Mexican Matzo Ball Soup

Mexican Matzo Ball SoupHigh Holiday Spice
When I think about Rosh Hashanah, I immediately think honey cake and brisket—this makes sense being traditional foods to celebrate the Jewish New Year. Those are quickly followed by chicken with pomegranate sauce and of course, fresh warm round challah. (I’ll pass on the Gefilte fish.) These are all foods I love (minus the fish) and one can find a lot of comfort in tradition. But, sometimes it becomes necessary to spice things up.

I ran across an article in the NY Times food section yesterday about a chef, Fany Gerson, who is of Jewish heritage but was raised in Mexico City. This fascinated me because while there are people of Jewish faith in any number of places, I just never put those two things together in my own mind. And, by doing so, my mind is blown. (Apparently, Mexico has one of the largest Jewish populations in Latin America…who knew?)

She grew up eating the same traditional foods for the holidays but over the years, the recipes were personalized using the flavors of their surroundings. As I read the article my mouth started watering at the description of the foods they would eat. Freshly baked challah with cinnamon and apples? Yes, please. Rugelach with chipotle-laced cherry filling? OMG! I did not see a mention of a cookbook in the article but I hope to God it’s coming soon.

One of my most favorite things, holiday or not, is Matzo Ball soup. I will choose matzo ball soup over chicken noodle any day of the week and twice on Sunday. This is why when I saw this recipe, I flipped out. It combines two of my favorites…Matzo and Mexican. How can you go wrong with that? This one is definitely on the menu this weekend. I don’t care if it’s 90 degrees outside…

Mexican Matzo Ball Soup
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Homemade Tate’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies The Way The Cookie Crumbles
Tomorrow is the first day of school for my kids. I am now the mother of two high school freshmen and a seventh grader. None of them are too excited about summer break being over. And, you should have seen their faces when I announced that I will no longer be making their lunches in the morning.

When I was their age I was responsible for making my own lunch. There is no reason that I should continue to make theirs. It’s not a complicated formula: sandwich or whatever main dish they prefer, a piece of fruit, something salty like pretzels, granola bar or yogurt for the mid-morning, and something to drink. No big deal. You would have thought I asked them to sever a limb. In all fairness, the seventh-grader was okay with it but she’s my foodie. She gets to have a daily lunch inspiration. The boys, not so much…

To make it as easy on them as possible, I have stocked the fridge with their usual favorites like sliced turkey and the “good” yogurt. I even caved and got them the bread they really like instead of the usual whole wheat. I am also going to throw them a bone and make some chocolate chip cookies.

My intentions are not totally altruistic. Really, this is just an excuse to continue my search for my ultimate chocolate chip cookie. Honestly, I have never had a bad chocolate chip cookie. They’re all pretty tasty—but I do have a preference. I am 100% team crispy when it comes to chocolate chip. Now, I’m not going to refuse you if you offer me a warm chewy one right out of the oven. But, I really like the kind that are super-thin, super-crispy and taste of lots of butter. If you have ever eaten Tate’s chocolate chips cookies you know how I roll.

For the last few weeks, I have been trying different recipes to find that ultimate perfect one. Sure, I could have just searched for Tate’s cookie recipe on the internet but that would have been way too logical and robbed me of dozens of tasty treats along the way.

Full disclosure I add pecans to all of my chocolate chip cookies regardless if the recipe is team-crispy or team-chewy. This is a hard limit for me. There must be pecans.

This recipe from King Arthur Flours was my families favorite. They don’t really spread—more like a drop cookie. And, while they are crunchy, they are borderline biscotti-like. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great chocolate chip cookie, just not what I was looking for.

Along my chocolate chip journey, I tested the Neiman Marcus (alleged) $250 Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe and Dori Greenspan’s World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. And, my two favorites are listed here.  Read more…

French Fruit Tart — A Classic

French Fruit Tart — A ClassicCamp de Cuisine
I’ve written about my daughter and her summer kitchen shenanigans a few times over the past weeks. And, you might be happy to know that things are still going full steam (just ask my dishwasher). Right now, she seems to be in a French pastry phase. While I fully support her curiosity and creativity, I am wondering when she’ll get to the one bowl or less phase….

Though she hasn’t quite reached that Julie & Julia work her way through an entire cookbook level of obsession, she’s pretty close. For Fourth of July, she made Pâte à Choux for red, white and blue cream puffs with raspberry cream and blue sprinkles. That same week, she tackled French Macarons and they turned out way better than any of my attempts. The macarons actually had feet—and anyone who’s watched any of the baking championships knows how important feet are. Thankfully, my sons are her taste testers or there would be no way for my husband or me to fit into our pants.

This week, my kitchen (and the dishwasher) is getting a much-needed break as my teenaged chef de cuisine is attending a summer pastry camp. (Where was this when I was 12?) Yesterday they made a classic French Fruit Tart and I actually learned something new. If you spread a thin layer of semi-sweet or white chocolate on the bottom of the tart shell and then put the pastry cream in, the tart will not get soggy. (My mind is blown.)

These tarts are so versatile and fairly easy to make that you will find it easy to whip one together for any of your summer get-togethers. To make it even easier, I will substitute a good quality vanilla pudding mix like Dr. Oetkers or even Bird’s custard mix instead of making the pastry cream. Feel free to use any combination of ripe summer fruits to finish.

French Fruit Tart — A Classic
Adapted from Sur la Table
Finish the top with the ripest, most luscious seasonal fruit you can find. Summer berries are an obvious choice, but also try slices of nectarines, plums, poached pears, mango, or kiwi, depending upon the season.  Read more…

Gam’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Gam’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Cool Beans
This has been the Summer of Experimentation in my house. I am never quite sure what I will walk into when I get home. Because, for lack of a better term, my daughter is bored.

To battle this, she’s been spending her time watching food network and cooking. Her brothers (and their friends) are making out like bandits. By the time they get home from baseball, there are plenty of “snacks” for them to eat. Sometimes it’s cookies and sometimes it’s biscuit BLTs. Yesterday I came home to raspberry whipped cream filled cream puffs, because sure. Why not? It is for this reason that we made homemade ice cream for the 4th of July.

There is a history of ice cream making in the family. My grandmother used to make ice cream in the summer for Sunday dinner. It was really good but it was such a production. Gam had this Italian monstrosity of a gelato maker that she was incredibly proud of. But, it was so heavy she had to wait for my dad to get there so he could lift it onto the counter. Not gonna lie though, that machine made fantastic ice cream.

The Il Gelataio was also very loud. Gam fired that thing up right after dinner and made sure we were all waiting with baited breath listening for when the sound changed—meaning that the ice cream was almost ready. (Heaven forbid we actually talk to each other and not hear the sound change. That would be tragic.)

Her passion for the Il Gelataio was probably only matched by her strong opinions about the flavors of ice cream she would make in it. Coffee was one of her favorites as was strawberry or peach. But, if there was one flavor to rule them all it was Vanilla Bean. Not just vanilla. Vanilla Bean. She was adamant about that. (My sister is probably reading this with tears rolling down her face from laughter.) Gam was a bit obsessive about it. Even when Gam would buy ice cream at the store it would never be straight up vanilla. Nope. Vanilla Bean. (And don’t get me started on which brand she thought was the right one…)

For the 4th we made two flavors. The first is a coffee ice cream with crushed Oreos in it. The second, of course, was vanilla bean.

I did mess with it a bit. Since it was served alongside some apple pie, I swirled some dulce de leche in when it was still soft and then threw it in the freezer to harden. It’s a nod to my grandmother with a hint of rebelliousness ‘cause nothing says Fourth of July like a little rebellion!

Gam’s Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Yields 1 quart Read more…

Zucchini Pickles

Zucchini PicklesPickle Play
The recent hot weather means that my garden is in full swing. The cucumbers have found their way into various salads. The green beans have been perfect when lightly steamed. And, we’ve been eating the super-sweet cherry tomatoes like they are candy. It’s been manageable so far but I can tell that veggie overload is coming soon.

If there is one problem with growing your own veggies it’s the possibility that you will find yourself with too much. Sure, you could give some to your neighbors and friends but sometimes even that is not enough to lessen the load. Or worse, what you have a lot of isn’t what everyone wants to eat. Homegrown tomatoes are easy to give away. (There have been times when I had to break up fights in the office when I brought my extras in. Okay…fights might be a strong word.)

Zucchini, on the other hand, can present a challenge.

I love zucchini. My family merely tolerates it unless it comes in chocolate bread form. So, when I do plant it, I always have more than we will consume.

If you find yourself up to your ears in squash, try making these Zucchini Pickles that I adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook. It’s one of my all-time favorites and a must-have for the avid cookbook collector. These Zucchini Pickles are an interesting way to use up your squash harvest. And, they make for a nice change from the usual summertime backyard dill pickles. It’s nice to have choices…

Zucchini Pickles
Adapted from the Zuni Café Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco’s Beloved Restaurant

Yields 2 to 3 pints Read more…