Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Strawberry cake!

This may or may not have been an accidental meal replacement for my boyfriend, probably a few times? It comes from Joy the Baker, and is so easy, and so strawberry flavored, and so pink, that I have filed the recipe away as something I will definitely make again and again.

The original recipe calls for three cake pans, but since I didn't have them, I found two heart shaped tins left behind by my boyfriend's mother (or possibly the secret cake baking fairy) and it worked out wonderfully. Joy also includes a great-looking frosting recipe, but I have a strange moral aversion to making frosting (but no aversion whatsoever of eating a store-bought can of it with a spoon) so I got a tub of Pillsbury cream cheese frosting, and just slathered it on top and between the layers, although I think camouflaging the cake in white only to find its pretty pink center is part of what makes it special. Not eating the leftover frosting took all of my willpower. It rests in my boyfriend's fridge until the next time. But not the cake.

The cake is gone.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cooking for the Jewish New Year (Brisket, Eggplant Caviar & Honey Cake)

Except for having no money and squirming uncomfortably when people ask me "what do you do?" being unemployed is actually not so bad. For one thing, I have a lot of time to feed my recipe-search obsession, and for another, it comes in handy on days like this Wednesday, which marked the beginning of the Jewish New Year at sundown. Everyone was at work... and I was left all alone to toy with cake batter and an almost-Flintstones sized cut of beef, among other things. I was asked to do this, implored, even, by the same people who eye me uncomfortably when I ask if its okay to make this or that 75% of the time). I got my lovely kitchen all to myself -one of my favorite things in the world- and my family got a holiday dinner without breaking a sweat. I have few opportunities like this, and if I had to trade this for a paycheck...I'd go for the paycheck, but I'd get a little sad about it. Just a little.
So this is the breakdown of the three actually homemade things on our table this Jewish new year. Of course, my camera charger is still missing, so there are no pictures, but the food was good. If I took pictures the next day, I'd only have scraps to photograph.

Brisket with Potatoes: Yields many servings. Count on 2+ days of leftovers for a family of 4

(This recipe comes from a combination of my mother's internet research and improvisation, and my playing it by ear when left alone to make it with only last year's memory as a guide)

one 5lb brisket
6 medium peeled russet potatoes (or however many more will fit in your roasting pan) quartered
3 celery stalks, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
1 medium onion, quartered
5 cloves of garlic, crushed (or use more, why not)
one 28oz can crushed tomatoes (choose a quality brand, since sour/salty tomatoes will affect the whole dish)
2-4 bay leaves (depending on your taste, and how old and flavorless your bay leaves may have become)
1/2 can of beer (feed other half to your brother so as not to waste beer, even if it is Budweiser)
1 tbsp sugar
olive oil

Trim most of the fat off the meat, rub with salt and pepper, and sear it in a pan on all sides. Spread some olive oil on the bottom of a roasting pan and place meat in the middle. Rub some crushed garlic cloves into the meat, leaving it covered in bits. Tuck a bay leaf under the meat, then spread vegetables around the meat, tucking bay leaves and remaining garlic among them. Salt & pepper the vegetables. Pour beer over the meat, then pour on the can of tomatoes. Add sugar (if the tomatoes seem to need it). Shake the pan to distribute the juices. Mmm juices. Cover with foil.
Bake at 375 for 3 1/2 to 4 hours. I uncovered it with 45 minutes remaining to let some of the liquid cook down.

Eggplant Caviar (Peasant Caviar): Yields about 2 1/2cups
This is a family recipe; eggplant caviar is practically a Russian staple. It is called "caviar" because the eggplant and tomato seeds sort of resemble fish eggs) It tastes great as a spread on bread, latkes (no recipe for those here, I made mine from a box this year), the brisket, or more or less anything that's for dinner. I like it with a spoon, but that's just me. I think it tastes best when everything is minced by hand, but a food processor makes it so much easier.
1 large eggplant (2/3rds the size of a newborn child is ideal)
2 medium tomatoes, cored, cut into chunks
1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper
1 small onion, cut into chunks
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
salt & pepper

Roast eggplant until it looks defeated by life (about 40 minutes at 350 degrees, or microwave it at 2 minute intervals until it is soft and sags slightly), allow to cool
Place bell pepper in a skillet on med-high heat and leave until skin chars, about 7 minutes; let cool and remove skin
Pulse tomatoes and bell pepper in food processor until slightly chunky, pour into nonreactive dish
Pulse onion until slightly chunky, add to tomatoes
Separate and discard eggplant skin, pulse eggplant until slightly chunky, add to tomatoes and onion
Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to the vegetables, stir, and adjust seasoning to taste. Should be mildly vinegary, a little bit sweet and not too salty. Cover bowl and refrigerate until time to serve. The flavors will develop a little bit more.

Honey-Orange Cake: Yields one 9x13" pan, or 24 medium cupcakes
Our honey cake used to come from my great-aunt, who made batches of traditional foods for the family, but she has toned down her cooking in recent years; I was afraid that anything I made to replace her cake would be off the mark. This comes from Allrecipes.com and the end result is lighter than my great aunt's, has very little of the bitter honey flavor, and smells like flowers. I would make it all the time. Maybe in cupcake form, with cream cheese frosting. Success :) 
1 cup white sugar
1 cup honey (a dark, strong-flavored honey is great. I used Buckwheat and liked it a lot)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
1 cup orange juice
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (had to leave this out since some people around here don't like cinnamon)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9x13 inch pan. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil, honey, eggs and orange zest. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the orange juice, mixing just until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan.
  3. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool. 
    (Note: I made 12 cupcakes and one cake pan from the above batter recipe. The cupcakes took about 25 minutes.)
  So there you have it. Just add latkes, gefilte fish and the moonshine white-wine stuff my mother made (which, appropriately, tastes like Maneschewitz, and is an entirely different story altogether), and you've got Rosh Hashannah dinner at my house. Hooray.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Happy Almost Autumn!

Temperatures are dropping a little, and not a moment too soon, since my air conditioner suddenly stopped working a couple of weeks ago. I missed it, terribly, for two very uncomfortable days, but now with the windows open, it's actually chilly- and I am excited. I am not somebody who mourns putting away her flip-flops. I don't get sad when someone comes to the realization that "summer's almost over".  I love fall. It's got all the best stuff packed into it: crunchy leaves, crisp apples, leather boots, my birthday, and being able to turn on the oven and make delicious things in it. Like for the upcoming Jewish holidays, or Thanksgiving, or just because it's windy outside and you felt like roasting something. Or making pie.

Autumn is pie season :)
September also marks the end of a month-long root canal procedure, and I will be thrilled to put my repaired teeth to good use. So I hope to be posting warm, cozy recipes very soon. And while I'm at it, I have some neon-green soup to show you a picture of... as soon as I get hold of a camera.