Spring Greens and Cream Cheese Penne

Greens and Cream Cheese PenneThis beautiful white and green pasta dish will hit the spot for Shavout lunch! The bright green of the spring vegetables and herbs, mixed with the creamy cheese will comfort those who have been up all night learning. This dish will serve 6-8 people.

Ingredients:

1 ½ pounds penne rigate (or other short cut pasta)
2 tablespoons butter
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 bunches green onions, cut into 1” lengths*
2 bunches asparagus, cut into 2” lengths*
2 cups frozen green peas
500g cream cheese (equal to two tubs or bars)
2 shallots, diced*
4 tablespoons chives, chopped*
2 tablespoons lemon zest**
Salt and pepper, to taste

* Click here to learn how to clean these vegetables and herbs.
** Click here for tips on zesting citrus.

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, when it is done, drain the pasta, but keep about 3 cups of the cooking water (the starchy water will help the sauce cling to the pasta).

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat and cook the garlic with the green onions, shallots and asparagus for 5 minutes. Add the chives and peas and cook for 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Pour 3 cups of pasta cooking water into the saucepan and add the cream cheese. Keep over a low heat to let the cheese melt and stir until smooth. Add the drained pasta to the pan, along with the lemon zest, and mix together to combine. Serve hot.

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Asparagus and Brie Tartlets

Asparagus & Brie TartletsThis is lovely as an hors d’oeuvre, or two per person as an appetizer. You can par-bake the wonton wrappers ahead of time, just make sure to weigh them down with something so that you retain the cup shape. I suggest dried beans or pie weights. This recipe will make 12 tartlets, but can easily be doubled. You can even make this into one large tart by layering the wrappers on the bottom of a tart pan, and then just topping with all of the filling and brie. I would suggest slightly cooking the tart first though, before adding the filling, so that it can crisp up a bit.

Ingredients:

24 wonton wrappers, thawed
2 ½ tablespoons butter, divided
24 asparagus spears, cut into 1” lengths (about 2 bunches)*
1 shallot, diced*
¼ cup white wine or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
4 oz. (120g) brie, sliced into 12 pieces/wedges
salt and pepper, to taste

* Click here to learn how to check these vegetables.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt about 1 ½ tablespoons of butter in a microwave or small saucepan. Brush each wonton wrapper with the melted butter and press two wrappers into each mould of a muffin tin. When placing the wrappers I find it easier to align them first out of the tin, then press them in. You should have one wrapper square in front of you, with the flat edge facing you, and then another wrapper on top, but turned 90 degrees, so that the point is in front of you.

In a saucepan, melt remaining butter on medium heat and cook asparagus for 2 minutes. Remove the asparagus with a fork or slotted spoon to keep the melted butter in the pan. In the same saucepan, cook the shallot for about 2 minutes. Add the white wine, and let it simmer until it has reduced by half. Add vinegar and reduce once again by half.

Pour the shallot/wine/vinegar mixture over the asparagus and season with salt and pepper. Divide asparagus and Brie among the muffin moulds lined with wonton wrappers. Bake on the bottom oven rack for 15 minutes or until wonton wrappers are golden brown. Serve warm.

Compiègne Cake

Compiègne cakeCompiègne Cake was created by Antonin Carême, in honour of the marriage of Napoleon and Marie-Louise of Austria in 1810. It wedding took place in the city of Compiègne, hence the name given to the cake. At her dinner, Queen Victoria served small sized versions of this cake, what we today would call cupcakes. I found a recipe from the era, which gives the base recipe for the dough, and then offered several variations, adding different candied fruits, etc. to the dough and as decoration. The recipe below uses fresh pineapple and candied fruit (though maraschino cherries would work just as well). This cake will serve 8-10 people. I hope you enjoy!

Compiegne CakeIngredients:

Dough:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 ½ tablespoons sugar
3 small eggs
3 egg yolks
2 ½ teaspoons fresh yeast
4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons cream
⅔ cup softened butter

Syrup:
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup rum*
1 tablespoon of instant coffee (vanilla flavoured preferable)
1 orange, juiced, or ⅓ cup of juice
1 lemon, juiced, or 2-3 tablespoons of juice

Garnish:
1 pineapple
½ cup brown sugar
½ to 1 cup candied fruit or maraschino cherries

* Click here to see the list of kosher alcohols.

Directions:

Remove the butter from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before starting the cake. Cut into cubes and leave it at room temperature.

In a bowl (or food processor), combine the flour, sugar and yeast. Add the eggs, yolks and cream. Mix slowly until you have formed a smooth dough. Add the softened butter and mix being careful not to overmix the dough. It will be quite liquid and elastic.

Pour the batter into a Bundt pan or Kouglof mould if you have one, and let rise 1 hour in a warm place, such as next to the oven while it is roasting the pineapple. The dough will rise over this time.

To prepare the garnish, heat the oven to 350 degrees, and slice the pineapple into thin rounds, and then cut them in half to make a half moon shape. Lay the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and scatter the brown sugar on top. Roast the pineapple until it’s cooked through and slightly dried and caramelized.

After the hour of rising, bake the cake in the 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until when you knock on the cake it sounds slightly hollow.

Meanwhile, to make the syrup, mix the sugar and water together in a saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Remove it from the heat and add the juices of the orange and lemon, the coffee and the rum. Mix to combine.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it completely cool before unmoulding. This cake will be served crown shape up, so you may have to trim the base of the cake so that it will remain level on your serving platter.

Warm the syrup slightly and pour it over the cake. You might find it easier to pour a little syrup back in the cake pan, then put the cake back in the pan, and gently pour the remaining syrup over the cake. Let stand a few minutes to absorb the syrup, and then remove the cake from the pan again, and let it sit on a cooling rack to drain any excess syrup.

Place the cake on serving plate and make shallow slices around the cake in order to insert the roasted pineapple. Decorate with candied fruit alternating around the cake and piled up in the centre hole.

Note: To make this cake pareve or non-dairy, replace the butter with margarine and the cream with non-dairy creamer.

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan Pie

Chocolate Bourbon Pecan PieThere is nothing like a good pecan pie! This southern classic gets a kick from the chocolate layer and the hit of bourbon! You can make this dessert dairy free by using margarine instead of butter, and alcohol free by omitting the bourbon. Make sure that you get a deep-dish style pie shell though, or else you might get some spill over! This recipe will serve 8.

Ingredients:

⅔ cup white sugar
1 cup corn syrup
2-4 tablespoons bourbon* (depending on taste)
3 eggs
⅓ cup melted butter/margarine
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups pecans (either halves or pieces)
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 (9 inch) refrigerated deep pie crust (brought to room temperature)

* Click here to see a list of kosher alcohols.

Directions:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Beat the sugar, corn syrup, bourbon, eggs, butter/margarine, and salt together in a mixing bowl until smooth and creamy. Fold in the pecans. Line the bottom of your pie crust with the chocolate chips, then pour the pecan mixture into the pie crust. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees. If desired, cover the edges of the pie with aluminum foil strips to prevent excessive browning. Bake in until the centre sets, about 60 minutes. Cool before serving.

Matzo Brei

Matzah BreiMatzo Brei is a long standing Passover tradition in my house, and we tend to be purists, using only the basic recipe below and topped with a little ketchup (’cause despite what you may think, ketchup pretty much goes with everything). My co-worker’s husband goes sweet, adding pancake syrup to his freshly cooked dish, while my boyfriend goes savoury, adding sauteed veggies and cheese to the dish while it cooks. To each his own I guess! No matter how you make it, I hope you like it! This recipe will serve 2-4 people.

Ingredients:

4 Matzos
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
3/4 stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter/margarine

Optional Ingredients:
For a savoury dish try adding any or all of the following: sliced mushrooms, sliced peppers, sliced onions, cheese
For a sweet dish try adding any or all of the following: canned fruit, applesauce, sour cream or syrup.

Directions:

Crumble matzos into a large sieve placed over a bowl to catch crumbs, then hold sieve under running cold water until matzos are moist and softened but not completely disintegrated, about 15 seconds. Transfer to bowl with crumbs, then add eggs and salt and mix gently with a fork.

Heat butter in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides. Add matzo mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are scrambled and matzo has begun to crisp, about 3 minutes.

Chocolate Toffee Matzo Crunch

Chocolate Toffee Matzo CrunchThese make a nice dessert, or “something” to serve with afternoon tea. As to how much the recipe makes, well, enough for a family of five, but it all depends on how small you break up the pieces. Here’s a tip: If you’re finding it hard to spread the toffee or chocolate out smoothly, coat your spatula in a little oil or melted butter/margarine. This will allow you to apply a bit of pressure while you spread without the toffee or chocolate sticking to the spatula.

Ingredients:

4-6 matzos
1 cup unsalted butter or margarine (butter recommended)
1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups chopped semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (use dairy free chocolate for pareve/vegan)
2 tablespoons chopped pecans (or your favourite Passover-friendly nut – optional)
Sea salt

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a sheet tray with a layer of foil, then cover the foil with a sheet of parchment. Evenly cover the sheet tray with matzos. Break or cut the matzos into smaller pieces if necessary.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, combine the butter/margarine, brown sugar, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil (about 2 to 4 minutes). Boil for 3 additional minutes and continue stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and pour the toffee mixture over the matzos. Use a spatula to spread evenly across the entire surface of the matzo. Make sure you spread it out fairly quickly or it will start to get sticky and become harder to smooth over.

Place the baking sheet in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 350 degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. Check frequently to be sure that the mixture is not burning. If it appears to browning too quickly, remove the tray from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees, then replace the tray when the temperature drops a bit.

Once 15 minutes have passed, remove the matzos from the oven and evenly sprinkle the chopped chocolate chips over the top. Let stand for 5 minutes, then spread the melted chocolate over the matzo. Sprinkle the chopped pecans and a light sprinkle of sea salt over the top of the melted chocolate. While the matzos are still warm, break them into smaller squares or pieces. You can use a knife to break them up, but I like the rustic look of the “natural break”. Place in the freezer until the topping has set. Serve straight from the freezer, chilled, or at room temperature.

Matzo Baklava

Matzo BaklavaThis dessert just gets better with time. I would always plan on serving it the next day, or even the day after that, as the longer it sits, the longer the matzo has a chance to soak up the sweet lemony syrup. This recipe will make 9 to 16 squares (depends how small you slice it).

Ingredients:

6 sheets matzo

For syrup:
1 cup water
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey

For assembly:
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup shelled raw unsalted natural pistachios, chopped
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted margarine or butter, melted

Directions:

Briefly pass each sheet of matzo under cold running water until wet on all sides. Layer sheets between damp paper towels and let stand until somewhat pliable but not soggy or falling apart, about 2 hours. While matzo is softening, make syrup.

In small saucepan over moderately high heat, stir together the water and sugar. Bring to boil, then lower heat to moderate and cook, uncovered, until syrupy and thick, about 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and honey and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat and let cool, then chill until ready to use.

To Assemble the Dessert:

Preheat oven to 350°F. In large bowl, stir together walnuts, pistachios, brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom. Separate out ⅙ of nut mixture and reserve for topping cooked baklava.

Transfer 1 sheet of the prepared matzo to the counter. Press a rolling pin once over the sheet from one end to other to flatten. Rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Using a pastry brush, grease the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square pan with the melted butter/margarine. Lay one sheet of flattened matzo on the bottom of the pan, and then spread with more melted butter/margarine. Sprinkle the matzo with ⅕ of unreserved nut mixture. Roll out second sheet of matzo and transfer to pan. Brush with margarine and sprinkle with nut mixture. Repeat with remaining matzo sheets and remaining nut mixture, ending with matzo sheet brushed with margarine on top.

Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Keeping the baklava in the pan, place the pan on a cooling rack so that it can cool all around, and immediately pour the chilled syrup over. It may seem like a lot of syrup, but the matzo will absorb it all. Sprinkle with reserved nut mixture. Let cool, then cover and let stand at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. (Do not chill.) Cut into small squares or diamonds and serve.

Hello Dollies Bars

Hello DolliesIngredients:

¾ cup butter (or 1 ½ sticks)
1 cup crushed saltine crackers
⅛ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup coconut
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (I like my walnuts toasted first)
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in 9”x13” baking pan. Mix together in a bowl the cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour the crumb mixture evenly over melted butter, and push down so that the mixture becomes the crust. Pour the condensed milk over the crust, and then spread the coconut evenly over the milk. Scatter chocolate chips evenly over coconut. Spread walnuts over chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes*. Cool completely and cut into bars.

*If using a dark coated pan lower temperature to 325 degrees, as the edges tend to get dark.

Nanaimo Bars

Nanaimo BarsFor the mint version of this dessert, add some mint extract and green food colouring to the middle layer. This recipe will make about 32 bars.

Ingredients:

Bottom Layer:
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup white sugar
⅔ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 eggs, beaten
3 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup finely chopped almonds (optional)

Middle Layer:
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup plus 2 teaspoons heavy cream
¼ cup custard powder (if you can’t find this, use vanilla pudding mix)
4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon mint extract (for mint flavoured option)
2-3 drops green food colouring (for mint flavoured option)

Top Layer:
8 (1 ounce) squares semisweet baking chocolate
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter

Directions:

For the bottom layer:
In the top of a double boiler, combine 1cup butter, white sugar and cocoa powder. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. In a small bowl, beat the 2 eggs until they are well combined. While constantly mixing, add a small amount of the cocoa mixture to the egg mixture so that the eggs can come up to temperature. Slowly add the egg mixture to the main cocoa mixture, until both are combined. Make sure to whisk the entire time so that the eggs do not cook and curdle. The mixture will thicken up, after about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove it from the heat and mix in the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and almonds (if you like). Press into the bottom of an un-greased 9×13 inch pan.

For the middle layer:
Cream together 1 cup butter, heavy cream and custard powder (pudding mix), and if using, the mint extract and food colouring, until light and fluffy. Mix in the confectioners’ sugar until smooth. Spread over the bottom layer in the pan. Chill to set.

For the top layer:
While the second layer is chilling, melt the semisweet chocolate and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter together in the microwave or over low heat. Spread over the chilled bars. Return to the refrigerator to let the chocolate set before cutting into squares.

Twisted Chocolate Babka – Шоколад Бабка

Chocolate BabkaThis recipe will make 2 loaf-sized chocolate babkas

Ingredients:

Dough:
4 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
½ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
Grated zest of half an orange
3 large eggs
½ cup water (warm, between 100 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit) and 1 to 2 tablespoons extra, if needed
¾ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup unsalted butter or margarine at room temperature
oil, for greasing

Filling:
4 ½ ounces dark chocolate (or approximately ¾ cup chocolate chips)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine, cold is fine
Scant ½ cup powdered sugar
⅓ cup cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Syrup:
⅓ cup water
⅓ cup plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

Make the dough:

In a small bowl mix together the warm water and the yeast, with about 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let this stand aside and foam up. This should happen within 10 minutes.

Combine the flour, remaining sugar and zest in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix on low to combine. Add the foamy yeast water, and the eggs (one at a time), while the mixer is on low with the dough hook. Keep the machine mixing, increasing the speed as the ingredients come together to form a dough.

It’s okay if the dough is on the dry side, but if it doesn’t come together at all, add extra water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough forms a mass. With the mixer on low, add the salt, then the butter, a spoonful at a time, mixing until it’s incorporated into the dough. Then, mix on medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is completely smooth; you’ll need to scrape the bowl down a few times. I usually found that after 10 minutes, the dough began to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it doesn’t, you can add 1 tablespoon extra flour to help this along.

Coat a large bowl with oil (or scrape the dough out onto a counter and oil this one) and place dough inside, cover with plastic place in a warm area to rise, about 2-3 hours. Once the dough has doubled (or close to it), stick it in the fridge to cool. This will help with the rolling out of the dough in the next segment.

Make filling:

In a small pot on med-low heat, melt the butter and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in powdered sugar, cocoa and cinnamon; mixture should form a spreadable paste. Remove from the heat and set it aside.

Assemble loaves:

Coat two 9-by-4-inch loaf pans with oil or butter, and line the bottom of each with a rectangle of parchment paper. Take half of dough from fridge (leave the other half chilled). Roll out on a well-floured counter to about a 10-inch width (the side closest to you) and as long in length (away from you) as you can when rolling it thin, likely 10 to 12 inches.

Spread half of chocolate mixture evenly over the dough, leaving a ½ -inch border all around. Brush the end farthest away from you with water. Roll the dough up with the filling into a long, tight cigar. Seal the dampened end onto the log. I found that transferring the log to a lightly floured baking tray in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes made it much, much easier to cut cleanly in half. Repeat with second dough.

Trim last ½ -inch off each end of log. Gently cut the log in half lengthwise and lay them next to each other on the counter, cut sides up. Pinch the top ends gently together. Lift one side over the next, forming a twist and trying to keep the cut sides facing out (because they’re pretty). Don’t worry if this step makes a mess, just transfer the twist as best as you can into the prepared loaf pan. In one batch, mine was long enough to “S” inside the pan and I nested the trimmed ends of the log in the openings. Even if you don’t (and choose to bake them separately in a little pan, as I did in other batches), the dough will fill in any gaps by the time it’s done rising and baking, so don’t worry.

Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise another 1 to 1 ½ hours at room temperature. Repeat process with second loaf.

Bake and finish cakes:

Heat oven to 375°F. Remove towels, place each loaf on the middle rack of your oven. Bake for 30 minutes, but there’s no harm in checking for doneness at 25 minutes. A skewer inserted into an under baked babka will feel stretchy/rubbery inside and may come back with dough on it. When fully baked, you’ll feel almost no resistance. If you babka needs more time, put it back, 5 minutes at a time then re-test. If it browns too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

While babkas are baking, make syrup:

Bring sugar and water to a simmer until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside to cool somewhat. As soon as the babkas leave the oven, brush the syrup all over each. It will seem like too much, but will taste just right — glossy and moist. Let cool about halfway in pan, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way before eating.