Chocolate-Coated Halvah with Nuts

  

By Mari Levine

halvahphoto_large

I’m in the throes of what I’ve dubbed the “Summer of Love.” I’ve hit the age where my Facebook feed is dominated by photos of engagements and newborns, and the only snail mail I get is wedding invitations and baby announcements. In the next three months, I’m slated to go to six weddings—and that’s after I found a way to weasel my way out of three. Oy!

But I’m not complaining! Quite the opposite. I’m actually really looking forward to meeting these new baby-friends and attending these open bars—um, I mean, celebrations of love. In fact, one wedding I’m especially excited for is in just a few weeks, when my dear friend Rachel marries Pascal, a guy she met and fell for while the two were in grad school together at Brandeis. But it’s not quite your typical Brandeis love story: Rachel is American Jewish, and Pascal is Haitian Catholic.

Their wedding will celebrate both of their cultures. They’re going to have some of the Jewish prayers also recited in French. We’re going to dance the hora, then get down to some Carimi (Pascal’s favorite Haitian band). And then there’s my favorite culture clash: the food. In addition to chopped liver, knishes and a latke bar (!), they’ll be offering fried plantains, mango chicken and du riz a pois (rice and beans). And for a familial touch, Rachel’s asked some of her food-minded friends—myself included—to bring a small plate of sweets to add to the dessert table.

The timing is perfect to be thinking about weddings: Judaism’s very own holiday of love, Tu B’av, begins at sundown on July 21. Historically, Tu B’av was a matchmaking day on which unmarried women were paired with spouses. But it’s morphed into a more general day of love. Kind of like a less acknowledged, summertime Valentine’s Day—minus the Hallmark domination. And, like the more popular day in February, Tu B’av is considered a lucky date on which to get engaged and married. Rachel and Pascal’s wedding is only a couple weeks later, so I’m thinking some of that luck will carry over (not that they need it).

While thinking about Tu B’av, I was struck with an idea for my dessert recipe’s base: halvah, the dense, nutty confection popular among Jews all over the world. I love its mellow sweetness and chewy tackiness, which feels a bit like astronaut food (in a good way!). Halvah is great eaten straight from supermarket shelves, but I plan to give it a little flair by dipping it in chocolate and topping it with nuts and sesame seeds. I think I’ve found a cross-cultural recipe that everyone can enjoy.

Chocolate-Coated Halvah with Nuts

Makes about 16 pieces

  • 1 pound halvah (flavor of your choice)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • ¼ cup almonds, roughly chopped and toasted (I used shelled and blanched)
  • ¼ cup pistachios, shelled and roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 8 ounces semisweet chocolate

 

1. Line a plate with parchment paper. Holding your knife parallel to the cutting board, slice halvah in half height-wise, making two planks. Cut each plank into 8 equal pieces.

2. Heat small, dry pan over medium heat. Add sesame seeds and toast until slightly darkened in color, about 4 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.

3. Heat now-empty pan over medium heat and add almonds. Toast until slightly darkened in color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl with sesame seeds. Add pistachios and salt to bowl and stir until well-mixed.

4. Using microwave or double-boiler method, melt half of chocolate. Working piece by piece, dip half of halvah pieces in chocolate until fully coated, allow excess to drain off, and transfer to parchment-lined dish.

5. While chocolate is still warm, generously sprinkle nut mixture over tops of chocolate-coated halvah. Repeat chocolate dipping and sprinkling steps with remaining halvah pieces.

6. Transfer plate to refrigerator until chocolate has firmed up. Chocolate-coated halvah can be kept in the refrigerator for one week.

chosenfinal290pxcolor_largeReprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com. Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on JewishBoston.com.

Nutella Bites (A Neat and Easy Breakfast in Bed)

  

By Mari Levine

nutellabites.jpg

Serving someone breakfast in bed is a terrific, thoughtful idea. But it has some logistical issues, including stealthily preparing the meal so your light-sleeping target doesn’t arouse, and, if you accomplish that, anxiously watching them try to balance a plate full of pancakes in bed without causing a mess. Yes, it’s the thought that counts, but you don’t want that thought to be tinged with inconvenience.

This quick recipe satisfies a loved one’s sweet tooth and takes only minutes to prepare. Each piece is bite-sized, so the mess—both in the kitchen and in bed—is minimal. It’s a nice way to express your appreciation sweetly and neatly!

Nutella Bites

Makes 32

  • 4 (9-inch) flour wraps
  • 6 tablespoons Nutella
  • 2 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 8 strawberries, quartered
  • Confectioners’ sugar

 

1. Spread 1½ tablespoons Nutella into thin layer over each wrap, leaving ½-inch border. Roll each wrap and flatten slightly. Brush one side of each roll with melted butter.

2. Heat 12-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Add rolls, buttered-side and seam-side down, and lightly flatten with metal spatula. Cook until wrap is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Brush tops with remaining butter and flip. Cook until second side is golden brown, another 2 minutes. Transfer to cutting board.

3. Using chef’s knife, cut each wrap crosswise into 8 even pieces. Place strawberry quarter on top of each bite and spear with toothpick. Using fine-mesh strainer, sprinkle confectioners’ sugar over top. Serve.

chosenfinal290pxcolor_largeReprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com. Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on JewishBoston.com.

 

Barking Up the Valentine’s Day Tree

  

By Mari Levine

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I’ve run the gamut of Valentine’s Day experiences. And while I’m rather indifferent to the general idea of the holiday, no celebration I’ve had as an adult has ever matched the ones from when I was a kid. I remember the excitement of picking out the perfect cards (in my case, always Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-themed), choosing which type of candy to attach to them, and then matching the message on the card to each of my classmates’ personalities.

This year, I was thinking about the adult equivalent of those childhood valentines. Now, instead of a classroom, most of us spend our days in an office. Instead of classmates, we have coworkers. And while I’m all for injecting a bit of youthful fun into the workplace, I draw the line at giving my colleagues cartoon cards that call them “dudette” and asking them to be my “mondo Valentine.” (That’s Ninja Turtle speak for “I like you.”) I wanted to bring back the Valentine’s Day tradition of bringing in treats for everyone, but this year I didn’t have time to make any quintessential adult sweets, such as homemade truffles or caramels.

Enter chocolate bark. This sweet can get pigeonholed as a December treat, but it’s easy to make (only four ingredients!), attractive to wrap and appealing to eat all year round. My coworkers will be noshing on this version, with pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and coconut, but the toppings are easy to change based on your recipients’ tastes.

Chocolate Bark with Pepitas and Coconut

Makes eight 1-ounce portions

  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2 tablespoons pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • Maldon sea salt

 

1. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. Stirring frequently, toast coconut in small skillet over medium heat. Once coconut turns the color of straw, transfer to small bowl to cool.

3. Add chocolate to medium, heatproof bowl and set over pot of simmering water. (Do not let water touch bottom of bowl.) Stirring frequently, heat chocolate until fully melted. Quickly pour onto parchment paper-lined baking sheet and tilt pan until distributed evenly, but not covering entire pan. (Otherwise your bark will be too thin.)

4. Sprinkle coconut, pepitas and salt, to taste, evenly over chocolate. Transfer to refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour. Remove from refrigerator and break into 1-ounce portions.

chosenfinal290pxcolor_largeReprinted with permission from JewishBoston.com. Chosen Eats appears every Thursday on JewishBoston.com.

Molten Chocolate Cookies for Tu B’Av

  

ChocolateWhat better way to celebrate and #ChooseLove on Tu B’Av, the Israeli holiday of love which falls on Friday, July 31, than with an ooey, gooey, molten chocolate cookie? In fact, this recipe is so easy, and the dough will be stored in your freezer so you can easily bake a few any time your chocolate craving strikes!

Although chocolate has always been associated with love and romance (Montezuma was purported to drink 50 glasses of chili-laced chocolate a day to make him passionate) it is really the Theobromide in cocoa (often found in asthma inhalers) coupled with caffeine that makes one feel amorous. And the Aztecs aside, there were many Jews in history resonsible for the production of chocolate as far back as the 1680s when Benjamin d’Acosta De Andrade developed a method to process cocoa beans so that they could be shipped from South America and ultimately transformed into liquid gold or later, in 1847, into the first eating chocolate.

Famous Jewish chocolate artisans included Franz Sacher, a Jewish Viennese apprentice baker who created the now-famous Sachertorte in 1832. Eli Fromenchenko opened the Elite Chocolate Company in Ramat Gan, Israel, in 1933. In 1938, another Viennese Jew, Stephen Klein, immigrated to New York and opened the first kosher chocolate shop–
Barton’s Salon de Chocolate. And in Israel today, suitors from all over Israel flock to the café called Max Brenner to buy chocolates for the lucky women they will woo on Tu B’Av!

The following recipe is my modern take on the ubiquitous molten chocolate cake but in cookie form. The taste is fantastic but the real treat is that you make the dough, shape it into balls and then freeze them. When you want to serve them, you can pop the frozen balls onto a cookie sheet and bake them for a mere 6-8 minutes. The result is a rich cookie that is firm on the outside and oozes delicious cinnamon and coffee-scented filling when bitten into. You, and your love, will enjoy these, I promise. Take a photo of your finished product, and show us how you #ChooseLove on Tu B’Av!

Molten Mocha Cinnamon Chocolate Cookies

Yield: About 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Chocolate butter closeupIngredients:

  • 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon instant espresso
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup semi-sweet chocolate, either chips or chopped ¼ inch pieces

 

Directions:

Whisk ingredients1.  Combine the 10 ounces of chocolate and the butter in a one-quart glass bowl. Microwave this mixture on high for 1 minute. Stir. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Remove, stir until all chocolate is melted and set aside.

2.  Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

3.  Beat eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl until light and lemon colored. Add the espresso, cinnamon and vanilla and beat to combine.

4.  Add the chocolate mixture to the mixing bowl and beat until all egg mixture is incorporated.

Mix ingredients

Freeze your cookie dough5.  Add the flour mixture and mix only until there is no flour visible. Stir in the chopped chocolate or chips. Remove beaters and scrape down sides of bowl. Refrigerate in bowl for 15 minutes.

6.  Using a 1 Tablespoon portion scoop or a rounded measuring spoon, place dough onto a parchment- or foil-lined cookie sheet.

7.  Freeze dough uncovered until very hard. When frozen, remove individual dough balls to a Ziplock freezer bag and freeze until ready to bake.

8.  To bake: Pre-heat oven to 350°F. Place frozen mounds of dough onto a lined cookie sheet and bake for 6-8 minutes (depending on size of the balls) or until the tops of the cookie are firm but very soft to the touch. Cookies will harden a little as they cool.

9.  Let cookies cool for 5 minutes if you want them to be hot and gooey; longer if you want them to hold their shape a little better.

baked cookies

Note: Baked cookies may be refrigerated and then re-heated in a microwave for 20 seconds on high. However, cold, baked cookies are like a cross between a cookie and a truffle and quite delicious!

Cookies

These molten chocolate cookies go perfectly with our Tu B’Av cherry soup! Get the recipe here.

Tu B’Av Cherry Soup

  

Tu B'av Cherry Soup

Jewish tradition commemorated romance long before St. Valentine’s Day was established as a means to Christianize and tone down the revelry associated with the Pagan holiday of Lupercalia—a fertility festival. Tu B’Av was originally a minor holiday celebrated in Israel after the second Temple was built in 349 BCE and falls on July 31 this year. According to the Talmud, “the daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards and whoever did not have a wife would go there.” The vineyards would be outside the walls of Jerusalem away from the Temple Mount, an expression of joy away from the sadness of destruction.

In modern Israel, the holiday has been resuscitated. Girls dress in white, there is dancing on beaches and in fields, red roses are given and love songs are dedicated on the radio to the paramour’s love. Picnics and outdoor grilling are traditional much like our Fourth of July celebrations. Foods that can be served cold and transported easily are popular as well as simple grilled meats.

Here is a traditional Hungarian Cold Cherry Soup that can easily be transported in a thermos or container, is very simple to make, can be served as a first course or dessert, and is Pink, the color of love! So #ChooseLove by creating your own traditions as the full moon rises over your summer day on Tu B’Av and enjoy the people and activities you love. Snap some fun pictures and share them on our #ChooseLove gallery!

Combine cherriesHungarian Cherry Soup (Meggy Leves)

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1 16 oz. or 2 10 oz. bags frozen tart or sweet cherries with juice
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Grated zest of ½ medium lemon
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine (Zinfandel or Shiraz would be good) or orange juice
  • ½-1 teaspoon almond extract, optional (according to taste)
  • Kosher salt, as needed
  • Habara’s (Thickening Mixture)
  • ¾ cup sour cream or non-fat Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar or more according to taste
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour

Directions:

Boil cherries1.  Combine the first seven ingredients in a 3 quart saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes until cherries are tender and flavors have combined.

2.  Remove 8 cherries for garnish. Set aside. Discard cinnamon sticks and whole cloves.

3.  Pass the cherries and liquid through a food mill to puree. Alternatively, blend the mixture in a blender until mixture is fairly smooth. Return pureed soup to the pan. Add the almond extract (if using) and a pinch of salt. Re-heat soup on low heat while you make the Habaras.

4.  In a 1 quart bowl, whisk the sour cream, confectioner’s sugar and flour together.

5.  Whisk some of the hot soup into the sour cream mixture and then add all of the mixture back into the pot of soup. Simmer soup, whisking constantly, for 3 minutes or until thickened.

Making cherry soup

6.  Cover surface of soup with plastic wrap to prevent a tough skin from forming on the top and chill. When ready to serve, spoon into bowls and garnish with reserved cherries.

Tina’s Tidbits:

If you have the time, a cherry pitter, and an older child you could make this soup with fresh cherries. However, the attention span of most children under the age of 10 will lose interest before all cherries are pitted.

This soup is very easy to make and its flavor can be adjusted to a child’s palate by adding some almond extract and/or a little more sugar if necessary.

Sour cherries (the traditional type for this recipe) are very hard to find. However, the frozen, sweet variety is not that sweet and will adapt in any recipe calling for tart cherries.

Habaras is a traditional mixture that is used for thickening soups. The flour may be eliminated if you can’t eat gluten. Just add a few tablespoons more confectioner’s sugar as it helps thicken the soup because it contains three percent cornstarch.

soup and cookies

Now, try this soup with our Tu B’Av molten chocolate cookies for a really sweet Tu B’Av!