Friday, April 29, 2011

White Chocolate Cherry Scones


Virtually everyone I know either didn't care in the slightest about today's royal wedding, or lost interest due to the onslaught of inanity leading up to it. I, however, immersed myself in the IQ-lowering amusement all week!

I was raised on these events, since my mother is Canadian, starting with Princess Anne's first wedding in 1973 and following along to Charles and Diana, Andrew and Sarah/Fergie, Edward and Sophie, then Charles and Camilla.

I've been thrilled about William and Catherine since I first heard the announcement, and am the only person I know -- in the real world, at least -- foolish and devoted enough to be planning to watch the show live (Jeremy plans to watch a re-run with me later), albeit in my jammies rather than in a froofy hat and white gloves.

Since my invitation got lost in the mail -- and I had a brand new perfect dress to wear, too! -- I had to put on my own celebratory meal instead of partaking in the wedding fruitcake, the chocolate biscuit groom's cake, or any of the hors d'oeuvres. So I debated whether to do something original, or whether to go with the old tea time favorites ... and I decided upon tradition with a twist.

Instead of cucumber sandwiches, I chose egg salad. I selected some fruit -- pineapple and strawberries. I found a gorgeous English Double Gloucester cheese that had been layered with a beautiful Stilton ... sigh. And, of course, the requisite tea!

But the cornerstone of my treats had to be the essential scone. I could have made some plain ones, and served them with lemon curd or clotted cream ... or both. But I had some leftover white chocolate-covered dried cherries (a most appreciated gift when an observant friend had to clean out forbidden foods for Passover), and put them to good use in my baking.

The cherries added the perfect amount of sweetness and texture to these lovely scones, which are more cake-like rather than biscuit-y. Chocolate-covered cherries would also make an exceptional addition.

Mazal Tov to the happy couple!!! May they live happily ever after ... :)

White Chocolate Cherry Scones

1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached flour
1/3 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 cup quick-cook oats
1/2 cup butter, in small pieces
3/4 cup chopped white chocolate-covered dried cherries
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
3 teaspoons milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a baking sheet.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder and oats. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, mix in the butter until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the chopped cherries, then stir in the buttermilk. Knead the dough just until it holds together, then press it into an 8" circle on the prepared baking sheet. Score the dough into 8 portions, then bake for 25 minutes until the scones are golden and the center is set. Let cool completely.

Cut the scones into individual portions. Stir together the confectioners' sugar and milk to make a glaze, then drizzle it over each scone. Let the glaze set, then serve.

Makes 8 scones.


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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Share Your Breakfast and Feed a Hungry Child

Quick post today, 'cause you've got a homework assignment to complete and I don't want to delay you. Don't worry -- it's ridiculously easy!

All you have to do is click on this link and tell Kellogg's what you had for breakfast (photo, description, or text) -- that's it!

And here's why you need to do this:

At Kellogg's, we believe in the power of breakfast and its ability to bring out the best in each day. And yet, one in four children live in food-insecure households, making breakfast hard to come by. So when you share your breakfast with us, we’ll (donate money to increase school breakfast participation). Our goal? To help share one million breakfasts by the start of the 2011–2012 school year .... $1 donated = 5 school breakfasts.

So go share all the details about what you ate, and be sure to do so each day. Send this to all your friends, post it on Facebook, tweet it, and use whatever other technological innovations there might be that I will likely only find out about once they're passé.

Because food is a basic human right. And it's just simply unconscionable that anyone -- particularly a child -- should go hungry ....

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Feast + Easter = Feaster!

My priceless friend Wendy invited me to spend Easter with her extended family in Buffalo ... a spur-of-the-moment adventure.

Each of us would have spent the day childless -- with her son away at school and her daughter at a prestigious internship at the State Department, and Jeremy spending the day with his dad's relatives. So we left at 8 o'clock that morning for the kind of venting, ruminating, processing, evaluating, planning and resolving "Thelma and Louise"-style road trip that we excel at, and found ourselves at her Aunt Sandy's house by 2:30, just in time for a feast.

Now, many people think they provide a lot of food for family gatherings; I always used to think that I did, but I've been shamed! There were 25-30 people at the party, and truly enough food to feed 3 times that many ravenous folks ... I am not exaggerating. The ham that would normally be a centerpiece was, frankly, the least of the items on this awe-inspiring buffet!

Everyone was so wonderfully warm and welcoming, including the many well-behaved dogs -- I felt more at home there than I do with my own family. I had only ever met Wendy's sister Cheryl (here with her gorgeous first grandbaby, 4-month-old Hazel) and her husband Joe before this, so many people would have been overwhelmed by the crowd. I, however, leapt into the fray by discussing my -- and their, apparently! -- favorite topic, food.

Sandy (with one of the beloved furry family members) and her daughter Cindy were bustling about making final preparations to the feast; and this was such second-nature to them that neither was at all frazzled or stressed even as I asked questions and took notes, intrepid food/recipe devotee that I am.

A pot of something they called "White Soup" was placed onto the burner to keep warm ... it was a 16-quart stockpot, twice the size of any I own. A 9"x13" pan of cut-up sausage and a huge tub of kluski noodles were set next to it, for adding to the soup. I asked if this were similar to my friend Connie's pickle soup, as it was creamy and smelled slightly sour.

Sandy told me that it was Vfos (I think), pronounced [FAHS], and that it certainly was a close relative of Connie's soup with a similar method of preparation. She gave me a bit of explanation on how it's made; but she referred me to Bob, her niece's husband, who makes the soup each year and could give me better details.

So I meandered off to find Bob, who was stationed in front of FOUR griddles making potato pancakes. The batter for these was literally being scooped out of a bucket, there was so much of it; it had started as 20 pounds of hand-peeled and mostly hand-grated potatoes. And these babies ... whew! You've seen pictures of my latkes, and they are miniscule compared to what was being cooked here!

Bob is Italian, and was happy to talk about his family's feasts while growing up (pasta was served at every holiday, with manicotti -- which he pronounces infinitely more beautifully than I do, even when I put on my "I studied Italian for a year" accent!) being featured at Easter. But since many of his relatives are gone, he has brought his love of food and tradition to Wendy's family and joins in the preparation of their feast.

He told me that the White Soup begins by cooking sausage in water, with the quality and type of sausage being critical for flavor so he makes sure to get precisely what he wants instead of substituting. The sausage is removed from the liquid once it's done, and the pot is refrigerated overnight so that the congealed fat can then be skimmed. Heavy cream (rather than sour cream in Connie's soup) is combined with flour for thickening, and then milk is poured in to make it rich, while some vinegar is added for the sour flavoring.

Sandy then came in and told me that there's also onion, though it's a whole onion that's boiled in the liquid rather than any chopped onion being added (because the soup is smooth, until you add the mix-ins). She also added a bit of horseradish for some bite; and while she was serving the kluski noodles today, she usually offered elbow macaroni so that the soup can swim into the pasta while the pasta swims in the soup. She and Bob kibbitzed back-and-forth as they made sure to cover all the details for me!

In addition to the tradition of the soup, there were also handmade pierogi to be found ... 120 of them, to be exact, a 3-day process altogether. Four of the amazing women in this family had gathered on Wednesday to take the fillings Sandy and Cindy had prepared the night before (so they could chill and not melt the dough) -- they mixed and rolled and cut the homemade dough, filled it and pinched it, then pre-boiled the pierogi. The pierogi were then brushed with butter and refrigerated, awaiting the final frying on Easter so they'd be warm and golden and luscious!

There were three varieties of pierogi: sauerkraut (which Jeremy ADORED when I gave him one of the astounding abundance of leftovers Wendy and I had been sent home with), a slightly sweet white cheese, and "fruit" as they were being called "so people will eat them."

Fruit??? Plum, actually. I get it! You mean "prune," don't you, but no one likes to eat prunes so they've undergone a marketing ploy and are now "dried plums." These were, indeed, prune pierogi, with a filling that had a hint of both cinnamon and clove. And truly, Wendy and I could have simply devoured the entire batch of them without sharing -- they were so, so good!!!

Now, everyone knows what a good eater I am -- never underestimate the skinny girl, 'cause I tried one of everything (and returned for seconds on a couple of options!). And this was even before dessert.

Oh, man, did you say "dessert"???

Yup. 5 different varieties of dessert, too: Eclair cake (a cream puff base with custard and whipped cream on top), lemon meringue pie (which I adore, but no one else in my world does, so I hadn't had it in ages!), lemon cream torte, an almond-flavored Texas sheet cake, and Placek ([PLOT-zik] = a rich, buttery, crumbly Polish coffee cake).

I tried one of each of these, too ... and I am not ashamed to admit it! I relished every bite of each delectable item!!!

Wendy and I were then sent off for the 6-hour trip home with plates full of leftovers and lots of hugs. And I told everyone that I would more than happily come back next year, and try to get there in time for the pierogi-making party. And maybe, too, for the Mass at which representative samples of the Easter meal are packed in a basket, draped with a lace cloth, and offered for a blessing to be shared with everyone who joins in the meal.

Family, faith, and food are all bound up in these traditions, sharing nourishment for both body and soul with those who are most precious.

I was thrilled to have been invited and welcomed, and am immensely grateful to everyone for their warmth, their recipes, their smiles, and the sheer joy of this feast!













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”Samantha’s

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Squash from Squares


On Thursdays, my co-workers Beth and Michele are usually the only ones who are in the office besides me; because so many people work through the weekend, they tend to take Thursday off. So the three of us often order lunch in, as a treat for ourselves.

We usually order from Pizza House, which offers an astoundingly wide variety of items from the obvious to sandwiches and salads and appetizers and pasta. But because our office is a vegetarian one, we can't have pepperoni or sausage on our pizza, or eat fried chicken, or even have a simple bowl of chili; that still leaves us with options from Greek salad to macaroni and cheese to tuna subs, so we definitely do okay!

But one gets a bit tired of the same ol' stuff ... at least, *I* do. And so, when we received a flyer for a new place called Squares which offered salads and sandwiches and delivery service -- not to mention providing some nice coupons -- we thought we'd try it.

This past week, Michele ordered the Fun Salad which came with both green and red lettuces, apples and pineapple; broasted potatoes, which were salted/seasoned potato wedges; and the vegetarian minestrone. I, feeding only 1-2 people now (and only occasionally feeding Jeremy and his attendant 20-year-old male appetite), find myself inundated with leftovers on a regular basis; so I had brought a sandwich, but ordered the roasted squash side dish because I love squash, it was nutritious, and it intrigued me that this was available from a chain-like restaurant.

True to form, Michele picked out the red lettuces; and she'd asked if she could also try the gingery Asian dressing in addition to the red wine vinaigrette that normally accompanies the Fun Salad. She's a notoriously picky eater, but was very pleased with the gracious accommodations that Squares made at her request, and she thoroughly enjoyed her meal (with the exception of finding spinach and zucchini and tomato chunks in her soup ... but she ate around those).

As for the squash, it was just perfect! It was very slightly sweet, rather than overly sugared. It was pureed, but still had some tidbits of texture. The dried cranberries in it were perfectly tender rather than crunchy. And the portion -- normally $1.99, but charged at only .99 and included as a side dish to Michele's order rather than as a separate meal -- was generous enough that it would have made a perfect lunch with a cup of soup. I will remember this, happily!

The service, in addition to being friendly, was also quite efficient ... an important point when one is hungry and waiting for food!

And so, Beth (who'd eaten while running errands at her usual lunchtime), Michele and I have found a new place to patronize and support, providing some variation in our routine. But the tradition of spending some "down time" together on Thursdays and catching up on each other's lives continues and thrives ....

Monday, April 25, 2011

Elvis Doughnut Sandwiches


I have often been told that I'm a tad perplexing, as I tend to engage in behaviors that are antithetical to each other.

I love to learn languages and to study other cultures; I long to eat my way through Europe and want to shop in the souks of Morocco before I die ... and yet, I'm completely and utterly terrified of flying and am rather a homebody.

I was once accused of being an "intellectual snob" with a low boredom quotient (not ADHD), someone who can usually do The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in a couple of hours ... and yet, I adore such admitted drivel as the Disney Princess movies.

I have a bit of an OCD for order, wanting everything in its proper place and straightening deposit slips at banks or packets of gum in the checkout aisle at the grocery store ... and yet, my car is such a mess that it still looks as though I'm toting 8-year-old Cub Scouts around despite Jeremy now being 20.

Suffice it to say that I can be unpredictable and contradictory ... :)

And what prompted this little episode of reflection and confession???

I was told last week that my behavior is striking with regard to money. "You will give anything you have to anyone. And yet, you shop like you're stingy at thrift stores and by buying Manager's Specials that are on sale because they're approaching their expiration date." Just call me the Frugal Floozie!

I give blood, and I'll one day donate my organs and tissues. I'll give you food; and if I've got it, I'll give you money if you need it. But how can I have anything to give to my loved ones in need or to my favorite causes if I'm not careful with my resources???

This then reminded me of a recipe I created when I was first separated before my divorce. I had bought a box of doughnut holes for a whopping 50-cents just before their "sell by" date, preparing myself for impending frugality and a presumed lack of money. They were kinda stale ... not ideal, even for soothing a wounded soul just looking for a fix.

What to do, what to do???

I dunked them in chocolate. I rolled them in toasted coconut. Everyone loved them!

Then I saw that Better Homes and Gardens magazine's monthly contest was seeking hand-held desserts. Well, it seemed utterly ridiculous to enter such a silly thing, but why not??? It cost nothing to do so.

And it turned out to be a $250 Honorable Mention called "Doughnut Delights"!!!

So, the lessons here???

Never pass up a good sale.

Never waste food.

And, as the Psychedelic Furs sing in "Love My Way": "You can never win or lose, if you don't run the race" -- my personal motto for life which I hold deeply in my heart.



But, I digress. In fact, I've taken you on such a long and meandering path here that I should have told you to wear comfortable shoes and bring a canteen of water!

Back to more soul soothing and another box of Manager's Special doughnuts ... and a price hike up to 69 cents -- sheesh, inflation in 4 years!!!

Anyway .... I had these plain doughnuts, and ate half of the dozen just as they were. But later on, it was time to glamourize them a bit.

Again, what to do, what to do???

Peanut butter and banana.

I sliced the doughnuts open. A schmear of peanut butter, a bit of mashed banana ... a new version of the famous Elvis sandwich!

Addictive little things, these are. I might have added a drizzle of honey if I'd had any, but they were really quite satisfying without it -- sweet, gooey, with just a hint of protein to counter the sugar. I can also see that these would be fabulous with chocolate-coated doughnuts ... oh, man!

Gonna have to try that version, 'cause I've got some more soul soothing to do after making a very necessary decision ....




Elvis Doughnut Sandwiches

4 small, plain doughnuts
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 medium banana, mashed

Carefully slice the doughnuts in half, and lay them out on the countertop.


Shmear some peanut butter on each doughnut half.


Divide the mashed banana among half of the doughnut halves.


Press one peanut buttered-half and one banana-slathered half together to make a sandwich, repeating with the remaining doughnuts.


Makes 4 sandwiches.


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Friday, April 22, 2011

Savory Salmon Pancakes


My good friend Cindy (remember? -- her niece didn't have cake at her wedding, which sent me down a spiral of obsession!) gave me a lovely gift the other day to thank me for my help with some projects at work: The New York Times Passover Cookbook. A new cookbook!!! I cannot tell you how thrilled I was ... :)

So, of course, I immediately started to peruse it. I could easily have stopped everything else I was doing and just walked down the hall to the kitchen to make lunch for my co-workers with my new recipes!

But I was a good, responsible employee and waited 'til the next day to start my cooking. And the very first thing I made? A variation on the recipe featured on page 107: Mrs. Arnold Stein's Cottage Cheese Chremsele.

Chremsel ([KREM-suhl] -- ignore the spelling variations with or without an "e", as either is an acceptable transliteration) is a Yiddish word, meaning "a flat fried cake made with matzoth meal and filled usu. with prunes" (according to Merriam-Webster) ... essentially a pancake. I don't know who Mrs. Arnold Stein is/was, or why her chremslach ([KREMZ-lahk] - the plural) weren't filled with prunes. But the pancakes featured cottage cheese -- something I had in the refrigerator and was trying to use up -- so that pushed them to the top of my list.

I am not a creature of habit (OCD? -- oh, yeah; routine? -- no), and have grown exceedingly weary of eggs or cereal or toast or similar items for breakfast. I'm the kinda girl who'll re-heat spaghetti and meatballs in the morning if it's available, so being limited to kosher and vegetarian options has put a bit of a damper on my need for variety. No bacon, no sausage, no leftovers permitted to be brought home ... sigh.

Thus, an opportunity for something new and novel immediately perked up my morning.

The chremsele recipe called for separating the eggs and whipping the whites ... uh uh, not when I'm hungry after not having eaten since the night before! I also veered from the recipe by adding some salmon (and lox would have been sublime in these, if I'd had it) and a pinch of dill. Then I fried 'em up and served them with sour cream.

Oh, the decadence! The pancakes were rich and flavorful, and a fabulous option for a fast breakfast, brunch, light lunch/supper ... truly, a quick and easy recipe that will be made over and over again.

So thank you, Mrs. Stein, for inspiring my breakfast. And thank you again, Cindy, for your friendship and for the lovely, thoughtful gift which I adore ... :)

Savory Salmon Pancakes

2 eggs
1/4 cup cottage cheese
pinch of salt
generous sprinkling of lemon pepper
2 heaping tablespoons of matzah meal or flour
1/3 cup mashed, flaked salmon
2 tablespoons minced onion
1/8 teaspoon dill
1 tablespoon butter
sour cream, for serving

In a medium bowl, mix together the eggs, cottage cheese, salt and lemon pepper. Stir in the matzah meal, salmon, onion and dill.


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Make 5 mounds with the batter, and cook 3 minutes per side until the pancakes are golden brown and don't wobble if you nudge them slightly with the spatula.



Serve hot, with sour cream.





Thursday, April 21, 2011

Vegetable Cheese Mina


My traditional first-night-of-Passover dinner is usually based around lamb patties: I simply mix ground lamb with sauteed leeks and a little salt and pepper, then cook them up (broil, grill, fry) depending upon the weather and my own personal whims. Jeremy adores them, but he wasn't joining me this year as it was his dad's birthday and they were celebrating together. And in the vegetarian kitchen I currently have access to, I couldn't have lamb anyway.

So, what to serve???

How 'bout a mina?

A mina [MEE-nah] is a lasagna-ish dish of Sephardic (Jews descended from those who were banished during the Spanish Inquisition) tradition, made of layered matzot with any variety of fillings in between them; minas can be meat or vegetarian. I make a fabulous one that's completely and utterly treyf ([TRAYF] = non-kosher) that is essentially a Reuben casserole: rye matzah, sauerkraut, Thousand Island dressing, Swiss cheese, corned beef, 3 times over and then topped with more cheese.

One of my proudest moments, in a weird sort of way, came when I made that particular dinner one night for Jeremy and his buddy Doug. I gave them each a serving, and they ooh-ed and ahh-ed over it, devouring it. When I told them that they could have seconds they leapt up, pushed through a narrow entryway between a wall and a counter that led into the kitchen, and shoved each other (playfully, of course!) to compete for more. They were goofy, but they showed me how much they loved the dish!

But in lieu of lamb or corned beef, I took some beautiful Portobello mushrooms, a bright red pepper, and some fresh baby spinach and worked some wonders with them to make a colorful and delicious meal. I sauteed the vegetables, and I put together a lovely cheese sauce using more of the flipflop Pinot Grigio I'd recently been given for tasting and marketing purposes. I layered everything between matzot, baked it up, and had created a creamy, luscious masterpiece!

I have to note that flipflop wines supports a fabulous charity called Soles4Souls, which purchases shoes for poor children around the world enabling them to avoid injury and, especially, to walk to school. For each bottle of flipflop wine purchased, Soles4Souls will distribute a pair of shoes to someone in need -- up to 100,000 pairs in the first year of the partnership. You know what a bleeding heart I am -- how could I not love this???

And I also love my new Passover mina. While I admit that it's a bit labor- and dish-intensive, it really is worth the time!

Vegetable Cheese Mina

Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons potato starch or flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated pepper
1 cup skim milk
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan + 1/4 cup cheese needed to finish the dish

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the potato starch and cook for 1 minute. Add the salt and pepper, then slowly add the milk and the wine until incorporated. Cook until the sauce starts to thicken, whisking frequently, then stir in the cheese. Keep warm.


Vegetable-Cheese Filling

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
3 ounces Portobello mushrooms, chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 cup cottage cheese

Heat the oil and the butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red pepper, and mushrooms, cooking until the vegetables are softened. Add the spinach, salt and pepper; cook just until the spinach is wilted.


Combine the vegetables with the cottage cheese in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.


Matzot

3 eggs
1/4 cup white wine
4 plain matzot

Grease an 8"x8" baking dish. Place the eggs and the wine into another 8"x8" baking dish and combine them well. Soak one matzah in the egg mixture for 1 minute, flipping it over midway. Place the matzah into the greased baking dish.


Spread one-third of the vegetable filling over the matzah.


Drizzle 1/3 cup of the sauce over the vegetable filling.


Soak another matzah in the same manner, and place it over the vegetable filling. Spread another 1/3 of the filling over the matzah, and drizzle another 1/3 cup of the sauce over everything. Repeat one more time with the egg-soaked matzah, filling and sauce. Soak the last matzah in the egg mixture, and place on top. (Don't worry if you break a matzah -- it's all just going to get covered in sauce, then cut and served, anyway!)


Pour the rest of the egg mixture over everything, 'cause we don't waste anything in my kitchen! And pour the remaining sauce over the top of that.


Place the prepared mina onto a large baking sheet to catch any drips, and bake for 30 minutes. Sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of parmesan over the top, and bake for 5 more minutes until everything is bubbling and golden.


Remove from the oven and let the mina rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Cut into 6 pieces and serve warm.

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