Friday, November 30, 2007

Pumpkin Pie

Yes, it's late but I didn't want to forget to report on our pie making experiences of Thanksgiving. Here, in Israel, many enjoy Thanksgiving, perhaps on Friday night if they can't manage Thursday with work and all, or like my brother, they might celebrate eventually, usually on Hannukah, this year conveniently close to Thanksgiving (and not, Xmas, which always annoys me - meaning, don't need any more association with Xmas than it already has) or not at all, as they've just sort of forgotten about it. But when you mention that you're having Thanksgiving dinner with friends, even the most 'Israeli'ized Americans' I know, will stop and say 'Really? Gee, I used to love Thanksgiving.'

We had a lovely dinner with friends, Alan and Lisa, my parents, studious yeshiva scholar Gella and her friend, Adam. It was fairly traditional fare with a few Israeli twists.

Cornbread -made by Natan. It was nice and lightly dry with a good crumble.

Sauteed Pears and Onions with Arugula. That was really good. It kind of needed some cheese but it was a meat meal. Easy, easy. Just saute the onions forever (cover a bit to let them break down and begin to carmelize) and then add the pears, S&P, Chinese 5-spice powder, or, I used 'Hawaij for Coffee' a spice mix not disimiliar to what you'd use in chai tea (not to be confused with Hawaiij for Soup) some red wine, pinch of balsamic vinegar at the end to 'bring it up a notch.'
Mango Salsa. Lisa's favorite right now, in the waning moments of mango season here. Simply, chopped mangoes, tomatoes, cilantro, onion or scallion and juice, with a touch of oil. Perfect alongside the richer pear salad.

Main Course:
Turkey. Lisa's department.

Corned Beef. Ditto. I stuck to the side dishes for this lavish meal but everyone tucked into the meats happily.

Aunt Nora's Sweet Potatoes with some adaptations. Smooth and lovely, spiced the way they should be, a dab of melted margarine (oh well, but it had to be non-dairy) and fresh lemon zest, orange zest and orange juice (I used some sharply flavored clementines).

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding. Our stuffing.

Cranberries with Quince and Pomengranate. I liked this but remained unconvinced about the quince despite the almost intoxicating fragrance. The cranberries were specially imported for us, fresh and tart.

Tomato Salad. Lisa's fave. Halved, sweet cherry tomatoes, simply dressed.
Was there anything else? Maybe, can't remember

Dessert - here's where the pies come in:
I used to make the Cooks Illustrated pumpkin pie which shockingly used canned filling, which when heated and spiced, suddenly became delicous. Then of course, there was always the decision of what kind of pastry crust to use, which Cooks added more the mix this year with coming up with a daring new idea - vodka in the crust instead of other liquids - alcohol bakes off better, less moisture, better crust, etc..

Spice-kissed Pumpkin Pie - This is a great recipe off of a blog that I really like. A few comments. I didn't think the hazlenut base (I used toasted pecans) did that much. The filling though, was stupendous - creamy and unctuous with a fabulous mouthfeel. I used an oil based crust as a way of avoiding the whole margarine thing as margarine is, to me, unpleasant tasting and a completely unhealthy food, although at least buy a trans-fat free marg if you must. I combined spelt and rye flours which gave a nice savory note but I think in the future, I'd add my ground nuts into the crust where the flavor would shine more.
Note: I/we made a bunch of these pies and the one that was baked in a deep dish stoneware pie plate was the best - most filling and therefore the richest in flavor.

Shaker-Lemon Pie - this is a recipe with alot of history when I looked it up online later. Too bad I didn't look it up beforehand. I remembered it fondly from eating it with Iris Katzner and I could have sworn that I had made it successfully. The recipe is simplicity itself. You slice lemons paper thin, macerate in sugar, beat in eggs and then load into a prepared crust and top with another crust and bake. The inside sort of forms its own lemon curd that is punctuated by the sharper rind.

Well, not for me. Granted I don't shop at the food coop anymore where I could have used Meyer Lemons which have a very thin rind but I did slice thinly. From my analysis, it seems that macerating for a longer time is called for - as much as 36 hours - and that some retakes of the recipe have you zest the lemons, then slice them thinly and then macerate. That would be more successful, I think because you wouldn't be fighting with each slice when you eat it, which is what happened here, between the rind and the membranes of the fruit, etc. Also, just too much crust for me - top and bottom - although others did not feel that way and it did get eaten.

Lisa made a tasty, traditional apple cake which was also enjoyed.

Tale of a Sweet Potato

Here in Israel, sweet potatoes are everywhere. They're tasty, inexpensive, not to mention good for you and are featured on almost every menu - the ubiquitous 'orange soup' or roasted and dipped in some way.

Here, chez nous, we roast them and soup them as well. We've gone in many directions in terms of roasting over the years, from the simple, 'chop, drizzle with olive oil and salt,' and roast. We've tried maple syrup and piquant spicing, as well as herby combinations to complement that vegetal/sweet nature of the sweet potato. The current favorite is simple but effective.

Roasted Sweet Potatoes:
Sweet potatoes - scrubbed and chopped (size doesn't matter here but the larger the hunk, the longer the cooking. On the other hand, smaller chunks fall apart too easily). Peeling is up to you. If you buy organic than you get the tastier sweet potato, the goodness of the peel and less work.

Spread them in a baking pan that is lined with parchment paper (makes cleanup alot easier).

Drizzle a decent amount of olive oil on top. If you have a full pan of potatoes (3-4 good sized), than you'll use 1/4 cup of olive oil. You can use less accordingy to your taste.

. For one pan of potatoes, as much as 1/4-1/3 of a cup, but we really like cinnamon.

Coarse salt
. Maldon salt is my favorite. It has a lovely flake and a really good taste. You can eyeball this and feel free to sprinkle with abandon as the salt crunches between your fingers and the marriage of the carmelized sweet potatoes, spicy/sweet cinnamon, salt and olive oil is just wonderful.
Roast at 425 until you forget about them and begin to smell this wonderful aroma emerging from your oven. If you do remember them, stir them every so often and if they're taking a while to get started, cover with foil for about 30min and then uncover to let them brown. 2 sheet pans can take 60-90 minutes.

Note: I tried a variation last night and it looks promising. I drizzled the juice of 2 lemons on top of my sweet potatoes, then olive oil, then finely grated ginger (juice and all), chopped garlic, cayenne pepper and salt. When I tasted them, the ginger fairly jumped off the plate and the lemon provided a nice way of tuning down the sweetness of the potatoes.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Fruit Crumbles, for Thanksgiving and Whenever

Most evenings, I come home from work and cook dinner—that’s how I unwind. This afternoon, however, Roger emailed me and said he was craving a burrito from Buddy’s—could we order out? I was happy to oblige, but after dinner I felt this compulsion to cook something, so I actually followed a recipe and made an apple cake. It’s almost done now, and it smells great.

I like to bake, but it doesn’t give me the same creative rush as cooking—it’s harder to improvise. So if I do make dessert, I’m more likely to make something that can be improvised, and my standby is fruit crumble. Whatever fruit I’m using, I peel and slice it up and pile it in a pie plate or my round deep-dish stoneware. In the fall, it’s likely to be apples, pears, or a combination. In the late summer I love to make a crumble with apples and raspberries—just toss a handful of berries over the apples before adding the topping; in the fall or winter, cranberries are an interesting substitute.

And here’s the real seat-of-the pants aspect of the recipe: the topping. If I’m making a little light dessert for the family, I go light on the crumble. I melt a couple of tablespoons of butter, then right in the saucepan, I mix a couple of tablespoons of sugar (brown or white) and a couple of tablespoons of flour. If I have some ground nuts around, I’ll throw some in as well. A little cinnamon and then check the consistency. Still too wet? A little more sugar, a little more flour, until the crumble is, well, crumbly. This makes just enough topping to strew over the fruit and make it look festive and interesting. For company, I’d probably make a more comprehensive topping, starting with as much as six tablespoons of butter and increasing the sugar and flour accordingly. (Some like oats in their crumble topping, and if you do, be my guest. I’m a purist, and I like to stick to sugar and flour.)

Lately I’ve been doing something a little different—making a streusel topping and using it on fresh or poached fruit. A basic recipe is equal parts by weight of butter, sugar, flour, and ground almonds. In this case you need to use cold butter and cut it into the flour and sugar—fussier, but the results are great. When the butter is evenly distributed through the dry ingredients, spread the topping on a cookie sheet and bake at 350. If you let it bake like this for too long, you end up with one big cookie—it’s not the end of the world, you can break it up into pieces and use them as a topping. Instead, though, pull the tray out of the oven after about ten minutes, and chop up the topping with knife. If you do this a couple of times, you end up with a great streusel topping that keeps very well in a plastic container, and you can use it to dress up lots of simple desserts. We’ve been making parfaits, in a set of glass parfait dishes I inherited when my father and stepmother sold their house last summer. Some vanilla ice cream topped with a poached pear, some streusel sprinkled on top—very elegant.

P.S. I wrote this a couple of weeks ago but didn’t have a chance to post it. Here’s a post-Thanksgiving addendum: My sister and brother-in-law hosted on Thursday, and the food was fabulous (they served turducken!). At their request I brought an apple crumble, but of course it had to be pareve. I bought the best quality margarine I could find, and the result not only tasted great—it looked really beautiful. However, no one but me saw it in all its glory. I transported it in my Pampered Chef carrying case and put it on the kitchen counter, where my sister's cat promptly curled up on top of it (on top of the carrying case, with the crumble still in it). When we removed the crumble from the case, it had turned into a slump—the topping was completely flattened. However, warmed in the oven and served with pareve vanilla ice cream, it was still delicious. Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Supper Salad or, the Kitchen Sink

It was a 'what's for supper night?' That is, we were all getting hungry - those of us who were home and pickings were slim. We'd cooked a nice amount for the weekend but it had gotten eaten - much of it, that is, by the Sunday lunch eaters (the nerve of them) and Akiva. for dinner.

What to do? Upon examination of the refrigerator, things weren't as grim as they seemed. We composed a lovely, filling salad for dinner. It took some time but Gabe and I chopped together and considered the ingredients as we went.

It was a really good meal and it's always good to remember that salad is an excellent fall back. Even if you buy ready seasoned tofu to add, or some sort of prepared pickled vegetable or add a jar of roasted peppers, it will marry well, with some dressing on top pulling it all together. Many of us eat dinner much to late and salad will go down much better digestively, than a heavier meal, especially if you're sitting down to eat after 8pm - as we almost always do. If you want to gussy things up, serve your salad with some good, whole-grain bread and a wedge of cheese on the side or even shaved on top of the salad plate.

Supper Salad
1 head of lettuce - we used a Romaine style

1 bunch of arugula - we had a nice, leafy bunch and it was peppery and good.

Avocado - always beefs it up nicely and turns nice and creamy when it's gets smushed up with the other components.

Hard boiled eggs. This is key as the eggs, when sliced and chopped and added, fall apart a bit, especially once the dressing goes on, and really enriches the greeny taste of the salad, as well as adds some protein to the meal.

Diced, cooked tofu. We had some from the weekend. No reason not to add it.

Cukes - diced.

Carrots - we had some leftover Levantine carrot salad (from Molly Katzen's Still Life with Menu). This was a nice touch as it bulked things up a bit and the carrots were dressed and added a tangy taste. Not critical though as this is a 'whatever you've got' sort of dish.

Fruit - this was really nice by the way. We chopped in 2 persimmons and 2 mangoes and it was really tasty with everything else.

Toasted nuts. Usually, we have some toasted sunflower seeds for garnishing but we were out
last night and went nut less but if you have something of that ilk...raw or roasted, it adds both protein and flavor, not to mention a pleasing chew.
Olive oil - 1/4 to 1/3 a cup.

Lemon juice and orange juice - 1/2 cup of mixed citrus.

Salt and Pepper to taste.

Honey mustard - 2-3 tbsp.
Whisk together and adjust. This made a lightly sweet dressing that went well with the fruit as well as the vegetables.


Whipping up a marinade, or a dressing is something we do all the time. You make a quick salad, a stir-fry, some tofu, roasted sweet potatoes, all of these taste better with a little something on top. The usual option for a salad dressing is to throw together lemon juice, olive oil and maybe a little salt. Couldn't be simpler. But sometimes it's fun to look into the fridge and try something you haven't done before.

Take Coleslaw. Coleslaw is usually dressed in a heavy, mayonnaise-based dressing. While this can be lovely, sometimes it's nice to make something a bit lighter. The standard in our house is a basic citrus/oil combination a bit of cumin for flavour. Amounts depend on how much coleslaw you have.

Cumin Coleslaw Dresssing
Equal parts olive oil and lime juice, depends if you want it more oily or more citrusy. Lemon juice also works, but limes have a stronger flavour that works well with the cumin.

Salt and pepper to taste

A dash of vinegar, probably rice wine vinegar

Some sweetener, we like apple juice or maple syrup. The sweet shouldn't overpower the sour, just provide a slight balance.

A touch of cumin
Tofu is tough one. If you don't have the time or the energy to let the tofu sit in a marinade overnight, and we rarely have either, it's very hard to make something powerful enough to actually imbibe the tofu with flavour. One method is to just make a marinade with a very dominant flavour, such as rosemary or cayenne pepper, throw the marinade on the tofu and let it cook for ages, covered and un-covered. Another method is to pan-fry the tofu in a bit of oil and then throw on the marinade when the pan is very hot and cover it immediately. We always made tofu on the stove, but you can make it in the oven too. In any case, here are some tried and true marinades that should hopefully give you a tofu that doesn't just taste like mushed up soybeans. Recipe amounts should depend on how much tofu you're making; when the marinade is poured in the pan, it should just cover the tofu.

Sweet and Sour Tofu
A good amount of tamarind paste. Tamarind is very sour and is a key ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Use it in moderation, but it is the "sour" in the "sweet and sour".

Apple juice concentrate. Another sweetener can be substituted and it doesn't necessarily have to be a concentrate. I find apple juice's flavour goes well with the tamarind. The tamarind paste to apple juice concentrate ratio should be about 2:1.

Lemon juice, I find a splash of lemon juice brings out the flavour in almost anything.

A bit of olive oil
Other condiments can be added as necessary. Experiment with amounts, I like this very strong.

Curry Mustard Tofu
Equal parts mustard and red curry paste. I usually use a lot of these ingredients as they are the key parts to the marinade. Mix them up together beforehand, it's harder to add them in when the mixture is thin. Yellow curry paste can also be used, but it tastes different than the red variety.

A good amount of orange juice. The orange juice is the base of the marinade, so there should be roughly two times orange juice to the amount of the mustard/curry paste mixture.

Pepper to taste

A splash of apple cider vinegar and/or lemon juice. This is a matter of taste, I find that the vinegar and lemon juice always bring out the flavour of everything else.
Lemon Rosemary Tofu
Equal parts lemon juice and olive oil. We always cut the olive oil a bit, but that's personal choice. Lime juice may also be used.

Soy sauce/tamari to taste

A very healthy portion of chopped fresh rosemary. Dried rosemary could be used, but I doubt it would pack the same intense punch as the fresh.

Salt and pepper to taste
Any of these recipes can be adapted to fit your own tastes or put on something else. I'm a vegetarian, but I'm sure the carnivores out there could adapt one of these recipes for some meat dish. Experiment. Another tasty marinade or dressing is mustard, orange juice and a prepared sweet and spicy chili sauce - usually you can buy that in a supermarket. We like the Healthy Boy Brand Chili Sauce, it has the consistency of duck sauce but has better ingredients and is less sweet. You could also try olive oil, thyme and zahtar.

Happy cooking.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Improvising with Bread Pudding

One of the recipes that Beth and I jointly developed for improvisation is the savory bread pudding. It all started many years ago (at least 17, because I made this dish when Marion and I catered Natan's bris) with a Gourmet Magazine recipe for a sweet bread pudding. Having mastered it and made it our own, we forged ahead and adapted it for savory purposes. I stopped using a recipe a long time ago, and now feel comfortable just using the technique and throwing in whatever's around.

So, I had some squash in the house--a kabocha and a butternut--and they weren't getting any younger. And a big, stale loaf of crusty bread. And a large group of people coming for dinner in the Sukkah--yes, this was during Sukkot. So I tore the bread up into chunks, put them in a big bowl, covered them with cold water and let them soak. (If you're looking for a measurement, I think six cups of cubed bread is about right.) I peeled the two squash (squashes?) and laboriously cut them into biggish cubes (the only laborious part of the recipe). I then roasted the squash at 400 degrees with lots of whole garlic cloves and olive oil. While it was roasting, I sauteed a mess of leeks with rosemary (onions or shallots would have been perfectly acceptable, or any combination thereof; also sage would be a lovely alternative to the rosemary).

I drained and then squeezed as much water as possible out of the bread, and threw the mush into a big baking dish (Pampered Chef stoneware, Beth!). On top of this I tossed the leeks, the squash once it was done, and about a cup of grated cheddar. I mixed the whole thing through (taking care to mash up the squash a bit, and especially the roasted garlic cloves), then made a custard of milk and eggs and poured it on top. Probably 4 eggs and 2 cups of milk, but I'm not entirely sure. The key is to add enough milk and eggs so that everything is floating comfortably but NOT drowning or even completely covered in liquid. I'm sure I salted at some point, probably both the squash before I roasted it and the leeks while they were sauteeing.

The bread pudding goes into the oven at 350, uncovered, and bakes for a good long time. Probably at least 45 minutes. It's ready when the top is crusty and browned, and even the center of the dish is firm, not jiggly. It was beloved by all (except Elliot, who wouldn't touch it, but would you expect him to?), and it made great leftovers.

You can make a savory bread pudding with virtually any combination of vegetables and cheese. Two of my favorites are mushrooms with gruyere and spinach with goat cheese. The proportions aren't that important. Onion, to my mind, is crucial. But whatever vegetable is languishing in your fridge, it would probably make a great bread pudding, combined with those leftover heels of bread getting stale in your breadbox, and the bits of cheese crammed into the cheese drawer in your fridge. It's the perfect vehicle for all your odds and ends.

6 cups bread, roughly torn into cubes, soaked in cold water and drained

2-3 cups cooked vegetables

an onion or leek, sliced and sauteed until soft

cup of grated cheese

4 eggs

2 cups of milk

Combine in a baking dish, bake at 350 until firm with a crisp, brown top.