Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Than a Stone's Throw - Parshat Vayeitzei

Well, last week was quite the perfect week to start a blog about recipes that correspond to the weekly Torah portion; the portion of Toldot pretty much handed me the lentil soup recipe. But this week left me with a number of choices, because several food items are mentioned in the portion of Vayeitzei: oil (Jacob anoints an alter with some), bread (gets mentioned twice but it's not central to the story) and water (in a well at Jacob and Rachel's love scene). Sheep and goats are mentioned in the story as well (when Jacob has tremendous success breeding his herd). Yet the item that stood out to me this week was not a food at all, since it's stones that star in the story multiple times!

First, Jacob sleeps on a stone when he dreams about angels ascending and descending a heaven bound ladder. Then, he builds an alter to God out of that stone to mark the place where God promises to grant him leadership of a great nation and inheritance of the land of Israel. Later, in a moment of superhuman strength, Jacob is able to move a huge stone covering the mouth of a well when Rachel arrives in need of water (cue the love scene). Stones make a final appearance in Jacob's truce with his uncle/father-in-law Lavan, the guy who made him work for 14 years before he was allowed to marry Rachel. They each build stone piles to mark their territories - picture that moment as a kid when you drew a line down the middle or your bedroom or your bathroom sink and told your sibling they couldn't come onto your side.

This week's recipe is going to be more of a stretch, because what the heck am I going to cook with a stone? Stone soup came to mind, but I did soup last week. A stone fruit cobbler would be great (stone fruit being the category for fruit with large hard pits such as peaches, plums, and nectarines), but they're totally not in season in Massachusetts. Next to a stone fruit cobbler recipe I found one for stone crab - not too helpful either. Then I thought of stone ground ingredients and found myself on the Taza Chocolate web page. A Somerville , MA based company, they are not only organic but are also focused on sustainability and fair trade and they are in the process of being certified as kosher. All their chocolate is stone ground, which gave me the inspiration (but sadly not yet the ingredients) for a molten chocolate cake with stone ground chocolate.

I've actually never made a molten chocolate cake before, but I am on a constant search for the best one, tasting it in as many places I can. My favorites are at Abigaels and Le Marais in NY and Little Italy in Jerusalem. While it's easy for me to criticize the ones that don't live up to the oozy, chocolaty standards I have set for this kind of dessert, I'm still really afraid of making one myself and messing it up. In a Martha Stewart Cookbook that I got from my mom for my 20th birthday there is a beautiful picture of mini sunken chocolate cakes. I've read the recipe over many times and always liked that there wasn't too much butter nor too many eggs and that Martha made them in cupcake tins instead of ramekins (something I don't have room for in my kitchen). But still, there was the fear. Then, browsing through this month's Bon Appetite magazine, I saw a recipe in an ad by McCormick for molten chocolate cake with cinnamon and decided to go for broke and create a hybrid of the two recipes. Sadly, it failed pretty badly. Just what I was afraid of.

It might not look bad, but trust me, it tasted bad.

But I picked myself up by my apron straps and made a second attempt. I decided to leave Martha in the dust (I know that is so bad for a woman who loves to craft, and please don't tell her, but the McCormick recipe let me just throw all the eggs in without whipping them first - I have a real hang up about whipping eggs). The McCormick recipe was shockingly easy and tasted incredible! Plus, the recipe calls for a tablespoon of wine, and I enjoyed drinking a bit more than that in a glass while I was mixing the cakes up.

These little cakes were so delicious, and tasted so similar to the ones I love, that I had to restrain myself and Sam (my hubby) after our first bites so that I could get a picture. I have to say that I really impressed myself - and you can impress your guests if you make them. When these little guys come out of the oven, they kind of look like stones... ok I said it was a stretch, but if they look a bit like stones and they are made with stone ground chocolate - aren't two stretches better than one? If you have other thoughts on what I could have made for this parsha I'd love to see your comments on my post!

Stone Ground Molten Chocolate Cakes

Adapted from the McCormick recipe for Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cakes, as it appeared in an ad in the December edition of this year's Bon Appetite Magazine

8 tablespoons of a butter alternative such as Earth Balance
4 oz of stone ground chocolate, chopped (I like Sharffenberger's, but if it's too hard to find a non-dairy chocolate you can always be sneaky and use Trader Joe's chocolate chips)
1 tbsp of red or white wine (I had a white zinfandel on hand)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp of ground ginger
Optional- soy vanilla ice cream (I like Trader Joe's brand and the So Delicious brand)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the "butter" and chocolate in any double boiler type of concoction; I don't own an actual double boiler so I set a big glass bowl inside a shallow pan with water over a medium-high flame. Keep the water at a gentle boil while stirring until the "butter" and chocolate melt. Remove from heat, carefully. Add the wine, vanilla, and sugar, then whisk in the eggs and egg yolk.

Add in the flour, cinnamon and ginger and blend well. Divide among 6 cupcake cups (I use silicone ones because they're reusable and hold their own shape so you don't need a muffin tin, you can just put them on a baking tray) and bake for 10 minutes, then cool for a minute, run a knife around the edge of each cake, and invert onto a serving plate.

If you're not serving these fresh out of the oven, then it's best to reheat them in a warm oven for 10 minutes before serving them (they reheat very nicely). I highly recommend topping them with some soy vanilla ice cream.

Oozy, chocolaty standards met!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the Beginning-Parshat Toldot

This blog began as a gentle suggestion from my friend Shifra. For years I've been mentioning to her that I want to compile a cookbook with recipes that relate to the weekly Torah portion, but a busy life full of endless plans has lead to many distractions from writing such a book. My cookbook laments usually surface around this time of year when we re-start the Torah reading cycle in synagogues. This year, when Genesis came along, I started a Google doc with a rough draft of the cookbook (literally just jotting ideas down about what recipes I could use for each of the first few weekly portions) and I reported my progress to Shifra. But she was one step ahead of me. "Instead of keeping it all in a google doc why not blog about it?"

At once I loved and loathed this suggestion. I loved it because it would hold me more accountable to adding to my "rough draft" than a Google doc would. But I loathed it for the fear of not stacking up to the food blogs of friends and for the regularity it requires. I surprised myself by starting to casually drop, "I'm thinking of starting a food blog..." when around friends. I was more surprised that one of my close friends, Jess, who writes the most amazing food blog, was uber into the idea (and didn't think it was too kitchy). Thanks to Jess's encouragements over the last month (name ideas, posting schedules and a peppering of questions) I was almost ready to start. After two more excuses to procrastinate (the url I wanted was taken, and I absolutely wanted my father - a graphic artist - to design the masthead, even though he was in the middle of a move to Florida) time is up! The name is set, the url is ligit, and isn't my dad's illustration great?

On to this week's recipe. In synagogue this Shabbat we will read parshat Toldot, the 6th portion in the book of Genesis, and hear about an infamous Biblical instance of sibling rivalry. Isaac and Rebecca give birth to twins, Esav and Jacob, who grow up to be interested in very different things: Jacob is very interested in his older brother Esav's birthright and Esav is very interested in hunting and eating food. Jacob essentially gets Esav to sell him his birthright for a pot of lentil soup (the lentil translation is debatable, but we're going with it because frankly, I don't have a recipe for pottage).

So I thought I'd share with you my favorite vegetarian lentil soup recipe, which I learned while studying in Israel for a year after high school. Get ready, this soup has a kick - achieved by adding whole grain mustard and red wine vinegar after it has been cooked. I think the twang goes nicely with the drama of the Esav and Jacob story.

If you decide to make this for a meal this Shabbat (and I hope you will!) you could totally drop a reference to the weekly portion, or not. I work full time in the Jewish community and Jewish education is my passion - so I think this kind of thing is pretty cool and would throw an unabashed reference out. But subtlety works too.

Lentil Soup with a Twang

1 tbsp Olive Oil
2/3 cup of diced celery
1/3 cup of diced onion
1/3 cup of diced carrots
3 tsp crushed garlic
2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1 1/4 cup of lentils, washed
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp whole grain mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute all the vegetables and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the vegetable stock and lentils, as well as the salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook covered for about 30 to 45 minutes until the lentils are tender (but not too soft).

Before serving, remove the pot from the heat and add the red wine vinegar and mustard.

P.S. My plan is to generally post twice a week - once on Tuesday/Wednesday with my recipe plan for Shabbat and again on Thursday/Friday with the results of how it turned out and pictures. I hope you'll enjoy these light-hearted connections to the Torah portion and that you'll come back... for a double portion.