Mario Batali’s Chilled Tomato and Bread Soup

July 4, 2014

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This recipe is ideal for when it is brutally hot and you just don’t feel like cooking. It is so easy: just puree canned (or fresh) tomatoes with day-old bread, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Swirl in a little olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and scallions and you are done. The complex taste belies the simplicity of the preparation–no one will know you didn’t slave over this.

Don’t expect this to be like gazpacho, which I find to be too spicy and raw onion-ey. This is subtle and mild. The fresh basil absolutely makes this dish, so don’t leave it out.

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Parshat Balak: Ma Tovu Ohalecha, Yaakov

July 4, 2014

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“Mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov, mishkenotecha, Yisrael!” (How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel!)

The bright spot these past few weeks has been the display of achdut (unity). In this week’s parsha, there appears Bilaam’s famous words about the tents of Yaacov, the dwelling places of Israel.

Why was it that Bilaam was forced to praise the Jewish people in this manner instead of cursing them as he intended? Rashi says that it was because he saw that the openings of the tents did not face each other. This indicated that Bnei Yisroel did wish to look into each others tents. This in turn reflected a sense of unity without jealousy and with respect for individuality and privacy.

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Wordless Wednesday: #BringBackOurBoys

June 25, 2014

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Leora has already written about this. This is one of numerous trees in the community that are bedecked with yellow ribbons as a show of solidarity and as an expression of support for  Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel. Yellow ribbons are being sold to raise money for the various funds to support the soldiers looking for the missing teens (such as this). The yellow ribbons from this campaign didn’t fit around this mighty oak, so I had to make do with a large yellow plastic tablecloth, cut into strips.

As Mrs. S says, may we soon be privileged to enjoy besurot tovot, yeshu’ot v’nechamot (good tidings, salvation and consolation).

Maple Tamari Tofu

June 9, 2014

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The problem with most tofu that I get in restaurants is that  the sauce just sits on the surface of  thick pieces that are flavorless on the inside.

Here is my tricks for getting  flavor all the way into the center of the tofu:

(1) Put salt and pepper on the tofu while it drains. The seasoning works its way into the tofu. The longer the tofu absorbs the seasonings, the more flavor on the inside of the tofu;

(2) Cook the tofu a long time before adding the sauce to drive off excess moisture and make the inside of the tofu a bit spongy; and

(2) Add water to the sauce. If you dilute the sauce, the sauce will soak into the tofu. After it soaks in, then you can boil down the remaining sauce into a thick glaze.

The following maple soy sauce has become my new go-to glaze for tempeh and tofu.

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Banana Cake with Chocolate Glaze

June 6, 2014

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My mother called to tell me she made an amazing banana cake–the best ever!–she wanted to thank me for helping her convert the recipe from a margarine/butter-based recipe to an oil-based recipe. Instead of replacing the butter with oil in a one to one ratio, I told her to add slightly less oil than butter and make up the difference in volume with a little water.

Why? Because most butter is only about 81 percent butterfat (somewhere between 80 and 86 percent). The rest is water and milkfat solids. So 3/4 cup margarine is approximately equal to 10 Tbl. oil and 2 Tbl. water.

She also made a few of her own tweaks to the recipe–a little less sugar, a pinch more flour–and the result was a moist, but not greasy or heavy cake. My mom was thrilled: “Usually my banana cakes fall in the center or are heavy, but this cake was perfect!”

I was inspired to make the cake, too. My blender was on the counter, so I used that to mix up the batter. I decided to gild the lily by making a chocolate glaze with melted chocolate chips and coconut oil. The glaze tastes a bit like Magic Shell or the coating on ice cream bars. The flavor combination of cake and glaze is reminiscent of chocolate covered frozen bananas.

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Cookbook Review: Dairy Made Easy & “180 Cal (or Less!) Cheesecake” Ramekins

May 26, 2014

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Disclosure: Artscroll provided me with a copy of this book to review. Opinions are my own.

Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek have released another book in their “made easy” series in time for Shavuoth. Like the earlier books in this series, Dairy Made Easy is a slim book, very attractively designed. The target audience for this book seems to be cooks who already have plenty of comprehensive, basic cookbooks and are looking to freshen up their dairy menus with recipes that are creative but not too much of a patchke.

The recipes in Dairy Made Easy are clearly explained and reasonably do-able for most cooks.  While most of them look fairly easy to make, not all of them are dead simple. Recipes that sound delicious but a little involved: Arancini (deep-fried cheese-stuffed rice balls), chocolate croissants, and cheese buns/babka.

This being a dairy cookbook, the recipes feature lots of butter, cream and cheese. Most don’t have over-the-top amounts, but some do. The Three Cheese Quiche has a pint of sour cream and almost two sticks of butter in the crust and over 2 1/2 lbs. of cheese in the filling. The Cajun Creamy Pasta, the Penne a la Vodka, the Pesto Cream Sauce and the Alfredo sauce all use about a pint of heavy cream.

The authors do include a “Make it Light” page that lists the lighter recipes in the book and provides tips for lightening up some of the richer recipes. A sidebar explains how to use Greek yogurt as a substitute for higher fat ingredients like cream cheese or sour cream. (Throughout the book, the authors suggest using a particular brand of Greek yogurt and another brand of hard cheese.) There is also a “Make it Pareve” page.

Another thing to bear in mind: the book emphasizes pasta and bread, not whole grains and legumes. The main dishes in this book are primarily divided between the chapters “Pizza,” “Pasta,” and “Soups, Salads & Sandwiches.”  There are ten pasta dishes, five pizza/calzone recipes and four sandwich recipes. Besides these bread or pasta main dishes, there is one fish recipe, one quiche recipe and one frittata recipe.

All that being said, the bottom line with any cookbook is whether or not the recipes are appealing and actually work. On this count, the authors definitely deliver. I have liked everything that I have made from this book and there are a number of other recipes I want to try. Here is what I have already made from this book:

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Cold Brewed Coffee

May 23, 2014

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I don’t know why it took me so long to try cold brewed coffee. It is easy to make, convenient to have on hand in the refrigerator and the taste is superior to regular brewed (less bitter). I started with a recipe from Dairy Made Easy (review of book to follow), but I then looked online for other recipes and tips on making this.

Here is the basic idea: mix coffee grounds with water, steep for 12 hours and then strain out the coffee grounds. It is kind of like sun tea.

The one thing that annoyed me about cold brewing was the mess of straining out the coffee from the water. I was taking out my coffee pot, putting a filter in it and then straining the coffee through that filter. It took more time than I would like and was messy.

Looking online, I saw that some people deal with this by using a nut milk bag to hold the grounds (kind of like a giant tea bag). You just pull out the bag with the grounds inside and discard the grounds. No filtering! You do have to clean the nut milk bag.

Here is my solution: fill a paper coffee filter with coffee grounds, staple the filter closed so that the grounds can’t escape and then brew. When the coffee is done steeping, just pull your homemade coffee pod out of the water and toss it.

I have played around a bit with how much coffee and water I use. I find that the most that the coffee filter can hold (and still be easy to staple closed) is between 6-8 tablespoons ( 1.5 to 2 ounces). I add 3 cups of water to this, but if you like your coffee stronger, you can add less (about 2 1/4 cups).

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Neapolitan Cannelloni (Manicotti)

May 19, 2014

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This is how I explained Neapolitan Cannelloni (also known as manicotti) to my son: “Imagine blintzes, but filled with a lasagna cheese filling and topped with tomato sauce and melted cheese. My son pondered this for a while and then said, “Okay, that sounds good.”

It is good. It tastes like lasagna, but with a more delicate texture because crepes (or, as they are called in Italian, “crespelle”) replace the usual pasta.

If you want to make this recipe gluten-free, you can use a crepe recipe based on potato starch instead of flour. I have made this on Passover with Passover crepes with huge success.

If you are already making blintzes for Shavuoth, make extra crepes. Once you have the crepes made, this recipes is a complete snap to make (especially if you use bottled tomato sauce instead of homemade marinara).

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Note: If you google manicotti and cannelloni, you will see that there is some confusion as to the difference between the two dishes.  Some say the two are interchangeable, some say that the difference is that cannelloni have a bechamel sauce instead of marinara on top, and some say that cannelloni are properly made with pasta sheets while manicotti are made with crepes.

My recipe is based on two similar recipes, both from Italians, one of whom calls the dish cannelloni and one of whom calls the dish manicotti. I went with cannelloni because I made Delma Kelechava’s recipe first (before adding some changes from Stephanie Rhode’s recipe), and Delma calls this cannelloni.

What do the experts say? Well, Lucinda Scala Quinn has a recipe for cannelloni that is similar to this recipe. Mario Batali has a cannelloni recipe that is pasta sheets rolled with cheese filling and topped with bechamel and marinara. Lidia Bastianich has a cannelloni recipe that is stuffed pasta topped with bechamel and a manicotti recipe that is crepes filled with cheese and topped with marinara.

So, it is probably more accurate to call this manicotti (maybe), but since most people associate manicotti with pasta tubes, I still prefer cannelloni.

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Cheese Blintzes

May 19, 2014

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Blintzes are not really all that hard to make. A blintz is just a thin pancake (crepe or bletlach) wrapped around a filling and then sauteed in butter until golden brown on the outside.

There are two aspects that intimidate people: (1) making the crepe and (2) wrapping the crepe around the filling.

Mostly, making crepes is a matter of practice and adjusting your standards. You are rolling the crepes up, so they do not need to look perfect. A tear here or there can usually be worked around. As you make the crepes, you will improve your technique, figuring out how much batter you need for your pan and the best way to swirl the batter around to evenly coat the pan. You will fall into a rhythm, with each succeeding crepe looking nicer and being easier to make.

Rolling up blintzes is the same as rolling burritos. You put a line of filling on the bottom of the crepe, fold over the bottom of the  crepe to cover the filling, fold in the sides, and then roll it up.

 

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Cheater’s Tartine’s Country Bread

May 14, 2014

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The New York Times recently featured a simplified recipe for Chad Robertson’s sourdough bread (Tartine’s Country Bread) as well as a speedier version of Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread. Combining the two recipes, I came up with a yeast-based version of the Tartine bread that comes together in a few hours. The flavor is not the same, obviously, but it is very good, with a subtle sourdough flavor, a crackling crust and an open crumb.

The basic idea is that you substitute the sourdough starter with extra flour, water and a little yeast. The dough is given a stretch and fold every half hour for three hours as in the original recipe. The dough can then be shaped and given a 1 to 1 1/2 hour rise before baking (or you can refrigerate the dough overnight before or after shaping).

 

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