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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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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On Carbo Loading (Or, Why Reason Does Not Equal Logic)

Today I registered for the Brooklyn Half Marathon. Yesterday I entered the lottery for the New York City Marathon. Given the serious training regimens races of this caliber require, it is only sensible that today I share with you a recipe for mushroom lasagne. And before my attempt at athletic prowess lead you to think that this is some sort of health recipe consisting of little more than fresh organic mushrooms, low-sodium tomato sauce, and gluten-free noodles, note that this recipe contains not two or three but, indeed, five different kinds of cheese. And, let’s be honest, that’s not even making mention of the butter and whole milk.

Mushroom Lasagna Slice

I could reason that at the least, such a decadent recipe might be good for carbo loading, but, if we’re continuing with this honesty streak, we know that any of the benefits of the lasagne noodles are negated by the pure fat they are swimming in. If running 26.2 miles won’t hurt your bowels, I’m pretty sure all this dairy might (at least, if you have even a whiff of lactose intolerance). Logically, this should be the last thing I am tempted to eat while training, and, yet…

I’ve been telling myself that now is the time to run these various races because of some recent medical adventures that have left me feeling like now is the time to get started on some of these bucket list items. Lest I panic anyone, I am perfectly healthy and not facing any sort of impending peril. And yet, one week with a few too many doctor’s appointments (even though they didn’t indicate anything wrong) have left me feeling like the time is neigh. Logical? No. Reasonable? I’d like to think so. And what does this have to do with mushroom lasagne and running? Well, if I can’t convince myself the recipe is good for me while training, I can at least reason that I’ll have earned it after the race.

Mushroom Lasagna Section

Mushroom Lasagne

Adapted from Plenty

Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1 3/4 cups warm water

11 tablespoons unsalted butter (separated into two portions of 5 1/2 tablespoons)

2 pounds mushrooms, sliced (a mix is best)

1 tablespoon thyme leaves

2 tablespoons tarragon, chopped

4 tablespoons parsley, chopped

salt and pepper

1 shallot, chopped

1/2 cup flour

2 1/3 cup whole milk

13 ounces ricotta

1 egg

5 ounces feta, crumbled

6 ounces Gruyere, grated

1 pound dried lasagne

5 ounces mozzarella, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Mushroom Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the dried porcini and water in a bowl for 5 minutes. Drain the mushrooms, making sure to get out as much liquid as possible. Save the liquid for later in the recipe.

Melt 5 1/2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the thyme, dried mushrooms, and fresh mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it looks like the fresh mushrooms have started releasing some of their liquid. Take the pot off the heat and the the tarragon, parsley, and salt and pepper to season. Set aside in a bowl.

Using the same pan you used to cook the mushrooms, make the béchamel. Melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook for a minute. Add the flour and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, until the mixture turns to a paste but does not change color. Add the milk and the reserved mushroom liquid slowly, whisking with each addition. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and whisk until the mixture is boiling. Simmer, stirring constantly, until the sauce starts to become thick, and then remove from heat. This should take about 8 minutes.

Bechamel

In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta and egg, and add 3 tablespoons of the sauce you just made. Add the feta. Add the remaining Gruyere to the béchamel.

Being careful so that they do not stick together, pour boiling water over the lasagne noodles. Soak for 2 minutes, then remove and dry on a cheesecloth or tea towel.

Mushroom Lasagna

Prepare a 10 by 14 inch dish to assemble the lasagne. Pour one fifth of the béchamel on the bottom of the dish. Add a layer of lasagne noodles. Add one quarter of the ricotta mix on top, and then one quarter of the mushrooms, and then one quarter of the mozzarella. Repeat again, beginning with the béchamel, until you have used up all of the components. Finish with a layer of a noodles covered with béchamel. Finally, sprinkle the parmesan on top, cover the dish loosely with foil, and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil when there are 10 minutes left in the cooking time to allow the cheese to brown. The dish is ready when the cheese is golden and the sauce is bubbling at the sides. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.