Saturday, November 26, 2011

A small victory

Rule number one is, don't have favorites. And for the most part, I don't have favorites. I pretty much love all the people I feed- the impossibly skinny girl, who gleefully announces while rubbing her stomach that, "she ate it all; everything that was on her plate"; the guy who calls everyone נשמה (Neshama-soul- a Israeli term of endearment) and likes nothing more than avoiding his work by coming down to the kitchen to take our cartons out to the trash; the woman who gives me kisses by licking my hand (don't worry, they get washed), which is entirely endearing; the young man who takes such pride in helping to wheel his friends who are in wheelchairs into the dining room- I love them all. All of those listed above, and those I haven't mentioned. But if I'm going to be completely honest, I'm gonna have to say that N. is my favorite. N. is tall and skinny and dark and has the most heartbreakingly wonderful smile. He doesn't talk, but he does communicate. He'll stand by the entrance to the kitchen and rock on his heels (or, on rare, wonderful occasions, do a little dance) and wait until one of us will ask him what he wants. Then he'll smile his smile and point. Unfortunately, the only thing he wants is ketchup. For the longest time the only thing he would eat was ketchup. It was a source of dismay for everybody. We take pride in our cooking. We want to feed people. We want to feed N. And all he would eat was ketchup.
Then one day while I was doing service, just at the end, I noticed that N has returned to the serving station. I thought he wanted more ketchup, but no, when I asked he pointed to the schnitzel. I literally jumped. There was only one piece of shnitzel left, I gave it to him and then ran into the kitchen, grabbed a frozen schnitzel and stuck it in the microwave, just in case N. wanted more. There was general happiness in the kitchen that day. N. ate! Sure, it was schnitzel, warmed in the microwave and doused in ketchup. But it was food, real food. A small victory indeed. Since that day, we been trying to sneak N. food whichever way we can. Now, ketchup only comes with bread and we always stand  by with an extra schnitzel or two, just in case. We don't get N to eat every day, but the days we do are good days.

The following cake from Alice Waters is a small victory cake. It's not intricate. It doesn't call for fancy ingredients. No bells or whistles. Its just a simple, very, very good cake- they type of cake you would make to celebrate a small victory.

A Small Victory Cake (or, 1-2-3-4 Cake)

Adapted from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

Ms. Waters calls this cake 1-2-3-4 cake in reference to the amounts of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, respectively called for in the original recipe, which makes two 9-inch round cakes. However, unless you're making a birthday cake (and this caked, frosted, does make a lovely birthday cake) one 9-inch round is enough.

2 eggs, seperated
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 cup flour, sifted
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Butter the paper and then dust the pan with flour, tapping out the extra into the sink

2. Stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

3. In another bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar to the butter, and cream. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time and then add the vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture and the milk, alternately, beginning and ending with the flour.

5. In (yet) another bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Stir a bit of the egg whites into the batter to loosen it a bit and then carefully fold in the rest.

6. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool on a rack.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Just the two of us

For a while this fall, Kol Ha-Isha, the organization that funds the kitchen, was having financial troubles. This meant cuts in the kitchen- both in terms of supplies and in terms of personnel. So for a few weeks it was just me and C in the kitchen. The first week it was the two of us, I was quite nervous. I thought it would be all chaos and pressure. But it wasn't. Not at all. It was a good, quiet day. If the kitchen was experiencing cuts, so were we. We did only what we needed to do. We cooked foods that were low-fuss. We prepared almost nothing for the next day. We went back to basics. So while I was glad when we returned to our three person team, I was also a little sad to say goodbye to our pared down kitchen. I liked just the two of us.

My sister, who is also my roommate, is in Russia for business this week and I'm missing dinners with her. (My little sister travels to foreign countries for work- how did that happen?) We don't eat dinner together every night, my sister and I, as our schedules differ quite a bit. But we do try to sit down together once or twice a week. Our meals aren't long, or complicated affairs. We eat pasta, shakshuka, fish, polenta, leftovers-whatever we can pull together from what we have at hand. I enjoy these meals. I like touching base with my sister, having just a moment to talk with her and share a beer. I like simple, everyday food.

I make this recipe- or some version of it-all the time. It's really the epitome of "holy-cow, I have nothing in my pantry/ I really don't want to fuss" cooking. All you need is some pasta, an egg or two, some Parmesan, maybe some herbs, maybe some zucchini. And there you have it, dinner. Good dinner.

And oh, yes. Happy birthday, sister of mine. Hope this year's a good one.

Mark Bittman's Spaghetti with Zucchini

Adapted from Quick and Easy Recipes from The New York Times

As with most things Bittman, this recipe is more of a guideline than a recipe. In fact, I almost never use zucchini, due to the fact that I often don't have it in the house when I'm making this. Sometimes, I'll add a bunch of frozen peas to the pasta water and use those instead of zucchini. Sometimes, I crispify a few sage leaves in olive oil and add those to the final version. Sometimes, it's just pasta, egg and Parmesan, green things be damned.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3-4 small zucchinis, sliced
2 eggs
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 lb spaghetti
1/2 cup herbs (parsley, basil, mint, etc), roughly chopped

1. In a skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally for about 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned. Add salt and a bunch of black pepper.

2. Beat the eggs with about 1/2 of the cheese. Cook the pasta al-dente (or as you like. I try not to judge.). Drain and immediately combine with the egg-cheese mixture*. Toss until the egg appears cooked. Stir in the zucchini and the herb. Serve with remaining Parmesan.

*I quote Bittman's note: "The eggs will cook fully from the heat of the pasta. If this makes you nervous, however, do the final tossing of the eggs, cheese and pasta in the cooking pot, over the lowest heat possible" End quote.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Last class

One of the aspects of the program that I have not written about much was a four month course in small business management. The course has not been part of the blog because it does not have to do with the kitchen per say, but it has been a large part of my life. We were about 15 women all together. Different ages. Different backgrounds. All glad to be there. We took the class seriously, but it was also a sort of  "girls night out". There was a lot of laughter, a lot of joking, some crying, and a lot of sharing of food.
For the last class we all brought our best. Homemade bourekas, quiche made the way only a French woman can make it, cake, etc. I brought my Deep, Dark Chocolate Tart, because it is the most extravagant thing I make, and I felt that the situation called for it. Parting is bittersweet. I'm glad I met these women. Every single one of them. Some of them I have remained in contact with. Others, less so. But I am happy I know them, and sad that I do not see them on a regular basis anymore. So, bittersweet.

I am not going to post the recipe for Deep, Dark Chocolate Tart, because, I'm not. I am however going to post the recipe for 101 Cookbooks wonderful No Bake Chocolate Cake. This cake isn't really a cake, it's more like a slab of chocolate truffle goodness, tinged with coffee and spice. It's easier than a tart ( again, no-bake) and particularly great when you're running late and have to throw something together. I heartily approve.

No Bake Chocolate Cake

From 101 Cookbooks

butter, to grease pan
8 ounces / 225 g 70% chocolate, well chopped
8 ounces / 225 g heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon allspice (optional)
2 teaspoons finely ground espresso (optional)
1/4 teaspoon fine grain salt
cocoa powder, to serve

Lightly butter a 6-inch / 15cm springform pan or equivalent

Melt chocolate over double boiler.

In another pan heat the cream over gentle heat. Stir in the allspice and the espresso, if using. When the cream is very warm remove from heat and stir in the salt.

Pour the chocolate into the cream, and very slowly and steadily stir until everything comes together smoothly. Pour into the pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled throughout, a few hours, or overnight.

When ready to serve, remove from the pan, let set at room temperature for ten minutes or so, dust with a bit of cocoa powder, and slice. Alternately, you can slice and serve from the pan.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Here comes the sun

Winter is here and so are citrus fruits. This means one thing and one thing only: it's time for a little bit of sunshine cake. Check out the menu. Order a cake.