Monday, December 30, 2013

The Waiting Stew

The first time I made this stew, I was delirious and still half in panic mode, having spent most of the previous night in the equivalent of the animal e.r. with my cat. But by the time I sat down to eat it with friends, about 20 hours later, the panic had subsided some- the outcome of some much-needed sleep and the realization that at that point there was nothing to do but wait and enjoy the company and comfort of my good friends. The second time I made the stew, I was anxiously waiting on word about my little nephew, born just a few days before, still unnamed, having breathing issues and in the hospital. By the time I sat down to eat it with friends, again, about 20 hours later, the little boy was out of the hospital though the breathing issue was not- and still is not- totally resolved, and there was nothing I could do, being so very far away, but sit and wait. Now, as I  am eating the leftovers of that same stew, I am waiting for the penicillin I have been taking for the last 30 or so hours to finally kick in at full force so that I can get rid of the pesky needle-stuck throat that comes with strep, and get on with my life.

This is the perfect stew for tenter-hooks, warm and comforting, but still bright even after 20 hours of slow cooking. The brightness comes from the copious 20 pods of cardamom that somehow retain their flavor after all that time. As Charlie Trotter points out in his cookbook, cardamom and ginger are related. The stew reflects that. I found the cookbook Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home in used bookstore, being sold for a whopping 10 shekel (about 3-4 dollars). I couldn't pass it up. Despite the fact that I grew up in Chicago, and still consider it my hometown, I have never eaten any of Trotter's food, but I know enough to know that he changed the Chicago culinary scene forever. I wanted to see what he would do with a home kitchen.It turns out that Charlie Trotter at home is well, still Charlie Trotter- by which I mean complicated. All of his recipes are compelling and accessible, no doubt, but they also inevitably involve numerous components and steps. For the sake of time, and due to the fact that I was desecrating the recipe and sticking in a crockpot to begin with, I streamlined this stew a bit. I think it turned out pretty gosh darn good. I hope Chef Trotter is not turning in his grave. I somehow think he is not.

Stew for eating with friends and for waiting.

Cardamom Beef Stew with Potatoes, Celery Root and Parsley Root

Adapted from Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home by Charlie Trotter

1 cup chopped celery
1 cup carrot, cut into chunks
2 cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons canola oil
20 cardamom pods, crushed and bundled together in some cheesecloth
1 pound stew meat, cubed
salt and pepper
1 head of garlic, unpeeled
6 cups stock (Trotter calls for beef, I used turkey stock because that is what I had in the house- you can use whatever you have on, even water would probably be fine)
2 cups potato, also diced large
1 cup celery root, diced large
1 cup parsley root (or even better, parsnip, if you can find it), diced large

1. In a large pan, heat the oil over a medium-high heat. Toss in the beef, season with a bit of salt and pepper, and brown- about 3 minutes per side. Dump the meat into the crock you have set up and turned on high. Toss the vegetables (leaving aside the garlic) into the frying pan (without cleaning it out first), season with some salt and pepper and move them around a bit so they color and take on some of the good, beefy flavor. You may need to do this in batches. Place the vegetables in the crockpot with the meat. Pour in the stock. Add the cheesecloth and the garlic. Cover and let the stew come to a boil. Turn the crockpot down to low and cook for a good 20 hours until the meat is falling apart. Serve over a grain- pearl barley is particularly good here.

***An even more streamlined version- toss all the ingredients (leaving out the oil) into a crockpot. Cook on high until it comes to a boil, then lower the heat to  low. Cook for 20 hours.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem (Winter Version)

It started with rain. No, let's go back some- it started a few weeks ago when a friend of mine invited me to a screening of the BBC's "The Food of Jerusalem" with a panel at the end featuring, among others, Yotam Ottolenghi himself. Well. I spent about 45 minutes trying to decide to wear and then another 45 minutes trying to decide if I should bring my book(s)-guache? cliche? totally worth it? I didn't bring my books. I regret that. "The Food of Jerusalem" is a lovely little feature and in film and in person, Yotam Ottolenghi reveals himself to be intelligent, witty and warm. It was a great night. (Though at a certain point both my friend and I felt compelled to stand up for our Ashkenazi, Hungarian culinary roots-there was a distinct lack of Ashkenazi representation both in the film and the book- and we all know that cocosh is where it's at.)

In an extended scene in the film Yotam cooks a dish of wheat berries, Swiss chard and pomegranate molasses with a friend of his. Watching the scene, I realized that I recognized the recipe from his cookbook, Jerusalem, and it was one of the few recipes Naomi and I had not yet cooked (we've been doing this weekly for almost a year- we're running out of recipes). The time had come.

Then came the weather. In the past week Jerusalem has been hit with about 50 cm of snow. It snowed- on and off- for three days straight in a city that very rarely even gets one snowfall a year. To say that it brought the city to a standstill is an understatement. I lost electricity (and heat, since I heat my apt with electric radiators) for about 7 hours and I was one of the lucky ones- there were quite a few people who didn't have electricity for days. As of now, almost a week later, we are still dealing with burst pipes and leaks, icy sidewalks and downed trees. The snow was fun, the rest, not so much. But before the snow, there was rain. Cold, gross, blowing rain and it was in that element that I walked to Naomi's to cook. Never have I been so happy to cook a dish. The wheat berries were perfect for the cold, miserable night- warm and soft and comforting, but still bright and flavorful. I wish I could have carried that dish with me into the coming week- into the snowstorm. Sure, I ate pretty well during the course of the last week-brownies and pancakes and stew and acorn squash risotto-winter foods all- but nothing quite measured up to the Ottolenghi dish.

Wheat berries and Swiss Chard with Pomegranate Molasses for a Jerusalem Winter that Exceeds Expectations

 Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 1/2 lb (600 g) Swiss chard or beet greens
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 large leeks, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons (more or less) pomegranate molasses
1 1/4 cups wheat berries
2 cups stock (chicken or vegetable)
salt and pepper
yogurt, to serve (optional)

1. Separate the chard leaves from their stalks. Chop the stalks into 1cm slices and the leaves into 2 cm slices.

2. Heat the oil and butter in a large pan with a heavy bottom. Add the leeks, cook for 3-4 minutes and then add the chard stalks. Cook for another 3 minutes, then add the chard leaves and cook for yet another 3 minutes. Add the sugar, pomegranate molasses and wheat berries. Mix. Add the stock, slat and some pepper. Cover, bring to a boil and then simmer gently for 60-70 minutes.

3. When the wheat is cooked through, but still al dente, uncover and raise the heat a bit. Boil off any remaining  liquid until the bottom of the pan is dry and the bottom layer of wheat is lovely and caramelized. This may seem like overkill, but really, it makes the dish.

4. Taste. The berries should be sweet and tart and very bright. Add some more pomegranate molasses if you feel it needs more flavor. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, if so desired.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Bowl of Comfort

I apologize for the long absence. It has been a long, hard month. As some of you may know from Facebook, my cat (the very same bread-thief) had been quite ill. Thankfully she's been getting better, and hopefully she will continue to improve, but it was touch and go there for a bit. Anyway, long and hard, as I said, and I'm only just now starting to feel like I'm getting back to myself. 
Sometime between when my cat got ill and now (read: this week) winter arrived. This November was one of the warmest Novembers I could remember and I think I was sort of in denial about the onset of winter. I kind of hate Jerusalem winters. Rather, I hate the lack of insulation and heating and being wet and cold in my bones. So the cold and rain kind of took me unawares and I seem to have picked up the bad cold that has been going around the office and all and all I'm pretty miserable at this very moment. All of this, is a slightly roundabout way of saying that the time for soup has arrived. Soup (and tea) are my default states during the winter and I'm always on the lookout for new delicious soups to make. Luckily, my sister-in-law did not let me down when she pointed me to Mark Bittman's Roasted Chestnut Soup. Roasted chestnuts always remind me of long winter Friday nights, the difficulty of the cracking open their hard shells, the warm low light inside and the bright snow outside. There's little to no bright snow where I live now, but in my mind that is always the association roasted chestnuts will hold for me.  

Roasted chestnut soup. For winter.

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Bittman suggests roasting your own chestnuts for this soup, but vacuum-packed roasted chestnuts are just so much easier. Use them. 

10-12 roasted chestnuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
4 cups stock (chicken for a richer soup, vegetable for something lighter)
salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a stockpot, or other soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and then the celery with a good pinch of salt and a grind of pepper. Saute until the onion is soft and translucent- about 10 minutes. Add the chestnuts and the stock. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer, partially uncovered for a half an hour, until the chestnuts are mushy. Use a hand blender to puree the soup. Add water, if too thick, otherwise re-heat, taste, adjust seasoning and serve. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013


It was about 4:30 in the morning when I heard a thump coming from the vicinity of the kitchen. I sat up cautiously. The thump was followed by rustling and what sounded like tin foil being scrunched up. At first I thought my roommate had gotten up and was eating a very out of character midnight snack, but the noise didn't exactly sound...human. So I got out of bed and quietly made my way to the kitchen. Indeed, the source of the noise was not at all human: There was my cat, sitting on the counter, happily chomping away on my loaf of freshly made bread.

Annie, my fat cat, has always been sort of weird. And by sort of, I mean, very.  She loves bread. I'm always having to move bread out of her reach (and obviously, I thought the kitchen counter was out of her reach. She's never jumped onto it before. I didn't even think she could jump that high.) My totally non-scientifically rigorous theory is that her love of bread stems from the first 9 months of her life when she lived on the street and was probably fed scraps of bread by many a well-meaning old lady. Anyway, the point is, Annie is currently being fed super-duper fancy no-filler, completely-protein cat food in an attempt to help her lose weight. So far, it's been working pretty well, but it has also made her more prone to begging for scraps and even, evidently, stealing my bread. I guess the temptation was too much. What can I say? It was damn good bread.

[And, as my fellow cat-owners/cat-lovers know, a cat on white bread is like a two year old on white sugar: consumption is followed by excessive running around the house and yowling and then a collapse into your bed for cuddles and poking just to make sure you are awake. I perhaps overly-identify with this poem]

But, back to the main point- the main point being bread. Now that I am working in an office once again, I am once again packing lunches and hence, once again, baking bread for sandwiches.  Usually, I just make my regular no-knead bread recipe, but I was getting bored. I mean, there's only so much plain, white bread I can take. It was time for something new. That something new was Maple Oat Breakfast Bread (though why you would only eat bread for breakfast is beyond me). Who could resist bread like that? Nobody, that's who. Not even the cat.

Editor's note: The cat-bread was thrown out and a new loaf was made and enjoyed post-haste.

Maple Oat Breakfast Bread

Adapted from fiveandspice on

This bread is richer, and slightly more cakey in texture than plain, no-knead bread. Despite the maple, though, it is not especially sweet. I've been eating it with almond butter for my 10 a.m. snack, but it's also good with savory fillings. The original recipe uses the Lahey method for no-knead bread, which involves making a large boule-like loaf in a dutch-oven, preferably cast-iron. I do not have a suitable dutch-oven, and I would prefer a small sandwich loaf to a big, round one, so I cut the recipe in half and sort of muddled my way to sandwich loaf goodness (I also use this method when I make regular no-knead bread). The crust is probably less crusty this way, but it's still a pretty good loaf of bread. If you prefer the Lahey method, have at it.

2.5 cups white flour (bread flour is best)
3/5 cup rolled oats
1/6 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/8 cup room temperature water

1. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and mix until you have ballish lump of tacky dough. You may need to get your hands dirty. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rise 8 hours or overnight.

2. Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface. Knead it a few times until it is less tacky and slightly smooth. Shape into a rectangle about the length of your loaf pan. Fold the rectangle into thirds, like you would a letter back when people actually sent letters, and place into a loaf pan that has been lined with baking paper. Cover and let rise for another hour or until doubled.

3. Place a baking sheet in the oven. Preheat the oven to 450 F. When the loaf has finished rising, slash the top a couple of times with a serrated knife (or just do what I do and snip with kitchen shears). Bake for 30 minutes until it golden and slightly crustly delicious on top. Remove from loaf pan and cool on a wire rack. Keep away from pets.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Small disasters

Friday was a day of small disasters, a comedy of errors if you will. First, three minutes after I put it in the oven, I realized that I forgot the cider vinegar in my Everything You Need Cake. I quickly poured the teaspoons of vinegar into the still wet batter, gave it a quick mix and stuck back in the oven, hoping for the best. Then, tasting the frosting I was making for said cake, I realized I forgot to add the sugar. That was when I realized that it was going to be one of those days in the kitchen where I probably should just remove myself from said kitchen. Those days happen. Alas, I had a few more culinary responsibilities. And so it went on. I had a jar of not-pesto pesto on the counter that tipped and went splattering all over the floor, while at the same time knocking over my open water bottle, sending water cascading into my pantry. That was a fun one to clean up and a waste of good herbs to boot. And then, to cap it all off, under the guise of "helping" I managed to break a glass while a guest at a friends house. I had serious thoughts about Australia, but some days are like that, even in Australia- or so I've been led to believe.

The frosting that I almost ruined is a new addition to my repertoire. Usually, when I'm keeping things non-dairy, I don't bother with frosting, I just make a simple glaze. But sometimes, you want something thicker, with more heft and less sweet, especially where chocolate is concerned (and we all agree chocolate frosting is the best kind of frosting). And since I refuse to go anywhere near margarine, frostings such as these are few and far between. Then I discovered vegan  chocolate boiled frosting, and everything changed, utterly changed. This stuff is thick and smooth and ganache-like and, with a few adjustments to the original recipe, utterly intense. I am frosting-less no more.

Chocolate Frosting
Adapted from VegWeb

As mentioned above, I made a bunch of changes to the recipe. The original recipe is really just a combination of sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and water, with a little vanilla thrown it. I felt that it didn't have enough oomph, so I upped the amount of cocoa, replaced the water with coffee and added in some chopped dark chocolate at the end (and a glug of whisky, because I like putting alcohol in things and chocolate and whisky is an under-appreciated combination)

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup strong coffee
about 1 oz dark chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
a glug of whisky (optional)

1. In a small sauce whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa and salt. Add the coffee and place over medium heat, stirring constantly (and I mean constantly. No, really, for the love of everything holy, do not stop stirring! If you do, your cornstarch and cocoa will lump and stick to the bottom of the pot and burn and it will be terrible, horrible.) until it thickens and begin to boil. Remove from heat. Stir in the chocolate, oil, vanilla and whisky, if using.  Let cool, frost to your heart's content.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

This is just to say

This summer, like every summer, has been plums. All summer, from late June and into even the first days of October, it's been plums, plums plums. I wait with great anticipation every summer for plums, because plums mean Plumble 1 and Plumble 2 and Jess's Most Perfect Plum Cake. And every year, I make those desserts again and again and again until the end of the summer when I have overdosed on plums and the very idea of a plum-based dessert makes me want to scream. That was the situation I found myself in a few weeks ago- facing dessert with nothing but plums in the house- and I couldn't. I couldn't do Plumble 1 or Plumble 2 or even Jess's Most Perfect Plum Cake. Instead, I turned to  Deb of Smitten Kitchen, which is where I often turn when I am out of inspiration. As usual, she didn't fail me.
Deb's Dimply Plum Cake, with its cute little dimples, is kinda-sort like Jess's cake, except it's not. It's flavor profile is different, the texture of i,t too, is not quite the same. It's a different sort of almost perfect plum cake, flavored with vanilla and orange and cardamom. It got rave reviews from the guests and from myself. I think I'm done with plums for the year. But next year, my friends, next year, there will be a new player in the summer rotation. Be well forewarned, summer is coming. (Eventually. Next year.)

Dimply Plum Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Notes: Deb uses butter. To keep the cake non-dairy, I used coconut oil, which gave the cake a light, coconuty tinge. I liked it. But if you are averse to coconut oil, by all means use butter. In addition, Deb used cinammon, claiming that she doesn't like the cardamom that appears in the original recipe. I find that hard to believe. There is no such thing as not liking cardamom. I used cardamom. 

1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
5 tablespoons butter or coconut oil, at room temperature
3/4  cup light brown sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
8 plums halved and pitted

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and cardamom. Set aside. 

2. With a mixer, beat the butter/coconut oil until it is soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat another 3 minutes or so. Add the eggs, one at a time, then beat in the oil, zest and vanilla. The batter will look creamy and smooth. Fold in the dry ingredients. 

3. Pour the batter into a greased 8-inch pan and smooth with a spatula. Press the plum halves into the batter in a nice pattern. Bake for 30-40 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack and serve. (The cake will keep well-wrapped, at room temperature, for up to 2 days.)

Monday, September 23, 2013

Maple Dreams

Here is my dirty little secret: (Ok, so it's neither dirty, nor a secret. Semantics.) Jerusalem is not my favorite Ottolenghi cookbook. Gasp! Shock and dismay! Don't get me wrong, I love Jerusalem. I love, love, love Jerusalem. I am cooking my way through Jerusalem, but it is not my sun and my stars. My most favorite Ottolenghi cookbook, is simply put, Ottolenghi. Ottolenghi was Yotam and Sami's first cookbook, and it is filled with recipes from their store, Ottolenghi. It is more rambling and yet somehow more grounded than either Jerusalem or Plenty. It's a very real book- the foods in it are distinguished by the fact that people love to eat them rather than by genre or geography, which makes it eclectic, meandering and friendly.  Everything I've cooked from it has been great, and I find myself coming back to those recipes again and again and again. In fact, I've pared Roast Chicken with Sumac, Za'atar and Lemon down to its very basics- around here everyone just calls it Ottolenghi Chicken.

This Rosh Hashana, I was faced with the task of feeding vegetarians. Ordinarily this would not be a difficult task, but somehow on Rosh Hashana it seemed like a test indeed. Whence brisket and chicken with dates? To hearten myself against this arduous task, I decided it was time to expand my Rosh Hashana dessert repertoire. Usually, I make nothing but honey cake, honey cake, honey cake, but this year I could move beyond that. I could use butter and milk and cream. The possibilities were endless. I went with Ottolenghi. After all, how could I resist a recipe called Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Icing? I mean how could I?  Lucky for me, my brother had just recently gifted me with a large jug of real, live maple syrup from the U.S. And let me tell you a thing: Cream cheese-maple frosting? Pretty fucking spectacular. Highly recommended. Totally worth the lack of brisket.

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Frosting

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

So. Here's the thing: much as I love olive oil cakes, I don't think the olive oil in this cake is strictly necessary. The frosting is intense enough that you don't really feel the delicacy of the olive oil. The next time I make it, I'll probably just save some money and use vegetable oil. If however, you are making the cake without frosting, definitely use olive oil. Also, Ottolenghi's original recipe calls for 80 grams of raisins. I don't like raisins in my apple cake, but if you'd like to add them, feel free to do so. (Simmer the raisins in 4 tablespoons of water until the water is absorbed before adding).

280 grams flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
120 ml olive oil or vegetable oil
160 grams sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
3 apples, peeled, cored and diced
zest of 1 lemon
2 egg whites

100 grams butter at room temperature
100 grams light muscovado sugar
85 ml maple syrup
220 grams cream cheese at room temperature

1. Preheat the oven to 350 f. Sift together the flour, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.
2. In a freestanding mixer, beat the oil, sugar and vanilla, using a  paddle attachment. (If you don't have a freestanding mixer, use a hand-held one.) Add the eggs one at a time, until the batter is smooth and thick. Mix in the apples and lemon zest. Fold in the dry ingredients.
3. In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Gently fold them into the batter in two additions. The batter will be stiff and thick even after you have added the egg whites.
4. Pour the batter into a greased and lined 8-inch springform pan.  Bake 1 1/2* hours, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool and remove from pan.
5. Make the frosting:  Beat together the butter, sugar and maple syrup until light and airy. Add the cream cheese and beat until smooth.
6. Assemble the cake: Use a serrated knife, to cut the cake in half, horizontally. Spread a layer of frosting on the bottom half of the cake. Carefully top with the top half of the cake. Spoon the rest of the frosting on top and smooth with a knife. (To make ahead, do not frost the cake. Wrap well and refrigerate it for up the three days. Frost before serving.)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

I'll dig with it.

"What a gift, since my life so often feels like a hallway of closed doors"

The quote above comes from this post in The Toast. The Toast is one of my favorite new websites. It's intelligent and weird and whimsical and funny. (If you haven't yet read Texts from Miss Havisham, you have not yet lived). Anyway, I've been thinking about that post a lot as Rosh Hashana came and went. I've been thinking about doors and gateways and keys that lock and unlock.

This year, my friends, this year has been hard. It's been hard emotionally and financially and just all around stressful. The thing is though, I also think that this year has been an important year. Maybe it was a key or a gateway-something to go through until you reach the other side; something to unlock hidden things. So that they become what they are. Maybe one day I will look back and think, yes, that year, that hard year, was the year. It made me. It's getting there already, wherever there is. I have a new job. I like it (knock on wood. spit over your shoulder). I have a new roommate. So far, so good (knock on wood, spit over your shoulder). It's a bit easier to breathe now, like a key halfway turned inside of me.

I've also been thinking a lot about Seamus Heaney, lately. It's only natural. He was my first poet. No, that's not true. My first poet was probably Yeats or Blake or any of the other poets my father tried to make us love while we rolled our eyes. I wasn't introduced to Heaney until I was in college. But still, he was the first poet to make me really think about poetry- about how specificity of language, and place and sense could yield something universal. You didn't grow up in a farmhouse on the fault line between the modern world and the past, with nature steadily creeping in to all your rhythms and associations. You have never heard the sound of someone cutting sod. And yet, you are there in those moments that Heaney remembers for you. You are present in a memory and feeling that isn't specific to you, but is somehow yours anyway.

I was saddened when I heard that he had passed on. It felt as if the world had lost a truth-teller, and if there is anything we need right now, it is a teller of truths. So I re-read Station Island, aloud, as these things should be read, and it has followed me into the new year:

"...'Your obligation
is not discharged by any common rite.
What you do you must do on your own.

The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night

dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don't be so earnest,

so ready for the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly, forget.
You've listened long enough. Now strike your note.'"

The following recipe was meant to be part of my Rosh Hashana menu. This post was also meant to be posted before Rosh Hashana. Neither of those things happened. The first did not happen because I was feeding vegetarians and as such, didn't make chicken or meat for Rosh Hashana. Like at all. It was weird at first, but all in all, my meals turned out lovely, the food was good and a good time was had by all. The second did not happen because life is sort of hectic at the moment.

In any case, this recipe isn't just for Rosh Hashana, in fact, I think the first time I made was a Passover, many years ago, but it is sweet with honey and dates, tempered with the tartness of lemon and the sharpness of a good amount of black pepper. That's a hope for the new year- may it be sweet and sharp.

Poulet aux Dattes (Chicken with Dates)

 Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

6 chicken quarters
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large onions, chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon honey
a good amount of black pepper
1/2 pound dates, pitted
juice of a lemon
a pinch of saffron

1. In a large pan,  heat the oil over a high heat. Brown the chicken quarters until lightly golden -about three minutes each side. When, brown, remove them, turn the heat to low, and add in the onions. Cook until soft. Add the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and honey and about 1 3/4 of a cup of water. Stir and return the chicken to the pan. Bring to a boil, add a healthy pinch of salt and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Lower the heat again and simmer for 25 minutes.

2. After 25 minutes , add the dates, lemon juice and saffron. Cook for another 10 minutes until the chicken is tender. Remove from heat and serve.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Kids are Alright

This has been the summer of family. My brother, sister-in-law and the niecettes 5 came for an extended visit. They rented an apartment down the block from mine, and for the first time in over ten years, I lived within walking distance from my brother, albeit for a mere two months. Of course, the last time I lived near my brother, he didn't yet have five wonderful daughters, so this was a little bit of a new experience for me.

It was nice having my nieces living down the block from me. It was nice popping in for dinner, or just to say hi. It was nice having them raid my bookshelves, and my friends' bookshelves, because my nieces are nothing if not voracious readers. It was nice taking them to the Botanical Gardens and to the park and to the bookstore. It was nice having them in my everyday life. It was nice having them in my kitchen.

The kitchen part only happened at the way end of their trip, a few weekends ago. I had had various niece-aunt cooking projects planned (homemade pasta! caramel brownies! Marcella Hazan's pasta sauce!), but alas, this summer was a busy one on all fronts, and somehow, they never came to pass. And then, on Friday, on a total whim, I decided I needed to bake and also on a whim, my two middle nieces decided to bake with me. There was a lot of negotiating of turns (it's my turn to mix, no, it's mine  I want to pour. Why did you let her pour? You get the picture. ), but all in all, it was a good time. There was even some bowl licking.

When I was a kid, my mother used to make a vegan chocolate cake that we called Wacky Cake because it didn't contain eggs and that's just wacky. It was one of the first things I ever baked on my own. It's a fun recipe for a kid, because it involves digging holes in the dry ingredients and then watching the volcanic eruption of baking soda and vinegar doing their explody thing as they meet (see, science is fun!). I haven't made Wacky Cake in years, because even though it is an excellent cake, I have grown up and moved on to more, er, mature things (sort of, not really. Explody things are never not fun)- by which I mean coffee and beer. I like to call this cake the Everything You Need Cake, because it contains everything you need in life- chocolate, coffee and beer. Mrs. Larkin on Food 52, from whom I adapted this recipe, calls it Fudgy Stout Chocolate Cake, and that's a fine name, but personally I feel that my version really gets to the heart of the matter. I know what's important in life.

Everything You Need Cake is basically a more complex version of Wacky Cake. Like Wacky Cake, it's vegan and it gets its lift from that spectacular vinegar-baking soda combination. The two cakes are also incredibly versatile. You can double the recipe, you can cut it in half, you can bake it in a loaf pan, or cut the baking time and make cupcakes. Awesomeness all around. However, unlike Wacky Cake, Everything Cake is not afraid of deeper flavors, which is where the coffee and beer come in. And maybe, when introducing my nieces to vegan chocolate cake, I should have started with Wacky Cake for tradition's sake. But I guess part of growing up is taking traditions and then making them your own so they can, in turn, be passed on to someone else to be changed again.

Everything You Need Cake

Adapted from Mrs. Larkin on

A note: Mrs. Larkin suggests using Guinness Stout in this recipe. I use whatever beer I have on hand, which is usually something a good deal cheaper than Guinness. Still, I happen to like dark beers, so whatever I use is usually fairly rich and bitter and malty.

1 1/2 cups flour
7 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark beer
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup vegetable oil.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

2. Sift  the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk in the sugar. In a measuring cup, combine the beer, coffee, water, vanilla and vinegar. Add to the dry ingredients. Mix until combine. Pour in vegetable oil, whisk vigorously until you have a smooth, loose batter.

3. Pour into a greased and lined 8 inch cake pan. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Serve plain, or with a mocha glaze like the one in this recipe

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Be there. Swim through.

"Sit, be still, and listen
because you're drunk
and we're at the edge of the roof"

Change, even good change, makes me anxious. There's nothing to be done about it, really. It's just the way I'm wired, I guess.

Anxiety is the feeling of always being at the edge of roof. It's like being drunk- everything is raw and cushioned all at the same time. The world has sharp edges. You are exposed and you are in fog. It's a constant, stomach-churning feeling- the compulsion, to do something, do something; to take arms against a sea of troubles, even when the troubles aren't troubles. But there's nothing to do. There's nowhere to go.

Sit, be still, and listen.

This is a mantra. I know the drill.

Be there. Swim through.

The push off the wall. The cool water rushing past your body- your outstretched arms, hands overlapped. The dolphin kick. The silence. That breath you take as you surface- the first measure of a meter that will take you across a great expanse.

Be there. Settle into it. There is only the moment you are in. There is only one way across this great expanse.


This potato salad is a little late. I am sorry about that. It took a while to get it right, and besides, I was busy swimming.

I got the framework for this recipe from my friend, Yehosheva. Yo was my college roommate, the person who made me love cilantro, who introduced me to tamarind and polenta and food that is bright, bright with flavor; the person with whom I went to my first folk-rock concert (Dan Bern- where its at!) and dream-cast a ridiculous number of movies. Now, she is my skype-buddy. We may live across the ocean from each other, but we still dream-cast movies. We read books. We talk food and movies and art and culture. We commiserate about life. We fangirl over Pardes, only the best kosher restaurant in everywhere.

This potato salad is one of those foods that is bright, bright with flavor. It's a punch your in the mouth sort of dish, but in a good way. It gets its kick from lemon juice, garlic, ginger, soy sauce and a good dose of sesame oil, and that's just the dressing. I think though, what I like best about this potato salad, are the roasted radishes. I've been eating roasting radishes for years. I like the way radishes sort of mellow and sweeten when they're roasted. Sometimes, I eat them plain and sometimes I use them as I would use bitter greens and add them to pasta with some garlic, olive oil, lemon zest and pecorino. That's a pretty good dish. But it never occurred to me to pair them with potatoes, or that they would play well with Asian flavors, even though now that I think about it, it seems like the most obvious thing in the world. But that's what I have Yo for, to point out all the things standing in front of my face this whole while.

Yo, thanks for this salad. It's awesome and I miss you. Let's go to Italy and eat all the food.

Potato and Roasted Radish Salad with Sesame Dressing

Adapted from Yehosheva Markovitz

For the salad:
6 medium red potatoes, unpeeled
1 bunch radishes, with their greens
1 medium carrot, grated
olive oil

For the dressing:
2 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 small lemon
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tsp sesame oil
2 radish leaves, chopped
1 heaping teaspoon ground ginger
1 heaping teaspoon ground mustard

For garnish:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. While the oven is heating, cut the potatoes into medium chunks, about a 1/2 an inch big. Dice the radishes in the same manner.

2. Toss 3/4 of the radishes with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place in a roasting pan and roast, covered for 20 minutes. Uncover the pan, and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. They will become milder, both in color and in taste. Remove from oven.

3. While the radishes are roasting, place the potatoes in a large pot filled with cold, well-salted water. Bring to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain and then return to the pot to keep warm.

4. Combine the ingredients for the dressing in a blender (or use a hand blender). Blend until until smooth.

5. In large bowl, mix together the warm potatoes, roasted radishes, the remaining raw radishes and carrot. Pour the dressing over the potatoes. Toss. Garnish with plenty of chopped cilantro and scallions. Serve.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem: Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

This is a temporary measure. Really what I would like to be writing about is this wonderful potato salad with roasted radishes that I have been making, but it is not quite ready yet. The dressing still needs a bit of work, and I don't want to post it until I get it down. In the meantime, have some Ottolenghi, which, to be fair, is a pretty awesome temporary measure. As temporary measures go, I would say it's a 14/10 in a blow your mind kind of way.

Barley Risotto with Marinated Feta

As always, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem

1 cup pearl barley
2 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 bay leaf
4 strips of lemon peel
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1  14-oz (400 g) can chopped tomatoes
1 1/4 cups of crushed tomatoes
3 cups vegetable stock or water
1 tablespoon caraway seeds
10.5 oz (300 g) feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano

1. Rinse the barley and drain. In the meantime, melt the butter and 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large pot. Add the celery, onions and garlic and cook  over a low heat for about 5 minutes until soft. Add the barley, thyme, bay leaf, smoked paprika, lemon peel, chile flakes, tomatoes, stock or water and some salt. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 45 minutes, stirring often so that the barley doesn't stick.

2. While the barley is cooking, toast the caraway seeds in a dry pan until they take on some color and smell toasty. Lightly crush them. Add them to the feta along with the rest (4 tablespoons) of the olive oil. Stir to combine.

3. When the barley is soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed, remove from heat. Serve in bowls, topped with feta and a sprinkling of oregano.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What you do

This is what you do. This is what you do when you've screwed up and it has cost you a job interview for a job you kind of really wanted; a job interview you thought you had. This is what you do. You don't go home. You're already home. You lay down on the couch, even though its only 3 in the afternoon. You wallow. You talk to a friend. You talk to your sister. You wallow. Throw the ball for the cat to chase. Wallow. You do not proofread that chapter that needs to be proofread. It needs some time to sit anyway. The client can wait. You do not answer that important email, you do not make that important call. No, not today. Not today when you are feeling too un-moored and paper thin. You read Jezebel. You read the Hairpin and Slate and i09. You watch Modern Warfare, because it is your favorite episode of Community, ever. You wallow. And suddenly it is 7:30 p.m. and you are starving and there is little-to-no food with nutritional value in your house. This is what you do. You take out the butter with flecks of crumbs in it from all the toast you have been eating. You pull out the pecorino because you don't have any parmesan. There is still a little bit of pasta left in its bin. If you were doing this right it would be spaghetti. It's not spaghetti, but that's just fine. That's all you need. Pasta, butter, cheese and the black pepper grinder sitting on its shelf. Vitamins and minerals are overrated.
This is what you do. You put the water up to boil. You add salt, as much salt as you think you can bear, so that it tastes like the sea. That is the key. You pour in the pasta and wait. You put a warm beer into the freezer so it will be cold. You pull out a piece of pasta. You burn your fingers a bit. That's ok. The pasta is not quite al-dante, there's still a dense, starchy bite to it.You pull out some of the cooking water with a mug and set it aside. Watch the steam curl up into the air as you drain the pasta. Now is the time for the butter- a good pat of it- into the pot that is back on the stove, the flame low and steady. The pasta goes back in, the cheese curls over it and a melts. You pour in some reserved pasta water- just a bit. You let it cook and mingle and smooth out, so that when you look down you see that your pasta is glazed in a sheen of something that once was just butter, cheese and water and now is something much more than the sum of its parts. You turn off the heat. You grind some black pepper, a lot of it, over the pot and this part will never not remind you of your friend in high school who lived with your family  and who used to put black pepper on her pasta. For years you wrinkled your nose at her, but you were wrong. So wrong. Black pepper on pasta is where its at. The Italians knew that years ago. (They have a name for it cacio e pepe and you love the way it sounds on your tongue.) So did Adena. It's you who was behind the times.
You eat your pasta. You drink your beer. You wallow. You talk to a friend. You read someone else's writing. Tomorrow. Tomorrow you'll get up. You'll make that phone call, you'll write that email. Or maybe not tomorrow. Maybe Sunday, or Monday. It will get done. But not today. Today this is what you do.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

House Cookie

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have found myself a house cookie. Some people have house wines, or house beers or even house dishes. I, evidently, have a house cookie. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Look, biscotti doesn't have the best reputation. I mean, it doesn't have a bad reputation, but it's also sometimes overlooked in favor of other cookies that feature things like butter. Who needs butter? But when it come down to it, I couldn't ask for a better house cookie. Biscotti is like that geeky girl/guy at the party in the corner. And let's face it, this isn't a 90's teenaged rom-com, there's no magical makeover. He/she will never be popular or fashionable, but if you get to talking, you will realize that they're actually pretty cool and smart and funny and dependable. Yup. That's biscotti: dependably delicious.
I used to make biscotti a lot. Like, a lot, a lot. There was this one summer back when I was living in Chicago, when I think I made biscotti at least once a week. I liked that I could play around with it. I would throw in whatever spices/dried fruit/nut combo I felt like and see what happened. Usually good stuff happened. Somehow, at some point I stopped making biscotti so often. This is something I regret.
Now, they are my house cookie. My go-to. My dependable friend.

David Lebovitz's chocolate biscotti are all kinds of wonderful.  And yes, there are those of you who might say, but biscotti should have almond flavor and nuts! What is this chocolate nonsense? Well, chill-out, you biscotti purists. There is almond extract. There are nuts. Relax. Just relax. Sit down. Have a cup of coffee. Have something to eat with- maybe some biscotti? It's the house cookie.

David Lebovitz's Chocolate Biscotti

From David Lebovitz

2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
120 grams dark chocolate, chopped (or 3/4 cup chocolate chips)
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the three eggs, sugar and the extracts. Add the dry ingredients, then the almonds and the chocolate. Mix until the dough holds together.

2. Divide the dough into two. Roll dough into two logs, about the length of a baking sheet. Transfer to a baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Beat the remaining egg. Brush the logs with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 25 minutes.

3. Remove logs from oven, but don't turn it off. Let the logs cool for about 15 minutes, then using a serrated knife, diagonally cut the biscotti into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the cookies down on baking sheets and bake for an additional 20 minutes, until hard. Remove from oven and cool. The biscotti will last up to two weeks when stored in an airtight container.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

An impossible year

This has been an impossible year. This is a year that should not have happened- this period of mourning and memories that slip into mind, inexplicable and without warning.

It's odd and disconcerting, this- that someone who hadn't been part of my everyday life for so very many years, in her absolute absence, should take up so much space in my mind. I think of Bayla once a week, at least. I'll be walking down the street and she'll pop into my head- something she said, something I would like to tell her. And it's odd, because when she was alive, I didn't think of her that often. After all, I knew I could call her; even see her occasionally. Our lives would still intersect. We were still both evolving and changing and meeting at points. If there were things to be told, they would be told. They could be stored up for that time when we sat face to face and recognized each other again in the people we were becoming. So she didn't take up so much space.

Now, she takes up so much space. Her laugh, that short bark of it, I miss it.

This is a mourning of her, but of also all the potential of her. If there is one moment I would rewrite, it would be today, a year ago. I would have just like to have the chance to say: Bay, Bay, look. We'll change, we'll be something else and we'll be the same and what I'd very much like is to know who you are for all these years to come. To sit down once a year, once every other year, and say, how are you? How is your family? Who are you today?

Any maybe there would be rifts. And maybe there would be disagreements. And maybe there would be pain. There already was and there would be again. But there would be other things as well- points of meeting, even if they would only be to reminisce about that time we made a fool of ourselves white-water rafting. But I believe we would have more, that even if the circumstances of our lives changed so much that we would be unrecognizable to our former selves, we would be recognizable to each other. People don't really change. We would always remain those rafting fools somewhere and isn't that a gift?

Bay, I would have like to have had the chance to say that, just once, before you left.

So I guess I miss you and I miss all the meetings we won't have and I miss the person you were and I miss the person you would become. 

It has been an impossible year. This was not within the possibilities of our lives. We should be meeting again. I have a lot to tell you.

There's no recipe today,just this. Just this.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Back to family

This post was supposed to be written days ago, weeks ago, even. That, obviously, did not happen. The days leading up to a holiday are always a bit hectic-frantic- so I should have known better. Well, I should often know better. And then there was a family emergency-ish thing that required worry and time and mostly worry, because if there anything we do in my family it is worry and then talk about our worry. And then there were births and upcoming weddings and a sundry good things that come with celebrations and rituals and baby-snuggles. So it's been a busy time.
Here is the short of it: I have given up on cheesecake.  If I cannot make proper cheesecake without taking out a loan, then there will be no cheesecake. Forever and ever, Amen. So, for lack of cheesecake on Shavuot, I went back to family: I made delkalach. Delkalach (or, turoush tash, as they are called in Hungarian)  are like cheese danishes except maybe not so sweet and  with the cheese filling all wrapped up in this beautiful little square envelope of yeast dough instead of all open-like. They have been a dessert staple of my Shavuot holidays for as long as I can remember. Sometimes my mom would make them, but more often my grandmother would send some, neatly wrapped in silver-foil, all the way from New York with my great-aunt Roizy, who would come to visit her own children (conveniently, our neighbors.  *Hi, Kutner family!*) for the holiday.
In any case, surprisingly enough, this is not a post about delkalach. I mean, my delkalach, were fine- no where near my grandmother's, but good enough. And honestly, most of them got given away to various friends so I didn't even end up eating so many of them. This post is about cocosh. Now, most Hungarians, or people of Hungarian descent, or maybe even just New Yorkers, know cocosh and dream of cocosh and consider cocosh to be part of their cultural heritage. In my mind, my grandmother is synonymous with cocosh. You walk into her house, and there's a plate of cocosh, neatly sliced, on the table. She's comes for a visit, and there's a roll of cocosh, neatly wrapped, emerging from her bag. She even travels with the recipe, so she'll have it with her, just in case. (You never know when you might need an emergency roll of cocosh. Truth.) Cocosh, for those of you who don't have grandmother like mine, is a rolled yeast cake with a cocoa filling. It is the most perfect thing- a childhood memory of warmth and yeast and oozing chocolate, that actually lives up to itself. And here's the thing about cocosh, the yeast dough, that rich buttery base, is the very same yeast dough used to make delkalach.
My grandmother's (all purpose) yeast dough recipe is huge. I mean, literally huge. It calls for three! pounds of flour, for goodness sakes. So, if I was going to make delkalach, I figured I might as well also make cocosh. I was a bit nervous, serving it to my many guests, because when it comes down to it, cocosh isn't bright and shiny. It's not a gorgeous looking cheesecake, or chocolate tart. It's that funny looking, spindely legged horse that ends up winning the Triple-Crown, and sometimes people overlook that horse. But no, everyone loved it.I needn't have worried. It was hit. It was awesome. Going back to family makes sense that way.

My Grandmother's Cocosh

Adapted from Mindie Mermelstein

Notes: As mentioned above, this recipe is huge. You will get three very large rolls of cocosh from it. Feel free to cut it by half, or thirds, if you'd like. On the other hand, cocosh freezes quite well, so you can always just stick the extra loaves in the freezer and save em for another time.
Another note: My grandmother gives a ratio for the filling, but no amounts. True to her recipe, I also didn't really measure the filling and really just used the ratio as a general guideline. This isn't hard science, it's cocosh..


3 lbs flour

3 eggs, at room temperature
1.5 cups butter
1 heaping tablespoon sour cream
1 1/3 cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon of yeast 
 ½ cup warm water + pinch sugar
1 cup of milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoon vegetable oil

Vegetable oil for brushing
3 parts sugar: 1 part cocoa

1 egg yolk mixed with a bit of water

1. In a small bowl, mix together the warm water, yeast and pinch of sugar. Set aside while it proofs. 

2. Whisk together flour, sugar and salt. Cut the butter into the flour. Add the milk, then the sour cream, and then finally the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon until the dough comes together and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Knead in the oil. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean out your mixing bowl, and lightly grease it. Return the dough to the bowl, turning it to coat it in oil. Cover and let rise until doubled, about an hour.

3. When the dough has risen, remove from bowl and divide into three equal parts. Place one piece of dough on a lightly floured surface. Keep the other pieces of dough covered while you work. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about the size of say, a 9x13 sheet pan. You want the dough to be thin, but not so much so that it is transparent. Brush it with a thin layer of vegetable oil. Sprinkle on some of the sugar-cocoa mixture brushing it so that it spreads and becomes paste-like. Add more filling until it no longer forms a paste and you have a layer of sandy looking sugar-cocoa mixture. Starting from the edge of the width closest to you, tightly roll the dough. Once the dough is rolled, tuck the edges in on the themselves so that the filling doesn't spill out, and lay the roll, seam side down, on a baking sheet.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Cover and let rise until doubled. This will take anywhere from 30-45 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350 f. When the loaves have finished rising. Brush with egg yolk. Bake for 30 minutes until browned on top. Cool on rack. If serving immediately, slice and serve. If not, loaves are cool, wrap the loaves well and store them in the fridge. Cocosh has the tendency to go stale very, very quickly if not properly stored. The loaves can also be frozen, whole. They'll stay a good while in your freezer-about 2-3 months.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem: Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Why yes, those are my skeleton hands.

And, why yes, this is a two-in-a-rower.

This week, my friends, this week has been a week. It was a week full of frustration and stress and annoyance and we went straight from freaky cold to oh my God, hot and dry and disgusting, and generally this week is not even worthy of discussion. Thank God for friends and wine and tv shows where impossibly beautiful people do impossible things and this salad- cause honestly, this salad was one of the bright spots in this otherwise shitty week.

This is another Ottolenghi masterpiece. He somehow has this way of taking elements that seem to go together, adding a seemingly disparate twist and making it all work. No, scratch that, he takes disparate elements adds them to something seemingly pedestrian makes the entire dish sing. In this case, it's the pitas. Spinach, dates and almonds, I get. But then there are pitas- fried and tossed with sumac and chili and you think, what? Really? And yet, once it gets all tossed together and plated and you take a bite, you think, yeah. Really.

Deep breath.

Baby Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

From Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Sami Tamimi and  Yotam Ottolenghi

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
100 grams (3.5 oz) pitted dates, quartered
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pitas, torn into pieces
1/2 almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
150 grams (5 oz) baby spinach
2 tablespoons lemon juice

1.  In a small bowl, toss the onions and dates with the vinegar. Set aside and let marinate for 20 minutes.

2. In the meantime, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a frying pan over moderate heat. Add the bread and the almonds and fry for around 6 minutes until the pita is crispy. Remove from heat and add the sumac, chile and a good pinch of salt. Let cool.

3. In a large salad bowl, toss the spinach with the pita. Strain the dates and onions and add them along with the remaining olive oil, lemon juice and salt to taste. Serve.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Jerusalem in Jerusalem: Tomato and Sourdough Soup

It's been unseasonably cold here lately. In fact, tonight as I'm writing this, it has just stopped raining. Its the kind of night that should be long- spent under a blanket watching a bad movie and eating popcorn. But it's not. We've changed the clocks already. On most nights this time of year, my windows would be open. They're closed tonight. And though I'm not eating popcorn, or watching a bad movie, I am huddled under blankets, thinking at the cat that she should get up and come cuddle, because there's nothing like a cat cuddle on a cold night.

Wednesday night, when Naomi came over for our weekly Ottolenghi cooking club, was also cold, if a bit less blustery than tonight. Still, it was a good night for the tomato and sourdough soup we had planned. We planned for soup since it was the day after Yom Ha'atzmaut- Israel's Independence Day-and we knew that after a day of consuming nothing but grilled meat, accoutrements and beer, we would want something light for dinner. It was a fortuitous piece of planning due to the aforementioned cold, and because the news coming out of Boston had left me confused and sad and angry. I needed something warm and comforting.  Fortuitous, indeed.

And since we were doing tomato soup, it seemed that grilled cheese would be in order as well. אם כבר,אז כבר, as they say in these parts- if already, then already.

Naomi can get a little bit tyrannical about cooking club. She refuses to let anyone else cook with us. Friends are welcome to eat with us, but cooking is reserved for me and her exclusively, which is, frankly, kind of nice. Then again, when Naomi suggested that we eat our sandwiches before the soup, I may or may not have emphatically and vigorously insisted that we cannot under any circumstances eat the tomato soup separate from the grilled cheese. (Spoiler alert: I insisted). So, maybe Naomi is not the only one who can get a bit tyrannical. But when it's cold and miserable and the news from far away makes you want to curl up and hide under a rock until humanity gets it shit together, sometimes you need a little warmth. Sometimes you need a friend to cook with and bowl of tomato soup (with grilled cheese, of course) to get you to the other side of the dark.

Tomato and Sourdough Soup
From Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 cups vegetable stock
4 large tomatoes, chopped
1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon sugar
1 slice sourdough bread
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

1. In a saucepan, heat the oil and add the onion. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin and the garlic, saute for another 2 minutes. Add the stock, tomatoes sugar and some salt and black pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer. 10 minutes in, tear up the slice of bread into the soup. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the cilantro. Using a hand blender, blend the soup, leaving it a bit chunky. It will be thick.

2. Serve with a garnish of cilantro, a drizzle of olive oil and a grilled cheese sandwich on the side.