Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Do you know what it feels like...

We are in a state of war.  If you can, try to imagine for one moment what it feels like to know that there is an enemy who wants nothing less than to eradicate each and every one of us from the face of the earth, for no reason other than our existence.  This is how it plays out in our lives.

Things I am not doing:
- relaxing
- letting my mind wander
- getting rid of my headache
- staying away from my Facebook newsfeed for very long
- posting pictures of cakes and cookies on my Facebook page
- appreciating any light and fluffy posts or pictures, from either side of the ocean
- taking long, luxurious showers
- driving without paying 1000% attention to where it might be safe to pull over in case of a siren
- playing music loudly in the car
- walking into a store without checking where the safe area is
- wearing clothes that would look terrible afterwards if I had to lie down at the side of the road
- sleeping soundly
- letting my phone battery run down
- forgetting about the hideous, painful loss of our three boys
- caring what left leaning politicians and bigmouths have to say

Things I am doing:
- loving my family, my community, my nation for how amazing, thoughtful, caring you all are
- appreciating the hard work everyone is doing to take care of one another and keep spirits up
- finding extra meaning in every prayer
- mourning our lost soldiers, Hashem yikom damam
- feeling horrified at the level and intensity of anti-Semitism around the globe, and wondering why more Jews are not coming home
- welling up with pride at the 228 North American Olim who came home today, part of 1300 Olim in the last week
- continuing to help families celebrate their milestones with cakes and cookies, including marking the induction of their sons into the army, may Hashem protect them all and bring them home safely
- sharing whatever news I can with my friends and family
- feeling responsible to make sure the truth of what is taking place here gets out into the world
- using my words to challenge bias
- working to keep our family's life as normal as possible
- being grateful that despite it all, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be

Am Yisrael Chai!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

There are no words, and yet...


How is it that in a time where the unspeakable is taking place, I feel thoughts pouring out of me?

On Friday morning, we started to receive information - actually, my teenagers did first - that some boys from the surrounding area were missing.  Teenaged boys, heading home Thursday night from high school for Shabbat, never made it to their own homes, to their own beds. A gag order on the press didn't prevent all sorts of wild rumors from being circulated throughout social media, heroic tales, stories with happy endings and some less so.  Time seemed to freeze at that point.  Since Friday, all we can do here is think about "our" boys, Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-Ad, and their families.  Are they alive?  Who has them?  Where are they?  Are they scared?  Are they together, or have they been separated?  Have they been given any food, any water? Are they in the dark? Are they cold, or too hot? Is their faith sustaining them?

Social media has been the new variable in all of this.  The #Bringbackourboys campaign is getting wide support, but also lots of hate from leftists and anti-Israel activists.  I type the hashtag like a prayer, hoping against hope that it will make a difference. The international media, while barely seeing fit to mention the kidnapping, refers to them as "seminary students" or "settlers," as if that justifies the evil act of stealing children.  I look at my Facebook news feed, and I wonder, how does anyone have anything to say or do that is not related to these boys?  I feel resentment at the posts celebrating birthdays, graduations, the art of the selfie. I want everyone, EVERYONE, to be sharing prayers and photos, reminding the world about these three innocent boys, and their unbelievably strong and inspirational families.

It is often said that it is important to maintain routine when "something like this" happens, so as not to give in to the terrorists.  But I hate that idea.  I want us to think of them all the time.  I don't want to go back to routine, as if to say that we should get used to this reality because a resolution could take a lot of time and life must continue on.  NO!! I want them home with parents who no longer have to wonder about the terror their sons are experiencing.  I want them home tonight.

And so I can't bring myself to post any work pictures.  Right now, that feels like giving in.  When they come home, whole and healthy, then there will be cake, and time for celebration, but right now, let's just pray for their homecoming, and do whatever little we can to help make that happen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Blintzes like Bubby's

I can't help but think of food when I think of my grandparents.  I guess that's normal.  Though you might not know it to look at some of my family members, we are a very food oriented group.  If you ask my mom how a simcha or Shabbat was, you will likely get the full menu as a response, along with a thoughtful critique.  My camera and phone have as many or more pictures of food than of my family (I know, shame on me...).  And my dear husband and I have grocery shopping as our regular date, just the two of us, along with our favorite cashier, produce guy, and the repeating cast of characters on our same shopping schedule.  Very romantic.

Food does carry strong memory triggers.  I remember my cousin Jomo's bar mitzvah (31 years ago!) not just for the wonderful family time and the Rocky Mountain tourist experiences, but for the food: my first encounter with honey-mustard chicken - made with Plochman's mustard; using oatmeal as a binder for hamburgers; and experiencing a simcha where the baalat simcha (my aunt) did most of the cooking.  I remember attending my friend's wedding, when I was in my first trimester with my oldest daughter, and though I was overwhelmed with (not just in the) morning sickness most of the time, the stir-fried vegetables with ginger made me feel better and made me want to learn to cook with ingredients I had not used before.  (I can't believe I was ever so young or culinarily limited that I thought ginger was an exotic spice!)

My strongest food memory of my father's mother, my Florida Bubby, was making chremslach (deep fried potato puffs) with her on Pesach mornings, before the yom tov lunch.  We used a Mouli grater to shred the cooked potatoes - leftover from the karpas - and then mixed in salt and beaten eggs, always judging the recipe by feel to see if we had added the right amount.  Then we would deep fry the dumplings in a deep pot of nasty Pesach oil, and eat them with cherry jam, sour cream, or salt.

The irony of my food memories, though, is that many of them are idealized.  I have such warm feelings toward spending the time with my Bubby and making the chremslach, but absolutely no desire to make or eat them myself, now.  I would rather go to shul than be "enslaved" to the kitchen on Pesach, and deep frying is not my friend.  I remember my New Jersey Bubby's (Bubby Sarah) chicken soup as the all time best, but I am not sure if it was as delicious as I remember, or if I had always been striving to make mine as good as something that wasn't real.

There are a few foods like that with Bubby Sarah - her honey chiffon cake, rolash (like a babka), rugelach, cherry cake.  Maybe even her blintzes.  I loved her blintzes.  Bubby made a sweet, heftier-than-most blintz leaf with a delicious farmer cheese filling.  She also made potato blintzes with the same sweet bletlach, which, honestly, were kind of weird.  Don't try it at home. At some point, it must have been that someone she respected and admired told Bubby that adding some orange marmalade to the cheese blintz filling would make them taste even better.  They were wrong, but the bitter orange was always there from that point on.

Eventually, when the supply line of frozen blintzes she gave me started to slow down, I asked Bubby for her recipe.  In her inimitable half-English, half-Yiddish style, she told me to put four eggs in the blender, then half a blender of miluch (milk), a few spoons of tzucker (sugar), a little oil, a "glayzel" (meaning glass, literally the glass cup that had formerly housed a yahrzeit candle) of flour, a bissel zaltz (salt).  For the filling, take half of the giant brick of farmer cheese that my Zeidy would bring from the wholesaler ("Don't buy it yourself, Dvoyraleh, it's too expensive"), and add eggs and sugar.

It took a little work to make a recipe with measurements out of those instructions.  But I managed to develop it into something that is more or less her blintzes, and I am sharing with you today, if you managed to get all the way to the bottom of the page with all my reminiscing.  I guess I am trying to make up for a year of bloggy silence...

Bubby Sarah's Blintzes
Yields 22-24 blintzes

For leaves:
6 eggs
2 1/4 cups milk
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
a teaspoon of vanilla (I have that on the written instructions, though I find it hard to believe Bubby used it!)

Combine the ingredients in a blender jar and mix until fully combined.  You may want to let it rest for a few hours before frying the leaves, but then again, you might not.

2 pounds of farmer cheese (in Israel, 1 kilo of Tuv Taam or C'naan cheese.  I had only 3/4 of a kilo of Tuv Taam, so I added in cottage cheese to make up the difference.
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup sugar
cinnamon, to taste
vanilla, to taste

Combine all ingredients well.  My bubby used to mash the cheese with a potato masher, but if you don't have a dairy one (or you get old and flaky and forget that detail), you can just mix with a spoon or fork.

Heat a nonstick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat.  Lightly oil (I wipe the pan with a paper towel dipped in a bit of canola oil - before beginning to fry, and after every couple of leaves. Use about 1/4 cup of batter for each leaf, swirling to cover the entire surface. Cook until the top is dry and slightly inflated in spots from underneath. There is no need to fry the other side! Remove to a plate. 

Repeat, stacking the leaves, until all the batter is used.  When you are done, flip the stack.  Just trust me - it makes the leaves easier to deal with.

Lay a leaf down, brown side up, on a large plate or board.  Place a couple of spoonfuls of filling in a line on the leaf, about and inch and a half up from the bottom edge, filling only the center third of the leaf.  It should look like a face with an unsmiling mouth (no eyes).  Fold up the bottom edge to cover the cheese, then fold over the sides like you are making an envelope.  Roll up from the bottom to create your blintz shape.  Repeat until all the leaves and/or filling is gone, whichever comes first.

You can individually wrap the blintzes at this point and freeze them, or you can fry them immediately.

Fry over medium low heat until golden brown on each side. 

Allow to cool for a couple of minutes to let the cheese set up, then enjoy!!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Tortilla Soup, Ole! Plus May Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

This month's Kosher Connection theme is croutons.  Croutons are delicious, crunchy, fun to eat, generally not so good for you.  But I love them - who doesn't, really?  There is nothing yummier than homemade croutons: a diced loaf of crusty bread, tossed with butter or oil and amazing seasonings, toasted until perfectly crisp on the outside, with a little chew on the inside, so delicious and addictive, and then you put them in some incredibly flavorful soup or a beautiful salad, mmmmm...

Sorry, distracted.  Where was I again?  Oh, yeah, right.  I figure that as a baker, I contribute to not such healthy eating for some folks, so I have to be more careful when it comes to the courses preceding dessert.  That's why I went with a lighter style crouton - tortilla crisps.  No frying here, and the only added fat is cooking spray.  No seasoning is added, though still delicious.  And they top off a bold and hearty soup, which, oddly enough, is beloved by every single member of my family.  How often does that happen?!

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Crisps
3 flour tortillas
Cooking Spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray both sides of the tortillas with a light coating of cooking spray.  Cut tortillas into 1/2" by  1 1/2" strips.  Spread into a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 5 - 10 minutes, tossing about 3 minutes through for even cooking.  Remove from oven when they are toasted and LIGHTLY colored.  Set aside to cool.

2 medium onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
canola oil
1 red pepper, diced
1/2 yellow pepper, diced
1 green hot pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced (be super careful about touching anything after dicing the hot peppers! Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, mouth, children... And even if you wear gloves, remember that the cutting board may retain the spicy heat, so be careful when you wash it)
14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon each salt, cumin, and chili powder (the seasoning amounts are very subjective - feel free to adjust to your preference!)
8 cups chicken stock (use water and chicken soup powder in a pinch) + 1 cup water
1 cup frozen corn
2 chicken breasts, diced
1 can black, kidney, or chili beans, drained and rinsed

Saute onions and garlic in a small amount of canola oil until onions and translucent and tender. Add in red, yellow, and hot peppers and saute for 2 more minutes, until beginning to soften. Add in the tomatoes (drained or not, depending if you prefer a redder or less red soup, really not that important unless you have a child who only likes yellow soup. I wish I had made that up, but yeah, got one or two of those.), and seasoning and stir. Then add in chicken stock and water and bring just to a boil and then lower. Allow to simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Add in frozen corn and diced chicken and simmer for about 10 minutes, then add in drained beans and simmer until everything is just heated through.  Adjust seasoning and serve, sprinkling each bowl with a handful of tortilla crisps.  Serve additional crisps on the side, because they're so good.

And when you've had your fill of this delicious soup, check out what all the other talented cooks have contributed to this month's linkup!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

So, Purim... what did we do?

Purim has come and gone.  A great time was had: megillah well read, matanot l'evyonim given, mishlochei manot distributed and received, a wonderful seudah with good friends enjoyed.  So I am sure you are all wondering - what did the Cookie Creators give for Mishloach Manot?  There's only so long you can rely on the old "we can't top it so why try" theory.  But in the interest of Shalom Bayit and sleep, there's a limit on what you can actually produce in addition to order.  What to do, what to do?

This year, of course, Purim is (was) a Sunday.  We had to work that in somehow, and I thought a fun way would be with a cookie decorated with an edible image of the Sunday comics.  There is not much we miss more than having a Sunday, and with that the Sunday paper, especially the funny pages.  From there, it was not too complicated.  We made cinnamon buns and banana chocolate chip muffins, packaged up egg shaped gummy candies, and threw in an orange.  Pop the comics cookie on top, and you've got a pretty decent mishloach manot.
Of course, we won't mention the fact that I am not a big yeast baker, and I have never made cinnamon buns before.  Or that I thought I would be really clever and somewhat healthy with my first attempt.  The lesson I learned was that fat is added for a reason, and that reason is deliciousness.  Just deal with it.  So my second attempt was far more successful, and, thus, went in the packages.  Maybe someday the experience will provide fodder for another post...
Shana tied the whole thing together with a label that sent the message of "Enjoy your Sunday brunch, from the sunny side-up eggs and baked goods down to the fresh squeezed orange juice (you'll have to squeeze it yourself) and the comics, and have a great Purim."  There were, naturally, a few glitches.  We ran out of cookies at some point, and the oranges too, and then had to juggle a bit to make complete packages.  It was not all perfect, though it was fun.  But overall, we were happy, and we survived another year.
Happy Purim to one and all!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Ridiculous Hot Dog Cookies for Purim - and Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

Purim is a happy, carefree holiday.  If you're a kid, that is.  Costumes, candy, parties, and the cessation of education for at least two weeks.  It's awesome. 
But I get stressed out by this holiday, though I didn't used to.  I finally understood what my problem was recently, when a friend spelled it out for me.  You see, three years ago, we made awesome mishloach manot.  And I can't ever top it, so now I have put myself in a position where expectations are high, and I let everyone, especially myself, down when I give a lame old MM.

So what was so great about that year's MM?  Well, I finally relented and went with a theme beyond "it's Purim, here's some food."  Our theme was fast food, and everything (almost) was cookies and cake.  We made hamburgers,
hot dogs,
French fries with ketchup,

ice cream sundaes,
and chocolate milk - okay, that was real. And if I can't ever live the experience down, well, maybe you can share in my suffering as I share the recipe for the hot dog cookies.  They were bookmarked in my browser in a file called "ridiculous," which, obviously, they are, but you never know when a recipe like this could come in handy.  (I don't actually hve any ideas right now for when that could be, but I am sure they'll come to me.)  So I throw down the gauntlet: make these cookies for your Mishloach Manot, but keep in mind that they will impress your friends and and then everyone will expect to be wowed next year too!

As for me, I am sure we will come up with something, but if you have any great ideas for a theme for us that's not too complicated, we'd love to hear it!

Hot Dog Cookies
Adapted from TLC

150 grams softened margarine (1 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt
red gel food coloring
1/2 teaspoon cocoa
Yellow and/or red buttercream frosting or royal icing

Cream margarine with sugars.  Beat in egg yolk.  Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Remove 1/3 of the dough and knead in a small amount of the red gel food color and the cocoa. Chill both sections well, at least a few hours or overnight.  Remove the uncolored dough, leaving the rest in the fridge, and divide into approximately 12 pieces.  Form each one into a long cylinder, then use the side of your hand to form an indentation (mimicking the shape of a hot dog bun).  Divide the colored dough into 12, and form each piece into a hot dog shape, then place each one in a "bun."
Chill in the fridge for about 20 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake for 15-17 minutes, until "buns" are lightly browned on the edges. 
When fully cool, put your frosting or icing in a decorating bag with a small round tip, and apply a squiggle of "mustard" or "ketchup" or both.  If you are so inclined, you can use things like cut-up gummy candies and shredded coconut to add "relish" or "onions."  With or without the additions, they will be adorable. Enjoy!
Wishing you all a happy and joyous Purim - and fun with the preparations!

And now for some real Mishloach Manot inspiration, check out the rest of this month's Kosher Connection recipes!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sacher Torte Sandwiches - January Kosher Connection Recipe Linkup

I was trying to be super-creative for this one, trying to think outside the box.  I mean, I love miniatures.  I make mini-desserts, I love when foods are made single serving, what's not to love.  But then I realized two important things. One, my brain does not work in a straight line.  I don't really think a box could contain the leaps and bounds and stretches my mind makes when I think about things.  Second, I am always making miniatures.  What are cookies if not miniature desserts?

So instead of something totally different, I thought I would share my process with you.  This is how Dvora's Cookie Creations comes up with a new flavor.

1.  Have a food craving.
2.  If it's healthy, indulge it.
3.  If it's for something sweet, think about how the flavors I am dying for can be translated into a cookie form.

That's it.  There's not much of that "Cupcake Wars" notion of how can I fit a disgusting ingredient into a dessert.  I draw the line at that.  No cheese curls or crispy salmon skin in my desserts.  But this concept of translation has worked for me.  Thus, the orange-cranberry-white chocolate cookies (started with Creamsicles), the apricot white chocolate cookies (chocolate dipped dried fruit), the pecan shortbread (pecan pie), the samoa sandwiches (Girl Scout cookies), the Chunky Monkey bars (ice cream!! - still working on the Chubby Hubby squares), and today's example, the Sacher Torte sandwich.

So let's talk cake for a minute.   I love cake of all kinds.  It's delicious, or should be.  But there's so much of it.  Even a little 6-inch cake is too many servings to just have lying around.  A cookie, however, is portion-controlled.  You can make some, freeze the rest of the dough, eat one, and put the other cookies aside for Shabbat or another occasion that calls for some dessert.

Sacher Torte is a traditional Austrian pastry; two layers of chocolate sponge sandwiching apricot preserves, covered in chocolate glaze.  Mmmmm.  So to translate this into cookie-hood, I decided to go the sandwich cookie route (which, let's face it, I do a lot of.  It just seems a great way to layer flavors and textures.).  I started with a chocolate but not excessively chocolatey roll out cookie, to which I added almond extract - not so authentic, but definitely screams Vienna to me.  I wanted one with a fair amount of leavening, so the cookies would puff up to resemble the texture (sort of) of sponge cake.  I cut the well-chilled dough into circles, cutting out a small circle from the center of half of the cookies to provide a window into the filling. 

After baking, I paired off the cookies, one solid and one with a peek-through, so that similar sized cookies fit together.  It's one of those annoyances that even cookies cut with a cutter are never all precisely the same, so it's just gotta be done.  I covered the backs of the solid cookies with apricot preserves, then topped them with the cut-out cookies.  Instead of coating the whole thing with chocolate, I chose to drizzle a zig-zag of chocolate across the cookies, as I felt a complete or even partial dunking would overpower the apricot and almond flavors.  And a drizzle is always pretty...

So there you have it, an actual cookie recipe from me.  It doesn't happen too often, so enjoy!
Sacher Torte Sandwich Cookies
200 grams margarine, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa
3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

good quality apricot preserves
100 grams chocolate chips or baking chocolate
1 teaspoon oil

Cream margarine with sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time, then vanilla.  Sift together cocoa, flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to creamed mixture.  Divide dough into three disks, wrap each in plastic wrap, and chill well, at least one hours.  Preheat oven to 350 F.  Roll out dough on well-floured surface, about 1/8" thick. using a 2" round cutter, cut circles.  Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  Gather up scraps and re-roll.  Cut out a small (1/3 - 1/2") circle from the center of half the cookies.  Bake for about 7 minutes.  Cool and pair cookies, one whole and one cut-out, by matching sizes.  On the underside of the whole cookies, spread apricot preserves.  Top with a cut-out cookie.  Spread cookies out on a fresh piece of parchment.  Melt chocolate with oil in microwave on low power.  Pour into a disposable decorating bag or heavy duty ziploc bag.  Twist shut, and cut off tip/corner.  Drizzle chocolate onto cookies.  Let chocolate set, and - b'tayavon!

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