Nana’s Gazpacho

 

IMG_2105My mother, who recently died, was a wonderful cook and baker in her day. When I was growing up you never entertained at a restaurant, but always at home. It was a great treat to be invited to our house which was always warm and welcoming, where you got to engage in lively conversations and where the food was terrific. At the height of summer when the beefsteak tomatoes were big and red and ripe, my mother always made this gazpacho. She was way ahead of the curve since cooking at home in the 1950s and 60s was generally not so sophisticated. She would make this gazpacho (origins unknown I’m afraid, but I had a very similar one in Cordoba, Spain served with grilled prawns) and a delicious paella with flan for dessert. There are many wonderful and inventive versions of gazpacho that I enjoy, but this is still my favorite. You can get as fancy as you like with the garnishes or just go with some finely chopped cucumber and pepper and a sprinkling of cilantro.

Nana’s Gazpacho

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

3 medium sweet bell peppers ( I used orange and yellow but my mother used red and green)

1 small cucumber, peeled and seeded

1 large Spanish onion, peeled and diced

6 large, very ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded

3 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 scant Tablespoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon cracked black or Aleppo pepper

2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika or 1 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika and 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika

1/3 cup EVOO

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

2 cups cold water

Directions

  1. To peel the tomatoes you can either plunge them into boiling water for 2 minutes and then into ice water OR you can cut out the core and using a sharp knife, grab the peel and start pulling/cutting it away from the tomato. It doesn’t have to look perfect since it will be pureed in any case.
  2. Coarsely chop the onion, cucumber, peppers and tomatoes and mince the garlic. Set aside.
  3. Mix your liquids with the salt, pepper and paprika.
  4. Working in batches, place about 1/3 of the ingredients in a blender and puree, leaving a little texture. In a large bowl, mix everything together so the mix is evenly distributed. Pour into containers and refrigerate.
  5. When ready to serve you can garnish it with finely diced cucumber, bell pepper and cilantro or use croutons.

 

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

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I have never met an eggplant that I didn’t like and frankly cannot understand when someone tells me they don’t eat eggplants. They can be prepared so many ways! And they are beautiful. So when I saw this recipe for Tian d’Aubergines in last week’s Chicago Tribune I had to try it. Tomatoes are at their most gorgeous now and I was able to pick up some luscious ripe ones at my local market. The only thing I changed from the original recipe was to add garlic because who makes eggplant without garlic?? I also layered my herbs and salt and pepper because – well, layering flavors is just better. This dish can be eaten hot, room temperature or cold. I am serving it at room temperature tonight with some lamb chops and a lovely rosé from Provence. I imagine that leftovers will be eaten with just some crusty bread to soak up all of the delicious liquid and a bright green salad. I did buy some Greek cheese the other day so I might have some sliced on the side. This is one of those wonderfully simple and versatile dishes like a good ratatouille. I was skeptical when I read that it baked for two hours, but the final result is deliciously unctuous so don’t skimp on the baking time.

Eggplant and Tomato Bake from Monique Hanson

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Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Lots of fresh thyme leaves

3 medium eggplants

4 large ripe tomatoes

5 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

8 Tablespoons EVOO plus more for drizzling

Kosher or sea salt to taste and fresh ground black pepper or Aleppo pepper if you have it

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly drizzle oil on the bottom of a heavy rectangular baking dish (mine was 9.5 by 13) large enough to hold everything very snugly (there will be some shrinkage when it bakes). Place the baking dish on a pan since there might be a little spillage when it bakes.
  2. Layer the onions and garlic over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with lots of fresh thyme leaves, a sprinkling of salt and some pepper.
  3. Cut off both ends of the eggplants and then slice almost all of the way through but not entirely at 1/2 inch intervals. Slice your tomatoes and nestle one slice between the cuts in the eggplant.
  4. Place the stuffed eggplants in the baking pan over the onion and garlic. Don’t worry if you have to squish things a little to force them in. They will bake down. Sprinkle with more thyme, salt and pepper.
  5. In a small bowl, make the vinaigrette. Mix well and drizzle it over the eggplant. Drizzle a little more EVOO and sprinkle a little more salt.
  6. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Then cover and bake for another hour until the eggplant is cooked through, the house smells amazing and the liquid is bubbling up in the baking dish. Serve at any temperature that you choose.

Lisa’s Vegan Challah

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As anyone who has been reading this blog knows, my godson has a deathly allergy to eggs. So I am always challenged to find or develop recipes for holiday treats that he can enjoy and where no one else feels cheated. I developed this vegan challah recipe a few years ago and now my niece (his mother) makes it every week. For the directions, just follow the previous recipe for my regular challah except where I have noted a few changes. I have not yet been able to get quite the same look for the glaze that I get with an egg-wash and have tried many different things. I would love to hear from any of you who has been successful in getting a beautiful glaze without eggs. The glaze I use is “okay” but I am still working on finding the perfect look.

UPDATE: I went to make this challah this morning and it suddenly occurred to me that because I use honey, this is really not vegan. For me the issue is eggs and dairy and I hadn’t focused on the honey. I have never made this with other vegan sweeteners such as sorghum or date syrup, but you could certainly try. You want a sweetener that has the texture of honey, is dark to lend color where there are no eggs and that also lends a rich, sweet taste. The amount used should not really change. It is simply a matter of finding the sweetener that you like.

Lisa’s Vegan Challah

Yield: One large braided loaf

Ingredients

1.25 cups of warm water

1/2 cup of granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon active dried yeast

1/4 cup Canola oil

A generous 1/8 cup of buckwheat honey (it lends color and richness when there is no egg)

1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 generous teaspoon Kosher salt

3.5 to 4 cups of bread flour

Soy milk mixed with a vegetable yellow food coloring or mix with a small amount of turmeric for the glaze

Directions

Follow all of the directions of Lisa’s regular challah that precedes this, but use the soy milk glaze instead of the egg wash. If you wish,  you can add 6 ounces of raisins to the dough after the first addition of flour.

 

Lisa’s Challah

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Every Friday when my son was growing up, I would bake challah for Shabbat. When I started working outside the home I would start the challah before I left for work and then I would take the bowl of dough with me so I could punch it down. One day, my supervisor came into my office and asked me rather pointedly if I had beer in my office! I showed her the dough and all was forgiven. Admittedly it is much easier to simply deal with this at home, but I want you to know that bread can be very forgiving and that working is no excuse for denying yourself and your family this incredible treat. And if you are a Sabbath observer, anyone walking into your home smelling the bread fresh from the oven will immediately get into a peaceful, happy mood.

This recipe took years to get the proportions the way I want them and I have since passed the recipe down to Frances who now makes challah for Matthew every week. At first she wondered what they would possibly do with all of the bread, but now she realizes what a silly question that was. Once you taste this, you will never wonder about left-overs. Instead you will wonder how soon before it is time to bake it again!

Bread-making is as much art as science. In a factory, all conditions are controlled and so you can use exact measurements. At home, we don’t necessarily control for a humid day or a flour that may be be drier than the previous one or have more gluten. So you will have to learn to feel  what the dough should be like. You may get lucky and hit it out of the park on the first try or may simply be just okay. It’s worth keeping at it. This is why I make my bread by hand. If I add raisins for my husband or leave them out for my son, the yeast will react somewhat differently. If you use a machine you miss all of that. I have also learned in over 25 years of baking challah that it needs to rest. And you never leave the dough uncovered if you are not working with it. I allow my dough to rest after the initial additions of flour because I learned that I will need less flour that way and it keeps the dough from getting too heavy. We like a sweet, rich bread, but you don’t want it leaden. Sometimes I will finish the braid with poppy seeds or sliced almonds, but other times, just the egg wash is all that is needed. I have learned how to braid a six-braided loaf, but for the High Holidays, I make a braided crown. Versions of all of these can be found on YouTube and I strongly urge you to find a way of braiding that you find enjoyable. A simple three-strand loaf is fine too. Bread-making should be fun as well as incredibly satisfying. Yes, it takes some effort, but you will never taste a store-bought loaf this wonderful. And the effect on your family will be almost miraculous – children stop fighting, husbands and wives suddenly feel that maybe the week wasn’t quite so terrible and guests feel as if they have just walked into an island in time. Isn’t that what Shabbat is really all about?

I have also developed a vegan challah for my godson who is allergic to eggs. It is the best tasting vegan challah I have ever had, but if you are able to eat eggs, use this recipe. The vegan version is very good, but this is outstanding. Any leftovers will make perfect french toast or bread pudding – or simply eat it toasted with butter and cinnamon sugar or honey or jam.  The vegan recipe follows. I am not baking it this week, so I do not have a photo, but aside from the glaze which is lighter and not quite so shiny as with the egg glaze, the look is the same.

Lisa’s Challah 

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Yield: 1 large braided loaf (can be doubled)

Ingredients

2.25 teaspoons active dried yeast

1/3 cup warm water ( Turn on the tap and allow the water to get hot. If your finger can touch it and it feels hot but still comfortable, then that is the right temperature.)

1 generous teaspoon of granulated sugar or honey

2 large eggs plus one additional egg for the glaze mixed with a teaspoon of milk, soy milk or cold water

1 rounded teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 cup canola or grapeseed oil

generous 1/8 cup honey (Any good quality honey will do. I happen to like Greek honey for this challah and buckwheat honey for my vegan challah.)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

About 3.5 cups of flour (bread flour is best, but you can use all-purpose, unbleached flour)

Directions

  1. Heat your oven to the lowest temperature. For my oven that is 170 degrees F. Rinse a large bowl with hot water. There is no need to dry it. This is the bowl you will make the dough in.
  2. Place your yeast, the 1/3 cup of warm water and the teaspoon of sugar in the warmed bowl, mix everything through and allow the yeast to proof for about 10 minutes. If your yeast isn’t bubbly and you don’t smell that beery, yeasty smell then your yeast isn’t active and you might as well not waste  your ingredients. If it is bubbly…
  3. Add the sugar, salt, oil, honey, eggs and 3 cups of flour to the yeast mixture and vigorously stir 100 strokes. This gets out all lumps of flour and also gives your arm a good workout! If you wish to add raisins, you can add 6 ounces of raisins to the dough at this point.
  4. Now start adding flour 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well to incorporate. Add about 3 cups or until the dough looks starts coming together.  I use a dough scraper to get all of the dough off of the sides of the bowl and at some point it is easier to work with than my heavy wooden spoon.
  5. Then cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a tea towel that has been rinsed in hot water and wrung out. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. This prevents you from adding too much flour ultimately and keeps the bread from getting too heavy. Turn off the oven but leave the door closed.
  6. After 15 minutes, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter or board and knead the dough until it is smooth, supple and elastic. It should feel alive under your hands – not dead and heavy.
  7. Oil the work bowl with about 2 teaspoons of Canola or Grapeseed oil and roll the ball of dough in the oil. Flatten it slightly into a thick disk and cover it with plastic wrap or the tea towel rinsed in hot water and wrung out. Place the bowl in the warm oven with the door closed. Allow the dough to rise for 1.5 to 2.5 hours depending on  your dough. The dough should be poufy and when you stick 2 fingers into it the holes remain in place. It should be doubled. If you are at work or need to run out, punch the down down, cover it again and allow it to rise again. This will make for a finer crumb and can be done one more time if necessary.
  8. When you are ready, punch the dough down (children LOVE this part!) and turn it out onto your counter or board. Knead it for a few minutes (about 3 to 4) and cut the dough into the number of strands you will braid. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. This will relax the dough and keep the strands from springing back on you.
  9. Now follow the instructions for braiding the dough. There are many sites and choose one that works for you. This is one that shows you a variety of braiding techniques or this for the way I learned to braid six strands. I don’t roll out my strands the way she does, but simply form them between my hands as if I were using play-doh. Try not to stretch the strands too much. Use gravity to help you get them the length you want. Place the braided dough on a baking sheet covered with parchment or a Silpat. Spray with a cooking spray like Pam or gently paint with Canola oil. Cover with waxed paper parchment and place in a warm spot to rise for about 45 minutes.
  10. While the dough is rising, heat your oven to 350 degrees F. When the dough has doubled, “paint” the braids with a mixture of egg and water or milk. If you wish to add poppy seeds or almonds or sesame seeds, sprinkle them over the egg wash and then dab with more egg wash. This is your “glue” and will prevent the seeds from falling right off.
  11. Bake for 25 minutes and then turn the dough and bake until a lovely dark brown and you can smell the bread. Tap it with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. If it makes a hollow sound, the bread is done. Gently move the bread to a cooling rack and allow it to cool before cutting. The bread will keep well (assuming you have leftovers) wrapped well in a large plastic bag or in foil. The bread can also be frozen, defrosted and warmed in a 325 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.

IMG_0745Note: This video shows you how to make a beautiful braided crown of challah. Some people make the dough the night before and allow it to slowly rise in the fridge to bake it the next day. I never have room in my fridge to do this, but don’t be afraid to try it. The point is that baking bread can fit into your lifestyle – it doesn’t have to rule it. Have fun.

 

 

Lemon Berry Bundt Cake

IMG_1975I follow the Apt. 2b Baking Co. and this recipe came in an email the other day. The cake is made with ricotta cheese, cornmeal and berries and looked just gorgeous so I couldn’t wait to give it a try. I did not have the Nordicware 10-cup Heritage Bundt pan and was not about to go out and buy one when I had a perfectly serviceable and pretty bundt pan already. In the photo, the cake had a beautiful, deep purple berry glaze which I was deciding if I wanted to use since I am personally not that big on glazes, seeing them as simply a way to add more sugar generally.

I also noticed that the directions neglected to mention when to add the eggs, which for me was not an issue, but could be a problem for a more novice baker. The cake came out beautiful and moist, but looked NOTHING like the photo! I chose not to glaze it. It has a lovely lemony, berry taste and thanks to the ricotta, it is only getting moister by the second day. The only things that you have to watch out for are: 1) properly preparing your pan with butter and flour or Baker’s Joy (a spray with flour in it) and 2) not crushing the berries when you fold them in. Give it a try while berries are still so plentiful. Go step by step and it isn’t difficult.

Lemon Berry Bundt Cake from Modern Potluck by Kristin Donnelly

Yield: One bundt cake IMG_1972

Ingredients

Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1.5 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

3/4 cup softened unsalted butter (1.5 sticks)

2 cups granulated sugar

zest of 2 large lemons

1.5 cups whole-milk ricotta

3 large eggs

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

3 cups berries (I used a mix of blueberries, blackberries and raspberries)

Glaze (I chose not to use the glaze, but here is the recipe if you feel differently)

1/2 cup berries (use the same mix as above)

1/4 cup water

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Generously butter and flour every crevice of a bundt pan or spray with a baking spry like Baker’s Joy that has flour. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set a cooling rack on top. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate medium bowl, mix the lemon zest with the sugar. Mix it through to moisten the sugar and to infuse the sugar with the lemon.
  3. In the bowl of a standing mixer, on medium speed, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes.)
  4. Add the ricotta and the eggs and beat until everything is fluffy and well incorporated.
  5. Add the lemon juice and mix through.
  6. Add the dry ingredients in 3 batches and mix well after each addition, scraping down the sides of the bowl.
  7. Using a long spatula, very gently fold in the berries. Don’t worry about being too exact or getting it absolutely evenly distributed. You don’t want to crush the berries. You could probably use frozen, unthawed berried, which would be a bit firmer, but berries are so beautiful now, it would be a shame not to make use of them.
  8. Carefully scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
  9. Bake at 325 degrees F for about 90 minutes or until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and a cake tester comes out clean. Since ovens vary, start watching it after about 80 minutes. If you take it out too soon, the cake will never turn out of the pan in one piece!
  10. Transfer the pan to the prepared cooling rack and allow to cool for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, carefully flip the pan over onto the cooling rack and allow to completely cool. If the pan was well, prepared and the cake was sufficiently baked, it will come out in one piece. If you wish to glaze it, wait until the cake is completely cooled.

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For the Glaze

Combine the berries and the water in a small pot and cook over medium heat, using a spoon to press on the berries until they are broken and have released lots of their juice. This takes about 5 minutes. Strain the mixture, pressing on the solids to release as much of the colored juice as possible. Don’t worry if a few seeds fall through.

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl and whisk in 2 Tablespoons of the berry juice until a smooth glaze forms. Add more juice, if necessary, for the desired consistency. Drizzle over the cooled cake and allow it to drip down the sides.

 

Cheddar Onion Muffins

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I was looking for something simple to bake to go with some lamb chops, salad and flageolet beans. I came across a small spiral cookbook on my shelf called “The Marvelous Muffin” and started going through it, looking for a recipe. I came across one for Cheddar Onion Muffins, made a few minor tweaks and quickly produced something that turned the meal from good to something special. I prepared all of the ingredients a few hours before dinner and kept the dry ingredients separate from the wet. When I was ready to bake, all I had to do was assemble things which took only a couple of minutes.

Cheddar Onion Muffins

Yield: 1 dozen muffins

Ingredients

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 Tablespoon Demerara Sugar

3 rounded Tablespoons fried onions that have been crumbled (these are the kind in a can or you can get really great onions from http://www.nuts.com.

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

6 ounces grated extra sharp cheddar cheese, with about 1/2 cup set aside (use a good block cheese and grate it yourself). You want 1.25 cups for the batter and 1/2 cup for the topping.

1 large egg

1.25 cups skim milk mixed with 1 teaspoon distilled vinegar or 1.25 cups buttermilk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray and set aside.
  2. Combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, fried onions, garlic powder and 1.25 cups cheese in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the egg and stir in the milk. quickly add the flour mixture and using a whisk, mix just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Do not over-mix.
  4. Fill the muffin cups about 3/4 full and top each muffin with the 1/2 cup of grated cheese.
  5. Bake for about 28 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center and the cheese on top is golden.
  6. Turn out of the muffin tins but do not pile them on top of each other. The muffins are VERY moist and the weight of one muffin on top of another will squish them. These muffins do not need any additions to enjoy them.

 

Java Brownies

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Once people get past the initial “Oooooo brownies!” you generally find that everyone has their own opinion of what makes a great brownie. Cakey vs. chewy, frosted vs. no frosting, nuts or no nuts, cocoa powder vs. chocolate. For me, the perfect brownie is dark, chocolaty, chewy, with a background of a good coffee to bring out the chocolate and to cut the overly sweet. While I love nuts, my perfect brownies have neither nuts nor frosting.

I have been making these brownies for over 25 years and I am sorry to say that I have no idea where I got the original recipe. I hadn’t made them in awhile and I recently tried making them using a rather expensive chocolate. Somewhat to my surprise, they weren’t nearly as good as when I used Unsweetened Bakers Chocolate. So don’t try to improve these – they are absolutely perfect as they are.

Java Brownies

Yield: 9 to 12 servings (these are rich)

Ingredients

4 ounces unsweetened “Bakers” brand Chocolate

2 sticks of unsalted butter

1 cup of granulated sugar

3/4 cup of dark brown sugar or Demerara Sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 Tablespoons instant coffee granules (Any good, dark coffee will work)

pinch of Kosher salt

3 large eggs

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter (or spray with Pam) an 8-inch square glass pan. (I’ve used metal and it just comes out better with glass.)
  2. Melt butter and chocolate on a low heat in a heavy pot. Watch it and just before the chocolate is totally melted, remove from the heat and stir with a spatula to finish the melting process.
  3. Add the sugars, vanilla, flour, salt, baking powder and coffee granules and mix well. Then add the eggs and mix until the eggs are fully incorporated.
  4. Spread the mixture in the prepared pan and bake for about 48 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool before cutting. Enjoy as is or this makes a truly decadent brownie sundae.