Dessert for Dinner? It Must Be Blintzes/The Inauguration!

This election season was a hard one on all of us. So, even if it is January, a time where we  should still be maintaining various healthy-eating resolutions, I think we can all forgive ourselves if the inauguration has left us needing a little more. Personally, it left me needing to take a trip home to my mother’s kitchen, where I’ve been eating my feelings since 1988.

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There we made nalesniki (or as you may know them, blintzes), the favorite comfort food of Polish and Jewish grandmothers and children everywhere. The toppings can vary from fruit sauces to chocolate to Nutella to powdered sugar, but the cheese filling is tried and true. It’s basically dessert for dinner, and who doesn’t need that today? Yesterday we marched, tomorrow we call our congressmen, today we eat blintzes.

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Nalesniki (or, Blintzes)

From Mommy’s Kitchen

Makes 12-16 blintzes

For the Filling:

1 pound farmer cheese

1/3 cup whole milk, plus more if needed

3-4 teaspoons sugar, or more, to taste

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Pastry:

1 1/2 cups whole milk

1 1/2 cups cold water

1 egg

pinch of salt

1 2/3 – 2 cups sifted flour

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for pan

vegetable oil, or clarified butter, for pan

For the Raspberry Sauce:

12 ounces raspberries

juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons sugar

For Topping:

sour cream

sugar

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First make the filling. Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl using a metal spoon. The consistency should be between whipped cream cheese and regular cream cheese. Add more milk if it is too thick. Add more sugar to taste. I prefer a more tangy/sour flavor, so I err on the side of less sugar (around 3 teaspoons). Set aside.

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Next, get started on the raspberry sauce. Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan (too small and you will get a lot of splatter) over high heat. Mix with a wooden spoon and let the mixture come to a boil. The raspberries should start to come apart. Once a high boil is reached, decrease heat to low and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until it reaches the consistency of a thick sauce. Add more sugar if wanted. Set aside.

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Now work on the pastry wrap. Place the milk, water, egg, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk quickly until the mixture is foamy. Add flour and whisk. Keep adding flour until the batter has a consistency somewhat more runny than pancake batter. Finally, whisk in the olive oil.

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Heat a small-medium nonstick pan over medium-high heat. The size of the base of the pan will be the size of your wraps. Add olive oil to the pan until it is very lightly coated–just enough to keep the wrap from sticking. Pour in a light coating of batter, just enough to spread over the base. Swirl the pan so the batter is distributed evenly. Once there are bubbles in the batter, flip (should be about 1-2 minutes). Cook another 30 seconds-1 minute. Both sides should be lightly golden brown. You will fry these again, so they should be somewhat lighter than you would like for the final product. Set aside the wraps as you finish them. Repeat until you are done with the batter. You should have 12-16 wraps.

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Once all the pastry wraps are made, begin assembling the blintzes. Place 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons filling on a pancake. Use a small spoon to spread over half of the wrap. Roll up the wrap, beginning with the edge that has filling on it. Set aside, and repeat until all pancakes are rolled up.

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Now, it all comes together! Heat a thin layer of clarified butter or vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add blintzes, rotating as needed, until crispy and golden brown on all sides. This should take 5-8 minutes. Remove from oil and blot on paper towels.

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Pour raspberry sauce on top of blintzes. Serve with sour cream and sugar.

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Vaguely Indian Butternut Squash Soup

While we’d all like to pretend it does not exist sometimes, there is most definitely that category of food known as “more effort than it’s worth.” At least, more effort than it’s worth to make at home (ahem, rugelach). This soup (particularly the stock that is it’s foundation), is gingerly teetering on deserving such a title. And yet, look at the colors! And, yay, vegetables and healthy cooking! Wow, flavor combinations I’ve never encountered before!

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You’ve been warned. But if you have a day you are planning on spending sitting around at home anyway, and you don’t mind an hour or so of vegetable prepping and chopping, then consider adding this soup to your agenda. You will be rewarded with amazing smells and tastes, though your heart will sink when you see all the vegetables that get discarded once the stock has been made. I guess these are the sacrifices we make when trying to make a flavorful stock without meat. Though can we acknowledge that just a few chicken bones could accomplish what over a dozen vegetables, herbs, and spices are needed for here? Nonetheless, if you are still full of new year resolve to eat healthy, and willing to put in inordinate effort to fulfill your resolution, then this dish is for you.

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Indian Butternut Squash Soup

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 6-8 servings

For the Curried Vegetable Stock:

1 large yellow onion

2 large carrots

2 celery ribs

1 bunch green onions, including 2/3 of the greens

2 tablespoons sunflower seed

8 cloves garlic, smashed

8 parsley sprigs

6 thyme sprigs

2 bay leaves

2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

4 whole cloves

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds

1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

2 cardamom pods

skins and seeds of the butternut squash from the soup

trimmings of the lemongrass from the soup

5 pieces dried slices of galangal (you can get these at spice markets)

2 sprigs each of mint, basil, and cilantro

For the Indian Butternut Squash Soup:

Curried vegetable stock from above recipe (about 6-7 cups)

1 tablespoons sunflower seed oil

3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

1 lemongrass stalk, the tender middle section minced

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced

2 large cloves of garlic, crushed

1 cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

juice of 2 limes

mint, cilantro, and basil, finely chopped, for garnish

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First, make the stock. Clean and dry all of the vegetables and herbs thoroughly and chop into 1 – 2 inch pieces. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add all of the ingredients except the salt and brown for 10-13 minutes, stirring frequently, until lightly browned. The more fragrant, the more flavorful your stock will be. Add the salt and 8 cups of water and bring to a strong boil. Turn the heat to low and simmer (without a cover) for 40 minutes. Strain out everything and reserve the liquid.

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Next make the soup. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a soup pot. Add the squash, minced lemongrass, onion, half the jalapenos, and the garlic. Reduce heat to medium and cook for 10-13 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a strong boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the squash is quite tender. Remove from heat and use an immersion blender (or an old-school blender) to puree the soup to your desired consistency. Place back on heat, and stir in the coconut milk. Stir in the lime juice. Taste and add salt as needed. Serve garnished with the remaining jalapeno and the chopped herbs.

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Savory Coconut Rice and Spiced Golden Tofu

I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, though I am not one for extremes. You won’t find me on a Paleo diet, completely cutting out carbs, or not eating sugar for a month. But there are modest efforts we can all make towards being healthier.

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My effort this year is to eat more home-cooked vegetables and focus on portion sizes (and learn how to make more of my mom’s classic Polish dishes, but that’s a story for another day). I’ve found that the best way for me to stick to proper portions of healthy foods is to have filling grains like rice, balanced well with protein and fiber. And, because I have a day job, to make things that reheat well.

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This savory coconut rice with spiced golden tofu hits all these requirements while packing some great flavors you may not have encountered before. It’s comfort food that you don’t need to feel too bad about. And it’s delicious.

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Savory Coconut Rice with Spiced Golden Tofu

Adapted from The New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Makes 4-6 servings

For the Rice:

2 cups basmati rice

4 teaspoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 15 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (use lite coconut milk if you wish)

3 kaffir lime leaves

For the Tofu:

1 package extra firm tofu, rinsed, and with as much water as possible pressed out

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon sea salt

2 teaspoons sugar

2 tablespoons peanut or sunflower seed oil

4 green onion, including half the greens, coarsely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

3/4 cup cilantro, chopped, for garnish

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Wash the rice, and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain and dry well. In a large saucepan or french oven, warm the oil over medium heat. Add the onion, ginger, garlic, and turmeric. Cook for 8 minutes, then add the rice and salt. Stir until well combined, then add the coconut milk, 2 cups water, and the lime leaves. Turn the heat to high, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat until the rice is simmering. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just slightly liquid-y. Set it aside–the rest of the liquid will get soaked up as you prepare the tofu. Remove the lime leaves before serving.

img_5350Cut the tofu into 1/2 inch cubes. Combine the spices, sugars, and salt in a medium size bowl. Throw in the tofu and gently mix until it is evenly coated. Warm the oil in a deep skillet or french oven over medium high heat (it is likely to spatter later so you want something deep). Add the tofu, and let cook for 8 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is golden brown and crispy. Pour off excess liquid/oil as needed to help the tofu fry. When it is almost done, add the green onions, and cook just until slightly wilted. Remove from heat, and stir in the lime juice. Serve the tofu atop the coconut rice. Garnish with cilantro.

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Fudgy Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Of the few activities I enjoy more than baking, one is sharing my kitchen creations with family and friends. So it should be no surprise that The Takedowns, whether they be cookie-, ice cream-, chili-, or otherwise themed, are amongst my most looked-forward-to events of the year. And what an extra special one this was. Not only did I get to spend time with loved ones, sample dozens of other home chef extraordinaires’ cookies, and share my chocolate toffee walnut cookies with all the attendees, I also won first place!

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These winning cookies are deeply chocolate, slightly smokey (from the walnuts–make sure you toast them!), and feature toffee bar bits and sea salt flakes. They are also that rare breed of cookie that taste better after they’ve had a few days to let the flavors meld together. So get to it, and make them soon for your holiday festivities. They’re sure to be a crowd pleaser.

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Chocolate Toffee Walnut Cookies

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Makes about 30-40 cookies

5 tablespoons butter

12 ounces Ghirardelli’s 60% cocoa baking bars

4 ounces Ghirardelli’s 70% cocoa baking bar

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt

4 eggs

1 1/2 cups light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

5 1.4 ounce Heath bars, chopped to about chocolate chip size

1 cup walnuts, chopped, and toasted (the toasting is critical!)

Maldon sea salt flakes, for topping

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Fill a small pot with about an inch of water and bring to a simmer. Place butter and cocoa bars in a small or medium bowl and place on top of pot. Stir occasionally, until butter and cocoa are melted together. Let cool slightly (but not completely) while you work on the following steps, continuing to stir every few minutes to make sure it is not solidifying.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt together in a small bowl.

Beat the sugar and eggs in a stand mixer on medium high speed for about 6 minutes, until the mixture thickens. Add the vanilla extract and melted chocolate, and mix on medium speed until well incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Use a rubber spatula to fold the flour mix into the batter. Make sure it is evenly distributed. Add the Heath bits and walnuts (make sure they are well toasted!) and fold until well distributed within the batter.

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Cover top of batter with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to harden (or else it will be too difficult to shape into cookies).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper. Using either a teaspoon and your hands or a cookie scooper, shape the dough into slightly smaller than ping pong ball sized mounds. Sprinkle liberally with sea salt flakes. Baked for 8-12 minutes, until tops looks just slightly dried and cracked, but much of the cookies still looks raw. Allow to cool completely.

Unlike most baked goods, these taste best once they have completely cooled, and once they have rested for a day or two–somehow all the complex flavors come together while the cookie retains a deep fudgy-ness. Just make sure to store these in an airtight container (at room temperature).

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Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown 2015: Red Velvet Cheesecake Ice Cream

There are few things in this world greater than a weekend of friends, park time, ice cream, and sweet victory! And there are many things harder than writing a blog post with no current urge to write. But knowing I have no good reason for my writer’s block doesn’t make it any less insurmountable. Perhaps it is this stifling humidity?

In any case, I am thrilled to say that my red velvet cheesecake ice cream was awarded third place in this past weekend’s Brooklyn Ice Cream Takedown. And even more thrilled that I got to spend some quality time with my ice cream scooping and transporting BFFs.

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But enough about me, let’s talk ice cream. This ice cream is super tangy (from all the sour cream) and refreshing (from the lemon zest), warm (not in a temperature way but in a spice way, from the cinnamon), and rich (from all the cake chunks). There’s really not much else to say than that it comes together like a breeze and you should be making it right now.

Red Velvet Cheesecake Scoop

Red Velvet Cheesecake Ice Cream

Makes about 2 pints

1 slice of red velvet cake

2/3 cup sugar

1 pinch of salt

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup half and half

1 cup sour cream

8 ounces cream cheese, softened and cut into small chunks
Ice Cream Masters

Prepare the red velvet cake by removing the frosting. Cut cake into small cubes, place in a freezer bag, and allow to freeze for one day.

Place all ingredients other than red velvet chunks in a food processor and blend well, until all ingredients are incorporated.

Process the ice cream batter per your ice cream maker’s instructions. When moving the ice cream from the ice cream maker into its freezer container, use a rubber spatula to create a one inch high layer, stud with the frozen red velvet cake chunks, and then repeat, so that all of the red velvet chunks have been placed in the ice cream. Serve on its own–it has all it needs in one delightful package!

Award Time