Cooked Eggnog

My first thought on Christmas morning was of the children who, like me, had just woken up to the shards of light coming through the blinds. They were throwing off the sheets, wishing they could have woken earlier. They were bolting downstairs to check that the Oreos they'd left out as Santa bait were eaten and to discover the treasures that were waiting for them under the tree.
In truth, by the time I was waking up, the children were probably tiring themselves out on their new toys while the adults, in matching pajamas and slipper-socks, were drinking gingerbread-flavored coffee, heaps of wrapping paper drifting by like tumbleweeds. Pulling the earplugs out of my ears, pushing the eyemask off my face, and regretting the last night's champagne, I had to scold myself for fantasizing about someone else's fantasy. Even in Palm Springs, where the landscape of swimming pools and Saguaro cacti should vaporize those visions of dancing sugarplums, a momentary longing for "Christmas" managed to sneak in. It seems ridiculous to spend so much time pondering what an experience is like in another person's skin, but I guess I'm curious why I can't feel like I love gingerbread men and candy canes without feeling like I'm faking something. Partaking in the spiced and snow-flocked--and posting here--feels kind of like being in drag to me.
Eggnog is also something I really love, though after I got sick on one unfortunate Thanksgiving circa 1996, I don't risk it. These days the closest I get is Kahlua & Soymilk (doesn't quite have the same ring, does it?), but my brother, armed with a steelier stomach, waits all year for eggnog. Apparently, he is not plagued by the same mixed feelings about Christmas treats. Turned off by all the junk in the supermarket kind of eggnog, I decided to do it homemade for him this year ( if you're going to do it, might as well do it right!). Not that eggnog is ever healthy for you, but at least this way, the boozy custard is additive-free. Most recipes out there are use raw eggs, but I went safe and did a cooked version I adapted from Alton Brown.

Cooked Eggnog

  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1 C heavy cream
  • 2C milk
  • 1/4 C bourbon, spiced rum, brandy, whatever (or leave it out, if you don't drink. You could add a little rum flavoring, if you like)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

With an electric mixer, beat yolks until they lighten. Slowly add in the sugar and beat until dissolved. Set aside.

Combine the milk and cream in a heavy pot and bring barely to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Slowly add a small amount of the hot liquid to the egg mixture, stirring briskly. Continue adding the hot liquid to the eggs in a slow stream, stirring constantly. Return it all to the pot and heat until the mixture reaches 160 °F. Remove from heat, stir in the nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon. Chill completely in the fridge. Top with whipped cream or meringue, if desired.

Nut-Crusted Goat with Pomegranate and Oranges

A Note on Goat:
In elementary school, they told us that cattle farming destroyed the rain forest. Naturally, since all children love the "rain forest" (babies of the 80s: remember this?), I developed a major distrust of beef. Reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivores Dilemma didn't help. Nor do any of the current scares about E. coli. Of course many of the things we eat are bad for the animals/the environment/us, but since I have been wary of beef for so long, I keep searching for an alternative. When I moved to Irvine in 2006, I was intrigued by the goat meat at the Middle-Eastern grocery store. The mysterious cuts were prepackaged and poorly labeled, but I started cooking it anyway. Goat meat has since become very trendy (please humor me in thinking I was avant-garde) and perhaps it is the meat of our times: lean, affordable, and maybe less of a criminal, environmentally. If you haven't tried goat, I'd tell you it tastes like lamb but not as cute ... Henry Alford of the NYT describes it better than I could in his article.

Our attempt and a warning:
Even though I've braised and stewed and tossed chunks of goat meat into lentil soup, this was my maiden voyage into cooking goat ribs. Luckily, my little brother, freshly done with college (where he had been cultivating a hairdo inspired by Samson and The Fraggles), played my first mate in this endeavor. All would have gone well except for two things. First, a discrepancy between two thermometers made it hard to tell if the meat was well-done or still bleating. (I'm developing a theory that any unhappiness occurring within a 500 ft. radius interferes with thermometer accuracy.) Second, the hunk of goat that I bought had some meat attached to it that made separating the cooked ribs incredibly difficult. After several futile attempts with a carving knife, we all ended up donning aprons and, as a team, prying apart the bones with our bare hands. The meat was delicious, the sweet-tangy-crunchy coating even better, but any pretense of this being an elegant meal was demolished.

Oh well. If I were to do it again (or if you were to do it), I'd:
a) keep the recipe and keep the cut, but have the butcher help me trim it into a standard rack.
b) keep the cut, but braise it till it fell off the bone on its own.
c) keep the recipe, but sub in another cut or a rack of lamb. (After all, we were inspired by a lamb recipe from Bon Appetit.)

Nonetheless, my notoriously picky brother asked for seconds.

Nut-Crusted Goat with Pomegranate and Oranges

  • 1/3 C pomegranate molasses
  • 2 T golden raisins
  • 2 small cloves of garlic
  • 3 T chilled butter, in chunks
  • 3/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1 rack of goat (about 2- 2.5 lbs, TRIMMED)
  • 3 T chopped almonds
  • 3 T chopped pistachios
  • 1/4 C panko Japanese breadcrumbs
  • 1 orange, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven 400 ° F.
In a food processor, pulse garlic. Add in pomegranate molasses, raisins, and spices. Puree. Add in the butter and pulse until a coarse puree. Chill the mixture in the freezer for 10 min.

Line a rimmed baking tray with foil. Place goat, bone side down, on the tray. Rub with salt and pepper, then spread the chilled pomegranate mixture over. Mix the nuts and panko in a small bowl and sprinkle over the meat, gently pressing to make it stick. Arrange orange slices under the meat. Roast until it reaches an internal temperature of 145 ° for medium rare to 160 ° for medium, about 30-60 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest before transferring to a work surface and cutting. Serve with oranges and drizzled with pan juices.

Grocery Romance

I didn't think anything could fill the hole in my heart left by Wholesome Choice Grocery in Irvine. But then after 4 months apart, I'm getting butterflies again-- Mi Pueblo, mi amor!

The new Mi Pueblo just opened in East Palo Alto, right next to IKEA (and conveniently also right next to the building where I work). If you are in the Peninsula and haven't been yet, it's definitely worth a visit. Big, colorful, and clean, it has been bustling every time I've gone in. There's a candy-hued dining area and generous selection of hot food (that I've yet to try since there has always been a line.) Besides the standard grocery items, they have a sizable bakery with pan dulce, a deli with fresh salsas, cremas, cheeses, and sweets, and all sorts of things I'm fantasizing about experimenting with--banana leaves, cactus paddles, intoxicatingly fragrant guavas, bulk hibiscus, brown sugar cones, peppers, peppers, peppers--a very different palate/palette than Wholesome Choice's MidEast imports.

Then, there are the meat counters, where a totally distinct type of dreaming happens. If you ever need a reminder that meat comes from animals, this is the place to explore. Every bit of every beast is represented: feet, heads, guts, tongues, lips (what do you do with beef lips? Do you remove the prickly things? I'm dying of curiosity.) The pollo entero is like chicken in any other grocery store except that it still has its feet, legs outstretched and talons grasping towards the unknown. Among all these odds and ends, I finally found what I'd been looking for: carne de chivo,$1.99/lb (goat meat)! The young, flirtatious butcher dug through the pile of legs(?) to find something small enough to would fit in my dutch oven (or passenger seat). I'd been hoping to take home shanks or shoulder or even stew meat, but walked off with ribs. So now I have a rack of goat in the fridge that I have absolutely no clue what to do with....
(to be continued...)

Fudgy Bacon Pralines

Kay, 9, is sitting in my front seat telling me kid's dumb jokes from a book of kid's dumb jokes (i.e."why do nuns like Swiss cheese?") while we wait for DM to climb in the back. As soon as he hears that we are telling jokes, he bursts into a dimpled smile, waves the too-long sleeves of his mud-stained hoodie and announces that he has a good joke...but it's a little "unappropriate."
"That's fine. It's OK since we're in my car," I say, not expecting anything more inappropriate than a pun on the word "bare."
DM: Why did the squirrel always swim on his back?
Me: Why?
DM: To keep his nuts warm.
I like a dirty joke just about as much as I like a dumb one, and I like getting both together. I laughed myself to tears, mostly because I wasn't expecting any nuts, and then I felt required to say, " Let's not re-tell these jokes outside this car, OK?"
So many days at work feel hopeless; the lesson planning and "I-statements" prove futile. Then there are these occasional moments when the kids crack me up and remind me that they're just kids... and that I'm really not all that different. I've been finding it tough to stay light-hearted amidst the frustration. Lately, I've been trying to focus on these moments to stay afloat when the emptiness of being a disciplinarian starts to overwhelm me.

I had an analogous experience yesterday when making these pralines. Despite all the effort and listening to the candy thermometer exactly, the candy didn't set. I was left with a sugary puddle and soft-ball-stage rage bad enough that I had to restrain myself from hurling molten lumps of pecans across the kitchen. I don't know why they didn't set since I thought I did everything right. Perhaps the universe is playing a joke on me, or the moisture from the rainy day seeped in, or perhaps my already foul mood polluted the mix. Apparently, you can't get sugar to behave with bitterness. Anyway, after yelling at the thermometer, the syrup, the butter, and the dog, I managed to cool off and take a break from it. I had to remind myself that after all, it's just nuts. Came back a few hours later, poured the sweet ooze back into the pot and started over, with patience. This time they set fine.

So, these pralines continue with the sweet-salty-rich combo that I noted last post and also ride the bacon-in-everything trend. They use Shirley O. Corriher's trick of adding corn syrup, which makes them fool-proof (supposedly) in that they won't get gritty too fast. In fact, they don't get gritty at all. They are more creamy than the usual grainy, sugary pralines. The bacon flavor in the batch I made was a little too subtle, so I upped it in the following recipe.

Fudgy Bacon Pralines

  • Butter/spray for greasing foil
  • 1.5 C pecan pieces
  • 3/4 C bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • 2 T + 2T butter (that's 4T total!)
  • 1 C packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/3 C light corn syrup
  • 1/2 C canned evaporated milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 °. Place some foil on a couple of baking trays and grease with butter and spray. Set aside.
2. Toast pecans on a baking sheet until gently browned, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in 2 T of butter while the nuts are still warm. Add bacon crumbles to the nuts. Set aside.
3. Combine the brown sugar, white sugar, syrup, milk, and 2 T butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until everything is dissolved. Add the nuts and bacon. Clip on the candy thermometer and low boil, stirring only if needed, until the mixture reaches high soft-ball stage (238 °-240°F).
4. Remove from heat and let stand, undisturbed for 4-5 minutes to cool a little. Then, add the vanilla. Beat with a flat wooden spatula until noticeably thicker. Don't skimp here. Your arm should get tired because it's thickened. It took me about 10 minutes but might take you less if the weather is drier. Then quickly spoon pralines onto the buttered foil to set. Store in an airtight container.

* Verano folks--thinking of you with this recipe....wish we were together, eating these with a cup of Maker's Mark! xoxoxo

Multitasking Pie--Bourbon Pecan/Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Cream

Since we had Thanksgiving at a friend's house, we are doing our own Thanksgiving: The Sequel and roasting the turkey today. What's Thanksgiving without leftovers?

I only could make one pie this year and was having a hard time choosing. When faced with indecision...

Bourbon Pecan/ Pumpkin Pie with Bourbon Cream (inspired by New Tastes From Texas and Gourmet Magazine)

Pie Crust in a 9" deep dish pie pan (I deviated from my usual all-butter crust and tried an elaborate method from Shirley O. Corriher. It was very crisp and flaky though plenty of work. I included the recipe at the bottom of this post but any flaky pie crust recipe will work)

Blind-Baking: Fill crust with pie weights or beans on top of a piece of parchment and bake at 400° for 10 minutes. Brush with beaten egg or glaze and bake another 5-10 minutes.

Pumpkin Filling
  • 1.5 C pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 C + 2T packed brown sugar
  • 3 T granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1.5 T heavy cream
  • 1.5 T unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2T bourbon whiskey
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • generous 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch each of allspice and nutmeg

Pecan Filling
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 3/4 C dark corn syrup
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1.5 T melted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 T bourbon whiskey
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cinnamon
  • scant C of pecan pieces

Bourbon Cream
  • 1C cold heavy cream
  • 2 T sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1.5 T bourbon whiskey

Pumpkin Filling: Whisk all the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Pecan Filling: Whisk all the ingredients together in another medium bowl. Set aside.

Place a bowl and beaters in the freezer for the whipped cream.

Turn down oven to 350 °. Gently pour pumpkin filling into the pie shell and spread evenly. Gently spoon pecan filling on top. Bake until a knife comes out clean, somewhere between 40 min and 2 hours (my pies always take twice as long for some reason....probably just to make the Thanksgiving prep more stressful). If the crust is browning too fast, tent with foil. When done, cool on a rack.

Meanwhile, beat cream, sugar, vanilla and bourbon in the (freezer chilled) bowl until it holds soft peaks. Serve pie with the cream.

Flaky Pie Crust:

(adapted from Shirley Corriher's Cookwise) Makes enough dough for 2 single or one double 9-in crust

1 3/4 C unbleached all-purpose flour

1/2 C instant flour (Wondra or Shake & Blend) (if unavailable, add another 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose to above)

1/2 tsp salt.

1 1/2 sticks (12 T) butter, cut into 1/2" cubes

2 T shortening or lard(!) in tablespoon-size chunks

2 T sugar

1 8-oz container sour cream

2 T milk

4 graham crackers in fine crumbs

Mix flours together with salt. Add butter to flour mixture and toss to coat butter pieces. Put in freezer for 10 minutes.

Dump the flour-butter mixture on a CLEAN cool counter and roll over it with a rolling pin to flatten the butter lumps. Scrape off the butter that sticks to the pin. Quickly scrape dough together and roll over again. Repeat one more time, then scrape back into the bowl and place in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Dump onto the counter, roll over again. It should "look like paint flakes that have fallen off the wall." Add shortening and roll and scrape together two more times. Place in the freezer for another 10 minutes. Remove from freezer, add sugar and gently fold in sour cream. The dough should be moist enough to hold together in a ball. (Add 1-2 tablespoons milk if needed to hold dough together.)

Shape into a ball, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Divide in dough in half and flatten each half into a 3/4" thick disk. Refridge or freeze one disk for later. Lightly flour counter, reserving a small pile of flour on the side. Place the rolling pin in the center of the disk you're using and roll to one edge . Rotate the disk 45 ° and repeat until you get a 13" round. If it's sticking, drag the disk through the reserved flour as you rotate. Once you've gotten the size/thickness desired, lightly flour the top of the dough, fold in half, then fold again. Sprinkle the graham cracker crumbs on the counter and unfold the dough on top. Gently roll over the dough to get the crackers to stick. Then fold into 4 again. Lay into your pie dish and unfold. Trim the edges and fold the 1/2 " overhang under to crimp. Place in the fridge for 30 min./ freezer for 10 minutes.

Hot Pepita Brittle

This is the spicy pepita brittle that I crumbled into my Pumpkin Sorbet. It's also great on its own. You can also omit the chili flakes if you don't like it hot.

Making candy is pretty intimidating to me, partly because having to use a candy thermometer requires more precision than I'm built for, and partly because when the recipe says "don't shake or stir" all I want to do is shake and stir. In hopes of changing my ways, I recently forced myself to read up on why it's important to follow the directions, chemically speaking.... basically, with brittles, you don't want sugar crystals to form. So you have to take precautions to prevent "seed" crystals from starting an epidemic. That's why you wipe down undissolved sugar from the sides of the pot and don't stir, even if you're dying to. Adding corn syrup (glucose) adds diversity and prevents table sugar (sucrose) from forming cliques. It's not that tricky, really. It is very very burning hot, however, so be careful not to touch the hot candy and keep children (and those with poor impulse control) out of the kitchen.

Hot Pepita Brittle

  • 1.5 C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • 1-4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • dash of cinnamon
  • 1/2 stick butter + 1/2 T butter (4.5 T total)
  • 1/8 tsp fine salt
  • 1/2 C packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C light corn syrup
  • 1/4C water
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cold water
  • nonstick spray

1. Preheat the oven to 350°

2. Spread the pepitas on a baking sheet and roast until lightly browned, about 5-7 minutes. Remove them from the oven, turn the oven to 150° and leave the door open to let it cool down. Stir the 1/2 T butter, salt, pepper flakes and cinnamon into the nuts. Then put the nuts back in to keep warm.
3. Line a large baking sheet with foil. Butter and spray. Spray a couple of forks and a spatula too.
4. Combine the sugars, syrup, and water in a heavy unlined pot over medium high heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from the heat and wipe any grains of sugar from the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush.
Place the pan back on the heat and clip on your candy thermometer. Bring to a boil. DO NOT stir or shake.
5. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, mix baking soda, vanilla, and the 1/2 tsp water.
6.Boil syrup to hard-crack stage 300°-310°. Stir in the 4 T butter. Keep cooking to bring the temperature back up to soft crack 270 ° -290°. Remove from heat. Stir in the soda/vanilla mixture and stir for 30 seconds (it will foam--don't worry). Stir in the warm pepitas until they are all coated.
7. Pour onto the baking sheet and use the sprayed forks to pull the candy as thin as possible. When it's cool enough to handle, use your fingers to stretch it out more. Let cool completely and then break into pieces.

Pumpkin Sorbet with Hot Pepita Brittle

"Okay, let's look at the problem this way: imagine I had a pizza and then all my friends showed up so I cut it into 100 slices. Then imagine I ate 50 of the slices and..."

" You'd barf."
"um...yeah. You're absolutely correct."
I never pictured myself trying to teach elementary school math, especially after my traumatic experience learning it. Turns out it's not all that bad... and I'm realizing that there's probably no good reason I've felt haunted by long division all these years. (I'm tempted to seriously digress and make this post about how telling kids they're bad at math creates a stigma that murders dreams...but it's going to be about pumpkin.) The upside of being "bad at math" is that all those years of trying to make it quick and painless has made me an empress of shortcuts and tricks. Now I get to be the one who sits down with my frustrated students, hides those daunting zeros with my thumb, and whispers, "I'll let you in on a little secret..." Even though a page of numbers still automatically gives me the chills, time has brought me enough clarity to know that with math, like most things, it helps to have an alternate strategy and an escape route.
So when I decided to make a pumpkin sorbet and discovered the apparent dearth of pumpkin sorbet recipes on the internet, I had to get out my algebra cap, the kitchen scale, and a bottle of Wild Turkey just in case (I'll explain this in a minute).
I've been thinking about alternatives to the heavycreamycustardy pumpkin desserts that dominate this time of year. Also, I've been trying to think of a way to have non-dairy frozen desserts for those of us who can't or don't want to have dairy. I'm not crazy about dairy substitutes--to me, the idea of making pumpkin pie with non-dairy creamer or silken tofu seems blasphemous (but that's just my opinion). Sorbet seemed the obvious solution.
The biggest problem I've had with sorbet is the formation of solid ice crystals (i.e. rock hard rocketpop that breaks spoons). Basically, you want fine ice crystals surrounded by unfrozen syrup. According to scientists Harold McGee and Shirley O. Corriher, to create the appropriate texture, the amount of sugar in a sorbet should be 30 % of the total weight, unless you want a big fruity glacier. The equation goes like this:
[x being the weight of sugar and y being the weight of the other ingredients]
x= 0.3(y+x)

So if you check my math (and know that the weight of a cup of white sugar is 7 oz, a cup of water is 8 oz, and the weight of a 15 oz can of pumpkin is, well, 15 oz) you'll see that I rounded. With gusto. This is the trick, the safety net. Different sugars inhibit freezing by varying amounts, and eggs whites create lightness. A few spoons of alcohol also lowers the freezing point (ever seen a tequila ice cube? Didn't think so) and a little booze never hurt any dessert.

This sorbet is definitely scoop-able and intensely pumpkin-y (maybe even too pumpkin-y for some.) I like it both pie-spicy and hot-spicy and the hot-spicy pepita brittle adds a kick and a crunch.

Pumpkin Sorbet With Hot Pepita Brittle

  • 1 1/4 C water
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C white sugar
  • 1/4 C maple syrup
  • 1 15oz can of pumpkin puree
  • 1 T cinnamon
  • 1/2-1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • pinch of salt
  • shake of cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 2 T bourbon!
  • 1 egg white, fork beaten until loose
  • 3/4 C "Hot Pepita Brittle", broken into small pieces (recipe coming up later!)

1. Cook water and white/brown sugars over low until sugar is dissolved

2. In another bowl, combine pumpkin, syrup, spices, vanilla, bourbon, and lemon juice. Add in the sugar/water mixture and chill completely or overnight.

3. Add to your ice cream machine and follow manufacturer's directions. Or still freeze.
After the first 5 minutes, add in the beaten egg white.

4. 5 minutes before the sorbet is done, add in the crumbled brittle. Pack into a container, cover with wax paper and pop in the freezer.

Brussels Sprouts with Cumin Seed

I admittedly was not a brussels sprouts fan until I heard the Border Girls on the radio lauding shredded brussels sprouts. Basically, I learned that the quick cooking time of shredded sprouts eliminates the possibility of releasing excessive sulfur compounds (sinigrin) which are bitter and stinky and convince people that they dislike brussels sprouts. With some excellent exceptions, I think most brussels sprouts I've had were attempting to mask their overcooked- cabbage taste with copious amounts of bacon and butter. Not that there's anything wrong with bacon and butter. This recipe, in contrast, is a lighter, fresher tasting alternative to the heavy/ maple-y brussels sprouts that tend to be served this time of year.

Brussels Sprouts with Cumin Seeds (adapted from Gourmet and the Border Grill)

  • 1 lb Brussels sprouts
  • 4 T Butter
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 ts salt
  • 1/4 ts ground pepper
  • 2 tb fresh lime or lemon juice or to taste

In large bowl of cold, salted water, soak brussels sprouts 10 minutes. Drain; trim ends and discard any bitter outside leaves (be brutal!) Cut each sprout in half lengthwise; thinly slice crosswise on a mandolin or with a good knife. You can also do this with the slicer disk of a food processor. In a large skillet, over medium high heat, melt 2 T butter, cooking until foam subsides. Add half of cumin seeds, half of the sprouts, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper; cook over high heat, saute stirring occasionally 3-5 minutes or until sprouts start to brown and are crisp-tender (don't overdo it.) Transfer to a bowl and do the next batch the same way. Transfer the second half to the bowl and stir in lime juice.

Huevos Haminados / Onion Skin Eggs (in the Slow Cooker)

Huevos Haminados are eggs, slow-cooked in onion skins, that were traditionally eaten by the Sephardic Jews of Spain. The eggs were left to cook in the oven overnight, nestled in a cholent (stew), and eaten for the Sabbath--hence the name "huevos haminados" meaning "oven eggs" in Ladino. They also could be cooked without the stew, obtaining a dark stain and roasted flavor from onion skins. As the Jews left Spain with the Inquisition and settled all over the Arab and Mediterranean world, they retained this method of cooking eggs. The name of the dish changes with location: "beid hamine" in Egypt, "Greek eggs" in Italy, and in Greece, "Selanlik yamurta" (Salonika eggs) or "Yahudi yamurta" (Jewish eggs....try Googling "Jewish eggs" for something totally different.)
In the fascinating book, A Drizzle of Honey, authors David Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson explore the food customs of the conversos -- Spanish Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism during the Inquisition. The courts of the Inquisition were fond of using civilian "spies" to discover Jews covertly still practicing their rituals--often culinary--even though they had converted. A Drizzle of Honey offers a collection of court testimonies and recipes (though way too medieval to be appetizing now) used to turn in these secret Jews. This article gives a better description than I can of this subject. Funny how something as seemingly benign as huevos haminados was probably a dangerous thing to be cooking... Thankfully the dish survived the Inquisition. Which is a good thing because eggs cooked this way are creamy textured, almost caramelized and gorgeous.

I know plenty of people who are turned off by hard-boiled eggs--probably from eating chalky, rubbery, and stinky ones. Cooking eggs for too long and at too high a temperature causes the the formation of hydrogen sulfide (stinkiness) and ferrous sulfide (that telltale green ring). As Kenji of Serious Eats shows with experiments, a couple degrees and a couple of minutes can make a big difference with hard-boiled eggs. The beauty of huevos haminados is that you don't have to worry about all that. The eggs go in a pot on the stove or in the oven...or in this case, a crockpot, and cook at a low temperature overnight--a few minutes more or less won't make any difference.

Those times when we would have these dark brown eggs for Passover always felt special. I assumed that there was a lot of work involved to make eggs this way but that simply isn't true, especially with the slow-cooker. Now I make them all the time to have around as breakfast or a quick snack. They also look beautiful halved in a bean salad. I collect onion skins in a bag in the freezer, but you can ask your grocer for some extra skins.

Huevos Haminados.

  • 8-10 eggs
  • onion skins, rinsed (anywhere from 4-7 cups)
  • about 3 T black tea leaves
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 olive oil
  • few peppercorns

Put the onion skins in the slow-cooker and then nestle the eggs in, covering them. Cover with cool water. Add the tea, vinegar, oil, and peppercorns. Cook on High for about an hour then turn to Low for another 8-10 hours. Remove eggs and cool in ice water.

*You can make these on the stove top: in a pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat to very very low, cover the pot well and simmer for 6 hours, adding water as needed to cover the eggs.

Stuffed Quinces

My dad has given me two perfect gifts. Both were unusual and prophetic, their potential unfolding over time. The first was a hypnotic poor-quality video tape of a sewer blockage that my dad managed to get from a (probably bewildered) plumber. It was perhaps a strange care-package to mail to a daughter at college but it ended up being a source of inspiration years later.

The second gift was a cookbook that my dad rescued from a bin at the recycling center. Printed in 1960, "In A Persian Kitchen" looks its age. The jacket is in tatters, the bottom corner must have had a run-in with a khoreshe, and the recipes are full of advice for aspiring "Persian housewives."
I came into possession of this book before I ever thought I'd live in Irvine, with its plenitude of Persian food. In fact, it was before I even cooked much. I had just moved into a shabby apartment in Westwood where I had the first kitchen that was really mine. The kitchen came complete with a "vintage" oven that, despite the deceiving adjustment knob, only had one temperature--burn. This presented quite a challenge and a challenge I ended up devoting a lot of free time learning to conquer.
So, "In A Persian Kitchen" was one of my first cookbooks and was my guide through many fledgling cooking experiments. While many of the recipes were similar to other Middle Eastern dishes I knew well--eggplant casserole, yogurt dip, stuffed cabbage leaves--many others seemed exotic to me at the time--pomegranate soup, rice and rhubarb sauce, stuffed quince. As the author notes, the way Persian cuisine combines fruit and meat often strikes the American palate as unusual. I was totally intrigued.
I entertained often during my time in that apartment. Fortunately, a neighborhood of hungry college students who weren't put off by the likelihood of the place going up in flames made a fantastic audience. Being a beginner in an ill-equipped kitchen, most of my early attempts were failures, including my take on her stuffed quince recipe.
I didn't cook much from that book after that year, though it was a catalyst to a building interest in Middle Eastern flavors. Also, while dated and in contrast to everything I had been hearing in my Women's Studies classes, the housewife wisdom woven between recipes managed to stick with me. The author urges the cook to be exceedingly hospitable, always prepared to stretch the stew at the last minute. She introduces the book with a proverb that I was especially drawn to: "a guest is God's gift."

Now, five years and many ovens later, meat-stuffed fruit seems less surprising and more manageable. Quince was on my New Year's list as the "new fruit"--eaten for the first time that season as a celebration of the fall. For my parents, who joined me for this, eating quince this way was very new. Quince is often found in jams (has lots of natural pectin!) and tarts but is also good as a savory dish. They are apple-like and can take a while to soften when cooked. This recipe is not from the Persian cookbook, but is my fusion of pan-Middle-East of interpretations of the dish. I did keep the sweet-and-sour accent from the Persian recipes and used the pre-baking style from Claudia Roden.

Stuffed Quinces

  • 2-3 quinces (if you can't get quince, apples work--just don't pre-bake them as long)
  • few tsps of brown sugar
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1/2 lb ground beef or lamb (I used bison. I'm sure goat would be great if you can find it...more on this another time)
  • 1 tsp tomato paste
  • 3 tsp pomegranate molasses, divided (if available)
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 2 T raisins or currants
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 T pine nuts
  • 1/3 C lemon juice
  • 1 C water
  • 1/4 tsp saffron
  • 1 Tb sugar or to taste
  • 1 T butter (optional)

Wash the quinces and rub off their fuzz. Bake on a foil- lined baking sheet at 325° for about 1 1/2 hours until they give a little when you press.

Heat the oil in a pan and fry the onion until it is soft. Add the meat and tomato paste and cook until browned. Add in the pine nuts, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, and 1 tsp. pom molasses and cook for another minute or so. Season with salt & pepper.

When the quince are cool enough to handle, slice them open lengthwise. Remove their cores. Then, using a spoon or melon baller, remove some of their flesh, leaving at least 1/2 inch in the shell. Add the removed pulp to the meat stuffing mixture. Place the quince halves in a baking dish and rub the inside of each shell with about 1/2 tsp brown sugar. Fill the halves with the stuffing. Dissolve the saffron in the water and mix with the lemon juice, remaining molasses, and T of sugar. Pour this mixture over the fruit and drop in some dots of butter, if using. Cover the dish with a lid or double layer of foil and bake in a preheated 350° oven for about 1/2 hour more.

Dark Rye

In the winter of 1998, I was wading through the grass towards the gymnasium to attend the El Nino Dance-o. The ground under my feet was like pudding as my three-inch crocodile heels sunk two-and-a-half inches into the mud. The gym itself threatened to make a wobbly descent into the swamp. No downpour at that particular instant, but it was hard to tell since everything was perpetually drenched. It had been raining relentlessly for months, and by the time of the dance-o I mistakenly thought that we were nearing the end...the ground was saturated. There was not a dry spot in existence. Soggy people were wringing themselves out, submerged in gloom. It didn't seem there was room for any more water and there wasn't. But it kept on pouring, spilling over and flooding, gushing through streets and living rooms. We were to have 230%more rainfall than average before the very green spring arrived. It felt as though we were awaiting the rescue of that very green spring for a very long time.
Last week, when we had our first (and premature) rainstorm, an unnoticed (and suddenly very apparent) hole in my boots revealed how LA makes rain a distant memory. I was struck with fearful anticipation of saying a long farewell to the sun as I braced myself for drowning in darkness again. The old familiar rainy-day cravings returned after so many years of winter palm trees and flip-flops: tomato soup and grilled cheese, hot cocoa and buttered popcorn, dark bread and dark beer, building a fortress, holing up, folding in, and attempting to trust that the sun will eventually return to suck up the puddles. Of course, as soon as I made this bread it's been 70° -80° and sunny here.

Real pumpernickel or dark rye is made with coarse grain (suggesting an interesting etymology) and a sourdough starter. It's baked slowly in a special tin, achieving its darkness from caramelization of sugars and proteins. This is an American (i.e. easy) version. The color comes from cocoa, coffee and molasses, the ingredients are available and digestible, and you don't need a covered tin. I went with the wet dough technique from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day to make this an extremely easy loaf. It is sweet, aromatic and dense. It's excellent with lox, or as I've discovered, apples and sharp cheddar. I like the taste of whole grain, but you can sub regular flour for the whole wheat for a lighter loaf. I added orange zest for brightness and I'm heavy-handed with the caraway but you can opt out of these flavors, of course. I like to start with a sponge as a compromise for being too busy to deal with sourdough. Don't be put off by the sponge step--it adds complexity to the flavor and hardly takes any work.

Dark Rye Bread

Makes two 1-lb loaves (or one 2-lb loaf)

  • 1.5 C lukewarm water
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1/2 C bread flour

  • 2 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 T molasses
  • 1 T cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp instant coffee powder
  • 1 C rye flour
  • 1.5 C bread flour
  • 3/4 C whole wheat flour
  • 1 T caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp (give or take) orange zest

Make a sponge: Mix yeast, 1/2 C bread flour, and water in a large bowl. Let stand uncovered 15 min. to 1 hour. This gives you enough time to organize your ingredients and collect your thoughts.

Whisk the salt, molasses, cocoa, and coffee powder into the sponge. In another bowl, mix the flours together. Without kneading, add all of the flour, caraway, and zest to the sponge, and mix with a wooden spoon. You might have to use your hands at the end. The dough should look pretty slack. Cover and let rest in a draft free place for two hours.
You can use the dough now or refrigerate the dough at this point and use it within the next week or so. The flavor improves after a night in the fridge. Sprinkle cornmeal or wheat bran on a pizza peel (if you don't have a pizza peel, a flexible cutting board or lined piece of cardboard works). Pull off half the dough and reserve the rest for later. Wet your hands and quickly shape the dough into a ball by stretching the top down and tucking it under, working around the ball by turning it---this should take a matter of seconds.
Place the ball on the pizza peel, loosely cover, and let rise for 1 -2 hrs (if the dough was in the fridge it will take longer).
About half an hour before baking time, place a heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, ceramic) in the oven and preheat to 450 °. Alternately, you can use a pizza stone and pour a cup of boiling water in the broiler tray or a baking dish placed in the oven as soon as you put the bread in. Sprinkle the loaf with some more cornmeal or bran, slash it if you want to, then slide the loaf into the preheated covered pot. Reduce the oven to 400° and bake for 25 minutes covered (disregard this if you're using a stone--just let it bake for 35-40 min). Remove the lid and bake for another 10-20 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool on a rack.

Moroccan Style Sardines Stuffed with Dates

So far on my New Year's list, I've done : Apples, Beets, Black-Eyed Peas, Carrots, Challah, Grains (did rice and bulgur instead of fenugreek), Honey, Pomegranate.
I still have fish (heads), dates, pumpkin, and quince. Almost there and better late than never...

I keep sitting down to write this post to find that I have so much to say about fish that I don't know where to start. Since I was little, these creatures tend to appear in my emotionally-laden nightdreams, they turn in to symbols or stand-ins in my artwork, and are also my among favorite thing to eat. I'm having a hard time not conflating it all....on the other hand, my "symbolic New Year's food" list is all about conflation.

The other night I was listening to house music and drinking cocktails in the company of eels, jellyfish, and seahorses, as well as the young, hip and beautiful of San Francisco. Incredible scenery. And the pulsating energy in the air was both that of a dream and of unquenchable, overflowing life.

Two things crossed my mind as I was preparing these sardines; One, how long it had been since I've cooked fish because, even though one of my favorite foods, it was just hard to do on my grad student budget. Second, how rare it is that I (or most people) cook something with a recognizable face (I'm not counting mussel faces as recognizable.) As I was tenderly cradling each sardine in one hand while scooping its insides into the sink with the other, it was hard not be struck with image of it swimming out in Monterey, surrounded by a ton of friends and family, silver scales glinting in the sunlight. While being reminded of food having a previous existence as a living creature can be extremely challenging for me, the visual of alive, happy and plentiful fish is invigorating for some reason---I guess there is some surreal translation of the image of a fish to an image of myself flitting weightlessly through vast expanses of water.

So, this dish seemed like a perfect one to make for my list because
A) It's lucky to eat fish heads (or at least have them on the table) when we are at the "head" of the year. They are supposed to remind us to be leaders in upcoming year. Fish, besides their heads, are also symbolic of prosperity and fertility.

B) Dates, in addition to being very very sweet,
are a "lucky" food because the word for dates "tamri" also suggest to "consume"-- we hope that our enemies/obstacles
will be consumed or destroyed.

C) Just like on Thanksgiving, stuffed dishes are traditional in their implication of abundance.

Fresh sardines are totally better than those from a can! As far as fish go, sardines are pretty environmentally friendly and contain all those healthy Omega-3s. Supposedly they are making a comeback. It also helps that they are very affordable here :)

Moroccan Style Sardines Stuffed with Dates (adapted from Diana Henry)

  • 1.5 lbs of fresh whole sardines
  • olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 10 dates, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 C slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1 T mint leaves. chopped
  • zest from 1/2 lemon and 1/2 orange
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/4 tsp saffron threads
  • 1/4 tsp harissa
  • 1 T butter, diced

  • 1 orange, thinly sliced
  • cilantro and harissa for serving

For the stuffing:
Saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Transfer to a bowl and add the chopped dates. Partially crush the almonds so you have some smaller and larger pieces. Add the almonds to the mixture, along with the other stuffing ingredients, saving the butter for last. Add the diced butter and bring the stuffing into a ball.

Preheat the oven to 350 °. Drizzle some olive oil in a baking dish.

Gut the sardines and rinse the bitterness out from their insides. Break or snip the spine at head and by the tail, and gently remove the spine and bones. Dry them thoroughly. Sprinkle their insides with salt and pepper. Fill each with some stuffing and lay them in the dish. Rub their outsides with the ginger and cinnamon and drizzle with olive oil. Half the orange slices and arrange them between the fish. Bake them for about 20 minutes. Serve with chopped cilantro and harissa.

Chocolate Praline Earthquake Cake

I'm going to shift plates here for a minute and take a break from my new year's list to celebrate something else--the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked us 20 years ago. I'm sure anybody that experienced it would agree that it feels more like it happened last week than two decades ago. Everyone can remember exactly where they were, who they called first, the first thought that ran through their heads.
20 years ago I was lying on my belly in the living room, taking a plastic horse toy for a trot around the carpet. My mom had company for an afternoon dessert outside in our sukkah. The guests had left and she and my toddler brother were sitting on the deck just about to put away the coffee. Then the carpet turned into a rolling ocean and I ran outside through the open (and probably sliding) sliding glass door and ducked under the patio table with my mom and brother, still clutching the toy horse. I don't remember being scared during the quake as much as amazed at how the earth could move like that and at how 15 seconds of rumbling seemed like an eternity. The scary part didn't happen until afterwards, after the power went out. We went out into the street and heard on our neighbor's battery-radio that a bridge had collapsed. I knew my dad had to cross a bridge to get home and I was hoping that it wasn't that one. I was imagining the terror of all those people in cars plummeting into the Bay (in actuality, there was only one casualty on the bridge.) It took my dad forever to get home. This was pre-cellphones and I remember being terrified about not knowing what apocalyptic mess he might be facing on the road. We spent the evening with candles or flashlights and slept (or tried to sleep) under the dining room table, wrapped in an avocado green sheet. I remember lying awake, anticipating each aftershock. I was trying to prevent even an inch of my brother or myself from peeking out from the shelter of the table for fear that the chandelier would take the appearance of child-flesh as an opportunity to plunge down on us. At some point, I loosened my grip on the plastic horse and it disappeared. We must have slept under that table for a week, waiting for the next one. We're still waiting. And I bet there's some serious shaking building up under the surface by now.
Even though by now we've lived through plenty of other earthquakes and much more turbulent events, the memory of the '89 quake still stands crystal clear. Amusing how so many people come here and pay an enormous sum of money to put a house down on a bit of earth that threatens to crack open and swallow it up. But I guess that's California.
This is Earthquake Cake because the top looks like the San Andreas if the San Andreas were made of cake and cream cheese. Usually Earthquake Cake is made like a speedy deconstructed upside-down German chocolate cake. It didn't seem appropriate to try to force a simple, potluck-type sheet cake into being gourmet, but I decided to up the richness a notch and give it a a chocolatey-er cake and a praline bottom (I figured that gooey praline is closer to replicating the asthenosphere than the scattered "boulders" of loose coconut and nuts.) So, there's not much upscale here. This is a cake that's sweet--nearly to a fault. And it's from a box, which I figured was fitting since when the "big one" hits, I'll be living on our stores of canned green beans and Passover brownie mix.

Earthquake Cake

  • 1 C light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 C cream
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1 C pecan pieces

  • 1 box Devil's Food cake mix
  • 2/3 C buttermilk
  • 2/3 C water (or 1/3 water, 1/3 bourbon)
  • 1/4 C oil + 1/4 melted butter (or 1/2 C oil)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 T cocoa powder

  • 1 lb (4 C) powdered sugar
  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 4 oz butter, softened

Melt the brown sugar, cream, and 4 oz butter in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring for a few minutes until sugar dissolves. Pour over the bottom of a 9 x 13 " baking pan. Sprinkle with nuts.

Put the cake mix, cocoa, water/bourbon, milk, oil/melted butter, and eggs in a bowl. Beat with a mixer on medium speed for a minute, scrape down the sides and then beat for 2-3 minutes more. Pour into pan, on top of the praline layer.

Beat the last 4 oz butter, cream cheese, and powdered sugar on low speed for a minute, until smooth. Drop 12 globs on top of the cake batter (don't mix it in).

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 40-45 minutes, until mostly set but still slightly wobbly in the center--it firms as it cools. Cool in pan on a rack for 30 minutes. Serve pieces inverted. or not.

I hope the "big one" comes complete with these hairdos and poor editing:

"Earthquake" (1974)

My Apple Cake

"Sustain me with raisin-cakes, comfort* me with apples; For I am sick with love."

*to spread (a bed); to refresh, to make (a bed.)

-Song of Solomon, 2:5

I'm getting close to being done with my New Year's list. Just three more items after this one. I'm wondering why I didn't start here, with apples.

Coming back to my hometown this year has been a show of constants and unknowns. The sound of the early morning train used to be a lullaby to me. It was a reminder to make the best of those last few hours of sleep before I had to crawl out of the warm sheets to go to school. Even in recent years when I'd visit and stay in my old bed, the sound would still soothe me to sleep. Now the train noise seems relentless. I'm struggling to accept that things change and people change them for you--even little things like how I hear trains. The long freighters that pass slowly in the night rattle in my bones; the 5AM train seems so loud that it raises the hair on my arms. It's also in that gray early morning light that the tiny fracture in my heart starts acting up and pulling me out of my dreams into the day, to lie with a pillow over my head, contemplating the loss of my goldfish and remembering the summer I returned from a trip to find a shriveled tomato plant that a friend neglected to water in my absence. But eventually, as always, the sun rises, and eventually the haze burns off, and the radio station still plays Bollywood songs on Wednesday mornings.
Nothing is particularly unique about this apple cake except that I make it every year. I'm not even sure where the recipe came from--I've had it written in bubbly girl-handwriting in a recipe box I made in 5th grade, along with all the other sweet things my friends and I used to bake during sleep-overs. I've been upping the spices for probably 15 years or so, but besides that, the cake has stayed the same.
There's a comfort in making something very familiar--the feeling of winding the peeler around each apple to try to get one long spiral of green skin, the crunch of plunging down the corer, and the sweet, spicy smell of baking autumn--like recreating an edible chunk of a less-complicated time (when I slept better.)
I've found a few explanations of why apples are the iconic fruits eaten on Rosh Hashanah. In Genesis, a blind Isaac remarks that his son, Jacob, gives off the fragrance of a blessed field of apples (Eden). Isaac then gives Jacob a blessing (lengthy explanation is found here.) I guess we're supposed to hope that we, too, will be given a blessing of Eden this year. Mostly, I love the idea that a person could give off the scent of apples. Of course they are also sweet, and are a marker that fall has arrived.

Arielle's Apple Cake

  • 4 C tart apples, peeled, cored and sliced
  • 2 C sugar
  • 1/2 C oil
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 generous tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp each: clove, nutmeg, allspice
  • 2 C flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease and flour a bundt pan.
Don't use a mixer--this is a wooden spoon cake. Mix apple slices and sugar, until apples are coated. Add oil, eggs, vanilla. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking soda, salt and spices. Add the dries to the wets and mix just until combined. Turn into pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean, for about an hour.

I make an icing with powdered sugar, a shake of spice (optional), a drop of lemon juice, and a few spoons of milk.

Challah (round) with Saffron and Raisins

Now that we're eating again, back to my list....
I have a memory so old that it is melted with dreams and play-fantasies (Mommy, you can verify.) My mom and I were in our kitchen making challah with saffron. I remember having my arms above my head to reach the bowl. I think I was on a stool but not quite tall enough to see everything. I remember her showing me how to touch the dough and apply the egg wash, but mostly I remember the smell of saffron. I smelled it as we braided the loaf and again when I went upstairs to have a bath while the baking bread filled the house with the scent. In the image in my mind, I am looking in at myself in a cross-section of our house. Our house was split down the center like a dollhouse, the setting sun was a yellow circle of cardboard, and the stars emerged like holes poked through a cloth with a flashlight behind it. I remember my mom rubbing me with baby oil after my bath and then I was lying on the floor upstairs, entirely relaxed and content waiting for dinner. As the upstairs grew dark, the light and the smells from the kitchen downstairs were wafting up. Regardless of how blurry my recollection is, it's one of the warmest memories I have. The smell of saffron still has the power to whirl me back into that babyhood moment of candlelight and warm towels and encompassing calm. The connection between that scent and the memory is so strong that I can barely open the jar of red threads without having to pause what I'm doing and close my eyes. Even a whiff off my yellow stained fingers hours after crumbling a pinch into something will send me out of this world for a minute or two.
I almost never make my own challah now because it takes all day. However, it is such a treat when I can take the whole day and let the egg-cracking, kneading, waiting, braiding,waiting, and glazing be a journey into a deep sense of "home." For Rosh Hashanah, the challah is traditionally round, studded with raisins, and dipped in honey to symbolize a sweet and perfect year ahead. This recipe, because of the proportion of oil, makes a challah that has a crumb closer to a brioche than to a sweet, eggy bread. I'll give another variation at some point, hopefully.

Challah with Raisins and Saffron (adapted from A Blessing of Bread)

  • 1 envelope instant yeast
  • 500 g bread flour
  • 3/4 C warm water
  • 2 good pinches saffron
  • 1/3-1 C mixed raisins, rinsed and plumped in hot water
  • 3 large eggs, one for the glaze
  • 1/2 C vegetable oil
  • scant 1.5 tsp salt
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar

Toast saffron gently in a small dry pan until slightly darker. Crumble either with fingers or mortar and pestle and dissolve in 1/4 of the water. Mix yeast and 100 g (~3/4C) of flour in a bowl. Add the saffron water, then fill the same measuring cup with the other 1/2 C of water (to get all the saffrony goodness) and add that to the slurry. Mix well and let sit uncovered for 20 minutes until bubbly.

Whisk 2 eggs, oil, sugar, and salt into the yeast slurry until blended and dissolved. Then, using a wooden spoon add all the flour at once and mix until incorporated. Knead in a mixer with a dough hook for about 4 minutes (level 4 on a KitchenAid) or oil your hands, turn out onto a work surface and knead by hand for 10 minutes max. The dough should be soft and smooth and should not be sticking to your surface. Add a T of water or flour if it seems too dry or wet. Knead in the raisins.

Place the dough into a clean, warm bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

Prepare baking sheets by lining them with parchment/silpat or oiling them. Turn the dough out onto your work surface and divide into four pieces. Three pieces will be rolled into long ropes, and the fourth will make rolls. For the ropes, gently flatten the pieces into long rectangles and then fold into thirds lengthwise to make a rope. Or simply roll them into snakes. Starting with the center, coil the rope into a spiral, winding it tightly around itself, and adding the two other ropes as you go along. Tuck the last end under tigthly, leaving a little tension. This will make a high rising spiral.
*Alternately, you can spiral the ropes loosely to make a flat spiral. Or divide the dough into two (rather than four) and make two braided loaves.
The fourth piece of dough can be shaped into three little rolls.
Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and proof until tripled in size, about 1.5 hours.
Half an hour before baking time, preheat the oven to 350°. If using two baking sheets, arrange the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. If using just one, position the rack in the upper third.

Brush the loaves with egg glaze. I like to sprinkle just a pinch of sugar on top. Bake for about 30-35 minutes (less for smaller loaves), turning the baking sheet after 20 minutes, until nice and golden. If "golden" is happening too fast, make a foil tent over the top of the loaf. Let cool on a rack. Make french toast if you have left after a couple days.