adventurous day, I might throw in some dried chili peppers and smashed garlic. The Kitchn also suggests adding a bay leaf, sliced ginger, other fresh herbs, or thinly sliced onions, and substituting a cup of white wine for some of the water.

– 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts

– handful fresh parsley

– 1/2 lemon, sliced

– 1 t kosher salt

– 1 t whole peppercorns

Arrange the chicken in a single layer on the bottom of a pot. The pieces can overlap a little bit, but they’ll cook more evenly in a single layer. Scatter the parsley, lemon, salt and pepper, over the chicken, and then add cold water to cover the chicken by an inch or so.

Bring the pot to a boil. Some white scum will rise to the top – feel free to skim it off.

Lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes until the chicken is cooked all the way through (opaque in the center) and registers 165ºF with an instant-read thermometer. Start checking at 8 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the liquid and serve.

 

Not much of a story today, just a recipe that is almost ridiculous in its simplicity. It’s a soup that may look familiar to some of you based on its sparse ingredient list: tomatoes, onions, and butter. Yup, it’s a riff on Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with just slightly different ratios. More vegetables, less butter, and a bit of water to thin it out. You could use fresh tomatoes, but why?

This is the savory version of hot chocolate after a romp in the snow. And if you want to up the ante, make a grilled cheese sandwich and cut into cubes (if you’re like me, they’ll be oh so raggedy, but who cares, really?) for oozy croutons.

The soup is just creamy enough to feel decadent but not New Year’s resolution breaking. So poke around your pantry and fridge and cook up a batch tonight.

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Three-ingredient Tomato Soup

Inspired by Marcella Hazan‘s tomato sauceIf you’re using whole tomatoes, snip them with scissors or squish between your fingers to break them up.

Makes approximately 6 cups

– 2 28-oz cans whole peeled or crushed tomatoes (ideally San Marzano)

– 2 onions, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C butter

– 1 t salt

– 1/2 – 1 C water

Simmer. Mix in a saucepan the tomatoes, onion, butter, and salt and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes to an hour until the onion is almost falling apart.

Puree. With an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Add water and continue to puree until you get the texture that you like.

 

You probably know the Hanukkah story: in a fight over religious freedom in Judea, the temple in Jerusalem was ransacked before the Jewish Maccabee soldiers won the war, liberated the city, and reclaimed their temple in Jerusalem. Upon their return, the Macabees found only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for one day, but miraculously, the flame flickered for eight.

The culinary manifestation of the Hanukkah miracle just might be Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything cookie doughs. Yes, this is a poor segue, but bear with me for a moment. You know I adore Dorie (how could anyone not?), and her most recent cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies, hasn’t wandered far from my kitchen since I wrote about her salt-flecked kasha-studded chocolate chip cookies. When planning a baking birthday playdate with a friend’s twins (How old are you today? Three. How old will you be tomorrow? FOUR!!!!!), I settled on two easy roll-and-bake recipes – one chocolate, one vanilla – and a rainbow of colored sugars. The recipes were the perfect blank canvas for kiddos and left me with enough extra dough to last the entire holiday season. A miracle indeed.

For the playdate, we rolled out wide craft paper to cover the floor of my living room and got to work on the chocolate dough. The birthday boys measured out ingredients (we used a scale and practiced numbers and math), turned on the mixer (with a few puffs of flour and cocoa), and scraped the paddle and bowl (while resisting the temptation to sample raw dough at their mother’s request).

While the chocolate dough chilled, I pulled from the freezer two sheets of vanilla dough that I had made in the morning and rolled out in advance. Armed with cookie cutters, the boys pressed out shapes and went wild with the colored sugars. As they baked, we tried another method for the chocolate – a medium-sized scoop to squeeze and plop the dough onto parchment and a squish with the palm of the hand to flatten into discs.

As I pulled the first tray out of the oven, and the boys leaned over the cookies, inching forward as I backed away warning “be careful, they’re hot hot hot.”

“But they smell like grandma’s house!” I couldn’t have been prouder.

I don’t have any photos from the day, but two days later, I used some of the leftover dough to make some holiday cookies for my physical therapist.

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A few nights later, my parents and I attended “The Eve” – my cousin Judy’s annual Christmas party. Inspired by Dorie’s recipe for vanilla polka dot cookies, I scooped up some mini chocolate balls, rolled them around in bright white pearl sugar, and pressed them into silver-dollar coin sized cookies. I baked up these tiny crispy treats, called them midnight sky cookies, and brought them along to add to the dessert table.

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The party was a fun mixing of traditions – we lit the Christmas tree with a wand, the menorah with a blessing – and then there was a mad dash of present opening that left the floor knee-high with torn wrapping paper. Everyone caught up while we migrated from table to sofa and back again, trying to remember which glass of wine was which, nibbling snacks and digging into my cousin Roberta’s famous igloo-shaped yodel ice cream cake. My favorite part of the evening, just like when I drove out a few years ago, started around midnight when most of the guests had left and a core group – largely my parents’ generation – traded stories about “the old days,” discussed politics, and just gabbed away until 2:30 in the morning.

I shared a sofa and a blanket with my great Aunt Harriette (“that’s 2 Ts and an E,” she likes to remind people) and nodded off a few times. I spoke to her the next morning and she told me: “I enjoyed the gentle weight of your kepele on my shoulder.”

Here’s a picture of Harriette back in the day photoshopped with her daughters Judy and Roberta at a dance recital. My sister and dad made this for Harriette’s 90th birthday.

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My parents stayed in New York for most of Hanukkah, and on the sixth night we lit candles together and my dad and I baked some more chocolate cookies for their car ride home the next day. Standing side by side in the kitchen, we got a small assembly line going, him scooping and plopping out the dough, me coating the dough in sugar and flattening out the cookies.

Finally, I baked up one more batch for New Year’s Eve, having perfected the scoop-plop-roll-squash technique and using it for both the chocolate and vanilla doughs.

I still have some vanilla dough in the freezer for 2017.

I realize now that I got all caught up in the stories and I forgot to talk about the cookies themselves. Both doughs lack leavening and are high in butter, so they bake up dense and crispy which is just the way I like them. The vanilla ones are very vanilla-y, the chocolate ones are rich in cocoa but taste less sweet.

Before we get to the recipes, I have a few tips:

The recipes have very few ingredients, so use the best vanilla and cocoa you can find. Dorie likes Sonoma Syrup Co’s vanilla bean extract crush – yes, it really costs almost $30, but you can find it at TJ Maxx for about half that. Dorie recommends Valrhona cocoa (as well as Guittard and Droste) and I keep a large stash of this one in my pantry.

If you’re going the cookie cutter route, roll out the still soft dough right after you make and  between two pieces of parchment paper so you don’t have to use flour to prevent it from sticking. Chill the rolled out dough in the fridge (or, if you’re in a rush, slip it in the freezer) so it will firm up before cutting.

Since the cookies don’t spread, if you want to keep the shapes as sharp as possible, you can cut the dough on the parchment, remove the scraps, and bake as is.

Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything-Doughs

Both recipes make about 80 cookies if you roll and cut them into 2-inch shapes. I make my midnight sky cookies with a teaspoon scooper for silver-dollar sized  cookies and I’ve lost count of how many the recipe made, but it’s closer to 150. 

I know it’s annoying to have to link to another page, but I didn’t think it was fair to copy two recipes straight out of Dorie’s book.

Dorie Greenspan’s Do Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough as published in the Washington Post

Dorie Greenspan’s Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough as published in Bay Area’s Mercury News

Midnight Sky Cookies

I adapted Dorie Greenspan’s Vanilla Polka Dots recipe in Dorie’s Cookies, replacing the  Do-Almost-Anything Vanilla Cookie Dough with the chocolate version. If you make this with the vanilla dough, I found that they need only 12 minutes in the oven. 

Makes at least 30

– About 1/2 C (96 g) pearl sugar (sometimes called Swedish sugar)

– 1/4 recipe Do-Almost-Anything Chocolate Cookie Dough, just made and still soft

Prep. Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Scoop, roll, and press. Using a teaspoon-sized cookie scoop, scoop out level portions of dough. Shape each portion into a ball between your palms. Roll the balls in the sugar to coat and place them on the lined baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Gently press each cookie down with the palm of your hand to slightly flatten.

Bake. Bake for 15 minutes until the cookies are just set – they’ll firm up as they cool. Transfer the sheet to a rack and allow the cookies to rest for 5 minutes before lifting them onto the rack to cool completely.

 

 

me being me

The past two weeks have been rough. I shed tears of joy at the polls about the beauty of being able to vote for a female president and then wept at home as I stumbled into bed just before 2 am, unsure of how to make heads or tails of the world. I’m grateful for the privilege of my liberal arts education, where close reading and critical thinking were emphasized and practiced and are helping me make sense of the news swirling around, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough. My sister reminded me recently of the importance of listening to and respecting differing perspectives: “we have two ears and two eyes and one mouth for a reason,” she said.

There’s been a lot of ugliness leading up to the election and now there seems to be even more in its aftermath. I find myself more ornery than usual. I see reminders every day of the need for kindness – and mindfulness and that metta meditation come to me more urgently than in the past.

So my article in the Forward about Dorie Greenspan‘s newest (twelfth!) cookbook, Dorie’s Cookies seems particularly timely. I’ve pasted the entire piece below (it’s long, but filled with lots of great nuggets and references to my grandmother whom I always think of during Thanksgiving), and want to emphasize Dorie’s #cookiesandkindness campaign through which she’s encouraging people to bake cookies and share them.

The sharing is key, and it’s really central to Dorie’s general approach to the kitchen. I’ve written before about Dorie’s philosophy on baking, and here’s what she told me two years ago: “I love baking. I always return to it when I’m stressed out. It’s the process, the ingredients, getting dirty, everything under my nails. I love the magic of it… You cook for yourself and other people, but when you bake, you don’t bake for yourself, you bake to share. You bake for love and for people you love.”

Right now, it feels good to be in the kitchen, to show care for other people, and to also remember to take care of ourselves. We won’t have these cookies at my Thanksgiving table because we made a conscious decision to NOT go overboard this year and already have pies and fruit for dessert. But, no worries, I’ve got two cranberry sauces all packed up and ready to go. Those recipes coming just as soon as I can type them.

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Below is my article from The Forward, followed by Dorie’s recipe for Kerrin’s multigrain chocolate chip cookies.

***

My late grandmother used to keep a package of store-bought cookies in the glove compartment of her car. Whenever she drove through a tollbooth or stopped to fill up her tank, she’d offer the attendant a cookie, or three. I have no doubt that she’d have been friends with four-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan who has been baking cookies for as long as she can remember and who is waging a kindness war with cookies as ammunition.

“I’ve just been caught up in the news and the state of things and thinking that the world is a pretty wobbly place right now,” Greenspan told me over the phone a few weeks before the election – a wobbly time indeed – and about a month before Thanksgiving – a holiday that should give families and communities a chance to cook together and share food and thoughts around the table. “I realized how happy I am when I’m baking, how happy I am when I’m sharing what I bake, and how happy the recipient is. So I thought we need cookies now more than ever. I had this crazy idea to start a sweet revolution to get people to bake and to share what they bake. I call it the cookies and kindness project.”

Here’s how it works: bake cookies, share them with someone or several someones, post to Instagram or twitter or wherever else you’d like, tag with #cookiesandkindness and #doriescookies, and make the world a little sweeter. And it gets even better – read down a few more paragraphs.

Armed with the over 160 recipes in Greenspan’s latest cookbook Dorie’s Cookies, you can’t help but join the revolution. This book stretches the concept of what a cookie can be – there are bar cookies, savory cookies, ones that accompany cocktails, and even one that was inspired by a cocktail – and Greenspan told me she enjoyed figuring out how to “cookie-fy” anything.

If you’ve used any of Greenspan’s other books, you know that you’ll feel like there’s a little Dorie fairy flitting around your kitchen, anticipating any questions you might have and answering them before you even think to ask. This writing style Greenspan shares with the late Julia Child with whom she frequently collaborated.

She joked, “When Julia said, ‘I want you to write my book [Baking with Julia] because you write like me,” I asked, ‘You mean, because I write long recipes?’ and she said, ‘No, I mean detailed, detailed.’” With the repetition of the word “detailed,” Greenspan’s voice rose and warbled.

She recounted this story last month at the 92nd Street Y to Charlotte Druckman, author Sizzle Stir Bake: Recipes for your Cast-Iron Skillet and Skirt Steak: Women Chefs on Standing the Heat and Staying in the Kitchen. In front of a room packed with adoring fans clutching copies of the Greenspan’s purple-cloaked book, the two women, sporting nearly matching pixie haircuts and silk scarves – Druckman’s twisted around her wrist paying homage to Greenspan’s signature foulard – perched on stools and discussed baking, differences between French and American cookies, and general cookbookery.

There was talk of “mother doughs” – akin to the five mother sauces that are the essential building blocks for classic French cooking – and Greenspan pointed to her book’s vanilla and chocolate “do-almost-anything” recipes that she likens to a blank canvas or a dressmaker’s muslin. A description of the meticulous testing that Greenspan does for all her cookies, trying different types of ingredients, ovens (gas, electric, convection), baking times, and any other variables that could impact the outcome. A dialogue on how cookies palates and recipes have changed due to access to better cocoa and chocolate, an appreciation of vanilla as a flavor rather than mere flavoring, and the use of salt – now measured in teaspoons rather than pinches – as a seasoning for sweets. And a tongue-in-cheek exegesis on what a cookie is and can be.

Prompted by a question from the audience, Greenspan turned to a cause that enables her sweet revolution to have tangible and measurable impact on the world. From the back of the room, a woman waved her hand and asked, “Can you talk more about cookies for kindness and your involvement with Cookies for Kids’ Cancer?”

Earlier, Greenspan had provided me with some background on her connection with the non-profit that raises funds for research into cures for pediatric cancer. She has known co-founder Gretchen Witt for years, before she was married, before she had a son Liam, and before Liam was diagnosed at age 2 with neuroblastoma. Greenspan has been engaged with Cookies for Kids Cancer since the very beginning, doing what she does best: baking and creating community.

She told the crowd at the 92nd Street Y about a generous challenge grant given to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer: an anonymous donor will match contributions up to $250,000 in the months of November and December. And Greenspan has sweetened the pot. Donors of $1,000 will receive a signed copy of her latest book and those of $2,500 will be entered into a raffle to spend a day baking with her in her home. I’ve had this opportunity and I can personally tell you that it is not one to be missed.

You can also lend support with your own oven and a little social media: bake something from Dorie’s Cookies, post a picture on Instagram, hashtag it with #DoriesCookies and tag @cookies4kids (see example here) to automatically trigger a $5 contribution to Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. And then of course, don’t forget to share what you bake as part of #cookiesandkindness. If it seems like a lot of symbols and words and strung-together phrases, it is. But, hey, let’s call it a good excuse to join the funfetti generation and its successors without having to download snapchat or catch Pokémon.

Greenspan and I considered which cookies might be particularly meaningful for Forward readers to bake and share. For the holidays that just passed, there are apple bars and a half-dozen nibbles with honey in them. For Purim, hamantashen. For Passover, coco-almond thumbprints, pistachio-berry slims, and matzo morsels. For Thanksgiving next week, sweet potato pie bars (complete with broiled marshmallow topping), spiced pumpkin jammers, and cranberry-studded breakfast biscotti. And for this year’s true Christmukkah, when the first night of Hanukkah coincides with Christmas Eve, you can make your own fortune cookies.

As we scrolled through the index and flipped through the pages over the phone, Greenspan gasped, and I could hear her nearly leap out of her chair on the other end. “Kasha! Kasha to the rescue!”

She explained: “My friend Kerrin sent me this fabulous recipe from Switzerland – a multigrain chocolate chip cookie. And she included a note saying that she uses rye grits in it – she gets rye berries from the market and then they grind them for her to order. Well, I don’t have a market that sells rye grits, and I certainly don’t have anyone who would grind them for me. I was going to leave them out, but I knew that I’d be missing their great texture. I can’t remember why kasha came to mind. I think maybe because there was buckwheat flour in the recipe as well, or maybe I was wandering the kosher aisle of my grocery store. Once I added kasha though, I was like a little kid jumping up and down. I was so excited to find this perfect substitute for rye grits – the kasha nubbins give such a nutty crunch – that I wanted to use it in other recipes! So kasha’s also in the breakfast biscotti and the double chocolate double buckwheat cookie.”

Greenspan’s husband was also elated: “My husband Michael adores kasha and has always complained that I can’t prepare kasha varnishkes like his mother’s. With these cookies, I was vindicated. I said to Michael, ‘I haven’t learned to make a brisket as good as your mother’s, and I can’t bake your mother’s kasha, but there’s a new way of eating kasha, and it happens to be in cookie form.’” I doubt Michael complained again.

Inspired by this story, I baked a batch of Kerrin’s multigrain chocolate chip cookies on a moody gloomy day, made sure to shower the scooped dough with a good dose of flakey salt, and then shared. I shared them with my doorman, with some colleagues, with a neighbor. I shared them on Instagram. I tagged away. And the photo convinced a friend to make the recipe herself.

If my grandmother were still alive, she would have shared the cookies too – perhaps her mailman, the crossing guard, a bank teller. And if she had known Greenspan, I think she would have called her such a doll and said that she tickles her heart. I can’t agree more.

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Kerrin’s Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies

Reprinted with permission from Dorie’s Cookies.

My friend Kerrin Rousset has a wonderful, quirky way with food, mixing ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to be culinary classmates and always sneaking a smidgen of healthfulness into every tasty thing she makes. Here she found a way to use whole wheat and buckwheat flours, and I found a way to use kasha.

An American, Kerrin lives in Switzerland, and this recipe originally called for rye grits, which she buys in a local market where shopkeepers happily grind it to measure. When I couldn’t find rye grits (sometimes called cracked rye), I hit on the idea of using buckwheat groats, aka kasha. Be sure to use Wolff’s granulated kasha (100 percent buckwheat), which is readily available. (Medium-grain buckwheat from Bob’s Red Mill or the bins in your natural food market can’t be used for cookies; it’s too large and hard.) Wolff’s bakes into the cookies just as nuts would (and you can substitute nuts if you’d like). You get toastiness, full-grain flavor and crunch. And hold on to the leftover kasha to use in the Double-Buckwheat Double-Chocolate Cookies or Fruit and Four-Grain Biscotti.

A word on color and spreadability: Depending on your buckwheat, your cookies might be golden or mocha colored — however, they’ll always be good. And depending on how cold your dough is, your cookies might spread and be like saucers, or they might bake to be like pucks. Again, both are delicious.

Makes 25 cookies

½ cup (68 grams) all-purpose flour

½ cup (68 grams) whole wheat flour

½ cup (60 grams) buckwheat flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda

7 tablespoons (3½ ounces; 99 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature

2⁄3 cup (134 grams) packed light brown sugar

½ cup (100 grams) sugar

1⁄8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

¼ cup (45 grams) kasha, preferably Wolff’s medium granulation (see headnote), or toasted nuts, finely chopped

6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Maldon or other flake sea salt, for sprinkling

Whisk together the three flours, the baking powder and baking soda. Working with a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large

bowl with a hand mixer, beat together the butter, both sugars and the salt on medium speed for 5 minutes, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl a couple of times. Add the egg and beat for about 1 minute, then add the yolk and beat for 1 minute more. Turn the mixer off, add the dry ingredients all at once and pulse the mixer a few times to start blending them in. Working on low speed, mix only until most but not all of the dry ingredients are incorporated — you should still see streaks of flour. Add the kasha, and pulse a couple of times. Add the chocolate, pulse and then, if necessary, mix on low just until everything is blended. Or do this last bit of mixing by hand, with a sturdy flexible spatula. Scrape the dough out of the bowl, form it into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. (You can refrigerate the dough longer; your cookies will not spread as much.)

Getting ready to bake: Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Remove the dough from the fridge. Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop out level portions of dough, or use a tablespoon to get rounded spoonfuls. Place the mounds of dough about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Sprinkle each mound with flake salt, making sure, as Kerrin advises, not to concentrate it only on the very center of the cookie.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, rotating the sheet at the midway mark, or just until the edges of the cookies start to brown. The cookies will be underbaked, and that’s the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack and let the cookies rest for about 2 minutes, then, working very carefully with a wide metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack to cool until they are just warm (delicious) or they reach room temperature. The cookies will firm as they cool.

Repeat with the remaining dough, making certain that you always use a cool baking sheet.

Storing

The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. If you’d like, you can freeze scooped-out balls of dough. Let them stand at room temperature while you preheat the oven; frozen dough may not spread as much. The baked cookies can be packed airtight and frozen for up to 2 months.

held its own

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the kitchen lately. Perhaps it’s that I’ve been working from home of late. Or that after the holidays, it’s nice to cook for one for a change. Or that sometimes it feels good to turn on a podcast (I alternate between these two right now, both on iTunes), turn off your brain, and let your hands, a good knife, a mandoline and some heat do all the work.

It’s been simple foods mainly: cucumber and radish salad; shakshuka (make a huge pot of spicy sauce for the week, then each morning ladle a few spoons into a pan, plop in two eggs, and into the oven); a tomato soup based on Marcella Hazan’s three-ingredient sauce; an obnoxious number of hard boiled eggs (slice ’em up with this guy, mix with mustard, capers, oil, and parsley, and you’ve dashed together a quick and dirty sauce gribiche to scoop up with green beans); coleslaw like this one with cabbage instead of delicate sprouts.

Today I repeated one of my Rosh Hashanah menu items – the chicken dish that I added at the last minute on the off chance that someone didn’t want to eat meat.The plate returned to the kitchen with only lonely piece left, which means it more than held its own against the “Sultan’s Delight” short ribs.

It’s an Ottolenghi recipe (from his first book, which in the US was his third book) which is meant to be roasted on a sheet pan so that as many chicken edges  as possible can brown. I, of course, ignored those directions last month and made it in a disposable aluminum pan with high sides and the juice pooled around the chicken. I used a cut up chicken as well as boneless skinless chicken breasts because that’s what I had in the freezer and because that’s what  you do for an eleventh hour dish. The skin on the bone-in pieces got soggy and sad, but the naked breasts came out plump and juicy, infused with citrusy marinade.

This time, I just made two breasts – naked as I seem to prefer them – and halved the recipe. They marinated overnight in a mix of lemon and red onion slices, a crushed garlic clove, brightly sour sumac, warming cinnamon, and olive oil. I know raw chicken is supposed to be gross, but it looked so pretty going into the oven, sprinkled generously at the last moment with za’atar.

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40 minutes later, with just a few interruption for basting, dinner was done.

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Za’atar and lemon roasted chicken 

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi, as published in Bon Appetit. I used boneless skinless chicken breasts because I found they worked best in a deeper dish. If you’re going to make this on a sheet pan as the original recipe suggests, skin-on chicken should work well because the chicken should crisp up. I skipped the allspice, doubled the lemon, and didn’t bother to finish with pine nuts or parsley. After all, it’s weeknight dinner, folks. 

Serves 4

– 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs

– 2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

– 2 garlic cloves, smashed

– 2 lemon, thinly sliced

– 1 tablespoon sumac

– 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

– 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth or water (I used water)

– 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

– 1 T kosher salt

– 2 tablespoons za’atar

Marinate. Toss chicken, onions, garlic, lemon, sumac, cinnamon, broth/water, oil, and salt in a large resealable plastic bag. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

Prep. Preheat oven to 400°.

Roast. Place chicken, onions, garlic, and lemon in a roasting pan, spooning any remaining marinade over and around chicken. Sprinkle with za’atar and roast chicken, dousing it with any pooled juices periodically, until browned and cooked through, 40–45 minutes. Check with the the tip of a sharp paring knife to make sure the meat isn’t pink anywhere (you can cover up any holes with a slice of lemon).

 

no time to sleep

A friend once told me that if you nap on Rosh Hashanah, you’ll sleep through the upcoming year. Bubbameister or not, it’s always bugged me as I’ve crawled onto the sofa for a post-services, post-lunch, pre-dinner schluff. Clearly it never bothered me enough, but it did always give me pause.

So a nap-free 5777 was a first. There was no afternoon curling up under a blanket, no slurping coffee and then resting my eyes for a few more minutes because synagogue will go until 1 or 2 so going late won’t make much of a difference, no reading on a hammock, its swaying lulling me to sleep.

This year, though, I started a new tradition. While I have in the past hosted my immediate family for Rosh Hashanah, this is the first time I’ve ever cooked for my extended family. It’s not a huge family – we had ten around my table on Sunday evening – but it felt monumental for me to add a new holiday to our biannual Thanksgiving-Passover gathering repertoire. I guess now it’s triannual. It made me feel like a real grownup.

It worked out that I was between projects, so I had the luxury of being able to plan, shop, and then cook for five days straight. Of course, my refrigerator stopped working, so in the middle of it all, a couple of repairmen breezed through my kitchen and came up with a temporary solution that required two visits. I’m still waiting for some parts to come in for a full repair. I can’t help but wonder whether the fact that I offered them cookies during their first visit resulted in their needing to return not once, but twice.

Most of the recipes were tried and true and straight from the blog. For the main event (i.e., the first night – Sunday), after the traditional challah (from Breads), apples and honey, and new fruit (dragon fruit one night, rambutan the next), we dipped into muhammarah, chopped liver, and eggplant tomato salad alongside a big dish of pickles. After making over eleven pounds of Ana Sortun’s tamarind-braised short ribs, I worried that someone might not want beef, so I threw together an Ottolenghi recipe for za’atar roast chicken that was demolished. As far as sides, we went with butternut squash with balsamic onions, green beans with hazelnut and orange, and arugula salad with pear and pomegranate (a variation on this one). Dessert? Fruit and then I went overboard and baked four sweets: honey cake, the easiest apple cake in the worldchocolate chip cookies, and pine nut and rosemary biscotti. More on those in a moment.

Lunch after synagogue was bagels and lox. Dinner Monday was at my friend Meira’s,  and my mom made Nach Waxman’s brisket and her matzah ball soup. Our final lunch was mushroom soup followed by leftovers.

There was no time to sleep between cooking and setting up and eating and cleaning up and going to synagogue and starting everything all over again, four times over two days. So, perhaps it’s a harbinger of the year to come, a busy one with lots to do and little time to nap.

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As for the recipe that was new to my table and blog: these biscotti. They’re from my friend Rachel Roddy‘s cookbook Five Quarters (the US version is My Kitchen in Rome) – she was one of the teachers at the food writing course I took at Anna Tasca Lanza in Sicily last year. They have pine nuts and rosemary, the combination of which feels just so Italian. And Rachel’s technique is so different from my mine whereby I whip the eggs and sugar until very aerated to prevent the cookies from being tooth-shattering.

Rachel’s directions are simple. Essentially, just use your hands. You mush everything together in one bowl, letting the dough squish between your fingers and lodge itself under your nails. It feels rustic, like a technique handed down from someone’s nonna’s nonna’s nonna. I was skeptical the first time I tried the recipe and made a bunch of modifications. I used my mixer. I added an extra egg because the dough seemed too dry. I added some flour and wrestled with the dough. And the biscotti came out great. The next time, I used water instead of egg to control the amount of liquid. I still needed to wrestle with the dough. And they came out great.

So finally, in the rush to get everything done and no time to waste second guessing myself, I did what I should have done the first time – I followed the recipe as it was written. And they came out great.

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Biscotti di mondorle e pinoli (Almond, pine nut, and rosemary biscotti)

Adapted from Rachel Roddy’s Five Quarters (the US version is My Kitchen in Rome). Rachel makes these with 1 teaspoon fennel seed, but I’m not a fan of licorice flavors, so I latched on to her suggestion to use fresh rosemary instead. The raw dough tastes a bit too sweet and floury when raw, and is a little squirrel-y when you’re trying to form it – don’t worry, dig your hands in to wrestle it into shape and it bakes up just fine. Well, better than fine. 

Makes about 3 dozen

– 2 C (250 g) all-purpose flour

– 1 C (250 g) sugar

– 1/2 t baking powder

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 t finely chopped fresh rosemary

– 1 C (100 g) sliced or slivered almonds

– 1/2 C (75 g) pine nuts

– 2 eggs, beaten

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Mix. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients except the eggs. Mix well. Add the beaten eggs and use your hands to bring the ingredients together into a ball of firm dough, making sure the nuts are well distributed.

Shape. Cut the ball of dough in half. Shape both halves into sausages about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and place them on the baking tray. If the dough is a bit crumbly, squish it together as best you can and then wet your hands and smooth out the top.

Bake. Bake for 20-25 minutes, by which time the dough will she spread out and should still be soft in the middle, but firm enough to cut into slim slices.

Slice. Take the rolls out of the oven and reduce the temperature to 325ºF. Let the rolls cool a little, then carefully lift or slide them to a chopping board. Using a sharp, serrated knife, cut them on a slight diagonal into slices about 1/3 inch wide.

Bake again. Put the slices back on the baking tray, and cook for another 15 minutes, or until dry, firm, and crisp.

Cool. Cool on a wire rack, then store them in an airtight tin.

 

 

 

cheese burekas

Fall is the season for baking cookbooks. Between the chill in the air and the upcoming holidays, people are ready to rev up their ovens. This year is no exception and I’ll be discussing a bunch of them for The Forward.

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First up, Breaking Breads. Written by Uri Scheft, co-owner of Breads in New York and Lehamim in Israel, this cookbook offers bakery specialties like the best chocolate babka in New York and beautiful (and tasty) challah that graced my Rosh Hashanah table this year. There are tons of recipes that reflect Uri’s Israeli and Danish heritage and his wife’s Yemenite and Moroccan background, including strudel, kubaneh, several marzipan pastries, krembo, and different salads and dips.

I first met Uri at Union Square Cafe, where he used to eat a late lunch at the bar. The restaurant was across the street from Breads, and the bakery supplied the sesame crusted Jerusalem baguette (recipe in the book) that filled the bread baskets and were my usual mid-shift break-time snack. No surprise that I was also in Breads a few times a week and I really miss working nearby.

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For my article for The Forward, I made Uri’s cheese burekas because stuffed food is traditional for Sukkot. I baked them on Sunday morning, stuffed three in my mouth straight from the oven, got a few pictures in, and then brought the rest to my friend’s: her four-year old sons loved them. You might be tempted to skip the nigella seeds because they’re not as easy to find as sesame seeds, but it would be a mistake (and they’re really inexpensive at Whole Foods). Their flavor is hard to describe – it’s a little bit like burnt onion, but in a good way, and it really complements the cheese mix (feta, cream cheese, and sour cream).

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Breads Bakery’s Cheese Burekas

Recipe by Uri Scheft from Breaking Breads. I used Dufour brand all-butter puff pastry, which comes in packages of 14 ounces, but Uri notes that this is close enough to a pound for the recipe to work. Even though my unbaked burekas looked a bit of a mess, by the time the pastry puffed browned and the cheese melted, they came out pretty nicely. If you want,  you can fill and fold the burekas and them freeze them so you can have a fresh burekas whenever you want – they might just need a few extra minutes in the oven. 

Makes 8 burekas

2/3 cup (135 grams) cream cheese (at room temperature)
3/4 cup (30 grams) feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup (70 grams) sour cream
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling and shaping
1 pound (455 grams) store-bought puff pastry, thawed if frozen
1 teaspoon water
Pinch fine salt
1/3 cup (50 grams) sesame seeds
1/3 cup (50 grams) nigella seeds

1) Place the cream cheese and feta cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-low speed until smooth. Add the sour cream and mix until well combined. Add 1 egg and beat to combine, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as necessary. Add the flour and mix until combined.

2) Set the puff pastry on a lightly floured work surface and roll it into a rectangle approximately 8½ by 16½ inches and about 1/8 inch thick. Trim the edges so you have a nice, clean rectangle, then divide the dough into eight 4-inch squares. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with the water and salt; brush some of this egg wash over 2 adjacent edges of each square. Reserve the remaining egg wash.

3) Place about 3 tablespoons of the cheese filling in the center of each square and fold the non-egg-washed side of the dough over to meet the egg-washed edge—but do not press the edges to seal. Instead, lightly tap the sides together about 1/8 inch in from the edge; then use your finger to press down and seal the triangle along this line (this is so the edges puff when baked, letting you see the layers of the pastry at the edge of the burekas).

4) Set the burekas on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours (if refrigerating them longer than 1 hour, cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap).

5) Preheat the oven to 400° F.

6) Remove the burekas from the refrigerator and brush the top of each one with the remaining egg wash. Stir the sesame seeds and nigella seeds together in a small bowl, and sprinkle each bureka generously with the seed mixture. Bake the burekas until they are puffed and golden brown, about 25 minutes. Try to cool the burekas slightly before eating—if you have the willpower!

 

eggplant bacon

I made an E(ggplant)BLT. You can read about it here.

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The eggplant bacon – essentially spiced and smoked (with liquid smoke) eggplant chips – may not taste naughty, but the combo of juicy tomato, crisp lettuce, creamy mayo, and smoky salty crispy strips between lightly toasted pullman slices made me feel a little sacrilegious.

While the recipe says that the bacon loses its crispness quickly, I found that it kept well in an airtight container and was delicious the next day crumbled over a salad with chicken for a faux cobb.

PS – please ignore my reflection in the photo of the colander!

Eggplant Bacon for an EBLT

Recipe by Raquel Pelzel in Eggplant.

The key to making thin strips of eggplant crisp like bacon is time. First, salt the eggplant and let it sit for at least an hour so it lets go of all of the excess water. Then marinate it with high-octane stuff like maple syrup and liquid smoke (just a little won’t kill you, I swear) overnight. Then slowly bake it in a barely warm oven. The result is kind of like smoky-sweet eggplant chips, and yes, they can totally stand in for bacon in a BLT or even for chips with baba ghanouj.

2 medium eggplants (about 1 pound total)
1 tablespoon puls ½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ cup apple cider
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
½ teaspoon liquid smoke (optional, but c’mon, just do it)
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Nonstick cooking spray or oil for greasing the rack

1) Cut the ends off of the eggplants, then slice a sliver off of one side lengthwise so the eggplant doesn’t roll around when you slice it. Cut each eggplant into think planks, about 1/8- to ¼-inch thick (use a mandoline if you have one), so you have at least 20 slices (some will break). Place the eggplant in a colander and toss with 1 tablespoon of the salt, then set the colander in the sink and let it drain for about 1 hour. Pat the eggplant slices dry with paper towel.

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2) In a large bowl, mix together the apple cider, maple syrup, soy sauce, liquid smoke (if using), rosemary, smoked paprika, cayenne and the remaining ½ teaspoon of salt. Add the eggplant and toss to combine, then transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight, shaking the container (make sure that lid is on tight!) every now and then.

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3) Preheat the oven to 225° F. Lightly coat a wire rack with nonstick cooking spray (or brush with a little oil) and set inside a rimmed baking sheet. Lay the eggplant slices on the rack and bake until they’re dry, crisp and golden brown, about 1½ hours.

Note: The eggplant bacon loses its crispness quickly, so eat it up tout suite.

good sentences

American poet Jane Kenyon once gave a lecture entitled “Everything I Know About Writing Poetry,” the notes from which I have learned were published posthumously in A Hundred White Daffodils. In her notes, she wrote:

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

Author and writing professor Dani Shapiro shared these words – she tacks them above her desk – during a workshop I attended at Kripalu two weekends ago. It was called “The Stories We Carry.” I couldn’t remember the name of the course the entire time I was at the yoga retreat center (even though once the workshop was over I realized how perfect of a title it was) and when people asked me what program I was on, I mumbled something about writing and meditation.

I started to meditate a little over a year ago, taking a course at the JCC led by Bernice Todres and have continued attending monthly refresher courses. I can’t say I’ve really perfected my practice, but I try. Or I try to try. And I guess that’s why they call it a practice, right? The fact that I’ve even considered meditation is a big deal – see how far I’ve come from this article back in 2011.

Anyway, one of the first meditations that Dani led us through our first day was what she called a metta (which I of course heard as meta, which led to some confusing roundabout logic in my mind). Metta, which I looked it up, means loving-kindness and is apparently a Buddhist practice offering heartfelt wishes for the well-being of oneself and others.

We sat on the floor, on chairs, on these things called backjacks, legs crossed or not, posture straight or not, eyes closed. Dani started: May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. Now think of someone in your life. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of someone you have difficulty with. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Think of a known stranger, someone you see every day, but do not really know. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease.

As the first day drew to a close, she suggested that we continue our evening in quiet and that we go to sleep with good sentences in our ears.

I went back to my room, cocooned in my blanket, and picked up the novel that I would carry around with me everywhere, a safety blanket of sorts as I decided how much to engage in the weekend. I finished a chapter entitled “Fifteen Days of Five Thousand Years” – a staccato chronology of a (fake) natural disaster in the Middle East that leads to political unrest, told through news reports, politician statements, and war declarations – and had to close the book because it was so draining.

Have good sentences in your ears.

I recited the Shema prayer that I used to sing with my Bubbie when I stayed at her house in Philadelphia. I couldn’t fall asleep.

Have good sentences in your ears.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be strong. May I live with ease. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be strong. May you live with ease. Safe. Happy. Strong. Ease.

The weekend was one of fitful nights, failed naps, skipped yoga classes, yet it was punctuated by spurts of inspiration. I shared my writing, connected with strangers, and sat quietly.

I then went home and started a flurry of preparations for Rosh  Hashanah. More on that in the next post.

Last night, I stuck a card in the business book I’ve been plodding through, and picked up Molly on the Range. I wanted good sentences in my ears. And, my god, does Molly deliver! I slept better than I have in weeks, and woke up with a vision of Israeli breakfast.

I had everything in house thanks to some holiday leftovers, a trip to the green market yesterday, the #fridayfairy, and spices sent from my friend‘s restaurant.

Fueled by an iced coffee (well, maybe two), I chopped and fried and swooshed and sliced and spread and sprinkled.

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And I ate at the table, the moody sky trying to poke through the window.

I sat down to write and for the first time in a long time, the words flowed easily. I refueled with some French toast. And I hit “publish.”

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Israeli breakfast

Inspired by Molly on the Range and Molly herself. 

Make Israeli salad: Chop a tomato or two, removing the seeds that you can easily scoop out  and drain in a sieve while you take care of the rest. Here are the other diced vegetables I added: cucumber, radish, and red onion soaked in a little salt and vinegar. Mix with lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flat-leaf parsley, za’atar, cumin, and sumac.

Fry an egg.

Scoop plain Greek yogurt on one side of a plate. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spices and salt. Slide the egg on one side and pile Israeli salad on the other. Add a slice of challah and keep a jar of tahini nearby for spreading, drizzling, and slurping. Don’t forget the coffee, if you have any left over after all that chopping.

Challah French toast

In a shallow bowl, use a fork to combine an egg, a splash of milk, and a dash of orange blossom water or vanilla (and if you want to be all fancy, a little orange zest). Soak two slices of challah in the mixture until saturated. Melt butter in a pan over medium-high heat. Toast both sides of the challah and serve with dark maple syrup.

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