Butternut Squash muffins will save your soul



The MOST forgiving muffin recipe ever (as in, you can make a zillion substitutions and they will still taste really, really good) is from Vegan With a Vengeance (Isa!) which, although may not be the most sophisticated cookbook on my shelf, is still one of my most-used and loved. Her recipe for “The Best Pumpkin Muffins” has been in our breakfast-treats rotation since 2007 and continues to delight me with its willingness to bend to whatever health-trip I’m on, as well as whatever type of orange starchy vegetable I have available to stand in as the “pumpkin”.

This time, it was organic butternut squash, which I picked up at Central Square‘s Harvest Co-op on Sunday giving me one more reason, besides teaching my dance class, to be thankful for my weekly trip to the armpit of Massachusetts.

My butternut squash made it back to Sharon, albeit awkwardly squished between my ballet slippers and a book about bunnies that Alma somehow managed to sneak into my bag, and was promptly halved lengthwise, seeds scooped-out, and roasted in a shallow pan filled with a couple inches of water at 375°F for as long as it took to get soft.

It was then scooped into a container and placed into the fridge where it waited to be made into these wonderful muffins:

Butternut Squash Muffins for life, love, and world peace

makes 24, because 12 will not last a day

3.5 cups of flour (all-purpose, whole wheat, spelt, whathaveyou)

1 cup sugar (pick your poison- I have made this with white, and cane sugar)

2 Tablespoons baking POWDER

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 to 1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (depending on how much you like nutmeg)

1 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp allspice

2 cups cooked, pureed butternut squash (you can use pumpkin too, or anything like it)

1 cup milk of your choice (I made coconut milk from scratch, more on that later)

1/2 cup applesauce

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2-4 tbs molasses or maple syrup or silan (date syrup)

Preheat oven to 400°F and grease muffin tins for 24 muffins

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix wet ingredients in a separate bowl.

Fold wet into dry and mix until just combined.

Fill tins 3/4 full and bake until neighbors and forest animals start showing up looking dazed and hungry from the intoxicating smell of these muffins ~ 18 min.

Cool in pan 5 minutes, then remove from tins cool on rack.

Like all muffins, these are good with coffee or tea and, someone who likes to express themselves with saucy language and enthusiastic hand gestures.

Getting to the party

AriCooks, cake, dessert, Summer, Tips and Tricks

We have a lot of summer birthdays in my family, which, in addition to the summer I spent running a little cake-making business from my kitchen, has taught me a bit about how to make birthday cakes (and frosting) in warmer temperatures, and how to create a lovely-looking cake in stages so that you, the cake-baker, arrives at party day relaxed and ready to enjoy.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you are baking (really, building) a straightforward sheet or layer cake here. I think most of these guidelines would also be applicable to something like carrot cake, which is also often frosted, or even a genoise, which is soaked and then covered with ganache or glaze. Also, I am going to assume that if you’ve gotten this far, you know the basics of cake-baking and may even have a recipe in mind. If not, take a peek at these:
Weeknight Cake Making

Birthday Cake, Straight-Up

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake 

Photo from a million years ago

Photo from a million years ago

So, it’s July or August, or even a steamy early-September, and you have a cake to bake. I like to begin cake-building 3-4 days before the party, especially in the summer,and when there are other preparations that will take up time as well.

  1. The actual baking: After I have made my shopping list and arrived home with my ingredients (and checked to see that I have all the necessary staples– parchment paper, pan spray etc), I bake the cake/cake layers. If it’s hot, this is best done in the early morning (after coffee!), or late evening. Preheating an oven and baking the cake for 30-40 minutes, really increases the temperature of the house, especially if you live in a smaller space. When the cake has cooled (in the pan for 5-10 min, then out of the pan completely) you should wrap it up really well with plastic wrap (layers should be wrapped individually) and freeze it until you are ready to frost it — ideally, the night before the party. Do not refrigerate it. If you have done this step just one day before the party, you can leave it out, wrapped well, but not if the cake has ANY fresh fruit or veggies in it (blueberries, carrots etc).

2. Making Frostings and fillings: Most icings, frostings, and fillings (ganache is not so easy to make ahead) can certainly be made ahead of time and refrigerated or even frozen. Most of them will need to be brought to room temp before spreading and something like buttercream will definitely need to be re-beaten before it can be spread. If you don’t mind doing that, then I do recommend making buttercream ahead of time because it is time-consuming and you want to feel fresh and relaxed for the fun part- the decorating. If you are planning an outdoor party, where the cake may be sitting in the heat for a bit, it is HIGHLY recommended that you use at least part shortening or margarine in your buttercream. An all-butter buttercream is very tasty, but butter’s low melting point does not lend it to a stable frosting that will stand up to heat. You want to set yourself up for success after all this work, so unless your summer cake-eating is happening in air-conditioning, I recommend at least half shortening. You can use something like Earth Balance (supposedly healthier) or just a simple margarine.

3. Building your cake: The night before the party get your frosting at the right consistency and unwrap your frozen cake. Frosting a frozen cake has a great advantage: you may not need a crumb layer– that is to first frost your cake with a thin layer of frosting that some crumbs stick to and show-through, and then chill it and frost again with a second layer, thus hiding the crumbs. Frozen cakes tend not to shed as many crumbs, but obviously if your frosting is lily-white and your cake is chocolate, you may need a crumb layer regardless. When you have frosted the cake, and perhaps decorated with any piped frosting, cover the whole thing in some kind of cake-keeper until the day-of. Save any floral, fruit, or chocolate embellishments until right before the presentation, as they will not hold up well to overnight refrigerating.

4. The Day-Of: Complete any final touches on your cake in the hours before the party. Keep cake refrigerated until about half an hour before serving. Also, remember that certain fruit, like strawberries, can bleed color onto white frosting, so don’t leave those on the cake for too long before serving.

Kosher Salt Magic (An easy chicken recipe)

AriCooks, Jerusalem, Shabbat, Tips and Tricks

IMG_0119Once upon a time I was a vegetarian. For most of my life, actually, and a bit of a health-nut as well. And though my blog (and our table ) is still filled mainly with vegetables and non-animal proteins, I have two very hungry, carnivorous little girls who love roasted chicken and roasted broccoli alike. It began when we moved to Nachlaot. My older daughter, then 3, went to a public nursery school where they served a hot lunch. She was picky at home, eating mostly omelets, cucumbers, pasta and tofu, and not particularly willing to try new things. At school however, whether due to peer pressure, or simply the deliciously salty Osem soup powder added to all their meals, she happily cleaned her plate of chicken with rice, pasta and schnitzel, meatballs and green beans. So I started experimenting at home, cooking up a little chicken here, turkey meatballs there, and was pleased (and a little horrified) to discover that she loved them.

Since that time, I have found that the pleasure of watching my daughters eat well, trumps my desire to find creative ways to feed them vegetarian fare alone. And I am happy to say that this moderate attitude has produced kids who are never disappointed by roasted carrots, cauliflower, beets, or green beans, but rather overjoyed when we have chicken, salmon or meatballs, once or twice a week– they see meat as a treat and veggies as weekday fare.

Of all the recipes I have collected from my beloved Shuk vendors thus far, this one is the most miraculous.

Kosher Salt Chicken

It’s so simple, it’s barely a recipe

1 whole chicken

a lot of kosher salt

Rinse your chicken– if you’re into that. Put it on a pan lined with parchment. Pour kosher salt all around the edges of the pan, and inch or two wide. Don’t let it touch the chicken. Roast in a 375°F (180 C) oven until it’s golden and lovely looking and about 165°F internal temp (get a thermometer if you don’t have one, they are essential). Remove it from the oven. Enjoy.

I know it’s not easy to see, but the chicken is framed by a good amount of salt.




A little strawberry cake

AriCooks, cake, dessert

The thing about butter, is that it tastes really good.

butter softening on my counter, a very typical sight in my kitchen.

butter softening on the counter, a near-daily  sight in our kitchen.

Over the past couple of decades or more, the general attitude towards butter has been in tremendous flux, vacillating from treasured and essential staple, to the root of all heart-health evils.  In the 1980s butter was a bad word in many kitchens and restaurants, and in Jewish homes the issue was made even more complex by the Kashrut (the adherence to which dictates that Jews not mix milk and meat at the same meal, therefore preventing many a buttery desert from being served post-meat meal).

My own relationship was even further complicated by various eating doctrines I subscribed to throughout my teens, and early adulthood, but I am happy to say that along with the general changing attitude towards butter (though, I like to think of myself as being slightly ahead of the curve), I have now long-accepted that like most natural ingredients, butter is a wonderful thing that can and should be used in moderation, and with reverence to it’s unique properties as a tenderizer of baked goods, and taste-enhancer of …. just about everything.

This little strawberry cake that come to mind almost every time my husband buys too many off-season strawberries at a wholesale store, would not be the same without butter. As a matter of fact, most simple cakes, including buttermilk and upside-down, which have few ingredients, need butter to make them worth making and eating.


Simple Strawberry Cake

I’ll admit, I think this cake has a lot of sugar (and I often cut the amount down by a 1/4 or 1/3 of a cup). It’s also worth noting that I do not make this with summer, peak-season strawberries, as it would be a waste of their flavor (just eat them). This cake is for those less-than-perfect strawberries found in your market’s refrigerated section in winter-time. After trying them, you can decide how much sugar you need. 

1.5 cups spelt flour (you can use all purpose)

1.5 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

6 TBS softened butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg (I use an egg sub because of my daughter’s allergy: 1 TBS oil, 1 TBS water, 1 tsp bkg       powder, mixed)

1/2 cup milk (I use soy/rice/oat)

1 tsp vanilla

1.5 cups hulled, halved strawberries

Preheat the oven to 350 (180 C?), butter an 8 inch square pan or a 9 inch pie dish, set aside.

Sift the flour and bkg powder, set aside.

With an electric mixer or a wooden spoon cream the butter and sugar well. Add the egg and mix until combined. Add the milk, mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and spread the (thick) batter into the baking pan– I use a small offset spatula to level it. Now press the strawberries into batter slightly, cut side down, arranging them evenly over the top of the cake.

Bake for approximately 30 minutes.



Cookbook Review: Secrets from Lori Rapp’s Kitchen

AriCooks, cake, Dairy Free, Jerusalem

Hello! I am visiting from The Dreamy Day with a little cookbook review. Shortly after arriving back in the States I received an e-mail from Lori Rapp of Jerusalem’s La Cuisine, asking if I would mind reviewing her new cookbook on my blog. Since Ari Cooks is my food blog, and the one that is still quite active for recipe-seekers, I thought it best to post the review here. Hope you enjoy (and you can purchase the book on amazon)!

secrets from Lori Rapp's kitchen

Review: Secrets from Lori Rapps Kitchen Tales and recipes from Jerusalem’s popular La Cuisine.

As someone who has worked in the food industry from a young age, both behind the counter and in the kitchen, I thought I knew all the reasons why opening one’s own business is a risky and somewhat crazy endeavor. Over the years people have asked me again and again if I would consider opening my own bakery or cafe one day, and my answer has always been that I don’t have the desire to make my life that hectic and complicated. Inside, however, I have secretly thought that maybe, maybe when my girls are a bit older, and I have more time and energy to devote to such a thing, perhaps I could open something small and unassuming. Just a little place that might become a local favorite somewhere for breads, muffins and cakes. Lori Rapp’s book has done a swift job of reminding and informing me of the perils of the food biz, hitting so close to home for me, that I feel a bit traumatized after internalizing her experiences catering from her home and running her cafe and bakery in Jerusalem.

Amazingly, that is not how Lori Rapp feels. Despite the fact that she was the one whose bathtub was filled with salmon (in the early days of her business), whose face and arm were disfigured by burning caramel, who went through a miscarriage and chemotherapy with little time off from the rigorous pace of her work’s demands, and did all this while navigating an extremely inhospitable city-licensing bureau, impossible-to-please health department, and myriad other hurdles that would have sent most people running for a pleasant desk job, Lori Rapp is glad she spent 21 years doing what she loves.

     The first third of Lori Rapp’s book is memoir, taking the reader on a short trip back in time to her childhood, growing up as the daughter of Holocaust survivors in Toronto. The kitchen of Rapp’s youth was filled with some predictable foods, like shmaltz and poppyseed cake, and some less predictable, such as Mallomars and Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix (Rapp’s father was impressed with the sweets and convenience foods of the new world). As she grew older, Rapp began to discover foods and cooking styles different from her parents’, and her courtship with her husband-to-be, Marvin, was filled with butter-laden, time-consuming recipes — the kind of cooking one does when time and energy allow for impractical meals eaten at late hours.

Rapp then describes in detail, and with the fondness that hindsight can bring, the early years of their catering business: meals for 200 or more, somehow prepared from their small Jerusalem apartment. Adventures in catering brought incidents such as a $2500 electric bill one month, and their five young sons often ate disappointingly simple meals while piles of glazed baked goods (for customers!) mocked them from the kitchen counter.

When Lori and Marvin finally took the business out of the apartment, they were naive and unprepared for the roller coaster of the holiday season in a country obsessed with certain foods at specific times (mountains of cheesecakes and a line out the door on Shavuot, hundreds of honey cakes on Rosh HaShanna). Even so, they smiled their way through 14 years of business ownership before selling off La Cuisine to their partner in 2012.

Luckily for us, that sale did not include the rights to Rapp’s recipes for her wildly popular baked goods and savory items from La Cuisine’s catering menu. When I moved back to Jerusalem in 2011, one of the first things I heard (no joke) was praise for Lori Rapp’s non-dairy cheesecake. Because of the laws of Kashrut, cheesecake had formerly been relegated to the holiday of Shavuot, and the occasional dairy luncheon. When La Cuisine began selling (or selling out of, most often) this cake, happy folks all over the city could serve it at their Sabbath meals. The recipe for the tofu cheesecake of legend is generously provided by Rapp on page 76 and it was the first item I chose to make from her book. I am providing the recipe and photos (my own) below. As for more of Rapp’s delicious cakes (Chocolate Symphony, Chocolate Mousse, Dacquaoise), cookies (florentines, alfajores, butter pecan) tarts and more, you’ll have to buy the book.


tofutti cheesecake

Lori Rapp’s Tofu Cheesecake

makes one 9-inch cake

Lemon Curd (make ahead and cool)

1/2 cup plus one Tbs sugar

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

3 oz butter or butter-flavored margarine (I used smart balance)

2 tsp grated lemon rind

3 eggs (or 2 eggs + 2 yolks, if you want it extra rich)


180 grams (1.5 cups) Petit-Beurre or Marie biscuit crumbs (“Kedem” biscuits in the kosher section of the supermarket are also good)

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 oz butter or butter-flavored margarine


32 oz Toffuti plain cream “cheese” (do not substitute other brands)

1.5 cups sugar

5 eggs

2.5 tsp vanilla

2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

240 ml (one cup) lemon curd


120 grams (4 oz) lemon curd

1 Tbs warm water

1-2 Tbs non-dairy heavy whipping cream, unwhipped

Preheat the oven to 350°F

line one 9-inch spring form pan with baking paper for easy removal of the cake

make the lemon curd:

put the sugar, lemon juice, butter/margarine, and lemon rind in a small saucepan, bring to a gentle boil.

whisk the 3 eggs in a separate bowl.

when the butter/margarine mixture is entirely melted in the saucepan pour the mixture into the eggs while whisking (careful not to scramble your eggs!), and pour the mixture back into the saucepan.

bring the mixture back to a simmer while whisking. When bubbles start to break the surface and the curd thickens slightly, pour it out through a sieve into a clean bowl (if your curd is very smooth, just pour it into a bowl to get it out of the hot pot). Curd keeps for 4-5 days in the fridge.

thickened lemon curd

make crust:

mix all the ingredients together and press the the crumbs into the bottom and sides of the  prepared pan.

petit beurre crust

make filling:

beat the tofutti cream cheese and sugar in a mixer with the paddle until smooth. Slowly add the eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice. Scrape down the sides once with a rubber spatula and mix again until it’s smooth.

Pour and lightly spread about 240 ml (1 cup) lemon curd into the bottom of the prepared crust. Gently and carefully pour in the cheese mixture.

Bake the cake for about 50-55 min, until it is puffy, lightly golden and a little bit wobbly.

When the cake cools and sinks back down, loosen it from the pan by cutting around the inside of the ring with a sharp knife, but leave the ring on. Refrigerate overnight, and then remove the outer ring. Lift the cheesecake off of the bottom by pulling on the baking paper. Carefully pull off the paper.

decoration (optional):

mix the lemon curd with a tablespoon or two of warm water and pour it on top of the cooled cake, letting it run evenly almost to the outer edges.

Pour the unwhipped cream into a pastry bag (you can also use a ziplock), cut off a bit of the tip with scissors, and zigzag a design onto the lemon curd, pulling into various designs with a toothpick or a sharp knife.

See you there

Yafo, 2011

Yafo, 2011

Hey All,

We are on the cusp of another major transition: In five months we will be moving back Stateside. Where exactly is still undecided (oh, how I love the suspense) but there are many preparations underway and not a small amount of apprehension, excitement and anxiety. Meanwhile, the time has come to say goodbye to new posts on Ari Cooks! I am not taking down the blog as it definitely still draws activity and is very useful to me as a reference (I will still be moderating comments here as well), but after 4+ years of blogging here I am ready to change the tone and focus of my writing just a bit.

I hope you will visit my new blog, The Dreamy Day where there will still be recipes, but also posts about life, motherhood, Israeli-Americaness and certainly our adventures in our new Home-to-be.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, and encouraging my blogging-efforts!

Lots of Love, Ari

The Absurdity

My big girl in the aftermath of the recent Jerusalem snowstorm

My big girl in the aftermath of the recent Jerusalem snowstorm

Every day is an adventure

The days are long but the years are short

Parenthood is the hardest job you will ever do

Enjoy them while they are young, because they will hate you later

These are things that I hear, as well as say (with the exception of the last one)  to parents of young children who, like me, are in the throes of a very trying time that they will somehow later look back on with nostalgia, affection, and even longing. It’s not pretty when you’re in it, in fact sometimes it’s quite the shitshow, but our human brains continue to mystify in their ability to remember things ever-so-selectively. Right now, I am in the trenches. Our little baby, who just weeks ago amazed all of our friends with her easy-going and adorable demeanor, is in full-teething mode and my older daughter is going through some kind of emotional somethingorother, most likely related to being a new big sister.

During moments of hopeful clarity, I think that I will figure out how to organize my non-existent free time better, so that we can still eat a varied menu full of things that my older daughter will be willing to try and that will not feel like ‘kid-food’ to my husband and me. The joke’s on me, since it’s usually all I can do to eat anything at all besides rice cakes dipped into the peanut butter jar and bowls of granola doused in rice milk. Yeasted saffron-butter cakes and persian rice pilafs continue to taunt me in my facebook newsfeed, along with my food-blogger friends’ instagram pictures of noodle hot pots in New York City and stuffed savory pastries for breakfast in Istanbul.


Right now  I am not [too] ashamed to say that we eat a lot of pasta and tomato sauce, which I do manage to make with tomatoes I buy at the shuk on Sunday or Monday- the best days to get cooking tomatoes leftover from the pre-Shabbat shopping rush. We also eat tofu, tofu and more tofu, lightly sauteed or baked in a combo of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and olive oil. Endless omelettes (I am going to brag here– I make a really good egg, folks), and sometimes vegetable soup, if we are getting really fancy.

Happy depths-of-winter to you all, with love and a little madness, from Nachlaot, Jerusalem, Israel.

What happens next

AriCooks, Autumn, Hanukkah, Jerusalem

I remember last Channuka well. My friend Sharon Kitchens asked me to submit a few paragraphs about the holiday for her blog, based out of Maine, to give readers a feel for the winter season here in Israel. Mustering all the positive feelings I could regarding the cold and rain that had recently befallen us, I wrote what I hoped was a cozy little piece , that more or less summed up the ambiance ’round the festival of lights in my neck of the woods.

This year, with Channuka arriving a bit early (coinciding with Thanksgiving) and with the weather today upwards of 80°F, the holiday took me a bit by surprise. For the first time in years, we did not greet the first candle with potato latkes (though I did make these earlier in the week) and tomorrow we will be eating pumpkin pie rather than jelly doughnuts.
I won’t pretend to be such an Israeli that I don’t feel twinges of nostalgia and longing for the sharp sun and crisp air of New England’s November days, but since this is our last Channuka in Israel for the foreseeable future, I feel it less than I have in past years.
This year is all about the ‘last this and that’, as we are obligated to return to North America in July so that Jeff can fulfill his teaching commitment for his educator’s/master’s program. Honestly, though I am trying very hard to live in the moment (and our moments are full of wonderful friends, meals, the colors of the shuk, Jerusalem at sunset…) it is extremely difficult not to wonder what next year will be like. I am already heartsick for this place and for the life we have built here, even as I struggle through mundane tasks (laundry, school pick-ups, list-making, etc). Additionally, we are different people than we were when we returned to Israel in 2010 and I am anticipating a pretty intense re-integration into American life.
With all that in mind, I hope to spend a little more time between now and July documenting our [food] life here on my blog. Each place we’ve lived has shaped me as a cook and shaped our family’s eating-style in a unique way, and none more than our time in Nachlaot. The DIY culture of this neighborhood (and of Israeli society in general) as well as the incredibly rich cultural influences around us every day, help me keep in mind why I’ve always been so drawn to the kitchen and to food as the great connector, comforter, and equalizer.
Happy Channuka to All!