Gorgeous Blood Oranges! Get them while you can!

Once upon a time fruits and vegetables such as strawberries or asparagus were nowhere to be seen except after March sometime. Peaches and melons only in the summer. Apples and sweet potatoes in the autumn. But in recent years we've become accustomed to buying almost every item of produce whenever we want it. 

With some exceptions.

Blood oranges for example. They're available at the moment, but only until March or May, depending on the variety.

Blood oranges taste more or less like regular oranges, except they aren't as sweet and they're less acidic. They cost more than regular oranges, so you might wonder whether and why they are worth buying.

I guess it's because the flesh is so beautiful. The ruby-ish color looks so fabulous when you mix it with other vibrantly colored ingredients like bright green lettuce leaves or white coconut. Or roasted beets. Like in this dish, which pairs especially well with grilled or roasted salmon or Arctic char:

Roasted Beets with Blood Orange

  • 2 medium beets
  • 1 blood orange
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • salt to taste

 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrub the beets, trim the tip and stem ends, wrap the beets in aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes or until tender. Let cool, peel and dice. Set the beets aside. Slice the blood orange and trim the peel from the slices. Cut the slices into smaller pieces. Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a saute pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the beets, blood orange, mint, orange peel and salt to taste. Cook, stirring often, for 2-3 minutes or until ingredients are nicely distributed and hot.

Makes 4 servings

 

Can you guess what this is?

It resembles a yellowish tomato, is as crisp as a new-crop apple and tastes like a sweet pumpkin.

This:

 

You guessed it: a Fuyu persimmon, now in season and at your supermarket if you're lucky and the produce manager ordered some. Buy them soon -- unlike strawberries and asparagus, which used to be seasonal items but are now always available, you can only get persimmons for a short time.

If you aren't familiar with persimmons you should know there are several kinds. Check out my article at The Jewish Week, where I explain the differences.

Because the Fuyu variety is sturdy, you can use it for salads and salsas. But I processed some to a fare-thee-well in my food processor and used the pulp to make this fabulous, moist and gently spicy cake, which got rave reviews from one and all. This is a good snack but also, dressed up a bit with ice cream or sorbet, makes a simple and lovely dessert too.

Here's what the cake looks like:

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Here's the recipe:

PERSIMMON COFFEE CAKE

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 Fuyu persimmons (1 cup pureed pulp)
  • 12 tablespoons butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 10-inch bundt pan. Place the flour with one teaspoon baking soda, the baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and whisk to distribute the ingredients evenly. Chop the persimmons and puree them in a food processor. Place the pulp in a bowl and add the remaining teaspoon baking soda. Mix the ingredients and set aside. Place the butter and eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until the butter mixture is smooth and creamy. Add the flour mixture in parts, alternating with the yogurt, then the persimmon puree. Stir in the vanilla extract. Spoon the batter into the bundt pan. Bake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then invert onto a cake rack to cool completely.

Note: adding some of the baking soda to the persimmon pulp keeps the cake tender and crumbly; otherwise the texture will be too dense and "wet." 

Makes one cake; 12-16 servings

Cauliflower wins

Because it is the prettiest, mildest and most versatile of all the cabbages.

Because, for me anyway, it doesn't do the same awful things to my tummy as the other cabbage cousins do.

It's pretty, and usually has a creamy-color head but you can get it in several other colors, including purple.

It's healthy.

It tastes so good, especially when you roast it.

The other day I had a cabbage and a Meyer lemon in the bin. What to do?

Make this incredibly easy side dish for dinner:

Roasted Cauliflower with Meyer Lemon

  • 1 medium cauliflower
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
  • salt to taste
  • Aleppo pepper, cayenne or crushed red pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper. Wash the cauliflower, trim the ends and break the head up into smaller pieces. Wipe dry with paper towels. Mix the olive oil and Meyer lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the cauliflower pieces and toss the pieces to coat them on all sides. Place the pieces on the prepared sheet, drizzling them with juices left n the bowl. Sprinkle with salt and Aleppo pepper. Roast for 20 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, or until the pieces are crispy and lightly browned.

Makes 4 servings

Spur of the Moment Chicken

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The fresh pineapples at my local Fairway were on sale when I went shopping this week. They were so well-priced that I bought one, even though most of the time I forget about the one I already have at home, sitting in a corner near the cabinet, getting over-ripe and mushy.

But as I put the fruit in my cart I made a spur of the moment decision to roast it with a chicken breast, which I also purchased and which we ate for dinner last night. 

The pineapple added a juicy acidity; I also seasoned the meat and fruit with just a hint of Aleppo pepper (you can use cayenne too) and cinnamon. The dish was sweet and hot, mild and tangy. Perfect.

All gone! Not a morsel left for lunch today!

Here's the recipe:

 

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Fresh Pineapple

  • 2 cups cut up fresh pineapple
  • 2 whole bone-in chicken breasts (or 4-6 whole chicken legs (including drumstick and thigh)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh ginger
  • Aleppo pepper or cayenne
  • ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the pineapple chunks and chicken breasts in a roasting pan. Brush the chicken with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt to taste. Scatter the ginger over the chicken and fruit and sprinkle lightly with Aleppo pepper and cinnamon. Place the pineapple under the chicken breasts. Roast for 10 minutes. Lower the oven heat to 350 degrees. Roast for another 50-60 minutes or until cooked through (a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast will register 160 degrees), basting once or twice with pan juices. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Makes 4-6 servings

This Soup is Two Kinds of Hot

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

It's the old question made famous by Percy Bysshe Shelley in his poem, Ode to the West Wind, which used to be required reading in high school.

It always seemed to me that people quote that line as if to soothe us through the cold and bitter days, to remind us that warm weather eventually comes and it won't be as long as it seems when you're bundled up in down coats and covered with scarves, hats, gloves and furry boots but still shivering because it feels like it's zero degrees out and the wind is blowing in your face.

But in actuality, my answer is, yes. Spring can be far behind. 66 days in fact. Well after the groundhog jumps back into his hole and whether or not he/she sees its shadow. 

That means lots of hot, warming, comforting food is required to help keep us warm and feel secure and cozy.

Soup, for example.

Like this one, which is hot in two ways. First, it's seasoned with spicy chipotle pepper and a lush garnish of toast croutes loaded up with Sincerely Brigitte Chipotle cheddar cheese. Second, it's served piping hot for lunch or as a first course for dinner.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Chipotle Cheese Croutes

  • 6 medium red bell peppers
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle powder
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup half and half cream or coconut milk
  • cheese croutes

Preheat the broiler. Place the peppers under the broiler, about 4-6" away from the heat. Broil for 2-3 minutes, until the skin has blistered. Turn the peppers and repeat this process until the entire surface is blistered and lightly charred. Remove the peppers and place them in a paper bag or wrap them in aluminum foil. Let rest at least 10 minutes. Remove the peppers from the bag, peel off the skin and discard the stem and the seeds. Cut the peppers into pieces and set aside. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the onion and celery and cook for about 4 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Add the garlic and cook briefly. Add the red pepper pieces, potatoes, parsley, chipotle powder and stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Puree the ingredients in a food processor or with an immersion blender. Stir in the cream and cook for 3-4 minutes or until hot. Serve with the cheese croutes.

Makes 8 servings

 

Cheese Croutes:

  • 16 (1/2-inch thick) slices French bread
  • olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 1 large clove garlic, cut in half
  • 7 ounces Sincerely Brigitte Chipotle Cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet. Brush the bread tops with the olive oil and rub the surfaces with the cut side of the garlic. Bake for about 15 minutes, turning them over once about halfway through. Remove the bread slices from the oven. Just before serving, place equal amounts of the grated cheese on top of each bread slice. Bake for 5-6 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly. Place two croutes on top of each bowl of soup.

Ouch! It's So Cold

It's like 9 degrees outside.

And there's something wrong with our furnace so it's not exactly warm enough in the house either.

Fortunately, there's a serviceman here.

Plus a slow-cook dish in the oven.

Both, I trust, will get life warm soon enough.

Lamb Shanks with White Wine and Rosemary

  • 4 lamb shanks, about 1 pound each
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 large plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 leek, washed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 habanero chili pepper, deseeded and chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Trim any excess fat from the shanks. Pour the olive oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shanks and cook them for 8-10 minutes, turning them occasionally, to brown all sides. Remove them from the pan and set them aside. Pour out all but about a tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the tomatoes, carrots, onion, leek, garlic and chili pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften the vegetables slightly. Pour in the stock and wine, mix the ingredients and bring to a boil. Place the shanks into the vegetable mixture and baste a few times. Place the rosemary sprigs and parsley in the pan, season to taste with salt and pepper and cover the pan. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until the meat is soft. Discard the rosemary sprigs. Serve the lamb as is, with the vegetables and pan fluids OR, puree the pan fluids with the vegetables and serve it as gravy with the meat.

Makes 4 servings.

A new day, a new year, a new website

After years and years of always making the same New Year resolutions to go on a diet or exercise more, or to be more organized with my papers, or to keep my car neat and clean, I finally have realized that I am who I am and love to cook and to eat, so giving up “all carbs” or “never eating another bowl of caramel corn” are vows I cannot keep.

I do exercise. More is unnecessary. 

Alas, my sloppy desk is, I am sure, a permanent thing.

Ditto, the car. I eat popcorn in my car. Some of it falls out onto the floor. I drive my grandkids around. They discard grain bar wrappers, banana peels and half-done artwork in the back seat. I don’t always get around to tidying up right away.

So be it.

So this year’s resolution was different. I decided to start a new website. And, thanks to my son-in-law Jesse Hertzberg, here it is!

Today is cold and dreary, dark, and about to snow. It’s stew weather. Any kind of stew. For warmth and comfort and filling up. For my new website? A recipe for Beer Braised Beef (you can call it stew).

This recipe is just the right dish for a day like this, and for some months to come.

You might notice that I don’t use stew meat. I get a large chunk of chuck instead, and cut it into big pieces. That’s because most of the time the packages of stew meat at the supermarket contain pieces that are too small. Stew meat shrinks — if you start with pieces that are too small, you wind up with tough little chewy bits rather than tender succulent, meaty nuggets. Also, chuck is the tastiest cut of beef for stew — I recommend it above any other cut.

Beer Braised Beef

  • 6 pounds beef chuck roast
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried herbes de provence
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 12-14 ounces beer or ale
  • 4-6 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 6 medium carrots, cut into chunks
  • 3-4 tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Cut the chuck into large chunks. Combine the flour, paprika, herbes de provence, garlic powder and salt and pepper in a dish. Coat each piece of meat with the flour mixture. Pour the vegetable oil in a large, deep saute pan over medium heat. Working with a few pieces at a time, cook the flour-coated beef for 6-8 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, or until crispy on several sides. Return all the meat to the pan. Pour in the beer. Cover the pan. Turn the heat to low. Cook for 1-1/2 hours. Add the potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and parsley. Cover the pan. Cook at a bare simmer for another hour or until the meat and vegetables are tender.

Makes 8 servings

Minestrone

Here’s what’s cooking: Minestrone Soup. 

Because it’s winter and even though it hasn’t been particularly cold in my neck of the woods, it gets dark early and the wind still blows a big chill.

So, soup.

Minestrone is a wondrous choice for so many reasons. It’s thick and filling, colorful and inviting, nourishing and nurturing.

Also, I can make it ahead, which I am doing today, for my New Year’s Eve dinner.

And it tastes so, so wonderful.                                                                                                   

Minestrone Soup

  • 3-4 ounces beef bacon** 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 medium cloves garlic
  • 3 carrots, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 small zucchini or yellow squash, cut into bite size chunks
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup cut up green string beans 
  • 28-ounce can Italian style tomatoes, including juices
  • 8 cups stock (beef, chicken or vegetable) or water
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 15-ounce can white beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 cup elbow macaroni
  • Parmesan cheese, optional**

If you include bacon, place it in a soup pot over low-medium heat and cook for 5-6 minutes or until crispy. Remove the meat and set aside. Drain most of the fat. Add the olive oil. Raise the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes, zucchini, peas, corn and string beans and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bacon pieces, if used, tomatoes, stock, parsley, basil, oregano and salt and pepper to taste. Cover the pan partially and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the beans and macaroni and cook for about 10 minutes or until pasta is tender.

Makes 8 servings

** If you make the soup without bacon, serve it sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. 

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Coconut

Every year our synagogue, Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. brings Christmas dinner to two homeless shelters in the area (and helps serve too). 

This year I roasted a turkey for the event and also sent two cakes, including this one, a Banana Crunch Cake with Chocolate Chips and Coconut.

This is a very versatile recipe. My 9”x13” pan was in use, so I used a 9” square cake pan instead.

The result: cake was fabulous (yes, I cut into it and snipped off a tiny piece for myself!!). It was much moister, although it took longer to bake of course. The sheet cake version has a more tender, more delicate crumb.

Either way — as a tall 9” square cake or a 9”x13 sheet cake, this dessert has all the right counterpoints: tender cake, crunchy top, sweet and salty at the same time. It’s also lovely looking. A good choice for a dessert if you’re having people over for new year dinner.

I’ve made this cake in several variations: you can add chopped dried fruit or raisins or season it with cinnamon or orange peel instead of or in addition to vanilla extract.

Banana Cake with Chocolate Chips and Coconut

Crust:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 33/4 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup flaked coconut
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter and set it aside. In a bowl, combine the oats, coconut, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt. Mix ingredients. Pour in the melted butter. Mix until the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated with the butter. Set aside. 

Cake:

  • 1-2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9”x9” cake pan or a 9”x13” cake pan. Make the crust and set it aside. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda together in a small bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until well blended. Add the eggs and bananas and beat the ingredients for another 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture and yogurt and blend in ingredients thoroughly. Stir in the vanilla extract and chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Cover the top evenly with the crust mixture. If using a 9”x9” pan, bake for about 50 minutes; if using a 9”x13” pan, bake for about 25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12-18 servings

Dried Fruit Pie with Port Wine

My daughter Gillian and son-in-law Jesse gave me this unusual Hanukkah gift: a rolling pin carved with the words “handmade by Ronnie Fein.” The words are mirror-image backwards, of course, so that when you roll the pastry it comes out right.

I couldn’t wait to use this thing so I decided to make a pie to freeze and then serve on New Year’s weekend. I rolled out the dough using this new device.

Problem. 

With pie dough, you have to keep rolling until you get the proper thickness. That meant I had to go over the words several times and so they got all jumbled and on top of each other.

Okay, so I used the mixed up piece of dough for the bottom crust and rolled the top crust using a regular rolling pin, then gave it a final flourish with the carved one, to get the words onto the pastry.

The result: really cute, but I have to say, this thing has limited value. In addition to its use for the final roll only, you really couldn’t see the words on the finished, baked pie.

Sorry kids. 

Maybe it will work better on sugar cookie dough. I’ll try that next.

Meantime, the pie itself is worth making. It’s a riff on old-fashioned Prune and Apricot Pie, but no prunes. I used dates and raisins instead, and since dried fruit goes so magnificently with port wine, I included some in the filling. It’s a rich, sumptuous pie, perfect a New Year celebration and throughout the cold days of winter. 

Dried Fruit Pie with Port Wine

Pie Dough

  • 1 cup dried apricots (preferably California apricots)
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup pitted, halved dates
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup port wine
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pie dough. Let the dough rest while you prepare the filling. Cut the dough in half and roll out one of the halves on a floured board. Fit the dough into a 9-inch pie pan. Spoon the filling into the dough-lined pan. Cut the butter into smaller pieces and place the pieces over the filling. Roll out the second piece of dough. Place it over the filling. Crimp the edges to seal the bottom and top pieces of dough. Bake for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. 

To make the filling: Place the apricots, dates and raisins in a saucepan. Pour in the water and port wine. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10-12 minutes, or until the fruit is soft. Strain the fruit into a bowl, pressing down to extract as much liquid as possible. RESERVE the cooking liquid (about 1/2 cup). Place the sugar, cornstarch, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a small saucepan and whisk to combine ingredients completely. Add the reserved 1/2 cup liquid (add water if you don’t have enough but only add 1/2 cup if you have more). Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes or until the mixture has thickened. Spoon the liquid over the fruit and mix ingredients thoroughly. Stir in the lemon juice. 

Makes 8-10 servings