Sunday, March 28, 2010

spring salad with roasted asparagus

spring salad with roasted asparagus

Who else, besides me, was lulled into thinking that spring is swiftly on its way? Is everyone raising their hands? Yep, that was me too, in sandals and tank tops. You know, I even moved my winter clothes into storage and pulled out the summer ones. And then, just like that, the weather decided that it was toying with us and pulled a switcheroo. This weekend, in New York – HOLY COLD! I mean, winter cold. I had to dig in my closet again for the puffer jacket and the Uggs. Oh weather, stop being so fickle, will you? This, of course, now means that my closet has stuff splayed out all over the place. Winter and summer stuff all mixed together in complete disarray. I just don’t know what to do with it all, but the mess is killing me.

asparagus

I know that East Coast folks are waaaaay overdue for their spring. We had a long winter and we’re ready. Ready for summer dresses and flip flops and going outside with our hair wet. We’re ready for picnics in the park, for lazy strolls at night after dinner, for not having to wear a dozen layers. Please. Let. Spring. Come.

asparagus, ready for roasting

In celebration of the false spring (because we know now we’ve been had), but of course believing this was true spring, I made this roasted asparagus salad because what else says spring like asparagus? It was lemony, it was fresh, it had the bite of watercress. And it was the perfect way to usher in the new season, which, of course, turned out to be a cruel joke.

asparagus, ready for roasting

You could make this tomorrow night for the first night of the Passover and omit the cheese if you’re serving a meat course following. Honestly, it works either way. And I often find that what is missing from the Passover table is a healthy dose of greens. Greens I sorely miss and crave right about this time of year. The salad is refreshing and subtle and kind of everything you want a salad to be. Plus the horseradishy bite of the watercress is a bit reminiscent of maror.

watercress, hydroponic


If you’re looking for more Passover ideas, here are a few from the archives:

Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
Beef Brisket with Merlot and Prunes
Almond Lemon Torte with Fresh Strawberry Puree
Haroset
Citrus Salad with Cilantro & Mint
Wine Stewed Prunes and Mascarpone

And so for those celebrating, I hope your Passover Seder is warm and wonderful; full of joy and introspection.

Continue reading spring salad with roasted asparagus.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

I’ve a soft spot for humble meals made quietly, slowly, with nothing more than basic ingredients. Dishes that cook over slow heat for hours, particularly meat. Meat, that when you cut into it, slowly falls apart, so soft you hardly need to chew it. Meat that comes with a rich, thick sauce. Meals like this – I could eat on an almost-daily basis.

brisket. hello, gorgeous!

Sadly, I do not. Partly because I try to be thoughtful about meat consumption, partly because I work hours that don’t allow me, upon getting home, make a meal, that cooks over several hours (albeit, sort of happily cooks itself as time goes by) because that would mean, I would eat at midnight. Or later. And while I’ve fond memories of making and eating goulash at 1 am in college, college this is not, and somehow showing up for work late isn’t the same as skipping your 8am accounting class. The tardiness policy at work just isn’t very lenient.

brisket mise

Beef brisket is just one of those meals that if you’re spending a few hours at home puttering around, or expecting company for dinner, can be made with minimal effort and some glorious results. The concept is rather simple. You take a fatty slab of meat, brown it to lock in the flavor, brown the vegetables, and combine everything with something like wine, pomegranate molasses (with which I’ve been having a decade-long love affair!) and some dried fruit. In this case, the fruit of choice is prunes.

browning the brisketbrowning the brisket

Wait, come back! I know I just said prunes and I know they’re about as sexy as granny panties, but, please give them a chance. Cooked in stews, or slow-cooked in wine, sugar and spices, they transform themselves into something incredible lush and luxurious. I know, I just called prunes “luxurious”, when nothing could be more pedestrian. But, have I ever lied to you? Well then!

ready for cooking

I learned, pretty late in life, that brisket is sort of this traditional Jewish meal served during holidays or Shabbat meals. I didn’t grow up with it, so I felt it was my cultural duty to master the craft. Of course, I was cooking dinner with which I was hoping to impress, and I chose a dish that I’d never cooked before. Smart? I’d say not really. Was I a bit nervous? Absolutely. But everything came together without a hitch and the meat cooked perfectly and didn’t resemble pressed sawdust neither in looks nor in taste. If you’re looking for a centerpiece dish for Passover – look no further than this. And while it is always recommended that you do a practice run with a holiday meal beforehand, I’m pretty certain you will succeed with this one because the building blocks of a great dish are already included in the ingredients and the cooking process. If you cook it patiently and slowly, you will get a “humble” meal that will delicious and festive enough to be fit for a king.

Continue reading beef brisket with merlot and prunes.

Monday, March 22, 2010

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberry puree

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

I don’t know about you, but Passover baked goods fail to excite me for the most part. The sponge-cake I’ve been used to eating for the holiday is dry and boring with barely any flavor to offer. And we are talking about dessert here, people. The period at the end of the sentence. Because that is what dessert is. Without it, a meal feels incomplete somehow, ending with an ellipsis, waiting for more.

egg shells
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

But before I get carried away about punctuation and how it relates to dessert, let me say this: my Passover dessert woes are over. Completely, totally, wholly over. This cake you see here below comes together fairly quickly and doesn’t need much fussing. The olive oil makes the cake moist, giving it a delicate crumb. It’s not a dry and boring sponge cake that I remember eating in the past. Instead of flour, you use almond meal, which, if you cannot find it in your grocery store, you can make at home by taking almonds and pulverizing them in a food processor until the mixture becomes a fine meal. Some lemon and orange zest brighten up the flavors – whispering, “Spring is here!” and if that’s not enough – a homemade fresh strawberry puree takes this cake to a whole new level. When I tasted it, the bright, clean berry flavors made me want to take a leap in celebration of the brand new season and the most amazing weather New York has enjoyed since autumn last year. Immediately, I decided this is what I’ll make for our family Passover Seder this week.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

Baking for my family is a tricky proposition. My mother, who is diabetic, can’t eat most baked goods and so I almost never bake at my parents’ house, because I hate the idea of her not being able to partake in it. But this cake here, without flour and low on carbohydrates (did I just write the word “carbohydrates” or what?) and a moderate amount of sugar – this is something she can have a slice of along with the rest of the family. And it makes me very happy to know that this time around, she’ll be able to have dessert after the Seder.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

Lastly, the recipe on the web advises a 10-inch spring-form pan, which I didn’t have. I had a 9-inch cake pan, left a bit of batter in the bowl and adjusted my baking time accordingly – it worked for me. Be carefully cooling the cake – it’s delicate and might sink if you move it around too much before it cools completely.

almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries
almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberriesalmond-lemon torte with fresh strawberries

Continue reading almond-lemon torte with fresh strawberry puree.

Friday, March 19, 2010

haroset

haroset

All right folks, this will be short and sweet here. Work’s been crazy and I am actually writing this to you on my lunch break – the nerve. I keep trying to sit down and put my thoughts together, but there’s just so much to do during the day and after work, that by the time I get home, I’m a bit spent. I also need to apologize for these hideous photos. The night I took these – my photo mojo was seriously off. I tried so many different angles, lighting options, camera settings, and in the end, it just wasn’t happening. I had to accept the fact that on some nights, your photos will look disgusting. Like these.

However, what’s exciting is that Passover is right around the corner. I like to think of Passover as sort of a Jewish Thanksgiving of sorts. Done right – you have amazing food, memorable meals with family and friends and an opportunity to get a little creative in the kitchen with all the holiday dietary restrictions. It’s a challenge to get so creative that you wind up not missing chametz, or the “forbidden” foods. And with all the cooking to be done for the holiday week, this dish should be the least of your worries. It practically makes itself and it’s also incredibly delicious. Make lots because everyone will want to spoon some on the side of the plate and kids will be eating double that. Allowed to sit overnight, the flavor meld better and develop. Ideally, you’d make this ahead.

haroset

The traditional Ashkenazi haroset is little more than apples, walnuts and honey with a few other ingredients, all mixed together. Apples and honey are nothing new in the Jewish tradition – it’s the thing to eat on Rosh Hashana – for a sweet and prosperous New Year. As for the haroset preparation, there’s really nothing to it – you simply toast some walnuts for a few minutes until they’re fragrant and crunchy, and chop them up finely. You then peel a couple of apples, core them and chop those as well. Some folks prefer their haroset minced, but I like mine on a chunkier side. That way you can really taste the apple texture. And while a lot of versions like to add a few glugs of Manishewitz, or a fortified kosher wine, I prefer to add pomegranate molasses, which gives my otherwise Ashkenazi haroset a Middle Eastern twist. A pinch or two of cinnamon and your haroset is done – provided, of course, you let it sit in your fridge overnight.

haroset

And with that, I shall return to my spreadsheets and Power Point slides. I know what you’re thinking – lucky duck! Don’t be jealous now – sometimes life just isn’t fair.

Continue reading haroset.

Friday, March 12, 2010

red velvet cupcakes with orange zest

red velvet cupcakes

Red velvet cupcakes leave me on the fence. On the one hand, I’m pretty obsessed with them, unable to turn down one when offered to me. On the other hand, I have massive guilt pangs making them because all that food coloring seems to be the antithesis of what I like to do here. It’s like loving cheesy poofs. You know they’re bad for you, but you just can’t quit them. Or at least I can’t. There, now you know my junk food Achilles heel. I’m sure everyone’s got one.

en attendant

I suppose we all need our “snack of shame”, as I like to refer to my cheesy poof love. And so long as we don’t abuse it, we’re in good standing. So what is it about red velvet cake that makes even the biggest food snobs who eschew artificial everything line up to get a slice? It might be the only time I actually use artificial color (excluding some color experimentation with frosting). And I feel like I should feel ashamed about it, except I don’t. I actually feel ashamed not being ashamed. See my dilemma?

red velvet mise and morning coffee

According to Wikipedia, red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s and that beets were used to color it only for a short period of time. The cake then gained prominence in Canada in the 40s and 50s at the Eaton department stores. And the resurgence of the cake’s popularity is owed in part by its feature in the movie “Steel Magnolias”, where a groom’s cake is a red velvet cake in the shape of an armadillo.

red velvet cupcakes

To me, red velvet cake has always seemed a very Southern dessert: festive, decadent, delicious. I am not sure what is so Southern about it, but I’ve been obsessed with it enough to make as many different iterations of it as possible. The first version was featured here some time ago here. And this is the one that I’m most excited about because this recipe – is definitely a keeper and much better than the earlier version. It comes from the Lee Brothers Southern Cookbook and the addition of orange zest brightens the cake batter up and complements the cream cheese frosting. The buttermilk gives the cake a nice tang and a moist, light crumb, which, when you bite into it, tastes pretty darn heavenly. To me, a dense heavy cake is a total killjoy, so this was a pleasant surprise.

red velvet cupcakes

But most importantly, I got two thumbs up from this guy here, who ate his cupcake with such zeal, it was gone in mere minutes. And then he promptly requested another.

seal of approval

Continue reading red velvet cupcakes with orange zest.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

honey graham crackers

seriously, aren't they cute?

When I was in sixth grade, I joined the Girl Scouts at the great urging of my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Sledge who, by the way, was a cool, cool lady. Apparently, it was the thing to do in our class, as all the girls joined and I succumbed to peer pressure. Mrs. Sledge happened to be our troop leader – she spent years in the Girl Scouts, ever since she had her daughters, who were now all grown up, married, and with kids of their own.

graham cracker mise

As a newly-minted Russian immigrant, trying to fit into a new school and make friends, I took her words as gospel and promptly joined, though the Scouts reminded me of the Young Pioneers Organization in the USSR. Since then, I was generally mistrustful of all groups where you had to pledge membership, and though I wanted to conform and be accepted, conformity, at its center, scared me. I tried to sell this idea to my even more skeptical father. Girls Scouts, I explained, were supposed to unite young women and boost confidence and morale. To which my father’s response was, as usual, “Read more books.” But while he wasn’t a buyer, he certainly didn’t stand in my way – he too wanted me to make friends.

shaping the doughshaping the dough - easier wrapped in plastic
shaping the dough - easier wrapped in plastica nice little rectangle

At first Girl Scouts seemed to me a musical version of home-ec classes. We did nothing more than gather in the music room and sing songs and learn how to sew on buttons. Well, the other girls had to learn how to sew on button. This kind of stuff is passed to you by your Russian grandmother at a very young age. I could sew on a button at four and around eight, I tried to knit a sweater. Anyway, songs and sewing got old really fast for me, but I liked the camaraderie and wanted to befriend as many girls as I could, so I stuck around. Attrition wasn’t going to be looked upon kindly. Middle school was a tough place for a new kid with an accent, odd clothes and an affinity for beets and cabbage.

rulers and pastry wheels

And just as I was getting really bored with the whole girl power get-togethers, we went on a camping trip. A real, sleep-in-the-tent-and-make-food-over-a-fire-camping-trip. We hiked, made gorp, slept in sleeping bags, and brushed out teeth with baking soda and water. And we made s’mores.

ready for baking

S’mores might not seem like anything special to you, dear readers, but that maybe it’s because you grew up with them. S’mores came to me at the age of twelve, like a bat mitzvah rite of passage, only instead of a anxiety-filled Torah portion, s’mores conjured up glee and delight [apologies to all who read their Torah portion with glee and delight.] Everything about a s’more was new to me: the marshmallow: burnt, and gooey; the chocolate: melted and oozy; and the graham cracker: crumbly and honey-sweet.

stacked, show-offs!

Graham crackers and I fell into an instant and torrid love affair. One bite sealed the deal. I couldn’t get enough. The slight kick of cinnamon, the hint of honey, the restrained sweetness – they all spoke to me. I made my parents buy a box with every grocery run. For years, graham crackers were my go-to snack.

honey graham crackers

It would seem natural that I would have tried to make them at home, but it had never occurred to me, until Karen DeMasco’s book made its way to me, that graham crackers could be made at home. Yes, hello world, meet the slowest learner in the history of learning. That’d be me. I could have googled it or something, but sometimes the most obvious things aren’t so obvious? Having made them now, I can tell you that I will never, ever buy a box of honey graham crackers again. It just doesn’t compare. At all. Out of a box, they’re fine, but made at home, they’re just about heavenly. The dough comes together in a pinch and after some chilling and meticulous cutting (I blame my grandmother for all my kitchen OCD tendencies) – you have the cutest, tastiest graham crackers you could imagine. Buttery, laced with honey and cinnamon, it’s a decadent cookie on its own. But paired with some dark chocolate (think Scharffenberger!) and some homemade marshmallows (easier that you think!), your homemade s’more will reach a new sophistication.

it was, after all, valentine's day

Now, all I need to do is plan a camping trip and bring these along. Maybe I wait a few weeks until it warms up?

Continue reading honey graham crackers.