mishloach manot

Cherry Muffins

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Today is George Washington's actual birthday (also my grandmother's) and when I was a kid, we used to celebrate on this day. It was always when we ate something with cherries because, well, as far as Washington was concerned, everyone knows the story about the cherry tree and all. And also my grandma loved cherry-vanilla ice cream.

I just happened to have a jar of cherries in the house so I figured I'd make something with it to wish happy birthday to my grandmother and also our first president.

These muffins.

Fortunately Purim is only a few days away, so I can give them away for mishloach manot. Otherwise I might eat all of them and that wouldn't be very good.

 

Cherry Muffins

  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1- 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup plain yogurt or dairy sour cream or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fruit juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cherries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease 12 muffin tins. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon peel in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the eggs, melted, cooled butter, yogurt, juice and vanilla extract. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix to combine ingredients. Fold in the cherries. Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12

Banana Bread with Dates and Figs

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Every Purim I try new hamantaschen from different bakeries. I've also made my own hamantaschen using a variety of recipes.

But so far, after years and years of buying this one and that one, my favorites are the (parve) ones I get at The Bakery, in Plainview, NY. For me, they are the enduring treats of childhood, never failing to please, never changing, even in a world where innovation is honored.

And so -- I will buy my hamantaschen this year. Old fashioned flavors: prune and apricot. At The Bakery.

Which means that for Purim, instead of creating a completely new hamantaschen recipe or even trying a new pastry recipe with old fashioned filling, I am going to bake banana bread as mishloach manot gifts.

I have a zillion recipes for banana bread. Some with streusel. Some dairy-free. Some loaded with chocolate chips, some with coconut. Some all chocolate-y. Some spicy. And on and on.

This is my most recent banana bread recipe, one I came up with while revising my mother's date-nut bread recipe. 

 

Banana Bread with Figs, Dates and Nuts

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together in a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the shortening and sugar until well blended. Add the bananas and beat them in thoroughly. Add the eggs and beat them in thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and beat for a minute or so until the batter is well blended. Fold in the figs, dates and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one bread, serving 16-18

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

I once wrote that if doomsday was coming and there might not be a tomorrow, I would want some butter crunch before it all ended so I could at least die happy.

That's still my choice. I don't think there's a better candy, that gives that same salty-sweet combo better than butter crunch.

I love my original recipe, but recently someone asked me if I had a recipe that didn't include corn syrup. 

I didn't at the time, but do now.

Here it is: crunchy, salty-sweet and tender chocolate on top.

Don't stint on the good stuff. This recipe is too good for cheap chocolate.

Valentine's Day, mishloach manot for Purim, doomsday, whatever. This is a good choice in (or for) any event.

 

Corn Syrup Free Butter Crunch

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 1 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped

Lightly butter a small sheet cake pan (about 10”x7” or a portion of a larger pan). Place the butter, sugar and salt into a deep saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture starts to bubble. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is golden brown (about 7-8 minutes) (or until a candy thermometer reads 280 degrees). Quickly stir in the vanilla and nuts. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread it out evenly to make a layer about 1/8”-1/4” thick. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate on top. Let it melt briefly, then use a spatula or the back of a large spoon to spread the chocolate evenly over the candy. Keep spreading until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Sprinkle the nuts on top and press them in lightly. Let cool until the chocolate is firm and set, at least 3 hours. Break into pieces.

Makes about 1 pound, enough for one person, or two if you want to share

 

 

Rich Tangerine-Chili Chocolate Truffles

I love the tradition of mishloach manot -- giving away food to family, friends and even strangers during Purim. Besides the actual mitzvah of giving, it is an opportunity to do what I love: cook a lot and give the food away. It's like having the thrill of eating -- without the calories.

If you make edible gifts for Purim or as a host/hostess gift when you are invited to someone's house or for any other occasion, you might want to try truffles. They take some time but are actually quite easy to make and I guarantee they're rich and tasty and anyone would be thrilled to get them.

Check out the photo and you'll notice that I don't make my truffles perfectly rounded. Candy truffles get their name because they look like the the underground fungi, the ones that are highly fragrant and are dark, small and irregularly shaped. So the sloppy look is actually more authentic.

I made this recipe using tangerine juice and cayenne pepper. I had once tasted tangerine-chili chocolates and thought they were amazingly wonderful. The extra bit of heat pops the citrus and chocolate into one harmonious whole.

Yes, orange juice and peel are fine, though not as flavorful. And you can leave out the cayenne pepper, though I think the truffles are better with the heat.

Pack these in small cardboard or wooden boxes or small cellophane bags (you can get them at most craft stores) and you have a beautiful homemade gift for any occasion.

Or treat yourself and your family. They'll be happy.

Tangerine-Chili Chocolate Truffles

  • 12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons tangerine juice
  • 6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh tangerine peel
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, approximately
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sprinkles, toasted coconut, ground nuts, etc. (approximately)

Chop the chocolate in a food processor. Heat the cream over medium heat until it is hot and bubbles form around the edges of the pan. With the processor on, pour in the cream through the feed tube and process until smooth and well blended with the chocolate (you may have to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice). Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes (in the processor bowl). Add the juice, butter, tangerine peel and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour or until the mixture has firmed enough to form a soft “dough.” Take small pieces of the dough and shape into small balls (they don’t have to be perfectly rounded) (I do this wearing disposable gloves). Place the balls on waxed paper or aluminum foil on cookie sheets. Refrigerate until firm, at least 30 minutes. Roll the balls in cocoa, sprinkles, etc.

 Makes about 3 dozen. 

 

The Gift

One of the loveliest, most heartwarming traditions of Purim is mishloach manot, the act of giving gifts of edible food (and drink) to our friends, neighbors and those in need.

Every year I bake or cook something to give away. This year it was Banana Double Chocolate Swirl Cupcakes. But other times I've given Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney, Banana Mango Bread with Chocolate Chunks, Candied Kumquats and lots more.

Yesterday, I got mishloach manot from an unexpected source: NoMoo Cookies!

There, on my front porch was this box of one dozen giant Choco-lift with Cherry Cookies! Just for me.

Now, you may have read my review of NoMoo cookies a while ago. If not, take a look. These are fabulous, dairy-free and kosher.

The Choco-lift with Cherry is a limited edition cookie. I have to say, the cherry part made me think of blooming spring cherry trees, which is quite a lovely image today as more snow is falling on the already 2 or 3 feet of it in my backyard. The chocolate part was rich and not too sweet (over-sweet is one of my pet peeves with most packaged cookies).

I've already finished one. My husband finished one. The rest went right into the freezer because even though these cookies are terrific, fresh from the package, we also like them hard and cold.

That's a good cookie.

Thank you NoMoo. Chag Purim Sameach.

Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney

I love when one recipe serves several purposes.  Like this one for Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney.  I am using this (placed in pretty jars) as gifts to my friends for Purim. But I made enough for me too and am going to serve it along with the roasted lamb I am going to make for my Academy Award dinner. We always watch the event, red-carpet stuff and all, with my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Eileen. Eileen will not eat this because it has hot pepper in it and she doesn’t like anything spicy (she’ll get a different  homemade chutney  with her dinner).   I’ve been thinking lately that we don’t eat enough chutney. It’s one of the most versatile and flexible of foods. You can use all sorts of fresh and dried vegetables and fruits, spices, herbs, other flavorings (like vinegar, citrus peel, Port wine) and the delicious concoctions you can make are endless.   I mean, there is life beyond ketchup, right?        Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney      12 ounces dried apricot halves  boiling water  4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped  2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger  12 whole cardamom pods  2 cups sugar  1 cup red wine vinegar  1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar  1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper  1/4 teaspoon salt  2 pears, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks  3/4 cup golden raisins  Cut the apricots into quarters, place in a bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover them. Let the apricots soak for 30 minutes. Drain and place them in a saucepan. Add the garlic, ginger, cardamom pods, sugar, vinegar, Balsamic vinegar, cayenne pepper and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the pears and raisins and cook for another 20-25 minutes or until the fruits are tender and the mixture is thick. Let cool. Makes about 3 cups   

I love when one recipe serves several purposes.

Like this one for Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney.

I am using this (placed in pretty jars) as gifts to my friends for Purim. But I made enough for me too and am going to serve it along with the roasted lamb I am going to make for my Academy Award dinner. We always watch the event, red-carpet stuff and all, with my brother Jeff and sister-in-law Eileen. Eileen will not eat this because it has hot pepper in it and she doesn’t like anything spicy (she’ll get a different homemade chutney with her dinner). 

I’ve been thinking lately that we don’t eat enough chutney. It’s one of the most versatile and flexible of foods. You can use all sorts of fresh and dried vegetables and fruits, spices, herbs, other flavorings (like vinegar, citrus peel, Port wine) and the delicious concoctions you can make are endless. 

I mean, there is life beyond ketchup, right?

 

Dried Apricot, Pear and Raisin Chutney

 

12 ounces dried apricot halves

boiling water

4 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger

12 whole cardamom pods

2 cups sugar

1 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 pears, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks

3/4 cup golden raisins

Cut the apricots into quarters, place in a bowl and pour in enough boiling water to cover them. Let the apricots soak for 30 minutes. Drain and place them in a saucepan. Add the garlic, ginger, cardamom pods, sugar, vinegar, Balsamic vinegar, cayenne pepper and salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes. Add the pears and raisins and cook for another 20-25 minutes or until the fruits are tender and the mixture is thick. Let cool. Makes about 3 cups

 

Candied Kumquats

Do you think your dentist would like these sugar-crusted kumquat candies?  Mine would be horrified.  But if you like foods that have a distinctive contrast — like sweet and salty, sweet and sour, bitter-sweet and so on, you’ll love these too.  Anyway, my neighbor did. He had a “significant” birthday recently. Ed and I were invited to a party at his house but his wife told me “no gifts.” So, no using my Lord & Taylor 20% discount coupon to get him a sweater he would probably return. No using my 20% Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon to get him a knife he might need for fileting his own fish.   I couldn’t show up empty handed though. So I made some goodies, specifically candied kumquats, which are completely frivolous, certainly not as well-known (and probably not as well loved as, say, chocolate chip cookies) but absolutely spectacular to look at and to eat.  If you’ve never tasted candied kumquats, you’ve missed something special. The fruit is tender and vaguely resilient, the crust crunchy; the flavor is bitter and sweet all at once. Perfect harmony on your tongue.  I thought this made a very interesting birthday gift. But now that it’s Purim, the time to give  mishloach manot , little gifts of food to family and friends to celebrate the holiday, I’m thinking Candied Kumquats.      Candied Kumquats      12-16 ounces kumquats (one carton)  2 cups sugar  1 cup water  sugar for coating     Rinse the kumquats and remove any stems. Slice the kumquats in half lengthwise and remove any seeds. Combine the 2 cups sugar and the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the kumquats, reduce the heat and cook the kumquats at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan and let stand for at least one hour. Remove the cover, bring the liquid to a boil again over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the kumquats for 20 minutes. Remove the kumquats with a slotted spoon to sheets of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) to cool. Roll the kumquats in sugar to coat them completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes one pound      

Do you think your dentist would like these sugar-crusted kumquat candies?

Mine would be horrified.

But if you like foods that have a distinctive contrast — like sweet and salty, sweet and sour, bitter-sweet and so on, you’ll love these too.

Anyway, my neighbor did. He had a “significant” birthday recently. Ed and I were invited to a party at his house but his wife told me “no gifts.” So, no using my Lord & Taylor 20% discount coupon to get him a sweater he would probably return. No using my 20% Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon to get him a knife he might need for fileting his own fish. 

I couldn’t show up empty handed though. So I made some goodies, specifically candied kumquats, which are completely frivolous, certainly not as well-known (and probably not as well loved as, say, chocolate chip cookies) but absolutely spectacular to look at and to eat.

If you’ve never tasted candied kumquats, you’ve missed something special. The fruit is tender and vaguely resilient, the crust crunchy; the flavor is bitter and sweet all at once. Perfect harmony on your tongue.

I thought this made a very interesting birthday gift. But now that it’s Purim, the time to give mishloach manot, little gifts of food to family and friends to celebrate the holiday, I’m thinking Candied Kumquats.

 

Candied Kumquats

 

12-16 ounces kumquats (one carton)

2 cups sugar

1 cup water

sugar for coating

 

Rinse the kumquats and remove any stems. Slice the kumquats in half lengthwise and remove any seeds. Combine the 2 cups sugar and the water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the kumquats, reduce the heat and cook the kumquats at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, cover the pan and let stand for at least one hour. Remove the cover, bring the liquid to a boil again over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer the kumquats for 20 minutes. Remove the kumquats with a slotted spoon to sheets of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) to cool. Roll the kumquats in sugar to coat them completely. Store in an airtight container. Makes one pound