Archive for the 'main dishes' Category

What am I, chopped liver?

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Evan eating puréed chopped liver.

I love chopped liver. It may not be pâté, or even pâté de campagne, but it’s still delicious when done right. The trick is to cook the livers just so, such that they’re still a bit juicy, and chop them by hand to retain some rustic texture. Liver is best fried in–what else?–duck fat. I keep a jar on hand in the fridge just in case.

Chopped liver is fairly easy to turn into baby food. Just leave out the herbs (in case they aren’t sufficiently pulverized), and add a little more duck fat if necessary for ease of pulverizing. Evan seemed to like it, as you can see in the photo.

Nota bene: This recipe has more than two ingredients, such as it is best made for older babies or babies with no known allergies to any of the main ingredients.

This is the second post in a series on making your own baby food. See the first post here.

chopped liver

duck fat for frying
1 1/2 lb/680 g chicken livers (or half beef liver)
5 medium shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds
balsamic vinegar
1 handful parsley
1 handful dill

  1. Heat the duck fat in a large, heavy skillet on a medium flame.
  2. With paper toweling, pat dry the livers and fry them until browned on both sides, but still moist. Fry in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.
  3. Remove livers and place in a work bowl. Drain off any red liquid.
  4. Fry the shallots in the same fat until carmelized. Add more fat if necessary.
  5. Chop the livers and return them to the bowl. Toss with the onions.
  6. Use a plane cheese grater to grate the eggs into the liver mixture. Mix well, then season to taste with the spices and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
  7. Finely chop the herbs and mix into the chopped liver

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

chopped liver for infants

  • Follow the directions listed above, skipping the last step.
  • Scoop out 2-4 tablespoons of the chopped liver and pulverize in a coffee grinder. Correct seasoning and decant into a 4 oz/125 ml jar, pushing through a strainer, if necessary.

You can freeze the pulverized chopped liver for later use. Just make sure to leave enough room at the top for expansion during freezing. Defrost in the refrigerator, or by dunking in a shallow bowl of hot water.

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Jewish new year is forever marked in my mind with the thick, heady sweetness of honey. Everything is drenched in it—-the raisin-studded challah bread, the tart apples ushering in the autumn season and a sweet new year, the overwhelmingly sweet concoction that is tzimmes: carrots, prunes, raisins and honey stewed to a soft consistency just beyond a reasonable compote. Even the sabbath and holiday tradition of sprinkling bread with salt at the beginning of the meal flies right out the window, along with anything deemed too sharp or spicy on the palate, such as hot sauce (Mizrachis) or garlic (Ashkenazis).

Most children love the idea of a holiday meal based entirely on sweetness, but I bristled at the thought. My beloved challah was defiled by raisins, which I would carefully remove before sinking my teeth into the rich, eggy bread. I would dot the chastened slice with the tiniest bit of honey, so as not to spoil the flavor of the bread (which, to my salty palate, was plenty sweet on its own). Next was the carrot, raisin and pineapple salad which my mother made every year. I would avoid the raisins and try to eat mostly carrots with the occasional bite of pineapple. Tzimmes was completely impossible to eat, full as it was of the dreaded dried fruit and honey. I would skip it completely and focus on the chicken and rice. “Macht nicht kein tzimmes!” my father would joke. “Don’t make a fuss.” But a bite or two was really all I could manage.

The end of the meal brought “lekakh” or honey cake, and with it a “glezele tey” with its contrasting bitter tannins. I loved the spicy earthiness of the cake, its moist crumb and (comparatively) subtle sweetness. Hot tea was the perfect accompaniment.

For those of you who–like me–could do with a little less sweetness in your holiday meal, here is a recipe for a meatball olive and lemon tajine type dish with tehineh sauce (inspired by siniyeh). Save the honey for the honey cake. Happy new year!

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

I used clarified butter to fry the meatballs as it is a very stable and tasty fat that does not oxidize when heated. If you keep kosher or prefer other fats, feel free to substitute schmaltz or the oil of your choice.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 TBS baharat spice mixture
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (both black and white pepper, if available)
1/2 TBS dried mint
2 TBS finely ground burghul
2 TBS clarified butter, schmaltz or oil
olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup good quality olives, pitted
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced and seeded, the slices cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
3/4 cup stock
8 stalks celery, chopped into large bite-sized pieces

2 TBSP tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup water
salt and white pepper to taste

  1. Combine the beef with the spices, herbs and burghul. Mix well and form into small meatballs.
  2. Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. Melt the fat in the skillet and add a little olive oil.
  3. Fry the meatballs in the pan, turning to brown on all sides. When browned, remove meatballs to a plate and set aside.
  4. Pour or wipe off some of the oil in the pan and fry the onions. When the onions are translucent, place the meatballs back in the pan.
  5. Pour in the stock, then add the olives and lemons. Stir to distribute.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Add the celery and continue cooking another 10 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the tehineh sauce. Combine the tahini and lemon juice, then slowly add half the water. Mix, and add more water until the sauce is light beige and slightly runny. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the meatballs over rice, burghul or couscous. Drizzle the tehineh sauce on top and garnish with lemon zest.
Serves 2-4.

vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

Saturday, August 27th, 2011
vegan tea-smoked almond stir fry

(Not winning any beauty contests, but pleasing to the palate.)

Warning: this recipe is neither authentically Chinese in any way, nor is it pretty. It does, however, taste good. Feeling peckish and rather surly on a cold, grey Saturday morning, I threw this together using whatever fresh vegetables I had on hand.

The idea here is to create a dish with a pleasing array of textures—soft, crunchy, crisp, chewy—and flavors—the usual hot, sour, salty, sweet, umami. I served the dish rather heretically on a bed of steamed jasmine rice and macaroni. (In Chinese cuisine, rice is typically eaten on its own, as Westerners might nibble on some bread while enjoying the main course. Of course, macaroni does not belong in a pot of steamed rice. Don’t ask me why I put it there, I suppose I wanted to see what it would taste like.) I think this dish is actually best served as a sort of dry ho fun, that is, combined with the wide rice noodles known as ho fun. You could also add in another source of protein, such as seitan (HAIL SEITAN!) or tempeh for texture and variety.

Alternatively, you could add in some egg ribbons for a vegetarian version of this dish (which I did for the husband, but not for myself). These are easily prepared by beating a couple of eggs and cooking them in a well oiled wok, taking care to turn the wok in order to better distribute the egg mixture into a sort of flat pancake. Slice into ribbons as the egg hardens, sprinkle these on top of your stir fry. C’est tout.

vegan tea-smoked tofu and almond stir fry

If you have fresh ginger and green onions on hand, do use them in this recipe. I did not, so I made due with powdered ginger and just the shallot. I used the wonderful tea-smoked tofu made by Hodo Soy Beanery as my tofu base for this dish. You can use any other smoked, baked or savory flavored tofu, or just plain tofu if you prefer. You may need to adjust the seasoning if using plain tofu. As with any stir fry, prepare all ingredients before cooking, arrange them in order of use and then cook everything very quickly so as to retain the freshness and crunch of the vegetables.

1-2 tsp Jamaican or other yellow curry powder
coconut oil
1 Japanese eggplant, cubed
vermouth
1 shallot, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
6oz./170gr tea-smoked tofu, or other savory cooked tofu
2 cups snap peas, trimmed and sliced in half on the diagonal
1 carrot, chopped into bite-size pieces
1 stalk celery, chopped into bite-size pieces
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 handfuls almonds
soy sauce
1/2 fresh lime or lime juice
powdered ginger
Sriracha or other hot sauce
Toasted sesame oil

  1. In a wok on high heat, melt some coconut oil taking care not to let it smoke.
  2. Fry the eggplant until the wok is almost dry, then splash in just a little vermouth. The eggplant absorbs the wine, keeping it from sticking to the wok and filling it with flavor.
  3. When the eggplant cubes have softened and colored a bit, remove and set aside.
  4. Melt some more coconut oil in the wok, about 1 tablespoon.
  5. Add the shallot slices and stir. When the shallots begin to color, add the curry powder and tofu. Stir.
  6. When the tofu has browned, add in the snap peas and stir. When these are bright green, add in the carrots, celery and garlic. Stir.
  7. Throw in the almonds, then season with one or two splashes of soy sauce, the juice of half a lime, a little ginger powder and hot sauce. Stir to combine the flavors and turn off the heat. Plate immediately.
  8. Season to taste with toasted sesame seed oil.

If serving with wide rice noodles, prepare the noodles as instructed on the package (they’re usually soaked in hot or warm water). Combine the noodles with the stir fry in the wok during the last minute of cooking. Add more soy sauce and sesame oil if necessary.

jewish ravioli: cheese kreplach

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Gevalt. My shoulders hurt, my back hurts. My triceps are no longer on speaking terms with me, and they’re whispering mutiny to the biceps. Yesterday, I made my own dumplings out of hand-rolled dough without the use of a pasta machine. Now I know what it must have felt like to be a housewife in a 19th century shtetl. All I need is a washboard for the laundry and a roof for my husband to fiddle on as he sings “TRADITION! TRADITION!

I know, I know. It sounds like hyperbole. But try it, you’ll see what I mean. Making the dough is fun at first. It involves mixing some beaten eggs into a mound of flour with a fork. At a certain point, you dispense with the fork altogether and use your hands. The joy of messiness, the kneading… it’s an adult version of play dough. After letting the dough rest, the rolling begins. If you’ve rolled your own pie crust, you may not think much of this part. Ah, but pasta dough must be thin, thin, thin—like paper, like silk. When you’ve been rolling a while and realize that your dough is still thick as pie dough, you begin to wonder how much longer. You throw yourself into it, using your weight to apply more pressure on the dough. You sweat through your t-shirt. You think “holy cannoli! What was I thinking?” Just when you decide to settle for
thick, lumpy kreplach, you roll just a little longer until the sheet of pasta is smooth and thin as it can get.

But you’re not done yet. You have to cut little circles with an upside down glass, being careful to place the circles as close together as possible so as not to waste too much dough. Then each circle must be brushed with water, filled with filling, and pressed closed. The pressing is an art in itself. The filling can’t be too much or too little, so that it fills the dough just enough without poking out the sides. The edges must be pressed together carefully around the filling without any air bubbles. Then the edges must be brought together, one side brushed with water, and pressed together firmly as though the dumpling is wringing its hands in front of its plump belly. But the dough must be soft and pliable enough that the belly doesn’t burst, spewing its cheesy contents. It’s painstaking work, alternately exasperating and meditative. But the result is that much more luxurious and tasty when you’ve worked so hard to make it yourself.

If you’re short on time and patience for hard labor, you could run your dough through a pasta machine. It’s probably best to run it through the highest to the lowest setting for a really thin, silky dough. You could use one of those plastic ravioli pressing gadgets that works like a waffle iron
, if you don’t feel like pressing the dumplings yourself. You could press the dumplings like kreplach (triangular wontons), or pelmeni (Russian tortellini). I gravitated towards tortellini style dumplings, as I thought they might better keep their shape and hold their filling (those wringing hands tend to hold the stuffing). But traditional kreplach triangles might be easier to make and certainly less time-consuming. (I’ve always felt that the triangular tips of kreplach or wontons are like delicate little pasta fins, the dumplings quietly swimming in your soup.)

I stuffed my kreplach with a cheese filling in honor of Shavuoth, the Jewish festival of the ten commandments. It is traditional to prepare all manner of dairy foods for this holiday, unlike most holidays where meat and fish are the festive foods. Jewish lore has it that the Israelites did not know how to keep kosher, as they hadn’t yet received the ten commandments. So they ate only dairy foods so as not to eat any animals that weren’t sanctioned by the law. (How did they know the law would prohibit the consumption of certain creatures? Good point. But again, this is lore…)

Back in Russia and Poland, Jews would prepare cheese kreplach served with fried onions or a dusting of sugar, sometimes sour cream or perhaps a bit of jam. The name, size and shape of the dumplings might vary depending on the region. I’ve prepared mine with a filling of goat cheese and za’atar, putting a Mediterranean twist on the Eastern European dish. As for toppings, I’ve used fried onions, leftover goat cheese instead of sour cream and plum jam. Yes, all three. The combination of flavors works surprisingly well.

Other traditional ways to serve kreplach include frying them with onions, or boiling them and then serving them in soup. Kreplach can be stuffed with potatoes, beef, chicken liver, or a combination of beef and pork if you want to make Ukrainian pelmeni (a non-Jewish cousin of the traditional kreple). You could alternatively make a sort of kreplach lasagne, layering sheets of fresh pasta with filling and toppings. How do you like your kreplach?

cheese kreplach for shavuoth

for the filling:
10 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre), or other cheese of similar consistency
5 stalks fresh za’atar, or other fresh herb such as dill, parsley, chives, oregano
salt and white pepper to taste
1 small egg

for the dough (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times):
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
lukewarm water, if necessary

for the topping:
goat cheese or sour cream or smetana
1-2 diced onions
butter
good plum jam (should be a little loose—I used June Taylor’s Elephant Heart plum conserve)

Preparing the filling:

  • In a large bowl, crumble in the cheese.
  • Hold the top of a stalk of za’atar with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. With the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, gently slide your fingers down the stalk, catching the leaves as they fall. Repeat for the remaining stalks. (This works for oregano as well, but any of the other herbs should simply be finely chopped.)
  • Rip or chop the za’atar and throw it into the bowl of cheese.
  • Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Taste and correct seasoning. Add a beaten egg and stir to combine.

Making the dough:

  • On a large, clean flat surface (a wooden table would be good), make a hill of flour. Form a well in the center of the hill.
  • Beat the eggs lightly and pour them into the well. Begin mixing the flour into the eggs with a fork.
  • At some point, you’ll want to use your hands to mix the egg and flour. If the mixture appears dry, add a little lukewarm water (say 1 or 2 tablespoons). My dough was moist with just the egg.
  • Knead the dough well, then let sit covered with a bowl or plastic wrap for 30 minutes.

Rolling the dough:

  • Separate the dough into two parts, leaving one portion under the bowl. Take the other half and begin to flatten and stretch it a bit with your hands.
  • Flour your surface and start rolling. You can use a pasta machine for this part. Roll the dough into an oblong shape rather than a circle. Be sure to move your dough frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the surface. Flour your surface just enough to keep the dough from sticking. You can patch any holes or cracks.
  • Roll until you can’t roll anymore, and then roll a bit more. You want to get your dough as thin and smooth as possible. Remember, the pasta will absorb water and expand when cooked. Feel the thickness of your dough and try to imagine what it might taste like when cooked. If it tastes like a mouthful of dough, you need to keep rolling.
  • When finished rolling, you might want to sprinkle a little water on the dough if it looks a bit dry.

Cutting the dough:

  • Use a glass with a 3 inch diameter to cut circles of dough. Use a dull knife to help cut the dough if necessary. Try to minimize the space between each circle of dough so as to avoid excess scrap dough.
  • When finished cutting the circles, collect the scraps and mush them into a ball. Place the ball under the bowl of resting dough.

Filling and shaping the dumplings:

  • With a barely damp pastry brush, brush one circle with a little water, mostly around the edges.
  • Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the circle.
  • Bring one end of the dough over the other in a half circle sandwich of dough and filling. Use your fingers to press the edges of the dough from one edge of the semi-circle to the other, while gently smoothing out any air bubbles along the edge of the filling. Dance your fingers along the edges again to get a good seal.
  • You can stop here, or you can continue folding the edges tortellini style. To do this:
    • Brush a little water on one tip of the semi-circle.
    • Then gently wrap the tips over your forefinger, the wet tip under the dry one.
    • Use your thumb to squeeze the tips against your forefinger, sealing them together.
    • Remove your forefinger, and gently squish the tips the other way (vertically).
  • Place the dumpling on a lightly floured plate. (I used two plates for my dumplings, simply to avoid the hassle of stacking them on top of each other, in case they stuck.)
  • Repeat for the remaining dough circles.
  • Take out the second piece of dough and follow the rolling, cutting, filling and shaping instructions. You can ball up and roll out the scraps too, or slice them into jagged, randomly shaped noodles. These can be cooked briefly before boiling the kreplach. Drain and slather with butter for snacking on while the kreplach cook.

Cooking the dumplings:

  • In a large skillet, melt some butter and fry the chopped onions on a medium to low flame until golden brown.
  • Boil heavily salted water for the dumplings. When the water is boiling gently, tip the plates of dumplings into the pot.
  • Agitate the pot lightly so that the dumplings don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the kreplach float to the top.
  • Remove the kreplach with a slotted spoon, draining the water.
  • Top with fried onions, cheese or sour cream, and finally plum jam.

Serves 2-4

I picked up some great pasta making techniques from a class given by the inimitable Omnivorous Fish. Useful links here and here.

feast of the chanterelles

Monday, March 26th, 2007

It’s not every day a half pound of freshly foraged chanterelle mushrooms just falls into your lap. Taking them out of their paper bag when I got home, I picked up a large mushroom and inhaled its heady earthiness. It smelled of wet leaves and dirt on the forest floor. I wanted to cook the mushrooms in so many ways, it was hard to settle on just a few dishes.

chanterelles and cheese

Following the advice of the chef (the guy who was buying the mushrooms from the forager), I made an appetizer by slicing a wedge of brie lengthwise and using it to sandwich thin slices of fresh chanterelle. I used Fromager d’Affinois, but any brie would work. (Odd, isn’t it, that the cheese is called “Cheesemonger of Affinois”?) The brie went into a small, well-buttered ramekin and baked in a 350° F oven for about 15 minutes.

I also experimented with some delicious French Munster cheese. I thinly sliced a very small cored apple, and placed some slices a the bottom of a well-buttered ramekin. Smeared some cheese on the apples, placed thin slices of chanterelle on the cheese, then more apples, and so on. I baked this in the oven along with the other ramekin for the same time period.

We ate these on their own after they had cooled down a bit. But I think they’d be even better on toast.

chanterelle crusted puréed potatoes

First, I chopped the mushrooms, slightly bigger than a dice. I chopped half an onion, but a couple of shallots would have been better (per the chef’s recommendations). I sautéed the onions in butter, then added the mushrooms, s and p to taste, and finished it off with some good Madeira wine.

I made an ordinary dish of puréed potatoes, using sour cream instead of milk or cream. After it had cooled somewhat, I added two small beaten eggs and mixed well. The pureed potatoes went into a medium-sized, buttered souffle dish. Then I topped the potatoes with a thin layer of the chanterelle-onion mixture. The crusted puree baked for about 40 minutes at 350° F.

The earthy chanterelles perfectly complemented the potato purée. I particularly enjoyed the contrasting textures of succulent mushrooms on a bed of pillowy potato.

veggies

I served the classic cabbage and apples with onions cooked in butter, with a splash of Madeira. I also prepared steamed, buttered stinging nettles.

chanterelle-stuffed pork loin

I used the rest of the chanterelle-onion mixture to stuff the pork loin. I had two large individual pork loins (serves 2 hungry people), but it would be easier to stuff one large loin. Luckily, the butcher had supplied me with sufficient string to secure the loins. I poked back any bits of mushroom that fell out as I stuffed the loins.

The loins were browned in butter on both sides in a hot cast-iron skillet. Then into the oven they went (350° F).

Following cooking, I deglazed the pan with more Madeira and a little butter and spooned a few drops of sauce on each loin. This was really a no-brainer—pork + chanterelles + Madeira wine = pleasure.

Serves 2, along with a glass each of Madeira wine

couscous with vegetables

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Couscous is a marvelous dish when prepared properly. I don’t mean the kind of couscous you make by soaking it in hot water for ten minutes. I mean the kind of couscous you steam forever, smother in butter, steam forever again, etc. OK, I admit, this type of couscous comes in a box too. (Most of us don’t have the time to painstakingly prepare the tiny pasta from scratch.) But when served with traditionally cooked vegetables and meat, couscous is a pleasure to eat—deeply satisfying and soulful.

Traditionally, couscocus is served on Tuesdays, laundry day in certain North African communities. While waiting for their laundry to dry, North African women would prepare the pasta and dry it in the sun. Thus laundry day became a social event, an opportunity to get together with friends and neighbors to gossip and exchange recipes.

The Tuesday couscous tradition persists in Israel at North African mom and pop eateries. Traditionally, couscous is served with a soup of vegetables and meat, eather chicken or beef. The types of vegetables and the spices used vary depending on the regional extraction of the cook.

The couscous joint I frequented in Israel was run by a family of Tripolitan extraction. Their couscous included carrots, potatoes, turnips, and zucchini, as well as chicken. Effie, the owner, always had a full house on Tuesdays, when all the high tech employees in the neighborhood would converge on his place for a plate of some down home couscous and little complimentary plates of mezze and pita. Effie’s has no menu.

Instead, Effie would greet everyone with a smile and some friendly banter, and proceed to rattle off the specials of the day. He’d then take everyone’s order faster than any waiter I’ve seen before or since, and pass them on to his wife in the kitchen. One of his sons would cover the table with simple sheet of butcher paper, and another son would arrive with plates and cutlery. The first son would return with a basket of fresh, warm pita bread and small mezze plates, including hummus with olive oil, olives, a Tunisian pumpkin spread, and two types of eggplant salad. It was always a challenge to eat all the mezzeh and still have room for couscous.

Couscous veMafroum
(That’s the official name, but everyone calls it Effie’s)
12 Yehezkel Kazaz St.
Or Yehuda, Israel
03-5339252

couscous with vegetables

Here’s my vegetarian version of couscous with vegetables, loosely based on my memories of Effie’s couscous.

for the vegetables:

1 onion, chopped, or 3 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic
3 small carrots, peeled
1 large turnip, peeled
1 large potato, peeled
1 cup garbanzo beans, soaked and cooked
1 bunch chard, spinach, or other greens, washed and coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp whole fenugreek
spice mixture: 1/2 tsp each whole fennel and coriander seeds, 2 tsp whole cumin seeds
(If you don’t have whole spices, use pre-ground. Just spice the vegetables a little more cautiously, reserving any leftover spice mixture for a later use. It is best, however, to use whole spices.)
salt to taste

for the couscous:

250 gr coucous
butter
salt to taste

equipment:

couscousiere, or a medium sized pot with a steamer or sieve
(I used a small pot and a vegetable steamer for the couscous, and a separate pot for the vegetables. Ideally, the couscous should steam above the vegetables to as to absorb their flavors.)

  • Pour the couscous into a large, shallow bowl and soak in 1/2 cup very cold water for 20 minutes.
  • Chop the vegetables into coarse chunks.
  • If using whole spices, place in a clean coffee grinder and grind to a powder.
  • Heat some butter and olive oil in a pot and add in the onions. Season with salt and stir. You don’t want the onions to turn transluscent without browning.
  • Press the garlic cloves into the onions, then add the fenugreek and half the ground spice mixture. Stir to distribute evenly.
  • Add chopped vegetables to pot, along with garbanzo beans, and cover with water.
  • Drain the couscous and rake it with your fingers.
  • Place steamer, sieve, or couscousiere steaming insert above vegetables and place drained couscous in steamer.
  • Bring vegetables to the boil, uncovered.
  • Keep the vegetables on a low simmer and turn the couscous into a bowl.
  • Rake the couscous with your fingers, sprinkle it with 1/4 cup cold water, and season with salt and butter to taste.
  • Let stand, and then steam again over the simmering vegetables.
  • You can repeat the raking-sprinkling-seasoning-sitting process, as recommended on the Ya Rayi site. I was lazy and hungry, so I steamed the couscous twice, rather than three times. It was still delicious.

Serves 3-4

mac and cheese, louise

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Ever get an idea that sounds really interesting in theory but turns out to be, well, a bit strange in practice? I like to expand my ideas about foods that complement each other by trying new combinations, often using whatever fresh produce I have in the fridge. That’s what I tried to do when I prepared my version of macaroni and cheese for the Mac and Cheese Off. The idea was intriguing, the results—less so.

A bag of Italian faro (spelt) penne caught my eye while browsing around my local gourmet shop. The pasta was a light brown color, and one of the store employees said it had a nutty flavor. “Hmmm,” I thought. “This could be an interesting base for my mac and cheese.” Think bechamel with nutmeg on a nutty pasta. Sounds good, doesn’t it? I bought a half gallon of whole milk and a tub of terrific French butter. My refrigerator was already stocked with an array of cheeses, so I was all set for the mac and cheese challenge.

I cooked a simple bechamel, and grated copious amounts of cheese: grana padana, raw milk cheddar, petite basque, and manchego. As I prefer creamy stovetop mac and cheese, I poured the bechamel over the pre-cooked pasta, letting simmer. I then added washed and drained baby bok choy leaves and the mix of grated cheeses.

The bok choy, pasta, and cheese sauce were tasty. Jut not all together. I rather like the idea of bok choy in a creamy cheese sauce. But the spelt pasta was all wrong. Spelt pasta is indeed nutty, but also very slightly bitter, like the aftertaste you get when you eat wheat germ. This flavor clashes harshly with the cheese sauce, throwing off the entire dish. Each ingredient sings a different tune and the result is like listening to the Star Spangled Banner, La Marseillaise, and God Save the Queen at the same time. Worse, the pasta was the wrong size, a factor I should have anticipated. Penne is fine for baking in a cheese sauce, but it doesn’t work very well in a creamy cheese sauce on the stove. I had wanted the cheese sauce to envelope the pasta in its creaminess. This doesn’t happen with penne. The cheese sauce sort of stuck to the penne in an eery looking glaze (see photo).

Oh well. I still think bok choy with mac and cheese is an interesting idea. I’ll have to try again, only this time with actual macaroni.

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smoked duck breast with savoy cabbage and apples

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

This dish seemed to create itself when I brought home the main ingredients. Cabbage and apple were meant to be together, and smoked duck breast is the sultry femme fatale. Who knew that food could have a ménage à trois?

Those little specks of red are not paprika, but rather sumac, a tart spice made of dried sumac berries. Typically used in Middle Eastarn cuisine, sumac lends an exotic flavor to this Hungarian-inspired dish. Its bright sourness is a foil to the sweetness of the cabbage and apples, and the fatty duck.

smoked duck breast with savoy cabbage and apples

bacon fat
1/2 large or 1 small onion, halved and thinly sliced into crescents
1 savoy cabbage, sliced into thin ribbons
1 medium apple, any kind, but preferably a little tart, cored and thinly sliced
1 smoked duck breast, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
garnish: sumac (or lemon juice), and parsley

  • Place a large skillet or wok on a medium to low flame, place some bacon fat into the pan.
  • Sauté the onions in the skillet. Meanwhile, place a smaller cast-iron skillet on a medium high flame. Melt some bacon fat in the skillet.
  • Fry the apple slices in the smaller skillet until golden brown on both sides. You’ll want to fry the apples in batches so as not to crowd the pan.
  • Once the onions have turned golden, add a handful or two of cabbage and stir. Cook for a minute and stir again. Then add another handful or two and repeat. Continue until all the cabbage has been added. You want to incorporate the cabbage with the onions and bacon fat without lowering the overall temperature of the cooking vegetables too much. This will also result in varying textures in the cabbage, some will turn out a little more crunchy, and some a little softer. If the pan starts to get dry, add more bacon fat.
  • As the apples finish cooking, add them to the cabbage onion mixture. Turn off the flame if most of the cabbage has just turned bright green. You want at least some of the cabbage to be somewhat al dente.
  • Fry the sliced duck breast in the skillet in which you fried the apples. Both sides should be slightly carmelized at the edges. Turn off the flame and add duck breast to cabbage mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with buttered broad noodles or fettuccine.

Serves 3-4

pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

pumpkinsquash_pie_before

pumpkinsquash_pie_after

These are before and after photos of the pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart I made the other day. You can tell that one is an improvement over the other because it’s got a nicer hairstyle and better make up (that was subtle… think about it).

I love spaghetti squash. When you’re a kid, the idea that you can eat strands of al dente “spaghetti” that comes from a gourd is very exciting. I’m not sure why, it just is. “Oooh! Spaghetti from a squash that feels like spaghetti when you eat it!” Even as an adult, you never quite get over it.

I had recently bought some small pumpkins, which—with their velvety soft texture and distinctive flavor—struck me as an interesting foil to the spaghetti squash. Some fresh goat cheese would add richness and tang. I had considered chopping the pumpkin into chunks and tossing it with the spaghetti squash and cheese, pasta style. In the end, I decided to bake the whole thing as a tart, which turned out pretty well, I think.

I like the way the rich creaminess of the pumpkin pervades the tart, while the crunchy spaghetti squash provides contrasting texture and body. The goat cheese provides playful sparks of lively flavor (I might include bits of goat cheese within the batter next time). I used bacon fat to grease the tart pan, which added a lovely smoked flavor (you could substitute butter for a vegetarian version of this dish). As an afterthought, I arranged fresh thyme sprigs on top. Like the Dude’s rug, these really pulled the whole thing together.

Note: I’ve always sliced spaghetti squash lengthwise prior to baking. This time, I tried slicing it widthwise instead, following the advice of an article on cooking spaghetti squash. What a difference! The squash is easier to cut (less surface area) and the baked halves are more manageable when combing out the flesh.

pumpkin spaghetti squash goat cheese tart

1 baked spaghetti squash
1 1/2 small baked orange pumpkins
salt and pepper to taste
ground allspice to taste
1 egg
a bit of flour
2/3 lb soft goat cheese or feta cheese
bacon fat or butter
fresh thyme sprigs

  • Pre-heat the oven to 375°F.
  • With a fork, scrape out the spaghetti squash into a bowl. (You might want to chop the spaghetti squash strands into large bite-sized pieces. I think it might be easier to slice the tart that way.)
  • Scoop out the pumpkin flesh into the bowl, season, and mix. Taste and correct seasoning.
  • Add an egg and combine. Add a little flour to soak up the excess liquid. Mix. You want to stiffen the batter a bit.
  • Crumble in the cheese and mix, reserving a little cheese to distribute on top of the tart.
  • Grease a tart pan with bacon grease or butter.
  • Transfer the batter to the tart pan and smooth the top, so that the batter is even throughout.
  • Distribute pieces of cheese on top, then decorate with thyme leaves.
  • Bake for 35 minutes or until slightly browned.

Serves 6

sabikh!

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

Falafel’s lesser known little sister is sabikh. Sabikh is a pita sandwich with fried eggplant, a sliced boiled egg, chunks of steamed potatoes, salad, hummus, tahini sauce, and amba, a sort of sour mango pickle sauce. Traditionally, sabikh was eaten by Iraqi Jews on Saturday morning. According to lore, the sandwich didn’t really have a name back in Iraq. It was named sabikh by the Iraqi immgrants who opened the first kiosk in Israel to sell the sandwich. Filling, tasty, and messy, sabikh is a favorite street food among Israelis today.

Sabikh is inherently fun to eat. With its abundance of ingredients, it’s an everything but the kitchen sink type of sandwich. Every bite yields a combination of flavors and textures, and often a dribble of tahini down your chin. Keeping the full-to-bursting pita in one piece is always a delicate balance. (The trick here is to use slightly thick, soft, pliable pita, not the sort of thin cardboardy stuff you find at the supermarket).

Sabikh was one of A‘s favorite street foods when we lived in Israel. So on the morning of his recent birthday, I made sabikh with homemade pita. Sabikh makes a tasty breakfast served with Middle Eastern cucumber and tomato salad. And pita is much easier to make than you’d think. You can finish the meal with a small glass of strong Turkish coffee, or sweet mint tea.

sabikh with middle eastern cucumber and tomato salad

Hanit has a recipe for pita here, which you can halve. Or you could make the entire recipe and freeze the remainder for later.

1 small or medium eggplant, preferably the multi-cleft heirloom variety known in the Middle East as “baladi
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced or coarsely chopped
good quality plain hummus, such as Sabra brand, or homemade
prepared tahini sauce (prepare according to instructions on the jar of tahini paste)
2 steamed potatoes coarsely chopped, or several bite-sized steamed potatoes
amba (optional)
2 good quality pitas
Middle Eastern cucumber and tomato salad (recipe below)

  • Place a heavy frying pan on medium heat and melt a good tablespoon or two of coconut oil in the pan. Alternatively, you could use olive oil (not extra virgin).
  • Fry the eggplant slices until browned on both sides. Remove from pan and drain.
  • Slice the tops off the pitas so that you now have two D-shaped pocket. Gently separate the walls of the pockets to make them easier to stuff.
  • Invert the sliced pita tops and nestle them at the bottom of each pita. These pita tops reinforce the sabikh, preventing dripping from the bottom (for a while, anyway).
  • Hold the bottom of a pita, gently squeezing the rounded edge in your hand so that the pocket opens.
  • Smear a bit of hummus in the pita, then add the eggplant, eggs, potatoes, and salad.
  • Drizzle tahini sauce and amba into the pita.
  • Serve with salad on the side.

Serves 2

middle eastern cucumber and tomato salad

Middle Eastern cucumber and tomato salad resembles salsa in that its ingredients are diced very small, creating a cohesive cross between a salad and a chunky sauce. The tartness of the lemon juice, the bite of the olive oil, and the freshness of the parsley meld with the sweet juices of the tomatoes and the crispness of the cucumbers. It just isn’t the same if you chop the vegetables any other way except a tiny dice. A salsa style salad is made to be eaten in a pita.

2 Mediterranean, Persian, or small pickling cucumbers
2 medium sized very fresh tomatoes
parsley
1 lemon, sliced
good olive oil, preferably Middle Eastern or Greek
salt and pepper to taste

  • Trim the ends of the cucumbers.
  • Dice the cucumbers and tomatoes. You want a very small dice, say, a quarter of an inch.
  • Finely mince a handful of parsley and add to the cucumbers and tomatoes.
  • Squeeze some lemon juice over the salad, and drizzle a good glug of olive oil.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  • Taste and correct dressing.

Serves 2

N.B. If you’re in NYC, you can get sabikh at Taïm. If you’re in the San Francisco bay area, you’re out of luck. But you can get Sabra hummus at Berkeley Bowl, and baladi eggplants at the Ferry Building farmer’s market. Check the farm stand across from Point Reyes Preserves.

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