Valentine's Day

Rack of Lamb with Mustard, Apricot and Rosemary

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We never eat out on Valentine’s Day. Restaurants are too crowded, the service is usually awful and the food not worth leaving the comforts of home.

Besides, there’s always the next day. My taste buds don’t know and don’t care if it’s February 14th or 15th. Valentine’s Day is an “extra” that, for us, doesn’t need the same kind of clock-like precision of Rosh Hashanah or Passover.

But I do always make a lovely dinner and serve on lovely plates with lovely utensils.

Ed would prefer Chinese food, but that’s too much of a fuss for the evening. So: rack of lamb. It’s easy. Simple. No fuss at all. An indulgence, but we deserve it, don’t we?

Roast Rack of Lamb with Mustard, Apricot and Rosemary

  •  1 whole rack of lamb

  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

  • 1 tablespoon apricot preserves

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary (or use 1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed rosemary)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the meat in a roasting pan. Mix the mustard and preserves and spread on the top surface. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and rosemary. Roast for 20-35 minutes, depending on degree of doneness desired (a meat thermometer should register between 120-140 degrees). Let the meat rest a few minutes before carving.

 

Makes 2-3 servings

 

Strawberry Shortcake (Without the cake)

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The strawberries are fabulous right now -- the local ones anyway. They're sweet, juicy and fragrant. They're small to medium rather than gigantic -- like the year-round supermarket staples, which are dry, tasteless and smell like plastic. The strawberries you can buy now are the kind I remember strawberries from long ago, (especially the ones I picked right off the plants in my parents' garden).

If you are lucky enough to get good, seasonal strawberries, try this recipe. I call it Strawberry Shortcake without Cake because the whipped cream mixture, which is made with mascarpone cheese, is thick, almost like a really moist cake, and yet it is sort of like whipped cream.

So easy too!

Remember this recipe next Passover. Or Valentine's Day. Or July 4th for that matter!

Make the cream part ahead and top it with berries just before you serve it. Lovely with coffee or tea and also an after dinner drink (brandy and so on).

Strawberry Shortcake without Cake

  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2/3 cup mascarpone cheese (or use whipped cream cheese)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons Balsamic vinegar

Wash and dry the berries and remove the hulls. Make incisions into each berry as if to cut slices but do not slice through. Set aside. Whip the cream and mascarpone cheese with the sugar and orange peel until the mixture is thick. Fold in the Balsamic vinegar. Spoon equal amounts of the cheese mixture onto 4-6 dessert plates. Place sliced strawberries on top, gently moving the “almost” slices to fan them slightly.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

Valentine's Day Chocolate Fudge Brownies

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I have told my husband not to buy me chocolate candy for Valentine's Day.

Sure, I love the thought, not to mention the taste (he knows how much I love buttercrunch!!!!!!).

But really, I need to NOT EAT candy for a variety of reasons including the number I see on the scale when I weigh myself each morning.

For Valentine's Day I am going to make brownies, which will be sufficient for the two of us to celebrate with a piece or two, then give the rest away to a friend of mine who loves sweets.

Then it will all be gone, we will have had a delicious, but calorie-limited Valentine's Day and that will be that until the next occasion.

 

Valentine's Day Chocolate Fudge BROWNIES

  • 3 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8" square baking pan.  Melt the chocolate and butter together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. When the ingredients have melted, blend them thoroughly and remove the pan from the heat. Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat them 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is thick and pale. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir this mixture into the chocolate mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract and nuts, if used. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool the brownies in the pan. Cut them into 16 squares.

Makes 16

My Bat Mitzvah Chocolate Cake

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Today is the anniversary of my Bat Mitzvah. It took place a LONG time ago! In the 1950s to tell you the truth.

Back in the day Bat Mitzvahs were not such a thing. In fact, I was the first girl from our newly established synagogue to reach this momentous occasion.

I have to confess, our rabbi mentioned the notion when we first joined the synagogue and I told my parents I wanted to learn some Hebrew and prayers and do whatever I had to, not so much because I had any particular religious feelings, nor was it because I wanted a big party -- the big themed events we see today didn't exist back then -- but because my two older brothers had Bar Mitzvahs and I couldn't understand why a girl wouldn't be treated equally.

My mother always said that when I was born I came out a feminist.

Still am. (So was she.)

Girls are equal to boys, women to men. Let's not even contest that one.

Still, my brothers did have a Saturday Shabbat service Bar Mitzvah and I was only allowed to have one on Friday night. I was content with that, it was a start.

We had a small party at home. I was allowed to invite one friend, and of course my family was there -- aunts, uncles, cousins, including my cousin Leslie, who, to this day, is like a sister.

I remember my dress: white with red and black lines. 

I don't remember what my Mother made for food.

But I do remember dessert. Because I made it: a dark chocolate cake with fudge frosting.

I didn't keep the recipe. I don't actually know whose recipe I used. I just remember what it looked like and that it tasted fabulous and that I made the cake for my own Bat Mitzvah.

So today I celebrate with Chocolate Cake. This one is a riff on the famous Hershey Black Cake with a few changes to make it dairy-free, less sweet and more to my tastes (you can change the frosting to dairy using 12 tablespoons of butter in place of the coconut milk and coconut oil). 

This is a good cake for a festive occasion, even one's own Bat Mitzvah.

Black Chocolate Cake

  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • water
  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup strong, cooled coffee
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • frosting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease 3 9-inch cake pans. Pour the lemon juice into a liquid (pitcher) measuring cup and add enough water to measure one cup. Set aside. Place the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix at low speed to combine the ingredients. Add the eggs, the lemon-water, coffee, vegetable oil and vanilla extract and beat the ingredients at medium speed for 2-3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, or until well combined and smooth. Pour equal amounts of the batter into the prepared pans. Bake for 22-25 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes. Invert the layers onto a cake rack to cool completely. Frost and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings

Frosting

  • 1-1/2 cups dairy-free semisweet chocolate chips
  • 6 tablespoons coconut milk
  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • pinch of salt

Place the chocolate chips, coconut milk and coconut oil in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until the chips have melted and the mixture is smooth and uniform. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Let cool, whisking the ingredients occasionally. Refrigerate until firm enough to be spreadable.

 

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

 

 

Happy Birthday, Valentine's Day and Chinese New year

Today is Ed's birthday and I was thinking about what to make for dinner. We used to go out to eat because there was a restaurant nearby that served chocolate cake with apricot filling, which he loved, but the restaurant closed. These days he doesn't eat cake, so there goes that.

No dessert, okay, that's his choice. But what about the main course? 

He'd appreciate stuffed cabbage. Or braised short ribs.

But mostly he likes Chinese food. Cantonese egg rolls or Sichuan Hot and Sour Soup. Mild or spicy.

Any kind of Chinese food.

I can't go wrong with Chinese food. Which he would also choose for Valentine's Day. Or to celebrate Chinese New Year (February 19th).

Here's one he loves: 

Beef with Orange

  • 1 large or 2 small navel oranges

  • 12 ounces beef steak

  • 1 large egg white

  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

  • Sauce:

    • 1 tablespoon Mirin

    • 1 tablespoon water or beef stock

    • 1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

    • 1 teaspoon rice vinegar

    • 1 teaspoon sesame seed oil

    • 1 teaspoon sugar

    • 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 2 thick scallions, chopped

  • 1 small serrano or jalapeno chili pepper, deseeded and chopped

  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

  • 1 large clove garlic, chopped

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Peel the oranges, then cut the peel into bite size pieces and place the pieces on a baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the pieces have dried. Remove from the oven and set aside. While the orange peel is baking, slice the meat and place the pieces in a bowl. Add the egg white and cornstarch and mix the ingredients thoroughly to be sure every slice is coated. Set aside.

Prepare the sauce by mixing the Mirin, water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame seed oil, sugar and cornstarch in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a stirfry pan or wok (or large saute pan) over medium-high heat. Add the meat and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes or until the meat is completely brown. Remove the meat to a dish and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon vegetable oil to the pan. Add the scallions, chili pepper, ginger, garlic and orange peel and stirfry briefly. Return the meat to the pan and stirfry to distribute the ingredients evenly. Sprinkle the ingredients with sugar and stirfry briefly. Stir the sauce to be sure the cornstarch (which may have settled to the bottom) is completely incorporated. Pour the sauce over the ingredients and stirfry for about a minute until the meat is glazed. 

Makes 2 servings (or 4 with other dishes)

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Cupcake’s Brownie Cookies

Why bother with any other recipe this Valentine’s Day? That’s what I realized. These cookies, which I baked last weekend, were so good that my husband devoured almost the entire batch. He did leave some for a couple of workmen who happened to be at our house making some repairs on the oven. But I am about to make another batch. Or two. So I know I have some available. 
 I got the recipe from  Sprinklefingers , a tumblr blog I follow. The woman who writes the Sprinklefingers blog is an energetic, interesting person who lives in Portland, Oregon, and has this fabulous bakery called  Saint Cupcake  (actually there are two bakeries now). I say fabulous because the photos and the menu of goodies looks fabulous. I’ve never been there or met the woman,  Jami Curl , who owns it and writes the blog. The place and the woman are clear across the country from me. 
 But I do know that all the posts are interesting and the recipes wonderful. 
 So the other day I tried her recipe for Chocolate Brownie Cookies. All I can say is: these are not to be missed. The cookies are awesome. Perfect for Valentine’s Day. Or any other day actually. 
 I made one batch of the larger cookies, one batch of the smaller. I prefer the smaller (then you don’t feel so guilty eating two). 
  I changed the way Jami’s recipe is written to conform to the way I write recipes, so maybe I should say it is adapted. But the ingredients and instructions are exactly the same. Maybe I should have this blurb like they do on TV when they say a movie has been edited to be formatted for your TV screen.  
     
  Saint Cupcake’s Brownie Cookies   

 4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces 
 12 ounces semisweet chocolate 
 1/3 cup all-purpose flour 
 1/4 teaspoon salt 
 1/4 teaspoon baking powder 
 2 large eggs plus one large egg yolk 
 1/2 cup sugar 
 1/4 cup packed brown sugar 
 1 tablespoon vanilla extract 

 Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or grease the sheet lightly). Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top part of a double boiler. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to let ingredients cool. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside. Beat the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed until well blended, about 5 minutes. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture and blend in thoroughly. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes. Use a 2-ounce scoop to form a rounded mound and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Leave space between the cookies for expansion. Bake for 15-17 minutes. OR, use a smaller (one-ounce scoop) and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Cookies should be cracked, with moist looking ingredients inside the cracks. 

Why bother with any other recipe this Valentine’s Day? That’s what I realized. These cookies, which I baked last weekend, were so good that my husband devoured almost the entire batch. He did leave some for a couple of workmen who happened to be at our house making some repairs on the oven. But I am about to make another batch. Or two. So I know I have some available.

I got the recipe from Sprinklefingers, a tumblr blog I follow. The woman who writes the Sprinklefingers blog is an energetic, interesting person who lives in Portland, Oregon, and has this fabulous bakery called Saint Cupcake (actually there are two bakeries now). I say fabulous because the photos and the menu of goodies looks fabulous. I’ve never been there or met the woman, Jami Curl, who owns it and writes the blog. The place and the woman are clear across the country from me.

But I do know that all the posts are interesting and the recipes wonderful.

So the other day I tried her recipe for Chocolate Brownie Cookies. All I can say is: these are not to be missed. The cookies are awesome. Perfect for Valentine’s Day. Or any other day actually.

I made one batch of the larger cookies, one batch of the smaller. I prefer the smaller (then you don’t feel so guilty eating two).

I changed the way Jami’s recipe is written to conform to the way I write recipes, so maybe I should say it is adapted. But the ingredients and instructions are exactly the same. Maybe I should have this blurb like they do on TV when they say a movie has been edited to be formatted for your TV screen.

 

Saint Cupcake’s Brownie Cookies

4 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

12 ounces semisweet chocolate

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs plus one large egg yolk

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper (or grease the sheet lightly). Melt the butter and chocolate together in the top part of a double boiler. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to let ingredients cool. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder together in a bowl and set aside. Beat the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed until well blended, about 5 minutes. Fold the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until thoroughly blended. Add the flour mixture and blend in thoroughly. Let the batter rest for 10 minutes. Use a 2-ounce scoop to form a rounded mound and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Leave space between the cookies for expansion. Bake for 15-17 minutes. OR, use a smaller (one-ounce scoop) and bake for about 10-12 minutes. Cookies should be cracked, with moist looking ingredients inside the cracks. 

Chocolate Truffles

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Chocolate instead of broccoli to stay healthy?

No, not really. But in a recent study the results indicated that eating chocolate might cut a woman’s risk for stroke. Read about it here.

This is not the first time I’ve heard that chocolate is healthy (it has flavanoids, which have anti-oxidant properties, which in turn help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol).

But this is the one of the only times I’ve heard someone caution women not to over-interpret the results. Like, do not substitute chocolate for broccoli. And a cardiologist who was interviewed said that although chocolate may be good for you, maybe the study results would have been similar if they used apple skins or grapes.

I’ve always wondered about some of these studies. I wonder whether you can prove whatever you want depending on how you go about the study.

Well, I am no scientist, so I don’t know.

But I do remember, many years ago, when the information regarding dietary fat was still in its infancy and Nabisco came out with SnackWells, the so-called “healthy” cookies because they were lower fat. And people started eating SnackWells because they thought it was okay. And judging from the number of people I met (and watched at the supermarket) who ate boxes and boxes of those cookies, most didn’t seem to realize that it’s way too many calories and that it might be more harmful than if you ate a butter cookie or two.

So the broccoli warning makes sense.

But if you want to eat something delicious and chocolate-y — for your health — try these truffles. They are amazingly easy to make and you can give them away as gifts so they’re good for the upcoming holiday season.

But don’t eat the whole batch at once.

Chocolate Truffles

  • 1/2 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 teaspoons brandy or rum or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 5 tablespoons butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sprinkles, toasted coconut, ground nuts, etc. (approximately)

Chop the chocolate in a food processor into small bits. 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 well blended (you may have to scrape the sides of the bowl once or twice). Refrigerate the mixture for 30 minutes. Add the brandy or rum and the softened butter 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. 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.