Monday, March 27, 2006

I am curious yellow

Finally, finally, the daffodils and crocuses are opening their bright blossoms to the suddenly springlike air, their purple and yellow so clear and crayon-bright they look almost like plastic flowers stuck in the dirt. Jacques Torres's chocolate shop in Dumbo is filled with row after row of chicks and bunnies, along with a few other barnyard animals (my favorite? "Funny Pig Dancin' a Jig!") along with many little bags of the inexplicably popular chocolate-covered cheerios. (I once tried to make rice krispie treats using cheerios instead of the usual RKs. What a disaster that was. Nothing makes oat-flavored compressed sawdust taste better, not even butter and marshmallows.) And it's suddenly time to think about the marzipan treats at Elk Candy on the Upper East Side and the baby Peeps (yes, little tiny baby Peeps! Or so my mother tells me) and Cadbury creme eggs in every Duane Reed.

Meanwhile, I've been holding out with the recipe for that lemon-ginger cake, as lauded by the so-kind Bakerina, and nibbled by me for days and days with countless cups of tea. Popped in a sealed plastic bag, it lasts extremely well, staying moist and lemony-gingery whenever you want it. As mentioned before, this is nothing like gingerbread; rather, it's a moist, rather dense and buttery lemon cake with a hint of ginger.

Drenched Ginger and Lemon Cake
Adapted from Good-Tempered Food, by Tamasin Day-Lewis

3/4 cup (6 oz or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup light brown (muscovado) sugar, packed
2 eggs
grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour (I used a mix of all-purpose and whole wheat pastry flour)
1/4 tsp salt
4-5 TB milk
5 knobs of preserved ginger in syrup, drained and finely chopped

juice of 2 lemons
2 TB sugar (raw or demerara, if you have it)
1 TB honey
2 TB ginger syrup

Grease a 7 or 8 inch cake pan (I used a deep 7 inch springform pan). Preheat oven to 350F. Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by zest.Whisk baking powder, flour, and salt together, then stir into butter mix. Add enough milk to make a thick mixture that will drop off a spoon in large gloppy clumps. Stir in ginger. Plop into pan and bake 40-50 minutes.

Let cool for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack (right side up) to cool. While cake is still warm, boil up syrup ingredients, letting it boil together for a minute or two. Using a toothpick or skewer, poke holes all over cake. Slowly pour hot syrup all over cake, let it soak in.

I think this is nicest while still warm, or reheated briefly.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Everything that rises must converge

Oh, I heart Fran Gage and her foolproof souffle recipe. After the chermoula disaster, I needed something to restore my kitchen faith, and a lovely little dinner of cheddar-cheese souffle, green beans with lemon, and tiny roasted potatoes with rosemary did just that. For once, I didn't undercook the souffle, so I didn't have to scoop apologetically around a still-wet middle. It was puffy and brown and just savory enough from the cheddar and some minced scallions, very nice with the blanched beans turned around in a hot pan with butter and lemon zest and a spritz of juice. Alongside went some marble-sized potatoes lightly parboiled and then roasted with olive oil, fleur de sel and a crumble of rosemary. Afterwards, a salad of red-leaf lettuce with jelly-tender roasted beets, toasted walnuts, and slivered crunchy raw fennel, dressed with a thick drizzle of pomegranate molasses, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

And for dessert, the Drenched Ginger and Lemon Cake, warmed up and served with tea and chips of June Taylor's candied Meyer Lemons, leftover from making Shifra and Stephen's wedding cake in January. The cake was buttery-moist ("wodgy" as Bakerina called it) in the center and crunchy-brown around the edges. Despite the four knobs of preserved ginger in the batter and the ginger syrup used in the drenching, it tasted mostly like lemon cake, which is still a pretty excellent thing. You could up the ginger ante with some grated fresh ginger or a spoonful of dried, but it's quite lovely as it is.

And Bakerina told me all about the joys of Eureka Springs, and how to manage gloopy bread doughs, and much more. Tea was sipped, prosecco was drunk, and now, even sending her home to Queens with enough cake for her husband to have both a late-night snack and breakfast the next morning, I've still got a coffee-sized chunk left for my own morning repast.

Foolproof Cheese Souffle

2 TB butter
2 1/2 TB flour
1 cup milk
4 extra-large eggs, separated
4 oz cheese --soft goat cheese or grated hard cheese, like cheddar or Gruyere
1 TB or so of minced chives or scallions
salt and pepper

Butter an 8-inch souffle dish (aka a straight-sided, deep ceramic baking dish). Preheat oven to 375F. In a smallish, heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the flour and whisk like crazy, letting it cook until it looks smooth and thick and smells slightly biscuity but doesn't color, about 2 minutes. Dump in the milk and whisk madly as it bubbles up and thickens, 2-3 minutes. Take off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Stir in the grated cheese and chives. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Now, either wash and dry your whisk very well and then whisk (or use an electric hand-held or standup mixer) until your egg whites form soft, droopy peaks when the beater is lifted. Fold a scoop of whites into the cheese mixture, then fold the rest in quickly and lightly. It doesn't have to be uniform; you should be able to mix it in just a few strokes. The egg whites are what will give you the fluff, so don't deflate them by over-mixing. Pour into dish and pop into the oven.

NO PEEKING! Let it cook for at least 30 minutes. Then check; it should be well-golden-browned and beautifully puffy. Shake it a bit; center should be a bit jiggly without being soupy. Serve immediately, as it begin to collapse shortly after being removed from the oven.

This souffle won't form a huge brown mushroom-head, but it does puff up nicely and has a lovely spongy-fluffy texture.

Chermoula, part two

Well, it turns out, not surprisingly, that Middle-Eastern food expert Claudia Roden knows more about green olives, preserved lemons, and chermoula than I. Chermoula, it seems, is usually used for fish, and preserved lemons for chicken, which is probably why Tamasin Day-Lewis put the two together in her chicken chermoula recipe. Roden's fish chermoula formula is similar to Day-Lewis's--with a couple of crucial differences. It's great to bake the fish with olives, she says--use the green ones, but boil them first, for 10 or 15 minutes in a lot of water, to take the bitterness out. Oh.

And the good folks at Chowhound swear that preserved lemons, made properly, have an intensely lemony, floral fragrance and flavor, not the nasty bleach-compound that I tasted. They were quite smug in their insistance that the lemons be made at home--which I'm all for, since given space, time, and enough kitty litter, I'd not only bake my own bread and make my own jam but pick the fruit and build my own bread oven, just because why not make life slower and harder?-- except that it takes a good month in a jar for a lemon to get itself preserved, and I only had a day.

Last night, I was tempted to get another bunch of cilantro and parsley and start over, olive- and lemon-less, but this morning, well, the cheese souffle idea is looking pretty good, if only because I know my souffle recipe (from Fran Gage's Bread and Chocolate) is foolproof. I have made it everywhere and it always works, even in an Italian oven the size of a radio.

And out in California, it's snowing! And L.E. (formerly Dan) Leone is busy making chicken soup for his chickens.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Revolting Food

Well, I've finally enticed the fine Bakerina to cross boroughs and join me for dinner in Brooklyn tomorrow. Knowing we share an oft-ridiculed fondness for British cookbooks, I got out my well-loved but never-used copy of Tamasin Day-Lewis's (yes, she's Daniel's sister, and yes, she's equally foxy, plus she cooks. I knew I liked her when she not only gave a fabulous-sounding recipe for homemade Bloody Mary mix but swore that it was her Sunday-morning elixir, downed religiously post 8-mile run and bath. Damn. But I digress) book Good -Tempered Food (as opposed to, say, Bad-Tempered Food?), finally choosing Chicken Chermoula with Preserved Lemons, accompanied by my own crunchy citrus salad with blood oranges, fennel, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, followed by Drenched Lemon-Ginger Cake. So far, so good. Went out to the produce store, hit Sahadi's for preserved lemon, ginger in syrup, coriander seeds and paprika, plus thick Greek yogurt and green olives.

Into the kitchen with the food processor, buzzing the toasted cumin and coriander seeds, the paprika, the carefully de-stemmed cilantro and parsley, the chopped onion and garlic into a pungently Moroccan-smelling paste. Then, the green olives and the preserved lemon go into the mix. A couple tablespoons of olive oil, then the taste test.

Oh my god. It's disgusting. Bitter, bitter, salty, and then somewhere in the background, cumin and parsley, struggling vainly to be heard. I taste an olive on its own, one of the big green Greek jobs from Sahadi's well-regarded olive bar. Blechhh! It's incredibly bitter, as if it hadn't finished curing yet. The lemon is worse--it smells like bleach and Lemon Pledge, and tastes like them too, if Lemon Pledge was also really, really salty and bitter. They have destroyed my chermoula rub. Bitterness cannot be assuaged; if I put this on anything, that thing will be ruined.

Into the trash it goes. Grrrr. But tell me, are preserved lemons supposed to taste like that? If so, why does everyone rave about them so?

We're having cheese souffle now. And although I'm a little burned on the lovely Tamasin, I'm going to go ahead with the cake today, so that if it blows, it can be replaced.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Happy Spring!

Woke up this morning to coffee, homemade hamantaschen (after all that hoo-ha, I think my original recipe is still the best--and it rolls out! wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!), and a call from K., wishing me a happy spring. With the weather back to pom-pom hat temperatures, I'd completely forgotten that the vernal equinox was arriving today. But icy winds (and, if you're in the midwest, snow) notwithstanding, it's spring! Three tulips started pushing up through the cold dirt in a pot out on the balcony a few days ago. Now, if they could retract, they would, but instead they're just hunkering down, looking like they'd like to find someone to blame for last week's deceptively balmy invitation.

In celebration, I went down the 2nd Place Garden, clutching 16 pounds of fresh potting soil and a couple of packets of seeds: a mesclun mix bought in Paris 3 years ago and some Easter-egg radishes from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden--so-called because the round little roots come in a bouquet of spring pastels, including rose, lilac, pale pink, and white. WIth my crumpled garden gloves on, still stiff with last year's dirt, I sprinkled tiny lettuce seeds and poked down pebbly, Advil-colored radish seeds. A week or so and they should start sprouting. I've promised K. a homegrown salad for her birthday dinner when she comes back on leave in May, dressed with last summer's hot pink chive-blossom vinegar.

Something else for the future backyard (because surely there will be one, one of these days): a wood-burning outdoor oven, made in a weekend, from cinderblock, firebrick, sand, and...kitty litter? Yep, you want to make a clay oven--sturdy, cheap, and perfect for baking anything from pizza and bread to pie and pork shoulder, you just get yourself to the supermarket and buy a few bags of the cheapest house-brand kitty litter. Mix it with water, and the little granules will melt into smooth greenish clay. Learning this, and many other useful details, made the hour+ ride on the local train up to the Bronx on Saturday worth it. It was Greenbridge's annual Grow Together, a day of gardening and community-building workshops, on every possible topic from the upcoming Farm Bill to making your own twig lampshades and kestrel houses. And now I know how to make an bread oven out of kitty litter! That's true urban homesteading.

Elsewhere in the news: Prairie Home Companion, the Movie. Another Robert Altman ensemble piece, and I'm just hoping it's playing in Eureka Springs this June. One question, though: Lindsay Lohan?

And as promised, Trader Joe's has opened on Union Square. It looks swell, but I can't tell you what the merch is like, because there was an endless line down the block on Sunday afternoon just to get in. I like attractively priced trail mix and frozen pot stickers just as much as the next girl, but I am not standing in line just to go to the grocery store. Come on, people! Amy's dedicated-foodie pal Heather, however, checked it out on Saturday, and said the prices seemed San-Francisco-style--they're not doing the Dean and Deluca gouge, shockingly enough.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Eating chocolate cake from a bag...

...with Roxxie, of Girl Jock fame, sitting outside Cafe Doma on Perry Street, huddled over cups of tea like the Little Match Girl as the wintery winds whipped around us. The crocuses were regretting their eagerness for spring right about now, but inside Magnolia Bakery it was sugary-warm as always. Being a savvy former West Villager, I quickly steered Roxxie to the best thing in the house: the little squashed-looking flourless chocolate cakes, which are fresh and moist and very chocolatey, and umpteen times better than the suck-ass cupcakes. Roxxie got my West Village trifecta: tea and champagne at Turks and Frogs (where i had to go to pick up the bag full of seeds and garden info that I'd left there on my last visit), dinner at August (which was suiting the weather with Eastern-European Jewish grandma food: kasha with wild mushrooms, beef borscht with barley, and chicken in a pot), and more tea and those chocolate cakes snuck from the bag at a table at Doma. We talked about all the things people we knew from San Francisco used to do at parties. Naughty things. Things that New Yorkers don't do because they are too busy discussing real estate. Not that all the crazy people aren't moms and/or dads now, but still. We are rich in stories, and friendship.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Blooming Brooklyn

Walking down to the river today through the wind-scudded sunlight, with frothing waves in the wake of the ferries skipping over the broad beam of the shining water, I spied the first crocuses pushing up and opening their crayon-colored blooms, Easter-chick yellow and jellybean purple. Green whips of daffodil and tulip leaves are unfurling too, no flowers yet but just the sight of spring green is enough to give my hibernating winter heart a lift. The bulbs I planted last November around the community garden on 2nd Place, just before the ground froze, are coming up too, in orderly rows, interspersed with what look to be hyacinths. The dusty miller in my own little plot weathered the winter surprisingly well. Everything else--the rosemary, the lavender--looks stalky and brown and dead, but I have hopes that, stroked by the sun, they will rejeuvenate. The camomile is already sending out runners topped with feathery whorls of green.

Coming back from last Saturday's "Making Brooklyn Bloom" day at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, I had a bag filled with seeds (mixed lettuces, bitty sweet peas--the flower, not the vegetable--cucumbers, Easter-egg radishes, more lettuce) and stacks of pamphlets and brochures on everything from canning to composting. A handy thing to know, if you're gardening in Brooklyn: If you can get out to far eastern Brooklyn on April 8-9th or 22-23rd, you can haul off all the free compost you can carry from the Spring Creek Composting Facility. More info here; bring your own shovel and bags.

But back to the conference, which was free, and jammed, and full of tons of excellent information. My only complaint was the brevity of the thing--you could only sign up for 2 workshops (1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon), which meant I had to skip the history of agriculture in NYC and the secrets of container gardening in order to get an audience with the sassy Miss Classie, canner divine. It was worth it, though, if only for the taste of her slow-cooked pear-and-brandy preserves. Canning is the road to love, Miss Classie insists; can and the gentleman (or the ladies) will be turning up on your doorstep, following you down the street, and stealing jars out of your kitchen when your back is turned.

I was sitting on a stone wall, watching the tail-flicking, tangerine-colored koi in the reflecting pool and writing to K. (who just returned from a helicopter-and-convoy trip down a few hours south, where herds of camels browsed along the road and large sections of the map were marked merely "numerous scattered villages") when B. rang up, having celebrated the balmy day with a stroll across the Brooklyn Bridge, over through Battery Park and up to the Hudson piers. Having no plans, I hopped a train and met him for white wine and smoky eggplant dip at the alluring little Turks and Frogs on 11th St off Greenwich. Located far down what looks like a mostly residential West Village street, this secret-feeling hideaway makes a good first (or last) stop for any West Village date, although the flickering candlelight and small tables tucked in corners will leave no doubt as to your intentions for the rest of the evening.

Having no such intentions, B. and I kept wandering, past the wonderful August, along Bleeker to West Houston and through Soho, trying (and failing) to get a table at the attitude-stacked Arturo's, finally ending up at the always-reliable Fanelli's for a burger and a croque-monsieur. Then across the bridge to home, to bake a puffy gold loaf of dill bread using the fragrant wad of dill dried from B.'s garden last summer, to spread with cream cheese and eat with scrambled eggs on a cool gray rainy Sunday morning.

Turks & Frogs. 323 W 11th St, between Greenwich and Washington Sts. (212) 691-8875.
Fanelli's, 94 Prince St. at Mercer St. (212) 226-9412.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

blueberry mountain

I wanted to go over to KGB tonight and listen to Mark Kurlansky read about oysters over a glass of red wine in a red-painted room. But that would have meant getting Manhattan-presentable: the pointy boots, the non-saggy jeans, something besides the big charcoal sweater of K.'s that I've been living (and sleeping) in for the past week or so. Comb my hair, brush my teeth, put on lipstick, walk to the subway, buy yet another Metrocard, tromp along the buzzing East Village streets: I had planned to do all these things. But then it was 7 o'clock and I was still reading the story about Jehovah's Witnesses in the latest issue of the Oxford American, eating grits with smoked paprika, garlic and broccoli and again, not being able to leave the house. It's winter hibernation.

So then I was trying to salvage the evening by working on a new book idea, going through some old work to see if anything's worth filching (since it's not plagarism if you steal from yourself). Ranging through an old column about gay-pride week (or month, if you live in San Francisco), I found paens to the Go-gos, a description of girls wading through the amber afternoon as if they'd been dipped in butterscotch, and then, right after the part about letting the blueberry muffins cool in the pan for a few minutes before slathering them with the butter, the words



appeared stacked one on top of another, apropos of absolutely nothing.

This is why I don't take drugs.

Now, this column--about lady-lovin' and the joys of morning-after blueberry muffins--actually ran in the Bay Guardian some seven years ago or so, and I'm sure there was nothing about cannibals in there. I don't have an obsession with cannibals, and I would think, given their tastes, that blueberry muffins would be low on the list of obsessions for actual cannibals themselves. I'm a little thrown, to say the least.


And speaking of obsessions, I feel kind of bad now for slagging so hard on that oil-based hamentaschen recipe. While they did taste pretty blah fresh out of the oven, those cookies got magically better after sitting around a while. I added a few drips of lemon extract to the batter before I baked a second batch, and they taste surprisingly good with a cup of tea, three days later. So maybe these would be the hament. of choice for mailing long distances, as long as you upped the lemon/orange rind quotient and added a little lemon extract too. I still think the texture of the dough is way too slick, so an oil-reduction experiment is in order before I post the recipe.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ours is not to question why...

...platinum-topped, hottie butch pastry chef Elizabeth Faulkner of Citizen Cake is going hand-in-meringue with the Tourism Australia to fill San Francisco's Union Square with the world's largest pavlova--largest, presumably, only because it has never crossed anyone else's mind to make a pavlova bigger than their head. Still, if anyone's working downtown and has a camera, please snap a picture for the Pie Queen.

World's Biggest Pavlova
Tuesday 3/7/06
Union Square, SF be followed by a chocolate tasting at Citizen Cupcake (on the 3rd floor of the Virgin Megastore at Stockton and Market) from 3-5pm.

Any thoughts from Esther and the other Aussies out there on this example of west coast/down under mind-meld?

And on the comparatively sober East Coast, a food-themed reading at the sexy KGB Bar on Tuesday, March 7. Readers are Mark Kurlansky, a man who likes to think long and hard about one thing. His unlikely best seller Cod: A History of the Fish that Changed the World set off a swarm of copycat single-subject tomes on everything from dirt to air. He's back with The Big Oyster: History of the Half Shell, a New York-centric history of Diamond Jim Brady's favorite bivalve, from which he'll be reading tonight. He'll be joined by Gabriella Gershenson from the New York Press.

85 E. 4th St, second floor
Free, but bring cash for cocktails, and buy the Pie Queen a drink while you're there.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

The Quest for Hamentaschen, Part 2

The Hamentaschen-A-Rama, chez Pie Queen, has hit a snag! Marcy Goldman, usually so reliable, really screwed the pooch with her recipe for Bubbe's Oil-and-Orange cookies, made with vegetable oil instead of butter. The dough was slick and mushy, way too wet to roll out even after several hours in the fridge. When patted out and baked, it turned out bready and bland. Worst of all, it made vast quantities of dough. I hate wasting my great fillings on such a dull wrapper, which means, APO mailing be damned, I'm going to make another buttery batch of Susan's HamenT. to send to K.

Until then, I'll be staying warm in bed with my hot-water bottle, snug in its little knitted cozy. If you (or your sleeping partner) has perpetual icicle feet, this is the answer. No more ice cube feet! The water bottle alone is not enough; it may be warm, but it feels medicinal and rubbery, not what you want in your bed. (Not like that, anyway.) What you want to do is rummage through your yarn stash and pull out any abandoned half-balls of orphaned yarn. All you need to do is knit up two rectangles (keeping in mind that the bottle will plump out when it's filled), with some way of tightening the top around the neck. I knitted in a few holes a couple inches below the top, then wove in a braided strand of yarn. Mine is mostly blue, with a pink square on one side where the blue yarn ran out. On a chilly night, it's like having a kitty sleeping on your feet--a kitty that doesn't mind being shoved down under the covers at the foot of your bed, and who'll never crawl up and start meowing fish breath in your face at 6am. Dorky? Yes. But in a sweetly demented English way--and keep in mind I got this idea from the posh shops in Notting Hill, where the pink cashmere bottle covers with cute red hearts knitted into the front had 50-pound price tags. When your feet are toasty, all's right with the world.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Quest for Hamentaschen, Part 1

Clouds so swift and rain falling in...

The first entry in this year's Hamentaschen Sweeps comes from Raymond Sokolov's The Jewish American Kitchen. (Actually, according to the credits on the cover, Susan Friedland did the recipes for this book, so we'll say thanks to Susan first. Thanks, Susan!) The ingredient list may look like every other cookie dough on the planet, but check out the method. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar, adding the eggs, then stirring in the flour, this dough is made like a rich tart pastry. The butter is cut into the flour, then the eggs and lemon rind are stirred in to make a soft, rich dough.

Now, the caveats. Even though I chilled the dough very well, it was really, really sticky when I went to roll it out. If this happens to you too, be sure to flour your counter really well. I tossed some flour over a sheet of wax paper, sprinkled a little more flour over the dough, then topped with another piece of paper. This solved the rolling problem, but the dough was still so soft it was hard to cut out. I pretty much had to imprint circles on the dough, scrape them off the paper with a spatula, sprinkle each one with flour, then hand-pat the crumpled dough wads into more-or-less even circles. But once baked, they looked cute and were so buttery-lemony and delicious that any amount of fuss was worth it.

And a question: has anyone ever had yeast-raised hamentaschen? Presumably, these pre-date the chemically-leavened ones we're familiar with today. I've never had them, but recipes (usually for a brioche-style dough enriched with milk, butter, and eggs) turn up in many books; they sound like a wonderful breakfast treat.

Susan's Hamentaschen

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar (can increase if you like a sweeter cookie, to 2/3 cup)
1 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1/2 cup (4 oz/1 stick) cold butter, cut into cubes
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp finely grated lemon rind

Apricot and/or prune filling (see below)
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 TB water)

Sift or whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt together. Cut in cold butter as if making pastry, using a food processor or a pastry blender. Dough should look pebbly. Pour beaten egg into a measuring cup or small pitcher and add to flour mixture a little at a time. Mix and add egg until a soft dough is formed. You may not need all the egg; you want your dough to hold together well but not be so moist you can't roll it out. Mix in lemon rind. Form into a ball, wrap tightly and chill well--at least several hours or overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll out dough on a well-floured board or between two pieces of wax paper--it should be a little thicker than you'd use for pie pastry. Using a glass or a biscuit cutter, cut dough into 2- to 3-inch circles. Lift circles onto an ungreased baking sheet. Scoop a dab of apricot or prune filling onto each circle, then fold sides in and bottom up to form a triangle with a small peek of filling showing in the center. Using a pastry brush, brush dough lightly with egg wash. Bake 15-20 minutes, until pale golden brown. Let cool on a rack, keeping in mind that filling is VERY hot when first removed from the oven. They are delicious warm, but give that filling a little time to cool off first. Makes around 20-30 cookies, depending on size.

Apricot Filling

Why this, and not jam? Because jam is way too wet, and will make your cookies soggy.

7 oz. apricot paste (available in Middle Eastern grocery stores)
1/8 cup lemon juice
1/8 cup orange juice
scant 1/4 cup sugar
1 cup golden raisins

Pull apricot paste into pieces. Put pieces into a small, heavy-bottomed pot with juices, sugar, and raisins. Simmer over very low heat for 10-12 minutes, until apricot paste is softened and raisins are plump. Stir frequently to keep from scorching. Remove from heat, let cool for 10 minutes, then puree. This makes enough for several batches of cookies, with some left over for toast. Kept in a covered jar in the fridge, it lasts a very long time.

Prune Filling

2 cups pitted prunes
1 cup raisins
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup water
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Mix ingredients in small, heavy-bottomed pot. Follow instructions, above, cooking until prunes are softened and raisins are plumped. Cool and puree as above.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Upsy Daisy

Returning from three days of snow and lake-whipped winds up in Rochester, it actually came as a complete surprise that today is, in fact, March first. As in coming in like a lion, going out like a lamb. As in, next door to April. As in, nearly spring!

Of course, reading the posts I was writing last year at this time, there should be plenty of chilly, wet, and generally filthy weather ahead before we get to the sticky little leaves of spring and the hordes of nodding daffodils and all that. But still--not February, March! And there are lots of things to look forward to, to wit:

First Saturday at the Brooklyn Museum, Sat. March 4, 5-11pm. The museum gets shaking to a Cajun/Brazilian beat this Saturday, with live music, samba lessons, Cajun storytelling and performance, art projects for kids, tours of the museum, and more. I seem to remember plastic cups of red wine in here, too. Really fun, FREE, and filled with a roaming cross-section of happy Brooklynites.

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's 25th Annual Making Brooklyn Bloom, a day of lectures, panels, and workshops, is happening on Sat. March 11, from 10am to 4pm. This year, the theme is Keeping It Fresh! City Gardeners Grow Food--a subject always close to my country-yearning heart. The workshops will cover all kinds of cool stuff, from container gardening for fruits and vegetables to an agricultural history of New York City. Plus canning! Show up at the Palm House at 10am for coffee and registration.

Trader Joe's, opening March 17th (according to the Post, and what, you'd doubt them?) next to PC Richards at 14th St and 3rd Ave in Manhattan. Oh joy. Will they be as good and as cheap as they are in San Francisco? I don't need to take the enamel off my teeth with 2 Buck Chuck, but their house-brand dried fruits and nuts, their juices, their wine and cheese and crackers and pantry staples--they're all good.

And on March 13 and 14, Purim! Which means--hamentaschen!! (My religious affiliation? Baking Jew.) There's a recipe here from last year (look in the archives under "Queen Esther", 3/23/05) that's always worth making, especially if you go to Sahadi's on Atlantic Avenue, get a little cellophane-wrapped packet of apricot paste (they're to the right of the main door, on the lower shelf) plus some prunes and raisins from the bulk jars, and make your own tasty lekvars.

Happy as I've been with my usual recipe (from Marcy Goldman's excellent book, A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking) still I yearn for that one true best-ever hamentaschen. Right now I've got a very simple, pastry-style dough chilling in the fridge, with prune and apricot fillings cooling on the counter. Will report back and post the recipe, if it's tasty. Next up: Goldman's orange-and-oil (no butter) version, which I'm hoping might survive the 10-day trip to K. better than a typical butter cookie. Are there many Jews out there on the base? Probably not, I'm guessing, but you never know. Might just have to throw in a couple of noisemakers, just in case.