My recent gap in posting was unfortunately due to being sick, so I wasn’t all there enough to write down any coherent thoughts last week. I’m doing ok now — 24 hours of sleep helps! But the real casualty is that I was supposed to host a dinner party for four the day I could barely keep my eyes open at work. It was a real shame because I had a totally bomb menu planned taking advantage of my CSA greens and was looking forward to catching up with old friends. Sigh.
After coming home just a couple of hours at work and sleeping for 7 hours I realized though I wasn’t hungry all the food and supplies I bought were going to rot if I didn’t cook something so I thought ‘To hell with it’ and just made most of what I had planned in the first place and figured I’d eat the rest later. This turned out to be a damned good idea because it was probably one of the best dinners I’ve ever made. Too bad no one else was there to have any!
First off, since it was to be a sort of special occasion after not seeing friends for so long, I had bought four fillets of salmon. Right there that made dinner fancier than usual. Sure it was a little more expensive than groceries normally are but I figured I was saving money with all the produce I had acquired. And besides, pesto was involved and pesto with tilapia doesn’t jibe as nicely, at least in my mind.
Next, last week’s CSA share consisted of some veggies outside of my usual repertoire, like escarole. I have nothing against it but I didn’t know what to do with it and I figured I’d use it all up first. This is how I came up with a Braised Escarole with Cannellini Beans appetizer. Ok, I didn’t “come up” with it but I did read that escarole and white beans go together superbly and I found a fantastic recipe along with much commentary at this website. so no, I did not create it.
Discovery: escarole needs to be braised or sauteed for quite a while since it’s pretty bitter raw! The recipe I just linked to was absolutely delicious. Had I served it to friends It would have been spooned atop whole wheat flatbreads as an appetizer but I ate it as a side. The recipe can also be more like a soup, if that catches your fancy.
As the main, my CSA provided us with a simple but delicious recipe for Pan-Seared Salmon on a Bed of Baby Greens with Dried Cherries along with a recipe for an orange zest dressing. (Thus the salmon purchase!) Uh, yes, this was truly amazing. Lucky for me, one of the farmers is a trained chef and sends us weekly recipes and ideas!
The only real “recipe” part to this was the dressing, since it’s: plate some baby greens. Make the dressing. Pan-sear the salmon (skinned) on both sides for a few minutes until each side is golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Dress the greens using half of the dressing. Place the salmon on top of the greens. Drizzle the rest of the dressing along with the dried cherries that have been marinating in the dressing. Voila! I used golden raisins instead which worked just as well! So here is that dressing:
Orange-Zest Salad Dressing
- 2 1/2 tbsp champagne or white wine vinegar [I used red wine vinegar]
- 2 tbsp fresh orange juice
- 1 tsp orange zest
- salt, pepper
- 1/4 cup dried cherries [I used golden raisins]
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine except olive oil and set aside. Pan-sear the salmon in the meantime, instructions above. Remove cherries/raisins from dressing. Whisk the olive oil in until blended. Dress half of it onto the greens. Plate the salmon. Drizzle remaining dressing on fish with cherries/raisins to garnish. Serve.
Simple but seems so fancy. Also, way, way tasty. Since I received so much spinach last week I had made some spinach with walnut pesto to use some of it up and scooped some atop the fish too. It was a very thick pesto, more like a tapenade. Either way it was good too. With all of these lettuces and greens I will need more salad dressing ideas so if anyone has any please let me know! I really don’t make them myself too often.
I would have made a grain as a side but just for myself, this was all much more than enough. Dessert was some blueberries and strawberries. Hopefully next time people are over for dinner I’ll be able to cook something just as special.
As a pretty-much vegetarian most of my grocery bill goes to fresh produce. Gush over Trader Joe’s as much as you want but I’ll never be much of a fan as long as they offer scant veggies and fruit — almost none of it organic at that! Previously I mentioned that I am joining a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture, where us city (and suburban) folk buy shares of wares fresh from the farm. There are lots of advantages to this for both sides but I’m mainly excited for the guaranteed weekly vegetables. Now I can splurge on fancy stuff at the grocery store since the CSA is paid for in advance! Yeah, I’m looking at you, skyr.
Yesterday was the very first day of my CSA‘s pickup and my fellow foodies and I were quite impressed by the haul:
Now, I have a half-share, so everything listed on the sign is halved and split with my partner, some guy the coordinators paired me randomly with. While this is a cool way to meet new people in the CSA community, the guy never answered my email when I asked a logistical question and he hadn’t shown by the time I arrived. Not sure what’s up with that. A generous afterthought is that any leftover shares goes to the synagogue that hosts this CSA’s homeless shelter kitchen, so they will have fresh veggies themselves. Maybe that’s where this guy’s stuff will end up.
I eagerly carried my swag back home and cleaned them all now so I won’t have to waste time doing so later this week. Vegetables have to be koshered too: rinse or swish them in water three times, no more, no less. This is to assure that there are no insects hiding underneath leaves and one of the most forbidden things Jews can eat are insects. This took a long time!
Helpfully, the CSA sent out a newsletter the day before indicating what we’d be receiving along with a recipe, because I sure don’t know what do to with all of these greens. This week it was for a mango salsa and it contains cilantro:
Recipe by Maryellen Driscoll
1 heaping cup chopped mango (thawed, frozen mango works fine)
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons mild-flavored oil, such as peanut, walnut or grapeseed
Large pinch of red pepper flakes (or minced fresh jalapeño, amount to your liking)
Combine all of the above ingredients in a small bowl. Season with kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let sit, refrigerated, for up to 4 hours before serving.
Luckily I happened to have mango and limes on hand, but not peanut oil, so I just used olive oil. I also spiced it up with pepper and chilli powder but it remained pretty mild. I was considering eating it for dessert but I think I will let it set in the fridge and marinate it on some fish tomorrow.
Mostly I was dreaming about eating bok choy but now that I think about it I have no idea how to prepare it! Instead I made a giant-ass salad and used maybe 1/8 of this week’s veggie haul. Bok choy will require some research.
In this salad is romaine, mixed greens, arugula, sliced radishes, a couple of stalks of green onions, half of a plum tomato, a handful of pumpkin seeds (raw), chickpeas, one beet, broccoli florets, 3 cloves garlic and dried raisins, cranberries and a couple of pecans. The dressing is a spiced olive oil/red wine vinegar/honey mix.
From the first bite you could tell these greens were fresh from the farm. The leaves are bigger, the texture silkier — especially the mixed greens, and all in all they were more flavorful too. This was picked THIS morning! Isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it furthermore amazing that people have so lost touch with the land and what they choose to consume that it’s novel, almost revolutionary, to buy food from farmers? Wow. I wish more people were able to experience this, especially for those that vegetables at all are considered a luxury.
On the other hand, this is a ton of food. Not sure how I’m going to use it all up every week, especially if earlier in the season means less items. Does this mean this is the least amount of stuff I’m going to receive for the next 21 weeks?? Eek. Weekly dinner parties at Rita’s?
We all know that many Jews love their brisket, pastrami and other heavy meats. But did you know that one of the most important Jewish holidays mandates eating dairy? Yup, Shavuot, which started Tuesday night and ends tonight, is one of the biggest holidays of the year; it celebrates when Jews received the Torah brought down by Moses from Mount Sinai in the desert, after the Exodus. Since this is when officially “the Hebrews” became actual “Jews”, we were mandated to follow all the commandments and mitzvot (good deeds), including keeping kosher. Well, since people didn’t want to make any mistakes at first and eat non-kosher meat by accident, everyone ate only dairy products during this time. Contemporary Jews honor this by eating cheesecake. Really! We also stay up all night learning Torah or topics that relate to Judaism. It’s a very fun holiday.
This year I spent Shavuot amongst thousands of people at the JCC on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, a heavily young, Jewish neighborhood. For the first night the JCC as well as many synagogues host all-night programming such as lectures and discussion groups; the JCC also had live concerts, yoga, Israeli karaoke and of course thick slices of cheesecake! Coffee and chocolate candies were liberally distributed too, to keep everyone awake until 4 AM, when the last sessions ended. Unfortunately I could only keep my eyes open until about 1, and went home then.
A cousin had invited me for Shavuot lunch yesterday and it was a typical homemade Syrian dairy meal: green salad; quinoa tabbouleh; samboosak — savory, flaky pastries stuffed with munster cheese; noodle casserole with cheese calsonnes (doughy dumplings, stuffed also with cheese); baked salmon; spinach and chickpeas in a baked filo dough (kind of like spanakopita); and kousa jibneh, which is a squash and zucchini quiche sans crust. The eight of us ate very well! Incredibly, the enormous amount of food served was actually quite typical. Leftovers are a given and are usually eaten later for dinner or the following day.
Troubling, for me, is the Syrian custom of leaving all the food on the table during the entire meal which means I will end up picking at far more than I am able to eat! Case in point were my cousin’s homemade brownies; I ended up eating about five or six of them. Eeep!! Note to self and everyone else: don’t leave food in front of you unless you want to eat it all.
My cousin gave me leftovers of everything (of course) so my plan for the rest of this dairy-tastic holiday is to eat smaller portions and spread it out over the course of a couple of days. I’ll still be getting my dairy on, just not so intensely!
It’s the beginning of May and it is unseasonably hot! While I love Summer, I’m not ready for sweltering subway rides, humid apartments or blazing sun yet. Is Spring really over?
To decide what to cook for the week, over the weekend I flipped through recipes I’ve collected over the years from farmers markets; most of them here in New York distribute fliers to give people ideas on how to prepare the fresh veggies they sell. Genius idea. (For example, what does one do with ramps? I still don’t know but I suppose I can easily find out at the next farmers market I browse through.) Nothing really caught my eye until I spotted a cucumber-purslane-yogurt salad dish — purslane being another vegetable that I have no idea how to prepare. However, the description for this recipe said it was a lot like tzatziki, and inspiration flashed.
A long while back, I had made a beet tzatziki and I could have sworn I had the recipe somewhere in one of my binders but I could not find it for the life of me. So, I made it up. Using the “yogurt salad” recipe as a template, I went to the grocery store and purchased two bunches of organic golden beets, a tub of Total 0% Fage Greek Yogurt, a few other ingredients and was good to go. Normally I love, love, love their 2% but I figured I’d cut the calories a bit and go with the 0%. For it to be less runny, however, go with the whole milk or 2%.
Anyway, tzatziki is a great accompaniment on most dishes on a hot day. It’s a Greek yogurt sauce that you can dollop on grains, greens or I guess meat, not that I’d do that, haha. It’s refreshing, especially since I added cucumber and mint. Also, it’s super easy to make!
Preferably whenever you cook with beets you are roasting them yourself, because buying them pre-sliced in a can has tons of sodium! Check it out. Just know that prep time will be at least an hour if doing so.
Golden Beet Tzatziki with Cucumber and Mint
- 1 bunch roasted golden beets (about 4) or you can use regular red beets if preferred
- 1 to 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped mint
- 2 cups Greek yogurt, whole preferred but can use non-fat if desired
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Separate beet from greens, which can be cleaned thoroughly and put to another use. Scrub beets and slice off the roots, then place in pan and bake until a knife can easily poke through the skin, about an hour and a half or less. When finished, they should be easy to peel. Let cool until you are able to handle, then remove the skin. Slice into thin strips.
Place beets, cucumber and mint into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and coriander and season to taste with salt. Add the vegetables and mint to the yogurt mixture and mix well. Add a pinch of pepper. Taste, then season further if necessary. Serve chilled as a condiment or a side. Serves 4.
Tada! So refreshing on those unseasonably warm days.
For the past week and a half I’ve been serving jury duty in the City Hall area of Lower Manhattan. It could have been worse. Though it’s busy at work for me at the moment and despite waiting around the majority of the time, in a few ways it was a very pleasant experience. I got to see the legal system in action, though it’s far less exciting than Law and Order; I performed my civic duty; but best of all is that the courthouse is a block away from Chinatown!
That’s right. Dim sum and dumplings for lunch. Mmm.
Not only was I able to frequent a few new places I’ve been meaning to try, it was also really cheap. Like, $2 for eight veggie dumplings cheap.
Dumplings are basically the perfect and one of the most versatile meals. Many cultures have their own variation on it, like pierogies (Polish), kreplach (Eastern European Jewish), ravioli or gnocchi (Italian), gyoza (Japanese), etc. Dough stuffed with either sweets or savories! You can’t go wrong no matter what you do. Many dumpling houses or restaurants will sell theirs frozen in addition to fresh, so you can take them home and cook them yourself, but I’m sure you can make it yourself from scratch. That’s why you’re reading this, right?
Since I’ve been working overtime to make up for my lost hours in the jury box, please forgive me this time around for not creating my own recipe, but enjoy this one from Chow:
Steamed Vegetable Dumplings (Zhēngjiǎo) Recipe
Makes: Makes 32 dumplings, serving 4 as a main course, 6 to 8 as a snack or starter
For the filling:
* 4 cups lightly packed, coarsely chopped spinach (7 to 8 ounces)
* 4 large dried shiitake mushrooms, reconstituted and liquid reserved, stemmed, and chopped (1/2 cup)
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
* 3/4 teaspoon sugar
* 1 1/2 tablespoons light (regular) soy sauce
* 2 tablespoons sesame oil
* 2 tablespoons canola oil
* 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
* 1/3 cup finely chopped carrot
* 3 ounces brown pressed tofu, finely chopped (2/3 cup total)
* 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
* 1/2 cup chopped Chinese chives or scallions (white and green parts)
To form and serve:
* 1 pound Basic Dumpling Dough
* 2/3 cup Tangy Soy Dipping Sauce
1. To make the filling, put the spinach in a large bowl. Bring a kettle of water to a boil and pour a generous amount over the spinach. Let the spinach wilt for about 30 seconds, drain, rinse with cold water, and drain again. To remove excess moisture, squeeze the spinach in your hands over the sink. When you are done, there should be about 1/2 cup firmly packed spinach.
2. In a bowl, combine 1/4 cup of the reserved mushroom soaking liquid, salt, white pepper, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Set this flavoring sauce aside.
3. In a wok or large skillet, heat the canola oil over medium heat. Add the ginger and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until aromatic. Add the spinach, carrot, mushrooms, and pressed tofu. Stir to combine and then pour in the flavoring sauce. At first all the liquid will seem to have been absorbed, but after 2 minutes, there will be a little bubbling liquid in the skillet. At that point, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir and stir it into the filling. When the mixture thickens, turn off the heat and add the Chinese chives. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool completely before assembling the dumplings. You should have about 2 cups of filling. (The filling can be prepared 1 day in advance and refrigerated. Bring it to room temperature before assembling the dumplings.)
4. Form 16 wrappers from half of the dough. Aim for wrappers that are about 3 1/4 inches in diameter.
5. Before assembling the dumplings, line steamer trays or a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. (If you are making the dumplings in advance, or freezing them, lightly dust the parchment paper–lined tray with flour to avoid sticking.)
6. To assemble the dumplings, hold a wrapper in a slightly cupped hand. Scoop up about 1 tablespoon of filling with a bamboo dumpling spatula, dinner knife, or fork and position it slightly off-center toward the upper half of the wrapper, pressing and shaping it into a flat mound and keeping about 1/2 to 3/4 inch of wrapper clear on all sides. Then fold, pleat, and press to enclose the filling to create a half-moon, pea pod, big hug, or pleated crescent shape. If you are steaming right away, place the finished dumpling in a steamer tray, sealed side up and 1 inch away from the edge if you are using a metal steamer. Repeat with the other wrappers before forming and filling wrappers from the remaining dough, keeping the finished dumplings covered with a dry kitchen towel as you make the rest. If you don’t have enough space on your steamer trays to steam all the dumplings at once, or if you are not steaming them right away, place the waiting ones on the prepared baking sheet spaced a good 1/2 inch apart.
7. Once all the dumplings are assembled, they can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for several hours; they can be cooked straight from the refrigerator. For longer storage, freeze them on the baking sheet until hard (about 1 hour), transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag, pressing out excess air before sealing, and keep them frozen for up to 1 month; thaw completely on lined steamer trays, using your finger to smooth over any cracks that may have formed during freezing, before steaming.
8. To cook, steam the dumplings over boiling water for about 8 minutes, or until slightly puffed and somewhat translucent. Remove the trays and place each atop a serving plate.
9. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce, either in a communal bowl with a spoon or portioned into individual bowls or dipping sauce dishes. As with all jiǎozi, it is easiest to eat these with chopsticks in one hand and soupspoon or rice bowl in the other, angling the bowl or spoon to catch any drips.
Posted: April 14, 2010 |
Author: Rita |
Filed under: Rita |
Tags: csa, hazon |
2 Comments »
Like many people, I’m concerned about how to get more bang for my buck while maintaining my fabulous (read: not that fabulous) lifestyle. But that’s a little tricky to do when it comes to food since I cook often and bring lunch to work already, and I’m not about to buy wilted lettuce or old cans of beans just because they’re on sale. As someone whose groceries are mainly produce and demands at least decent-quality stuff, how am I supposed to cut back without sacrificing my health?
A good answer: join a CSA. What the heck is a CSA, you ask? It stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and it’s a way for consumers to buy fresh produce directly from farmers. As described by Local Harvest: “A farmer offers a certain number of ‘shares’ to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a ‘membership’ or a ‘subscription’) and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.” This can include things like fresh eggs or other products a particular farm offers.
Something like this:
“Whoa there,” you’re saying. “That’s a lot of veggies in the box! I am but one person, surely I can’t eat all this every week!” Neither can I. That’s why a lot of CSAs offer half-shares that you can split with another person. Some CSAs will pair you up with someone if you don’t have a share buddy. Also, it’s half the cost!
Right now many CSAs are gearing up for the harvest season and have already begun to sell shares. You don’t go to the farm to pick up your box, they have drop off points in the community or neighborhood they’re serving. You can check out Local Harvest (linked to earlier) to see what’s available near you. A good alternative would be to check out a local farmers market, especially if you only want particular items.
I’m fortunate to live in New York City where there are tons and tons of CSAs all over the place, but what’s super cool is that one of my favorite organizations, Hazon, is now the largest faith-based CSA network in the United States. The farms aren’t necessarily run by Jews, but Hazon CSAs can be based out of synagogues or JCCs and offer Jewish education programs and enhances a local Jewish community. Though Jewish CSAs are far more prevalent due to Hazon, non-Jewish faith-based CSAs can be found too!
The CSA I am considering joining will end up costing $12 per week over 22 weeks for a half share. Though it has to be paid upfront, that’s not a bad deal for someone like me! I’ll get to experiment with new, locally grown veggies and try out new recipes. Can’t wait!
Passover ended yesterday evening and I’ve been spending the past week and a half on vacation visiting my parents back home. My mom, for this very strictly kosher holiday, has insisted on cooking everything the entire time. “It’s your vacation,” she says, “And besides, I love cooking for you.” That must be where I get it from. What’s a Knife-Using Pretty Girl like me supposed to do?
Here’s a quick, delicious, healthy (and kosher-for-passover) tomato-based dish that anyone can make, courtesy of my mom. She calls it Moroccan Fish, though you can use the stew and seasonings on chicken as well. It made for a fantastic Monday night dinner.
- Fillet of fish (tilapia or salmon works well, though most any fish can be used)
- Olive oil for sauteing
- Large yellow onion, chopped
- A few cloves of crushed garlic, to taste
- At least one red bell pepper, slivered or chopped
- 2 cups of diced tomatoes (or can substitute one 16 oz can of diced tomatoes)
- Pinch of sugar
- Salt, pepper, cayenne, cumin: all to taste
- Cilantro or parsley (optional)
In a large pan over medium heat, saute chopped onion for a few minutes, until soft. Add garlic and sautee for another minute, but don’t let it brown. Add the red pepper and let soften, which will take a few minutes. Add the tomatoes. Sprinkle the pinch of sugar, the salt, pepper, cayenne and cumin. Add clinatro or parsley if doing so. Adjust to taste. Once the stew is thick and spiced appropriately, add the fish to the pan. Let it cook in the stew for a while, then flip so that both sides absorb the flavor of the stew.
Alternatively, you can bake the fish if that is your preference. Place the fish in a tray and smother with the stew once it’s ready. Wrap the tray tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or so, or whenever it seems to be done. Adjust the amounts of ingredients based on how many people you are cooking for!
If you only have eggs, you make the stew, crack a couple of eggs on top, sprinkle in some zahtar and voila! You have shakshuka, an Israeli staple dish. It goes well with pita bread.
Keeping kosher year-round is already challenge enough but with the start of Passover at sundown this Monday, March 29th, restrictions are especially tight. Chametz, or leavened breads and grains are the big no-no for this holiday, which means no food or drink that is fermented or can cause fermentation is allowed to be eaten. So, no bread, cake, high fructose corn syrup, or most alcohols for me for a while! If you’re an Ashkenazi Jew, meaning an Eastern European background, rice and kitneot, beans, are additionally off-limits. This is a custom strictly followed by many Ashkenazim, but since my great-grandparents hail from Turkey and Syria, bring on the lentil soup! In the end it almost doesn’t matter, however, because most family friends who join us for the seders are Ashkenaz and my family wouldn’t serve anyone something they couldn’t eat. That’d be terribly ironic.
So: no bread, check. No rice or beans (for others), check. What about cookies?
The ubiquitous kosher-for-passover cookie is the dreaded macaroon which, sure, lots of people enjoy but that I detest. Awkward and lumpy, it comes from a can and tastes like fake coconut. Ugh. For years I thought that the french macaron cookie was the same thing but in French. Not so. By contrast, the macaron is elegant, sweet and usually colorful. Not lumpy at all, it’s a dainty, chewy sandwich and thoroughly chic. It turns out they too are kosher for Passover! I’m thrilled! Finally, an alternative to “delightful” post-seder desserts like chocolate covered matzah or gummy fake fruit slices. Trust me, you don’t want to eat those.
Macarons can be a bit tricky to recreate since they’re more of a bakery delight but here is a simple recipe you can try at home. May it sustain you during this restrictive holiday!
Parisian Passover Coconut Macarons
(From “1,000 Jewish Recipes” by Faye Levy)
The secret to keeping these moist and light is to make them with Italian meringue, a mixture of beaten egg whites beaten with boiling sugar syrup. Use finely grated unsweetened coconut, which is available at natural foods stores, fine supermarkets and some ethnic markets. Can be served plain or filled with a high-quality jam or a buttercream frosting.
1 4 cups sugar
w cups water
3 egg whites
3 cups (8 ounces) unsweetened
Position two racks in oven and preheat oven to 325F. Grease two or three baking sheets and sprinkle on matzah meal or potato flour, shaking off excess.
Prepare Italian meringue: Combine sugar and water in a small, heavy saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil. Boil without stirring for three minutes. Begin whipping egg whites at low speed and continue whipping until stiff.
Meanwhile, boil syrup until it reaches the softball stage (238F on a candy thermometer). Gradually pour hot syrup onto stiff egg whites, beating constantly at high speed. Continue beating mixture until cooled to room temperature. Stir in coconut.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (about half-inch diameter, No. 4), pipe mixture onto prepared baking sheets in rosettes or peaked mounds of about one-inch diameter, spacing them about one inch apart. Alternatively, moisten your fingers and shape the mixture in peaked mounds of about one-inch diameter.
Bake until ridges or peaks of macaroons turn light brown, but rest of surface remains pale in color, 12-13 minutes; they should be just firm enough so they can be removed from baking sheet without losing their shape. Halfway through baking time, switch positions of baking sheets from lower to upper racks so all bake evenly.
Using a metal spatula, very carefully remove macaroons from baking sheet and transfer to a rack to cool.
Makes 50 to 60 macarons
Warning: I did NOT create the following baked good:
Several observant Jews work in my office and so on Monday, the first workday after Purim, co-workers dumped the unwanted remnants of their Purim baskets in the kitchen for others to “enjoy”. This, dear readers, is the shocking aftermath. What the heck is it? I’m not sure. I can only deduce that some snack factory in Illinois churned this out in hopes of capitalizing on the ever popular Twinkies market — seriously, who eats Twinkies (or Twinkies knockoffs) anymore?
What kills me is that someone actually ate this since there are a couple of them missing!
What’s my point? Well, aside from looking plain ol’ gross, check out what this “Jr. Strawberry Jelly Roll” is made out of:
A bunch of preservatives, chemicals and sugars. Unhealthy, bad for you, and probably tastes like crap. But what’s this? There are two hechshers (kosher symbols) at the bottom, the little ‘M’ and the tablet with a ‘K’ inside. Yes, this package of sugary empty calories is kosher. So what? Well, despite the fact that in recent years there have been giant leaps forward when it comes to food companies producing healthier products, or at least touting the scant health benefits of their own junky foods, kosher products generally have lagged far, far behind in getting in on this trend. This is a sad but typical example of an item you’d see stuffed on a grocery shelf in the kosher section. I’ll bet if your local supermarket has one, you might find several products like these. It’s as if retailers think Jews don’t eat anything but overly preserved gefilte fish, instant soup mixes that still have loads of trans fats or cans of oversalted chicken soup! Please.
But there is a ray of hope.
Despite the fact that many kosher products barely resemble real food, there are now thousands of mainstream items by big brand names that are now certified kosher. You probably have at least a few in your pantry or fridge and don’t even know it! There is an encouraging amount of organic and healthier kosher products now, even antibiotic-free chickens at Whole Foods! Though stereotypical “Jewish food” isn’t historically healthy (giant pastrami sandwich with a side of pickles and schmaltz, anyone?), it’s nice to know that despite the predominance of the “Jr. Jelly Roll” and its ilk there are increasing amounts of Jews who care about their health and what the heck they’re eating. Even rabbis are getting in on the healthy lifestyle thing.
So while I came back to work after a lovely weekend and found really nasty snacks, I did what I felt to be the right thing:
I threw them out!
Coming soon upon us is my absolutely favorite holiday of the year, Purim. This year it’s early, it starts the night of Saturday, February 27th, when it usually takes place some time in early March. In my purely unbiased opinion, Purim kicks a huge amount of ass; it celebrates the events that took place in the Book of Esther.
Real quick if you don’t know the story: Ancient Persia. Drunkard king kills former wife because she wouldn’t fulfill embarrasing request; looks for new wife. Esther, niece of Jewish scholar Mordechai, is selected. But, since this is ancient Persia, being Jewish is just barely tolerated — think pre-Civil Rights blacks in America. Thus, she hides her Jewish identity from the king. Haman, the King’s top advisor, hates the Jews! Big surprise. He convinces the King to proclaim an unbreakable decree that everyone in the entire kingdom on such and such a date, everyone can run around killing Jews, no problem! The date is chosen by a lottery. (In Hebrew, “pur”, thus the holiday of ‘lots’ or, “Purim”.) Esther knows she’s in a position to stop this but doesn’t know what to do, since by helping her people, she will reveal her Jewish identity and who knows how the drunken, murderous king will react? Her uncle Mordechai urges her to see the King. She does, and asks to throw a party, everyone has a great time. Later, she asks him to throw another one, this time with just the two of them and Haman. This is a big honor for Haman and he wants to suck up big time to the Queen of Persia. So he comes to the private party and at one point while the King is not around, she reveals that she is Jewish and how dare he kill her people? Haman, fearing for his life, throws himself at her feet and begs for mercy just as the King returns. He thinks that he’s making a move on his Queen and gets pissed. She reveals to them both her true idenity and that Haman’s decree would include killing her too. The king, enraged, has Haman and his entire family hanged. Since the decree is unbreakable, a new decree is written to counteract the old, saying that Jews are allowed to fight back themselves. And they did!
And now today, we celebrate Purim on that same date on the Hebrew calendar, by 1) hiding ourselves like Esther, by wearing masks and costumes, 2) partying and drinking until we can’t remember who in the story is bad and who is good, 3) giving out mishloach manot, gift baskets of food to friends and family, 4) giving charity to the poor (matanot le’evionim), and 5) hearing the megillah read, which recounts the story of Purim.
This is the holiday where hamentashen come from, those triangular cookies filled with jam. It means ‘Haman’s ears’ though I’m not sure why we’d want to eat his ears.
Rather than list the obvious here, which would be my hamentashen recipe, let’s face it, everyone and their great-aunt has some variation on hamentashen. So here’s something different: how did I make my Purim basket this year?
First of all, I love giving presents to people. It makes me warm inside, to brighten someone’s day and seeing their touched expressions when they receive it. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it’s wonderful to surprise a friend no matter what it is. This is one of the biggest reasons why I am a Purim fan. Since many of my friends and family live far away, I mail my baskets. “Basket” is a bit misleading. Mine are small boxes, sized to fit in a standard New York apartment building mailbox so people don’t have to go to the Post Office to pick them up. When I started doing this a couple of years ago, I ordered some from Uline and I’m still using the same set of boxes; they send a lot
Requirements for mishloach manot are to give baskets to at least one person on Purim day, containing at least two different ready-to-eat foods. That’s it. Though people can get very competitive as to how grandiose and splendid their baskets can be. It can turn into a real free-for-all, like giant baskets of chocolate and sweets, imported fruits, etc. One year when I lived at home, my family and I spent an entire day delivering baskets to various friends and family all over town. I guess I inherited some of that urge too. At least one of us had to stay at home to receive everyone else’s gifts too!
My basket is pretty simple but can get full quickly. First, I cover the box like I would a textbook, with old magazine photos, preferably art-y shots with no text. I prefer the New York Times Magazine or their T Style magazine. Yeah, I’m a snob. Then I cover the box again completely with clear packing tape, so the decoration doesn’t tear in the mail. This whole process can take over an hour per box, so I don’t make very many each year, unfortunately! This year there are only a few, even though I started a month ago (for real), and they are mostly going to family. Sorry guys!
Then, what to put in the box? Well, aside from hamentashen (this year: pumpkin, chocolate and peanut butter chips, and strawberry jam), I like to include a variety of items, so I’ll have a juice box, a squeeze pack of peanut or almond butter, tea, dried fruit strips, a small box of raisins, little candies, etc. I’ll also include a note. You know, just to say hi. You can put anything you want in these baskets, hamentashen are just a custom, like drinking eggnog on Christmas. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but…
I’m sending mine out today, a Wednesday, so they’ll hopefully arrive by Saturday or Monday. I’m hoping people will enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them!