Kitchen Basics: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Pretty quiet around here just now- it’s mid to late summer and I’m working hard to keep my mind in the moment– it is STILL summer, despite the feeling that it is almost over.  I’m trying to work out as often as I can, to hang with the kids (my oldest is in a day camp this week  and it’s breaking both our hearts!), and to be in the pool as much as possible.

All that said, I am also trying to see friends as often as I can.  The other night, for example, I heading to a friend’s house to drink wine, eat snacks and gossip.  I brought an easy and always appreciated snack, deviled eggs.  Some people like to get super fancy with their eggs and add mushrooms, bacon, chives, etc.  I keep mine super simple and traditional- nothing but the filling and a sprinkle of paprika.  Yum.

Deviled eggs were one of the first things I ever consciously saw made without a recipe (My grandmother almost always cooked without a recipe but I didn’t realize it at the time.).  It was summer, when my cousins and I were staying with my grandmother.  We were probably around 11 or so.  It was afternoon and we had spent the morning in the pool, watching stand up comedy on television and giggling.  Emily decided that she wanted deviled eggs.  Melanie agreed that this was a good idea.  I had never had a deviled egg but I almost never say no to food.

Off to the kitchen we went and I watched as Emily and Melanie made hard boiled eggs, peeled them, scooped out the yolk and mixed it into a bright yellow filling, no measurements, no recipe.  They used spoons to fill the eggs, added a sprinkle of paprika and then handed one to me.

I bit into it and my life was altered.  Slightly spicy and tart, creamy and cool- it was the perfect snack.  We made them many times over that summer and I’ve since bonded with The Hippo over them (It’s her southern heritage showing through).

The problem with deviled eggs is the hard boiling of eggs.  I can never, for the life of me, ever recall how long you’re supposed to boil the eggs.  Then there’s the peeling.  I am horrid at peeling hard boiled eggs.  I don’t have the patience, I get very frustrated and I usually end up ripping away most of the egg white.  When I peel them, the hard boiled eggs tend to look like someone was gnawing on them.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_18So, to the internet I went, in search of a way to make the eggs easier to peel and the amount of time needed to cook them.  If you do a search like this, you’ll see (as I did) that there are a number of ways to achieve the perfect hard boiled egg.

I tried the thumb tack method.  Basically, you prick the round end of the egg with a thumb tack or safety pin or something so that you break the air bubble that’s in there.  This makes the eggs easier to peel after they’re boiled.  And don’t leave the thumb tack in while you boil them.  This method worked for me!

Emily and Melanie’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

Eggs (Remember that one egg makes two deviled eggs and plan accordingly)- I usually use a whole dozen

yellow (not dijon, not brown, nothing fancy) mustard– about two to four tablespoons

mayonnaise– about two to four tablespoons

salt, pepper and paprika to taste

*Note about measurements:  I never measure.  I use a few spoonfuls or squirts and then taste.  I’m guess at the tablespoon measurement above based on how it looks.  You’ll have to taste as you go and start by adding less than you think you need– always easier to add more than to take away what’s already in there.

Directions 

Prick your eggs with a thumb tack.  Do this on the fatter, rounder end.  Place them in a saucepan and cover with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch.  Put them on the stove to boil, over high heat.  Once the water is good and boiling (big bubbles, lots of steam), boil the eggs for one minute.  Then take them off the heat and cover the pot.  Let them stand for ten minutes (off the heat but covered).My HipstaPrint 973334217After ten minutes has passed, pour out all the water and shake the pan around, causing the eggs to smash against each other and crack.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_13Now fill your pan up with cold water and ice cubes.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_6Wait five minutes and then drain out the water and any leftover ice.  You are now ready to peel.  The method that worked well for me was to sort of roll the egg around on the counter, cracking the entire shell in kind of a spiderweb way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_12Then peel the eggshell off.  Doing it near and under running water can help get all the little bits of shell off.  I found that with this thumb tack method, the shells slipped off more easily and in bigger pieces.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_5(Yes, one short of a dozen.  The husband always requires a hard boiled egg for him to eat plain.)  Next get a bowl ready and slice your eggs in half.  I find that if you do it lengthwise, there’s slightly more stability when you put them on a plate than if you do it the other way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_4Scoop out the beautifully yellow yolk and dump into your bowl.  Set the egg white aside.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_11My HipstaPrint 973334217_17Once all the yolks are in the bowl, add the mustard and mayo.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_16Mix all together.  I use a fork but you could certainly use a whisk or a hand mixer.  It seems like the perfect use for The Hippo’s army fork.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_3Now taste it and add salt, pepper and maybe more mayo or mustard, depending.  Want it more spicy?  Up the mustard.  Want it more creamy?  Mayo it is.  Once it tastes as you want it to taste, get out a ziploc bag.  Scoop that filling into the bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_9Get as much of the air out as possible and sort of squish that filling into one corner.  Then ziploc it.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_2Snip off just the smallest bit of the corner.  Mazel tov, you’ve just made a piping bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_15Place all your egg whites on a plate or platter that you plan to serve from- as long as it will fit into the fridge, you should be set.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_10Use the piping bag to fill each egg white with the yellow-y goodness.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_8About halfway through, I always think there won’t be enough filling.  There always is.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_1Garnish with a bit of paprika.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_7Try not to eat them all since you are supposed to be sharing, right?

My HipstaPrint 973334217_14

Celebrate Summer

For me, summer means corn.  Lots and lots of corn.  On the cob, sautéed, in corn pudding.  Corn everywhere.  There really isn’t anything like fresh corn on the cob, with just a little bit of butter and salt.

My grandmother used to come home with sweet corn every. single. day. in the summer because my grandfather loved it so.  He’d eat several ears each night.  Which meant lots of shucking corn took place pre-dinner.  We’d sit on the deck, the afternoon sun turning into a cooler evening one,  a paper bag between us and see who could shuck faster.  It still feels a bit wrong to me to shuck corn inside.

It’s been a bit gray here for the last few days, which is not something I’m complaining about since prior to these dark(er) days, it’s been sunny, 90+ degrees and humid.  It’s nice to have some relief and a change.  It also means that I can use corn in another favorite way, chowder.

Last year I read somewhere about making corn broth.  I tried it and was blown away.  Sweet, light, fresh and delicate.  I put it into a corn chowder and could truly taste the difference.  Of course, I can’t remember where I read about it and I have the suspicious feeling that I may have blogged about it at the time– a quick search through the posts here and I couldn’t find it so maybe I just thought really hard about blogging it.  Or maybe this is my second time talking about it which would suggest that you really should try it; it’s that good.

So, based on my need for corn broth, I threw together this chowder recipe.  It’s more of a soup than a chowder because while it’s cooler here, 70’s does not scream thick, heavy chowder to me.  Let’s call it more of a summer chowder.  Chowder-lite.  Nothing lite about the taste though.  And you’ll still have to shuck corn.  Ready?  Go!

Summer Corn Chowder

Ingredients

4-6 ears of corn, shucked

about 8 small red potatoes (or one to two larger)

half of a large onion or one small onion (I prefer sweet but yellow would be fine)

one half to one of a sweet red pepper (optional for those of you who don’t like pepper)

1 Tablespoon butter

2 Tablespoons flour

2-3 cups corn broth (wait for it, I’ll tell you how) or chicken broth or veg broth or water

1/2-1 cup milk

Directions

First, we make the broth.  Cut the kernels off of the ears of corn.  Set them aside, as we’ll be using them later.  Using a fork, sort of scrape down the ears of corn into a large soup pot.  Throw in the ears themselves and add enough water to cover.  Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for as long as you can.  You may need to add more water if it gets too low (i.e. most of the cob isn’t covered).  I was somewhat lazy when I cut my kernels off.  You can see that there are some still on.

photo 2

After it simmers for at least an hour or longer if you like, take out the ears of corn and discard them.  They’ve served their delicious purpose.  Pour the broth through a fine sieve so that all the solids stay behind.

photo 3You will be left with what looks like, unfortunately, urine.  Which can lead to some funny conversations if left in your fridge in a glass container.  But if you take a spoonful, you will be rewarded with the light, delicate, sweet flavor of corn in liquid form.  Try not to drink it all please.

photo 4Now that the broth is made, get to work on the rest.  Peel and chop your onion.  Clean and chop your pepper and potatoes.  Small dice is good for the onion, a little bit chunkier for the potato.

photo 1Melt the butter over medium heat in a heavy soup or stock pot.  Once it’s melted, add the onion and saute until soft- don’t let it burn or brown.  You may need to lower the heat.

photo 5 Add the rest of the vegetables and cook for a few more minutes, until they are soft as well.  Nothing should burn or brown.  Sprinkle the flour all over and stir well.  Let it cook over medium heat for a minute in order to get the raw flour taste out.

photo 2Pour the broth in and stir.  It will thicken a bit- I used a bit less flour because I wanted it thick but not too thick- feel free to experiment with this to taste.

photo 3Let everything simmer until the potatoes are soft and then season to taste with salt and pepper.  You can add a little bit of milk as well, to make it even more creamy or you can serve without.  Either way, it’s the perfect cold-for-summer-weather-soup.

photo 4

A Tribute To Julia

As mentioned here, August 15, 2012 would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday.  I’ve mentioned this before, my grandparents were friendly with the Childs.  They bought wine from my grandfather in his store and my grandmother and Julia knew each other through a few gourmet cooking groups.

One of my prize possessions is framed and hanging in my kitchen.  It’s a letter written to my grandmother a few months before her death.  My grandfather had reached out to Julia to let her know that Grandma was sick so she wrote to her in response.

It’s a bit hard to read so I’ll re-type it here:  “Dear Grace, Just a little note to wish you well.  Myron tells me that you have been having a mean rotten time.  No fun!  Things have been going well with me, thank heaven, and we’ve a new television series on Public TV starting in October- hope you’ll see it.  On baking this time- breads, brioches, gooey chocolate cakes and all kind of good things.  Not fattening if you keep to small helpings.  Here’s wishing you all the best, and sending you my love- Julia Child.”

Sadly, my grandmother died almost exactly a month later so she never saw the baking series (it was Baking With Julia).  I found that letter years later when I was going through stuff at our house.  My grandfather had saved it, along with this bill of sale from his store:

Julia and Paul loved their wine!

You’d think with these letters and the connections that I’d remember Julia Child.  I do not.  I recall tall and that’s about it.  I feel connected to her, nonetheless.

As a tribute to Julia and her 100th birthday, a friend and I planned a dinner party composed of her dishes.  My friend made her Beouf Bourguignon, roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes with parsley.  It was all delicious and when we were done, there were no leftovers.  My friend will guest blog that one soon.  It was a meal worthy of Julia- several bottles of wine, lots of laughter and so much good food.

I was in charge of dessert so I made Julia’s Bombe aux Trois Chocolats.  It’s a large chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse and topped with chocolate ganache.  Incredibly rich and decadent.

While the recipes themselves aren’t complicated, they are a bit time-consuming due to all the steps.  I did mine over the course of two days.  I suppose you could do it all in one day but I think you’d need the whole day.  The recipes are really three separate things plus one set of instructions for putting it all together.  As usual, I ended up putting my own twist on this for reasons I’ll explain as we go.  Rather than making one whole cake, I made individual ones.  Either way, it’s a delicious way to end a meal.

Kate’s Great Chocolate Fudge Cake

Ingredients

1 stick (4oz) of unsalted butter

4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate

1 more stick of unsalted butter

2 cups white sugar

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup of white, all purpose flour

*For this you will need a jelly-roll (sheet) pan, 11 x 17 inches

Instructions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Butter (or spray) your jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper.  Leave about two inches hanging over the edge of the pan.  Then butter and flour your parchment. I actually just sprayed mine with baking spray.  It worked just fine.

Make sure to use good quality chocolate.

Melt it with the butter in a double boiler.  Julia says to have about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and to let it simmer (over low heat).  This will let the chocolate in the top part melt slowly, without scorching.

Combine the butter and the sugar.  Julia actually offers three different ways to do this in her book- by hand, in a mixer or in a food processor.  I chose to use the mixer.

Once the butter and sugar is sort of light and fluffy, add the eggs one by one and mix well.  Add the vanilla and salt.  Then stir in the yummy melted chocolate/butter mixture.

Don’t taste the chocolate mixture- remember that it’s unsweetened chocolate.  Mix it well.

Add the flour (Julia says to do it in thirds but I will admit that I just dumped it all in, lazy cook that I am) and mix well.

Pour it into the sheet pan and spread it evenly.

Bake for 25 minutes on the middle rack of the oven.  It should be set but the top should be spongy.  A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out with a few crumbs on it.  It’s important that it not overcook- you need it to be chewy for texture in the dessert and you need it to be bendy in order to assemble it.

When you take it out to cool, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes.  Then turn the pan upside down over a cake rack and unmold the cake, gently.  Peel off the parchment and let it cool at least 10 more minutes.  Since I’d made mine the day before, I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight.  Before I used it the next day, I let it come to room temperature.

Chocolate Mousse (Chocolate Mougins)

Ingredients

12 ounces semisweet chocolate

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

2 1/2 teaspoons plain unflavored gelatin (this was about a packet and a half of the kind I bought)

3 Tablespoons Dark rum, cognac or bourbon whiskey (I used Godiva chocolate liquor)

3 large eggs

2 egg whites (about 4 Tablespoons)

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

large pinch of salt

3 Tablespoons white sugar

Directions

Break up the two chocolates and place them in the top of a double boiler.

Meanwhile, pour the gelatin into a small bowl and pour the liquor over it.  Let it sit while you do the rest and it will soften.  Soften means it will start looking like this:

and end looking like this:

So the chocolate is melting, the gelatin is setting.  Time to get the rest of the mousse going.  Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a mixing bowl and the yolks into a saucepan.

Beat the yolks with a whisk until they are thick and sticky.

Then add the cream and stir it slowly over low heat.  It is important not to let come to a boil or else it will curdle.  If this happens to you, according to the hippo, you can strain it and no one will be the wiser.  (I think that Julia would have liked that tip.)Julia has all kinds of tips to know when the custard is ready.  None of them have worked for me in general.  The only one that sort of works for me is to let it coat the back of the spoon.  Or to let it heat to 156-185 degrees Farenheit.  Either way, immediately remove it from the heat and stir it for a minute so that it stops cooking.

Stir the gelatin into the custard.  It will be in one big lump (actually one big shape of whatever it was in) but keep stirring and it will melt into the custard.  Once it has dissolved into the custard, add vanilla and then the melted chocolate.

Beat the eggs whites (remember them from earlier?) with a mixer at slow speed until they get foamy.  Then add the salt and increase the speed to fast.  Keep beating until the egg whites form soft peaks.  Add the sugar and beat more, until the egg whites are forming stiff, shiny peaks.

The magic of egg whites, they go from this….

….to this. Cooking magic!

Fold these egg whites into the chocolate mixture.  Gently, so as to keep as much of the air as possible. Cover the mousse and put it in the fridge to set.  It should be soft but not runny.

Chocolate Ganache for topping

I improvised a bit here.  Julia uses the same chocolate as the mousse, recipe, melted and drizzled over.  I made a ganache, using the ratio of 3 parts chocolate to 1 part cream.  This means I heated 1 cup of cream over low heat to just under the boiling point and then added 3 cups of milk chocolate (good quality please) chips.  I let it sit off the heat and then whisked it together until smooth.

Putting it all together

Ok so this is where I drove myself a little bit nuts.  Julia calls for a 6 cup bowl, about 8 inches in top diameter.  She says that you could use a charlotte mold “or even a flowerpot could be used, of course, and either is fine because they are both tall enough for drama.”  I found a bowl that fit the requirements and lined it with plastic wrap as Julia instructed.

One of my favorite bowls, given to me at my wedding by a dear Irish friend.

Then it was time to cut out the template.  Julia suggests that you cut out a template using parchment paper so that you know how to cut the cake to line the bowl.  I am  not exaggerating when I tell you that I worked on this for a solid half an hour.  Let’s just say that I am not spatially gifted.

This was the aftermath after a half hour of working on the template. Again, not spatially gifted.

I did finally end up with a template that fit the bowl.

But when I tried it on the cake, I couldn’t see how I was going to have enough cake.  At all.  Aside from the pieces pictured above, I also needed one to “cap” the cake- a round piece the same diameter as the bowl.  I thought for a bit and then decided that I could make individual ones in ramekins.  The best part about that?  I didn’t really need a template.  Though, I did make one- it was slightly easier than the large bowl.  Not much but slightly.

So, this is where Julia and I diverged.  If you want to make one big cake, I hardily recommend you consult her recipe because her instructions for the template are good.  Unless you’re me.  The steps are sort of the same, small or big.

Line each ramekin with plastic wrap.  Place a circular piece of cake on the bottom, good side out (it’s going to be the top of the cake so make it pretty).

Then line the sides.  The cake will sort of squish together, kind of like making pie dough.  Keep the edges of the cake at or just below the edge of the container.

Fill with mousse.

Top with another circle of cake, sort of pushing down in order to keep the mousse inside.

Wrap in plastic wrap (I just pulled up the sides that were overhanging) and put into the fridge to set.  Let them set for six hours or overnight.

When you’re ready to serve, whip up some cream, make or heat up your ganache and then get ready to unmold.  Unwrap the plastic from the top and then place a plate over the opening.  Flip the ramekin over and tap it.  It should come out- you may have to wiggle the plastic wrap a bit.  Peel the plastic wrap off and you should be left with a little chocolate bomb.

Top with the ganache, chopped nuts or sliced strawberries.

There you have it!

Happy birthday Julia.  You are missed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Dinner

When I asked a few people long ago what they remember most about my grandmother’s meals, they all replied in the same way.  They said they couldn’t always recall what she made but they did recall how delicious it was and how comfortable and loved they felt while they were eating it.  Of course, then, depending on who replied, they also remembered her chocolate chip cookies, her summer squash and zucchini, and her potatoes.

The other common memory?  Lobstah Dinnahs.

Forever, when the whole family would gather at my grandmother’s house every summer, we’d have a lobster dinner.  Grandpa would pick up lobsters from the harbor and Grandma would set up the pot to boil them.

Grandma would also make corn on the cob, potatoes and salad.  People would generally not have room to eat these sides, but she made them every time.

A side story for you, my grandfather used to buy the lobster bodies only because they were cheap and he’d bring them home for dinner.  This means that anyone who grew up with my grandparents is able to find all the meat in the lobster body- no easy feat.

My father was visiting this week so it meant that we had the perfect excuse for a big lobster dinner.  Everyone was invited and almost everyone came. We ended up with 18 people but lobster is incredibly cheap right now so that was just fine with us.  We gathered around our big table and cracked our way to full bellies.

Another side story for you, when my cousins and I were younger, we had one of these dinners.  My cousin, M., was somewhat inexperienced with lobster so we were coaching her through the process.  As we did, there was much giggling and laughing.  At one point, she cracked a claw and parts of it went flying, just like in Pretty Woman, landing in the living room.  There was much mirth and we’ve never let her forget it.

You know it’s been a good lobster dinner when you’re left with this:  dirty tablecloth, used butter dishes, empty wine and beer bottles and a bowl full of shells.

A bit of lobster info for those not from this area:  there’s hard-shell and soft-shell lobster.  Soft-shell is lobster that has grown and shed the old shell and is just getting comfy in the new one.  The downside of this is that there’s less meat for the weight.  Hard-shell lobster is lobster that has gotten into its shell and has more meat for the weight.  It’s also more expensive.  Since there was an early summer this year (so I’ve been told), there’s an abundance of soft-shell lobster around here.  The nice fishmonger that sold me 20 of them packed them nicely in boxes with damp clothes and ice.

So, we boiled the water.  Lots and lots of water.  Now, my grandfather used to tell me that you can hear the lobster scream when you put them in the pot (untrue).  My father tells me that lobsters can’t feel pain (untrue).  My cousin-in-law and my husband tell me that it doesn’t matter because we are higher up on the food chain (true) and they taste good (also true).  Nonetheless, I can’t put them in the water.  So I called on the aforementioned men to do it for me.

Into the boiling water the creatures went.  Once the water comes back to a boil (putting them in lowers the heat), cook for 7-10 minutes depending on size.  (Useful cooking time chart here).  You can also steam them but that’s not how my grandmother did it, so I don’t either.

It’s impossible to have lobster without butter.

Empty butter dishes, patiently waiting.

 

I melted about a pound and a half of butter.  It’s a lot.  But so worth it.

I also made the requisite sides:  corn and grandma’s potatoes.

I even made mashed potatoes because it’s not a real dinner at my table without them.

Once the lobster was done, the butter was melted and the sides were ready, we put it all out on the table and served, buffet-style.

We all got busy eating.  The table was quiet for a few minutes, just the sounds of cracking, empty shells hitting the sides of the bowl and chomping.  Then, slowly, there was chatting among the adults, the sounds of children babbling and laughter.  Lots and lots of laughter.  People lingered at the table long after the food was gone.  Some of us took the kids swimming in the backyard. Others of us arrived fashionably late, ensuring that the dinner went on for several hours.  In the end, all the lobsters were eaten, all the butter was used up and only a few pieces of corn and potatoes were leftover.  People began to arrive around 4, we sat down at 6 and the last person left at midnight.

It was just as I’d always remembered it.  And for that, I am so very grateful.

Happy summer!!

 

 

 

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs

When I was a kid, that was one of my favorite books.  I loved the idea that it could rain food.  Of course, the book points out that it has a downside.  But I preferred to think about the good points- no hunger, favorite foods all around.  Naturally, it is impossible for me to think about, see or eat meatballs without thinking of the book.

I found this recipe for meatballs in Grandma’s recipe box.  You know the one.  She has a whole section of Chinese food which I think were given to her by a couple who stayed with her for a bit.  It’s a great story, one I promise to tell sometime soon.  Really.  Meanwhile, here’s a recipe for some tasty meatballs which did not come down from the sky.  They’re a bit Asian and nothing like the ones you put in a sub roll.  Serve with some rice and you’d be in for a tasty meal.

Grandma’s Chinese Meatballs

Ingredients

*I made some alterations but will print the recipe as Grandma wrote it and add my alterations as we go.

2 lbs hamburg

1/2 package Peppridge Farm Stuffing (soak in water and squeeze out)

1 onion, ground

1 clove garlic, mashed

1 egg

Sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 cup water

3 beef bouillon cubes

1 clove garlic mashed

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 cup sugar or molasses

1/2 cup heinz chili sauce

1/2 cup vinegar

Directions

I had some ground beef patties that I needed to use up and they were from Whole Foods and therefore contained nothing but beef.

I was also lazy (well documented all over this blog) so I threw in all the ingredients into the food processor.  I also added a little bit of red pepper I needed to- you guessed it- use up.

I gave it a good whirl and added the beef.

Another whirl or two and it was ready to go.

I threw it into a bowl and then added panko crumbs and a splash or two of milk.  (I didn’t have any stuffing mix).

I mixed it all with my hands, still the best kitchen tool I own.

Then I took the time to make them into little meatballs.  Such a time-consuming task.  But worth it in the end…

Once that was done,  I started working on the sauce.

Mix the soy, water, beef bouillon (I used better than bouillon), garlic, ginger, sugar, chili sauce and vinegar.  I had no chili sauce so instead I used 1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup of raw cane sugar and 1/4 of a cup of rice vinegar instead.  (my thinking was that chili sauce is basically jazzy ketchup and that rice vinegar would offer some Asian flavors)  Pour the sauce into a pan and bring it to a boil.

Heat a saute pan large enough to hold your meatballs (my pan was crowded).  Cook them over medium high heat- brown them on all sides.

When your sauce has boiled, mix about a tablespoon of cornstarch with a few tablespoons of cold water.

Add this mixture to the sauce and stir well.  It will thicken the sauce and give it the silky texture that we’ve come to know and love in American Chinese food across the nation.  Let the sauce cook as it thickens, then pour it over your meatballs.  Let the whole mixture cook over medium heat until the meatballs are cooked through and coated in the sauce.

Serve it with rice and some sort of green.  We like broccoli.  Mmmmm.

Grandma’s Potatoes

When I emailed my family and friends a few weeks ago, asking them for their food and fond memories of my grandmother, almost all of them mentioned these potatoes.  Which is funny because, while I remember these potatoes fondly, I don’t remember them being as amazing as everyone else does.  It was one of Grandma’s standby sides, however, and they are pretty easy.  I’m not sure what made them so special except that maybe it was Grandma making them.

Because as I’ve said, it was something about Grandma.  She was able to make everyone feel welcome, comfortable and a part of the family.  When you sat at her table you felt like you were one of the gang, regardless of which particular gang was present.

Which reminds me of a story via my Uncle P.  He had some friends from Canada who were, shall we say, rough. One of them was very big and very tough and very scary-looking.  While I can’t remember his name it was something like “Bubba” or “Killer”.  For the sake of this story, we will call him Killer.  Anyway, P. was living at home but was away for a few days and Killer came to visit.

My grandmother opened the door and was faced with a large, tall, gruff, bearded, tattooed man.  He asked for P. and my grandmother replied that he wasn’t there but Killer should come in and wait for him.  She showed him into the den and brought him food and asked what kind of beer he wanted.  Killer tried to say that he’d just come back later but my grandmother, all five feet of her, insisted.  Two days later, my uncle came home and found Killer, still in the den, still eating and drinking beer.  He asked him why he hadn’t left and Killer replied, “I would have but I was afraid of your mother!” All five feet of her.

That was Grandma- small, powerful and fiercely loving.  She made everyone feel welcome regardless of the color of your skin, the language on your lips or your affiliations, religious, political or otherwise.

So in honor of that, I give you grandma’s unforgettable potatoes.  For all I know, she served them to Killer.

Ingredients

small red (new) potatoes, scrubbed and eyes removed

1 onion, thinly chopped

mushrooms, sliced (optional)

salt, pepper, dill (dried or fresh, chopped, about a teaspoon, also optional- I personally hate dill)

Oil- maybe a tablespoon or two- olive or canola would do

Directions

Keep in mind that I’m making these from memory as I couldn’t find a written recipe.

Wash and clean your potatoes.  (Funny tip, the Hippo uses her fingernails to get all the eyes out. Who knew?)

Put them in a pot and cover them with water.  Put it over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Let them boil until they are soft but not mushy.  You should be able to put a fork in easily but without them falling apart.  On my induction burner it took about ten minutes.  It may take longer on a gas/electric range.

Meanwhile, chop your onion.

And your mushrooms.

Heat a large, shallow pan over medium high heat.  I use a wok.  Grandma also used a wok.  If you don’t have a wok, then I think a large, shallow pan will do. Add the onions and mushrooms.

 

Let them cook until they start to brown.

When your potatoes are ready, take them out of the water and let them cool.  Slice them in half.

Throw them into the wok (or pan) with the onions and mushrooms.  Stir frequently but let them get brown and crispy on the outside.

At this point, season the potatoes with salt, pepper and dill, if you’re using it.  Serve alongside whatever you like.

These potatoes are like the perfect mix of crispy and soft. The outside has a slight crunch and the inside is soft and smooth.  The onions and mushrooms add a nice flavor and texture to go along with the creamy potatoes.  If you like dill, it adds a nice freshness to the dish.  Really, you can’t go wrong.

Seriously, I’ve Told You, Do Not Doubt Grandma

As I’ve mentioned before, whenever I’ve doubted grandma’s recipes, she’s turned out to be right even when I’ve had doubts.  See here and here.

It happened again.  But before I get to that, a word or two about Grandma.

I recently asked my family to email me any food memories about our house and my grandparents.  There were a few consistent ones which I hope to post in the coming weeks.  One of the main ones was the abundance of food that was always on her table.  Another was the amount of love with which her food was seasoned.  Everyone agreed that, even if they couldn’t remember specific foods, they remembered how welcome she made everyone feel and how this made every meal delicious.

I will add that, apparently even from beyond the grave, she was always correct about her recipes.  I made her marinate for flank steak tonight (because the hippo was gracing my table and she loves to eat steak when she visits) and followed her cooking instructions.  I doubted her when I should not have- the steak didn’t seem done to me and yet, it was.  To perfection.

When will I learn?  Do not doubt grandma, she knows of what she speaks.  Always.

Marinade for Flank Steak

Ingredients

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 teaspoons oil

1 teaspoon ginger, grated

Directions

Combine all ingredients.

Pour over steak and let marinate for ten minutes (according to grandma.  I let mine marinate longer).

Put under the broiler for 3-4 minutes each side (for rare- if you prefer more well done, I’d say 4-5 minutes each side).

Let it rest for several minutes before slicing to let the juices redistribute.

When you do slice it, do it against the grain, on the bias and thinly.  It will be delicious.

We had ours with fresh peas and wok-fried potatoes.  Yum.

Not Pass-ive

It’s Passover again!  I was looking back over the blog and was surprised to see that I hadn’t posted much about Passover last year.  I showed you our Passover Plate (here) and how I organized my menu and planning (here).  But I didn’t talk much about the food!  Strange.

Each year at Passover, I think about traditions. (I also think about the playwriting class I took as an undergrad. One of the students wrote a play called, “Passing Over.”  It was a family drama about a son coming home for Passover, bringing his girlfriend.  The mother was the main character and it was about her letting go.  The scenes alternated between present time and the son’s childhood from the mother’s perspective.  I thought it was incredibly well written and I loved the title.  No idea what happened to this student or the play but I think of it every year.  But anyway, traditions.)

Some of the traditions I think about are food-related (shocking), while others are family-related.  Each Passover we make sure to have some non-Jews at the table.  Each Passover I serve hard-boiled eggs after the service, before the soup (My grandmother always did).  Each Passover we make certain to call our family in Israel.  Each Passover we serve Mama’s Sponge Cake (Even though we tend not to eat it).  For me, these large holidays are all about passing on traditions- using the same plates, cooking the same foods, telling the same stories- so that we can pass down a bit of our family through the generations.

It means that I can tell stories about my great-grandmother, even though I don’t remember her.  It means that I make my matzo balls the same way my grandmother did and, by extension, so will my children.  It’s a way of connecting us over time, through generations, across geographical borders.  Which is true of food in general- when I make the tuna salad that my cousin in Israel makes, I’m bringing a bit of her to my table- but becomes more true when it’s a traditional food at a traditional holiday time.

Which is what Passover is all about for me.  Traditions and connections.  When we open the door for Elijah, I know that many families that live on my street, and the next street over and the next town over and the next state over and the next country over (well, you get the idea) are all doing the same thing.  When we giggle and look for the afikoman, I know that other families are doing it at the same time we are.  It’s a connection.

This year we’re celebrating Passover a day late in that we’re having our first seder on the second night.  Some families do a seder on the first and second nights but we’ve always just done the one on the first night.  This year, what with me going back to work this week and with two young kids, I decided to not aim for perfection but instead to relax and have dinner on the second night. It feels just slightly wrong but I’m mostly over that.

I spent some time today cooking and will the majority of the cooking tomorrow.  When I can, I’ll have my daughter help me (she’s a good stir-er for a few minutes at a time) and this year, because it’s on a Saturday, my best friend from elementary school will be joining us and has offered to help cook.  That is the other piece of the holiday for me- the friends.  Standing side by side in the kitchen, chatting and cooking, is something I value.  Some of my best conversations have happened that way.

At any rate, this year we’ll be having chicken and brisket Holiday mashed potatoes, of course, and Chocolate Caramel Matzo.  And no Passover meal is complete without matzo ball soup.  Plus the seder plate. I’m trying a few new dishes as well- balsamic roasted veggies and apple matzo kugel.

Here’s the state of my fridge, the night before:

Hard boiled eggs are cooked and peeled (white bowl on bottom left); brisket is cooked and ready to be put back in the oven to be warmed (middle left).  Veggies are waiting to be prepped (in two bottom drawers), and the chicken is waiting to be roasted (bottom left).

My daughter discovered the seder plate today.  She is a bit obsessed with birthdays now and spent a good twenty minutes stacking, counting and arranging the smaller plates on the bigger one, while saying, “Happy to you….happy to G-“.  I think she thought they were small cakes.

Hopefully I’ll remember photos tomorrow and will be able to post a bit more next week about the new dishes and the tried and true ones.

Chag Pesach Semach (happy passover holiday) and Happy Easter!

With Deepest Apologies To Jewish Grandmothers: A Guest Post

Today’s post comes from the wonderful Hungry Hippo.  I’m so lucky to have her!

With Deepest Apologies to Jewish Grandmothers

Personally, I do not have a Jewish grandmother.  I have a Jewish grandmother-In-law, but she is not the type with a box full of recipes and a kitchen full of love.  She is the dripping with large rings, taking you out to eat at a great restaurant type of grandmother.  It is a very valuable type to have.  Unless of course it is 6:30 on a weeknight and you find yourself with an overwhelming urge to make knishes. Luckily, I know exactly where to find such a grandmother, so I called Stella Carolyn and pleaded, “Does your grandmother have a knish recipe?”  This was a bit of a ridiculous question.  Of course her grandmother has a knish recipe.  The question should have been “Can you find your grandmother’s knish recipe and do you have time to possibly send it to me even though you are super busy, pretty please, pretty please?”  That was a bit of a ridiculous question too, because if you know her like I do, you know I probably should have just skipped directly to “Thank you for sending me your grandmother’s knish recipe which I need for dinner in 5 minutes.”  Because like her grandmother, she’ll do just about anything for someone she loves.  And I am truly blessed, because she loves ME.

Within minutes I was armed with the recipe and ready to start making dinner.  I did cut the dough recipe in half though, because strictly speaking, I do not need 60 knishes.  Also, as this was my very first time making it, and I did not grow up watching anyone do this, I am certain my technique was horrible.  I could almost hear the whisperings and cluckings of generations of Jewish women as I rolled out the dough (almost certainly not thin enough and definitely not straight enough).  I also quite shamelessly mixed meat and dairy, and while I’m coming clean I should point out that my meat was duck bacon which is really a pretty cheap avoidance of actual bacon.  Complete inexperience and destruction of cultural heritage aside, I would say quite modestly that the knishes were delicious.  The sweet dough, the comforting smooth potato, I mean how can you go wrong with that many carbs.

DELICIOUS KNISHES
dough from Stella Carolyn’s Grandma – original says it makes 60, so I halved it.  I didn’t get 30 out of it, but I a) ran out of filling and b) made them a little bit larger

DOUGH INGREDIENTS:
2 1/2 C flour
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
6 T salad oil
1.5 beaten eggs ( I know, I know, the whole recipe called for 3.  Save your half egg and use it mixed with water to put an egg wash on top before you bake them)
1/2 C lukewarm water

DOUGH DIRECTIONS:
First, sift your dry ingredients ( I just tossed them in the stand mixer and mixed them a bit).  Then make a well, add oil, eggs, water and  mix thoroughly.  Dust a bowl with flour.  Form a ball with the dough and place it in a bowl and cover it with towel.  Let stand 15 minutes. Knead well, then divide into 2 parts.  Work only one part at a time.

The next direction read: roll out and stretch dough into sheet about 20 inches in diameter.  I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, so I made a large rectangle (which I know, doesn’t have a diameter, but whatever).

Then it said to brush sheet with salad oil, which I skipped because the dough was pretty moist.  Next fill dough along line 1 1/2 inches wide and roll dough twice.

You can see how I put the potato filling in a single row and then rolled it to make a tube.

Then cut away from rest of sheet (the rest of my sheet wasn’t big enough to do a second roll so I kneaded it with the remaining dough.  Repeat until all dough has been used.  After rolling, I sort of twisted off little links of dough, rather than just cutting them because that let me sort of seal the dough between them.  Then you brush tops of rolls with oil (or egg) and slice at 1 1/2 inch intervals. (I made mine a bit bigger).  Then place cut side down on an oiled sheet or a silpat.  I also made a slight indent in the top with my thumb.

Bake at 350 for an hour.  Serve hot with soup.

FILLING:
So, I sort of eyeballed and guessed and made it up as I went along, but I believe that this is a Grandma approved method of cooking.

3-4 large russet potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed (you know, like mashed potatoes)  I used 3 big russet potatoes, but as I said, I had some dough left over, so you might try 4.
1-2 C of leek, chopped small and rinsed and soaked to get rid of grit
1/2 C minced baby bella mushrooms
1/4 C mined duck bacon
salt, pepper and oil

Honestly, I might add more of everything next time, increasing all fillings and the ration of goodies to potatoes, but the potatoes are so comforting.  I can’t even explain.  Just make it.

Heat up your oil in a large frying pan.  Add your ingredients and cook until they are soft.  If you have the time, let your leeks or onion (if you prefer onion) to caramelize.  Even more delicious.  When your leeks, mushrooms and bacon are all done, mix them in with your mashed potatoes.  Then you are ready to stuff!

Do Not Doubt Grandma, Part II

I posted here about my doubts about Grandma’s recipes in her recipe box.  I learned my lesson with those cheese puffs and I no longer doubt Grandma.  However, when I looked at this recipe for dream bars, I could feel doubt coming over me.  As I followed Grandma’s directions, I felt even more doubt.  The recipe didn’t seem right as I was making it and I didn’t think it would be anything good when it came out of the oven.

As usual, I was wrong.  Do not doubt Grandma.  She knows of what she speaks.  Really.

Grandma’s Dream Bars

Ingredients

For Base:

1 cup flour

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

For Filling:

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt

6 oz of chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

Mix first three ingredients until crumbly,  I started with a pastry blender but quickly decided my fingers would work better.

It will be like making a strudel topping- mix until it’s sort of sandy-looking  and clumps together.

Press it into a greased (I used Pam) pan.  Grandma says to use a 13×9- I used an 8×8, rebel that I am.

Bake it in the oven at 325 degrees for about 15 minutes or until it is golden and sort of holds together.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the eggs, vanilla and sugar.

Add the flour, baking powder and salt.  Mix well.  Add the nuts and chocolate chips.  I used chocolate and peanut butter chips but did not use nuts.  I also- full disclosure- eyeballed the measurements.  Pour the mixture into the baked base.

Bake at 325 for about 30-40 minutes.

The top will get sort of brownie-like while the inside will be gooey and sort of pecan pie consistency.

Make sure to, as grandma notes, “cut while still warm.”

Also, be sure to eat these once they’re cooled as fresh out of the oven they have the temperature of molten lava.

Here they are in my red cookie jar. I love my red cookie jar.