26 August 2010

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

Mandelbrodt doesn't quite fit into the category of cuisine that my dad refers to, lovingly, as Jewish soul food. It stands apart from traditional eastern European Jewish dishes like potato latkes, creamed herring, chopped liver, and tzimmes , with its blatant lack of even a single ingredient of the holy Jewish soul food trinity: garlic, onion, and schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). Despite these shortcomings, mandelbrodt (translated literally as 'almond bread') holds a special place in my sentimental heart, mostly because my grandmother made them on holidays as a special treat. She'd transport the cookies from Houston in a wax-paper lined tin that smelled faintly of cigarette smoke and potpourri like everything of hers did. I loved them.

I hadn't had mandelbrodt in years and for some reason recently had a craving for some. The craving sent me digging through my binder of family recipes where I discovered that it certainly wasn't just my grandmother who had a fondness for these dry, biscotti-like cookies. Among the recipes I found no less than four takes on mandelbrodt, all slightly different, from several women of my grandparent's generation on both sides of my family. I'm guessing the dessert's popularity and sticking power has to do with the fact that it uses relatively inexpensive, easily-obtainable ingredients, can be made in large batches, requires no refrigeration, and gets better with age.

When I baked up my first batch recently, I decided to go with Mrs. Harry H. Berman's (aka Aunt Buck, my mom's great-aunt from Chattanooga, TN) version. I liked the look of her recipe and I liked Aunt Buck. In addition to Harry Berman, she went through several husbands in her life, and in her youth was a formidable fisherwoman. By the time I knew her she was an old woman who wore a wig--a fact that fascinated me endlessly as a kid. She gave me little diamond earrings. Surely her recipe for mandelbrodt would be awesome.

The basic process of mandelbrodt-making is to mix up an eggy batter, roll or spoon it into a log or multiple logs, partially bake and then slice the logs, and then bake the slices, turning once so they become golden brown on both sides. Then, while the cookies are still warm you toss them with cinnamon sugar. They are especially tasty with a cup of coffee or tea, or dunked into bowl of ice cream.

Aunt Buck's Mandelbrodt

**be warned--this recipe makes a lot of cookies--probably 4 dozen, depending on the size 'logs' you make. the good news is that they keep well in a covered container and will earn you sugary kisses when you pawn them off on friends

4 eggs
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt
2 3/4 cups unsifted all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup blanched almonds (I used toasted whole almonds and chopped them up a little)

(cinnamon sugar coating--I eyeballed this--I don't like it very cinnamony but you can make this to taste)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Measure, then sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Beat first five ingredients thoroughly, then add sifted dry ingredients and then nuts. Beat thoroughly.

Using a tablespoon (Buck specifies a tablespoon--I say use whatever spoon you want), spoon mixture onto an ungreased cookie sheet making about 4 strips (or logs) about 1 1/2 inches apart (I made 2 larger logs rather than 4 small ones). Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or when firm and slightly brown on bottom. Remove from oven and slice into small slices diagonally. Loosen from pan with spatula and then turn each piece onto a sliced side. Return to oven and brown for about 15 minutes or so. Remove from oven and flip each cookie over to the other side and bake for another 15 minutes. When golden brown on both sides, remove from oven, let cool slightly. Mix cinnamon and sugar together in a large ziplock back. While the cookies are still warm toss them into the bag with the cinnamon sugar, seal, and gently shake around to coat the cookies. You may have do do this in several batches and will have leftover cinnamon sugar.

Will keep well in a covered container for at least a week.

19 August 2010

A Meal in Thirty

Hi Folks! It's been a while since I've checked in here...been busy. I thought I'd drop in tonight do a little show and tell about what I had for dinner because it was, in a word, delectable.

Here it is: Seared Steelhead Trout with Fresh Herbs, Tomatoes and Olives; Sauteed Zucchini; Quinoa.

Ain't she purty? (The food that is, not the photo stylings. What can I say? It was dark. I was hungry.) You wanna know something great? The whole thing, from opening the fridge to sitting down to eat, took all of 30 minutes. Yes, I timed it.

The one sneaky trick I had up my sleeve was a tupperware full of pre-cooked quinoa, but since it takes only 20 minutes or so to cook quinoa, even without that advantage I still could have pulled off the meal in much less than an hour. And so can you! Here's how...

Ingredients (makes 2 robust servings):

1 cup quinoa (you'll have leftovers)
1 medium zucchini, chopped
1/2 large onion or one medium onion, roughly chopped
Bragg's or soy sauce to taste (maybe 1-2 T?)
about 3 T. olive oil
1 lb. steelhead salmon filet
6ish cherry tomatoes, chopped
8 ish kalamata olives, chopped
1 clove of garlic, diced
1/2 a lemon
about 1 T. or so dry Vermouth or white wine
small handfull of fresh parsley, chopped
about 1 tsp. of your fave dried spices for fish (I use a blend that features fennel seed which I love)
pinch dried red pepper flakes
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

Bring two cups of water to boil. Rinse quinoa in a fine strainer and add to boiling water. Stir, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, covered, for about 20 minutes stirring occasionally.

Begin to heat up a medium cast iron skillet on medium heat. Meanwhile, chop your onions and zuke. Film the bottom of the pan with about a T. or so of olive oil and when hot, add the onions, stirring frequently until they begin to turn transparent. Add zucchini and about a T. or so of Braggs/soy sauce and stir. Cook, stirring frequently and adding more sauce to taste, until zucchini reach your desired level of softness (I like mine pretty soft--probably about 8 mins).

Meanwhile, begin heating the saute pan for searing your fish over medium high heat. While pan heats, sprinkle dried herbs, red pepper, kosher salt and pepper over the fish. Chop tomatoes, olives, garlic, and fresh herbs. When pan is hot, add about 2 T. oil to the pan and quickly add the fish, skin side up. One you place the fish in the pan, don't mess with it for about 2 minutes or so. After a couple of minutes it will be have a nice golden browned crust and you will be able to easily flip it without it sticking. Flip it over and sear the other side for another couple of minutes. Depending on how rare you like your fish, you will only need to cook it for about 4-6 minutes total, so after about 4 minutes check it--if it's cooked enough in the thickest spots go ahead and remove to plate (it will continue to cook a bit so best to err on the rare side).

Keep heat on under the fish skillet and toss in tomatoes and olives, stirring for a minute or two until they begin to soften. Add garlic, half the fresh parsley, lemon juice, and vermouth/wine. Cook for another couple of minutes, toss in the rest of the fresh herbs, and pour over the plated fish. Serve zucchini and quinoa (with butter if you like) alongside.

Bon appetit!

P.S.: Since you'll have leftover quinoa, you might want some ideas for how to use it. In addition to this meal, here's what I've done with one cup of quinoa I cooked earlier this week:
--1 meal of quinoa 'fried rice'--stir fry whatever veggies you have laying around with sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and whatever sauces you like to use. Stir in an egg at the last minute
-2 meals of quinoa 'taco salad'--heat quinoa with cooked/canned black beans and stir in cooked veggies (broccoli, squash, carrots, peppers, etc.). Top with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes, avocado, and salsa.
-quinoa salad: mix quinoa with chopped jalapeno/serrano, red onion, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, chopped cilanto, dired cranberries. Dress with olive oil, lime juice, salt and pepper

This isn't gourmet stuff here folks, but it's good, healthy, cheap, and quick eating.

I'd love to know your favorite ways to use quinoa too!