A quick corn recipe this time. Polenta has an interesting history in Jewish tradition – like other maize products, it really only became a thing after corn was brought from the New World in 1492. Polenta and similar corn porridges like mamaliga and gomi became common in certain pockets of the Jewish world: Italy, Romania, and Georgia are primary among them. Unlike rice, breads, and noodles though, there was no broad swathe of cornmeal-eaters. Georgian gomi tends to be white; Romanian mamaliga tends to be mushier, and Italian polenta tends to be firmer.
I made this casserole back over the summer when our internet was out for three days during Isaías, but had the wisdom to write this down.
6 cups cooked polenta (about 2 cups uncooked)
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil or butter + more for greasing
1 medium white onion, chopped
6 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 15-oz can cannellini beans, with the fluid
Salt and black pepper to taste (I find the goat cheese adds enough salt.)
1 teaspoon white wine or apple cider vinegar
3 cups frozen spinach
2 cups goat cheese crumbles
If you haven’t already, make the polenta according to package directions. I use Bob’s Red Mill Polenta.
Preheat the oven to 425F. Grease a 9×13” casserole with a very light layer of olive oil or butter.
Heat a large skillet, then add the oil or melt the butter. Add the onions, garlic, and rosemary and sauté for a few minutes, or until the onions begin to wilt.
Add the beans and fluid, salt, and pepper. Stir, then add the vinegar. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to low and simmer for five to ten minutes, or until the fluid is mostly gone.
Add the frozen spinach and mix in thoroughly, until it is cooked through. Remove the skillet from the heat.
Spoon the polenta into the casserole. Then, spoon the skillet mixture on top. Add the goat cheese crumbles in an even layer on top of that.
Bake for ten minutes, or until the cheese starts to brown. Serve hot.
I was originally going to write a long resource post about how to share food safely and what to make in this time of cautious life. I hold by an ethic of harm reduction: I take it as given that you will socialize and that food will be a part of that, and not always “bring your own.” How to do that safely is something that is useful to know.
I dithered on this post, which was handy, because other resources came out! So in this brief post I will share a few resources, a few foods, and then the blog’s first ever video: a sharing mechanism.
Yes, it is probably safer to “stay home” or to not share food, but realistically, I know that that is not going to happen. So do public health departments. I found the Washington DC guide for cookouts to have a lot of broadly applicable information:
Also, take a look at the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance here. (Yes, I know they got some things wrong early on. But many epidemiologists have said the same things as this.)
Here is an awkward video I made with two of my friends to demonstrate a safe way to serve and share a food at an outdoor picnic. The food is chocolate babka. Thank you to Joe Jeffers and Hannah Cook for starring, and to David Ouziel for filming! The video is captioned. A transcript with or without descriptions of what is on the screen is available on request.
If you prefer a text description of what to do, here it is:
Have one person serve the food. Let’s say it’s you.
Wash or sanitize your hands.
Put on your mask. Wash your hands again.
Put on gloves if you wish – it is helpful for reducing anxiety, and for avoiding things other than COVID.
Set out your serving tools – knife, cutting board, etc.
Cut/make a serving and place it on a plate or napkin.
Step 6 feet/2 meters away.
The other person should come and take it.
Step back. Repeat steps 6-8 for each person.
Remove gloves, wash your hands.
Remember to wash your hands between removing your mask and going back to serve any more food. Don’t reuse gloves!
A very simple chard recipe in honor of Shavuot, which is coming up in just under two weeks’ time. It is quite traditional in many Jewish communities to eat plenty of greens on Shavuot, in honor of Northern Hemisphere bounties and the giving of the “Tree of Life” (Torah). I hope you enjoy this recipe, even if the current situation has cancelled other communal traditions.
Rainbow Chard with Lemon and Garlic
1 small onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds rainbow chard
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons water
1. Chop the rainbow chard as follows: chop the stems into small slices, and then the leafy bits into wider strips and squares.
2. Heat a wide skillet, and add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the onion, garlic, and stem slices. Saute for four to five minutes, or until the onions and stems are soft.
3. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper – I use about 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper. Saute for 30 more seconds.
4. Add the leaves and mix in thoroughly, then add the water. Saute for about five minutes, or until the leaves are completely wilted.
5. Serve warm as a side dish.
It’s hard to feel like you have “made it” during a global pandemic and a world-historical crisis. The crushing disappointment of not being able to see one’s loved ones, of goals gone and dreams deferred, and of plans spilled out like milk is truly taxing. And even for me – I have things pretty good, compared to most – it can be rough, with all the uncertainty and being far from my partner and my mother. So I have turned to the familiar comfort of cooking, and to a dessert that is at once very assimilated and very Jewish: chocolate cake. When I eat my cake, I – like many other Jews since the 1880’s – can feel like, for a moment, that I have “made it.”
One way that chocolate became a status symbol was through cake. Home baking became far more common in the 19th century, with new types of ovens coming into homes and a more ready availability of sugar, dairy, and sources of fat. Middle-class families often served – withthe assistance of domestic labor – cake as a way of being “civilized” or showing off their success. Jews were no exception – this was also a time of fervent assimilation into certain norms of decorum and class across Europe and North America. (Reminder: assimilation is not necessarily a bad thing.) The earliest Jewish-authored cookbooks I found in online archives to contain chocolate cake recipes are German-language examples from the 1880’s; English-language examples follow a decade later. By the early 20th century, respectable Jewish housewives on both sides of the Atlantic, Ashkenazi and Sephardi alike, were expected to make – or direct a domestic worker to make – chocolate cakes. In a short time, such cakes became a keyword for luxury and comfort, and began to be served on Sabbath tables and at major events. Since then, different communities have developed different chocolate cakes. Yiddish-speaking bakers in interwar New York often baked certain loaves from Yiddish-language cookbooks, just as well-off Salonican and Cairene Jews educated in French-language schools made decadent cakes in their homes. Italian Jews had chocolate cake recipes, too, for special occasions. By the 1950’s, most Jewish cookbooks contained at least one chocolate cake recipe – and chocolate had found its way into traditional cakes that originally did not have chocolate, like marble cake and sour cream cake. A chocolate cake was not only a food of deliciousness, but a potent symbol of success and plenty for many. I think we all know people for whom that still rings true today.
This assimilation of delicious cake shows how a food can become Jewish. A food is introduced, then tried because it means something in wider society, and because it looks delicious. (In this case, is delicious.) Other Jewish folks start making it, and soon, the food has a meaning in Jewish communities – even if it is not “authentic” per se, or shows off how well assimilated someone is. A few years later – well within the lifetime of an adopter – the food then becomes common across some spectrum of the Jewish world. Chocolate cake shows how creative people can be – and how even ordinary, Gentile foods can be infused with meaning in Jewish communities. You can see a similar process with coffee cakes, lamb stews with chestnuts, and potato salads. Even p’tchaprobably started as an imitation of a nobleman’s dish introduced by the Tatars to Central Europe.
Chocolate cake is a mechayeh– something that gives life – in this time. It is sweet, and tasty, and those are sources of solace enough. But I also think that we can eat it as a sense of worth and achievement: that whatever we are, we are enough, and that we have done a lot – each in our own way. It is also a reminder of the creativity and good taste of our grandparents and great-grandparents in the Jewish world – and that having a community that can find joy in such simple pleasures is having “made it” indeed. You have decades of chocolate cake being used for solace and celebration in the Jewish world to back you up. Stay safe, and eat some cake.
And now, a cake.
I based this recipe on one by Deb Perelman at Smitten Kitchen, but simplified it to not require a mixer – and to add chocolate from chips as well as cocoa powder. I also added some things from a fluffier recipe at TasteMade. The red wine adds a lovely warmth. Going for simplicity, I left it unadorned and cut the sugar slightly. I like these straightforward, comforting cakes as the sign that I made it. Serve it with whatever you want though – I’ve had mine with homemade ice cream, and a simple sour cream glaze would work well too, as would whipped cream or a lovely dusting of powdered sugar. However you eat it, I hope you feel like you have “made it.”
Chocolate Red Wine Cake
Adjusted from recipes by Deb Perelman and Tastemade
6 ounces/170g salted butter (about ¾ of a stick)
⅓ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
⅔ cup white sugar
¾ cup red wine
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 ⅛ cups all-purpose flour
⅓ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
Oil or butter to grease the pan
Preheat your oven to 325F/165C. Line the bottom of a round 8” or 9”/20-23cm cake pan with parchment paper, then grease with butter or a non-stick spray.
In the microwave or a bain-marie, melt the butter and chocolate chips together. (I use the microwave – cut the butter up, mix with the chocolate chips, and microwave for one minute on high in a microwave-safe bowl, then stir together.)
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the butter and chocolate mixture with the sugar until thoroughly combined.
Add the red wine. Mix in thoroughly, with the whisk.
Add the eggs. Mix in thoroughly, with the whisk.
Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and cinnamon together. (You do not have to do this but it distributes the cocoa powder more evenly.)
Fold the flour mixture into the mixing bowl with the wet ingredients with a wooden spoon or a mixer. You can also whisk them together, but make sure that everything gets incorporated properly.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and spread evenly.
Bake in the oven for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and then flip onto a cake rack after cooling in the pan for 20 minutes. Let cool for about 30 minutes, at least, before serving. Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, powdered sugar, or on its own.
Thank you to my housemate AJ Faust for conducting User Acceptance Testing on this recipe.
A lot of you are learning to cook for the first time with this social distancing that we all have to do because of the coronavirus pandemic. I want to write relatively little on that, and instead provide a recipe matrix you can use for easy meals with long-lasting goods.
The recipe matrix consists of three sections: a separate carbohydrate section, identifying plant matter, proteins, and spices, and a way to combine them. As a note, for all combinations, you will need onion and garlic cloves, as well as cooking oil and vinegar.
Rice and pasta keep for a long time, as do potatoes, tortillas in the refrigerator or freezer, and bread in the freezer.
Rice: prepare according to package directions. For jasmine rice, I add one and a half cups of water for every cup of rice. Set in a pot to boil with a splash of oil and a dash of salt, then simmer while stirring regularly. If you have a rice cooker, as I do, I strongly suggest you use that.
Pasta: prepare according to package directions. I can’t suggest more than that, because every package is that straightforward. I usually aim for al dente texture when I cook pasta.
Potatoes: my preferred method to cook potatoes is to wash them, then boil them in salted water for 25-30 minutes or until tender to the fork. Then, slice them. Minimal effort and minimal equipment. For new potatoes, or small potatoes, 15-20 minutes will do.
Bread: Make sure bread is sliced before you freeze it! Toast bread from the freezer for about a minute longer than if it was fresh. You can usually defrost bread quickly in the microwave – about 30 seconds for two slices – but it will be much softer. If you didn’t slice the bread, or you have rolls, I recommend defrosting the loaf or rolls in an oven at 350F/175C for about half an hour. Then, slice.
Tortillas: Wrap up to six tortillas in a wet paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds.
Choose vegetables, proteins, and spices
Fresh winter squash, fresh peppers, and fresh whole mushrooms keep for a long time in the refrigerator. You can also use frozen vegetables – I prefer peas, carrots, squash, zucchini, kale, and corn here. Or you can use canned vegetables – my top choices there are peas and corn.
To prepare the fresh squash, wash it, then chop off the top and the bottom, and then chop it in half. Remove the seeds, and then chop into thin, small pieces. You will need to remove the peel from butternut squash first, but you do not need to do the same for acorn squash, delicata squash, or kabocha, so I suggest buying those when you go out for your grocery run.
To prepare the fresh peppers, wash them, then chop off the top. Remove the seeds, and then chop the remaining pepper into small pieces.
To prepare the mushrooms, wash them, then chop into small pieces.
All you need to do for frozen vegetables is to massage them in the bag until they are broken apart.
All you need to do for canned vegetables is drain the contents.
The easiest protein in this circumstance is a can of beans – all you have to do is drain out the fluid, and you’re ready to go!
The other protein I recommend is tofu: drain a block or two, then chop it into small cubes. Firm tofu works best.
This recipe does not really work with meat or fish.
The spices should vary based on your vegetables. Always add a teaspoon of salt and half a teaspoon of black pepper. For sweeter vegetables like squash and pepper, I recommend using (ground) cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, curry powder, allspice, sugar, and/or red pepper flakes to taste. You can also add more salt or black pepper too. For mushrooms or frozen savory vegetables, use oregano, thyme, red pepper, paprika, or rosemary. Soup powder (avkat marak) works well here too.
Ratio for every two to three servings
Carbohydrates: one of: 1 cup raw rice, 8oz/225g raw pasta, 2-3 medium potatoes, 4-6 slices of bread, or 6-8 tortillas
Vegetables: 1 squash, 1-2 bell peppers, 1.5-2 cups mushrooms, 1 8oz/225g can vegetables, or 8oz/225g frozen vegetables
Protein: 1 8oz/225g can beans or 8oz/225g tofu
Spices: should add up to about 1-1.5 tablespoons
Make your carbohydrate separately. Get started with rice, potatoes, pasta, or defrosting bread in the oven now. Tortillas and bread in the toaster can be done after you’re finished cooking.
Chop ½ a medium onion and two cloves of garlic.
Place a medium saucepan over high heat, and add a drop of water. When the water sizzles away, add enough oil to just cover the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for one minute, moving the onions around with your spatula. When your onions start to wilt, add the spices and mix in thoroughly. Sauté for 30 more seconds, and then add your vegetable, and mix thoroughly. Then, add 1 tbsp of vinegar – apple cider vinegar or white vinegar will do. Sauté for two more minutes, and then add the protein. If you are using fresh vegetables, add a few tablespoons of water. Mix thoroughly, and when the mixture starts to boil, lower the heat. Stir regularly until either: the squash, peppers, or mushrooms are soft, or the canned or frozen vegetables are thoroughly cooked. Serve over or alongside the carbohydrate.
Here is a simple, straightforward cookie recipe. This type of rolled sugar cookie shows up often in American Jewish community cookbooks from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s. Though such recipes are often dismissed as a sign of “assimilation,” I think they offer a lot of knowledge about exactly how Jewish folks, and mostly the women who were doing most of the cooking, were still trying to maintain community ties and get people to communal events in this new framework. Besides, there is no shame in enjoying a cookie.
I did not see a cookie of this specific flavor in the books, but I have made a variant of these a few times in the past months, and was quite happy with the result. You can make a dairy-free/pareve version by using oil and one small egg instead of the milk, or use a plant-based milk and oil for a vegan cookie.
½ cup (3.5oz/100g) granulated cane sugar + 2-3 tbsp for rolling
⅔ cup maple syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp whole milk
2 cups (8.5oz/240g) white flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground cloves
Preheat your oven to 350F/175C. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until combined. You can use a pastry knife or an electric hand mixer. Here is a guide for how you can do that with a wooden spoon if you have neither.
Add the maple syrup, vanilla extract, and whole milk, and mix until combined.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, and spices together.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and work together with the pastry knife, spoon, or hand mixer until combined. You should have a sticky but pliant dough.
Pour the 2-3 tbsp of sugar for rolling onto a plate and spread it evenly.
Take a piece of dough and roll it into a 1 inch/2.5cm ball. Then, roll it briefly in the sugar until covered. Place it on the parchment paper. Repeat until you use the dough – spread the dough balls about 2 inches/5 cm apart.
Use a fork to lightly “squash” each of the balls.
Bake for 10-13 minutes in the oven, or until the cookies are brown but not burned on the bottom, and the cookies are solid but still soft.
Remove from the heat and let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving. Store any remaining cookies in an airtight container or bag for up to four days.
Thank you to my classmates, colleagues, housemates, and boyfriend for trying several iterations of this recipe.
As a busy graduate student, I have largely been sticking to these simpler recipes during my semesters. Sometimes, these are very obviously Jewish, but this time, I am providing a brownie recipe. I call these Shabbat brownies, because they taste great a day or two later – making them suited for baking for a Shabbat lunch! Make them on Thursday night or Friday afternoon for a tasty end to the meal. (Have one or three as a snack in the meantime.)
While the origin of brownies was likely in church communities in central Maine, they became quite popular among American Jews – just like everyone else in North America. There is a certain type of very fudgy brownie that seems to be popular among synagogues across North America. While they are good, I tend to prefer a cakey brownie – one that relies heavily on eggs.
Hence this recipe. I used to have a different recipe, but here is my updated version. Thank you to my boyfriend, housemates, colleagues, and classmates for testing the various iterations.
Makes 24 brownies
2 sticks (1 cup) butter + more for greasing
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup granulated white sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups sifted white flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350F/175C.
Grease a 9”x13”/23cmx33cm (or similarly sized pan) with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper again with butter.
Melt the butter and chocolate chips together until smooth. You could do this in a bain-marie, but I just do it in the microwave: put the chips in a deep, microwave safe bowl, add the butter in chunks, microwave on high for a minute, then stir together. Put the melted chocolate-butter mixture in a large mixing bowl.
Add the sugar and cocoa powder and whisk together until thoroughly combined.
Add the milk and vanilla extract, and whisk together until thoroughly combined.
Crack the eggs into the bowl, and then whisk together until thoroughly combined and the mixture is smooth.
Add the flour, baking powder, and sugar. Whisk together until the batter is thoroughly combined and is a smooth, thick consistency. Make sure all the flour is thoroughly mixed in!
Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 30-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean or with only a few crumbs. Let cool before cutting.
Store in an airtight container for up to four days.
No story here, just a baked good. This is a recipe for a “lazy” rendition of scones, which are usually made with cold butter. Melting the butter or using oil does change the texture slightly by making them a bit less flaky, but they are so much easier to make. And they are still delicious.
Makes ten scones
2 cups white flour, sifted
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 cup mix-ins (chopped candied fruit, chocolate chips, raisins, dried fruit, chopped berries, etc. If using dried fruit, soak in hot water for 15 minutes before using)
6 tablespoons salted butter, melted or 6 tablespoons vegetable oil plus ½ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
¾ cup full-fat yoghurt
1/3 cup whole milk
Preheat your oven to 400C/200F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda until combined. Add the mix-ins and mix thoroughly until the additions are evenly distributed through the flour. Set aside.
In a second bowl, mix together the butter/oil and sugar until thoroughly combined. Then, add the egg, yogurt, and milk and mix until fully combined.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a large spoon or paddle, mix together until you have a thoroughly combined, wet, thick dough.
Using two spoons, form and place heaps of dough onto the parchment paper. They will not be “perfect” in shape, but that is the point. These are lazy.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown and the bottom is fully golden brown. Remove from oven. Let cool for 15 minutes before removing from tray.
Thank you to my colleagues at the University of Maryland for participating in iterative User Acceptance Testing for this recipe.
I moved to Maryland in July from New York State. Though the move is fairly short – about 200 miles or 360 kilometers – my new home state does have a slightly different climate from New York. This difference does have some nice benefits, like the persimmon trees in my neighbor’s yards, or the slightly warmer winter. However, this also affects food storage. Maryland is just enough more humid and just enough balmier that food lasts for different lengths here. I have to be particularly more careful about flour and rice storage, and things like cake and bread do not stay fresh for quite as long as in New York. The difference is about a day.
So I need to add something quickly to my pantry guide: the fact that you need to take climate into account. Humidity, heat, and temperature changes will make some foods go off more quickly – and may necessitate different storage techniques. For example, in a hot, humid climate, tomatoes will last much longer in the refrigerator – and will go off more quickly when stored at “room temperature.” (Yes, this will affect the taste slightly.) Flour, rice, and noodles will need to be very carefully sealed to prevent bugs from getting in. On the other hand, in a cool, dry climate, it is important to make sure that your containers are fully closed – especially for things like bread, which can go stale quickly.
This knowledge can seem overwhelming. So I recommend: ask around with your local friends and see what they do! No doubt some people will have tips and tricks relevant for you. One example is that I’ve learned many people here keep their flour in the freezer, because Maryland has a particularly big population of flour mites (which are not nice).
Climate change will affect this. As climactic conditions become warmer, more humid or more dry, and with more extreme weather, food is affected in more ways than growing. One thing that has been less discussed is how storing food may need to change – and, if more refrigeration is needed, the resultant energy use and carbon emissions. On a macro level, that could be a big impact. On a micro level, it means that you may end up changing what you consume and how much as the impacts of climate change continue to play out.
Budget accordingly, buy accordingly, and store accordingly! Use tips and tricks for your climate to store things and to make sure things stay yummy and good to eat. Keep an eye out, especially given that extreme weather is sadly here to stay.