My corner

Once upon a time, I was a young real estate attorney in Jerusalem. This job was not my destiny and I had very little in common with my boss but I did learn a few things from him, as follows:

  1. The cognoscenti in Jerusalem call things by their old names. Our office, for example, at the corner of King George and Hillel Streets was across from the “old Knesset”. For the record, the Knesset hasn’t been there since 1966. My first trip to Israel was in 1967, but I learned to refer to the building as the old Knesset.
  1. When my boss was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his family thought that Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood—where much of the Ashkenazi elite of the time lived–was too  far from the location of  my boss’s father’s barber shop–that is, the building that housed my office in the early 1990s. It would have been a leisurely 15 minute walk to the far reaches of Rehavia from this downtown location. Instead, their family lived a block away from the office at the corner of King George and Ma’alot streets so that his father could go home for lunch and an afternoon siesta back in the pre-air conditioning days when every shop in Israel closed down from 1:00-4:00 pm.
  2. The best lunch place downtown was Pinati, where most days there were two items on the menu: hummus or hummus with meat; and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they served kubbe soup. (Well, it’s possible that there were other items on the menu, but no one I knew ever ordered them). I started to go to Pinati regularly with a group of friends although hanging out with friends was a violation of the Pinati ethos of eating quickly and making room at the communal table for the next people. We used to joke that you would be kicked out if you brought a newspaper, that is, if you exhibited signs of settling in and staying too long. A few other places serve meat and hummus, but none are as good as Pinati’s heaping ground beef on top of fresh hummus. In fact, most other places I’ve been to serve shwarma meat on their hummus and that is just not as good.
Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus  Photo by REG

Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus
Photo by REG

One habit I did not pick up from my boss was the afternoon nap, which he took in his office every day. Frankly after eating hummus with ground beef as your mid-day meal, you need a nap but, well, I lived too far from the office.

Pinati is now a chain in Israel but the original Pinati was a few blocks away from my office, at another corner of King George Street—which is how it got its name, since Pinati means “my corner.” I have tried to replicate the taste of that beef but these days, I try to eat less beef and have come up with a recipe with ground turkey. I’m not going to pretend that it tastes exactly like beef, but I recently discovered that a judicious amount of pomegranate molasses gives the turkey a meatier flavor and appearance. This is an easy recipe for a weeknight meal and you might not even need the nap.


Hummus and Ground Turkey

1 cup hummus—either home made or a good Middle Eastern style hummus that is smooth and garlicky

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb ground turkey

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon black pepper

salt to taste

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (you might want more but taste carefully—different brands have different levels of viscocity and tartness and you don’t want to overdo this—although the hummus will mellow the tartness a bit).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or chef’s pan. Add the ground turkey and stir so that you remove the lumps. Continue to let it brown on all sides, stirring occasionally s that you have cooked it almost all the way through.

Add spices and continue to cook.   Mix in pomegranate molasses so that the color coats all of the turkey.

Spread the hummus on a serving platter and then heap the cooked turkey on top. Serve with warm pita and pickles.

This can be a great appetizer or a week night dinner. If you want to make it with beef, follow the same recipe, eliminating the pomegranate molasses.


Two lasagnas: no meat, no tomato sauce: eliminating the least unhealthy ingredient

My mother taught me to cook by having me work as her sous-chef. I have to admit that I have not been as generous as she about teaching my daughter. Somehow, my fearless photographer has managed to become a great cook when she sets her mind to it–even without the meticulous lessons on technique.

no to sauce--yes to tomatoes photo by REG

no to sauce–yes to tomatoes
photo by REG

When my daughter does cook, her recipes can be quite ambitious. She has made great Vietnamese chicken and chicken pot pies. Her go-to cookbook is Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat. The recipes in this book are not necessarily easy; some include elements that good chefs have to master; for example, the vegetable lasagna includes both a béchamel sauce and roasted red peppers. It’s a delicious dish and has a range of vegetables—just not tomato sauce.

When my daughter and I started talking about  “tomato sauce-less” lasagna, I immediately thought of “flourless chocolate cake” and my daughter knew exactly what I meant.  It’s not that this lasagna has anything to do with the restaurant staple of flour less chocolate cake. Instead, I was thinking of   BJ Novak’s story Julie and the Warlord. In it, Julie and her date –who just happens to be a warlord–are making small talk and looking at a menu. The warlord, being his charming first-date self, questions why every one makes a big deal about flourless chocolate cake: “Is flour such a bad thing? I mean compared to other things in chocolate cake.” He goes on to say: “Flour is probably the least unhealthy thing I can think of in chocolate cake.”

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna photo by YJAG

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna
photo by YG

So in that spirit here are two lasagnas without tomato sauce, arguably the least unhealthy thing in classic lasagna (I’ll leave the whole gluten thing for other bloggers). But sometimes it’s nice to have a change.  And when that change is that my daughter is doing the cooking and the results are this good, I don’t question why the least unhealthy thing has been omitted from the recipe.

 Teens Cook Vegetable Lasagna

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

2 red bell peppers

1 small zucchini (or a whole bunch of baby zucchinis which is what we had on hand)

1 large tomato

4 ounces mushrooms

6 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 ½ cups ricotta

1 cup mozzarella

Place the red peppers directly on the stove burner (or under the broiler if you have an electric stove) and cook over high heat, turning occasionally for 15 minutes or until the peppers are almost completely black on the outside. Place the blackened peppers in a small bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand 10 minutes to loosen the skin.

When the peppers are in the covered bowl, place the butter and flour in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 3 minutes or until bubbly. Add ½ cup of the milk and stir until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and cook for 7-8 minutes or until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Then go back to the peppers: Peel the skin off and cut the peppers in half. Discard the seeds and cut each half into 2 or 3 strips.

Stem the zucchini and cut it lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick slices. Cut the top and bottom off the tomato and discard them. Dice the remaining tomato. Cut the mushrooms into ¼ inch thick slices.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spoon ½ cup of the sauce onto the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan. Cover the sauce with a laywer of the noodles. Arrange zucchini on top of noodles and cover with ¾ cup of the ricotta. Place the roasted peppers over the ricotta and spread with ½ cup of the sauce. Form another layer of noodles and top with the mushrooms. Spread the remaining ¾ cup of ricotta over the mushrooms and top with the remaining sauce. Place the tomato slices on top and cover the pan with aluminium foil.

Bake the lasagna covered for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes more or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Since this is really my food blog (with pictures by my daughter) and thus all the recipes should be dishes I have made, I’m linking to another unconventional lasagna that I came across one day when the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare but I didn’t have the usual and I wanted to use some eggplant. So here it is, the combo of eggplants, béchamel, hazelnut and parsley.

eggplant & hazelnuts--but no tomato sauce in this lasagna photo by REG

eggplant & hazelnuts–but no tomato sauce in this lasagna
photo by REG

The recipe is from Gourmet so here is the epicurious link for Eggplant Lasagne with Parsley Pesto.

I really did find it by going to epicurious and searching eggplant, pasta, and parsley. Nope, I didn’t add tomato sauce to the search.

Pumpkin (or squash) is not a fad

Lately, folks are writing about the whole Pumpkin Spice Latte flavoring craze and I want to make it clear that I have loved pumpkin flavor long before it was a fad. As a kid, whenever my mom made pumpkin pie (as she often did for Friday night dessert in the fall), I’d have the leftovers for breakfast.

Actually, I don’t just like the pie flavor; my true passion is pumpkin and squash in all its forms. One of my all time favorites is a traditional couscous with chunks of pumpkin or squash which can be used interchangeably (in fact, I think the Israeli pumpkin is more like what we call squash in the U.S.). When I worked at the Israeli Ministry of Health in the mid 1990s, Wednesday was couscous day at the office cafeteria. My colleagues and I would start gathering each other at 11:45 a.m. because we couldn’t wait a moment longer for the terrific vegetarian couscous. When it was my turn to be served, I prayed that the lunch lady would give me a large chunk of pumpkin and then I would ration my piece so that most of my bites would include  some pumpkin.

Make sure every one gets lots of all the goodies (especially squash!) in their serving. Photo by REG

Make sure every one gets lots of all the goodies (especially squash!) in each serving.
Photo by REG

As much as I loved those couscous lunches, I gave it all up to marry the man I love. It was a hard to leave the job and the couscous that I loved, but that professional experience gave me the confidence   to have the courage to give it all up and join Mr. Dot in California, a place with all sorts of cuisines and fresh produce—but I never found a couscous with pumpkin (or squash, which is what we use in the US) like the one in the humble cafeteria of a certain Jerusalem government office.

Recently, I have started to make a couscous with squash and chicken that may not have the je ne sais quoi of the Ministry’s dish but is, IMHO, pretty delicious. It’s my own recipe so it can’t be called authentic (but I have a feeling that the folks in the Ministry used Osem Imitation Chicken Soup Powder).  I use some short cuts, liked canned chickpeas (and sometimes pre-cut squash). It’s quick, but to be honest, it does require a number of pans so the washing up may not be as efficient as the prep. I like this dish because I can put in lots of squash and, best of all, I get to both have my squash couscous and eat it with Mr. Dot.

 Squash Couscous with Chicken Thighs

1 large leek sliced thinly

6 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup dried apricots

around 1 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾ inch cubes (you can do it yourself or buy it cubed)

½ cup canned chickpeas

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs—cut up into 2 inch pieces (no need to make these uniform)

1 ½ cups couscous

1 2/3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Mix squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and some salt and pepper, to taste and place on a baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper to prevent sticking). Bake for about 25 minutes – you can check on it a couple of times while baking and move it around so that it all roasts more or less evenly.  You can’t really mess this up. If some of it gets a little brown, that’s fine.

Soak apricots in enough hot water from the tap to cover them. Drain after 10 minutes and cut them into strips.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add leeks and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown. Remove leeks, and add chicken and sauté. Add salt, pepper,  allspice, and cinnamon.  Let it brown on both sides and cook a few minutes longer so that the chicken is cooked through.

Once you have the squash, apricots, leeks, and chicken in process, heat up the stock. Place couscous in a large, heatproof bowl and pour in the boiling stock along with the remaining olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. All the liquid will be absorbed.

Heat up the chickpeas—you can pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes.

When ready to serve (in other words, once the chicken and the squash are done), it’s time to assemble the components on a large platter. First spread out the couscous, fluffing it up with a fork so that it’s light and not clumpy. Then add the leek, squash, chicken, apricots, mint, cilantro and chickpeas.

Make sure that every serving includes all the components, especially enough squash so that every bite includes some squash.

My Hungarian Jewish roots and infusing the holidays with a special sense of grandeur

I once dated a guy who said that there were two reasons to date Hungarian women: their looks and the food. Some people may consider these superficial qualities but my Hungarian mother elevated them. By dressing up and making special food, she infused our Jewish holiday celebrations with a special sense of grandeur. We always had new clothes for the Jewish holidays, especially so that we could wear something special on holidays when we said the “shehecheyanu” blessing—a blessing that thanks God for keeping us alive to celebrate special occasions. In addition to saying this blessing on holidays, we always recited it the first time we wore new clothes. This fancy dressing was an essential part of the holiday when I was growing up and remains so for me today.

And then there was the food! Mom would start cooking multiple batches weeks before the holidays and freeze everything. She had to start early because there was so much food. A holiday meal had at least two main courses—for example, capon AND veal roast or duck AND roast beef. There were also multiple dessert options and to this day, I worry that I need to provide choices for my guests. After all, some people are only happy with a chocolate dessert and others can’t eat chocolate—so I channel my mom, and make sure there’s something for every palate.

My mother was always open to new cooking ideas but at holidays there were always traditional Hungarian Jewish foods—especially the desserts, such as dobos torte or rigo jancsi. One fall favorite of my mother’s ties in to her Hungarian heritage but was of more recent vintage: Roszi Neni’s (Aunt Roszi’s) apple roll.

A slice of apple roll with some chocolate ice cream (a necessary option in case you have guests who think dessert must include chocolate) Photo copyright REG

A slice of apple roll with some chocolate ice cream (a necessary option in case you have guests who think dessert must include chocolate)
Photo copyright REG

According to mom, her mother’s sister Roszi was one of the family members who cried bitterly when my mother’s family left Hungary in 1939. They thought my grandfather was foolish to uproot his family because they believed Hungarian Jews were safe. Later, Roszi took a course and learned how to make foods that would appeal to Americans with the hopes that she could emigrate and perhaps work as a cook. She shared the recipe for apple roll with my grandmother. Sadly, Roszi never made it out of Hungary; she was one of the family members killed by the Nazis.

My grandmother's sisters who both died in the Holocaust: Roszi Bloch Hausman and Szidi Bloch Aron

My grandmother’s sisters who both died in the Holocaust: Roszi Bloch Hausman and Szidi Bloch Aron

This is a tragic rather than festive story but I share the one recipe I have from Roszi Neni as a way of connecting to my  Hungarian Jewish heritage. It seems particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah when it is traditional to eat apples (which just happen to be in season). Roszi Neni’s apple roll also connects me to the sense of occasion and splendor at my mother’s holiday table and in the finest Jewish tradition allows me to bring some elements of my extended family and their memory to our table.

Roszi Neni’s Apple Roll


3 cups of all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

¼ cup sugar

4-5 egg yolks

Lemon rind from one lemon

1 tsp vanilla

½ lb. shortening (or margarine or butter or some combination)

4-6 tablespoons cold club soda


3 lbs tart green apples (like Granny smith) .

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup raisins or currants

1 tablespoon tapioca

Cut shortening into flour, salt and sugar with a pastry blender. Add remainder of dough ingredients until ball is formed. Refrigerate several hours overnight.

Cut apples into around 16-20 pieces each. I leave the peel on because I like the peel. Mix in remainder of ingredients.

Cut dough into two parts. Roll one half of the dough on a floured surface into a 10” X 14” rectangle (well not a perfect rectangle—the beauty of this is its rustic look so no need to make sure that this is perfect. It will be better if it’s a little misshapen). Place half of the apple mixture in the center of the rectangle so that it goes almost the whole length of the “rectangle,” leaving some room so that you can seal the ends when you’re done. Fold the sides of the dough over  so that they overlap a little in the middle and so that you have a roll that is 4 inches wide (still 14″ long). The top will look home made. Repeat this with the remaining dough and filling. Place the rolls gently on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Seal the ends tightly. Prick all over with a fork so that steam can escape.

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Reduce to 350 for another 40-50 minutes.

Serve hot (either fresh or heated up) with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. This actually freezes very well though it’s heavenly when fresh.

The final instruction is one of my favorite lines in my mother’s cookbook: “Cut slices as for strudel.” I’m sure she knew what that meant.

Extra tip for those of you making festive meals that require lots of desserts: this recipe uses only the egg yolks. You’ll have 4-5 whites to use for making great meringues.

Very forgiving cookies (substitutes allowed)

When I first started to work out of my home, I craved a healthful snack  and there was a nearby kitchen beckoning. I started to make oatmeal cookies that are incredibly easy to make and forgiving. You can make all sorts of substitutes. I never use the same nuts/seeds/chips to make these cookies: I just add whatever is around.

After several months of making these, I actually diagnosed a late-blooming walnut allergy . . . and it was no problem; I just started to use other nuts–in my case, pecans, pistachios or cashews were the ones I was most likely to have around but I’ve also added hazelnuts.  Whatever I’ve added, they were delicious.

I’ve also made these gluten-free (not an issue for my household but an issue for others), using cashew flour from Trader Joes. Again, delicious.

Recently, I was put on a restrictive diet to control migraines. I don’t want to turn this into a blog about the diet—but a lot of my favorite foods are now verboten. With time, I’ll introduce some foods back into my diet and figure out which are my migraine triggers. In the meanwhile, I can make these cookies with pumpkin seeds, real flour, and unsulfured dried fruits but, sad to say, not with chocolate. Since I do think most people expect demand chocolate in this kind of cookie, I might make a few cookies for myself without chocolate and add chocolate chips to the rest of the batter.

However you make these cookies they are easy and delicious and you are likely to have most of the ingredients on hand. I recently whipped up a batch when I had some company coming on short notice. I always have the basic ingredients in my pantry and then I get creative with the add-ins.

oatmeal cookies

Very forgiving oatmeal cookies

2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

½ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

½ cup flour (all purpose or whole wheat . . . or nut flour)

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups rolled oats

your choice of any combination of the following, totaling around 1 ½ cups. Most people will expect demand some chocolate chips.

chocolate chips

dried cranberries

coarsely chopped nuts

pumpkin seeds

chopped dried dates

dried cherries


Preheat the oven to 350.

Blend the butter and oil until smooth and beat in sugar and vanilla until creamy. Add the egg and beat until smooth.

Sift flour, baking soda and salt into the bowl and stir until well blended. Add the oatmeal and then your add-ins for a chunky batter.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the sheets. You will probably need to use your hands to shape these a bit.

Bake at 350 for around 10 minutes, until the cookies are light brown around the edge. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. This makes around 24 cookies—and it’s possible that they’ll be gone once your unexpected company comes over. If you do have leftovers, they can be stored in a covered container.

So I’m not my grandmother or my mother

Note: another one of those posts with 2 recipes so make sure to look at both!

My maternal grandmother, Esther Bloch Rosenberg of blessed memory, apparently used to wake up at 5 a.m. on Friday mornings to make challah bread for the Sabbath. Her daughter, my mother of blessed memory, didn’t believe in making challah because she believed (especially after she moved to Jerusalem) that you could buy challah that was much better than what most people baked at home. She was happy to work on fiddly projects for company–just not challah.

It’s clear to me that I am not the type to wake up at 5 a.m. but I did want to have a special breakfast  recently  when we hosted a weekend guest who was in town for my dear friend’s son’s bar mitzvah. My problem was that the best breakfast item in my repertoire, Sunny-Side-Up Za’atar Pita Pizza (from Joan Nathan’s wonderful The Foods of Israel Today which predates Ottolenghi by more than a decade) would have had me getting up at 5 if I followed the instructions. After all, you have to make dough, let it rise for an hour and then divide it into balls and let them rise for an hour.

copyright REG

copyright REG

True confession time: not only am I not willing to wake up at 5 a.m. even for very special company, but I also am not much of an expert on yeast (after all, my mother was against making your own challah). Despite my lack of understanding of the chemical properties of yeast, I decided to experiment. I figured if my mother could have cool-rise challah in the  cookbook she wrote in the 1970s, By Special Request, I could try making the dough, letting it rise for an hour, then punching it down and putting balls of dough in baggies and refrigerating them. When I woke up the next morning, I took the balls out of the bags and proceeded with the recipe.

I’m not sure if the dough tasted exactly like it does when I’ve made it the way that Joan Nathan instructs, but every one who had the wonderfully fresh dough with a baked egg, za’atar and feta, was very happy. Definitely a great company breakfast you’ll want to try without waking up at 5 a.m.

Aboulafia’s Sunny-Side-Up Pizza Pita the cool rise and blue dot way

1 package fresh or dry yeast (1 scant tablespoon)

¼ cup warm water (for yeast)

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons olive oil

¾ cup water (cold in summer, warm in winter)

2 cups all purpose flour

¾ cup whole-wheat flour

¼ cup semolina

4 teaspoons za’atar

2 tablespoons feta cheese

4-8 large eggs

Dissolve the yeast in warm water; stir in ½ teaspoon of the honey and set aside for 10 minutes

Mix remaining 21/2 teaspoons honey with salt, olive oil and the hot or cold water and set aside.

Put the flours and semolina in the bowl of a mixer and with the motor running, slowly pour in the honey-oil mixture and then the dissolved yeast. Process until the dough forms a ball on the blade. If it is too sticky, sprinkle on a little more all-purpose flour.

Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and knead it a few times until smooth. Transfer to an oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 hour until doubled in bulk. Then punch down the dough and divide it into 4 pieces and roll each into a smooth, tight ball. Put each ball in a baggie or wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat oven to 500 degrees. Joan Nathan says it’s preferable to have a pizza stone—but I don’t and it comes out great. Oil baking sheets and sprinkle them with semolina.

Stretch each ball of dough into a 6-inch circle. It can have bumps—in fact a few small hillocks and valleys work well with the toppings. Put the circles on the baking sheet (or baking stone for you fancy types) and bake for about 3 minutes, until the dough start to dry slightly.

Remove the partially baked disks form the oven and brush with olive oil to within 1 inch of the edge—or glug the olive oil on and use a paper towel to spread it. Sprinkle on the za’atar and the feta. Break an egg in the center of each bread (or if you’re feeling indulgent and don’t mind a lower bread to egg ratio—two eggs each pita). Bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until the crusts are golden brown and the eggs are baked. Do not overbake—the pizzas should be slightly soft.

 Cool Rise Challah from my mother’s By Special Request

 I don’t have Grandma Esther’s challah recipe but I remember it as being delicious. She died when I was 9 so while I remember that her food was amazing, I’m not great on the details (well, except for her dobos torte which I do remember). Anyway, her husband, my grandpa Israel Rosenberg of blessed memory, started to bake challah at some point after she passed away since the kneading helped his arthritis or bursitis. I am sorry not to have my grandparents’ recipe since I can remember how good it was. Grandpa sometimes would ship us challah from his home in Texas to ours in Boston. I do have this recipe for cool-rise challah that, like some of the other recipes in By Special Request, is a quintessential 1970s working woman’s recipe (both cool rise and no-knead!)—and it creates a challah with the best texture of all the recipes I’ve tried.  I think it’s worth trying—as long as you’re not in Jerusalem, where it really doesn’t make sense to make your own challah considering what you can buy.

1 package dry yeast

½ cup sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 teaspoons salt (sic)

4 eggs & 1 more egg for glazing

10 cups all purpose flour (or bread flour, which I’ve used)

2 ½ cups warm water

poppy seeds or sesame seeds if that’s your thing

 Dissolve yeast in 1 cup warm water and add sugar. Let sit for a few minutes to foam up and add oil, 4 lightly beaten eggs and 4 cups of flour. Gradually add remaining 6 cups of flour and beat in the mixer with a dough hook until the mixture forms a smooth ball and comes clean off the side of the bowl.

 Place ball of dough in a greased bowl and cover with more oil and then with aluminium foil. Refrigerate at least 2 hours and no more than 3 days.

Turn out onto a floured board. To make 3 large challahs, cut this into 3 pieces. (You could also make rolls and small challahs, but what follows is instructions for 3 large loafs).

 Cut each section into 4, so that you have 12 and roll this into long strips. You’ll need 4 strips per challah. Here’s the braiding technique—place 3 strips as for a hair braid and then a 4th on the left. Start with a conventional braid the 3 strips and then bring the 4th strip under and braid that strip with the 2 strips that are closest to it. Continue this system, always bringing the left-most strand under and braiding with it. Pinch ends when done and place in a greased loaf pan or on a greased baking sheet.

 Another favorite way that I learned from mom is to take 3 strands and cover them with the 4 in the other direction so that it bisects the strands. Braid each side and then tuck the braids under and then tuck the cross-section strand underneath . . . and you should have a beautiful round braid.  If you’ve added some raisins, it’s perfect for Rosh Hashana.

 However you’ve assembled your challah, brush them with the beaten final egg, sprinkle with seeds if using and let rest in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and after the loaves have risen, bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and shiny. Challah should have an undercrust and sound hollow when tapped on bottom. Cool on towels or on racks.


Marriage, mayo and even guggle-muggle

It’s a truism that marriage is about compromise–but it’s even better when you can get to win/win.

Here’s how I think it works: you begin by finding out that you have so much in common and you think you’ve found your soul mate. Then when you live together, you discover little things that you didn’t know about that can irk.  You realize (if you’re lucky) that the good outweighs the bad and that you can compromise and, if you’re really lucky, you can get to win/win.

In my case, Mr. Dot and I loved the same foods. When we were dating, we would joke that one of us could leave the ordering of the food at a restaurant to the other.  But when we set up house together I discovered, to my shock, that he likes mayonnaise.. I really can’t stand being around the stuff any more and if Mr. Dot eats something with mayonnaise (like the egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches he sometimes makes himself)  then I don’t even want to wash the plate.  I felt a little guilty about this  because I changed the terms by growing from mild dislike to revulsion only after we tied the knot.

Bread nut mayo in the processor. Photo by REG

Bread nut mayo in the processor. Photo by REG

Of course it would be ridiculous to blow up a good thing because of the mayo issue and so: homemade mayonnaise.  I am fine with eating raw eggs in mayo, mousse or a guggle-muggle (which is a traditional Jewish family cure for a cold—often milk and honey (one version I grew up with—but my surefire version is oj, honey and raw egg). I don’t have a regular raw egg mayo recipe—whenever I make it, I get out the  egg yolks, oil, lemon juice, mustard, and garlic and then reach for a cookbook and glance at a recipe just to get the proportions right.

Since not  every one  is fine with raw eggs, I was delighted that Mark Bittman provided the solution in The Food Matters Cookbook: a bread based vegan mayo which made it possible for me, after all these years—to finally make chicken salad with leftover chicken which is perhaps the best cold lunch food ever AND something that Mr. Dot loves. I have no special recipe for the chicken salad but recently had some leftover roasted cauliflower and added that and some dried currants to make a weeknight dinner that the whole family loved.  That’s right: win/win/win.

making win/win chicken salad with bread nut mayo photo by REG

making win/win chicken salad with bread nut mayo
photo by REG

Blue Dot  version of Mark Bittman’s bread mayo:

one slice of day old bread (Bittman says whole wheat is preferable but when I used whole wheat it was too gummy so I would advice a plain white bread; challah has also worked for me)

1/2 cup blanched almonds, walnuts or cashews

1 tbs oil or more as needed (use whatever you want to get whatever flavor you want for your mayo. Olive oil might be too pronounced a flavor for some palates)

2 tsp lemon juice, or to taste

1 clove garlic–to taste

1/4 cup plus a few tablespoons water

salt and  pepper

Wet bread with a few tablespoons of water and then squeeze most of the moisture out. There’s no need to be  obsessive about squeezing out the moisture because you’ll want some of it. Add the bread, nuts,  oil, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor and blitz away. With the machine running add a quarter of a cup of water and a little more oil to form the mayo–you can play with it to get the texture you like.  Add l emon juice, salt and pepper, to taste.

When you have good mayo, you can make great things with leftovers. Win/win! Photo by REG.

When you have good mayo, you can make great things with leftovers. Win/win!
Photo by REG.

Plan A Brussels Sprouts on a Plan B Day

I didn’t plan to mention my obsession with  Thanksgiving until November but . . . well, there’s no other way to say this so forgive me it sounds flip: world events took over and Brussels sprouts came my way.

Stock photo because my photographer is out of town

Stock photo because my photographer is out of town

You see, it all began with a lecture we tried to go to  last week (in fact a lecture series that I started way back when as the Director of Development at the only Jewish day school in the Nation’s Capital). Secretary Kerry was scheduled to speak, It was quite the big deal and really affirmed my thought way back then that maybe we could score some Washington bigwigs to speak at our little school.

And then it ended up being a big news days and at the last minute,  the Secretary  had to cancel.

Well, here we were—downtown and all dressed up and no place to go and so we went from 6th & I historic synagogue to the wonderful Zayitnya at 9th & G. As we walked over, we picked up a few more people from our old school and before you knew it, we had a table for 10.

Zaytinya has incredible small plates which are riffs on Middle Eastern food and fabulous cocktails (the hit of the night was the Turkish Storm). Around a year and a half ago I fell in love with their Brussels sprouts and researched them and found a recipe online from someone who tried to recreate them.  It’s not the official recipe but I’ve been making it (and tinkering with it) ever since.  One of the great things is that it follows the principle of my previous go-to Brussels sprouts recipe which I got from Bon Appetit one Thanksgiving. The author of the BA article made the point that a lot of people don’t like Brussels sprouts and so cover them up with cream and add chestnuts—but it’s best to just go for making the Brussels sprouts as yummy as possible without covering them up—and that’s what the Plan A style does.

Plan A Brussels sprouts

1 lb. Brussels sprouts, halved

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 cup olive oil

1/8 cup dried barberries (or pomegranate seeds if you can’t get barberries)

1/4 cup pistachio nuts coarsley chopped or roasted pine nuts

1/3 cup Greek yoghurt (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and spread the  Brussels sprouts on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with spices and add olive oil and toss. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Around halfway through the baking, check on the sprouts and move them around so that they can get cooked on all sides. These can stay in the oven after it’s shut off if you aren’t planning on serving them yet.

When ready to serve-transfer to a service dish. If serving with yoghurt, drizzle yoghurt over the sprouts.  Sprinkle with barberries (or pomegranate seeds) and pistachios or pine nuts.

Room for one more cupcake

They say the cupcake trend is on its way out now that Crumbs is likely closing. I say there’s one more cupcake to try before you decide that cupcakes are passé.  You may just decide that sort of uninteresting overly large cupcakes are dead but yummy cupcakes with the best frosting  ever are timeless.

Overview of cupcakes decorated with Whoppers by REG

Overview of cupcakes decorated with Whoppers
by REG

My Whopper Cupcakes started out as a cake of Nigella’s (Chocolate Maltesers from Feast) ; I was making the cake for a dinner party and I couldn’t find one of my 9 inch pans and so . . . cupcakes.  And it turns out, this malted chocolate cake is even better in its American form as Whopper Cupcakes—especially if you are able to find—as I inadvertently did in one of my explorations in an Indian market—malt power with . . . are your ready . . . cardamom.  In fact, we all love the cardamom Horlicks so much,that  I have started to add more of it to the cake part than Nigella did. But the real secret to the  one cupcake you have to try is the frosting which is, as my British friends say, more-ish.  In fact, you might  wish that these were overly large cupcakes with too much frosting. But, despite their name, they’re not–and that’s probably a good thing.

Whopper Cupcakes

For the cupcakes

3/4 light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

3 eggs

3/4 cup milk

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons Horlicks malted milk power (with cardamom if possible)

1/ 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

cupcake close up

For the frosting and decoration

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 teaspoon  unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup Horlicks malted milk powder (again, with cardamom if possible)

1 stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons boiling water

Malted milk balls, as decoration (you can buy fancy ones or you can use Whoppers, which are the American version of Maltesers).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and line cupcake tins with lining cups.  This recipe might make as any as 14 or 15 cupcakes.

Whisk the sugars and eggs—while the mixer is running, heat the milk, butter and Horlicks powder in a sauce pan until butter melts and it is hot but not boiling. When the sugar and eggs are light and frothy, beat in the hot Horlicks mixture.  Then fold in flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda.  Pour batter into cupcake tin (around 3/4 full) and bake around 20 minutes until the cakes have risen and spring back when pressed gently.  Cool them on a rack and remove.

When they are completely cool, you’re ready to frost the cupcakes. Nigella suggests making the frosting in the food processor—she says that eliminates the need to sift the confectioners sugar.  In all honesty, I’ve done it in the mixer and I’m not much of a sifter and it’s worked out fine.  In any event, blitz confectioners sugar, cocoa and Horlicks in the processor to remove lumps and combine and then add the butter and process again. Stop, scrape the sides and start again, pouring the boiling water in the funnel until you have a smooth buttercream.

The last time I made this, I added a little more water and it was a softer consistency that was easier to spread and it still became firm.

Decorate the cupcakes with malt balls.


Not particularly original

I’ll be without a photographer for the next month so I’ve been cooking her faves . . . just as a treat and also to have an inventory of pictures for the blog.

Penultimate supper of 2nd easiest salmon and coconut rice (and also cute baby zukes) photo by REG

Penultimate supper of 2nd easiest salmon and coconut rice (and also cute baby zukes) photo by REG

Some of her faves are easy so I didn’t exactly use recipes for her penultimate supper—although once upon a time I did have a recipe for coconut rice. This dish entered my repertoire around five years ago when I made it  for a dinner when my photographer was out of town for the weekend.  It was made for an “adults only” meal because at that time, my fearless photographer mostly wanted plain rice with NOTHING IN IT!!–so I could only experiment when she was away. And then one day she fell in love with coconut rice to the point where she now gets upset if I make plain rice that might deceptively look like coconut rice.  I’ve started to add the turmeric which I had seen in some recipes in order to make it clearer that white rice is plain and yellow rice is coconut rice.

Here’s my favorite way to make it:

Coconut Rice
1 cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon flavorless vegetable oil
1 15 oz can coconut milk (light is fine)
3 pods cardamom (of course)
1/4 tsp turmeric

Soak the rice in water at least one hour before you are going to cook it. Drain and soak again at least twice or even more if you are really meticulous about getting every grain perfect.

Heat the oil for one minute in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the drained rice and cook for 2 minutes, stirring a little so that every grain gets an oil coating. Add the cardamom pods and the coconut milk and bring to boil—and then cover and cook on low heat for around 20 minutes. When there is just a drop of liquid left, remove from the stove and add the turmeric and stir. Cover with a dish towel until you are ready serve.

Not much of a recipe but it’s delicious. If you want to make it super-fancy, you can add a cinnamon stick when cooking and serve with currants or pistachios tossed in and/or fried onions on top. But this is the simple weeknight version.

In our house, coconut rice is served alongside all sorts of things like ground turkey with peas, but most frequently I serve it with salmon. I used to make the easiest salmon in the world but then my fearless photographer discovered the second easiest salmon in the world which is probably something that most of my readers would consider to be not particularly original.

The easiest salmon in the world is when I take a salmon filet and place it in a pyrex dish sprayed with Pam, spray Pam all over it and grate fresh ginger on top and then cover it with aluminum foil and bake only until just done (15-20 minutes) so that it doesn’t get that over-cooked salmon taste.

For the second easiest salmon, I mix 1/4 cup soy sauce, grated ginger (or in a pinch, powdered ginger),  and 2 tablespoons brown sugar and marinate the salmon in this sauce for half an hour and then bake it around 20 minutes—again until just done and no more.

These aren’t really recipes and certainly won’t shake up the food world with their originality, but they are good weeknight fare and  they make my photographer so happy that she could barely stand taking pictures without digging in.  I’d say these are less recipes than advice on how to make something . . . kind of like the “recipes” that the late great Nora Ephron included in Heartburn which I just reread after many years because I treated myself to  The Most of Nora Ephron.  Every one who knew Ephron said that in general she was full of recipes and advice on how to live well–and my advice to you is to buy this book if you haven’t already. It contains lots of tidbits that–like the easiest salmon in the world or the second easiest salmon in the world–may not be revolutionary or unusual or difficult but are delicious.

Or another way of putting this is that Ephron’s philosophy is a lot like the Blue Dot credo as you’ll see in this quote n from a piece she wrote in 2006 where she rebuts critics of Heartburn‘s non-recipes:

“A food writer who wrote about the book carped that the recipes were not particularly original, but it seemed to me she missed the point. The point wasn’t about the recipes. The point (I was starting to realize) was about putting it together. The point was about making people feel at home, about finding your own style, whatever it was, and committing to it. The point was about giving up neurosis where food was concerned. The point was about riding a way that food fit into your life.”

(From Serial Monogamy: A Memoir, reprinted in The Most of Nora Ephron, pages 392-393)