Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Before we came, R asked her if she'd like us to bring some honey cake. "Just a piece," she said. But I can't make "just a piece" of honey cake, so I made two small loaves instead.
Now here's a funny story about Baba Luba. When R first told her that he was dating me, she certainly had her doubts. To be honest, she was flat out displeased. That's not the funny part, but I don't blame her. Here's the thing about Luba: She's a melodramatic woman by nature. She's very deadpan and she tries to hide her smiles with scowls. She's over 90 years old, but she's still sharp as a Mach 4 razor. Nothing gets by her. She's very difficult to understand sometimes because she speaks about 4 languages fluently and has a mish-mashed accent. Anyway, I understand the desire to preserve the culture, to see your grandchildren marry your friends' grandchildren. I'm just glad that she's since changed her tune.
The first time that I met Luba, I felt that I needed to bring some sort of gift to her. So I made mandelbrot (like Jewish biscotti) from her own recipe. When I offered it to her she seemed sincerely impressed, and took a bite. As she was chewing, R made a joke to her and as she breathed in to laugh, she started to choke. As she choked, she pointed and me and whispered loudly to R in her thick Polish accent, "The shiksa! She tried to kill me!"
Things have changed quite a bit since then, and I've won her over. She asks R about me pretty often now, and she gives me a kiss on the cheek and a hug when she sees me. She loves it when I ask her for help with recipes. Still, I was worried when I brought the honey cake to her because Luba isn't afraid to be honest and I wasn't sure if she would approve of my small variations. But, as the photographic evidence shows, she was quite pleased.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Fall is definitely here, and I've been seeing pumpkins everywhere lately. How could I resist the urge to take a stab at cooking with one?
None of these recipes were borrowed from any kosher recipes or passed on to me by any family members (Jewish or non), so I fought with myself about putting them in here. I really do want this blog to be about Jewish food above all else. The only thing about these recipes that really jives with this blog is the fact that they're all either parve or dairy, so they're not treif. But I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to share these recipes with you all, because they're really great and I'm really proud of how inexpensive it was to make them.
Ask anybody over the age of 50 and they'll attest to the importance of frugality. Kids these days! They throw too much away!
When I knew her, my grandmother Edith fed the squirrels that bounced through her garden. During the depression however, she caught and ate those squirrels for dinner. After moving to Canada from Poland after WWII, baba Luba bought live fish at the market on sale and kept them alive in her bathtub until she was ready to cook them. These women knew what it meant to eat fresh food, regardless of where it came from and whether or not they had to sacrifice their bathing habits to do so.
I think that a lot of us are feeling nervous about the economy these days (I know that my instincts have kicked in and I've started hoarding home made soup in our freezer) and we're looking for ways to save money on our food without compromising our tastes. My financial fears haven't quite reached squirrel-hunting levels, but I still felt a sense of pride when I managed to turn a $2 pie pumpkin into a 3 course meal: Toasted pumpkin seeds as an appetizer, pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter sauce for the main course, and mini pumpkin cupcakes with maple frosting for dessert.
Onto the recipes:
First, let's make the pumpkin puree. I know that it's probably just as easy to get canned pumpkin, but that's just not how I roll. If you want to save yourself some time, I wouldn't blame you for skipping this step and grabbing your can opener instead.
How to make pumpkin puree:
Start with a pie pumpkin. Peel it (I use a vegetable peeler and it's a pain - please let me know if you have a better way). Cut it in half and scoop out the gunk and the seeds. Save the seeds because you'll need them later. Once you've cleaned out the pumpkin, cut it into 1-inch cubes.
Place the pumpkin cubes in a medium-sized saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium-high heat until the pumpkin is soft and tender. Drain and discard the cooking water.
Place the cooked cubes in a food processor and puree.
Now that we've got our pumpkin puree, we can go ahead with the other recipes. Let's start with the easiest one: Toasted pumpkin seeds!
Toasted Pumpkin Seeds:
Carefully remove all of the "gunk" and thoroughly wash the pumpkin seeds that you scooped out while you were making the pumpkin puree.
Pat them dry with paper towel.
Place them on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with 2 tsp of kosher salt.
Bake at 400F for 15 minutes, then shake the tray a bit to flip the seeds and bake for another 10 minutes, or until the seeds are golden. Remove from oven and allow them to cool on the sheet.
What next? How about the main course?
Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce:
1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup butter
1 tsp ground sage (or, if you can get it, 5-6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped)
1 clove of garlic, minced.
Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. The pumpkin puree will begin to look slightly dry.
Remove the pan from the heat. Transfer the pumpkin to a large bowl and add the flour, egg yolk, and salt. The mixture should be in the form of a soft dough. Be careful not to knead the dough too much or you'll get tough gnocchi.
Here's where I get lazy. While most people take great care in forming their gnocchi, I get impatient and just want to form them as quickly as possible. I roll small balls of dough into long cylinders (the size of a whiteboard marker) and then cut the cylinders into 1 inch pieces. This seems to work for me.
As you go, place the formed gnocchi on a plate sprinkled with flour.
When you're ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil.
Meanwhile, make the sauce by combining the butter, sage and garlic in a small skillet. Place over low heat and simmer until the butter turns golden.
Cook the gnocchi a few at a time in the boiling water until they rise to the surface of the water. Transfer them with a slotted spoon to a warm platter.
To serve, drizzle the gnocchi with the butter sauce, and top with a few grinds of fresh pepper.
And for dessert:
Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting:
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
4 tablespoons softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup milk
Into a bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, salt, and spices.
In a mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar together. Add egg, beating well. Beat in pumpkin puree. Add dry ingredients, alternating with the milk, until well blended. Line 2 muffin pans with muffin liners. Fill each lined cup about 2/3 full.
Bake at 350° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until cakes bounce back when lightly touched in the center.
Mix 2 tsp of maple extract into a can of prepared frosting. You could make your own if you want, but I've never been good at it, so I just cheat and add interesting flavours to prepared frostings now.
Force frosting frosting through a decorator's star tip, if desired, or frost with a spatula.
So there you have it, friends. And in case you're wondering, the pumpkin cupcakes were very well received at my Dad's Thanksgiving dinner. :)