Little Jewels

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We were dubbed The Macaroon Gang by one of the husbands of our little group, incredulous as he was that his wife and her food-obsessed buddies would devote an entire day to tracking down macaroons on the Lower East Side. But by then we had our route plotted out, starting at the little shop that stocked barrels of fresh, moist, densely sweet coconut macaroons for Passover —  in plain, chocolate-dipped, chocolate chip, and chocolate dipped in chocolate —  then heading down the street to the kosher pastry shop, the dried fruit and nut store, the matzoh factory, and the pickle man, for fresh horseradish (grated into a barrel by a guy on the sidewalk wearing a gas mask). It mattered little that only one of us was Jewish and actually needed some of the items for her Seder dinner. We’d fallen in love with those coconut macaroons from the LES and brought back bags full.

Alas, all of those iconic little LES shops have disappeared, their scuffed and worn storefronts turned into glass-box boutiques and coffee houses of a now thoroughly gentrified area. Coconut macaroons, on the other hand, remain a staple around Passover in New York. They’re likely produced by the same companies, although shed of the requisite trek to the old neighborhood, they’ve somehow lost their magic.

So this year, thoughts have turned to another macaroon variant for Passover, made with ground almonds and walnuts instead of coconut, and topped with bit of jam to make the cookies glisten like little jewels. This recipe, courtesy of cookbook author Joan Nathan in The New York Times, puts a Baghdad spin on things, with cardamom as the main spice, and a touch of rosewater in the finish. The only other ingredients are sugar and egg, just like basic coconut macaroons (not to be confused with the trendy French macarons), and they can be, in fact, should be, mixed in one bowl by hand. The process: incredibly simple. The results; hauntingly aromatic. 

Tip: Be careful on the baking time, as these cookies can quickly become too brown and dry. Remove from the oven when they still look slightly underdone, and they will stay tender and chewy. 

 Almond-Walnut Thumbprint Macaroons 


Eastover Offerings

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Easter Eggs 2012 (photo Three Points Kitchen)

A dinner companion the other evening recalled his childhood in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, where dishes for the Passover seder were prepared by the housekeeper. Like a scene out of The Help, she’d then turn around and make the family’s recipes, like  kugel, for her own church suppers, calling it Easter dressing.

It was the perfect anecdote for a weekend with a mashup of the Jewish and Christian calendars that people in the New York region had taken to calling “Eastover.” Around these parts, gatherings for either Passover or Easter invariably include friends and relatives of varying religious backgrounds.  So the table this Sunday included recipes that recognized both holidays:

  • Lois’ Mother’s Matzo Ball Soup These knaidlach (matzo balls) are of the fluffy variety, with whipped egg whites folded in to lighten the batter.  With a nod to contemporary tastes and food resources, the usual parsley was replaced with a mix of fresh dill and cilantro and a bit of ground ginger for zing.
  • Coffee-Cola Baked Ham — In the Southern tradition, poured a cola over the ham (using Boylan’s Cane Cola in place of the typical Pepsi, or Coca-Cola, depending upon your regional cola allegiance) along with the last of the morning’s coffee that is the origin of red-eye gravy.
  • Potato-Mushroom Kugel Fresh garlic —  looking much like scallions — and a touch of marjoram bumped up the seasoning in this Jewish staple.
  • Salad of Green Beans — The beautiful celadon-green color of Spanish Verdina beans screamed out for a place on the Eastover table. The lovely, creamy beans were cooked on their own, then tossed with some of the minced greens of the fresh garlic, chopped celery, dill and an olive-oil/lemon juice dressing. Served at room temperature.
  • Roasted Cabbage — A Martha Stewart recipe brought to our attention via Pinterest, with the reaction: Why have we not thought of this before? Simple green cabbage, cut into thick slices, drizzled with olive oil and set in the oven to roast while the ham and kugel baked. Like other roasted vegetables, cabbage turns into a real sweety.
  • Blackerry-Ginger Sorbet — Frozen blackberry pulp served as a base. Simply mix the defrosted puree with sugar to taste, add a touch of lemon juice if desired, and some minced fresh ginger (in this case we substituted a couple drops of the magnificent Fresh Ginger Chef’s Essence from Atelier Perfumes) Churn according to your ice-cream maker’s directions. A dollop of creme fraiche on top proved the perfect, refreshing touch for after chocolate Easter bunny consumption, while also meeting the needs of those avoiding leavened desserts for Passover.

Bread, Fast and Slow

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Easter and the beginning of Passover coincide this weekend, which presents an opportunity to reprise experiments in bread both leavened and unleavened.

A lesson in povitica

Mamma, matzoh!

Matzo in a Hurry

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Well, of course that’s the whole point of matzo, the unleavened bread eaten during Passover. But we’ll be adding homemade matzo to the “So Simple and Tastes So Much Better than Store-bought, Why Didn’t We Think About Making It Before?” list. (Although some people would argue that beating the taste of commercially made matzo doesn’t take much.) Start to finish, this recipe for Olive Oil Matzo came together in 45 minutes, with just one person in the kitchen, and with nothing more than flour, olive oil, water and a little salt.

Even for those of us who aren’t Jewish, it’s an easy flatbread to try. In a few minutes you can pull together something warm to go with hummus or other spreads. And it would be a great project for the kids. With a quick dough recipe, rolled flat and baked for a few minutes at high temperature, it’s not unlike homemade pizza night. And yes, the kids could add pizza toppings. You already have the ingredients on hand, so crank up the oven and give it a try. The recipe calls for blending in a food processor, but mixing by hand in a bowl worked fine. Do be sure to roll the dough out so thin that you can see through it, and keep an eye on it during baking.
We’ll be having some tonight alongside Spiced Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Almond and Ginger Matzo Balls. Definitely not your grandmother’s matzo ball soup, this contemporary version is bright and flavorful and can be adapted easily to vegetarian menus.

Matzos dont have to be perfectly round
Roll the dough so thin you can see through it
Hot out of the oven, sprinkled with sea salt