I like an apple cake as much as the next girl (two favorites are Amy’s Bissel Apple Cake and this Cornmeal Apple Upside Down Cake) but there are two nights of Rosh Hashanah, and once I’ve got my apple cake craving taken care of, I need something else. Enter these blondies. Though blondies might not seem quite fancy enough for a big holiday meal, trust me that these will blow your hair back, and can be gussied up into something truly stunning to look at, and downright delectable to eat.
The only specialty item called for here is pomegranate molasses, which you can almost certainly find at your local Middle Eastern food store, or you can buy it online here. I love to drizzle some pomegranate molasses over my yogurt and granola in the morning, and it’s also good as an ice cream topping.
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
1 ¾ cups brown sugar
¾ cups unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
½ cup chopped dates
½ cup pomegranate seeds
⅓ cup chopped pecans (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper, and spray the parchment paper with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a stand mixer, or with a hand mixer cream together the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the pomegranate molasses and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add in the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Gently fold in the dates, pomegranate seeds, and pecans if including.
Pour the batter into the lined pan. It will be a very thick batter--smooth out the top with a butter knife. Bake until top is golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.
When blondies are completely cool (I let them sit, covered, overnight) remove from pan, and if you want a round dessert, use a biscuit cutter or the edge of a juice glass to cut circles out of the blondies. Serve topped with ice cream, and drizzled with a tiny bit of pomegranate molasses. Follow with a sweet and wonderful new year.
People often ask me how I learned to cook, and I never know how to answer. I didn’t ever have cooking lessons, go to culinary school, or anything at all organized or professional. I don’t even have many memories of my mother or anyone else really teaching me how to do anything cooking related―I was just expected to help from a young age, and that somehow resulted in my knowing how to cook and being comfortable in the kitchen.
Now that I have a step-daughter, I’m a lot more aware of ways to subtly teach her to cook and to be comfortable in the kitchen. I don’t want to do any kind of formal teaching, but we make a big effort to include her in cooking whenever we can. Here are some of my favorite ways to include a kid in cooking:
Dumping and mixing
Even kids who are too young to measure out ingredients themselves can dump premeasured ingredients into a bowl, and mix them around.
Young kids can help with some kinds of veggie prep. The more advanced can peel vegetables, but if your kid isn’t quite there yet, he or she can shell peas, or trim green beans (just snapping off the ends) pull the trunks out of mushrooms, and break broccoli or cauliflower into florets. Bonus: helping with veggies often makes kids more likely to eat the veggies.
Greasing pans and garnishing
Little things like spraying a pan with cooking spray, or adding a dollop of yogurt to a bowl of soup, can be fun and easy ways for kids to help with low stakes.
Anything involving dough
Braiding challah, rolling out pie dough, and using cookie cutters on cookie dough are all fun for people of all ages.
I also like to give kids cookbooks that they might get into. I’ve heard great things about Mollie Katzen’s Pretend Soup and I’m a big fan of this British young man’s cookbook for kids Sam Stern’s Cooking Up a Storm. It’s for teens, technically, but I’ve found younger kids like it, too.
Despite growing up in the Midwest, mine was a margarine house growing up. The only time we had butter in the house was during Passover, when we bought whipped butter to spread on matzah. The butter was kept in the fridge, and as a result was incredibly hard. Trying to spread it on matzah was like trying to spread a piece of cement. Mostly you ended up with many tiny pieces of matzah with butter crumbs on them.
My parents bought margarine for two reasons: it was pareve, so it could be used to make desserts for nights we were eating meat, and the conventional wisdom of the time said that it was healthier than butter.
For desserts, margarine worked just fine. I can remember my mother and her friends wondering why the local kosher bakeries couldn’t make good pareve cakes, when they were so easy to make at home using margarine. We made sugar cookies with margarine, and all manner of cakes and pies.
But sometime around grad school, I was making a recipe that called for butter. And I realized that since I was a vegetarian, and didn’t ever need to worry about dairy after a meat meal, there was no reason for me to buy margarine. So I bought butter, and I was completely blown away by how much better it was—as an ingredient it performed better, and the taste. Oh, the taste.
That’s the key argument in the butter v. margarine debate: butter has a taste, a flavor. If you use margarine instead, you’re losing that flavor. Margarine is tasteless. It may function the way you need butter to function in a recipe, but ultimately you end up with something weaker. That’s part of the reason so many kosher cooks now look for recipes that use other fats instead of butter, so that they don’t need to substitute margarine.
As for margarine being healthier than butter…it depends on the margarine. And it depends how worried you are about transfats. (Butter, like everything else, should be consumed in moderation, particularly if you are worried about your heart health.) But I’ve been converted to butter, and I’m never going back.
I have countless recipes that I learned from the women of my family. Though today I mostly use websites and online documents to store my recipes, for years I cooked out of my mother’s recipe boxes, where recipe cards were squished in like sardines, and the recipes came in a variety of difficult-to-decipher scrawls. There was my mother’s handwriting, a loopy, tight cursive, and my grandmother’s a disciplined clear print, plus my aunt’s rounded letters, and some cards written by my Aunt Byrna, or a first cousin once removed. The cards were splattered with stains, and decorated with little pictures of ovens, strawberries, geese, or pies.
Flipping through those recipe cards brings back a tidal wave of memories. Each recipe is strongly associated with the woman whose handwriting is on the card. And there are even more recipes that I know by heart now, taught to me by one of these women. On days when I feel the loss of my mother, my grandmothers, or my aunt, I reach for my mixing bowls to make a recipe that they taught me. For the time that I spend in the kitchen, mixing, sauteeing, baking or kneading, I am keeping their memories alive, nourishing myself and my family with the legacy of food and love these women entrusted me with.
With my mother, it can be hard to choose which recipe to make to conjure up the best memories. But when I’m really yearning for the comfort I found in her kitchen I consistently end up making spanikopita, a dish she was known for making, and one of the first recipes I learned by heart. Crucially, my mom adapted a recipe from a cookbook so that it took significantly less effort than was originally prescribed, and these days I can whip up this wholesome dish in under 30 minutes (not counting baking time). If you find phyllo dough intimidating, or spanikopita sounds too labor intensive for you, this is your solution.
2 10 oz boxes of frozen spinach or 1 large bag of frozen spinach, defrosted if possible (if not no worries)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped or 1 Tablespoon dried basil
salt and pepper
8-10 oz ricotta or small curd cottage cheese
1 lb feta, crumbled
1 box phyllo dough, defrosted
¼ cup melted butter or olive oil
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds or parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375F and grease a 9x13 pan.
Defrost the spinach. If it's not totally defrosted, run it under warm water until it's no longer one big brick and you can break it up into reasonably small bunches. Drain. Meanwhile, chop the onion and mince the garlic. If you have time to sautee them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and the basil, do that. If you don't have time, just toss the onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and basil in a big bowl. Add the spinach once it's reasonably drained (if it's still a little frozen that's fine). Add in the ricotta and feta and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs and mix again.
Take the phyllo dough out of the fridge and unroll it on top of a kitchen towel next to your greased pan. Do not worry if any sheet has broken or torn―no one will ever know or care. Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom of the pan with the melted butter or olive oil. Then put down 2 sheets of phyllo dough, and then brush those with olive oil. (If sheets have broken, just reassemble them as best you can―no one will be able to see them.) Put down two more sheets of dough, brush, and continue like that until you have 8 pieces of phyllo dough (4 batches of 2). Pour half of the spinach and cheese mixture on top of the phyllo dough and spread it evenly using a knife or a spatula. Then resume the 2 sheets of phyllo dough, brush with oil/butter routine until you've put down another 8 sheets of phyllo dough. Pour in the remaining spinach and cheese mixture. Again, put down 2 sheets of phyllo dough, brush, repeat until you've used up the phyllo dough. If the sheets are bigger than your pan some phyllo dough will be hanging over the edges of the pan, so just tuck them back into the pan. Brush the top with plenty of oil or butter, and sprinkle with either sesame seeds or parmesan.
Bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. This is best served warm with a green salad and some roasted potatoes.
Passover is (finally) over and that means that…it’s time to start preparing for next Passover.
Okay, now before you kill me for saying that, I just mean that now is the time to evaluate how your food prep held up this year, so you’ll be able to ensure that you’re better prepared next year.
As you’re putting away your Passover pots and pan, or simply throwing out half-used boxes of matzah farfel, here are some questions to jot down answers to. Email the answers to yourself, or put them in a google doc, and you’ll be able to plan next year with the full knowledge that came with this year’s celebration.
What was your shopping list this year? And what were your seder menus?
This will help you get a baseline of what you were shopping for, and how much you got. If you happened to keep receipts and know how much you spent, that is also helpful to know (and I commend you for being way more organized than I was).
What did you have left over at the end of the holiday? This will help you gauge if you need to buy less of something next year. I also personally feel fine saving, say, an unopened box of matzah meal, for next year. My mother was notorious for saving Pesach spices over decades, which I don’t personally plan to do, but it’s an option.
What was the best thing you made or ate this Pesach? Perhaps it was an old classic, that you make and love every year, or maybe it was something new or recently tweaked. For me, it was this no-bake chocolate mousse cake made with avocado. It’s pareve (vegan, even) and devastatingly delicious. I made it twice over Pesach, and the second time I added a teaspoon of cinnamon, which I highly recommend.
This brings me to What adaptations did you make to recipes, and how did they turn out? Besides the cinnamon to the cake, my friend Andrea and I did some major revamping of a stuffed onion recipe, and the results were fantastic. Thankfully, Andrea wrote up what she did after the seders and emailed it to me so that we can use it to go off of next year. I also remembered to write down that while making my aunt’s frozen mousse cake, there is a part where the batter starts to seize up, and while this is terrifying while it happens, it has no negative ramifications on the way the cake actually comes out.
What did you make that’s not worth making next year? Might as well cull the menu now, when you remember how disappointing that kugel was.
What kitchen utensils, pots or pans would you like to have for next year? Since this was my first year making Passover by myself, I bought a whole set of dishes, pots, pans, and utensils. I was thrilled with everything, but wish I had thought to get a colander, a rubber spatula, and a few wooden spoons. I’ve already added them to my shopping lists for next year, and can be on the lookout for those items at sales.
What are some recipes that you didn’t get a chance to try, but would like to try for next year? Did you not get a chance to try everything on our communal seder menu? Collect recipes and links in one place so you know where to start looking next year.
With all that done, and your dishes packed away, you can leave Pesach behind―for about another 10 months, before next year’s Pesach frenzy begins.
Maror is an important part of the pre-meal seder, but there’s no reason you can’t make it a part of your Pesach feast. Some people like a little dot of maror to go with their gefilte fish, but I’m a gefilte fish hater, so I wanted to think of some other way to integrate some strong chrein into my meal. Enter: horseradish salmon. This recipe is incredibly quick and easy, and leads to an amazingly moist and sweet dish, with just a jab of chrein getting you on the finish. Do not be dissuaded by the amount of horseradish called for–it mostly cooks away leaving an amazing spicy aroma layered on a honeyed, flaky piece of fish.
2 lbs salmon1/4 cup horseradish
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350F. In a small bowl combine horseradish (use the white kind unless you want magenta salmon), honey, lemon juice, and salt. It should form a somewhat thick mixture, and it will smell incredibly strongly of the horseradish, but don't worry―most of the kick of the horseradish will cook off in the oven. Place salmon in a greased casserole dish or on a baking sheet. Pour the horseradish mixture over the fish, making sure that it gets all around the fish, and spooning some back on top of the fillet. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes.
I went to Jewish day school from pre-school all the way through 12th grade, and looking back, there were definitely some lessons that had a much bigger impact than others. Perhaps my most enduring lesson is one I got way back in kindergarten at Solomon Schechter: challah baking. The teachers guided us through the recipe, and eventually gave each child a small mound of dough to shape into a challah that we took home at the end of the day. We also took home a piece of paper with the recipe typed on it, and it has been my go-to challah recipe ever since.
Since kindergarten I’ve made this challah hundreds of times. I’ve made it on three continents, at four universities, and in half a dozen homes. It never disappoints. I hope it brings as much doughy goodness to your table as it has to mine. Shabbat shalom!
2 packages yeast (about 2 Tablespoons)
1/2 cup very warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
8-10 cups flour
1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
1 Tablespoon honey (optional)
2 Tablepoons maple syrup (optional)
1 Tablespoon vanilla (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)
1 beaten egg
Poppy or Sesame seeds
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water from the tap with 1 teaspoon sugar. Let sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, beat eggs with sugar. Add oil, water and salt. If you'd like a sweeter challah, add honey or maple syrup. For a little spice in your challah, add cardamom and vanilla.
Mix yeast mixture into egg mixture, using beaters, your hands, or the dough hook on a standing mixer. Add 2 cups of flour at a time, mixing between additions (feel free to substitute whole wheat flour for up to 3 cups of regular flour). When the dough gets thick and sticky, turn it out onto a floured counter and knead the flour in by hand. Stop kneading when it seems like the dough will not accept any more flour (usually about 9 cups of flour). Put the dough back in the bowl and cover loosely with a kitchen towel. Let sit for at least 4 hours, up to 8 hours.
After the dough has risen for at least four hours, punch it down, and knead in raisins if you'd like to us them. Then divide the dough into three sections. Each section will be a loaf. Braid or shape the challot however you like. (The Shiksa has a wonderful and very comprehensive guide to braiding and shaping challah dough here.)
Once the loaves are braided or shaped, place them on cookie sheets, and cover loosely with a towel. Allow to rise at least another half hour, preferably an hour. Preheat the oven to 350F. Then, beat an egg, and brush it lightly on each challah, making sure to get the egg wash in all the crevices of the loaf. Sprinkle the tops with poppy or sesame seeds if you wish. Bake the challot for 30-40 minutes, or until they are golden brown on top, and are making your kitchen smell like heaven.
Most of the time I plan my dinner menus in the beginning of the week. I collect links for recipes I want to make, and page through cookbooks, and then make a shopping list. There aren’t many surprises later in the week, since I’ve already planned. But occasionally I get a craving for something, and veer off my plan. Last week, for reasons I can’t explain, I suddenly decided I wanted Cauliflower Curry Pie. Unfortunately, googling around I wasn’t able to find a recipe that came anywhere close to approximating what I was imagining.
Molly Katzen has a recipe for cauliflower pie in the Moosewood Cookbook, but it has a potato crust, and isn’t curried at all. I had just received a gorgeous pie plate, and was itching to use it. It had to be pie, and though I do love a potato crust in this case I wanted a classic savory pie crust.
So, I was forced to make up my own recipe, and I forced the results on my step-daughter, a semi-picky eater who, at 5, is generally skeptical of all vegetables, but is solidly pro-pie. The results were an enormous success. The crust came out perfectly, and the curry was a savory, mildly spicy vegetable medley that I think I’ll probably make again soon, even without the pie surrounding it. Though this recipe involved a bit more work than I’d typically put into a weeknight meal, it was totally worth it, and I’m definitely going to add it to my Shabbat and holiday menus. If you want to cut down on the time and/or you’re pastry phobic, you can use store bought crust.
2 sticks butter, cold, cut into cubes
7-8 Tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 ¾ cups flour (I bet you could integrate some whole wheat flour, but I didn't try this time)
1 large onion (red onion works fine), chopped
2-4 Tablespoons olive oil (use your judgement)
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated
2 Tablespoons mild curry
pinch garam masala (optional)
1 can coconut milk
1 can diced tomatoes
1 head cauliflower, chopped
2-3 small potatoes, diced
1 8oz box frozen spinach
salt and pepper, to taste
milk to brush on top
parmesan cheese, grated (optional)
Put the flour, sugar and salt in the food processor. Drop the butter cubes into the flour mixture and hit the pulse button. Once all the butter is in the mixture should look like white gravel. Add 6 Tablespoons of the ice water, and run the food processor until a dough forms. If it still seems too dry, add another tablespoon or two of ice water.
Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead with a sprinkling more of flour. Divide into two hunks and shape into hockey pucks. Wrap in wax paper and stick in the fridge for at least half an hour. If making the dough more than a day before the curry, wrap in plastic wrap.
While the dough is chilling, make the curry. Fry the chopped onion in the oil for 5-10 minutes until onions are beginning to soften. Then add the ginger, curry, and garam masala and fry for another 2-3 minutes until it becomes fragrant. Add the coconut milk, tomatoes, cauliflower and potatoes and simmer. Add the frozen spinach (no need to have it defrosted, though that won't hurt) by just plopping the square of frozen spinach in the middle of the pan. Cover and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes, at which point the potatoes and cauliflower should be tender, and cooked through. Taste, and season with salt and pepper as desired. Turn off heat.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Remove the pie dough from the fridge, and roll one of the hockey pucks out on a floured surface. Roll it pretty thin, and then place in the bottom of a pie plate, allowing whatever extra to spill over the sides. Using a slotted spoon, fill crust with cauliflower curry. Leave leftover liquid in pan, so you're left with a moist but not runny curry. Roll out the second hockey puck, and place on top of the curry. Press together the edges of the top and bottom crust, using a fork to crimp the edges together.
Brush the top of the pie with milk, and then make vents in the crust—I like to do this by writing a secret message, and this time my step-daughter requested that the pie say I'm Hungry, so that's what I wrote.
Bake at 400F for 40 minutes, or until golden on top. Sprinkle with parmesan, if desired. The pie is amazing when fresh from the oven, but is also surprisingly good when served cold, as lunch the next day.
I have been on kind of a kugel kick lately. And by lately, I mean for the past four months, with no signs of stopping. I have made kugels with noodles, kugels with quinoa, and kugels with bulgur. I’ve made sweet kugels that should really be classified as desserts, and savory kugels that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Eastern European heritage suggested by the word kugel (which means ball, but which I also apply to my square-shaped kugels).
What I love about kugels is how versatile they are, and how comforting they are. The perfect food to get excited about when the weather is cold and wet. You can make a kugel for dinner three times a week and never feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over. It’s also a great vehicle for camouflaging vegetables if you need to shoehorn some into your children or partner’s diet.
Here at MyJewishLearning we have recipes for Potato kugel, Sweet Potato Kugel, Cheese Lockshen Kugel, Yerushalmi Kugel, Gluten-free Apple Kugel, Zucchini Kugel, Carrot Kugel, Onion Kugel, Cinnamon Noodle Kugel, Apple Pear Cranberry Kugel, Broccoli Kugel, and the Love Potion Kugel
I also highly recommend all of the kugel recipes recently printed in the New York Times as part of their “kugel challenge”: Carrot Quinoa Kugel, , Sweet Millet Kugel with Apricots and Raisins, Cabbage, Onion and Millet Kugel and finally the Sweet Potato and Apple Kugel.
What’s your favorite kugel recipe?
When I was growing up I read a series of young adult mystery books about a girl who saw ghosts and solved mysteries as a result. The girl was named Nina Tanleven (she goes by Nine) and I loved the books, though I can’t tell you much about them today, since I haven’t cracked one of them in about 15 years. One thing I do remember from them is that Nine and her father (her mom had died, I think) liked to make cookies that they called slopnuggets. Slopnuggets were basically cookies made without a recipe. You just put things in a bowl that you thought should be in cookies, and stopped when it looked like cookie dough. Bake, and enjoy. Nine said that slopnuggets always turned out differently, but were generally delicious. And I remember that in the brief author biography of writer Bruce Coville, he noted that the books were fiction, but slopnuggets are real.
Since I read the books I’ve been wanting to try my hand at slopnuggets, and this week I finally did it. When my washer broke and I needed to use a neighbor’s I decided to make her cookies as a thank you, and didn’t have time to look for a recipe, so it was time to get sloppy.
Turns out, making slopnuggets is really fun, and has generally yummy results (I say generally because in my second batch I accidentally used salt instead of sugar…and that was an unfixable error). Here are my tips for making successful slopnuggets, a perfect treat for a day when you’re cooped up inside because of a hurricane or a heat wave.
Start with dry ingredients:
You’ll probably want to use some kind of flour or oatmeal or a combination
Baking powder or soda
Spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cocoa)
Sweetener of some kind (sugar, brown sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, agave)
Fat and liquids of some kind (oil, butter, peanut butter, pumpkin, yogurt, eggs, milk, juice)
And extract (vanilla, mint, lemon etc, depending on your mood and what you have on hand)
Once it’s the consistency of cookie dough, taste, adjust as needed, and add chocolate chips, raisins, nuts, and/or any other add-ins you’d like. Then drop by rounded tablespoons onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake at about 350F for about 15 minutes.
The con: you can’t give the recipe away when someone asks if you can share your maple walnut cookie recipe.
One of many pros: you never have to worry that you won’t have the ingredients necessary to make slopnuggets. It’s whatever you happen to have in the pantry.
A couple of hours ago I made a truly wonderful batch of peanut butter molasses cookies. I’m sure I could come up with a lovely fancy name for them, but I’m just calling them slopnuggets.