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Wine-Poached Pears

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Purim is a loud, raucous, festive, hilarious holiday. Although its origins are somber - Haman’s attempt to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia - it didn’t end so well for him. But it did for us and, in keeping with the victory we celebrate!

It’s been one of the traditions of Purim for adults to, let’s say, make merry by imbibing in more alcohol than usual. In fact, some say, we are told to become intoxicated with wine, based on a statement in the Talmud by Rava, a fourth century rabbi, who said:

”A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.”

And so, on Purim, count on the fact that wine will be on the menu somewhere.

This year I decided that wine would appear on my dessert menu. I’ll poach some seasonal pears (I prefer comice or bartlett) in a hearty, aromatic wine-based sauce. I’ve made this dessert many times (tastes different each time of course because I use a different wine).

You can make it a day or so ahead; store everything in the fridge. Serve it with the sauce, strained and boiled down to a velvety finish, and maybe a garnish of whipped cream, ice cream or sorbet. Or just by itself.

Wine- Poached Pears

  • 2-1/2 cups red wine

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • peel from one orange

  • 2 2-inch strips of lemon peel

  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4" long

  • 12 whole allspice

  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed (or use 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger)

  • 3-4 pears, preferably comice or bartletts

  •  whipped cream, optional

  • crushed pistachio nuts for garnish (or use toasted coconut or fresh chopped mint), optional

Combine the wine, water, sugar, orange peel, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, allspice and cardamom pods in a stainless steel, pyrex, enamel or other non-reactive saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the ingredients for 5-6 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds. When the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, immerse the pear halves and cook them for about 4-5 minutes or until they are barely tender. Remove the pan from the heat; let the pears cool in the liquid. Remove the pears. Strain the poaching liquid and return the plain liquid to the saucepan. Boil the liquid over high heat for several minutes until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Let the liquid cool. When ready to serve, spoon some of the syrup on dessert plates and top each with a pear half. Serve with whipped cream, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts.

Makes 6-8 servings

Roasted Cauliflower with Crumbs

Roasted Cauliflower with Crumbs

Roasted Cauliflower with Crumbs

I recently read Mark Twain’s novel “The Tragedy of Puddin’head Wilson,” a story about what happens after two babies are switched and their real identities are lost almost forever.

In addition to being a good read, filled with humor and irony, this book also includes a character who keeps a diary where he writes wise sayings.

I always wondered where this famous Twain quote came from: “Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Now I know.

I recommend the book. Also recommend this cauliflower dish, which is so easy to prepare you don’t need a college eduction to make it.

Roasted Cauliflower with Crumbs

  • 3/4 cup Panko

  • 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

  • 1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Mix the Panko, garlic and dill together and set aside. In a large bowl, mix the olive oil and mustard together until thoroughly blended. Place the cauliflower in the mustard-oil bowl and toss to coat the pieces on all sides. Place the coated pieces on a baking sheet. Scatter the Panko over the pieces and toss to coat the pieces lightly. Roast for about 15 minutes or until crispy and tender, turning the pieces once or twice. Most of the crumbs will separate from the cauliflower. Place the cauliflower in a serving dish, scatter the crumbs on top.

Makes 6 servings

Roasted Bell Pepper Soup

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I’ve lived most of my life in Connecticut and so I am used to cold winters, snow and all that comes with it. I don’t mind really. I actually love the change of seasons and think it makes life more interesting.

But it’s those first days of chill that take some getting used to as we transition from summer’s heat and the gradual change of temperature when autumn comes..

Those are soup days.

I recently made this Roasted Red Pepper soup. It’s exactly what’s needed when the weather turns.

Also makes a good first course for Thanksgiving dinner.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

  • 5-6 sweet red, orange and/or yellow bell peppers

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 small onion, chopped

  • 1 carrot, chopped

  • 1 stalk celery, chopped

  • 1 tablespoon freshly minced parsley plus more for garnish if desired

  • 1/3 cup raw white rice

  • 5 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock)

  • 1-1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

  • freshly ground black pepper

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. 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. 

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and parsley. Cook, stirring occasionally for 3-4 minutes or until the vegetables have softened. Stir in the rice. Add the peppers and stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, lower the heat and cook at a simmer for 25 minutes. Puree in a food processor or blender.

Makes 6 servings

Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze and Chives

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Carrots are always on my menu for Rosh Hashanah dinner. 

This recipe, the one I'm serving this year, is so easy. And you can set it up ahead -- peel and cut the carrots 2-3 days before you have to cook them, and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge.

This dish will go with practically any main course you might serve for dinner. 

 

Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Chives

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt to taste
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel the carrots and cut them lengthwise in half or quarters, depending on thickness. Place the carrots on the baking sheet. Pour the olive oil over the carrots and toss to coat them completely. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a pinch of cayenne. Roast the carrots, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Pour the Balsamic vinegar over the carrots, toss and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until they are tender. Sprinkle with chives and serve. 

Makes 4 servings

Baked Apples with Date Honey

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If you've never tried date honey, you've been missing something delicious in your life. I've been using it for years in all sorts of dishes from Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake to the Thanksgiving sweet potatoes.

It isn't bee honey. Date honey (known as Silan) is a syrup made from dates. It's thick and sweet like honey, but bee honey has more hints of spice, nuts or flowers, date honey is richer and more mellow.

I have tried several brands and like Date Lady* because of its smooth texture. Last summer, at the Fancy Food show I tasted the company's new California Date Syrup and absolutely loved it. The California syrup has a buttery taste, while the classic middle eastern variety is more molasses-y. Both are wonderful but I preferred the California syrup for delicate dishes such as baked apples and the bolder syrup for breads, cakes and muffins.

The California syrup works perfectly for baked apples, one of our traditional Rosh Hashanah desserts.

*I was not paid for this post. I just happen to love this product.

Baked Apples with Date Honey

  • 4 baking apples
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup diced dried figs
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup date honey
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the apples and remove the core with an apple corer or small knife, leaving about 1/2" on the bottom.  Peel the apples halfway down from the top and place them in a baking dish. Mix the raisins, dates, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and date honey. Stuff this mixture into the apple hollows. Mix the juice and water (plus extra sugar if desired) and pour over the apples. Bake for 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the pan juices, or until the apples are tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet Soaked Summer Fruit

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A few years ago I learned how to make khoshaf, a Muslim (primarily Egyptian) version of compote -- what my grandma called "kumput," (which she made by cooking dried prunes and apricots with sugar, lemon and cinnamon). Kumput was delicious, but sometimes a bit mushy.

Khoshaf isn't cooked -- you pour simmering, seasoned, sweet syrup over the dried fruit and let it macerate for a while. The fruit becomes tender but never gets soggy.

The khoshaf was such a success that I never went back to "kumput."

So, I figured that the soaking/macerating method would work on fresh fruit too.

I was right.

This simple dish -- cut up fruit steeped in a seasoned, sweetened syrup -- is the perfect ending to a meal on a hot summer day, especially when you want a dairy-free dessert. Of course you could always top the fruit with ice cream or whipped cream. But sorbet would be fine too.

I like it plain, as-is, with a small amount of boiled-down, thickened syrup.

 

SOAKED SUMMER FRUIT

  • 2 pounds stone fruit (peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots), approximately
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 vanilla bean, broken
  • 2 orange slices, about 1/4-inch thick
  • 4-5 slices crystallized ginger

Cut the fruit in half and remove the pits. Cut the fruit into bite-size chunks and place in a dish deep enough to hold the pieces plus liquid. In a saucepan, combine the water, honey, vanilla bean, orange slices and crystallized ginger and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Pour the contents of the saucepan through a strainer over the fruit. Let soak for at least 2 hours. Serve as-is or strain the fluids, boil the fluids for 6-8 minutes or until thickened, and pour over the fruit (or let cool first).

Makes 8 servings

 

 

Banana Applesauce Cupcakes

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One of the greatest pleasures in life is cooking with children.

Children are enthusiastic, creative and joyful abut anything they've cooked or baked.

These cupcakes are a melange of my grandchildren's ideas about what to make for dessert. It had to be dairy free. We had a few bananas and some leftover applesauce that we wanted to use.

The cupcakes were yummy. Even the adults thought so.

Decorations, including the one lone banana slice in the center, by the kids, of course, .

 

Banana Applesauce cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup applesauce
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin tins. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and cinnamon and whisk the ingredients to blend them thoroughly. Place the sugar, vegetable oil and applesauce in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat the ingredients at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until well blended. Add the eggs and beat them in. Add the bananas, apple juice and vanilla extract and beat at medium speed for about 2 minutes or until well blended. Spoon equal quantities of batter into the muffin tins. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. 

Makes 12

frosting

  • 1 cup margarine, shortening or mix of coconut oil and margarine 
  • 1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • apple juice as necessary

Place the margarine, confectioners' sugar and vanilla extract in a bowl (or use an electric mixer) and beat with a hand mixer at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until well blended and creamy. If the mixture seems too thick to spread as frosting, mix in a teaspoon or two of apple juice.

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes

 

Banana Crunch Cake

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I am always amazed at the amount of fruit that I buy -- and that is consumed -- when my children and grandkids come. Quarts of berries of all kinds. Mangoes, pineapples, grapes and kiwi fruit. In season, also stone fruit such as peaches, fresh apricots, plums and so on.

Plus oranges, clementines, grapefruit.

Apples of course.

And bananas. Lots of bananas.

Usually I am left with nothing, which is why I am always amazed, just at the sheer quantity of what has been eaten.

And I am not complaining at the lack of leftovers! Eating fruit is a good thing. Glad my family is good with that.

IF and when I have leftover bananas I use them for banana bread or cake. I have so many different recipes it's difficult to choose one or another, so I often come up with something new.

Like this. The crunchy crust gets it one step beyond homey, making this suitable for company.

 

Banana Crunch Cake

Crust:

  • 1 cup crushed raisin bran or similar flakes
  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 6 tablespoons liquid coconut oil (or use melted butter)

Combine the cereal, oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Pour in the coconut oil and mix until the dry ingredients are thoroughly coated. 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 vegetable shortening
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 mashed bananas
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch square baking 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 vegetable shortening and sugar together at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until creamy and well blended. Add the eggs and bananas and beat the ingredients for another 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly blended. Mix the water and lemon juice together. Add the flour mixture alternating with the lemon-water and blend in ingredients thoroughly. Stir in the vanilla extract. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Cover the top evenly with the crust mixture. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 12-16 servings

 

Roasted Mushrooms and Tomatoes

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My Seder menu has been more or less stable for the past few years. I change a recipe occasionally, add a new one now and then, but for the most part it's been mostly the same.

Until this year.

I changed quite a bit this Passover. I was bored with some of the old stuff.

Chicken soup with matzo balls? NEVER BORING! Of course I served that!

Also, I served turkey (like my grandma and mother before me) as well as brisket. I also made my old favorite, spinach pie with matzo crust.

But, there was a new haroset (nut-free).

And lots of new vegetable dishes. Like this one, which was incredibly easy and I set it all up in advance and just popped it into the oven minutes before it was needed.

Of course, this dish is a year 'round thing. And it was so well-loved that I know it will be on my menu throughout the year.

 

Roasted Mushrooms and Tomatoes

  • 12-14 medium-large mushrooms, cut into chunks
  • 16 grape, cherry or mini-Kumato tomatoes
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Place the mushrooms, tomatoes, scallions and garlic in a bowl, pour the olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat all the pieces. Spoon the vegetables onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes, turning the vegetables once or twice during baking, or until tender. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

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A few days ago someone on social media alerted the world to Oscar Mayer Pumpkin Spice Bologna.

No.

Just no. Just absolutely no.

Pumpkin spice doesn't belong in bologna. It doesn't even belong in the same sentence.

In fact, there is way too much "pumpkin spice" out there, in everything. 

However, pumpkin spice in muffins is a pretty good idea. It is pumpkin season, after all. And spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice do give the batter a welcome warmth and fragrance.

So, instead of even thinking about that terrible idea of pumpkin spice bologna, try these muffins, which are quite wonderful.

Btw, there really is no such thing as Oscar Mayer Pumpkin Spice Bologna. It's baloney! Watch out for the real #fakenews. (http://www.wusa9.com/news/local/verify/verify-pumpkin-spice-products-whats-real-and-whats-not/481457725)

 

Pumpkin Raisin Muffins

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1-1/4 cups mashed pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease 10 muffin tins. Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice together into a bowl. Beat the sugar, eggs, vegetable oil and mashed pumpkin together in an electric mixer set at medium for 2-3 minutes or until thoroughly blended and smooth. Add the flour mixture and beat at low speed for one minute to blend ingredients. Fold in the raisins. Pour the batter into the prepared tins. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

Makes 10