Sunday, 19 September 2010

Like Putting on a Sweater Made of Hugs...

That is what this food feels like for me.  It's cozy and warm and reminds me of home during my favorite time of year when apples and butternut squash are at their best, and you can justify sprinkling cinnamon and nutmeg on anything.... This Sweet Vegetable Casserole I made this morning is what my mother originally started making during Passover- a holiday filled with strong memories of my Grandpa.  Memories which I am putting on like a sweater to keep me warm....

Passover is probably the most important Jewish holiday after Shabbat.  It is the holiday that tells the story of the Jews exodus from Egypt and slavery (and into that whole wandering for 40 years- but conveniently the holiday doesn't focus on our directional ineptness...) and celebrates the coming of spring.  Passover sedar is the dinner during which the story is retold from the haggadah with ritualistic eating and drinking.  If you're Orthodox the sedar can take FOREVER and is mostly in Hebrew.  Lucky for me I grew up in a reform temple, so my mother and I felt at liberty to edit our own version of the story to include women (consistently left out of many of the well known biblical stories and prayers), English, and modern day relevance (Intollerance and poverty is something I can wrap my head around a lot more than locust or frogs). 

During our Passover sedars Grandpa often led, Mom and Grandma cooked, Dad and Roger took turns downing a glass of wine to represent 'Elijah', Debbie made her marinated mushrooms, and Ellen and I sang the four questions and hunted for the afikoman (for which we were rewarded with money or the promise of pierced ears by Grandpa).  But most importantly, we all ate (a lot) relaxed, and enjoyed each others company.

This recipe makes a fabulous sweet side dish, could work well for breakfast or dessert or for absolutely no other reason than the desire for the taste of the season and of home.  Make it and you'll find that sweet memories are baked right in.

Bebe's Sweet Vegetable Casserole

1 cup grated raw sweet potato or butternut squash*
1 cup grated raw carrot
1 cut grated raw tart apples
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup flour or matzoh meal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp baking soda

*If you're using butternut squash you can roast off all that you don't use (which is most of the squash) in the oven like I did in the photo above*

Feel free to use a bit more grated veg or spices if you have it...


Grate all fruit/veg and mix together.  Add your spices, soda and flour and mix well. 

Grease a 9" or 10" baking pan.  Pour your mixture in, smooth the surface and bake in a 325/165 oven for 40-45 minutes or until the top is golden and starting to pull away from the sides.

Cool.  Cut.  Try not to eat it all in one sitting.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Black Forest Brownies

This time of the year is my absolute favorite!  The days still have lingering sunshine and pleasant temperatures, but a cooler crisper air now allows for the comfort of fuzzy cardigans, favorite jeans and the excuse to eat big bowls of soup and buy cute new autumn boots.  I absolutely love the first hints of autumn colors- even if they are just in clothing stores.  Autumn colors and trends of any kind always take their lead from the changing colors of the trees as well as the autumnal harvest; pumpkins and squash and apples all doused in cinnamon (or green chile if you live in New Mexico).  Autumn is a season of anticipation for me.  Growing up it was the anticipation of going back to school, starting something new.  Now it's the anticipation of my favorite color and flavor palate.  Autumn is my favorite time of year to eat.

Autumn brings Rosh Hashana- Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur- a day of atonement.  These holidays revolve around the food cooked for them, even if one of them focuses on a long fast (as Jews we are always preparing for the next meal, and my form of fasting has always pretty much been just those few hours in between meals).  Autumn also brings Halloween, a holiday nearest and dearest to my heart which not only allows you to step outside yourself by dressing up, but exalts both the pumpkin and the apple- what could be better? 

Autumn for me brings the anticipation of Thanksgiving- by far my favorite holiday of them all.  This time of year is about cozying up with family and friends and cooking for the people you love with some of the richest natural flavors possible.

I promise you (and me) any itch for a butternut squash/pumpkin/apple/spice recipe will surely be scratched over these next few glorious months.  Just not today.  I too am trying to develop the art of building anticipation...

I am however in serious need of comfort food.  This adulthood thing, it's hard.  And not just hard like 'wow that math test last week was hard'.   Adulthood can sometimes be the kind of hard that you just can't study for.  And it times like these, it's good to have a recipe on hand for Black Forest Brownies.

The history of the American Brownie goes a little something like this:

The brownie first appeared in public during the 1893 Columbian Exposition, held in Chicago, Illinios. A chef at the city's Palmer's House Hotel created the confection after Bertha Palmer requested a dessert for ladies attending the fair; it should be, she said, smaller than a piece of cake and easily eaten from boxed lunches. These first brownies featured an apricot glaze and walnuts, and they are still being made at the hotel according to the original recipe

There are two major schools of thought when it comes to the texture of the brownie; either dense and fudgey or cakey.  Culinary historians have traced the first cake brownie to the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, edited by Fannie Merritt Farmer. This recipe is an early, less rich and chocolaty version of the brownie we know today, which only used two squares of melted Baker’s chocolate. We don’t know if Fanny Farmer obtained the recipe from another source, printed it as is, adapted it, or provided the name.  As the recipe evolved people started adding more chocolate and more eggs to create a denser fudge consistency like many of us know (and LOVE) today.  While the first brownie recipes were published and variations began to evolve in the first years of the 20th century, it took until the 1920's for the brownie to really catch on and become the delicious and exalted baked good it is today.

Now, let me tell you a bit of history behind this particular brownie recipe.  The original recipe was for 'White Chocolate and Raspberry Brownies' and comes from the cookbook put out my my old temple in Cleveland, compiled recipes from congregants.  I however have never been a huge fan of white chocolate so I have adapted this recipe over the years to suit my tastes.  I should also add that while I will be using a slightly modified (and secret) version of this for an amateur 'brownie bake-off' next month!  Winner (fingers crossed) gets a 6 month supply of chocolate (I wonder if they're prepared for what my husband and I consider that to be...).  Here is the version I made today to remind me of home:

Black Forest Brownies

½ cup unsalted butter
2 cups chocolate chips (I used a combination of dark and milk chocolate)
½ cup sugar
1 cup plain white flour
2 eggs
½ tsp vanilla
pinch salt
2/3 cup cherry jam

Preheat the oven to 325C/ 155F.  Grease a square 8” or 9” pan.

In a small pot over the stove melt your butter.  Add to it 1 cup chocolate chips but DO NOT STIR.

In a large bowl whip eggs until fluffy.  Add sugar and mix at a high speed until the color is lemony and sugar is combined.  Add melted butter/chip mixture at a low speed, followed by flour, vanilla and salt.

Pour 2/3 of your chocolate batter evenly into your pan and bake for 10-12 minutes.  Meanwhile on a low heat melt your jam until it is very thin and liquidy, taking care to continuously stir it so it does not bubble or burn.

Pour heated jam onto your baked brownie, making sure to evenly cover the surface area.

Stir your remaining chips into your reserved brownie batter and dollop evenly onto your baked brownies.  Some jam will show through- don't worry it will look beautiful!

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a tester comes out clean.  Take care not to over bake, this will dry your brownies out leaving you with no choice but to cover in ice cream before eating... not always a bad thing I suppose...

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Quintessential British Eating; The Sunday Roast

As an American anthropologist living abroad in London I have been on the never-ending quest to identify and define distinct elements of British culture. Though I have lived in London now for four years, and have adjusted very well by now to both the London and the British way of life, I am always reminded of the changes whenever I return to the states to visit, or receive a visit from American friends and family.

I have in the past year made the switch in career paths from arts anthropologist to culinary anthropologist, and have become even more interested in embarking on a quest to discover truly British food customs and recipes. What I have enjoyed doing, and continue to do is recognise these cultural food icons, and then recreate them to incorporate my American background. I have begun doing so using such cultural practices afternoon tea, salty Scottish porridge, scones, and now the Sunday Roast.

In short, the origins of the 'Sunday roast' are as follows; In medieval times the village serfs or peasants served the squire for six days a week. Sundays however were a day of rest, and after the morning church service the squire would reward them for their hard work during the week with a meal, often consisting of roasted oxen. The Sunday Roast was born, and today while no longer oxen, is still a mainstay in British families and pubs all over the country.

I, a former vegetarian for nearly 10 years, am determined to master the art of the perfectly roasted chicken. Roasted chicken for me, given my Jewish heritage, is an important feature in my cultural upbringing. Roasted chicken is known to often make its appearance at the Friday night Shabbat family dinner table. It's bones are used later to make the stock for matzah ball soup, chicken noodle soup etc. In this recipe I married the great traditions of both the British roast and the Jewish roasted chicken, with my love of the Southwest flavours of the United States. I bring you, Pasilla Chili Roasted Chicken.

Pasilla Chilli Roasted Chicken
Serves 6


2 tbsp Demorara sugar
1 tsp Pasilla chili powder
2-3 tsp olive oil
1x 2kg free range fresh chicken
1 lemon
1 whole onion
salt and pepper to taste


Pre-heat your oven to 170C.

In a small bowl combine sugar, chili powder and olive oil until you have made a thick and grainy paste. You can add more olive oil if you wish, it won't hurt.

Wash chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Insert the whole onion and ½ the lemon into the chicken's cavity. Sprinkle the skin of the chicken with sea salt and rub in. This will help you to create a crispier chicken skin by helping to drain the moisture out of the skin.

Generously cover the chicken in the sugar/chili paste, making sure to coat the chicken completely by rubbing the paste in with your fingers (my preference always- I'm a messy cook) or a pastry brush.

Place the chicken into a roasting pot, large enough that you will be able cover the pot with a lid half way through the cooking time.

Place the chicken uncovered into the oven for 45 minutes.

After the 45 minutes of cooking time is up, cover the chicken with the lid and cook for another 40 minutes or until the juices from the bird run clear.

Remove the bird from the oven and rest for a minimum of 10-15 minutes.

Enjoy with your favorite accompaniments and later on as leftovers