Baking for Passover

chocolate meringue cookies

I suppose that for some folks Passover is a miserable stretch of deprivation.  But Passover has always been my favorite holiday. and while I am one of the few nuts out there who actually enjoys matzoh, it’s not just because of the crackers.  Well, ok, it’s partially because of the matzoh (egg matzoh spread with good butter and a sprinkle of salt).

fresh mangoEvery year I tell myself that I’ll lose a few pounds at Passover, what with skipping all that leavened goodness.  But that never seems to happen, in fact quite the opposite. I adore Passover food.  Jeff and I have a running joke that all Jews eat is bagels and fish (Jeff even made up a song about bagels and fish – no joke).  But even Jeff has to admit that with no bagels allowed, we pull out all the stops and put out a pretty irresistable spread. I can’t say no to brisket or potato kugel. And my mom’s matzoh brei (matzoh dipped in egg and fried in chicken fat) is the stuff of dreams – well, my kind of crazy food-obsessed dreams, anyway.  Given that flour is off-limits you might think that Passover desserts are not an issue, but you’d be wrong.  Oh, I’ve had my share of icky matzoh-meal brownies and sandy angel food cakes.  But then there are the fabulous flourless chocolate cakes, and the coconut macaroons, and the matzoh brittles, and the cheesecakes.  And, of course these lovely egg-white concoctions. 

mango pavlovas

I don’t know why I don’t make meringue cookies more often.  They are light and  delicious, and in the grand scheme of cookies, relatively healthy.  And these mini pavlovas are so easy and yet so impressive that they would be the perfect dessert for a back-yard garden party.  If you have never made pavlovas, they are truly heaven.  Pillowy meringue topped with creamy goodness and sweet fruit.  What’s not to love? The key with both the cookies and the pavlovas is quality.  With so few ingredients, each one really counts.  Use great chocolate for the meringue cookies (you all know my fondness for Green & Blacks) and be sure you have a perfectly ripe mango for the pavlovas.  You won’t be sorry.


chocolate meringue cookies

Chocolate Meringue Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

cooking spray

2 teaspoons matzoh meal (or all-purpose flour)

3 egg whites

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Coat two baking sheets with spray, sprinkle with matzoh meal and shake off the excess.  In a very clean bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.  Add in the sugar and continue to beat until glossy.  Fold in the chocolate and vanilla.  Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter on prepared cookie sheets. Bake for one hour and then turn off the oven and let sit for another hour.  Cookies will keep a couple of days in an airtight container.

mango pavlovas

Lemon-Mango Pavlovas

Serves 6

2 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/2 cup sugar

2 teaspoons potato starch (or corn starch)

1 tablespoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

1 large mango, diced

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar and beat until glossy.  Sprinkle the potato starch over the egg whites, add the lemon zest and juice and the vanilla and fold gently to incorporate.  Spoon the egg whites into six mounds on the parchment, creating a slight indentation in the middle of each mound.  Bake 50-60 minutes, until slightly golden, and then carefully transfer to a rack to cool.  Once fully cooled top each meringue base with a dollop of sour cream and some of the chopped mango.  Serve with plenty of napkins as these can get messy!

Published in: on March 26, 2010 at 8:23 pm  Comments (26)  
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Salsa, Salsa, Salsa

Mexican steak

I’ve never really understood celebrity crushes.  Sure, I had a poster of Chris O’Donnell tacked to my wall when I was thirteen, but I just really liked Batman.  In any case, it never made much sense to me to get all mushy about a made-up character.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve done my share of unrequited pining.  Perhaps most memorable was my highschool philosophy teacher, who had a sort of Hugh Grant-meets-Dartmouth thing going. I’m a sucker for fleece. And brooding.  With all of that Descartes and Sartre and Camus, it certainly wasn’t little old Madame Sbarge who inspired me to major in French in college. And years later there was the do-gooding surfer.  I had clearly moved on from fleece to flowing locks and from existentialism to fighting malaria.

rick bayless salsaBut lately, my crushes have moved in a culinary direction.  Technically, I suppose that Rick Bayless is a celebrity, and that I have a celebrity crush.  But when I flip open one of his books (two of which my wonderful husband gave me for my birthday) and make salsa, I actually feel a bit like he’s in my kitchen.  OK, not really, but that doesn’t stop me from talking to him.  “Rick, is this enough cilantro?” “Are these cascabels toasted enough?” I’m not sure that he would totally approve of my results but he certainly could not fault my efforts.  Salsa-making has become my new obsession.  Poor Jeff has endured everything from an overly smoky chipotle version to a too-salty tomatillo salsa. But I’ve finally got the hang of it. I’m loving roasted tomato salsa and chipotle-roasted tomatillo salsa.  You can find a few great recipes here on Rick Bayless’ website.  And with so much salsa hanging around the house, I’ve discovered that it’s awesome as a marinade, great on roasts, tasty in corn chowder, terrific in mac and cheese, and it even makes a spectacular salad dressing.

But most often I’ve actually just been making these quick, easy, and healthy tostadas. With the weather finally warmer (please don’t let this be a tease) I love grilling the steak here, although you can just as easily use a grill pan on the stove top.  These are a little messy, but that is part of the fun. 

Mexican steak tostada

Steak Tostadas

Serves 4

1 lb flank steak

1 cup roasted tomato salsa (if you choose store-bought salsa, Fronterra brand is my favorite!)

3 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tbsp vegetable oil

1 poblano pepper, chopped

1/4 cup chopped red onion

salt and pepper

8 corn tortillas

6 oz cheddar cheese, shredded

1/4 cup thinly sliced cabbage

1/4 cup sour cream

Marinate the steak in a mixture of 1/2 cup salsa and the cider vinegar for 30 minutes.  Season the steak with salt and pepper.  Preheat the grill or a grill-pan.  Grill the steak until desired doneness.  Allow to rest for a minute or two and then slice thinly.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and saute the poblano and onion until soft, about 5 minutes, season to taste with salt and pepper.  Toast corn tortillas until crisp.  Arrange two tortillas on each of four plates.  Top with cheese, steak, pepper mixture, and finally cabbage.  Serve with remaining salsa and sour cream.  And lots of napkins!

Daylight Savings Frittata

leek and blue cheese frittata

I have a premonition that my weekend will go something like this:  A wonderful time on Saturday night drinking wine with my lovely friend Diana will lead me to completely forget to change my clocks.  I will wake up in a frenzy on Sunday morning, realizing that I’m an hour behind and that hungry brunch-wanting friends will be arriving at my door any minute.  If ever there was a perfect time to skip the fussy Quiche crust and go straight for the good stuff…. this would be it (and by the good stuff I mean eggs and cheese and leeks, of course). 

individual frittatas with leek and blue cheeseIn my mind, frittatas fit right into spring. I’m not quite sure why, except, perhaps that my step-dad never seemed to make his famous frittatas in the winter.  Winter was for Chuck’s ricotta pancakes. You can put just about anything into a frittata, but Chuck’s favorite has always been lobster.  And for us, lobster is a summer affair, eaten outside on my parent’s deck.  Chuck would save every scrap of leftover lobster meat (yes, I know, leftover lobster – a sin!) and fry it up in the morning with a few green onions, pour in the beaten eggs, layer with slices of herbed Havarti cheese.  After a few minutes in the oven the cheese would brown, and the day-after lobster smell would dissipate into the warm scent of onions and fat and dill.

lobster frittataAlthough spring is still a few weeks off, I’m already yearning for sunshine and fresh green beans and short sleeves and Chuck’s frittatas.  Which is why I decided to feature frittatas for this month’s Cozy, Delicious column in the Dedham Transcript.  The leek and blue cheese frittata with balsamic vinegar that I wrote about in the column (recipe is here) is a standby entertaining recipe for me, but is easily adaptable.  Substitute artichoke hearts for the leeks, or swap out the blue cheese for some Gruyère.  Stir in a bit of tomato paste instead of balsamic vinegar, or even try a couple of minced anchovies in the mix.   And if you’re feeling extra adventurous, go for a sweet pear frittata.  Just saute some pear slices in butter, arrange neatly in the skillet, sprinkle with sugar, pour in a few beaten eggs, and bake as usual.  Top your pear frittata with a drizzle of honey and a sprinkle of toasted slivered almonds and prepare to wow your taste buds.

Chuck is a big advocate of the cast iron skillet, and he would never make a frittata in anything else.  But I have to admit that for many years I used an eight-inch oven-proof nonstick pan.  However, my brother recently gave me two adorable little cast iron skillets, just the right size for a single-serving frittata.  Both the recipe below and the recipe in the Dedham Transcript work for either one eight-inch skillet (cast iron or otherwise) or four individual skillets.

leek and blue cheese frittata

Chuck’s Lobster Frittata

Serves 4

1/4 cup chopped scallions

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 pound cooked lobster meat, cut in small chunks

4 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup milk

salt and cracked black pepper

4 ounces Havarti cheese with dill, thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In an 8-inch cast iron skillet (or miniature skillets) saute the scallions in butter over medium heat.  Add the lobster meat, spreading it evenly in the pan.  Meanwhile, beat together the eggs, milk, salt and pepper.  Pour the egg mixture into the skillet, and do not stir.  Cook until the edges begin to set, about 5 minutes.  Arrange the cheese over the top of the still-runny egg mixture.  Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set and the cheese is melted. Run a knife around the edge of the frittata to loosen, and serve hot.

Kitchen Disasters, Bad Juju, and Peanut Butter Cookies

peanut butter cookies

There is something very, very wrong with the karma in my kitchen.  Either that or I have totally lost it (and by ‘it’ I mean my ability to cook). 

Yesterday was a long, exhausting day.  The kind of day for which comfort food was invented.  So sprinkled a whole chicken with some lemon zest and thyme, drizzled it with olive oil, threw it in the oven, and put on my fuzzy PJs.  Then I made biscuits – and honey butter. When I went to pull my chicken out of the oven, the skin was wonderfully brown and crispy, and as I was busy congratulating myself for my perfect roast, it took me a minute to notice the problem. 

roast chickenYou see, I had put the chicken in the roasting pan upside down!  And do you know what happens when the chicken goes in breast down?  I do!  What happens is that the breast does not cook.  Or, at least, the breast cooks very, very slowly.  I have rosted quite a number of chickens, and I have never, ever been absent-minded enough to put them in the pan upside down!  Well, until yesterday that is.  And by this time it was nine o’clock and we were hungry and cranky.  So we ate biscuits for dinner.

And then tonight, all I did was press down the toaster lever.  I put in my tortilla, set the toaster to ‘light’ and 30 seconds later there were flames all over my counter.  I grabbed the fire extinguisher, screamed my head off, tried not to breathe in smoke, and realized that I had no idea how to use a fire extinguisher.  Thankfully, Jeff was a bit calmer, and he snatched the fire extinguisher from me and with one quick burst took care of the toaster.  Normally, this wouldn’t have been a terrible omen, but since it was my second fire in less than a month, I’m a bit worried.  A few weeks ago, I saw a podcast on drying herbs in the microwave.  Sounded easy enough to me, but a paper towel and three sprigs of dill later, my microwave burst into flames. As I said, bad juju.

peanut butter cookiesOf course, I couldn’t really leave it at that.  So I made cookies.  Easy, easy, easy cookies.  The simplest, most lovely, peanut butter cookies.  I have been meaning to make these for a while, and tonight I just needed to prove that I could do it, that could make my kitchen do its job.  In any case, they are sweet and crumbly and perfect, and you don’t have to actually tell anyone how easy they are. 

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for rolling

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all ingredients together until well incorporated and smooth.  Roll the dough into balls, about one inch in diameter.  Roll each ball in more sugar before placing on a greased cookie sheet.  Press each ball down with a fork once, and then again at a 90 degree angle.  Bake for about 12-15 minutes until slightly brown around the edges.  Transfer to a rack and cool.

peanut butter cookie

Published in: on March 9, 2010 at 7:24 pm  Comments (12)  
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