Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Recipe: Banana chocolate milkshake, sort of

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See these brown, spotted bananas? This is about when I start contemplating banana bread. Or those banana chocolate-chip muffins Michael and Weston like so much. But I don't feel much like baking today. I'm kind of thirsty. So I think I'll turn these bananas into a healthy yet decadent "milkshake."

There are all kinds of variations on the smoothie (which is really what this is, I guess). For me, the banana is key because it lends the creamy texture I associate with a milkshake.

The only powdered chocolate stuff I use (other than pure cocoa powder) is Ovaltine. My father, who was a pediatrician, insisted it was the only sensible product to use for chocolate milk or hot cocoa. I think nowadays more of those instant chocolate powders are fortified with vitamins and calcium, but when he started practicing Ovaltine was in a class by itself nutritionally. In deference to him, I buy nothing else.

Banana chocolate "milkshake"
  • 1 banana, frozen if you've thought ahead
  • 1 cup vanilla soy milk (or regular milk for those who prefer it)
  • 2 Tbsp Ovaltine powder, preferably chocolate malt flavor
  • 3 ice cubes (if your banana is unfrozen, as mine is today)

Place all ingredients in a blender and whizz until smooth.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Passover recipes

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I spent some time last night rounding up good Passover recipes online - if you're interested, that list is on my Examiner page here. I'd like to keep it updated, so let me know if there are other online Passover recipe collections you particularly like.

I'm also collecting Passover recipes from Los Angeles chefs. The first one, Persian Celebration Rice, is a Sephardic recipe from Tunisian-born chef Alain Cohen of Got Kosher?, near Beverly Hills. It's very beautiful and doesn't look too hard. Of course, my Ashkenazic family never ate rice on Passover, but I hear lots of Ashkenazic Jews are adopting the traditions of our more lenient Sephardic brethren.

Two more weeks until Pesach. My favorite holiday!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Recipe: Grandma Rose's rugelach, finally

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My maternal grandmother, Rose Chankin Sharron, was a darn good cook. She didn't have a huge repertoire, but everything she made just plain tasted good. On Friday afternoons my brother and I would spend time with my grandparents between piano lessons, and Grandma would often make me grilled cheese. My mother made grilled cheese in the toaster oven (no butter = fewer calories), but Grandma did it the right way: white bread, American cheese, butter, on the stove in a frying pan, pressed thin and crispy. Sorry, Mommy, but calories be damned: Grandma's grilled cheese is the one I crave.

My grandmother's grandparents (so, for those of you who are counting, my great-great-grandparents) ran a bakery in their native Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their talent made its way down to my grandmother, whose angel food cakes and sponge cakes pleased the whole family. Her signature sweets, though, were her rugelach. Every year, once or twice, she'd make a double or triple batch in her tiny Queens kitchen, setting them out to cool on every flat surface available. Then she'd wrap them up and off they'd go. She'd hand-deliver them to me, my brother, and my parents. My cousins, aunt and uncle in California got them by mail. My mother insisted on keeping them in the freezer so we wouldn't devour them instantly. We soon learned, however, that they tasted mighty good frozen.

After Grandma died in 1996, I got a pile of photocopies of her recipes. I kept meaning to do something with them: put them in a book, maybe, or put them online somewhere so the whole family could get to them. But every time I saw her handwriting, I'd freeze. So the bundle of paper still sits on my cookbook shelf, folded over, not even stapled. I must do something about that. The last thing I want is to throw them out in one of my periodic cleaning frenzies.

A few years after she died, I tried making the rugelach for the first time. It was a complete failure. I'd only made them with her once, and apparently I wasn't paying close enough attention. I tried a few more times with little better luck. The recipe I have lists ingredients but no method, and there are several variations without notes as to which option she typically chose. Moreover, these are not made with your typical cream cheese dough, which is relatively easy to handle. It's almost like a stiff muffin batter - hard to roll out, easy to tear.

I hadn't tried in a few years, and then my friend Anne came to visit last week. Anne is talented with pie crust and a rolling pin, so I thought she might be able to help me handle the rugelach dough. And lo and behold, she was magic. I tried the version of the dough I was pretty sure Grandma used in the years before she died (she, too, was trying to cut calories, and thus substituted orange juice for sour cream). It might have been easier to roll out if we'd chilled it for a while after mixing it, although I know Grandma didn't do that.

In any case, with enough flour on the granite counter and Anne's deft hands, we got it right. I know this because I took my first bite and started to cry.

Rose Sharron's unorthodox rugelach
makes about 8 dozen

  • 6 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 heaping tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 lb shortening (I used trans-fat-free Crisco)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream, heavy cream, or orange juice
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
Make the dough: Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside. Cream the shortening and sugar together in a stand mixer until well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla and mix briefly. Add the dry ingredient mixture and the sour cream, heavy cream or orange juice alternately, until the dough is uniform and well blended. It will be soft, not stiff. Put the dough in the refrigerator while you make the filling.

Make the filling: Toast the walnuts in a dry nonstick pan over high heat; when they start to brown and you can smell them, remove them from the heat and pour them into the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until the nuts and raisins are chopped, but stop long before they turn into a paste. Set aside.

Form the rugelach: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Generously flour a board or the counter. This dough is sticky and soft, so you'll need more flour than you think to roll it successfully. Take a ball of dough the size of a lemon and coat it with flour. Roll it out as thinly as you can into a circle; you want the dough to be thick enough to contain the ingredients without tearing, but no thicker.

Put a heaping tablespoon of the filling, or a little more depending on how big your circle is, onto the dough, leaving a one-inch border around the edge. With the rolling pin, press the filling gently into the dough. Then, using a pizza cutter or pastry scraper or small knife, cut the circle into eight wedges. Roll up each wedge from the point toward the edge, then bend the rolled-up dough into a crescent shape. Some of the filling will escape as you're rolling; it's inevitable, so don't fight it too hard. Put the rugelach on a baking sheet and repeat until all the dough is gone.

I'll warn you, this whole thing takes a while. Be patient. Oh, and put up a pot of coffee, because you'll want it when the rugelach come out of the oven.

Bake the rugelach at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until the edges and bottoms are turning golden brown. Cool on a rack. Think of Grandma as you pour your coffee and take a plate to the table.

Note: I freeze them in zip-top freezer bags. As I said earlier, they're very tasty in their frozen state.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Update on my conversations with LA food folks

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I've gotten a lot of good feedback on the series of Q&A's I'm doing with Los Angeles chefs, caterers, food writers, etc. So far I've talked with:
And there's lots more. Waiting to be edited and posted are conversations with a hotel chef who has "adopted" seven local farms; a bed-and-breakfast chef in Orange County who insists that all his ingredients come from within a 100-mile radius; a young woman who runs a local bread-baking empire; a caterer to the stars; a restaurant owner who used to be a professional baseball scout; you get the idea.

Los Angeles is a great food town, and there are all kinds of people focused on food working behind the scenes. I love getting to know some of them.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Pasta opportunista: Farfalle with chard, mushrooms, bacon and three cheeses

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I was fretting around 4pm today because I'm due for a Costco run and wasn't sure what I'd be making for dinner tonight. No meat in the house, no fish, not much in the way of green matter either. Not enough leftovers to call dinner. What to do, what to do?

I was looking forlornly at two cans of white kidney beans in the pantry when the doorbell rang. There stood Victor, our generous neighbor with the plot in the community garden up the hill, bag in hand. The last of the winter greens, he said. A huge bunch of chard, just picked. Beautiful soft ruffled lettuce. And curly kale. Victor, my savior! My angel! My telepathic delivery boy!

Victor, if you're reading this, and in case I was not effusive enough: THANK YOU.

So, along with some mushrooms I picked up the other day at the 99 Cents Only store (see this article on my Examiner page for more on my bargain produce shopping habits) and a few other pantry staples, I put together this unbelievably good pasta. Any greens would do, I think, although chard is smooth and not bitter, which is nice here. Nothing was too aggressive in flavor. It was just right.

Farfalle with chard, mushrooms, bacon and three cheeses
  • 1 lb dried farfalle (or other short pasta)
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 2 oz crumbled cooked bacon (or 2 strips uncooked bacon, diced)
  • 4 shallots, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8 oz sliced white mushrooms
  • 1 large bunch rainbow chard, chopped
  • 4 oz brebille (soft sheep cheese)
  • 4 oz chevre (soft goat cheese)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 oz shredded Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • salt and pepper to taste
Cook the farfalle in plenty of water according to the package directions. Mine took 15 minutes, which was exactly the right amount of time to make the topping.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta (and the uncooked bacon if using) and cook 4-5 minutes, until most of the fat is rendered and the bits are starting to brown. Add the shallots and garlic and cook one more minute. Add the mushrooms and cook until they're soft and have released their liquid, another 3-4 minutes. Add the chard and cover the pan for a minute to let the chard wilt. Then remove the lid and cook, stirring often, until the chard is cooked but still green. Turn off the heat.

In a large bowl, put the brebille and the chevre. (Their textures and tastes are similar; you could use 8 oz goat cheese if the brebille is hard to find, although I buy it at Costco and I think they carry it at Trader Joe.) Add a few spoonfuls of the hot pasta cooking water and the olive oil and stir; the cheese will loosen nicely so that when you add the pasta it will coat it evenly.

When the pasta is done, drain it, add it to the bowl, and then add the topping and the Romano cheese. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Recipe: Carrot soup with Thai flavors (what, again with the carrots?)

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Yes, again with the carrots. Don't you like beta carotene and vitamin A? I do. And, because raw carrots make my mouth itch, I look for ways to use carrots in their fine cooked state.

This soup came out of the need to use up the same Costco maxi-bag of mini-carrots that inspired the carrot cake I wrote about last week. I've often made carrot soup using my basic vegetable soup method, but the last few times it tasted tired, and the kids rejected it, no matter how many croutons I let them pour in. This time I was determined to do something different.

By the way, I love love LOVE the Thai spice pastes available in many Asian grocery stores. They're hot, so you have to use them carefully and sparingly. The one I used looked something like this and tastes very gingery and lemongrassy.

Carrot soup with Thai flavors
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 1/4 lbs carrots, grated
  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 2 tsp Thai Tom Kha paste
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 small potato, diced
  • Cilantro leaves (for garnish)
Melt the butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute, stirring often, 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and Tom Kha paste and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock and potato, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, until all the vegetables are soft, about 20 minutes.

Puree the soup in the pot with a hand-held immersion blender. What, you don't own one of these? Run right out and get one. It is an indispensable tool. Borrow one from your neighbor and forget to give it back, if you must.

If you really can't get your hands on one (and trust me, they're not that hard to find, so stop making excuses), ladle the soup into a blender and make a mess - it's up to you.

Serve hot, garnished with cilantro.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Meeting the chefs of Los Angeles

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Those of you in southern California may care more about this than others, but read on and decide for yourself.

I've just started a big project: interviewing chefs, caterers, cookbook writers and other food folks who cook and work in Los Angeles. I'll be posting these profiles in a Q&A format, along with one recipe from each subject, on my LA Cooking Examiner site over the next month or so. I've got a great lineup, I think: personal chefs to the stars, a raw vegan goddess, big hotel chefs, small hotel chefs, TV chefs, chefs who are so committed to using local and farm-fresh ingredients that they spend half their time driving to the docks and the fields....You get the idea.

If you're so inclined, check out the first in the series, a conversation with Kevin Roberts, aka the Food Dude. His celebrity-tested recipe for hot wings is easy and healthier than most recipes involving chicken wings. And he's got quite a personality - which, I hope, shows through in our chat.

More L.A. food personalities to come....

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Recipe: George Washington's carrot tea cake

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When I moved from New York to southern California in late 1993, my wonderful friend Judith gave me a gift I still treasure and likely always will: New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neill. "So you will always have the good smells and tastes of New York at your fingertips," she wrote. It's full of typical New York personalities, and the recipes range from heavy Italian to authentically Jewish to star-studded.

Truth be told, I read this book a lot more than I cook from it. It's quite entertaining on its own. Who wouldn't want to read about Katharine Hepburn's brownies? Or Sylvia's ribs (that's Sylvia as in the legendary eponymous restaurant in Harlem)? Or Eli Zabar's bread?

But there's one recipe I go back to again and again, and it's one of the book's most unusual entries. George Washington's tea cake, says the introduction, "was served on the occasion of British Evacuation Day on November 25, 1783, at the Fraunces Tavern, in what now is the South Street Seaport area." Washington was there, and thus the cake got his name.

I do like it for its heritage, but I also just plain like it. It's a very light cake, with a delicate crumb and none of the health-food overtones one usually associates with carrot cake. In fact, were it not for the orange speckles, you probably wouldn't be able to guess what's in it.

George Washington's carrot tea cake
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup canola oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups grated carrots
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a Bundt pan with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, combine the oil, sugar, eggs and carrots, and mix well. Add the flour mixture and stir until smooth. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester comes out clean, about 1 hour. Cool in the pan 2 minutes, then turn the cake out onto a rack to finish cooling.