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I called Natasha last month to wish her a happy one-year skyrversary. On our trip to Reykjavik, we ate the thick creamy yogurt-like deliciousness at least once a day, often twice, once even thrice. Yes, it was lovely for breakfast but it really shines in dessert. Each of the restaurants we went to had a sweet skyr course, typically layered with something frozen and something crunchy. One night, blueberry sorbet and oats. Another, strawberries and green strawberry granita. And also, sorrel granita, hazelnut gelato, merengue, and blondies. I mean, seriously people, the desserts were insane.

Just a few days after returning home, I took a first step at reproducing our desserts: I pulled out Cheryl Sternman Rule‘s Yogurt Culture to start from scratch. I inoculated a heavy pot of warmed milk with a dollop of skyr starter (Icelandic Provisions because they use “heritage cultures” and I was aiming for authenticity) and let the whole mix incubate overnight in an oven warmed only by its light. (Am I sounding overly scientific with all this inoculation and Incubation? Yeah, a little. And I’m OK with that.)

In the morning, I pulled the heavy pot from its oven incubator and was pleased to see that the curds had sunk to the bottom and the liquid whey had risen to the top. My plan was to strain the curds as if I were making Greek yogurt (not that I’ve made that), and then strain them a little bit longer.

I lifted the pot and tipped it over a bowl to pour off the whey, but the curds slid out and I lost hold of the pot and the floor was soon a slick puddle of yogurt. Warm yogurt. Turns out, the scent of warm fermenting yogurt is not only unappealing but it permeates everything. After I mopped up the floor, I had to change outfits. And after a day outside, I thought I was coming home to a dairy farm.

I’d like to say I got back on the horse, but I didn’t. I just moved on. One by one, I pulled together the components for an approximation of the simplest of our skyr desserts. There were blueberries to roast. Sorbet to churn. Cookie crumbles to bake. I then layered and layered and layered to compose a ridiculously complicated dessert.

Fancypants blueberry and skyr dessert

– Skyr

– Roasted blueberry compote

– Blueberry lime sorbet

– Oatmeal cookie crumble

Layer. Fill a glass two-thirds with skyr. Cover with blueberry compote. Top with a scoop of sorbet. Sprinkle with cookie crumble. Drizzle with a few more roasted blueberries.

***

Roasted blueberry compote

Just barely adapted from Cheryl Sterman Rule‘s Yogurt Culture. This is actually the first time I’ve roasted fruit – strawberries, you’re up next! – and I like how the flavors concentrate differently than stove-top compote, making a more soup-like (as opposed to stew-like) compote. The berries wrinkle up as the oven dries them out and because they’re not crowded together in a pot, they don’t reabsorb their released juice. 

If your blueberries are tart (for example, the tiny ones from Maine), add up to a tablespoon more of sugar.

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 2 1/2 C fresh blueberries

– 2 T white sugar

– 1 T lime juice

Roast. Heat oven to 350°F. Toss 2 cups of blueberries with the sugar and spread on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 15-20 minutes until the skins burst, the berries shrivel up a bit, and the released juices thicken and slightly caramelize.

Mix. Using a bench scraper, pull the berries and juices into the center. Carefully lift the long edges of the parchment towards the center and tip the berries and their juices into a bowl. Don’t wait too long or the juices will harden. Stir in the lime juice and let cool.

Serve. Mix with yogurt (or skyr), drizzle over ice cream, or put a jar on a cheese plate.

***

Blueberry lime sorbet

This recipe follows the guidelines for Any-Fruit Sorbet from The Kitchn. While making simple syrup is a bit fussy and not necessary for a berry sorbet, I added this step so I could infuse mint into the sugar water concentrate. Just a tiny bit of vodka helps lower the freezing point so that the sorbet doesn’t get too hard. Depending on what type of ice cream maker you have, you might need to put the canister in the freezer the night before. 

– 1/4 C sugar, plus extra if needed

– 1/2 C water

– 4 sprigs fresh mint

– 2 lbs (about 5 C) blueberries

– 1 t lime zest

– 1 T vodka

– 2 T fresh lime juice, plus extra if needed

Simmer. Make simple syrup by combining sugar, water, and mint in a pot over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring periodically, until the sugar dissolves. This is a very concentrated 2:1 sugar syrup as I didn’t want to add too much water. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Puree. Use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor to puree the simple syrup, berries, lime zest, and vodka until smooth.

Strain. Strain mixture through a fine mesh strainer to get rid of any pesky blueberry skins and larger pieces of lemon zest.

Taste. Add the lime juice and taste the mixture for sweetness. It should be a bit sweeter than you want because the sweetness dissipates during the freezing process .(How? I have no idea.) Way too sweet? Add lime juice, teaspoon by teaspoon. Too sour? Add sugar, tablespoon by tablespoon.

Chill. Chill the base in the fridge until very cold, at least an hour.

Churn. Pour the cold base into your ice cream machine and churn until the consistency of a thick smoothie. This takes about 25 minutes in my Cuisinart.

Freeze. Transfer to a container or two, cover well, and freeze for at least four hours before serving.

***

Oatmeal cookie crumble

Makes 1 1/2 cups

– 1/2 C flour

– 1 C oats

– 1/4 C brown sugar

– 1/4 C cold butter

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 egg

Pulse. In a small food processor, pulse together all ingredients until the mix resembles cornmeal.

Bake. Spread evenly on a parchment covered baking sheet and bake in a 350ºF oven until it starts to brown, about 10 mins. Use 2 forks to break up chunks and return to oven. Bake for about 10 more minutes until golden brown, checking every 2-3 minutes to break up chunks and make sure that the pieces aren’t burnt. Once cool enough to handle, break up chunks until the size of grape nuts.

Store. Store in an airtight container.

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I was gifted a sourdough starter right before Passover. My family was visiting Pirch to look at kitchen designs —  we’re renovating the Lower East Side apartment where my mom grew up — and I struck up a conversation with Chef Tracy Justynski over a fig-studded loaf of bread and gluten free chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. I’m not sure what prompted my chutzpah, but I asked her if she had any sourdough starter to share.

She did.

Tracy told me that her starter is over two years old, and she drove it cross-country from San Diego, leaving a trail of blobs with friends along the way. She disappeared into the prep kitchen, and came out with a plastic quart container filled with a cup or so of a flour water mix inoculated with Southern California yeast. Inscribed on the top, in Sharpie: “Starter – feed me flour + water every 2 weeks.”

I slipped it in my bag and would have skipped home if I weren’t a decade of blocks away. I kept the starter in the fridge, keeping it alive with a one-to-one (by weight) ratio of flour to water (approximately 1 cup flour to 1/2 cup water) every other weekend.

Finally I attempted to bake bread using an adaptation of Chad Robertson’s (of Tartine) recipe. It was a five-day process: three days to wake up the starter; one day to mess up the first attempt; two days to get it right. Well, sort of right. The bottoms were burnt. The crumb was spongey. The taste lacked oomph. But at least it sang.

I fed the starter and returned it to the fridge for another weekend project. In the interim, I had amassed a quart worth of starter discard. See, before your feed your starter, you pour out about half (if you don’t, the starter will take over your kitchen). I can’t bear to throw out the discard — especially since I suspect I’ll eventually name mine. So I collected it and searched for recipes. I mostly found English muffins and pancakes, but I tracked down one for blueberry muffins that seemed simple. Also, it used up a lot of excess starter.

My first attempt yielded blueberry-less muffins that were tough. Yesterday I made a second batch, this time with cut up strawberries, a bit more liquid, a lower oven temperature, and a longer bake. Success.

In light of the disaster of a healthcare bill that recently passed the House, I can’t help but find meaning in valuing what some may discard, in cherishing what gets left behind.

Sourdough discard muffins – strawberry version

Adapted from King Arthur. This is a very simple recipe to use up discarded sourdough starter that you just can’t bear to throw away. The sourdough flavor isn’t particularly pronounced. This is essentially a quick bread, and you need to mix the wet ingredients into the dry very quickly (like pancake batter) and then immediately spoon it into the muffin pans. This allows you to capture the rising action of the baking soda. You can substitute 1½ cups of any other berry or fruit (the original version has blueberries and cinnamon). You can make these in mini muffin tins – bake for 20 minutes – which will yield about 3 dozen.

Makes 1 dozen muffins

– 1 C all-purpose flour, plus more to toss with the berries

– 1 C yellow cornmeal, fine

– ¾ t salt

– 1 t baking soda

– 1 C sourdough starter, fed or unfed

–  1/3 C milk

– 1 large egg

– ¼ C melted butter of vegetable oil, plus more to grease the pans

– 1/2 C maple syrup (or honey)

– 1 t vanilla extract

– ½ t rose water (optional)

– ½ lb strawberries, cut into small pieces (about 1½ cups)

– Demerara or coarse sugar, for sprinkling tops

Prep. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease the wells of a muffin pan (or use cupcake liners).

Stir. Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk. In a second bowl, beat together the starter, milk, egg, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and rose water (if using).

Toss. Coat the cut strawberries in a few tablespoons of flour.

Blend. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and blend together quickly, about 30 seconds or so, until just combined. There may be a few lumps – that’s OK. Gently stir in the berries.

Fill. Fill the greased muffin cups to the top, and sprinkle the tops with Demerara sugar. Try not to get too much sugar on the pan itself or it will caramelize and make it difficult to remove the muffins.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minute and then remove to continue cooling on a rack.

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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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Way back in December – doesn’t that feel like an eternity ago? – I woke up early one Friday morning, dressed in darkness, and tiptoed out the front door. I needed two pounds of butter (for the cookies that kept on giving) and another of margarine, and my friend Nachama was in town, fast asleep on the sofa. It was Alyson’s birthday and she had invited both of us over for shabbat dinner. As usual, I offered to make dessert.

Just a few weeks shy of the winter solstice, sundown (the start of shabbat) was around half-past four and with at least a thirty minute drive up to Alyson’s new place in Riverdale, and a downtown physical therapy appointment, I wanted to get dessert into the oven early. This is all a long-winded way of saying that I was tired and in a rush.

Back home from the store, I ground fresh beans and made a pot of coffee. Either the sound or the smell dragged Nachama out from under the covers. She sat on a pouf that she dragged across the floor to my kitchen doorway – the kitchen’s barely big enough for one, let alone two bodies – and we caught up on each other’s travels, work, and lives.

The day before, I had found a few tart recipes to use up a bag of cranberries left over after Thanksgiving. While Nachama and I chatted, I compared three printouts and calculated how to mix and match the recipes in the right proportions. I was convinced that the area of a circle was 2πr which slowed down the process considerably. Once I remembered it was πr2, things went a bit more smoothly.

Math all figured out, I set to work, mixing together a dough and pressing it into little tart pans (how cute are they??).

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While the crusts baked, I started in on the curd. Melting down the cranberries into a compote. Pureeing. Cooling. Adding the eggs and yolks. While the cranberries cooled and I cracked and separated eggs, Nachama squeezed past me and sliced up some onions for an omelette to use up the four egg whites leftover from the curd.

I did double duty at the stove – stirring the cranberries with eggs, lemon, sugar, and a pinch of salt and slowly caramelizing the onions with the other. Once the curd set, I strained it. Once the onions caramelized, I added the eggs. I filled the tartlet crusts with curd and popped them in the oven, and Nachama and I sat down to breakfast.

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When the timer went off, I pulled the tartlets out of the oven and put them on the counter to cool. Right next to a stick of margarine. The stick of margarine that I forgot to add to the curd. Shit! 

Too late to do anything about it, I trotted off to PT and rushed back home. After an hour or so in the fridge, the tartlets firmed up and though the curd was a little looser and the texture a little less decadent than I’d have liked, Nachama and I decided that no one would know that an ingredient was missing.

And so I have for you some winter tartlets. Just in time for spring.

(If you want to be all seasonal about it, fill the crust with rhubarb curd instead.)

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Cranberry curd tartlets

The idea for these tartlets came from the New York Times, but eventually I used the crust from my lemon bars (originally from Alice Medrich) and a slightly less sweet (and lower fat if you forget the 1/2 cup of margarine/butter) cranberry curd from The Kitchn. If you do want to add margarine/ butter, stir it into the strained cranberries. Now that it’s Spring, you can make the curd with rhubarb instead (double this recipe from Not Derby Pie) for an slightly less pink dessert.

Make sure to line the bottom of your tart pans with rounds of parchment paper. If you don’t want to make tartlets, you can make two 8- or 9-inch tarts or a 9X13-inch pan. The recipe makes 2 cups of curd. 

Makes 10 4-inch tartlets.

For crust:

– 1 1/2 C sifted flour

– 1/2 C yellow cornmeal

–  large pinch salt

– 1/4 t baking soda

– 1/4 C unsalted butter or margarine (room temperature)

– 2/3 C sugar

– 2 egg yolks

– 2 T light mayonnaise or yogurt

– 1/3 t vanilla extract

For topping:

– 12 oz (about 3 C) fresh cranberries

– 1/2 C water

– 2/3 C granulated sugar

– 4 eggs

– 4 egg yolks

– 2 T lemon juice

– 1/4 t salt

Prepare. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put rack in lower 1/3 of the oven. Cut 10 circles of parchment paper the size of the removable pan bottoms, and then grease and line the pans. Pick out any squished or blemished cranberries and remove any stems and then rinse the berries.

Make crust:

Mix. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. In a stand mixer, beat the mayonnaise/yogurt and margarine/butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat for about a minute. Beat in egg yolk, mayonnaise/yogurt, and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. It will be crumbly. Scrape bowl and knead briefly with hands.

Press. Press a generous 1/4 cup of dough into each tartlet pan, making sure to cover the sides. Use the bottom of a measuring cup to smooth everything out and nudge the dough into the fluted edges. Prick the dough all over with a fork.

Bake. Arrange the pans on a cookie sheet for easier transport. Bake for 20 minutes until the edges just start to brown.

Make curd:

Cook. While the crusts are baking, place the cranberries and water in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and stir. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all the cranberries have popped and become mushy, about 5 minutes. Puree the cranberries with an immersion blender until as smooth as possible.

Cool. Remove the pot from the stovetop and allow the cranberry puree to come to room temperature. This is an important step because if it’s too hot, it will cook the eggs.

Mix. To the pot with the cranberry puree, add the sugar, eggs and yolks, lemon juice, and salt. Stir thoroughly.

Heat. Return the pot to the stove. Stir the curd continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan. Cook until the curd starts to thicken, coats the back of a spoon, and registers about 150° on an instant-read thermometer if you have one, about 10-12 minutes.

Strain. Pour the curd through a strainer into a clean bowl – this will get rid of any tough cranberry bits or cooked egg. This is when you should stir in the 1/4 cup of butter or margarine until it melts.

Put it all together:

Bake. Pour the strained cranberry curd (it’s OK if it’s warm) onto the baked crust, a scant 1/4 cup per tartlet. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes, until the curd has set. It shouldn’t wobble when you tap the pan. Cool completely and refrigerate before serving.

Store. Keep refrigerated. The crust will soften after a day, so these are best eaten the day they are made.

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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.

harriette-judy-roberta

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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

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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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Happy 4th from Central Park!

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I write to you from an old sheet spread out on a patch of grass just a few steps outside my apartment. Surrounding me (cross-legged with a laptop) are kids flying kites, a woman in an American flag inspired tutu, calypso music soaring out of an old-school boombox, and smoke from competing barbecues. I’ve been having my own little staycation here in Manhattan this long weekend.

Yesterday, my sister and I did some bargain hunting at Century 21 on the tip of the island  followed by our first attempt at Citi Biking along the river. It took a little while to get used to being on two wheels again – I don’t even spin – and we ended up on a pedestrian-only path, which a kindly gentleman pointed out to us in a voice loud enough for lady liberty to hear. We were pedaling along the (correct) biking path when I heard a rip: my favorite summer pants had given out. I muttered a few choice works and pouted. We dismounted, found the nearest dock, and returned our bikes. Still pouting, I covering my behind with my shopping bag and quickly found a place to change into a newly purchased dress. We went straight to dinner.

Two glasses of champagne in, I received a text from Citi Bike: “You’ve had your bike out for a while and are being charged for extra miles…” There were a few more choice words followed by more pouting. We weren’t too far from the naughty bike and walked along the Highline to find and adjust it. Despite the mishaps, I’d totally Citi Bike again. But in leggings.

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But let’s back up a bit so we can talk about an actual recipe. That sheet that I’m sitting on is already spotted with grass stains and food drips (appetizing, I know) from Saturday afternoon when, after a lunch capped off by today’s crisp, some friends and I picnicked on snacks and watched a flamenco guitar and dance performance in Riverside Park.

The origin of that crisp goes back to last weekend. Well, actually, it goes all the way back to Memorial Day weekend, if I’m going to be absolutely thorough. And, as you probably know, I do like to be thorough.

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I spent Memorial Day with Meira and her family. Knowing that her husband Alan’s favorite “fruit” is rhubarb – he’s so British! – I loaded up on the first stalks of the season and schlepped them out to their house on Long Island. In discussing what to do with the rhubarb, Alan requested something sweet but on the healthier side and without anything that would get in the way of the rhubarb taste. Before I had a chance to look up any recipes though, I got sick and had to cut my visit short, leaving the bright pink beauties behind.

Last weekend, my parents came to town and we went out to Long Island for Shabbat dinner where I redeemed myself with a crisp with some end-of-season rhubarb. The filling was super tart – just rhubarb, lemon juice and zest, and a sprinkle of sugar – and the topping sweet like a crispy oatmeal cookie. Everyone, including Alan and my chocoholic father praised it (on the blue plate up top, you can see it’s a little runny), but I thought it could be slightly improved upon.

With a revised crisp in mind, I organized a potluck Shabbat lunch as an excuse to test the tweaked recipe. I skipped the lemon, upped the sugar in the filling and dropped it in the crust, and reduced the amount of coconut oil.

Only one farmer at my market had rhubarb on Friday and he told me that this is the last of the season, so I bought extra and there are now a few pounds of chopped rhubarb in my freezer. So, if you see some rhubarb, grab it while you can and throw together this crisp. Or muffins. Or rugelach. Or compote.

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Rhubarb crisp

Serves 8-10 

The filling is based on a recipe of Mark Bitman’s and the topping is adapted from a recipe I tested for a friend. My first take had a sweeter topping (a full cup of sugar) and tarter juicier rhubarb (1/4 cup sugar, one lemon for zest and juice, and no flour), so play with the proportions to get the balance that you’d like. When the fruit bakes down, you end up with a 1:1 ratio of filling to topping.

I use a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate (7 1/2 inches on bottom) for a pretty thick crisp. You could also use an 8-inch square or, for a thinner crisp, a 10-inch tart or cake pan (not with a removable bottom). If you only have whole or slivered nuts, pulse the topping dry ingredients in a small food processor until nuts are chunky, then add egg and pulse a few more times until incorporated.

This is best about 30 minutes after it comes out of the oven (or is reheated). Any leftovers? Top with a big scoop of yogurt, and you have breakfast. 

For the filling:

– 2 – 2 ½ lbs rhubarb (6-7 cups chopped)

– 6T white sugar

– 2T flour

For the topping:

– ½ C all-purpose flour

– ½ C oats

– ½ C sliced almonds

– 1/3 C white sugar

– 1/3 C brown sugar

– 1 t baking powder

– 1/2 t salt

– 1 egg, beaten

– ¼ C melted (liquid) coconut oil

Prep. Heat the oven to 350°F.

Mix filling. In the pie plate, toss the filling ingredients until evenly coated.

Mix topping. In a bowl, mix together flour, oats, almonds, sugars, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of these dry ingredients and add the beaten egg. Stir mixture with a fork until it gets crumbly, the consistency of cornmeal.

Bake. Crumble the topping evenly over the rhubarb and drizzle with coconut oil. Bake until the top turns golden brown and fruit juices start to bubble up on the sides, 40 – 45 minutes.

 

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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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