Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna

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When I got Shannon Sarna’s new book, Modern Jewish Baker, I wanted to run into the kitchen and start baking. It’s that kind of book – based on a few beloved, classic, Jewish bakery basics (challah, bagels, babka and so on) plus an amazing number of inventive variations that sound too seriously compelling to miss.

Exactly my kind of cooking.

One problem. I have to lose weight and get my glucose at normal levels before my doctor’s appointment next month.

OY! Which of these fabulous bakery items should I make and still be on the straight and narrow path until the doctor thing is over?

Challah was out because, ok, I had tasted Shannon’s pull-apart spinach-cheese version at the book launch party and had to stop myself from eating more only because it would have been rude and gluttonous not to leave some for the other guests.

Bagels? No way, because then I’d eat a couple of those fat, crispy-crusted, puffy-inside things, load them with cream cheese and lox and then have to promise to start my diet “tomorrow.”

Rugelach or babka? Tell me the truth -- could you eat just one piece?

Me either. I had several samples at that launch party and – see above for thoughts on my ability to control myself if I had this stuff in my kitchen.

So it was down to either matzo or pita.

I chose pita because matzo means butter. Lots of it, or matzo brei loaded with sour cream, so, no.

Pita it was, because then I could have it with the hummus I could make with the recipe from the book and that’s healthy, right? Also, how much pita can one person eat? It's plain old bread, no chocolate or cheese or other extras.

Believe it or not, one person can actually eat quite a bit of plain old pita when it’s this good. Plus, it is really a thrill to see those yeasty rounds come out of the oven and actually look like packaged pita! (But taste much fresher and better). I felt like a triumphant teenager who had baked her first cake. Who knew you can make pita at home?! I’ve been at this cooking thing for years and years and never did it before.

But I will again! This stuff is not only tasty, but fun to make.

And the hummus was quite good too!

I’ll start the diet tomorrow.

This book is a winner.

Bonus recipe from the book -- Classic Hummus (Modern Jewish Baker):

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and shells removed
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus additional for serving
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Paprika (optional), for garnish
  • Za'atar (optional), for garnish

Place chickpeas, tahini, cumin, salt and garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Puree for 30 seconds. Add olive oil and process until smooth. Add water one tablespoon at a time until desired smoothness. Spoon onto plate or into a bowl. Top with paprika or za'atar and an extra drizzle of olive oil for serving.

Can be kept in an airtight container for 5-7 days in the refrigerator.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

Spinach Gnocchi for Break-the-Fast

We never have a traditional smoked fish break-the-fast because one of my daughters is allergic to fish. Instead, we have a vegetarian-dairy feast. My friend Susan brings her famous, not-to-be-missed kugel. Another friend brings dessert, although I usually also make rugelach

The rest is up to me. For years I've served Mujadarah, either made with brown rice or bulgur wheat. Other usuals are Spinach Pie, a tomato salad of some sort, egg salad and hummus.

But this year I'm not doing the Spinach Pie.

No particular reason other than it's time for a change.

But not a huge change.

I decided to make Spinach Gnocchi. It's already in the freezer, ready-to-bake.

Spinach Gnocchi

  • 2 10-ounce packages thawed, frozen chopped spinach
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
  • 4 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Butter a baking dish. Squeeze the spinach to extract as much liquid as possible. Place the olive oil and butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes, or until softened. Add the spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes. Spoon the spinach mixture into a large bowl and let cool slightly. Add the ricotta cheese and mix thoroughly. Add the flour and mix thoroughly. Add the eggs, the 6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Mix thoroughly to blend the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. With floured hands, shape the spinach mixture into balls about 1-1/2-inches in diameter. Gently drop the balls into the water. Keep the water at a simmer. Cook for 6-7 minutes or until the balls rise to the top and look fluffy. Lift the balls with a slotted spoon and place them on paper towels to dry slightly. Place the balls in the buttered baking dish. Drizzle them with melted butter and the 1/2-cup Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 18 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly crisped.

Makes 24

 

Carrot Soup with Cloves

Carrot soup is a classic for Rosh Hashanah. One year I cooked some with harissa and coconut and my husband said it was the best soup he ever tasted. There's a slightly different version in my cookbook, The Modern Kosher Kitchen.

But I'm always trying new recipes -- because for us, carrot soup is beyond holiday festive. It's a healer, a comforter. Ok, not like chicken soup.  But still -- it's a dish I make for new moms or when someone isn't feeling up to par or when anyone I know is a little grumpy or sad.

This carrot soup recipe welcomes even before you taste it with its scent of cloves and cinnamon. I used Aleppo pepper for heat, but if you don't like spicy, you can leave it out.

 

CARROT SOUP WITH CLOVES AND PEPPER (P)

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium all-purpose potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1-inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or crushed red pepper)
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes, or until softened. Add the carrots, potato, ginger, cloves, cinnamon stick and Aleppo pepper. Stir to mix the ingredients. Pour in stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes or until the carrots are tender. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick. Puree the soup. Add the coconut milk, stir to blend the mixture until it is uniform in color and heat through.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

Carrot Bread with Raisins for Rosh Hashanah

Somehow Labor Day is over and the food thoughts in my head go straight from tomato salad and grilled chicken to pumpkin soup and baked apples

Of course there's still time to enjoy the last of the summer fruits and vegetables, still time for outdoor-cooked grilled, marinated steak

But I'm thinking forward. It's almost a new season and -- yikes! -- the High Holiday season is only two weeks away.

Which leads toady's food thoughts to: carrots, because carrots are traditional during Rosh Hashanah. I usually cook them in soup -- one version or another. But last year I decided to experiment with a few recipes for carrot quick bread.

This is the one we like best. It's moist and sweet, so it can be dessert, and because it is parve, it is a good choice after a traditional holiday meat meal.

But also makes a good snack either by itself or smeared with cream cheese (softened is best and maybe even mixed with some lemon juice).

CARROT BREAD(P)

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1-1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-1/2”x4-1/2” loaf pan. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl. Set aside. Beat the brown sugar, white sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the lemon juice and peel. Add the dry ingredients and blend them into the egg mixture. Fold in the carrots and raisins. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely. 

Makes one loaf  

Roasted Potato Salad

Although my Mom was a really good cook, there were a couple of recipes of hers that I absolutely didn't like. For example, her potato salad, made with cooked, cut up all-purpose Eastern potatoes mixed with onions and Miracle Whip.

And because I didn't like that potato salad or even that style of potato salad, I have spent years experimenting with different recipes.

A while ago I tried making potato salad using roasted potatoes and it opened up a whole new range of options. Roasting gives an entirely different texture and flavor to potatoes and, of course to any salad you create with them.

There's a wonderful recipe for Roasted Lemon-Rosemary Potato Salad in my book, The Modern Kosher Kitchen.

This one was a big hit recently at a buffet get-together at my house. A good choice for a Labor Day picnic.

Roasted Potato Salad

  • 2-1/2 pounds small red bliss or baby Yukon Gold potatoes
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2-3 teaspoons chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, savory, rosemary, marjoram (or a mixture)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes and cut them into bite size pieces. Place the potatoes on a baking tray. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over the potatoes and toss to coat them. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast the potatoes for about 25 minutes or until tender. Remove the tray from the oven and place the potatoes in a bowl. Add the red onion and pour in the white wine. Toss the ingredients and let cool slightly. Whisk the remaining olive oil, white wine vinegar and mustard and pour over the potatoes. Add the parsley and herbs, toss and let stand for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 8 servings

Ah! Summer Blueberries!

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It's impossible to lose weight during the summer. Not when there is so much glorious fruit around and it tastes so good just out-of-hand but SO SO delicious in crisps, pies, muffins, galettes and quickbreads.

Like this blueberry bread. Spiked with orange.

A nice snack all by itself. Sliced for sandwiches smeared with cream cheese. Dessert when topped with ice cream.

Blueberry Bread

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9”x5” loaf pan. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, orange peel and vanilla powder together into a bowl. Add the coconut oil in chunks and cut it into the dry ingredients with your fingers or a pastry blender. If you use an electric mixer, set it at low-medium speed. In a second bowl, beat the egg and orange juice together until well blended (if you use vanilla extract, add it here). Add to the flour mixture and stir to blend ingredients. Fold in the blueberries. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes one loaf

Fresh Tomato Puff Pastry Pizza

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Year after year I failed at growing tomatoes. They bloomed too late because I planted them too late, so by the time the tomatoes on the vine were big and green, a frost would come and everything was ruined. 

Last year I decided to plant them earlier than usual. Also in a different spot in my garden.

Perfecto!

So this year I did the same.

Perfecto again!

I got lots and lots of tomatoes! Enough for salad and sandwiches. Enough for homemade sauce.

And also these fabulous puff pastry pizzas.

So easy, such a good lunch, brunch or even hors d'oeuvre (cut smaller). 

Fresh Tomato Puff Pastry Pizza

  • 3 large or 4 medium tomatoes, sliced about 1/4-inch thick
  • salt
  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the tomatoes slices on a board, sprinkle with salt and let rest for about 30 minutes. Wipe the slices dry. Place the puff pastry on a floured surface. Cut lengthwise once and widthwise twice to make 6 smaller pieces. Place the pieces on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with equal amounts of the mozzarella cheese, leaving a border of about 1/2-inch. Top with equal amounts of tomato slices. Sprinkle with equal amounts of Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with equal amounts of basil. Drizzle with olive oil. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes 6

 

Three Tomato Three Pepper Salad

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IMHO, three of the best things about summer are these:

1. fresh, local, tiny, sugary, fragrant strawberries

2. fresh, local, plump, fragrant peaches and nectarines

3. fresh, local (like my garden!), tender, fragrant tomatoes.

Yes, you can get strawberries, peaches and tomatoes all year, but they don't taste like strawberries, peaches and tomatoes.

So feast now, while the feast lasts. This fruit is perfect, as-is, without anything. Not one of them needs sugar or salt or dressing or whipped cream. On the other hand -- if you have a hankering for more, try these:

1. chocolate dipped strawberries

2. Roasted Nectarines with Oat Crumbles

3. This salad:

 

THREE TOMATO THREE PEPPER SALAD

  • 4 cups halved mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, or cut up regular tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 finely chopped scallions
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut up the tomatoes and place them in a bowl. Place the Sichuan peppercorns in an unoiled pan and cook over medium heat, shaking the pan often, for about 2 minutes, or until they are fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat and crush the peppercorns on a flat surface with a rolling pan or with the bottom of a glass or mug. Sprinkle the crushed Sichuan peppercorns over the tomatoes. Add the Aleppo pepper, scallions, mint and garlic and toss the ingredients. Whisk together the olive oil, wine vinegar and mustard and pour over the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Toss ingredients. Let rest for about 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

Roasted Nectarines or Peaches with Oat-Almond Crumbles

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Mistakes happen. Sometimes it works out well.

Take this dessert, for example. I wanted to grill peach halves and serve them with whipped cream and some sort of crunchy topping. But I couldn't find good peaches, so I bought nectarines. But they weren't freestone, and when I tried to cut the fruit in half the flesh clung to the pit.

No halves.

I had to cut the nectarines into pieces.

That meant no grilling. So I roasted the pieces instead.

All I can say is I wish I had more of this dessert. It was so good that a recipe that is supposed enough servings to feed 8 people only served 4.

But maybe you will all be more abstemious.

 

Roasted Nectarines with Oat-Almond Crumbles

Oat-Almond Crumbles:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1/2 cup quick oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup melted butter

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, mix the flour, almonds, oats, brown sugar, salt and melted butter. Spoon the mixture onto a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until golden brown. Set aside to cool.

Roasted Nectarines and Cream:

  • 8 firm, but ripe nectarines or peaches
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the nectarines into chunks and discard the pits. Place the chunks in a bowl. Add the melted butter and all but one teaspoon of the sugar. Place the fruit on a rimmed cookie sheet and bake for about 10 minutes to caramelize the fruit. Place equal quantities of the baked fruit on serving dishes. Whip the cream with the remaining teaspoon sugar and the vanilla extract until it is thick. Top the fruit with equal amounts of whipped cream. Scatter the crumbles equally on top.

Makes 8 servings (unless you can't control yourself, in which case, maybe 4-6)

Blueberry Yogurt Pie

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When life gives you blueberries you make pie. Also crisp, cake, muffins, jam, soup, tea bread.

The possibilities are awesome.

So recently, when I had lots of extra blueberries hanging around I decided to make cream pie. Sort of. There's no cream in it. This dessert actually began with an old recipe of my Mom's. Her version was made with dairy sour cream. I used plain (non-fat) yogurt. Hers had raspberries, mine was to be blueberries, which are sweeter than raspberries so I cut down on the sugar.

It is still mighty sweet! Enough to satisfy anyone with a sweet tooth. But also cool, creamy and refreshing and nice for anytime you want a rich dairy dessert.

Blueberry Yogurt Pie

Crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons chilled shortening
  • milk (about 3 tablespoons) orange juice, or water

Mix the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Work the butter and shortening into the flour mixture until the ingredients resemble crumbs (use your hands, a pastry blender or the pulse feature of a food processor). Add the liquid and gather the pastry into a soft ball of dough. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it stand at least 30 minutes. Roll the dough on a floured pastry board and fit into a 9-inch pie pan. 

Filling:

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup blueberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Beat the eggs and sugar in a mixer set at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until thick, well blended and pale yellow. Add the cooled melted butter and yogurt and mix briefly to blend them into the batter. Add the flour, orange peel and vanilla extract and mix thoroughly. Place the blueberries inside the unbaked pie crust. Pour the batter over the berries. Bake for about 45-50 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and the filling set.

 Makes 8 servings