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Archive for the ‘Passover’ Category

a potschke

My Passover cooking philosophy – with the exception of matzah brei and matzah ball soup – is to avoid matzah in all of its permutations (farfel, matzah meal, cake meal). Rather than attempt to construct a facsimile of a leavened sweetie (or even worse, use a boxed cake mix), I like to find ways to use naturally Passover-friendly ingredients in ways that I’d gladly eat the rest of the year.

Which is why I found myself nodding as I read “Don’t Make Passover Too Easy,” the New York Times op-ed that my friend Jeff Yoskowitz wrote last week. In it he makes a compelling argument that  “embracing the holiday’s tedious dietary restrictions, not working around them, is critical to appreciating this holiday on a deeper level. And to eating well.” He encourages readers to go back to basics, to cook the way they did generations ago before there was a Passover aisle with its ersatz cookies, its pizza and s’mores kits. To turn to seasonal produce and cook from scratch and have fun with the challenge.

Yes!

Or, if I were cooler, I’d probably say yaaaaaaasssss!

The article reminded me of how when I met Jeff with his beard and skinny jeans and artisanal gefilte fish company where his title is “chief pickler,” I knee-jerk dismissed him as a hipster and joked that he probably lived in Brooklyn. He does. He then guessed that I lived in the conspicuously Jewish enclave known as the Upper West Side. I do. Touché, Jeff, touché. (I have no idea whether Jeff remembers this conversation, but we’ve moved past any early awkwardness.)

In the article, Jeff doesn’t use the word nostalgia, perhaps because it’s gotten a bad rap in its association with hipster-ism* or its tendency to devolve into excessive sentimentality. But in my book, Passover is the nostalgia-ist of all holidays because it requires a week of stringent food restrictions, and a reliance on recipes passed down through the generations is often the only way to make it through. Even more, the preamble to the seder dinner involves a retelling and symbolic reliving of our communal history. What better way to relive an experience than by immersing ourselves in the foods that our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents ate**, and if you go back far enough (or, in many cases, not that far at all) what our ancestors ate in the country they came from that’s not our current country, because weren’t we all – Jews, Americans – immigrants at some point?***

It’s not surprising, then, the holiday prompted my friend Gabi to coin the term “granny chic” in another recent Passover food-related article in the Boston Globe. Gabi writes about her first time making her mother’s version of her grandmother’s favorite spongecake (10 eggs!) and dried fruit compote. In the article, she addresses the nostalgia issue head on, sharing Jewish cookbook author (most recent: King Solomon’s Table, more on this as soon as I can get it down on paper) and food storyteller Joan Nathan‘s perspective that strict adherence to authenticity can be overrated and improving upon the nostalgic recipes of our past is the way to go.

The Passover recipe that’s most nostalgic for me, that most reminds me of my own Bubbie, is her Passover “bagels.”  They are essentially dense heavy rolls with a thumb print in the middle, heavily sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon (so their belly button fills with the sweet mix), and baked for at least an hour until they finally dehydrate enough to hold their shape and develop of crust. I’m not sure why we didn’t just call them doughnuts, but tradition is tradition and my mom continued making them until just a few years ago when we opted for lighter fare. I can’t help but wonder if we should bring them back next year, keeping the cinnamon sugar but using some non-matzah meal flour alternatives to free them from their hockey-puck heft.

All this has been a really long-winded introduction to the recipe that I have for you today. And perhaps an explanation – to myself at least, since writing and reading often help me figure out what’s behind what I do – for why I opted for such a potchke (translation: fuss in Yiddish) of a recipe for this year’s seders. All the talk of nostalgia got me thinking about what Bubbie might have wanted after dinner and before the afikoman. She was a woman who orchestrated setting the cloth-covered table with dishes for every eventuality, a thematic centerpiece, and pitchers to hold seltzer. Never, ever were we to have a plastic bottle displayed.

So I decided to make a showstopper of a dessert: a lime curd tart on a coconut crust. Something that, after the dinner plates had been cleared and everyone had sat down again, could be presented to the table on a special platter. The Passover equivalent to my bubbie’s Thanksgiving Jell-o mold.

This was a major departure from my tendency to make petite sweets – chocolate cakelets, macaroons, mandelbread. And in my quest to develop a recipe that would work, I followed the advice of Anna Gershenson (she’s Gabi’s mother and has a lifetime of catering and teaching experience) and did something I’ve never done: I broke down and bought potato starch. Using an ingredient that I wouldn’t normally use during the rest of the year was hard for me to stomach, and I stubbornly researched recipes for over a week to avoid it. Eventually I realized that to make the dessert I wanted without laborious recipe testing would require borrowing a failsafe technique developed over many Passovers: potato starch to provide structure to both the crust and curd of the tart I had been dreaming of.

Sure, the crust takes an hour and a half to make, but most of that time is waiting. And, yes, the curd requires a lot of zesting and juicing and tedious stirring over the stove. But the result was exactly what I was looking for. The potschke is worth it and I think I can pat myself on the back and say that Bubbie would have been proud.

FOOTNOTES (seriously, who writes a blog post with footnotes?):

* My working definition of a hipster as someone who “manifests nostalgia for times he never lived himself” comes from an opinion piece in the New York Times that I read back in 2012. Here, Christy Wampole (a Princeton professor of French literature and thought) argues that living ironically (as exemplified by hipsters) is a form of frivolity (my words, not hers) that is worth reconsidering in favor of seriousness. I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of reading a bunch of Wampole’s articles and interestingly, after last year’s election, she wrote a follow-up essay about the political destructiveness of this ironic living and the importance of “good” seriousness in the face of a current administration that demonstrates an unapologetic, un-self-reflective, taking-itself-too-seriously brand of seriousness.

** The Jewish Food Society, founded by Naama Shefi, has as its mission to honor and revitalize Jewish culinary traditions. I wrote about their first public event, “Schmaltzy,” which was a Moth-like evening during which five different people shared food stories and their favorite dishes. The organization and event were also covered in NPR and Food and Wine.

*** Here’s another article that seems particularly relevant these days: David Sax of Save the Deli argues for welcoming immigrants at the very least for the sake of dining diversity.

Coconut macaroon crust

Adapted from Tori Avey. This is essentially one big macaroon that dries out in the oven to get completely crispy. I initially tried to use my own macaroon recipe but I didn’t make enough to fill the tart pan, and while cooking the egg white coconut mix on the stovetop first is helpful for shaping the macaroons, it’s not necessary for this crust. I scooped it into macaroons.

My crust was very difficult to remove from pan. Next time I plan to line the removable bottom with heavy duty aluminum foil so the tart can be easily removed (like I do for brownies). I’ll report back once I do this to update the recipe.

– 3 C shredded unsweetened coconut

– 4 egg whites (reserve yolks for lime curd filling, below)

– 1/2 C sugar

– 1 T potato starch (or cornstarch)

– 1/4 t salt

– Coconut oil for greasing

Preheat. Preheat oven to 325° F.

Stir. In a bowl, stir together coconut, egg whites, sugar, potato starch, and salt until thoroughly combined.

Wait. Allow the mixture to sit for 20-30 minutes so that the coconut soaks up the liquid.

Press. Grease with coconut oil a 9- or 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Press the coconut mixture into the pan. Use a measuring cup of the bottom of a glass to smooth out the coconut and to press it into the sides of the pan. Wet the bottom of the cup or glass if it’s sticking to the coconut.

Bake. Place the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until the edges turn a light golden brown, but the center is still white. Allow to cool for a few minutes until you can gingerly handle the pan, and cover the edge with aluminum foil to stop the browning.

Bake again. Return the pan to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes or until the center turns golden brown. The center might be a bit darker than the edge. Allow to cool. If you’re going to make the whole tart, keep the oven on.

Lime curd filling

Adapted from Gourmet. I amped up the lime zest and replaced the butter with a quarter the amount of coconut oil. This curd is on the puckering side which is how I prefer it, but you can add a bit more sugar if you’d like. 

Makes approximately 1½ cup

– 4 large egg yolks (leftover from the crust)

– 3/4 C fresh lime juice (my limes weren’t very juicy, so I needed 9)

– 2 T lime zest (if you have any left over, use it for the tart topping)

– 3/4 cup sugar

– 1 T potato starch (or cornstarch)

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 2 T coconut oil

Whisk. In a 2-quart heavy sauce pan, whisk together egg yolks, lime juice and zest, sugar, potato starch, and salt until the potato starch is dissolved.

Cook. Whisk the mixture over medium-low heat, using a silicone spatula to reach into the corners and scrape the sides and bottom of the pan until the mixture is thickened and beginning to bubble around the edges, about 5 minutes. Whisk for another minute and remove from heat. At this point, the curd should be thick and jiggly.

Strain. Place a strainer over a bowl. With the spatula, scrape the curd into the strainer, pressing gently on the solids – this will remove any egg that might have cooked as well as most of the zest. Scrape any curd clinging to the underside of the strainer into the bowl. This whole process may take a few minutes.

Store. If not using right away, store the curd in the fridge.

Coconut lime curd tart

While the crust is baking, you can make the lime curd, or use whatever curd you’d like – either homemade or store bought.

I played around with a lot of decorating ideas, particularly since lime curd is really yellow from the egg yolks and I wanted to make sure you could tell it was lime rather than lemon. I initially candied lime peel but I allowed the peel to boil for too long (boiling removes the bitterness) before shocking it, so it turned an ugly shade of khaki. I was going to sprinkle it over the curd after the tart baked, but I didn’t feel like making a second batch. Ugly or not, I managed to eat almost the entire batch. In the end, I toasted some coconut and mixed it with lime zest and a little sugar – next time I’d probably sprinkle it over the entire tart so it doesn’t look like a fried egg.

– 1/4 C shredded unsweetened coconut (optional)

– 1 T lime zest (optional)

– 1 T sugar (optional)

– 1 coconut macaroon crust, baked (see above)

– 1 ½ C lime curd (see above)

Preheat. Assuming you’ve just made the crust, the oven should already be at 325° F, but if it’s not, turn up the heat.

Toast. While the crust is baking, pop the coconut into the oven to toast, no more than 2 minutes until it just starts to brown. Watch closely because coconut burns very quickly.

Mix. In a small bowl, mix together the coconut, lime, and sugar.

Fill.  Spread the curd evenly across the crust. Sprinkle liberally with coconut-lime mixture.

Bake. Keeping the pan on the baking sheet, bake for 10-12 minutes until the curd is just set and no longer wobbles if you tap the pan.

Chill. Once the tart comes to room temperature, carefully wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. I like it right out of the fridge.

 

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Happy Passover!

My first seder this year had all the familiar comforts of traditional Ashkenazi fare surrounded by family. We ordered dinner from the same caterer we’ve been relying on for over 30 years since the first Passover my Bubbie hosted after her husband, my Poppie, passed away. The menu’s remained virtually identical over all those years (though this time we went crazy and got mashed potatoes instead of roasted), and we like it that way.

For the second seder, I returned to New York and went to the James Beard House where Chef Raffi Cohen of Raphael in Tel Aviv prepared a Sephardic feast. While I don’t typically eat kitniyot – legumes, grains, and seeds – on the holiday, I was happy to partake and experience another way of celebrating. The room was filled with flowers – not in vases, but adorning hair and lapels with headbands and boutonnieres that the organizers had woven together in the weeks leading up to dinner.

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The flowers and the menu – fresh fava beans, artichokes, young lamb, corn “couscous” – reminded me that Passover is also known as “chag ha’aviv,” the holiday of spring.

I’ll be spending the last days of Passover with my Atlanta family and baked a few sweet snacks to bring along. While I never got around to trying Claudia Roden’s almond orange cake like I said I would, I have developed a mandel bread recipe.

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One of the fun things about Passover cooking is the challenge that ingredient limitations bring. Granted, I’m lucky enough not to have to pull off entire meals, so I can find joy in making just a few special dishes. I love biscotti and thought that mandel bread would be a worthy trial of my own self-inflicted Passover baking restrictions: no matzah meal, no cake meal, no potato starch.

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Mandelbrodt in Yiddish means almond bread, and I was determined to come up with a recipe that only uses 100% almond flour. Extensive searching yielded few results (thanks Molly and Jessica for helping me on my quest) and both of those recipes used little to no egg. Eggs are important for biscotti and their double-baked brethren. Which brings us to a little science and how I worked out this recipe. I’ve done enough experimenting with biscotti to have figured out a few tricks to yield cookies that are crispy and crunchy but not tooth-shatteringly hard. (Remind me to tell you about the job I clinched with a  presentation about biscotti).

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Mandel bread typically contains oil which results in a moister, crumblier cookie compared to biscotti, but since I was using almond flour which has a lot of its own oil, I figured I could hold off on the oil and see how things turned out. (Plus, I didn’t feel like going out to buy Passover vegetable oil.)

To prevent the cookies from becoming leaden, I whipped the eggs with sugar for a good five minutes. This aerates the dough and helps the mandel bread stay light and airy. I learned this trick from Joanne Chang of Flour Bakery.

Most mandel bread recipes call for baking powder, but I substituted baking soda (doesn’t require special Passover certification, plus, I didn’t feel like going to to buy Passover baking powder – are you sensing a theme here?) and then added a little bit of lemon juice as an acid to activate the chemical leavener.

Bored yet?

No worries. I’ll just leave you with the recipe.

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Chocolate chunk mandelbrodt/mandel bread

Makes 4 dozen

– 3 eggs
– 1 C sugar
– 1/2 t almond extract (optional)
– 1/2 t baking soda
– 1 t lemon juice
– 4 C almond flour
– 1 C raw almonds, chopped
– 5 oz dark chocolate, chopped or 1 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Whip. Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or a hand-held mixer), beat together the eggs, sugar, and extract on medium-high for 5-6 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick and lemon colored.

Mix. Switch to the paddle attachment on your mixer or grab a large spoon or spatula. Mix in the baking soda and lemon juice. Gently fold in the almond flour just until it’s incorporated – the mixture will be thick and sticky. Mix in the nuts and chocolate.

Bake. Form the dough into two long, skinny logs on the baking sheet, about 16 inches long and 2 inches wide, making sure to leave space between them because they will spread a bit. There will be a lot of patting and nudging, but eventually you’ll wrangle it into the right shape. Wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking to them too much. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the logs are golden brown, cracked, and firm to the touch in the middle.

Lower heat. Reduce oven to 300ºF.

Cool. Allow the loaves to cool on the baking sheet for about 20 minutes until they’re cool enough to handle.

Slice. Transfer the loaves to a cutting board and, with a sharp serrated knife, slice on a diagonal into 1/2-inch cookies, approximately 2 dozen per loaf.

Bake again. Return the slices, cut side down, to the baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the sheet, flip the slices, and return to the oven for another 15 minutes.

Cool. Let cool completely.

Store. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

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It’s a mid-March Friday night in an Irish pub, and three girls are perched on stools padded by their heavy winter coats. They rustle for wallets in their over-filled bags, settle their tab, and drain the last drops from their glasses – two beers and a cider. As they turn on their stools and scramble to gather their coats purses hats gloves, an elderly gentleman enters the bar.

Cap pulled over his eyes, an oversized jacket hanging off his shoulders, a plaid scarf wrapped around his neck, he introduces himself as Nick. “Ladies, where are you going?”

“We’re heading home.”

“Why? You’re going to leave me here all alone?”

“We have to get home…it’s been a long night. We need our beauty rest.”

“What were you doing before you got here?”

“We were at a shabbat dinner.”

“Oh, you’re Jewish? You’re Jewish!”

“Yes, we are.”

“Have you seen Fiddler on the Roof? I love Fiddler on the Roof. Have you seen it?”

“Yes, we have.”

“I love Fiddler on the Roof! Do you know what else?”

“What?”

“I love matzah. I eat it all year.”

He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a few shards of matzah. Then into his shirt pocket for a few more. And his pants pocket for another handful. He hands a piece to each of the girls.

“I always keep matzah in my pockets. I have to have it with me all the time, I just love matzah so much. I love Fiddler on the Roof too.”

The girls smile and take a few steps backwards towards the door, tightening scarves and adjusting hats, all while holding on to their matzah gifts.

“Now girls, don’t leave me here all alone.”

“We have to go. It’s late.”

“Please don’t go.”

They smile again and turn away. He grabs the hand of the closest girl and swoops in with a peck on the cheek.

The girls giggle and walk into the wind, leaving behind the warmth of the bar and Nick with his matzah.

True story.

Happy holiday of matzah. Whether you celebrate this week or all year round or not at all.

Here’s some dessert. No, it’s not remotely related to the story. orange  blossom macaroons OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Orange Blossom Macaroons

Adapted from Alice Medrich’s recipe, new classic coconut macaroons 2.0, in her book “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies.” The key is to buy the largest unsweetened coconut flakes (sometimes called coconut chips) instead of shredded coconut. I replaced vanilla with orange blossom water and added orange zest. Medrich suggests a half-dozen variations, including pressing a square of dark chocolate into the still-warm macaroon, adding lime zest and cinnamon, or mixing in pecans, chocolate and dried sour cherries.

I first published this recipe in The Forward‘s Passover 2015 section.

Makes about 30 cookies

– 4 large egg whites

– 3 1/2 C unsweetened dried flaked coconut (also known as coconut chips, not shredded)

– 3/4 C sugar

– 1 t orange zest

– 2 t orange blossom water

– a generous pinch salt

Mix. In a heavy stockpot over very low heat or a large stainless steel bowl set directly in a wide skillet of barely simmering water, combine all of the ingredients. Stir the mixture with a silicone spatula, scraping the bottom to prevent burning and lowering the heat if it starts to brown. Initially the mix will be really sticky, glossy and stringy. Continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes until mixture is very hot to the touch and the egg whites have thickened slightly and become opaque. At that point, there will be no more strings. Be careful because hot sugar can burn.

Wait. Set the batter aside for 30 minutes to let the coconut absorb more of the goop.

Prep. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 350°F. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven.

Scoop. Drop heaping tablespoons of batter about 2 inches apart on the lined baking sheets. The piles of coconut will look a bit shaggy and may fall apart a little bit. Keep a small dish of water nearby and use wet fingertips to neaten things up.

Bake. Bake for about 5 minutes, just until the coconut tips begin to color, rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking.

Keep baking. Lower the temperature to 325°F and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cookies are a beautiful cream and gold with deeper brown edges, again rotating the pans from top to bottom and from front to back halfway through the baking time. If the coconut tips are browning too fast, lower the heat to 300°F. Set the pans or just the liners on racks to cool — the macaroons will still be a bit soft, but will crisp up as they cool. Be careful handling the macaroons at this point because hot sugar can burn. Let cool completely before gently peeling the parchment away from each cookie.

Store. The cookies are best on the day they are baked — the exterior is crisp and chewy and the interior soft and moist. Although the crispy edges will soften, the cookies remain delicious stored in an airtight container for 4 to 5 days.

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This year has felt like a series of beginnings. New city, new apartment, new job, another new apartment. So I’m especially excited to spend Rosh Hashanah with Meira, who herself is having a year of beginnings. An engagement, a wedding, an expanded family, a house. I’ve often celebrated holidays and shabbat with her family in Atlanta. I  believe this will be Meira’s first time hosting Rosh Hashanah outside of Atlanta, and I’m thrilled to be starting off the new year with her and Alan, Alexa, Samantha, and my sister Robyn.

I’m picking up challah from Breads and will be baking apfelstrudel with the girls. Robyn is in charge of selecting a few new fruits.

I decided to also bake something special to commemorate this year. I wanted to come up with a new recipe rather than relying on my tried and true honey cake or apple cake. Because while there’s comfort in the familiar, we’re all navigating uncharted territory these days and I wanted to come up with a treat that would reflect that.

At 8:32 am on Tuesday, I sent Meira a text: “I just had an ammmmmmmaaaaaaaazzzzzzzzzing idea. Honey. Coconut. Macaroons.” My mind was made up. This would be the new dessert for 5775.

honey macaroonns

Note, however, that Meira didn’t actually say she thought honey coconut macaroons were an amazing idea. Nor did she say they weren’t. So, I went ahead and made them and am keeping my fingers crossed that she likes them.

I came across a few recipes online for paleo macaroons that replace all the refined sugar with honey. And I did some reading about how to substitute honey for sugar in baking. Here are the basics:

1) Most sources claim you can substitute one cup of honey for the first cup of sugar. After the first cup, you should use a 1/2 to 3/4 cup honey for each cup sugar.

2) For each cup of honey you use, reduce the liquids in the batter by 1/4 cup. Unfortunately this becomes impossible when the only liquid in your recipe is 1/4 cup of egg whites which is the binder keeping everything together.

3) Honey browns faster than sugar. To avoid burning, lower the oven temperature by 25ºF and reduce baking time.

4) Honey is acidic. To counteract the acidity, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon baking soda (a base) for each cup of honey.

For my first batch, I used this macaroon recipe as a base since it has always served me well. I replaced all the sugar with honey, increased the amount of coconut to counteract the additional moisture in the honey, and added some baking soda. The batter never really came together. It had the strange quality of sticking to everything else except itself. I did what I could to gather the coconut bits into a scoop, pack them in really tight, and then drop them onto parchment paper. I wet my fingertips to wrangle each scoop into a manageable clump. In the oven, out of the oven, and the macaroons never set, they just fell into a sweet soggy mess with browned edges.

Luckily I had a few pounds of coconut in my pantry, so I started over. I used the same base recipe, but this time only replaced some of the sugar with honey and used less total sweetener. I added just a half-cup extra coconut to counter the honey’s moisture. And, as before, I added a smidge of baking soda. The macaroons scooped out nicely, just as they have in the past. They baked up crispy on the outside, moist on the inside. They are a little more delicate than their all-sugar cousins. They brown more quickly, so you need to keep a close eye on them. And because of the moisture added by the honey, they do soften a few hours  out of the oven.

I can’t wait to bring them to Meira’s.

honey coconut macaroons

I always feel the need to offer up some sort of benediction before Rosh Hashanah, maybe some words of wisdom for the new year, perhaps a reflection on the previous year, if only because on the best of days, one could call this medium a publication and on that same best of days, one could call me a writer.

So here goes. 5775, the new year, is a palindrome. I find it soothing – the knowledge that we’ll live day to day, month to month, season to season, and eventually be welcomed back by something familiar. They say that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone in order to grow. This year I feel confident that when I’m out of my comfort zone, when I’m growing, when I’m unsteady on my feet, I’ll always have something, someone, some place familiar to keep me grounded. And I wish the same for you.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah! Have a wonderful and sweet new year!

Honey macaroons

I modified this tried and true macaroon recipe, reducing the sugar and adding honey at the end. Since the honey is the whole point of these macaroons, use something at least one step up from the squeezie bear. Here I used sunflower honey. Orange blossom honey would be amazing as well. I’d stay away from darker honeys such as buckwheat. 

Out of the oven, the macaroons have a lovely crisp shell, but they do soften after a few hours. I recommend storing them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer  (keep them cold so they don’t squish), and then popping them in a 300ºF oven (or a toaster) to crisp them back up before serving.

On a related note, I’m looking forward to Joanne Chang‘s next cookbook about baking with less sugar and hope she has an all honey macaroon to try.

Makes 4 dozen

– 3 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut

– 3/4 C sugar

 – 5 egg whites

– 1/4 t baking soda

– pinch salt

– 1/2 C honey

Heat. In a heavy-bottomed pot (I use a Le Creuset; you can use a double boiler if you think your pot won’t be thick enough), combine all of the ingredients except the honey.  Stir with a silicone spatula over low heat, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Continue to stir for about 5-7 minutes until it’s very hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and stir in the honey.

Cool. Refrigerate the mix until cold, approximately 30 minutes.

Prep. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Line a cookie sheet with parchment.

Scoop. 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 20 minutes until the coconut toasts and turns a golden brown. Take a peek at 10 and 15 minutes to make sure they’re not browning too quickly, particularly around the edges. When you take the macaroons out, they should still be a little soft. As they cool, they’ll harden a bit.

Store. Keep the macaroons in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. They’ll soften a bit, but you can perk them up with a few minutes in a 300ºF oven – let them toast and then they’ll harden as they cool, good as if just baked.

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I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’ve never made matzah ball soup. I don’t need to. Because my mom’s is the best.

One of the tricks is that she starts with a whole chicken and a ton of bones that she gets from our butcher. Then she throws in some mirepoix and enough dill to send me to heaven and lets everything simmer for hours and hours. The broth chills in the refrigerator until it gels in the best possible way. My mom even picks out the white meat chicken and saves it for my bowl because she knows that’s how I like it.

As for the matzah balls, well, they’re from a box. My mom prefers Streit’s or Manischewitz, essentially whatever she can find on the shelves in the pre-Passover frenzy. You won’t find her adding any schmaltz or seltzer either. Her secret is a very large pot. The largest pot you can find. And making the balls in several small batches to avoid over-crowding that pot. (In biological terms, consider the pot’s carrying capacity before dropping in that extra ball to avoid stunting the growth of all its neighbors. Am I the only nerd reading this blog?)

My mom has another secret weapon: my dad. In his own words, “Annie did the wonderful delicious magical details. I was only a simple assistant taking down Passover pots, buying ingredients, cutting chicken pieces in half, and cleaning the pots after some final tasting.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d love to give someone pot washing duty!

my mom's matzah ball soup

ps – A big thanks to will.i.am. for the title of this post.

pps – You have to love living in a city where the local paper’s dining section on the day after Passover is “The Bread Issue.” We’ve got artisanal bakers, including Uri Scheft whose Bread Bakery Jerusalem baguettes are delivered daily to our restaurant. Also, nostalgia for the bread service that’s slowly disappearing. Then, rules for bread baking from Tartine Chef Chad Robertson – it all starts with patience – and a condensed version of his 38-page country bread recipe. (When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, Tartine sold out of bread by 10 am). And in case you want to bake some more, there are three additional bread recipes. After you make bread, you have to master the art of making toast. And then, figure out what to do with any leftover crumbs.

ppps – Today also marks the opening of Black Seed Bagels where Noah Bernamoff of Mile End Deli will introduce a New York-Montreal hybrid bagel.  After a decadent lunch, I swung by the shop and picked up a baker’s dozen. The thirteenth bagel is for eating on the way home, right?

Enough post-scripts. Let’s get to my mom’s soup.

Annie’s matzah ball soup

Adapted from this recipe. My mom uses soup mix or bouillon instead of salt in her recipe to enhance the chicken-y flavor – add it to taste, conservatively at first. Or use salt to taste. This is a huge batch, but it freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole thing. 

Makes at least eight quarts 

– 7 quarts water

– 1 5-lb chicken, cut into 8 (or more) pieces

– 2 lbs chicken bones from the butcher

– 1 large onion, chopped

– 1 entire head celery, chopped

– 1 lb carrots, chopped

– 1 large bunch rest dill, cut up roughly

– several tablespoons of Osem chicken soup mix (without MSG) or bouillon, or salt to taste

– 2 boxes Streit’s or Manischewitz matzah ball mix (for about 40 matzah balls) and whatever other ingredients they call for

Boil. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add in the chicken and bones. Skim off some fat and “scum” that rises to the top several times until no more accumulates.

Simmer. After the skimming, add in all of the vegetables, dill, and the soup mix powder to the pot. (Again, be conservative with soup mix/bouillon at first until you see how salty the broth is). Lower the temperature to a very low simmer and cover the pot.  Simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.  Check on the soup every half-hour and stir. When done, the vegetables should be softened and the chicken falling off the bone.

Strain. Remove all chicken pieces, bones, and most of the vegetables and let cool. Discard any dill stems. Refrigerate the soup, chicken, and vegetables overnight. The next morning, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Remove the bones from the chicken by hand, shred the chicken and put it back into the soup along with the vegetables.

Make matzah balls. Follow the package directions, along with my mom’s tips. With wet hands, roll the dough into balls about one-inch in diameter. This is important: cook the matzah balls in small batches. Use a very large pot and only add enough matzah balls to form a single layer with a fair amount of wiggle room – you don’t want to crowd the pot when they expand. Cover the pot and simmer each batch of matzah balls for at least half an hour. They’re ready when you can stick a knife into the center without hitting any resistance. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer in a flat pan and refrigerate. We like our matzah balls fluffy but firm enough that they don’t fall apart. Make sure to store the balls separately from the soup, otherwise they’ll absorb too much soup and fall apart.

Serve. Reheat the soup with snips of fresh dill, and add the matzah balls carefully with a large spoon.

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the brei

I can’t remember the last time I bought matzah.

Other than the seder feast preamble Hillel sandwich with its dab of bracing horseradish and spoonful of sweet apple and nut charoset nestled between two mismatched shards or maybe a few snapped rectangles smeared with Temp Tee and draped in smoked salmon the next morning, I largely stay away from the stuff.

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Every year, as I rush from my aunt’s house where we have the seders to the car/train station/airport, I grab whatever open box of matzah is on the kitchen counter and stuff it into a bag along with leftover ribeye and a few quarts of my mom’s matzah ball soup (more on that later).

matzah brei

My first morning back in the comfort of my own kitchen where I can make as big a mess as I want, I crumble a square or two of matzah into a bowl, scattering crumbs on the floor like a culinary Hansel and Gretel. Soaked in water, mixed with vanilla, milk, and an egg, and then fried, the matzah becomes brei, Passover’s answer to French toast.

This is the breakfast that dreams are made of.

matzah brei

It’s also what leaves me every single year facing the last few days of Passover with an empty box of matzah shards and an addiction-like need to make just one more batch. Or two. Or three. It’s what sends me out, year after year, foraging the grocery shelves in the shrinking Passover section for a new, shrink-wrapped, full box. More well-hidden than the afikoman (I found ours this year under the tablecloth), the mid-holiday box of matzah is elusive, assuming you don’t want the only flavor left: wheat bran. And no one wants that wheat bran straggler.

matzah brei

Unless I can borrow a few squares from a friend or neighbor, after a breakfast or two or three, I say bye-bye to the brei. And wait for Passover next year.

matzah brei

ps – If radiology was like this, I might have stayed in medicine. 

Matzah brei

This recipe makes treats matzah like French toast and makes a brei that looks like a big pancake with a nice browned crust, rather than a matzah scramble. While some like it savory, I take my brei sweet and add a fair amount of vanilla to enhance that sweetness. I don’t have real measurements other than one square of matzah and one egg per person. I have a teeny tiny pan that works perfectly for one person. You can also use a larger pan and pile the brei into small mounds (think pancakes). Or, make a huge brei to fit a large pan and invite friends over (use a plate to help with the flip). 

Serves 1

Crumble a square of matzah into small, but not tiny, pieces (about ½-inch wide) and place in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over top and allow to soak until the water cools enough so you can handle it. With your hand, cover and push the matzah against one side of the bowl and drain out as much of the water as you can. Mix in a splash of milk (1-2 tablespoons), a dash of vanilla (1-2 teaspoons), a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional), and an egg. With a fork, mix everything together. Generously coat a small pan (small enough so that the brei batter will fill the entire pan, about a half-inch thick) with olive oil and heat over a high flame for a minute or two until hot, but not smoking. The hot pan will help the brei develop a nice Drop the batter into the hot pan and distribute it evenly. Turn the flame down to medium. Then, do not stir it. You don’t want scrambled brei – you’re aiming for a large pancake. Peek under the brei periodically until you find it nicely browned and flip-able, loosening it from the pan a little bit at a time. This will take longer than you think, probably about 7-10 minutes. Yes, that long. Carefully flip the brei in one piece and continue to cook until browned, another minute or so. Slide the brei onto a place, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pat of butter.

 

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Still life with eggs.

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

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Also known as Passover baking.

Over the past week, twenty-four eggs have passed through my hands. One made it into breakfast. The remaining twenty-three were mixed into five batches of mini chocolate cakes and three of macaroons. Those macaroons will have to wait a few days but they’ll show up here soon enough.

I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about my kitchen. There’s a blog called a stove with a house around it – it’s been dormant for a while, but the name stays with me, and I think of my place as a kitchen with an apartment around it. One peek and I was ready to sign the lease. My apartment in Boston had a big kitchen (you can see me cooking in it here), much more than I needed as a single chick living on my own. But now that I’m back in New York, living in an apartment a third of the size of my old one, my kitchen can best be described as, well, efficient. In real estate lingo that would mean small. But in my lingo, it means small but (and!) it works really well for me.

The kitchen itself is a galley, but by far the most luxurious one I’ve ever had. With a large, even slightly over-sized, gas stove, I can fit a full sheet pan in the oven with room to spare (think twenty macaroons per pan!). Then there’s … get this … a garbage disposal. And a dishwasher.

Turn around, and you’ll bump into a narrow counter and a French door refrigerator with an ice cube maker that I spent six weeks trying to turn on. Turns out, when a fridge isn’t connected to a water supply, when there is no water supply it can be connected to, it can’t make ice. No matter how many times you press the reset button.

To the right of the fridge is a doorway. And to the left of the fridge is a doorway. What it lacks in counter space, the kitchen makes up for in open space.

When I first moved in, I was concerned about the counter situation. I dragged over a waist-high wire shelving unit for storing pots and pans and other things that I always need in easy reach, but it’s not sturdy or deep enough to chop on.

I use my pantry for dishes and appliances and baking sheets because it’s too awkwardly-shaped to stockpile cans and other staples. I use my cabinets for those staples. I store my plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper and the like in a trash bin under my sink – everything stands up and the rolls stay put. I only have three drawers, so I keep my two sets of silverware in the same one, with milk utensils facing upside up and meat ones upside down.

It took me until this week to get the hang of my kitchen and to appreciate its efficiency. All those eggs up there put my kitchen to the test and I’m pleased to say that she (he?) made it through with flying colors. One counter was the mixing station. The other, the cutting. In between photo shoots, the table served as a scooping station. And then a cooling station. With the small space, I was forced to clean up while I worked. And because it was small, it didn’t take long to clean.

A few hours ago, I left the dishwasher running and now I’m in New Jersey with family.

To those of you celebrating Passover, enjoy your seders tonight. And to everyone, happy Spring.

xo

 

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Whew, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?

It sure has been hectic on my end. Between a new apartment and a new job and a whole bunch of travel and an asthma-inducing sleep-interrupting cold, I’ve had a hard time getting back here. While out of site (get it?), this little place was never out of mind. Don’t worry – I’ve finally organized my kitchen and I have a queue of recipes and photos just waiting to flit across these pages. The next few pre-Passover days should make up for lost time.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt , ready for the oven

So, about that job.

Earlier this year, I started working front of house at Union Square Cafe. Learning in the restaurant that anchors all of Danny Meyer‘s work is a phenomenal experience and I’m punch drunk on the “enlightened hospitality” kool-aid. Perhaps it’s the novelty of a new direction for my life, but even aching feet after long hours in the dining room can’t dampen my spirit, particularly now that I re-invested in what I used to call hospital shoes.

Drop by, say hi. I’ll probably be there welcoming you into what has increasingly become my second home.

Skinned hazelnuts

Eventually, I’m hoping to do a mini-trail in the kitchen, but for now I just pepper Chef Carmen and pastry Chef Sunny with questions. Case in point: this year I’m in charge of our Passover seder desserts. In the past, I’ve made Jess’s chocolate hazelnut mini cakes, substituting margarine for the butter. One year I made a quadruple batch which yielded eleven dozen one-bite cakes. That’s 132 bites that disappeared over the span of a few short days. Wanting to avoid margarine this year, mostly because my restaurant schedule makes it difficult to get to a kosher grocery store, I picked Sunny’s brain for some suggestions. I was thinking coconut oil, but she suggested grapeseed or olive oil. And while we were on the topic, she mentioned that she’ll be making dairy-free, gluten-free macarons and macaroons in the restaurant over Passover. We chatted about different flavors – pistachio? citrus with jam filling? – and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. More on that when I get the intel.

Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt

I channeled a little Sunny today and tested Jess’s mini-cake recipe with olive oil.

Oh boy!

Oh boy oh boy oh boy!

The olive oil has a more complementary flavor than margarine, letting the dark dark chocolate shine and keeping the bites dense without heft. The hazelnut enhances the chocolate instead of turning the cakes into nutella wannabes, and the sprinkle of salt – well, you can’t go wrong with a little salt. I’ll see what Sunny has to say tomorrow when I bring them in for her to try.

Good night, all. See you back here real soon.

Update 4/9/14: Success – Sunny likes them!

Update 4/12/14: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. See below for recipe modification tips.

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Mini chocolate hazelnut olive oil cakes with sea salt 

Adapted from Jess over at Sweet Amandine who turned a flourless chocolate cake from Gourmet into mini cakes. In order to make these non-dairy, I substituted 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil for 1/2 cup butter. Use a mild olive oil – no need for the fancy stuff here – and splurge on chocolate and cocoa. I normally use Callebaut (a mix of 65% and 70%) and on Passover I lean towards Swiss brands – Camille Bloch or Schmerling’s; I heard that Equal Exchange is making fair trade kosher for Passover chocolate bars this year and I plan to seek them out. I used Cacao Barry extra brute (dutched) cocoa (Cacao Barry and Callebaut are marks of the Barry Callebaut company); any high quality 100% pure, unsweetened cocoa powder will do (and doesn’t require special Passover certification).

Jess recommends using a mini muffin pan, but I only one with medium-sized cups (i.e., regular-sized in this day of mega everything). I filled each cup with approximately 2 tablespoons of batter. The cakes freeze well and Jess actually prefers their consistency when frozen and thawed – I agree, so you can prepare these well advance. 

Update 4/12/18: These work with almonds as well, though they’re a little less rich. If you are going to use pre-ground almond (or hazelnut for that matter) flour, measure out 60g which is the same weight as 1/2 cup of whole nuts. If you only have volume measurements, it will be a bit difficult to do this conversion, but I found that if you fluff up the nut flour with a fork, it’s just under 1/2 cup. If you compress the nut flour, it’s a little over 1/4 cup. 

Makes 2 dozen mini cakes

– 6 T olive oil plus extra for greasing
– ½ C unsweetened cocoa powder plus extra for dusting
– ½ C hazelnuts
– 4 oz high quality bittersweet chocolate
– ¾ C sugar
– 3 large eggs
– coarsely ground sea salt or fleur de sel

Prep. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously oil a 24-cup mini muffin pan or two 12-cup regular muffin pans. Dust with cocoa powder, tapping the pan to coat all surfaces, and then shake out any excess.

Skin. Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 8-10 minutes until fragrant and slightly darkened. Pour them into a container, cover, and shake (see the second photo above) – the agitation will help remove the loose skins. Hold the top on because it may pop off due to the heat of the nuts. Separate the nuts from the skins and allow them to cool fully (I put them in the refrigerator).

Grind. Once they have cooled, grind the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine. Make sure to use quick pulses to avoid making hazelnut butter.

Melt. Chop the chocolate into small pieces and melt it together with the oil in a large bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth and remove the mixture from the heat.

Whisk. Whisk in the sugar – it will be a little bit grainy. Allow the mixture to cool for a few minutes and then add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the pans, 2 tablespoons per muffin cup, and tap on the counter to remove any air bubbles. Sprinkle with salt.

Bake. Bake for approximately 12 minutes until the cakes have puffed up and the tops have formed a thin crust. Start checking at 10 minutes. Cool in the pans on a rack for five minutes. Slide a thin knife (I use a narrow offset spatula) around each cake to help nudge them out of the pan. As they cool, the cakes will fall a little bit. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

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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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