Friday, September 26, 2008

Apples and Honey.

I've been putting this off for quite some time, but Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching and it's time to share one of my favourite recipes of all time: My mom's apple pie.

This may not be the most beautiful pie, and it may not be the world's most unique recipe, but I love it. This is the pie that I ate every Sunday night as a kid, along with a cup of decaf earl gray tea (my tea habit started young), while watching America's Funniest Home Videos (Bob Saget era) with my family. There are few foods in the world that are more comforting for me to make and eat. When I have a family, this will definitely be a regular fixture at our Rosh Hashanah dinner table.

When I first moved away from home, I used to make this pie as an excuse to call my mom to ask her for the recipe. I never wrote it down. There were so few ingredients and quite a large margin for error. I always thought that I'd be able to remember it. But I never did. Finally, after 2 years of calling to ask for the recipe on a monthly basis, she begged me to write it down:

(My hand writing is quite a bit nicer than R's, isn't it?)

It really is that easy to make this pie crust. And I'm about to show you one of the best tricks I've ever learned in the kitchen: You can avoid a lot of mess by rolling your pie dough between two sheets of waxed paper.

Just sprinkle the paper with a bit of flour, put your ball of dough in the middle, put the second piece of paper on top, and roll away. It's even easier if you tape the paper to the counter so that it doesn't slide around when you're rolling it. Got it? Remember this method, because we'll use it in a second.

Now, when we start to talk about filling things get a bit foggy. I don't think that my mom ever had a written down recipe for pie filling and I know that I don't. I know the basic ingredients and I usually just toss them all in the bowl together and taste bits of apple as I go along, adding ingredients until it tastes right.

But for you, I've written down some measurements.

So here we go.

Sandi's apple pie:


2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup Crisco
2-3 tbsp cold water

5 apples, whatever is in season. (I used Macintosh)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

1. In a large bowl, mix together the flour and salt for the crust.
2. Add 1 cup of Crisco, cut in with pastry cutter.
3. Add 2 tbsp of cold water, mix with hands. If the dough is still crumbly after kneading 6 times, add 1 more tbsp of water.
4. Divide dough into 2 balls and set aside.
5. Preheat oven to 400F.
6. Peel and slice apples into 1x1 inch cubes.
7. In a bowl, mix apples with lemon juice. Add remaining ingredients. Mix well. Set aside.
8. Between two pieces of waxed paper, roll out one of the two balls of dough created in step 4.
9. Carefully remove paper from one side, place paperless side down into a greased pie dish. Remove paper from other side.
10. Spoon filling into pie.
11. Between two pieces of waxed paper, roll out the other ball of dough. Carefully remove waxed paper from one side, then place paperless side down on top of filled pie. Remove paper from other side.
12. Trim remaining dough from edges, then press edges together with a fork.
13. Poke holes in the top of the pastry to allow air to vent during baking. This will keep your pie from bubbling over.
14. Place in oven for 50-60 minutes or until filling is bubbling slightly and crust is golden brown.
15. Remove from oven and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Conveniently, my mom's pie crust recipe is made with Crisco, which is parve! I do tend to bake with butter, so many of my favourite deserts are dairy based. However, both this recipe and the honey cake that I posted last week are parve, so you can bring them to any dinner knowing that they'll be welcome additions to the table.

That's all from me until after the High Holidays, so L'shanah tovah - to a sweet new year.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Honey cake for a sweet new year.

Fall is definitely coming. On Sunday, Toronto had its last heat wave of the season. This week you can smell the change of the season in the air. It's easier to breathe now. The sweaters are coming out.

With fall comes Rosh Hashanah, otherwise known as the Jewish New Year. My very first Jewish holiday celebration was a Rosh Hashanah dinner at R's brother's house. I brought a homemade apple pie from my mom's recipe, since I was told that apples and honey were symbols of the holiday. I'll post a recipe for that soon, since I think that it is a fitting dessert for the Rosh Hashanah table.

One of the first Jewish religious practices that I participated in was the dipping of apples in honey, which is a symbol of a wish for a sweet new year. Since honey is a symbol of Rosh Hashanah, this week's recipe should come as no surprise.

Last night, I attempted to make honey cake for the first time. It's always scary for me to make something from a recipe that hasn't been tested, especially since this time I was going on a recipe that had been printed out in R's chicken scratch, translated from his baba's recipe that she gave to him over the phone many years ago.

I love Baba Luba's recipes. They never involve real measurements or directions. There are no standards. It's always, "You take some sugar, and you mix it with an egg and some oil. You add the coffee and you mix. Add the flour and baking powder and mix more. Put in some honey. Put it in the oven and cook it until it's done."

From that, R got this:

Which I had to translate to this:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
1 cup strong coffee or espresso (cold)
3 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup honey


1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the sugar and oil, and mix until smooth.
2. Slowly add the coffee/espresso, mixing as you go.
3. Add 1 cup of flour, the baking soda and the baking powder. Mix, then slowly add the remaining 2 cups of flour.
4. Add 1 cup of honey. (At this point, if you were using a hand mixer, I recommend putting it down because the batter is going to get really thick and sticky.)
5. Mix in the honey by hand.
6. Pour batter into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper (or a greased non-stick pan).
7. Bake at 350F for 1 hour, or until a toothpick poked into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Before baking this cake, I had only tasted honey cake once in my life. Last time I had it it was store bought. This time it tasted so much better, and I don't think that it was just my sense of accomplishment that made it taste so sweet. This is definitely a good cake to have with coffee after dinner, or as a rather unhealthy companion to your morning latte. When I make this again to bring for Rosh Hashanah dinner, I'm going to attempt to make some sort of honey glaze, and I might try decorating the top of the cake with sliced apples. Wouldn't that be cute?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Mastering the art of Kosher Cooking.

So why am I starting this blog?

I guess that it's best to start with the food part. I was raised in a secular household. Cooking and baking was always very important to my mom. Instead of buying cookies and granola bars from the grocery store, she used to bake them herself. Kids at school were always so jealous of my lunchbox. I got beat up more than once for those granola bars. And every Sunday the house would fill with the smell of the oven as she would make roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy, followed by a fresh pie (usually apple).

So it's no wonder that I grew up to enjoy baking and cooking. I enjoyed food so much that I eventually became a professional food photographer.

Three years ago, I met a boy. We liked each other. Then we loved each other. Two months ago, we got engaged. I had known since we started dating that he was Jewish and wanted a Jewish family. So when he proposed, I signed up for conversion classes.

Since I started dating my wonderful fiance, I've had the chance to participate in many Jewish holiday celebrations, and in the meantime I've been able to enjoy some seriously amazing Jewish food. I love that so many dishes have a story and a tradition. Eastern European Jewish cuisine really appeals to me and my love of meats, sweets and starches. Naturally, after tasting something that I like, I need to know how to make it. Then I usually attempt to recreate it in my own kitchen. As a result of this, and as a way of understanding the culture that I was marrying into, I began to cook Jewish food shortly after I started eating Jewish food.

Yesterday, after successfully recreating R's baba's chicken soup, I got to thinking: What if I turned this little hobby of mine into a project? What if I were to document these attempts at learning to cook like a bubbe?

Of course, it only made sense to create a blog. Who doesn't have a blog nowadays?

I should clarify that this blog might not follow all kosher laws. I suppose that it's more like kosher style than anything. I am learning about keeping kosher, but it's a process and I may not always know the rules, especially at the beginning. That being said, if you aren't familiar with kosher cooking, I hope that you'll enjoy learning with me.

To start, here is Baba Luba's chicken soup recipe:

1 whole chicken
1 carrot, peeled
2 stalks of celery, leaves removed
1 whole peeled onion
salt, pepper

1. Fill a soup pot halfway to the top with water. Add 3Tbsp of salt. Bring to a boil.
2. While waiting for the water to boil, cut the whole chicken into quarters and remove the skin. Reserve the neck and any giblets - They'll give the soup lots of flavour.
3. When the water is boiling, add the chicken, carrot, celery and onion. Continue to boil for 10-20mins, stirring often, skimming off any foamy residue that comes to the surface.
4. Reduce heat to low, cover (leaving a tiny crack for steam to escape) and simmer for 3 hours, longer if you have the patience. Stir occasionally.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste. I also added some powdered thyme, and you might like to add some rosemary too.
6. Simmer for another 20mins.
7. Remove from heat. At this point you can either strain the soup to get a clear broth, or you can break up the vegetables and chicken and leave them in the soup, removing only the chicken bones, the neck/giblets, and the onion.

I would have taken pictures of the process, but at the time I wasn't thinking about posting this as a blog entry. Next time there will be pictures, I promise.