While I enjoy the creativity of dishes that are updated, deconstructed, or chemically induced into fascinating forms, I sometimes crave more classic flavors. Dishes prepared as they have been for generations have a way of satisfying hunger of the belly and the heart.
For Passover, I made matzo balls prepared with shmaltz (chicken fat) and a simple chicken soup . The plump orbs bursting with rich chicken essence floating in golden liquid produced from simmering a local stewing hen and farm vegetables would have made any Jewish grandmother proud. I hope that next holiday time you will throw away that dusty box of soup mix and try the recipe below.
1 cup matzo meal
4 eggs (beaten)
4 tablespoons melted chicken fat (skimmed from chicken soup)*
5 tablespoons cold water
Dash of salt & white pepper
In a bowl, mix all ingredients, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 20 minutes
Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water until simmering.
Wet hands with cold water and scoop the matzo mixture by small handfuls about 1″ around into the simmering water. Do not pack the mixture in tight balls.
Cover the pot and simmer gently for about 10 minutes and then turn the matzo balls, cover, and cook for 10-15 minutes more. Serve in hot chicken soup.
Makes about 18.
*Note: you can also use frozen chicken fat, butter (if you are not concerned with keeping the dish Kosher), or Parve margarine
I love Passover and all of the symbolism and stories and the special foods the holiday carries. Passover meant huge dinners with family and friends, somehow managing to squeeze in one or two more chairs for last-minute guests who could not bear to miss the fun. From the days of being the giggling children at the table impatient for the meal to begin; to teens snickering about wicked sons and stealing sips of wine; to joyfully watching the next generation hunt for the afikomen-Pesach has always filled my heart with delights.
Since I will eat matzoh anytime and consider it a treat, the main food of Passover is not a boring burden for me. For many however, anything that can help break the monotony is welcome. So when I saw that Cabot was making a Kosher for Passover cheddar, I knew that I needed to try to make a Passover acceptable version of my favorite sandwich, the humble grilled cheese. Since wine is a big part of the holiday celebration, I used it in my recipe but you can use apple juice for the kiddies if you wish.
Drunken Passover Grilled Cheese
Kosher for Passover cheddar cheese
Kosher for Passover Port or other sweet wine
Heat butter in a non-stick frying pan
Slice cheese into thin slices
Pour some wine into a shallow dish or plate
Dip two pieces of matzo in wine until wet through but not soaked & soft
Immediately, layer slices of cheese between matzo pieces
Cook in butter until cheese is melted and matzo is toasty (if you’ll pardon the expression during Pesach)
Every year at Passover I made traditional favorites but I also try to create one or two new dishes for my family and friends. This year in addition to holding our usual big seder dinner, we are planning to have a Passover brunch toward the end of the holiday. I love popovers for brunch so I decided to try my hand at creating a tasty version with matzo cake flour. They came out delicious and I now have several dozen tucked into the freezer to heat and serve with homemade strawberry jam at our brunch. Also, on our menu will be omelettes, homemade gravlox, and cranberry matzo meal pancakes.
Below is the recipe for Sweet Passover Popovers which can be made in a standard muffin tin. They will not puff quite as much as traditional popovers but will be light, eggy, and delicious.
Sweet Passover Popovers
1 cup matzo cake flour (not matzo meal!)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons sugar
pinch of cinnamon
Heat the oven to 450 degrees
Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl (preferably one with a pouring spout)
Mix together wet ingredients
Add the wet to the dry ingredients
Mix until just well combined (do not overmix)
Grease a 12 cup muffin tin
Pour batter evenly into 10 cups
Bake for 15 minutes
Turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for about 10 minutes more
Poke each popover gently with a fork to allow steam to escape
Serve hot or room temp or cool and freeze
A blizzard was coating the trees outside my kitchen window with billowy frosting but inside the house it was dry and toasty warm. I shuttled trays of cookies from counter to oven to cooling racks; a few detouring into my mouth.
Since I was not going out anytime soon, it the perfect time to make a yeast bread and I had been craving babka since the weather had turned cold. I grew up in New York City where babka was the queen of Jewish breads. If you were visiting someone for brunch or making a shiva* call, you would always stop by the bakery on your way and pick up a chocolate babka or its more subdued and traditional cousin, the cinnamon strusel babka.
I couldn’t decide which flavor to make so I left it up to my foodie pals on Twitter to make the choice for me. I should have know who I was dealing with as the leading votes were ”combine the two” and “make both”. So here is my rather untraditional cinnamon chocolate walnut babka recipe or Babka By Committee.
Chocolate Walnut Cinnamon Babka
3 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 package active dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces milk chocolate
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Melt butter and chocolate until smooth, allow to cool slightly
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoons sugar mixed with sprinkle of cinnamon
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Heat butter and milk in a small pan until very warm-butter does not need to melt completely
Mix yeast, sugar, cinnamon, and milk and butter mixture in a large bowl or stand mixer
Add 1/2 cup of flour and mix well
Beat together eggs and sour cream
Add to the dough in the mixer and blend well
Add 2 cups flour and mix for a sticky soft dough
Turn out onto a floured board and knead about another 1/2 cup of flour into the dough until it is no longer sticky but still soft and easy to work
Form dough into a ball
Grease a large bowl and the top of the dough and allow to rise until doubled covered with a towel for about 1 hour
Pat the dough into a rectangle about 9″x12″
Spread cooled chocolate (see filling below) on the dough leaving a strip of dough the short length without chocolate
Sprinkle with nuts and cinnamon sugar
Roll up jelly roll style from the short end
Place in a baking pan and allow to rest for about 20 minutes
Brush with egg and water mixture and sprinkle with more cinnamon sugar
Bake for about 50 minutes until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped
Allow to cool before slicing
*a Jewish custom to visit and bring food to the house of a family in mourning for seven days after the funeral
It is practically blasphemy to say it this time of year; but I don’t like eggnog. A nice frothy homemade batch will do as a conduit for bringing rum to lips, but it is just not my favorite holiday beverage. A warm mulled wine, cocoa spiked with spirits, or an elegant tall glass of bubbles are more my style for celebrating.
When my stepdaughter insisted on buying some eggnog at the supermarket, I groaned. She is the only one in the house who would drink it and as I predicted after sipping a tiny glass, she grew bored with it and moved on to something else. I hated to waste the rest of the container of eggnog so I decided to see if I could bake it into something I would like.
Much of what I don’t like about commercial eggnog is the syrupy sweet flavor and the heavy texture. I like rich creamy feel in custards but not in drinks so I decided to whip up a custard and offset the sweetness with some farmers cheese. I am sure ricotta would have worked as well but farmers cheese was what I had on hand and the slighty salty flavor was perfect.
I made a quick basic tart dough (I love Sweet Tart Dough from Fanny Farmer Baking Book, 1984) and chilled it. Then I put together the filling (recipe below)
and poured it in the chilled shell. I baked the tart for about 40 minutes at 350 degrees and then let it cool. Since I had leftover candied citrus and cranberries which I had made for another recipe, I sprinkled them on the tart along with some blanched almonds for extra crunch.
NOTE: An unbaked pie shell would also work for this recipe as well.
With my first bite, I knew that I would never feel the same about eggnog again. After my friends devoured slices of my eggnog “pie”, I realized that I might even have to keep some of the previously maligned beverage on hand just for this recipe. Happy and Delicious New Year to everyone!
Egg Nog Pie or Tart Filling
1 cup of eggnog
8 oz farmer cheese
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup dried currants
2 Tbs Southern Comfort (optional)
Whisk together all ingredients and pour into prepared tart or pie shell
I love to make holiday cakes, gingerbread, and candy house creations. With my many visits to Massachusetts farms, over the last few years, I thought it would be fun to make an edible farm scene and I included a little surprise inside the barn.
Often gingerbread houses don’t live up to their tantalizing appearance in terms of taste, but our farm was going to be delicious because hidden under layers of gingerbread graham crackers and royal icing was a buttery lemon pound cake. With the addition of iced shortbread animals and cotton candy “snow”; it was a fun and tasty treat.
After Christmas supper, all of the kids participated in farm deconstruction and devouring. My friend’s son suggested laser guided missiles be aimed at our tranquil setting (boys!) but we settled for fingers to crack the roof and pluck the animals from the snow and then a grown up with a sharp knife to slice the cake. The cake was moist and delicious and my stepdaughter claimed that the black sheep (the only sheep who escaped from the pretzel stick pen to nibble some shredded wheat hay) tasted the best of all!
Although my family celebrates Chanukkah, every year at this time my kitchen is filled with joy and piles of Christmas delights. I bake holiday cookies and make candy for friends and business associates and always make some kind of crazy cake creation for Christmas dinner. I will be posting more about my cake next week, but for today it is all about sweet ways to spread some holiday cheer.
This year’s treats included apple cider and walnut brittle, cranberry and pepita caramel, breakfast bark (dark chocolate with raisin bran cereal, ground coffee, and drizzled white chocolate”milk”), peanut butter bark, chocolate treat cups, candy cane & cocoa swirl cookies, chocolate M&M trees, and my favorite, bacon & coffee piglets. The recipe for these adorable cookies is below and they are as tasty as they are cute.
Bacon and Coffee Butter Cookies
2 1/4 cups flour
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup crumbled crisp bacon
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Cook bacon until crisp in the oven or a frying pan
Cool and crumble into small bits and set aside
Heat oven to 350 degrees
Cream softened butter and sugar
Add egg yolk and water
Blend until combined
Add flour, coffee, and cinnamon and mix until a ragged dough begins to form
Stir in bacon and mix just until dough comes together in a ball
Gather dough together and wrap in plastic and chill for at least one hour
Roll dough to 1/4 inch thickness and cut out cookies with cookie cutters (such as the cute little pig shown)
Bake for about 12 minutes until edges are barely brown
It was a wonderful holiday filled with family and twinkling candles and rich delicious foods. Tonight I had big plans; knishes, blintzes, or chopped liver with gribnes, perhaps. Alas, my tummy was craving something much more simple. A little something from my childhood, a classic from the Catskills of my grandparents days. Slice a banana, add a bissel (little) sour cream, sprinkle on some cinnamon & sugar and the dish is done. Serve with a steaming cup of Sweet Touch Nee Tea. Maybe a cracker or two…
Happy Hanukkah to all and to all a good night!
Applesauce is part of many Hanukkah meals so I made a few batches during apple picking season to tuck away for the holidays. I freeze my applesauce in small containers so I can always thaw just as much as I need.
This year we picked Golden Russets and Roxbury Russets at Kimball Fruit Farm and these old varieties of apples made the most amazingly full-flavored apple sauce. I also mixed some raspberry puree (from berries picked at Wright -Locke Farm in Winchester) into one of the batches for a rose-colored sauce with a tart and fruity twist.
My applesauce is made with peeled and cored apples, cut into chunks. It is cooked slowly with water, a cinnamon stick, and a little sugar.
I will leave it to you to decide if I am the best stepmother ever or the worst. As we rushed through the supermarket to buy more potatoes for latkes, I suggested to my stepdaughter that I could make Chicken Schnitzel (one of her favorite dishes) for our Hanukkah supper. Since it is traditional to eat fried foods it would make as good a holiday meal as the latkes.
“Yes” she cried “latkes and fried chicken for dinner!” I had meant that I would serve one or the other along with perhaps some steamed brocoli or a nice green salad but somehow we ended up gleefully leaving the market with chicken and potatoes, but not another vegetable in sight. I proceeded to make my family the Jewish holiday equivalent of a KFC Double Down for dinner. Healthy it was not, but as a once a year treat, this dinner was a winner!
1 pound of chicken cutlets or about 4 pieces
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning mix
dash of paprika, salt & pepper
oil for frying
Pound the cutlets between sheets of wax paper
Mix the paprika, salt & pepper into flour
Mix breadcrumbs with cheese and Italian seasoning
Beat eggs with milk
Dredge each cutlet in flour and then dip in egg mixture and then into breadcrumbs
Heat about 1/2″ of oil in large frying pan
Fry the cutlets until golden brown on both sides and cooked through
Serve with latkes and lots of homemade apple sauce
If you are serving a kosher-style meal, substitute water for milk and replace the cheese with more breadcrumbs.