Wednesday, December 12, 2012

a candle in the dark, a dinner party & a chanukah blessing

many thanks to all who came to celebrate chanukah with me tuesday night. it was lovely to share the holiday with friends, laugh, chat, have some wine, enjoy good food, and feel the warmth and joy flowing in my home on a cold winter night!

the menu:
- classic potato latkes, using yukon golds
- these ginger carrot latkes, but with the addition of scallions, a little less flour and 1 more egg
- these cumin beet latkes, with less flour but more cumin and coriander
- apricot applesauce
- sour cream
(maybe next year i will explore fun with toppings)
- the roasted cranberry salad  i posted about last week
- caramel sufganiyot, the recipe for which follows below
- my first ever homemade esrog liqueur aka alcoholic candy (thanks to everyone who contributed their esrogim post suckos to this very worthy and noble cause!)
- and varied l'chaim beverages gifted by friends :)

quick caramel sufganiyot:

these are a quick drop doughnut, not a yeast doughnut which you would have to let rise and then roll out, which makes them slightly less pretty but also super easy to make (and yes, these did garner me two marriage proposals at the party). while i do agree that yeast doughnuts have a lovely tang to them these are a good alternative for when you are busy (like when you are frying a lot of latkes at the same time :)

- 2 cups flour
- 1/4 cup sugar 
- 2 t baking powder
- 1 t baking soda
- 1/2 t salt
- 2 eggs
- 3/4 cup milk 
- 3 T unsalted butter, melted
- canola oil, for frying 
- powdered sugar, for dusting the doughnuts
mix all dry ingredients together, mix in all wet ingredients, dough should be sticky but not too wet, heat canola in saucepan, drop in 3 or 4 heaping tablespoonsful of dough at a time, trying to aim for a roughly ball like shape, don't crowd the pot, fry over low heat, turning the doughnuts about halfway through so they get lightly golden on all sides. remove from oil, dust with powdered sugar immediately, and fill with caramel, or other assorted yummy fillings of your choice...
for the caramel:
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 T butter
- 1 cup heavy cream
in a sauce pan, melt the sugar, stirring continuously, til is gets all golden looking, but don't let it burn! whisk in the butter til it is melted and thick, remove from heat, add cream and stir vigorously til well incorporated, let cool to room temp before using.  this will make more caramel then you need for the sufganiyot, but who doesn't want a little extra caramel in the house? to inject the doughnuts with the caramel i used a squeeze bottle and filled each doughnut in a few places, but you can experiment with any injector type apparatus that might do the trick that you have lying around.

so a few nights ago we were gazing at the menorah, reflecting on the lights in the darkness and discussing the question of why, so many years ago, did the holy people who rededicated the beis hamikdah feel the need to light that oil even though they knew there wouldn't be enough for the next day, wouldn't it be a letdown to light up the world the first night and then nothing for the next seven, until more was made? why not just wait a week and do it when you know you could do it right? a lot of thoughts were suggested, but the idea that has been resonating with me is that sometimes you light a candle because you can't exist in a world for another day where a candle is not lit. you don't always know the outcome, you can't see where things are headed, or even that they will work out, but you choose to believe, you choose to bring light into the world right now. it is like the midrash tells us about nachshon ben aminadav who walks into the yam suf up to his nose, he doesn't know it is going to split but he knows he can't stay where he is with the egyptians on his back and he chooses to move forward, because something has to give. it is like all the people post WWII in the DP camps who got married and started families, their worlds were just turned upside down, they had no idea where they would go, how they would live, maybe they had even lost faith in humanity, but they knew that life goes on, and lives can't be lived without love and intimacy. it is like a dear one said to me recently when we were discussing israel politics, i don't know that a two state solution will work, i don't know that there are real peace partners ready to lay down arms right now, but i do know that people are being raised to hate each other, and being raised in fear on both sides of a fence, and that can't go on, i would say we try because we have to believe that something can be different, that things can be better, that things can be joyously shared and lived together even if we don't see how in this moment yet. that is the message of chanukah to me, at least what rings true this year, that in the darkness of winter, in the darkness of night, in the darkness of my own heart, in the darkness of my own fears, i choose to light a candle, i choose to illuminate the world with holiness, i choose to move forward and live and dream, even when i don't see how things will work out yet tomorrow. and somehow, even when they work out differently than i had hoped for, they still always manage to work out in some unexpected and beautiful way that the world has of going where it needs to..... blessing us all to try even when we don't see the path, because trying is really all we have. blessing us all to believe, because it is what inspires us, and while socrates might say that an unexamined life is not worth living, perhaps tonight i will say the same about an uninspired life. blessing us all with the light of chanukah in our hearts and on our minds. as it says in pirke avos, lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v'lo atah ben chorin lihibatel memenah, the task is not yours to complete, but neither are you free to run away from it. our job is not to know the end, with the end comes a certainty that we are rarely privy to in this life, our job is to walk on the path, and journey forward, one step, one day, one dream, one joy, one belief, one smile, one bit of bravery, one candle in the darkness. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

roasted cranberry & spinach salad

so every year on thanksgiving i make the cranberry sauce, it is full of orange juice, vanilla, maple syrup, and a hint of ginger if the mood strikes me, it is divine, so i am told, well, at least by my tanta tovah whose favorite word is divine. but this year i celebrated thanksgiving with friends instead of family, and alas they did not know about the long standing tradition that is me and cranberry sauce. that, coupled with the surprise inclusion of two bags of cranberries with my fresh direct order (happy accident or conspiracy on the part of the cranberry industry?) led to this recipe. in truth i have never cooked with cranberries except in the aforementioned sauce form, and these bags of cranberries having been staring me in the face for 2+ weeks taunting me and mocking my culinary abilities. well, today we made friends, and i am delighted we did because this salad too is divine. the tart juiciness of the roasted cranberries, the crunch of the toasted walnuts, and the creaminess and depth of the blue cheese combine in a way that is an explosion of deliciousness in your mouth.

for the salad:

-1 lb baby spinach, washed and spun dry
- 24 oz cranberries, roasted
- 1/2 lb of blue cheese, crumbled
if you are using kosher i like "the good life" blue cheese out of monsey, ny
- 1 cup toasted chopped walnuts

to roast cranberries, coat in some oil or spray with canola, i like the spectrum high heat canola spray, and spread out on sheet pan/cookie sheet, pop into a 400 degree oven til just soft, about 15 minutes. to toast walnuts spread out on cookie sheet and pop into 400 degree oven til light and toasty smelling, about 8 minutes, keep a constant eye on them, don't let burn! either use pieces or run through a quick trip in the food processor. once the above are done and cooled, assemble everything in a big serving bowl. instead of tossing this salad i would put half the spinach on the bottom of the bowl, then half the cranberries, blue cheese, and walnuts, and then repeat on top of it with the other half, it will make for a cleaner presentation and then there is no need to toss.

for the dressing:

option 1-
a little pink sea salt, fresh cracked pepper and blood orange infused olive oil which i picked up at the olive n grape store in new hope, PA last year. (the olive oil is a first cold press moroccan oil with blood oranges naturally squeezed into it when the oil is crushed, it is an all cold all natural product and as such doesn't need a hechsher.)

option 2-
the second option for the dressing (in case you have not just jumped online and ordered this olive oil, which you really really should) is to whisk together:

juice & zest of 1 orange
3 T maple syrup
salt & pepper to taste
a splash of red wine vinegar
1 T dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil

dress your salad and enjoy! i served this with whole wheat pumpkin bread, and an autumn harvest pasta with roasted root vegetables, shaved romano, pumpkin seeds, and lots of fresh sage and oregano. the meal pairs well with the dalton reserve wild yeast viognier, one of my favorite whites.

happy eating!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

lasagna meets autumn

ok, so in truth i don't eat a  lot of pasta, or dairy, but this one was so good even i ate a bit. i was making lasagna for clients this morning, and was inspired to try out my hand with an autumnal themed version of the dish. what inspired me you might ask? well, in particular it was the mounds of gorgeous butternut squash that have migrated to my kitchen courtesy of my dear farmer friends at  Adamah at Isabellea Freedman. as an aside, for those of you not familiar with adamah, check them out, they are doing amazing things with organic vegetables, intentional community, and growth - in all its forms and expressions. but i digress.... there is something uniquely satisfying about the aroma of sage, walnuts, squash, caramelized onions, and good cheese bubbling away and suffusing your home on a crisp fall day. and by your home, i mean my home. but if you make this lasagna then maybe your home too :)

-1 package whole wheat lasagna noodles (or whatever type you like)
cook noodles according to instructions, or, you can do what i do, which is place them in really hot but not boiling water off the flame, and let sit for a few minutes, it makes them pliable enough to use easily and yet they dont stick together

-1 small package ricotta, about 15 oz, i buy mine, but if you want to make your own then you are awesome, same thing goes for those of you who make your own lasagna noodles, also, next time invite me over, few things are as good as fresh pasta and fresh ricotta

1-2 ounces of grated/shaved parmesan, romano, or asiago cheese

8 ounces of grated mozzarella

1 small or 1/2 of a large butternut, or other orange fall squash
-cut squash into quarters, remove seeds, place on a greased baking dish, roast at 350 till easily pierced with fork, about 45 minutes, peel and slice

bechamel sauce
-3 tablespoons butter
-3 tablespoons flour
-3 cups whole milk
-salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
melt butter, mix in flour with a whisk, heat milk til scalding, pour into butter/flour mixture and whisk til smooth, cook over low flame for a few minutes til it reaches desired consistency, add salt, pepper, and nutmeg. many thanks to jacques pepin and his amazing book Complete Techniques for the advice on a classic bechamel, even if i didnt follow it exactly, also many thanks to my sister hodayah for gifting me with said book

sage walnut pesto
-2 bunches sage
-1 bunch fresh oregano
-5 cloves garlic
-1 large handful walnuts
-olive oil
-salt to taste
add walnuts, herbs, and garlic to blender, start juzzing, drizzling in olive oil til you get your desired consistency, finish with a bit of good sea salt

1/2 cup of caramelized onions
so lots of recipes claim you can make caramelized onions in 15 minutes, not true. it takes closer to 45, but it is totally worth it. i usually make a big batch, whatever will fit into my largest frying pan, every week or two, and then have them on hand for use in everything tasty. to make: peel onion, cut in half, slice thinly, heat pan, add oil, add onions, and sautee away over really low heat til light brown and delicious looking

ok, so once you have all your ingredients made, which really is less work then it seems from the above, you assemble just like you would a regular lasagna. spray the bottom of the pan with a bit of oil, put some sauce, noddles, sauce, butternut, onions, dollops of pesto, dollops of ricotta, sprinkle with both cheese, and repeat and repeat til the pan is full. bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes depending on depth and size of the pan you used. serves 9 big geshmake slices or 12 smaller ones if you are having lots of side dishes.

enjoy for dinner with someone you love, and then curl up on the couch with a nice white wine or steaming mug of tea, and be present in the moment of transitions, as one season flows into the next, the riot of colors on the trees outside your window, the leaves fluttering to the ground.....

happy eating!



Monday, September 24, 2012

a rosh hashanah of simanim

rosh hashanah, the jewish new year, marking 5773 years since the creation of the world and of humankind, just passed last week. on the first night, when we gather together at dinner, it is customary to eat certain symbolic foods, the most well known of which is to dip an apple in honey for a sweet new year. as an aside, my two year old nephew gave a rousing rendition of the dip an apple in honey song, of which we have about seven videos, all of which he insisted we make of him, he is a little star in the making, well, at least of his yeshiva production of channah and her seven sons. it was particularly poignant because i remember being a little kid singing that song myself, and while rosh hashanah is the new year and a day of dialogue with our creator and a day to contemplate life, it is also a day to mark the transition of one year into the next with your family and friends, the generations gathered together.

anyhow, i digress. the simanim. there are in fact numerous simanim other than apple in honey, some of which have specific "yihi ratzons" or little prayers based on word play associated with the name of the item. for a modern take on the idea when we eat dates my sister always blesses everyone to have lots of hot dates that year, although traditionally they revolve more around the destruction of one's enemies, but you get the idea. most people (at least nowadays, i have no idea what was done historically) eat a bite of each symbolic food at the beginning of the meal and then move on to the real food, but i thought it would be fun to have the real food be made of the simanim and then as each course is brought out to discuss the symbolism of that food and what we would like to manifest in our coming year corresponding to it. i thought it would be a lovely way to focus the dinner on the moment of transcendence that rosh hashanah represents that we were currently in the midst of but in a very relatable way. what follows below is a list of all the simanim i could find and the corresponding menu, note that the list might not be exhaustive, and if you know any others please let me know. also, since the original list of simanim is not in english there is some confusion over what certain words mean and therefore may exist more than one opinion as to which food they are, in that case i tried to incorporate as many as possible, especially because most of them are vegetables and the more colorful veggies on your plate the healthier your new year will be.

the simanim:
fish heads
fatty meats
sweet drinks
black eyed peas

the menu:

1st course:
-whole wheat challah
-raw honey tachina

-pan seared striped bass stuffed with a black eyed pea hash
-salad of spinach, avocado, pomegranate seeds and apples
-lemon and toasted sesame cabbage slaw

soup course:
-coconut butternut soup with lots of ginger and nutmeg

main course:
-spicy sweet brisket with dates and dried apricots
-lavender balsamic honey roasted chicken
-quinoa (to soak up all those geshmake meat juices)
-roasted beets and leeks

dessert course:
-carrot cake with parve cream cheese frosting
to drink:
-agave sweetened pomegranate lemonade
-some dry red wine, this year we went with the catina gabriele montepulciano d'abruzzo and the en fuego tempranillo
and for the table:
-white flowers
there is a custom on rosh hashanah and yom kippur to wear white, and in particular for married men to wear a kittel, it reminds us that life can never be taken for granted, that we only have a limited number of days on earth and to make each one count, and it inspires us to strive to be like the angels and do good in the world. when i was little we davened at a little shiteibel in boro park where i grew up, a shteibel being just a very little cute shul, anyhow we davened by the deshe chasidim, and though the womens section was usually empty on shabbos, all the women being home with their children, on rosh hashanah the rebbetzin and her daughters would come downstairs and they would be dressed all in white head to toe, and they would stay in shul from the moment in started until the moment it ended, and even though they were totally separate from the men in a womens section of near silence they would pray. with tears on their cheeks, for hours, standing in front of the creator of the universe, making a din v'cheshbon, an honest assessment of their lives, asking him for goodness. it was the most powerful example of female prayer i was witness to in my youth, and i still think about the simultaneous feelings of malchus, of majesty, and also of bittul, the giving of oneself to god, that those women embodied.

so yes, i like to have white flowers on my table on rosh hashanah as well, and carry over the theme of purity and renewal it symbolizes.
right now we are in the aseres yimmei teshuvah, the ten days of repentance between rosh hashanah, the day we are judged, and yom kippur, the day we are forgiven. blessings that we use this time for self reflection, for growth, for connecting with loved ones, for soulful explorations, for speaking aloud with the divine and sharing with him what is on our minds and in our hearts. blessings to know that if we will it all is forgiven. may we be written and sealed for a new year of goodness. of sweetness. and many many smiles.

happy eating!

ps- i realize i did not actually give you any recipes in this post, it was more one of ideas, but if something sparked your imagination give a holler and i will happily share how i made it.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

post tisha b'av split pea soup

today is tisha b'av, the 9th day of the hebrew month of av, it is a day of fasting and mourning, commemorating numerous tragedies that have befallen the jewish people throughout history, most importantly the destruction of both our first and second temples. it is a really hard day, we dont go to work, we dont listen to music, or take showers, or even brush our teeth, or do much of anything, instead we sit on the floor and embrace our brokenness. our communal brokenness, our historical brokenness, our global brokenness, and our personal brokenness. as afternoon approaches we begin to feel the light of chatharsis after eicha, kinos, and long talks with the one above, we begin to feel the eternal hope of our people, the hope of our inner divine spark which never gives up, which always believes things will get better. as we share our sadness with our creator, and give him some of our burden, to partner with him in making it better....

that is also usually the point in the day where people start fantasizing about food, and all the yummy things they are going to eat after the fast. trust me when i say never to go grocery shopping while fasting, i assure you in that moment your eyes are much bigger than your stomach. 

when i was little we called tisha b'av tissue bug. i still call it that in my head. i also still have the book "in the mouth of the wolf" which i got for my bat mitzvah and read every year, it is about a young girl hiding in nazi germany during the shoah. i have not read it in years, but maybe one day i will pass it on to my daughters. but maybe by then the geulah will have come, and instead of a day of mourning this will be a day of joy. i hope so. these days on tisha b'av afternoon i often watch the pbs documentray called kingdom of david, available on netflix streaming, it chronicles the jewish exile and destruction of both temples. being in america, and away from the communal outpouring at the kotel, it is a good focus for what this day is really about. a few years ago a well respected modern orthodox female communal leader laughingly told me that nobody thinks about the beis hamikdash anymore on tisha b'av. i didnt know how to respond to her. i still dont. but i bless her, and you, and me to know what is broken. to accept that it is broken. and to work to fix it.

but i was going to tell you about soup.

when i was little to break our fasts my mother would always give us orange juice, ice cream, and home made soup. today i will be breaking my fast on coconut water, which is easier on the stomach and full of electrolytes. and on split pea soup, which is gentle to your tummy, hearty, and satisfying. my recipe follows, but whatever you do, dont fill your body with processed crap post a fast (sorry for foregoing the ice cream mom), you just released so many toxins, give your body a moment of healing.

split pea soup:

16 oz green or yellow dried split peas
1 lb carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 large onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 can cheap light beer, budweiser or coors work well
a few spoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste

heat soup pot over medium heat, add oil, onion, garlic, and carrots, saute for a few minutes. then add peas, broth, beer, thyme, soy and fill the pot up with water, turn flame to high bringing to a boil. once boiling, turn down flame to low (to avoid burning) and simmer until the peas break down and the soup has a creamy consistency, around 1.5-2 hours. you will loose a lot of water during the process and may have to add more so keep half an eye on it, giving it an occasional stir. at the end add the salt and pepper and cook another 5 minutes to meld the flavors.

serves 6.
recipe can be easy doubled, tripled....

so that is where i am. sitting on my floor, watching sad movies. really wanting to wash my face and drink some water. getting a headache. thankful that it is not so hot today. thinking about making soup. thinking about what is broken in my life. still aware of how many blessings i have. trying to understand where that fits into the bigger jewish picture. wanting to let god in but still a little bit pushing him away from the pain of everything that has gone wrong.

thank you for honoring me in this place, and maybe even joining it in your own way. blessings for an easy and meaningful fast. and a nourishing, loving, and healthy post fast.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

i was jealous of your tart, so i made my own

so we have this awesome washington heights shabbos meal pot luck club that was recently started, shout out to my friend E for being the motivator behind the idea. it's a great way to host low key style, and a great resource to meet new people and hook up with a meal of friends of your friends when you don't have one planned. so at the inaugural summer event a few weeks ago E had this lovely fresh berry tart he picked up from some food genius in BK, and being incredibly jealous i decided i had to make my own. those of you who know me know my food is usually home style so this was a little ungapached compared to what i normally go for. but hey, into every country table a little artistry must fall. and yes i did just declare my tiny city apartment table squeezed into a corner of my living room to be a country table, got a problem with that?  :)

vegan fresh berry tart:

for the crust-
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup earth balance or butter (if you dont care about the parve part)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 to 3 tablespoons ice water

for pies or tarts i always make the flaky pastry dough crust from the all new joy of cooking page 859, substituting all butter or all earth balance for the shortening, substituting half whole wheat flour (as indicated above), and leaving out the sugar. follow her directions for making it in the food processor, roll out between two sheets of waxed paper, and then bake blind at 400 for 20 minutes weighted with dry beans or pie/tart weights at the beginning which you remove halfway through. i have not yet tried making crust with coconut oil but imagine it would be divine, that will be experimented with soon friends..... as you can see from the pic below, i don't currently own a tart pan, although it is the next thing on my kitchen wish list, so if you want to buy me one i will be forever grateful and even make you a tart. for realz. i will bake. for you. in the meantime, my initial inclination was to use a pie pan, but that is really too deep and the delicate little slices would not release as well, so i used a springform cake pan and only formed the tart sides partway up, and after baking removed the side ring, it worked pretty well.

for the cashew cream-
1 cup raw cashwes
enough coconut milk to cover the nuts
2 tablespoons agave

soak the nuts overnight in cold water, drain and rinse well. place in food processor or blender, pour in coconut milk til the nuts are just covered, add agave and jujj away until smooth and creamy.

spread a thick layer of the cashew cream over the baked tart shell, smooth it out, and if you have any leftovers that you didn't already devour they can be stored in the fridge for a week.

and now to make it pretty-
1 pint blueberries
16 oz strawberries
1/2 pint raspberries or blackberries

wash all your berries, cut the tops off strawberries and slice in half, and lay out on your tart in circles or whatever design you think is pretty.  don't skimp like i did, although in my defense the strawberries i bought went moldy on me within a day and it was right before shabbos so i had to make due. i don't think anybody noticed but i will rat myself out to you now.

in terms of checking black and raspberries for bugs you gotta figure out what you do, so open a sefer, learn something, talk to a rav, check out the berry construction to see what you find necessary, and make a decision for yourself and be comfortable with it. i personally soak them in white vinegar and water for 15 minutes, drain and rinse well, and then look at each one to see if any little white worms are crawling out. after 10 years of part time mashgiach work with rabbi abba i still follow my momma's lead on this one. when i was about 5 we had a mulberry tree in our yard in syracuse, and even though all the neighborhood kids would join us in climbing said tree and pop the delicious berries into their mouths on the spot my mom made us wait, come inside, soak them, and check for worms, way to go with your piousness mom, at the time i resented you but i am still doing what you taught me when i was 5 so i guess you did something right.

anyhow, now that your tart is beautifully assembled give it a little sheen with some preserves, paint them on with a pastry brush, i personally use fig preserves that i heat up in a hot water bath because they have very little added flavor or color and just give things a hint of sweetness and some shine. if you are trying to keep things refined sugar free feel free to skip this step altogether or to get the no sugar added preserves.

leave your now divine looking tart to set in the fridge til it cools, at least a few hours, serve and enjoy. ok, so in truth mine might not look as divine as it could have, as i mentioned my berries went moldy and i skimped, and i don't have a tart pan, but the taste was still divine, and for a totally macgyvered tart it was a pretty good effort, and rest assured the next one will look as good as it tastes!

happy eating!
and happy 4th of July....