Three Corners

I have a huge stash of things in jars.

Sometimes I go to pull one thing out of the stash and I find something else entirely and I’m all like “Yeah! This is gonna be sooo good.”

I did that yesterday when I was looking for some sort of jam to put into the cookies the kids and I were making. I found a jar of curry pickled green tomatoes that I had completely forgotten about. I still have an open jar of a different kind of tomato pickle in the fridge so I restrained myself and didn’t pull the new jar out of the bench.

I’ll just have to find an excuse to use up the other pickles so I can eat the new ones.

But in the meantime I’m also restraining myself from eating all those cookies we made.

It’s Purim this week–a Jewish holiday marking the saving of the Jewish people of the city of Shushan by their secretly Jewish queen, Esther. It’s traditional to give gifts of food to neighbors and loved ones. Actually, pretty much anybody. This is a tradition I have no trouble getting behind, because I am really good at making huge batches of things for the sole purpose of giving them away. Usually one of the things that is included in the goodie bag is a few hamentashen.

Yesterday I was home with all three little Goldbergs while Joe did a 70 mile ride with his bike team. We went to the park and did some other stuff, but the best part of the day was the cookies. We made the dough in the morning and once Lilli was down for the count after lunch, Isaac and I (Aaron was out with a friend) rolled out the dough and got them into the oven.

We used kumquat marmalade and crab apple jelly to fill them. They’re not exactly traditional Jewish fillings, but whatever. I’m not exactly a traditional Jew.

The last couple of years I have tried different recipes for hamentashen and not been happy with any of them. I’m not really sure why it took me so long to figure it out. It’s basically a sugar cookie dough, sometimes parve (no dairy or meat ingredients) or sometimes not, and then you fold it up into little three cornered treasure boxes of fruit or poppyseed filling. They’re pretty basic as far as technical skill goes.

This year I think I finally got them right. The trick is to use a solid fat instead of oil, which is what some recipes call for. The oil makes them parve, but you can just as easily use vegetable shortening, or I guess margarine, if you need them to not have any dairy. A recipe I got from a friend had a substitution to make them vegan even.

If you’re looking for a basic recipe this is the one. I based it on a recipe I got out of a cookbook that I think came from my mother-in-law, a cookbook called “Daf Yummy.” I tweaked some parts of it to meet in the middle with the recipe my friend swears by, and ended up with a dough I can finally be proud to call “my hamentashen recipe.” You could add orange zest in addition to the orange juice, you can switch up half of the flour for whole wheat, you can add a tsp of cinnamon or another spice to the dough. You could even make them chocolate by substituting about 1/4 cup of the flour for cocoa powder.

Now, when you’re eating all those cookies, you might need something to wash them down with.

Another Purim tradition, one that is actually commanded by the Talmud according to some Rabbis, is to drink. Heavily. There’s a lot of drinking in the story–it pretty much saved the day. So, you are supposed to drink until you are perfumed with wine and can’t tell the Hamens (bad guys) from the Mordechais (good guys). To help you along I worked out a recipe for a cocktail that is the perfect embodiment of the heroine in this Purim story: Queen Esther.

She’s strong and sweet. She’s bold, but knows exactly when to play her cards. She’s everything a heroine needs to be–just like this cocktail. It’s smooth and sweet and comes on slowly, building up to end each sip with a little fire.

There’s a long tradition of sweetened citrus drinks in the Middle East, dating back centuries, to the time of Esther and her kin. The grapefruit is a new twist on that idea, playing against the herbal notes of the thyme perfectly. I like to think that Her Highness would have approved of this refreshing mix, and would have gladly served it to her King. Maybe she wouldn’t have used good bourbon for old Hamen though.

Hamentashen
makes about 36 cookies

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar, depending on how sweet your filling will be
2 cups all purpose flour
1 large egg, broken up with a fork
2 Tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice (or lemon)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cup all purpose flour

Filling of choice such as jam, ganache, or a more traditional filling such as prune or poppy seed

In a food processor, blend the sugar and butter until well combined. Add the egg, orange juice, vanilla extract, baking soda, and salt. Pulse just until everything looks mixed in. Add in the flour and blend until the dough comes together in a ball. Wrap in plastic or parchment paper and refrigerate for several hours.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat the oven to 375ºF. Line 2 (or 3 if you have them) cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Working with 1/2 batch at a time, roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8″ thick. Cut out circles about 2 1/2″ in diameter, using a cookie cutter or the rim of a glass dipped in flour. You can re-roll the dough, but you might need to chill it a bit longer depending on how cold it was to begin with.

Line the circles up on the trays and place about 1 Tbsp of filling in each cookie. I like to use a small ice cream style scoop for this job, it makes it slightly less messy. Fold up the edges of the cookies on three sides, making a nice little triangle around the filling. Be sure to let some of the filling show in the center. If the corners won’t stick together on their own, use a wet finger to trace a circle around each piece of dough, then fold them up.

Bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the corners are a nice golden brown. Cool completely on wire racks before eating these cookies, or you run the risk of burning your mouth on the filling. Just take my word on this.

The Queen Esther
makes 1 cocktail

2 oz good bourbon
1/6 Ruby grapefruit
1 large sprig thyme
1 Tbsp simple syrup
3-4 dashes grapefruit bitters, I like Fee Brothers

In a cocktail shaker, muddle the grapefruit and the thyme, squeezing as much juice out of the grapefruit as you can. Add the bourbon, syrup, and bitters. Put in a handful of ice, put on the top, and shake it up. Pour over fresh ice and garnish with grapefruit and more thyme, if desired.

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Getting Crafty–Homemade Tonic

I may have mentioned this before, but I live with a pretty frugal guy. Joe is the driving force behind all those times when I say to myself, “Do I really need that?” He’s also the main reason I have gotten really good at justifying kitchen expenses. One recent kitchen expense was a Sodastream machine.

I accidentally started a habit buying a bottle or two of sparkling water when I did our weekly shopping trip, plus the occasional bottle while out and about. And then these machines started invading the homes of everyone I know. I figured if there was going to be some sort of robot soda invasion I wanted to be a part of it, so after much hemming and hawing about if it was really worth it (which was weird considering how environmentally conscious we are, on top of the frugality) we finally bought one. With a coupon.

Then I started experimenting with all sorts of different simple syrups to flavor the water. Orange vanilla syrup leftover from candying orange peels. Rosemary simple syrup made from branches swiped on walks with the kid. Fennel syrup made from the fronds leftover from all the salad I eat.

But when I saw an article about homemade tonic, it kind of blew my mind. It was one of the reasons we finally caved and bought the machine, the idea that I could somehow make tonic from scratch. Seeing that article, along with all the different links it had for variations on tonic syrup was kind of overwhelming. I decided to just pick the one that looked like it had a lot of positive reviews and start there. Little did I know it would actually make more than a quart of tonic syrup. Now I have a lot of gin to drink…

Which totally isn’t a bad thing. Practicing for summer is never a bad thing.

So it turned out that I didn’t have any regular oranges lying around. This was back when we were still in love with little clementines and were eating them by the pound, and before citrus season was in full swing and I started obsessively buying anything I could zest. No big deal I decided. Also no big deal to me was the fact that I neglected to buy whole allspice berries when I went down to Tenzing Momo (at Pike Place Market) to buy the required Cinchona bark. I just used whole cloves instead.

One thing I did do just as Morgenthaler suggested was to strain it through my french press, which I had never though of using in that sort of capacity. Best kitchen tip I’ve gotten in a long long time, let me tell you.

In the end, if you drink a lot of things that need tonic in it, I’d say the recipe was worth the small amount of time it took. After all, it is a syrup so it will last a while in the fridge. It definitely different than commercial tonic, which I think is too sweet but without any real flavor. If you’re into making things homemade just for the sake of it, then this is probably a good thing to add to your repertoire.

And if it can convince your significant other to let you pick up a new kitchen gadget then you get bonus points!

Those Neglected Things

December can be rough. It can be busy and lonely and hectic and joyful and forgetful and cold and dark and rainy and bright and sunny and ecstatic all at the same time. Without even trying.

It’s this way for me, at least.

I got into the swing of things and was all full of holiday cheer for the most part, but it meant that some things fell by the wayside. There were posts I started to write that never went anywhere. Pictures I took for posts that will probably never even get started, and post ideas that never got pictures.

There was also the small matter of relicensing my small business, Infamous Pastries. I was *supposed* to do this before the deadline of December 31, or else have to pay an extra fee for doing it late. When I remembered that I still hadn’t done this last night just as I was falling asleep, I wept. The tears were tears of both sadness and relief. 

I’m going to be honest here when I say that I don’t think I am cut out to run a business as a self-starter. I am an incredibly hard working person, and I could run a business probably without many hitches if I’d been going down that path for a while with the same job. But I am not an entrepreneur, it turns out. 

I love what I do. I’m a pastry pro at heart. I love the chemistry, I love flavor, and I love pushing the limits of both. I do pretty good with trial and error. I work incredibly well under pressure and even though I generally dislike working with the public at large I seem to be pretty good at it when it comes to helping brides choose wedding cake flavors, etc. I’m bossy enough to get people to do what they need to do, and nice enough that they still like me later. I love to eat and to share that sweet little something with others. I love baking.

I am also an artist. I have been painting and creating art since I was very small, and I even went to art school for a brief time. Turns out, art school didn’t suit me very well (too commercial for me, ironically) so I came home and found a way to create and express that I never really connected to being creative and expressive before. Through food. I went to pastry school and I loved it. I would go back in a heartbeat.  I love the 3 dimensional aspect of a cake as sculpture, and I love to get the flavors just right, layered they way paint is layered on a canvas. 

But artists are notoriously bad self-starters and have for the most part terrible PR skills. That’s why there are so many artists who make no money doing what they love. And I guess I am doomed to fall into that category for now.

Reflecting back on 2011, it was like December on crack. It was every possible emotion and then some. I started a business and decided subconsciously to let it flounder when I found a way to express myself that matched my lifestyle better and came more naturally (blogging). I watched a baby grow into a little girl and grow even larger in my heart as a result. I fell even more in love with Joe, while still feeling like I was somehow growing apart from him because of the things going on in our lives. 

I hope I haven’t neglected too many other important things this past year that were important, because I had a lot of other things to do. Go for walks in the rain with a toddler, make pies for people I love and laugh out loud at silly things. 

I know that there is one thing for sure I didn’t and then did neglect: these marshmallows. When they were in the house we kept nibbling them before I could even give any away, and I had to hide the rest to stop us from finishing them all up. I finally gave some away, then I forgot about them because there were cookies and tarts and cakes. There are a few still hiding in the back of a cupboard somewhere. 

They are simple to make if you have the right tools and you can add pretty much any flavoring you want, so long as you don’t add too much liquid. I had a girlfriend over to make them and we made three batches, all different flavors. We had a blast, and she was glad to do it with me because “I got her through” chemistry class, or so she claims, and wasn’t sure she would have been able to do it without me. They’re easy to make, but I did give her a lot of info that she wouldn’t have learned just making them out of the book. Don’t be frightened of candy making–it’s not even as hard as just plain living.
Basic Marshmallows
Adapted from The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg (best textbook I ever bought)
Makes one 9×12 pan, about 3/4″ thick, or spread into a high sided sheet pan for thinner mallows

You kinda need a candy thermometer for this recipe. It’s not a big deal, I promise. 

Cornstarch or powdered sugar
3 Tbsp (18g) unflavored gelatin powder
1 cup cold water, divided
1 lb granulated sugar
2 ounces light corn syrup
4 egg whites (about 1/2 cup)
optional flavorings

Prepare the pan you will put the finished marshmallows in by lining it with parchment paper and dusting lightly with either the cornstarch or the powdered sugar. 

Sprinkle the gelatin in a wide bottomed metal or glass bowl and pour 1/2 cup cold water over it. Stir it with a chopstick to make sure all the gelatin gets moistened, and set aside to soften. Once it’s all softened, put it over a pan of simmering water so that it gets warm and leave it there until you need it at the end. You need it to return to the liquid state of water, but you don’t want it to be too hot.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whip attachment.

Combine the sugar, corn syrup and remaining 1/2 cup of water in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat. This is where the thermometer comes in handy. You are going to boil the sugar to 245ºF. But wait! Once it reaches about 230ºF, you should turn the mixer on high and start your egg whites. They need to be whipped to stiff peaks. Watch closely because the sugar will get very hot very fast starting now. When it reaches 245ºF, turn off the heat and lower the mixer speed to about medium. Very slowly and in a thin, steady stream down the side of the bowl (not over the whip or the syrup will fly out!) very carefully pour the sugar syrup. Once the egg whites start to look pretty glossy and there is a lot of steam rising out of the bowl, you can pour a little faster but do not just dump it in there or it will not be pretty. (Just take my word for it.) After you’ve got all the syrup in there, and with the mixer still mixing, pour in the gelatin, making sure to scrape out all the last bits of it with a spatula. Mix it for a second and then turn the mixer back to high speed. Let it whip until it’s got a nice fluffy texture and smells amazing. 

Add a little (tsp or so) vanilla or other extract now if you want and whip for a second longer. You can also fold in crushed just about anything, like we did with candy canes in one batch and Daim candies in another. About 1/2-3/4 cup per batch should do you right.

Pour it out into the prepared pan, spread with an offset spatula or the back of a clean spoon and sift more powdered whatever you chose over the top. Let set completely before cutting out of the pan. With a knife dipped in hot water, slice cleanly around the edges of the pan. Invert it onto a cutting board or other clean surface, and cut into desired sizes. You should dip your knife and wipe it on a clean cloth each time you make a new cut, for the best results.

* I made a chai version here, and to do that I steeped 2 chai tea bags in one cup of boiling water and then let it cool before using it in the marshmallows. At the end I added about 1/2 tsp of allspice and 1 tsp of ginger. It was awesome, and they are really amazing in homemade chai lattes. Just saying. 

A Latke Primer

I don’t really know anything when it comes to most “Jewish” food. I don’t do gefilte, I dislike both pickled herring and lox, and I’ve never made most of your Bubbie’s famous dishes. But give me a frying pan and some potatoes and I’ll make you a latke to write home about. 

We got a piano for Hanukah!
Two nights down…



















Since there are still a few days left of Hanukah, and I’ve heard from a couple of people that they can’t ever get their latkes quite right, I decided to pass on my humble knowledge of this famous fried food. I’ve also had Joe tell me he thinks I was born with a Jewish soul simply based on how well I cook traditionally cultural Jewish food even when I’ve never made it before, but I guess that’s just his opinion.


There’s really nothing worse than a mushy, soggy latke. Or one that falls apart in the pan and then just ends up in a million burnt shreds. Or one that’s too dry because the potatoes were grated too fine.


In other words, there’s a lot of ways to get them wrong. But I’m going to help you get them right, at least the way I do it. Your Bubbie may or may not approve.

Breaking my own rules: not enough onion 😦



There are a couple of key steps:


Grate the onion first. The juices from the onion will help keep the potato from browning as you grate it. I usually grate about 1/4 of a medium largish onion per 3 potatoes or so. And every 2-3 potatoes I mix the onion and potato shreds together to coat them all with that onion juice. Don’t grate everything too fine or too big either, or your’ll end up either with mush or with latkes that don’t hold together at all. 

Don’t do your nails fancy before this: the fancy won’t survive.



Add the salt before draining. This helps release any excess juices from the potatoes, allowing you to really drain them well. This leads to the next step which is:



Drain the mix for longer than you think is really necessary, over a bowl. Start early, and let your shredded onions and potatoes drain over the bowl you will mix everything in for at least an hour. Every 20 minutes or so, go over there and really press the mix down into your colander to squeeze out that juice. Do it again right before you mix up the batter.

Dump off all the juice but leave the starch! At the bottom of the bowl that you have been letting your potatoes drain into, there will be a slime of potato starch. Leave it there and mix everything else into it. This extra starch really helps to bind together the rest of the ingredients. And speaking of starch:

It doesn’t look pretty right now, but whatev.

I use flour instead of matzoh, but either one is fine. Finer starch will absorb the excess liquid more quickly.  A couple of Tbsp for every couple of potatoes is a good rule of thumb.


Ditch the egg whites. They don’t help bind all that much, and they have a lot of extra water content, which you just spent an hour getting rid of. Keep your whites though, to make meringues or for egg white omelets if that’s your thing. Use two egg yolks when your recipe calls for one whole egg, or for every 3-4 potatoes. 



Add extra stuff if you want, just keep the ratio of potato:onion:starch:eggs in mind. I like to add green onions, a little cheese, sometimes celeriac or apples, carrots or sweet potatoes. Mix it up and add different spices too. I’ve seen good recipes for samosa style latkes and dessert latkes, and even greek inspired ones served with tzatziki. 


Get the oil good and hot before you start cooking, and don’t be afraid to use quite a bit. If your pan starts to look dry between batches, add a bit more and reheat before adding more latkes.



Get messy. It’s better if you can hand form your latkes: they’ll be thinner and crispier than if you just drop a big glob in the pan. I take about a palmful of batter and form it into a disk, then drop it into the oil. After I’ve filled the pan (but not too many! You don’t want them to be crowded or they’ll just steam.) I go back and lightly press them down with my spatula.


Cook until golden brown and then flip, just once. If they start to burn before you think they’re getting done inside turn the heat down a touch. But don’t worry too much about raw insides because you can always finish them in the oven. If you flip them too many times they’ll start to fall apart no matter how good your batter is.


Drain as you go, onto a paper towel lined sheet pan in a warm oven. They’ll stay nice and crispy for long enough to fry up all the batter so everyone can sit down together.

Sweet Potato Latkes with Cardamom Applesauce and Mascarpone


Getting Ready

Fall is definitely a food lover’s season. I mean, along with summer and spring and winter of course.


In this crisp, cool season, there is much to look forward to as a person who enjoys spending time in the kitchen and at the table. There is the promise of a warm kitchen when the oven is on to bake or roast. There is the beauty of a steamed up window when you are cooking a hearty soup or a big pot of pasta sauce.


There is the smell in the air when you step outside, the crunch of leaves underfoot. The dirt under your fingernails when you put your garden to bed, and the warm mug that awaits you when you step back inside. 


Maybe all of these things aren’t directly food or eating related, but they all play a role in how we experience the world around us, and they all, eating included, help us to connect with that world. 

In our family, keeping kosher is also meant to help us connect in a deeper way, through our food, to our environment, and of course, to God. But you can do that even if you don’t keep kosher. You can do it just by being present as you savour a meal, or enjoy a brisk walk in the glow of a late afternoon. 


As you prepare your tables for the feast that many of us will be sharing with loved ones next week, take some time to remember those connections. Try for a day or a week to take them out of the I-take-these-things-for-granted closet in the back of your mind, and embrace them. 


It will make the food taste even better.

The Easiest Challenge of the Season

I am going to come right out and say it. I really really love fall. I love all the spices, I love drinking hot things, I love soup. I love the leaves changing, I love the pumpkin patch, I love windy rainy days. And I love pumpkin. 


A week or so ago I challenged myself to something that I knew wouldn’t be very challenging at all. I went with it anyway, because sometimes you have to let yourself cheat. I ate something pumpkin flavored everyday. Sometimes more than once a day, because I’m an overachiever like that. (Bonus points for being an overachiever and a slacker at the same time.) I also cheated by letting myself use canned pumpkin. Mostly because it has better flavor than freshly made pumpkin puree. I don’t know how they do that, but there it is.

Anyhow, every recipe was a success, except for one. Turns out, it’s hard to make a pumpkin coffee at home with only a french press.


Here are all the things I made, in no particular order:

  • Cottage pie with Pumpkin gravy
  • Pumpkin spice challah french toast (made with a thick pumpkin custard and of course, cream)
  • Pumpkin molasses waffles (just add pumpkin and spices to the batter, and sub sugar for molasses)
  • Pumpkin curry soup
  • Pumpkin mac’n’cheese (I left out the maple syrup and topped it with panko before baking)

I just discovered another way I cheated. I didn’t make a new thing every day. Somedays, we ate leftovers. No big deal. I think tomorrow I will make pumpkin oatmeal for breakfast to make up for it.

Anyhow, you should try an easy challenge like this. It’s guaranteed to be more fun than my current challenge at which I am so far failing miserably (because I haven’t even started), the 200 sit-up challenge. 


Cottage Pie with Pumpkin Gravy
Serves 4-6

1 lb lean ground beef or other ground meat
1 cup frozen peas
2 or 3 carrots, cut in 1/4″ coins
fresh ground nutmeg, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch sweet paprika (optional)
vegetable or chicken stock, about 2 cups
1 cup pumpkin puree

About 3 or so cups of your favorite mashed potatoes for the topping. Depending on your casserole dish you might need more or less. You want it to be about an inch thick. I think I used 3 russet potatoes for my 9″ casserole dish.

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Brown meat thoroughly in a shallow saucepan and set aside. Drain on paper towels if it’s greasy at all. In the same pan, add carrots and a pinch of salt, and enough stock to loosen the browned bits from the meat. Add peas. Stir it around for a minute, then add the pumpkin and the rest of the stock. You want it to be about the consistency of a thick soup, because I didn’t add any thickener. It will cook down a bit in the oven. At this point taste for salt and pepper, add paprika if you’re using it, and add nutmeg to taste. I might have added some onion powder or allspice too, I can’t remember 😦

Once the mixture comes to a boil and the carrots have softened a bit, about 5-7 minutes, add the meat back in and let heat again for a minute or so. Pour the whole mixture into your casserole dish and top with the mashed potatoes. Grate a little bit more nutmeg over the top. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the mashed potatoes are browning around the edges and the gravy is bubbling out a bit.

This casserole is something I made in the morning and then had my husband pop in the oven in the afternoon while I was out, so I know that will work too if you need it to. I would say you could make it a day ahead if you wanted.