Ginger snaps

16 Oct

ginger-snaps.jpgHere’s a great fall recipe, perfect for Halloween parties as well as any old time. They just taste like autumn! One of the best things about these cookies is they last a long time. They start out somewhat soft (though with a definite “bite”) but after a few days they get hard and crunchy and may be even better than fresh-out-of-the-oven.

I got the recipe from a guy I once worked with, who brought them to a potluck. Everyone wanted the recipe. Of course it was his wife who had made them, and she got the recipe from her grandmother, so it has a pedigree!

Ingredients:

¾ cup shortening
1 cup brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2¼ cup flour
2 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
Granulated sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream together the shortening and brown sugar. Add the molasses and egg and mix well.

Stir in the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

Take a small amount of dough, roll it into a ball in your palms and then roll the ball in a small bowl of granulated sugar. Place the balls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Don’t be tempted to flatten the balls: they’ll do that on their own. Bake for 10-11 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

 

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Stuffed cabbage

4 Oct

stuffed cabbage

Sukkot, the 7-day Jewish holiday of Sukkot that commemorates the ancient Israelites’ wandering in the desert and also celebrates the fall harvest, starts on the evening of October 13 this year. It’s traditional to serve fall-harvested vegetables, and stuffed cabbage is one of my favorite Sukkot dishes. It reminds me of my Polish- and Russian-born grandmothers. They called the rolls prakas. Others called them holischkes.

How can something that smells so awful taste so delicious? Cooked cabbage is a that cliche of novels and movies about immigrants in tenement houses. I will be the first to admit that the scent of cooking cabbage is not up there with fresh bread and popcorn as an enticing aroma. Cooking it as stuffed cabbage is not as bad, because you also get the bouquet of cooking meat and tomato sauce. But don’t be put off by the fear of cooking cabbage! The end result is well worth it. (When you’re done you can burn a nice-smelling candle to deodorize your kitchen.)

Lots of recipes tell you to boil the head of cabbage and then separate the leaves. This is a mess, because you need a huge pot, and then you have to handle a hot head of cabbage. Others say to cut the leaves off the head of cabbage and parboil them. This is also unsatisfactory, because it’s very hard to get intact leaves off a raw head of cabbage—and then you still have to deal with hot cabbage leaves dripping hot water all over your kitchen.

I have a better way, which I learned from my beloved late Aunt Lili. The only drawback is it takes some planning. At least a week before the holiday, buy your cabbage, wrap it well in foil, and stick it in the freezer. A few days later,  take it from the freezer and put it in your fridge. A block of frozen cabbage takes a long time to defrost, so allow at least five days! You can speed up the process by defrosting it on your counter, but you’ll still need a day or two. Put the frozen cabbage into a large bowl or deep platter, because a lot of water will seep out as it defrosts.

When the cabbage is completely defrosted, cut out the core, and the leaves will just fall away, nice and soft and ready for rolling.

Some people like to make “unstuffed cabbage” by chopping up the cabbage and making meatballs out of the stuffing, then cooking it all together in the tomato sauce. This may be slightly less work, but honestly, the taste is not as good, and you still have to roll the meatballs. The only excuse for doing it this way is if you forget to freeze and thaw your cabbage.

Six years ago I was writing another food blog called Feed the Spirit, part of an online magazine called Read the Spirit, which is still published weekly. I wrote about the Sukkot holiday and included this recipe for stuffed cabbage, and I made this little video to show how easy it is to stuff the leaves.

Ingredients

One large, green cabbage, frozen and then defrosted
2 lb. ground beef
1 cup cooked white rice
1 small onion, chopped fine, or 2 Tbs. dehydrated onion flakes
Garlic powder to taste
1 egg
6 oz. can tomato paste
2 cups water (use the the tomato paste can to measure so you can rinse out the paste that sticks after you spoon it out)
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1 Tbs. brown sugar
½ tsp. salt or to taste
Black pepper to taste
A handful of black raisins

Directions

Combine the ground beef, rice, onion, garlic and egg. Mix well.

Cut the core out of the cabbage and separate the leaves. Cut off any really hard core pieces from the bottom of each leaf, but save the pieces you cut off. Pile the leaves on a plate and set aside.

Place a cabbage leaf on a cutting board or counter and place a few tablespoons of the meat mixture on the leaf near the bottom; mold it into a log shape. Fold the bottom of the leaf up around the filling, then fold in the sides and roll up the leaf into a neat package. Set the filled rolls aside, seam side down, on a plate or cutting board.

When you’ve used up all the meat, chop up any remaining cabbage and put it, together with the pieces you cut from the bottom of the leaves, into a large Dutch oven or slow cooker. Place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, over the chopped-up cabbage.

Combine the tomato paste, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well. The sauce should be fairly thick. Take a tiny taste to see if you like the balance, and add more lemon juice, brown sugar or salt and pepper if necessary.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage rolls. Try to cover the tops of all the rolls with sauce, but the rolls won’t be submerged in sauce yet. The cabbage and meat will produce a lot of “juice” and increase the volume of sauce, so don’t fill your pot or slow cooker to the very brim. You may need to use two pots.

Throw a handful of raisins into the pot(s) after you’ve put in the sauce.

If you use a slow cooker, cook the dish on “high” for at least six hours. If you use a Dutch oven, cover the pot and heat on a medium-high flame until the liquid boils. Now you have a choice: you can continue to cook on the stovetop at a simmer, or you can put the pot in a 300-degree oven. Either way, you will need to cook the stuffed cabbage for about three hours.

You can probably use an Instant Pot, but I haven’t done so and I can’t advise you on how long to cook it — probably about an hour.

Another suggestion, useful if you plan to freeze the cabbage rolls: place the cabbage rolls, seam side down, in an oblong aluminum foil baking pan and pour the sauce over. Cover with foil and cook in the oven. Then you can just pop the whole pan into the freezer after it cools.

Check periodically to be sure the tops of the cabbage rolls aren’t getting too dry and that nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add water as necessary. As the cabbage cooks, the sauce should get much thinner in consistency.

This amount of meat, rice and cabbage will make about 20 cabbage rolls of varying sizes.

The cabbage rolls will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. They also freeze very well.

Red Curried Tofu

16 Jun

Red curried tofuI hosted a lunch meeting last week and one of the guests was a gluten-free almost-vegan (well, maybe she’d eat one egg, she told me). I figured my best bet would be an Asian vegan dish.

I got this recipe from a magazine – which one I do not know, possibly the late, lamented Cooking Light – and I really like it. It’s fast and easy to make, tasty and healthy. According to the recipe, it has only 292 calories per serving, 7 grams of fat and 3.5 grams of fiber so it’s a good Weight Watchers choice. We don’t like cilantro, so we substitute parsley.

This dish is very flavorful and nicely spicy. The heat comes from the Chinese chili paste, so if you don’t like it hot, use less (or even none) and if you like a lot of heat, use a little more.

Ingredients:

1 cup uncooked long-grain white or brown rice
2 tsp. dark sesame oil
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
2½ cups onion, sliced vertically
1 cup yellow or red bell pepper strips
1½ tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground turmeric
½ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
1 Tbs. honey
½ tsp. Chinese chili paste with garlic
1 14.5-oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice
1 12-15 oz. package firm or extra-firm reduced fat tofu
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro (or parsley)
¼ cup chopped dry-roasted cashews

Directions:

Drain the tofu and wrap it in a clean dish towel. Place a dish or bowl on top to weight it down slightly and leave it while you prepare the rest of the dish.

Cook the rice as you normally would or according to the package directions.

While the rice is cooking, in a small bowl, combine the curry powder, coriander, turmeric and salt. In another small bowl, combine the soy sauce, honey and chili paste.

Heat sesame and vegetable oils in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper strips and sauté about 4 minutes until tender. Stir in curry, coriander, turmeric and salt, and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, then the soy sauce mixture.

Cut the tofu into 1-inch cubes and add to the skillet. Stir well so that the every piece of tofu is coated with sauce. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for two minutes or until thoroughly heated.

(If you want to prepare this ahead of time, do the tofu mixture first. Reheat it just before you’re ready to serve.)

Serve over rice, and sprinkle the chopped cilantro (or parsley) and chopped cashews on top.

Serves 4

Chicken with apples and caramelized onions

6 May

Adapted from a recipe in the Detroit Free Press (many years ago), which says it was “from and tested by the Chicago Tribune.”

Ingredients:

1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
1 medium tart apple, cored, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbs. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. honey
1 tsp. minced ginger
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Preheat the broiler or a grill pan.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the apple, balsamic vinegar, honey and ginger. Cook, stirring frequently, until the apple slices soften and the onions caramelize, about 10 minutes.

While the onions and apples are cooking, season the chicken and broil, turning halfway through cooking, until cooked through, about 12 minutes total.

Cut the chicken lengthwise into slices and transfer to plates. Top with the onion-apple mixture.

Serves 2

Instant Pot Chicken Soup

27 Mar

Chicken SoupI’m not one of those rabid Instant Pot fans, but I have been pleased with the results the few times I’ve used it.

A few months ago, when I couldn’t find a satisfactory recipe, I decided to invent my own way to make chicken soup in the Instant Pot. I found it was even easier and even tastier than my standby “Cheater’s Chicken Soup.”

Please note that this is not a recipe as much as a method. The exact ingredients may vary.

I had a package of frozen “chicken bits” in my freezer — wing tips, backs, tails, necks and other stuff cut from fresh chicken that no one eats.

To add to that, I went to the local kosher supermarket hoping for some chicken feet. When we lived in England when we were first married, the butchers threw the feet in with the chickens, and they really fortified a soup. But they’re very hard to find nowadays. The local kosher mart had them — but they cost more than actual fresh chicken! I decided to skip the feet but found a package of chicken bones neatly tied up in a cheesecloth bag — also exorbitantly priced considering they were bones, but a lot cheaper than the feet. If you can find reasonably priced chicken feet, I highly recommend them.

I tied my defrosted “chicken bitsInstant Pot chicken soup 1” up in a cheesecloth package as well, and did the same with some chunked veggies: onion, carrot, celery, dill and parsley. You could also include a parsnip or turnip.

I put all three cheesecloth packages into the Instant Pot and mooshed them down a bit so everything was below the “fill” line. This time I added a cupful of leftover chicken soup and another cup or so of “chicken juice” from the last roast chicken we made — but don’t worry if you don’t have these on hand, they are totally optional. The “chicken bits” and bones are more important.

I added water up to the Instant Pot fill line, closed the lid, hit the “Soup/Broth” button, and an hour later had a potful of delicious soup — about three quarts. That hour included the time needed to get the pressure up, the cooking time, and the time to release the pressure. And the kitchen smelled great!

After cooling the contents of the pot, I removed and discarded the cheesecloth bags. Depending on what your “chicken bits” consist of, you may find some chunks of meat you can pull off and add to the soup. The veggies will be too mushy to save; if you want to serve carrots, celery, turnip or the like with your soup, cook them when you reheat the soup before serving.

The first time I made soup this way, when I didn’t add any leftover soup or “chicken juice,” I needed to add just a teaspoon or so of chicken stock powder to make it sufficiently strong. (Alternatively, I could have boiled it for awhile to concentrate the flavor.) The second time it was fine as it was.

Instant Pot chicken soup 2You may want to strain the soup into a Dutch oven or soup pot but if you use cheesecloth bags for your ingredients, there’s really no need. It is a good idea to let the soup sit in the fridge overnight so that any excess fat can rise to the top to be skimmed off.

Add salt and pepper to taste (if you use kosher chicken bits, juice, etc. you probably won’t need salt, but a little ground black pepper is nice.) You can also add dill and parsley at this point if you didn’t put them in your vegetable cheesecloth package.

Serve with cooked noodles, matzoh balls, kreplach, gyoza or any other kind of dumpling.

Hamentaschen

13 Mar

(It’s that time of year again! I thought it might be a good idea to reprise my blog about hamentaschen.)

Hamentaschen 4

These fruit, nut or poppy-filled cookies are popular on the Jewish festival of Purim, which commemorates the events told in the Book of Esther. This year, Purim falls on March 21

The cookie’s three-cornered shape is supposed to represent Haman’s hat, though the word means “Haman’s pockets” in Yiddish, and in Hebrew, they’re called “oznei Haman” — Haman’s ears!

My mother wasn’t much of a cook, but she baked these hamentaschen every year. She got the recipe from our neighbor in Northeast Philadelphia, Ida Silver.

In 2007, I read a Hadassah magazine article by Judy Davis called “My Mother’s Hamentaschen” and I realized Judy Davis was the married name of Ida Silver’s oldest child, a few years older than me. But the recipe in the magazine was not my mother’s recipe!

I hadn’t seen Judy in at least 40 years but I tracked her down – she worked at the University of Massachusetts – and emailed her. In her response she admitted the recipe was not her mother’s, which she either never had or lost. “I must have had a copy at some time, though I have no memory of it,” she wrote. “I love the idea of your mother having used her recipe (it means my mother must have shared some of them with her), and I love that it is being handed down to the next generation.”

Indeed it is! My children always enjoyed my hamentaschen – at some point, each of them served as my baking assistant. Now they are making the same recipe. And in all humility, I say that I know only one friend who has a recipe for hamentaschen as good as these. The cookie is tender, and the honey and lemon give it a nice flavor.

I usually double the recipe, though now that the children are out of the house and we are retired (with no office colleagues to share goodies with), I am going back to making a single batch. I don’t use a board to roll out the dough. I do what my mother did: cover the kitchen table with an old sheet and work some flour into it and use that as my workspace.

Use Solo brand pie filling or similar; regular pie filling is too runny and will make the hamentaschen soggy.

Ingredients:

2½ cups flour
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
½ cup sugar
⅓ cup vegetable shortening
¼ cup honey
1 Tbs. lemon juice
2 eggs
1 can Solo fruit, nut or poppy pastry filling

Directions:

Sift dry ingredients together. Cream shortening and sugar. Add honey and lemon juice and mix well. Add part of flour, then eggs, then rest of flour. Dough should be soft enough to form a ball but not sticky

Hamentaschen 3

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out on a floured board, cut out rounds using a cookie cutter or glass (dip edge into flour to prevent sticking). Place a half-teaspoon of filling in the center of each piece, then pinch into a three-cornered shape. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned. Cool on wire rack.

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies

 

 

Oven “fried” zucchini

5 Mar

zucchini oven friedHere’s a nice way to make zucchini that even vegetable haters will love! You’ll want to slice the zucchini about a quarter-inch thick. That sounds really specific, but it doesn’t have to be. I was trying to figure out how to say “not too thin, not too thick” so I looked on a ruler and a quarter-inch seems about right. The point is, you want the slices to not fall apart when they’re baked, but you don’t want them to be so thick that they won’t cook all the way through quickly.

For the breadcrumbs, a mixture of panko and regular breadcrumbs is good. If you don’t have seasoned breadcrumbs, just add some parsley, a grind of black pepper, a sprinkle of garlic powder, a pinch of paprika, and a pinch of any other herbs you like.

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchini, sliced diagonally
1 egg, beaten
½ cup seasoned breadcrumbs
non-stick cooking spray or olive oil in a spritzer

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with non-stick spray or oil. Place the breadcrumbs on a plate.

Dip each zucchini slice in the egg, drain off excess, and then roll the slice in the breadcrumbs and place it on the baking sheet.

When all the slices are on the sheet, spray the tops lightly with oil.

Bake for about 20 minutes, turning after 10 minutes. Baking times may vary, depending on your oven. Both sides should be golden brown.