Monday, April 22, 2019

Brisket for Two - a Nod to Passover

Presented with apologies to all of my ancestors that survived Lithuania just long enough to pass this on
this important culture to some idiotic child like me. 
I'm easily the worst possible source for how to host a Passover Seder, but I had a little feast anyway. Genetically, I'm 50% Ashkenazi Jewish and 50% Indigenous Pinoy/ dang, do I know how to deep-fry some good stuff, and that's about the beginning and end of what those two cuisines have in common. I like to celebrate all holidays that I'm able to, even if I can't have any bread, cookies, or cereal for the next week. (Not 'can't,' won't is more like it. 100% choice.) While I realized I didn't actually have a proper seder plate, I still wanted to celebrate the first night of Passover with my husband. So we did something completely casual for the two of us!

I've had a few Passover Seders here and there, so let's just get down to it: The Passover Seder is a very special one that involves story telling around the table. Every piece of what the table has on it means something. It's a ritualistic meal and a very important one at that. This blog is merely to show you what I did and I don't want anyone to get offended (not that I could see how) but we did want to celebrate the freedom of the Hebrews.

Motivation time:

If you ever feel insignificant: 10,000 years of civilization with every single aspect of nature (that wants you dead, by the way) fighting against you, as well as other peoples fighting against you, you've made it. You were the one that made it through the infinitely small chances of coming into existence. Every single life is unbelievably unlikely, and you are the one that's here, reading this now. After everything the last 10,000 years has thrown at the human civilization, you made it. I don't know if that's by chance or not, but the blood and souls of your ancestors were fighting hard for you to be here. Some of mine got lost in a desert for 40 years, but dammit they made it. Just so one of their descendants can screw up a Passover Seder. I hope they at least developed a sense of humor over all those millenia.

We'll get to the meal in a minute, but before all that I want to at least touch on what goes on your traditional Seder plate. I'd like to point out that nothing on this particular plate is eaten, just put up for the ritual and for the story you tell as you sit down for the meal. This story is a very important one to tell, and quite important to the actual ritual of eating.

What goes on the Seder Plate

  • Zeroa (shank bone)
    • Usually a lamb shank bone, it represents the sacrifice offered up from the Hebrews on the eve of their exodus from Egypt
  • Beitzah(hard-boiled egg)
    • This represents a sort of "new beginnings", a universal Springtime symbol! It's not eaten from the seder plate, but lots of folks serve an appetizer of chopped egg salad or deviled eggs before the meal.
  • Charoset(yummy)
    • This 'paste' is actually delicious! It's a mash of apples, pears, dates, walnuts, honey, and a dash or two of kosher wine. Do yourself a favor and set some aside for yourself for the dinner table. If there's any leftover, spread it on matzoh the morning after for a treat!
  • Maror (bitter herb)
    • Usually horseradish or romaine lettuce, it represents the bitterness of slavery
  • Karpas (spring vegetable)
    • Most folks use parsley, which is bitter, but also alive and springy, served next to salt water to represent the tears cried by the slaves.
Now that that's all out of the way, we can get on to what you can actually serve for a Passover Seder. Roast chicken is a fairly traditional staple, and so is brisket. So long as it's not mixing milk and meat, and the meat is kosher, go nuts! It's all entirely up to the host's preferences. This hostess did...

Favorite Easy Brisket for Two
  • 2.5 lb brisket (it's what they had at the butcher)
  • Ground spice mix
    • 3 Tbsp kosher salt
    • 2 tsp coffee grounds
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 1/2 tsp whole coriander
    • 1/4 tsp whole cumin
    • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne
    • 5 or 6 allspice berries
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 large tomato, cut into wedges and salted
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • Boiled potatoes 
  • Garden Herbs
  • Hard-boiled Eggs (dyed because Easter was yesterday)
Grind your spices in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder if you have it), putting the salt in the bottom first, then the cumin and coriander, then the rest of everything else. Grind it to be course yet so everything's all about the same size. You'll just love the aroma! Mix it with a few drops of a neutral oil (grapseed or canola will do) and rub it all over your brisket. Re-wrap it and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, but of course the longer you let it sit, the better. 

The moment I get home from the butcher, I like to salt and pepper my meat and rewrap it in the paper. I think this lets the salt do its magic a little easier, and it just gets things going. Prepare the vegetables by washing and chopping them simply. The best part about meals like this is that you can start it in the middle of the afternoon, forget about it and go on about your day, and then come back to a delicious meal. I suggest 2+ hours of cooking time, so please plan accordingly. 

To prepare a brisket, first preheat your oven to 400 degrees and break out your favorite casserole pot. I have this incredible old pot that my great-grandmother used. I have no idea where it came from, I just know that it's been in my family for generations and that it's the best damn pot I've ever had. Pick something that'll go both on the stovetop and the oven without cracking or blinking an eye (so to speak). Pots like these are investments, and I highly suggest you get one!

Set your casserole pot on a high flame and add a small glug of canola oil to the bottom. Let heat and give it a gentle swirl. Unwrap that brisket that's been pre-seasoned, and place it - fat cap side down - into the pot. Turn the flame down to medium-high and turn on your vent. It might help to open a window lest your home kitchen is like mine without a commercial vent. You're going to let it sear for at least 3 minutes before you turn over and let it sear on the other side for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pot and set on a plate. Turn that heat back up to high.

Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Dump in all of your vegetables that you've chopped and cook for 2 minutes. Stir, scraping the bottom, and then cover and reduce the flame to medium. Let cook for another 2 minutes, open the top and scrape up all the goodies. Arrange the veggies so they are an even surface to put your  meat back onto. Let your meat rest atop the veg, fat cap side up, and cover. Let cook on the stove for about 10 minutes before putting in the hot oven. When you do put it in the oven, decide then if you'd like to introduce any herbs from your garden. A big bunch of parsley might be nice, or some dill. Either way, pop that covered pot into that oven.

Cook for 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 and cook for another 90 minutes (or an hour and a half). You can take this time to take a shower, go for a walk, read a magazine, or do any other errand around the house. You can also prepare some yummy sides! Here's my favorite easy way to do red-skinned potatoes:

Take large red-skinned potatoes and pop them all in a tall stock pot (mine is about 4 qt). Fill the pot with water so that the potatoes are completely submerged and add a little more than a half a cup of kosher salt (I'm seriously not kidding) into the water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.Cook until soft, then let sit for at least 15 minutes. Drain this salty water and let the potatoes air-dry on a paper towel. They're going to form a beautiful salty crust, so don't be alarmed. Now, they're soft and ready to be fried in butter or oil! Simply smash them or cut them in rough cubes, then cook on a medium-high heat to brown! The result is like a french fry only without all the work. You can also add in chopped herbs, sliced asparagus...whatever you like! I took some asparagus from my garden and mixed it in with these glorious potatoes to serve as my side-dish.

The picture is only blurry because it's steamy!

To make the perfect hard-boiled egg, begin with cold water, completely covering the eggs in the pot. Bring your pot to a boil, turn the heat off, and cover. Set the timer for 15 minutes, then drain and pour ice straight atop the eggs. This will make peeling a much easier feat in the future, believe you me!

I did have a little more than some fun dyeing these eggs. Simple technique! Dye a base coat in the normal method, but leave it a little pale. Then make a layered solution of white vinegar and canola oil. Drop a few drops of dye into the oil, and quickly drop in the egg. Swirl it around a bit and then let drip on a tray lined with a cooling rack The effect will be a beautiful marbled one. If you're feeling fancy, dust on some luster dust with a paintbrush while still damp. Gorgeous!

Your brisket should be done about now. Remove from the oven and let hang out on the stovetop for about 15 minutes. You're letting everything rest and making it easier for yourself to slice. I suggest thin slices, crosswise from the grain. Serve with your potatoes, herbs, eggs, and more!

Thanks so much for joining me on this post. I'm loving my new work schedule and I hope you guys love it, too.  Chag sameach! (That's yiddish for happy holidays)

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you aren't already doing so. Just yesterday I've had a minor panic about what to do with a traditional passover breakfast of Matzoh-brei.  Enjoy a photo of it here!

 Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Vegan Graham Crackers

Wow. A portrait orientation. Crazy. 

I know it's barely April, but I can't stop thinking of summer! My favorite thing about summer is campfires, snapping and crackling, dancing up to the sky as if to praise. And what's the best thing about a campfire? A s'more, of course! Now I've spoken before about homemade marshmallows in a few posts previously, but this post is about my favorite childhood snack. No, really! I would have a stack of graham crackers with a glass of ice cold milk and it would be the best thing ever.

If you want to make your own marshmallows, I've got a few recipes. If you want to make your own chocolate, please sponsor a cacao tree and save it from loggers! Now, let's get cooking with this incredibly easy graham cracker recipe, that you won't even need a mixer for!

My Favorite Graham Crackers

  • 312 g AP Flour
  • 85 g coconut sugar
  • 85 g vegan butter
  • 2.5 fl oz (a little less than a third of a cup) honey 
    • Seriously. It's an animal product but I swear it doesn't harm a single animal. Please. Buy honey and support apiaries who are trying to keep bees alive. But if it seriously still bothers you then just use molasses or maple syrup. But please buy honey.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp almond or oat milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped(you can also use 2 tsp good vanilla extract or 1 tsp of vanilla paste)
Preheat your oven to 350 F and prepare a sheet pan with a silpat mat or with parchment paper. Seriously, don't skimp on this part. I don't care if you have a nonstick cookie sheet. Please just do this because it makes it so much easier in the long run.

Combine the flour, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and, with your fingers, rub the fat into the flour. This is very much like you're making a pie! You're looking for crumbs that are just a little bit smaller than the size of a pea. Make a well in the middle and pour in the honey. Using your fingertips, flick the flour mixture over the honey and stir by hand. Pour the milk over and knead gently for a few turns, just to get it to come together. Turn out onto an oiled surface, ideally a marble slab. You're going to end up with a spectacular dough that's going to smell incredible.

And since there are no eggs in this dough, you can eat this raw. You probably will, too.

Oil your hands quite well and pop your dough onto your prepared sheet tray. The trick with this one is to roll out your dough on/inside the tray, so you're manipulating it as little as possible. You can oil your rolling pin as well, but you won't need to if you have a marble one. Just make sure that it's even in thickness! You can tear and fill where you need, and then not worry about it!

Use a wheel cutter (better known as a pizza cutter) to score the sides of the sizes of crackers you want. I wasn't exactly sure if it was going to be perfect, so I kind of just went with a size I thought was comfortable with. These will puff up in an unattractive way if you don't prick these with a fork, so I make sure to prick it mercilessly. 

This is a 'half sheet pan.' It's available at most restaurant supply stores! They're larger than residential cookie sheets.

Bake in a hot oven for 11 to 13 minutes. Once done, evacuate, turn off your oven, and set the pan on a cooling rack. Don't try and move the crackers themselves, as they'll still be quite soft. I know it'll be hard to tell when they're done because they're already gorgeous and golden-brown. You'll know for sure that they're done because they've completely set, gone slightly darker around the edges, and your house smells awesome.

You'll need to cool for at least 15 minutes before snapping. Because you're using an invert sugar (or a liquid sugar) it's going to soften up with heat. As it cools, it will become nice and brittle! This is also why gingerbread is so malleable when warm but strong and snappy when cooled. 

Store in an airtight container, lest they go stale, but honestly they probably won't last 24 hours. So do yourself a favor and make a double recipe.

Thanks so much for sticking with me with this new schedule! Blogs will now be posted every Monday, by 7 pm CST. Then, please join me for #Foodiechats on Twitter! You can ask me anything food-related, ask me for gardening advice, or just ask me how my day is going. I'll ask you how your day is going and we'll have a nice connection where we relate to each other. Doesn't that sound great? Sure it does. Now get out there and make some s'mores with my graham crackers!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash

You know the basics of cooking. Let's now ramp it up!
Learning to cook is easy for some, but most have issues out of fear. My husband told me a lovely piece of wisdom in reference to creating a design or a piece of art: "You have to make a mistake at least once." The best part about mistakes when cooking? You still get to eat it, even if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you've planned. Chef make mistakes all the time and that's okay if you do, too.

I read somewhere that about 25% of all restaurant meals are eaten at home, meaning DoorDash, Uber Eats, and GrubHub are a far better business model than anyone ever expected. If you look on Craigslist you can make a living just delivering food for people, and it looks to be a decent amount. It's a good side-hustle if you're looking to pick up an extra hundred bucks over the weekend or on a spare night. For the consumer, though, it's the eternal struggle:

Do I eat out or stay in? Or do I stay in and get delivery? If I get delivery I still have to tip the driver. But if I get takeout I have to leave the house. But if I'm going to leave the house I may as well just eat out. But I don't want to leave the house or spend money. Should I cook? I don't want to cook, I had a long day. But it's so expensive if I don't cook...

See the problem? With some basics, some practice, you can go from "eh" home cook to "hey!" home cook. This is a really simple recipe that you can prepare mostly ahead of time and that will produce restaurant-quality results. Marinade the chicken in the morning and then roast the squash up to six days before you reheat in the oven and produce the squash puree. The leeks take the shortest amount of time, so go ahead and do that right when you cook.

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash
perfect dinner for 2
  • 3 Tbsp good honey
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • A few grinds of green peppercorns
  • A pinch of sumac
    • Most stores carry this - it's bright red and is a powder. You can find them in specialty stores, too! 
  • 2 boneless-skinless chicken breasts, ideally around 6 oz
  • 1 small butternut squash
    • The smaller the better! The big ones have too much water in them and are not always as flavorful as the smaller ones. 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 oz (4 Tbsp) butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 1 small leek, sliced ultra-thin
  • Butter/oil for frying
  • Fresh or Dried mint for garnish
Start with the squash. Turn your oven to 325 degrees F and split the squash down the middle. You can pitch the seeds, or you can see if you want to plant them and grow your own squash. After all, it's spring! (And for anyone who wants to be all "ooohh but you're a SEASONAL cook why cook with squash "pls leave me alone I had it in the cellar from last fall and didn't want it to go bad) Squash is a pretty awesome fruit that is packed with vitamins. Plus, it's got a super-bright color! 

Winter squash has a gorgeous custardy quality when cooked. Roast it simply by splitting down the middle, scoring it  quite deeply with a paring knife (this just means you make slashes on the inside of the flesh). Rub with either butter or oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for an hour and change, or until unbelievably soft. You can do this ahead of time and reheat in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes with excellent results!

To marinate the chicken, simply combine the honey, vinegar, salt, green peppercorns, and sumac in a bowl with a whisk, and add your chicken. Rub it into the chicken breast and let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. The reason you can do this quickly is because of the honey. Honey has a wonderful group of enzymes that break down proteins. You can add a little honey to any dish with a lot of stringy thick muscular fibers, like brisket, to help speed up the process in tenderizing. I like to use honey instead of pineapple for this, as honey won't break anything down to the point of being slimy. 

When  you're ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and give it a quick rinse before patting dry. Discard the marinade. I like to use my cast iron griddle, but not everyone has one of those. You can use a good thick-bottomed frying pan so long as you get it hot. give the chicken a good hard sear with high heat for at least 2 minutes on one side before flipping over. Lower the heat to medium and add the shaved leeks. Cover and cook for another 4 minutes. This is called "sofrito" and it's a cooking technique that was developed a very long time ago, dating all the way back to the ancient Shepardi tribes in Jerusalem, travelling all the way up to Moorish Spain. 

Meanwhile, let's focus on the squash. Scrape out the squash from the skin with a spoon into the pitcher of your blender or food processor. I have a vitamix so I'm going to use that. Add your 2 oz of butter, and a fat pinch of salt. Simply blend this until ultra-smooth, stopping in between and scraping down the sides of the machine of your choice, and that's your puree. Don't worry, it'll stay plenty hot!

Now that your 4 minutes are up, turn off your heat and let sit while you contemplate your plating.

(Follow @_Art of Plating on Instagram for more ideas!)

Plating a restaurant-worthy or even a restaurant-style dish is pretty easy. You have quite a few factors to play with and it can seem overwhelming. Every chef is like an artist and we all have different factors and techniques that we like to use and play with. When coming up with a dish, I think of the four pillars of salt, acid, fat, and heat as my foundation. Each dish must have those four components, no matter what. If I personally think about plating, my four pillars of things to play with are:
  • Color
  • Height
  • Texture
  • Negative space
With color: Is it visually pleasing? Will the colors in this dish be monochromatic or will they be opposing? 

Will the way I plate this be tall enough? How can I add height to this to make it seem more of a special thing? We associate tall things with marvels of engineering; how can I capture that in my dish?

Do I have too many smooth and creamy things? Do I have enough crunchy things? Do I have enough soft things to play against the hard things? How do the textures look compared to one another?

Am I going to fill up this plate or not?

Big rookie mistake: you don't have to use every single piece of space on the plate. Sometimes, it's better to just let things be. It's okay to just let things be and stand by your decisions. When things are left minimal, you know that they are done in a purposeful way. 

This sushi from Sakura shows a good play of negative space. Not every bit of plate needs to be taken up!

Plate with a big fat spoonful of our squash puree in a ring. I like circles and symmetry sometimes, so I figure that'll work. To get it nicely rounded without it being fussy, pour a big dollop in the center of your plate, pick up your plate, and then gently tap from the bottom with your fingers to spread it. 

The leeks will come next, and you can kind of do those however you like, but I like to try and keep them compact if I can, in either a single diagonal line across the circle or just in another circle that will mimic the shape. Finally, chicken goes on top! Sprinkle with mint, all over, and enjoy!

Now you, yes YOU, can take your own blurry food pics at home! 
With these simple tricks and techniques that anybody can learn, you can have the restaurant experience without the paycheck and the loud ambiance and the dim lighting so you can't see the food. I hope you've enjoyed! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Honeybee Bundt Cake

Hey, honey. 
Spring has sprung! In the spirit of starting things anew, I'm going to be trying something different this week.

A lot of food bloggers give you a really long anecdote or big history before the recipe when a lot of people just want to read the recipe. While I understand the reasoning behind all of this (nobody is going to want to read your writing unless you force them) I'm going to flip the narrative and give you the backstory of the ingredients and the reasoning for things after the recipe. Hopefully, this means you'll appreciate it so much that you'll continue to read all the way to the bottom. So, let's get on with it!

Honeybee Bundt Cake
yields 1 large bundt pan or 2 loaves
Adapted from Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson

  • 11.25 oz AP flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 fat pinch kosher salt
  • 7 oz vegan butter substitute, room temperature
  • 5.25 oz cane sugar
  • 4 oz pure honey ( Try Gerard'z Honeybees Star Thistle Honey)
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 c almond milk + 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp local bee pollen (available at most health food stores)
  • 6 oz pure honey
  • 2 oz coconut sugar
  • 2 oz vegan butter
  • A fat pinch kosher salt
  • A big fat handful of walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds...whatever you have lying around, crushed
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F and prep a large bundt pan with pan spray. I like the kind that already has flour in it, but if you don't have that then feel free to dust your pan with a little bit of flour, just so the cake has somewhere to climb and stick to without collapsing. That being said, this is a cake you can make the batter for in advance, let rest in the fridge, and then bake from cold when you're ready. Please plan accordingly, as this cake is best served just a little warm, with some homemade (n)ice cream (Try this one.).

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt together. Combine the almond milk and vinegar and allow to sit while you make the rest of the cake. Meanwhile, whip up the cane sugar, honey, and vegan butter with the whisk attachment of your standing mixer until really tall, light, fluffy, and homogeneous, which shouldn't take more than 2 minutes. It's quite important that everything is creamed and that the sugar is not visibly present. Whip in the vanilla paste for another 30 seconds, scrape, and add the eggs and yolk, one at a time, making sure to stop and scrape between this addition. This recipe is pretty high in fat, so it's important to make sure the eggs get in slowly. It also is imperative that everything is at room temperature for this one, otherwise the risk of the batter curdling is higher. I know it's annoying, but I assure you that it's worth it.

Are the eggs all in? Great! Scrape down and get ready. Spoon in about a third of the flour, and stir on low speed for 3 or 4 turns around the bowl. Add in half the milk and stir a little more, another 4 turns or so. Add in the second third of the flour, stir, and add the rest of the milk. Stir, add the final bit of the flour, and stir the rest of it by hand with a rubber spatula, scraping well, especially the bottom. Swirl in the bee pollen.

Scrape the batter into your prepared pan and spread it evenly all around. If your oven is not already hot, you may store it in the fridge until it has sufficiently reached its desired temperature. This particular cake actually does get a gorgeous crackly ridge if you do this, even moreso than if you bake it from room temperature, which is what you want. Either way, only stick this cake in the center rack of the oven to bake when it's sufficiently hot, and not a moment before.

Turn the heat down to 350 and bake for 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is solid and springs back when gently touched. Meanwhile, make your glaze/syrup by combining the honey, vegan butter, coconut sugar, and a little salt, in a small saucepot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a light simmer and stir. It's going to take about 2 minutes for the sugar to fully dissolve once simmering, but please don't pull it off the heat until it's all done! Trust me on this. Take the time now to crush your nuts in a mortar and pestle, but only enough so that they're broken up into irregular pieces. Walnuts work great for this because they're so soft and fatty, but you can use any kind of nut you like. Pistachios look visually stunning, with their bright green!

Remove your cake from the oven, but keep the oven turned on. Poke your cake with either a wooden skewer or a chopstick, all the way down to the bottom. Please be generous, but don't put your holes too close together. Be sure to get a lot of them, as they'll be essential for this cake's flavor later! I use the metal chopsticks because there's a 100% guarantee of no bamboo skewer shavings getting into the cake.

Take your time with this step, and please make sure your glaze is warm and quite runny!
If your syrup/glaze has gone a little cool, heat it up again to where it's quite runny, and then pour about half of the glaze, slowly, into surface of the cake. Try to get it in the crags and holes as much as possible, so it's quite important that your cake and glaze are still warm. Take your crushed nuts and sprinkle them all over. Pop your cake in the oven for another 5 minutes, and then remove from the oven and cool on a rack, while still in the pan. This is the reason I didn't have you turn the oven off just now, and also the reason I didn't have you toast the nuts, so they won't burn.

Now, glaze the cake with the remainder or your syrup and let cool in the pan for an hour or so. This means that this cake is the absolute perfect cake to finish just before dinner so you can eat and then have dessert. It's only folksy in name but is quite impressive for a dinner party, especially with the right accompaniment.

To turn out, flip your cake upside down on a plate (not your presentation plate) and then flip your cake back over on your serving plate. You can garnish with fresh mint, if you like, or dust with powdered sugar...but I really like this cake exactly as it is.You can even reserve a couple of spoonfuls of glaze for your plating and drizzle it all over, letting it drip over the sides, creating a deliciously inviting presentation.

Did you like that recipe? Are you ready for the fun facts? Are you still with me? Great.

Put honey in your tea all spring instead of sugar. Trust me. 
Honey is a superfood and a dang miracle of nature. First, it never goes bad, not ever. There's honey in pots that are from ancient Egypt in sarcophagi that are still perfictly good and edible and haven't rotted or gone rancid. It captures, like a photograph or a painting, the taste of the earth, or terroir, of that region or season. It's an antiseptic (in survival-mode, you can use either pine sap or honey on small cuts in a pinch while you're running from zombies) and a great medicine for a sore throat or allergies. I could go on and on about honey and how important it is to get some in your diet. Yes, it's expensive, but you're going to use less of it than you're going to use sugar in many applications. Per one cup of sugar, you can use 2/3 c of honey when it comes to baking cakes and breads. Honey has complexities that sugar does not, and the fact that it's sustainable to boot doesn't hurt its argument by any means.

You'll notice that I put real honey in the recipe. A fair bit of honey on the cheaper side is made by thinning it out with karo or corn syrup. Unless you get it from a local farm/apiary, there's a good chance you might have a thinned out honey product, so make sure you look at your labels.

Do they look the same? Looks can be deceiving!
Gerard'z Honeybees is a really cool company with whom I partnered with for this post. I want to raise awareness on honey and the proper husbandry of bees. This is an ancient trade and we've been doing it since pretty much the dawn of civilization, unlike the manufacture of and the illegal trade and cartels of cane sugar. A lot of folks of the vegan persuasion - while well-intended - believe that taking honey from bees is harmful. There's a lot of evidence as to why this is untrue, but here are the bulletpoints you need to know:
  • Apiaries house hives and keep them healthy
  • Apiaries only take extra honey
    • If apiaries don't take the excess honey, there's a chance the colony will overcrowd or begin to swarm, and that's not what you want
  • When you have healthy bees, you have lots of food around as bees are pollinators
  • Farmers often have apiary plots rent-free for migrating beekeepers since they know they need the bees to pollinate their crops, which is good for everybody involved
  • Beeswax, a byproduct of most apiaries, can be used as a better alternative in candles, cosmetics, natural lip balms and lotions than say animal fat would be 
Taking honey from bees isn't harming these animals. The amount of agave we're all consuming, however, is harmful to a very specific kind of long-nosed bat that lives in the Southwest. We're taking their food supply, which sucks, because they're the pollinators out there, so please think twice before you buy agave. If you still have reservations with honey, please buy maple syrup, sorghum, or molasses instead. 

Let's touch on allergy relief one final time. A good reason to try local honey is that it not only supports your community, but also will help with your allergies. Since I live in Kansas City, I need to get honey that's from Kansas City, or at least within 100 miles of it. That means the bees are collecting pollen and nectar from flowers that are growing all around me, be they from trees or bushes or grasses or flowers. The point is that it's from the air that exists in the area that's making me sneeze, which is also why it's important to grab some local bee pollen while you're getting that.

You'll note that I called for an ingredient known as bee pollen, which some of you might not be aware of as a product you can buy. In short, bee pollen is the little yellow balls that you see on bees legs sometimes when you find one flying around. You can put it in cakes, sprinkle it on your cereal, stir it in your coffee, and more - but the reason that I personally want it around in spring is because it's the only allergy relief I can get without being put into a freaking coma. (Looking at you, benedryl.) Bee pollen is crunchy, tastes really floral, and dissolves into a powder if you crush it. They come in small bags and from most local herbal or healthfood shops. I am fortunate enough to get mine at the local organic grocery store! The reason I added bee pollen into this recipe was because the honey I got was not from around Kansas City, but from California.

Star Thistle Honey from Gerard'Z Honeybees ๐Ÿ So I'm obsessed with honey. One of my favorite things about it is that no two batches will ever taste exactly the same, nor should they! This particular honey has a wonderfully bitter quality, almost medicinal, but it's fragrant, pungent and so unbelievably deep with a sour finish... it takes you on a wild ride! And before my #vegan friends get mad, let me assure you that taking honey from bees is hundo P okay ๐Ÿ‘Œ . Beekeepers do everything they can to make sure that their babies are healthy and happy and always have enough food. The honey that they take is excess, and they never take so much honey that it would harm the hive. ๐Ÿฏ besides, if we didn't have beekeepers, our bees would have a lot more trouble than they're already having. . . Honey it is a perfect food, that never goes bad, and is a really good antiseptic. ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿป Seriously! My mom puts honey over our minor cuts after washing them ๐Ÿ˜… and nothing is better than hot tea with honey when you have a sore throat. ๐Ÿต The best part? It helps with your allergies. Gerardz's is a feature for tomorrow's blog post! Stay tuned ๐Ÿ˜‰ . . . . . #lfthx #gerardzhoneybees #honeytasting #gerardz #foodiechats #dairyfree #pareve #kosher #naturalfoods #KansasCity #california #honey #video #wannabgourmande #organicaid #savethebees #bees #nature @gerardzhoneybees
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For this particular honeybee cake, I used the Star Thistle Honey. I'm partnering with Gerard'z this week and they gave me the exclusive on this soon-to-be-available product. Of course, I had to get a jar of their wildflower, too. The Wildflower honey was mild and floral, but had a bright and pleasantly sour finish. The Star Thistle, however, might be my favorite honey, because of how incredibly complex it is. It starts off with a bitter taste, almost medicinal, before you get into the sweetness. It's got quite a lot of depth, like a good dark roast coffee, and then finishes bright and sweet. I thought it was perfect for this cake, so of course I had to use it. Message the site to get some for yourself!

You saw me use the term terroir earlier in this post. This term is usually found when describing wine. Terroir is "the taste of the land." This means that the grapes are affected by the land they're grown in, say if the earth the vines grow in are heavy with either clay or lime or something else. In truth, it's quite the same for bees, depending on what they can feed upon that year. This is why you can get such flavors as 'Wildflower honey', which have been harvested from bees that get their stuff from wildflowers. You can get 'Orange blossom honey' from bees that have their hive situated in a citrus grove. Gerard'z Honeybees, based in California, have a variety of flavors, such as raspberry, alfalfa, and more. I invite you to try them all!

I also invite you to plant local wildflowers and fall bulbs, to feed your local bees. Just think, you're helping shape 'wildflower honey' in your area! But please check with your local extension office to make sure you're not introducing an invasive species of flower to your region. Otherwise, you might do more harm than good!
Some seasons the honey will be a deep amber color. Sometimes the honey will turn purple, if the bees get into a blackberry farm. Honey can be a very light gold color, or in some cases can be almost clear and be tangy and sour. The beautiful thing about honey is how incredibly seasonal it is. You can quite literally taste the years go by or monitor how the years went if you were to look at it over time. My good friend David, whose mother is a beekeeper, remembers a single summer in which it was the best honey harvest of their lives in which the honey was especially perfect.

Please plant as many flowers as you can this year! And every year! All of these bees need food and so does your soul!
One more reason that I'm in love with honey is because it's a very old world way of eating. Ancient Egyptians were keeping bees and consuming honey, and the Aztecs have been keeping bees for a very long time as well. The wandering Jews of the tribes of Moses are promised "a land of milk and honey." You can find evidence of ancient apiaries in China, and even the indigenous peoples of Northern Americas got in on the party. You won't find cane sugar in traditional Russian or Lithuanian sweets, as honey reigns supreme. If you think about it, cane sugar as a concept is no older than a heartbeat in terms of how civilization came to be. So, really, let's look at going back to our roots in the culinary world and regain a taste for honey. It's fully sustainable, will be excellent for your health and for the environment in the long run, and is incredibly tasty!

Thanks so much for enduring this new format of posting. I'm trying to be conscious of my readers' experience and I hope you enjoyed learning, especially if you got this far. Happy cooking and happy eating!

Share this cake with a loved one. 

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Lime Meringue Pie

If you are a follower of my Instagram, you know how much I love pie. I've been having a lot of fun lately with decorative elements and putting twists on classics. Personally, when I want a pie, I want a classical taste that is familiar in taste but somewhat conceptual in design. Remember my Lucky Charms Pie? The point is that I love lemon meringue pie...but lemons weren't on sale at the grocery store for 6/$1, so guess who won that fight.

This isn't key lime pie because key limes are tiny and actually are a citrus hybrid with a spherical fruit that can be quite small. Really they're best for juicing and making pie out of, since they're quite tiny to eat or enjoy. They also have a specific flavor that translates into something a little more fragrant and sweet than the lime you might find from the grocery store. Most of our limes come from Mexico and South America, where they grow easily.

In Pinoy cuisine, one thing can be said about the flavor profiles we seem to enjoy: put vinegar with everything. Pinoy people love vinegar and sour things, and I'm no exception to that rule. Sour things make your mouth pucker and water and they round out flavors that might otherwise be flat. One thing I learned in school that has sort of stuck with me in my career has been: if you taste something and it's tasty, but something is missing, 9 out of 10 the answer will be "acid." It could be a squeeze of lemon, a dash of vinegar, a little reduced wine or a smear of sour cream, but it is acid that elevates everything else and is a key component to delicious food. Learn to harness the power of sour!

Lime Meringue Pie
yields 1 9" pie

  • 6 oz flour
  • 1 oz walnut flour (or just fine-ground walnuts)
  • 1 oz powdered sugar
  • 4 oz vegan butter 
  • Ice water A/N
  • 8 egg yolks + 2 whole eggs
  • 1 c fresh-squeezed lime juice, strained (from about 5 or 6 fresh limes)
  • 1 3/4 c powdered sugar (sorry I don't know the oz, I always did by volume on this one!)
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 8 oz vegan butter 
  • Zest of 2 limes
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste
  • 4 egg whites
  • 7 oz granulated sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
Sift the walnut flour into the 6 oz AP flour and pinch in the fat using your finger tips. Don't stop until it all comes together and the butter is about pea-sized. Sprinkle a little bit of water over it at a time and press gently until it all comes together. Chill in a disc in the freezer while you prepare the rest of your stuff. 

In a sauce pot, melt your 8 oz vegan butter in with your lime juice and powdered sugar over a medium-low flame. Meanwhile, whisk together your eggs and egg yolks with the granulated sugar until completely homogeneous. Set up a bowl lined with a fine mesh strainer for later. When your butter is melted completely, give that butter-lime mix a quick stir and splash in about 1/2 cup of the liquid into the eggs, and then whisk gently to warm it. This is called tempering, and is essential to do with any liquid/custard product that will contain egg. 

Scrape your egg mixture all into the pot and whisk gently, constantly, over a medium flame until thick. Do not let this mix boil under any circumstances! Remember, with curds, low and slow is the way to go. When the mixture is a gloriously thick and shiny consistency, quickly dump your curd into the bowl lined with the strainer, and strain out lumps that may have occurred. Once passed through, stir in your lime zest and vanilla paste. If you want to make this a little more green, it's 100% okay to add a drop of green food coloring. It's okay, but optional. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing the plastic film into the surface of the curd to prevent from getting a skin. Store in the fridge.

Turn your oven to 350 degrees. With this dough, you will be flouring your surface. Sorry, you need it this time - the walnuts are worth it for flavor but with this crust they really do need a little more flour and structure, as they do release quite a bit of oil. Flour your marble surface and rolling pin and roll out your dough to a thin flat disc, and line your pie pan with it. I like to let my dough rest in the pan for about 5 minutes to let the glutens relax a little before I decide how I trim it and decorate it.

You can do polka dots, braids, whatever you like for yours!
With this particular crust, I knew that I was going to have a meringue mounding up the top so I needed to have any design I was going to decide on be around the edge, but I still wanted a little bit of a three-dimensional element happening. With decorations, I really love leaves as elements, and I have this pretty cutter that looks like lime leaves. Unfortunately, it's too big to go around the edge of the pie, so I took my smallest circle cutter and cut a lot of small circles to go around the edge. I stuck them on with a little bit of egg wash, but you can use a little almond milk if you like. You may as well use egg wash, though, since you're going to want to brush the sides of your pie dough with the egg wash to make it brown.

Never throw away the pie crust trims! Turn them into little decorative elements that will go on your pie!

Prick your pie crust with a fork and line with a parchment sheet, and fill with baking beads (or dry beans) and bake for 20 minutes, or until fully cooked and browned. To make the leaves, cut them with a mold and bake them until crisp, about 10 minutes. I got the 3D shapes by propping the leaves against the lip of my baking sheet. Set aside to cool. Now, we're going to make a meringue!

Place your egg whites in the bowl of  your standing mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Meanwhile, place your sugar in a small saucepot with just enough water to cover. Fit it with a candy thermometer and bring it up to a slow boil on a medium high flame. Please note that it's very important to not jostle the pan in any way while it's coming to the temperature that you're going to want it at. Otherwise, it might crystalize and you're going to have to start again. Your goal temperature is 260 degrees F. When it gets up to 250, you can turn on the standing mixer and start whipping it to foam up.

Whip your egg whites until they've become quite white and fluffy, to about a medium peak, which should be the right amount it takes to get from 250 to 260. If you need a little more time, turn your whisk down to the lowest possible setting and let it stir. If it sets, you're in trouble. 

When all is ready, turn your whisk up to high and carefully pour the hot sugar syrup in a thin stream, being very careful to avoid the whip. Pour it in slowly, as you continue to whip to stiff peaks, until all the sugar is gone. Turn the speed down to medium-high and let it whip until the meringue is cool, about 3 minutes. What you've just made is an Italian meringue, and it's the most structurally sound of all meringues and will last you the longest. 

I totally used a smear of green gel dye in this. Why? Because look at that gorgeous color.
Now, we're finally ready to assemble! Obviously this takes quite a bit of time to do, a couple of hours, but it is worth it. Assemble by removing the baking paper and beads from your pie crust and dumping your curd in, smoothing the top to be even. Dump in your meringue and use an offset spatula to swirl and make attractive flips and whirls. You can use a torch to make it toasty, or a super-hot oven, around 450 degrees, for 3 minutes tops. Finish with your leaves, set in the side, against the meringue. 

To cut: heat up your knife with the flame of a torch or some near-boiling water, and your meringue will be cut smoothly!

And there you have it! A gorgeous, super-tart, super tasty lime meringue pie. I hope you've enjoyed reading, and please don't hesitate to tell me if you try it out.  Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Lingonberry Hamentaschen

Pretty in pink!
I love lingonberries. I'm obsessed with them, especially for spring. I love lingonberry poptarts (homemade, of course, using my favorite pie crust), lingonberry lemonade, and just plain lingonberry jam on toast. I go through phases of obsession. Currently, I'm obsessed with a little show called Allt fรถr Sverige. It's where they take the children and grandchildren of Swedish immigrants and bring them back to Sweden, and put them on a journey of discovery. It's a wonderful competition reality show that shows Swedish culture, the story of how we came to be, the history of a country, and the winner at the end gets to be reunited with their Swedish family in a big party! You can find most all of the episodes on Youtube. Check it out here!

Since we're talking about Youtube, I'm going to go ahead and link you up to Mayim Bialik, to give you a quick rundown on an amazing spring holiday, Purim! I'm obviously not 100% full-blooded Jewish, but I still love enjoying the culture and part of that is celebrating the holidays and eating the foods...and even better, I love sharing the culture with friends! In fact, I'm throwing a Purim party this evening! We're going to have masks, eat hamentaschen, and more.

Purim is upon us on the 21st, which is this Wednesday, so I've decided to show you how to make my absolute favorite Jewish ritual treat (yes, I love it even more than freaking latkes) the Hamentaschen. These are triangle-shaped cookies that are filled with just about anything your heart desires, although jam seems to be the favorite for most. You can fill them with pistachio paste, chocolate chips, citrus curds, ganaches...whatever floats your boat! For this, though I've chosen lingonberry.

Lingonberries are a magical kind of berry that miraculously thrive in cold areas. They do incredibly well in moist, acidic soils from ranges that are from Massachussetts to Alaska. I live in the Midwest, so it get's way too hot for lingonberries. If you live in a more northern state, please consider growing them! They have an incredibly pleasant taste, and although resemble a cranberry are only the size of a garden pea. When cooked into a jam, they give off a beautiful red-pink color, and are even prettier when swirled into a sour cream sauce.

yields about 2 dozen cookies
  • 3 medium eggs, room temperature
  • 200 g sugar
  • 2 oz olive oil
  • 2 oz vegan butter, room temperature (Earth balance is my fave, but any non-dairy butter/margarine will do)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 fat pinch kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 375 g AP flour plus more for dusting
  • A smear of pink gel food coloring
  • Lingonberry jam, as needed
Whisk together, by hand, the butter and oil along with the vanilla paste and sugar until the sugar appears to have dissolved, or at least lightened in color. Add in the eggs, one at a time, whisking wholly until completely incorporated. Add in your salt, baking powder, and smear of pink gel paste. I like Wilton's "rose", but you can use whichever you like. If you want to go an all-natural coloring way, you may use beetroot powder, which will give a beautiful red. For this crazy holiday, though, I like to go for more electric colors.

Switch to a wooden spoon and stir in your flour. Turn out onto a cold, floured, marble surface and knead gently, until everything comes together smoothly. Divide in two discs, wrap each in plastic, and chill in the freezer for at least 1 hour. 

Flour your surface again and roll out thin. I like to go to 1/8 inch, because these cookies can get tough if too thick. Be generous with flour on the rolling pin, too, as this dough is rather loose so it likes to stick. The oil is nice and makes it a kosher fat, and it also makes it more pliable so you can mold it. This is ultimately the reason I don't tend to use all oil or all butter; butter makes the dough too short and not-so-easily pliable, and oil makes the dough too runny so I have trouble shaping it and end up using way too much flour. 

Cut out circles with a ring cutter. I like 3" rings! To fill, hold the cut disc in your left hand draped gently over your fingers (or right, if you're a leftie) and fill with a generous teaspoon of your lingonberry jam. If it's not too cold, it should fall off the spoon with ease. Gently separate your index and middle fingers just enough to allow the dough to fall in and help you create a crease. Pinch this closed and use the thumb of your opposite hand to push the bottom up. Gently place these on a silpat-lined sheet pan and pinch the three corners together to create the shape. If you're having trouble, find this awesome tutorial on Tori!

 Pop these in the freezer while you're waiting for your oven to heat up to 400 degrees. The reason you don't want to have your oven preheating while you're rolling these out is because - in my experience - they do better when they start from cold, and it's hard to keep a cookie dough cold when  you're heating up your kitchen with a hot oven. Besides, this recipe makes at least 2 dozen cookies so you're going to want to make them all at once, freeze them all at once, and bake only as needed. I've found that you can store the raw cookies, frozen, for up to two weeks if kept in an airtight container. To accomplish this, simply freeze on a tray until hard, put them in an airtight container, lined with parchment, and store until needed. 

Pop your cookies in the oven and reduce the heat to 350. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges just barely begin to brown. You want a super hot oven to start with , but want your more standard baking heat so the corners don't burn. The reason  you want it to be hot is because you don't want your fat to melt and therefore your cookies will lose the shape. These are tricky because they can get really tough if overcooked. 

Once baked, remove from the oven and let cool on the pan for at least 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Please keep in mind that this dough is incredibly versatile. You can add in shaved chocolate and fill with nutella to make chocolate hazelnut hamentaschen. Heck, make a tiramisu hamentaschen where you use coffee extract instead of vanilla, fill it with a cheesecake filling and dust them with cocoa powder. The sky is the limit! You can even do what I did for the second offering at my part, and divide the dough in half, add lime zest, dye them green, and fill it with lime curd to make a zesty zingy lime hamentaschen.

Of course you can enjoy hamentaschen year-round, but because they take multiple steps, I recommend doing a lot all at once, with the help of family. Little ones, especially, love the idea of folding cookies. I hope you've enjoyed learning a bit about Purim! As always, if you've tried my recipes, please tell me all about it in the comments below. Happy cooking and happy eating!