Archive for December, 2010
It’s snowing outside. There are already many feet of accumulation, laying on Manhattan as a pure white blanket. Already people have begun clearing the sidewalks. Soon the mass of snow will turn to a gray slush. But for the moment it is spectacularly beautiful. And also a detriment to my plans. I had wanted to use the opportunities of December 26 and 27 sales. But I guess I’ll have to wait a while and pay regular prices. Fortunately, I had no travel plans this week. Perhaps for me, the major drawback of snow is that I have a first floor apartment and can now expect to hear everyone entering the building stamping their feet to remove any clinging snow.
Meanwhile I’m stuck indoors. Under such conditions, I take advantage of being snowbound by either writing (I have Passover and Purim articles to finish) or I potchke in the kitchen. Last night, I used some overripe bananas for a banana bread. That’s what I do with overripe bananas. (Or make banana muffins.) This past spring, while visiting my parents’ place in Alon Shevut, I was surprised that many Israelis were not yet familiar with this very American practice. I made some banana bread, and served some to their Israeli neighbors on Shabbat. The twin five-year old boys loved it and requested that their mother make some, so I provided a recipe. After the neighbor’s own mother sampled some, she too wanted a recipe. The following week, the same thing happened when I whipped up a carrot cake, and the neighbor (or her mother) had not heard of this American classic either. So now my banana bread and carrot cake are circulating in Gush Etzion.
Today, I plan on experimenting with either spelt or einkorn flour in a bread. I have both types of flour on hand and I want to judge the differences between these wheat relatives and common bread flour (the type you get in 5-pound bags in groceries), the latter containing much more gluten. The einkorn flour is courtesy of Elisheva Rogosa, an organic farmer and artisan baker (see fedcoseeds.com and growseed.org). But the spelt flour is a little older, so I’ll use it this week and save the einkorn. Perhaps for the next snow.
Meanwhile, the banana bread recipe follows. I’ll let you know about the spelt bread recipe, once I have actually tried one.
Large Banana Bread
(One 9- by 5-inch loaf)
Bananas, which are about 75 percent water, provide most of the liquid for this moist loaf. Nonetheless, its texture is denser and firmer than a banana cake and the bread is less sweet. You can make it even less sweet by decreasing the sugar to ¾ or even ½ cup. Make sure the bananas are very ripe (the peel should be covered with black speckles) in order to achieve an appropriate flavor and moistness. If they are not ripe enough, you can add a little banana extract. Mash the banana – do no puree as that makes the batter to thin and the resulting bread less creamy.
2 cups (10 ounces/280 grams/480 ml) all-purpose flour, measured by dip-and-sweep (or 1 cup (240 ml) all-purpose flour and 1 cup (240 ml) whole-wheat flour)
1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams/240 ml) granulated or packed brown sugar (or ½ cup (120 ml) each)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) baking soda
¾ teaspoon (3.75 ml) salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon or allspice
½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) grated nutmeg or mace (optional)
1½ cups (3 medium/12 ounces/340 grams peeled/360 ml) mashed ripe bananas
2 large eggs, lightly beaten (6 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon/3.5 ounces/100 grams)
½ cup (4 fluid ounces/120 ml/3.75 ounces/105 grams) vegetable oil or shortening
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/45 grams/90 ml) milk or orange juice (or 3 tablespoons water mixed with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) lemon juice or vinegar)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon banana extract
1 teaspoon (5 ml) banana extract (optional)
OPTIONAL ADDITIONS (Add about 1 cup/240 ml any ingredient or up to 1½ cups/360 ml any combination):
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) chopped almonds
1 cup (4 ounces/115 grams) chopped dried apricots
1 cup (5.25 ounces/150 grams) fresh or frozen blueberries
1 cup (6 ounces/170 grams) chocolate chips
1 cup (5.25 ounces/150 grams) dried cherries
1 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted if desired
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) dried cranberries
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) chopped pitted dates
1 cup (7 ounces/200 grams/240 ml) chopped dried figs
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) chopped hazelnuts
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) chopped macadamia nuts
1 cup (4 ounces/115 grams) chopped pecans
1 cup (8 ounces/225 grams) crushed pineapple
1 cup (3 ounces/85 grams) chopped pitted prunes
1 cup (5 ounces/140 grams) raisins or dried currants
1 cup (5 ounces/145 grams) sunflower seeds
1 cup (4 ounces/115 grams) chopped walnuts
1. Position a rack in lower middle section of oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (175 C) [325 degrees (165 C) for glass pan]. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9- by 5-inch (8 cup) loaf pan, line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, and grease the bottom only.
2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and, if using, cinnamon and nutmeg. Beat together bananas, lemon juice, eggs, oil, milk or water, lemon juice, and vanilla. Add to flour mixture, all at once, stirring just to mix. (Do not stir until smooth or the texture will turn out tough.) If desired, stir in nuts or fruit.
3. Pour into prepared pan, tapping to remove any air bubbles. Bake until lightly browned and wooden tester inserted in center comes out clean (about 1 hour).
4. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out on a rack and let cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap or foil and store at room temperature for up to 3 days, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
For the past number of months, since the publication of my new book Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, I’ve been rather busy with the promotion, including book signings, speeches, cooking demos, and media interviews. Typically, I have five or more events a week. Some require an overnight stay, but most are in the NYC metropolitan area and I head home afterwards. I did have time on Hanukkah for the annual Marks sufganiyot party in Brooklyn, where I make pizza and doughnuts of all sorts for the family. I generally manage to get a weekly blog in, but it was admittedly delayed this week due to various activities.
Last weekend, I was a presenter at the Hazon Food Conference at the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in the Berkshires. For a foodie, this was the place. The food was plentiful and generally quite interesting. (Those of you who know me, know I don’t give out that complement too often.) The kitchen even served an intriguing goat cholent for Shabbat lunch. Not to mention, the homemade pickles and kimchi. All too frequently when I get started talking about food, I see a person’s eyes glaze over. At the Hazon conference, people actually encourage me to talk away about food. And it didn’t hurt that so many participants made a point of informing me that Olive Trees and Honey is their favorite cookbook. Hopefully, the Encyclopedia will join the ranks. I did have a successful book signing at the Hazon conference too. Hopefully, they will spread the word about the Encyclopedia.
Last night, I had a wonderful cooking class at Congregation Shearith Israel (Spanish-Portuguese) on Central Park West, arranged by the program director, Alana Shultz. I did “A World of Traditional (and Healthy) Shabbat Cooking”:
Hout Metbuch (Moroccan Yellow Fish)
Puccha (Indian Tomato Salad)
Lobio Pkhali (Georgian Bean Salad)
Isanakhi Pkhali (Georgian Spinach Salad)
Salada Djezar (Moroccan Carrot Salad)
Alsatian Poached Pears
It was a receptive crowd, which enjoyed the presentation and sampling afterwards. I even signed about 20 books.
And now, due to the holidays, suddenly my calendar is blank until next year. Nothing professional seems to happen in America the last two weeks of the year. So I have a sort of enforced vacation until early January, when the promotion resumes. I guess it will give me time to research a new laptop. Previously, I have purchased several Dell computers, but the last one was incredibly cheaply made. The case cracked during a routine trip and, of course, the warranty does not cover it. The computer and screen are still functioning, but the plastic casing just does not hold up and now it is homebound. So I’ll use my spare time to check out some of the laptops out there and find one that I can actually lug around on my journeys.
And maybe I’ll even potchka around in the kitchen again. I have some einkorn flour and spelt flour with which to experiment, which means a couple of loaves of fresh bread. Or maybe it will be a bit more decadent, like something chocolate. I do have a few weeks to decide.
These days, publishing a book is not just about writing it, but also promoting it. And a work as unique as Encyclopedia of Jewish Food requires a good deal of effort to get out the word. With my previous books during fall book tours, I appeared at six to eight Jewish book fairs across the country, which received community-wide exposure. This time around, however, I had scarcely few book fairs. I don’t know if it’s the economy, the new and different nature of this cookbook (I realize the word encyclopedia can be a bit off-putting until people recognize the exciting and informative nature of my book), or what. Instead, I’ve gone to a number of groups. This past Tuesday, I attended a great Hadassah Hanukkah party in Millburn-Short Hills, New Jersey, where I talked about the history of Hanukkah foods and signed about 60 books. And I’ve also done a lot more media this time. Interest about the Encyclopedia is increasing among reporters and I’ve received exceptional reaction. (A thanks to my publicist, Carrie Bachman.) This past week alone I was interviewed by three newspaper reporters and was a guest on three radio shows: Mario Bosquez on the Martha Stewart Network, Linda Pelaccio on Heritage Radio Network, and Leonard Lopate show on WYNC . The latter, my first visit to NPR, was interesting. I followed author Anne Rice, who was making the rounds for her new book. Ms Rice had a small entourage of two, including a young guy in a suit and wielding some interesting electronic device, while I was by myself and took the subway the few miles to the studio, not to mention getting wet from the rain and wind. I received a lot of positive feedback about my appearance (although I did speak a bit fast to get in the information in the half hour on air and one person commented about my voice). But overall, I managed to represent myself well. I even got an email from one of my former students from a previous incarnation when I ran a high school guidance department and taught history, who recognized my Southern twang after all these years. The day of my appearance on NPR, sales of the Encyclopedia reached number 726 of all books sold on Amazon.com. It may not quite be Harry Potter or Interview with a Vampire, but it is part of the book business. And I still have a long ways to go to get out the word about the Encyclopedia.
Here is my interview on the Leonard Lopate show on WYNC on Monday 1, 2010:
Here is my interview with Mario Bosquez on the Martha Stewart Network:
Here is my interview on Heritage Radio Network with Linda Pelaccio:
Here are a few new articles about my new book, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food:
Washington Post’s top cookbooks of 2010
The Post and Courier:
“’Encyclopedia of Jewish Food’ is an impressive and important work.”
St. Petersburg Times:
“Gil Marks’ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Wiley, 2010, $40) is a weighty tome full of definitions, historical summaries and a number of recipes — a sort of Larousse Gastronomique for the Jewish world.”