Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Tillie's Blintz Casserole

By now, many of you are familiar with Tillie. I've recreated several of her recipes here over the years. And why not? Tillie Gould was my grandmother--my Nana. I was in my 30s when she died and for most of my life we lived in the same city. She was a wonderful cook and baker--and she spent a lot of time teaching me how to make her traditional Eastern European Jewish dishes. She wasn't the easiest person to get along with but she was special to me. I even got her to create a cookbook for me. This small denim looseleaf binder is filled with her handwritten recipes and I treasure it--even if, because she wrote it toward the end of her life, the recipes aren't exactly complete or accurate. They remind me of my childhood and how lucky I was to grow up in an era when family gatherings mattered and were centered around traditional foods.

Last week was Yom Kippur and my parents and I were invited to a break-the-fast dinner at family friends. I decided to share a dish I haven't had since I was much much younger--Tillie's Blintz Casserole, which is perfect for this type of evening that's focused around dairy and fish dishes. Nana used to bring this to our house for Shabbat dinner and we loved its creamy sweetness. It's a little reminiscent of a soufflé. You make the blintzes--here with ricotta cheese--and then pack them into a single layer in a casserole dish. Over the blintzes you pour a rich sauce made with eggs, sour cream, a little sugar and vanilla, and orange juice. Thanks to the eggs, the sauce puffs up and browns around the blintzes, which have also cooked and form layers of crepe and cheese.

Tillie taught me how to make blintzes when I was a teenager, and they were something I'd make for my college roommates. Later, when I lived on my own I'd make batches and freeze them. Then I got out of the habit. They sort of fell away from me. So revisiting this dish last week was like time travel.

Now I made them for a holiday, but this is a perfect brunch dish--and you can also fill the blintzes with applesauce or berries or preserves (think blueberry or sour cherry, say) instead of cheese. Also, here I used ricotta because it's easy to find. But hoop or farmer cheese are more traditional. Serve the casserole plain or with your favorite jams.

Tillie's Blintz Casserole
(printable recipe)
Serves 12

3 eggs, beaten slightly
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons canola oil

2 eggs
1 pound ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar or to taste

12 blintzes
6 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup sour cream
4 tablespoons fresh orange juice
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

To make the blintzes: Make the crepes by beating the 3 eggs slightly. Add the water and teaspoon of sugar and beat together. Slowly beat in the flour until smooth. A few lumps are okay.
Set out a plate covered with wax paper. Heat a skillet and brush it lightly with canola oil. Using a 2-ounce ladle, scoop in some batter and drop it into the skillet. Tilt the pan all around so the batter forms a circle around 7 inches in diameter. Don't worry about perfection. This is a homey dish.

Return the skillet to the heat and let the crepe cook until the edges curl up slightly and the surface is cooked entirely--you won't be flipping them to cook on the other side. Use a spatula to help you turn out the crepe onto the wax paper on the plate. Then brush the pan again and repeat until you use up all the batter. You should have a dozen crepes. You can make these a day ahead. Just cover the crepes and store in the refrigerator.

To make the filling, blend together the 2 eggs, ricotta, cinnamon, and sugar.

Make the blintzes by placing 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center of the crepe. Fold the bottom half over the filling. Then fold the sides in. Then fold the top down over the center.

At this point, you now have blintzes and could just fry them in butter and enjoy them with sour cream or jam or applesauce.

For the casserole, preheat the over to 350˚ F. Place each blintz seam side down in a buttered casserole dish.

Mix together the eggs, sour cream, orange juice, sugar, and vanilla.

Pour the melted butter over the blintzes, then pour the filling over the blintzes to cover.

Bake at 350˚ F for an hour.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Roasted Shrimp and Potato Salad

It's hot. And sticky. Again. Fall begins on Wednesday and yet in San Diego the weather forecasters tell us that we're experiencing a burst of Florida summer. Florida, please take back your tropical muggy days and nights. This isn't the weather we signed up for.

I'm so over green salads and smoothies. I want something more substantial--but I can't bear the idea of making a stew or baked chicken or something else that requires the oven on for a long time. So, here's a minimalist approach to a dish that won't get you all hot and bothered--a filling salad featuring roasted shrimp. Roasting shrimp is my favorite way to prepare it. It's quick and I love the sweetness, the juiciness, and the hint of crunch that it gives the seafood. And marinated in this garlicky smoky olive oil really turns the shrimp into a flavor bomb. I combine them here with boiled baby potatoes, along with green onions, kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, and my consistently wonderful go-to vinaigrette. Pile the mixture onto a bed of arugula or other greens--or just enjoy it on its own--and you have a meal that will get you through a steamy day.

Roasted Shrimp and Potato Salad
(printable recipe)
Serves 2

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 pound raw shrimp, peeled and deveined3/4 pound baby potatoes
3 green onions, sliced
1 dozen kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1 cup garbanzo beans
Garlic Dijon vinaigrette (recipe below)

Garlic Dijon vinaigrette:
Makes 1 cup

1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp. sugar
 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all the ingredients but the olive oil to blend. Then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Let sit for at least an hour to let the flavors come together. Taste and adjust seasonings.

1. Prepare the vinaigrette, per the instructions above.
2. Whisk together the olive oil, garlic, and smoked paprika. Marinate the shrimp in the mixture in the refrigerator while preparing the potatoes.
3. Add potatoes to a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a summer. Cook potatoes until a knife easily goes through them--about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, drain, and let cool.
4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove shrimp from the marinade and place in a single layer of a baking sheet lined with silpat. Roast for six to seven minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

5. While shrimp is cooking, slice the potatoes.
6. In a large bowl, mix together the shrimp, potatoes, olives, scallions, and garbanzo beans. Add the vinaigrette and mix well. Let sit for about 10 minutes so the potatoes absorb the dressing. Serve on a bed of lettuce or on its own in a bowl.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Ginger Stone Fruit Crisp

Well, summer officially ends next week. We should be thinking about apples and pears and pomegranates--but before we do, let's say goodbye to stone fruit.

With the prices going down, I stocked up. Then the question was what to do with them. A number of friends suggested canning them. But I just don't see myself craving a white peach in January. My appetites tend to run with the seasons. So, what would it be? A pie? A galette? A buckle or cobbler or ice cream?

Well, my intent was a pie. Actually a pie crust on the bottom with my oatmeal crisp on top. I even had a wonderful pie dough at the ready. But we've had this sticky heat wave and, to be honest, baking was not on my agenda. I didn't tell this to the fruit, however, which were showing signs of age. The day of reckoning came today. One more and into the trash they'd have to go. Fortunately, the temps did lower a bit. But today? Well, it it's Rosh Hashanah. The quintessential apples and honey celebration. Plus, despite my feelings about working on the High Holidays, I had a full plate of projects on my desk. And dinner with my parents.

If I was going to bring dessert to them, it would have be something with stone fruit. And it would have to be something I could pull together quickly because I didn't finish up until about 2 p.m.

The dough went back into the freezer for another day. I quickly made my crisp recipe. Then I started slicing up the fruit. I had been dipping into this wonderful gem of a little cookbook, Rustic Fruit Desserts by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson, and picked up a new way to treat fruit in a pie. Instead of just tossing the fruit with sugar and flour, I followed their lead and made a mixture of cornstarch, salt, and sugar that I added to the raw fruit slices. Then I stirred in lemon juice. It had occurred to me yesterday that pairing the fruit with ginger would add a nice jolt of spice to the flavors so I added a tablespoon of ginger--the ginger I had grated and stored in the freezer just a few weeks ago.

Everything was ready quite quickly. The oven was already preheated to 350. I sprayed the pie plate with baking spray, emptied the gingery fruit into the pie plate and covered up the fruit with the crisp. In it went for 40 minutes. Out it came with the fruit juicy and bubbling beneath a crispy crust of oats, walnuts, and butter, scented with cinnamon and my favorite "secret" pie ingredient, fennel pollen. When I served it at dinner tonight, cutting into the crisp revealed the lightest aroma of ginger and the sweet fragrance of peaches and plums, beautifully paired. The flavor was sweet summer, just on its way out to make way for fall.

Okay, I'm finally ready for apples.

Ginger Stone Fruit Crisp
Serves 8 to 10
(printable recipe)


For crisp
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
1 ½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon fennel pollen
1 cup unsalted butter, melted

For filling
3 pounds stone fruit (I used white and yellow peaches along with plums), pitted and sliced
1 tablespoon freshly grated (or grated and frozen/defrosted) ginger
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the crisp mixture combine all the ingredients, adding the butter last, and mix well. Reserve.

To make the filling, slice the fruit over a bowl to collect the juices. Add the ginger. Combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt, and then stir into the sliced fruit. Add the lemon juice and mix well.

Spray a pie plate with baking spray. Pour the fruit mixture into the pie plate. Top with crisp mixture--about 1 to 1 1/2 cups, depending on how thick you like the crisp layer. You'll have plenty of crisp mixture left over so put it in a freezer bag and store in the freezer to pull out whenever you have a last-minute craving for a fruit crisp.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the fruit is bubbly and the topping is browned. Perfect served with vanilla bean ice cream.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Just in Time for Rosh Hashanah: The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen

With the High Holidays beginning Sunday at sundown with Erev Rosh Hashanah, I was delighted to receive a new and unique Jewish cookbook by Amelia Saltsman. Her first cookbook, The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook, is a classic. So, I rightly anticipated that she would bring literally a fresh approach to The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen ($33.95/Sterling Epicure). Saltsman comes to this subject with an edge up that most Jewish families don't have. She embodies the Jewish diaspora with both an Ashkenazi and Sephardic background, being the daughter of a Romanian mother and Iraqi father and raised in Los Angeles. This gives the book much more range than most traditional Jewish cookbooks. Add to this Saltsman's clear passion for seasonal, ingredient-driven food and you have a wealth of recipes that have the familiarity of tradition but fit in with a modern sensibility about food.

Now some of the recipes can legitimately be questioned as being traditionally Jewish. What is Jewish about an Autumn Slaw with Beets, Carrots, and Kohlrabi? Or Curried Roasted Cauliflower? Or Green Fava Bean and English Pea "Hummus"? Saltsman takes this on in the beginning of the book with a brief chapter, What is Jewish Food? She refuses to be limited to a definition that strictly identifies it as the religious dietary laws of kashrut. You know the old joke about three Jews and five opinions? Well, that's how I--and I assume Saltsman--feels about Jewish food. With so many Jews on the move for so many centuries spanning the world, Jews have adapted their culinary traditions to where they find themselves. Just because I am tied to the traditions of Eastern Europe and feel a connection to foods like gefilte fish, noodle kugel, and brisket doesn't mean that Jews who lived in Spain, Italy, or Iraq have that sentiment. The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen opens up the possibilities of other types of ingredients and their preparation, adding these new concepts to whatever we originally came to the table with. So, that Curried Roasted Cauliflower? Saltzman's headnote explains that cauliflower lends itself to multiple Jewish Diaspora flavor profiles, in this case Indian. And while my touchpoint for Chanukah may be potato latkes, Saltsman's Iraqi family would be delighted with Zengoula with Lemon Syrup: Iraqi Funnel Cakes. Both celebrate the miracle of the oil that is the essence of Chanukah.

Then there's the crucial word "seasonal" in the title. A food writer who is passionate about farmers' markets is going to follow the seasons. And since Jewish holidays are scattered throughout the year, it's easy to divide a book into mini seasons. Saltsman does it with six, two-month chapters that really capture what is growing around the time of each holiday. She starts, of course, with the Jewish New Year--Rosh Hashanah--and recipes for September and October. The very first recipe is a Tunisian Lemon Rind Salad, which I made. As she says, it can be a substitute for traditional preserved lemons. The addition of garlic and spicy harissa paste adds a punch to the salad that pure preserved lemons don't have. You can use this as a condiment with chicken or fish. I will also add it to vegetables to make a sauce for pasta.

While most of these recipes aren't specifically associated with a particular Jewish holiday and can be enjoyed anytime in the season, Saltsman does create holiday menus with the recipes. Yes, there's chicken soup and brisket and a honey cake for Rosh Hashanah. And, of course, tzimmes. Most of these recipes are beautifully illustrated with photography--and wonderful storytelling by Saltsman. You'll turn to this book again and again for inspiration for a weeknight meal or to freshen a traditional holiday table.

Roasted Carrot And Sweet Potato Tzimmes
From The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen by Amelia Saltsman

Makes 8 to 10 servings

Tzimmes is an eastern European stew of carrots and/or sweet potatoes and prunes traditionally cooked with beef flanken, often sweetened with brown or white sugar, and sometimes thickened with flour. In Yiddish, the word tzimmes means “a big fuss,” probably because of all the work required to make the old-style dish. This version couldn’t be easier: Skip the meat, sugar, and flour and instead roast carrots, sweet potatoes, and dried Santa Rosa–type plums (or common dried prunes) in fresh orange juice until they are tender, browned, glazed with citrus, and deliciously infused with orange. Tzimmes is a great companion to brisket or chicken and is also a good accompaniment to farro or quinoa for a pareve/vegan main course. It can easily be made a day ahead and reheated and is often served in the fall for Rosh Hashanah and in the spring for Passover. It is also a lovely addition to any festive meal during these times of the year. Both seasons yield sweet carrots, especially in the spring. In the fall, use new-season white- or orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

6 to 8 oranges
1 lemon
2 pounds (900 g) carrots
3 pounds (1.4 kg) sweet potatoes
1 pound (450 g) shallots (about 8 large)
½ to ¾ pound (225 to 340 g) dried plums or pitted prunes (vary the amount depending on how sweet and fruity you want the dish)
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Using a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, remove the zest in large strips from 2 of the oranges and the lemon. Be sure to press down only hard enough to capture the colored part of the skin, not the bitter white pith. Juice enough oranges to yield 2½ cups (600 ml) juice. Reserve the lemon for another use.

Peel the carrots and cut them crosswise into 2-inch (5-cm) chunks or lengthwise into 2-inch (5-cm) chunks (if carrots are very fat, first halve them lengthwise). Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into large bite-size chunks. Peel and quarter the shallots lengthwise. Use kitchen scissors to snip the dried fruits in half.

Use a roasting pan large enough to hold all the vegetables in more or less a single layer. Place carrots, sweet potatoes, shallots, dried fruit, and lemon and orange zests in the pan. Toss with enough olive oil to coat evenly, season with salt and pepper, and pour the juice over all. Roast the vegetables, turning them once or twice during cooking, until they are tender and are browned in places and most of the juice is absorbed, about 1¼ hours. If you want a saucier finished dish, add another ½ to 1 cup (120 to 240 ml) juice during the last 20 minutes of cooking. The juice should thicken slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Six Great Kitchen Hacks for Busy Home Cooks

One of the projects that falls under my food writing umbrella is writing a blog called à la minute for The American Personal & Private Chef Association. I recently pulled together half a dozen of my favorite kitchen hacks that I've come across and used to share with the chefs--because these are folks who need to work as efficiently as possible and waste as little as they can. 

But I thought these should have a broader audience so I'm sharing them here in this space, too. A few  of these I got from the wonderful website, The Kitchn. Others come from friends. Have great kitchen hacks that work for you? Please share them below!

1. Preserved lemons: This Moroccan staple is brilliant added to pasta, salads, dressings, and proteins like scallops and poultry. And they're ridiculously easy to make. All you need is a large glass jar, about 7 or 8 Meyer lemons and sea salt. Slice the lemons down the long end almost half way, turn it a quarter and do it again. Stuff the inside with salt. Grab that end, turn the lemon upside down and repeat so both ends are stuffed with salt. Place the lemon in the impeccably clean jar and repeat with as many lemons as you can fit into the jar and still screw on the lid. A lot of juice will come out. That's fine. Keep the jar of lemons on the counter for a month, periodically turning it over and back to make sure the juice is covering the top. After a month, you can use the lemons in pasta dishes, in rice, salads, sauces, with fish or with Moroccan-style dishes. Keep the jar in the refrigerator and the lemons will last for months.

2. Freezing ginger: I don't know about you, but fresh ginger root can be frustrating. You buy a knob to use for a dish and then you still have leftover ginger that, despite your best intentions, doesn't get used and eventually shrivels up and gets tossed. Enough of that. The Kitchn has a great approach. I learned I could peel a hand of the root, grate it, measure it off in teaspoons, and freeze it. But I changed it up a bit and made it even easier. I didn't peel the root and instead of grating it, I pulled out my mini food processor, quickly sliced up the large hand, and ground it as fine as I could. Then I used a mini cookie scoop, which measures about a teaspoon, and before I knew it I had more than a dozen scoops of ginger on a parchment-lined pan. I put the pan in the freezer. Two hours or so later when the pieces were hard, I placed those now-frozen ground ginger rounds in a quart freezer bag so I can have what I need when I need it. And sans waste.

3. Dried dill: My mom has a Persian friend who has taught us all sorts of great recipes--and one fabulous trick. She uses a lot of dill so her way to always have what she needs on hand is to slowly dry bunches in the oven and then package it for storage. Wash and dry dill fronds. Cut off the thick stems and place the smaller fronds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in a 225-degree oven. Periodically move the dill around to make sure the air is circulating around all the pieces. Depending on how much you are drying it can take from half an hour to hour until they're just stiff and crunchy. Remove from the oven and let cool. Then carefully crumble the leaves over a clean sheet of paper so they don't fly all over your counter. Pull the ends of the paper together so the dill settles into the middle and you can easily direct it into a container, where you can store it in the pantry, or into a freezer bag. This also works for other herbs, like mint and parsley.

4. Vacuum sealing with straws: Unless you have plenty of counter space for large vacuum sealers, this little hack will save you space and money. About $1.50 will buy you a package of straws that can serve a multitude of purposes, including vacuum sealing freezer bag contents. Air is the enemy of freezer storage and as talented as you may be in strategically manipulating bags to push the air out of them, using a straw is way simpler and more effective. Simply fill your freezer bag with what you're storing, insert the end of a straw and seal the top around it. Then suck in until the plastic tightly encircles the contents. Quickly pull out the straw and finish sealing. Your frozen product will have a much better chance of lasting longer and without freezer burn.

5. Homemade vanilla extract: For years I've bought large bottles of vanilla whenever I've gone down to Tijuana. It's inexpensive and very good. But recently my friend Robin Ross of Cupcakes Squared gifted me with a beautiful bottle and a long, thick vanilla bean with instructions to fill the bottle--with the bean in it--with vodka, brandy, bourbon, or rum. Vodka, she says, gives the cleanest flavor, and that's what I've used. Then let it sit in a cool dark cabinet or pantry for six weeks. At that point, your extract is ready to use. And you can keep adding more alcohol to top off your bottle as you use it. Robin claims the single bean will give pure vanilla extract for 25 years. Mark your calendar.

6. Bacon by the slice: How often do you need just one or two slices of bacon to add to a dish (or make for yourself)? Here's a great way to access a single slice at a time that I learned from The Kitchn. Buy a package of bacon, separate and roll up each slice individually. Get out a small baking sheet and line it with parchment. Place each little roll on it and put it in the freezer. Once they're hard (I know; this is like the ginger--but, hey, it's a great and versatile  technique), remove and toss into a freezer bag. Grab that straw from hack 4 and vacuum seal the bag. Next time you want to add a little bacon to a vinaigrette, you're all set.

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