Homemade Bagels: So Worth It!

I know it might be hard to believe, but there was a time when the only place a person could buy a decent bagel was in a big city kosher bakery. I had never even heard of a bagelsbagel until I was seventeen and the grocery store on Cape Cod where I was a cashier began carrying the frozen Lenders version at the request of summer people from places like Boston and New York City.

I was still a bagel neophyte when, a few years later, my college boyfriend took me home to meet his Brooklyn-born parents. They decided I was definitely not the girl for their son when I turned up my nose at lox and cream cheese and requested mayonnaise for the bagel from which I was scraping away the poppy seeds.

Now I eat bagels – with cream cheese – at least once a week. I buy them by the dozen from The Works Cafe in Concord, cut them in half, throw them in the freezer, then pop them in the toaster as needed, and they’re wonderful. But one day recently we ran out of our frozen stock and, because I wasn’t planning to make a trip to Concord any time soon, I decided to try making my own.

Making good bagels at home, it turns out, is a little more complicated than making a good loaf of bread at home. First of all, the dough, which is stiffer than regular bread dough, has to be kneaded for a long time to properly activate the gluten in it. And because the dough begins with a “sponge” (a loose mixture of flour, water and yeast), and because bagels have to spend the night in the refrigerator to ferment and develop the best flavor, you’ll need to start a day ahead of time. Furthermore, the bagels have to be boiled before being baked to set the gluten in the crust, which makes the finished product shiny and crunchy on the outside and moist and chewy on the inside. Continue reading

Preserved Lemons: Easy to Make, Easy to Use

I recently picked up Paula Wolfert’s beautiful cookbook, The Food of Morocco, in which Wolfert extols preserved lemons as “the most important condiment in the Moroccan preserved lemonslarder.” Fresh lemons, she warns, are no substitute, and I agree.

Brined in sea salt and lemon juice, then fermented for up to a month, preserved lemons take on a melting texture. Their flavor becomes more complex and mellow, as the tang of lactic acid fermentation melds with the lemon’s natural acidity. So while most of us wouldn’t want to eat more than a nibble of raw lemon peel, preserved lemon peel is as addictive as good olives; in fact, olives and preserved lemon are a classic combination in Morocco’s famous tagines.

Preserving lemons at home is easy. All you need are good quality organic lemons (conventional lemons harbor too many toxic chemicals), sea salt and a jar. How long the Continue reading

Fondue: A Primer

Tips for perfect fondue and three recipes: Cheese, Chocolate and Breakfast

Sometimes a recipe that seems easy turns out to be vexingly difficult to pull off. Cheese fondue is a case in point. The list of ingredients couldn’t be simpler – not much more than cheese fondue over candlewine and cheese. When it’s well done, fondue is a memorable dish – its smooth texture, comforting warmth and rich flavors perfectly balanced by crusty bread and crunchy vegetables. Continue reading

How to Use up Sprouting Storage Onions: Caramelized Onions

Onions are biennials, that is, they form a bulb the first year of growth (this is what we eat) then send up a flower and form seeds the second year of growth. One way an onion bulb gets a jump on reproduction is to be light sensitive. As the days grow longer after the Winter Solstice on December 21, the onions in our larders sense spring is on the way and begin getting ready to send up a flower stalk. The best storage onions delay this process, caramelized onion soupbut as soon as we begin getting over ten hours of light a day (where I live, that’s in February) even the best keepers are usually turning green in the middle and getting soft. So right about the time I start planting next year’s onions (around twelve weeks before the last frost) it’s also time to do something with last year’s onions before they go bad.

My favorite way to use up onions is to make a big batch of caramelized onions. Sweet, melting, golden caramelized onions are used in regional cuisines all over the world. In Greece, they are mixed with sheep milk yogurt and tossed with pasta and grated cheese, or served atop a dish of lentils and parsley. In France, where they are called “confit d’oignon” they turn up beside grilled meat or mingled with bacon and cheese in quiche. Tuscans strew them over their regional flatbread, schiacciata, along with a little cheese and a few olives to make a light lunch. Continue reading

Potatoes are Comfort Food for the Hunger Moon Month

February’s full moon is known as the “Hunger Moon.” It wasn’t so long ago that people Coconut Apricot Monkey Breadwould face empty larders at the end of winter (in undeveloped countries people are still at risk for seasonal starvation). And even though these days relatively few Americans are at risk of dying for want of food, by the end of winter our bodies are longing for the spring tonics of early bitter greens, sunshine and best of all, the warm brown scent of thawing earth.

Which may be why potatoes are such a comfort to us during these dreggy days. They smell of the earth, don’t they? And they even taste of it in a good way – elemental and solid. Too, potatoes are one of the few vegetables (they’re actually a tuber) whose flavor improves with storage. According to Harold McGee, author of my favorite book of kitchen science, On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, during proper storage (in the dark at temperatures between 45 and 50 degrees) the enzyme activity in potatoes “generates fatty, fruity, and flowery notes.” Continue reading

Warm Winter Salads

In winter, when our cold-weary bodies are craving warm, filling food, digging in to a big plate of chilly salad greens might not hold much appeal. It’s easy, though, to turn winter greens into a satisfying hot meal. Here are three recipes that do just that. Continue reading

Druze Pita with Brown Rice and Orange Pilaf, Canary Beans, Olive and Feta Salad and Winter Greens with Chickpea Sauce

I first had Druze pita bread at Gazala’s, a tiny, inexpensive and wonderful restaurant not far from Times Square in New York City. In fact, the site of Gazala herself, a young Israeli Druze woman, standing in the front window of her establishment cooking her platter-sized, super-thin rounds of bread on what looked like an overturned wok is what drew us in the door. Continue reading