Friday, October 23, 2015

The Time I Met One of My Baking Heroes, Marlene Sorosky, and Tried Not to Creep Her Out Too Much

Marlene and me

How does one possibly prepare for the moment when she comes face-to-face with her hero? That was the challenge I faced a little over a week ago when I attended a cooking class taught by one of my baking heroes, Marlene Sorosky. I booked the class weeks in advance. I knew the day was coming. I had time to mentally prepare, to brace myself. But no amount of time would be enough. The anticipation was killing me. Here are the main thoughts that ran through my head for the weeks, and especially the days, leading up to that all-important meet and greet:
  • What should I wear?
  • How do I not freak her out, since I'll undoubtedly be unable to contain my excitement?
  • Do I tell her about my blog? 
  • Do I tell her that I've been chanting her name for years? And when I make something from one of her cookbooks, I simply say, "This is a Marlene Sorosky."
  • What do I say to her? 
  • Do I bring my cookbooks to class to have signed? I have ALL of them. All 8 of them! In fact, I have two different editions of the same cookbook, plus an extra copy of one because I forgot I already owned it when I spotted it again at a store, bringing the total to 10 books. Hmm, maybe that would be a bit much?
  • Do I ask her to lunch?
  • Do I ask to take a picture with her?
My collection of Marlene Sorosky cookbooks. They are all autographed now!

Well, the day of the class finally arrived, and after agonizing over all these tough decisions for so long, I had to come up with a plan. Time was a'ticking. Here's what I ended up doing:
  • I wore a cute red cardigan and dark wash jeans. I looked polished but approachable.
  • Honestly, I probably did freak her out a little bit. I had a grin that took over my face. It was so large it was bumping into walls as I made my way into the classroom.
  • I told her about my blog, and how I've mentioned her in past posts. I told her that I've made countless recipes from her books, and my husband practically knows her by way of the food I've served him and referring to each item as "a Marlene Sorosky."
  • I brought all 10 cookbooks to be signed. I have no shame! I knew I would regret not having brought all of them later, and who needs unnecessary regrets!? The amazing thing was, she happily signed all 10 cookbooks! And she wrote a unique, different message in each one. She is so wonderful! I chatted with her for awhile, told her which of her books were my very favorite and named specific recipes that have become some of my go-tos. Her Kosher-for-Passover Spinach Matzah Quiche has even turned me into a hero to my relatives for 8 days every year.
  • I did not ask her to lunch. That's where I drew the line.
  • I did ask to take a picture with her. She cheerfully obliged! 
  • Oh, and during the class, she asked for volunteers to come up to the front of the room and demonstrate peeling an apple with the apple corer/peeler appliance. I did that, too. Why? So I could later say I've cooked with Marlene Sorosky. There's video to prove it.

So there you have it. My dream encounter with my baking hero, a chef and cookbook author whose recipes are sheer perfection, whose demeanor and personality are unstuffy, fun, and witty, and who has the cookbook sales (more than a million books sold to date!), internationally renowned honors (i.e. James Beard Award Winner, beating out Martha Stewart among others), and famous friends (the late, great Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, and more) to validate my otherwise seemingly unwarranted obsession with her. To some, meeting a Kardashian, or a hunky movie star, or a famous rock star, would be the ultimate encounter. To me, there are a handful of cookbook authors who might as well be rock stars. Marlene Sorosky is my rock star. I'm just waiting for the paparazzi to realize that.

Marlene is signing every single one of my cookbooks!

Marlene signed a different message in each of my cookbooks!

One of the oldest cookbooks in my Sorosky collection

Visit Marlene Sorosky's website here:

Follow Marlene Sorosky on Facebook here:

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Apples and Honey Ice Cream for a Sweet New Year

Shana tovah! Happy New Year!

I always look forward to this time of year because it centers around family and food. Mmmm. Two of my favorite things in the world! And it just feels like a really special time. All the fine china comes out, the pretty tablecloth, the fancy candlestick holders, and the house looks extra tidy. The aroma of incredible baked goods or sweet apricot chicken and praline pecan-topped kugel waft through the rooms.

About a week before the holiday, in true "Mom fashion," my mom sent me an extremely ambitious detailed menu for the three Rosh Hashanah meals: Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner, Day 1 dinner, and Day 2 dinner. Whew! That's a lot of cooking! Her menu must have been three pages long! In addition to multiple entrees, kugels, soup, vegetables, salad, chopped liver, and challah (everything from scratch!), she had a variety of desserts included in the list, such as rugelach, apple pie, and honey cake. I offered to help her prepare a bunch of the recipes in her menu. But in true "Marni fashion," I added to the list. Somehow, I find there's always room for more dessert...

I wanted to make ice cream for Rosh Hashanah, so I started to think about appropriate flavors for the holiday. Really, anything sweet would probably suffice, since this is a holiday all about sweetness. But could I be more spot-on with my flavor choice? Yes. Apples and honey! The question then became, how the heck do you infuse those two flavors into an ice cream base? I decided to make a honey ice cream by swapping out the typical granulated sugar called for in ice cream and replacing it with half a cup of honey, and then I caramelized some apples to stir in during the churning process. It worked out great! This ice cream is everything I hoped it would be! The essence of Rosh Hashanah captured in ice cream!

"Apples and Honey" Ice Cream
A.K.A. Honey Ice Cream with Caramelized Cinnamon Sugar Apples

Honey Ice Cream
Adapted from a recipe in The Perfect Scoop by David Lebovitz

1 cup whole milk
A pinch of salt
1/2 cup honey
2 cups heavy cream
5 large egg yolks

Pour the heavy cream into a large bowl and place a strainer over the bowl. Set aside.

In a saucepan, warm the milk, salt, and honey.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Pour some of the warmed milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly so you don't cook the eggs and accidentally turn them into omelet! Continue adding the rest of the warmed milk into the egg yolks until all of it is combined and you've warmed the egg yolks, then pour all of this egg-milk mixture back into the saucepan.

Cook the egg-milk mixture over low heat, stirring with a spatula constantly until the mixture thickens into a custard and coats the spatula. You can tell it is done if you swipe your finger down the back of the coated spatula and it leaves the mark of your finger.

Pour the custard through the strainer into the heavy cream, then stir to combine. Cover and chill the mixture in the fridge for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Once chilled, churn the mixture in your ice cream maker. When the ice cream is almost fully churned, add the caramelized apples (see recipe below) by dropping them down the opening of the ice cream maker and allow to churn for 1-2 more minutes to incorporate. Transfer the ice cream to freezer containers and freeze until set. Enjoy!

Caramelized Cinnamon Sugar Apples
Recipe by Happy Go Marni

3 baking apples such as Gravenstein or Granny Smith
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Squeeze the lemon juice into a medium bowl. Peel and thinly slice the apples and chop into 1-inch long pieces. As you are chopping, place the pieces into the bowl and turn to coat the apples with the juice so they don't brown. Stir in the sugar and cinnamon until well combined.

In a skillet, melt the butter and add the apples. Cook on medium heat until the apples are softened and caramelized, about 15 minutes. Be sure to stir occasionally so the apples don't burn. Allow to cool completely before stirring into the ice cream maker.

Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery
Honey ice cream base is ready to be chilled for at least 6 hours...

Once the ice cream base is chilled, churn in ice cream maker...

Add the cooled caramelized apples to the ice cream maker in the last 2 minutes of churning, just long enough to incorporate the apples into the ice cream...

Allow the ice cream to set further in the freezer, then scoop and serve!

So creamy and delicious. Apples and Honey Ice Cream!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Bean There, Done That: Easy Flourless Garbanzo Bean Cake

Apparently I have a thing for beans in cakes! Several years ago, I blogged about a cake that calls for a can of baked beans. Rolled eyes aside, it was a huge hit. Fast forward to today and I am excited to share another hit, this time one that calls for canned garbanzo beans that you puree in the food processor before adding into the batter.

The cake is very moist, and can be eaten with a fork or your fingers. It reminds me of a spice/snacking cake. If I hadn't seen the recipe before I tasted it, I would never have guessed it contains garbanzo beans; I'd be fooled!

So many great things about this recipe. It's a great dessert to serve to guests who are on a wheat-free diet as it contains no flour. The orange flavor really comes through, and goes so well with cinnamon and the light texture. My hubby and I were also admiring the perfect crust edge that forms on the outside of the cake, and unlike brownies where everyone (at least in my family!) is fighting over the edge pieces, with this cake, everyone gets a slice that has some edge!

With so many reasons to make this cake, and only one reason not to (Beans in cake? Are you nuts?), try it out! You'll be so pleasantly surprised that you may want to start experimenting with other odd ingredients in cakes. Or maybe you'll convince yourself that garbanzo beans in all forms work in baking and you'll invent the first ever hummus cake. Unless I invent it first! :)

Easy Flourless Garbanzo Bean Cake
Adapted from a recipe by Jane Milton in Mexican: Healthy Ways with a Favorite Cuisine

2 (10-ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
Cinnamon Sugar Topping: 1/4 cup sugar combined with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon for sprinkling on top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x5" or 8x4" loaf pan. Set aside.

Place the garbanzo beans in a colander and rinse them. Shake out any excess water, and then rub a handful of garbanzo beans at a time in between the palms of your hands to remove the skins and discard them. You'll need to repeat this step several times until you've gotten the majority of the skins off. It's ok if a few are left on.

Transfer the skinned garbanzo beans to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Place the pureed garbanzo beans in a medium bowl and add the beaten eggs, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest, and orange juice. Stir just until combined. The mixture will be thin and runny.

Pour the cake batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. You may want to check after an hour as ovens vary. Also note that it may take longer if you use an 8x4" loaf pan instead of the larger 9x5". The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Use a sharp knife to loosen the edges of the cake from the the pan and then invert it onto the wire rack. Place the rack over a plate or waxed paper and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture over the top of the cake. Let the cake cool completely before serving. Goes great with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or fresh fruit!

Step-by-Step in Pictures
Drain the garbanzo beans and remove the skins...

Puree the garbanzo beans in the food processor until smooth...

Transfer the puree to a medium-sized bowl and add the eggs, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, orange zest and juice. Stir to combine...

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan...

Bake at 350 degrees F for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes...

Invert the cake onto a wire rack...

While the cake is still warm, sprinkle cinnamon sugar over the top and then let cool completely before serving...

Slice and enjoy with ice cream or fresh fruit!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Saag Paneer Lasagna: When Indian and Italian Foods Collide!

What do you get when you cross Indian food with Italian food? No, this is not the lead up to a joke's punchline. You get something utterly delicious that I've now made multiple times and can't live without! Really! I keep craving it. It's sooooo good and so easy to make! Saag Paneer Lasagna.

"Mamma mia masala!"

What I discovered through making this dish is that lasagna, at least to me, is more of a process, a template, than a very specific thing. You can easily replace the marinara sauce with another sauce, the veggies with other veggies, the protein with other protein, and so on. And that's basically what this recipe is. Trader Joe's sells a delicious Indian Masala Simmer Sauce that makes a perfect substitute for Italian lasagna's traditional marinara. And instead of ground beef, zucchini, onion, and other veggies you might find in Italian lasagna, go for spinach and peas that pair well with the Indian sauce. That's all there really is to it! Because the ingredients don't require much prep (Ha! You do have to open the jar of Masala Simmer Sauce....the horror!), the whole dish comes together in minutes. And it's fun to assemble the layers! Do it with your kids! Your spouse! Your cat! No, not your cat.

The epiphany that lasagna is no more than a template recently drove me to experiment with enchilada sauce. And it worked. Of course it worked! I will be sharing my cross between Italian food and Mexican food soon. Chicken Enchilada Lasagnas are a-comin'. But for now, go forth and make Saag Paneer Lasagna and see what all the hype (that I manufactured) is about.

Saag Paneer Lasagna
Adapted from a recipe by Deana Gunn and Wona Miniati in the Cooking With All Things Trader Joe's Cookbook

1 (16-ounce) box dry "no boil" lasagna noodles
2 (15-ounce) jars Masala Simmer Sauce from Trader Joe's, or 30 ounces other tomato-based sauce with Indian spices
1 (16-ounce) bag frozen chopped spinach
1 cup frozen peas, thawed, or canned peas, drained
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese (fat free or low fat work just fine)
1 (16-ounce) bag shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degree. Spray or grease a 9x13" baking dish, preferably one with tall sides. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the Masala Simmer Sauce across the bottom of the dish with the back of a spoon. Place a single layer of the lasagna noodles on top (maybe 3 or 4 sheets). Set aside.

To make the filling sauce, start by thawing the spinach. Place the spinach in a fine mesh strainer (most pasta colanders seem to be problematic for me because their holes are too large and the spinach will fall through). Run cool water over the spinach and then squeeze dry. Get as much excess water out as possible so you don't make a watery sauce!

In a medium bowl, combine the thawed spinach, peas, and remaining Masala Simmer Sauce. Stir to break up the clumps of spinach and make sure everything is incorporated evenly.

To assemble the lasagna, start by layering 1/4 of the spinach sauce mixture over the pasta sheets in the baking dish. Then dollop 1/3 of the ricotta cheese over the sauce, using a spoon and an offset spatula to gently spread the ricotta around. Top with another single layer of pasta sheets. Press down against the sheets with your hands to push the layers together more tightly. Repeat the layering process two more times. Finally, spread the last 1/4 of the spinach sauce mixture on the pasta sheets and sprinkle the top with mozzarella.

Cover with foil, creating a bit of a tent or arch over the top so that as the cheese melts, it doesn't stick to the foil. Bake for 25 minutes and then remove the foil and return the dish to the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

No-Bake Cardamom Cashew Fudge Diamonds

You may have cooked with tofu before, but have you ever baked with it?

This is one of those really neat recipes where you can shock your guests when you tell them what's in it! Or don't tell them if they're not experimental or unconventional with their food. My dad, for example, would be better off not knowing what's in this! Hehe.

The method for the tofu is unusual and was developed by tofu genius Andrea Nguyen. You buy super-firm tofu and grate it on a box grater like you would a block of cheese. Stir it in with finely chopped cashews, heat that mixture on the stove with sweetened condensed milk, and add cardamom. Spread in a pan and top with chopped pistachios. Voila! Couldn't be easier. Trader Joe's actually sells a 16 oz. package of super-firm tofu that is perfect for this. Since that's double the quantity you need for this recipe, you could just double everything else and use all the tofu, and end up with a double batch. Or save the other half of the tofu for a stir fry or soup.

I made this recipe back in December for a holiday party, and it was everything I hoped it would be. Cardamom is one of my all-time favorite spices (Maybe my very favorite? I'm just afraid to commit to a favorite!). The texture of the fudge is chewy and a little sticky. It looks beautiful on a plate with the light green from the pistachios. And boy, oh boy, the aroma of the cardamom. I've been yearning for more ever since that delicious holiday event, so here I am, two months later, making the recipe again. Ask me in April and I will probably have made another batch. You can't keep me away. And now I'm going to turn you into an equally obsessed person. Good luck with that!

No-Bake Cardamom Cashew Fudge Diamonds
Adapted from a recipe in the "Genius Recipes" section of Food 52, originally from Andrea Nguyen's Asian Tofu cookbook (because Andrea is a genius!)

Makes approximately 36 small diamonds

8 ounces super-firm tofu (Trader Joe's sells this!)
3 1/2 ounces unsalted raw cashew pieces or whole nuts (Trader Joe's sells this!)
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped raw pistachios

Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper and leave enough on the sides to be able to lift it up out of the pan later. You can also use foil and lightly spray it. Set aside.

Take the tofu out of the packaging and dry it off with a paper towel. Using the smallest hole on a box grater or other cheese grater, grate the block of tofu into a bowl.

Pulse the cashews in a food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. They should be very finely chopped, but not turn to dust. Add the cashews to the bowl of grated tofu and stir to combine.

In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the can of sweetened condensed milk with the tofu/cashew mixture. Cook on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes. Note that the mixture should never reach a boil. You can start out just stirring it occasionally, but as the mixture starts to thicken, you'll need to be stirring constantly because it will stick to the bottom of the pan and burn. Watch closely to make sure this doesn't happen! It will eventually resemble a really thick oatmeal. While you're stirring, if you notice that the mixture is pulling away from the sides of the pan or gliding around the bottom of the pan rather than scorching, it's ready.

Remove from the heat and stir in the cardamom.

Immediately spread into your prepared pan using an offset spatula to push the mixture toward the edges and corners of the pan. Smooth over the top so the surface is even. Sprinkle the chopped pistachios on top and gently press them down into the fudge so they stay put.

Chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Lift up the parchment and place on a cutting board. Using a very sharp chef's knife, cut rows at an angle in one direction, and then cut rows horizontally in the other direction, so that the end result is a piece of fudge that looks like a diamond. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for serving at a later time. As this fudge is sticky, do not stack the pieces directly on top of each other. Instead, place them along the bottom of a container and then place a piece of parchment paper or wax paper on top of each layer before stacking more pieces of fudge into the container.

PHOTO GALLERY: How to Remove and Cut the Fudge

Lift up on the parchment paper to pull the fudge out of the pan...

Place the fudge down on a cutting board and spread the parchment paper flat to expose the sides of the fudge...

Cut rows at an angle across the fudge, then horizontally. This creates a diamond shape...

Admire your diamonds. :)

Stack the diamonds in an airtight container, separating each layer with parchment or wax paper. Store in the fridge... 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Cheesy Cheddar Biscuits and an Unapologetically Cheesy Limerick

For as often as I bake, it's kind of surprising how rarely I make biscuits. But they are so easy and so delicious! It's highly likely that I'll have all the ingredients in my pantry ready to go, so I don't even have to make a stop at the grocery store. I should do this more often.

These are really yummy, almost like savory scones. If you want, experiment with different kinds of shredded cheese. I bet pepper jack or smoked gouda would be delicious, too! Just try not to eat the entire batch in one sitting. The biscuits would go great with a Mexican casserole or, for a lighter meal, a bowl of soup or salad of mixed greens.

So as things go around here, when I make a cheese-filled baked good, it pairs well with a cheesy limerick and I have no self-restraint. Sorry, I'm not sorry.

Cheesy Cheddar Biscuit Limerick
There once was a biscuit of cheddar
Promising to make dinner better
With just the right spice
The crumb was so nice
It justified this cheesy love letter.

Cheesy Cheddar Biscuits
Adapted from a recipe in a Penzeys spice catalog
Makes approximately 12 biscuits

2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or smoked Spanish-style paprika, to taste (optional)
1 egg
1/2 -3/4 cup milk, divided
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.

In a measuring glass or small bowl, beat 1/2 cup of the milk with the egg. Set aside.

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cayenne/paprika. Use a pastry blender or fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs the size of peas. You can break apart any stubborn large pieces with your fingers. Add the grated cheese and most of the egg/milk mixture, reserving just 1 tablespoon of the egg/milk mixture to brush on top of the biscuits. Blend with a fork and then use your fingers to finish. Only mix until combined and not a moment longer. Overmixing results in dense, tough, hard-as-a-brick biscuits! If necessary, add the remaining milk a teaspoon at a time until the dough comes together.

On a floured work surface, roll the dough out to about 1 inch thick. You can also just pat it down if you don't have a rolling pin. Use a small biscuit cutter to cut out circles and place them on an ungreased baking sheet (or you can use parchment paper or a silicone baking mat). Push the scraps of dough back together, re-roll the dough, and cut out more circles until you've used up all of the dough.

Brush the tops of the biscuits with the reserved tablespoon of egg/milk mixture. Bake for about 10 minutes, until light brown and puffed up. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you are eating these as leftovers the next day, they taste amazing reheated in the toaster oven!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Quick Puff Pastry Apple Hand Pies

I love apple pie. And I feel pretty confident (correct me if I'm wrong!) that it's a relatively "safe" dessert to serve at a dinner party or bring to a friend's. Most people don't cry, "Oh, the horror! Apple pie! Shield my eyes!" So it's a good go-to dessert. But sometimes I'm just not in the mood to make a big mess in the kitchen or I simply don't have time to start from scratch. Enter: Individual apple hand pies made with puff pastry!

I first learned about this recipe last spring when I was visiting my sister at her house; she had just given birth to my second niece and was now settling back in at home. It was evident that suddenly being catapulted into having two kids under 3 years old who needed constant supervision was going to require quick meals and creativity. My mom was in town staying over to help out and found this pie recipe online. It was so easy that she was able to assemble these pies and still get back to being the supportive mom and grandma requested of her. And the pies were a hit.
These pies are cute (because anything individual-sized is adorable...duh!), delicious, and EASY BREEZY. In fact, you could make them WITH your guests after dinner is over. Because group activities are fun! Just purchase a package of puff pastry that has two sheets in it, make the quick apple filling, and cut up the puff pastry into 9 portions. You sandwich the apple filling between two pieces of puff pastry and create a pie pocket. Add a little decorative fork-tining artwork to the edges, and you've got something that looks impressive but took no time or effort to make. I got ooohs and ahhhhs when I served this at a dinner party, and bonus points: the house smelled amazing! Serve the pies with vanilla bean ice cream for pie a la mode. Soooo good.

Quick Puff Pastry Apple Hand Pies
Adapted from a recipe on submitted by Chef Fifi

1 (17-ounce) package puff pastry that contains two pastry sheets (Trader Joe's sells this!!)
2 medium-sized baking apples (such as Granny Smith, Pippin, or Gravenstein), peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, beaten

Thaw puff pastry according to directions on package.

To make the filling, in a medium bowl, combine apples with sugar, flour, lemon juice, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place 1 sheet of puff pastry on a floured work surface and cut the pastry sheet into nine 3x3-inch squares. Will look like a tic-tac-toe board! Place the squares on an ungreased baking sheet. Scoop approximately 1/4 cup of the apple mixture onto the center of each square. Brush the edges with the beaten egg.

Place the second sheet of puff pastry on the floured work surface and cut the pastry sheet into nine 3x3-inch squares. Place one square on top of each apple filling-topped square on the baking sheet to form a pie pocket! Use your fingers to seal the edges together and then use a fork to go over the edges and create a design (criss-cross or straight or diagonal!).

With a sharp knife, cut a small L-shaped incision, about 1-inch, into the top of each pie and fold back the pastry flap so the pie can let steam escape while baking.

Brush each pie with the remaining egg wash.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 20 minutes. Sometimes I let it go a little longer because I want a darker, crisper crust.

Voila! Instant individual apple pies!
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