Say what you will about the most iconic Jewish foods — bagels, matzo soup, brisket, Shabbos chicken. Cheese blintzes are the reason I am proud to write about Jewish food. When made well, they are delicate little pillows of crepe stuffed with warm, sweet, freshly made cheese and topped with a fruit compote. They are in essence, a dessert that is socially acceptable to eat at the dinner or breakfast table.
Today, it’s time to correct one of the greatest oversights of the last 7.5 years on this website… we’re going to talk about cheese blintzes. I mean, really, what have I been waiting for? I’ve got all of the bases covered that would prequalify me for a cheese blintz proclivity: I love crêpes and Eastern European food, I’m Jewish, married to a Russian, had a deep cheese blintz addiction when I was pregnant…
Deb goes on to discuss the provenance of these treats. While the name blintz is Russian, I’ve tried them in Ukrainian restaurants and spotted them on menus in Poland and Germany.
Comprised of such near-universal foods as a thin pancake and sweet cheese filling, I imagine that cheese blintzes are one of these foods that you could connect via dotted line to dozens of others in other countries and cultures.
In Jewish homes, blintzes are usually spring-time fare, made for the dairy fest Shavuot. But, as Deb points out, they are perfect winter comfort food.
They hail from places where the snow seems to go on forever, places where our Polar Vortexes would seem comparatively weak, places that know how to fill bellies with warm to hold you over until it’s fun to go outside again.
While I haven’t had the chance to make hers yet, Deb’s recipes are as reliable as they come. So cancel your evening plans, head to the store and start cooking. Like I said, it’s perfectly fine to eat these for dinner — even your bubbe would approve.
Up until only very recently, I wouldn’t have had any problem with eating zucchini in January. I believed that a tomato was a tomato, a cucumber a cucumber, and a zucchini a zucchini, regardless of where it came from or what time of year it was. But this year, I decided to try to keep it local and seasonal. So while I should be curling up with a bowl of a rich winter squash soup and a mug of hot apple cider to wash it down, instead, I still have zucchini on my mind.
Why can’t I shake the zucchini, you ask? The story goes that this summer I committed to going to the farmers market each week and buying the majority of my produce there. And I wasn’t disappointed: the produce was so delicious, all on its own. Accordingly, I came home energized and excited to create and devour that evening’s meal. I cooked more than I had in a while. My favorite creation from the summer was a zucchini and ricotta galette. Perhaps what made it special was the delectability of the zucchini and its perfect pairing with the ricotta and sour cream-based crust. Or it could have been my sense of accomplishment after struggling with the dough in my un-air conditioned kitchen. But it might have also just been the company and sense of possibility on that summer evening.
From our eight favorite books from the year — one for each night of Hanukkah — we present two below. They are all great holiday gifts for the passionate cook in your life or a treat for yourself.
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
by Deb Perelman, Knopf, 336 pages, $35
Enormous, crispy oven latkes? Sweet potato blintzes with farmer cheese? Delicate sweet-and-sour brisket with tender root vegetables? Subtly sweet raspberry rugelach? “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook,” by culinary mastermind and cult favorite blogger Deb Perelman, has all these sumptuous recipes, written in the tone of a good friend offering holiday advice.
“The Smitten Kitchen,” is gorgeously laid out, with dozens of photographs that will make you want to head to your oven lickety-split. Perelman has formulas for everything from calzones to grapefruit pound cake. One look at the table of contents will give any home cook a host of new ideas for holiday dinners and laidback brunches, dinner party desserts and cozy night-in spreads. An added perk is that most of the recipes are new, so you won’t find them on Perlman’s website.
While some of the book’s recipes are not kosher, Perelman has included a separate category in the index for Jewish recipes, to make flipping through for Hanukkah dishes easier. It’s an ideal gift for the dedicated home cook looking to expand his or her repertoire. Just watch out: We bet there’ll be a lot more figs, olive oil and sea salt challah and rhubarb hamantaschen in your life after you gift this cookbook.
— Margaret Eby
There are two general camps of cookbooks: the kind that you keep on the coffee table and the kind that you keep in the kitchen. The former are big, sumptuous, glossy numbers, usually full of exotic ingredients and complicated recipes. The latter are often less pretty but functional, stained by sauce splatters and muffin batter. It’s rare to find a volume that serves both purposes, but Deb Perelman’s wonderful The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of them.
Perelman, who based the book on her popular website of the same name, describes herself as “an obsessive home cook,” and her recipes certainly reflect that. She tinkers, she recreates, she attempts to cajole people. Her buttered popcorn cookies, for instance — salty-sweet umami crunch-balls that should replace Rice Krispie treats in your next holiday platter — were an effort to convince a friend to see the merits of buttered popcorn. She updates old recipes, because, she admits, “my curiosity gets the better of me, and it’s usually worth the blasphemy. Her fig, olive oil, and sea salt challah for example, takes a classic and adds notes of herbaceous savoriness to the sweet and supple bread. She uses honey instead of sugar to leaven the yeast, and tucks a fig and orange zest paste into the braided dough. The result is something heavenly, and fairly simple, even if you’re not a seasoned baker. (Though, I confess, I abandoned her braiding technique in favor of a simpler one.) A dear friend of mine, asking after what I was baking, was the first to proclaim “heresy!” about the addition of salt and figs. He was also the first to ask for the recipe once he tasted it.
A new season means a new crop of cookbooks, and this fall’s set to be spectacular. Eater recently put up a two-part post with their top picks. From fresh spins on Jewish deli fare to Middle Eastern comfort food to new books by big names like Mark Bittman and Jacques Pepin, there’s plenty of volumes we can’t wait to tuck into. What books are you excited to add to your kitchen shelf? Tell us in the comments.
“The Mile End Cookbook: Redefining Jewish Comfort Food from Hash to Hamentaschen“
by Noah and Rae Bernamoff
Save yourself the trip to New York and recreate the nouveau-Jewish takes on classics from blintzes to tzimmes at home with the first book from the masterminds behind Mile End. For the extra-ambitious (or hungry) the book also breaks down the process for pickling, preserving, and smoking delicatessen staples.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Just like the city itself, “Jerusalem” brings together a melting pot of cultures and tastes. In a beautifully-photographed collection, the authors mix their east- and west-side heritages to create colorful vegetarian dishes, rich, sweet desserts, and more.
“The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook“ by Deb Perelman Award-winning blogger and perennial fan favorite Deb Perelman puts out her debut collection at last. With the same eye for bright, appealing photographs and ear for friendly, encouraging instructions that made her website a hit, Perelman dishes up recipes for everything from cocktails to chocolate crepe cake.
“Jewish Cookery Book: On Principles of Economy” by Esther Levy and Joan Nathan This reissue of the classic, historical cookbook now comes with an introduction by Jewish culinary expert Joan Nathan. Originally published in 1871, the book covers maintaining a household, following Jewish dietary laws, and a variety of medicinal recipes in a kind of Jewish primer for immigrants living in America before the turn of the century.
There is no shortage of home cooking blogs out there. But Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen, a relate-ably personal, yet eloquent blog, is one of the lucky few to have gained a large and loyal following. In fact, it’s her blog’s popularity — she has about 4 million unique visitors a month — that led Perelman to the holy grail of food blogs — a book deal.
And with Knopf no less. “It’s so exciting because they published Julia Child. I don’t know what they’re doing with the likes of me,” the always-humble Perelman said.
Perelman says the cookbook, which should be out in spring or fall 2012, will be a lot like her site, with stories and personal introductions to the recipes. “It’s a conversation,” she said. Perelman will often start a post on a subject that seems to have nothing to do with food (case in point: a recent post about how messy her closet is), and end it all with a fantastic dish (in this case, a dijon chicken recipe she found while clearing out said closet).