soy ahoy, part one: banana milkshake

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The most recent excursion to Flushing saw me going a little soy crazy. I came home with soy milk, frozen edamame, and tofu. The latter two went into a recipe that’ll be up here in a few, but I was a bit perplexed about what to do with the soy milk. I bought because, hey, I’ve never tried it and for $1.19, I can afford the experiment. But once the initial tasting was complete, that still left most of the quart left over.

As for that experiment, I cannot imagine how anyone with functioning taste buds could confuse unsweetened/unflavored soy milk with anything that came out of a cow. Or a goat or a sheep, for that matter. It’s not awful. It’s not even bad. It’s just… not milk. It tastes like plants. And I would never consider pouring it over my generic-brand Lucky Charms, let alone pouring it into my coffee.

That does not mean I couldn’t find other uses for it.

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It was close to a hundred degrees in NYC for much of the week, so it’s no surprise that my whim took the form of something cold – frozen, in fact. I have a selection of fruit hanging out in the freezer – blueberries, cranberries, and a bag full of overripe bananas because I always buy more than I can finish before they start to go.

There is no recipe because I didn’t measure anything and, really, it will all depend on what you’ve got going on and how sweet your fruit is and how sweet you like your smoothies. But this is all I used, except for a splash of vanilla.

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Possibly by blind luck, this came out spectacularly. It was creamy beyond any reasonable expectation and there were no grassy undertones. Also, it held together as a thick, smooth liquid until the end, not separating out the way my usual milk-and-yogurt shakes do – it held together like a fast food shake with its added stabilizers and emulsifiers and whatnot. Except it was smoother and tastier and definitely kosher to accompany a hamburger.

(I didn’t have a hamburger; this was dinner. But you could have it with a hamburger and it would be okay with a rabbi.)

On a day when it was still 92F at midnight, this was a win.

 

As a related aside, since I’ve burbled happily about a vegan treat, let me briefly mumble less than happily about vegan cookbooks, since I’ve taken out a few from the library over the past several months. I skipped the (in)famous Veganomicon because it weighs a ton, but I did borrow books separately written by the two authors of that, Terry Hope Romero’s Viva Vegan and Isa Chandra Moskowitz’s Appetite for Reduction. I don’t know what the two of them are like together – I had no patience to sit through their old public access show – but separately, they take wildly different paths to reach their audiences. Viva Vegan, focusing on Latin American cuisine, is very inclusive: here are tasty recipes you might like to try and oh, by the way, they’re vegan and I don’t think you’re going to miss the meat and dairy. There are also a bunch of interesting recipes to try. Appetite for Reduction, which is a healthy-eating book, is… not inclusive. It takes for granted that you think “meat is murder” and all of the other tropes that make PETA look like goofballs when they take it too far. I found the author’s tone extremely off-putting to the point that I didn’t even finish browsing it for ideas. There are many reasons to choose a vegan meal either in isolation or as part of a lifestyle choice and most of them aren’t based on personal ethics. I don’t need my dinner with a side order of shame.

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lazy person’s pasta primavera

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So lazy, I didn’t even take a picture of it plated.

 

I went into Zabar’s for coffee the other Friday evening and, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit, I realized that I didn’t feel like cooking dinner. Luckily, halfway between the cheese and the dried fruit is the fresh pasta, so I picked up some tortellini.

It’s not quite spring, no matter what the calendar says, and so this is not quite pasta primavera, although I suppose it is because there’s no such thing as a definitive recipe, is there?

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One zucchini, having come up against the box grater and lost.

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The last of the spinach I had lying around; this is not the knife to chop spinach with, but it was the one that was already dirty.

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One very messy stovetop as I sauté the veggies with some olive oil, garlic, and capers. I added some freshly grated pecorino later, but forgot to photograph.

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I think this was tomato and gorgonzola tortellini, the former explaining the orangey tint. It was tasty, as most of Zabar’s fresh pasta is.

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Dessert was kiwis. The ones on the left are golden kiwis, the ones on the right are the standard variety. Golden kiwis, at least the ones I got, are a little sweeter and don’t have a fuzzy exterior.

candied grapefruit peel

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There’s a story about a tornado, wonky internet, wonky graphics cards (again!), and inertia, but nobody cares. On to the fruit!

 

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Candied fruit is pretty straightforward – boil in water, boil in simple syrup, dry, sugar.

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When I did these with orange peels, I shaved off some of the pith after the boil-in-water phase. The grapefruit peel was much thinner, so I didn’t bother.

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After boiling in simple syrup – equal measures of water and sugar – for 45 minutes, the peels are translucent. And sticky.

IMG_3576 Part of the way through the sugaring process, plus the leftover syrup.

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After they’re sugared, they have to dry in open air for at least a day, two or three even better. Tap off the sugar and store in an airtight container.

blueberry buckle

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One of my weaknesses in the summer is to empty my wallet on berries. The two places by work where I buy my fresh produce often have good sales on berries – 3-for-$5, the odd 4-for $5 for blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries depending on the season. It’s not unusual for me to splurge twice in one week, not when berries go so well with the morning cereal or on yogurt or on salads or… Let’s just say I eat a lot of berries in the warm-weather months.

Oddly enough, though, I never really get around to cooking with them. I have never made a blueberry or blackberry pie, have never made a raspberry torte, have never made jam or preserves out of berries or even a simple fruit sauce or coulis. They don’t last that long. I think the sum total of my fruit desserts can be a failed cake and a couple of clafoutis, all made in the dead of winter with berries I’d frozen.

This summer, however, I finally got around to cooking fruit I’d just bought. It was by accident, more or less, because I was flipping through my little cake book and stumbled upon a recipe that appealed. And so I grudgingly spared some of my fresh bounty from being inhaled au naturel and tried it out.

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I’ve made this cake three – four? – times already. I’d say it was a keeper except it would be a bad pun considering the recipe comes from Cake Keeper Cakes, which I purchased back when I’d bought myself the cake stand.

As for the book itself, it’s been hit and miss; I’ve made three cakes from the book, all chocolate-related, and haven’t been amazed by any of them. This one, however, is certainly in the ‘hit’ column.

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The cake has a couple of things going as far as I’m concerned, above and beyond fruit, which always improves a cake.

First, it divides well. I can split the recipe in half, making one six-inch cake instead of one nine-inch cake, without any ill effects and it comes out splendidly.

A bonus, since not everyone is a lapsed mathematician like I am, is that there are no strange measurements involving complicated fractional division not covered by your average kitchen measuring cups. The hardest division is turning 3/4 cup into 3/8th cup and you can do that by eyeballing with your 1/2-cup measure the way you would with your cup measure.

Ingredient-wise, the only complication is to halve the one egg, which is a non-problem for me because I keep egg substitute in the fridge and just measure out one ounce for half an egg.

Secondly, and non-trivially, the recipe’s not butter-heavy. Anything with a streusel on top is going to be adding a ton of butter and sugar, but this is actually pretty mild. The ‘full’ recipe only requires a stick of butter total for both cake and streusel, so half a recipe is just half a stick of butter, which is pretty fair.

Thirdly, it’s flexible. I don’t own a six-inch springform (although I’m considering it), but I can get away without one with some deft maneuvering. A springform pan definitely would help here, but it’s not like it’s a cheesecake or something else that just won’t work out in a standard one-piece pan.

Fourth, hey, it’s really good and it’s really simple and it has fruit and that’s pretty much what’s important.

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Blueberry Buckle
(adapted from Cake Keeper Cakes)

makes 1 9-inch cake (halve for 1 6-inch cake)

Preheat the oven to 375F.

for the streusel

1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix, either in a mixer or with a fork or fingers, until the consistency is of wet sand and the flour is absorbed. A few lumps are great, just make sure none of them are solid brown sugar.

Cover and refrigerate until needed.

for the cake

4tb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 egg [1 oz egg substitute for half a recipe]
1 tspn vanilla

2 cups flour, divided
2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn salt
 
1/2 cup milk

3-4 cups blueberries, rinsed and dried carefully.

 

Put the blueberries in a bowl or large container with a lid and add 2 tb of the flour or enough to thoroughly coat the berries. This is to keep them from all sinking to the bottom when the cake bakes, so be thorough. Shake gently (if using a covered container) or fold gently if using a bowl, then set aside. Give it a shuckle or two while assembling the batter.

Combine the rest of the flour with the baking powder and salt and set aside.

In the mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the egg and vanilla and continue to beat until the batter is lemon-colored and smooth.

Starting with the dry ingredients, alternately add the flour mixture and the milk in segments: dry-milk-dry-milk-dry, letting each component thoroughly incorporate before adding the next.

Fold the blueberries (including any remaining flour) into the batter gently with a spatula. Try not to mash too many of the berries in the process.

Grease a 9-inch springform pan and dump the batter in gently.

Deposit the streusel on top, making sure that it’s relatively even and no streusel mountains exist.

Bake for 55-60 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. You may need to poke more than once not to hit a blueberry.

When it’s done, leave the cake to cool in the pan for 10-15 minutes on a baking rack, then remove from the pan and let cool on the rack directly.

Serves 8-10.

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fresh garbanzo beans

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Chick peas! Who doesn’t love chick peas?

A while ago, I saw someone in a food blog mention fresh garbanzo beans and I thought ‘that’s nice, but I’ve never seen them’ and moved on. A few weeks after, I was in Whole Foods and browsing the produce aisle – purely for entertainment value, since what else is $6.99/lb peppers but laughable? – and there they were, two bins over from the jicama. So I grabbed a handful because if it’s a vegetable, I really will try everything once.

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The pods look a little like stubby edamame pods, but they’re not as easy to open and they’re not nearly as compact. There’s a lot of air in these; most pods had one pea, some had two. Some of the pods had tiny little immature peas, a few had rotten ones, and it wasn’t always obvious by looking at the pod what would be inside. The rotten ones were in vibrant green pods and most of the peas in the sad-looking pods were perfectly fine. I’m sure there’s a more reliable way of picking them out, but I didn’t know it.

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My haul. Shelling these was a lot more work than, say, shelling regular peas. The shiny one down front is missing its little coat.

With all of the work done, the question became what to do with them. I went looking for that blog post, but couldn’t find it; I was pretty sure it suggested making them with pasta, but even a general search for recipes with fresh garbanzos produced very little.

You can – and I did – eat them raw. They’re tasty, a little like edamame but meatier – you can tell they’re chick peas.

In the end, I just made some pasta, sautéed a little garlic in butter, and then threw in the garbanzos for a quick spin.

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Somewhat unrelated, but a good picture to post on a night when it’s approaching the ides of May and I have the heat on:

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A little underripe, but it’s a mango!

adventures in canning

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This was one of my projects back when I rebooted the blog.

In anticipation, I got myself a book, got some small (8 oz) jars, dug the big stock pot out of the basement, and opted for the minimum of toys – a widemouth funnel and a jar lifter.

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My jar lifter and my home-made lid lifter. I didn’t want to spend $15 on a piece of plastic with a magnet on the end, so I made one myself. It’s one of my fridge magnets plus my ancient citrus peeler.

The funnel, shown later on, would have a cost-per-use of pennies even if I’d never canned once. I use it almost every day – it’s perfect for getting food into my lunch thermos. I also use it for getting spices and powders into jars. I love it and cannot imagine how I functioned without it.

 

Of course, I assembled all of my canning supplies in the dead of winter, where there’s precious little in the way of fruit to make jam with or, well, much of anything you want to put in jars. But by March, there were at least some early cheap strawberries to be found. And since they weren’t awesome enough to eat raw, jam they became.

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This is that jam. I opted to make my first attempt without added pectin; there were recipes for that. However, the recipe made a base so sweet – even after I reduced the sugar – that I ended up adding cranberries to cut it. Cranberries are also high in pectin, for the record, so they are always good in a jam. (Pun intended.)

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Warming the jars. I was taking no chances and used my nifty electronic candy thermometer even for this phase. The jars just have to hit 180F for a bit. You can see them resting on the rack I use when I’m roasting chickens and Dad used to use when roasting turkeys. It’s not quite level – possibly from supporting 8+-lb birds for a couple of decades – and the jars migrated to the middle of the pot like a couple of sleepers on an old mattress.

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The Corningware pot is perfect for warming the lids.

 

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Funneling in the jam. After this, I dutifully used one of my little baby spatulas to chase air pockets, but you’ll have to take my word on that.

IMG_2920 Applying the lid. It’s a little lot ghetto, but it worked.

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With the band attached.

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Back in for processing, which is just boiling them for fifteen minutes, letting them sit in the water for a bit, and then taking them out. You hear the vacuum seal during the last part, somewhere between the pot and the countertop. Where they sit quietly for twenty-four hours before you take off the band, check the seal, and replace the band. And then congratulate yourself on needing a whole bunch of toys and guidance for a project that the average 18th century ten-year-old could do unsupervised.

But it still felt good.

hamantaschen redux, part two

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The first few years I made my own hamantaschen, I only made poppy (mun) and prune fillings because that’s what I had recipes for from Dad’s handwritten binder-of-goodness. And the reason Dad didn’t have any other fillings was because those were the only two acceptable ones, the traditional Ashkenazi fillings that our antecedents had made in Minsk. And since those were the only acceptable ones, that meant that all other varieties were verboten in the house when I was growing up. Sure, I’d seen raspberry and apricot in the bakeries; I’d even tried them a few times at other people’s Purim gatherings. But I’d never thought to make them myself.

(Okay, so there was the one year I had a jar of raspberry jam open in the fridge at Purim and I might have tried to make a few raspberry hamantaschen. But they might have bubbled over and this might have been before I was using silpat and parchment paper and it might have been a major effort to get baked-on, burned raspberry jam off of my old cookie sheets. And I might have vowed to never again try jam in hamantaschen. Ever.)

Over the years, I’ve gotten more comfortable with Dad’s mun and prune recipes and expanded on them, hopefully to the better. And, eventually, I did tiptoe up to and over the new frontier and decided to try apricot filling. I still haven’t tried raspberry again, though.

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All of these benefit from being made at least a day in advance, so keep that in mind.

Orange-Prune filling

1 lb pitted prunes
1 juice orange, thinly sliced and seeds discarded
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest

1 tb vegetable or other neutral oil
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4 cup medium-chopped walnuts — small pieces, not dust.

 

Put the prunes, orange slices, water, sugar, and lemon zest in a medium saucepan. Bring the mix to a boil, then reduce to a simmer over very low heat, cover, and let it go for 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, uncover, and let it cool for 5-10 minutes, stirring gently once or twice. You should have a very soft compote, no matter how firm your prunes were to start.

Pick out the orange pieces, which at this point will just be very soft rind. If you’re not a huge fan of orange, you can discard them, but I pile most of them up on a cutting board, finely dice them, and then dump them back into the prune mixture.

Add the oil, lemon juice, and nutmeg to the pot.

Blend the prunes (and orange) until you get a thick, course paste. You want identifiable bits of prune. I’ve always been able to manage this with the firm application of a dinner fork (like I was beating eggs), but feel free to use a blender or food processor.

Stir in nuts.

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This is not a juice orange, clearly. I couldn’t find one – I could find sweet lemons, prickly pears, and kumquats, but no juice oranges. So what did I use? A blood orange. Which wouldn’t have been my first choice of alternate, but navel oranges are even less optimal.

(Ironically, I got a juice orange in a mishloach manot on Purim, when it was too late to do any good.)

I added a dollop of orange juice concentrate – you can see it in the lower left corner – and so feel free to change up to 1/4 cup of the water with OJ. Don’t use more than that, at least not without reducing the sugar.

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The ‘after’ picture. It’s easy to pick out the orange bits and even easier to mash this up without fouling an appliance.

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Poppy filling (mun)

1.5 cups poppy seeds, ground
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup raisins, finely diced
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tb lemon zest

 

Throw everything into a bowl and stir.

 

I’ve been reading through Marcy Goldman’s excellent Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking and in her Purim section, she is very firm on the necessity of grinding your poppy seeds. (Which I’d never done.) She is also equally insistent that you need special equipment for this task, that a regular coffee/spice grinder or blender won’t work, and has a Cook’s-like mini-essay on her attempts to find one. My own investigations were much briefer – I looked on Amazon – and, not liking what I saw, I decided to give it a try in my spice grinder.

I don’t know what kind of grinder Ms. Goldman was using, but where she ended up with high-velocity intact seeds, my little Krups was more than up to the task. (I also ground my own cinnamon for this, throwing a few bits of Vietnamese bark in there afterward.) I had to do it in shifts, but it worked just fine. And let me tell you, the difference it made in the final product was significant.

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Before…

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…and after.

 

Ginger-Apricot filling

3/4 cup water or orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
12 ounces dried apricots, chopped roughly
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup candied ginger, finely diced
1/4 cup golden raisins, diced

 

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice. Make sure you have enough liquid for the apricots and raisins to soften and begin to break down.

Let cool for five minutes.

Unlike the prune mixture, this won’t break down with just a fork, so you’re going to need an appliance. I recommend a food processor or an immersion blender. Or a regular blender, if that’s what you’ve got. The end result should be a course paste.

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The original recipe doesn’t call for ginger, but I realized at the last minute that I didn’t have golden raisins and adding a cup of regular ones would make for some pretty odd-looking hamantaschen centers. So I upped the apricots, quartered the raisins, and threw in a handful of candied ginger cubes, which are possibly the single best reason Whole Foods should be allowed to exist.

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I don’t have a food processor and, for whatever reason, totally forgot about the immersion blender, so I beat the apricots to death with the paddle attachment. It worked, but I wouldn’t recommend the process. The mixture was less jammy than… slick. I think you can tell from the picture. It tasted fine and it looked fine in the hamantaschen, but…

 

As can be seen in the top picture, I had leftovers. The prune and apricot fillings make great toast partners. The poppy seed mixture will go into a cake. All’s well that ends well.

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