Brownie Fail, or: Cake

Objectively speaking, I cannot make brownies. It doesn’t matter which recipe I use or steps I take, they all come out somewhat awful. Until now, I thought I was alone – but I am not. A friend has fallen into the same problem. Her solution though, isn’t to stay away from brownies. It’s to remake them in her own image.

Here is the original and for those who can’t make brownies:

double the water

double the baking soda

and, from the ashes of failed brownies, you have a cake that was waiting to be born.


They May Not Taste Like It, But They’re Pesachdik

My sister is many things.

She’s a clear communicator. See below if you don’t believe me:

We need to make these next year, they don’t taste pesadik.

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 cup oil
3/4 bag of chocolate chips
Bake on ungreased cookie sheet at 250 F for 30-35 minutes
Makes 30 cookies
She is also a truth-telller.
Chag samach!

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

Trust no one.

Don’t buy into the hype.

Don’t try new recipes on guests.

All of the above are good pieces of advice. So when Special Correspondent Ariella told me about an amazing soup that soothed the soul, I didn’t believe her. Years ago, she told me the tale of a soup that came out differently for every person – but tasted delicious each time. She may have used the term magical to describe this phenomena. I ignored her.

Then, she made Healing Sweet Potato Soup when everyone was sick. I loved it – and I don’t even like sweet potatoes – and I healed. I should have trusted her – it lived up to the hype. As you heal this flu season, I recommend you do the same. In fact, I suggest you make it for the first time for lots of guests.

Healing Sweet Potato Soup

1 onion, diced

1 to 2 apples, peeled and diced

3 large or 5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 cup of cashews, or more to taste

Just enough water to cover the other ingredients

For an extra kick, add green salsa

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until ingredients are soft – about 3 hours. Do not drain the water, use an immersion blender or food processor to achieve the right consistency.

The Lunch of Libraries: Spiced Rice

The days of sacrosanct libraries is coming to an end. In the children’s section, parents are reprimanded for shushing their children with the librarian’s gentle, ‘Libraries are for talking too.’ Phone calls are allowed in designated areas. Magazines litter tables once reserved for dictionaries and encyclopedias. However, one rule remains iron-clad: no food is permitted. Adults who try to eat breakfast are asked to leave. Parents who pull out cheerios are informed that they can take their children outside if they need to snack. Of course, there’s one exception: the library staff.

When I worked in a public library, patrons dropped off food for the staff for every major holiday and some of the minor ones. They treated us like neighbors – the food came in glass dishes, with silver spoons, and instructions on how long to heat it up and what would go best with it. Desserts were generally a favorite, but sometimes grateful patrons dropped off a whole meal. The one the librarians loved best was a giant casserole dish of curried rice with shrimp. The Indian woman who made it was chatty and friendly, with a penchant for romance novels and the occasional best seller. She believed in good manners, as evidenced by her generous and reportedly delicious gift, and her innate understanding that the staff would wash her dishes before her next weekly visit to the library. She was proved right on all accounts.

Although I couldn’t eat what she made, the dish made an impression on me. Curried rice – sans shrimp – seems to me the epitome of an elegant thank-you. However, I’ve never found a recipe which lives up to the mythical hype. I’ve tried a number of curried rice recipes, even recruiting Special Correspondent Ellen to cull her finest curried rice recipes for me. None of them measured up. But, I adapted them and came up with this instead:

Spiced Rice

2 1/4 c water

1 c brown rice

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp salt

Pour everything into the pot, bring water to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover, allow to cook for 30 minutes or until water is fully absorbed.


To turn this into a full meal:

1 can of chickpeas, drained

1 green pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 red pepper, sliced into thin strips

1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped

salt, to taste

pepper, to taste

Spray baking pan with oil, toss on all ingredients. Bake at 400 for 30 to 45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes.

Mix together, place in your best dishes – and walk it over to your local library staff. They’ll thank you, and clean your dishes too.

Cabbage Strudel Recipe: Even Google Can’t Find It

Google had never heard of Cabbage Strudel. It knows of apple strudels galore. The search engine has spit back enough cabbage recipes for me to wonder if Slavic languages have as many words for boiled cabbage as the Eskimos do for snow. But, for years I could not find a recipe for cabbage strudel. The closest I got was Nora Ephron’s The Lost Strudel – the title gives away the fact that a decade ago she had already concluded that cabbage strudel was lost to us.

I actually have a recipe for cabbage strudel. Bubby gave me the recipe, but like most recipes she gave me, the directions were vague. When I told her it didn’t work out, she made me read the recipe back to her. She confirmed it, and I could hear her shrug over the phone line. Sometimes, things just don’t work. But most of the time, I just didn’t use enough shmaltz and she couldn’t help me with that.

My dad couldn’t help me either, except to tell me that I probably wasn’t using enough shmaltz – a fair assumption since I wasn’t using any. However, he did mention that the recipe was unique. My Zaidy’s mother was the one in the family who had made cabbage strudel. But Bubby never met her, never had the strudel – and unlike her mother in law, she was not Polish. Rather, her family was from further east. So,when Zayde asked her to make his mother’s dish, she made a cabbage strudel of her own invention.

With that clue, I tried a few new search terms. In return, Google gave me Hungarian Cabbage Strudel. The countries aren’t far apart on the map, but something clearly is lost in translation.


In Eastern Europe, they don’t confuse proximity  with similarity         credit: google earth

While my grandmother’s recipe called for soft dough, which could be pulled to translucence, it wasn’t flaky. The Hungarian recipes call for phyllo dough. The Hungarian recipes sometimes call for sugar. Bubby’s called for salt, with more salt if needed.

Then again, Bubby made the recipe up. So, I guess I’ll try the same – на здоровье or zdrowie – either way, it’ll hopefully be delicious.


Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

I have no time.

I have few ingredients.

But if I don’t have consistent meals, I cry.

So, to avoid that, I throw all the components of a healthy meal together and let it cook while I diagram how coal is made into steel and calculate the percentage increase to a health insurer’s bottom line of hiring one additional claims processor (not enough).

This week’s solution to my ongoing problem is loosely based on a real recipe by Budget Bytes.

Vegetarian Sloppy Joes

2 cans chickpeas

1 tbsp oregano

1 – 2 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 onion

3 cloves garlic

Combine in the food processor until nearly smooth.

In a frying pan, saute

1 – 2 tbsp oil

1/2 onion, chopped

Once the onion is translucent, add the chickpea paste and

1/2 package of triple-washed kale (you can add spinach and wash it yourself. Practically, you could wash the kale yourself. Personally, I’ve washed kale once and have no interest in repeating the experience.)

When the kale is bright green, add

1 can tomato sauce

1 tbsp basil

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp pepper

1 tbsp honey

1 – 2 tsp lemon juice

stir until the mixture is the consistency of sloppy joes.

Serve on hamburger buns to great acclaim. Or be like me and pack it up with brown rice for this week’s lunches and dinners.

Mexican Eggplant Soup

You might have a cold, but I don’t. The credit for my outstanding health goes to this soup. Because if I was thinking of getting a cold, it would kick it right out of me.

That was such a purposeful statement. Obviously, it skipped right over the kitchen dreams – and nightmares – which brought all the ingredients into my kitchen at the same time.

What actually happened was a serious of less than fortunate recipe attempts. I tried, for the first time, to roast eggplant slices in the oven without using a recipe. I burned the first batch to a crisp – it turns out the even eggplant will cook completely and then turn to ash if you cook it at 375 for 20 minutes and then 500 for 30 minutes more. The second batch, made with half an eggplant to cut my loses, I cooked with oil and garlic at 500 for 20 minutes. It was acceptable, but not something I’d make for people I liked. Which left me with half a raw eggplant and no plan for it.

Undeterred, I revamped a recipe for unstuffed cabbage in order to cook it in the crockpot. After you add two pound of ground meat and 2 cans of diced tomato, there’s only so much room for chopped cabbage in a small crockpot. About half a cabbage worth, to be exact. So half a cabbage remained, forsaken, in my fridge.

I made corn salad. People ate it. I had left over corn salad. My soup absorbed it.

Finally, Goya’s salsa verde – you can’t have a fully stocked kitchen without it. Made in Mexico City, certified kosher in Mexico City, touted by residents of Mexico City – and me.

Mexican Eggplant Soup

1 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 tbsp oil

1/2 eggplant, cubed

1/4 head of cabbage, chopped

1 c corn

6 oz salsa verde

4 to 6 c water

1 tsp to 1 tbsp salt

Saute onion and garlic, when translucent, mix in eggplant and until pre-cooked (five to ten minutes). Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Once the soup is boiling, lower the flame to a simmer, put a lid on the pot and allow to cook for two hours, or as long as desired.

How to Celebrate a National Holiday

Happy National Chocolate Milkshake Day!

Learn about the medicinal value of milkshakes from one of Pittsburgh’s finest milkshake shops.

And while you’re doing that, make sure you’re having a milkshake of your own. It’ll keep you strong.

Chocolate Milkshake

1 c milk

1 to 2 scoops ice cream

2 tbsp chocolate syrup [more to taste]


1 banana

chocolate chips

Put it all in the blender, and blend. My mother taught me that there is only one way to drink a milkshake: in a giant cup, with a straw. Any other way is just not in the spirit of a national celebration. And a national celebration is what this is.

Antidote to Desperation: All the Food Groups Salad

I hit rock bottom while holding a bag of frozen succotash. Two years ago I was standing in Trader Joe’s, fifteen minutes before closing, next to a basket so full that I could only get it across the store by dragging it. I had no food in the house and no time to cook whatever I could purchase in the next few minutes.

A week before this episode, Special Correspondent Na’ama pointed out that I could order groceries online and have them delivered. I considered that but there were two problems; I was never home – left at 7am and returned at 12am – and I still didn’t have time to cook. Could I have gotten around that? Probably. But I didn’t have the wherewithal.

I was tired.

I was overworked.

I wasn’t thinking straight.

So, for the months that my work schedule subsumed my life, I ran to the grocery store late at night and grabbed anything that didn’t require preparation and appeared marginally nutritious. I don’t remember what else was in my cart when I picked up the succotash; I do remember wondering wondering why a grocery store would close before 12am and how I was going to get my basket all the way to the registers – and somewhere in the back of my mind was the question of what succotash tasted like.

I wish I had had this recipe then. Because it turns out that I don’t like succotash. Maybe because it’s not meant to be eaten straight out of the freezer.

All the Food Groups Salad

1/2 package frozen corn [If you have time to buy and cook corn, go for it.]

1 cup barley [cooked]

1/2 red onion, diced

1 cup cannellini beans

1 to 2 cups chopped vegetables [I used 1 cup sliced snap peas]

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp apple cider vinegar

spices to taste

It’s excellent served warm. Or cold. And it’ll last until it’s time to go shopping again. At which point, head straight past the succotash.

Last Ingredients Standing

There are days when I have no food in my pantry. Those are terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. Both of them. The only times I’m completely at a loss are the day before Peasch and the day after. Or rather, those used to be the days when I scrounged for food or went to bed hungry. Then, last year, I found a solution. The solution is:

Spicy Peanut Butter Rice & Beans

2 c rice, cooked [this year I was out of rice and used barley. It turns out that barley requires less water to cook than rice. I made it work – by dumping out the excess water after the grains had plumped up and then leaving the pot on the burner for another 10 minutes to burn off the excess liquid. Or rather, that was my intent. I forgot about it and had to scrap the pot a bit about leaving the grain on for another 25 minutes.]

1 can diced tomatoes

1 can black beans

8 oz spinach [frozen is all I’ve got right now]

3 tbsp chunky peanut butter

1 – 3 tsp chili powers [to taste]

sprinkling of red pepper flakes

Cook the rice, or what every carbohydrate you have left in your pantry. Separately, in a pan, melt the peanut butter with the frozen spinach, till the spinach is defrosted and the peanut butter evenly incorporated. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Serve together. It might be excellent with hot sauce, but you’d have to have some in your pantry to enjoy it. Some of us are still working on stocking up the basics.

I realize that this is way more food than most people have when their pantry is empty. If you’re more like the rest of the world than I am, I recommend buying cereal and milk and waiting for the next day. Minimally nutritious and completely delicious.