Ponchiki: Polish Cheese Doughnut Holes

  

PonchikiThere are two stories associated with Hanukkah: One tells how the vial of oil that was supposed to last for one day lasted for eight, and the other is the story of Judith and how she saved her town from annihilation at the hands of General Holefernes by getting him drunk on salty cheese and wine until he passed out and was killed. The latter story is not often told in Hebrew school (for good reason!), but the holiday’s culinary tradition of eating foods prepared with cheese is widespread throughout Mediterranean Jewish communities.

Doughnuts, or sufganiot as they are called in Israel, are a Sephardi treat. Ponchiki, however, are traditionally made in Poland and Eastern Europe, the area where Ashkenazi Jews came from. So this recipe not only combines two culinary traditions and two cultural areas of Judaism, it also fulfills the holiday traditions of consuming fried foods and cheese.

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup all-purpose or gluten-free flour
  • ½ Tbsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 7.5-ounce packages Friendship Dairies Farmer Cheese or 2 cups homemade farmer’s cheese (see recipe below)
  • 3-4 cups corn or vegetable oil for frying

 

Directions:

1.  Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a one-quart bowl. Set aside.

2.  Whisk the egg in a two-quart bowl. Add the sugar and vanilla, continuing to whisk until foamy and well combined.

ponchiki: whisk

add the cheese3.  Add the cheese and whisk vigorously to break it down into small particles, thoroughly combining it with the egg mixture.

4.  Add the flour mixture and stir with the whisk or a spatula until no particles of flour are visible.

5.  Heat the oil in a small, deep fryer or in a two-quart saucepan to a temperature of 375ºF. If necessary, add enough oil to come to a depth of about two inches. If you don’t have a deep-fry thermometer, you’ll know the oil is ready when a little bit of dough rolls in the oil and begins to brown.

 

 

Fry your doughnuts6. Using a small spring ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon and rubber spatula, scoop up some dough and drop it into the hot oil. Don’t fry more than six balls at a time so the oil temperature remains constant. Turn doughnut holes over, if necessary, to brown on all sides. Doughnuts will be done after about three minutes. If holes are browning too fast, lower the heat slightly.

7.  Crumple paper towels on a plate to drain the holes of excess oil. While still warm, toss them in confectioner’s sugar or in a mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

They are best eaten warm but will stay crisp for a few hours.

 

Homemade Farmer’s Cheese

Makes about two to three cups.

Ingredients:

  • ½ gallon whole or 2 percent milk
  • 1 quart buttermilk
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • Cheesecloth

 

Directions:

1.  Bring milk and buttermilk to a simmer. Add the salt and continue to cook until the ingredients separate into curds and whey.

2.  Scoop up the cheese with a skimmer or small strainer and place in a large double-mesh strainer or colander lined with three layers of cheesecloth. Let the cheese sit so any excess moisture can drip out, then bring the edges of the cloth together and twist them to force out any leftover moisture.

3.  Refrigerate the cheese until ready to use in a recipe, or eat with jam on toast.

For more Hanukkah recipes, click here

Bruschetta Mac and Cheese

  

bruschetta_mac_and_cheese_holding_650There’s one dish that will always and forever have a place in my heart (probably literally and figuratively at this point!)—macaroni and cheese. To give you a clue as to just how much I love mac and cheese, for my 30th birthday my husband took me out to a well-known restaurant in Ann Arbor, MI, where I was in graduate school at the time, and ordered a flight of four different kinds of made-to-order mac and cheese. Six years later, I still remember it as one of my most favorite meals.

So when it comes to hosting a vegetarian friend for a Shabbat meal, I see it as an opportunity to embrace my mac and cheese side. I like to get creative and go bananas with mac and cheese. For Sukkot one year, I had some friends over for a mac and cheese bar that included every kind of vegetarian-friendly topping you can think of, and about four different kinds of hot sauces. It was awesome! But when I want to bring out a showstopper, the recipe below is the one I go for. The balsamic vinegar pairs perfectly with the cheeses that have been kissed with a hint of mustard. Plus you can never go wrong with a beautiful, colorful topping like tomatoes, basil and Parmesan. And if your kids don’t like greens or vegetables of any color touching their mac and cheese, you can give them the “untouched” pasta on the side. Everyone wins!

Bruschetta Mac and Cheese Recipe

Ingredients:

Mac and Cheese

  • 13 oz. rotini pasta or other small pasta shapes
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 ½ cups milk, heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 6 oz. shredded Swiss cheese
  • 8 oz. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 4 oz. shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard (adjust according to your tastes)
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper

Bruschetta Topping

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 pint red grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • Roughly 8 whole basil leaves, finely chopped (or chiffonade)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

 Bruschetta Topping

1. In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and stir, lightly frying for about a minute, removing before the garlic gets too brown (it can be golden). Pour into a mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly.

2. Add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, basil and salt and pepper to the bowl. Toss to combine, then taste and add more basil and salt, if needed. Cover and set aside.

Mac and Cheese

1. In a large stockpot, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well.

2. While the pasta cooks, melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted and started to bubble, whisk in the flour; cook for 1 ½ minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually whisk in the milk until no lumps remain. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook milk mixture, whisking frequently, until it thickens and bubbles, about 8 minutes.

3. Remove saucepan from the heat, and by the handful stir in the cheeses, allowing all of the cheese to melt into the sauce before adding more. Stir in the mustard and salt. Return the saucepan to the heat and stir in the pasta. Be sure to stir up the sauce from the bottom of the pan and thoroughly coat all of the pasta with sauce. Cook for 1-2 minutes over medium-low heat until heated through.

4. Once complete, either spoon all of your mac and cheese into a serving dish and serve with artfully placed bruschetta topping (this is what I recommend for the wow factor!) or spoon into individual bowls and add toppings.

bruschetta 2_650

Dairy Matzah Kugel for Passover

  

Matzah Kugel served with gefilte fish and side salad

Some people have strong feelings about the kind of recipe that aims to create a Passover-friendly version of a dish that is typically leavened. Detractors think creating Passover bagels, muffins, and rolls miss the point of the holiday’s specific diet. Those in favor see the practice as helping to make a difficult holiday more bearable. Some will even point to foods like Passover Popovers as an example of Jewish ingenuity.

Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t see the point suffering through a week of “I can’t believe you want to call this a bagel.” (But hey, if you can convince yourself that whatever you’ve come up with tastes like a bagel, more power to you. I’ll have eggs for breakfast this week.) On the other hand, when the introduction of matzah into a dish creates a delightful new twist on an old favorite, I’m all for it.

This brings us to Matzah Kugel, a sweet, dairy-filled confection of matzah layered with sweetened cheese. Sure, you could make a kugel with Passover noodles and come up with an almost-but-not-quite-satisfying proxy for the regular version, but you will never forget that it’s not the “real” thing. Matzah kugel, on the other hand, takes the idea of a noodle kugel as a jumping off point and transforms it into something different but equally delicious.

This dish can function as a side dish or a main course. (It pairs well with a side salad and a piece of gefilte fish.) You can freeze leftover portions: they reheat well in the microwave and even make a delicious and quick breakfast when you just can’t take one more piece of matzah with cream cheese.

Cheese Matzah Kugel for Passover

(Serves 9)

Kugel ingredientsIngredients:

  • 6 sheets matzah, broken into large pieces
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 pound cottage cheese
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter, plus additional butter to grease the pan

 

Directions:

Matzah layered in the baking dish1.  Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixing bowl, beat together the eggs and milk.

2.  Add cottage cheese, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and butter and mix to combine thoroughly.

3.  Grease an 8 inch square baking dish with butter.

4.  Arrange half of the matzah so that it covers the bottom of the dish.

5.  Pour half of the cheese mixture over it. Repeat with balance of the matzah and cheese mixture. If you wish, sprinkle additional cinnamon and sugar over the top of the kugel.

6.  Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes or until set.

The matzah kugel when it's done baking

Spinach and Feta Hamentaschen (Haman Spanikopita)

  

Haman spanikopita

Haman spanikopita for Purim

Hamentaschen, a popular treat for the holiday of Purim, translates to “Haman’s pockets.” Haman is the villain in the story of Purim and in addition to booing whenever his name is mentioned, on  Purim we eat sweet filled cookies that are in the triangular shape of Haman’s hat. This is a savory twist on the traditional Hamentaschen and can be served as an appetizer or as part of a Purim meal. It is made with pre-made pie crust, so it is a quick and easy dish to prepare.

Ingredients:

  • 2 boxes of pre-made pie crust (2 crusts/box)
  • 2 oz. of soft fresh goat cheese
  • 2 oz. of Feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of cottage cheese
  • 1/2 medium sized onion
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 lb. frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/4 lb. frozen broccoli
  • 1 bunch of dill (1/4 cup chopped)
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • zest of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 egg (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp. nigella seeds (optional)

chopped broccoli

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 450℉. Thaw the broccoli in a colander by running cold water of it. Then set it aside on a kitchen towel to dry a little. Then, thaw the spinach in a colander by running cold water over the spinach. Once thawed, put the spinach in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze the excess water out of the spinach or push the moisture out through a sieve.

mixed spanikopita ingreditents2.  Mash the goat cheese, cottage cheese and feta in a bowl with a fork until uniformly mixed. Add the salt, pepper and lemon zest. Scoop out 1/3 of the cheese mix to set aside. The other 2/3 will be mixed with the spinach, broccoli, dill and onion.

3.  Finely chop the broccoli and the dill. Slice and mince 1/2 the onion. If the spinach is whole leaf then chop the spinach as well. Stir the broccoli and spinach into the cheese mixture. Set the mixture aside and prepare your pastry.

4.  Roll the pie crusts out slightly so they are about 1/8 inch thick. Trim the sides to make approximately a 9-10-inch square. Do not worry if your measurements are off as long as you have a rectangle or square-like shape. You can keep the trim to roll out again later. Cut the dough into 3-inch squares or whatever looks even. You will have about 9 squares per pie dough.

make triangles of dough

add cheese to spanikopita

fill in your spanikopita5.  With a knife you can score diagonally across the square (or just eyeball it). Then cut a triangle window out of one side of the square with at least a 1/2-inch border. Carefully pull the uncut side of the square over onto the cut side and push along the middle crease. Then flip the dough over so you’ll have a triangle cutout on top of a triangle of dough.

6.  With a fork, press down along the edges of the triangle to crimp the dough. Fill each pastry cutout with a small spoonful of just the cheese mixture and then a larger spoonful of the spinach, broccoli and feta mixture piled high in the center. You can pinch the edges to fill out the corners of the triangle.

7. Brush the sides of each hamentaschen with egg and sprinkle with nigella seeds (optional). Bake for 20-25 minutes until the pie crust is a light golden brown.

Delicious spanikopita for Purim

Haman spanikopita

Baked Lemon Dill Gnocchi al Forno

  

Baked gnocchi

Comfort food comes in many different shapes and forms. Each culture, each tradition, each household, each individual has a dish that is comforting to them. Comfort foods tend to be soft, warm and not overly seasoned. This Italian gnocchi al forno takes the flavors of a Jewish comfort food: matzoh ball soup, and puts them into a warm, oven-baked, cheesy, saucy dish.

This is made with pre-made gnocchi so it is a quick and easy recipe for any day of the week. The lemon adds brightness to the rich sauce. Italians understand the glory of this fruit and as Italian poet Eugenio Montale wrote: “… now it’s our turn, us poor ones, to have a share of riches/ and it’s the scent of the lemon.”

Prep for making gnocchiGnocchi

Lemon Dill Gnocchi al Forno with Roasted Carrots

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lb of carrots, smaller carrots are best but not baby carrots
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1 package of gnocchi (1 lb)
  • 1 bunch of Lacinto kale
  • 1/2 cup of white wine
  • 2 1/4 cups of whole milk
  • 4 Tbsp. of unsalted butter
  • 5 Tbsp. of all purpose flour
  • 2 cups of grated mozzarella
  • 1 Tbsp. of olive oil
  • 3 tsp. of dried dill or 1 Tbsp. fresh dill
  • 2 tsp. of kosher salt, divided
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

 

Directions:

1.  Preheat the oven to 375℉. While the oven is heating up, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Peel the carrots and leave them whole. Line a cookie sheet or roasting pan with parchment. Put the carrots on the parchment and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of salt.

2.  Roast the carrots in the oven for 30-45 minutes.

3.  Once the water comes to a boil, put the gnocchi into the boiling water. The gnocchi take 3-5 minutes to cook. Once the gnocchi float to the top of the water, they are cooked. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and put them on a plate or baking dish.

4.  Grate the mozzarella. Chop the kale into thin slices. Set both aside. Once the carrots come out of the oven, raise the temperature to 400℉.

Butter

5.  In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the dill to the butter and let the butter cook a little until it is nice and foamy.

Add in the flour and mix it together until you have a paste. Cook the paste in the pan for a few minutes.

Once the paste begins to bubble a little at the edges, add in 1/2 cup of wine, stir and cook down for 3-4 minutes. Add in the zest of 1/4-1/2 a lemon. Then 1 cup at a time, add in the whole milk.

Stir together until the sauce thickens and the flour paste is incorporated. Add in the cheese and stir until the cheese melts completely.

Add flourMake a paste cheese and sauce

6.  In a large baking dish, or several small dishes, put a layer of kale into the bottom of the dish. Top with a layer of gnocchi and then pour a generous amount of the cheese sauce over top. Top the cheese with some freshly ground pepper.

gnocchi al forno-31-2

gnocchi al forno-38-2 gnocchi al forno-40-2

gnocchi al forno-42-2

7.  Cook the lemon and dill gnocchi al forno uncovered for 30-40 minutes. The sauce will bubble and caramelize slightly. Serve the gnocchi with a side of roasted carrots, and a glass of chilled white wine.

Buon Appetito!

gnocchi is served

Farmer’s Market Pizza: Sweet & Savory

  

farmer's market pizzas

These farmer’s market pizzas take some of the most beautiful gems from the day’s trip to the market and highlight them for dinner. On a hot day, the pizzas can be made with just the toaster oven and on the grill to keep the house nice and cool. Zucchini is plentiful this time of year so, I took the traditional Southern Italian practice of drying zucchini and modified it to get all of the concentrated flavor without the hours of drying. The twist for these pizzas, especially the sweet one, is that they are white pizzas inspired by a classic Jewish treat: the blintz.

Farmer’s Market Pizza
Makes two small/medium savory pizzas and two small/medium sweet pizzas

carrots at the farmer's marketIngredients:

  • 2 pizza doughs from the refrigerator section of your local pizzeria or grocery store

Savory Ingredients:

  • 1 package (7 1/2 oz) of farmer’s cheese
    (You can use ricotta if you cannot find farmer’s cheese)
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 6-8 Tbsp. of grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tsp. of Canola oil
  • 2-3 medium sized zucchini (or any other delicious veggies you find)
  • Kosher salt
  • dried oregano
  • 1 TBSP of olive oil
  • black pepper

 

Fruit at farmer's marketSweet Ingredients:

  • 1 package (7 1/2 oz) of farmer’s cheese
    (You can use ricotta if you cannot find farmer’s cheese)
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 Tbsp. of mascarpone cheese
  • 3 Tbsp. of granulated sugar
  • 1 pint of blueberries
    (Use any other seasonal fruit that strikes your fancy
    such as cherries, raspberries, peaches or nectarines)
  • powdered sugar for serving

 

 

Savory Pizza with Dried Zucchini

Finished pizza

zucchini1.  To dry the zucchini, first wash and slice it into 1/8 inch slices. Then line a baking pan with parchment paper. Sprinkle some Kosher salt over the paper and lay the zucchini over the salt. Sprinkle the top of the zucchini with salt as well. Let the zucchini rest in the salt for at least 30 minutes.

2.  After 30 minutes, preheat your oven or toaster oven to 150° F. Rinse the zucchini slices well under a running tap and place them on a clean kitchen towel to pat dry. Then, place the zucchini on a tray covered with tin foil and let it dry out in the oven for about two hours. If you are short on time, you can raise the oven temperature a bit and let the zucchini dry out for a shorter time.

dried zucchini

3.  Once the zucchini are fairly dry, almost rubbery in texture, drizzle them with olive oil and sprinkle a teaspoon of dried oregano over them. Do NOT add salt, but do grind fresh pepper over the zucchini to taste.

4.  Preheat your grill to high or preheat your oven to 450° F. Split your dough in half and create two oblong pizzas on oiled heavy-duty tin foil or on an oiled cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. You can use a spray oil but I prefer to put a teaspoon of Canola oil on the foil and spread it with my hands or a paper towel. Partially bake the dough. This should take 10 minutes or so.

5.  Remove the partially baked dough and prepare your cheese.

Parmesan cheese

6.  In a bowl, add the 7 1/2 oz of farmers cheese, squeeze 4 cloves of farmer’s market garlic through a garlic press (or mince), add a generous amount of freshly ground pepper and then grate 4-6 Tbsp. of Parmesan to taste. Mix until uniform.

7.  Spread the cheese on the two pizza crusts and then carefully arrange the zucchini slices over the cheese. Place back on the grill or in the oven until the cheese is heated through. Slice and serve.

Note: This pizza can be topped with any kind of squash, onions or other fabulous vegetables you find at the farmer’s market. Just prepare the vegetables by cooking them partially first in the oven or on the grill, then assemble the pizzas, heat and serve.

 

Sweet Farmer’s Market Blueberry Blintz Pizza

Serving of blueberry pizza

1.  Prepare the dough as above, but before placing it to cook, brush water over the top of the dough and sprinkle with sugar.

2.  Preheat your grill to high or preheat your oven to 450° F. Split your dough in half and create two round pizzas on oiled heavy-duty tin foil or on an oiled cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. You can use a spray oil but I prefer to put a teaspoon of Canola oil on the foil and spread it with my hands or a paper towel. Partially bake the dough. This should take 10 minutes or so.

Farmer's cheese

Drain the blueberries3.  In a bowl, mix the farmer’s cheese, the zest of 1/2 of the lemon, mascarpone cheese and granulated sugar (or vanilla sugar if you have it).

 

4.  Top the partially cooked pizza crusts with the cheese mixture and return to the grill or oven until the cheese begins to melt slightly and is heated through.

 

5.  Take the pizza off of the heat and top with fresh blueberries. Sprinkle the entire pizza with a dusting of powdered sugar and finish with a little bit more lemon zest.

Closeup of blueberry pizza

Note: This pizza can be topped with pitted and sliced cherries, fresh berries and stone fruit that is not too juicy. If you are using stone fruit, I recommend grilling the stone fruit halves separately first and then slicing before topping the pizza.