Chag Hamantashen Same’ach – Happy Purim!

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I’ll go-ahead and admit it: before I moved to NYC, the only Jewish holiday I could name was Hanukkah.

As an attempt at some justification of this inexcusable ignorance, .03% of the population of North Carolina (where I spent a decade of my formative years) is Jewish.

Side effect: I lived a Hamantaschen-deprived life.

Hamantachen are cakey sugar dough cookies with a filling, most traditionally poppy seeds or prune butter made & eaten to celebrate Purim. Purim is a holiday similar to Mardi Gras in that it is celebrated with lots of heavy drinking and masquerading. It celebrates the story of Esther, whose bravery saved the Persian Jews 2,500 years ago.

The hamantaschen recipe below is my friend Jill’s, by way of her Jewish boyfriend’s grandmother. Those are her hands in the photos, too!

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Dough

  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour

Filling (see recipes below) + Finishing

  • Choice of filling: poppy seed filling (most traditional), prune butter, apricot butter, apricot jam, strawberry jam or even chocolate chips
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • cinnamon/sugar mix
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cover 2 baking sheets w/parchment or foil.
  3. Either by hand or with a mixer, combine the oil, eggs, vanilla, water, sugar, baking powder and flour and knead until a soft dough forms. Roll the dough out into a very thin layer. Dip the rim of a 3 or 4 inch cup or glass in flour and use like a cookie cutter to cut the circles. Re-roll the scraps of dough and reuse.
  4. In the center of each circle drop a teaspoon of your filling.  Shape into a triangle by folding 2 sides of the circle to the center, and pinch together at the corners. Make sure corners are tightly pinched so they don’t open during baking.
  5. Place hamantaschen 1 inch apart on the baking sheets.  Brush with beaten egg.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar.
  6. Bake 20 minutes.

Makes 4 dozen. Hamantaschen freeze well.

How to Fold Hamantaschen
How to Fold Hamantaschen

Poppy Filling

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 lb. poppy seeds
  1. Pour boiling water on poppy seeds and drain.
  2. After poppy seeds have settled to bottom, chop up fine.
  3. Add egg and sugar, stirring well.

Prune Filling (Lekvar)

  • 2 cups dried prunes
  • 1 cup water
  • ¼ cup orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 dash clove
  • 1 dash cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  1. Combine everything into a saucepan (except brown sugar) and cook on low heat, stirring every few minutes. Heat to boiling.
  2. Lower heat to simmer, cover pan and cook for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
  3. Mix in the brown sugar. Cook, reducing the liquid and stirring every few minutes being careful not to scorch the mixture. Mash with a wooden spoon until the prunes are soft and broken up and mixture is about the consistency of oatmeal (about 20 more minutes). It will thicken more when cooled.

Keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks and also freezes well.

Veggie Overload

CSA recipes

I’ll be damned if I do anything half way: I went for the full share.

In hindsight, perhaps 20 pounds of vegetables is more than any one person can eat in a week.

Here chronicles this week’s brave attempt to defy the odds.

This week’s Turtle Bay CSA share:

1 bulb fresh garlic
1 red cabbage
1 white onion
1 red onion
1 bunch Swiss chard
1 bunch green basil
1 head romaine lettuce
1 bunch carrots
2 Italian eggplants
2 green zucchini
6 pasture raised eggs

Sautéed Swiss Chard

To a sliced onion in some olive oil in a skillet, I added minced garlic, the chopped chard and salt & pepper. The final incarnation of this dish was damn good quesadilla filling.

Roasted Red Cabbage

I put the quartered cabbage, drizzled with some olive oil and salt & pepper,  in a 400° oven until it started to brown on the edges.

Baba Ghanoush

I charred eggplant on my gas range, then puréed  the flesh with tahini, garlic, and lemon juice. This dish was nearly a complete fail: it is spreadable burnt. Next time I’ll roast the eggplant in the oven.

Zucchini Frittata

I’ve been relying on frittatas nearly every week to use up my eggs; this week I incorporated the zucchini, basil, some of the garlic and onion. Michael Chiarello’s recipe is very close to this version.

Carrot & Chickpea Salad with Carrot Green Chimichurri

I used this carrot green chimichurri by Love & Lemons as a dressing on a grated carrot and chickpea salad.

Seafood Curry

Seafood Curry

This fantastic bowl of food was made using this Nigella Lawson recipe as inspiration. It’s from the “TV Dinners” episode of her show, and although it is overall a fairly simple dish to prepare, any dish that involves shelling and deveining shrimp isn’t in on my list of quick & easy. I’ll try pumpkin instead of butternut squash next time for a more carb heavy, filling wintry main.

Ingredients

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk (about 1 2/3 cups)
1 tbsp red Thai curry paste
1 1/2 cups fish stock (I used broth from boiling the shrimp shells for about an hour)
3 tbsps fish sauce
2 tbsps sugar (I left this out)
3 lemongrass stalks, each cut into 1/3’s and bruised with the flat of a knife (I used a tsp of ground lemongrass)
3 lime leaves, stalked and cut into strips (I couldn’t find this in my grocery store)
1/2 tsp turmeric (I forgot this)
2 1/4 lbs butternut squash, peeled and cut into large, bite-sized chunks
1 lb salmon fillet, skinned and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 lb peeled raw shrimp
bok choy or any other green vegetables of your choice (I used peas)
juice of 1 lime
cilantro

I added:
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh ginger
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
1 medium white onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, julienned

Skim the thick creamy top off the can of coconut milk and put it into a large saucepan with the curry paste, over medium heat. Beat the cream and paste together until combined. (Here I added the onion, then the garlic and ginger). Stir in the rest of the coconut milk, fish stock, fish sauce, and lemongrass. Bring to a boil and then add the squash (and red pepper). Cook on a fast simmer until the squash is tender, anywhere from  5-15 minutes.

You can cook the curry up until this part in advance, maybe leaving the squash with a tiny bit of bite to it (it will soften and cook as the pan cools). Either way, when you’re about 5 minutes from wanting to eat, get ready to cook the seafood.

So, to the robustly simmering pan, add the salmon and shrimp (if you’re using frozen shrimp they’ll need to go in before the salmon). When the salmon and shrimp have cooked through, which shouldn’t take more than 3 to 4 minutes, stir in any green vegetable you’re using – sliced, chopped or shredded as suits – and tamp down with a wood spoon. When the bok choy is wilted, or other green vegetable is cooked, squeeze in the juice of half a lime, stir and taste and add the juice of the remaining half if you feel it needs it. Take the pan off the heat and pour the curry into a large bowl, and sprinkle over the cilantro; the point is that the cilantro goes in just before serving. Serve with more chopped cilantro for people to add their own bowls as they eat, and some plain Thai or basmati rice (I used brown rice).

Zigzag Brownies

cheesecake brownie

To get that perfect surface zigzag:

Pour your favorite brownie batter into a greased pan. Fill a piping bag with cream cheese mix (for a 9″ square pan: 8oz box of cream cheese, an egg, sugar and perhaps a flavoring or extract). Pipe thick lines of cream cheese filling across the length of the pan. Drag a knife through each line of cream cheese, alternating direction with each stroke. Voila!

White Chocolate Brownies 2

white chocolate brownies

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

Flourless Chocolate

I prefer my brownies baked just enough to remove the fear of eating raw eggs from the experience, gooey enough to require a spoon. Rumor has it that Suri Cruise sides with me in the fudgy vs. cakey debate

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 3 1/2 cups semi sweet chocolate
  • 2 sticks + 2 tablespoons butter, warmed to room temperature
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 egg whites

Preheat oven to 300°.  Melt chocolate (carefully!- do not overheat) and put into mixing bowl fitted with paddle attachment. Add softened butter in small chunks to melted chocolate on low-speed. Mix and heat water, sugar and salt until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add warm (again, not hot!) water mixture to chocolate mixture once butter is incorporated. Add eggs and egg whites slowly on slow speed.  Mix, scrape down sides of bowl, then mix again to make sure batter is combined. Fill cups a 1/4 inch from the top and bake mini size for 30 minutes, standard size for 60 minutes.

An Unorthodox Christmas Eve: Split Pea & Sweet Potato Soup

My sister has never been one to follow any directions closely. Including Bisquik pancakes and Betty Crocker brownies, she estimates accurately following recipes perhaps a dozen times . . . in her entire life.

Despite all that, she fearlessly took charge of Christmas Eve Dinner.  And in so doing, she illustrated what I love most about my family: unconventional, unpretentious, and bucking any but the bits of tradition that truly hold value.

Her inspiration was this recipe, given to her by a coworker (a dietitian). The original garnishes the soup with pumpkin seeds, but true to form, she took a vegan recipe and topped it with ham. The seeds would have added texture and crunch, but the spicy sausage was undeniably awesome.

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

The original recipe says to saute the onion in water. Heresy!
The original recipe says to saute the onion in water. Heresy!
Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas
Vanna White after discovering the difference between mircoplane and box graters

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

Split Pea & Sweet Potato Soup

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • 2 cups dried split peas
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 lb spicy sausage
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Bring 1/2 cup chicken broth to a simmer in a large saucepot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook about 5 minutes or until translucent, adding more broth, butter, or olive oil as needed to keep from sticking to the pan. Stir in ginger and cook 1 minute, stirring. Add remaining broth and water, peas and sweet potato cubes, and additional seasonings. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.

Uncover and purée soup with a hand held immersion blender or in batches in a food processor until smooth. Taste for sea and garnish with pan-fried sausage cubes.

Garlic Butter

  • 3 cloves garlic, or to taste (oh, go ahead and do the entire head, you will find a use for the extra)
  • 1/2 stick butter, warmed to room temperature

Wrap cloves of garlic in aluminum foil and roast at ~350° for ~20 minutes. Unwrap, peal, and mash garlic cloves. Mix with softened butter.

Bread with garlic butter
Bread with garlic butter

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

Christmas morning
Christmas morning

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

Split Pea Sweet Potato Soup Christmas

Cold-Weather Northeastern American Comfort Food

Thanks to Tim Sturges, guest chef
and author of this post!

Collard Garbanzo Sausage Stew

  • ½ lb. (med-large) yellow onion
  • ¾ – 1 lb. crimini mushrooms (select mushrooms with white undersides that haven’t separated from the stem)
  • ¾ – 1 lb. pork sausage (links or ground)
  • ½ lb. fennel bulb
  • 1 lb. celery
  • 1 lb. carrots
  • 1 ½ lb. sweet potato
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 ½ lb. (large) bunch collard greens
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans
  • 1 cup uncooked wild rice
  • parmesan cheese
  • fresh parsley
  • fresh basil
  • bay leaf
  • rosemary
  • dried chili
  • salt
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • Aleppo pepper

Since the weather is cooling down, I have become fixated on cold-weather northeastern American comfort food. Nothing beats the cold like a voluminous, and piping-hot serving of stew.

I thought first of a more conventional stew, like sausage white bean and kale, but I wanted to experiment a bit, so I added and replaced some ingredients. Garbanzos seemed like a logical alternative to the white beans, and I am partial to collard greens. They are handily on par with kale, in terms of nutrient density and texture, but I too often see them prepared severely overcooked, their texture subdued, and their flavor obliterated by ham (although that can be a beautiful thing in its own regard).

I also wanted to start from scratch as much as possible, so this recipe forgoes the less labor-intensive option of using a store-bought stock for the base, and begins with the preparation of a vegetable stock by first roasting vegetables in the oven. Also, I used dried garbanzos, which required me to soak them overnight, although there is a method for speed-soaking them, or you may choose to use canned.

Start by chopping the celery and carrots, sweet potato, and fennel bulb into approx ¼” long pieces, halve the cherry tomatoes, and place these ingredients in a roasting pan. Be sure to remove any green stalk and frond from the fennel bulb, and retain for Jessica to play and stage shots with. Also, remove the leaves from the stems from the collards, chop the stems into ¼” pieces, and add them as well.

Thankfully, Jessica pointed out to me at this point that I was overfilling my roasting pan, and it is desirable for the vegetables to roast, rather than steam. Had she not been there, I would totally have crammed them all into my 3-quart pan. If you find you are overfilling your pan, use a second one, or a larger one, or remove a portion of the vegetables and freeze for later use. You do not want more than two layers of vegetables on top of each other.

Add three garlic cloves to the roasting pan, then coat, but do not drown, the vegetables in olive oil, toss, and season with salt, fresh ground black pepper, rosemary, and Aleppo pepper (red pepper flakes will do if you do not have Aleppo pepper on hand). Insert baking pan into an oven, preheated to 450 degrees F (230 C). Remove the vegetables every 15 min and stir them, making sure to scrape the sides of the baking pan as you do. That brown crunchy stuff on the sides pays big dividends!

After you put the vegetables in to roast, wash the wild rice with cold water, then add to six cups boiling water. Reduce to low boil after 2 min and leave for approx 45 min. Kernels will be tender and split when done. Drain in a colander if necessary, and set aside.

While the vegetables are roasting, and the rice is cooking, dice the onion, and begin caramelizing in a frying pan over medium heat. I prefer cast iron in general, but especially for this purpose. Do not stir the onions. Do not raise the temperature. You will be tempted to stir them and raise the temperature. Don’t do either. If you stir them they will cook down to an uninspiring floppy translucence. If you raise the temperature you will burn them. In fact, as I was caramelizing them myself, I got impatient and raised the temperature. As the pan started to smoke, Jessica said to me “I want to get a shot of the onions perfectly caramelized,” which was no longer possible. Although I burned the onions, we did discover that this recipe is pretty forgiving, so don’t sweat it if you do burn them, but if you can, it’s better to exercise patience; nicely caramelized onions are worth it!

Slice (or separate) the sausage into ½” chunks, and add to frying pan. You can squeeze it out of the casing if you like, but I prefer to keep it in. We used Piccinini Bros Hot Italian Pork Sausage, although I was tempted to use a lamb merguez. Slice the mushrooms, and add once the sausage is nearly cooked. Cook mushrooms down, being sure to do lots of scraping and stirring. There is nothing disposable in that pan. Be sure to test your poison-test your mushroom, sausage and onion combo, for safety, and not because it’s amazing and you could totally stop right here and eat the contents of that frying pan, over some toasted bread or something. Remind yourself that you are making stew, and losses due to too much poison-testing will adversely impact the stew’s spirit-healing magick.

Add garbanzos to bottom of stock pot (I used a lobster pot), cover with water to approx twice the height the garbanzos, and bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer after 2 minutes. Add the roasted vegetables, the sausage, onion and mushroom combo, chopped parsley and basil, bay leaf, and 2 dried chili peppers. Simmer for 1 hour. You will need enough water for the garbanzos to soak up, but if you find you want to thicken the stew, simmer uncovered for a bit. Stir in coarse chopped collard leaves only soon enough to wilt before serving, approximately 2 to 5 minutes. Put some wild rice in a bowl, cover with stew, garnish with coarse slices of parmesan, and serve.

This recipe serves approximately four people. Also, we noticed when we finished that this recipe is gluten-free!

Anticipating Thanksgiving

It’s a remarkable thing to cook an animal the size of a housepet in it’s entirety. But man, talk about a commitment. Limited to a mere once a year investment, my satisfaction and patience are seriously tested by this situation.

Behold, a solution for those with a level of patience comparable to mine:

A bacon-wrapped, intensely flavorful mini-Thanksgiving feast

Bacon Wrapped Roasted Turkey Breast with Veggies
  • turkey breast, approx. 2-1/2 lbs.
  • 1 package bacon
  • 4 to 6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • Cheese cloth and butchers twine
  • Assortment of root vegetables (I used small yukon gold potatoes, purple onion, and carrots- enough to lay in a single layer around the meat in the pan)
  • Olive oil

Butterfly turkey breast. Combine sage, thyme, garlic, shallots, red pepper, salt, and pepper in small bowl. Rub mixture evenly over turkey breasts. Lay out cheese cloth, a bit larger than the size of the breast, and place bacon, slightly overlapping edges, in a column down the center of the  cloth. Roll turkey breast into a tight roll and place in the center of the bacon. Braid bacon back and forth over the top of rolled turkey breast. Wrap turkey breast with cheese cloth and tie with  twine at ends and in middle. Toss veggies, chopped where appropriate, in olive oil, salt and pepper, and put in the pan. Roast at 375 degrees till the meat is cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees (approx. 90 min). Remove from oven and let rest for 15 min. Unwrap and slice to serve.

Heather’s Thyme Soup [Extended Remix]

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A feast hosted by a rustic queen

Heather, a self-proclaimed descendant of “pot-pie-people,” explained that this soup evolved from her foray into learning to be a grown-up. The recipe evolved from one she found in a French cookbook checked out of her college library, after moving into her first apartment. The book was a bold choice for a beginning cook and this recipe was initially chosen as the modest option out of many with extravagant ingredients and techniques. Simplified by skipping the work of puréeing the final product, this  ‘remixed’ version is  far from the fussy original.

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SOUP, FRENCH STYLE

  • Consommés: clear soup made from stock that has been clarified with a process using egg whites to remove fat
  • Potages: thick soups of meat and vegetables boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush
  • Bisques: smooth, creamy soup based on a strained seafood broth
  • Soupes: served atop slices of bread
  • Bouillabaisse: a traditional Provençal fish stew
  • Soupe Moulinée: coarsely-puréed soup
  • Veloutés: finely puréed creamy soup with a roux base

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The essential oil derived from thyme (thymol) is an antiseptic and is the main active ingredient in Listerine.

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HEATHER’S THYME SOUP (EXTENDED REMIX)
  • 1 cup macaroni
  • 1 small onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 cup corn
  • 3 tbsps olive oil
  • 20 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 2 qts water
  • 12 large cloves garlic
  • salt/pepper
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 medium leek
  1. Chop onion, leek, celery, carrot.
  2. Toss in pot bottom with oil and corn.
  3. Stir 5-10 minutes on medium heat.
  4. Add water and macaroni.
  5. Place strainer in pot.
  6. Let simmer while counting thyme.
  7. Toss thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns [in the strainer].
  8. Peel and slice garlic, toss [in the strainer].
  9. Heat between medium/high.
  10. Stir occasionally.
  11. When it boils, cover.
  12. Simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  13. [Add] salt and pepper [to taste].
  14. Add cream.
  15. Serve with warm bread.

Summer in the City: Fresh Blueberry Pie

A teacher friend of mine, using her summer vacation to cross things off her bucket list, revealed to me her intention to lose her pastry-making virginity. She consented to have the occasion documented. Here is the result.

I’ve made a pie crust or two in the past, but with highly inconsistent results. Apparently, the keys to success are SPEED & TEMPERATURE.

As with all flour related cooking experiments, the gluten development (or rather the lack of it in this case) is the important factor in a delicate, flaky pastry. Gluten is the protein structure that forms when gas is released as bread rises; a high protein flour will allow the stretchy, chewy, workable dough ideal for say, pizza crust. So alternatively, using a low protein flour and discouraging gluten formation will result in a more delicate pastry.

Keep the dough ingredients chilled and work the dough as little as possible. Chill both the fat and the water. As for the type of fat used, butter is great for flavor, and shortening for texture- a combination works especially well.

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker and Joy of Cooking

Pastry

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons cold water

Filling

  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 6 cups blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter

In medium bowl, mix 2 cups flour and the salt. Cut in the shortening and butter using a pastry blender. Sprinkle with cold water, 1 tablespoon at a time, tossing with fork until all flour is moistened and pastry almost cleans side of bowl, adding 1-2 teaspoons more water if necessary. It should still look dry. Pinch some of the dough to see if it clumps together: if it does, it’s ready.

Gather pastry into a ball. Divide in half; shape into 2 discs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 425°F. With floured rolling-pin, roll one disc into a sheet 2 inches larger than upside-down 9-inch glass pie plate. Roll sheet of dough around rolling-pin & transfer to the pie plate. If it tears or cracks, just pinch it together again and use scraps & water to repair any holes.

In a large bowl, mix the sugar, 1/2 cup flour and the cinnamon with the blueberries and spoon into pastry-lined pie plate. Sprinkle with lemon juice and the butter cut into small pieces. Cover with top pastry. Cut slits in it and crimp the edges either with a fork or by pinching around the edge with your fingers. Cover edge with a strip of foil to prevent the rim from getting too brown.

Bake 35-45 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice begins to bubble through the slits in the crust, removing foil for last 15 minutes of baking. Cool 2+ hours for the increased possibility of intact slices.