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Soft Molasses Cookies

It’s cold today. Well, cold for March, anyway. It feels like Winter is boxed into a corner and swinging, making one last effort not to get knocked out by warmer air, chirping birds, and budding flowers.

This day, with it’s chilly obstinance, deserves a cookie. A soft, chewy, warmly-spiced cookie.

These cookies definitely fit the bill.  The flavor is pretty much unbeatable —rich and earthy with molasses and just the right hint of warm spice from the cloves and ginger. Their wonderful texture is achieved by pulling them out of the oven while the centers are still soft and puffy. As they cool, the centers fall, creating a moist interior and a perfectly cracked, sugary exterior. They’re also the ideal cookie size—big enough that you can be satisfied with just one, but not so large that you feel guilty about eating a few. They’re fun and easy to make with the kids, too. My kids’ favorite part about making these cookies, other than eating them, is shaping the dough into balls, then rolling them in sugar.

Rolling the cookies in sugar gives them a hint of crunch on the outside, especially if you use large, decorative sugar crystals. If you can’t find those, then turbinado sugar works just as well, too.

Of course, like any good cookie, the best part about making them is eating them. They’re wonderful warm, with coffee, tea, a cold glass of milk, or vanilla ice cream. The leftovers store well in an airtight container at room temperature and, theoretically, keep for about a week. In my house, though, they’re usually gobbled up and gone within a few days.

Soft Molasses Cookies

adapted from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion

  • 1 cup unsalted butter or margarine (to make these dairy-free, I use pareve margarine)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsulphured blackstrap molasses
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cloves
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup large sugar crystals or turbinado sugar for coating the dough

Using a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the molasses while mixing at a slow speed, then the baking soda, salt, and spices. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is incorporated. Stir in the flour. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

Shape or scoop the dough into 1 1/2-inch balls. Roll them in the decorative or turbinado sugar and put them on the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between them.

Bake the cookies for 10 minutes. The centers will look soft and puffy, which is okay. As long as the bottoms are set enough to lift partway off the cookie sheet without bending or breaking, they’re ready to come out of the oven. Cool the cookies on the pan for 10 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.

Makes 40-ish cookies.

Ah, noodles. Who doesn’t love noodles? No-one in my house, that’s for sure.

Aviva, especially, is a noodle fanatic. She craves them, asks for them – udon, lo mein, soba, spaghetti, pad si ew. She rejoices when we get take out, knowing that she’ll get a good carb fix when the food arrives.

Her favorite noodle dish is Chinese lo mein. The only problem is that Chinese food isn’t exactly my favorite. I grew up in a small town full of pizza places, donut shops, and churches. We had to drive to the nearest city, Providence RI, for halfway decent Chinese food, so I rarely ate it growing up. When a Chinese restaurant did eventually open in my town, it was mediocre at best and very Americanized. They served bread on the table and all of the main dishes tasted exactly the same – salty and over-sauced. Plus, a few of my friends worked there during high school and, well, the more you know about the inner workings of a restaurant, the less you want to eat there.

By the time I tasted somewhat authentic Chinese food, I was an adult, a mother, a wife. I liked it, but I not as much as I’d already grown to love Thai and Japanese cuisines. It’s OK, though. I’ll play along with the occasional dinner in Chinatown or dim sum brunch, but it will never, ever be my first choice.

Aviva, on the other hand, would eat Chinese food everyday if she could. So, when I came across fresh lo mein noodles at my favorite local market, I bought a few bags, figuring I could make my own take-out and make Aviva really happy at the same time. While I was there, I also grabbed some yummy Chinese broccoli and shiitakes. That’s the best thing about cooking meals that you’d normally get from a restaurant – you can use as much of your favorite ingredients as you want!

When I got home, it dawned on me that I’d only ever made lo mein once before. I was 17 and had a boyfriend who could eat an entire order of it straight out of the take-out carton! So, I found a “lo mein style” pasta recipe from one of my mom’s many cookbooks and decided to surprise him by making it for dinner (instead of just ordering our usual pizza). He seemed to enjoy it, but he was 17 and growing. He probably would have eaten just about anything and liked it. It was the early 90s, too, so things like fresh ginger, rice wine, and hoisin sauce were not readily available in my small suburban supermarket. Consequently, I remember that lo mein tasting exactly like what it was – spaghetti with soy sauce, sesame, scallions, and mushrooms. Not terribly awful, but not really lo mein either.

So, with fresh ingredients waiting in the fridge, I went scavenging for recipes online, hoping to update my lo-mein-making skills. I ended up finding a few promising recipes and combining them to make my own version, an effort that proved to be much more satisfying and delicious than my first lo-mein-making experience. It’s a snap to make: just assemble your mis en place, heat the wok, and go! Taste-wise, it’s pretty close  to the lo mein you’d order at your favorite Chinese restaurant. It’s fresh and light, but the hoisin, soy, sesame, and shiitakes pack enough of an umami punch to satisfy that lo mein craving you have right now.

Grab your wok and get to it.

Lo Mein with Chinese Broccoli and Shiitakes

  • 1 pound of chicken breasts (you could also use flank steak, pork tenderloin, shrimp, or tofu), cut into bite-sized strips
  • 1 pound lo mein noodles or spaghetti, fresh or dried, prepared to package directions, drained, and set aside (do not rinse after draining!)
  • 1 pound Chinese broccoli or broccolini, washed, dried, and julienned
  • 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms – wiped clean, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • vegetable or peanut oil

Marinade:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Sauce

  • 1 cup chicken stock, homemade or store-bought (if using store-bought, use the low sodium kind)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry or rice wine
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • a couple pinches of red chile flakes (optional)

Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients and add the chicken. Toss to coat. Set aside. Allow to marinate for 15-20 minutes.

Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together and set aside.

Heat a couple tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, stir-frying until cooked through. Place it on a separate plate and set aside. Wipe the skillet or wok clean.

Add another tablespoon or two of oil to the wok/skillet and place back on the heat. Add the Chinese broccoli, shiitakes, garlic, and ginger. Stir-fry until the broccoli is wilted, but still crisp-tender.

Add the sauce and noodles. Let cook for a minute or two so that the noodles can absorb the sauce, then fold in the chicken. Enjoy!

Chocolate-Orange Truffles

Wanna know what I like about Valentine’s Day? Chocolate. Otherwise, it’s just a normal day. Chocolate is what makes it special, makes it a celebration of love. Yes, love, because even if you don’t have a human love, you can still love chocolate. Besides, who cares about the sappy cards or flowers? And who wants to deal with thorns and vases when you can sit down, relax, and eat a truffle?

I don’t normally eat a lot of sweets, so any day when I can indulge my sweet tooth in the name of love is pretty awesome. My husband knows this and spends money on the good, Belgian stuff for me every year, lest I waste my sugar coma on junk. If he didn’t do that, I would make these. In fact, I used to make truffles for myself fairly regularly before I got married. If you make your own, that means you don’t have to share and not sharing means more truffles for you. Isn’t that a delicious equation?

The great thing about these truffles is that they taste like they require a ton of effort, but they don’t. That makes them DANGEROUS because, once you make them, you’ll want to make them again. And again. And again.

Your tastebuds will love it. Your thighs, on the other hand, will probably ask you to join a gym with all the money you’ve saved by making your own truffles.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate-Orange Truffles

  • 1/2 pound bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
  • 1 cup heavy cream (or non-dairy creamer, if you need to be dairy-free)
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
  • 1 tablespoon prepared coffee
  • 1/2 teaspoon good vanilla extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  • Cocoa powder

Chop the chocolates finely with a sharp knife, then place in a heat-proof mixing bowl.

Heat the cream in a small saucepan until just boiling. Turn off the heat and allow the cream to sit for 20 seconds. Pour the cream through a fine-meshed sieve into the bowl of chocolate. With a wire whisk, slowly stir the cream and chocolates together until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the Grand Marnier, coffee, and vanilla. Set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

With 2 teaspoons, spoon round balls of the chocolate mixture onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Working quickly, roll each ball of chocolate in your hands to make it round-ish, then roll in confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, or both. Place on a second baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate overnight. These will keep refrigerated, in an air-tight container, for up to 2 weeks. Allow them to come to room temperature before serving. Enjoy! RNZZP3PPNH69

Ginger-Glazed Scallion Meatballs

I know I promised you more Superbowl snacks. So, since I already posted about hummus and nuts, I thought you needed something more substantial to get you through the game. Meatballs definitely fit the bill.

These are not your mother’s party meatballs. You know which ones I mean – the ones swimming in a sauce made of grape jelly and ketchup, the ones that only taste good if you’re really, really drunk.

Yeah, these meatballs are so much better than that. First of all, they’re going to taste great whether you’re drunk or sober, which is an excellent quality when it comes to party food. Secondly, their gingery-salty-herbaceous flavor goes great with beer, so they might actually HELP you get buzzed, which is also an excellent quality in party food. Thirdly, Chinese New Year is upon us, so making this Asian-inspired dish would be a great – and very tasty – way to celebrate. Kung Hei Fat Choi! Go Packers!

They’re a cinch to make, too. The sauce can be done up to two days ahead of time and the meatballs come together pretty quickly, so you won’t be trapped in the kitchen if you have guests coming by. They’re also a cinch to serve. All you need are toothpicks and napkins.

As if all of those reasons weren’t good enough to make you want to try this, I’ll give you another. My absolute favorite thing about this recipe is that it also works well as a quick, relatively easy main dish. So, if you’re not interested in watching the Superbowl or won’t be having a party anytime soon, make them anyway. Glaze them with lots of sauce and serve them over rice with stir-fried veggies for an easy weeknight dinner. Yum.

Ginger-Glazed Scallion Meatballs

(adapted, just barely, from the NY Times)

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin (sweet rice wine)
  • 1/4 cup chopped peeled ginger
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 4 whole black peppercorns

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 4 large or 6 small scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sriracha
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil.

Make sauce: Bring sugar and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar melts completely. Reduce heat to medium-low and add soy sauce, mirin, ginger, 5 spice, and peppercorns. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half, about 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve. (Can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated.)

Make meatballs: mix turkey, scallions, cilantro, egg, sesame oil, soy sauce, sriracha, and several grindings of pepper in a bowl. Roll tablespoons of mixture into balls.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, generously cover bottom of pan with vegetable oil. Working in batches to avoid crowding, place meatballs in pan and cook, turning, until browned all over and cooked inside, about 8 minutes per batch. Arrange on a heated platter, spoon a little sauce over each meatball, and serve with toothpicks and lots of napkins. Keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

With this weekend comes Superbowl Sunday. Like most Americans, I will be watching, even though I really don’t care much about the game itself. I’m a die-hard Patriots fan, so, sadly, I haven’t needed to watch a  football game in almost a month. But, I know my husband will want to tune in and I won’t deprive him of that simple pleasure, even though I’d rather watch pretty much anything else.

So, since I hate the Steelers with the fire of a thousand suns (because their quarterback is a rapist) and the Packers are probably not going to win, I’ve decided to focus on the snacks. Snacks that will keep me happy while I watch two unlikeable teams play a dirty football game punctuated by some clever commercial breaks.

This is one of those snacks. It’s a happy snack.

It seems deceptively simple – spiced nuts are pretty basic and don’t require much effort. But, when I originally made these to munch on during the Pats first home game this season, my husband declared them “dangerously good” and started requesting them on a fairly regular basis.  So, I make them a lot and every time I do, he rewards me by joking that he’s lucky to have married a woman who’s so good with nuts. Oy. Oy vey.

But I do agree that they ARE good. What could be bad about crunchy, roasted nuts coated in a sweet, smoky, spicy glaze? Oh yeah. The fact that they’re addictively delicious and will be gone before halftime.

More Superbowl snacks to come this week.

Sweet and Spicy Nuts

(adapted from Real Simple)

  • 1 large egg white
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or chipotle powder
  • 2 cups lightly salted nuts (Mixed nuts are fine, but this also works well with a single variety. I like using almonds or cashews.)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white, brown sugar, and spices. Add the nuts and toss to coat. Pour onto the prepared baking sheet, spreading evenly. Bake 15 minutes or until the coating is set.

Cool and enjoy!

Sumac Hummus with Pita Chips

I love when my travels take me through Inman Square. It’s a really eclectic neighborhood and a tasty place to visit, so I tend to linger there, paying visits to my favorite sandwich shop and the wonderful ice cream parlor just a bit further down the street. I fill my belly, I people-watch, I let the day slow down and I savor it like something delicious.

When I’ve had my fill of sandwiches and ginger-molasses (or chocolate orange…or burnt caramel…or almond khulfee) ice cream, I make my way over to the spice shop adjacent to the ice cream parlor. Never mind Inman Square or even the greater Boston area, this shop is one of my favorite places on Earth. When you walk in the door, you’re hit by the intoxicating, almost hypnotic smells of spices from every corner of the world.  Every available inch of the store is stocked with oils, vinegars, condiments, herbs, teas, tinctures, spices, and every type of grain, flour, and bean you can imagine. I never seem to make it out of there without bags full of hard-to-find pantry staples, like bitter orange, zaatar, harissa, baharat, smoked salt, and lots of different dried mushrooms and chiles. I also never leave without buying something new to add to my spice rack.

Being a huge fan of Middle Eastern cuisine, I love zaatar, which is a widely used spice blend. However, one of the components of zaatar – ground sumac berries – always seemed like an unnecessary purchase because it’s already in the zaatar, mellowed by thyme and sesame. But, during my last visit, I decided to buy it anyway and I’m so glad I did. On its own, it’s tart and bright, with a subtle herbal quality that complements pretty much everything.

I’ve been playing around with it for a few weeks and it’s been a delicious experience. I already have a few solid, sumac-spiced main dishes in my recipe arsenal, all of which I’ll share with you eventually, but since the Superbowl is coming up, I thought I’d make you a sumac snack!

Sumac Hummus with Pita Chips

  • 2 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 small lemons (preferably meyer), zested and juiced
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2-3 tablespoons tahini, to taste (I prefer less tahini, but feel free to adjust it to your taste)
  • 2 teaspoons sumac
  • 1/2 cup good olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • olive oil, fresh parsley, sumac, black pepper for garnish

Pour the chickpeas into the food processor and pulse to mash. Add the garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, and water, then allow it to mix for about one minute to combine thoroughly. Add the tahini and sumac, then, with the food processor running, slowly stream in the olive oil. Season with salt. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with chopped fresh parsley, a little more sumac, and a few grinds of black pepper.

This hummus pairs well with veggies, olives, and…

Pita Chips

  • 4 whole pitas, cut into triangles
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon zaatar, if you’ve got it/want it (a 1/2 teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, sesame seeds, sumac, and cumin will work, too)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Place all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and toss thoroughly to coat. Spread the pita triangles out on a large baking sheet, making sure they’re evenly spaced to allow for even toasting.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until golden brown and crisp. Serve with hummus or your favorite dip.

On Slow Cookers and Brisket

Most of the time, I am pretty busy. And it can be hard to balance a love of cooking and a deep appreciation for warm, long-cooked meals on cold Winter days with a busy life .

Just when you’d think I’d give up and spoil myself with take-out, think again. Here comes the slow cooker.

(If you like 30 Rock, you undoubtedly read that as “here comes the fun cooker!” because, despite its lack of a ham button, that’s what goes through my head every single time I take it out of the cabinet.)

I once thought of this small appliance as something that people with minimal kitchen skills used – a very passive approach to meal preparation and a way to escape the need for actual cooking skills. But then I had my third child and all of my negligible free time disappeared. If I cooked, she was on my hip and, if she wasn’t on my hip, she was screaming. This posed a problem. How the hell was I supposed to make dinner?

So, I asked my friends: “What do you make for dinner when the baby wants to be held all the time?” After about a million “make reservations!” punchlines, one friend looked at me and said, “Oh my god, Cori. How come you don’t have a slow cooker?” I sheepishly admitted my own snobbery and was summarily set straight. “Remember that delicious stew I made the last time you came over?”, she said, “Slow Cooker!”

Off to Target I went. Off to change my life forever.

Since then, I’ve become adept at slow-cooking different stews, soups, and beans, but was initially hesitant to use it for meat. I started slowly, with a basic recipe for bone-in chicken with white wine, tomatoes and herbs. It was fine, but I wasn’t wowed. Then came a pulled pork recipe, which was much better. I tried lamb shanks next, with fantastic results. The lamb and pork became permanent fixtures in my dinner-making recipe rotation, but after nearly four years of owning this contraption, I had yet to use it for beef.

As if on cue, I read this post and learned of the slow-cooker’s magical powers over brisket.

“BRISKET!”, I thought to myself, “It would be a disappointment to my Jewish people if I didn’t try this.” (Though, admittedly, less of a disappointment than happily eating pork and shellfish on a very regular basis.) So, I went to the market and picked up the ingredients for my mother’s brisket recipe, put them in the slow cooker, and let it cook on low overnight.

The results were amazing, like the culinary equivalent of seeing god. The brisket was almost criminally tender. I had never experienced brisket without a little bit of toughness, so I couldn’t believe that it was literally falling apart with the slightest touch. And it was absolutely delicious, too. All briskets should aspire to be that good.

Now I had a problem. I only had two brisket recipes – my mother’s and the one posted on Smitten Kitchen. That definitely had to change, so I started experimenting with different spices, sauces, and techniques in order to bolster my brisket-making confidence.

So far, the best brisket variation I’ve come up with is this barbeque-style concoction, which is now the recipe that everyone in my house refers to when they ask me to make brisket. I threw it together by mixing elements of my mother’s sweet, tangy, broth-based recipe with a lot more seasoning and a lot less liquid. It took a few tries to get the flavor balance right, but we certainly didn’t let the mistakes go to waste. It was still tender, slow-cooked brisket, after all, so no one cared too much that it needed more heat, salt, or seasoning. We just added some hot sauce and gleefully allowed our cholesterol levels to rise with the beefy tide.

It’s so funny to think that I’ve come to rely on a once-shunned appliance for making really good, really craveable dishes.  Four years ago, I would have laughed in disbelief if someone had told me that I’d use this contraption on a regular basis and that it would be the ONLY way I’d ever cook brisket. But, they would have been right and I would have eaten slow-cooked crow. Nowadays, the slow-cooker comes out at least twice a month and, when it does, it’s greeted by happy children who want to know what’s for dinner.

Joy and rapture usually follow if I tell them that I’m making this:

Sweet, Smoky Brisket

  • Brisket – 6 pounds
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • 3-4 large onions, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1.5 C ketchup
  • 3/4 C white or cider vinegar – to taste
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 2 T molasses
  • 3 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T mustard (I use brown deli mustard, but yellow or dijon would work, too)
  • 3/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • a few shakes of hot sauce (optional, but I like Trader Joe’s Jalapeno hot sauce)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Season brisket generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sear the brisket on all sides over medium-high heat.  Place seared meat in the slow-cooker insert or a dutch oven/covered casserole dish and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add some more oil to skillet. Saute onion and garlic until soft and almost caramelized – about 15 minutes – stirring occasionally, lowering the heat as needed so they don’t burn.

While the onions and garlic cook, combine the last 12 ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the seared meat, making sure to coat it thoroughly.

Top meat and sauce with the caramelized onions and garlic. If using a dutch oven/casserole, cover tightly with foil, then place the lid/casserole cover over the foil to seal tightly, cook in a 350-degree oven for 3-4 hours. If using a slow cooker, which is definitely the preferred method, cook on low for 7-8 hours.

I like to make this recipe at least a day in advance. When the brisket is done, I usually move it, along with the sauce, from the slow cooker insert to a large, covered casserole dish and chill it in the fridge overnight – at least 12 hours. (Obviously, if you’ve cooked it in a casserole, you can skip this step and just stick it in the fridge.)

The following day, about an hour before you want to serve the brisket, remove and discard the solid fat that has settled on top. Slice the cold brisket to your desired thickness. If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree or strain the sauce and then put in back in the casserole. Add the sliced brisket back into the sauce and reheat in a 325 degree oven until the sauce bubbles and the meat is heated through.

Serve as open-faced sandwiches with coleslaw or over egg noodles with a big, green salad on the side.

Lilah turned 8 last month and this is what she chose for her birthday dinner. We made open-faced sandwiches on onion rolls and ate them with sweet potato fries, cole slaw, and grilled asparagus, followed by chocolate cake for dessert, of course. A yummy celebration, indeed!

Dairy-Free Waffles

Having a child with a severe food allergy seems overwhelming to a lot of people. The reality of it is: You get used to it. You have no choice. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Lilah has been allergic to dairy since she was a baby. Not lactose intolerant, but actually allergic to milk protein. Like, if she had a sip of milk, her throat would close up and she’d die without an Epi-Pen injection.  In fact, her allergy is so severe that if a dairy product touches her skin, she gets hives at the point of contact. So, living without dairy is what we do and, given the alternative, we do it quite willingly and happily.

Admittedly, cooking without dairy was hard for me to get used to at first, but I did, and we’re probably healthier for it. Actually, I think learning to live without dairy has made me a better, more resourceful cook because I can’t count on the extra oomph from a pat of butter, a dollop of sour cream, or a sprinkle of cheese to round out a dish. Searching for extra flavor in other ingredients – spices, vegetables, herbs, high quality oils and vinegars, condiments, nuts, and olives – has been a wonderful learning experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for all of the fromage in France.

That being said, it does complicate things sometimes. Eating at restaurants, for instance, can be hard. We can’t just go wherever we want, we have to be sure that whatever restaurant we decide on isn’t going to result in a trip to the ER.  Thai, Japanese, and Chinese food, are all usually safe, tasty bets and, as a result, Lilah has become a sushi connoisseur. Of course, glatt kosher places are also totally safe, like our favorite Middle Eastern place up the street. It’s a win-win: the food is excellent and we can be 100% confident that it’s dairy-free. On the other hand, French, Greek, Turkish, and Indian food are all, unfortunately, too risky for Lilah to eat. And Italian food, with its abundance of cheese in the food and on the table, is completely out of the question.

Another sticky wicket in the dairy allergy dining experience is breakfast. We cannot go out for breakfast at all with Lilah, which makes me kind of sad because I love going out for breakfast and brunch.  Yeah, sure, she could eat bacon and eggs, but that’s boring and rather unfair, especially considering that her companions (namely, her siblings) would be gorging themselves on pancakes, waffles, and cheesy omelettes.

So, to get over my brunch angst, I’ve been experimenting with different recipes for YEARS in an attempt to make delicious, dairy-free pancakes and waffles from scratch. The pancakes are still only just OK, in my opinion, but I’m a stickler for buttermilk, so it’s unlikely that anything will ever strike me as a suitable replacement for that true, sour dairy tang. (And yes, I’ve tried using soy yogurt thinned with soy milk as a replacement, but the results are not even close to being as good as the real thing.) However, I think I’ve finally nailed the waffle recipe. I made them this morning and they were gorgeous – crisp, light, not too sweet, not too eggy. They are a bit labor intensive, but using a mixer or electric beaters helps to speed-up the prep work. Unless you’re a masochist. If you are, then, by all means, knock yourself out and whisk those egg whites by hand.

Anyway, we all loved them. The kids begged for seconds, then thirds, and even declared that they didn’t need maple syrup. My husband and I enjoyed ours with some coffee and fruit, happily acknowledging that this one is finally a keeper.

Dairy-Free Waffles

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups plain or vanilla soy milk (not unsweetened), at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 large egg white, at  room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup melted vegan margarine or vegetable oil, plus more for brushing the iron
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/4 cup melted margarine or oil. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until a batter is formed. Take care not to over mix the batter.

In medium bowl with a hand-held electric beaters or whisk, or in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the 3 egg whites until they just begin to hold a loose peak. Scatter the sugar over the whites and continue beating until they hold a soft peak. Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten the base. Fold in the remaining whites.

Brush the inside surface of the iron with margarine or oil. Pour in enough batter to lightly cover the surface of the iron, about 1/3 to 3/4 cup, depending upon the size of the iron. (Take into consideration that the batter will spread once the lid is closed.) Cover and cook until golden brown and slightly crisp, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter. (If the waffle iron is well seasoned or nonstick it is not necessary to brush the inner surface each time before cooking the waffles.)

Serve the waffles immediately with syrup, jam, or fresh fruit, then pat yourself on the back for putting a waffle iron on your wedding registry.

Roasted Eggplant Dip

“Hey Mom, what smells so good?”, chirped Lilah as she jumped down the stairs. The smells of roasting eggplant, sauteed onion, garlic, and smoked paprika had made their way up to her room and she was jonesing for a taste. “Oooh, are those olives? Can I have one?”, the question was a formality, asked as she plucked a large, green olive out of the jar.

“I’m making eggplant dip and, yes, you can have an olive.”, I said. “Wanna help?”

Her answer was yes, of course, so I put her to work measuring pantry items and peeling the cooled eggplants. Then, once all of the ingredients were assembled, I let her push the button on the food processor and watch her hard work come together. After everything was mixed into the eggplant, her reward was the first taste on a freshly toasted pita chip. The verdict? “It tastes as good as it smells.”

I love this dip, too, and not just because it tastes great, but also because it’s the product of a very forgiving and endlessly adjustable recipe. You can truly make it suit your own taste.

Some ideas: Puree the eggplant with the tomato paste and simply fold in the other ingredients for a chunkier dip. Puree everything together for a smooth dip. Trade the paprika with a some sriracha or chile flakes for a spicier dip. Swap the green olives with pitted kalamata olives if you like more brininess. Replace the red wine vinegar with balsamic for more sweetness and depth. Add an anchovy, pine nuts, or some oregano if the mood strikes. You could even replace the eggplant with pureed white beans for a jacked-up Mediterranean hummus.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s the version I prefer:

Roasted Eggplant Dip

(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 2 medium or 3 small eggplants
  • Good olive oil
  • 4 ounces fresh or jarred roasted red peppers (about 2 roasted peppers), diced
  • 1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Place the whole eggplants on the pan, pierce with them a fork in several places, and rub with olive oil. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and lightly browned – about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika, cook for 1 minute, then set the mixture aside.

Halve the eggplant, peel, and discard the skin. Place the eggplant, onion mixture, peppers, and olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until well-combined, but not completely pureed. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Add the parsley, lemon juice, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop. Taste for seasonings and serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles and veggies.

This would also be a wonderful accompaniment to grilled chicken, shrimp, fish, or pasta.

This is one of those cakes that you can take ANYWHERE. Dress it up with fresh, barely-sweetened, homemade whipped cream and it’s perfect for a holiday or dinner party. Serve it as is with coffee. Make it with bananas instead of pears and take it to a neighborhood potluck.

It’s pretty perfect and very delicious.

Right now, I’m making the banana version to bring to our friends’ house, where it will be enjoyed as we watch the Patriots crush the Jets in tomorrow’s NFL play-off game.

Edited to add:  So, the Pats didn’t win, but the cake was still delicious. Also, I’ve decided that I’m going to experiment and make this with fresh, in-season cherries this Summer. I’ll let you know how it turns out. My bets are on scrumptious.

Pear-Almond Cake with Chocolate Chunks

(adapted from Rachael Ray)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large pears—peeled, cored and thinly sliced (or two sliced bananas, if you are pear-averse)
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I just chop a good quality bar into chunks)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, the vanilla extract, and the 2 eggs until pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes; whisk in the butter. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and top with half of the pear or banana slices and half of the chocolate; repeat with the remaining batter, pears or bananas, and chocolate.
  5. Using a food processor, finely grind 1/4 cup almonds with the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Add the egg white and process until smooth. Drizzle over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool slightly, then dust lightly with the confectioners’ sugar.
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