Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Imaginary Garden

gardenbksI do not have a garden, which is a problem as I am quite fond of food, especially that grown just outside one’s back door. Occasionally I stick a tomato plant or two in the ground; I usually get one tomato for the whole summer. I’m just not very good at taking care of my plants. Nor am I a habitué of farmers’ markets. Large markets are exciting and I will go to them when I have a chance; Jerusalem and Santa Monica come to mind. But small farmers’ markets, such as Ann Arbor’s, have too many over-priced vendors with mediocre goods. I am sure that there are some vendors who, although probably still over-priced, have excellent products; I’m just don’t know which ones they are, and almost every time I have gone to the Ann Arbor Farmers’ Market and come home with tomatoes, those tomatoes have been unimpressive. So for the most part, I buy my produce at grocery stores and imagine the garden that I might have some day. The two cookbooks of this post are garden cookbooks. The advantage of cooking from an imaginary garden is that at the beginning of April, the imaginary garden has almost all the produce that I want.

fftfSusie Middleton, the author of Fresh from the Farm: A Year of Recipes and Stories, has a farm (rented) and a farm stand on Martha’s Vineyard. This book is really two books in one: a cookbook, with most recipes highlighting some food sold at the farm stand, and a diary of Susie’s life as a farmer. The cookbook was great: everything I cooked was both easy and good (although nothing I tried was truly spectacular). The “story” part of the book I could take or leave, although I suspect that someone contemplating a move back to nature might find Susie’s story inspiring, even if not that useful.

radishsaladRadishes are not my favorite salad vegetable, but I found myself very much enjoying “May Day Radish and Parsley Salad with Lemon and Ginger” (page 50). I think the radishes that I used were particularly mild, as my salad did not taste radishy at all. The ginger is in the form of crystallized ginger, a product of which I approve, but with which I rarely know what to do. But now I do! The next time I get some Houston Pecan Company crystallized ginger, I’ll make this radish salad.

soupbbb“Colonel Mustard’s Not-So- Mysterious Greens, Sausage & Tortelloni Soup” (page 14) is a hearty soup full of good things. Susie really wants us to use mustard greens instead of some other type of greens, so I followed her advice and was glad I did. There are several good vegetarian fake sausages out there, and with a good vegetarian fake chicken broth, this soup is just fine for us animal-lovers.

quesI suspect that “Swiss Chard and Caramelized Onions Quesadillas with Pepper Jack Cheese” (page 57) would have been better with flour tortillas; I also suspect that broiling instead of cooking on the stovetop would have been preferable, as my quesadillas were too greasy. But, other than the grease, these were a healthy alternative to my standard quesadilla: salsa, cheese, and avocado. The filling here was a nice soft chard and onion filling; I used cheddar instead of pepper jack. These made a very satisfactory mid-week supper.

turnipsmushTurnips are a vegetable that I have spent most of my life avoiding, for no good reason. True, their reputation is not the best, as they are often regarded as fit only for livestock. But they have their own mild sweet rooty taste. “Honey-Roasted Baby Turnips with Cremini Mushrooms” (page 208) is a recipe that brings out the best in turnips. I did not even use baby turnips, although I tried to get the smallest ones that I could find. The title of this recipe says it all: turnips and brown mushrooms are tossed with a dressing of olive oil, honey, and balsamic vinegar, and some rosemary sprigs and (once again) chopped crystallized ginger. Stick it in a hot oven until the turnips are soft. This is a dish that could create many new turnip lovers. [Go to the recipe.]

gbeensSusie not only tells us what to do with less popular vegetables such as mustard greens and turnips, but she has suggestions for more popular vegetables, such as green beans, perhaps the most common vegetable of all. “Spicy Stir-Fried Green Beans” (page 118) was a nice vegetable dish; if green beans were a vegetable with which I was unfamiliar, I would have absolutely loved this recipe. As it is, though, this recipe gives a fine treatment for green beans, but nothing special. This is an Asian style recipe, with soy sauce, chili paste, ginger, and garlic. I used the thin green beans, which I like much more than the thick ones.

quichelettes“Mini Spinach and Shallot Puff Quiches” (page 9) were a delightful snack food, even if a bit caloric. To make these, you line mini muffin tins with squares of puff pastry. Into each shell goes a cooked spinach shallot mix, blue (or goat, or even blue goat) cheese, then a quiche egg and cream binder. Pop in the oven and cook until done! Very easy and very tasty; the only problem is that these are not the best the next day; the pastry crust gets too flabby.

bTodd Porter and Diane Cu, authors of Bountiful: Recipes Inspired by Our Garden have one of best food blogs ever. It is wonderfully easy to navigate, has a great layout, good photos, and lots of vegetable friendly recipes. On top of that, the blog personae of Todd and Diane are quite likable. Their book is attractive but expensive with more white space than I would like. I also found the book, unlike the blog, strangely bland. But make no mistake: I recommend this book highly because of the recipes. As with Fresh from the Farm, the book is full of good vegetable recipes and enticing dessert recipes. There are many recipes here for me still to explore.

fakechickenWhole Foods Market has recently started carrying a very nice fake chicken product, so with fake chicken, I can now try chicken salad recipes. “Jicama Chicken Salad with Mustard Dressing” (page 157), my first try making chicken salad with fake chicken, was relatively successful. The “chicken” is cooked with onions and a little bit of ginger and soy sauce. The dressing is mayonnaise and mustard. I was out of mayonnaise and did not want to go to the store. On searching my refrigerator, I found some salad cream (used for Jeremy’s kipper and egg salad). The problem was solved: fake mayonnaise seemed to be the ideal dressing for fake chicken. The fake chicken and fake mayonnaise are mixed with jicama, celery, cashews, and scallions. All in all, this was a very good fake salad. (At least I did not use fake cashews.)

cuccucIt’s hard to go wrong with a simple cucumber salad, and it’s hard to go wrong with any recipe having miso as an ingredient. Thus “Miso-Sesame Cucumber Salad” (page 204) seemed like it would be a winner, as indeed it was. This salad could not have been simpler: it consists of thinly sliced cucumber and red onion with a dressing of miso, grapeseed (or some other mild) oil spiked with sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and a taste of sugar. This is healthy and exciting, all in one.

lemonpastaMy photograph of “Lemon and Cream Spaghetti” (page 247) looks very boring, but the spaghetti did not taste boring. The recipe calls for spaghetti; I used angel hair pasta, because that was what I had, and because I think that a delicate sauce goes with a delicate pasta. The sauce had olive oil, white wine, cream, lemon zest and juice, and Parmesan, and was subtle but assertive, I ended up grating black pepper over the pasta, which I think improved the dish; it certainly would have improved the picture, but by then I had put the camera away. Todd and Diane credit Jennifer Perillo for introducing them to this dish. [Go to the recipe.]

hotcauliRoasted cauliflower is a good vegetable dish; add some sriracha and it begins to approach great. Todd and Diane add not only sriracha, but a little soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil to their “Spicy Roasted Cauliflower with Sriracha and Sesame” (page 118). This is an easy vegetable side dish, and good enough that it is possible to nibble almost all of it before it even makes it to the table. Todd and Diane use their homemade sriracha. I just used the rooster brand bottled stuff. Their homemade sriracha has fish sauce as an ingredient; the rooster brand is strictly vegetarian.


Roasted Turnips and Mushrooms

Adapted from Susie Middleton,  Fresh from the Farm

1 pound small turnips
½ pound mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped crystalized ginger
3 large rosemary sprigs

Preheat the oven to 400º. Wash and trim the turnips (peel if they need it) and cut into bite sized chunks. Ditto for the mushrooms. Mix together the oil, honey, and vinegar, add to the turnips and mushrooms, and toss to coat. Add the ginger and rosemary sprigs. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread out the vegetables in one layer. Roast until the turnips are soft, about 30 minutes.


Lemon Pasta

Adapted from Todd Porter and Diane Cu,  Bountiful

6 ounces thin pasta (e.g., angel hair)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cream
½ cup white wine
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water. While the pasta cooks, combine and heat the olive oil, cream, and wine. When the pasta is done, drain and return to the pan. Add the wine sauce, then add the lemon zest and juice and the cheese; stir until the cheese is distributed and melted. Add salt if you think it is needed. Grate lots of pepper on each serving for those who like pepper as much as I do.

The Passover Desserts, from Parve to Very Dairy

The best advice that I ever received for Passover cooking was just to always cook the same stuff. There’s enough to do without getting involved in elaborate menu planning. Plus, part of the pleasure of this holiday is to see and experience and taste the same things, year after year after year. There is a very comfortable feeling, the illusion that all is right with the world, to see the familiar Passover dishes brought up from the basement, to see the same faces, albeit a year older, around the seder table, to eat gefilte fish and matzoh brei. Although certainly, every year is is good to invite a few new people to the seder, or to introduce a new recipe to the line-up. Still, the key concept is tradition, both the several thousand years of Jewish tradition, and one’s own family traditions.

Thus my seder menu has not changed significantly in the last ten years. The desserts, specifically, are always the same, and are each, I believe, the best possible versions. Since we have a strictly dairy kitchen, our seders are vegetarian (with fish), and so we get to eat dairy desserts! Here, then, are my Passover desserts. We begin with meringues, one of the few truly parve yet truly good desserts, go on to brownies and bicotti type cookies, both of which could be parve with (shudder) margarine, but which I make with butter, and end with a chocolate torte (which just maybe could be margarinized) and end with cheesecake. As a postscript, I’ll add my haroset recipe, which is nice and sticky and good enough to be a dessert. The haroset is, of course, totally parve, bringing us back to where we started.

pmeringI have already discussed meringues in this blog, but since meringues are the quintessential Pesach dessert, I do not mind repeating myself. Meringues are one of the few desserts that are naturally chametz free, and even parve, without the need of any noxious butter substitutions. I see meringues at grocery stores, sold in circular plastic containers, but the hordes of consumers who think that these meringues are what meringues should be are woefully wrong. The main problem is the texture. The shell should be delicately crisp, the insides fluffy but not chewy. The taste should be an uncompromising stingy sugar taste; my personal preference is for no other flavor except a touch of vanilla, although I will acknowledge the legitimacy of other opinions here. I offered a meringue recipe many posts ago, but now offer a revised version, scaled to however many egg whites you have on hand, and with the lower oven temperature that I have come to prefer. [Go to the recipe.]

pbrowniesBrownies are next on the dessert lineup. My recipe is from Ruth W z”l, who attributed the recipe to her father, a baker. These brownies are very cakey, more like a chocolate cake than the fudgy brownies I usually prefer, but during Pesach my food preferences are turned upside down, and these are the brownies on which I cannot resist nibbling whenever I wander into the kitchen. I believe that Ruth made them with margarine, but I use butter; if you need parve, go back to margarine. The recipe is scaled for a 12 ounce bag of chocolate chips, a size that is no longer available, having been down sized to 10 or even 9 ounces. My innovation on this recipe is to use two bags of chocolate chips, measuring out the 12 ounces to melt with the butter, then just dumping the remainder of the second bag of chips into the batter, and so studding the brownies with chocolate chips. [Go to the recipe.]

pbiscFor my biscotti-mandelbrodt I must credit Susie Fishbein and her Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day, one of a cookbook series with which I have certain issues. Susie uses margarine, and, in case margarine is not bad enough, in a footnote suggests a margarine substitute (!): frozen cottonseed oil. This woman is determined to kill her readers, not the best marketing plan. With butter, though, these cookies are very good. I also depart from Susie’s recipe by using ground almonds instead of potato starch (a substitution born of necessity when I realized that I had no potato starch in my cabinet this year) and by adding a shot of vanilla. Despite using the name “biscotti”, Susie does not cook her cookies twice, although I do. [Go to the recipe.]

cotorteThe next two desserts are from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s masterpiece, The Cake Bible, although over the years a few modifications have infiltrated my versions. Rose’s “Chocolate Oblivion Torte” is simply a pound of chocolate, a half pound of butter, and six eggs. We were all blown away the first time this dessert, made by Alan, appeared on our seder table (remember: we get dairy desserts!). Nevertheless, I though that I could improve it, so when Pesach was over, I got out some better quality chocolate, good vanilla and a little rum, and a powerful mixer (instead of the wimpy Pesach mixer I use), and tried to make a better version. But strangely, the Pesach version, with the not so great Pesach chocolate, the underwhipped eggs, and no other flavors except perhaps the underwhelming Pesach vanilla, had been so much better. So now I do not even attempt this recipe during the rest of the year. Just in case the cake is not rich enough, I like it topped with whipped cream. [Go to the recipe.]

cheesecakepI have tried lots of cheesecake varieties, but the family favorite, the one that everyone requests when I ask what kind of cheesecake to make, is plain cheesecake; the cheesecake that has evolved from Rose’s Cake Bible recipe. This cheesecake has no crust, appropriate for the season, and has only the simplest flavors: a little bit of lemon juice and some vanilla. I use less sour cream that Rose, mainly because I just like to open a container and dump it in instead of measuring ingredients, and less lemon juice, because again, I prefer not to measure, and I also prefer a more subtle lemon accent in the cake itself. Where I like my lemon is in a lemon curd topping, which admittedly turns plain cheesecake into lemon cheesecake, but it’s my kitchen, I can cook what I want to. [Go to the recipe.]

photo (8)This was the first year that only one type of haroset appeared on our table; in the past I have felt obligated to make the standard walnut-raisin-apple-cinnamon-Manischewitz wine concoction, which is really rather terrible. A few people will take some for the sake of tradition, but no one in our house will touch the stuff after the seders. The haroset that I like is based on a hamantaschen filling from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America. It’s prune based, it’s healthy, and it’s good enough to eat any time. Plus, it’s quite mortar-like. [Go to the recipe.]


Meringues for Passover

Multiply by the number of egg whites you are using:
1 egg white
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla

White or cider vinegar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 225°-250°. Line a baking sheet (or baking sheets; 3 or 4 egg whites make meringues to fit on one baking sheet) with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until foamy; continue beating as you gradually add the sugar. You may add a drop or two of vinegar; this supposedly works to stabilize the egg whites. When the egg whites and sugar are beaten to the stage of stiff peaks, beat in the vanilla. Spoon or scoop the meringues onto the baking sheets. Bake for about one hour. The meringues are done when they can be peeled off the parchment paper easily.


Passover Brownies

2 10-ounce bags of chocolate chips
½ pound butter (or, if you must, margarine)
8 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2½ cups sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 cups matzoh cake meal

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9-inch by 13-inch pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Melt 12 ounces of the chocolate and the butter together over boiling water or directly over very low heat. It is fine to guesstimate the amount of chocolate. Cool slightly. Beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla, and salt together. Add the cooled butter and chocolate mixture. Stir in the cake meal and the rest of the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until done (a knife inserted slightly off center should emerge batter-free, with only some melted chocolate chip on it), about 30 to 40 minutes. I have found it to be a little tricky to get the baking time right on these, as the window  of time during which they are just right is small. It helps to use a metal, not a glass, pan. Cool in the pan, then cut into squares.


Passover Biscotti

½ pound butter (or margarine, if you must), softened.
2 cups sugar
6 eggs
2¾ cup matzoh cake meal
¾ cup ground almonds
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 10-ounce bag chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Beat together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth and fluffy. Mix in the cake meal, ground almonds, and salt. The mix in the walnuts and chocolate chips.

Form two logs on the baking sheet. The dough will be rather soft. I dump globs of dough on the baking sheet in two lines, then, with wet hands, mold into logs. Bake until the logs are firm to the touch, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and slice with a sharp knife, Separate the cookies, and lower the oven temperature to 300º, and stick back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so.

Chocolate Torte

1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
½ pound butter
6 eggs
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 425°. Butter a 7-inch diameter springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil. Have some boiling water ready, as well as a larger pan into which the springform pan can fit.

Over hot, not boiling water, melt the chocolate and butter together. You can also try to do this over very low heat. While the chocolate is melting, beat the eggs together. The thicker the eggs end up, the better, but my Passover mixer is not very powerful, so my eggs are never very thick. Add the vanilla to the eggs.

Mix the chocolate and butter into the eggs. Do this in stages, first adding a little of the chocolate butter mixture, thoroughly incorporating, then some more, then all of it.

Pour the batter into the springform pan, place the springform pan in the larger pan, and pour one inch of the boiling water into the larger pan. Bake for 5 minutes, cover with buttered foil, and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes. The torte will be soft but not liquid in the center when done. Cool on a rack, then refrigerate.


Lemon Cheesecake

3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
Juice from ½ lemon
1½ teaspoons vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
1 pound sour cream

Lemon Curd:
4 egg yolks
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened
Pinch of salt
Zest of 2 lemons, grated

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch diameter springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and butter the paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with aluminum foil. Have some boiling water ready, as well as a larger pan into which the springform pan can fit.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar together. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Finally, add the sour cream.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan in the larger pan, and add one inch of boiling water to the larger pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Turn off the oven, and leave the cheesecake in the oven for one more hour. Remove to a rack and cool in the pan.

While the cheesecake is cooking, make the lemon curd. Beat together the egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice. Put in a small heavy pan and add the butter and salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly. Once the mixture thickens, but before it boils, strain into a bowl, and add the lemon zest. (If you are not sure when to remove from heat, you can just wait until the very first bubbles appear, then remove from heat and strain.) Refrigerate.

Once the cake and curd have cooled, spread the curd over the top of the cake. Refrigerate overnight.


Prune Haroset

1½ cups pitted prunes
¾ cup raisins
½ cup water
½ cup walnuts
1 apple, with peel and without core
Juice and zest from 1 lemon

Combine the prunes, raisins, and water in a small pan, and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, until the fruits have softened and the water is almost all gone. Process the fruit with the rest of the ingredients until you have the desired texture.