March 29, 2013
Nothing screams Easter like the arrival of brightly colored marshmallow Peeps snuggled inside crinkly packaging at the grocery store. For many people, the sweet is meant to be hidden: some stuff them into plastic eggs hidden in the backyard for their kids to find, while others tuck them away in desk drawers at the office to satisfy late afternoon hunger pangs. But for one distinct group, marshmallow chicks and bunnies are stuffed (and baked and blended and broiled) into otherwise Peep-less recipes in the kitchen. Thanks to the massive proliferation of food blogs in recent years, we can witness the surprising culinary places a few of the 2 billion Peeps produced each year end up. Here are five ways to cook with these sugar-laden holiday staples, which Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based company Just Born has manufactured for 60 years.
Bake them. Because Peeps are essentially colorful marshmallows, they won’t seem out of place in dessert recipes. Exposed to high heat, Peeps melt back into their native state, a pool of sugary liquid fluff. They’re worthy substitutes for plain marshmallows in brownies, cookies, pies—even bread. For hearty Peep-stuffed brownies, start with a regular boxed mix of the bake-sale classic, following the package directions to create the gooey batter. Spread a portion of it out onto a pan, pressing Peeps of the color of your choosing into the mixture. Layering the remaining brownie mix on top to hide the chicks, and dust some Peep powder on top for decoration once you’re done baking.
Try squishing a Peep between two globs of cookie dough, sculpting the batter into round, slightly raised shapes, and bake according to your usual cookie recipe (this one recommends folding a pretzel into the dough along with the Peep for added crunch). Or use chick or bunny Peeps as pie filling. Melt the candies in hot milk and let them cool before folding in heavy whipping cream and chopped or bite-size chocolate candies (semisweet chocolate chips, Reese’s Pieces or tiny chunks of toffee). Pour the thoroughly mixed batter into a store-bought or homemade pie crust and leave in the refrigerator overnight.
The Peep flavor can also be infused into breakfast desserts, like the sticky and gooey monkey bread. Dip buttermilk biscuits into a smoothly whisked mixture of microwave-melted Peeps, butter and vanilla extract. Roll the biscuits in sugar dyed with food coloring to match the color of the Peeps, and stack and mold them into a bundt cake shape after they’re baked and golden brown.
And bake them some more. Not all casserole recipes are a match for Peeps (think tuna or cheesy macaroni), but less savory kinds, like those made with sweet potatoes, welcome a hint of marshmallow. Bake chick-shaped Peeps atop a batter of boiled and mashed sweet potatoes, milk, brown sugar, cardamom and cinnamon, letting some of the toasted marshmallow flavor seep into the casserole. Or swap standard marshmallow topping for slightly browned Peeps in this recipe for candied yam soufflé.
Toss them. We don’t recommend pairing Peeps with arugula, baby spinach and crumbled feta—tossing them with sweet and citrusy fruits produces better results. This recipe takes a spin on the Waldorf salad, a blend of apples, celery, walnuts and mayonnaise popularized in the early 1900s at a New York City hotel of the same name. Use pink or yellow Peeps for this one—flashes of electric blue in the middle of a salad might be alarming. Pair them with diced bananas, chopped oranges, halved maraschino cherries and work in shredded coconut and your choice of nuts. Drizzle fresh lemon juice and orange-flavor liqueur on top, mixing the entire batch well before serving.
Peeps can replace regular miniature marshmallows in ambrosia salad, another well-known fruit concoction. Chop pastel-colored chicks or bunnies into the size of the average miniature marshmallow. Add them to a bowl of pineapple chunks, diced mandarin oranges and shredded coconut, and then stir in a generous helping of Cool Whip.
Blend them. Peeps’ soft texture makes them prime candidates for electric mixers. Combine chocolate mousse-flavored Peeps with milk, sour cream and vanilla ice cream in a blender for a chocolatey shake. For a hint of toasted flavor, broil the chicks for one or two minutes until lightly charred before tossing them into the blender. Make Peep-flavored frosting by heating your choice of Peeps with egg whites, sugar and water in a saucepan. Beat the batter with a hand mixer until it gains some thickness, then spread it over cupcakes. Feeling fancy? Transform Peeps into unusually colorful mousse. Melt Peeps with heavy whipping cream in a saucepan, then zest off some sugar from still-intact chicks onto the sugary mix once it’s cooled.
Freeze them. Peeps don’t always have to be melted down beyond recognition in the kitchen. The marshmallow candies can also make for tasty frozen desserts, which this recipe dubs “peepsicles.” Press wooden craft sticks into bunny-shaped Peeps and submerge them into a bowl of melted chocolate. Coat the peepsicles with shredded coconut, slivered nuts or sprinkles and store them in the freezer. Move beyond the obvious with this recipe for ceviche, a marinated seafood dish usually served raw and cold. Soak frozen bits of Peep in lime juice, dried chili peppers, fresh strawberries and dark chocolate, and dig in before they thaw and all the juices break them down. Peeps get very crunchy in less than zero temperatures, and really frozen ones (well, those submerged in a bucket of liquid nitrogen) easily shatter.
When cooking with Peeps, remember that, just like fruits and vegetables, they’re seasonal, available only around Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas. However, the marshmallows have an astonishing shelf life of two years, so finding a forgotten pack of five in the pantry can be a sweet (albeit slightly stale) surprise.
March 25, 2013
Updated on March 25, 2013 for the latest in Kosher for Passover news
The Torah couldn’t make things any clearer. From Exodus 12:14 and 15: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
But in the centuries since, food has gotten a lot more complicated, and the Jews who fled Egypt were fruitful and multiplied, melding their own traditions with regional customs. Today the rules governing keeping kosher for Passover aren’t as clear as they were in ancient Judea. Erik’s explainer on the Lenten fast taught me much about the Catholic tradition, so I’ll repay the favor with this guide for my Gentile friends on how American Jews keep kosher for Passover. I should preface this section by saying that even among the most observant Jews, there are disagreements over what is and what is not kosher for Passover. There are many foods, like jellies or butter, that should be considered allowable given their ingredients, but the equipment used to produce them is not cleaned and inspected by rabbinic observers. This is why you may see specially wrapped or branded products of everyday goods for those Jews who look for that extra degree of precaution. Consider this a brief slice of a very complicated discussion.
The Obvious No-Nos:
Wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye. Known collectively as chometz, these grains are universally left out of diets during Passover week. This means no Apple Jacks, bagels, biscuits, cakes, cookies, danishes, empanadas, ficelles, gyros, hoagies, Italian bread, jelly donuts, knishes, lefse, muffins, naan, oatmeal, pasta, pizza, quiches, rugelach, strombolis, tacos, upside-down cake, Viennese wafers, waffles, yeast or zwieback.
Unfortunately, these rules also mean that all beer and most liquor is forbidden. The only alcohol allowed is wine, of which there are kosher-for-Passover varieties.
It is customary to clean all the chometz out of one’s house. Some totally cleanse the house, others board up closets, others sell the grains to their non-Jewish neighbors (you can help next year!) and buy it back at the end of the holiday, others sell their chometz on the Internet to a stranger and buy it back even though the food never moves.
The Generally Assumed No-Nos:
Rice and beans. The realm of kitniyot (legumes) is among the grayest of areas. Joan Nathan is the Barefoot Contessa of Jewish cooking and she says it best in her book Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France:
In the Middle Ages, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans were all ground into flour, which in that state could be confused with the true grains. The list continued to grow after corn and beans came to the Old World from the New. In France, where mustard seeds grow, mustard was added to the list, because the seeds could be intertwined and confused with other plants.
The confusion principle is largely the reason why many American Jews abstain from eating any corn or rice products on Passover. According to Nathan, a biblical ruling was made in the 12th and 13th centuries that “any grain that can be cooked and baked like matzo [could be] confused with the biblical grains.” Therefore, not kosher for Passover. But this is a tradition that is mainly continued by Ashkenazic Jews, or those whose ancestors come from eastern Europe. Pre-Inquisition Jews from Spain never followed these rules, and thus Sephardim, who by definition are Jews descended from those who escaped Spain but also include those who are from South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, do not either. The vast majority of American Jews, 95 percent or more, are Ashkenazic.
Even now in an era of detailed FDA-mandated labeling, where such a confusion is nigh impossible, the tradition remains. This is why you see the fabled “Mexican Coke” make an appearance each spring. Made with cane sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup, the imported soda is good to go. UPDATE: Do you live in California? Tough luck, you can’t have kosher-for-Passover coke as a new California law forced Coca-Cola to change its manufacturing process lest the beverage be labeled as having a carcinogenic agent. The company has yet to find a way to manufacture kosher-for-Passover versions on the same machinery. Relatedly, what tastes better? Regular Coke or Kosher for Passover Coke? The New Republic did a taste test.
Matzo. For reasons that are unknown to most Jews, some people willingly eat matzo at other times of the year. These matzo boxes are labeled “not kosher for Passover” and should not be eaten as a part of observing the holiday. The difference? Rabbinic supervision to ensure that any matzo made for Passover is untainted by any leavening agents. There is also a debate over whether egg matzo is allowed. While clearly being verboten for the Passover seder (another Torah passage states that only the flour and water version may be used during the ritual), eating egg matzo during the rest of the week is left up to the observant.
Quinoa. The New York Times had a good wrap-up of the quinoa loophole, which is rather ingenious. Since the grain is a relative newcomer to Western diets, the grain wholly bypassed not only the Talmudic scholars but the “confusion principle” as explained above. Ashkenazic rabbis never had the chance to exclude it from the holiday, and so by default it became kosher for Passover. Now concerns are being raised over whether the manufacturing process is clean of any of the banned grains.
Most everything else. All in all, keeping kosher for Passover isn’t all that difficult, especially if you have experience with the Atkins Diet. I find myself eating more healthy meals this week than usual, as I am forced to cook at home and use copious fruits and vegetables to fill out my diet. If I’m cooking meat, I make my own marinades or sauces, and if I’m eating a salad, my own dressings. Don’t put shrimp salad or a bacon cheeseburger on your matzo—the normal kosher laws still pertain: no shellfish, pork products or mixing of meat and cheese is allowed.
Cigarettes: According to the Associated Press, a rabbinic group in Israel has, for the first time, declared certain cigarettes as Kosher for Passover.
One last note:
If you re-read the passage from Exodus, you’ll notice that it declares that the holiday should be observed for seven days, as is done in modern day Israel, and not the eight customarily observed by American Jews. In the era before standardized calendars, Jews in the Diaspora (any area outside of Israel) added an extra day to ensure that their holiday overlapped with the official celebration. This is also why American Jews have two nights of seders, where in Israel they only have one.
December 27, 2011
For this month’s Inviting Writing, we asked for stories about foods that make your holidays complete. We’ve read about pizzelles, mystery cookies and mashed potatoes, and today’s essay is about roti, a specialty that comes from Trinidad by way of India, China and Queens. Linda Shiue is a San Francisco-based doctor and food writer who “believes in the healing power of chicken soup.” She blogs about food and travel at spiceboxtravels.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @spiceboxtravels.
Ravenous for Roti
By Linda Shiue
Ask any Trinidadians what they’re hungry for, and the answer will be “roti.” This refers not only to the Indian flatbread itself, but the curried fillings which make Trinidadian roti the best hand-held meal you’ll find. Curries in Trinidad are served with either dhalpouri roti, which is filled with dried, ground chick peas, or paratha, a multilayered, buttery flatbread. You wrap the roti around some of your curry filling and eat it like a burrito. It’s sold as a common “fast” food in Trinidad (the cooking of the curry is not fast but the serving of it into freshly prepared rotis is) but also prized enough to be served at family gatherings and celebrations. For members of the Trinidadian diaspora, like my husband, the hunger for roti is profound. If you live in New York, it is not too far of a trip to find yourself a decent roti—Richmond Hill in Queens is home to a large Trinidadian and Guyanese community. Trinidad itself is only about a five-hour flight away. But if you are on the West Coast, you’re out of luck. Visiting Trinidad requires almost a full day of air travel. Last time we checked, there was only one Trinidadian roti shop in our area, over in Oakland. It was a musty, dim (as in unlit until customers rang the buzzer) shop, and the owner was equally dour. Even as I paid for our lunch, I felt the need to apologize for intruding. The rotis were pallid, dry and lifeless.
They were nothing like the roti I had devoured in Trinidad. On my first trip to my husband’s home, my future mother-in-law (herself a Chinese immigrant to Trinidad from Canton) served me some curry tattoo. What’s tattoo? Better known around here as armadillo. Despite having recently completed a vegetarian phase, and despite the still visible markings on the flesh of the armadillo’s bony plates, I tasted it. You could call it a taste test, under my mother-in-law’s watchful gaze, with the emphasis on “test.” This taste was the beginning of what was, on that visit to my husband’s home village in the South of Trinidad, an eye-opening journey to a land of culinary delights I had never imagined. On this trip, which happened over Christmas, I was led from home to home, eating a full meal at each stop. I was presented with plate after plate of curried dishes, condiments (including kuchila, tamarind sauce and fiery Scotch Bonnet pepper sauce), pastelles (similar to tamales, but with a savory-sweet filling of minced meat, olives, and raisins) and the rice dish pelau. Since then, I’ve learned to cook a pretty mean curry myself. But I have not yet mastered the art of roti making, and this is a cause for sorrow. We make do with eating curry and rice when we are without roti, but whenever we can find time and an excuse to go to New York, we have one mission: procure roti.
There is no such thing as “going too far” to sate the hunger of the expatriate. When it is for something as tasty as Trinidadian roti, a cross-country flight is not considered unreasonable. So we go to New York for a Christmastime visit to my New York-by-way-of-Trinidad in-laws. There is no Christmas goose or ham on the dining table at this Trinidadian Christmas celebration. When we announce our plans to visit, our family knows to make the obligatory run to Singh’s for curry goat and chicken, aloo pie and doubles, to bring it over to my mother-in-law’s for a welcome feast. But they have also learned over the years that they should check in with us for our “to go” order of unfilled roti. We’ll order half a dozen each of dhalpouri roti and paratha, carefully triple wrap them individually, and freeze them overnight to bring back with us to San Francisco. By the time we get back, they are starting to defrost, but they’re the first thing we unpack (and refreeze), because this is some precious loot. The handful of homesick Trinidadians we’ve collected over the years here is always thrilled when we organize a curry night, and there is never enough roti.
December 24, 2011
I was about five or six years old when I figured out that Santa Claus was a fictional character. (Although my family is Jewish, we used to celebrate Christmas with our half-Christian cousins, so my parents played along with the ruse.) When I told my mother I wanted something or other for Christmas, she slipped and said, “We can’t afford it.” She quickly caught herself and said, “I mean, that’s a little expensive for Santa Claus,” but I was on to her. Instead of being upset, I thought I was really clever.
I ran upstairs and bragged to my older brother that I had figured out that Santa was really just our parents. “Duh,” he said. “I learned that a long time ago.”
If I had thought about it, there were plenty of other causes for skepticism. I mean, how does one guy in a sleigh—even one pulled by flying reindeer—deliver goodies to every household around the world? Does he outsource?
In a way, yes. Although tubby, red-suited Santa Claus is the gift delivery man in most of North America and other countries, many places have their own traditions about who—or what—is responsible for bringing Christmas candies and toys. It also helps that he spaces out the festivities so that in some countries, distribution happens on a night other than the one before Christmas.
Dutch children, for instance, leave out their shoes—those cute wooden ones, traditionally—on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas’s feast day. In the morning they find that Sinterklaas has filled them with chocolate coins, small toys and spice cookies called pepernoten. This Sinterklaas fellow has a similar name and appearance to the American Santa, but he dresses more like a bishop and arrives on a horse. Maybe the reindeer union doesn’t allow them to work more than one night a year? He also has a politically incorrect sidekick named Zwarte Piet (Black Pete) who wears blackface and metes out punishment to misbehavers.
In Italy, it’s La Befana who comes bearing sweets for good little girls and boys. La Befana is an old witch with a broom and raggedy, patched clothing; according to folklore, she declined an invitation to accompany the three wise men on their quest to bring gifts to the baby Jesus, then thought better of it and wandered the land looking for them. Now she comes down the chimney on the eve of Epiphany (January 6) to fill children’s stockings and shoes with caramelle—or coal, if they were naughty.
But I’d have to say the most colorful, and amusing, candy-bearing Christmas character is the tió de Nadal, or Christmas log—also called cagatió, or pooping log. Beginning on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, children in the autonomous Catalonia region of Spain “feed” their log; meanwhile, their parents discreetly make the food disappear. Come Christmas, the kiddies beat the log with a stick and order it, via catchy little songs, to poop candies for them. The parents then make it appear that the log has indeed eliminated treats such as turron, a type of nougat. When the log plops out an egg or a head of garlic, that means the party’s pooped till next year.
Strange? Yes. But is it really any less plausible than flying reindeer? And when you consider that this was also the land that produced Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, it all begins to make sense.
December 22, 2011
By guest blogger Derek Workman
English cuisine has always been laughed at by its European neighbors as bland, greasy and overcooked. This may or not be true, but one thing is for sure—not one of our European neighbors’ cuisines can measure up to the Great British Pudding. The variety is endless, and even the French were forced to admit British superiority when Misson de Valbourg said, after a visit to England in 1690, “Ah what an excellent thing is an English pudding!”
Most British puddings are rich and sweet (a “sweet” is another name for a pudding) with the recipes often going back hundreds of years. The quintessential English pudding incorporates fruits that are grown in England: apples, redcurrants and raspberries, bright red rhubarb, or gooseberries, which apart from being a green, sour, hairy fruit, is the name given to someone who goes out with a couple on a date without a partner for the evening himself.
When is a pudding not a pudding? Yorkshire pudding isn’t a pudding; it is a savory pastry case than can be filled with vegetables or served, full of gravy, with that other English staple, roast beef. And neither is black pudding—that’s a sausage of boiled pig’s blood in a length of intestine, usually bound with cereal and cubes of fat. Ask for mince in the United Kingdom and you will be served ground beef. But that Christmas delight, mince pie, is actually filled with a paste of dried fruits. Confusing!
A pudding may be any variety of cake pie, tart or trifle, and is usually rich with cream, eggs and butter. Spices, dried fruit, rum and rich dark brown sugar, first brought into England through the port of Whitehaven in Cumbria, were items of such high value that the lord of the house would keep them locked away in his bedroom, portioning them out to the cook on a daily basis. The port was where the last invasion of the English mainland was attempted, in 1772, during the American War of Independence, when John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy, raided the town but failed to conquer it.
The names of some puds stick in the mind. “Spotted Dick,” a hefty steamed pudding with butter, eggs and dried fruit folded into a heavy pastry, has been a gigglesome name for generations of schoolboys. Hospital managers in Gloucestershire, in the west of England, changed the name to “Spotted Richard” on hospital menus, thinking patients would be too embarrassed to ask for it by name. No one knows where the name came from, other than that currants traditionally gave the pudding a ‘spotted’ appearance. A gooseberry fool isn’t an idiot whose friends don’t want to have him around; it is a deliciously creamy summer pudding. And despite its French sounding name, crème brulee, the creamy dish with the burnt sugar topping, was actually created in Cambridge in the early 19th century.
An inescapable addition to any British pudding, especially the steamed ones, is custard; rich, golden and runny, it is poured hot over a steaming bowl of treacle pudding, apple crumble, plum duff or any other delicious pud hot from the oven. Another complication: Ask for “a custard” in a British bakery and you will be given a small pastry with a thick, creamy filling, which you would eat cold. Pudding custard is a flowing nectar made from egg yolk, milk, sugar and vanilla pods, and the thought of licking the bowl after your mum had made it fresh must linger in the top five of every Brit’s favourite childhood memories.
The Christmas pudding reigns supreme, the highlight of the Christmas dinner, especially if you were served the portion with the lucky sixpenny piece in it.Copious quantities of currants, candied fruit, orange peel, lemon peel, eggs and beef suet bind the Christmas pudding together. Then go in the spices, cloves and cinnamon; brandy if you want it and a good slug of sherry. It’s then steamed for an hour, maybe two hours, it depends on the size of the pudding.
But it isn’t just the wonderfully rich pudding that is important, it’s how it is served. You warm yet more brandy and then light it, pouring it over the hot Christmas pudding moments before it is carried to the table. If served when the light is low, the blue flames dance and sparkle around the traditional sprig of berried holly stuck into the top of the pudding.
So, you may laugh at our fish ‘n’ chips, make rude comments about our drinking warm beer, or call us a nation of tea drinkers, but you will never, even in your wildest gastronomical dreams, match the rich British pud!
Derek Workman is an English journalist living in Valencia who “delights in searching out the weird, the wonderful and the idiosyncratic, which Spain has by the bucketful.” He blogs at Spain Uncovered.