Sunday, October 16, 2016

Tomatoes and a New Year

This month we celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and it gave me a chance to pause and think.

We have a simple custom on Rosh Hashanah called tashlich where we cast pieces of bread, symbolizing our sins of the past year, into a moving body of water. I love it. Tossing the bread into the river and watching it lazily float away clears my mind in such a tangible way. The past year drifts away and I’m left feeling calm and ready to just be in the moment and appreciate something simple. Like a tomato.

It’s mid-October already, but we still have tomatoes at the market alongside apples and squash. We’re in that glorious time of overlapping seasons. Our neighbors had an abundance of tomatoes from their garden and generously shared them.  I love neighbors.

While standing over the sink with a salt shaker in one hand and a juicy red tomato dripping in the other, I thought about what elaborate soup or sauce I could make with them. But then I tasted their sweetness. Rosh Hashanah is about sweetness, whether in food, family, friendships or new beginnings. Tomatoes are not your classic food for Rosh Hashanah (we traditionally dip apples in honey) but they are certainly sweet and become even more so when slow roasted.

Really, when roasted they’re like candy and I gobble them up. And they couldn’t be simpler to make. Slice the tomatoes, lay them on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, pop them in a low oven and wait for the magic.

The long, slow heat coaxes a rich, caramelized taste from the tomatoes and intensifies their tomato-ey flavor, filling your house with a heavenly scent. You can pull them from the oven when they’re still a little juicy and plump, or let them keep on roasting until quite dry and crinkly. You really can’t go wrong.

If you don’t eat them all off the baking pan (believe me, easy to do), these little gems freeze well for nibbling in January or keep in olive oil in the fridge. So if you’re lucky enough to still have some tomatoes left I recommend turning your oven on.

So simple it is. I guess I’m ready to say I’ve let go of summer and am well into fall, with its stunning blue sky, vibrant explosions of yellow and gold leaves and frosty nights (and snow in the mountains!). No great insights. Just a tomato. But the beginning of the year 5777 has been lovely, filled with sweetness and promise and I can truly say I’m content.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

3 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes, sliced in half lengthwise (or enough halves to fit on a rimmed baking sheet)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt to taste

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Place the tomato halves in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Roast the tomatoes for about 6 hours and up to 8, depending upon how juicy or dry you prefer them. They will shrink and start to crinkle around the edges. I like both the juicy and drier ones and will often remove some of the tomatoes after 6 hours and continue roasting the rest for another couple. The tomato flavor concentrates and sweetens and is just delicious.

Cool tomatoes and begin eating! Roasted tomatoes will keep well in olive oil in the fridge or can be frozen.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Tiger Butter

Hooray, spring is here! Today I sat in the sun and felt hot. As in summer time hot. Come July I may not be as excited about sizzling outside, but right now I’m gleeful. The flip flops are on and they’re not coming off. The snow is disappearing rapidly and as it melts I’m discovering rhubarb and irises and can’t wait to see what else emerges from the ground. Now I’m eager to figure out what kinds of flowers I can plant that won’t be gobbled up by the deer. Suggestions?

Bob and I finished yet another house project and built wooden floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I must say that unpacking all our boxes of books was incredibly fun and, more than anything, filling the new shelves with them has made our house really feel like home.

Also making me very happy…Sam and Isaac were just home on spring break and it was a super relaxing time - lots of cooking (General Tso’s Chicken! rhubarb shortcake!), Scrabble, movies, talking, and since it was Purim there was hamentaschen baking and hamentaschen eating. As much as I miss the boys, it is pure pleasure to see them flourishing and enjoying life in school. I also learned that the hours (and hours) of my blasting ABBA while they were growing up seeped into Isaac’s subconscious and now he listens while studying. Good taste, I say.

After Sam and Isaac returned to school I began thinking about treats I can send and Tiger Butter came to mind. I first learned about Tiger Butter back in my college days when Bob and I worked at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. We made all sorts of confections in the shop such as divinity, caramel apples, truffles, raspberry chocolate puddles and nut clusters. A vat of warm chocolate was always swirling, ready for dipping strawberries, pretzels or graham crackers. Pretty heavenly, especially as a hungry college student. It’s embarrassing how much I ate on the job. And, ahem, gave out to my friends.

So about this Tiger Butter. It’s a simple, fudge-like sweet with only three ingredients. Creamy peanut butter is stirred into melted white chocolate and then dark chocolate is drizzled and swirled on top to make the tiger stripes. After it firms up, you slice and indulge. Rich and addictive, I guarantee it will disappear quickly. Just like the melting snow!

Tiger Butter
8x8 pan

16 ounces white chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Line an 8x8 pan with foil and set aside. In a medium sized saucepan, warm the white chocolate over low heat and stir until it melts and is smooth. Gently stir in the peanut butter until well mixed. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth it. In a small saucepan, melt the dark chocolate over low heat and then drizzle it in stripes over the peanut butter. Using a butter knife, lightly swirl the chocolate to create additional stripes. Pop the pan in the fridge and let it chill for about an hour. Remove the tiger butter from the pan by lifting out the foil lining. Cut into small pieces and serve. The tiger butter will keep for a week in a sealed container.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Chicken and Lamb Soupy Stew with Hawaij

First of all, I appreciate the kind responses to my last post. Thank you. The past couple of months have brought about chances to plunge into new opportunities and it feels really good. Skate skiing is a blast, I’m starting a new venture on an awesome local board, Bob’s training to be a volunteer firefighter and we found a definite benefit of no kids at home is no school nights.

I know there will continue to be peaks and valleys in life, and this is just life. A gracious community, whether virtual or in person, can see you through the journey with compassion, humor and a friendly hand. And food.

Fortunately, food can be shared in many ways. A community I’m inspired by and enjoy cooking with is Tasting Jerusalem. We are scattered around the world and share so much. We kicked off this year with the Yemenite spice mix called hawaij (also spelled hawayij or hawaish) as our first ingredient to explore in 2016.

Hawaij was a new spice blend for me. You know me, spice mixes and condiments are my thing, so any opportunity to learn about a different one is a thrill. I dug through my boxes of cookbooks (new shelves in the kitchen just for cookbooks coming soon!) to pull out a few books by authorities on Middle Eastern cooking that I thought would be helpful to learn about hawaij.

So here we go – everything we ever wanted to know about hawaij!

In Sephardic Cooking, Copeland Marks says hawaij is the spice mix that gives Yemenite cooking its identity. He also shares a tip for keeping it fresh - store a bay leaf with the spice mix. I will. I love learning these little tidbits!

Janna Gur makes Yemenite Calf Leg Soup in The Book of New Israeli Food and hawaij is what spices it up. Calf leg soup is definitely something for me to aspire to.

Like most spice blends such as ras el hanout, dukkah and za’atar, there are different proportions and variations in the spices used. I found that hawaij traditionally includes cumin, black pepper, coriander, cardamom and turmeric. I also saw caraway, saffron, nutmeg or cloves included in some.

For my mix, I used the foundation of traditional spices and then added caraway seeds. Like other spice blends, it was quick to mix up. I was drinking coffee while grinding up the spices, and there was such an enticing aroma I dropped a big pinch in my cup. It jazzed it up quite nicely, sort of like an enhanced Turkish coffee.

So, what to make with my new spice blend?

I’ve cooked a lot from The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan and when I saw her Yemenite Chicken and Beef Soupy Stew I knew I’d found my recipe. Who can resist soupy stew on a snowy day?

This hearty dish begins with simmering marrow bones and beef together to create a flavorful broth. The marrow is silky smooth and just melts. Luscious. I used lamb in place of beef since we have lots of lamb cuts in the freezer right now (no calf legs yet).

Garlic, onions, tomatoes, parsley and fresh dill enhanced the broth and then I added the chicken. I kept it easy and just plunked the whole chicken into the pot rather than cutting it into parts. Since you’ll be pulling the meat off the bones and adding it back to the pot, it didn’t seem necessary to cut the bird up.

Towards the end of cooking, add the potatoes, zucchini (I swapped in green beans) and a generous spoonful of hawaij. A big squeeze of lemon and scoop of zhoug complete it and brighten up this rich stew. Hawaij is aromatic and delicious with a warm, peppery flavor that nicely complements the richness of the lamb and beef marrow. Joan Nathan suggests serving the stew over rice – even heartier! As with most stews, I found it was even tastier the next day. This is a marvelous dish to slurp and share.

And hey, have you been following Food52’s Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks? If not, please go check it out – another terrific community. Love, love, love the collection this year. I’m disappointed that A Girl and Her Greens was already knocked out but I have my fingers crossed for Gjelina. I ordered all of the books for the store and now my big decision is which one(s) will end up in my kitchen (my kitchen that no longer has super ugly counters – hooray for warm, wonderful butcher block wood!).

So in closing, as always, it’s about food and friends. This is what comforts and sustains me, and ultimately inspires and challenges me.


1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon cardamom

Combine all the spices in a mortar, grab your pestle and pound away until well mixed. Store in a sealed jar and sprinkle liberally.

Chicken and Lamb Soupy Stew
Serves 6-8
Adapted from The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan

8 cups of water
½ pound lamb, cubed
4 or 5 small beef marrow bones
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
1 cup canned tomatoes, diced
¼ cup fresh parsley, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
1 whole chicken, 3-4 lbs
2 large carrots, left whole
4 celery stalks
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ pound green beans, snipped and broken in half if long
3 small yellow potatoes, diced
1 tablespoon hawaij, or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of 1 lemon
Rice for serving (optional)
Zhoug for serving (not optional)

Bring the water, lamb and marrow bones to a boil in a large soup pot and skim the foam off the top. Lower the heat and add the garlic, onion, tomatoes, parsley and dill.  Cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the chicken. You can cut into parts or just plunk it in whole like I did. Bring back to a boil, add the carrots, celery and cumin and then lower the heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked.

Carefully remove the marrow bones and chicken from the pot. Pull the chicken from the bones and cut or shred into bite sized pieces. Return the chicken to the pot.

Gently mash the cooked carrots, celery, onion and garlic into the broth. Add the green beans, potatoes, hawaij, salt and pepper to taste and simmer another 10 minutes or so, until the veggies are cooked. Pour the lemon juice over the top and mix in.

If preparing ahead of time, wait to add the green beans, potatoes, hawaij and lemon juice and cook this step when ready to eat.

To serve, ladle the soupy stew into bowls (over rice if serving) and have zhoug and more hawaij on the table.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce

Happy 2016! It’s been a long time. I know, I disappeared from this blog and have been pondering why. I looked back at my last post months ago and it was a such different time…since that time Isaac graduated high school, we moved to a new house and then evacuated a few weeks later due to wildfires, we brought a new puppy into our lives and said goodbye to our 18 year old dog, Sam and Isaac left for college, Aspen Grove has been busier than ever and I am in the process of finding a new balance and rhythm to life.

Process. Evolving, changing and embracing new.  The biggest change by far has been sending both boys off to college. I knew it would be hard, but it was harder than I expected. So there’s been a lot of process. I thought I had prepared well, and I did in many ways, but when I’m totally honest with myself I’m just not ready to be at this stage of parenting and life yet. It arrived too quickly. Admitting this is a bit of a relief, since I was pushing myself to be in a place I’m not. That’s ok. I know I’ll get there and in the meantime I need to be kind to myself and be realistic.

As I think about a new year I think it’s time to think about the blog and where I am now.  When I started it almost five years ago, I was writing as a mom with kids at home, about what I cooked for my family and friends in Seattle and the ways we celebrated Jewish holidays. When we moved to the Methow Valley, the plan was stay a year and then return to Seattle. But we started to take root.  I didn’t write as much here since I often felt like I didn’t know which end was up.  I mean, here we were living in a tiny cabin high above the valley, a dramatic change from life in the city. At times I had to ask, “What the hell am I doing?” Talk about leaping before you look. Life here is raw and inconvenient but richer and more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. And the roots grew deeper. I am a different person now. I’m more willing to take risks, to be bold and to say yes.  I’m excited for this new year. I have new ideas for the store, new things I want to learn (skate skiing and hunting for starters) and new opportunities for community involvement. And, of course, new things to cook.

Asian food has been topping my list lately. I really miss going out for sushi, hot and sour soup and pad Thai noodles. Whenever I’m back in Seattle, I stop at the local Asian market to pick up something to cook at home.  There’s a lot of home cooking here in the valley. We don’t have any Asian restaurants and no home delivery. If you want it, you have to make it. I’m good with that.

On one of these visits back to Seattle, Japanese sweet potatoes and Chinese long beans were my finds. Japanese sweet potatoes have a drier, firmer flesh and nuttier flavor than the more familiar orange sweet potatoes. Chinese long beans are indeed very long and stay nicely crisp when sautéed on high heat. I decided a simple dish combining these veggies with a flavorful sauce would be an ideal cozy dish for our snowy nights.

I created this spicy coconut sauce several years ago. The recipe slipped to the back of my ever growing folder of scribbles, but in a recent burst of purging I discovered it and pulled it out. Some of my favorite flavors are in this one…ginger, fennel, garlic and shallots with some brown sugar and cinnamon to add warmth.

The sauce needs to simmer for about half an hour, which gives you time to steam the potatoes and prep the beans. I tossed in some tofu but you could also add chicken or beef. Once the sauce is ready, you need only saute the beans quickly, add the potatoes and tofu and then pour the sauce over. As I’m writing this I’m thinking a handful of roasted peanuts would be a nice touch, too.

Over winter break, with Sam and Isaac home (hooray!), I’m happy to say I made some other Asian dinners - Bulgogi beef and pad Thai noodles. And, since there’s no Chinese food or movie theaters here for the usual Jewish outing on Christmas day, we made Kung Pao chicken and streamed a movie at home.

The past year has been emotional and wild and wonderful. I feel deeply rooted now in this valley with incredible people and breathtaking beauty everywhere I turn. My boys are launched and happy and now it’s about Bob and me, in our house on the river, with our dogs, entering a new year and new chapter together. I don’t know what’s next but I’m alive and grateful to be here.

Chinese Long Beans and Tofu with Fragrant Coconut Sauce
Serves 4

Grape seed or other neutral oil
1 big bunch (about 1 pound) Chinese long beans, cut in 1 inch slices
2 medium Japanese or orange fleshed sweet potatoes (1 ½ pounds total), steamed until soft but not mushy and cut into 1 inch cubes (I leave them unpeeled)
1 pound firm tofu, cut into 1 inch cubes
Fragrant Coconut Sauce (recipe follows)

In a wok or large skillet, warm a drizzle of oil over medium high heat. Add the beans and stir until they are lightly cooked but still firm, about 7 minutes. Add the cubed sweet potatoes and tofu and gently stir to combine. Pour the coconut sauce over and heat everything together until warm. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Fragrant Coconut Sauce

1 can full fat coconut milk
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
½ lemon, squeezed for juice
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce or sriracha
½ cup sliced shallots
1 clove garlic, chopped

Combine all of the ingredients in a large sauce pan and bring to simmer. Stir and let simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the solids in a fine meshed sieve over a bowl. Discard the solids and set the sauce aside to use.