While Jews of Eastern European descent celebrate Hanukkah with mountains of latkes, Sephardic Jews fry sufganiyot. But for everyone – and every holiday – there’s always…chocolate?
Yes, just about everyone’s favorite ingredient never goes out of season, claims award-winning author Alice Medrich, whose book “Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season” (Artisan) offers 50 luscious, decadent recipes to crown every holiday and celebration.
“I wanted to do a season-to-season book,” said Medrich by phone from her Berkley, California, home. “Other ingredients we like to cook with change with the seasons. The constant is chocolate.”
Jewish cooks know that Hanukkah is all about the oil. The symbolism goes back to ancient times, when Judah Maccabee and his tiny army defeated the Syrian-Greeks and recaptured Jerusalem. In attempting to rededicate the Temple, they found only enough oil to burn for one day. Miraculously it lasted eight days, and we've been celebrating with a frying frenzy ever since! But who says traditional potato latkes are the only fritter fit to fry?
“Chocolate Banana Blintzes are fried, and Hanukkah is a great excuse to serve them,” noted Medrich. “They are just so delicious, a fancy party dessert that’s easy to do.” Restraint, she said, is sometimes the secret ingredient. “A little burst of chocolate sauce in a hot crepe with bananas is more seductive than a chocolate blintz with chocolate filling,” she writes.
Another lesser-known Hanukkah tradition involves the story of Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow, who dined with the enemy general Holofernes. She plied him with cheese to make him thirsty for wine, and when he fell into a drunken stupor, she beheaded him with his own sword. Because her bravery is said to have inspired the Maccabees, some communities remember Judith by eating cheese during this holiday.
My friend Eileen Cohen knows her chocolate. In a blind taste test she can tell Tobleron from Godiva with her hands tied behind her back.
That’s why, when she raved about the chocolate mousse that nutrition expert and cookbook author Jennifer Flynn had served, I was intrigued. A healthy chocolate mousse? What was the secret? Would you believe avocado?
“Nobody believes me when I tell them they are eating avocado,” said Flynn, author of “The Super Food Generation: 14 Foods That Get You Glowing.”
“It’s amazing how well the other ingredients mask the flavor of this buttery fruit. The heart-healthy fat of the avocado is a perfect replacement for the dairy cream used in traditional mousse.”
Flynn became a vegetarian when a friend brought her an article about the conditions in slaughterhouses.
“I’m a really big animal lover, and I thought, I don’t want to be a part of this. My family didn’t think it would last, but I started paying attention to ingredients and noticing the hidden animal byproducts and ingredients you can’t even pronounce the names of.”
“The Super Food Generation” is not a diet book. “I wanted to get back to basics and promote healthy foods and ingredients rather than a particular diet,” she explained. “I want people be open-minded and not think so much about having to stick to a diet, but become more familiar with the healthy foods out there and adapt them to their own particular diet.”
Besides the avocado, pumpkin – along with carrots, sweet potatoes and its relatives in the squash family – is another of the 14 super foods that work “synergistically with the human body to unlock vitality, strengthen immunity and literally slow down the aging process,” Flynn writes.
Excuse me? Pumpkin Pie a health food? We’re talking about a healthy Thanksgiving feast now?
Passover Chocolate Chip Mandelbrot
My friend Dede Ginter tested this recipe for me, and her husband Ed’s AK
/(alter kocker)/Poker Club gave these light and crispy cookies sixteen
thumbs up. If a recipe called for chocolate chips, you could always
count on Aunt Estelle to use lots. She should have named these Passover
Downfall. Enough said. Mom says “ditto.”
Parchment paper or vegetable cooking spray, for the baking sheet
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, at room
2 cups sugar
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Passover vanilla
2 1/2 cups matzoh cake meal
3/4 cup potato starch
4 cups (two 12-ounce bags) semisweet chocolate chips
1.Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a baking sheet, or better yet, line
it with parchment paper.
2.Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed
until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a
time, scraping the bowl several times. Then beat in the vanilla. Reduce
the speed to low, and add the cake meal and potato starch. Scrape the
bowl, and blend just until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate
chips.(If the dough feels too sticky to handle even with floured hands,
cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is stiff, 30 minutes
to several hours.)
3.Divide the dough into 4 portions. Flour your hands with cake meal, and
form each portion into a log the length of the baking sheet. Space the
logs evenly on the prepared baking sheet, and bake on the center oven
rack until they are golden and the tops are firm to the touch, 30 minutes.
Rosh Hashanah is coming, apples are in season, and thoughts turn to the familiar. Friends tell me this tried and true, really simple cake reminds them of the one their bubbe or tante used to make.
Aunt Sally's Apple Cake
(Recipe for MICHAEL VOLTAGGIO'S PEACH BRÛLÉE WITH GREEK YOGURT, CINNAMON CROUTONS & POMEGRANATE MOLASSES follows story)
I felt as if I had entered an alternate universe. Outside the vendors were hawking deep-fried butter and frogs' legs (no worries, dear reader, I had the chicken on a skewer) and inside Michael Voltaggio, last year's winner on Bravo TV's Top Chef, was decomposing a salad, his "vegetable landscape," with over twenty artfully arranged ingredients in a primordial forest tableau- not exactly what you might expect at the Orange County Fair!
Broccoli was blanched, dehydrated and then fried at 400°. "It pops like popcorn," he said. "I hated broccoli as a child, so I recreated it. I'm a big fan of broccoli now."
I love mushrooms in my salad, but I have to admit I've never tried puréeing them and using the purée in cake batter instead of sugar, "a savory cake," and baking the concoction in a tiny log-shaped mold, but if you're creating the forest floor on a plate, you've got to have a log, no? "Mushrooms grow where there's fire," he noted, so he scorched it with a blowtorch.
Voltaggio peeled a baby eggplant, threaded it with a cinnamon stick like a skewer and grilled it. "Cinnamon has a peppery flavor and gives you a whole new food experience. Try it on steak or fish," he recommended.
Roasted beets, grilled spring onions, dehydrated coriander flowers, fried okra battered in chickpea flour - this was no ho-hum, everyday salad!
Tips of tender baby asparagus and fresh peas went in raw. "You don't have to cook the crap out of everything to make it taste good," he advised. Strawberries macerated in rice vinegar and mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine) and melon slices got the vacuum pack treatment.
Murphy’s Law was operating in full force last night as I tried to
duplicate Chef Mary Sue Milliken’s Lemon Soufflé recipe seen on Bravo
TV’s Top Chef Masters a few weeks ago.
While Milliken lost in the final round to Chef Floyd Cardoz, the judges’
oo-ing and ah-ing sent visions of lemons dancing in my head. But the
recipe serves 12. Who would be my guinea pigs?
My opportunity came last night as my houseguests from Sweden – a
delightful family of five – sampled the dish. Unfortunately they also
“sampled” my haphazard style as they watched me screw up a seemingly
simple recipe. And yet, despite six (count them) mistakes, the result
was tasty, but here are some tips so that may learn from the wisdom of
Pay attention and concentrate! The good news is I have an open kitchen
which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking. The bad news is I have
an open kitchen which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking.
Read the recipe! Seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I can’t tell you how
many times I’ve looked at the list of ingredients without consulting the
method. “Oops” is not something you want to hear in the kitchen.
So where did I go wrong? Here goes:
(Step 1) Notice it says “half the sugar.” Don’t throw all the sugar into
the yolks and then try to pick some out later. In this case, the other
half the sugar is for whipping the egg whites, which need to get only to
the medium peak stage, so no harm done there. (Whew!)
(Step 2) When you’re bringing milk to a boil, don’t start chatting and
turn your back on it and let it boil over with skim forming on top so
that you have to strain it.
Attention shoppers. A new fruit in town will hit the shelves any day
now. Check Ralphs and Trader Joe’s for a white apricot called
“angelcot,” a trademarked name from Freida’s, the specialty produce
company headquartered in Los Alamitos.
And here’s a recipe any busy cook will love: “Split open an apricot, dip
it in Cholula Hot Sauce – you know, the one with the wooden top – and
eat!” says Karen Caplan, Freida’s daughter and president of the company.
“It’s a delicious combination of hot and sweet.”
As Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa, would say, “How easy is that?”
Now in its fiftieth year, the company was the brainchild of Freida
Caplan, who started as a cashier at the produce market and began selling
a neglected stack of mushrooms near the cashier stand. They took off.
“Unable to find enough mushrooms to supply her growing customer base,
she did something really wild and unheard of,” Karen writes in “The
Purple Kiwi Cookbook” (Favorite Recipes Press), a tantalizing recipe
collection based on the exotic produce –– from Asian pears to wood ear
mushrooms – that Freida’s markets today.
“She began visiting growers. No one at the produce market had ever
thought of that before.”
Why the Purple Kiwi Cookbook?
“My mom introduced the kiwifruit to America in 1962, first imported as
Chinese gooseberries and renamed it.” Karen noted. And the company color
is purple, because it was the only color the sign painter had on his truck!
“The Purple Kiwi Cookbook” demystifies cactus pears, horned melons,
lychees, passion fruit, quince, star fruit – all those exotics you’ve
seen in the market and wondered, now what do I do with this?
I don’t come from a long line of pie bakers. I don’t think my grandmother, Mama Hinda, ever baked one…I know my mother never did. Yet to my mind as a young bride, nothing epitomized consummate homemaking skills as much as the baking of pies, something I would not even attempt for decades.
For many years I lived with a dough phobia, the result of a kitchen disaster I call the “kreplach incident.” I had rolled out the dough for these little meat-filled dumplings, carefully placed them in boiling water and they exploded! That experience created a fear of all things rolled that spilled over to piecrusts and pastries and lasted over thirty years.
Although in the ensuing years I rolled cookie dough and turned out homemade knishes by the dozens with ease, somehow pie baking I thought of as a magical gift bestowed from birth on some, but never to be attained by others. Genetics, perhaps?
“I’m just not a dough person,” I would lament… until testing recipes for my cookbook forced me to face my fears (and without a support group). Recipes needed to be tested. I cooked. I baked. I even perfected the dreaded kreplach! The pies I left for last.
Finally, in an “Aha!” moment of the kitchen kind, I realized…I roll cookie dough, I roll knish dough. Now I even roll kreplach dough! Surely I can roll pie dough.
Enter cooking instructor Barbara Shenson, whom my daughter-in-law Tracey met when Shenson was teaching for Home Chef, a cooking school and store in San Francisco. Her pie-making tips put that last notch in my belt.
“My crust always shrinks,” I whined. Read the whole story.
You adored it as a kid, but you’ve never outgrown it. Here are two words that make everyone’s eyes light up – ice cream!
“In the store-bought category there’s good, not so good and really bad,” said food writer and consultant Peggy Fallon, author of “The Best Ice Cream Maker Cookbook Ever” (HarperCollins) from her Northern California home. Ice cream maker? Do I need yet another unused appliance taking up space on my counter, I wondered.
Then I leafed through the book and I was smitten. Chocolate Pumpkin with Hazelnuts. Peaches ‘n’ Cream. Double Ginger. Utterly Peanut Butter with a whole cup of peanut butter in a quart of ice cream! But with so many even gourmet ice creams available today, why would I want to make my own?
“I think the appeal of homemade ice cream, sorbets and frozen yogurts is that you control what goes into them,” Fallon noted. “There are so many odd ingredients in most supermarket ice cream. Just look at the labels. When you make your own, you use real cream, eggs, sugar and milk. If you’re concerned about what you put into your body, it’s better to eat real food.”
Sounds great, but I’m thinking, remember that bread machine you couldn’t live without and the havoc it played with your waistline?
Then I read on. A chapter called “On the Lighter Side” offers mouthwatering light ice creams, frozen yogurts, granitas and sorbets with alluring titles such as Maple Crunch Light Ice Cream, Tangy Orange Iced Buttermillk, Honey Vanilla Frozen Yogurt and Pear Sorbet with Zinfandel and Fresh Basil. Read the whole story