Begging for S’more

My grandchildren reminded me that Aug. 10 is National S’mores Day. I couldn’t disappoint them, so we decided to have an August S’mores weekend.

I prepared by looking up the history of this uniquely American treat. After all, it could be a “Jeopardy” question someday. The name for s’mores originated when people asked for “some more” of any sweet dessert. History says this particular triple delight of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows was invented by the Girl Scouts in the early 1900s. It was a perfect treat for roasting over campfires. Since the marshmallows get gooey and eating gets messy, s’mores are especially suited to outdoor dining.

The first written recipe appeared in the 1927 Girl Scouts cookbook. Like many origin stories, there is debate over the “truthiness” of the story. But no one can quibble over the level of yumminess: On a scale of 1 to 10, s’mores are an 11 for any age.

Think of having a “s’mores bar.” Use different flavors of chocolate, slip in some thin banana and strawberry slices. Or add bananas and peanut butter. And for a savory treat, add savory crackers, thinly sliced grape tomatoes, fresh basil and small mozarella balls.

Since our culture now craves instant gratification any place at any time, there are now ways to makes’mores without a campfire. You can use a toaster oven, stove top or microwave. The magic ingredient is those gooey well-toasted marshmallows. S’mores have morphed their way onto elegant restaurant menus with simple ingredients that transform into creative desserts, drinks and delicious memories.

S’MORES ICE CREAM CAKE
S’MORES CUPCAKES
S’MORE’S SHAKE

Tips & Tricks
• Look for square marshmallows made just for s’mores.
• Store marshmallows in the freezer, cut with scissors dipped in hot water. If they become hard, place in a plastic baggie with a large slice of fresh bread for a few days.
• Don’t be afraid to try assorted chocolate squares, even those filled with caramel.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

And, the Price is Right

Meat lovers rejoice, because there’s a new kosher game in town that rivals in both price and quality the wood-paneled, white-tableclothed varieties that have for years plied their trade in offering decidedly treif hunks of juicy steak.

The brainchild of Accents Grill and Cocoaccinos owners Lara and Larry Franks, Serengeti aims to do for Baltimore kosher cuisine what such establishments as Ruth’s Chris and Capital Grille have done for everybody else; its mission is to be no less than the final authority when it comes to competitively priced, high-quality dining that, while offering gourmet flavors, focuses on, as Lara Franks said in her South African lilt, “giving diners a healthy portion of protein at a good value.”

With a décor heavy on earth tones and angular designs and metal antelope heads hung on the walls, Serengeti evokes the spirit of an African hunting lodge or a rustic cabin. On a recent Wednesday evening, the place was packed, and a hurried Franks, who serves as hostess, revealed that the indoor location — the OU-supervised restaurant sits behind Accents in the Atrium mall at the Greenspring Shopping Center off of Smith Avenue — has had steady dinner and lunch crowds ever since a soft opening in late June. Reservations, she said, are highly recommended.

That the restaurant gets by essentially on word of mouth — Serengeti is just now beginning an advertising campaign — is a testament to the niche its owners identified several years ago, said Phil Rosenfeld, who manages the front of the house. “The idea is a classy steakhouse, something that was missing from the Baltimore kosher scene.”

Appetizers run from $7.50 for the soup of the day — it happened to be beef brisket split pea this particular night — to $17 for what Rosenfeld said is the restaurant’s most popular dish, a plate of sweet and spicy bourbon-braised short ribs served over creamy grits and topped with crispy onions. The meat, offering a substantial dose of smokiness with a hint of spice against a background of peppercorn, falls off the bone, while a tuna ceviche tower ($12) presents alternating layers of diced raw fish on “crackers” of tortilla chips and dollops of avocado cream.

For the main course, the Franks, along with Chef Daniel Neuman — a returnee to Baltimore after stints in New York kosher catering outfits — are taking an all-encompassing approach. Their menu leans heavy on steaks to be sure — grilled rib eyes can be ordered on the bone or boneless in both 12-ounce and 16-ounce cuts, spice rubbed or accompanied by one of three house sauces — but diners can also choose from braised lamb shank with red wine reduction ($27), a fish dish, two chicken entrées ($18), a vegan lentil shepherd’s pie ($18) or four entrée-sized salads ($15-$25). The chili-rubbed seared steak tournedos with peppercorn sauce ($42 for 16 ounces/$32 for 12 ounces) comes as thick as any chophouse filet and just as tender, while the grilled honey chipotle marinated rib eye steak ($32 for 16 ounces/$25 for 12 ounces) evokes images of Texas ranch hands enjoying a meal of well-deserved barbecued sustenance after a hard day’s work.

Eight different sides can be ordered al a carte and sandwiches include lamb burgers, hamburgers, grilled chicken and veggie varieties. Desserts run between $6 and $9.

A prix fixe option, at $50 per person, includes an appetizer, salad or soup, entrée with a side and desert.

For his part, Neuman relishes the chance to interact with his diners one on one, although he admitted that the cooking arrangement has taken some getting used to as both Accents and Serengeti share the kitchen.

“I’ve got two lines here going on simultaneously!” he shouted as assistants and wait staff scurried to and fro. When he was reminded that hotels and cruise ships frequently have multiple restaurants using central cooking facilities, he laughed: “Cruise ships! They have bigger kitchens!”

Franks, who got her start in the restaurant industry by running corporate lunch counters and catering kitchens in Southern California, said her foray into kosher dining and move to Baltimore a decade ago has been interesting. She and her husband preside over an ever-expanding empire of restaurants and, judging from the mix of people, Jewish and non-Jewish, patronizing their newest establishment, they seem to be answering a need. Less than a month since opening, some patrons have already become regulars and order without the help of the menu.

“When we designed this, we made sure that we were comparable and competitive to the non-kosher steakhouses in the area,” said Franks. “We know what the standard is on the open market and we’re going to deliver that same quality.”

Serengeti is located at 2839m Smith Ave. in Baltimore. For reservations, call 410-413-6080.


Created with flickr slideshow.

Come And Get It!

My favorite signs of summer — the “Farmers’ Market Is Now Open” placards — are popping up all over town. The season for Maryland produce is short, so don’t let any grass grow under your feet: Take advantage as soon as you can.

There is no better way to test new family recipes than this time of year, when you have farm-fresh, non-processed foods to create new dishes. You can find the freshest produce any day of the week from a simple roadside cart to a large marketplace, where you can spend hours “grazing.” Plan ahead by using the Maryland Farmers’ Market Guide (marylandsbest.com) for dates, times and locations. Some markets include carts with hot, prepared foods, so you can have lunch while you shop. And some markets have craft booths with homemade jewelry, clothes and more. A shopper’s delight.

My personal bests: I never pass up farm-fresh eggs or heirloom tomatoes, as they are so exceptional. I always look for what I call “crazy corn” — corn with mixed white and yellow crisp kernels. My family is crazy about this sweet corn.

I always try to experiment with one new item, such as squash blossoms. Don’t be timid about adding a new ethnic ingredient to your kosher recipe. And don’t be afraid to ask the farmers and other shoppers what recipes they are planning with their purchases. A farmers’ market can be a “living cookbook” full of great ideas.

POMEGRANATE SALAD
ILENE’S SOUTHERN TOMATO PIE
BAKED STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS
FRESH STRAWBERRY PIE

Farmer’s Market Tips & Tricks
• Go early. The best selections sell out fast. But the best bargains are at
closing time.
• Reuse, reduce, recycle — bring canvas bags or a wheeled cart, wagon or even a stroller for purchases.
• Bring small change: Dollar bills and coins make shopping easier and faster.

Make It Memorable

Poor Dad! For Mother’s Day almost 114 million greeting cards are purchased annually; for Dad’s big day, 90 million. And while many restaurants are bombarded for reservations on Mother’s Day, the same ones often are less than full on Dad’s special day. The most hallowed tradition on Father’s Day is for everyone to gather around the grill while Dad cooks!

Getting fathers to recall their past can be a gift for them and for the rest of the family. There are many commercial “memory” books that encourage Dad or Zayde to write down his blasts from his past. You can buy one such as “Dad, Tell Me a Story: How to Revive the Tradition of Storytelling with Your Children” (a great gift for dads with children of all ages). Or you can make your own. Get paper and a loose-leaf binder. Have kids and grandkids write a question at the top of a page such as, “What was your favorite game when you were 10?” “Who was your favorite teacher?” And since Dad still remains king of the grill, here are some side dishes that will please him and all guests. Make Father’s Day a celebration he deserves.

ILENE’S CORN CHIP SALAD
STRAWBERRY MOZZARELLA WITH BALSAMIC GLAZE
EARLY SUMMER GREEN BEANS

Tips & Tricks

  • Crumple up and soap a piece of aluminum foil (even slightly used, but clean) into a ball to clean the grill or tough surfaces on pots/casseroles. (better than steel wool).
  • If you’re short on refrigerator space, fill your bathtub, laundry sink or top-load washing machine with ice and chill bottles until you need them.
  • Knot the corners of a cloth when eating outdoors to prevent flapping. Slip a tiny bouquet of herbs or dried flowers in each knot for decoration.

Manischewitz All-Star Cookoff

050914_food1To choose the very best of the best, the Manischewitz All-Star Cookoff began with the finalists from its past seven contests. From these, four were chosen. They submitted recipes for some of the most delicious creations I have ever tasted — and I have tasted a lot of food from contest recipes!

The final Manischwewitz all-star for 2014 was Jamie Brown-Miller from Napa, Calif., for her palate-pleasing, contemporary fusion of traditional Southern chicken and waffles.

The winning recipe makes innovative use of Manischewitz products: Potato pancake mix is the base for the waffles, and matzo ball mix coats the chicken. Smart and delicious.

Jamie Brown-Miller demonstrates her award-winning recipe. (photos provided)

Jamie Brown-Miller demonstrates her award-winning recipe.
(photos provided)

Another finalist, Dr. Joe Carver, won raves for Bubbie’s Noodle Studel. Carver’s dish was creamy and delicious with a few unusual ingredient combinations. The luscious kugel-type dish was definitely not your bubbie’s kugel, but it was a great dairy entrée that even your bubbie would love.

Back home I had to put my own creativity into play for Pesach. Although hard-boiled eggs are always a Seder standard, many people (especially my health-conscious kids) now leave the yolks and only eat the whites. What to do with all those yummy hard-boiled yolks?

I began to wonder what would happen if I put them in the freezer. I scanned the Web, and sure enough, I found recipes using freshly defrosted hard-boiled yolks. I found a cookie recipe that was so easy I couldn’t believe it. They were rich and included butter, but those cookies were as good as any shortbread cookies I’ve ever made. I call them the ultimate recycled shortbread cookies.

Manischewitz will now hold its contest every year. Pull up your old family heirloom recipes and give them a new twist. To enter, visit manischewitz.com.

$25,000 Winner: Waffled Latkes With Matzo Fried Chicken

Better-Than-Shortbread Easy Cookies
Bubbie’s Noodle Strudel

Tips & Tricks

  • Usually recipes calling for egg noodles can use wide, medium and curled or straight, depending on your choice.
  • Extra-firm tofu must be labeled as such when a recipe calls for it.
  • You can freeze egg yolks for later use. Cool first, and wrap them tightly in plastic zip-lock bag

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Pesach With Flair

Passover is truly my favorite holiday.

Every year I like to add a unique dish to my table, making tradition relevant to the young people at the Seder. Two of my granddaughters, Jahna and Hannah, take French at school — and both enjoy eating crepes. So I decided to find the very best crepe recipe to include for Passover.

It turned into quite a challenge. (You could even say it made me meshuges.) My kitchen turned into a Passover crepe test kitchen, as I experimented with dozens of recipes to get the perfect Pesach crepe. Below is my final recipe.

For savory courses, I plan to stuff the crepes with leftover brisket, cholent or chicken. For those crepes, I changed the salt ingredient to onion salt for a more savory flavor. They can be dressed with gravy for a great leftover meal. For dessert, I will make some stuffed and frozen in advance with ice cream to serve with a drizzled warm chocolate sauce surrounded by little chocolate frogs. Frog molds can be found at koshercook.com.

My newest favorite cookbook is “A Taste of Pesach,” a project of Yeshiva Me’on Hatorah in New York. Every recipe has a lovely color photo, and many are very creative, such as balsamic French roast and Hungarian brownies.

There are many new apps to help out with Passover planning this year. The Manischewitz Recipe & Holiday Guide is my favorite. It can be downloaded free to any Apple or Android device by searching for Manischewitz in the app stores. To everyone, have an “appy” Pesach!

Ilene’s Passover Crepes

Balsamic French Roast

Broccolini With Lemon Mustard Dressing

Hungarian Brownies

Tips & Tricks
• Don’t forget to use leftover, drained charoses to marble through mondel bread dough.
• You can use fresh asparagus or broccoli instead of broccolini, but broccolini will look and taste unique.
• Use the freshest farm-raised eggs for Passover. The yolks are vibrant, and the whites are richer — so good for beating up whites. It’s worth the trip to Faithful Friends Egg Farm (410-374-3432): $4 a dozen, with assorted colors from special chickens and an extra one for your Seder plate!

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Pick Your Filling

031414_foodPrepare to get your celebration mode in gear, it’s time for Purim! Head to your nearest synagogue, crank up your groggers, and get ready to drown out the name of Haman while cheering on Esther and Mordechai.

As a prerequisite to any and all Purim celebrations (and seudahs), it’s time to dig out your favorite hamantaschen recipe and get baking. This year I received an email with the query of where exactly did the idea of a hamantaschen come from? After a bit of research I came up with three slightly different but not dissimilar explanations for the seminal holiday treat. Simply put, hamantaschen are three-cornered pastries whose traditional filling is poppy seed. In Yiddish, “hamantaschen” roughly translates to Haman’s pocket. Other cultures call it Haman’s hat, because the biblical villain supposedly wore a three-cornered chapeau. Still another explanation I found calls the pastry Haman’s ear.

No matter which definition you choose, the oldest “traditional” hamantaschen recipe I found used yeast dough. The yeast dough variety is typically larger and more Danish-like than the cookie-dough variety I grew up with. No matter which dough you choose, the most talked-about filling I found was poppy seed. It’s not my favorite filling, but a poppy seed interior is ubiquitous among hamantaschen purists.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to fillings, however, from fruits and nuts to chocolate and a mixture of any and all of your favorite things. Just make sure not to overstuff and to vent the cookies as they tend to “explode” into weird-looking pastries if the steam from the filling builds up and there is nowhere for it to go.

I’m offering yeast and cookie-dough recipes and a bunch of really different filling recipes. Since you can always buy pie filling, there are no excuses not to doctor up your own. Strain out the excess goo, and add some bread crumbs and chopped golden raisins to make your own “homemade” fillings. If you’re pressed for time, these recipes are going to help you make hamantaschen that are truly deliciously unique.

Hamantaschen Cookie Dough
Another Hamantaschen Cookie Dough
Joan Nathan’s Recipe for Yeast Hamanstachen
Raspberry Filling
Dried Fruit and Nut Filling
Brownie Filling

Semisweet Secrets

My late mother told me to wait for post-holiday sales for great buys on anything. This adage still rings true. Even a non-Jewish holiday such as Valentine’s Day can provide residual benefits and bargains for Jewish cooks.

On Feb. 15 — and the week after — you can find many kosher chocolates marked to 75 percent off. No matter if they are in traditional “Valentine’s” shapes; you can melt them and use them in recipes.

With that in mind, chili is so heart warming — pun intended — at this frigid time of year, and I have a semisweet secret guaranteed to rev up the flavor. Add a dollop of semisweet chocolate to chili to make it the richest stew around.

Melt chocolate candies and drizzle over almost any cake or dessert, including heart-healthy treats such as baked pears or apples. And don’t forget the Israeli favorite: a combination of orange and chocolate. The best oranges are in season now, so you can use their zest and juice to enhance recipes. Coarsely chop chocolate candies to use in mandelbread or cookies. You can save heart-shaped chocolates for the Tu B’Av holiday this summer.

Outside of the chocolate world, another seasonal best is butternut squash. You can buy it in packages already peeled and diced, making soups, salads and stews so easy to prepare. My butternut squash recipe includes all of February’s top in-season picks for a delicious entrée. The crispy bread topping makes this dish a real treat.

No-Bake Chocolate Mousse Pie

Beef Butternut Squash Stew

Chocolate Chicken Mole

Tips & Tricks
• Add one ounce of semisweet or dark chocolate to any chili recipe for great results.
• Grated orange rind, pure orange juice or extract with chocolate bits make great mandelbread.
• To break up a whole chocolate bar, whack it several times with a rolling pin.
• Store any unpeeled winter squash in a dry basement, as the gourd deteriorates quickly below 50 degrees.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Soup Night!

011014_soup-nightDo you remember the folk tale about Stone Soup? Two hungry soldiers tricked a village into adding ingredients until they had a delicious pot of soup made from a stone. It’s one of my favorite stories, and soup is one of my favorite foods, especially at this time of year. Gathering friends, family and neighbors for a casual night of soup and sides is a great bonding idea. I encourage you to try your own soup night.

You can borrow from the folk tale and have guests bring ingredients, cut up and ready to throw in, for one big pot of soup, or you can expand the evening to feature an entire soup buffet to highlight your guests’ own creations. If including children, you might have a pot of simmering water with meat and poultry parts and help the kids add the other ingredients for a custom version of the folk-tale dish. Or include some doctored-up store-bought tomato soup and dip-worthy mini-grilled cheese sandwiches.

Sides can include a wide variety of breads, salads and vegetables. Soup night can be anything: vegetarian, gluten free, dairy friendly; there’s a pot to please every palate. Soups can also be grouped by theme, such as Asian, Middle Eastern or Italian. If this communal soup concept warms your heart, get more ideas at soupnight.net.

“Soup Night” by Maggie Stuckey, brimming with tips and recipes, served as the inspiration for this idea.

WINTER MOUNTAIN SOUP >>
TACO SOUP >>
ASPARAGUS-LEEK CHOWDER >>

Tips & Tricks
• As host, provide one or two soups in a slow cooker, along with disposable bowls, spoons and perhaps some plastic containers for leftovers.
• Have some unique condiments to add to the soups, such as croutons, tortilla strips or maybe even some cooked small pasta or rice.
• The supermarket salad bar is a good place to find fresh cut-up vegetables for soup or garnishes.

Ilene Spector is a local freelance writer.

Start Your Ovens!

121313_start-your-ovens

Glori Spriggs takes home $1 million for her award-winning potatoes at the iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest.
(Provided)

The iconic Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest keeps going strong. I attended this year’s event at the stunning new Aria Hotel in Las Vegas. This truly American competition started in 1949: No-knead water-rising twists (a nut sweet roll raised under water) won the grand prize, and Eleanor Roosevelt attended as a guest. The contest keeps evolving to reflect changes in consumer lifestyles and cooking trends. To ensure quick and easy recipes, this year’s entries were capped at seven ingredients and 30 minutes or less of active prep time. In the Aria Grand Ballroom, 100 finalists waited anxiously. The grand prize ($1 million) went to Glori Spriggs of Henderson, Nev., for her loaded potato pinwheels.

Each recipe makes use of at least one Pillsbury product. Kosher cooks who want to duplicate the luscious recipes at home have to be even more creative. For instance, to create your own kosher pinwheels, Trader Joe’s has its own refrigerated crescent roll dough, and it is kosher! Trader Joe’s also has kosher biscuits.

I have shared a few recipes here with tips to make them kosher. I believe any good kosher cook could duplicate many of the winning recipes and tailor them to a kosher version. The recipes are simply delicious (I tasted a lot of them). I urge you to go to the Pillsbury Bake-Off website, where you can view every one of the 100 final recipes or purchase the soft-cover “Pillsbury Bake-Off 100 Winning Recipes” booklet, which is available at supermarkets.

Next year’s contest will be in Nashville, Tenn. On the Bake-Off’s website you can find details on how to enter. So start your ovens! Pillsbury may have retired its old slogan, “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven,” but I still say that nothing says “lovin’” better than a million bucks.

Grand Prize Winner: Loaded Potato Pinwheels >>
Berry-filled Shortbread Brunch Tart >>
Honey Sesame Bagels >>

Tips & Tricks
• Recipes that call for real bacon can be substituted with kosher Facon (from the Giant).
• Crescent or biscuit roll ingredients are available kosher at Trader Joe’s.
• Use a few coffee filters on a plate to drain any fried foods, to strain your soups or to tie fresh herbs.
• Use a good store-bought pesto as an addition to burgers, sandwiches, chicken or fish.

Ilene Spector is an area freelance writer.