Rosh HaShanah 5781

Rosh hashanah -traditional symbols: honey jar and fresh apples with  pomegranate and shofar- horn on white wooden. | Premium Photo

Rosh HaShanah 5781 begins at sundown on Friday, September 18th this year. Wherever Jews live, we will be celebrating the New Year. The Jewish People – my People – have survived intact for 5,781 years. Despite wars, the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the denial of Israel’s right to exist, we have survived. Its pretty remarkable by any measure. But this year with the Covid Pandemic, we will face another challenge.

While it is true that much of our rituals are home-based, we also require a community. We do not live in isolation from one another no matter how that community is counted by different streams of our religion or where our family originated. My husband and I had looked forward to sharing these High Holidays with our son, daughter-in-law and first grandchild. But alas that is not to be. They are in San Francisco and we are in Chicago.

The Days of Awe are a time for deep personal reflection and repentance. It is a time to review how we conducted ourselves during the past year and our goals for the coming year. This year, instead of taking part in our community services, we will be at home – just the two of us. I will miss the beloved liturgy and melodies that provide so much comfort each year. And I will miss the sense of community and the affirmation of our People.

Cooking has always been a way for me to connect with others and to express my love. I enjoy searching for recipes that reflect our People’s different traditions since we come from all across the globe. And I love to read the stories that go along with them.

So even though nothing is quite as it should be this year, I am still planning a special meal for Rosh HaShanah. Below are some recipe ideas for the holiday. And remember, it won’t just be a meal that you are sharing, but our heritage.

I wish all of you a Shana Tova U’Metuka – a sweet New Year! A year of good health and peace.

Rosh HaShanah Menu Ideas

Yemenite Chicken Soup

Aromatic Chicken and Vegetable Soup (Koli)

Lisa’s Challah Revisited

Lisa’s Vegan Challah

Gefilte Fish Loaf

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Fruit and Vegetable Tzimmes – a perfect introduction to autumn

Another Brisket

Apple Cinnamon Noodle Kugel

Apple Cake – Take 2

Lisa’s Vegan “Honey” Cake

Whole Wheat Apple Cake

Apple Pecan Bourbon Bundt Cake

Vegan Apple Raisin Cake with Applejack Sauce

Plum Kuchen (Butter cake)

Italian Prune Plums Take Two

Savory Meat Pie

This Moroccan style savory meat pie will wake up your tastebuds. It was Thursday evening and I had nothing planned for Shabbat dinner. I could, of course, always make a chicken dish, but my husband was beginning to cluck. So I searched my freezer for some hidden gem and found a package of ground beef. But then what? In the back of my freezer was a long-forgotten package of phyllo dough and from that I created this dish.

Using my knowledge of Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking and knowing what we like to eat, I started to put together what turned into a delicious Shabbat – or anytime – dinner. All I needed to add were some beautiful roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs from my terrace garden and a mix of Middle Eastern salads for a delicious and satisfying summer dinner.

The beauty of this kind of dish is that you can make it in virtually any pan and depending on how you cut it and your sides, it can easily feed between 8 to 10 people. The only slightly tricky part is dealing with the phyllo dough. If you have never worked with phyllo before there are a few things you need to know in order to have a successful outcome.

You need two damp towels to keep the phyllo leaves from drying out. Once they do, you might as well throw it in the garbage. You also need some kind of fat to brush on the dough as you layer it. Since this was for Shabbat, I used a vegan buttery spread. Butter and even EVOO would also work. When I make baklava I generally prefer to use butter, although will also use good buttery vegan spread.

You also cannot skimp on the melted fat or try to speed up the process by plopping on too many layers of dough at once. Not if you hope to have a finished product with those lovely flaky layers that epitomize puffed pastry. I never add more than two thin layers at a time. Once you have mastered the phyllo, making baklava or spinach pie are a breeze.

And while I made this recipe with lean ground beef, you could easily use ground lamb, which frankly I prefer, but didn’t happen to have on hand. I used the spinach because I had it, but you could leave it out or use parsley or kale instead. The point is, don’t get bogged down. If you don’t have pine nuts, but you have blanched slivered almonds, use those.

Ras el Hanout was used because I have it on hand, but you could just as easily have used hawayij to change the flavor profile. If you have never used Ras el Hanout, I definitely recommend that you try it. You can buy it at any good spice shop or online or you can make it yourself. It’s a wonderful warm spice that is perfect with pumpkin or other squashes and gets you in the mood for fall. So have fun and get cooking!

This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature and is wonderful for a buffet. You can reheat any leftovers in a 350 degree F. oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. It will nicely crisp up the pastry and warm it through.

I hate waste. The phyllo dough came in a one pound package and I didn’t want to refreeze what was left over. So I took some apples that were beginning to wrinkle, sliced them very thinly without peeling them and layered it with a good cheese that would melt easily. It was all nestled between layers of phyllo in a shallow rectangular tart pan. I treated the phyllo with butter and baked it at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. It made quite a treat for a light dinner or lunch with a bowl of lentil soup or a salad. If you wanted to add a very thin slice of a jamon, prosciutto or other smoked ham, that would work well too. And if you don’t have apples, but do have fig jam (I always keep a jar around) that would be just yummy.

Recipe

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

1.5 pounds very lean ground beef or lamb

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound blanched spinach, squeezed dry and roughly chopped

2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1 large onion (I used yellow but red or white onion would work), finely chopped

1/3 cup raisins

1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly pan toasted

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Rounded 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (freshly cracked black pepper is fine)

1.5 teaspoons Ras el Hanout

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 ounces tomato sauce

1/2 pound of phyllo dough (although you could use more if you want a LOT of pastry), defrosted in the fridge if previously frozen

6 to 8 ounces of butter or vegan buttery spread, melted

Directions

Butter (or use other fat) a 9 X 12-inch pan that is about 3-inches deep. Set aside. Almost any deepish pan or oven-proof skillet will work. This happened to fit my phyllo dough exactly.

In a large saute pan, soften the onion and garlic. Then add the ground meat, breaking it up in the pan. Cook until the meat loses its redness. Now add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, spices, raisins and spinach. Stir everything through to mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix through. Taste to adjust your seasonings.

My Ras el Hanout could have been a little fresher so I oomphed things up a bit with a little additional allspice and ground clove. There should be very little liquid. A bit of liquid is fine and will absorb into the meat as the mixture cools slightly. Too much liquid will make for a gummy end product. Set the mixture aside while you heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and prepare the phyllo dough.

Lay the phyllo dough out onto one of the damp tea towels. Then cover with the other towel. Working quickly, peel off two thin sheets of phyllo. If the sheets break, don’t worry. You can always patch. Lay the sheets in the pan that you have oiled. I chose 9 X 12 because it fit the dough perfectly but make your dough fit the pan. You can even fold it over. As soon as it is in the pan, brush the dough with the melted butter. Keep repeating this until you have laid down 8 sheets.

Now spoon in your meat mixture and spread it evenly. You can do this in one layer or you can divvy it up, which was what I did. So I placed half of the meat mixture down, then added more layers of phyllo (brushed with butter), then more meat. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.

Once all of your meat mixture is in the pan, add the remaining phyllo dough two sheets at a time and spread with butter between layers. I used about 8 sheets but you can use more if you want more pastry. Take a very sharp knife and pre-cut your dough. I then sprinkled some additional Ras el Hanout on top, which is why my finished product looks so dark. It’s up to you. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary so check it. As long as your pastry is puffed and the desired brown, the dish is done. The filling is really cooked before it goes in the oven. Now – enjoy!

Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty)

Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken blends cultural food influences deliciously. Now more than ever, I have become an armchair traveler. My world has narrowed down to our apartment and so I take every opportunity to bring the world safely to us. This fragrant dish conjures up spice markets in India and the Middle East. Perhaps a little history is called for in order to understand the origins of this curried coconut chicken dish.

While we Jews are small in number, we can be found in pockets all over the world. In part this is because we have been driven out of so many places over the millennia. But it is also because of the trades that we were limited to practice as merchants of goods ranging from spices and cloth to diamonds. And as we have traveled and changed our homes, we have adopted local cuisines.

This Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty) originates with a small community of Baghdadi Jews living in India. “The community, according to professor Shalva Weil of Hebrew University who has written on the Baghdadi community, traces its origins to 1730 when a man named Joseph Semah moved from Baghdad to Surat, a city north of modern day Mumbai. By the mid-19th century thousands of Jews from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria migrated to India, escaping persecution under the rule of Daud Pasha and seeking business opportunities.” Most of this community left when India gained independence from the British.

I came across this recipe for Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken on a Jewish heritage food website called Naama. It documents our varied and deep food traditions from Jewish communities all over the world. And there are always fascinating family stories to go along with the recipes.

Influences from whatever country Jews lived in were absorbed and adopted while making changes that allowed them to continue to observe the laws of kashrut. For example, this delicious curry is made with coconut milk rather than yogurt in order to honor the prohibition to not mix milk and meat. But you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this traditional Iraqi/Indian Shabbat meal.

Don’t be frightened off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do much South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, you should have most of the spices on hand. Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken isn’t difficult to make, but I do urge you to use fresh spices and whole spices that you grind yourself when cooking these cuisines. It is the spices that make the dish.

Since I was making this only for me and my husband, initially I did not also cook up a rice pilau to which I would have added English peas and carrots for additional color. I did serve this with a simple Moroccan beet salad and a Jerusalem salad along with a fresh mint chutney that I made. [See recipe below] Mint grows like weeds and I happen to have it in my terrace garden. You can also buy mint or coriander chutney. While normally I enjoy Indian food with naan or roti, Shabbat challah actually went beautifully with this dish and along with the potatoes served to sop up the delicious sauce. Served with some ripe cantaloupe and cherries – a perfect Friday night meal.

Since I had plenty of left-overs, the second time I served this with dal and a rice pilau. For some ideas of Indian side dishes to make, check out these suggestions.

While very well-seasoned, this dish is not at all spicy so is a perfect introduction for those who are heat averse. And the bonus in making this dish is that your house will smell absolutely amazing!

For another Iraqi chicken dish:

Iraqi Chicken over Red Rice

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings, depending on sides

Ingredients

2 pounds chicken breasts, cut in half if large
2 pounds of chicken saddles (thighs with legs attached)
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided
4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used Canola)
5 whole cloves
5 green cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
5 generous teaspoons ground coriander
3 generous teaspoons ground cumin
About 2 pounds of small-medium potatoes, peeled [I used Yukon Gold and cut the potatoes in half so they would fit into my pan.]
1 large onion
1 piece of fresh ginger (2 tablespoons)
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon paprika
14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut cream
2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar
1/4 to 1/2 cup water
1 8-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained and cut into thin slices lengthwise (Optional)
1 teaspoon garam masala 

Directions

1. Place the chicken pieces into a large bowl or plastic freezer bag and sprinkle and rub all sides with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt, ½ teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper and ½ teaspoon of turmeric. Set aside for about 30 minutes. [This can be done hours ahead and refrigerated.]

2. Place the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. Fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

3. Place all the chicken pieces into the pot with the skin side down. Sear the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken onto a plate. 

4. Place the potatoes into the pot with the oil and spices and fry the potatoes until golden brown on all sides, flipping them occasionally.

5. Meanwhile, place the onion, ginger, and garlic into a blender or food processor. Process the mixture until a paste is formed, about 2 minutes. [This can also be done ahead and refrigerated.] Add the paste to the pot with the fried potatoes. Add the paprika and remaining ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes. Place the chicken pieces back into the pot with the skin side up. Add the coconut cream, vinegar, water and bamboo shoots (if using) into the pot. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. The dish can be made several hours ahead and gently reheated. I didn’t add the garam masala until just before serving.

6. Sprinkle garam masala over the curry and serve hot. 

Mint Chutney (Phodino) Recipe

1 generous cup of packed fresh mint leaVES

1/2 cup of roughly chopped scallions, including green stems

1 Tablespoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger

2 fresh hot green chili peppers, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Juice of one lemon or up to 2 limes (I used limes)

Directions

Blend everything together. Unlike commercial chutney which almost certainly has food coloring added, the green of the mint will darken some if made ahead. The taste will be fine, however. If you wish to have that vibrant green, add a couple of drops of a vegetable food coloring. I store this in a glass container in my fridge and it will perk up any meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian meal.

I actually was unable to get any hot peppers in my most recent grocery order so I substituted some Gojuchang. You could use other hot sauces like Sriracha or harissa and while possibly not quite authentic, the taste will be great.

Strawberry Dutch Baby

I love breakfast – for dinner. In the mornings, I simply can’t eat that much unless I have a day of hiking ahead of me. But my husband Andrew has been treating me to this Strawberry Dutch Baby for the last several weeks and it is soooooooooo yummy. Sometimes it is accompanied by breakfast meat and other times we just eat it on its own. And the great thing about it is that I don’t crave dessert afterwards. So have this Strawberry Dutch Baby for breakfast, brunch or dinner.

I thought that Andrew couldn’t improve on his Caramelized Apple Dutch Baby, but I was wrong. Well, actually I wasn’t. While that was perfection, so is this. And while it’s true that we can now eat strawberries all year long, take advantage of the summer fruit while you can. It will never have more flavor than it does now. And as the strawberries roast in the skillet while the Dutch Baby cooks, the flavor intensifies.

So what is a Dutch Baby? Well, for those of you who don’t know, it’s a cross between a very large popover and a Yorkshire pudding. It’s also called a German pancake. It can be plain or with fruit. And I suppose there is no reason why you couldn’t make a savory Dutch Baby, although I have not had it this way. The name has absolutely nothing to do with the Netherlands and likely is a mangling of the word Deutsch, meaning “German.” However you say it, just enjoy this marvelous creation.

My husband, as guest blogger, will now continue the post.

Hi! It’s me again, Andrew, and today I’m writing about a Strawberry Dutch Baby. It was inspired by a recipe from thekitchn.com (for details about how it was changed, see the Q&A below). Here’s the far superior and delectable result! [Okay, this is actually Lisa giving her critique. Andrew is much more modest.]

Recipe

Yield: 2 for dinner

Ingredients

  For the strawberry filling

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

    Zest of 1 medium lemon

Juice of 1/2 of medium lemon

    1 lb. strawberries, plus a few more for garnish

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter

    1 cup all-purpose flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp granulated sugar

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    4 large eggs

    1 cup buttermilk

    1 tsp vanilla extract

  For serving (optional, but recommended):

  Powdered sugar or confectioner’s sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F

Put a 9” cast iron skillet on the stove on medium heat

Strawberry filling

Place 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon onto the sugar. Rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until fully combined and gritty. If no one is watching, then by all means, lick your fingers.

Hull and cut 1 lb. of strawberries in half and place them in a large bowl. Cut an additional 3 to 4 strawberries into quarters and set aside. Squeeze the juice of half of the zested lemon onto the strawberries and toss to combine.

Batter

1. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp granulated sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ tsp ground cardamom in a bowl and whisk to combine.

2. In a different bowl, add 4 large eggs and whisk until frothy. Add 1 cup buttermilk and 1 tsp vanilla extract and whisk to combine. 

3. Gently add the dry ingredients, and then add the quartered strawberries, whisking the batter just enough to get everything moist. Do not over mix.

4. Cut 3 tbsp of unsalted butter into 3 pieces, then put them into the skillet. Once the butter is melted, add most of the lemon sugar mixture to the skillet and stir to combine, then arrange the 1 pound of cut strawberries on top and sprinkle with the remaining lemon sugar mixture. 

5. Working quickly, pour the batter all over the berries. Put the skillet in the oven, baking at 400°F until puffed and golden-brown, about 20 minutes.

6. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes. Garnish with a few sliced strawberries, if desired. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

——————-

Q. and A.

Q. If I start heating up the skillet at the beginning, by the time I finish making the filling and batter I think it will be way too hot and the butter will heat up too fast!

A. You may be right. Here’s the deal: just after we finish the batter we want to pour it onto the strawberries in the skillet. We don’t want the mixed batter to hang around too long waiting for the strawberries, but we also don’t want to overheat the butter or overcook the strawberries (they’ll become too mushy).

So how about this: while you’re preparing the batter, just before you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, go back to the skillet and melt the butter, heat up the lemon sugar mixture, and add the strawberries, then finish the batter.

It really all depends on how quickly you do the different steps, how quickly your skillet heats up, etc. Play around with the steps and do what works best for you. 

Q. Hypothetically, what if I poured the batter over the strawberries, and only then realized I’d forgotten to stir in the reserved strawberries. What should I do?

A. Funny you should ask. When that happened to me I just sprinkled the strawberries on top of the poured batter and put the skillet into the oven. It turned out fine.

Q. Can I serve this with whipped cream, instead of powdered sugar?

A. Of course! 

Q. What about vanilla ice cream?

A. See previous answer.

Q. What did you mean about this recipe being “inspired by” another recipe?

A. Well, the first time I followed the recipe exactly as it was on thekitchn.com the batter didn’t puff up, the strawberries were mush, and no one liked the result. So Lisa said, why don’t you make it more like our Apple Pancake recipe? So I reduced the amount of butter, added more flour, replaced the milk with buttermilk, removed one egg, and cooked the strawberries in the skillet less. It turned out better, but there was room for improvement. Third time around I added ¾ tsp baking powder and a few quartered strawberries to the batter, and I just barely cooked the strawberries before putting the skillet in the oven. The result was pretty good! Finally I upped the baking powder to a full teaspoon, threw in a bit of baking soda, and arranged to get the strawberries into the oven as quickly as possible. The batter ended up light, puffy, and delicious. That’s what’s printed here.

Q. Do you have to be some sort of cookbook author expert to make those sort of changes to a published recipe?

A. Nah. You just have to be willing to listen to good advice (from Lisa) and also willing to try making it more than once.

Red Miso Ginger Salmon

Red Miso Ginger Salmon is flavorful and delicious grilled or broiled. I admit that I have gotten away from eating fish. First, it’s very expensive in the Midwest unless you are buying lake fish. And secondly I don’t own a grill and making fish in the apartment usually means that I am stuck with that smell for a couple of days.

Atlantic salmon was actually a favorite food growing up. My mother would always get salmon steaks and we kids would fight over the crispy skin that surrounded the flesh. And then somehow I grew away from it. But I was watching Tiffani Thiessen the other night and she made a Red Miso salmon on the grill that looked so beautiful, I decided to give it one more try. And I’m really glad that I did. Mine was cooked under the broiler and had the addition of fresh ginger. Unfortunately cedar planks were unavailable at my store, but we never missed it. So don’t fret if you don’t have it either

This Red Miso Ginger Salmon couldn’t have been easier to prepare and the final product was delicious and a treat for the eyes as well. I served it with an Israeli Couscous salad with roasted vegetables and feta cheese along with Moroccan Beet Salad and homemade hummus and a riff on a Jerusalem salad. This was a perfect summer Shabbat dinner.

For other delicious salmon recipes try:

Salmon in Chermoula with Couscous

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce

Roasted Salmon with Kimchi

Light Salmon Salad

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

1/2 cup honey or Agave syrup

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice 

2 tablespoons red miso 

2 tablespoons soy sauce 

5 large cloves garlic, grated 

About 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger

2 pounds skinless salmon fillet, rinsed and patted dry (Mine actually had the skin on.)

Directions

Heat the oven to broil with a heavy-duty pan inside. (For less mess, line the pan with foil. If you do not have a broiler, heat the oven to 425 degrees F. For grilling instructions, check out the original recipe.)

Combine the honey, lime juice, miso, soy sauce, ginger and garlic in a small bowl or measuring cup. Mix well.

Lightly oil the pan or foil and place the salmon on top. Spoon enough sauce over the top to cover well. Reserve some sauce to spoon on just before serving.

Cook according to your oven instructions (door open partially or door closed). How long you cook the fish will depend on how thick it is and how rare you like it. I do not like rare fish but I like it to just flake easily. Mine took 15 minutes and was about 1-inch thick. Just keep an eye on it.

Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup

This earth-toned Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup tastes rich and decadent without the guilt! The flavor is earthy and full of umami. The texture is silky smooth and dissolves on your tongue.

I was coming to the end of my two weeks worth of produce and was trying to come up with something for dinner. I still had a cauliflower and 3 largish Portobello mushrooms to use up. Not yet sure what I was going to make, I decided to roast them and thought I would figure it out later.

The roasted veggies smelled soooooo good that I thought why not combine them into a creamy soup. The result was even better than I had imagined and it would be irresponsible not to share it with you. While I did use chicken stock and a little butter, this could easily be made vegan. Just swap them out for a quality vegetable stock and either buttery vegan sticks or a bit more EVOO.

This Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup makes a wonderful first course or a dinner when accompanied by a salad and some good bread. This is good enough for a special dinner, but easy enough to make on a weeknight, especially if you roast the veggies the day before.

The speckled earth-tones of this Creamy Roasted Mushroom Cauliflower Soup is my idea of beauty. However, if it isn’t yours, just close your eyes, take a spoonful and be prepared to be moved. It’s THAT good.

For other delicious creamy vegan soups try:

Watercress, Spinach & Chickpea Soup

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings, as a dinner

Ingredients

1 head of cauliflower (about 2 pounds) cut into small florets

3 large Portobello mushroom caps, whole or cut into thick strips

1 medium red onion, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, preferably unsalted

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter or vegan buttery substitute

Kosher or sea salt and flavored pepper like Mrs. Dash

EVOO plus more for drizzling (use garlic, basil or lemon flavored if you have it)

Optional Garnish Ideas

Toasted walnuts

Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, chives or oregano

Croutons

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. and raise the rack to the second from the top. You want the vegetables to be 6 to 8 inches from the top of the oven.

Liberally drizzle a baking sheet with EVOO (Just regular good quality EVOO). Toss the cauliflower and mushrooms in the oil. Liberally sprinkle with salt and the flavored pepper. Make sure that the veggies are in a single layer on the pan. Roast for about 30 minutes and then turn the veggies over and continue roasting for 10 more minutes. These can be made a day ahead and refrigerated if you like.

In a 5 quart pot, warm 1 Tablespoon of EVOO over medium high heat. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 to 4 minutes or until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds more.

Once the veggies are roasted, add them to the onions in the pot along with the stock and butter. Bring to a boil, partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes.

Allow the mixture to cool down to simply warm. While you can use an immersion blender (And I do love them!) you will get a smoother texture if you use a standing blender. Place the mixture in the blender and blend on low until smooth. Do not try to do this with very hot soup or you will have a mess on your hands!

Garnish and serve. Prepare to be delighted!

Spaghetti Squash with Asparagus and Ricotta

Today is “Blursday.” Somehow I thought that being retired, the stay-at-home orders would be a minor adjustment for us. But even though we didn’t have jobs to got to anymore, the days still used to have more definition. After almost 4 months at home, the main “event” that now divides the day for us is dinner. Who cooks and what do we eat? I’m trying for variety in our meals even if there is very little variety in anything else in our lives right now. So when I came across this recipe for Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus it sounded like the perfect summer, meatless meal. Paired with a crisp Provencal rosé, this proved to be a lovely, light yet satisfying dinner for two.

We were lazy and decided that we didn’t want to make anything else to accompany the squash, but if you are more ambitious (or have tiny appetites), this could be stretched to feed 4 as a dinner. My husband ate his portion with a couple of crispy sesame bread sticks, but I didn’t feel the need for anything but the wine.

Now spaghetti squash is used by a lot of people to mimic pasta when they are looking to lose weight. And frankly, when eaten that way, I am NOT a fan. Because while the strands that develop when the squash is cooked, may resemble spaghetti, they most definitely do not taste like spaghetti. If you are someone who has fooled yourself into thinking that it tastes like pasta, more power to you. However, when it is treated on its own merits, it is quite delicious, and easy to prepare. This Spaghetti Squash with Ricotta and Asparagus is a delicious example of the latter. And during those hot summer nights, this meal would be satisfying without being heavy. Creamy yet with a bite. Delicious! And it was simple enough that with a little help from me, my husband was able to prepare the dinner.

Recipe

Yield: Dinner for 2-4 (More as a side)

Ingredients

1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds)

1 tablespoon olive oil, divided

4 cloves garlic, smashed

1 pound asparagus, trimmed

1 cup ricotta cheese

Freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (from 4 to 5 sprigs)

1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet (Watch this carefully, flipping frequently. It just takes a few minutes.)

Directions

Arrange the rack in the upper middle of your oven and heat to 375 degrees F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise (Be CAREFUL) and scrape out the seeds and the pulp that is attached. Discard the mess. (Yes, you can wash and toast the seeds if you want. I did not.)

Brush the cut sides with 1/2 Tablespoon of EVOO. Place the squash, cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet with the garlic cloves underneath. Roast for about 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim the woody ends off of the asparagus and cut the stalks on a diagonal into 2-inch pieces.

Remove the baking sheet with the squash from the oven and add the asparagus around or to one side of the squash. Drizzle with the remaining EVOO and sprinkle with salt. Return the baking sheet to the hot oven and continue roasting until the garlic is fragrant, the asparagus is tender and the squash is easily pierced with a fork. This took about an additional 20 minutes for me.

Meanwhile, place the ricotta, lemon juice, zest, thyme, salt and pepper in a large bowl and stir to combine. When the squash and asparagus are done, remove the pan from the oven. Using tongs, place the squash halves in a bowl or on a cutting board. Try not to take any of the excess liquid. Using a fork, scrape the inside flesh of the squash to form strands. Squish the now soft garlic into the ricotta mixture. Add the asparagus pieces, trying not to include any extra moisture that may have formed on the pan. Add the squash strands and mix through. I found using tongs worked best for this. Place on a platter and sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Serve. Yummmmm!

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

There are many foods that I can live without, but bread isn’t one of them. I enjoy it in all of the many forms and flavors that it takes. I love flat breads and fry bread. Herbed breads and sweet breads. And breads with crusts that make me thankful I have great teeth. Olive Rosemary Foccacia raises the volume on soups, salads and pastas. The pillowy chewiness of the center with the slightly salty crust and zing of fresh herbs makes this bread almost a meal in itself.

This easy-to-make recipe comes via Valerie Bertinelli and like just about every recipe of hers that I have tried, the directions are simple and it works out on the first try. As much as I like bread, even I can’t eat a whole pan of this delectable Olive Rosemary Focaccia in one sitting. Although it’s perfect for a family. So I ended up freezing half and saving some for another dinner. I definitely encourage you to eat this bread warm from the oven. Since mine was made a few hours earlier than we ended up eating dinner, I simply warmed it for a few minutes in a 350 degree oven when I was ready to serve. The same goes for bread that you froze and defrosted.

So the next time you want to turn turn up the volume on a bowl of soup, salad or pasta, try this Olive and Rosemary Foccacia.

For another take on focaccia try this recipe.

Recipe

Olive Rosemary Foccacia

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 teaspoon sugar 

2.25 teaspoons active dry yeast 

3 1/2 cups bread flour 

1 cup all-purpose flour 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, plus more for sprinkling (I have made this with just rosemary and with a mix of fresh herbs – rosemary, oregano and thyme. Works well either way.)

1 small yellow onion, quartered and sliced (Red onion works too)

One 5.3-ounce jar pitted green olives, drained (A mix of black and green or one or the other works. Use what you have. I used Kalamatos and Cerignola this time.)

1 teaspoon sea salt flakes (Optional but really nice)

Directions

  1. Line a sheet tray with parchment paper and grease with a thin layer of olive oil. (You can also make this directly on the pan if you don’t have parchment.)
  2. Place sugar and 1 1/2 cups slightly warm tap water into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes to activate the yeast.
  3. Combine the bread flour, all-purpose flour, salt and one tablespoon rosemary in a large bowl. Add to the mixer along with the oil. Knead the dough on medium speed until it forms a smooth, supple ball that is not sticky to the touch, about 5 minutes. Turn the dough out on the prepared sheet tray, drizzle with more olive oil and cover with a bowl or clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
  4. Using well-oiled fingertips, gently press the dough out onto the sheet tray, making dimpled indentations all over the dough. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again for another 45 minutes.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  6. Sprinkle the dough with the onions, olives and rosemary and drizzle generously with oil. Bake the focaccia until it is puffed and golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Drizzle with additional olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt flakes before serving. Don’t be stingy with the EVOO. The focaccia drinks it up and it’s just delicious!

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka)

This Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka), a delicious twist on Mediterranean Shakshuka, will send your tastebuds spinning. By now, most everyone knows and has eaten some version of shakshuka. And like everyone who has tried it, I love it too. But in an effort to use up (down) my pantry, I recalled a recipe that I had come across years ago but never tried. Months into sheltering-in-place – it was time.

I had just received my grocery delivery which would last me for two weeks. Now I have a minor pet peeve. When I am watching cooking shows – not competitions – that are based in someone’s home, I am always amazed at how totally empty their refrigerator and freezer are and how clean their ovens are. Come on! No one who cooks all of the time as such an empty fridge or an oven that clean! I especially love the one who lives in the middle of nowhere North Dakota on a farm – IN WINTER – with an empty fridge and freezer. THIS is what my fridge looks like after my most recent delivery. Keep in mind that I won’t shop again for two weeks.

But I digress. While I had not ever made the recipe for Mexishuka (Mexican Shakshuka) before, I already saw that I wanted to adjust the recipe and I made some significant seasoning changes. I had everything I wanted on hand, including some cans of vegetarian, fat-free refried beans from – well, I don’t actually know, but since the cans were still okay, I’m using them. I did try to buy some Queso Fresco with this last order but nothing was available. So I will substitute with a shredded mozzarella. A shredded cheddar also will go well with this. This dish is vegetarian so is perfect for a Meatless Monday dinner, although it would also make a delicious Sunday brunch. It is loaded with serious attitude and yet tastes soooooooooooo comforting. My version is very well-seasoned but not crazy hot.

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

15 oz. can of refried beans of choice ( I used a fat-free, vegetarian version) [Delicious but optional so don’t fret if you don’t have any.]

15 oz. can of pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO (Canola oil is fine too)

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

4 garlic cloves, crushed and finely chopped

28 oz. can of whole tomatoes, crushed (or diced)

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 large jalapeno chili pepper, finely diced (or a hotter chili if that is how you like things)

1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1.5 teaspoons mild chili powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1 Tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon paprika (preferably Spanish smoked Paprika)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

4 to 6 large eggs

Large handful of loosely packed greens, coarsely chopped ( kale, Swiss chard, spinach, watercress or a mixture)

Garnish (Optional, so take your pick or use them all)

fresh cilantro

sliced avocado

lime wedges

shredded cheese

salsa of choice

Tortillas, pita or other bread that you have around

Directions

Warm the EVOO on medium heat in a heavy (preferably cast iron) large skillet. Add the onion and jalapeno and stir frequently until the onion begins to turn golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the garlic and cook for one minute, stirring. Then add the spices and tomato paste and cook for one minute, stirring until the spices release their fragrance and the tomato paste just begins to brown.

Add the tomatoes, pinto beans, apple cider vinegar and greens and stir through. [NOTE: when you add your greens depends on the greens being added. Baby spinach takes almost no time to cook so I would only add that just before adding the eggs. Kale takes longer so I would add it here.] Cover the pan and lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Make 4 to 6 indentations (depending on the number of eggs you are using) in the mixture. Carefully crack each egg into an indentation, being careful not to break the yokes. Using a knife or spatula, carefully pull on the egg whites (being careful not to disturb the yolks) to mix them with some of the sauce.

Turn the heat back on to a gentle simmer and cook for about 10 minutes, basting the egg whites with sauce from time to time. Now cover the pan and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how you like your eggs.

In a separate pan or the microwave, heat the refried beans. For serving, place a good dollop of refried beans on the plate/shallow bowl alongside the Mexishuka. Garnish and enjoy!