comfort food

Mashed Potatoes, Two Ways (dairy-free and dairy-loaded)

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In our nuclear family of 11, there are the pro-potato people and the no-potato people.

I am a top level pro-potato person.

And as you can see from the photos, so are two of my grand daughters, who helped me make some mashed potatoes for dinner a while ago.

The recipe we made was a butter-cream-cheese-sour-cream indulgence. (It could be a meal in itself!) But we’ve also made dairy-free versions. Pro-potato people like it all ways.

Are mashed potatoes on your menu for Thanksgiving? If so — or any other time — check out both recipes, dairy-loaded and dairy-free.

dairy-loaded Mashed Potatoes

  • 2 pounds boiling potatoes (such as Yukon Gold)

  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

  • 4 tablespoons cream cheese, cut into chunks

  • 1/2 cup dairy sour cream

  • 1/4 cup warm milk, approximately

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Cook them in lightly salted simmering water for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and return the potatoes to the pan. Cook briefly over low heat to evaporate the excess moisture. Mash the potatoes with a ricer or potato masher. Add the butter and cream cheese and mash them in thoroughly until the butter and cheese are completely blended in. Add the sour cream and blend in thoroughly. Mix in enough milk for desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes 6 servings

 

DAIRY-FREE Mashed Potatoes

  • 5 medium all-purpose potatoes such as Yukon Gold

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped

  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice

  • 3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock

  • salt to taste

  • pinch or two of cayenne pepper

  • 3 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Peel the potatoes, cut them into chunks and cook them in lightly salted water for about 15 minutes, or until they are fork tender. While the potatoes are cooking, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic. Cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until the vegetables are beginning to brown. Set aside. Drain the potatoes and mash them with a ricer or potato masher until the lumps have disappeared. Add the vegetables and olive oil and stir them in gently. Stir in the lemon juice, stock, salt and the cayenne pepper. Place the mixture in a baking dish. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until the top is crispy and brown.

Makes 6 servings

Grandma Mac and Cheese

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All of my grandchildren think that I make the absolute most wonderful, bestest, most delicious mac and cheese. And they expect at least one mac and cheese dinner when they come for a visit.

No worries. I always have one in my freezer, just in case there is ever a surprise knock on my door from one of them.

Of course I thought my grandma made the best mac and cheese too. Hers came out of a box and the cheese part were some granules that came in a separate foil package. She was supposed to mix the granules with milk and butter I think, but she never did. She just opened the package and sprinkled it on top of the cooked elbows. 

That's the way all of us grandchildren thought mac and cheese was supposed to taste. And of course, grandma made it best.

It's the way I made it for my kids. Because that was the best.

Somewhere along the way I tasted actual homemade macaroni and cheese. It was a revelation. It was wonderful. Which is NOT to say that grandma's wasn't good. It was just a whole different dish. I still think of it with fond memories. My daughters think of it with fond memories. And, btw, they also made the packaged kind and sprinkled the dry cheesy granules on top for their children. And their children love that too and probably will have fond memories of that dish.

But when they come to visit me, it's the other kind they expect and love. The from-scratch kind.

They're also pretty clear about how they like it too: moist but not overly sauced, with a combo of American and cheddar cheeses and a crispy top. No added things like tomato or cooked vegetables. No crust -- just maybe some extra grated cheese.

This is the one:

 

Grandma Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 pound small pasta such as elbows

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 3 cups milk (preferably whole milk)

  • 14-16 ounces mixed American and cheddar cheeses plus extra for garnish, shredded

  • salt to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions, rinse under cold water, drain and set aside. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter has melted and looks foamy, turn the heat to low-medium, add the flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, for 2-3 minutes, but do not let the mixture become brown. Gradually add the milk, stirring with a whisk to keep the sauce smooth. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly. Add most of the cheeses, leaving some to top the dish as garnish. Add some salt and continue to whisk the sauce until all the cheese has melted. Add the pasta and mix to coat all the pieces. Eat as is, sprinkled with extra cheese, OR place in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes to crisp the top. 

Makes 6-8 servings

 

Baked Beans. Real American Food for the 4th.

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I was thinking about which "real American" foods to serve on July 4th. Not just the usual icons: burgers, apple pie, lemonade. I wanted something that represented the "mongrels" that we are: Americans may be tribal in some ways, but we are also an odd mix-and-blend of a zillion cultures.

And so is American food.

For example, some say that Baked Beans are originally from France -- some sort of easy version of cassoulet. But the countries where they eat baked beans the most are English speaking: England, Ireland, Canada and Australia.

And yet ... baked beans are also a favorite in Holland and Hong Kong.

And of course beans themselves are native to South America, so who knows?

The original Puritan colonists in New England made baked beans often and for the same reason as observant Jews make cholent -- the dish cooks slowly in a pot so there's no work to be done during the Sabbath. Baked beans have been popular ever since, and particularly so after the canned versions first came along at the turn of the 20th century. 

Green labelled Heinz Vegetarian baked beans were a standard item at my house when I was a kid.

So, baked beans it is.

I like making my own because when they're homemade I can season the beans the way I like, make them spicy or not, use more or less sugar (or sugar substitutes such as honey or maple syrup), make them vegetarian or with meat.

I recently had a couple of slices of flanken left over, so I decided to use them in a new recipe.

My husband usually likes my cooking and there are some dishes he thinks are so good he brags to people about them. Like my recipe for Carrot Soup with Harissa and Coconut.

These beans? He told me several times that they are among the best foods he has ever tasted. In fact, one night he only had baked beans (and a few of the chunks of flanken in them) for dinner. 

So, this recipe is a yes for July 4th.

Baked beans take time. But you can make them several days ahead. They last for a week in the fridge. If you don't have flanken you can use chuck, smoked turkey or some kind of sausage.

 

Baked Beans for the Fourth of July

  • 1 pound dried navy or great northern beans
  • water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6-8 ounces beef chuck or flanken , cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon powdered mustard

Place the beans in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans soak for one hour. Drain the beans and return them to the pot. Cover the beans again with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and simmer for 45 minutes. (Alternatively, cover the beans with water and let them soak for at least 8 hours.) Drain the beans and place them in an oven-proof casserole. While the beans are cooking, heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the meat and cook for 5-6 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, until they are browned. Remove the meat from the pan and add to the beans. Add the onion to the pan and cook for 2-3 minutes to soften. Add to the drained beans and meat. Place the brown sugar, honey, ketchup, salt and mustard in a bowl and mix thoroughly to blend the ingredients. Stir in 2-1/2 cups water. Pour the mixture over the beans and meat. Cover the casserole and put it in the oven. Set the temperature at 300 degrees and cook the beans at least 5 hours, or until they are tender.

Makes 8 servings

Herb Roasted Potatoes

American politics is driving me crazy!

And I know, based on everything I've been reading for months and on conversations I've had with a zillion people, that a lot of other people feel the same way.

Therapists have been extra busy since November 2016.

This is the kind of stress that -- for me -- only a potato can help. Potatoes are my main comfort food. 

But what kind? 

Maybe homemade potato chips?

Only if you feel like frying food.

Warm weather's here so maybe potato salad

Not if you're in the mood for something hot and crunchy.

So -- it's time for these lemony-roasted potato chunks, which are crispy, tangy and satisfying. You can prepare them ahead and pop them in the oven just before you want to serve dinner (and also keep them nicely in a warm oven).

Lemon-Dill Roasted Potatoes

  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or all-purpose potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dlll
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. Peel the potatoes and cut them into small chunks. Place the potatoes in a bowl. Add the olive oil and toss to coat the chunks. Add the lemon juice, garlic, dill and lemon peel. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss the ingredients to coat the potato chunks evenly. Place the pieces in a single layer on the parchment paper. Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally, or until the pieces are crispy.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

Honey Orange Chicken Wings

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You can never have too many recipes for chicken wings, whether or not you watch or even care about the Superbowl. 

My latest chicken wing recipe came about recently, after I attended a honey tasting with my friend Liz Rueven, who blogs at Kosherlikeme. We went to Red Bee Apiary in Weston, Connecticut, where all of us were in rapt attention as beekeeper Carla Marina Marchese told us all about different kinds of bees and different kinds of honey. Then we had a feast of single origin honeys with tidbits of food (cheese, fruit and so on) that went best with them.

Of course, everyone knows that there are many varieties of honey and they all have a unique flavor. No different than wine, for example. You don't have to be an expert to understand and appreciate the differences. But it is fun to taste several all in one sitting. So I recommend this place (or one near you if you don't live in Connecticut).

After it was all said and done I bought a few jars of honey and experimented with them.

Buckwheat honey proved to be very interesting to work with. It has a distinct, intense, almost molasses-ey flavor that makes it a big winner for cookies, muffins and similar types of baked goods. Or baked apples. Or mashed sweet potatoes and so on.

But my favorite was this recipe for chicken wings. Just in time for Superbowl. Or whenever.

 

Honey Orange Wings

  • 1/4 cup honey (I used buckwheat honey)
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoon grated orange peel
  • salt and pepper
  • 24-30 dozen wing pieces

Preheat the broiler with the rack at least 6-inches from the heat. Place the honey, orange juice, chives, mustard, orange peel and salt and pepper in a bowl and mix for a minute or so or until well blended. Add the chicken wings and toss them in the liquid to coat all the surfaces. (You can let the chicken marinate for an hour or so if you wish.) Place the wings in a single layer on a baking sheet. Broil the wings for about 15-18 minutes, turning them every 3-4 minutes to prevent over-browning.

Makes 24-30

Short Ribs with Barbecue Gravy

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Lots of people find January a big disappointment. It can be cold and dreary and sometimes seems like a letdown after months of holidays and celebrating.

But the food is good.

I like to call January cuisine. Filling, nourishing, comforting stuff.

Like short ribs.

 

Short Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

  • 5-6 pounds beef short ribs 
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chile pepper
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup beer or ale
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 2-3 thyme sprigs (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dry the surface of the meat with paper towels. Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Working in batches, cook the meat, turning the pieces to brown them, for 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned. (If the oil seems too dark, discard it, wipe the pan and add 2 fresh tablespoons vegetable oil.) Remove the meat and set it aside. Add the onions, garlic, chili pepper, carrots and celery to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the ketchup. Pour in the stock, beer, cider vinegar and soy sauce and stir the ingredients. Stir in the brown sugar. Return the meat to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over them. Place the thyme sprigs and bay leaf in the liquid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook at a bare simmer for about 4 hours or until the meat is fork tender (or place in the oven at 225 degrees).

Makes 6-8 servings

 

Plain Old Meatloaf

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Everyone piles on poor January like it's some cranky old disciplinarian. Like it's January's fault for being on the calendar when it's often cold and gloomy. Like it's January's fault that  after months of indulgence in food, gifts and various and sundry celebrations, we have to get back to some sort of normal.

But we must get back to some sort of normal of course, and we do. In January we face, recognize and take responsibility for our gluttony. It's like some mid-winter al cheyt.

So, on January's menu: simple, easy, homey, plain-old food. 

Frankly, after the Hallowe'en candy and Thanksgiving turkey with stuffing and Hanukkah latkes and doughnuts and New Year's brunch I am ready to make a fresh start. Ready for food like meatloaf.

Actually, that doesn't seem like punishment to me. Just a bit of down home, back-to-basics. I like that.

Here's my simple go-to version.

Plain Old Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 pound ground turkey
  • 1 cup soft fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup chili sauce
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the meats in a bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup of the chili sauce, soy sauce, eggs, onion, garlic, thyme and some salt and pepper to taste. Mix thoroughly and place the mixture into a lightly oiled 9”x5” loaf pan. Spread the remaining chili sauce over the surface. Bake for about one hour or until the sides of the meat come away from the pan. 

Makes 6-8 servings

Onion Soup with (or without) Cheese Croutes

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I'm looking out the window at the dark sky and a rage of snow. The wind is sweeping it all into deep drifts that I know are going to block my front door.

My husband had the need to walk outside to get the mail (nothing first class, just the usual circulars for cruises and grocery items).

I stayed inside making soup.

This is definitely soup weather.

For example, this onion soup, which is fabulous all by itself, but especially satisfying with a thick crusty, cheese croute on top.

Dinner.

French Onion Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 6 cups heated vegetable stock (or with beef stock if you serve without the croutes)
  • 1/4 cup sherry, peferably Oloroso type
  • cheese croutes (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over low-medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes or until onions have softened and become caramel-colored. Add the flour and mix ingredients together for 3 minutes. Gradually add the stock, stirring gently. Cook, partially covered, for 35 minutes. Add the sherry and cook another 5 minutes. Serve the soup as is or topped with cheese croutes. 

Makes 8 servings

Cheese Croutes:

  • 8 (1"-thick) slices of French bread
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, cut in half
  • 1-1/4 cups freshly grated Swiss cheese
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread slices on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Brush the bread tops with the olive oil and rub the surface with the cut side of the garlic. Turn the bread slices over and bake for another 15 minutes. Just before serving, place the soup in oven-proof bowls and top each with one slice of the bread. Sprinkle the cheeses evenly on top. Place the bowls on a cookie sheet and bake for about 12 minutes or until the cheese melts and is bubbly.

 

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

 

Lullabye Bread

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A few years ago Ed and I were in Berlin and checked out KaDeWe, the city's famous department store that has the biggest food halls in Europe and maybe in the world. They sell every kind of food you can imagine. Gorgeous cakes and pastries. Bountiful, beautiful fruit. Different kinds of eggs, dairy products, chocolates. 

It was all familiar. Pineapples. Peaches. Sachertorte. Macarons. Freshly butchered chickens, and so on.

We stopped counting the different kinds of sausages after we reached 100. Apparently they sell sausages from every region in Germany. 

But we were there for lookin', not cookin' -- so, in the two hours we walked through this place it was more like a visit to an art gallery. 

But then we came to the bakery and there, in the case, was a beautiful, braided loaf called Hefezopf, which is like a challah, but with raisins and almonds.

It was a vision. All at once my mind filled with memories of a lovely shabbat challah mixed with grandma singing rozhinkes mit mandlen, that hauntingly beautiful, classic Yiddish lullabye.

Oh my. My eyes well up even thinking about it.

This was something I had to try at home and get right.

I did, but it took several tries. At first I used my challah recipe and sweetened it a bit, but that just tasted like sweeter challah. The consistency wasn't right.

After doing some research about Hefezopf I realized it was more like brioche -- dense, buttery, dairy-laden, so I started tinkering with my brioche recipe.

Yes. 

A taste is worth a thousand looks.

Try this. It's called Hefezopf, but like to call it Lullabye Bread.

Lullabye Bread (HEFEZOPF)

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 3-inch piece of cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 2 2-inch strips of lemon peel
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 3-1/2 cups all purpose flour, approximately
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup raisins, optional
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped almonds, optional

 

Lightly grease a baking sheet. Pour the milk into a saucepan. Add the cinnamon stick, lemon peel, butter and sugar cook over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and the mixture is hot. Set aside to cool to lukewarm (about 105-110 degrees). Sprinkle the yeast over the milk mixture and whisk the ingredients to dissolve the yeast. Let rest for about 5 minutes or until thick bubbles form. Place the flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Remove the cinnamon stick pieces and lemon peel from the yeast mixture and pour the liquid into the mixer bowl. Add one egg and mix the dough with a dough hook for about 2 minutes. Add the raisins, if used, and mix for another 2 minutes or so, or until the dough is smooth. If the dough is sticky, add more flour as needed. (Kneading can be done in a food processor or by hand.) Cover the bowl and let rise in a warm place for about 1-1/2 hours or until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down and cut it into 3 equal pieces. Working on a floured surface, roll the pieces to make strands of about 12-inches long. Braid the strands and place them on the baking sheet. Beat the remaining egg with one teaspoon water and brush the egg wash over the surface of the braid. Sprinkle with almonds, if used. Let rise again for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes or until puffed and golden brown.

Makes one bread