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.
It’s customary to stay up all night learning Torah on the first night of Shavuot. Though I used to pull all-nighters with relative frequency, those days are (thankfully) behind me, and a 2am study session can be a little tough. Enter the affogato, a recipe brought to us from Ariel Pollock, that combines a delicious brownie with ice cream (dairy is also customary on Shavuot) and a shot of espresso. The brownie will be something to look forward to, and the espresso will keep you going for the few more hours until sunrise.
I was in charge of loading this recipe onto MyJewishLearning yesterday, and it looked and sounded so delicious that I was distracted for the rest of the day, thinking about how I might be able to either go to a restaurant and get one, or make one myself. I didn’t get a chance to have one yesterday, but it’s the first item on my agenda tonight. No, it’s not quite Shavuot yet, but I’m just preparing myself… To see the recipe and make it yourself, click here.
The blintz itself is essentially the same as a French crepe. Flour, eggs, and milk made into a thin batter and quickly cooked on a nonstick surface. We have a few variations here and here. Plus, there is always the frozen option.
I’ve never been a lover of blintzes. They always seem kind of mushy or gummy. So in preparation for this year, I did some research. I asked everyone I knew about blintzes. After a number of polls and brainstorming, we struck gold. My friend came up with the idea of mixing chunks of apple into the sweetened ricotta. Another friend added thinly sliced apples as a delicate garnish. By making the pancakes fresh and filling them with a honey-sweetened mixture, these blintzes are tasty and light.
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup green apples, peeled and diced, plus slices for garnish
salt to taste
2 tablespoons butter
Mix ricotta, honey, apples, nutmeg, and salt.
Warm a crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat with butter.
Spoon 1 tablespoon onto one end of the blintz and begin to roll. Before reaching the other end, fold in the sides and finish rolling to make a sealed package.
Brown the blintzes in the hot pan, folded side down. Remove when golden.
Layer the apple slices over the blintzes and serve hot.
When in doubt, break out the puff pastry. Easy to work with, and always yielding a mouth-watering result, you really can’t go wrong with a dish that uses puff pastry as a base. This recipe has a Mediterranean flair and is perfect for Shavuot, brunch, or a weeknight dinner. It can be done as a rectangle shaped tart or as individual turnovers.
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted and rolled out
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper (or 1 jarred roasted red pepper)
1 cup artichoke hearts (about half a box)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
3 Tablespoons pesto (my favorite recipe)
Salt, pepper, crushed chilies, to taste
Saute the onion on low heat, until the onion is very soft and lightly browned. If you are using a fresh red pepper, roast it under the broiler until it is charred on all sides. Put it in a bowl, cover it with saran wrap, and let it cool. When it is fully cooled, peel the skin off and cut the pepper into slices.
Meanwhile prepare the puff pastry. Lay it flat on a baking sheet. Cut lines down each side, about a third of the way in, on the diagonal.
Mix the ricotta and pesto together. Season with salt, pepper and crushed chilies. (This is also an awesome dip for vegetables or pita chips!) Shmear the cheese mixture onto the middle third of the puff pastry. Top with an even layer of carmelized onions, artichoke hearts and sliced roasted red bell pepper.
Now to make it fancy looking. Fold over the sides, one strip at a time (right, then left, then right, then left…you get it) until the tart is closed. Brush with egg. Sprinkle the top with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper.
Bake at 375F for 45 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.
Serve with a salad. I like serving it with a sweet salad to contrast the flavors in the tart.
Want to mix it up? Use this as a model. Include something creamy(cheese), something sweet (like the onions), and whatever vegetables you have lying around!
Let me be clear about one thing before I go any further. I almost feel like this is confessional: I have never fried anything, and so I had absolutely no idea what to expect. This is coming from a girl who, though she loves herself a good dessert, was never, ever allowed to eat anything fried. In fact, the only way we were ever able to convince my mom to let us eat a doughnut was to tell her that it was a cinnamon bun (nevermind that it was deep fried and glazed!). Talk about pulling a fast one on her. Scarfing down those “cinnamon buns” was a blast. It felt so good. So rebellious. So child-like.
Enter the sufganiya. Many of my ice cream recipes pay homage to my childhood, but this one, ah this golden, cinnamon sugar coated bundle of goodness, reminds me so much of Hanukkah that I get giddy like a little school girl just thinking about it. Maybe if I tap my heels together three times some presents will show up at my door! Wishful thinking.
Back to these sufganiyot. The Hebrew word for sufganiya derived from the word for sponge (sfog), is supposed to describe the texture of a sufganiya which is somewhat similar to a sponge. I like to tell myself that because the texture is like a sponge (which I think is airy, not fried and fatty!) a sufganiya is completely healthy. And when injected with raspberry preserves, even healthier!
This time of year, when all I do is eat sweets, I try to refrain from thinking about how unhealthy it is and instead think about the significance of these doughnuts. On Hanukkah we eat these golden delicious sufganiyot because they are fried in oil, which helps to remind us of one of the miracles of Hanukkah.
So, to toast that small miracle, let’s chow down on some delicious Sufganiyot Ice Cream. Enjoy!
For the Sufganiyot
2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water (100 degrees to 110 degrees)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for rolling
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 cup seedless raspberry jam
Additional cinnamon and sugar for dusting
For the Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk
2 cups half-and-half
3/4 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon vanilla bean paste
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Raspberry Sauce
12oz bag of frozen raspberries
1 Tablespoon raspberry vodka
3 Tablespoons sugar
For this recipe, patience is a must! This is a multi-step process but trust me, it's worth it. (Note: this recipe can be made over 2 days if you don't have an entire Sunday afternoon as I did!)
First, make the vanilla ice cream base. In a small saucepan heat together the milk, 1 cup half-and-half, sugar and the vanilla bean paste until small bubbles form around the edges.
While the mixture is warming, whisk together three egg yolks. Pour the milk mixture into the egg yolks very slowly, stirring between each pour. Scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure you get all the vanilla bean paste, and pour back into the saucepan. Heat until the mixture reaches 170 degrees F. If you don't have a thermometer heat until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spatula or a wooden spoon. Once ready, pour over a fine mesh strainer into a clean bowl (it's important to strain this ice cream because inevitably small little curdles will form from heating the egg and milk, and trust me, you don't want those in your ice cream!). Once strained, slowly stir in the remaining cup of half-and-half and the vanilla extract.
Let the mixture cool completely before refrigerating for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Next, it's time to make the sufganiyot! This, my friends, is a labor of love. In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.
Place flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, 1/4 cup sugar, butter, and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft, and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
While the ice cream mixture is cooling, and the sufganiyot are rising, make the raspberry sauce. Pour the bag of frozen raspberries into a small saucepan, and mix until heated. The raspberries will turn to mush (which is what you want). Stir in the sugar and vodka and let the mixture heat for 2-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and strain through a fine mesh strainer. Discard the seeds, and keep the smooth raspberry sauce. Set aside.
Next, it's time to form and fry the donuts. On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cutter or drinking glass , cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.
In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 degrees. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 10-20 seconds on each side. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 10-20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in cinnamon sugar while warm. Fry all dough, and roll in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
This part of the process takes a little getting used to. Inevitably your first few doughnuts will burn. Don't stress, you will have plenty more. I noticed that by the time I put 3-4 doughnuts into the hot oil, it was time to flip them, and once they were flipped, it was time to remove them! Hard to keep up with it! If the doughnuts look burnt, chances are, they're totally fine, just slightly darker than you may have wanted. Don't worry, they still taste delicious! Also, it's very important to douse the doughnuts in the cinnamon sugar immediately after frying, otherwise it won't stick.
Once you're done frying all the doughnuts you'll want to fill them with jam. Since I didn't have a pastry bag or a #4 tip I used a ziploc bag with a tiny whole cut out. I wouldn't recommend this, so if you can, head over to Michael's Craft Shop or a baking store and buy a pastry bag and a #4 tip. It's much easier!
Fill a pastry bag fitted with a #4 tip with jam. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, make a hole in the side of each doughnut. Fit the pastry tip into a hole, pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts.
Now it's time for the great assembly! Pour the ice cream mixture into the base of your ice cream maker and churn according to the manufacturer's instructions. While churning, chop up 6 doughnuts into small pieces. Approximately 5 minutes before the mixture is done churning add the sufganiyot pieces and let it mix thoroughly.
Drizzle a few tablespoons of raspberry sauce on the bottom of a freezer safe container. Add a few scoops of ice cream. Cover with more raspberry sauce and repeat process until you've layered the ice cream and raspberry sauce. Drizzle a bit more raspberry sauce on top and cover. Transfer to the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving. You will have leftover raspberry sauce, which I advise saving for garnish!
When you're ready to eat, scoop 1-2 heaps of ice cream into a bowl (you'll notice there is a beautiful raspberry marble!) and drizzle with raspberry sauce on top. Enjoy!
The Verdict: Taim me'od! (very tasty!) This is a perfect treat for the holiday season. In fact, so tasty that I recommend sharing it with friends (like I did) or else you may gobble the whole thing up! Enjoy this fun take on an old classic and Happy Hanukkah!