birthday

Crispy Roasted Duck Legs with Hoisin-Orange Glaze

The one consistent thing my husband wants for his birthday, year after year, is Chinese food. Forget the gifts, don’t bother with cake. Just give him Chinese food and he’s happy.

So this is on the menu this week, for his birthday, which just happens to coincide with Chinese new year.

CRISPY ROASTED DUCK LEGS WITH HOISIN-ORANGE GLAZE

  • 4 duck legs

  • olive oil

  • 1 cup orange juice

  • 1/4 cup hoisin sauce

  • 3 tablespoons honey

  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rinse and dry the duck legs and rub them with a light film of olive oil. Place them in a roasting pan, flat side up. Roast for 15 minutes. While the duck is roasting, combine the orange juice, hoisin sauce, honey, orange peel. ginger and garlic in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat briefly, stirring just until the honey has become blended in the liquid.. Set aside. When the 15 minutes are done, turn the legs round side up. Pour the orange juice mixture over the meat, cover the pan and roast for 30 minutes. Remove the cover. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Baste and bake for another 15 minutes or until the ducks are cooked through and the skin is crispy. 

Makes 4 servings

 

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.

 

Fried Rice is Always Welcome

Ed and I have eaten a lot of fried rice recently. In Hong Kong. In Vietnam. In Cambodia. In the Philippines.

You could say fried rice is a staple in our lives. Just this simple dish: hot rice, vaguely crispy from the fry, lightly salty (but never with added soy sauce) and with a bit of egg, onion (usually in the form of scallion) and cooked vegetables. And that's how we had it (with a change of seasonings, depending on where we were) throughout Southeast Asia.

And that's how we have it at home (only from now on I will add more of the flavorings we recently sampled -- like sliced chili pepper or fresh coriander or star anise).

Because no matter what else I make for dinner, Ed will always welcome fried rice as a side dish.

He will also welcome fried rice as the main dish.

That makes it very easy for me, especially on days when I don't feel like fussing over dinner.

It does take some thinking ahead, because it's best to make fried rice using cold, cooked rice.

After that it's simple. You stirfry the rice and add all sorts of other ingredients from cooked carrots or mushrooms or any other veggie, to frozen peas to canned water chestnuts to fresh scallions to leftover chicken or veal to scrambled eggs -- whatever you have! And season it the way you like.

Like the recipe below, which was a filling, satisfying, delicious one-pot dinner.

Another bonus -- I added some of the Carrington Sriracha flavored coconut oil that I mentioned when I posted about Sriracha-Parmesan Popcorn. I got the oil, among other things at Crafted Kosher, a new website that has an enormous assortment of interesting products. The coconut oil is coming in handy for many of my recipes (stay tuned). Just a small amount makes a huge flavor difference, as it did with this fried rice.

Fried Rice with Egg and Peas

  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha flavored coconut oil
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 3 cups cooked cold rice
  • 3/4 cup thawed frozen peas
  • 1 cup diced leftover turkey, chicken or veal, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

Beat the eggs in a bowl and set aside. Heat 2 teaspoons of the vegetable oil in a wok or stirfry pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggs and cook, stirring once or twice until they are set on the bottom. Turn the eggs over and cook briefly until firm. Dish out the eggs onto a chopping board, chop them and set them aside. Heat the remaining vegetable oil and the coconut oil in the pan. Add the scallions and stirfry for about one minute. Add the rice, eggs, peas, optional meat and salt and stirfry for 2-3 minutes to distribute ingredients and heat the rice.

Makes 2-4 servings, depending on whether this is a one-dish meal or part of a meal

 

The Birthday Dinner Dilemma

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It's my daughter Gillian's birthday today. A round numbered one. And she asked if, instead of going out to dinner at some fancy shmancy joint to celebrate, whether I would make a special dinner at home.

Of course!

With the fancy shmancy china and silverware and different size wine glasses for different wines for different courses.

Of course!

So, okay, I have the china and silverware and wine glasses. All I have to do there is make sure I have candles for the candlesticks, iron the napkins, fill the salt cellars, set the table and so on. Ed will take care of the wine.

It's all good.

BUT WHAT SHOULD I COOK?

Something new and glamorous? Fancy shmancy?

Or old favorites like Pearly Meatballs? Fried Chicken Wings? Sticky Spicy Chicken Wings? with pre-dinner cocktails.

Should I make a soup? Like Beet Soup with Orange and Mint (even the name sounds fancy doesn't it?).

For the main course I'm thinking maybe lamb. Everyone in the family eats that. But she really does like turkey. Unfortunately turkey is not the universal family favorite, so maybe no? Plus -- Gillian is our family carver, so could I really ask her to do all that slicing and deboning for her birthday dinner?

Another dilemma is that Gillian is not such a big dessert person. Or at least what people consider the usual kinds of dessert. This dessert thing would be easy if the birthday person was my son-in-law Greg. He likes chocolate cake.

Ed would always welcome chef Raymond Oliver's Normandy Ice Cream (coffee with Grand Marnier).

For me, birthday dessert is always apple pie

We are celebrating in a few weeks, so I have some time to finalize the menu plus make sure I buy those candles. 

If anyone has suggestions -- I am all ears.

In the meantime, should I also make some candy? Like chocolate dipped dried fruit?

Chocolate Dipped Dried Fruit

  • 2-1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons orange-flavored brandy or rum
  • 50 pieces (approximately) dried fruit such as crystallized ginger, apricot halves, candied orange peel (about 6 ounces)

Melt the semisweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate and butter in the top part of a double boiler over barely simmering water. Let the ingredients melt, remove the top part of the pan from the heat, pour in the brandy and stir to make a smooth, uniform mixture. Dip each piece of fruit in the chocolate mixture, shake off the excess and place on waxed paper or parchment paper to dry.

Makes approximately 50 pieces

My Mom's Famous and Fabulous Nut Roll

Today would have been my mother’s 100th birthday and although she and my Dad died many years ago, I think about them a lot. You can’t possibly realize how much you’re going to miss people when they’re in your life. You only understand when they aren’t. And what happens from time to time is that something comes up during the day that reminds you of them. A smell. Or a magazine picture of a scarf in your mother’s favorite color. Or a song you hear on your car radio.

The memories can be sad or poignant or funny or thrillingly happy.

Today my memories are happy. I am celebrating with my brother and toasting our Mom, who was was funny and sometimes controversial and more than occasionally provocative, which would make us furious, but also make us think.

She was smart and interesting too. A feminist before the word feminist existed. I am sure that had she been born at an even earlier time, she would have been a Suffragette.

My mother was also a good cook. She mostly stuck to what she knew and wasn’t much for experimenting. She’d say “why change a good recipe?”

There is some wisdom to that, although I don’t follow it. My family never gets to eat the same thing too many times, except maybe for holiday dinners.

But for Mom, a winner was a winner, and she had so many it’s difficult to choose among her recipes to make one special thing for her birthday celebration.

I considered my Mom’s fried chicken (which was better than anyone’s, even Colonel Sanders) together with a dozen or so of the crispy-edged corn fritters she served with it.

For dessert? Her apple pie of course. It was legendary. We still talk about it every autumn, when I make a batch of my own.

Then again, speaking of apples, I remember how often she made that most wonderful apple crisp that was my Dad’s favorite and I would come in to their house through the garage and the perfume from the baking apples and the crunchy cereal crust would greet me before even they did.

Maybe I should choose that?

Or her rice pudding? It was baked custard actually, with a smooth inside and crispy top. I haven’t cooked it in a while.

I could go on and on. About her most comforting and wonderful chicken soup. Or her family-famous cookies that we all called Fannies, but are actually plain old butter thumbprint cookies. Or her most welcome roast beef hash which she made out of leftover meat and mashed potatoes and more sauteed onions than you can imagine.

She said she hated to use leftovers, a consequence of having struggled through the Great Depression and never wanting the memories.

And yet she used leftovers. Cleverly and creatively but for simple, uncomplicated, unsophisticated dishes that became our favorites. Like her Macaroni and Cheese, put together with scraps and bits from the fridge.

There was only one dish she ever made that I didn’t like (potato salad).

And one dish — Nut Roll — I could never get the hang of, even though she told me how and showed me how to make it many many times. Mine just never tasted as good.

That’s the one.

That’s the one I decided it had to be. I’d give this one another try.

Which I did this morning (I made the dough yesterday because it has to sit in the fridge for a few hours).

It’s almost as good as hers. Maybe it is as good but the memories of hers are too good to let me think it is.

But my Nut Roll is enough like it, anyway, to celebrate with. Superb with coffee or maybe a glass of dessert wine.

My Mom used walnuts in her Nut Roll; because of allergies in my family I never cook with walnuts, so I used almonds. 

In the photos you can see the lump of one section of dough that I started with, then, in the second photo, rolled it thin. The third photo shows how to scatter the sugar and nuts over the dough and the fourth photo, how to roll the Nut Roll. The fifth photo shows what the rolls look like when it comes out of the oven. The last photo is a plate of slices — let the rolls cool, then use a serrated knife to cut the pieces.

Enjoy. Btw, the rolls freeze beautifully.

Happy Birthday Mom!

 

Lily Vail’s Nut Roll

 dough:

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter

  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 large eggs, separated

  • 1/2 cup dairy sour cream

  • 2 tablespoons milk

filling:

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 12 ounces chopped nuts (about 3 cups)

Cut the butter into chunks and place in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix (using the flat paddle if your machine has one) at slow speed until the ingredients are blended and crumbly looking. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, sour cream and milk. Mix the ingredients at medium speed until a smooth, uniform dough has formed. Knead the dough 3-4 times on a floured surface; shape into a cylinder, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.  Cut the cylinder into 3 parts. Mix the sugar and cinnamon together in a bowl. Working with one dough part at a time, roll out on a floured surface into a circle about 1/16-inch (very thin). Sprinkle each circle with 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar and 1/3 of the chopped nuts. Roll up tightly into a compact roll, tucking in the sides. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the rolls in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes. Brush the rolls with some of the egg white. Bake the rolls for 40-45 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool and slice.

Makes 3 Nut Rolls 

Classic Strawberry Shortcake

I know it was Julia Child’s 100th birthday this week and she was an important person in my life. Although it was my Mom who taught me the basics, Julia taught me to take giant leaps beyond. I didn’t cook every recipe in her first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I did make many of them. A boyfriend had given me that book — a treasured first edition — which is now gravy stained and coverless and signed by Julia herself on one of my favorite recipes (I met her when I took a cooking course along with several hundred other people like in some College 101 class). 

 So, Happy Birthday Julia. 

 But this week was also a friend’s birthday. A what you call “round number” birthday, so I invited her to my house, along with another friend, who recently celebrated that same round number birthday. We had a few hors d’oeuvre with a nice few glasses of wine, then grilled fish with  Grilled Pineapple Salsa  (and a few vegetables) for dinner. 

 SO healthy. We are all at that nice round number watch-what-you-eat age. 

 But dessert? Oh well. Why count calories when summer strawberries are out and you can eat Strawberry Shortcake? 

 Which is what I made instead of baking or buying a birthday cake. 

 Not a morsel was left on our plates. 

  
Classic Strawberry Shortcake 

 2 pounds fresh strawberries  
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar 
orange, mango or papaya juice 
2 cups all-purpose flour 
3/4 teaspoon salt 
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder 
1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon peel 
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 
1 large egg 
1/2 cup milk 
1 cup whipping cream 

 Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wash the berries and slice them into a bowl, sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons sugar and a few tablespoons of juice and set aside. In another bowl, mix the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, baking powder and lemon peel. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk together until well combined. Add the liquids to the flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. Roll or press the dough to 1/2-inch thick circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut out 8 circles with a cookie cutter. Place the circles on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12–15 minutes or until puffed and lightly brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Whip the cream with the remaining teaspoon sugar until the mixture stands in soft peaks. Cut the biscuits in half and place each bottom half on a serving dish. Place the berries and any accumulated juices on top. Pour some of the cream on top. Top with the remaining biscuit halves. Makes 8 servings.

I know it was Julia Child’s 100th birthday this week and she was an important person in my life. Although it was my Mom who taught me the basics, Julia taught me to take giant leaps beyond. I didn’t cook every recipe in her first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I did make many of them. A boyfriend had given me that book — a treasured first edition — which is now gravy stained and coverless and signed by Julia herself on one of my favorite recipes (I met her when I took a cooking course along with several hundred other people like in some College 101 class).

So, Happy Birthday Julia.

But this week was also a friend’s birthday. A what you call “round number” birthday, so I invited her to my house, along with another friend, who recently celebrated that same round number birthday. We had a few hors d’oeuvre with a nice few glasses of wine, then grilled fish with Grilled Pineapple Salsa (and a few vegetables) for dinner.

SO healthy. We are all at that nice round number watch-what-you-eat age.

But dessert? Oh well. Why count calories when summer strawberries are out and you can eat Strawberry Shortcake?

Which is what I made instead of baking or buying a birthday cake.

Not a morsel was left on our plates.


Classic Strawberry Shortcake

2 pounds fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
orange, mango or papaya juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon peel
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Wash the berries and slice them into a bowl, sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons sugar and a few tablespoons of juice and set aside. In another bowl, mix the flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt, baking powder and lemon peel. Add the butter and work into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, beat the egg and milk together until well combined. Add the liquids to the flour mixture and mix until a soft dough forms. Roll or press the dough to 1/2-inch thick circle on a lightly floured surface. Cut out 8 circles with a cookie cutter. Place the circles on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 12–15 minutes or until puffed and lightly brown. Remove from the oven and let cool. Whip the cream with the remaining teaspoon sugar until the mixture stands in soft peaks. Cut the biscuits in half and place each bottom half on a serving dish. Place the berries and any accumulated juices on top. Pour some of the cream on top. Top with the remaining biscuit halves. Makes 8 servings.

Passover Birthday Cake

Passover Birthday Cake  My daughter Meredith’s birthday sometimes falls during Passover, which means that in certain years she isn’t able to have a “traditional” birthday cake.  Which didn’t bother her one bit when she was a kid because she absolutely loved the flourless chocolate jelly roll cake I made for her and for years this is what she asked me to bake even when it wasn’t Passover. I always thought it was an interesting and glamorous choice considering her age.  Guess it all comes down to how it tastes. Mer was never one to pick something just because it was “the thing” or because someone else liked or wanted it. She liked how this chocolate roll tasted and I don’t blame her. It’s de-lish. Passover-friendly too. But you can make this any old time.  Here’s the recipe.      Flourless Chocolate Jelly Roll Cake      6 ounces semisweet chocolate  3 tablespoons cooled coffee (or brandy or rum)  5 large eggs   1 cup sugar  1-1/2 cups heavy cream  1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract  1 pint strawberries, sliced  cocoa powder or (Passover) confectioner’s sugar     Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 15-1/2”x10-1/2” jelly roll pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving several inches hanging over each of the short edges. Butter the portion of the paper that fits inside the pan.   Melt the chocolate and coffee together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Mix the ingredients well and remove the top part of the pan from the heat. Let cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed (or use a hand mixer), beat the egg yolks and all but 2 teaspoons of the sugar together for 3-4 minutes or until thick and pale. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and blend it in thoroughly. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Mix about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold the remaining whites into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it to make it even. Bake for about 10 minutes or until “set.” Remove the cake from the oven. Cover it with a slightly dampened kitchen towel. Let cool.  Loosen the cake by pulling the overlapping ends of parchment paper. Invert the cake onto a clean sheet of parchment paper or kitchen towel and roll it up starting with one of the long sides. Set aside.   Whip the cream and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and vanilla extract until thick (use an electric mixer or hand mixer). Unroll the cake and spread the whipped cream on top of the cake, leaving about 1-inch at the edges. Top with the strawberries. Roll the cake starting on the long side. Place on a serving platter, seam side down. Dust (using a strainer) with cocoa or confectioner’s sugar.  Makes 10-12 servings

Passover Birthday Cake

My daughter Meredith’s birthday sometimes falls during Passover, which means that in certain years she isn’t able to have a “traditional” birthday cake.

Which didn’t bother her one bit when she was a kid because she absolutely loved the flourless chocolate jelly roll cake I made for her and for years this is what she asked me to bake even when it wasn’t Passover. I always thought it was an interesting and glamorous choice considering her age.

Guess it all comes down to how it tastes. Mer was never one to pick something just because it was “the thing” or because someone else liked or wanted it. She liked how this chocolate roll tasted and I don’t blame her. It’s de-lish. Passover-friendly too. But you can make this any old time.

Here’s the recipe.

 

Flourless Chocolate Jelly Roll Cake

 

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

3 tablespoons cooled coffee (or brandy or rum)

5 large eggs 

1 cup sugar

1-1/2 cups heavy cream

1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 pint strawberries, sliced

cocoa powder or (Passover) confectioner’s sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 15-1/2”x10-1/2” jelly roll pan. Line the pan with parchment paper, leaving several inches hanging over each of the short edges. Butter the portion of the paper that fits inside the pan. 

Melt the chocolate and coffee together in the top part of a double boiler set over barely simmering water. Mix the ingredients well and remove the top part of the pan from the heat. Let cool. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed (or use a hand mixer), beat the egg yolks and all but 2 teaspoons of the sugar together for 3-4 minutes or until thick and pale. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and blend it in thoroughly. In another bowl, beat the egg whites until they stand in stiff peaks. Mix about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold the remaining whites into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing it to make it even. Bake for about 10 minutes or until “set.” Remove the cake from the oven. Cover it with a slightly dampened kitchen towel. Let cool.

Loosen the cake by pulling the overlapping ends of parchment paper. Invert the cake onto a clean sheet of parchment paper or kitchen towel and roll it up starting with one of the long sides. Set aside. 

Whip the cream and remaining 2 teaspoons sugar and vanilla extract until thick (use an electric mixer or hand mixer). Unroll the cake and spread the whipped cream on top of the cake, leaving about 1-inch at the edges. Top with the strawberries. Roll the cake starting on the long side. Place on a serving platter, seam side down. Dust (using a strainer) with cocoa or confectioner’s sugar.

Makes 10-12 servings