Friday, December 23, 2011

Say It With Cookies - Happy Holidays

These gorgeous cut-out linzer cookies were made by the wonderful Anita Chu of Dessert First and part of the recent holiday cookie swap at the home of La Vie En Route blogger Annelies Hyatt Zijderveld.

There was lots of good cookies, good cheer and good company, but probably the most fun was had by rearranging the letters left of Anita's cookies once you ate one.  It became kind of a game, if you ate one you had to play cookie anagrams and make sense of the remaining letters.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.
All the best for 2012


P.S. What cookies did I bring?  I brought a version of my peppermint candy cookies.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Nothing Says Chanukah Better than Vegan Latkes

Vegan latkes use flax seeds as binder
Tonight's the first night of Chanukah (or Hanukkah or Hanukah or even Xanuka). It's always very special watching the glow of the menorah's candles in the darkened room surrounded by those I love. (You can find links to all my Chanukah posts here)

Since I'm about 99.9% vegan these days (I do still create and sample non-vegan recipes but I don't inhale), I thought I'd try adapting my latke recipe so I could scarf them up just like everybody else.  The recipe worked well and the non-vegans who sampled the test batch liked them just as much as I did.  The flax seeds gave the latkes a faintly nutty taste that was very pleasant.  Since the symbolism of the fried potato pancake at Chanukah is all about the oil, not about the egg, a vegan latke is perhaps unorthodox but still in keeping with holiday tradition. If you would like the recipe and technique to make the more traditional latkes, please click here.

Vegan Latkes
Serves 6 as a side dish, if this is a main course serves about 4.  If you are feeding folks that like to grab the hot latkes right out of the fry pan for a little taste or nosh, yield will be significantly less.

I use flax seeds that come preground. I don't peel the potatoes. Shredding the onions with the potatoes is alleged to help retard browning, however once the potatoes are fried, any discoloration can't really be seen.

4 Tbs. ground flax
3/4 cup of water
3 lbs. of russet, Idaho or other baking potato, peeling optional
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
Canola or other frying oil

Mix the ground flax seeds with the water.  Stir or whisk until combined.  Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thick and gelatinous.

Shred potatoes alternating with onion.  (Larger shreds produce lacier latkes with rougher edges. Fine shreds or grated potatoes produce more "pancake"-like latkes.)  Squeeze dry and discard liquid.  Stir in garlic, salt, pepper and flax seed mixture.  Mix well.   Let sit for a few minutes so mixture can bind.

In a very large skillet (the heavier the better) over medium-high heat, heat oil that is about 1/4-inch deep until it is very hot. (I drop a bit of batter in to see if it sizzles with bubbles all around.)  Take a handful of the batter (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup depending on how large you want the pancakes) and press the the batter between two hands to make a patty, squeezing again to remove any moisture. Place carefully in the hot oil, pressing down with a spatular on the latke occasionally to flatten it some what.  Do not over crowd the pancakes in the pan. Fry them until browned on both sides and crisp on the edges, adding more oil as needed. Drain on parchment paper (see note below). Repeat until all latkes are fried. Keep cooked latkes warm in a low (250 degree) oven if desired.

Note:  The flax seeds not only "glue" the potato shreds together, they also cause the latkes to stick to paper towels or brown paper bags (the usual medium for draining them).  Use the parchment paper instead to avoid or lessen the problem or pat the latkes with a paper towel and set them directly on the serving platter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Pot Roast 101 and a Recipe for Pot Roast with Tamarind

Gary likes to shred our pot roast. We served it in its sauce over latkes.
My mother was the queen of the pot roast, so making pot roast is part of my culinary heritage.  It’s a natural for holiday dinners (such as Chanukah or Rosh Hashanah) since your can cook it in advance and just reheat before serving.  In fact, it is almost required to cook in advance. There are two reasons for that. The first is that the flavors just get even better by letting it sit overnight and eating the next day.  The second is that there is absolutely no predicting when the pot roast will be done.  It could take two hours, it could take four.  I had one particularly reluctant specimen take eight hours until it reached the perfect you could cut-it-with-a-fork tenderness.

Making pot roast is really very easy, but here are some tips to help ensure success:

  • Cut away any extra surface fat, but don’t pick a piece of meat that is too lean. (That eight-hour pot roast was very, very lean).  I like to use boneless chuck roast, which I find flavorful and relatively economical.
  • Be sure to use a flavorful liquid and enough of it.  Think of the liquid as your flavor vehicle. In the recipe below I use tamarind and tomatoes for flavoring.  You could use wine and or broth for a more traditional pot roast flavor combination.
  • Be sure to add enough seasoning.  However, if you are using a kashered piece of meat you might want to go sparingly on the salt and season the gravy/sauce to compensate after you taste the cooked meat and sauce.  I find that meat that has been kashered (salted and drained according to the Jewish dietary laws) retains some residual salting and I can’t predict how little or much that will be.
  • Use a heavy enough pan or put a flame tamer or heat diffuser underneath a thinner pot to be sure you have even heat and to avoid burning.
  • Leave yourself enough time.  With a pot roast, meat passes through stages from raw to appearing to be cooked but hard as rock to full submission with the desired degree to tenderness.  The long, moist-heat cooking is breaking down the proteins and connective tissue, so you can’t just give a time for cooking a pot roast.  Keep checking, add more liquid if need be and keep cooking until a cooking fork pretty much glides through the meat.  If your pot roast is recalcitrant and just won’t get to that final stage of melt-in-the-mouth softness, you have two choices. Store it in the cooking liquid overnight and cook it further the next day and see if even more cooking will help or shredding it instead of slicing it against the grain.  Serving the pot roast shredded over mashed or boiled potatoes, noodles, soft polenta or similar is actually our favorite to serve it.

Pot Roast with Tamarind and Syrian Jewish Flavors
Serves about 6

The tamarind adds a slight tart note to the sauce that really complements the rich beef flavor. 

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 lb. boneless chuck roast
1-28 oz. can whole tomatoes, undrained
½ tsp plus ¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground allspice
1 tsp. brown sugar
4 tsp. plus 2 tsp. tamarind paste or concentrate
1-2 cups of water
2 Tbs. tomato paste

Add oil to a large, heavy pot. Heat over medium high heat and add onion slices.  Sauté until just softened then add garlic and sauté until onions are golden.  Remove onion and garlic from pot and reserve.  Add meat and brown on all sides. Lower heat to medium.  Add back the onions and garlic.  Add tomatoes with their liquid.  Using a spatula break up tomatoes into fourths. Stir. Add ½ tsp. of the salt and the pepper, cinnamon, allspice and stir. Add brown sugar and 4 tsp. of tamarind paste. Add enough water to bring liquid mixture to the top of the chuck roast.  Stir well.  Add tomato paste, stir again.  Bring the meat and liquid to a simmer.  Cover and lower heat to keep at a simmer, mixing sauce and turning meat occasionally until meat is as tender as you like, approximately 2 to 4 hours.  Remove meat to a cutting board until cool enough to handle.  While the meat is cooling, raise the heat on the liquid, add the 2 remaining tsp. of tamarind paste and cook uncovered at a low boil, stirring occasionally until it has reduced down to a gravy or sauce-like thickness. Taste and add in the ¼ tsp. of salt if desired.  Slice the meat thinly against the grain or shred.  Mix the meat back into the reduced sauce and reheat and serve or (preferably) store the meat in the sauce overnight in the refrigerator and gently reheat the next day.

For a round up of Chanukah (Hanukkah) recipes and information on Blog Appetit, including recipes for potato pancakes (latkes), check out this post.
For other pot roasts on Blog Appetit - check out the zippy cranberry version or my spicy pot roast with a kick
For pot roast recipes from around the web, check out Kayln's Kitchen's crock pot version, Simply Recipe's several recipes and Pioneer Woman's pictorial tutorial and recipe.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Four New Latke Toppings! Make Your Potato Pancakes Zing with Apple Pear Sauce, Beet-Horseradish Topping, Apple-Red Onion Compote and Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream

Apple Pear Sauce and Apple and Red Onion Compote for topping latkes
For many, latkes need no more than a dripping of sauce from a pot roast or brisket, a spoonful of apple sauce or maybe a shmear of sour cream. Then there are folks who like their latkes sprinkled with a bit of sugar. But for those who want to try something new this Chanukah season (or really any time), below are some recipes to plop atop their potato pancakes.

The Apple and Red Onion Compote adds savory but still sweet flavor to complement the rich taste of the fried potatoes. The Apple, Beet and Horseradish Topping is reminiscent of borscht with all the trimmings. The flavor combination is based on a salad of fresh shredded beets and horseradish I once had in a Ukrainian restaurant on the Lower East Side in New York. Be sure to use the plain, white prepared bottled horseradish without cream or beets. I like the Apple Pear Sauce best with unpeeled fruit, but peeling is an option if you prefer. Finally, the Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Topping was developed by Green Valley Organics of Sebastopol, CA, for use with its kosher, lactose-free sour cream, but I think it works well with regular sour cream, too.

Apple and Red Onion Compote
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium red onion
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
2 medium apples, peeled, cored and cut into ½” cubes
1 cup apple juice
1 Tbs. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/8 tsp. ground coriander

Slice onions very thinly and then cut slice in half. Heat oil in large pan, Sauté onions over low heat until very soft, add apples and apple juice, raise heat to medium high. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add sugar, salt, cloves and coriander. Cover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the apples are very soft but not mushy, about 30 minutes. Remove lid and raise heat to high and cook, stirring, until all the pan juices have thickened and the mixture is no longer liquid. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple, Beet and Horseradish Topping
Makes about 2 and 1/2 cups

1 medium apple, peeled and cored
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1-15 oz. can of sliced beets, drained
1-2 Tbs. or to taste plain, prepared bottled white horseradish
1/2 cup sour cream

Chop apple into 1/4” pieces, mix with lemon juice and drain. Chop beets into 1/4” pieces, mix with drained apples. Stir in horseradish to taste. Refrigerate. Just before serving, pour off any liquid and mix with sour cream. Serve immediately.

Apple Pear Sauce
Makes about 3 cups

3 medium apples, peeling optional
2 Bartlett pears, ripe but firm, peeling optional
2 Tbs. lemon juice
3/4 cup apple juice

Core and cut apples and pears into 1” cubes. Toss with lemon juice. Put in medium pot with juice over low heat. Cover and cook at a simmer. Using a heavy spoon, stir, mash and break up pieces of the fruit occasionally as the sauce cooks. Once the fruit is very tender, about 30 minutes, (peeled fruit may require less time). Remove lid, raise heat to high and simmer for 10 minutes to thicken juices. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Apple Cinnamon Sour Cream Topping
(From Green Valley Organics)
Makes about 3 cups

For a non-dairy option, try plain soy yogurt.

1-12 oz. container regular or lactose-free sour cream
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 Tbs. brown sugar OR 1 Tbs. agave nectar, to taste
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. salt
1 unpeeled apple, cored and shredded

Mix sour cream, applesauce, brown sugar or agave, cinnamon and salt together. Roll shredded apple in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out excess water. Stir drained apple shreds into the sour cream mixture. Adjust seasonings to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The version of this post originally appeared in the j. weekly.
Need recipes, suggestions, background on Chanukah (Hanukkah) - check out my round up here.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Give the Gift of Peppermint Bark, Chocolate Truffles and Peanut Brittle for a Really Sweet Holiday Season

Rolling chocolate truffle in cocoa before serving or packaging
 When I’m looking for hostess gifts or teacher presents this time of year, I often think of home-made candies. A tin or box of these treats is always appreciated. The candies also are good make-ahead desserts.

Two of these recipes have appeared in the blog before.  My youngest son and I created the Peppermint Bark recipe after he developed a taste for an expensive store-bought version of the candy. Children can help bash the peppermint candies into bits (under supervision, of course). The Cinnamon Almond Truffles evolved from a chocolate frosting recipe when I was looking for a non-dairy dessert. The Microwave Peanut Brittle is new to Blog Appetit and is one of the easiest I’ve ever made (although always be careful when working with hot sugar). The recipe is adapted from the cookbook that came with my first microwave oven. 

(Note: All three recipes are vegan if you use vegan ingredients. Probably the toughest to find is vegan white chocolate, but it is out there. You may need to use chips instead of block chocolate.)

Dress up your candy by putting pieces into colorful candy cups or mini-muffin or cupcake liners. Look in dollar or other stores for inexpensive packaging to gussy up your sweet offerings.

Peppermint Bark
Makes about 1 3/4 lbs. of candy

4 oz. round, wrapped peppermint hard candies (such as Starlight)
1 lb. semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 oz. white chocolate, chopped

Line an approximately 10” by 15” rimmed baking tray with aluminum foil. Make sure the foil lining extends beyond the sides of the pan. Unwrap candies and put them inside doubled heavy-duty plastic zipper-lock bags. Seal the bags, taking care all the air is removed. Place on a cutting board on a steady, durable surface. Hit the candies with a rolling pin, meat tenderizer or hammer until the candies are broken into approximately 1/4-inch pieces.

Melt the semisweet chocolate. Spread the melted chocolate in an even layer across the bottom of the prepared baking tray. Place pan with chocolate in the refrigerator.

Melt the white chocolate. Take pan with semisweet layer out of refrigerator and spread melted white chocolate on top. Working quickly, evenly scatter peppermint candy pieces on top, pressing down slightly on larger chunks to make sure they adhere. Put back in the refrigerator until firm, about a half hour. Using the foil lining, lift the bark out of the pan. Peel off the foil and break into irregularly shaped pieces. Store in the refrigerator in a sealed storage bag or container. Take out about 20 minutes before serving.

Vegan Cinnamon-Almond Chocolate Truffles
Makes about 24 Truffles

If you want to make a more traditional truffle, check out this recipe from the now-defunct Charles Chocolates.  I've also made these with raspberry-almond flavoring by skipping the cinnamon and using half raspberry and half almond extracts.

3 oz. plain unsweetened soy milk
3 Tbs. parve margarine, cut into small chunks
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. almond extract
5 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
Cocoa powder, optional

Simmer soy milk over medium heat. Add margarine, stirring until dissolved. Stir in cinnamon and almond extract. Reduce heat to very low. Add chocolate, stirring constantly until thoroughly melted. Refrigerate covered for several hours until the mixture is solid but pliable (it may be a bit crumbly). Oil hands and measuring spoon if desired. Spoon out about 2 tsp. of the chocolate mixture and using hands and fingers roll, press or pinch into rough rounds. Store covered in refrigerator and take out about 20 minutes before serving and roll in cocoa powder if using.

Microwave Peanut Brittle
Makes about 1 1/2 lbs. of candy

1 tsp. butter or margarine plus extra for greasing baking tray
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup salted peanuts (not dry roasted)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda

Note: Times are given for 800-1000 watt microwaves. For ovens with a higher wattage, try reducing cooking times by about 1 minute at each stage.

Grease baking tray and set aside. In a 2-quart heat-proof glass casserole dish (do not use plastic), combine sugar and corn syrup. Stir. Cook in microwave on high for 4 minutes Mixture should be beginning to bubble and starting to brown. Stir. Add peanuts. Mix well. Cook on high for 3 1/2 minutes. Stir in butter and vanilla. Cook on high for 1 1/2 minutes. Candy should be browned but not burnt, liquid and bubbly. Remove from microwave, immediately stir in baking soda until light and foamy. Pour onto buttered tray and spread until it is about 1/4” thick. (It spreads easier if the baking tray has been warmed slightly.) Cool, break into pieces. Store in airtight container.

A version of this post first appeared in the j. weekly.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Chanukah (or Hanukah or Hanukkah) Recipes and Background on Blog Appetit

Just one of the many good things to eat at Chanukah -- Jelly Doughnuts
Lots of good food and details about this festival of lights and fried foods here on Blog Appetit.

Here's a run down of offerings from Chanukahs past. Watch for another post with this year's offerings.


Israeli Jelly Doughnuts -- Called sufganiyot, these delicious filled pastries are not that hard to make, but they are exacting.  I give you all the details on how to make them. 

Traditional Latkes -- Potato pancakes are the gold standard holiday food, at least for Jews from an Eastern European background.  This recipe is the one I've been using as long as I've been making latkes and it is tried and true.  Latkes is the Yiddish term. Levivot the Hebrew one.

Shortcut Latkes -- Hey sometimes you just need to not shred five pounds of potatoes, I get it. On those nights, try this recipe. 

While many Jews can live on latkes alone, others of us like to gild the lily by serving it with something more than sour cream and or apple sauce. (A sizable portion of Jews also grew up sprinkling sugar on their latke, but my people are not from that tribe.)

This post has a wonderful cranberry pot roast recipe and lots of suggestions on what to serve with latkes from spiced applesauce to some siracha sauce.  I also like to serve the latkes with my homemade gravlax (cured salmon). Or try my recipe for roasted applesauce with warm spices.

Eating dairy foods is another Chanukah tradition.  This California Kugel with lots of crunchy granola and dried fruits makes a nice light supper, brunch or dessert offering. Or try this cinnamon bun kugel recipe.

For something very different, I combine two cultural traditions into one very special Chanukah dish - spicy tzimmes (beef and dried fruit stew) tamales.

For information on Chanukah foods and traditions from around the world, click here.

History and Observance
Did you know there are 16 ways to spell Chanukah in English?  Check out the info near the end of this post from last year.

For some of the history and background about this holiday, click here.

For tips on how to play the spinning top game known as dreidel (including directions on how to make one of your own), this post is the tops.

Learn how to light the menorah (or more accurately the hanukkiah) here

Feel free to post links to other Chanukah offerings by you or other bloggers in the comments section.

UPDATE: 2011 Chanukah offerings from Blog Appetit
4 New Latke Toppings to Make Your Potato Pancakes Zing
Everything You Wanted to Know about Making a Pot Roast and a Pot Roast with Tamarind Recipe
Make Mine Vegan -- Vegan Latkes