Chillin’ With Vanillin: How to Beat the High Cost of Vanilla

Posted on 12 September 2018 | No responses

If you can believe headlines these days, vanilla is nearly as expensive as silver. A cyclone in Madagascar last year put vanilla bean on the “endangered spices” list. Maybe we should now include vanilla extract in our homeowners’ policies.

But all is not lost. For those of us who swirl spoonfuls into our yogurt and pour it into our baking, there’s no need to cut back. It’s “vanillin,” the active flavor ingredient in vanilla, that we really love. “Vanilla extract” has other chemicals, too, but they have negligible taste and degrade when heated. We’re in it for the vanillin. And we can get it in “imitation vanilla.”

But why, Mr. Science, should we settle for “imitation”?

First, imitation vanilla has oodles more vanillin that vanilla extract does. In taste tests, imitation vanilla ties or wins against the fanciest stuff. For uncooked dishes, where the booziness of vanilla extract can make a difference, just add a touch of vodka and nobody will be the wiser.

Second, it doesn’t matter where vanillin comes from. Whether it’s produced in a manufacturing plant or inside a vanilla bean, all vanillin is identical: C8H8O3. Food historian Sarah Lohman puts it well when she writes that “atoms don’t remember their history—the synthesized vanillin has no relation to its source.”

So what’s all this fuss about vanillin? It’s more than a flavor; it’s a flavor enhancer. It makes chocolate more chocolatey and just about any sweet more luscious. I’ve long suspected that it’s a happy drug, and recently I found proof. A study in mice shows that simply sniffing vanillin relieves depression by boosting dopamine. (As my neuroscientist daughter says, it’s a great time to be a lab mouse.)

My husband grew up next door to the Baker’s Extract Company bottling plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. You’d think the family would get sick of the sweet aroma. But no, like the lab mice, they got a kick from the free-floating mood enhancer. His sister Chris would even pull herself up to the factory’s window ledges in order to get the strongest hit.

So save for college tuitions or retirement and choose imitation vanilla, preferably containing super-potent ethyl vanillin. Double or triple it in your recipes. I guarantee everyone will love it.

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Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake

Posted on 3 July 2018 | No responses

There was something about the loftiness, the berriness, and the sugary crustiness of Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins that hooked Boston in the 60s. Jordan Marsh (“Jahduns”) was Boston’s answer to Macy’s for more than 150 years, until Macy’s had the final answer and acquired it in 1996. It speaks to the power of a good snack that a sugar delivery system for tired shoppers has become a favorite memento of this late, great New England retailer.

The muffin’s originator, Jordan’s baker John Pupek, kept his recipe a professional secret. This triggered Muffin Mystery Mania, when home bakers and restaurants alike set out to recreate the oversized, overstuffed muffin. For decades, the media and the grapevine buzzed with recipes claiming to be the real thing. Every New England recipe box had at least one version. I have three different recipes, including one from my mother-in-law, all called “Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffins.”

While I never experienced the rapture that was an actual store muffin, my favorite copycat is this muffin cake. That’s because the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin is really a coffee cake masquerading as a muffin. Its soft, sweet, vanilla-y crumb and sugar topping move the needle away from muffin and into cake territory. (For an indisputable muffin, see Boston Brown Bread Muffins.)

This particular recipe for moist and sweet blueberry muffin cake goes back to my roommate days with Elinor Lipman, friend and best-selling novelist. It came from her mother Julia, the source of the amazing self-streuseling Cinnamon Tea Cake.

“She did make it often—it was her standard blueberry cake,” remembers Ellie, who grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts. “She got the recipe via Gus Saunders’s radio show where people called in recipes. It was called ‘Yankee Kitchen’ and she listened every day. My sister Debbie and I used to refer to him as ‘your boyfriend.’ She always made it in cake form, never muffins as I recall.”

Versatile blueberry muffin cake goes beyond breakfast or snacktime. Top it with whipped cream and raspberries for an excellent Fourth of July tribute to old Boston.

And if you haven’t heard, the Muffin Mystery has been solved. After the demise of Jordan Marsh, Pupek started his own bakery to continue selling the muffins. When he closed up shop and retired in 2016, he finally revealed his technique in a TV interview. To get this Boston Holy Grail, click here. There are no major revelations, though. The recipe they show matches just about verbatim the one the Boston Globe published on July 4, 1974, under the name “‘Marshy’ Muffins.” I’ve had that in my recipe box all along.

Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake (Saunders/Lipman Version)

  • 1 ½ cup sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup margarine or butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2)
  • 1 ½ cup blueberries, floured
  1. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together.
  2. Cream margarine or butter with sugar until fluffy. Add eggs; beat well. Add flour mix to cream mix alternately with milk, Mix extremely well. (The more you beat, the better.)
  3. Fold in vanilla and floured berries. Pour into well-greased 8” square pan or muffin tin.
  4. Sprinkle top with sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes. (I found 33 minutes on convection was enough.)
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Emergency Corn Biscuits

Posted on 20 June 2018 | No responses

Emergency Corn Biscuits lured me in with the wacky name, but they could just as well have been called Cornbread-Lovers’ Biscuits.

This recipe is out of the 1922 Good Housekeeping cookbook, from an era when American housewives apparently faced corn biscuit emergencies. I tried to imagine such predicaments:

“Honey, the Johnsons just brought over baked beans.”

Or: “The wrestling coach wants you to put on how many pounds, Jimmy?”

Or: “How long has this sack of cornmeal been in the pantry?”

But the emergency—and a serious one at that—was not in the American kitchen but abroad. This recipe came from World War I, when American households voluntarily conserved foods to help feed troops and save victims starving in Europe. Future president Herbert Hoover, head of the US food relief program, appealed to American patriotism and compassion with slogans like “Food Will Win the War.” If nutrient-rich calories were ammunition, the program made sure the US had the best-equipped infantry in the world. Americans who had enjoyed a bountiful food supply embraced campaigns like “Meatless Mondays” and “Wheatless Wednesdays,” changing the way they ate. Many of these changes, including Victory Gardens, have stuck with us.

Cutting back on milk, butter, eggs, sugar and other staples created challenges. And challenges promoted innovation. Good Housekeeping magazine paid at least $1 for this original recipe published in its “For War-Time Saving and Economy” column in February 1918.

Emergency Corn Biscuits prove that delicious biscuits don’t need milk, butter, or even much shortening—just some cornmeal for flavor. There’s a slight crunch as you bite in, and the tender crumb feels like a biscuit but tastes like a corn muffin.

And, like so many wartime recipes, this happens to be vegan.

These fun-sized biscuits encourage you to eat several at a sitting. Have them with butter, honey, or just plain. No emergency required.

Emergency Corn Biscuits

from Good Housekeeping Book Of Menus, Recipes and Household Discoveries (1922)  See the whole book on the Internet Archive.

  • 1 1/4 cupfuls bread flour
  • 3/4 cupful cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoonful sugar
  • 5 teaspoonfuls baking powder
  • 1 teaspoonful salt
  • 2 tablespoonfuls shortening
  • 1 cupful cold water

Mix and sift the dry ingredients. Mix in the shortening with two knives or the tips of the fingers. Add the cold water and mix well. Drop by spoonfuls into greased muffin pans or on a greased baking sheet one and one-half inches apart. (Note: I used baking sheets.) Bake twenty minutes in an oven which registers 450° F.   Trenton, NJ

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9-Minute Creamy Rice Pudding in the Pressure Cooker

Posted on 14 May 2018 | No responses

Luxurious rice pudding tastes divine and makes you feel good all over. But achieving a rich creaminess can be tricky. Baking can take hours, and the rice can even toughen. Thanks to the miraculous time-defying Pressure Cooker, this recipephany takes raw rice from zero to supreme creaminess in less than 15 minutes.

Evaporated milk (milk that’s been concentrated by cooking it down) adds thickness plus a hint of caramelization. This slight nuttiness joins hands with the vanilla and cinnamon (rice pudding is a great delivery system for both) to create ahhh-inspiring yumminess.

While you might think of rice pudding as the fluffy slippers of desserts, it has some hipness. When our son lived in New York City he took us to Rice to Riches, which looks like an ice-cream parlor on Mars. It serves up its 20 flavors in sleek, neon-colored plastic bowls with aerodynamic spoons that would feel at home in a Japanese pod house.

I wrote in “Apple Butter, Pressure-Cooker Fast” that the Pressure Cooker messes with our space-time continuum to cook, tenderize and boost flavors in less time than it takes me to check email. This recipephany has no nostalgia folded in, since I had my first taste of rice pudding from a can. But I’m serving it with a dollop of affection for my superhero, the Pressure Cooker. My mother-in-law Dick got me my first, and my sister-in-law Judy got me my most recent. With every bowl of turkey soup, Cuban black beans, or rice pudding I ladle out, I wonder how such flavorful dishes can materialize in no time from this mild-mannered kitchen marvel.

9-Minute Creamy Rice Pudding in the Pressure Cooker

Serves about 6.

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup long grain rice
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • Splash of cream (optional)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Handful of raisins
  • ½ cup evaporated milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste

Melt butter in pressure cooker, then stir in rice.  Let the grains get coated with the butter, stirring until they turn just a little white. Add milk, cream (optional), water, sugar, salt and raisins, stir, then cover, lock lid, and bring to pressure. Cook 9 minutes. Turn off stove and let pressure go down by itself. Remove lid, stir, and add evaporated milk, vanilla and cinnamon to taste and stir. It will thicken up more. Serve with a shake of more cinnamon and/or whipped cream.

Note: This is so fool-proof, it worked when I accidentally turned off the stove when the cooker reached pressure instead of just turning it down. When I went back to turn it off at 9 minutes, I found that fortunately the pressure had only gone down about a half. So I turned on the heat for about 30 seconds to bring the pressure back up, and then turned it off again. In a few minutes, the pressure had dropped completely, and the rice pudding was perfectly cooked.

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Hall-of-Achievement Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Posted on 23 April 2018 | No responses

What do architects know about cookies?

A lot, I’m sure, since these chocolate chip oatmeal cookies won Best-Tasting Cookie at an architectural firm where my husband once worked. I had baked them early in the morning so they were still warm when he entered them into the contest, slightly crisp on the outside yet chewy inside. I suspect this structure may have swayed the judges as much as the flavor dimension added by an extra splash of bright vanilla and glug of bittersweet molasses.

It was decades ago, but the construction-paper blue ribbon still hangs as a reminder in our Hall of Achievement. The award proudly holds its own in the swarm of diplomas, certificates and licenses that fill the wall of the corridor, representing family milestones going back generations.

This recipephany grew out of a recipe for refrigerator cookies I found in a Maypo cook booklet. I used to love Maypo hot cereal and the mapleness of these cookies. But Maypo was a sugar splurge, so it eventually disappeared from our shelves and these cookies.

I substituted quick oats for the instant Maypo, fiddling around with proportions to get the right chew. As always, I replaced brown sugar with molasses and white sugar (that’s all brown sugar is, anyway), and doubled the vanilla. I also skipped the refrigerator steps and dropped the dough right onto the trays for instant gratification.

Bakers say the key to chewy cookies is underbaking. But how can you call it “underbaking” if the result is perfection? Yes, cookies should come out of the oven when they look a little underdone—golden around the edges and still a little puffy and moist in the center. But they will continue to cook on the rack, and when cooled there will be nothing underbaked about them.

These are gooiest and chewiest the day they’re made, and they crisp up as days pass. If you want to keep them fresh and chewy, freeze them, and then simply defrost and serve. They’ll still be award-winning delicious.

P.S. For a softer oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, you should try Jimmy Bruic’s Banana Vegan Cookies.

Hall-of-Achievement Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

Makes about 36

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon soda
  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups quick oats
  • ½ cup chopped nuts, optional
  • 6-12 ounces chocolate chips or chunks

Preheat oven to 375°.

  1. Cream shortening, sugar and molasses together. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well.
  2. Add flour, salt and soda and mix. Stir in oats. Add chips and nuts, if using.
  3. Using a tablespoon cookie scoop, drop onto parchment-lined trays. Flatten slightly.
  4. Bake about 10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned and the center is still a bit puffy and moist. Slide parchment paper onto racks and let cool a few minutes before serving. Store in an airtight container for a few days or freeze to preserve chewiness.
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No-Knead Portuguese Sweet Bread (Mazza Savada)

Posted on 20 March 2018 | No responses

Portuguese Sweet Bread shows up at Easter with dyed eggs poking out the top. Frankly, I think it looks better without them. The mahogany crust and soft, eggy interior make a luxurious slice, turning toast or sandwiches into a special occasion.

With this easy no-knead recipephany, you can make this splendid bread on a whim. Just stir ingredients into a shaggy dough and let it sit overnight. Next day, form it into a ball, let it rise in the pan, and bake. That makes the hardest part remembering to start the night before.

While my mom didn’t bake bread, she set aside this recipe for me back in the 90s. She found it in a freebie Rhode Island magazine consisting of local ads and amateur journalism. Buried in the back was this gem of a recipe that sounded like it came straight from the old country via Little Rhody.

This recipe makes loaves that remind me of the ones my dad brought home from his favorite Portuguese bakery in East Providence. You could find sweet bread around nearly every corner because Rhode Island had, and still has, the largest percentage of residents of Portuguese ancestry of any state in the country.

Portuguese sailors and fisherman gravitated to the enormous coastline of the smallest state. They also favored Massachusetts, which has the highest number of Portuguese Americans of any state, and Hawaii, where Portuguese sweet bread became “Hawaiian bread.”

Even though it makes me all sappy about Rhode Island, this recipe may have come from Massachusetts. Thanks to its misspelling of the Portuguese word for “dough” (it should be “massa,” not “mazza”), I traced this recipe to the 1954 edition of Vineyard Fare, a fundraising cookbook compiled by the ladies of Martha’s Vineyard Hospital Auxiliary.

So it could have been handed down to grandma on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, then spread like a family cold through Rhode Island and the rest of New England. It even found its way into Yankee Magazine a few years ago, although editors felt compelled to add in unnecessary kneading.

The original Mazza Savada recipe reads as if grandma dictated it while rushing out the door. Our Recipephany version fills in a little more detail to help assure happy breadbaking.

Enjoy making this simple yet elegant bread. Just remember to start last night.*

*Okay, you want to make it now? Or later today? Mix up the dough and let it rise about 2 hours, or until it slightly collapses or flattens. Then put it in the fridge until you’re ready to make it—from a couple hours to a couple of days. Just allow a little more rising time in the pans.

Mazza Savada, Portuguese Sweet Bread

Makes two loaves

  • 1 1/4 cup milk, hot
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract
  • ½ teaspoon powdered mace
  • Glaze: 1 egg lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water
  1. In a large bowl, stir sugar, shortening and salt into hot milk until dissolved. Cool to lukewarm.
  2. Add 1 cup of flour and rest of ingredients except the egg glaze. Stir until smooth. (I like using a wooden spoon or dough whisk.) Add rest of the flour, a cup at a time, and mix. Dough should be spongy, stretchy and a little sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. (Or, let rise 2 hours or until dough slightly collapses or flattens. Then refrigerate until you want to bake it, from 2 hours to three days.)
  3. Next day (or when you take it out of the refrigerator), deflate the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and divide in half. Using extra flour as needed, form each half into a ball by stretching the top of the dough and tucking in the bottom with your fingers. This makes the top smooth and taut, essential for a good rise.
  4. Place each ball into a greased 8”x 1 1/2” layer cake pan. Press down on dough so it reaches the sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap lightly dusted with flour so it won’t stick to the dough.
  5. Let rise until double, about 1 to 2 hours. (Refrigerated dough will take longer.) Dough should rise about an inch above the pan rim, and be light and a little springy.
  6. Optional: Run a knife along the pan rim to slash the dough ¼ inch deep around the circumference. This helps keep the top of the bread from breaking as it springs up in the oven.
  7. Brush with egg glaze. Bake at 350 degrees about 35-45 minutes. Cool before slicing.
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Picadillo Tacos

Posted on 16 January 2018 | No responses

First, don’t confuse “picadillo” with “peccadillo,” although I often slip into that malapropism. While picadillo-filled tacos are not the least bit sinful, they can give you the same guilty pleasure as nachos for dinner. They fall into that category of slightly messy finger foods that go well with the football playoffs.

A quick-cooking alternative to chili, this Cuban-style mélange packs a sweet and tangy punch. It starts with a tomatoey sofrito of aromatics and peppers, then adds a Mediterranean accent with raisins, capers and chopped olives.

I first made picadillo from a Boston Globe recipe in 2001. I amped up the flavors and seasonings, figuring the “pica” stands for “picante.” When I finally had the chance to order authentic picadillo at a popular restaurant in Puerto Rico, I was surprised to find it shockingly bland. So apparently it can be whatever you want it to be. Dial up or down the heat and spices as you desire. We use a mild sahuaro pepper from our garden, but you can choose something stronger. Or just shake in good old dependable Tabasco and call it a day.

Picadillo usually gets dished onto beans and rice, but I prefer to stir the beans into it instead. They add body and mellowness, and probably could substitute for the meat altogether in a vegetarian version.

Skip the rice and spoon picadillo into soft corn tortillas slightly charred over a stove-top burner. Top with jack cheese or sour cream, and garnish with cilantro, avocado, or whatever you like. Serve warm in the glow of your favorite sports channel.

Picadillo Tacos

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 pound ground beef or turkey
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • ½ red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeded and chopped. (Choose according to desired heat. You can use a mild pepper like sahuaro, or a jalepeno, or splash in Tabasco sauce to taste.)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground paprika (can use some smoked)
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar (to taste)
  • Two tablespoons of vermouth
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ cup stuffed green olives, sliced
  • ¼ cup raisins
  • 1 16-ounce can red or black beans
  • ¼ cup capers
  • Corn tortillas
  • Garnish: Monterey Jack cheese, shredded; sour cream or whole milk yogurt; cilantro leaves, chopped
  1. In a large skilled, heat the oil and add the meat. Stir constantly to break it up.
  2. Add the onion, celery, bell peppers, chili pepper or hot sauce, oregano, cumin, paprika, garlic, tomato paste, vinegar, vermouth and salt. Stir thoroughly.
  3. Cook the mixture, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the olives, raisins, beans and capers. Lower the heat and let the mixture cook for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water as needed to keep from sticking. Adjust seasonings to taste, spoon onto warm corn tortillas, and garnish as desired.
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Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

Posted on 15 December 2017 | No responses

At the risk of sounding like a midnight infomercial, here is the best spanakopita you’ll ever eat. It’s oniony-sweet, cheesy, and the herbs melt into the spinach to deepen the flavor. I have yet to find a restaurant version that can beat this.

We usually see spanakopita as either an appetizer or a main dish. But with today’s “mezze mania,” you can bake up a batch, freeze it, then reheat a few triangles to go along with hummus, a few diamonds of kibbee, or whatnot to turn a meal into a party.

I like to bake from scratch, but draw the line at filo. Other than my friend Wendy, who once made it as a class assignment, nobody makes their own filo, just like nobody makes their own toothpicks. Some things are best left to machines.

Spanakopita (Greek Spinach Pie)

  • 4 tablespoons butter for sautéing
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 6 scallions, sliced
  • 1 large bunch flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill weed, or about ½ bunch fresh dill, chopped
  • 3 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, defrosted
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 3/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 pound whole-milk small-curd cottage cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 pound melted butter for brushing
  • 1 pound package of frozen filo dough sheets, thawed

Makes two 9×13 pans. Each pan serves about 4 as a main dish, and about 8 as a side dish, appetizer or mezze.

  1. Sauté the onions in butter for 3 minutes, then add scallions and parsley and continue to sauté until onions are soft, about 2 more minutes. Squeeze the water out of the spinach, then add spinach, parsley, dill, salt and pepper to the pan. Sauté for about a minute. Turn off heat and stir in crumbled feta and cottage cheese. Beat eggs until frothy and stir in.
  2. Butter two 9”x13” baking pans. To form the base layer, brush melted butter on about 10-12 sheets of filo per pan. If some sheets are torn or crinkled, it’s okay, just patch them together. Divide filling evenly between the pans, spreading over the base layer. Form the top layer by stacking 12-14 sheets of buttered filo over the filling in each pan. Score through the top filo layers, cutting the shape you wish to use for serving (can be rectangles, diamonds or whatever).
  3. Bake at 350º F for about 45 minutes.
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Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Posted on 24 November 2017 | 2 responses

Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Oh, those French bakers. They take great pains (no pun intended) to make slender baguettes with thick, shatteringly crisp crusts. And yet, as if to thumb their noses at the whole artisan baking thing, they also crank out rectangular sandwich loaves with virtually no crusts at all.

Pain de mie (“bread of crumb”) is the anti-baguette. A baguette takes days to make and goes stale after three hours. Pain de mie takes about three hours to make and stays fresh for days. (Julia Child said it tastes even better after a day or two.)

Enriched with milk, pain de mie delights with a fine, light crumb and holds its shape even when sliced thin for sandwiches. But as good as it tastes, and as tender as it is through-and-through, the real fun lies in its angularity. You’ll cut perfectly square slices and perfectly cubed cubes. It makes adorable toast and French toast, and ideal grilled cheese.

The right angles come courtesy of the Pullman loaf pan, once a specialty item that’s now easy to find online. Its lid keeps the dough from crowning as it bakes. For my first loaf, I half expected the dough to balloon up and ooze out all over the oven, à la Lucy. But the dough accepted its confinement, and the top cameSmall Pain de Mie out perfectly flat, as advertised.

Yes, it’s “Pullman,” as in Pullman railway cars. Although these crustless loaves originated in 18th Century Europe, they became popular in America when the Pullman Company baked them in their small on-board kitchens. Three of these stackable loaves could squeeze in where only two round-top breads would fit.

My 101-year-old mother recalls the fine dining on family train trips in the 1920s and 30s. She would peer into those compact Pullman kitchens—careful not to get underfoot—as chefs quickly prepared elegant meals to order, despite the tight quarters.

So get on board and try this simple recipe for classic, first-class sandwich bread.

Note: Most recipes call for the traditional 13” x 4” x 4” lidded Pullman loaf pan. This recipephany uses the smaller, more convenient 9” x 4” x 4” pan.

Pain de Mie, or Pullman Loaf

Adapted from King Arthur Flour’s “A Smaller Pain de Mie” Recipe

Equipment: 9” x 4” x 4” Pullman loaf pan (from King Arthur Flour or from USA Pan Bakeware), lightly greased inside the pan and the lid

  • 7/8 cup to 1 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 heaping tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or soft butter
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • ½ cup bread flour
  • 2 ¾ cups cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder

1. Put all ingredients in a large bowl in the order listed and mix. Knead by hand or with a stand mixer to make a smooth, elastic dough. Add a little extra water if needed to get it stretchy.

2. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let rise for 1 to 2 hours, depending upon how warm the room is. It should become light and puffy, but may not quite double in size.

3. Gently deflate dough, and flatten into about a 9” square on a lightly floured surface. Roll up tightly into a cylinder, and pinch the seams to seal. Place seam-side down in the greased pullman pan, flattening again, and push edges into the corners.

4. Slide the greased lid over the pan, leaving about an inch open at the end so you can see how high the dough rises. Lightly cover the opening with plastic wrap.

5. Preheat oven to 350°F during the rise. Watch to see when the dough rises within about 1/2″ of the lip of the pan, which should take about an hour. Close the lid, and let rise another 10 minutes, allowing the dough to reach the lid.

6. Bake 25 minutes, then remove the lid and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until golden brown. The loaf will pull away from the edges of the pan, and its internal temperature should read 195-200°F when done.

7. Turn out the bread from the pan onto a rack to cool before slicing.

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One Bowl Apple Cake

Posted on 26 October 2017 | 2 responses

If you’ve got two apples and some baking basics, you can make this jewel of an apple cake without even having to take out your mixer.

Luxuriously moist and studded with soft apple chunks, this lightly spiced one-bowl wonder is as at home after a dinner party as it is at breakfast or snacktime.

This cake’s versatility stems from its Jewish heritage. It purposely contains no dairy, so those who keep kosher can enjoy it any time, with meat or dairy meals.

This recipephany comes from my earliest baking bible (Old Testament version), From Manna to Mousse. Born in 1969 as a plastic-spined fundraising cookbook produced by the Sisterhood of Congregation Beth El in New London, Connecticut, it became a nationally distributed Dell paperback in 1972. It contains family favorites covering all Jewish cookery, not just baking, and it’s even got a rabbi’s blessing.

The book’s heirloom recipes are short, easy to follow, and reliable, thanks to rigorous kitchen-testing by the compulsive and close-knit Sisterhood. The chief editor, Mrs. Donald Daren, wrote that on testing days, “Diets were discarded with abandon, for who could not justify the fact that the chocolate whipped cream mousse just had to be tested along with the twenty-nine other delectable concoctions served that same afternoon!” The editors were dogged in their quest to capture authenticity. “Some of the traditional dishes were measured out while a balabusta cooked them. We stayed her hand over the pot so that exact quantities could be recorded,” she wrote.

My college pal, Elinor Lipman, shared this cookbook when we roomed together after graduation. We both loved its recipes, and it soon became my baking security blanket. So when it came time to divide up our stuff and move on, I literally wrestled it away from her. I remember that moment with a combination of guilt and gratitude that seems curiously appropriate with a Jewish cookbook.

So thank you, Ellie, for the book, and thank you, Mrs. Harry Kaplan, for this recipephany.

And thank you, Robin Henschel, the acclaimed potter who created this astonishing cake stand. It makes every cake look—and I think taste—better.

One Bowl Apple Cake
Adapted from From Manna to Mousse
Contributed by Mrs. Harry Kaplan

  • 2 cups diced apples
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • I egg, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (Not in the original recipe. But I can’t resist adding vanilla.)
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • I teaspoon baking powder
  • I teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raisins

Grease an 8 x 8 x 1 ½-inch square pan or an 8 x 2-inch high round pan. For easy cake removal, line with greased wax paper.

Combine diced apples and sugar in a large bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Using a spoon, mix oil, egg and vanilla into apple mixture. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in raisins. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool, remove from pan and peel off wax paper.

Optional: Dust with confectioner’s sugar just before serving.

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Zucchini Quiche

Posted on 5 October 2017 | No responses

Zucchini is to quiche as eggplant is to parmigiana. There is no higher calling for this elongated green summer squash than to be sautéed with onions, splashed with wine, tossed with herbs, then married with cheese and eggs into this savory pie.

Not really a quiche, this recipephany has more of an Italian than French accent. A layer of toasted breadcrumbs replaces the pastry crust. Herbs you’d shake into a red sauce awaken the sweetness in the zucchini. And a secret ingredient—ginger—blends in so mysteriously that I dare you to pick it out of the crowd.

The source of this recipephany is probably a long-gone culinary magazine. I play around with quantities, so please go ahead and adjust to your taste. While mushrooms can add some delightful umami, I usually don’t bother. You can use traditional Swiss, and it’s also fun to blend in cheddar, provolone or whatever you like from your cheese drawer.

This makes two modest pie-plate sized quiches, one to eat right away and one to freeze and enjoy later—like a treat from Trader Joe’s. If you want to make one large quiche instead, increase baking time by about 10 minutes.

This is a far cry from Julia Child’s TV quiche. So I prefer to quote another favorite TV figure, Frasier Crane, who asks his dinner guests, “Quiche Lorraine, anyone?” and gets the classic response, “Quiche her? But I hardly know her!”

Zucchini Quiche
Makes 2 quiches. Each serves 4. Freezes well.

  • About 4 medium zucchini
  • 2 large onions or leeks, or a combination
  • ¼ pound mushrooms (optional)
  • 6 scallions (not necessary if you use leeks)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry or vermouth
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 ½ cups grated Swiss or a full-fat cheese blend of your choice (provolone, cheddar, etc.)
  • About ½ cup toasted bread crumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 325°. Chop vegetables, press or slice garlic, and sauté in butter over low heat until just limp. Do not overcook.
  2. Add sherry or vermouth and seasonings, remove from heat, and let cool a few minutes.
  3. Beat eggs in a large bowl, add cheese(s), and stir in vegetables.
  4. Butter two 8- or 9-inch pie plates and coat bottoms and sides with breadcrumbs. Pour in vegetable mixture. Sprinkle with some breadcrumbs and dot with butter. Bake 30-40 minutes until set and light brown. Cool 10 minutes before serving.
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Dick’s Brilliant Blueberry Bundt Coffee Cake

Posted on 9 September 2017 | 2 responses

My mother-in-law Dick was our very own “America’s Test Kitchen” well before Christopher Kimball. She was always experimenting, and couldn’t contain her enthusiasm over a new find.

She called one day bubbling over with excitement. She told me about this light, fluffy blueberry coffee cake. She would mail me the recipe, and she just knew I’d like it.

I’d heard she’d been looking for a blueberry coffee cake. Perhaps it was because her signature coffee cake (see Dick’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake) was chock full of nuts, which many people avoid. Or maybe it was just blueberry season.

I’d had a favorite blueberry cake, but this replaced it in no time. All too often, blueberry cakes can get a little gummy and dense from the blueberry juice. Surprisingly, this cake has a light, airy crumb. I suspect the secret is sprinkling in the berries as a filling rather than folding them throughout the batter.

A filling. Hmmm. Sort of like the cinnamon/nut/raisin filling in her signature coffee cake. In fact, exactly like that cake. I just compared the batters, and they are virtually identical. Only the fillings differ. After all these years, how had I missed that? How brilliant! I wonder if that’s why Dick knew I’d like it.

Her cinnamon coffee cake, as perfect as it is, works as a bundt only when you serve it fluted-side-down to keep the topping on top. But this one makes a lovely bundt, and dresses up well with just a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Now, about bundt pans…do I hear you grumbling about bundt pans? I’m with you. Half the time—and I can never predict which half—my cake will get stuck and break apart into clumps. Sometimes I can repair it with some glaze and the help of my husband’s 3-D puzzle solving skills. Even a fragile cake can survive removal from a normal pan, especially one lined with wax or parchment paper. Not so with all those ornamental corners and curves. I guess with beauty comes temperament.

I’ve gone through several bundt pans over the years, and my last nonstick heavyweight failed me after only one cake. So I just switched to the one that Cook’s Illustrated rates best: Nordic Ware Anniversary Bundt Pan. I greased and floured the heck out of it and the cake slid out like a dream. I hope I’ve finally found a pan brilliant enough for Dick’s brilliant blueberry bundt coffee cake.

Note: Thank you, Leah Greenwald, for introducing me to Baker’s Joy. It really works. Otherwise, I found the best way to grease and flour the pan is to use Julia Child’s method. Mix 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter with 1 tablespoon flour. Brush it onto the inside of the pan, making sure to get every nook and cranny. This is necessary even with a nonstick pan.

Dick’s Blueberry Bundt Coffee Cake

  • ½ cup margarine or butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 8 ounces sour cream (or whole milk yogurt)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I double to 2 teaspoons)
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Powdered sugar for top
    Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease and flour a bundt pan.
  2. Cream butter or margarine, add 1 cup sugar and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat. Combine dry ingredients and add until blended. Still in sour cream (or yogurt) and vanilla. Pour ½ of the batter into the prepared bundt pan, sprinkle with blueberries and filling, then top with remaining batter.
  3. Bake 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan 20 minutes or longer, pray that it doesn’t stick to the pan, remove cake and sprinkle with powdered sugar.
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Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

Posted on 19 July 2017 | No responses

Here’s the ultimate baked goods makeover, or shall we say, “bakeover.” In almost fairy-tale style, this recipephany transforms neglected, over-the-hill bread into a deep, dark, restaurant-worthy chocolate dessert.

Expect big flavors—cocoa, dark chocolate, a glug of rum, coffee, cinnamon, scads of vanilla, a drizzle of molasses, and chopped pecans—blended into a sweet base of eggs, milk and a little cream. Oh, and I almost forgot—stale bread.

While any kind of bread will do, including a rustic loaf or rich challah, I prefer Claire’s Honey Whole Wheat. I wouldn’t use it with regular bread pudding, where you need a crunchier or richer bread to dominate. But in this case, where chocolate takes center stage, it melts into the custard, deepening the color and flavor. Despite its wholesome image, whole wheat loves to party with chocolate. Who knew?

This is as easy as pie—no, easier. Just mix and pour into the prepared dish. No need to precook or melt anything, or to use that hot water bath called for when baking custard. Feel free to mess around with proportions to suit your taste, and I bet you can even add in goodies like dried cranberries or cherries.

It may be called pudding, but it won’t wobble or jiggle as you’d expect. It glistens on top with a sugary glaze, and wants to be cut like brownies rather than scooped. But it’s better than brownies in the summer. It stays cool and fresh in the fridge. I dressed mine up with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and (sigh) the last of our summer raspberries.

So save those odd pieces of whole wheat bread (preferably in the freezer) and give them a grand, chocolatey, Cinderella ending.

Double Chocolate Bread Pudding

  • 8 cups of bread cut into rough 1-inch cubes (do not pack), preferably whole wheat
  • 1 ½ cups milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ cup rum
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee crystals
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • ¼ cup cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 eggs
  • 2/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 325° F.
  2. Place bread cubes in a greased 8×12-inch baking dish.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, cream, rum and instant coffee.
  4. In another bowl, combine sugar, molasses and cocoa. Add to the milk mixture and whisk together.
  5. In the bowl you just emptied, lightly beat the eggs. Add vanilla and cinnamon, then add that to the milk mixture and whisk until smooth.
  6. Stir in the chocolate chips and chopped pecans. Pour evenly over the bread, stir around, then let it stand for about 20 minutes or until the bread has absorbed most of the liquid. Bake about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled, plain or with whipped cream and berries.
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Two Sisters’ Snickerdoodles

Posted on 29 June 2017 | 2 responses

Soft, puffy, and slightly crinkly, these classics deliver sugar ‘n’ spice all year ’round, not just at Christmas.

But there’s no escaping that bit of Yuletide in this snickerdoodle. It is one of the irresistible treats my sister-in-law Chris heaps upon her splendid Christmas cookie tray.

And Chris got this recipe from “Sister Santa Claus.”

It goes back to Chris’s sophomore Home Economics class at Cathedral High School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Many of the nuns who taught her had a male name along with a female one—such as Sister Mary Timothy. So I took her literally when she mentioned Sister Santa Claus.

“It wasn’t her real name, but we called her that because she looked just like him,” says Chris. “Little wisps of white hair coming out from under her veil, the stray white whisker, rosy nose and cheeks, and the little round bifocals. She was also round.”

Says Chris, “We mostly made recipes ripped out of Good Housekeeping or off the back of the oatmeal box, or using cans of condensed soup. Nothing was original and we didn’t learn any real techniques.”

This simplicity might explain why this recipe lacks the ingredient many bakers insist puts the snicker in the doodle: cream of tartar. But frankly, you don’t need it. I did a comparison in my humble “test kitchen” and found that snickerdoodles without cream of tartar had better texture and were softer, higher, and tastier than those with it.

Chris remembers that not all Sister Santa Claus’s recipes were winners. “We were required to eat what we cooked. So on Home Ec days we wore old-styled uniforms that had huge pockets in the blazer. That way we could wrap up the most awful stuff, slip it into our pockets and get rid of it after the bell.”

Sister Santa Claus wasn’t jolly. “Once I for flipped a dish towel over my shoulder. She yelled at me, ‘This is NOT some greasy spoon!’” says Chris.

But Chris learned other lessons that will stick with her forever.

“She taught us the proper way to write out a recipe card. To this day I do it the way she taught us. Time, temperature and yield in the upper right-hand corner. Ingredients by step on the left, directions on the right. She also taught me to read the whole recipe through first, then take out all the ingredients, and put away each one after I use it. Smart, and when I don’t follow this…well, let’s just say mistakes can happen.”

So here it is, just as Chris copied it down in class, with a couple of notes. Just watch how you handle your dish towel. “Thank you, Sister.”

Two Sisters’ Snickerdoodles

Temperature: 400 degrees
Time: 8-10 minutes
Yield: 6 dozen (+/-)

Cream:

  • 1 cup margarine (Chris often substitutes butter and Crisco)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • (I sneaked in a teaspoon of vanilla because I can’t help myself.)

Mix dry ingredients and add to above:

  • 2 3/4 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix, shape into 1″ balls and roll in cinnamon/sugar mixture. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet. (I lined sheets with parchment paper.)

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Sally Birke’s Kreplach

Posted on 30 May 2017 | 2 responses

First, there was wonton soup. Then came tortellini in brodo. Now, thanks to Szifra Birke, I’ve found kreplach.

Years ago, Szifra produced the poignant documentary “Browsing Through Birke’s” (now out on DVD). It’s the story of her parents, Nathan and Sally, who emigrated from Poland and founded Birke’s clothing store, a Lowell, Massachusetts, institution.

This documentary had me laughing, blubbering, and feeling instant affection for these extraordinary people. Always looking to connect through food, I asked Szifra if her mother had a signature recipe. She wasted no time in sharing Sally’s prized kreplach and the deeper story behind it.

Born Sura Dymantsztajn in Lodz, Poland, Sally no doubt learned to make kreplach as a child, helping her mother roll, cut and fold the dough over the onion-sweetened meat filling.  And we can imagine her family around the Friday night table, blowing on the hot chicken soup before biting into the slick, plump dumplings.

Sally was 18 in 1939 when the German army marched into Poland. She and family friend Nathan Birke set off in search of her older brother who earlier had fled the Nazis. Knowing the danger of returning home, they sought refuge in Russia and married. In those gritty years, Sally worked in a Siberian coal mine and the couple suffered the loss of two infant children.

After the War, they returned to Lodz only to find that not one of their family members had survived. Nazi gas chambers or starvation had killed them all.

Sally and Nathan eventually landed in Lowell, started the iconic Birke’s Department Store in 1948, and raised four children. Like Boston’s Filene’s Basement but even quirkier, Birke’s drew customers who enjoyed a good bargain and a good laugh at Nathan’s outrageous rules. Sally was the yang to his yin, greeting customers with homemade treats and sound wardrobe advice. Nathan died in 1992, and Sally continued the business until 2004. She passed away eight years later.

To Sally, the only way to serve kreplach was in homemade chicken soup, with two or three ladled into each big bowl. “There were always carrots and parsnips, so the soup was a little on the sweet side,” said Szifra.

Sally made kreplach by feel. When Szifra asked for a recipe, Sally got flustered. “I don’t know how to make a recipe!” she balked. So mother and daughter worked side-by-side, going back and forth on quantities, Szifra jotting it all down. “It was a little awkward for her to have to be so precise,” said Szifra.

But technique mattered. Sally insisted that onions had to cook slowly for a long time. Make that your mantra as you caramelize the onions over low heat.

When we breathe in the sweetness of those slow-cooked onions, hear the soft sizzle of the meat, stretch the eggy dough, and finally take in their savory goodness, we connect with Sally and all she lost and gained. And perhaps these humble kreplach, little bundles seasoned with memories, will bring a little bit of Lodz to your table.

Sally Birke’s Kreplach

Here’s Sally’s recipe as Szifra recorded, with a few suggestions of my own. The parenthetical comments are hers. And while Sally used her fingers and not a fork to crimp, my dough didn’t hold together well enough without a little help.

Makes several dozen. Freezes well.

Filling:

  • 4 medium onions, sliced
  • 1½ pounds hamburger
  • 4 large eggs
  • Oil
  • Salt

Dough:

  • 1 ½ -2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3-1/2 cup water
  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 large eggs
  1. Brown onions very slowly in oil (or in water, if you want), add hamburger, and brown it slowly. Crack eggs into hamburger, mix, and cook about 10 minutes. Salt to taste, keeping in mind that dumplings can lose salt in soup. You may have filling left over.
  2. For dough, put salt in a cup and add 1/3-1/2 cup of boiling water. Add the salted water to flour. Add eggs, mix, and knead until smooth. Divide into 3 parts. Roll thin and cut into 2-inch to 3-inch squares. Form triangular dumplings and crimp to close.
  3. Boil for 2-10 minutes, depending upon dough thickness, until dumplings float to surface. (Add a little oil to water to prevent sticking.) Slightly undercook because kreplach will continue to cook in the hot soup. Drain and serve two or three in each bowl of soup.
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Bake Yourself Happy with Claire’s Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Posted on 9 May 2017 | No responses

In his final “Kitchen Detective” newspaper column, Christopher Kimball signed off with some advice. He said that once you find a recipe that makes you happy, just stick with it. Don’t waste your time chasing down perfection. This sounded odd coming from a guy who built an empire on his own obsession with finding “The Best Recipes.” But even he could admit that, as the saying goes, better is the enemy of good.

Since whole wheat sandwich bread is a character actor in a supporting role, a good loaf can range from dense to airy, dark to light, sweet to slightly bitter. There are plenty of recipes kicking around, and if you’ve found one that makes you happy, you’re all set.

I tried a few, but never landed on a recipe that pleased me enough to put it into my repertoire. So I just gave up. A couple of years ago my daughter Claire sent me this Honey Whole Wheat Bread recipe with her assurances that it is both tasty and easy to make.

And of course, being my fabulous daughter, she was right. This taste-tested recipe yields one magnificent bakery-sized loaf that crests well over the top of a 9×5 pan. It’s astonishingly airy, delicately nutty, and bright with honey. It doesn’t crumble when cut, and a slice fits your toaster slot nicely.

Claire mixes and hand-kneads this in the same bowl, cleverly reducing mess and helping to keep the dough tacky. I used to enjoy kneading, but several years ago I discovered that I could approximate my zen-like “breaditation” by watching the dough whir in a food processor. It did well—until I burned out the motor. So after years of stubborn resistance, I finally got a heavy-duty stand mixer said to “aid” in the “kitchen.” (Bread-baking guru Dan Friedman advised me on the best model.) It works the slightly sticky dough without extra flour, stretching those gluten strands into something akin to bubble gum for optimum rise.

This is Claire’s ingredient list, but I’ve taken some liberties with the methods, hoping she doesn’t mind. First, I don’t dissolve yeast in water, since I use the instant kind designed to go in with dry ingredients. I sometimes let the dough rise in the fridge overnight, ready to bake any time the next day. Some say this cold fermentation may also enhance the flavor. (Unlike cold fusion, it’s useful.) You can choose which rising method you prefer, and please let me know what you think.

Does this recipephany make me happy? Yes indeed. So I’m sticking with it.

Claire’s Honey Wheat Bread

Makes 1 lofty 9×5 inch loaf. Doubles well.

  • 2 1/2 cups bread flour (approximately, added in stages)
  • 1 (.25 ounce) package rapid rise yeast  (2 ½ teaspoons of SAF-Instant)
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3/4 cup milk, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (measure before the honey so the honey won’t stick to the spoon)
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • Butter for glazing (optional)

Put 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or the bowl of a powerful food processor with a metal blade. Add yeast, water, milk, oil, honey, and salt, and blend for half a minute or so. Add all the whole wheat flour and mix again until blended. Add the remaining bread flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and knead (change to dough hook in the stand mixer) until it is soft, smooth, tacky and stretchy. Add some drops of water if dough is dry, a bit hard, and not getting stretchy, or add a dusting of bread flour if the dough is sticking too much. In a food processor, kneading might take 3 or 4 minutes, but watch that dough doesn’t overheat. A stand mixer might take 8 minutes or more. There may be some bread flour left over. If you use all the flour, you may find that you need to add more water to keep it stretchy. Finish with one of the rising/baking instructions below.

Note: If you prefer the exercise, do what Claire does and mix ingredients in a large bowl and then knead by hand right in that bowl (simply brilliant!) for about 10 minutes.

Traditional Rise

Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to grease the top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Punch the dough down and turn onto a lightly floured surface. Form dough into a loaf and place into the prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap dusted with flour to keep it from sticking and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375° F  (190°C). Bake for 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from the pan and spread a pat of butter on top to glaze and soften the crust. Cool on a wire rack.

Refrigerator Rise (Cold Fermentation)
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it to grease the top. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Lightly grease a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Flatten dough into a rectangle about as long as the pan and slightly less than twice the width. Roll up like a jelly roll and turn edges under to form a taut loaf and place into the prepared pan. Brush the top lightly with oil and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 2 to 24 hours. (I like to make the dough and form the loaf after dinner and bake in the early morning.)

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375° F  (190°C). Remove pan from the refrigerator and uncover dough carefully. Puncture any large gas bubbles that may have formed using a greased metal cake tester or toothpick. Allow to stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, or as long as it takes to preheat the oven.

Bake 35 minutes or until top is golden brown and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Remove loaf from the pan and spread a pat of butter on top to glaze and soften the crust. Cool on a wire rack.

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Zell Schulman’s Chocolate Mousse Torte from Israel

Posted on 13 April 2017 | No responses

Once, an “alternative chocolate cake” was something we made for Passover, usually from a Manischewitz mix. As much as my Mom and I tried, no cake recipe calling for a matzo derivative ever produced anything remotely fluffy or moist. (I swear Manischewitz cheated.)

Sometime in the 1960s, French-inspired bakers adventured with eggs, nuts, butter, and intense flavorings to create decadent chocolate cakes with minimal flour. So a kind of Fifth Question inevitably swept the Passover baking community. “On all other nights we can eat flourless cake. On this night, why can’t we eat matzoless cake?”

Zell Schulman helped lead the Exodus into the land of glorious desserts with this recipe for Chocolate Mousse Torte from Israel, published in her cookbook Something Different for Passover in 1984. The Boston Globe featured the recipe, and I still have the browned, chocolate-smeared clipping. A melt-away marvel of deep chocolate with ground almonds topped with creamy mousse, this torte says “patisserie” not “Passover.” Yes, it has matzo cake meal, but I dare you to taste it. I make this crowd-pleaser for nearly every Seder, and even for an occasional special dessert during the year.

But who is Zell? What kind of a name is Zell? What the Zell was she thinking?

Last week I found out. I stumbled upon Something Different for Passover at our library’s book sale. Long out of print and unavailable through the library system, here it was, in perfect condition, a first edition. It was part of The Chosen cookbook series. I felt like a chosen person. I snatched it up.

Zell (short for Zelma) is a long-time Jewish-cooking columnist and cookbook writer. She studied under serious chefs including Richard Grausman of Le Cordon Bleu de Paris. Before her food writing career, she worked in TV and was a production assistant to Rod Serling. (Cue eerie “Twilight Zone” theme.)

In the book, she says she discovered this torte in 1969 on her first visit to Israel as part of a United Jewish Appeal Women’s Study Mission. Her friend Dena Jerimiahus served it, announcing that it only had one tablespoon of breadcrumbs. Zell told her, “I must have this recipe.” When Passover came around, she remembered the torte and substituted matzo cake meal for the crumbs. While she didn’t go to Israel seeking recipes, she brought home “a recipe that made me ‘famous.’” And made her my hero.

Chocolate Mousse Torte from Israel

Adapted from Something Different for Passover by Zell Schulman

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (divided)
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
  • 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled
  • ½ cup ground toasted almond slivers, ground
  • ¼ cup orange liqueur (or brandy or orange juice)
  • 4 tablespoons matzo cake meal
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and place a well-greased piece of wax paper on the bottom.
  2. Beat egg whites until frothy. Slowly add ½ cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until whites hold a soft peak but are not dry.
  3. Beat egg yolks in a large bowl until very thick and light yellow, about 10 minutes. Add butter, 1 cup sugar, and melted chocolate. Beat 2 minutes. Fold in beaten egg whites. Remove 1 cup of this mixture and refrigerate.
  4. Fold in ground almonds, flavoring and cake meal into the remaining mixture. Bake 45 minutes or until cake begins to pull away from sides.
  5. Remove from oven and cool for 15 minutes on a rack. Remove sides of pan. Let torte cool completely before inverting onto serving platter. Remove wax paper and spread reserved cup of chocolate mixture evenly over the top. Refrigerate, covered, 6-8 hours or overnight. When not serving the torte, keep it refrigerated.
  6. Sprinkle with powdered sugar just before serving. Or, top with whipped cream after a dairy meal.
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Bay Area Scientists Develop Breakthrough “Alternative Chocolate Cake”

Posted on 1 April 2017 | No responses

I’m thrilled and proud to post this news story I found online featuring the research of my favorite PhDs, my daughter and son-in-law. 

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Bay Area scientists have developed a recipe for an “alternative chocolate cake” free of gluten, fat, sugar, and animal products, fulfilling a dream of those seeking a dessert they can serve to all guests.

The breakthrough is reported in the April issue of the journal Nature Gastronomy. Chemists, gastronomists and celebrity chefs alike herald it as the most significant advance in food science since the fat substitute Olestra was approved by the FDA in 1996.

Those who have eaten the cake, however, question its palatability. In the paper, co-authors Claire Discenza and Gordy Stephenson explain that the cake is capable of achieving a state of what they technically term “inedibility.”

While all can approve of the ingredients, few can stomach the finished product. This paradox has led early detractors to call it “Schrödinger’s Cake” because it is both edible and inedible at the same time.

Claire Discenza says, “Fortunately, the healthful qualities of this cake are indisputable and objective. Whether or not someone can actually choke it down is subjective, governed by individual taste buds and gag reflexes.”

Here is an abstract of the team’s paper along with the Materials and Methods section that includes the landmark recipephany.

Alternative Chocolate Cake

by Claire B. Discenza, PhD, and Gordy R. Stephenson, PhD
Reprinted with permission from Nature Gastronomy 23, 266–269 (2017)
Published online 01 April 2017

Photograph ©2017 Discenza and Stephenson

Abstract

Here we present an original recipe for a gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free, dairy-free, vegan chocolate cake. For those with dietary restrictions, one could substitute carob for cocoa without negatively impacting the flavor.

Materials and Methods

Makes one small cake. Serves 36+, as it is inedible. Suggested serving size: absolutely none.

Ingredients

  • 120 g gluten-free flour. We used a mix of about 50:50 corn flour to garbanzo bean flour.
  • Liquid from one 454 g can of garbanzo beans
  • 9 g cornstarch
  • 6 packets stevia (Less would have been much better. We suggest reducing by 7 packets.)
  • A LOT of vanilla
  • 75 g cocoa
  • 113 g hot water
  • 3.5 g instant decaf coffee crystals
  • Approximately 1/2 baked eggplant. Avoid seeds where possible.
  • 12 g carrot zest
  • 1.25 g baking powder
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

Pre-heat oven to 175° C. Try whipping garbanzo water until stiff peaks form. Eventually, using an electric mixer on any speed, incorporate cooked and seeded eggplant until smooth. In a separate bowl, dissolve coffee in hot water, and mix in cocoa. In one fluid motion, blend chocolate water, vegetable/legume slurry and other ingredients well, adding additional gluten-free flour as necessary to achieve desired consistency. Pour into one small cake-pan (“greased” and “floured”). Bake for 45 minutes or until done.

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Gimme Kibbee!

Posted on 13 March 2017 | No responses

This baked version of a Middle Eastern classic is more a meat cake than the little fried footballs also called “kibbeh,” which means “ball” in Arabic. With the slight chewiness of a cookie bar, this cinnamon-spiced diamond of cracked wheat, ground lamb and toasted pine nuts feels kind of like dessert.

The passion for kibbee crosses borders in the Middle East. Both Arabs and Israelis claim it and have created as many variations as failed peace accords. This version probably has roots in Lebanon or Syria because it suggests yogurt on the side, a no-no in Israel. However, we also serve it with tahini sauce or mango chutney.

You’d think this recipephany came from a trendy Middle Eastern chef, since these days the Beard Awards go to cookbooks whose covers show anything reddened with sumac. Blame it on the Jerusalem cookbook (2011), where author Yotam Ottolenghi pulled out all the stops with ancient spices, herbs, nuts, beans, grains, fruits and irresistible caramelized onions. In the book, he called Jerusalem “the world capital of kibbeh,” and presented a layered-cake variation closer to this kibbee than to the traditional.

Those of us around in the heyday of Erewhon natural food stores, however, know that borrowing from other cultures has long been a way to shake up both taste buds and cholesterol counts. Even everyday cookbooks from the 70s helped us venture into new realms of cooking intrigue.

This kibbee recipephany came from such an unlikely source. I discovered it in a cookbook that seemed more prescriptive than inspirational: The American Heart Association Cookbook. Despite its dry-as-unbuttered-toast title, healthy-heart agenda and barren layout, this cookbook lured me into new culinary waters with temptingly simple and deliciously rewarding recipes. I’d like to think it was ahead of its time, since it needed to clarify that “bulgur wheat may be found in health food stores.” You know, like Erewhon. But the latest edition no longer includes this recipe, sadly omitting one of the great dishes of the world.

I’m not sure if this kibbee actually makes my heart healthy, but it sure makes my taste buds happy.

Kibbee

Adapted from The American Heart Association Cookbook, Second Edition, 1976.

  • 1 pound lean ground lamb or beef
  • 1 cup finely crushed bulgur wheat
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 1 ½ cups plain low-fat yogurt

Preheat oven to 350° F.

  1. Rinse the crushed bulgur in hot water, drain, and let stand for about 10 minutes
  2. Meanwhile, brown the pine nuts or walnuts with a little butter or oil and set aside. (I use Trader Joe’s dry toasted pine nuts and use as is.) Sauté the minced onions in olive oil or butter until softened. In a large bowl, mix the onions, bulgur wheat, ground meat, salt, pepper and cinnamon, adding ½ cup water as you blend.
  3. Pat half this mixture in a flat layer in the bottom of an oiled pan (8 x 8 inch or 8 x 10 inch). Sprinkle the toasted nuts over the meat layer and pat out the remaining meat mixture over the nuts. Leave in the pan, but cut into diamonds or square-shaped pieces. Dot with margarine or butter and bake until slightly browned, about 25-30 minutes. Be careful, as overbaking can dry it out. Serve warm, with a side dish of plain yogurt. Alternatively, serve with tahini sauce, hummus, or mango chutney.

Makes six servings, approximately 330 calories per serving.

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Oscars 2017: La La Land O Lakes Old-World Raspberry Bars

Posted on 27 February 2017 | No responses

IN A WORLD where mixed-up envelopes turn winners into losers and losers look like Matt Damon…comes one dessert that Price Waterhouse stands behind… one dessert that proudly proclaims itself a winner despite its name…La La Land O Lakes Old-World Raspberry Bars.

Saskatoon Watch Parties presented this year’s Oscar gala, a “satellite feed” with “satellite dishes.”  Don’t blame me and Dan entirely for the names, as my kids and their spouses also shaped the menu.

  • Manchego by the Brie
  • Casey At Bat Franks
  • Ry-Krisp Gosling
  • Emma Stone Wheat Thins
  • Natalie Port Salut
  • Violive Davis
  • Florets Foster Jenkins
  • Arrivioli filled with Isabelle Hubbard Squash, Boiled to Hell in High Water and served with Hackridge Slaw
  • Salade Lion-naise with Andrew Garfieldgreens, Octavinegar Spencer and Hidden Figs
  • Damien Pizzelle
  • Chef Bridges Mix
  • Drinks included the Mel Gimlet and Moonlight Bubbly. (Note that we, like the Oscars, were late to acknowledge the Best Picture.)

This recipephany comes from Land O Lakes Cookie Collection cookbook, my source for Jan Hagel cookies and so many other never-fail favorites. I dog-eared it especially during Andrew’s high school years, when I pushed sugar to get him to bring friends back to our house. I recently told him how proud I was when his friend Santiago singled these out as his favorite cookie. Andrew laughed, saying they all were happy with whatever I put out on the plate.

La La Land O Lakes Old-World Raspberry Bars

Crumb Mix

  • 1/4 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup Land O Lakes® Butter, softened
  • 1 egg

Filling

  • 3/4 cup raspberry preserves

  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil, extending foil over edges. Grease foil.
  2. Combine all crumb mixture ingredients in bowl at low speed, scraping bowl often, until mixture is crumbly, about 2-3 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 cups crumb mixture.*
  3. Press remaining crumb mixture on bottom of pan. Spread preserves to within 1/2 inch of edge. Crumble reserved crumb mixture over preserves.
  4. Bake 42-50 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool completely; cut into bars.

*A newer version of the recipe specifies 2 cups.

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Butternut Squash Roasted Whole: The best one-ingredient dish ever

Posted on 23 January 2017 | No responses

This is more than a recipephany; it’s a revelation.

It comes from Raegan Sales, the Veggie Whisperer. To capture the deep flavor of butternut squash, roast it whole at 400 degrees for about an hour until it yields when you stab it with a fork. Cool a little, then cut it in half, remove the seeds and peel off the paper-thin skin (unless you are like me and consume that, too).  Eat as is or use in other dishes.

The squash is so sweet and velvety it tastes like it has been injected with butter and caramelized in its own skin. It comes out of the oven glowing with a rainbow of flavors that need nothing else, not even salt. This is the best one-ingredient recipe ever.

I’ve peeled, hacked, boiled, nuked, drenched in oil, and otherwise abused squash in the past. Who would have thought that the easiest cooking method would be the best?

This lovely butternut squash, with the cute little curlicue vine, is the last from our garden this season. Next year I’ll cook all this way.

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Classic Ragù alla Bolognese from Ada Boni

Posted on 10 January 2017 | No responses

Dan calls it “faux-lognese,” that sea of tomato sauce with ground beef swimming in it. Real bolognese, Dan argues, is a ragù, or stew, of finely chopped aromatics and meats simmered with just a kiss of tomato paste, wine, and cream. And he knows because Ada Boni, the Mamma of Italian Cookbooks, said so.

Ada Boni captured authentic Italian cooking in the landmark  Il Talismano della Felicità, (Talisman of Happiness, or simply The Talisman) (1928) which became Italy’s standard cookbook for many decades, influencing generations of cooks. Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking (1969) has long been Dan’s go-to reference, as trusted as if it were written by his own Italian grandmother, Maria Rosa Nicoletta Maddalena De Stefano Discenza (or simply Nicoletta).

Over time, however, bolognese has transmuted into a red sauce. Even the biggest of culinary bigshots—Craig Claiborne, Marcella Hazan (touted as the gold standard), and even Lidia Bastianich—couldn’t leave well enough alone without saucing it up with tomatoes. Julia Moskin wrote in the New York Times that in a ragù, the meat melts into the sauce. I say it’s the other way around: the sauce melts into the meat.

One of my cookbook heroes, Myra Waldo, was a prolific travel and food writer who, like Boni, linked each dish to its regional cuisine. In Seven Wonders of the Cooking World she noted that Bologna cooks with both butter (generally used in the North) and olive oil (preferred in the South). She described her authentic bolognese as a ragù typical of a city that loves its fats.

And speaking of fats, chicken livers are the secret to over-the-top lushness. Like anchovies, they disappear into the background, adding a depth of flavor and richness that makes you smile but you can’t pin down.

The quantities here are for guidelines only. Adjust meat amounts and proportions to your taste, and go heavy on the aromatics if you are so inclined. It’s traditional to cook the sauce for an hour and a half, but we’ve found it cooks down nicely in only 45 minutes.

Dan usually serves bolognese on his homemade tagliatelle, but here we’ve used a hefty macaroni called gigli (or campanelle). Our neighborhood Stop & Shop sells its own imported gigli for a quarter of what you’d pay at Whole Foods, and it holds up well to the hearty bolognese.

For a bold, authentic ragù, don’t wimp out. Look these meats and fats squarely in the eye. You’ll be rewarded with the flavors Bologna originally had in mind, better than a faux-lognese even from Boston’s North End.

Ragù: Bolognese Meat Sauce
Adapted from Ada Boni’s Italian Regional Cooking

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ tablespoons oive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, finely chopped
  • 2/3 cup bacon, finely chopped (or pancetta)
  • ¾ cup ground pork
  • ¾ cup ground beef
  • ¼ cup sausage meat
  • 2-3 chicken livers, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine (or vermouth)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 teaspoons tomato paste, or more to taste
  • about 1 ¼ cup stock (we prefer chicken) or water, whatever needed to keep the sauce moist
  • 4 tablespoons light cream or milk
  1. Heat half the butter and all the oil in a deep frying pan. Add onion, carrot, celery and bacon, and fry over low heat until vegetables soften and begin to change color. Add the pork, beef, sausage meat and livers, frying gently until they begin to brown, crumbling with a fork. Moisten with wine and cook until it evaporates, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Dilute the tomato paste with a little stock. Stir this into the sauce, cover and cook slowly, stirring from time to time, gradually adding the rest of the stock.
  2. After the sauce has been cooking for 45 minutes, stir in the cream and continue cooking until it reduces. Finally add the remaining butter and stir until melted and thoroughly mixed into the sauce.
  3. Undercook macaroni or pasta a minute, remove from cooking water and add to the sauce to finish cooking and absorb flavor. Add a little pasta cooking water if needed.

Makes enough for 1 -1 ½ pounds of pasta. Serve with grated romano and/or parmesan.

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Palmiers in a Pinch

Posted on 19 December 2016 | No responses

Need a quick yet impressive holiday cookie? Roll puff pastry dough in sugar and cinnamon, fold, cut, and voilà! Palmiers (aka elephant ears).

I made a batch today from puff pastry dough I rescued from the dark recesses of my freezer. Last winter I mixed a lot of Joanne Chang’s easy Quick Puff Pastry from Flour for whatever might arise. Chang says you can freeze it for up to a month, but c’mon, you can even freeze fish for longer than that. Here it is almost a year later and the silky dough rolled out as smoothly as if it were fresh.

Today I lost track of my folds and they came out more like cauliflower ears than classic elephant ears. But no matter how you fold it, the buttery, flaky layers create a sweet, tender crunch.

Don’t expect these to be elephant sized. More like mouse ears, they are très petite, only a couple of inches across, and perfect with a cup of tea or a dessert bowl of Quick and Creamy Microwave Chocolate Pudding.

Palmiers

  • 1 sheet of puff pastry dough, homemade or store-bought, about one-half pound (if frozen, defrost overnight in the fridge)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon (optional), or to taste
  1. Mix sugar and cinnamon, if using. Spread half the sugar mixture onto the work surface, place the sheet of dough on top, and distribute the other half evenly over the top of the dough. Press down on the dough with the rolling pin to flatten and spread it out uniformly. Then roll it to about a 10 inch square. You can cut off pieces, move and reattach as needed to make the square.
  2. Fold the sides of the dough toward the center so each reaches halfway. Then fold them again so that the sides meet in the middle. Finally, fold one half over the other as if to close a book. Press down lightly with the rolling pin to flatten. Don’t fret if there is a lot of sugar mixture left over. That can happen.
  3. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about a half hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  4. Cut dough into about 1/4–inch slices and place cut-side-up on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper, about a dozen per sheet.
  5. Bake 6-10 minutes until the bottoms start to caramelize, then flip over and bake another 3-6 minutes until caramelized.
  6. Cool on rack and store in an airtight container.
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Caramelized Tofu Triangles: Simple Make-Ahead Appetizer

Posted on 20 November 2016 | 2 responses

Caramel-lacquered tofu triangles hit all the sweet, savory and salty notes that put guests in a good mood. The dark, shiny syrup sinks into the chewy triangles, so you can eat them with your fingers if you like.

Since they keep well in the fridge, you can make them way ahead and bring them out any time, as you would a wedge of brie. They travel well, too. Carry them to a holiday party in a Ziploc bag and free yourself from having to retrieve your plate (or help with the clean-up) when it’s time for goodbyes.

My daughter-in-law Raegan has made these for brunch, proving that they are as versatile as an eggy or cheesy dish. I also enjoy them as a great spontaneous snack when I’m staring into the fridge, looking for who-knows-what, and the caramel sheen catches my eye.

Best of all, the only fresh ingredient you need is tofu. Everything else comes from your pantry and refrigerator door. The miracle of caramelization builds deep, complex flavors from just a few ingredients. A restrained shake of five-spice powder adds ethereal warmth. Feel free to mess with quantities, but trust in the recipe’s overall simplicity. Stifle any urge to add fresh garlic or ginger.

I came across this recipephany when, a few years back, I set out to find a recipe for the tofu triangles we had at Boston’s Brown Sugar Café. It is from Barbara Tropp’s The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking (1982), a book that won James Beard honors and made her a star.

Tropp is also known for her innovative fusion of Chinese tastes with Western ingredients at her China Moon Café in San Francisco. Sadly, she only wrote one more book, The China Moon Cookbook, before she died of cancer in 2001 at age 53.

Tropp immersed herself in authentic Chinese cooking, and her recipes go on in great detail about proper Chinese techniques and tools. I found reading her long narrative a problem when I was watching a wokful of bubbling hot oil. So I slashed her directions way down. I may have simplified the recipe, but the simplicity of this dish comes straight from China.

Caramelized Tofu Triangles
Adapted from The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp

  • 1 pound firm tofu
  • Peanut or corn oil for deep-frying (enough to cover the tofu, at least 2 cups), reserving 1 tablespoon for the syrup
  • 2 teaspoons black (thick) soy sauce (This is soy sauce thickened with molasses. So if you don’t have it, just use more regular soy sauce and a little more molasses.)
  • 1 ½ tablespoons regular soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons molasses
  • Pinch five-spice powder (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons water for the caramel syrup
  1. Slice tofu into 16 triangles. Lay them on paper towels and press out water.
  2. To fry tofu, heat oil in a wok until a bit of tofu bobs to the surface within 2 seconds. Slide triangles gently one-by-one into the oil—there will be lots of bubbling, so beware of spattering. If triangles stick together, nudge them apart. Fry until golden, about 4 minutes, turning as necessary. Remove and drain on paper towels. Strain oil and refrigerate for re-use. Reserve 1 tablespoon oil for the syrup.
  3. In a small bowl, stir together black soy sauce, regular soy sauce, sugar, molasses and (if using) five-spice powder. Adjust to taste.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok. Add sugar mixture, stirring rapidly until it thickens in a full boil. (Watch to see it doesn’t burn!) Add triangles, turn off heat, and toss for about 2 minutes to glaze evenly. Stir 3 tablespoons of water into the bowl to dissolve the remaining sugar mixture, add it to the wok, and bring back to a boil. Toss 1-2 minutes, until syrup thickens. Turn off heat and let triangles cool in the wok about 10 minutes, tossing every few minutes to coat them evenly.
  5. Serve immediately or store for up to a week in the refrigerator, tossing occasionally to distribute the syrup. Serve cold or at room temperature.
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No-Knead Challah Sandwich Loaf, or How to Bake Yourself to Sleep

Posted on 24 October 2016 | No responses

It takes chutzpah for me to post a challah recipe. My niece Ariel (see Hugs and Cookies) is the one known for all manner of gorgeous eggy braids, coils and pull-apart rolls. She even uses special challah flour.

While I’ve made competent challahs using a traditional recipe, this recipephany is remarkable because it produces the same rich taste and pillowy-soft texture without kneading. You stir it up using only a wooden spoon or (my preference) a dough whisk. What starts as a gloppy, blobby Jabba-the-Hutt mass turns smooth and elastic while it rises. It stops just short of braiding itself.

I discovered this recipe recently after lying awake in the wee hours thinking of how my paternal grandmother, Lena, dealt with her insomnia: she baked.

She loved to make strudel. When she couldn’t sleep, she would escape to the kitchen to roll and stretch dough as a way to ward off worries and night demons. For the filling, she would grab whatever fruits, nuts or chocolates she had on hand. Her relaxing baking session ended with both a flaky pastry and a cleared head ready for sleep.

I thought I’d try out Lena’s Baking Therapy for Insomniacs. Starting a dough without actually baking it seemed like a good option, and just the idea of challah was comforting. So I found a simple recipe in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, a game-changing bread book I learned about from artisan baker Dan Friedman. I stirred it up (“Wake up, yeast! Stretch, gluten!”) and went back to bed. A high dough greeted me in the morning like a dog with a leash in his mouth. Soon I had a golden loaf ready to be sliced and slathered with Apple Butter, Pressure Cooker Fast.

Why do I use a loaf pan? My mom would often buy two challahs: a ceremonial free-form braid for Friday night, and a standard loaf for sandwiches and toast the rest of the week. I rarely see sandwich loaf-style challah in stores any more, and I miss it. And for the home baker, it’s practical, easy to make, and the shiny golden braid on top clearly announces its challah-ness.

So if you can’t sleep and want a cloud-like bread ready for you in the morning, try this out. It bakes up like a dream.

No-Knead Challah Loaf

(adapted from The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois)

Makes one loaf. This recipe doubles well, so you can bake a loaf and keep the rest of the dough in the fridge to bake another day.

  • 7/8 cup water, lukewarm
  • 1 ½  teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1 ½  teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ¼ cup oil
  • 3 ½ cups flour

Glaze:

1 egg beaten with one tablespoon of water

  1. Stir together yeast, salt, lightly beaten eggs, honey, oil and water in a 6-quart bowl using a wooden spoon or a dough whisk (my preference).
  2. Mix in flour. The dough should be moist and tacky, and look like a gloppy mass. Mixing will only take a minute or two.
  3. Cover bowl completely with plastic wrap. Let sit at room temperature until the dough rises and slightly collapses or flattens, about 2 hours. Use the dough now, or refrigerate it for up to five days.
  4. When ready to bake, grease a 9×5x3 loaf pan. Dust the dough with flour and shape it quickly into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all sides, rotating the ball as you go.
  5. Cut dough into thirds. Lightly dust each third with flour and roll and stretch it into about a foot-long rope. Connect the ropes at one end and braid. When finished, tuck the ends under and place into the prepared pan.
  6. Let rise for 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Refrigerated dough will probably need more rising time. In the meantime, preheat oven to 350°.
  7. Brush the top with the egg wash. Bake about 30 minutes, until top is golden brown and sides pull away a little from the pan. (After first 10 minutes or so of baking, you can brush on more egg wash, especially unglazed areas where the dough has puffed up.) Let sit in the pan for a couple of minutes to let the dough shrink, then run a knife around the sides and remove. Cool completely on a rack before slicing.
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Recipephany #1: Little Snackers Peanut Butter Cookies

Posted on 8 October 2016 | No responses

My mom, of Olympic Seoul Chicken fame, just turned 100. For most of my childhood, she shooed me out of the kitchen when she cooked, distracted when I was underfoot. Little Snackers is the first—and I think only—thing she ever let me bake by myself.

Just the thought of Little Snackers sends me tumbling down the laundry chute of nostalgia. Here I go again, back in the kitchen with my mom in her yellow gingham apron, a jar of Skippy, and my thumb squishing the centers of little dough balls.

This is my poodle skirt of recipes. Around the time I began baking these, my mom made me a charcoal gray poodle skirt with a red dog-collar accent. I proudly wore it until there was no more seam to let out and we had to give it away. But unlike the skirt, I never outgrew this recipe.

Little Snackers are short and crumbly. Pop one into your mouth and the roasted sweet/salty nuttiness melts through the tart jam. Despite the name, they aren’t just for kids, and would be right at home on a Christmas cookie tray.

Thank you, Carol Drake

A classic thumbprint cookie designed to delight young baby boomers, it shouts Happy Homemaker. My mom clipped this recipe in the early 50s from an ad for Safeway stores. It came from the recipe box of Carol Drake, the Betty Crocker of Safeway. According to a 1946 news release, Safeway created the name and personality of Carol Drake “to stamp her as an authority on all the things which a housewife wants to know in her job as a homemaker.” Thank you, Carol, and thank you, Mom, for my first recipephany.

Little Snackers—Peanut Butter Cookies

Mix ¼ cup butter or margarine, ½ cup peanut butter and ¼ cup sugar. Combine 3 tablespoons milk and 1 egg yolk and add alternately with 2 cups sifted Kitchen Craft Flour*. Mix well.

Shape into balls (1¼“ in diameter). Place on ungreased cooky sheet. Flatten a little and make a small indentation in each cooky. Bake in a moderate (375°F) oven for 15 minutes. Remove and sieve confectioners’ sugar over lightly. Cool. Fill center with tart jelly. Yield: 2½ dozen.

*Safeway’s store brand, long gone.

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World Peace, or Giant Meteor ‘16, Cookies

Posted on 31 August 2016 | No responses

World Peace Cookies

Cookbook author Dorie Greenspan got this recipephany for intense double-chocolate cookies from Parisian pastry chef Pierre Hermé. When she published it in Paris Sweets, she called them “Korova Cookies.” Then her neighbor suggested “World Peace Cookies.” Smart move. This takes Brody’s Second Law of Marketing one step further: If you can name it better, you can sell it better.

These are so luxuriously chocolatey, they could make people momentarily forget their hostilities. I’d be happy if they could just get us through the election season with a crumb of domestic harmony. Toward that end, I’m rebranding them “Giant Meteor 16 Cookies,” after the cheeky alternative that’s growing in popularity in the polls.

Eat them gooey out of the oven, delicate at room temperature, or (on a hot day) with a little extra tooth right from the freezer. They can give us a brief respite from the election without actually blasting us to kingdom come.

World Peace, or Giant Meteor ‘16, Cookies
(adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s recipe)

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons)  butter, at room temperature
  • 7/8 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Makes about 36 cookies.

1. Combine flour, cocoa and baking soda in a bowl or on wax paper.

2. Beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar, molasses, salt and vanilla. Beat 2 minutes more.

3. Add dry ingredients, stirring to lightly combine. Then mix on low speed about 30 seconds, just until all flour is incorporated. Stir in chocolate chips, being careful not to overwork the dough.

4. Divide dough in half. Shape each half into a log 1 1/2 inches in diameter and wrap each log in plastic wrap. (Tip: Slide each wrapped log into a paper towel tube to keep it from flattening out.) Refrigerate at least 3 hours. (Refrigerate dough up to 3 days, or freeze it up to 2 months. You can slice and bake frozen logs without defrosting. Just add an extra minute to baking time.)

5. To bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

6. Slice logs about 1/2 inch thick. If they crack, just shape them back together. Arrange the slices on the baking sheets about 1 inch apart.

7. Bake about 12 minutes. They should not have firmed up, and should still look underdone. Slide the parchment paper and cookies onto a cooling rack. Serve cookies either slightly warm or at room temperature. Or, freeze the baked cookies and eat them either defrosted or still frozen.

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Microwave Potato Chips

Posted on 23 July 2016 | 2 responses

My microwave is an indispensible sous chef. It melts and tempers chocolate, parcooks root veggies on their way to the roasting pan, sweats onions in a pinch, and dries and toasts old bread for nearly instant bread crumbs.

Wait a minute—toasting? While we think of the microwave for reheating, melting, and steaming, it can also dehydrate and bake like the Sahara. You have to watch it, though. It doesn’t take long to turn light brown perfection into black, smoking carbon.

The potato chip is such a perfect microwave snack there should be a button for it next to “popcorn.” Better than the greasy chips from a bag, they are crispy yet ethereal hits of pure potato. You can bake them light in color or a little dark for deeper flavor. Sweet potatoes work equally well.

This recipephany calls for a couple of gadgets: a microwave bacon cooking rack (I got mine at Stop and Shop for about $7), and a mandoline (thanks to my sister-in-law, Chris). The mandoline slices the potatoes paper-thin—or, well, as thin as 100# cover stock. The thinner they are, the faster they bake. And the sooner you can be crunching on this tasty, low-fat treat.

Microwave Potato Chips

  • 2 russet potatoes, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon salted butter, melted
  • Sour salt (citric acid) to taste, stirred into melted butter (optional)
  • Kosher salt for sprinkling
  1. Wash potatoes and dry thoroughly. Slice paper-thin and lay out on paper towels. Cover with paper towels and press out moisture.
  2. Place slices on microwave rack. Do not overlap. Brush on a dab of butter or butter/sour salt mixture onto each slice. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.
  3. Microwave for 2-4 minutes, depending on your machine. Check frequently at first to determine the proper baking time. If you can bend them, they need more time.
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Nocciola Gelato (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

Posted on 28 June 2016 | No responses

We recently backpacked mountain trails from Salerno to Sorrento along the Amalfi Coast, famous for both its sheer beauty and its sheer drops. Dan mapped hikes that led us to a mountaintop church unreachable by roads, up and down hundreds of flights of stairs built for pack animals, between terraced groves of lemon trees bright with fist-sized fruit, and through a meadow where electric wildflowers thankfully distracted me from the nearby precipice. We ended each sweaty day at a fine hotel where we could wash up, get presentable, and go find gelato.

I learned a lesson when we took our kids to the Grand Canyon. No matter how breathtaking your location, the better the snacks the better the vacation. And what could enhance a Mediterranean panorama better than nocciola gelato?

Italy has an enduring relationship with the hazelnut [see Hazelnut (Nocciola) Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate]. Besides inventing Nutella, Italians perfected hazelnut ice cream with intense, intoxicating flavor. While Dan opts for silky, dark cioccolato, I always choose the complex sweetness and toasted nuttiness of nocciola.

So I set out to recreate the soft consistency and aromatic nuttiness of the third most popular gelato in Italy (after cioccolato and crema), without gelateria equipment or artisan pomp. I found that this home version whips it up fairly easily. As with my Double Chocolate Sorbet, ice-cube trays and the food processor magically replace an ice cream machine. The mixture freezes quickly in the trays, reducing ice crystals. The food processor transforms the cubes into a glorious swirl you can eat immediately as a thick frappe or freeze into moderately soft ice cream.

I use Frangelico hazelnut liqueur to help keep the gelato soft and scoopable, since alcohol’s got a ridiculousy low freezing point. You can probably substitute vodka without much difference. If you still find the gelato hard, nuke it for a few seconds to get the perfect softness.

Note that I refuse to strain out the flecks of nuts, though, as other recipes specify. The texture is plenty smooth, so why toss out fiber or flavor?

As I’ve said before, chocolate is hazelnut’s soulmate. So don’t hesitate to pour on the fudge sauce.

Nocciola Gelato (Hazelnut Ice Cream Without an Ice Cream Machine)

  • 2 cups whole milk (or equivalent of nonfat or low-fat with cream)
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ cup hazelnuts, toasted (Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 tablespoons Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, or vodka
  1. Finely grind toasted hazelnuts with 2 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor, until it almost turns into a nut butter. Set aside.
  2. Heat milk on the stove or in the microwave until it is very warm but not boiling.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks, adding the remaining 4 tablespoons of sugar gradually. Continue to beat about 3 minutes until the mixture is light and pale yellow.
  4. Gradually add the warm milk, stirring until blended.
  5. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and add the hazelnuts. Warm over a medium heat, stirring constantly to avoid any burning. Be careful not to let the mixture boil. It should thicken slightly, enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.
  6. Stir in vanilla and Frangelico liqueur.
  7. Pour carefully into ice cube trays placed on a rimmed baking sheet. Freeze for two or three hours, until solid.
  8. Use a fork to stab the edge of each frozen cube and slide it into the food processor. (This avoids turning over the ice cube tray, which can create a mess.) Whir until smooth. Spoon into a quart container and freeze until firm. You can stir it up from time to time if you want to aerate a little more.
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Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Posted on 3 May 2016 | 2 responses

I dedicate this post to the memory of Nancy Osborn and everyone who would rather spend their time doing things other than cooking. People, for example, who “baste” a hem, try not to “slice” a golf ball, or, as in Nancy’s case, think of “beat” and “measure” as nouns, not verbs.

————————————————————————————————

Cheese Dreams from Willy Osborn’s childhood reflect a time when modern marvels of food technology tantalized Americans with new tastes, mouthfeels, and convenience. One slice of nutrient-fortified Wonder Bread topped with one perfectly sized slice of shiny Kraft American turned into a toasted cloud fused with molten gold.

Homemakers could delight their kids with this wholesome open-faced sandwich in the time it took to bubble cheese under a broiler. Before the days of take-out and corner restaurants, dishes like this liberated women from kitchen drudgery so they could pursue their true passions.

One such liberated homemaker was Willy Osborn’s mother. Music was her passion. Born Anne Pell (but everyone knew her as Nancy), she went to Juilliard to become an opera singer and earned her degree in voice. In 1942, she married Frederick Osborn, a businessman who wrote operettas on the side. They orchestrated five children and built their family life on a foundation of music and singing. She passed away in 2012 at the age of 94, to the very end devoted to her family and to opera.

“To Nancy, food was simply fuel,” says Willy. Cheese Dreams helped her get food on the table fast, so the family could get right to the singing. “If we could have gotten our food intravenously, that would have been even better,” Willy adds.

Nancy put the cheese-topped bread on a sheet pan directly under the gas broiler. “A little skin formed on top and the direct flame produced dark spots,” says Willy. “Because she put the bread directly onto the pan, underneath it got soft and a little soggy. It was delicious.”

When Willy first went to France he discovered that a Croque-Monsieur was essentially the same thing. French cheeses and fancy breads don’t have a monopoly on the complex flavor changes that come with browning and toasting. After melting, flowing, and browning, even American cheese develops new flavors and aromas due to caramelization and that trendy Maillard reaction.

A recipephany is a recipe that strikes a chord in our lives. To the Osborn family, a simple Cheese Dream was the prelude to beautiful music.

Nancy Osborn’s Cheese Dreams

Makes 1 Cheese Dream

  • 1 slice of soft white bread, preferably Wonder Bread
  • 1 slice of American cheese, preferably peeled off a block of Kraft yellow slices (not individually wrapped “Singles,” as pointed out by Pell Osborn)

Put cheese on bread. Place onto a sheet pan and put under the broiler. Watch closely as cheese bubbles, and remove when brown dots form. Serve immediately.

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Matt Murphy’s Irish Brown Bread

Posted on 16 March 2016 | No responses

If you’re looking for Irish Soda Bread—the slightly sweet scone-like raisin bread that is as much a part of St. Patrick’s Day as green beer—sorry, this isn’t it.

This recipephany is for authentic Irish Brown Bread, the hearty whole-grain soda bread served on cutting boards alongside a crock of butter or ragged slices of cheddar.

Well, at least at Matt Murphy’s Pub.

Everyone in Ireland makes Irish Brown Bread. It’s a kind of national institution. I wish I could say I brought this recipe back from our trip there a couple of years ago. I had made it my mission to track down the best recipe. One woman rattled off the recipe from her mother-in-law from Kilkenny, a “good cook of plain food” who had 13 children but lost five. The bartender in Dublin told me he just follows a recipe from the back of a bag of Odlums coarse wholemeal flour.

Everybody I talked with agreed that Irish wholemeal flour is mandatory, so I smugggled home some Odlums Wholemeal Extra Coarse in my carry-on. Maybe bad metric conversions threw off the delicate balance of acids and bases and whatnot. All the recipes I tried left me with tough, dry, joyless loaves.

As the cliché goes, I traveled the world to find true love in my own backyard. I returned to Matt Murphy’s recipe clipped from The Boston Globe many years ago. Matt Murphy was the chef, original owner, and namesake of our illustrious neighborhood pub. I once saw Christopher Kimball of Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen lunch there alone—just him and his bow tie—a tribute to the wholesomeness and quality of the food.

This makes a loaf somewhat like dense rye bread, with a slight chewiness and buttermilk tang. It is simpler than the recipes I got in Ireland. And any whole-wheat flour works like a lucky charm.

Matt Murphy’s Irish Brown Soda Bread

(From the The Boston Globe, March 12, 2008, Keri Fisher and Matty Murphy)

Work quickly when putting this together, trying not to handle the dough too long or too firmly. Be as gentle as possible; never use a mixer.

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 1/3 cups buttermilk (I use Saco cultured buttermilk powder and water)
  • Extra all-purpose flour (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Lightly flour a baking sheet.

2. In a bowl, combine the all-purpose and whole-wheat flours with the bran, salt, and baking soda. Stir well with a wooden spoon.

3. Add the buttermilk and stir gently until just combined; the mixture will be sticky.

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and very gently shape it into a disk. Lift the dough and carefully bend the sides of the dough back, causing the top of the disk to break open and look craggy. Set it on the baking sheet.

5. Using a serrated knife, carefully cut an “X” in the top of the loaf, cutting down about 1/2 inch. Sprinkle the top of the dough with flour.

6. Transfer to the oven and bake the bread 40 to 45 minutes or until it is brown and the bread sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles.

7. Cool the bread on a wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

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Oscars 2016: The Big Shortbread

Posted on 29 February 2016 | 2 responses

The Big Short won best adapted screenplay for its crisp dialog and cleverly simple demystification of the financial meltdown of 2008. The Big Shortbread is also crisp and light, with simplicity at its core. And butter, of course. Dressed up with extra-dark chocolate chips or toasted pecans, it’s ready for any red carpet.

This recipephany also has loose ties to the surprise best picture winner, Spotlight, about how the Boston Globe uncovered clergy sexual abuse. I adapted this from Cookies: 20 Recipes to Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth, a Boston Globe publication by Sheryl Julian. Ms. Julian is the source of many of my recipephanies, and I was sorry to see that she recently retired as the newspaper’s food editor.

At this year’s Oscars Gala, The Ravenous food truck pulled up and a slobbering grizzly stuck out his head to take our orders. We sipped on red Martiantinis while savoring Baked Brie Larson and crunching Bridge Mix of Spies. After Tom’s Hardy Mad Max and Cheese, spicy Mark Ruffalo Wings, and Sylvester’s Calzone (with Leonardo DiCapicola and Rooney Maranara dipping sauce), fortunately there was still Room for The Big Shortbread.

The Big Shortbread

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (such as Guittard Extra Dark 63% chocolate chips, or Hershey’s Special Dark) or toasted chopped pecans*
  • Granulated sugar (for sprinkling)

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use a pie pan or plate and a pencil to draw three 6-inch rounds on the papers. Turn the papers over.

2. Beat the butter for 1 minute or until smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar and beat until creamy.

3. Add the flour and salt. Continue beating, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the mixture is smooth. With a rubber spatula, stir in the chocolate chips or the toasted pecans.

4. Set 1/3 of the dough in the center of each round. With the heel of your hand, press the dough evenly to fill the circles.

5. Sprinkle the dough generously with granulated sugar. With a large straight-edged knife, cut one of the rounds evenly into quarters. Cut each quarter in half to make 8 triangles. Repeat with the other rounds.

6. Bake the rounds for 25 minutes or until they are pale golden, turning the sheets from back to front halfway through baking.

7. Slide the parchment papers onto wire racks and let the rounds sit for a few minutes to cool. Carefully transfer the papers to a board. Cut the rounds along the same lines you made before baking. Set the triangles on a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

*Toast pecans on a baking sheet in a preheated 350° oven for about 5 minutes. Watch to make sure they do not scorch. You can also toast them in a heated frying pan for about 5 minutes, stirring to make sure they do not burn.

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Cocoa Date-Nut Truffles: A Sweet Deception

Posted on 13 February 2016 | No responses

Deep dark chocolate truffles with flecks of walnut and hazelnut feel so much like a naughty indulgence that you’ll catch yourself stealing them when nobody’s looking. But why? They are entirely fruit and nuts, without any added sugar or cream. These wholesome concoctions play such a trick on our confection detectors that this recipephany may be more appropriate for April Fool’s Day than Valentine’s Day.

The idea for these truffles came from my sister-in-law Sheila. A few years ago she brought us some soft and creamy Medjool dates and a recipe for turning them into no-bake vegan brownies. We mixed up a batch, rolled them into balls and called them “Cocoa Medjools.” I’ve embellished the recipe, but I would never dare tamper with its magic formula. Throw minimal ingredients into the food processor or blender, and minutes later you have hand-crafted heirloom-quality artisanal chocolate truffles infused with the complex sweetness of dates. And go ahead, sneak as many as you want.

Cocoa Date-Nut Truffles

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • ½ cup roasted hazelnuts
  • Dash salt
  • 1¼ cup soft pitted dates, either Medjool or Beglet Noor*
  • 1/3- ½ cup cocoa, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon Triple Sec (optional)
  • Additional ground hazelnuts and/or grated chocolate

Process walnuts, hazelnuts and salt until ground. Add dates and process until mixture sticks together. Add cocoa powder and vanilla (and Triple Sec if using) and mix until blended. Add a tiny bit of water if too dry. Roll into balls. Roll in ground nuts and/or grated chocolate. Refrigerate.

*If using drier dates, soak them in water to soften and squeeze out excess.

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Spinach Cooked with Onions (Mughlai Saag) from the ‘Godmother of Indian Cooking’

Posted on 28 January 2016 | No responses

As we approach the Oscars, I propose a new category of Lifetime Achievement Award: “Best Actor & Cookbook Author.” The recipient would be an award-winning star of motion pictures as well as a best-selling cookbook author with James Beard honors. And, naturally, she or he would be a host of popular cooking shows.

And the winner is: Madhur Jaffrey.

I had no inkling of Jaffrey’s double life when my friend Wendy gave me her authoritative Indian Cooking cookbook 30 years ago. I had never even heard of her. But Wendy was a fan. She had just come back from living in Amsterdam, where she had watched Jaffrey’s BBC cooking show, and had picked up this companion book to the series. It has become my bible for foolproof Indian recipes.

This Spinach Cooked with Onions recipephany is a gem from that book. Bright, lively spices team up with tender spinach against a backdrop of oniony sweetness. Where would the world’s cuisines be without the beloved onion?

Last year I saw a trifle of a comedy called Today’s Special about a young man struggling to find his roots through Indian cooking. Madhur Jaffrey played his mother, showing a warmth and range far beyond what I would expect from a celebrity chef in a cameo role. I figured the casting director just got lucky.

But I was simply ill informed. This “Godmother of Indian Cooking,” author of more than a dozen cookbooks, seven-time James Beard award winner, and host of a groundbreaking BBC series, is first and foremost an actress.

Born in Delhi, India, she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art alongside Diana Rigg and Glenda Jackson. She’s been in 20 movies, including notable Merchant-Ivory films. In fact, she introduced Ismail Merchant to James Ivory, launching the legendary partnership that spawned a whole genre of gorgeous Oscar-winning costumed dramas (e.g., Howards End) featuring passion, tragedy, and the most desirable British actors available.

While at the RADA, she couldn’t stomach either the British or local Indian food. She begged her mother for her favorite childhood recipes, which she received in Hindi on onionskin paper via airmail. While she had never cooked before, she got great satisfaction mastering all kinds of traditional dishes. Her big break came when the New York Times food editor read a story she’d written for Holiday magazine about Indian home cooking.

While I’m curious about her acting, I’ll be binge-watching her old BBC cooking shows before I get to her old movies. One episode taught me how to make perfect paratha, so I’ll be trying more of her never-fail recipes.

Spinach Cooked with Onions (Mughlai Saag)

Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

  • 2 pounds spinach, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion (or more to taste), peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons oil or ghee
  • 1/2 – 1 fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon peeled, very finely grated or minced fresh ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • ¼ teaspoon garam masala

Heat the oil or ghee in a very large pot (fresh spinach has enormous volume) over a medium-high flame. When hot, put in the onions. Stir and fry for 3 minutes. Add the green chili, ginger, salt, sugar and spinach. Stir and cook down the spinach for 5 minutes. Add ½ cup water and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook for about 10 minutes. Uncover and boil away some of the extra liquid, or just spoon out some liquid if there is too much. Sprinkle garam masala over the top and mix before serving.

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Better-Than-Bailey’s Irish Cream (and Homemade Chocolate Syrup)

Posted on 21 December 2015 | No responses

Forget the eggnog. Here is an easy, crowd-pleasing recipephany for a Holiday Party in a glass.

Kevin McElroy brought this homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream to Annie and Ken’s party. He set the jar on the bar. Guests surrounded it like bloodhounds on a mission, then cautiously sampled. Yummy noises followed and a drinking frenzy ensued.

Kevin kindly shared his recipe, with wishes to “enjoy all the holidays that face us, and then all the bleak, cold, miserable, snowy days that will follow.” This will certainly help.

Better-Than-Bailey’s Irish Cream

Yields 34 ounces

  • 1 cup heavy/whipping cream
  • 1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 2/3 cups of Irish Whiskey (Kevin prefers Jameson, but even Trader Joe’s is fine)
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee
  • 2 tablespoons hot fudge sauce, room temperature (Kevin prefers a rich dark chocolate sauce. I use homemade chocolate sauce. See recipe below.)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla (I double this, of course)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and set on high for 30 seconds.  Bottle in a tightly sealed container and refrigerate.  Shake before using.

Kevin Notes: Will keep a month or longer, but I’ve never had it last anywhere near that long!

Cocoa Syrup (Chocolate Syrup)

“Your very own homemade chocolate syrup. This is one of our most requested recipes.”
From Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury, 1984, Golden Press

  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • Dash salt
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla (I use 3 teaspoons)

Combine sugar, cocoa and salt in medium saucepan; gradually stir in water, blending until mixture is smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture boils; boil and stir 3 minutes. Remove from heat; add vanilla. Pour into container; cool. Cover; chill. Makes about 2 cups syrup.

Note: For Chocolate Milk, add 1 to 2 tablespoons Cocoa Syrup to a tall glass of cold milk; stir until blended.

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Apple Crumble Tart Takes on a New Shape

Posted on 25 November 2015 | No responses

Pi r squared. Pie r round. Tart r rectangular.

The rectangular tart is the more rustic, country-mouse version of its classic round cousin. It looks stylish without pristine glazes or radiating starbursts of fruit. A simple trimming of nuts or berries in neat rows looks just right. Tatte’s, the fastest growing bakery and café in Boston, makes most of its tarts rectangular, and sells them for a tidy sum through Williams-Sonoma.

I’ve made my own version of Tatte’s rectangular nut tart, heaping it high with whole toasted pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and cashews, and drenching it in caramel. It took me a while to get the hang of making caramel, though. After endangering our guests’ teeth with a filling resembling nut brittle, I found that the secret to soft caramel is the same as for chocolate ganache: an insane amount of cream.

This apple crumble tart recipephany makes a warmly spiced alternative to that rich caramel tart, a delicious balancing act of tangy and sweet, soft and crunchy. Sautéing the apples and spices before baking concentrates flavors, thickens the filling, and caramelizes the sugars.

You can get a 13 ¾” x 4 ½” x 1” pan for yourself or, as I did, you can simply drop hints at holiday time. The trick is having the right size cutting board or serving platter. I got lucky and found one dirt cheap at Pier 1. I also make disposable serving boards to take to parties by cutting matte board or foam core scraps to 15″ x 6″ and covering them in parchment paper using a glue stick (tape won’t stick).

Hope to see you soon at a holiday party. I’ll be the one carrying the apple crumble tart.

Apple Crumble Tart

A. Prepare crumble topping

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter
  1. Combine dry ingredients, molasses and spices.
  2. Cut in the butter with fingers to make a course crumble. Set aside.

B. Make pastry

  • 1 ½ cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 3 tablespoons orange juice (more or less)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Mix flour and salt, cut in shortening until it looks like coarse meal. Stir in enough orange juice with a fork to make a ball of dough.
  3. Roll the pie crust into a rectangle to fit the pan, then reinforce the sides with extra pastry. (You will have some leftover.) Prick all over with a fork to keep from puffing during baking.
  4. Bake for about 6 minutes. Set aside.

C. Make filling

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large Cortland or other baking apples
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon molasses
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon mace
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Peel, core and thinly slice the apples. Toss in a bowl with lemon juice and zest.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, molasses, spices and flour.
  3. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a frying pan. Add the apples, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Top with sugar, molasses, flour, cinnamon nutmeg, salt and mace.
  4. Cook over medium-low heat until the apples are slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
  5. Remove from heat and cool for about 5 minutes.

D. Assemble and bake

  1. Spread the slightly cooled apple filling over the crust. Sprinkle topping over the apples and lightly pat down. Place the pan onto aluminum foil on a cookie sheet, just in case it bubbles over.
  2. Bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes, or until the crust gets golden and the apples bubble (they won’t bubble too much because of the topping).
  3. Cool until you can release the tart easily from the pan. Use a thin sharp knife to loosen the sides. If you want, you can leave the bottom on.

Place on a cutting board or rectangular platter. Slice and serve. Optional: Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and store for two days at room temperature or refrigerate.

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Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Posted on 26 October 2015 | No responses

Cinnamonth continues with this recipephany for cinnamon-lover’s bread. With a swirl that leans toward gooey, it’s a warm morning greeting when toasted, and a fun twist with peanut butter and jam.

If you’re like me and enjoy stirring up mounds of cinnamon and sugar to create a spice cloud you can inhale while you bake, this is for you. Just thinking about it gives me a tingling in my sinuses.

When my daughter Claire gave me the recipe she got from Allrecipes, she said, “Use TONS of cinnamon.” She reasoned that if you’re in this for the cinnamon—and it is “cinnamon bread” after all—then the more you can taste the better the bread will be. The original recipe called for 2 tablespoons, and I have tripled that and added a little more sugar.

The concept of “too much cinnamon” eludes me, but I found that too thick a layer could cause the swirl to separate from the dough. Nevertheless, I’m always trying to push the envelope and hope you do the same.

Claire also told me to roll it thin to make a tight swirl. I’m still working on that. (Note: Compare the new loaf of bread above to the slice of toast below and you’ll see I’m making progress.)

This makes three lofty loaves with the ease of making one. So you can give one away, devour one and stash one in the freezer.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread

Makes 3 large loaves

Dough:

  • 8 cups flour (all-purpose or bread)
  • 4 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups milk (can use nonfat)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened
  • 1 cup raisins

Swirl:

  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • Butter or margarine to rub over outside of warm bread
  1. Put 4 cups of flour, yeast and ½ cup sugar into the food processor with a plastic dough blade and whir to blend. Add eggs, softened margarine, 1½ cups milk and 1 cup water at room temperature. (Do not warm these because they will heat up in the food processor.) Whir until smooth.
  2. Add more flour by the cup and process until the dough moves away from the side of the bowl. It should take about three minutes, and the dough will still be stringy and sticky. Add raisins and whir to combine.
  3. Add enough flour to make the dough easy to handle, and take out of the food processor and put onto a lightly floured surface. Knead a minute or two to get a satiny dough.
  4. Oil two large bowls. Divide dough in half, place each half in a large bowl, and cover each with plastic wrap. Let rise about an hour, or until double in bulk.
  5. Combine dough from both bowls and roll out on a lightly floured surface into a large rectangle about ½ inch thick. Brush dough with 2 tablespoons milk. Mix 1 cup of sugar with 6 tablespoons cinnamon and sprinkle over the dough.
  6. Roll dough up tightly, creating a roll about 27 inches long and 3 inches in diameter. Cut into thirds, and seal the seam and ends.
  7. Place the loaves in three generously greased 9×5 inch pans. Let rise for about an hour. During that time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  8. Bake for about 38-45 minutes, or until loaves are lightly browned. They are ready when they sound hollow on the bottom when tapped.
  9. Remove from pans onto rack and immediately rub tops and sides of the warm loaves with butter or margarine. Cool before slicing.
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Apple Butter, Pressure-Cooker Fast

Posted on 6 October 2015 | 12 responses

I’m declaring October “Cinnamonth,” and kicking it off with harvest-fresh apple butter.

Smooth, cinnamon-spiked apple butter on soft challah was my equivalent of a jelly doughnut when I was growing up. So this year, besides our usual tart Cortlands for pie, we also picked Macouns and McIntoshes (which get mushy when cooked) to whip into apple butter. I’d never made it before, but applesauce is a cinch, so how difficult could it be?

Turns out it’s easy, but shockingly time-consuming. Besides the cinnamon and other spices, complex flavors bloom from that mysterious process called caramelization. While applesauce cooks up in less than a half-hour, apple butter takes a whopping 3½ hours.

This is a job for my superhero, The Pressure Cooker. It can turn a slab of corned beef fork-tender in an hour. It can convert dried, out-of-the-bag navy beans into Southie-worthy Boston Baked Beans in just 45 minutes. And in less time than it takes me to check email, veggies cook up vibrantly colorful, bursting with concentrated flavor and at the top of their nutrient game.

How does The Pressure Cooker do it? Don’t let that low-tech look fool you. I suspect there are some serious quantum mechanics at work. Lock the lid, set the heat, and the contents travel to some cosmic dimension where they cook to perfection in a fraction of earth time. We can’t see inside the pot—much like the box with Schrödinger’s cat—so who knows what kind of spacetime hijinks goes on?

With this recipephany, you’ll get apple butter that will make your fanciest jam jealous. While relatively quick, it is still the longest I’ve ever cooked anything in The Pressure Cooker: 1 hour 10 minutes. But it’s worth every second. It’s out of this world.

Enjoy, and Happy Cinnamonth!

Pressure Cooker Apple Butter

Makes about a pint of dark, deeply flavored apple butter. Doubles well with no change in cooking time.

  • 4 large apples (I used Macoun, McIntosh and Cortland)
  • ¼ cup cider plus a teaspoon of white or cider vinegar (Note: Cider freezes well into ice cubes so you can have it on hand any time.)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash of ground cloves and nutmeg to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Core, peel and roughly chunk apples. Place in pressure cooker with cider, vinegar, sugar and molasses. Bring up to pressure and cook 1 hour.
  2. Release steam to reduce pressure. Puree the cooked mixture using a food processor or blender.
  3. Return mixture to pressure cooker, add spices, bring up to pressure and cook 10 minutes.
  4. Release steam to reduce pressure and stir in the vanilla.
  5. Let cool a bit, and then pour into a glass pint jar to finish cooling. Store in refrigerator. It also freezes well, so you can enjoy it throughout the year.
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Last Gasp of Summer: Blueberry Whole-Wheat Scones

Posted on 7 September 2015 | No responses

As part of September denial, I’ve been manically buying up fresh blueberries. The season is fast slipping away, and before you know it, blueberries will cost a dime apiece again.

I’ve been making these sunny whole-grain blueberry scones for the past two weeks. They’re buttery, pastry-like and tender, with tangy berries that melt on the tongue and make me wonder what I ever saw in chewy raisins.

While this is an amalgam of recipes, it is mostly a repurposing of Liz’s Whole-Wheat Oatmeal Buttermilk Blueberry Pancake recipephany. I’ve borrowed the key ingredients, the spices, and the technique of soaking oats in buttermilk to create a sweet mush without any hint of roughage (or as my friend Pam used to say, “rubbish”).

This recipephany features a method for cutting fat into flour that I just learned from Allrecipes. Usually I rub chilled butter or shortening into the dry ingredients with my fingers (I’ve never bothered with a pastry blender). Or, I’ll pulse it in the food processor. Instead, for the scones I use a common gadget that has probably inspired many clever kitchen tips: a box grater. I grate a frozen stick of butter right over the bowl. It’s more work, but does a nice job of creating tiny uniform butter curls for a perfect texture. And since I store my butter in the freezer, I don’t have to think ahead to thaw it.

Soon Cortand apples will take over my fridge. Until then, summer’s still in full swing.

Blueberry Whole-Wheat Scones

  • 1¼ cup buttermilk (some will be used for soaking oats, a tiny bit for the glaze)
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1½  teaspoons baking powder
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup frozen butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • Sugar to sprinkle on top
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Soak ½ cup quick oats in ½ cup buttermilk for about as long as it takes to do the rest of the steps.
  3. Whisk flour, baking powder, salt, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar in a large bowl.
  4. Grate a frozen stick of butter right into the bowl using a cheese grater. Add blueberries and toss. Add buttermilk/oat mixture, vanilla, and almost the rest of the buttermilk (save just a little for glaze). Stir until dough is just moistened.
  5. Knead briefly until the dough comes together. Pat into about a 1½-inch thick rectangle. Cut into 4 equal rectangles, then cut each rectangle diagonally into three triangles. Transfer scones onto baking sheet. Brush tops with a little buttermilk, then sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake until well browned and blueberry juices bubble, about 18-25 minutes. Cool before serving.
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Double Chocolate Sorbet (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

Posted on 18 July 2015 | 5 responses

I’ve been itching to make rapturously fudgy sorbet ever since our friends Adam and Pam served it on their porch four years ago.

But who’s kidding whom? I don’t have a modern ice cream machine, and I’m not about to get one. That’s because my husband lives by Newton’s Third Law of Stuff: For every impulse to buy something, there must be an equal and opposite impetus to get rid of something. Every new kitchen gadget kicks out an old one.

I recite this mantra for self-control, especially when fantasizing over the King Arthur Flour Kitchen Porn Catalog. Ah, that perky little Cuisinart ice cream machine would be my passport to homemade sorbet. But do I really need this single-purpose appliance?

Searching for an alternative, I ran across a comment on some blog. In essence it said, “Dude, just use ice cube trays and a food processor.”

The ice cube tray, an endangered gadget since the advent of the automatic icemaker, is a necessary kitchen tool. I cube chicken broth, pesto, fruit juice, egg whites, wine, and more, and then zip cubes into freezer bags. As for my food processor, I use it so much I burnt out a motor. I already use it to whip up fake ice cream using frozen banana, cocoa and vanilla.

I’m not sure why the revelation of pairing these two tools to make sorbet blindsided me. After all, the ice cream machine predates both the food processor and the freezer. Sure, churning during freezing avoids ice crystals. But why not just process the hell out of ice crystals instead? Are we talking disruptive technology here?

Yes, and this recipephany proves it. You can make smooth, intense chocolate sorbet with little effort and few ingredients. The cubes freeze fast, and (according to Serious Eats) fast freezing inhibits ice crystal formation.

There’s only one caveat. Since the melted chocolate mixture is watery, when you pour it into the ice cube trays it can splash like a preschooler in a kiddie pool. To avoid brown pinpoint polka dots on your clothes (I know, I should use an apron), transfer the mixture to a bowl with a spout and then pour it into the trays. Also, a rimmed cookie sheet under the ice cube trays helps keep drips under control.

This recipe fills more than two plastic ice cube trays. I use a small plastic container to handle the rest. So the next kitchen tool I get might be another ice cube tray, probably from Goodwill. I just have to figure out what I’ll take over there in return. Maybe an apron.

Double Chocolate Sorbet (Without an Ice Cream Machine)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup cocoa
  • Pinch of salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant coffee (or to taste, optional)
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I mix Hershey’s Special Dark with regular)
  • 2 1/4 cups water
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla
  1. Mix sugar, cocoa, salt, instant coffee, chocolate chips and water in a saucepan.
  2. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring to thoroughly dissolve chips. Do not overcook. Remove from heat.
  3. Add vanilla and stir. Pour carefully into three ice cube trays (or two trays and a small plastic container). Freeze for three hours, or until solid.
  4. Use a fork to stab the edge of each frozen cube and slide it into the food processor. (This avoids turning over the ice cube tray, which can create a mess.) Whir until smooth. Spoon into a quart container and freeze until firm. You can stir it up from time to time if you want to aerate a little more.

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Ma-Po’s Bean Curd from Pei Mei

Posted on 15 June 2015 | 2 responses

In the 90s sitcom Frasier, the sardonic Niles winces when he meets his first hatchback. “Well, there’s a novel idea,” he says. “Name the car after its most hideous feature.”

I winced, too, when I found out “Ma-Po” means “pockmarked grandmother.” It refers to the Sichuan woman who first tossed tofu with ground meat in a spicy bean sauce more than a century ago. Was she feisty? Did she like to wear red? We’ll never know because some dunderhead immortalized this gifted chef and her luscious creation by her most unpleasant feature. (We might think the name sounds cute because it includes “Ma,” but actually “Ma” is the part that means “pockmarked.”)

Brody’s Second Law of Marketing states that if you can’t name it, you can’t sell it. Ma-Po Bean Curd, even with the flawed name, proves it by finding its way into Top 10 lists of favorite Chinese dishes all around the world.

And with this recipephany, you can make an authentic version at home in no time and with only a few ingredients.

Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book
Fu Pei Mei, the Julia Child of China, was the country’s first famous cookbook author. She started a TV cooking show in Taiwan in 1962, and remained China’s top celebrity chef until her death in 2004. This recipe comes from her groundbreaking Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book, published in 1969 in Taiwan and later expanded into a coveted three-volume series.

Pei Mei’s book screams authenticity because each recipe appears on opposing pages in Chinese and in English. Besides assuring you that she hasn’t dumbed it down for Americans, this format limits each concise recipe to one airy page. It’s clear, easy-to-follow, and all business.

In some ways Pei Mei’s book is like Niles’s hatchback. It is humble and utilitarian. It looks like it was typeset with a Olivetti and rubber stamps, and there are endearing typos throughout. Color plates are right out of a Chinatown menu. Black-and-white snapshots of the author in various settings look like grainy old newspaper clippings.

Like many Chinese-made toys and gadgets from my childhood, this book was not built to last. I bought what I suspect may be a first edition in a short-lived Asian market in Brookline Village about 20 years ago. It would probably be worth a lot if the spine hadn’t prematurely disintegrated and the pages weren’t turning browner than stir-fried tofu.

Authentic, with asterisks
My Chinese friend Angela ruled Pei Mei’s recipe authentic. She was quick to remind me, though, that the Chinese don’t generally follow cookbooks. They start with a list of ingredients, then learn to make a dish by watching over the shoulder of a friend or relative.

But let me be the friend to show you how to make this. Pei Mei has kept the ingredients and the procedure simple. Adjust all the seasonings and sauces to your taste. Add more tofu. You can’t go wrong.

I confess I have never used the brown peppercorn powder. It supposedly creates a numbing sensation that I don’t miss. Let me know if you try it.

Of course, this isn’t exactly Pei Mei’s recipe. I’ve altered quantities and substituted the more convenient bouillon for soup stock. I’ve added turkey as an alternative to the traditional pork or beef because it is light and soaks up the flavors well. I have also suggested Thai hot sauce and hoisin sauce to taste. Neither Ma-Po nor Pei Mei would have done any of that. So just call me “Ma-Bad.”

Ma-Po’s Bean Curd
Adapted from Pei Mei’s Chinese Cook Book

  • 1-2 pounds bean curd
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 pound ground turkey (or pork or beef)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste*
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 cups chicken bouillon
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon brown peppercorn powder
  • Dash of hoisin sauce**
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 2 tablespoons cold water to make a slurry (adjust amount of paste as desired)
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil

  1. Cut bean curd into ½ inch cubes. Put in wok, cover with water, bring to a boil and boil for about 30 seconds.
  2. Remove from heat. Drain and set aside bean curd.
  3. Heat oil in the wok, add ground meat and fry well. Add garlic, hot bean paste (or sauce and chili paste to taste), soy sauce, bouillon, and bean curd. Boil 3 minutes.
  4. Adjust seasonings. Add salt if needed, Add hoisin sauce to sweeten, if desired. Thicken with cornstarch slurry, then sprinkle with chopped scallions and sesame oil before serving.

* I often substitute regular bean paste or bean sauce and add Sambal Oelek chili paste for heat.
** My suggestion. Hoisin sauce is Cantonese, and Pei Mei would never have suggested it for a Sichuan dish.

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Croissant Crazy

Posted on 29 April 2015 | 7 responses

I just tried this recipe and was thunderstruck. Here were high, flaky croissants, the kind I’d expect to pull out of a butter-stained bakery bag rather than right out of my oven. The French call it un coup de foudre —love at first sight—and I’ve fallen hard for this recipephany.

My dreams of baking authentic croissants go way back to my advertising copywriting days at “The Pit.” (See “How to Fowl-Up a Chicken.”) In a desperate attempt to escape that basement sweatshop, I came within a gluten-strand of opening a bakery with a “Best-in-Boston” croissant baker who happened to live downstairs from us. In a moment of over-caffeinated inspiration, I named the prospective bakery Croissant Crazy (“kwassahn kwazy”) and eyed an empty storefront in Brookline Village. I had second thoughts, though, about the drudgery, pre-dawn work hours and the perils of partnership with a stranger. So when my favorite client, Baxter Travenol, offered me a plum job and promised to bankroll my MBA, I stuck with both my professional career and amateur baking status.

As close as I got to selling croissants, I remained clueless about making them. The recipes I tried yielded doughy crescents more Poppin’-Fresh than French.

Last week I flipped through Joanne Chang’s Flour cookbook and discovered her recipe. Founder of the successful and trendy Boston bakery called simply Flour, she devotes nearly 2,000 words to her well-honed method. With sincerity and generosity, she reveals how the pros do it. Her recipe leaks the plans for perfect croissant lamination—delicate multilayers of butter and silky-smooth dough. Thanks to her, I’m finally in on the lightly-floured secret handshake of the French pastry chef.

Croissants are as much origami as baking. And origami begs for diagrams. Chang didn’t include any, so I’ve drawn them to show the folding and cutting steps at a glance. Since they won’t fit on this post, please see the full Recipephany Croissant Recipe.

Be precise, use a ruler, and fold along the dotted lines. If you’re like me, you’ll love playing with the dough, but there’s also a lot of waiting. Don’t skimp on the long rises—they improve texture and deepen flavor. And—here’s the secret to flakiness—once you fold the dough into a package, don’t start by rolling it out. First press firmly with the rolling pin up and down over the length of the dough, which will create ridges and flatten it down close to the right size. Then roll out the dough just to smooth the ridges and get to the final size. This distributes the butter evenly between the layers and prevents the top layer from stretching beyond the others. You’ll be rewarded with delicious paper-thin layers and a lovely flurry of tasty brown flakes.

For ease and simplicity, I changed Chang’s procedure slightly so I could use my food processor. I also pounded out the slab of butter with a rolling pin rather than using a mixer because it seemed tidier. But I stuck to her origami technique and recommend you do the same.

Have fun and go croissant crazy!

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Gardner Heist 25th: Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Posted on 15 March 2015 | 2 responses

On March 18, 1990, two guys dressed as Boston’s Finest pulled off the biggest art heist in US history. Holes in Gardner Museum’s so-called security led to holes in frames.

I commiserate with those who may never tick that Vermeer off their bucket lists. But mostly I feel mostly for Isabella. I’ve had a close, imaginary relationship with this woman since the day I arrived at college literally next door. Museum admission was free back then, so I frequently strolled through like an invited guest, taking in Sunday concerts that seemed arranged just for me. In my yearbook picture, I’m seated on a bench abutting the Venetian courtyard, my hair ironed and my glasses off, seeking approval from Isabella’s palpable spirit nearby.

I envision her spirit wandering the museum, pissed off that after 25 years the FBI is still without a solid lead.

Stollen Pieces
Clearly, Isabella’s Stollen Pieces aren’t real stollen, the fragrant yeast bread filled with almonds and brandy-soaked fruit. But the cookie bars do have a lot in common with it: cinnamon, two types of raisins, orange zest, and toasted slivered almonds. With a nod to Isabella, the batter is also full of spirits. Instead of milk, I used Triple Sec liqueur to reconstitute nonfat milk powder. Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?

Like real stollen, the pieces tend to dry out, but they stay delicious and are good dunkers in tea or coffee—or even some spirits.

Isabella’s Stollen Pieces

Have you seen this painting?

  • ¼ cup dark raisins, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup golden raisins, coarsely chopped
  • Warm water to cover raisins
  • About 3/8 cup Triple Sec orange liqueur
  • 1½ cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 1½ tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • ¼ cup dry roasted slivered almonds, coarsely chopped
  • ¼ cup dry roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Powdered sugar and water to glaze
  1. Grease a 15 1/2” x 10 1/2” x 1” jelly roll pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine dark and golden raisins. Pour enough warm water over raisins just to cover.
  3. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, molasses, cinnamon, oil, eggs, salt, soda, vanilla, orange zest and milk powder.
  4. Drain the raisins and reserve the liquid. Add enough Triple Sec orange liqueur to the reserved liquid to make ½ cup. Add to the other ingredients and stir. Mix in raisins and nuts. Spread into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 18 minutes, or until done. Cool 10 minutes.
  5. Glaze with 1 cup powdered sugar mixed with hot water to desired consistency, a tablespoon at a time.
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Pi Day 2015: 10 Digits of Pi

Posted on 10 March 2015 | 2 responses

We’ll celebrate Pi Day on 3.14.15 at 9:26:53. My mathematics-major husband suggested this 10-digit representation to celebrate this rare occasion.

The apple pie is made of Cortlands from the half-bushel we picked in September. When we got back from the orchard, I peeled and sliced apples, tossed them in a bowl with spices and filling ingredients, double bagged them in one-pie portions, then labeled and stored them in the freezer. I defrosted a bag overnight in the refrigerator, then made this farm-fresh pie in no time with my own 10 little digits.

Apple Pie Filling (fresh or frozen)

  • 6 or 7 Cortland or other baking apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon mace
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • Pastry for two-crust pie, either Orange Juice Pastry or Edith’s Flaky Pie Crust

1. Mix all filling ingredients in a bowl. Use immediately, or store in a food bag in the freezer for up to a year. For frozen filling, defrost in the refrigerator before use.

2. Roll out pastry dough and line a 9-inch pie pan. Rub bottom crust with butter or margarine. Pour in filling. Dab with butter before putting on the top crust.

3. Trim and crimp. Brush milk or cream on the top crust, avoiding crimped edges as they get dark anyway. Sprinkle lightly with sugar. Cut slits or poke top with fork to release the steam.

4. Place pie on a cookie sheet on a rack in the top third of the oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 425°. Lower heat to 375° and bake about 40 minutes, or until pie is golden brown and bubbly inside. Serve hot or at room temperature.

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Oscars 2015: Imitation Game (or, “Rabbit” Out of the Woods)

Posted on 23 February 2015 | No responses

Best-picture nominee The Imitation Game handed me this pun on a platter for Oscars Night 2015. This recipe for Sicilian sweet-and-sour rabbit marinated in red wine and simmered with pine nuts, golden raisins, olives and capers made a tender and deliciously drunken stew with chunks of chicken thighs. Alongside it, we served Grand Goudapesto Rotelle, a baked casserole of corkscrew pasta tossed with basil pesto and grated gouda. It was all much more satisfying than the half-baked Oscars show.

As you can see below, Oscar himself is reading up on our Variety Boffo Buffet, which included:

  • The Tequila of Everything Margarita with Eddie Redmayne Pomegranate Juice (to honor National Margarita Day)
  • Birdmanchego Cheese
  • Rosamund Pickles
  • German Code Crackers
  • American Snippets
  • Emma Stone Crab Tarts
  • Mark Ruffalo Mozzarella
  • Benedict Cucumberbatch with Feta Knightly
  • Julienne Moore Stir Fry
  • Citizenfour Leeks
  • Breadly Cooper
  • Selma-lina King Cake
  • Cool Whiplash
  • BoyHoodsies to Eat Witherspoon

Imitation Game, or Sicilian “Rabbit” Stew with Chicken Thighs

  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 4 small or medium onions, 2 in quarters and 2 finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 6  tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 1  clove garlic, minced
  • 2  tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 20 small green olives, pitted, and broken into pieces
  • 2 tablespoons capers
  • 1 two-cup chicken bouillon cube, and water as required
  • 1 tablespoon honey, or more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or more to taste

1. In a large bowl, combine the wine, onion quarters, 1 teaspoon salt, and some twists of the pepper mill. Cut chicken thighs into about 1-inch chunks, submerge in the marinade, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 1 to 3 hours.

2. In another bowl, pour warm water over the raisins, just enough to cover them, and set aside to plump.

3. Drain the chicken well and remove the onion. On a sheet of wax paper, combine flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and another few twists of the pepper mill. Roll chicken chunks in the mixture and shake off excess.

4. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan or pot. Sautée the chicken chunks until lightly brown, about 2 minutes. The flour will tend to stick to the pan, but that is okay as long as you do not let it burn. Dark brown is okay.

5. Remove chicken and set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan or pot. Add chopped onion, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring well, for 5 minutes or until onion softens, making sure not to burn flour on the bottom of the pan.

6. Return chicken to the pot. Add raisins and water, tomato paste, pine nuts, olives and capers. Add the bouillon cube and enough water to barely cover the stew. Bring to a boil. stirring well to deglaze the pan and mix in any flour stuck to the bottom. This will thicken the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes.

7. Add vinegar and honey and continue simmering for 15 minutes more or until done. You can continue to cook to reduce sauce about as long as you want, as the meat will stay tender and the flavors will blend.

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No-Knead Rustic Bread

Posted on 5 February 2015 | 2 responses

I’m one of millions of home bakers who, after failed attempts at making crusty bread, achieved the impossible with the New York Times’ No-Knead Bread recipephany created by Jim Lahey (owner of Sullivan Street Bakery) and turned viral by Mark Bittman (big-time food writer).

With no special ingredients or equipment, this phenomenal bread essentially makes itself. It has the holey, airy, chewy and crusty goodness of a European-style loaf from a respectable bakery.

We use this for everything, from sandwiches, bread pudding, and bruschetta to (in its last gasp) toasted breadcrumbs. Once a week I stir up the dough after dinner, then bake it the next morning or early afternoon. The toasty aroma and the crackling it makes as it cools raise the cozy quotient of the house, especially during our recent record-breaking snowstorms.

You get a lot of leeway with this technique. The gluten develops into such stringy strands during the long rise that you may not be able to tell the difference between all-purpose and bread flour. If you shorten or extend the rising time by an hour or two, the bread most likely won’t care.

But there’s one immutable requirement: a pot with a tight fitting lid, often called a Dutch oven. Don’t ask me for the science, but I think it has something to do with increasing the humidity around the loaf. Happily, you don’t need to put a Le Creuset on your Christmas list. My white speckled, 13-inch oval black-enamel-over-steel Dutch oven I got decades ago works like a charm, despite its light weight. One just like it (Granite Ware roaster) today costs only $13.

This recipephany feels like a throw-back to neolithic times. I can see early bakers swirling the sticky dough with their hands, then letting it collect wild yeast from the air until it gets bubbly. After they form it into a ball, they leave it to grow high before they plop it into a small stone oven. Whenever they bake it, it’s okay—nobody is watching the sundial.

If you haven’t already seen it, take 5 minutes to view Mark Bittman’s famous New York Times video that upended the baking world. Here is my adaptation of this marvel, which makes a slightly larger loaf than the original. I add just a dash of honey to reward the yeasties for all their labors, since they are the ones saving us the work.

No-Knead Rustic Bread

Mix:

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast (SAF-Instant, from the 1-pound package I freeze to last over a year)
  • A drizzle (about a teaspoon) of honey

Add:

1 3/4 – 2 cups water

1. The evening before. Mix dry ingredients and honey in a large glass bowl with a wooden spoon. Pour in half the water and stir a few turns. Add more water and stir just until it becomes a mass of sticky, spongy, lumpy dough, with all the flour barely incorporated. If it’s too dry, add a dribble more water. It should grab onto the spoon and not want to give it up. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 12-18 hours at room temperature.

2. Morning or early afternoon (you have a lot of leeway here). Dough should be full of bubbles and still a little sticky. Sprinkle flour over it to keep it from sticking to you and fold dough over on itself gently a couple of times, still in the bowl.

3. Generously flour a cotton towel (not terry cloth). Adding just enough flour to keep it from sticking, form the dough gently into a ball. To get good oven spring, you need enough surface tension so that it holds its shape. Put onto the center of towel. Flour top of the dough, and fold the towel over to cover it. Let it rise about 1 ½ hours or until double in size.

4. Meanwhile, about a half-hour before dough is ready, put a 3- to 8-quart covered pot into the oven and preheat to 460 degrees. (Mine holds only 2 ½ quarts, but its domed lid allows plenty of room for rising.)

5. When dough is ready, take the pot out of the oven and uncover. Quickly invert the cloth and dump the dough into the hot pot. Don’t worry if dough is scraggly or if some has stuck to the towel and you have to break gluteny strands to release it into the pot. If dough doesn’t go in straight, shake the pot a couple of times to better distribute it. It is very forgiving. Slash top with a sharp knife lengthwise to help it crest. Cover and bake 35 minutes.

6. Take off lid and brown another 5-10 minutes or so, depending upon how dark you like your bread.

7. Take out bread and let it cool (and listen to the crackle) for about an hour before cutting. Reheat leftover bread the next day(s) for best flavor and texture.

NOTE: Since I posted this, I took out the instruction “Let it sit for 15 minutes” at the end of Step 2. This rest seems to relax the dough and make it more difficult to form into a ball. I also changed the range of water, since the amount you use depends upon the humidity in the house. In the winter I use more than in the summer. I now recommend slashing the top with a sharp knife, which helps give it a nice crest. Finally, I found a dough whisk for a buck at Goodwill and love it. It saves most of the work—cleaning the wooden spoon.

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The Great Molasses Flood and Mighty Molasses Clove Cookies

Posted on 14 January 2015 | 2 responses

January 15, 1919. A bulging, overheated storage tank burst, spewing a towering wave of fast-flowing molasses into Boston’s busiest commercial district, killing 21, injuring 150, and wreaking tsunami-style devastation.

The incongruity of “molasses” and “disaster” tends to rob the legendary Great Molasses Flood of its gravitas. Better viewed as a horrific industrial accident, it offers up five lessons worth mulling over on its 96th anniversary.

1. Heed warning signs.

The massive tank, which held more than 2 million gallons, leaked so badly that neighborhood kids used to scoop up the puddles with pails. The owner, U.S. Industrial Alcohol (USIA) Company, chose camouflage as a solution when it repainted the gray tank to match the oozing molasses. Our Government may screw up, but let’s hope that part of our tax dollar continues to go toward safety inspectors who prevent such criminal negligence.

2. Expect unexpected consequences.

Nobody blames Prohibition for the flood. However, USIA had earmarked the molasses for rum production and filled the shoddy tank to the brim to outrace the Eighteenth Amendment. Prohibition passed the day after the disaster and took effect a year later.

3. Beware of “nice” Boston weather.

The temperature had swung from 2 degrees up into the 40s within a couple of days. While people stood around coatless in the sun chatting about the weather, the dark-brown syrup in the dark-brown tank nearby was overheating, fermenting, and building up deadly pressure.

4. Understand non-Newtonian fluids.

Like modern paints and other “shear thinning” non-Newtonian fluids, molasses turns from the tortoise into the hare under pressure. The same glob that seems like it will never make it from the jar to the measuring cup went from viscous to vicious, speedily flowing at 35 mph after erupting from the high-pressure storage tank. As it thickened, it smothered all in its path.

5. Remember the mightiness of molasses.

What people see today as a quaint old flavoring and quirky sweetener was once a staple in every home, the coin of the realm in the early American economy, and a major historical force. The Molasses Act of 1733 taxes helped foment the Revolution. Molasses was pivotal to the ignominious Triangular Slave Trade: West Indies molasses to New England; rum to Africa; slaves to the West Indies.

By the time of the flood, molasses was losing its hold on the New England economy. It no longer played a role in munitions production, which had kept it a hot commodity during World War I. Sugar had taken its place as a standard sweetener. Its star had faded, and it was slipping into a status of “old-fashioned.”

If this odd and tragic disaster had to happen somewhere, it’s not surprising it was Boston. Molasses had been so vital to everyday life—and central to the signature brown bread and baked beans that carried its name—that Boston could easily have been “Molassestown” rather than “Beantown.” The molasses tank was as relevant as today’s cell tower. This flood deserves to be remembered as the catastrophe that marked the end of the Molasses Era.

Except, of course, in my kitchen, which is happily stuck in the Molasses Era. And the Mighty Molasses Clove Cookie explains why.

As you bite into the crackled surface, it bites back with a jolt of spice and hearty molasses. The chewiness gives way to a supremely moist interior made possible through the miracle of molasses.

This is not a gingersnap; it has no ginger. Gutsy levels of cinnamon, cloves and vanilla awaken even the laziest taste buds. I buy molasses by the gallon, spices by the pound, and vanilla by the quart. I revel in recipes like this that don’t wimp out, that remind me of the mightiness of molasses. If you find you don’t have enough cloves or even molasses, come on by and I’ll give you some.

Mighty Molasses Clove Cookies

Makes about 3 ½ dozen

  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup oil  (I use canola)
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 teapoons vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • Extra sugar for sprinkling
  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves.
  3. In another large bowl, beat sugar, oil, molasses and vanilla for about 3 minutes at medium speed to aerate.
  4. Add the egg to the wet mixture and beat about a minute.
  5. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet in 3 additions, mixing on low speed after each to incorporate thoroughly the dry ingredients. After the final addition, beat on medium for just a few seconds to get the dough uniform.
  6. Spoon a little shy of a tablespoon of dough onto the parchment paper for each cookie, placing cookies 2 inches apart. Flatten them slightly to form rough discs, and sprinkle lightly with extra sugar.
  7. Bake about 9-11 minutes, or until the tops crack. Remove sheets from oven and slide the parchment paper with cookies still on top onto cooling racks. Cool completely before removing and storing in an airtight container.
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Jimmy Bruic’s Banana Vegan Cookies

Posted on 21 October 2014 | No responses

I wish to publicly thank Ellis Island for my Irish surname. Having walked the breathtaking landscape of my faux homeland, I will increasingly claim this island as my own. Actually, my kids are a quarter Irish, thanks to my husband’s great-grandparents who came from the Dingle Peninsula. So according to a Scientific American article (I’m not making this up), “Scientists Discover Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains,” I may be part Irish after all!

And why shouldn’t I claim Irish food as my heritage? Smoked salmon, for which my brain has a unique receptor, appears in convenience stores, for goodness sake. I breakfasted on sweet, freshly smoked kippers, a royal relative of the canned version my mom used to sizzle with eggs. Irish stew, Irish brown bread, Irish butter, Irish oatmeal, Irish tea, Irish whiskey—that “Irish” brand calls to me as if from some ancient, inherited memory.

View from Coill an Róis Bedroom

This recipephany comes from the affable proprietor of the Coill an Róis (Forest of the Roses), a model bed and breakfast in Ballyganeen, Feohanagh, Dingle, County Kerry. After a two-day walk along the Dingle Coast, we reached this cosy guest house nestled amidst sheep-dotted farmland with gentle mountains on the horizon. Jimmy Bruic, who built the B&B about 20 years ago on his family’s briar-covered farmland, greeted us like a long-lost cousin and regaled us with a proper afternoon tea and baked Irish treats. Formerly the pastry chef at Harbour Lights in Manhattan, Jimmy spent many an off-season working at trendy New York restaurants. So I hit the jackpot when, after my enquiring about his chocolate mini-muffins, he responded instantly with an A4 sheet of recipes which included this very clever cookie.

Smart cookie
Why so clever? It’s quick and simple. Splendidly oaty with oil instead of shortening, it boasts just-right sweetness, slight chewiness, and lots of Irish charm. Make it with or without nuts. It’s wholesome, of course, but with a wink, since chocolate chips add that confectionary indulgence yet to be found in nature.

I’m surprised my new cousin Jimmy defines this as a banana cookie, since that is a background flavour. Maybe it’s because the banana makes it all possible by replacing the egg. I prefer to call this my favourite oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, with no need to qualify it with “vegan.”

Slán, and stay tuned for more Irish recipephanies.

Jimmy Bruic’s Banana Vegan Cookies

(Shown above with Barry’s Irish Tea)

Preheat oven to 320° F.

  • One banana, mashed
  • ½ cup oil
  • 2/3 cup sugar (I added a touch of molasses)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla (I doubled to 2, as always)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 cups Oat Flakes (I used old-fashioned rolled oats)
  • ½ cup walnuts, chopped
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (I used Hershey’s Special Dark, not too sweet)

Combine all ingredients. Spoon onto baking tray. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Makes 2 dozen.

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Black Magic Wedding Cake, One More Time

Posted on 5 September 2014 | 4 responses

Black Magic Wedding Cake

I only have two children (as far as I know). And both asked me to make them Black Magic Wedding Cakes. I couldn’t have been happier if they had proclaimed “I love you, Mom” on the Fenway Park Jumbotron.Chocolate Leaves

Last year, it was my daughter Claire and Gordy’s three-tiered cake with buttercream frosting.

This year, Raegandrew (Raegan and my son Andrew) opted for all chocolate. No tiers, no “3D frosting.” Just regular birthday-style cocoa frosting.

Six cake recipes yielded exactly three 9” cakes for guests and one 6” three-layer cake for the bride and groom to smear all over each other’s faces. Claire truly topped it all with her poetic sculpture of intertwined trees with gleaming, gem-like leaves.

Wanting to push the 3D barrier and echo the wedding’s nature theme, I added some chocolate leaves. I found an easy recipe (see below) for something called modeling chocolate, a cross between Tootsie Rolls and fondant, but more delicious. Rolled thin, it made a smooth, pliable sheet, perfect for a mini cookie cutter.

Olalliberry Pies, too

Raegan and her mom made a bubbling pot of their favorite pie filling—luscious olalliberry—which I had the honor of encasing in orange juice pastry and decorating with pastry leaves. The remarkable olalliberry has the complex flavor of mixed berries because it is a hybrid of raspberries and two types of blackberries. Grown primarily in California, it is as unknown and regrettably as absent on the East Coast as In-N-Out Burger.

So now that the kids are married, I hope to be working on Black Magic Anniversary Cakes next.

Modeling Chocolate for Chocolate Leaves

  • 7 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ¼ cup light corn syrupPlease enjoy both of the favorite childhood desserts of Raegan (olalliberry pie) and Andrew (chocolate cake)
  1. Heat the chocolate in the microwave until barely melted. Stir until smooth and slightly cooled.
  2. Stir in the corn syrup. The chocolate will stiffen almost immediately. Stir until completely combined. Refrigerate about a half hour to harden a bit.
  3. Roll thin between wax paper and cut out shapes. If too hard, nuke in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and get back the gloss.
  4. Put any leftover chocolate into a plastic bag and store in the refrigerator. When ready to cut, nuke for a few seconds, again to soften and get glossy.
  5. Refrigerate leftover chocolate. It will keep for months.

Cake and pie photographs by Mason Foster Photography.

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Boston Brown Bread Muffins

Posted on 18 May 2014 | 4 responses

Boston Brown Bread MuffinsWhen I moved to Boston, New England was in the middle of its Muffin Era. Pewter Pot Muffin Houses had Colonial wenches serving up a couple dozen varieties which, according to the Harvard Crimson, all tasted pretty much the same except for the chocolate chip.

Home bakers were obsessed with finding the “real” recipe for the legendary Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin sold in the department store’s dining room. It was a cakey mountain, topped with crusted sugar and bursting with perfectly distributed blueberries. I’ve tested several “original” recipes swearing to have come from such unimpeachable sources as the actual baker’s mechanic’s wife’s hairdresser, but was never convinced.

The other Holy Grail was the moist, bakery-style bran muffin. I’m sure they have bran muffins down South, but I never had one until I moved here. I think it has something to do with molasses or perhaps a New England preoccupation with regularity. Traditional recipes call for All-Bran cereal, which I refuse to use on principle. I tried recipes with unprocessed wheat bran, but never found a keeper.

Then along came the Boston Brown Bread Muffin. It’s the bran muffin’s dark, mysterious cousin—the ultimate bran muffin without the bran.

I cut this out from the Boston Globe food section in 1987, taped it to an index card, and stuffed it into my “baked goods to try” cardboard accordion folder. I rediscovered it about 15 years later, after the elastic around the folder had snapped, and the dividers bulged way beyond their rated capacity. As I was triaging which recipes to save to my new 3-ring binder with sheet protectors, this one sweet-talked me with its Boston accent and all that molasses.

Had I not left the recipe to languish all those years, I would have discovered the genius of its author, Marion Cunningham, sooner. This came from The Breakfast Book, the first book she wrote under her own name after she had masterminded the updated Fanny Farmer Cookbook. She cleverly adapted Boston Brown Bread, a Yankee staple since the Pilgrims, repurposing it for breakfast rather than for supper with baked beans.

The tenderness of the rye and wheat flours give way to a tiny cornmeal aftercrunch. The softened golden raisins add a brightness in every sense, so don’t substitute regular raisins if you can help it.

You know how recipes say to fill the muffin tins only ½ to ¾ of the way up? You can fill these almost to the brim. They only overflow a little, enough to make that kind of muffin top we can all enjoy.

Now I guess I have to go back to finding that elusive Jordan Marsh blueberry muffin.*

*Done. See Jordan Marsh Blueberry Muffin Cake.

Boston Brown Bread Muffins

Adapted from The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham

  • 1/2 cup rye flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup plus about a tablespoon molasses (be generous here)
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  1. Preheat oven to 400º. Grease 12 muffin tins, or line with paper baking cups.
  2. With a fork in a large bowl, blend together the rye flour, cornmeal, whole-wheat flour, salt, and baking soda. In a small bowl, beat together the egg, molasses, sugar, oil, and buttermilk until well blended. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture and mix well. Add the golden raisins and stir to mix.
  3. Fill the muffin tins almost to the brim. Bake 15 minutes or just until the top sets and bounces back to the touch, or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into the muffin center. Don’t overbake. Serve hot. Makes 12.

* I substitute Saco cultured buttermilk powder and water. You can also use sour milk; combine 1 tablespoon white vinegar plus milk to equal 1 cup.

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