Middle Eastern Night

One of my favorite nights of the summer comes when my friend C. and I get together to cook.  We did it three years ago to celebrate Julia Child’s 100 birthday.  We did it last year and focused on Italian food and Lidia Bastianich .  This year, because I was given a great cookbook and she was given a beautiful tagine, we focused on Middle Eastern food.

The menu was:  stuffed grape leaves, a number of Israeli salads (roasted eggplant dip, Israeli salad, cabbage salad, corn salad, taboulegh, hummus), marinated grilled lamb with tzatziki, a chicken tagine, couscous with a lemon vinegrette, ptitim (pearl or Israeli couscous) and pita.  For dessert we had baklava and a Cake of Kohevet (Chocolate Nut Cake).  My HipstaPrint 987039433_39C. made the tagine and I’m hoping to get her over here to blog it out for you.  Meanwhile, I’ll toss you a few photos of it:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_92 My HipstaPrint 987039433_60She also made an amazing lamb chop.  Amazing.  She plated them as well, in a very professional manner.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_62 My HipstaPrint 987039433_83 My HipstaPrint 987039433_8 My HipstaPrint 987039433_71The salads all came from either my memory of working in Israel or from the Ballabosta cookbook I was given in April.  I feel a bit uncomfortable providing those here since I feel like it’s somehow a copyright violation but I encourage you to check out the cookbook.  It’s really fantastic.  And I’ll provide you with some photos of the salads.

First up is the eggplant salad that I’ve blogged about before as well as the traditional Israeli salad.

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My HipstaPrint 987039433_23My HipstaPrint 987039433_58From the cookbook I made a traditional corn salad:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_47 My HipstaPrint 987039433_68 My HipstaPrint 987039433_56 My HipstaPrint 987039433_77I also made traditional taboulegh.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_64The last recipe from the cookbook was for a cabbage salad.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_87 My HipstaPrint 987039433_12 My HipstaPrint 987039433_33Plus the couscous (small and large- I apparently forgot to photograph the large):

My HipstaPrint 987039433_50Oh, and I threw together humus, because why not?

My HipstaPrint 987039433_73The second couple that joined us brought homemade stuffed grape leaves and baklava.  So good, both of them.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_19 My HipstaPrint 987039433_81What I can give you the recipe for, however, is the amazing cake I made.  It is a cake of Kohevet and it was, once again, delicious.  Whenever I make one of her cakes, there is always a moment in which I doubt her.  I push through and she has never failed me.

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A reminder that when I work from her recipes, this is what I have:

My HipstaPrint 987039433_59So, this cake is in three stages.  The base dough, the filling and the topping.  Ingredients are organized accordingly.

Kohevet’s Chocolate Cake With Nuts

For the dough:

1 1/3 cup of flour

1/3 cup of sugar

100 grams (a touch more than 7 tablespoons) of salted butter (I used unsalted but added a pinch of salt to the dough)

1 egg yolk

Special equipment:  springform cake pan

For the filling:

200 grams (about 7 ounces) bittersweet chocolate

100 grams (a bit more than 7 tablespoons) butter (I used unsalted)

1/4 cup cold water

1 packet of plain gelatin (you won’t use all of it, maybe a teaspoon or so)

4 eggs separated

2 tablespoons brandy (I only used one)

2 teaspoons of instant coffee powder

1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts, pecans and almonds)

2 tablespoons sugar

For topping:

2 cups heavy/whipping cream

2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar

Directions:

Make the dough.  Preheat your oven to 180 Celsius (356 Fahrenheit).  In a medium bowl, mix together the flour sugar, butter and egg yolk.  It helps if the butter is soft and cut into small pieces.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_26I mixed in the butter with a fork, a pastry cutter and then my hands.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_3I then added the egg yolk.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_24It will be a dough that sticks together if you press it- kind of like a shortbread.  Grease your springform pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_57Press 2/3 of the dough into the pan to form the bottom.  If the dough isn’t stiff enough, add another spoon or two of flour and then press it into the sides of the pan to form the crust.  I didn’t need to so you’ll have to eyeball it yourself.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_67Bake for 15-20 minutes or until it is a golden brown.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_44Set aside to cool.  Meanwhile, in a double boiler, heat the chocolate and butter.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_34While it is melting, combine the gelatin and the cold water in a small bowl.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_76When the chocolate and butter are melted, smooth and combined,

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add the water/gelatin and cook for about two minutes.  Then take it off the heat.

In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, brandy and instant coffee powder.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_1Once it is combined, add a few spoonfuls of the warm chocolate mixture and whisk.  You’re bringing the eggs up to temperature so that you don’t scramble them.  Once it’s up to temperature, add the rest of the chocolate and whisk until combined.

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Add the nuts and stir.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_9In (yet another) bowl, whip the egg whites and sugar, until they reach stiff peaks.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_18Fold the egg whites into the chocolate nut mixture by hand, so that it becomes mousse-like.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_28Take the ring of the springform pan off the base.  If you can, remove the base cake from the base of the pan.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_70Place it on the cake plate you plan to use for serving.  Pour the chocolate mixture into the base.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_91Cover and put it in the fridge.  Let it set for an hour or two.  About an hour before you want to serve it, whip the cream with the sugar until it is a lovely whipped cream consistency.  Spread it over the cake. My HipstaPrint 987039433_85

 

My HipstaPrint 987039433_10If you want to be fancy, you can grate some chocolate over the top of the cake just before you serve it.

My HipstaPrint 987039433_52This cake was so good.  It was just sweet enough with a hit of salt from the dough at the bottom.  One bite and I was back in Kohevet’s kitchen in Israel, at her table, on a Saturday afternoon, eating cake and laughing.

Mea Culpa

Like clockwork, each year, ten days after the celebration of the Jewish new year, comes the day of atonement, Yom Kippur.  From sundown the night before the sundown the night of, we fast, think about and atone for those we’ve wronged and forgive those who have wronged us.

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In a conversation about this with a friend who was raised Jewish but has recently converted to Islam, we debated the merits of this system.  Every religion has a way of making up for sins- Catholics use weekly confession, for example- and in every religion you can embody the idea or you can just give it lip service.  It’s very easy to be a jerk all year (all week) and then say you’re sorry one day a year (once a week) and then go back to being a jerk again.  Or you can take the idea to heart, really examine how you’ve been living and try to make positive changes.

I use the day as a time to reflect on the last year:  what was I proud of in my behaviors and responses?  What was I not as proud of?  What did I want to pretend I didn’t do?  If something stands out as particularly egregious, I’ll apologize to the person I’ve harmed.  I’ve spent a lot of time studying the ideas of guilt vs. shame and the role of forgiveness of yourself and others and I think that Yom Kippur can serve as a time to really examine and differentiate between those.

Of course, for the last several years I’ve been pregnant or breastfeeding so I have been excused from fasting.  I still thought and was careful but I ate.

It is traditional to have a somewhat sparse but filling, non-celebratory dinner both before and after the holiday.  The break fast meal is generally dairy.  This year we’re planning to break our fast with a meal at a new dumpling house ( I am so. excited.  See this post for why) which, while not the same place as referenced in that post, may be able to rival it.

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For the night before, I went simple.  I made Mushroom Popover Pie which I found on a recipe card send to me by Jewish Women International, a great organization to which I donate every year.

photo 2I served it with a homemade challah.  It is Shabbat, after all.  It’s not pretty but it is yummy.  And not decadent at all, which is somehow fitting.  It’s a recipe by Mollie Katzen and can be found here.

photo 4So, on this Yom Kippur Eve, I wish you time to reflect upon your year.  I wish you the ability to see the positive and the negative and to have the strength to change what you dislike.  I wish you an easy but significant fast and I wish you peace.

Finally, as someone I know and admire in the blog world says, I wish you enough.

5774

L’shanah tovah!  Happy new year!  Once again, Rosh HaShanah is upon us.  This year it came so very early.  So early, in fact, that it is still 80 degrees and no one feels like eating fall food.

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Family photo for the new year.

Which is handy since this year, for the first time in at least ten years (probably more), I did not host a gathering for the holiday.  I started adjuncting (is that a word) at a new college yesterday and was not able to either cancel my class (first one of the semester) or manage to cook for all.  I had thought maybe a brunch today but most of those who would attend were working (naturally).

So it was just a small family dinner this time.  I made a roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, sautéed greens (leeks, kale and spinach with garlic), cole slaw (I had some cabbage to use up) and cauliflower. Not really holiday food.  But the desserts…. those involved the apple and honey that the holiday requires.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_15I made individual upside-down honey apple cakes and a honey walnut apple crisp.  Neither were particularly fancy or pretty but both were pretty delicious and homey feeling.

I used Mark Bittman’s recipe from his How to Cook Everything book– but I have the app on my iphone– it was free or very, very discounted at one point- and it was ok.  Kind of bland so if I were to do it again, I’d probably up the apples and maybe incorporate them into the batter as well.  The apple crisp was a total improvisation.

Either way, I wish you all a new year filled with joy, laughter, happiness and love and free from pain, sorrow and hardship.  Happy 5774!

Mini Honey Apple Upside Down Cake (Mark Bittman)

Ingredients

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup brown sugar

2-3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped

1 cup buttermilk

2 eggs

1/2 cup white sugar

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

a few tablespoons of honey

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter and use it to liberally grease the muffin tins- along the sides as well as the bottom.  You may not use all the butter but there should be a good amount in the tin when you’re done.  Sprinkle the brown sugar in the bottom of each muffin slot.

Peel, core and chop your apples.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_14MIx them with the honey so that they are coated.  Sprinkle these into the muffin slots on top of the brown sugar.  Set this aside.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_13In a medium bowl, mix the salt, sugar, flour and baking soda.  Technically, Mark suggests to mix the wet ingredients in a separate bowl and to add them gradually to the dry ingredients.  I did not do this.  Instead, I dump the wet, unmixed, into the bowl and then mixed it all that way.  Either way you choose, add the buttermilk, eggs, and the rest of the butter (melted) to the dry ingredients and beat until combined.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_11Pour the batter into each muffin tin, ensuring that all the apples are covered.  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until the tops are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_6Let them cool in the pan for 5 minutes.  Run a knife or soft spatula around the sides of each muffin to loosen them.  Then, place something large, like a sheet pan over them.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_4Flip this over.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_3Each little cake should release.  If it doesn’t, sort of wiggle and shake the pan and if that still doesn’t work, use the soft spatula to scrape out the rest and sort of put it back together with your fingers.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_1Let them cool a bit before you eat them as the sugar/butter/apple combo is the temperature, roughly, of molten lava.

I had lots of apples leftover and so made a sort of shallow dish apple crisp.

Improvised Apple Crisp

Ingredients

1-2 peeled, chopped apples

few tablespoons of honey

dash or two of cinnamon

1/2-1 cup toasted walnuts

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup sugar (white)

1 stick of butter, cool, sliced into cubes

Directions

Toss your apples with the honey and cinnamon.  Add the walnuts and place into a shallow-ish baking dish.  I used a pie plate.  (Full disclosure- I forgot I had walnuts and added them in on top of the apples but under the topping.  If I did it again, I’d mix it in with the apples so this is a case of do as I say, not as I did!)

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In a small bowl, mix the flour and sugar. You can add some cinnamon here, if you like.  Cube your butter.

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With clean hands or a pastry cutter, add the butter.  Mush it around until it’s sort of sandy and pebbly feeling.

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Spread/sprinkle the topping over the walnut-apple mixture.

My HipstaPrint 995575301_7Bake at 425 for 10-20 minutes or until the top starts to brown.  Turn the oven down to 350 and bake until the apples are tender.

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Chag Semach!

Chag Semach!  It’s Purim or what I think of as the Jewish Halloween.  When my husband asked me what the story was, I will confess that I had to go look it up.  I could only remember a few key words… Queen Esther, Hayman, gallows, the annihilation of the Jews (again) and a three pointed hat.  Click here   for a better explanation.

The upshot of it is that we spent Saturday making Hamantaschen, the traditional Purim cookie.  I used the recipe posted on one of my favorite Jewish websites, Kveller.com.  No photos as I made it but I did get one of the finished product.  We made strawberry, apricot and (untraditional) chocolate.  I wanted to make the poppy (mohn) filling but it was too complicated.  Maybe next year.

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Not Your Bubbe’s Latkes

It’s still Chanukah so I wanted to give you one more holiday recipe to try before the holiday that celebrates all that is oil is over.  (For an interesting take on what Chanukah truly means, read this NYT article, written by a high school friend).  The basic potato latke can be found here.  I thought I’d try to jazz it up with a sweet potato version.  I was in a hurry so some of the measurements are a bit sketchy but if you’ve made the white potato version, you have an idea of the texture you need.

Sweet Potato Latkes

Ingredients

1 large or 2 small sweet potatoes

3-4 eggs

1/2 cup- 3/4 cup flour

1-2 teaspoons baking powder

salt, pepper and cinnamon to taste

oil for frying

Directions:

Peel your sweet potato.  I had an abnormally large one which also looks kind of…phallic.

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Grate your sweet potato.  I use the cuisenart but you could do it by hand.  Be careful of your fingers.

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In a bowl, mix the potato with the eggs, spices, flour and baking powder.  You want to make sure the potato is coated well and that the mixture is spoonable into a pan.  It won’t be a batter like for true pancakes but it will still work, trust me.  photo 3Heat some oil- a tablespoon or so- in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Not so high that the oil will burn but hot enough so that the oil is sort of shimmering and the batter will sizzle when added.  Add about a tablespoonful of batter and flatten it with the back of the spoon.  Cook until browned and then carefully flip.

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Cook until browned and eat immediately.

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So, these were delicious.  I didn’t add onion, which is used in traditional latkes, because I wanted the sweet potato to be the star.  I experimented with the flour throughout and realized that I prefer mine with less flour- it makes them more crispy and potato-y.  Regardless they were great- I didn’t even need sour cream or applesauce, though both would have been good.  Bonus?  Sweet potatoes are better for you than white- more fiber, antioxidents, folate (for those of you trying to conceive or currently gestating) and a lower glycemic index.  Plus, as stated above, just damn delicious.

As we head into this crazy holiday season, I wish you and your family love, joy, laughter and stomachs full to the brim with delicious, comforting, satisfying food.

 

5773

L’shana tova!  It is once again Rosh Hashannah, the Jewish New Year.  We celebrated on Sunday night with our usual Big Dinner.  I tend to make the same foods each year- mashed potatoes, brisket, roasted chicken, steamed green beans and squash soup.  This year I also made honey-ginger glazed carrots, spinach with pine nuts and raisins and noodle kugel. More on the kugel later.

We had many of our regulars and a few new faces. Some came from the next town over, one came from across the ocean. One person announced a pregnancy (not me, thank goodness!  I’m all set for now!), another reflected on family bonds.  One of my dear friends from high school arrived with a notebook full of memories that made us laugh and miss another friend who is no longer with us.  Overall, it was a wonderful night, full of laughter, wine, love and yummy food.

I spent all day cooking.  Plus juggling the two kids. It was not the easiest meal I’ve made.  Usually my husband helps a bit but he was otherwise occupied this year.  I have some pride that I got it all done!  I even remembered to provide after naptime snacks.

I can’t believe it, but I did remember to take some photos.

Carrots, peeled and waiting for slicing.

Potatoes.  They look so healthy.  Just wait until I boil them and then add gobs of butter and cream.  The result?  Delicious and decidedly not healthy.  At least for the body.  I’ve been told that my mashed potatoes heal the heart and soul.

Chocolate, at the ready for….

…these strawberries, washed and waiting.  When they meet?  Heaven.

The main course wasn’t pretty but, oh, it was tasty.  Every year I buy a bigger and bigger brisket and every year, I am left with nothing but the sauce.

Not pretty at all. But so, so yummy.

Ok, so the kugel recipe.  Kugel is a traditional Jewish dish.  It’s a kind of noodle pudding.  Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes savory.  If you use dairy in it, it’s often served to break the fast on Yom Kippur.  The thing about kugel is that is it deceptively heavy.  As you eat it, you think, “hmm, ok, this seems to be noodles and some cheese or some sort of creamy something.  It’s ok, kind of yummy.  No biggie.”  However, it sits in your stomach and later you are left with a fullness that can only come from kugel.

After my grandmother died we sat shiva for quite some time.  People brought us food, as is the tradition.  Someone brought kugel and one of my cousins liked this particular type.  She ate some.  Over the course of the day, she had a few more servings.  That night, as we were getting ready for bed, she was overcome with the heaviness.  The kugel had sort of expanded in her stomach, taking up more room than it should.  All she could do was sit in one spot and sort of grunt/moan, “kuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuullllllllllll” over and over until it had digested a bit and she could go to bed.  This has become a family joke.  Try it- saying “kuuuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuuuuullllllllllll” in a sort of low, moaning way- it really does embody that over-full feeling.

So I had to make kugel, of course.  I morphed a few recipes to make mine this year.  I went with sweet rather than savory.  The Rosh Hashanah meal is associated with honey and other sweets, eaten in order to ensure a sweet year to come.  I give you my sweet kugel.  Eat it sparingly, lest you have the kugel moans later.

Kuuuuuuuuuuuu-guuuuuuulllllll

Ingedients

1 package of egg noodles

1 cup of dark brown sugar, with 1/4 cup set aside

1-1/2 sticks of butter, melted

3/4 cup pecans, chopped

4 eggs

1 cup sour cream

1 cup cottage cheese (this is not the place for low fat)

1- 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

pinch or two of salt

Directions

Boil water and cook your noodles.  The package suggests 8-9 minutes.  You’ll want them to be on the less done side- al-dente.  They’ll cook in the oven with the custard so they’ll get a bit of liquid there.

While the noodles are cooking, melt the butter.  Pour about 1/3 of it into a baking dish.  I used a 9×12 dish.  Spread it around the bottom and sides.  Sprinkle 3/4 cup of the brown sugar on the bottom, covering evenly.

Press the pecans on top of the sugar, again, covering evenly.  I may toast the pecans before I do this step the next time I make this, just for some added crunch.

Drain your noodles (did you forget about them?) and then mix them with the rest of the melted butter.  I do this in the cooking pot since it’s big enough to hold everything.

Drained and waiting for butter bath.

In a medium bowl mix the eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cinnamon and vanilla. If you like that sort of thing, a bit of lemon or orange zest might be nice here.

Mmmmmm. Dairy.

Mix the diary into the noodles and make sure it’s all incorporated.

At this point, if you can stand it, you should taste (for those of you with an aversion to raw eggs, don’t taste this.) and adjust the seasoning.  Mine needed a little bit more salt.  It also needed a little bit more sweet so I added that last 1/4 cup of brown sugar.  Once it’s all mixed, spread it into the pan, on top of the butter/sugar/nut mixture.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and fifteen minutes. You want it to be crispy on the edges but not overdone- if it gets too dry, it’s really gross.

Let this cool for about fifteen minutes before you cut into it.  The sugar/butter/nut mixture will sort of harden and become sticky.  If you know that everyone is going to eat it at once, you can flip it over onto a platter and have a very pretty dish.  Otherwise, cut into squares and serve from the pan.

It was such a wonderful night.  All the kids were really well-behaved and had a great time playing together.  They didn’t want it to end- neither did I.

I went to bed feeling full of hope for the new year.  I wish you all a wonderful year to come, filled with sweetness and… as a loyal reader is fond of saying…enough.  Peace.

Leftovers, Passover Style (or, how to build a recipe)

One of the things I most admire about professional chefs is their ability to know what flavors will work well together.  Like on Chopped, for example.  A recent episode featured ground lamb, Stilton cheese, eggplant and birch syrup.  Now, if you gave me those, I’d have an idea that lamb and eggplant might go together since they’re both featured in middle eastern cuisine.  And I know that Stilton is like blue cheese so it’s stinky and powerful.  But birch syrup?  No idea about that one. Put them all together in one cohesive plate?  No way!

But if you’re a professional and/or experienced chef, then you know that the sweetness of the birch syrup (which is apparently like maple but “with more pine and wintergreen notes”, according to Aaron Sanchez) will pair nicely with the savory cheese.  You would also know that ground lamb will make a good meatball, particularly if you cook it in something like red wine in order to keep it moist.  You’d know that eggplant needs to be seasoned just so and that to put it all together you definitely need a starch.

I can not claim to be a professional chef but over the years, I have been able to learn what goes together well, partly from eating at restaurants, partly from reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows and partly from experimenting.  I have a sense of how to build a sauce, how to add flavor, how to fix mistakes (too much salt?  add a potato to absorb it) and how to re-purpose leftovers.  Cooked chicken goes well into soup, casseroles, tossed with pasta or with salad.  Lemon, garlic and rosemary are good flavors for chicken.  Apple cider and apple cider vinegar go well with pork.  Bacon makes everything better.

As a result, when I needed to use up leftovers from the big Passover meal, I was able to combine them in a way that made sense, was delicious and was pretty healthy, as well.  I’ll try to talk you through my thought process so you can see how I, a home cook, made it happen.

I had lots of peppers left over since I had intended to make a salad but didn’t.  (Hippo, I am so sorry but this post will have peppers as a main ingredient (and some zucchini as well) and I know how you feel about those.  You could always use cabbage leaves or Portobellos or another vessel.)

I also had leftover roasted balsamic veggies, cooked chicken and matzo. When I lived in Israel, we’d often make stuffed peppers with rice and vegetables.  I’ve also made and have eaten stuffed cabbage as well so I knew that I could chop the chicken and veggies and use those as part of the stuffing.  Crumbled matzo could be substituted for the starch element (usually rice).  I would just need some sort of binder like cheese or egg, to help hold the mixture together.  I peeked into the fridge and, lo and behold, I had some leftover ricotta that needed to be used. I also found some parmesan cheese that could be melted on top.

Thus, a dish was born.

I give you stuffed peppers, passover style.

Stuffed Peppers

Bell peppers (one or two for each person, depends on how hungry you are)

Some sort of protein, cooked: chicken, pork, beef

Some sort of vegetable mixture: mine was a mix of roasted onions, summer squash, tomatoes, garlic and zucchini.

Some sort of starch: rice or couscous would be good; for passover I used matzo

Some sort of binder: creamy cheese like ricotta or an egg or two

Salt, Pepper, other spices to taste, maybe a little cheese for the top

Directions:

Wash your peppers and cut off the tops.  Scrape out the seeds and ribs.

I sliced just a little bit off the bottom so that they’d stand up but you must be careful not to slice so much that you make a hole- your filling will leak out if you do.

Place them into a steamer basket and steam them over boiling water for a few minutes, just until they start to soften a little.  Mine took maybe 5-8 minutes.  They’ll be going into the oven later so don’t worry about actually cooking them.

Meanwhile, chop your vegetables and your protein into small (minced even!) pieces.

Veggies roasted but not yet chopped

In a bowl, mix the veggies, protein and starch (in this case, chopped chicken, crumbled matzo and chopped roasted veggies).

Add your binder- eggs and/or cheese- and mix well. I used ricotta and an egg.

Season with salt and pepper and whatever else you like (go italian with oregano and basil or try something more middle eastern like cumin and turmeric).  Place your peppers in a baking pan and set your oven to 375.

Stuff each pepper with the mixture, topping with cheese if you so desire (I almost always desire cheese).

Bake at 375 until heated through and the cheese on top is melted and lovely.  About 15 minutes for me.

 

Pass – (is) -Over

Another Seder has come and gone.  As you know, if you read here, Passover is one of my favorite meals to make and one of my favorite holidays to host.  In years past this has been due to the traditions I’ve been able to pass on and the people who’d been around our table.  This year, it was no less true.  We had a smaller number this year and while those who are usually in attendance were missed, it was also nice to be a bit more intimate- I can’t remember the last time we all fit in the dining room.  We also had more children this year which made my heart full in a way it hasn’t been before.

That's Miss M down at the end and Miss C over on the left. They were two of five children in attendance.

Not to turn this into a mushy sermon on how having children has changed my life (it has) but it made a difference to look around the table and see the next generation seated there.  My cousin, my best friend from elementary school and my best friends from high school were all there with their children.  I still think it’s surreal that we all have kids because it seems like just a few hours ago we were late for Latin class.  This year we even had the next generation in pets, brought by none other than Lady Gouda’s sister, who is a dear friend of ours.

Not only did she bring a cute dog, she also brought an adorable and perfect gift for my little sous chef:

But, the food.  Let me tell you about the food.

I tend to serve big dinners family style.  Composed plates are all well and good in restaurants but when you’re at home and serving a large group of people, make them work for it.  Pass those platters, pass those plates, make people get up and move around.  Keeps things exciting and, frankly, much easier for the cook.

Big platter of balsamic roasted veggies. Yum.

So, our menu was hard boiled eggs, matzo ball soup, charoset, mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, brisket, roasted balsamic vegetables, apple matzo kugel, roasted asparagus, chocolate caramel matzo and fudgy passover brownies.  Also some ice cream.  Whew.  Oh, and wine.  Lots of wine.  In the words of Lady Gouda’s Sister, “I didn’t know you got drunk at passover.”  (For those of you not in the know, you are supposed to drink at least four cups of wine during the pre-dinner service.)

Prepping took two days.  I actually cooked the brisket for a day and a half.  It was good.  So good.  So good that I’m angry I didn’t buy a bigger brisket as it was all gone in about five minutes.  No exaggeration.

Brisket top right. It was SO. GOOD.

The new recipes I tried, balsamic roasted veggies and apple-matzo kugel were delicious.  The vegetables were simple but flavorful.  It was a simple recipe- just chop the vegetables, mix up the dressing, combine and roast.  Easy and simple.

The vegetables waiting to be washed and chopped.

The apple mazto kugel was sweet and not dry at all.

Apples, chopped and ready for a mix with brown sugar and OJ.

It was filled with apples, raisins and apricots- which I thought I wouldn’t like as I’m not a huge fan of dried fruit in my food but, somehow it all worked well together.

Kugel on the left. Yum.

Everyone loved the food and there was lots of eating, laughing and general merriment.

A plate full of food (and therefore, love, right?)

So.  Another Seder ended, another spring beginning.  As we say at the end of the seder:  next year in Jerusalem.

Chag Pesach Semach!

 

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!

Kitchen Basics: How To Roast A Chicken

It occurred to me yesterday as I was cooking dinner that I’ve never posted a roasted chicken recipe.  Since I roast a chicken for almost every big meal, this was surprising to me.  A good roast chicken is a must for any Jewish woman (along with chicken soup)- you must know how to do it, even if you don’t do it often.  I base my recipe on Ina Garten’s  (my grandmother’s was more simple- it was just chicken in a pan and roasted so I like Ina’s) and it works every time.  Since I don’t love turkey and there were only three of us eating yesterday, I roasted a chicken and even remembered to take photos to share with you….

Roasted Chicken

1 whole chicken

several carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 head of fennel

several cloves of garlic, peeled

1 head of garlic, cut in half

1 lemon, cut in half

1 stick of butter, melted

salt, pepper

Optional:  small potatoes or larger potatoes peeled and chopped, brussel sprouts, other root veggies (parsnips, turnips, etc) peeled and chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425.

Check out your chicken and make sure that you’ve taken out the gizzard, heart, etc. parts. Usually they’re in the cavity in a neat little bag. You can save them to make stock or broth if you like.  Rinse your chicken and pat dry.  Set it aside and make sure that you’ve washed your hands afterwards- never touch anything after you’ve handled raw chicken.  Get out your roasting pan.  I use this enormous one which was a wedding gift from a wonderful friend- it can hold a turkey easily and I adore it.

Get out your veggies.  I always use garlic, carrot, onion and fennel.  You can also use other root veggies as you like.  Mostly they serve as a bed for the chicken to rest on as it cooks and then soak up all the yummy chicken juices and butter and spices.  They end up carmalizing in the pan and are just delicious.  Anyway, rinse, peel and chop them so that they’re roughly the same size.  For those of you playing along at home, here’s fennel, one of my favorite strange looking veggies.

I use just the bulb part but I think that the top is so funny- sort of frilly and tickly.  Wash and then chop it into rough pieces.  It’s layered, like an onion so the pieces will look like the onion that you chop.  Fennel has a sort of black licorice taste so it’s strong but I like it.  Anyway, toss all your veggies with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw them into the roasting pan.

Slice the head of garlic in half lengthwise and slice the lemon in half as well.  Stuff each into the empty cavity of the chicken- I alternate, lemon/garlic/lemon/garlic.  Place your chicken on top of the veggies. 

Melt the stick of butter (yes, I know, a stick!) in a pan over low heat.  Pour the butter over your chicken.  Salt and pepper the chicken well. Wash your hands.

Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the internal temperature is between 150-160 degrees.  Take it out and let it rest for ten minutes before attempting to carve.  Ina says to tent it with foil but I don’t always do that. Sometimes, depending on how quickly the skin is browning, I’ll cover it with foil while it’s still cooking, just to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Carve and serve on a platter with some of the yummy veggies on the side. I recently watched a foodtv special on Thanksgiving in which Alton Brown carved a turkey live! and on tv!- and now I can carve a chicken.  Far easier than I thought.