Posts Tagged ‘parve’

quite a reputation

happy birthday Meira(actual birthday, April 28)

Meira is the type of person whose reputation precedes her and who then proceeds to surpass it.

When learning that I would be moving to Philadelphia, my friend “super Tirza” (an email address – and the name stuck) told me that I just had to meet her friend Meira whom she knew from Atlanta and who was starting business school in the Fall. She said we would undoubtedly be friends. Meira and I might have exchanged an email or two and then promptly forgot about each other. In the Spring, I became one of the first denizens of a warehouse renovated into a large apartment building a few blocks east of campus. Meira moved up north at the end of the Summer to a small apartment building west of campus.  The new semester started, and those 15 blocks that separated us were like two different worlds.

Then, one day I received a somewhat urgent email and call from a vaguely familiar sounding person inquiring about my apartment building. Within a few days, Meira became my almost roommate (just one floor removed). Within a few months, my same age sister. Before the year was out, I had a new Southern family since my own family had moved West and it was difficult to go home for the holidays. By now I feel like a true family member, warmly embraced by relatives whom I have never even met.

And while I like to think that I’m special, Meira manages to make everyone she spends time with feel this way.

When I needed surgery and couldn’t sleep through the night, Meira came over at 3 am to watch Flashdance with me. And when my father came to town when I was recovering in the hospital, Meira invited him for shabbat dinner and had everyone introduce themselves by sharing their favorite invention. She knew just how to make my father feel at home (engineers unite – he loves the transistor!), and she is one of the few friends that my father asks about by name. She might have even made a chocolate dessert!

zucchini bread, cooling

Meira is one of the people to whom this little project is dedicated. Personally, professionally, and culinarily (we’re both fans of making up our own words!), she is one of those people who has helped (and continues to help) me figure out who I am. In many circles, and around here, she is probably most well known as Dodah Meira to her beautiful niece and full-of-character nephew and for supplying the nuggets recipe.

Meira is usually the first of my friends to try new ideas and products and she shares generously. As a trained industrial engineer with an MBA in marketing and operations, she laughs with me over ridiculous product placement in stores, especially new (ahem, The Fresh Grocer in West Philadelphia???) or newly renovated grocery stores.

Actually, we giggle over many things and I can always count on Meira to randomly call me when an ad for a cheesy dance movie  comes out straight to video and she knows that we will be NetFlixing it for a chill evening, or possibly, now that we live in separate cities, somehow telepathically stumbling up0n it on the same evening. Meira appreciates and helps me laugh at some of my own foibles and helps remind me to put things into perspective. I always know I’m in for a good time when I answer my phone and the conversation begins, “I just know you’ll appreciate this story….”

Meira also has a beautiful spiritual side. She has explored this in many ways, publicly and privately. For example, in synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, she and her sister, Caroline, make sure that all of their father’s collection of machzors (high holiday prayer books) get used so none will feel lonely. It sounds a bit funny until you see how beautiful it is – my sister and I love watching and helping in this particular annual ritual. One way that Meira shares her spirituality with many close to her is in sending out annual memories of her father and “fatherly advice” to help guide her and her friends through the upcoming year. This past year, she looked at the meaning in numbers and letters, using gematria (Jewish numerology), prayer, mathematics (the Fibonacci sequence and the golden ratio- gotta love the woman!), and visualization. She concluded,

I wish all of you the power of being in the now and the power to be open to all that life brings.

Thank you, Meira, for all you do for me and everyone you touch.

zucchini bread

Healthy-ish Zucchini Bread

This is the zucchini bread that I have been making for years. I actually printed out this recipe from Cooking Light magazine and have been working off the same piece of paper, crinkled and splattered and marked up with adaptations in all colors of pen. It was only when I was sitting down to type this up that I noticed the date that I had printed off this particular recipe — 9/30/01 — the month when I met Meira. And Meira is just the person to see beyond the coincidence and realize that it’s bashert — that this healthy-ish zucchini bread is absolutely 100% meant for her and I could not have possibly chosen anything else to bake for her birthday.

Makes 2 loaves (or 1 loaf + 1 dozen muffins or 2 dozen muffins)

– 3-4 medium sized zucchinis (to be grated into 2 C)

– 2 C flour (I split this evenly between whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour)

– 1 C sugar

– 1/2 C brown sugar (can probably use 1.5 c white sugar total, or if you really want lower calorie, just leave out this extra 1/2 C sugar)

– 1 t salt

– 1 t baking soda

– 1 t baking powder

– 1 T cinnamon (or more!)

– 3/4 C applesauce

– 1/4 C oil

– 3 eggs

– 1 t vanilla (optional – I forgot to add to Meira’s loaf, but added it to the rest of the batter…)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line colander with paper towels.

Wash zucchini and the grate with medium holes (not tiniest) of box grater into lined colander, set atop a shallow bowl to catch any liquid.

grating zucchini

Allow zucchini to sit on paper towels for up to 30 minutes, pressing down periodically, to release some of the water. You can add paper towels This will prevent your zucchini bread from being too soggy.

grated zucchini, draining

While zucchini is draining, in a large bowl (I prefer glass so you can check that everything is mixed), stir together the dry ingredients – the flours, sugars (you can use all white sugar, or even cut sugar down to 1 C…most recipes call for 2 C white sugar), salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon (you can double the cinnamon, I often do!).

Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add applesauce, oil, eggs (check for bloodspots in a small glass bowl and then break up the yolk before adding), vanilla, and drained zucchini. Most recipes suggest mixing these ingredients together first in a separate bowl, but I hate having to clean extra dishes. I’ve found that you can just stir the wet ingredients together in the well and then incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Don’t over mix the batter. The beauty of a glass bowl is you can see if you’ve missed any flour at the bottom. I like using a “spoonula” to scrap the bowl edges for flour.

Divide batter between two small loaf pans or muffin tins sprayed with oil (~3 C batter per loaf pan). I made one loaf and a dozen muffins so that I could test the recipe before sending. The loaf takes ~ 65-75 minutes to bake. Muffins take 45 -60 minutes. You know the loaf/muffin is done when a toothpick inserted comes out clean and without crumbs. Allow to cool completely on a rack.

zucchini loaf

zucchini muffinsI baked these zucchini muffins in silicone “moules à tartelette et muffins” (made by Mastrad – that produces Orka brand silicone oven mitts) that I did indeed purchase in France, as if you had to ask…

zucchini muffinI had to test one before sending the loaf to Meira!

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cannellini bean spread with sun-dried tomato and basil

cannellini bean spread with sun-dried tomato and basil

Cannellini beans must be one of the worlds perfect foods  – their soft creamy texture barely encumbered by a thin shell, the outside barely distinguished from inside. A very close relative of the kidney bean, but more delicate. They are great warmed or cold with only a slight give when you bite it. Plus they have pretty good nutritional value, providing 15 g protein, 11 g fiber, and over 20% of the USRDA of iron and magnesium in a cup.

I’ve always been a canned bean fan for ease of preparation, but I recently decided to try reconstituting dried cannellini beans when I was making soup the other night. I did my research — how long to soak the beans in advance? How long to cook them? I found a few good online resources here (info on all beans, but cooking instructions are for pressure cooker), here, and here. Consensus seemed to be that cannellini beans need at least 4 hours soaking and then about 45 minutes to an hour to cook on the stovetop. My friend Julie, aka Yulinka, always adds baking soda to her beans to aid in digestion, so you can add this to the soaking liquid.

I soaked the little white beans no larger than pebbles for their allotted four hours and then some. Fretted when the wrinkled skin expanded faster than their insides so they looked like opaque white raisins. Breathed a sigh of relief when the insides caught up and the beans had tripled in size and started to look like the canned variety after about 2-3 hours. Tasted the post-soaked, pre-cooked version just to check the texture — yup, they definitely still need to be coooked. And then 45 minutes on the stove in 3X as much water and a few pinches of salt. Watched them like a hawk. 45 minutes came and went. Not ready yet. 1 hour, almost there. Step away for a moment. Beans split, thin skins separated from creamy centers. Disaster.

cannellini beans

Luckily I had a can of white beans to throw into the soup and refrigerated this tasty but ugly mess for another day and a little inspiration to hit.

This came soon enough when, even though I have already professed a distaste for sun-dried tomatoes, I decided to embrace my attempts at reconstituting dried foods and hope for the best. Worst case scenario, if I pureed everything together, it probably couldn’t be so bad.

The resulting white bean spread got the nod of approval from my downstairs neighbor/foodie cook and ardent recipe follower, Bruce and his always ready with a tasting spoon wife, Judy.

Italian-esque White Bean Spread

I have no idea whether this is remotely Italian, but cannellini beans are often used in Italian cooking and the classic tomato-basil combination evokes a caprese salad (sans mozzerella). Instead of reconstituting the dried tomatoes, you can use sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil and use the olive oil from the jar (if you have enough) which should be infused with that tomato taste. The cayenne gives the spread a kick at the back of the tongue that intensifies the longer the ingredients have to mesh.

Makes ~ 1.5 C and keeps for about a week refrigerated

1/2 C dry cannellini beans, reconstituted in 1.5 C water (~1C) or 1 can (15.5 oz)

5 sun-dried tomatoes (dried)

3T extra virgin olive oil, separated

zest and juice of 1 lemon (~1 1/2 T)

1/2 t cayenne pepper

2 T fresh basil (I used basil that I had frozen the last time I cut down my basil plant), or 2 t dried; can probably substitute other Italian herb to taste such as oregano or thyme

1-2 t kosher salt (to taste)

1/2 – 1 t freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Prepare cannellini beans. Rinse and sort beans (remove any stones and debris) and then soak at room temperature for at least 4 hour or overnight. Don’t worry if they get wrinkled initially – eventually the beans will expand to fill their  skins. Simmer beans in fresh water to cover for ~1  hour (or more) with a few pinches kosher salt. Don’t worry if they split because you’re going to puree them anyway! OR – use one can of beans, rinsed and drained.

Prepare sun-dried tomatoes. Option 1 (quick method) – microwave 5 tomatoes in 2T olive oil for 3-4 minutes in 1-minute increments (handle carefully because oil will be hot). This will quickly infuse the oil with the intense tomato flavor. Allow to cool to room temperature and then cut tomatoes into thin slivers — I found kitchen shears easier to use than a knife. Option 2 – soak tomatoes in boiled water for 15 minutes (don’t over soak), drain, cut into slivers, and either soak in olive oil, or use as is.

sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted using Option 1; note infused olive oil

sun-dried tomatoes, reconstituted using Option 1; note infused olive oil

Add tomatoes and infused oil to beans in a large bowl. Zest lemon over bowl and then add its juice. Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste, and herbs, ideally basil. Use immersion blender to puree and add additional olive oil to attain desired consistency.

Serve with baguette or pita.

white bean dip

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My family once vacationed in Nice, my parents taking us kids along when they had a conference in the large convention center. We had fun, but I pretty much treated Nice as any other place to hang out. My sister and I actually went bowling. Bowling!

And we complained about the pebbly beach.

plage a Nice

I don’t think I fully appreciated the beauty and calm of this city until I spent several weeks there on my own. That’s when I met Gianin (non pensare, fare) and had an opportunity to really explore Nice, renting a flat in the Musicians’ Quarter, riding the bus every day like a local, and taking dance classes in Vieux Ville (Old Town).

Vieux Ville back alley (view from OffJazz top floor stairway window)

Vieux Ville back alley (view from OffJazz top floor stairway window)

One of my favorite parts of the day, dance classes notwithstanding, was relaxing after class. Sometimes I went out with fellow students and teachers (most notably the inseparable Dutch ladies whom I soon visited in den Haag) or took a quick dip in the Mediterranean. But usually I meandered back to my flat either along the waterfront or through the market.

Some days, this would take me hours — I was a true flâneur that summer in the best spirit of that word — one who experiences a city by strolling through its winding streets and alleyways, noticing the little nuances and habits and daily rituals and rhythms of life.

When I walked through the market, there was lavender everywhere. Soap. Perfume. Herbes de Provence in cute little ceramic pots. I had been cooking with lavender for a while, infusing it into a liquid – honey, milk, melted butter/margarine – to incorporate its essence into something I’m baking without making the end product taste like perfume. But now when I cook with lavender, and the sweet scent fills the air, I am reminded of my summer walks home through the market and other flânerie in Nice.

* * *

When I came home from New York this past weekend, I found almost a foot of snow outside.

Inside though, on my small windowsill herb garden, my lavender plant has started to bloom. It began shooting buds about 2 weeks ago, towering high above the fuzzy leaves below. And just this week, a few tiny delicate purple flowers have started to barely show their faces, peeking shyly out from their green sheaths.

lavender flower

You almost need to squint to see them. But they’re there.

lavender flower closeup

So it was time to bake another lavender cake.

Lavender tea cake

lavender tea cake, on a napkin I bought in Nice

Lavender Cake

Adapted from The Kosher Palate‘s Yellow Cake recipe. While some recipes call for grinding up dried lavender buds into a fine powder to give flavor to cakes, ice creams, etc., I find this gives a too heady a fragrance and taste. I prefer the infusion method that I have described below. This methodology can be incorporated into other recipes – just infuse the lavender into warming honey, milk, or shortening. I may try this with rosebuds as well.

I typically make this as 2 loaf cakes (like tea cakes) or 4 dozen small or 2 dozen large cupcakes; can also be made as a bundt cake; makes approximately 15 servings. I use a silicone loaf pan, and the cake develops a really nice, caramelized crust.

3 C all-purpose flour

2 C sugar

1 T baking powder

1/2  kosher salt

1/2 C vegetable oil

1/2 C margarine

1 C soy milk

4 large eggs

2 T dried lavender

zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease pan(s).

Prepare lavender infusion: melt margarine in bowl over low heat and add lavender. Heat until fragrant, approximately 7-10 minutes. Drain margarine through fine sieve, pressing lavender on mesh. Discard lavender. Allow margarine to cool (but should still be liquid).

Infusing lavender

infusing lavender

lavender in seive

margarine drained, lavender buds stay out of batter

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of mixer using paddle on low speed.

Add oil, cooled margarine, soy milk, eggs, and lemon zest. Beat at medium speed until well blended. Scape down sides of bowl occasionally to make sure all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan(s) and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending on size of pan. Cake is done when toothpick inserted into center comes out clean (no crumbs). I typically bake on the longer side because I like a crunchy crust.

Cool and serve.

Lavender tea cake

what remained after sharing with my neighbors


sometimes I make lavender cupcakes

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labo(u)r of love

One night last week, I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. I tried everything. I read the New Yorker by my bed —  yes … I might live in Cambridge, but I still subscribe to the New Yorker, New York Magazine, the weekend New York Times … you get the picture. I listened to my flying piggy music box. This was a gift from my dear friend Lau who lives in London and here is the picture I sent her a few years ago when the little piggy and I lived in my very NY apartment.

piggy in ny

I’ve tried to load the video so I can share the music which just adds to the piggy charm, but I’m new at this techie thing and I just can’t seem to make it work.

Back to sleepless in Cambridge…

… Despite all my best efforts, I couldn’t fall back asleep, so … I decided to bake.

Now, mind you, I am NOT a baker. Baking is chemistry, and I am no chemist. That poor unfortunate soul who was my lab partner in Orgo can attest to that! But, some things are really worth the effort, and at 4 in the morning, I needed to channel my inner chemist (?!?) to focus, relax, and help me get back to sleep. So, I made espresso shortbread. Well, I made the dough and then stuck it in the fridge to chill for a few hours while I went back to sleep.

Now, this might seem strange — why would I make anything with espresso in it in the middle of the night if my goal was to go back to sleep? Well, for me, coffee is less about the caffeine and more about the ritual. Don’t get me wrong, caffeine has an effect on me. But the real wake-up call is that first (and usually only) cup in the morning, the steam rising as I warm my always-cold hands on the mug full of delicious. I only drink it cold when it’s unbearably hot outside…and it’s just not the same.

So, espresso is just another ingredient. Well, not just. It’s an extraordinary ingredient. And in these shortbread, it magically gives a chocolate hint.

My take on baking is that if I’m going to bake, there is usually a special unique or unexpected ingredient  that I want to showcase, and the experience – the process – really comes from the heart. That’s the only way I can focus enough to actually follow a recipe exactly. When I made these shortbread, I used a birthday gift from Eva, the first and fastest friend I made up here in Boston. She just gets me.

baking with love from eva

My love affair with shortbread began in my early teens when I started babysitting for the same family almost every weekend. Penny was English, Medhat was Egyptian, and I cared for their three children for five years, two of them from birth. One Saturday night, soon after “Weezy” (Louise) had been born and Lilah was not yet tired of playing mommy, Penny left some fresh homemade shortbread on the counter. Now, until then my main exposure to shortbread was Walker’s. Which is good, but can not compare to the melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness that is homemade. Penny apologized for leaving things out on the counter in a mess, but was in a rush and the shortbread had to cool. She told me to help myself to a few shortbread. And help myself I did. After I put the girls to sleep. And one more story. And a glass of water. And finally silence.

As any babysitter knows, this is the time to rummage around in the fridge, check out the pantry, and get a snack before settling down for an evening of homework and maybe a little TV, turned low. So, I had a bite of shortbread, plucked from the rack of now cooled little diamonds. Wow! I opened the fridge and saw a mound of dough, wrapped in plastic, and sitting in a bowl. Raw shortbread cookie dough. Enough said. I was hooked and kept stealing little nibbles by the spoonful, always carefully remolding the dough and tightly rewrapping the plastic. I couldn’t eat very much or Penny would notice. Eating some chips is acceptable babysitter behavior. But raw dough…I don’t think so. And Penny is a very proper British woman.

That night when I got home, I prepared my own version of shortbread dough … to eat raw of course. I had noticed that Penny had left confectioners’ sugar out on her counter, so I found some in our pantry, mixed it with a little flour and butter, mashed it all together with a fork in a little bowl, squished it to form a nice mound and didn’t bother with the plastic because it wasn’t going to make it to the fridge. Who has time to waste? I just pinched off little bites of delicious, melt in your mouth … raw … shortbread … dough.

And for years, I made that little concoction when I wanted a little something sweet. It wasn’t until I was all grown up and had my own apartment and started to entertain that it ever occurred to me to actually bake the shortbread.

espresso shortbread can 2

Espresso Shortbread

Adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern. The main substitution I make here is to use (parve) unsalted margarine instead of butter so I can serve them after eating meat. I know, I know … the horror! If you made 2 batches, one with butter, one with margarine, and compared them side-by-side, I’m sure the butter would win.  And I admit, these are not quite the same as Penny’s. But, I like them just the same. This is definitely an adult cookie and they’re worth the work…

Makes about 2 dozen.

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted margarine softened (or you can use butter…)

2/3 C confectioners’ sugar

21 t vanilla extract

2 C all-purpose flour

1/4 C ground espresso — make sure it is ground really fine (i.e., for an espresso maker).

1/2 t salt

Make the dough: With electric mixer and paddle attachment, beat margarine and sugar until creamy, approximately 2 minutes. Add vanilla and beat well. Turn to low speed and mix in dry ingredients – flour, espresso, and salt until just espresso shortbread doughcombined. The dough will be brownish-gray, a little sticky, and firm. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours. (It was at this point that I went back to bed at 5:30 am).

Preheat oven to 300°F.

Roll the dough between 2 sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap (keep the rest refrigerated) to 1/4 inch thick. I’ve never really been very good at measuring thickness — so, if you can’t measure 1/4 inch, the most important thing is to make sure that each batch you put in the oven is the same thickness so everything bakes evenly. If you’ve ever eaten Walker’s shortbread — the little sticks — I think they’re about 1/2 inch thick…so use your best judgment.

Cut the dough into diamond shapes. I find that using a pizza cutter is the easiest way to get straight, clean lines. Place diamonds on Silpat or parchment covered baking sheet (recipe says to use an ungreased baking sheet, but I prefer to cover).

[An aside: Most recipes including this one typically say not to re-roll the scraps, but honestly, unless you can eat all that raw dough…it’s such a waste. The re-rolled shortbread might not be exactly the same consistency as the “originals” but I’m not going to tell anyone if you don’t. I re-form any scraps into  a mound, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about an hour, then roll out the next batch.]

Prick the shortbread with a toothpick in the middle and bake until pale golden around the edges, 20-24 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack.

espresso shortbread

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