A Cooleh Taboulleh

A Cooleh Taboulleh

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Cozy Cookie for Cold Days

Now it's really November. The trees are naked, the skies are flat white, the tip of my nose is cold. My body craves comfort. Soft, thick socks. The familiar hiss and "winter's coming" smell of my archaic radiators. A big pot of pasta e fagioli on the stove.

And these glazed molasses-spice cookies. If I were Norwegian, I'd say they are the embodiment of "hygge"--that untranslatable word for embracing the season with happy-go-lucky-coziness. But I'm not Norwegian. Neither are these cookies. So I'll just say they are one of the very few things that make me look forward to the cold.

As a kid, I never understood the appeal of spiced baking. But as an adult who shivers her way through any season where the mercury dips below 60, the perfume of cinnamon, the pungent punch of clove and the bracing warmth of ginger seduce me at this time of year in a way that no other flavors can. They are the culinary equivalent of a Pendleton blanket.

The cookie itself (from Cook's Illustrated) is, pretty much, the perky ginger snap's consoling cousin. Baked into a buttery batter, made almost candyish by molasses, the heartwarming spices help create a deeply chewy and flavorful disc. Guarding the interior is a just-thick-enough crunch of crust that's given added dimension by a roll in granulated sugar before baking. Add to that an indulgent drizzle of icing and this cookie will almost convince you that Winter isn't so bad after all. On that note, anyone want to go shopping for snow shoes? I'll pick you up on my way to Ski Barn.

Molasses-Spice Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsps. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsps. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground ginger
3/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground allspice
12 Tbsps. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling cookies
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap or robust)

For Glaze:
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Approximately 2 Tbsps. milk

Adjust racks to upper and lower middle positions and heat oven to 375F. Whisk flour, baking soda, salt, and spices together in medium bowl. Set aside.

Either by hand or with an electric mixer, cream butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 cup granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with mixer set at medium speed. Scrape sides of bowl with rubber spatula. Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses. Beat until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape sides of bowl.

Add dry ingredients and beat at low speed until just combined, about 30 seconds. (I cloak a dish towel over my electric mixer any time I beat in dry ingredients. It's easier than pulling out that klutzy Kitchenaid attachment for the job and works like a charm at keeping flour from fluffing out of the bowl.)

Place remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a small, shallow bowl. Working with approximately 2 Tbsps. of dough each time, roll dough into 1 3/4-inch balls. Roll balls in sugar and place on ungreased cookie sheets, spacing them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart. (I line my sheets with parchment.)

Bake, reversing position of cookie sheets (from top to bottom and front to back) halfway through baking, until outer edges begin to set and centers are soft and puffy, 11 to 13 minutes. Watch them carefully as the bottoms can burn in a blink!! Cool cookies on sheets for 2 to 3 minutes before transferring to cooling racks with a wide spatula. COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE GLAZING!!

To Glaze:

Once cookies are cool, measure confectioners' sugar into a medium-size bowl and gradually add milk until glaze is just the right consistency to slowly drizzle off the back of a spoon and create a nicely opaque ribbon. You may or may not need all 2 Tbsp. of the milk that is suggested. Adjust consistency of your glaze by adding more milk or more sugar, if necessary.

Dip spoon into glaze and drizzle over cookies, which you've set out on wax paper. Allow icing to set for a few hours before packing them or layering them on top of each other.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Last-Hoorah Lemon Bars

A really good lemon bar is the perfect summer sweet. It’s got that snappy acidic edge that shakes up lazy taste buds. A snowy cap of confectioner’s sugar that fairly screams “cool, cool, cool.” And—despite its decidedly caloric content—it seems just a little lighter than, say, a dusky slice of  fudge cake. Did I mention you can cut them into those cute little squares, which makes them that much easier to sneak? (Go figure they’re made with a winter fruit. But I’m ignoring that little detail.)

So, I’ve tried a lotta lemon bars in my day. Some memorably good. Most too sweet, too runny, or just plain blah. In fact, I think it had been a good decade since I’d even bothered sampling a lemon square when some doozies caught my eye at this year’s Fourth of July blowout at our friends Gina and Louie Napolitano’s house.

I knew I was onto something when in-the-know revelers abandoned their broccoli rabe and ribs and started buzzing around the outcoming tray like tipsy bees. “Oooh! Gina’s lemon squares. These things are unbelievable,” cooed a burly guy holding a beer. I instantly put my reporting skills to work. Apparently, these weren’t the love children of Gina, of the Louie and party-hosting fame. They were created by Gina’s friend Gina—a hilarious pixie who looks like she’s never eaten a lemon bar or anything else caloric in her lifetime.

I pushed the other bees out of the way and got to work, gobbling down around five in one go. They were perfection: An uber-buttery, crisp crust, cradling lemon heaven that was just right balance of sweet and tart, sturdy and silky. And those killer corner pieces?? Don’t even get me going on where they sent me. I accosted little Gina in the kitchen and demanded the recipe pronto. The good news: She drummed it up right on her phone. The bad news: It’s, um, Paula Deen’s! But you’ve got to know that if I am giving this icky woman any positive exposure a) I apologize b) I apologize and c) THESE LEMON BARS MUST REALLY BE THAT GOOD!!!!

Make them for your Labor Day last hoorah. And maybe make a donation to Deen’s least favorite charities if you feel you must pay some sort of penance. It’s worth it!

One note: I like these babies chilly. Build in enough time so that yours can cool completely and spend some quality time in the fridge. 

For the crust:

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish (if you are baking on a hot day, don’t let the butter get too too soft. It should be firm enough to still be able to cut into small pieces but not hard)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt

For the filling:

4 large eggs
2 cups of granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9x13 inch baking dish with foil and butter the foil. Make sure foil is flat and has no creases, otherwise it will catch filling and stuff and be hard to peel from the bars. Also leave enough extra foil coming up the sides so you can lift the bar easily out of the pan in one piece. 

Make the crust: Whisk the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers to make a crumbly dough; press into the prepared baking dish. Bake 20 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Mix the eggs, granulated sugar and flour in a bowl with a fork. Mix in the lemon juice. Pour the filling over the crust and bake 25 more minutes; transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Sprinkle generously with confectioners' sugar. Lift out of pan in one piece and cut into cute little squares. Store in the fridge. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Perfect Summer Quinoa Salad

Crunchy. Vibrant. Mouthwatering. Satisfying. And utterly guilt-free.  Five good reasons to make this  simple quinoa tabouleh salad this very weekend. And again over July Fourth. Your mouth will thank you. Your body will thank you. And you will look back on all those gut-busting summer BBQs and say, "How the heck did I stomach all that gloppy potato salad and soupy cole slaw?"

Now, I'm sure you know all about quinoa. I was an earlyish adopter after I wrote an article about the stuff for Real Simple probably a decade ago. But just in case you weren't aware, it's not a grain, but a seed. It is one of the only plant foods that is considered a complete protein and boasts all essential amino acids. Now compare that to starchy, nutritionally vapid pasta and potatoes!

None of this would mean squat if this nifty little salad from Ina Garten's Make It Ahead cookbook tasted like old hippie groats. Far from it. Think of it as a kissing cousin of a Greek salad. It's got the tomatoes, the feta, the cukes. But the quinoa makes it more substantial. And a perfect side for grilled steak, chicken or fish.

So give it a go. You'll feel so good and virtuous, you might just pass up that peach pie at dessert for a crunchy slice of watermelon. On second thought….fat chance!

1 cup quinoa
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (2 lemons)
1/4 good olive oil
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts (5 scallions)
1 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 hothouse cucumber, unpeeled, seeded and medium-diced
2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved through the stem
2 cups medium-diced feta (8 ounces)

Pour 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the quinoa and 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, until the grains are tender and open (they'll have little curly tails). Don't over cook or you'll have mush. Drain if necessary, place in a bowl, and IMMEDIATELY add the lemon juice, olive oil and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt (less if you are using regular salt and less, too, if you don't like your food salty or have very salty feta). Fluff and blend with a fork.

In a large bowl, combine the scallions, mint, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Add the quinoa and mix well. Carefully fold in the feta and taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Serve at room temp or refrigerate and serve cold.

You can prepare this salad without the feta, cover and refrigerate it for up to 4 days. Fold in the feta and serve. I've never waited that long but that's what Ina says. This makes enough for about 8 sides.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Heart and Sole

I left my boots in Guatemala. 

I did it on purpose. Because after almost two decades, my beloved L.L. Bean boots owed me absolutely nothing.

As a health and fitness journalist, a mother of boys, a late-blooming runner, and a lifelong camper and mountain climber, I consider my feet and my legs my most indispensable physical asset. Beautiful, they may not be. But they have allowed me to chase stories, keep up with kids, and reach life's most exhilarating summits. I'd sooner spend a bundle on a great pair of running or hiking shoes than I would on a cocktail dress, a handbag or Botox injections any day of the week. 

So it's sort of ironic that the L.L. Bean boots that have travelled through adulthood with me were a quick $50 purchase that was made years ago with little thought. I did indeed have a fancy pair of Pivettas for serious endeavors.  I owned running shoes for every possible surface. I bought my Beans because, while perusing the good old catalogue, I thought: "Those might be come in handy for a lightweight walk."

Flash forward and here I am looking at pictures spanning years upon years. And in nearly every shot that captures my most treasured memories, there are those boots! They've tromped around every woodsy part of New Jersey I've been able to sniff out while living here. I've worn them in the Austrian Alps at Christmas. I've used them to explore Big Sur with my husband and young sons. Most importantly, they've come each and every summer with me to a tiny island in the Narrows of Lake George where my extended family has camped for generations. 

While on our island, those boots have stomped out campfires, steadied me while I built trenches around tents, and stood firm while I've cooked up chow for a dozen or more diners each night without the benefit of running water or electricity. They have also been on my feet every Lake George morning, when I awake at 5 and boat with my brother (and any victim who chooses to come) to the base of Black Mountain, where we proceed to walk/run three miles to the summit and back to the bottom in time to make it to breakfast back on the island. Through rain and mud and every other element Mother Nature throws in our way, we almost never miss that morning ritual. And my Bean boots have never let me down. 

Two weeks ago, I tossed my boots into a bag and headed off to build a house with my youngest son for a family that lived outside Antigua, Guatemala. As volunteers for a group called From Houses to Homes, we worked hard and got very dirty, but ultimately felt privileged to be able to help people who lacked so many of the basic things in life we take for granted here in the U.S.

As I packed up on our last night, I saw my boots in the corner. Covered with paint and mud, they looked a little worse for wear. Or so someone might think. But to me, they were objects of utter beauty. They were, in fact, all the better for the extraordinary wear they'd had. Sure I could take them home and probably get a few more years from them. But I slipped them into a sack and gave them to our volunteer coordinator the next morning. 

I've been blessed to have walked long and happily in those shoes. And I only hope that the next person to slip them on is as lucky.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Easiest Cake You'll Ever Make

Here are four reasons some people don't bake cakes: They don't have time. They don't have the ingredients. They stink at baking. It's an assault on their diet.

Here's a cake that puts all of those excuses on ice. Some people call it the New York Times plum torte, because, for a long stretch, the paper published the recipe each and every September due to reader demand. My family calls it Cousin Sandy's Cake because, well, our cousin Sandy turned us onto it eons ago.

I call it the easiest cake you'll ever make because...it is. It has only a handful of simple ingredients, which just about anyone other than maybe a fraternity bro tends to have on hand. You can use frozen fruit if you have nothing suitable in the fridge. It doesn't require an electric mixer. Heck, there's even "one" of every batter ingredient, except for the 2 eggs. So you soon won't even need to look at the recipe when you make it.

And what a treat you'll have: A crunchy cookie-like crust guards a moist, buttery interior studded with succulent fruit. What's not to love about that? With a tap of confectioner's sugar on top, it looks downright gawjus. A blob of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and you're practically Martha Stewart.

Now, just in case you're wondering why this cake won't assault your diet: It's nice and small and so utterly delicious, there won't' be a crumb left after you serve it. That means you won't spend the next week picking at it every time you walk into the kitchen. So go. Make this cake. Get happy. It's Spring!

The Easiest Cake You'll Ever Make

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 teaspon baking powder
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

5 to 7 sliced plums, depending on size (sliced about 1/2-inch thick)
2 to 3 sliced, peeled apples (1/2-inch thick)
or my favorite….
a cup or so of fresh or frozen, rinsed blueberries (frozen cherries are good to mix in, too)

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease an 8-inch spring form cake pan. If you don't have one of those, grease an 8-inch cake pan and line bottom with a circle of parchment paper. You can use a bigger pan if you want, but the cake will be thinner and less cake-y.

Cream butter with the sugar. Add flour, baking powder, eggs, and vanilla. Dump into into pan and pat it out evenly with a damp hand.

Cover top decoratively with fruit of choice. You want enough on the cake so that the top is evenly covered with little areas of batter showing through. The fruit will sink in as cake bakes. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar (if you have turbinado sugar, use it. It gives the top a nice crunch). 

Bake one hour or until batter around fruit is set and the cake is lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven. Let cool for 15 minutes. Release side of spring pan. Or if using a regular pan, run a knife around edge of cake to release it from side of pan and then turn cake out and flip again so the top is showing. 

Sieve some confectioners sugar on top. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if you feel like it.

Note: Don't overdo it on the fruit or the cake will be goopy. If you keep a bag of frozen blueberries in your freezer, you will be able to make this any time, on a dime. I haven't experimented with other fruits, but feel free. I'd stay away from anything that's too watery, soft or acidic, such as strawberries and citrus.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Happy New Year everyone!

I just looked back on my cookbook note from last year. In it, I mused about the fact that “at this time next year” my first-born would be in college and would be “just visiting” with us for the holidays.

Indeed, that has come to pass. Ben went off to school and has brought back with him passionate arguments about every possible aspect of what’s wrong with our economy, our government, our international conduct, our penal system, our drug laws, you name it.

He’s also brought back one whopping appetite. Apparently, there’s a lot wrong with the food at school, too. I must admit, I get a little trill of excitement from Ben’s gastronomic dissatisfaction. Not only because it makes me feel like he truly did appreciate my cooking during his 18 years under our roof. But because this is a hunger I can easily fix.

I know that when I feed Ben his favorite foods, I’m not just filling his gullet. Those familiar tastes and smells are filling his heart with the comfort and love of home. Likewise, the Crohn’s-friendly foods I make for Noah make him feel secure and cared for. I know that every meal I prepare for my husband Paul is, in essence, a love letter to him. I know I can send my mother-in-law Florence home with plastic containers of goodies and that she’ll feel and taste our love for her long after we drop her off in the City. And I know that when my mom joins us for dinner during the week and on many Sundays, I am helping fill, if even in a small way, the enormous void left by my dad when he passed a year ago November. Man...nothing marks change and loss more than sitting down to one-less place setting, I think.

So mom and I make dinner together pretty often these days. I spend a decent amount of time in the kitchen with my mom-in-law Florence, too. When we get to chopping and peeling, stirring and basting, conversation is easy and our goal for the moment is simple and happy. The ground between us warms up and we get to share some pretty special time together.

It’s so interesting to me how—through all that’s happened over the years, the good and the bad---I’m constantly drawn back to the kitchen. I’ve been happy in here. I’ve been frustrated and exhausted. I’ve felt wistful, as I’ve laid a table for three instead of four, with the knowledge that that number will continue to shrink as time marches on.

At this very moment, though, with my whole family here, work on the back burner, and my fridge brimming with foodstuffs, my heart is busting. I’m devouring the feast of this wondrous, if crazily imperfect, life. It’s been a good vacation, indeed.

I’ll take this opportunity to send good wishes to everyone out there who’s reading this note—with a special shout out to my dear sister-in-law and sister-in-life Lonnie, who is wrestling a hefty challenge at this time. With her peerless positivity and the love-drenched support of her husband Ken and the rest of us, there’s no question that she’ll emerge from this fight the kick-ass victor. And “at this time next year” we’ll all be feasting on life together with gusto.

I hope that 2014 was a good year for you. If it wasn’t, I wish you better things in 2015. And, if you’re getting this cookbook, I’ll just say, I feel lucky to know you! 

Want your copy? Just shoot me an email at pegSrosen@gmail.com and I'll get right back to you with an attachment and printing instructions.

P.S. The additions to this year’s cookbook are:
New England Express Cocktail
Present Perfect Pecans
Killer Shakshuka
Turn-the-Clock-Back Roasted Tomatoes
The Way to Cook Filet Mignon
Looks-Like-You-Fussed Pork Tenderloin with Apples
Hot Blondies
No-Grain Brownies
Good-as-Grain, No-Grain Banana Bread
Bake These Apples
Wondrous, Grain-Free Cashew Butter Waffles

Best to You....


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Power Stretch: A New Option For Tight, Achey Muscles

I warehouse all my stress in my muscles. That's why I exercise like a maniac---to release pent up tension so my head doesn't spin off my body.  But all the yoga, running, and spinning in the world still can't keep me from feeling achey and bitchy after sitting and fretting at a computer all day. 

Now I know what can help. And I know what might just be sweet salvation for many stiff, chilly, and stressed out souls this holiday and winter season. A nice…….long……gentle……assisted stretch. If you live anywhere near me, you can find it at Power Stretch Studios in Upper Montclair.

The Back Story:
I was feeling particularly stiff and sore last week, after laptopping on a hard wooden bench at Java Love for a few hours with my friend Pat. The day's headlines had only added to my seized-up state. As I hobbled across Bellevue Avenue, the awning for Power Stretch Studios caught my eye. 

In an almost trancelike state, I wandered in and chatted up the owner, Hakika DuBose. Apparently, this young and curly former dancer has been quietly stretching out stiff Montclairians for a few years now. Her growing client base--ranging from 8 year olds to 80 year olds--- has helped her move from various back office spaces to her new storefront across from the Bellevue Theater uptown. 

I wasn't asking too many questions, as Kika (which she calls herself) described her Kika Method. But whatever Kika was telling me about passive stretching and muscle release sounded pretty damned good. I arranged to return for a 6 PM session.

The Session
I showed up in comfortable work-out clothes, filled out a few forms, and sat down for a brief orientation. After Kika flipped through a decidedly low-tech presentation about the stretch method that she herself has devised, we entered a small white room with a soft rubber mat on the floor. (yes, I'm  getting closer and closer to a full-blown rubber room.)

Kika stood behind me and gently guided my neck and head from side to side and around in half arcs. She used some sturdy pressure to help me get the most out of some lateral stretches. Then she sat me down with my legs out in front, placed a long ruler vertically between my legs and asked me to stretch my arms as far as I could out on the floor in front of me. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder and  asked me to remember the number I reached: it was 18.

Over the next 50 or so minutes, Kika carefully used her arms and hands to guide and ease me through myriad standing and seated stretches. It was far more relaxing, nurturing, and enjoyable than a do-it-yourself stretch class. But there was still work involved. The best way I can describe the experience is that it's sort of a cross between a massage, yoga, and, I dunno, Rolfing? (though, to be honest, I've never been Rolfed.) Maybe a smidge of Feldenkrais in there, too?

By the time the session wound up, my breathing was in sync with our movements and I felt deeply relaxed and--yes---supple. The proof in the pudding? Kika had me stretch out on that ruler once more. This time, I reached 26--an increase of 8 whole inches. Pretty cool, I must say. Though I didn't need the ruler to tell me the stretching had done me good.

Caveats and Questions:
Being a health and fitness writer, I couldn't help but pepper Kika with questions before and after my session. Turns out that, besides having an MFA from Montclair State University and certification as a personal trainer, she has no formal accreditation in bodywork or physiotherapy. And yet she says she is treating everyone from athletes to paralysis patients. 

That's a bit of a red flag for me--to say the least. In other words, I don't think I'd risk sending my fragile and stiff mother-in-law or anyone else with serious orthopedic or health issues to her at this point. 

However, for those of us who are sturdy and in good health, but could use some sweet, nurturing release, Power Stretch seems like a safe and delicious bet. I'd go so far as to say that if Kika goes ahead and gets a degree in physiology or some other certification to give her some cred and some tread, she could be sitting on a gold mine. And a franchise concept, at that.

Kika has a few staffers who also do stretch sessions. They are trained by Kika. I personally would opt to work with Kika herself, at least for starters.

A 45-minute session costs $60; an hour is $70.  A 20-minute head and neck session is $20. Kika also hands out cards for free 15-minute intro sessions.

The Upshot:
Considering the cost,  I might be hard-pressed to fork over $70 for a stretch when I could be indulging in a massage for similar dinero. But after all is said and done, the feel-good glow of stretching might outlast what I take home from the massage table. And if someone wants to gift me a stretch, I'll be all over it! If you end up giving Power Stretch a try, please let me know what you think. And if you know of anyone else who's doing similar work, I'm all ears.