Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Shana Tova with Squash Blossoms

This has been a year of many wonders. Blogging took a back seat while I was doing a lot of other things that I love - cooking, teaching and spending time with our growing family. Zoe turned one last month and we have much to be thankful for as we take stock of this last year. My hope for us all in the coming year is to discover life's bounties and inspiration.

Below are my Rosh Hashana 2013 menus - 60 people will surround our dining room table over the course of six meals. There will be a lot less meat than there has been in years past - my parents are on a predominantly vegetarian diet for health reasons, my father-in-law doesn't eat chicken and half our guests don't eat meat so we're focusing on fish and produce. I'm mightily impressed by my old self looking back at our 2011 menu plan (ditto for 2010. 2012 was undocumented here but bless my mother and friend Jess for all their help in making amazing food while I was occupied by a six week old Zoe).

This year's menus encompass both summer and fall food vibes, given this limbo time we find ourselves in, between the two seasons. Last week started out with me enjoying a blueberry beer in an outdoor cafe, and over the weekend I sipped my inaugural pumpkin ale of the almost-fall. On the first night of Rosh Hashana we're going to enjoy some final summer favorites - corn on the cob (which Zoe devours with exuberant typewriter-like motions) and stuffed squash blossoms. But below you'll find instructions for my base recipe.

I recently made a facebook promise to share my recipe for stuffed squash blossoms here. The problem is I don't follow a recipe. So I've tried my best to sum up what happens when I get home from the farmers market with big beautiful fragrant blossoms. How I stuff them with goat cheese, or cream cheese, or even shredded mozzarella with chopped anchovies, and dredge them in water and flour, or buttermilk and flour, or even beer and flower. For Rosh Hashana I'll be trying a description heard on the Splendid Table podcast by Lynne Rossetto Kasper using a garlic and herb spiked ricotta stuffing and panko-egg coating.

Fried Stuffed Squash Blossoms
I buy squash blossoms as often as I see them at the farmers markets over the summer.

12 squash blossoms
1/2 cup - 1 cup of soft cheese (such as goat cheese, or cream cheese, or finely shredded mozzarella)
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup water (or buttermilk or beer)
1/4 tsp salt and pepper olive or vegetable oil

Start by cleaning the squash blossoms - either by dusting them off and carefully inspecting them for dirt/bugs or by gently rinsing them with cool water and patting them dry. Leaving them wet can damage the blossoms and you want them in-tact for stuffing and frying.

Next use a small spoon or you fingers to stuff about 2 tsbp of cheese into the center of each squash blossom and set on a plate. You don't want them to be over stuffed.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and add 1/2 and inch - 1 inch of oil.

Meanwhile, mix the liquid and flour in a shallow bowl with a fork and season with salt and pepper. Dredge each blossom in the mixture and place in the hot frying pan. Flip each blossom after they turn golden brown - about 2 minutes. I like to use a pair of kitchen tongs for this. Wait till the other side is golden brown and serve.

I find the green part of the blossom (the stem) too bitter to eat - plus leaving them on our plates lets us keep count of who has eaten their fair share.


Rosh Hashana Menus 2013
While I'm simplifying things this year, I'm still trying to uphold our tradition of incorporating foods that symbolize our wishes for the new year (and whose Hebrew words play up on a related pun). Dessert is sort of neglected in this accounting but we won't be skipping it. It will star sorbet, fruit and my grandmother's recipe for A Bit More - you can find an updated recipe below.

First Night
Romaine salad with tomatoes

First Day Lunch - all Ottolenghi recipes
fish balls
roasted butternut squash w tahina
date/spinach salad

Second Night
lamb tajine
herbed couscous

Second Day Lunch
salmon kabobs
quinoa tabouleh salad

Third Night
black bean soup  
London Broil

Shabbat Lunch 
white fish with chimmichurri sauce
Israeli salad

A Bit More
A dessert attributed to my maternal grandmother, Noelle Cadle Swart, and updated this year by my mom Marilyn Horen. Serves 4-6.

1 egg beaten slightly
5 tablespoons of almond flour   
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1/3 cup walnuts                                      
1/8 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla                                      
3 baking apples
1/2 cup of honey

Sift dry ingredients, mix them in to the slightly beaten egg. Mixture will be thick and ribbon-like when poured. 
Peel and slice apples thinly and then arrange them in a greased 10” square pan. Mix in chopped walnuts. Apples should be no more than two layers deep. Pour the wet mixture from above in a ribbon over the surface of the apples. 
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Passover 2013

The Gechters at Purim

We've long since polished off our Purim treats (including the spanakopita hamantashen I made this year to go along with our Popeye, Olive Oyl and SweePea costumes) and we're almost ready for Passover. This year preparations entail throwing out expired jars of food from the fridge, packing our bathing suits and quinoa for Florida and preparing to lead two Seders.

No matter how many engaging texts and questions I share at the Seder table, I know that if I don't keep the adults snacking, our discussion will be derailed by complaints of "when are we going to eat?" So I've adopted the custom of serving an array of dipping fare - strawberries and chocolate spread, pickles and olives etc. This year I'm thinking about making the traditional potatoes dipped in salt water more substantial by roasting them with lemon, olives, paprika and dill. And maybe Zoe will even stay up long enough to try some.

Roasted Potatoes with Lemon, Olives and Dill

2 lb bag of red bliss potatoes
2 lemons
1 jar of cured pitted black olives
1 Tbsp. of paprika
1/4 cup of chopped fresh dill
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the potatoes in half and scatter on a metal baking sheet. Finely slice the lemons and olives and lay on top of the potatoes. Sprinkle with the paprika and dill and the salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and then bake for 35 minutes until potatoes are golden and crispy.
Roasted Potato Goodness

Passover Recipe Roundup
Smoked Salmon and Swiss Chard Quiche
Banana Nut Cookies
Walnut Cookies
Flourless Chocolate Cake
Matza Brittle
My 2009 Passover Cooking Plan

Check out the full Recipe Index for plenty of Passover friendly salads, sides and main dishes!

Walnut Cookies
Passover Online Resource Roundup
A special thanks to my Eser group for sharing many of these with me
JOFA Seder Enhancement Materials
Uri L'Tzedek Haggadah
The Jewish Women’s Archives Haggadah
The Haggadah
JDate Haggadah
 The Four Questions by Keshet for LGBT allies
The Four Children by American Jewish World Service
Modern Plagues of Conflict by the Religious Action Center
Jewish Meditation and Spirituality Haggadah insert

Thursday, January 17, 2013

I'm Back for Parshat Bo

It's been almost 6 months since my last post here. I've been enjoying my little girl Zoe (born 3 days after my last post - exactly on her due date!). My experience in the kitchen has changed a bit since becoming a mom and I've been mulling over what to do with this blog. I made several unsuccessful attempts to come back and while I don't have it all figured out - I miss it here. I won't be trying to post every week - after 3 years at this and a new little person to look after that doesn't seem likely. But I'll aim to post when something good is brewing in the portion and the kitchen.

So here I am, back with a throw-back. This week's portion, Parshat Bo, has only been covered once on this blog. It was a post back in 2010 and it was a good one, therefor I'm re-posting it now. Here's a little forshpies (Yiddish for taste/appetizer) of some dishes that recently popped out of my kitchen that I'll share the details of when the tie-in is right: a caramelly date and red onion wild rice, a spicy pomegranate marinated salmon and vinegary barley kale goat cheese salad.

Parshat Bo circa 2010: [with a 2013 comment in italics]
There are dishes we all like to throw together in a hurry. Some of mine include scrambled eggs and cream cheese when running late for work [I made that when I was running late??], sardines and goat cheese over lettuce with my lemon garlic dressing upon returning from work famished and tired, chicken with quartered lemons, rosemary sprigs and peeled garlic cloves when there is a one-hour countdown before Shabbat and a table full of people to feed. In this week’s portion, Parshat Bo, the whole nation does some hurried and harried cooking when they produce flat breads as they’re rushing out of Egypt.

Picture this. You’re a Hebrew slave in Egypt and you know your buddy Moses has been working on Pharoh to let you and your fellow Hebrews go. You find out that in the middle of the night Moses gets a call from a distressed Pharoh who says “Get out of from among my nation and go and worship your God as you have been asking for.” All of a sudden your Egyptian neighbors are goading you to leave Egypt hoping it will save them from the final plague. You and your Israelite friends can’t Fred Flintstone your legs fast enough to get out of there before anyone changes their mind.

But you have the thought- what if I get hungry along the way? So you grab that bowl of dough you just kneaded which hasn’t yet had time to rise, and you wrap the bowl in your cloak and carry it over your shoulders on the way out of Egypt. You had no time for any significant tzedah laderech, and it looks like most of your friends had the same idea.

You all make it to the outskirts of Egypt. While waiting for the next leg of the Exodus you bake these unleavened (i.e. un-risen) cakes of dough, aka Matzah. Nowadays your great, great, great, great (etc) grand kids eat that same stuff at their Passover Seders.

The commandment to celebrate Passover - eating Matzah and avoiding risen bread for seven days to memorialize our freedom -  appears in this portion right after the whole Matzah making story. Some of you may not be so thrilled with the story’s bread banning conclusion, others may be closet Matzah pizza lovers, or may engage in debates over Matzah shmeared in cream cheese versus Matzah and butter. Personally I can’t get enough Matzah brei (rhymes with eye) over Passover, and I enjoy the first few crunches of shmurah Matzah at the Seder. But I'm always jealous of those who have the custom to bake their Matzah in a way that is soft and doughy, probably closer to how the Israelites did it in this weeks Parsha.

If you are ever in Israel for Passover you can find these types of doughy pita breads, or lavash, being sold in the outdoor markets for those who use them at their Seders. While I wish my family did, alas we hail from Eastern Europe and stick only to the crackly stuff. But I can enjoy this type of fluffy home made treat during the rest of the year and am especially looking forward to doing so this Shabbat. Note that the recipe I use involves considerable rising time to get those pitas as puffy as possible, which is not how those who eat lavash on Passover make them, nor is it very much in the spirit of the weekly portion. So if you're pinched for time, or feeling like being truer to the text, go ahead and skip the rising process, the pitas will still be delish.

I have made pita/lavash a number of times at home and love the smell that pours out of the kitchen when I do. I feel a sense of accomplishment as the warm stack of white discs marked by spots of char grows higher as I cook. Sam and I enjoy the pitas with home made shwarma (chopp leftover turkey, fry it in a pan of oil and middle eastern spices) or spiced ground beef and chumus when we're missing Israeli fast food. You can also incorporate aromatics and herbs into the pitas themselves. I’m going to try adding crushed garlic and rosemary to some of mine this time around and use them in place of challah at my Shabbat meal. Try the recipe below and if you can reheat them a bit before serving on Shabbat I think they will taste like when you first made them- steaming with the smell of carbs and haste.

The recipe I use came from a tall cookbook by Marlena Spieler titled Jewish Cooking that my Aunt gave me 5 years ago. It’s the kind of cookbook you can find at Borders - with the wonderfully large and colorful food photographs that really entice you to make a dish, and that often illustrate part of the cooking process. This is a plus for me as I mainly choose recipes to attempt based on pictures. It's also got a nice introduction that covers Jewish history and food.

Pita or Lavash

Adapted from Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler

Lavash is simply a longer, pocketless pita and this recipe generally yields pocketless pitas. They are best cooked in a cast iron or a grill pan (or over the grill if you happen to have access to one in the winter). Feel free to cut out the rising time.

4.5 cups of flour
1 packet (2 1/4 tsp) of yeast (rapid rise)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup of water
Optional spices such as fresh garlic and rosemary

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in one bowl. In another large bowl, mix together the oil and water, then stir in half the flour mixture. If you want to add spices, such as the garlic and rosemary I suggested, now is the time. Knead in the rest of the flour and shape into a ball. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on your time frame).

After it has risen, knead the dough for ten minutes. If you have time, cover and let it rise again. If not, divide the dough into 12 pieces for nice round pitas, or fewer for larger longer lavash. Dip your hands into some flour to keep them from sticking to the dough and flatten each piece with a rolling pin or your hands. Try to keep the pita ½ an inch thick. Keep the dough that you aren’t working with covered.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Wait for it to get smoking hot and then add one of the pitas and cook for 20 seconds. Turn it over with tongs a cook for 1 minute on the other side.

When large bubbles form on the bread turn it over again and watch as it puffs up. Press down gently with a dishtowel, and then cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from the pan and wrap the pita in a dry dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough, adding the finished pitas to the stack in the dry dishtowel.

Serve hot!