Tuesday, February 23, 2010

V-Day - The Ineffable Lightness of Spinach Leek Tart

The next Holiday Marathon starts this week. And here I am still catching up with Valentine's Day! Purim is this weekend - A complicated holiday that looks like something simple. It's also the starter's gun for Passover. Passover will have shades of the things that have completely derailed me since Thanksgiving. I am not going to repeat what I did at the High Holy Days however and I WILL finish posting the full V-Day Epic, before my personal trip into the Wonderland of Purim.

We are up to recipe #4 the Spinach Leek Tart, plus the mojitos

His final menu was

The links go to the recipes already written about in case you missed them and the tale of The Boy cooking a Valentine's day dinner for His Girl

So here is the story of the most romantic spinach dish I've ever participated in.

The Boy does not hate all green things, but he does have strong opinions about many of them. Most of those opinions can be compromised with Bernaise Sauce.

When he sat down to make the menu he had a mental list of His Girl's favorite things. Among her favorite things were spinach and mushrooms. He hates mushrooms. He really only likes spinach in a souffle. He showed me the page in the book. "I want to make this."

"Are you sure? Will you eat it? There's no point in making a meal for two people if you're not going to eat the most complicated dish in it."

"I think she'll like it, it's got all her favorite things so I'll eat it with her."

The boy is not one for flowery poetry or emo declarations from rooftops. He is the absolute opposite of drama.

He really loves His Girl. The proof is in the Tart.

The other thing I will point out is that his understanding of the interaction of different flavors is evident in his selection of this as the vegetable side dish for the meal. The chicken was going to be citrusy and tangy, the sweet potatoes would be "dark" and sweet. He had specifically chosen this side dish to compliment the other two without being too heavy. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me. He's good at chemistry, he's been a bit of a foodie for the last couple of years and I suppose I'm just actually surprised that he's listened to us discuss the finer points of great meals and menu planning and absorbed it. Aren't we always just a little surprised when we discover our kids really listened to us after all? Or maybe it's just me.

Even though the whole meal was planned around the chicken; because he wanted to make her a meat meal, because you don't eat meat as often when you keep kosher, and even though the showstopper for V-Day is always supposed to be dessert, which was certainly epic, this part of the meal was truly his gift to her. From start to finish.

The Coffee Poppets had learned a love of mushrooms when we did the Longwood Gardens Mushroom Soup while on vacation. They popped right in when he decided to make this.


1 17 1/2 ounce package frozen puff pastry divided
2 large eggs divided
4 tablespoons margarine divided
3 garlic cloves minced
2 shallots, minced
4 oz or 1.5 cups of cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
1 tablespoon of Port, Maderia, sherry or other red wine
2 leeks, thinly sliced use white and pale green part only
1 10 oz box of frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon rosemary ( which reminds me - I have to buy more rosemary)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
juice from 1/2 lemon
pinch of Kosher Salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3-4 tablespoons of bread crumbs

A brief digression about finding mushrooms in the lull between two storms

Let me just tell you that getting the ingredients was a saga. We had gotten a 2 foot snowstorm about a week before. The Tuesday before Valentines Day they were predicting another foot and a half to two feet. The Boy and I were originally thinking that we would make this for Friday night to test it, but we were pretty sure that there would be no going anywhere on Wednesday and Thursday. So we preemptively decided we were going to shop for everything on Tuesday. If we needed something really fresh everything would probably be operational by Sunday morning. I made the executive decision to shop while he was at school - lucky I did!

The one thing I've learned this year is that I live by the Mushroom Capital of the world. I try to buy my produce locally and luckily my local Acme uses many of the same suppliers as my local Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

The other thing I've learned is that in this area, which doesn't usually get a lot of snow, the hint of snow sends people stampeding to the nearest market to buy up milk, bread and eggs. I've never figured it out. I now have a standing assumption that when snow falls from the sky the locals ritually make french toast.

So I was a little concerned that I might have trouble finding eggs, but I was pretty sure that the rest of my ingredient list was going to be easy. The other reason I needed to go shopping ASAP is that the kosher stuff is not universally available in one place and sometimes you need to hit several places to get all the things you need. Whole Foods is great for vegan versions of things like the cream-cheese-that-isn't and stuff like that, so I figured I would pick up the mushrooms there.

The first thing that surprised me was that the Whole Foods was packed at 10 am on a Tuesday morning - were there really that many unemployed or SAHMs (or SAHDs, we're pretty liberal here) in the area with so much disposable income that they were getting their mandatory milk, bread and eggs at Whole Foods?

The strip mall was empty except for Whole-Food-going denizens who were parking all the way into the next "zone" for all the other stores and shlepping over to find carts. I was practically in a dazed state when a parking spot opened up between a cart stop and a row close to the door. I grabbed a cart and went in, completely focused on mushrooms.

The Mushroom Division at our whole foods is a connoisseurs delight. It's five rows high, it has eight standard varieties of mushrooms. Plus whatever the cool kids are buying that week. Loose. Prepackaged. Prepared mushroomy things you can just heat up. You half expect the Caterpillar from Alice to be smoking something herbal and looking at you smugly when you approach it.

It's the very first thing on the right hand side as you enter the store.

It was empty.

I had no idea that the shelves were green before that moment. Dark Green.

Irrational panic set in and I looked around the rest of the green grocer section. Packed, yes. Stripped bared like Mother Hubbard's pantry? Hell no. Except for the mushrooms. I found a guy with a green apron restocking something and fought my way through to him. There must have been an edge of hysteria in my voice, because he was uber calming as he explained that there had been interruptions in their mushroom deliveries because of the last storm and they were supposed to get some on Thursday but that was now looking very doubtful. There might be mushrooms on Saturday but they had just gotten a bunch in on Monday and well, I could see the vast yawning emptiness for myself.

OK, I thought, Why are people lying in wait and pouncing on mushroom deliveries at the Whole Foods? Maybe if you move upscale in our area people make mushroom omelets or mushroom quiches instead of french toast when it snows? Just in case the nice man made me a list of all the potential mushroom delivery dates and introduced me to the manager, who confided in me that she didn't really get it either. I was relieved to find out that vegans were not rushing the shelves for dairy free whipped creams and cream cheeses. All the rest of my vegetative needs were easily met.

I moved on to Trader Joe's. There I ran into a more localized phenomena. This particular storm was going to hit and possibly immobilize us for Wedsday and Thursday. Friday is when observant Jews prepare for Shabbat, so you have to get everything done before sundown, including the cooking. Which means a lot of Jewish cooks who usually have a few days to buy thing fresh before they have to make meals in advance were rushing the shelves for enough food to last them the entire week. They weren't going to be able to go shopping, regardless of the weather, until Sunday. Trader Joe's carries a lot of kosher items and is very popular with the local community. I was there to buy some back up frozen side dishes and dessert just in case something when terribly wrong with any of the recipes. I know they usually buy locally too, but I checked the mushrooms just in case. Devastated! Barren! Post apocalyptic! Except for three packages on the uppermost shelving with a tiny little old Jewish lady desperately trying to reach the shelf, which wouldn't have helped her because the three packages were deeply set toward the back of said shelf. She would have needed to grow about a foot and a half. And frankly Trader Joe's doesn't look like they keep the Caterpillar around with his size distorting 'shrooms.

The package she was reaching for was one with two large portobellos. Hamburger sized ones. Not what I needed, but I offered to get them for her and warned her there was a local run on mushrooms if she needed more. After all, I am a foot and a half taller than her - no 'shrooms needed. She just needed the one package. I got it down for her. Behind it, lo and behold were two 10 ounce packages of cremini mushrooms which apparently have recently become known as "baby portobellos" and so this package had both names.

I thanked the universe for the benefits of instant karma, assumed it had more to do with The Boy's karma than mine, and grabbed both packages chuckling madly to myself and going to checkout muttering "I'm rich! I'm a happy miser. . . . . "

Good thing too - all Acme had were button mushrooms - which you can use in a pinch but the flavor is different and lighter.

So now I know. If I need mushrooms before a snowstorm, I'm going out at dawn . . . . .

End of maniacal mushroom digression . . . .


Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll out each of the puff pastry sheets into a 10x10 inch square.

Uh yeah . . . we had made the Glazed Sweet Potatoes at the start of the day and had started defrosting the puff pastry sheets about two hours before we needed them. This is officially Not Enough Time.

So we took the sheets out and they had defrosted enough to make a kind of tent structure out of each of them and put them on the heated stove. We used the necessary defrosting time to prep all of the other ingredients. The Boy learned how to wash and slice leeks. It's a little like dissecting a frog. You remove wilted leaves, cut off the roots and make an incision lengthwise to separate it and rinse of sandy particles that may have settled in the layer. Leeks as we learned on the Longwood Garden's recipe are onionlike and we needed both googles and gloves. We may have had trouble with the mushrooms but Whole Foods leeks are powerful good.

The end results of thinly slicing the 2 leeks:

We saved the darker green parts to use in a chicken soup later that week.

Then we moved on to zesting the lemon. We needed a teaspoon of zest. I have a zester. Owning a zester is one of those moments when you realize you cook a lot more than the rest of your social circle, because if you don't have a zester you end up using the cheese grating side of your cheese grater, which becomes massively annoying when you do it with citrus fruit.

When you do it often enough that you are dancing with joy because you found a zester so now you won't need your grater and it's accompanying torn finger skin complete with instant addition of citrus acid, you have crossed a line. It's OK though, my friends still love me, as long as I invite them over for dinner.

So The Boy learned how to use a zester, now he will start his own kitchen someday and assume that a zester is a necessary thing, like a garlic press and and french press.

Zesting takes a long time.

The pastry thawed.

Place 1 puff pastry sheet on an un greased baking sheet.

I use Silpats for pastry now. Any pastry. It's a vast improvement and keeps the pastry fluffy and cleans up super quick. I use it for frozen pastry based snacks too. I have a silpat and a newer brand from Bed Bath and Beyond. Because you need separate ones for meat and dairy and they have two different colors that way. But I admit I think I slightly prefer the silpat for dairy baking anyway.

The writer of the recipe, Susie Fishbein, also recommends using parchment paper for easy clean up.

So you have one square puff pastry sheet spread out. You cut the other sheet into 8 one inch wide strips. Brush the edges of the flat sheet with cold water ( this recipe gave me an excuse to finally buy a silicone based pastry brush - which is also making my life better since all of my cheap paintbrushes that I'd been using before kept being used for poppet projects). Lay 4 of the strips around the edges to form a flat rim, like a picture frame. Brush this rim with cold water. Lay the other four strips on top of those to form a higher rim. Trim the corners as necessary so it is a neat square.

Beat 1 egg lightly and brush on the pastry frame. Prick the tart all over the bottom with a fork. Place in the oven about 7-10 minute until puffed and golden.

So we did that and then we discovered that when you make a 10 x 10 square and cut 8 one inch strips from it, you will always end up with extra dough. So The Boy and The Poppets had an idea:

Which they worked out while the tart was doing this;

You don't actually use the whole egg - you use about 2/3 of it. Put it aside. You'll need it later.

Melt 2 tablespoons of margarine in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and the shallots (both of which the boy learned how to peel and mince while the tart was cooking) and saute 3-4 minutes until soft.

We had a slight mishap because he put the leeks in with the garlic and margarine and when he went to add the shallots he realized he shouldn't have them in yet. So he separated them as best he could - added another tablespoon of margarine and then added the shallots putting the partially cooked leeks to the side.

Then he got back to the core instructions.

Add the mushrooms and sauté 7-8 minutes or until they are soft, add the wine and scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

We may have used slightly more mushrooms than technically needed. We revel in our hedonistic gluttonous use of mushrooms during The Great Mushroom Shortage of Twenty Ten. Mwahhhahhhahhahhahha . . .

He was very good at popping the mushroom stalks and he learned how to slice, but I finished up for speed's sake. He had already done a lot of knife work that day and we didn't want the shallots to overcook.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of margarine - or in our case add another 2 tablespoons of margarine, which for us made 5 instead of 4. When it is melted add the leeks (Oh! That's where they come in!) and spinach and saute for about 10 minutes until the leeks are soft and shiny. So it was cool, they just had a 3 minute head start.

Add the chicken broth and simmer until the liquid is mostly evaporated ( this doesn't take nearly as long as you think it will so keep an eye on it.) Stir in the rosemary, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

I taught him how to fling his dash of salt and pepper with panache. The hidden panache is a vital ingredient. In almost everything really, if you think about it.

Remove from heat.

Lightly beat the remaining egg and and combine it with any egg you might have put aside earlier - add it to the spinach-leek mixture, mixing well. Carefully spoon the mixture into the prebaked tart, keeping the rim clean.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs,

This is where he added the heart, and now you all know His Girl's first initial. He coated the heart lightly with only two coats of egg wash.

Now here's where the first lesson from when we started planning kicks in.

Bake for 15 mintues. Serve warm.

The tart was done except for the final baking- the Tangy citrus chicken was next, but it would take an hour and fifteen minutes to cook. The most important thing in planning a meal is to make sure that the food gets to the table all at the same temperature it's supposed to be served at. I'll discuss how we managed to oven settings when I write about the chicken recipe but the tart was set aside while the chicken was cooking.

During that time we mixed up the mojitos, hand muddling the fresh mint and determining that Sprite is way better in virgin mojitos than club soda. (So why is the rum always gone? Oh right - they're underage and possibly the Drunken Poppet got there first).

He taste tested it with the sweet potatoes and declared the mojitos the drink of choice to go with dinner and set up to figuring out the best way to serve it in a timely manner when he set the table.

Here is is sample:

Mojitos were the only thing he made that wasn't brand new for him. He developed his mojito making skills after sampling one when we saw Waiting for Godot. He does put together a classy drink. It's probably because he comes from a long line of bartenders.

When the tart was finished cooking it looked like this:

You'll have to read up on the final recipe to find out what happened with it.

But I defy any mushroom and spinach loving girl to find a more romantic pastry than this one.

In our side of the Looking Glass the Knave makes his own damn tarts.

The Red Queen approves.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

V-Day - Learning About Why Sweet Potatoes like Whiskey

So here we are on recipe #3 - Glazed Sweet Potatoes

His final menu was

The links go to the recipes already written about in case you missed them and the tale of The Boy cooking a Valentine's day dinner for His Girl

So here's the thing about Sweet Potatoes. I love them.

And until recently I was the only one. You'd think they would be an easy sell when kids are little but no. I couldn't convince the children that they were delicious, even though the same children devoured things with pumpkin and were at least neutral about things with squash. The Perfectly Normal Husband comes with a few quirks as well and one of them is a distaste for sweet potatoes. After various failed attempts to lure them in culinarily, I took to buying single small sweet potatoes and baking them when I was making baked potatoes as a side dish. And making them for company, and for any large gathering where I was asked to bring a side dish.

But at home I was all alone. Until this summer.

I don't know what went on in that camp kitchen overall, but either the other choices were so egregious that The Boy decided sweet potatoes were worth trying, or the camp chef was magic and convinced The Boy that resistance was futile.

Either way he came back voluntarily looking for sweet potatoes. But I was still surprised when he put them on his menu.

And you may have noticed a pattern of which Poppets like to help in the kitchen.

You may remember that you last saw the Pumpkin Spice Poppets with another recipe - my Tzimmes, which Brings All The Boys To The Yard. It seems that whenever I cook with sweet potatoes they show up to assist. I kind of expect them now.

It's because they care.

At least about the sweet potatoes. I think they like us too, but I'm kind of happy they don't want to make sure we are cooked properly, with appropriate flavor.

The original plan had him making the glazed sweet potatoes on Saturday night so it was one less thing to do on V-Day, but after Shabbat ( that holiday thing where you're not supposed to do work that happens every Fri/Sat) the grown ups in his life decided that they were going to get together and eat chocolate and drink port instead. Because we had all been snowed into our respective residences for about four days and some of us were starved for adult conversation.

So for humanitarian reasons, he decided that he could just start early on Sunday instead of late on Saturday.


4-5 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) margarine
1 cup of dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup of whiskey or bourbon, such as Jack Daniels

When we read the ingredients during the planning session we discussed the whiskey issue. I've cooked a few dessert recipes that called for Jack Daniels in my life and they're pretty good but I don't keep it in The House. We have a kind of "one sip" teaching exposure rule to alcoholic drinks, so if a grown up is drinking a wine or a cordial or something and the child in question would like to sample it they get a sip which usually ends up with wrinkled nose and disinterest.

Wine is in the house weekly for Sabbath, beer is usually for guests or sausage dishes. Most of the liquor in the house, Grand Marnier, Kahlua, Creme de Cacao, Vermouth, vodka, chambord - those are all cooking ingredients. I never had much alcohol in my house until I got a subscription to Bon Appetite. Then all of a sudden I was getting close to a fully stocked bar.

I also cook with a lot of rum. Especially bread pudding. And mocha butter rum frosting. And chocolate rum Mexican wedding balls. I've also got a great recipe for a rum punch that I make in the summer for parties. Like Jack Sparrow, I find myself always wondering why the rum is always gone.

So my kids have grown up with alcohol demystified, people who are drunk defined as "targets" instead of "people having fun they can't remember" and first hand exposure to alcohol as a kind of ingredient that can also be enjoyed on it's own - like chocolate.

But still, this recipe required that I go out and buy some whiskey for my 15 year old for Valentine's Day. And because of the 1 sip standard and the fact that whiskey and scotch are used for very specific blessings in religious observances over the year The Boy knew for a fact that he hated whiskey.

But he knew enough about both cooking and chemistry to stick with his choice. So pre-blizzard whiskey shopping went I.

I hate whiskey too. So I was looking for the smallest possible bottle, but then I also realized I have friends who don't hate whiskey. I was going to have whiskey left over, so I would serve it to friends as an after dinner drink at some point and I didn't want it to be poor quality. Of course I had no idea what good quality was and I wasn't willing to spend a lot of money on it.

I got some help. While I was staring helplessly at the state store, a friendly connoisseur discussed the finer points of cooking vs. drinking and then confided he like whiskey a bunch after recommending the Jim Bean over the JD for cooking with. I asked him if he would be happy to be served the Jim Bean at a dinner party and he told me that he'd be quite happy because it was like drinking a decent 11$ bottle of wine with a good dinner even though you also drink really ridiculously expensive wines. Price doesn't equal quality in context. Context is very important.


So Jim Bean was going into the glaze, and if you visit and drink whiskey, it's what will be offered to you. Probably for the next year. This was the smallest bottle I could find that wasn't a sample size.

The arrival of the Jim Bean drew the attention of a Poppet who doesn't usually assist in the cooking adventures.

Directions for Glazed Sweet Potatoes

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.

Now just to set the record straight. The Boy can cook. He can fry, saute, bake, follow a recipe, make a reduction sauce and plan a meal. However he does the practical thing and except for main courses, tends to use semi-processed foods or frozen vegetables for side dishes. Most of his "from scratch" stuff is baking.

So it was with some awareness I asked, "Have you ever peeled potatoes?"


"Well, you're going to now."

I confessed to him immediately that he should not accept my teaching as the definitive word on it. I am a terrible potato peeler. I've got a lot of decent kitchen skills but frankly, I suck at this. I'm slow, potatoes slip out of my hands. I understand that a stint in the armed forces or being a Boy Scout leader would rectify this deficiency, however I am willing to do neither of those things. I usually delegate it to the Perfectly Normal Husband who is a peeler par excellence, and has been my sous chef on many a food based performance project when he was just my Perfectly Normal Accountant.

I showed him how to hold the potato, the peeler, initial safety tips and told him to take his time. Like the eggs I did the first one and let him do the rest. I told him not to stress about it and go slow and maybe someday someone would teach him the secret that I lack to getting it done quickly, but properly.

After the experience of peeling with the peeler (Good Grips - great for peeling klutzes like me) he took a look at our knives and immediately took out a paring knife wondering if you could use that to peek the suckers. Well yes, yes you can. And that's exactly the knife you'd use, but if you think I'm bad peeling with a peeler well I'm just an impending ER visit waiting to happen with a paring knife. Maybe Grandpa will teach him next visit.

He peeled all 4 lbs.

Cut the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.

Yeah, about that. Uncooked sweet potatoes have the consistency of balsa wood. I have very good knives but I usually cook the potatoes to soften them first and then slice them for presentation but the recipe was really clear. This was the only task I took over for The Boy, for the sake of my knives and my nerves. Also, having taken The Girl to the ER for her shoulder the week before I wasn't interested in doing that when all the downed trees and shoveling based heart attacks were going to fill up the ER.

Steam the sweet potatoes for 10 minutes or until soft but not mushy.

So The Boy learned what a vegetable steamer was.

He laid the sweet potato disks around the edges and center to open up the steamers "petals" as wide as they would go, there was about an inch and a half of water at the bottom to produce the steam.

He managed to get them all to fit without compromising the steamer. Covered it and started timing the steam from the water boiling - to get them "soft" took about 15 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from steamer and set aside.

We just moved them off the heat and set them aside on the counter still covered.

Now it was time to make the glaze; certain Poppets were very happy about this.

In a small saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, vanilla and salt stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the whiskey or bourbon ( which the gentleman at the store told me is the same thing) and cook for 5-10 minutes or until slightly thickened. Stirring occasionally.

The Boy likes, and is pretty good at chemistry. He made sure that the margarine was melted and thoroughly stirred before adding the sugar and did that again with the sugar before adding the whiskey.

10 minutes is a long time and he felt stirring frequently was better than occasionally so he pulled up a chair and tended the glaze for the 10 minutes.

This is what it looks like when it is the right consistency.

While the glaze is cooking you should spray a large 9x11 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Place sweet potatoes in the pan

and drizzle the sauce over the top when it's done.

Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Baste with the sauce every 10 minutes to keep the potatoes from drying out. He used the turkey baster after trying the basting brush. The turkey baster worked much better.

When they were done we re-plated the potatoes into a baking/serving dish for the dinner for the two of them and sampled the finished product.

The whisky made it fuller, the glaze was sweetened but not sweet. The outer portion of the disk had a soft crispness and the inside was soft. It was definitely savory. If the whiskey weren't in the recipe it would at best be bland and at worst be cloying.

The whiskey was definitely the thing that knocked this recipe up to a higher level. Sweet Potatoes and Whiskey - perfect together - as long as they've been cooked for an hour or so.

And as the boy would say, "Tasty".

We were already looking forward to when we were going to eat the leftovers.

But it was getting close to noon. His Girl was due at 5.

The Skeleton Poppet Who Wants a Flower Shop showed up with a bunch of vases, three different types of flowers and fill and some florist shears.

Bustling around and checking color, cut and health he insisted that The Boy use his time between bastings to learn how to arrange the flowers for the table himself.


Dead Serious.

We are really going to have to break the Skeleton of his penchant for bad puns.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

V-Day - Like Water for Peanut Butter - Chocolate Mousse Terrine

So yesterday I told the tale of the Boy 's Valentine's Day plan to cook a meal for His Girl. And this led to the epic of bringing the Bialetti Mukka Express to the House. Because he wanted to more for her than just giver her something. He wanted to do something.

The Boy of the House is an excellent gift giver. When he was five and went to the mall he had fifteen dollars to spend on a present for me for Hanukkah and he insisted on picking it out himself. He went where grown men should fear to tred and bought me a ring. It was a silver interpretation of an amalfi swirl with an oval of abalone in the center being framed by the swirl. Most of these rings are trite, or the composition is off balance, and it would be one of the things that you love because your child gave it to you, but it wouldn't make the "wear it everyday" rotation.

Somehow he found the only silver cart ring in the known universe that was not only something that I would buy myself if I bought silver cart rings, it was perfectly proportioned on my freakishly long fingers and exactly my taste. So I found that I loved it in addition to it being given to me by my five year old. And then when I realized that it was MY taste and NOT his, I hugged him again and told him that he wasn't allowed to start dating until he was 126.

If he could do this at 5, I feared for his dating years. I still have the ring - the abalone separated from it about a year and a half ago and, yes I will actually take it to a jeweler to get it replaced. I've never seen another ring like it, though I'm sure it was mass produced. It's like he willed it into existence.

Oh yes, the Perfectly Normal Husband did indeed bring The Boy with him when he chose an engagement ring for me. A ring I might point out that I resisted as unnecessary, because I'm really hard to buy for. But I am the Boy's mother. So maybe it would be different when he really was old enough to date.

It's not.

He made His Girl a bracelet when they started as a couple, (completely breaking the "when you're 126 rule"). He introduced her to Poppets because she is a Neil Gaiman fan, He bought her a one of a kind hand crafted modern necklace for her Bat Mitzvah, where we went to the store and the woman who runs it tried to show him "appropriate" (read "girly, delicate and pink") gifts. I told her to let him look on his own, that he had a pretty large budget and excellent taste and His Girl was not "girly" that way, she was "girly" in a completely different way.

He chose two necklaces both involving the color green - which he knew was the color of her birthstone, one was very modern and sculptural with mottled greens, blues and golds and the other was green tourmaline set in marcasite and antique. He decided to get both and give her one for her Bnai' Mitzvot and the other for her birthday which was several months away. And he knew the date off the top of his head. (He SO didn't get that from me.) When we attended the service for her - the present yet ungiven we saw her new tallit (prayer shawl) had a border on it that was handpainted with exactly the kind of mottling and texture as the necklace he had chosen for her, with all the same colors. Worn together the two pieces look for all the world like they had been made for the same artist.

I figured he had seen the tallit before he went shopping for her. No - he had no idea, he just picked something that he thought she would like, that he thought would look good on her.

He was just really, really right.

By the way Luda, the shop owner, now just shows him the new artists' work that came in.

It's a little scary.

For their first anniversary - which takes place in the middle of the 8 weeks at camp, he got her a Yellow Poppet because yellow is the color for 1 year. Who knew years had colors? How did he know years had colors? He ordered it two months in advance, packed it in his gear, and I found out later left it on her bunk when her group was out with a yellow flower.

No note.

So not only did she see it when the group returned from the hike, but so did all of her bunkmates.

No question who it was from - he owns the only Poppets at camp.

He's making life very difficult for the other male significant others around him.

The Perfectly Normal Husband says that between the Boy and Obama, the expectations for men in long term relationships is going to actually require some effort.

I suppose the men will have to adjust - or be happy that The Boy is a one girl kind of boy.

So now he brought his attention to what he wanted that wasn't a piece of jewelry, but was still a gift. He is a very intentional giver.

He doesn't do these things in a vacuum and he does ask for advice. He and I have discussed that at their age actual jewelry given by a boyfriend should be something that is her taste, but should have something about it that reminds her of him.

Because someday it will be in a jewelry box when she is older and she should be able to have fond memories of the boy and wear it occasionally and tell the stories of the two of them. They are each other's first significant other. He'll always have the Edgar Allen Poe book, she'll always have the necklaces. That's the way these things work. Come what may.

How The Boy went about Gifting a Meal

He brought out the cookbook and asked me to sit with him to answer questions. What was the most important thing to remember when cooking a complex meal like this?

"The most important thing is to serve it all at the right temperature."

"Ok "

"What are you doing?"

"I found the dessert I want to make. Here. Take a look."

Oh. He's really serious about this.

You see, even with all that background, I assumed he was going to make something fairly standard, like a london broil or chicken cutlets or something. He CAN cook, he's been learning bits and pieces at home. He's joined a few cooking clubs at school and at camp, but he was looking at peanut butter- chocolate mousse terrine. Completely from scratch, like melting your own damn chocolate.

"She likes peanut butter, and this looks tasty."

"OK. Read the recipe, make sure it looks like you can do everything it says or that you'll be willing to learn if you don't know the technique and set the rest of the menu."

This was when the discussion of cappuccino came up. I'll admit that I kept my counsel to myself because I was curious as to what he would come up with. He studied the book for a while and noticed that there was a Tiramisu Cheesecake as well - we marked that for home use later.

He picked the main course next - Tangy Citrus Chicken - he looked at it and saw that it was spicy, which she also likes but it looked like it had enough flavor and wasn't too spicy for him.

Then he got the next piece of coaching : When you've chosen the centerpiece of your meal, the next most important thing is to make sure all of the flavors that you choose to accompany it compliment each other.

And if you've chosen to make a meat meal - make sure that the dessert you pick is parve. Parve means neither meat nor dairy. You should be able to serve it with everything. We keep a form of kosher at the House, but when you cook for someone else who also keeps kosher, you use ALL the rules instead of House Rules. This won't make a lot of sense to some of the readers, but those of us who have to balance the whole religious discipline/real life balance will recognize that this is important - there is nothing less romantic than having to wonder whether or not you can actually eat what your sweetheart made you. The non-religious equivalent would be that you you can't boil the pasta in chicken broth for the Valentine's Pasta Primavera that you made for your vegetarian girlfriend.

He checked to make sure - the terrine was parve - yes - Desserts are Go.

His final menu was

  • Tangy Citrus Chicken
  • Glazed Sweet Potatos
  • Spinach Leek Tart
  • Peanut Butter Chocalate Mousse Terrine
  • Virgin Mojitos
  • Cappuchino

"Are you sure?"


Then he made a full list of all the needed ingredients and went through the cupboards to check off the things that we had. He created the shopping list of the things that needed to be fresh or things that we didn't have. He read all four recipes and we discussed the things that he would need to learn, and then we charted out how long each item would take to cook and what could be made in advance.

And this was when we realized the Terrine was going to take 3 days. And that we weren't completely sure what a terrine was - I had thought it was a kind of special pan and I wasn't too far off, but it ends up that it's the same a a loaf pan. Which we have plenty of.

The Boy was scheduled to be off from school on the Friday and Monday around V-Day so we planned the first leg of the Terrine for Friday. The final glaze goes on right before serving it so that would be done on Sunday.

When we post the recipes for the sweet potatoes and the tart, I'll talk some more about the general preparations but for now we'll move ahead with the recipe for dessert.

Peanut Butter - Chocolate Mousse Terrine by Susie Fishbein

2 cups of confectioners sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons jarred creamy peanut butter
8 oz of non-dairy cream cheese
3 tablespoons of parve whipping cream
2 large egg whites.

The first thing you have to do is line a 6 cup loaf pan with plastic wrap. So we had a loaf pan, but we had no idea if it was 6 cups because that's not the way we usually measure the things that go into it.

The obvious solution was to pour six cups of water into the pan and see if that made it mostly full. The Top of a Choco Poppet was about a smidge under the edge of the pan so if the Choco Poppet needed to tread water at 6 cups we were good and if it was only ruff deep we were going to have to compensate.

The above pic was at 4 cups - we were exactly right. It was 6 cups only the tip of his hood was above the waterline at the end. The volunteers dried themselves off after a brisk swim.

We did not use the same pan we had measured the water in so that we wouldn't have to wait for it to dry.

Now it was time to line the loaf pan with plastic wrap

The Boy worked on making the outside tension as even as possible and the Choco's helped weight down the corners on the inside until it was as flat as it could be.

Now it was time to start mixing stuff - originally The Boy was going to go shopping for the ingredients with me, but the impending blizzard made that impractical. When we saw the weather forecast, we made the decision to buy everything that might be needed, that could be obtained on the Tuesday before the snow started.

Here's a nasty little truth about desserts made with non-dairy substitutions. If you buy the wrong thing you will never, never be able to ditch the chemical taste if it's truly fake, or a slightly bitter or flat taste if you use vegan substitutes. Choosing good ingredients is always important, but way more so in a parve desert if you want it to taste like a crowning achievement instead of a poor man's compromise.

So since there were going to be two non-dairy elements to this layer - the quality, texture and aroma, as well as the taste of the peanut butter was paramount. Unsure, I picked up two different peanut butters, Skippy and an organic that I had liked for something else.

The Chocos set up the taste test and told The Boy to choose.

Skippy won. The texture and the aroma were both fuller.

The other advantage we had was a previous awareness of a non-dairy cream cheese that didn't suck and actually tastes and acts like cream cheese. Admittedly, it tastes and acts like low-fat cream cheese but that's still head and shoulders above the other options.

It's called "Better Than Cream Cheese" great for vegans and friends who are lactose intolerant.

Now I wish I had such kind things to say about the parve whipped cream. There is a rant on my part that goes with it along with several unkind things I have to say about helicopter parents, holier than thou kashrut warring co-religionists and powertripping rabbis. But this was about The Boy's Girl and not about me or my arguments with certain religious people. So I went and tried to find something that would meet the abstruse standard of the modern rabbinical world that didn't take like sweet, soupy, chemical, drek.

I pondered soy whipping cream but wasn't sure it would actually whip. Finally when push came to shove and impending snow doom threatened, I figured we would just have to improvise with aerosol canister whipping cream which the Boy would then let settle and deflate and become parve whipping cream again.

It was at least parve, hekshered and not too bad. But I would not go so far as to call it "good" on it's own.

Peanut Butter Layer

In a large bowl with the mixer at medium speed - you mix the sugar, peanut butter, parve cream cheese and the whipping cream.

So that's what The Boy and the Poppets did.

In a medium bowl beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

"Have you ever separated eggs before?"

"Um, no"

"Time to learn"

I taught him how to gently crack the egg in the center and twirl it so that the tapping against the edge of the bowl took the crack about 3/4 of the way around the egg. Gently separating the cracked halves of the shell you let the white start streaming out and use the shell halves as a kind of cup making sure the surface tension of the yolk isn't compromised. When enough of the white had drained that the yolk is safely in half the shell, you gently and slowly separate the two halves and then transfer the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves with the white draining off the edge of the shells until all that is being transferred is the yolk and all the whites are in the target bowl. Then you put the yolk in a sealable container because you are going to use them later. I did the first one as an example and he did all of the separated eggs that followed after.

Here is the Boy separating his first egg and the Chocos supplying color commentary.

Using a whisk he whipped the eggs into soft peaks. This was aslo the first time he had done that, and he was surprised at how stiff the whites got. It takes a while - he would have called it at two different points before it was actually the right texture.

Now he had to fold the egg whites into the peanut butter mixture. This is the part that really makes it a mousse. It's important.

There was a time between the 1970s and the beginnings of the Food Channel where people lost track of how to cook and certain cooking terms. A lot of people think that "folding" is stirring really slowly. It's not. Stirring breaks things down and integrates them into something like a mousse in a really different way. Sometime around 2002, I was reading how Betty Crocker was simplifying some of it's recipe language and "fold" was one of the words they were getting rid of in their blueberry muffin mix.

Poor Boy, sometimes it's really rough to have me as a mother - but I promise you as of this weekend he does know how to fold egg whites into a batter. His risen waffles are going to be amazing someday.

In order to fold the egg whites in you use a soft spatula or flattened spoon and scoop your beaten egg whites into the center of your larger bowl.

You run the spatula around the edge of the bowl, going down under the egg whites so it's like slowly stirring on a diagonal.

When you hit the halfway point you continue the diagonal stirring movement bringing the mixture up and over the eggwhite creating a fold of the mixture over the eggwhites and bringing the spoon down on the other side of the edge repeating the process and moving a little further down the side until you've slowly gone the whole circumference of the bowl.

Since the up and over part is the most important one after you've found the most comfortable way to keep up the folding motion and turning the bowl you'll probably be holding the bowl in some variation like this.

When the egg whites are thoroughly folded in they will look like this:

Now that was a lot of words, when what was really happening was a lot of show and tell. Maybe some of the words are wrong or don't make sense.

I found a video that does it the way we do - Here it is.

And the Food Channel became really popular so maybe everyone knows about things like folding and blanching again.

Now we take the mixture and put it into the lined loaf pan-

The recipe says:

With the pan in front of you, horizontally tilt the pan to a 45 degree angle. Spoon the mousse into it, the mousse will from a 45 degree angle with the pan. Place the pan into the freezer propping it up to keep the angle.


What really happened is that we tried this, since we had two people.

I held the pan at the angle and he poured in the peanut butter mousse. But it didn't work out well logistically and what we did instead was pour in the batter trying to avoid one side and then tilting the pan to the forty five degree angle or whatever angle it ended up being that didn't spill over the side. Then we had to find a way for it to stay in that angle in the freezer. We tried a bunch of stuff, but finally we were able to use an empty prescription pill bottle. That worked. We shut the freezer door, our personal three stooges homage over.

This is your mousse. This is your mousse on drug bottles. Any Questions?

No we did not get any pics of this step. The Poppets were laughing to hard to hold the camera.


8 oz of good quality semisweet chocolate chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons of instant coffee
2 1/2 teaspoons of water, room temperature
3 egg yolks
1 cup of parve whipping cream

As you can see the Coffee Poppets came along to find the least offensive instant coffee available. The Chocos convinced them that instant coffee is a great ingredient, and no one was asking them to drink it so they should lighten up. The agreed to lighten up in exchange for some of the finished product.

Then they could decide about this whole "ingredient" thing for themselves.

Chocolate Layer

Melt the chocolate in top of a double boiler or in a pan set over a pot of simmering water. Stir until smooth.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool for 10 minutes.

Dissolve the coffee in the water into a small bowl whisk the egg yolks into the coffee.

The mixture will look like this.

Add the mixture into the warm chocolate and stir until smooth - beat the cream until soft peaks form.

A word on this. As you recall we're not using real cream, were using fake cream, and we're using fake cream that has been whipped in a whipping can. But there's no way to measure the volume of the whipping cream prior to it being whipped and we need a full cup as a starting point. So we had to spray out the whipped stuff, wait for it to "unwhip" and then pour it into the Kitchenaid and whip it again.

Dude. A Kitchenaid on high with a whisk attachment can give you fresh whipped cream in 3 minutes. In 4-5 you get butter. He started the cream the same time the chocolate was removed from the heat - all in all it took 15 minutes to get that stuff up to something resembling "soft peaks" . I want a better parve whipping cream dammit.

Gently fold the cream into the chocolate until fully incorporated.

Darn tootin' you fold it in "gently"! It took you a whole lot of time to get it fluffy, you don't want to squish it flat with aggressive folding.

Set the peanut butter mousse flat in front of you. Spoon the chocolate mousse over the frozen peanut butter mousse.

Smooth the top.

Cover the pan.

Freeze until the chocolate layer is firm, 6 hours or overnight.


The Choco poppets found new recipes in the Ghirardelli Wrappers. I sense Mississippi Mud Bars in our future.

Now the previous layers took place over two days. You have to make the glaze shortly before you serve it. The Boy made the Glaze on Sunday between dinner and dessert.


2/3 of a cup of parve whipping creme ( this thankfully killed off the can. It tasted great in the finished dish but I'll be happy if I never have to use it this way again)
6 tablespoons of Margarine
5 oz semisweet chocolate


Heat the cream and margarine in a medium saucepan over a low heat until the cream simmers and the margarine is melted.

In order to make the margarine as smooth as possible I taught the boy to stir constantly while melting it in order to keep it from separating into oils and when it was fully melted add and stir in the cream, then wait for the simmer. This prevents the dreaded texture difference that you can sometimes tell in a parve desert that's used margarine.

Turn off the heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until the mixture is smooth

Let cool until thickened, but still able to be poured.

If making in advance place in an airtight container with lid but do not refrigerate or it will be too thick to pour and spread.

You have to remove the terrine form the freezer 15 minutes before serving it. Invert it onto a cake platter:

Note the cool diagonal presentation . . . . . Ooooh . . . . . . Ahhhhhhh . . . . . .

Pour the glaze over the mousse and smooth. The Boy opted for a kind of abstract art thing.

When we packed it up after dinner we poured the rest of the glaze over it for a full on candy coating effect.

The final product served with a drizzle of caramel sauce.

The peanut butter mousse tastes like a sophisticated Reese's peanut butter cup filling. The Chocolate mousse is not sweet at all and acts as a counter and a heavier base for the PB Mousse. The Glaze is awesomely delicious and I will probably make it solo to go over other things.

The yield is 8-10 servings and quite frankly it's very rich so I think we're really looking at something more like 10 -12.

He prepared it two days in advance and it was more than fine. When we made the cappuccino we used a soy based milk to keep it parve. Silk is pretty good.

So to celebrate V-day the Boy
  • Spent three days making a dessert
  • Learned how to separate eggs
  • Learned how to whisk egg whites into soft peaks
  • Learned how to properly melt chocolate in a double boiler
  • Learned the proper method for folding things into a mixture
  • Learned the proper method for melting margarine for a baking recipe
  • Learned that even with two people it is very hard to hold a loaf pan at a 45 degree angle and pour out mousse.

Coffee Poppets learned that instant coffee deserves to exist if it helps make chocolate mousse.

I learned
  • that when The Boy wants to plan something special, I should assume it will not be simple.
  • to cut smaller slices when serving this terrine.
  • that at the end of it all when we were doing the clean up, he thought all of the work for whole thing was worth it because His Girl likes peanut butter.

And then I tried not to be a sappy mom when I saw him smile thinking about giving it to her.
  • I learned that I couldn't quite manage that, and did the silly tearing up thing that moms sometimes do because they are overwhelmed with love for their kid. But I did manage to not get caught.

I suppose now I'll find out if he ever really reads the blog.

The Choco Poppets retired to rest, and then the Pumpkin Spice Poppets came in the next day to help because the plan called for the Glazed Sweet Potatoes to be made in advance.

Sweet Potatoes remind them of Pumpkins - they are SO there.