Thursday, September 17, 2015

Honey Cake

The ten day period between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is known as The Days of Awe — a time when the gates of heaven are said to swing open, when you can work for a divine rewrite of what goes down in the book of life. Or, as it's also known: honey cake season. 

Honey cake is a stodgy, brown, boozy cake. A cake of an earlier time. But it's also a cake that transmits holidays and love, a cake that gets better as it gets older, and a cake that is just lovely with a cup of tea or coffee. You can hear more about it over at NPR. And happy 5776 to all! Hope it's a good one.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Fresh Tomato Shakshuka

For those not in the know, making shakshuka goes like this:

Step 1: Make tomato sauce.
Step 2: Add eggs.
Step 3: Scoop up with bread, impress/delight guests/self.

Seriously, shakshuka gives you a very impressive bang for your buck. It's a Middle Eastern favorite, and I can't for the life of me figure out why it's not more popular here. Because really, it's delicious. And easy.

You can make your tomato sauce the night before, and just crack in the eggs in the morning for an insta-brunch. You can use half the tomato sauce, and freeze the other for an all-you-need-is-eggs meal. Or you can, as I did, pour your sauce into a jar, tuck it in your bike bag along with a carton of eggs, and use an office hot plate to make a truly spectacular workday meal (ah, lunch club!).

Shakshuka usually features sauteed peppers, but I'm not the biggest fan. So instead I just did the usually smattering of favorites: onions, garlic, tomatoes, with a bit of depth and interest from cumin, paprika, and caraway (the latter isn't necessary, but it's nice). You can make shakshuka all year long with canned tomatoes, but this version, with a pile of fresh ones, is especially lovely. And did I mention easy?

Fresh Tomato Shakshuka

adapted, loosely, from Einat Admony
Serves 6-8

1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon paprika (you can swap out half or all for smoked paprika)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon crushed caraway seeds (optional)
1⁄4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
6 good-sized fresh tomatoes, chopped
salt, pepper and sugar to taste
12 large eggs

Heat a large pot over a medium high heat, and pour in the olive oil. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and cook until translucent and slumped but not colored, ~10 minutes, turning down the heat if needed to keep them from browning. Add the garlic, and stir another 3-5 minutes until softened. Add the paprika, cumin, and caraway (if using), stir for a minute or two to toast, then mix in the tomato paste, then add the bay leaf and fresh tomatoes, and salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture cooks down entirely, and the oil begins to come out — about 30—40 minutes.

When the mixture has cooked down, add enough water to restore it to a somewhat soupy tomato-sauce consistency, and taste to adjust seasonings. At this point you can proceed with the recipe, hold it until later, or freeze (all or half) of the mixture until you're ready to serve.

When it's time to cook, pour half of the sauce into a large skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high, until the mixture starts to bubble, and crack in a half-dozen eggs. Cover, turning down the heat if it's sputtering too much, and cook until the eggs are set to your liking — it should take less than 10 minutes to get a nice, set-but-runny consistency, where the whites have set but the yolks are still a bit saucy. Serve with crusty bread, and feta, olives and hot sauce on the side. Repeat with remaining sauce and eggs, or reserve for another meal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Everday Granola

I'm calling this everyday granola, because I eat it almost every day. This is not an exaggeration. After going through a spate of leftovers-for-breakfast, and then the boiled egg years, I am now firmly in a delicious rut of granola. It's my new go-to gift for friends who need a little culinary love. It's something I'm sure I have a fresh batch of before my friend arrives for house-/dog-sitting duty. It's something I just can't seem to get tired of.

This recipe came from Cook's Illustrated, as flagged by my dear friend Rebecca (though I've tweaked it a wee bit further). It's basic, brown, and, comparatively, not so exciting. It's also ridiculously delicious. I canNOT STOP making this.

This granola is, of course, perfect for breakfast. But it's also a perfect hold-me-over snack. And a perfect I'm-walking-by-the-jar-I-might-as-well-grab-a-handful indulgence. It's lightly sweetened, and clumps into crunchy clusters (thanks to a nice tamping-down before the oven). These summer days, I'm fond of it mixed with a bit of tart yogurt and juicy nectarines, but it's also lovely with just a splash of almond milk. I've occasionally dressed it up with a handful of buckwheat (which toasts to a surprisingly light crispness), and recently even tried a spoonful of fennel (lesson learned: don't). But mostly, I make it just as written. Again and again and again.

Everyday Granola

yields ~8 cups 

1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup oil (olive oil is nice, though others work too)
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup raw almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons flax seeds

Move your rack to the top third of the oven, and preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit (make sure it's fully preheated, or you risk scorching the bottom). Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment or silpat liner (reportedly this is not optional, unless you fancy chipping granola off a pan).

In a large bowl, whisk together the brown sugar, maple syrup, oil, vanilla, and salt, until well combined. Add the oats, almonds, sunflower and flax seeds, and stir, scooping the goo from the bottom, until everything is well coated.

Transfer the mixture to your pan, and smooth it into an even layer. Using a pancake spatula, press down firmly and evenly — like really, really firmly — to compress the mixture as much as you can. If you don't have a flat spatula, you can place another sheet of parchment on top, and then press down with another pan.

Transfer the pan to the oven, and bake ~30-40 minutes, until just lightly browned. Turn off the oven, and leave the pan in the residual heat for another 10 minutes. Remove the pan, and let it cool fully — this will take longer than you'd think (about an hour), but you need to wait in order for your granola to set and not crumble to bits. When cool, break into chunks of your desired size, and store in a covered container.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Raspberry Rose Rugelach

A little over a week ago, my dear friends got married. We bore witness to a beautiful ceremony, watched some precarious descending of outdoor stairs in fierce high heels, read poems about love, toasted the supreme court, drank rum and coke, and danced until we were sweaty and spent.

But amidst all the beauty and flowers and fried cheese, there’s a bit of sadness at the inability to just grab hold of all of it. How can all the people we love be in one place, but we can’t spend days upon days with each one of them? College friends and cousins, parents and coworkers. Even when you forego sleep (as inevitably happens), you can’t grab fistfuls enough of it all. It makes you wonder why we don’t rent up an Italian villa, and shove all of our dearest there for, say, the month of August — with time enough for catching up and adventures and down time, and three-hour dinners with glasses of wine long into the night. That's how it's supposed to be, right? I can’t help but feeling like we’re somehow doing this all wrong. Hopefully we can someday do it up as God and Europe intended. But, in the meanwhile, there’s brunch. With cookies.

I signed on to host the post-wedding brunch, so that we could have one more leisurely opportunity to all spend time together (and because I have a compulsion to foist food upon people, and an inability to conceive of people paying big money for brunch when we can pull it off ourselves). With thanks to friends and partners and neighbors (and obsessive google doc planning), brunch triumphed. We were expecting 50 people, so decided to forgo the insanity of serving hot food. Instead we picked up some bagels and lox, and laid out onions and capers and dill and a rainbow of sliced tomatoes. There were drippy-sweet nectarines, and a bowl of yellow cherries with some sprigs of mint tucked here and there. But I couldn't let it go without some home-baked contribution. So before I left, I baked up some rugelach.

I love love love rugelach, all flaky and rich, swirled around apricot jam and walnuts and cinnamon. But since I was making 100+, I wanted a bit of variety. Loosely inspired by the amazing cookbook Cookie Love, I decided to fill half of my favorite family dough recipe with a new filling — raspberry jam, pistachios, and rosewater sugar.

The combination is just lovely. There's a bit of tang from the raspberry, with the aromatic notes of rosewater (and rose petals, because I had some so why not), wrapped in that familiar rich dough. I froze them and toted a cooler on a plane, then just took them out of the freezer an hour or so before things got going. Guests noshed and talked, and stretched out the love-fest out for a few more leisurely living room/backyard hours.

Raspberry Rose Rugelach
yields 64 small cookies

3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoon sugar
1/2 pound (two sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-sized cubes
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons rosewater
a few dried rosebuds (optional)
scant 2 cups raspberry jam
1 cup chopped pistachios

egg wash of 1 egg beaten with a splash of water

The day before you want to bake, make the rose sugar. In a food processor (you can just use a bowl if you're skipping the rose petals), mix together the sugar and rosewater. Add the rose petals, if using, and blitz until combined. Leave out, uncovered (or partially covered, depending upon your bug situation) overnight, until dry.

At least an hour before you want to bake, make the dough: In a bowl or a food processor, mix together the flour, salt and sugar until combined. Add the butter, and pulse in the food processor or cut with a pastry cutter (or two knives) until it is reduced to bits that are about half the size of a pea. If using a food processor, dump the contents into a bowl at this point. Stir the vanilla into the sour cream. Using a spoon, and then your hands when needed, knead the sour cream and vanilla into the flour mixture until it is well incorporated, and the dough holds together when you squeeze it. Stop as soon as this is possible — do not over-mix. Shape the dough into four chubby disks, cover with plastic and allow to relax in the refrigerator for at least one hour (overnight is fine too).

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line two cookie sheets with parchment or liners (very important, as the molten jam tends to solder them to a pan).

Take a disk of dough out of the refrigerator, and place on a floured countertop or pastry mat. Roll out to a 12" circle, trimming off the ends if needed. This dough is much softer than a traditional pastry crust, so you shouldn't need to let it warm up before rolling. Spread 1/4 of the jam over the round of dough, and sprinkle with 1/4 of the nuts, and a few tablespoons of the rose sugar. Taking a chef's knife or pizza cutter, divide the dough evenly into 16 wedges. Starting from the wide base of each wedge, roll towards the center to form a crescent. Place on your prepared baking sheets, making sure that the tip of the crescent is pinned underneath to prevent the cookie from unrolling.

Take your egg wash, and, using a pastry brush, gently give the cookies a nice slather. Sprinkle generously with the rose sugar. Transfer to the oven, and bake until the filling is bubbling and the crust is just beginning to color, about 30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool, being careful of the hot jam. Repeat with remaining dough and filling. Best enjoyed the day they are made (any leftovers are best kept in the freezer).

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Minted Lima Bean Dip

I have been preparing dozens and dozens of cookies for a friend's wedding (more on that later), which is a project that requires freezer space. And my freezer.... well, it does not have space. Instead, it has four-year-old coconut flakes. And bags of frostbitten vegetable trimmings I once intended to turn into stock. And... well... is that tomato paste? Chipotles in adobo? A curry base from that cookbook I checked out the library a few years ago? C'mere, take a sniff and tell me what you think. No? Fair enough.

So yeah, it's a bit of a(n overcrowded) state. To clear some room, I purged some of the more ancient and unidentifiable items. And then I set about trying to take some of the miscellaneous remainders out of the deep freeze, and into something edible.

I have absolutely no idea why I bought frozen baby lima beans. Were they on sale? Did I have some plan? Maybe some Persian recipe? Literally no idea. This bag expired a year ago, so the initial motivation is now lost to the ages. And yes, I probably should have thrown them in the compost — but I am just this kind of devil-may-care thrifty danger-skirter.

I briefly flirted with a Greek-inspired bake, pairing the beans with feta and dill and heaps of garlic. But it's a bit too hot to bake these days. So instead, I went for a dip (which, as bonus, could also involve several of the odd bags of baguette slices and bread heels also loitering around the freezer). I simmered the beans, and then tossed them in the food processor along with a few sprigs of mint (thanks, neighbors' garden!), some garlic and lemon, and a handful of spinach (not necessarily, but I always love me some greens). The result is simple, green, and fresh-tasting — and given its frost-bitten origins, that's quite a feat.

Minted Lima Bean Dip
yields ~2 cups

1 bag frozen baby lima beans (10 ounces)
1 handful spinach
a few sprigs fresh mint
1 large garlic clove, roughly chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
glug olive oil
salt and pepper

Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil. Add the lima beans, and simmer until tender, ~15 minutes. Drain.

Throw the softened beans in the food processor, along with all of the other ingredients. Process, scraping down as needed, until a rough puree forms. Taste to adjust seasonings, and serve.

Friday, May 22, 2015


I know, I know. I don't call, I don't write. Well, it's because I've been working on a Russian cookbook!

Given the glacial pace of publishing, you'll sadly have to wait until 2017 for your own copy. But in the meanwhile, I'll be working with Kachka on the delicious recipes and stories of Russian cuisine. And stopping in to tell you about non-herring-related items along the way. Did you know that there hasn't been a Russian cookbook from a major press in 25 years? Let's change that.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Pizza with Cilantro Pesto, Roasted Broccoli, and Red Onion

I have been making (and eating) a lot of pizza. It tends to be a Friday night ritual, a sabbath of sorts, when you want to mark the end of the week but not leave the house, and linger over something delicious. It's a ritual I may love even more than challah, with a similar religious fervor. But, at the same time, it can get a little boring.

When you have pizza every week, there are a lot of benefits. There's the ritual of it all, the removal of the daily crap-what's-for-dinner scramble, and the fact that you (mostly) remember to set up dough the night before. Also, you get good at it. You learn how much yeast, which oven rack works best, what proportion of whole wheat flour you can get away with. But when you make pizza regularly, you also start to hunger for a bit of variation. Yes, I still love a classic red pie, with a pile of thinly-sliced mushrooms and a few green olives (and a good shake of the addictive pizza pizazz spice mix that came along with a tin of cookies in my Christmas package from a dear friend). And lately, I've been back on my seasonal spate of asparagus pies. But with pizza after pizza, I sometimes want to mix it up. Sometimes this does not go so well (okra curry pizza, I'm looking at you). But this pie was pretty great.

I don't know why, but this worked. Cilantro pesto is bright and bracing, and roasted broccoli has got that fusty caramelization. Add red onion (and, of course, lots of cheese), and it's surprisingly successful — a welcome little bit of variation within the comfortingly delicious ritual.

Pizza with Cilantro Pesto, Roasted Broccoli, and Red Onion

Pesto (enough for multiple pies):
1 bunch cilantro, washed and dried
1 garlic clove, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon mild vinegar, such as rice or cider
2-4 tablespoons olive oil

2-3 broccoli crowns (I tend to make a lot, as I end up eating a good amount of broccoli off the pan)
olive oil
1 ball of dough, ~10 ounces
1/4 - 1/3 pound mozarella, shredded
1/4 a small red onion, thinly sliced

To make the pesto: Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor, and blitz until a loose paste forms (you may need to scrape things down a few times until it gets going). Add more olive oil as/if needed, then add salt and additional vinegar to taste. Set aside.

Preheat your oven to 425° Fahrenheit. Place a pizza stone on the bottom to heat up, and a rack in the middle for your broccoli.

Break or cut the broccoli into bite-sized florets, and toss with olive oil. Place on a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, and bake until beginning to soften/caramelize (it'll bake more on the pizza, so don't go nuts). Remove, and let cool somewhat. Turn the oven temperature up to 475.

To assemble the pizza:  Place the pizza dough on a lightly-floured counter top, and press outward into a thick disk (leaving a 1" unpressed area along the edge as the crust). Pick up the disk and let it drape over the backs of your hands, letting gravity help you stretch it into a 12-14" circle. If the dough resists, let it relax for a few minutes (covered), then try again. Place the stretched dough on a peel (or overturned cookie sheet or cutting board) that's lightly dusted with semolina or other type of flour.

Spread a generous portion of the pesto over the dough, up to within an inch of the crust (refrigerate any leftover pesto for another use, such as pasta). Sprinkle on the cheese, then scatter the roasted broccoli and red onions. Slide the pizza onto the preheated stone in your oven, reduce the heat to 450, and bake ~7-10 minutes, until the crust browns and the cheese melts and everything looks delicious. Remove the pizza from the oven, let cool for a moment, then slice and serve.