New Year's

Winter Squash and Cranberry Muffins Perfect for Sleepovers

It's December already and I am still sorting through summer clothes and several newspaper articles from last March and April that I was going to read when I had more time.

Why am I always so far behind?

I should be posting about Hanukkah. But somehow I am more focused on New Year's weekend. Probably because I made some unbelievably delicious winter squash muffins recently.

That really isn't a non sequitur. I thought of these muffins because every year we celebrate the coming new year with my brother and sister-in-law and my cousins. The cousins sleep over for a few days. We watch a lot of movies. Watch a lot of British mystery tv (Morse, Endeavor, Foyle's War, etc.). We sit around and enjoy each other's company.

We used to drink a lot of wine but have slowed down over the years.

We used to eat much more too.

(You get older, you can't keep going quite the same way, the same amount, the same speed.)

Still, there are meals to consider.

Breakfasts are usually smoked fish, bagels and stuff like that. 

But every once in a while I like to break up the monotony and have at least one different something for breakfast.

This year: those squash muffins I mentioned. I made a few batches recently and I can honestly say that they are the best muffins I ever ate. I've given some out as samples to my usual "tasters." Most of them also said they were the best muffins they ever ate. 

You'll see.

WINTER SQUASH-CRANBERRY MUFFINS

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup mashed cooked squash (or canned squash or pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup fresh cranberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin tins. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger and whisk the ingredients to distribute them evenly. Set aside. Beat the sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium for a minute or so or until well combined. Add the eggs and beat them in. Add the orange juice and squash and blend them in thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients to the squash mixture and stir gently until just blended. Fold in the cranberries. Pour the mixture into the prepared tins. Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean.

Makes 12 muffins

 

Celebrate! with Sun-dried Tomato Dip

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A colleague of mine, Elizabeth Kurtz, who blogs at GourmetKosherCooking, has written a beautiful cookbook.

"Celebrate" celebrates not only good food and the beauty of Shabbat, but also benefits an organization called Emunah, a social service agency that helps families in physical or emotional distress -- at-risk teens, lonely seniors, young children who may have been neglected or abandoned. And much more. 

The book is filled with interesting recipes. Like the Everything Bagel Chicken, which I made for dinner last weekend. You know that bagel topping that has poppy seeds and sesame seeds and garlic and all? That's a really good coating for boneless chicken breasts!

I also loved the Butternut Squash Soup with Curry and Sweet Apples, a comforting dish on cold winter days.

There's lots to love here, including the luscious photos.

But my cooking mind is turning to Superbowl this week, so I looked for a recipe that I could bring to my brother and sister-in-law's annual party. I picked the Sun-Dried Tomato Dip -- it's easy to make, you can cook it a couple of days ahead, serve it with crudites or crackers. Elizabeth says it's also wonderful as a spread for challah (I liked it with warm pita) and even as a topping for chicken or salmon (I think it would be terrific, mixed with some mayo, on a burger). I made this for my New Year's Eve get-together and everyone gave it a thumbs up! (I used vegetable stock, not pareve chicken broth).

Whether it's a day of rest, a day together with friends and football, a birthday or anything else, it's always good to celebrate with good food. Like this:

Sun-Dried Tomato Dip (from "Celebrate" by Elizabeth Kurtz)

  • 1 (8-ounce) jar sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and chopped, 1 tablespoon oil reserved
  • 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup pareve chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

 

Heat reserved sun-dried tomato oil in a large skillet over medium. Add tomatoes, onion, and garlic; cook 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until onion is soft and beginning to brown at the edges.

Add water, broth, vinegar, wine, sugar, thyme, salt, and pepper to skillet; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook 30 minutes. Uncover and continue simmering another 5 to 10 minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and mixture is the consistency of jam.

 With an immersion blender or food processor, puree until blended but still a little chunky.

Serve warm or at room temperature with pita chips or vegetable crudite. Store refrigerated in a clean glass jar (the one from the sun-dried tomatoes works great!) if not using immediately. It will keep 2 weeks.

Makes 1-1/2 cups

 

Cheddar Scones and Apple Butter

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I'm still thinking about New Year breakfast/brunch ideas for when my cousins come for our annual sleepover. Shakshuka is a definite. But I am also going to make these cheddar cheese scones and serve them with butter and/or a really special apple butter condiment that I tasted at Kosherfest last November.

You can use any good, sharp cheddar for the recipe, but at Kosherfest I tasted The Cheese Guy’s Double Ale Cheddar Cheese, which won an award for Best Dairy/Cheese, and loved its boozy tang, so if you can find it, you can give it a try.

The company's Vermont Apple and Maple Syrup Butter also won for Best Jams/Preserves and Dried Fruit. I figured -- the sharp cheese and the sweet apple butter -- it's a good combo!

Cheese Scones                          

  • 2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 2/3 cup plain Greek style yogurt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a cookie sheet. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Add the butter in chunks and work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the cheese. Mix the egg and yogurt together and add them to the dry ingredients. Mix until a soft dough forms. Roll the dough on a floured surface to a circle of 1/2" thickness. Cut the dough into eighths. Place the scones on the prepared cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until scones are browned and well risen.

Makes 8

 

Pearl Fein’s Standing Rib Roast

Today is my husband’s birthday. He’s an almost impossible person to buy a gift for. But he is the most possible, positive and terrific person to cook for. 
 He eats and enjoys whatever food I prepare. He is a good sport and will taste and comment on all the recipe creations and experiments I work on for my newspaper articles and blogging. 
 So, what to make him for him birthday dinner? (He prefers to stay at home instead of go out, especially ever since our favorite local restaurant closed.) 
 I thought about Chinese take-out but he nixed that (maybe because he knows it’s not my favorite). 
 He would be happy with anything he could pour ketchup over, so maybe hamburgers or beef stew? (But those don’t seem festive enough.) 
 He would really love a corned beef sandwich on rye bread but our local deli’s stuff is awful and I don’t feel like driving into New York City and downtown to Katz’s to get one (even though they have some of the best corned beef sandwiches in the world). 
 He isn’t much of a dessert eater, so even though I make decent pie and cake, none of that would do it for him (although he does like European style, dense chocolate cake with apricot filling …). 
 He adores candy, but I usually don’t make my own, so I bought him his favorite dark chocolate-almond bark and a bagful of red-colored, chocolate coated candies filled with pomegranate. 
 After thinking it all over, I decided I’ll make Rib Roast. The way his mama made it. He really really loves that. It was his mother, Pearl Fein, who taught me how to make a Rib Roast. She would always make this dish for special family occasions. They were always so wonderful (the beef and the occasions). 
 So, that’s it. And here is her recipe, which I’ve posted before, but it’s worth doing again: 
     
  Pearl Fein’s Standing Rib Roast  
 1 2-3 rib beef roast 
 kitchen string 
 1 tablespoon paprika 
 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt 
 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 
 1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder 
 water 
 Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Carve the meat from the bones as close to the bone as possible so that you are left with a round beef roast and L-shaped bones. Tie the meat back onto the bones with kitchen string. (This procedure makes it much easier to carve the cooked meat.) In a small bowl, combine the paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder plus enough water to form a paste. Brush the paste on all of the meat and bone surfaces. Place the roast bone side down in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes per pound or until it is cooked to the doneness you like. Use a meat thermometer (place it in the middle of the meat) and remove the meat from the oven when it reaches 115 degrees F for rare and 130 degrees F for medium. Let the roast rest for 15-20 minutes before you carve it (the temperature will rise a bit during that time). Snip the strings and place the now-boneless roast on a carving board to slice. Makes 4-6 servings

Today is my husband’s birthday. He’s an almost impossible person to buy a gift for. But he is the most possible, positive and terrific person to cook for.

He eats and enjoys whatever food I prepare. He is a good sport and will taste and comment on all the recipe creations and experiments I work on for my newspaper articles and blogging.

So, what to make him for him birthday dinner? (He prefers to stay at home instead of go out, especially ever since our favorite local restaurant closed.)

I thought about Chinese take-out but he nixed that (maybe because he knows it’s not my favorite).

He would be happy with anything he could pour ketchup over, so maybe hamburgers or beef stew? (But those don’t seem festive enough.)

He would really love a corned beef sandwich on rye bread but our local deli’s stuff is awful and I don’t feel like driving into New York City and downtown to Katz’s to get one (even though they have some of the best corned beef sandwiches in the world).

He isn’t much of a dessert eater, so even though I make decent pie and cake, none of that would do it for him (although he does like European style, dense chocolate cake with apricot filling …).

He adores candy, but I usually don’t make my own, so I bought him his favorite dark chocolate-almond bark and a bagful of red-colored, chocolate coated candies filled with pomegranate.

After thinking it all over, I decided I’ll make Rib Roast. The way his mama made it. He really really loves that. It was his mother, Pearl Fein, who taught me how to make a Rib Roast. She would always make this dish for special family occasions. They were always so wonderful (the beef and the occasions).

So, that’s it. And here is her recipe, which I’ve posted before, but it’s worth doing again:

 

Pearl Fein’s Standing Rib Roast

1 2-3 rib beef roast

kitchen string

1 tablespoon paprika

1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 to 1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

water

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Carve the meat from the bones as close to the bone as possible so that you are left with a round beef roast and L-shaped bones. Tie the meat back onto the bones with kitchen string. (This procedure makes it much easier to carve the cooked meat.) In a small bowl, combine the paprika, salt, pepper and garlic powder plus enough water to form a paste. Brush the paste on all of the meat and bone surfaces. Place the roast bone side down in a roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 degrees and cook for about 15 minutes per pound or until it is cooked to the doneness you like. Use a meat thermometer (place it in the middle of the meat) and remove the meat from the oven when it reaches 115 degrees F for rare and 130 degrees F for medium. Let the roast rest for 15-20 minutes before you carve it (the temperature will rise a bit during that time). Snip the strings and place the now-boneless roast on a carving board to slice. Makes 4-6 servings

Herb and Cheese Gougeres (Choux Puffs)

Gougeres are the easiest and also the hardest hors d’oeuvre to cook.  I say that because they are easy to make once you get the knack. But I admit, they’re a little tricky for first-timers, so you need a few pointers. Which I am going to give you here.  Then once you make them a couple of times you can practically do it in your sleep.  Also, gougeres are extremely useful. I serve them plain, heated to a crisp. But sometimes I serve them at room temperature, cut open and stuffed with all sorts of fillings from plain old egg salad to toasted nuts with cheese or smoked salmon tartare.  And sometimes I fill them with things like mushroom ragout or ratatouille and serve them hot.  Of course, if you make the gougere dough without the herbs and cheese they are …. profiteroles. Which you can fill with ice cream!  Or you can make bigger ones and fill them with ice cream, whipped cream or custard, the way my mother did, and call them Cream Puffs.  It’s all the same dough. The method is the same, so once you get the knack you have this extraordinarily versatile recipe.  I always have gougeres in my freezer. Just in case company comes. Like my daughter Meredith, who loves them and always heats up a few for herself when she’s here.  Or for dinner company or weekend guests, which I am having this weekend.  Or to celebrate Bastille Day, tomorrow, because, well, this is a French recipe. Called  choux .      Herb and Cheese Gougeres (Choux Puffs)   1 cup minus 2 tablespoons water  1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks  1 cup all purpose flour, sifted  3/4 teaspoon salt  4 large eggs  1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried  1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese  pinch cayenne pepper  egg glaze: 1 large egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water, optional  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and salt all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.* Add the herbs, cheese and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly.   Butter and flour a baking sheet. Drop 3/4 to 1-inch mounds of dough from a teaspoon onto the sheet. Leave space between the mounds for the puffs to rise. For a shiny surface on the puffs, lightly brush the tops of the mounds with some of the egg wash. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the puffs are lightly brown and crispy. Lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the puffs in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Or cut them open and fill them. Makes about 60  *Incorporating the eggs is what most people find difficult. Be sure to add them one at a time. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to help you. The mixture will be sticky and at first you think it will never come together, but keep mixing and you’ll see that it does come together. After each egg is incorporated the mixture becomes softer and pastier and stickier. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

Gougeres are the easiest and also the hardest hors d’oeuvre to cook.

I say that because they are easy to make once you get the knack. But I admit, they’re a little tricky for first-timers, so you need a few pointers. Which I am going to give you here.

Then once you make them a couple of times you can practically do it in your sleep.

Also, gougeres are extremely useful. I serve them plain, heated to a crisp. But sometimes I serve them at room temperature, cut open and stuffed with all sorts of fillings from plain old egg salad to toasted nuts with cheese or smoked salmon tartare.

And sometimes I fill them with things like mushroom ragout or ratatouille and serve them hot.

Of course, if you make the gougere dough without the herbs and cheese they are …. profiteroles. Which you can fill with ice cream!

Or you can make bigger ones and fill them with ice cream, whipped cream or custard, the way my mother did, and call them Cream Puffs.

It’s all the same dough. The method is the same, so once you get the knack you have this extraordinarily versatile recipe.

I always have gougeres in my freezer. Just in case company comes. Like my daughter Meredith, who loves them and always heats up a few for herself when she’s here.

Or for dinner company or weekend guests, which I am having this weekend.

Or to celebrate Bastille Day, tomorrow, because, well, this is a French recipe. Called choux.

 

Herb and Cheese Gougeres (Choux Puffs)

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons water

1/4 pound unsalted butter, cut into chunks

1 cup all purpose flour, sifted

3/4 teaspoon salt

4 large eggs

1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mixed herbs, or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried

1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Gruyere cheese

pinch cayenne pepper

egg glaze: 1 large egg mixed with 2 teaspoons water, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cook the water and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the flour and salt all at once. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well blended and begins to come away from the sides of the pan. Remove pan from the heat and let the mixture cool for 2-3 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, blending well after each addition.* Add the herbs, cheese and cayenne pepper and blend them in thoroughly. 

Butter and flour a baking sheet. Drop 3/4 to 1-inch mounds of dough from a teaspoon onto the sheet. Leave space between the mounds for the puffs to rise. For a shiny surface on the puffs, lightly brush the tops of the mounds with some of the egg wash. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the puffs are lightly brown and crispy. Lower the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another 5-6 minutes. Turn off the heat but leave the puffs in the oven for 3-4 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. Or cut them open and fill them. Makes about 60

*Incorporating the eggs is what most people find difficult. Be sure to add them one at a time. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to help you. The mixture will be sticky and at first you think it will never come together, but keep mixing and you’ll see that it does come together. After each egg is incorporated the mixture becomes softer and pastier and stickier. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

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. 

Scallion Cakes

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If the Giants or Jets aren’t playing I’m not much interested in the Superbowl. It might have been okay if the New England Patriots were in it, since I live in New England, sort of (a lot of Yankees consider us lower Fairfield county folks New England-imposters). And maybe even if the Bears were in it because I went to college at Northwestern, in Evanston, Illinois and spent 4 years cheering on Da Bears, Cubs, White Sox, etc.

Frankly, Green Bay and Pittsburgh? Not interested so much. 

But we always go to my brother and sister-in-law’s house on Superbowl Sunday. It’s been a tradition for years and years now, whether or not we watch the game or just switch TV channels occasionally to see who’s winning. They have an enormous TV that makes you feel as if you are in the stadium. Jeff makes the best fireplace fire and also the best popcorn (he uses an entire stick of butter). Eileen will surely make a turkey breast and fixins. So I guess my contribution will be hors d’oeuvre.

Instead of the usual guacamole or salsa, I’ll bring Scallion Cakes. They’re crispy wedges of fried dough filled with little bits of chopped scallions sprinkled judiciously with crunchy particles of kosher salt. Believe me, these things are like potato chips. You can never eat just one. I better make a double recipe to have in my freezer for when my kids come to visit. You don’t even have to defrost them — reheat them in a single layer in a preheated 425 degree oven for a few minutes on each side until they’re hot.

Scallion Cakes

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/3 cup cold water
  • vegetable oil
  • 4-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped

Place the flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the boiling water and mix at medium speed until a rough dough has formed. Let cool for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the cold water and mix until the dough forms into a ball. Knead for 4-5 minutes or until smooth and elastic (you can do all this in a food processor). Divide the dough into 6 pieces. Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface, roll one piece of dough into a 10-inch circle. Brush the dough with about 1-1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Sprinkle with about 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Sprinkle with about one tablespoon of the chopped scallion. Roll the circle jelly roll style. Form the rolled dough into a coil. Press down on the coil to flatten it slightly. Roll the coil into circles about 1/8-inch thick (don’t worry if some of the dough breaks and the scallions pop through slightly). Repeat with the remaining dough, salt and scallions. Keep the circles separated. Heat a small amount of vegetable oil in a skillet large enough to hold the circles. Cover the pan and cook each circle, one at a time, over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes per side, or until browned and crispy. Add more vegetable oil to the pan as necessary for each circle of dough. Drain the fried circles on paper towels. Cut each circle into 8 wedges. Serve hot. Makes 48 pieces