This recipe and story first appeared in the Nov. 5, 2012 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.
Honey beer bread is a quick, flavorful, no-yeast bread that would make an awesome addition to your Purim seuda. I’ll be bringing a big batch to our seuda hosts, along with these insanely cool Girl Scout Samoa hamentaschen and a ton of chocolate-dipped pretzels.
Although I dabbled in cooking as a teen, I only started it in earnest at the age of 24 and one month — which is how old I was when I got married. There’s nothing like the presence of a new husband to inspire culinary adventures, and like any kallah, I was eager to fill our home with only the most delicious meals and snacks. Everything that could be made from scratch was done that way with a relish: bread, granola bars, crackers, tomato sauce, ketchup, even Oreo cookies.
I took particular pride in cooking new dishes as often as possible. I remember telling one of my sisters-in-law that it was our 63rd day of marriage – and so far, I had cooked 63 different dishes! Of course, that level of variety is hard to maintain, and I eventually developed a recipe rotation that consisted of the dishes that were most practical, economical, and always turned out well. That’s not to say that I stopped experimenting, just that I did less of it than in those early months.
But you know how it goes.
The months passed, and I slipped into a culinary comfort zone. My grocery lists always included the same 20 or so products, and we found ourselves buying the same brands over and over again. There’s one brand of pasta that always has the steepest sales, so we buy it in every shape. The only canned foods we buy are tuna, chickpeas, and white beans. And our produce selections usually come from the same 10 or so items (though you wouldn’t believe how many different ways there are to prepare an eggplant).
The familiarity also works well for my husband, the prime grocery shopper since we moved to our yishuv. The closest full-size grocery store is located 20-something minutes down the highway, and we rely on tremps (hitchhikes) to get there. This means that we can only bring home what we can carry – which, in my husband’s case, is quite a lot. (The other week, he brought home 82 pounds of food on his back.)
Each time I ask him to do the shopping, I write up a grocery list in my best handwriting, making careful notes about quantities and prices at which I’d want to stock up.
We go through the list together before he heads out to the store, a step that cuts the mid-shopping phone calls by about 50 percent. (How many times have you seen some poor guy deliberating between long-grain Persian rice and short-grain Persian rice?)
I always feel a bit bad adding something new to the list, or even something that just hasn’t been on the lists for awhile. Take this phone exchange from the recent day I needed potato starch for my Shabbos kugel:
Husband (already at the store): How do you say “potato starch” in Hebrew?
Me: I’m pretty sure the package has the words “potato starch” in English.
Husband: I don’t think so…
Me: Okay, I’ll look it up. [pause] It says “amilan,” but that sounds weird to me. I think it might be “kemach tapuchei adama.”
Husband: No, I think it’s “amilan.” Thanks.
Later that night, he arrives home with the groceries. I glance at the bag of potato starch as I put it in the freezer.
The English lettering stares back at me: “potato starch.”
So yes, we were both comfortable in our comfort zone. That has its advantages, but it also meant that there were way too many foods that we just weren’t buying.
I realized, for example, that I had been living in Israel for two years without ever purchasing a block of feta cheese. The dairy aisles here can be confusing, and once I’d figured out where the cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, and shredded pizza cheese were, I called it a day. A two-year-long day, I guess.
We decided to do something about it. No longer would we glide by the shelves, blissfully ignoring everything but the regulars. Now, we’d deliberately seek out the ingredients that we had never before used in cooking. I couldn’t wait to research the different uses of obscure (and not-so-obscure-after-all) products. We called it the Random Mystery Item (RMI) project, and we thought it pretty smart.
My husband’s first choice was a can of artichoke bottoms, which delighted me because not only had I never tasted an artichoke bottom, I had also never heard of an artichoke bottom. Artichoke hearts? Yes. Artichoke bottoms? No. They don’t look too appealing straight from the can, but by the time I was done with them, we had a delicious appetizer good enough for inclusion in my cookbook. Nothing like an RMI to inject some newness into your routine menu plan.
This honey beer bread is the result of an RMI that we found in our own fridge: a can of beer received five months earlier in mishloach manot. We sold it with our chametz, bought it back with our chametz, and still never opened it because we just didn’t know what to do with it. (Obviously, we aren’t big drinkers.)
Even if, like me, you think beer smells terrible, you’ll have a hard time resisting the gentle sweetness and malty flavor of these light, moist bread muffins. They break apart into chunks without leaving a pile of crumbs behind – which is quite useful, considering that you’ll be rushing to tear these open and fill their centers with a smear of butter and a drizzle of honey. Beer bread muffins would also be delicious with cream cheese, any fruity jam, or even sliced cheese and vegetables.
It isn’t hard to find ways to eat these. What’s hard is understanding what took me so long to use up that beer.
One year ago: Zero-patience peanut butter brownies
Ingredients Directions 1. Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C. Grease muffin tins very well and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt. 2. Microwave honey for 30 seconds to make it easier to combine with the dry ingredients. If using butter, brown it by stirring for about 1 minute over a low flame past the melting point. Turn off the heat as soon as small brown bits appear on the bottom of the pan. (If using margarine, just melt.) Reserve a bit to brush over the tops of the muffins. 3. Add honey, the rest of the butter, and beer to the flour mixture. Stir until there are no dry spots. 4. Fill prepared muffin tins with batter nearly to the top. Brush with the reserved butter to help create a browned crust. Bake 25 minutes, or until tops are browned and completely dry. Let sit 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Delicious when served hot, warm, or room temperature.
Yield: 9 bread muffins (recipe doubles easily)
1. Preheat oven to 375 F/190 C. Grease muffin tins very well and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, and salt.
2. Microwave honey for 30 seconds to make it easier to combine with the dry ingredients. If using butter, brown it by stirring for about 1 minute over a low flame past the melting point. Turn off the heat as soon as small brown bits appear on the bottom of the pan. (If using margarine, just melt.) Reserve a bit to brush over the tops of the muffins.
3. Add honey, the rest of the butter, and beer to the flour mixture. Stir until there are no dry spots.
4. Fill prepared muffin tins with batter nearly to the top. Brush with the reserved butter to help create a browned crust. Bake 25 minutes, or until tops are browned and completely dry. Let sit 2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Delicious when served hot, warm, or room temperature.