Purim Bananagrams

March 3, 2015

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I decided to turn my recent obsession with banana cake into a mishloach manot theme. I was playing Bananagrams with my kids when the idea hit me: Purim Bananagrams!

Components of Bananagrams mishloach manot: alphabet cookie squares (these cookies look like Bananagrams tiles), banana cake, a banana, a banana-strawberry juice box, and candy made from Rice Crispies, chocolate and banana chips. The note with the mishloach manot has a drawing of Bananagrams tiles spelling out a Purim message. I have recreated that message in tiles in the picture above. I have also used Hebrew tiles to spell out Purim words and a message.

One more thing: I made a cake for the seuda (a chocolate cake with chocolate glaze) and I used the alphabet cookie squares to write Happy Purim on it. (I have to say, alphabet cookie squares are a really handy way of writing a message on a cake. This is a good thing to keep in mind next time you have to write happy birthday on a cake and don’t feel like using a piping bag.)

Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread

February 17, 2015

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This banana bread is especially good. It is moist, with an intense banana flavor and with a more subtle undercurrent of caramel from the dark brown sugar. Add big chunks of chocolate to make this loaf cake absolutely irresistible.

Instead of making it in a large loaf pan, you can make it in little loaf pans (6″x4″). If you have five extra-ripe bananas lying around, you can make a big batch of batter and get 9 mini loaves. If you can find the 4.25″ square foil cups, you can make  12-13 mini square cakes.

These freeze well and make nice gifts.

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Spinach and Chickpea Curry

January 7, 2015

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My sister gave me a stash of cooking magazine to look through and this recipe popped out at me. It is the sort of brilliant recipe that is dead simple and super quick to make, but tastes as complex as a time-consuming complicated recipe.

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Homemade Crescent Rolls (dairy free)

January 6, 2015

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I recently served these crescent rolls at a special birthday party. Each person had on their salad plate a crescent roll and a salad inside an edible salad bowl.

Crescent rolls are, all at once, elegant and cozily homey. They look difficult to make, but are actually pretty easy to do. If you want to make them ahead of time, they freeze beautifully.

Crescent rolls are usually made with butter, but I keep my rolls dairy-free by using oil. You can use a neutral tasting oil (like safflower oil) or an extra-virgin olive oil.

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Easy Latkes

December 21, 2014

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Okay, so, like the cookies previously posted, these are really easier latkes. Easy latkes are the kind someone else makes. As long as you are doing more than just reheating, latkes are never really easy. But, this recipe comes close.

Here is the short-cut: refrigerated hash brown potatoes, which are cooked and shredded potatoes. To make the latke batter, just add eggs, flour, salt and pepper. The potatoes won’t change color because they are pre-cooked (and also treated with preservatives), so you don’t have to worry about your latkes turning grey-ish.

You can oven-fry them (that is really easy), but truthfully, they taste best fried.

I got the idea from Rachael Ray a few years ago, but never got around to trying it until this year.

Here is another thing on my to-try list: these oven baked latkes with add-ins like broccoli-cheddar, sweet potato-scallion, lemon-herb, and smoked paprika-red bell pepper. You will note that the recipe calls them mini-hash browns, but I say laktes.

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Chag Sameach! (Easy Chanukah Cookies)

December 21, 2014

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“We are lucky to be living in an age where we have products that our grandparents never even dreamed of, probably because they had priorities . . . So nowadays you can buy a package of cookie cutters that comes with a menorah shape, a dreidel shape, a Magen David, a shield, and a Maccabee. At least  we think it’s a Maccabee. We’re not sure what the Maccabees looked like, but they probably looked like gingerbread men.” –“Chanukah Gelt,” Mordechai Schmutter, Inyan Magazine, Hamodia, December 17, 2014.

Yes, the Maccabees in the Chanukah cookie cutter set are basically just gingerbread men–that is until you decorate them. My daughter added tzitzit and kippot, which at least makes them obviously Jewish gingerbread men.

Easy is probably not the right word for these cookies. You still have to make a dough, roll it out, cut out shapes, bake the cookies and then decorate them.

I really mean easier Chanukah cookies. The dough is oil-based, which means you can just stir everything together instead of getting out the mixer to cream the butter and sugar together. That is easier.

The hard way to decorate cookies is with lots of different colors of royal icing in lots of different piping bags. The easier way is dipping the cookies in icing, letting the icing dry and then drawing on details with food coloring markers.

So, easier, not easy, but still . . .

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Interview with the Authors of Secret Restaurant Recipes (plus recipe for Eggplant Tofu)

December 2, 2014

Secret Restaurant Recipes Cover - HI RES.jpgDisclosure: Artscroll supplied me with a review copy of Secret Restaurant Recipes and gave me access to the authors for an interview. Opinions expressed are my own.

The recently released Secret Restaurant Recipes is an especially attractive cookbook: large 9”x9” format, nicely designed layout and lots of photos of beautifully plated food. Add to this the intriguing theme of recipes “from the World’s Top Kosher Restaurants,” and you have my full attention.

Authors Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek spent a year getting recipes from popular kosher restaurants and then testing them and adapting them for the home cook. In the book, they reveal that “not everyone believed that we’d be able to complete a book like this, and our publisher agreed that if we could, it would be a great accomplishment.”

I asked Victoria and Leah how the challenge of creating this cookbook compared to their work on their earlier cookbooks. Leah explained that the “most difficult part was getting the chefs to give over the recipes. When we wrote our own cookbooks, we could easily go into the kitchen and create a dish. Here, we had to wait to get each recipe. Once it finally came in, we had to test it. If it didn’t test well, we’d have to get back in touch with the chef to perfect it. We couldn’t just make changes on our own, because it had to be authentic.” “Believe it or not,” added Victoria, “tracking down and testing other people’s recipes is way, way more time-consuming that simply writing our own in our kitchens.”

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Vegetable Miso Soup for Gil

November 17, 2014

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This month’s Kosher Connection recipe link-up is dedicated to cookbook author and food historian Rabbi Gil Marks. To honor him, we are offering up our best “get well” recipes, along with our heartfelt wishes for him to have a refuah shelaimah.

Every kosher food blogger is indebted to Gil for pioneering in kosher food journalism. Before we were all blogging, before there was a Joy of Kosher Magazine, there was The Kosher Gourmet Magazine. Gil was way ahead of his time with this magazine, which he launched in the late eighties. (As you can see from the above photo, I still have back issues of the magazine. I regularly make the cranberry applesauce from the Cheshavan-Kislev 5748 issue. I highly recommend this recipe for Thanksgiving or Chanukah.)

In the late nineties, Gil began publishing a series of cookbooks: The World of Jewish Cooking, The World of Jewish Entertaining and The World of Jewish Desserts. His next collection of traditional Ashkenazi and Sephardic recipes had a twist: all the recipes were vegetarian. This inventive book, Olive Trees and Honey, won a James Beard award.

Gil’s books are characterized not only by a tremendous curiosity about global Jewish cuisine, but also by a scholarliness about the origin of recipes. His most recent book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, is a fascinating read. I treasure my copies of his books for their fascinating information and practical recipes. His book on entertaining has very valuable advice for planning large gatherings (see the chapter, “Guide for the Perplexed Host”).

I had the privilege to take a class with Gil in the late nineties and found him to be a charming as well as knowledgeable teacher.

Back in 2010, when Gil had just released his Encyclopedia, I sent him  a query about a Ukrainian cookie called Kosicky or Koshyky. He was very nice about it. He promptly e-mailed me back, telling me that he hadn’t heard of the cookie, and that he asked his Ukrainian contacts, and was not able to get the recipe from them, either. Rather than give me nothing, he sent a recipe for a Ukranian butter cookie called Kolachka, and gave some sage advice about prying the recipe from my friend’s mother. So kind!

For this linkup, I am offering a quick and easy recipe for vegetable miso soup along with my wishes for Gil to have a speedy recovery.

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Acorn Squash Stuffed with Applesauce and Raisins

September 21, 2014

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This is so easy, you don’t really need a recipe, just an explanation. To make this, cut acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill the cavities with applesauce and raisins and sprinkle over some cinnamon. If you like, you can drizzle over some honey. Roast the acorn squash until tender. Done.

This is most charming when made with really tiny acorn squash, so that each person gets a half acorn squash.

This goes perfectly with string beans and rice pilaf.

Other simanin recipes:
Fish: Sesame Salmon (Norene Gilletz)

Leeks: Leek Fritters (Poopa Dweck)

Beets: Golden Beets (Marion Burros, but leave out the vinegar and add a little honey and a cup of mandarin orange segments)

Black-eyed peas:  this salad (I added a little minced ginger, which was nice) or this recipe

Spinach/Dates:  Spinach and Date Salad (leave out the nuts)

Swiss Chard/Squash: Swiss Chard and Zucchini
(other Swiss Chard recipes include Morshan   and Swiss Chard Chips)

Carrots: Tzimmes or Roasted Butternut Squash and Carrots or Einat Admony’s Carrot Salad (instead of following the directions for cooking the carrots, microwave them and then toss them while still warm with the spices, one minced clove garlic, the olive oil and a big squoosh of ketchup instead of the vinegar and tomato paste).

Zatilas (Kurdish Grilled Stuffed Flat Breads)

August 18, 2014

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Have you ever heard of zatila? It is a grilled stuffed flatbread that is also known as kadeh (Take a look at this post and also this post on the Jewish Food Experience; also look in the comments to this post by Sarah Melamed and also look at this other post by her as well). It is easy to make, delicious and lends itself to endless variations. Even better, leftovers can be packed for lunch.

Two years ago, Shopmiami49 posted a recipe from her mother-in-law for “these Kurdish ‘pastries’” on Imamother.com. The recipe has remained popular on that site, with users continuing to post new ideas for fillings.

The idea is this: make a simple bread dough, roll it out thin, fill it with whatever you like, fold it and seal it like a calzone and then grill it on both sides in a hot skillet until the bread is cooked and the filling is heated through. It is best straight from the pan, but it is also good reheated. At least one Imamother poster says zatilas are “great to take to work for lunch the next day.”

The recipe reminds me of gozleme, which is a stuffed Turkish flatbread. According to Ghillie Basan, author of Classic Turkish Cookery, gozleme can be made by (1) cooking the dough as a flatbread and then folding the bread around the filling, or (2) by folding the dough around the filling and then cooking it. Gozleme are filled with (1) spinach and cheese, (2) potato and cheese, (3) roasted eggplant and cheese, or (4) ground beef. I think that these fillings would work with zatilas, too.

Imamother posters have, in fact, tried similar fillings with their zatilas. Most fillings are some variation on (1) sauce and cheese, (2) vegetables and cheese or (3) a hard cheese combined with a soft cheese like feta, cream cheese, sour cream or cottage cheese with or without vegetables. Other options: tuna melt zatilas or (for a fleishig version) ground beef cooked in tomato sauce.

Bonus: After making the Imamother.com recipe for zatila, I found a recipe by Leah Hadad on the Jewish Food Experience.  She got the recipe, fascinatingly enough, from Ariel Sabar, the author of My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search for His Family’s Past.  Sabar’s father was from Zakho, an ancient Jewish Kurdish town in Northern Iraq. Sabar sent Hadad his grandmother’s recipe for kadeh.

The recipe makes a similar amount of dough to the imamother.com recipe and, similarly,  gets divided into 16 pieces. Each piece is rolled into a 5″ circle and is filled with a mixture of feta and gouda (about half an ounce of each per kadeh). Instead of being shaped into a half moon, the dough in wrapped around the filling and then pressed back down into a 5″-6″ circle (kind of like some versions of Georgian Khachapuri).

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