Friday, April 25, 2008

chicken soup with matzo balls

chicken soup with matzo balls

I meant to post this earlier this week – KS was sick this weekend and I made him this chicken soup. But then I came down with a horrible stomach bug on Wednesday and could do no more than sleep while trying to shake of a fever. Now that I’m better, I have to share this chicken soup recipe with you before it gets way too hot for chicken soup. Because this was KS’s favorite soup to date and besides the porcini mushroom soup which I can’t speak highly enough of, this might be mine too.

Everything in the soup just worked, the flavors were deep, developed, perfect. It possessed a thick heartiness to it, and filled your belly with warm, comforting, familiar flavors. I call it my everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup. I put a lot of various things in it and it does take some time to make, but it is totally and wholly worth it.

the WHOLE chicken this you skim and toss... eww.
turnip parsnip

Don’t forget to skim the frothy part of the broth when the whole thing boils for the first time – for that I’ve included a rather unappetising picture of the froth – so you know what it looks like and are compelled to skim it ever-so-vigilantly.

matzo meal floating in the soup

I would also steer you in the direction of buying a whole chicken, rather than chicken parts. I’m convinced that there’s something magical in the proportion of white meat and dark meat and it makes the broth just right texture wise. It’s just as simple to pull the bones out of a whole chicken as chicken parts – when it’s so fully cooked it’s falling off the bone, the whole process takes mere minutes. Besides, when you get a whole chicken, you get the neck, the giblets and the tiny chicken liver – and aren’t those the best parts?

chicken soup with matzo balls

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Friday, April 18, 2008

chicken piccata

chicken piccata

There comes a point at every Passover when I begin to grow tired of the traditional dishes, the gefilte fish starts looking revolting, and no matter which way you slice it, all I really want is a bagel, or a bowl of pasta, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; simple and gratifying,. They are all humble foods, honest and filling, and I miss them terribly. The eight days begin to seem interminable. What can I say – I like my leavened starches!

But truth be told, I doubt I would miss any of those things, if I could take the entire week off and just focus on Passover cooking, if I didn’t have to balance it with a 12-hour workday. I could get creative and just spend my days creating holiday appropriate dishes. I have always wanted to host a Mediterranean seder, serving some Italian and Greek-inspired dishes. Maybe a roasted rack of lamb, or a branzini.

chicken piccata

Oh, but there’s also my version of chicken piccata. I’ve deviated a bit from the traditional way of making it in that I roast my chicken with all the ingredients. Perhaps that’s an insult to the traditional method of preparation, but I like my way better. Sautéed chicken always leaves me a bit lackluster, but roast chicken – now that’s a whole different story altogether.

I also find that on a night when you come home from work, tired and hungry and with a laundry-list of to-do items around the apartment, this version is fantastically easy to put together and not worry about until it’s time to pull the chicken out. With the exception of a singular trip to the oven to turn the chicken breasts over, you are free to buzz about your home, tidying up, paying bills, folding laundry, or simply kicking back on the couch with a glass of wine, watching Seinfeld reruns. The latter happens to be my preference, but somehow errands get in the way.

parsley

By omitting butter from the recipe here, you magically transform this every-day dish into kosher-for-Passover dish. I should do a bit more research, but I believe capers are permitted to use during the holiday. Everything else in the recipe, lemon, wine, garlic, olive oil, salt, are permitted for Passover use.

So there you have it, an easy-peasy Passover recipe that isn’t gefilte fish. How fabulous is that? And I dare say that most of these ingredients should already be in your pantry, save perhaps the capers, but those are easy enough to locate. And maybe adding another dish into your Passover repertoire will make the week go by a bit faster. And before you know it, you’ll be enjoying that bagel or that bowl of pasta all over again!

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

meringues, sort of

meringues

When I think of the phrase “spectacular disaster” I think of an implied double meaning. Is it a disaster so notable that it will be long remembered? Or was it as disaster that turned out rather well, unexpectedly? In my case, this Sunday, it was the latter.

I tried to make meringues and failed. Failed miserably as they were the flattest, saddest looking things you’ve ever laid eyes on. Fluffy and cloud-like they were not. Instead, they were crispy, flat, thin, two-dimensional. They were so deflated and when I took them out of the oven, they deflated even more, thus crushing my already-fragile cooking ego to a paper-thin level.

DSC_0044 DSC_0071

Growing up, my mother would make meringues that dreams are made of. They were impossibly airy, beautifully crumbly and dissolved on your tongue like a fairy-tale dessert. In fact, my favorite way to eat them would while reading Grimm Brothers’ Fairytales – stories, I am still fond of to this day. All she used were egg whites and sugar. And they were perfect every time.

brightness

I decided to give my meringues a little edge and added vanilla and lemon zest. I’m not sure whether it was the timing of adding sugar to the egg whites or the lemon zest itself, but I never wound up with stiff airy peaks like you’re supposed to. And perhaps I should have stopped right there, but I decided not to trust my gut and bake these guys anyway.

After I pulled the out of the oven, they were a pathetic bunch. I might have heard a sad sigh from one of them, or it could have been all in my head. Still, I refused to throw them in the garbage and when I bit into one, I was pleasantly surprised. They weren’t bad.

meringues

Now, I’m the first to admit failure when I am faced with one. If I took a class on meringues, and this was going to be my final product, I would expect an F. And yet, these egg white crisps were not bad, they were quite tasty, but in a completely different way. I might even try to make them again because they were quite intriguing, these crisps.

And so I wonder, as I bite into another crisp – a spectacular disaster? Perhaps not spectacular per se, but certainly a palatable one.

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Tuesday, April 8, 2008

couscous with peas, mint and cilantro

couscous with peas, mint and cilantro

While the beer-braised lamb was nothing to get excited about, the couscous I made to complement the dish – was. I’ll be as brief about it as the time it takes to cook the whole thing. It was exactly what I was looking for in a spring dish – the peas sweetened the couscous, while the mint and cilantro added freshness and the promise that this rain and cold are not permanent elements of the season, but rather fleeting ones. That the sunshine and the warmth I was longing for, are just around the corner. I’m still waiting.

peas

This side was wonderfully easy to make and will have to be made again soon – I couldn’t get enough of it! If you’re planning a last minute dinner party and are looking for something fantastic yet simple, this is something to consider. If you plan ahead (something I’ve not been able to do lately given work’s insanity) you can even use fresh peas, which undoubtedly would make this couscous even better!

couscous, uncooked

And of course, if you happen to dislike either mint or cilantro, there’s no reason not to try other herbs in their place. How about dill or parsley? Maybe some chives and cucumbers instead? If none of those options appeal to you, try adding some lemon zest to your couscous and watch it come alive!

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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

beer braised leg of lamb

beer-braised leg of lamb

I’m not sure how to segue into this post I’ve written and rewritten this post nearly half a dozen times and I’m just not feeling it. Perhaps because making this dish left me pretty bleh to begin with. Not terrible, not great – it was simply “meh” on the scale of “ewww” to “mmmm”. It was just so-so. And it was largely my fault.

I’m very picky with lamb. Almost ridiculously so. Back in high-school when I ate Easter dinner with my then-boyfriend’s family, it was the one holiday meal I kind of dreaded. Out of politeness for the mother, I would break my strict vegetarianism to take a symbolic bite sized piece of lamb, flavored only with salt and rosemary. But what made me quiver was the mint jelly, which to this day reminds me of eating toothpaste. But give me a fragrant Uzbek plov, or Persian manty, and I can’t get enough lamb. It’s all in the flavoring I suppose. Like I said, I’m tricky with this meat.

raw leg of lamb

And so when KS and I picked up a leg of lamb (on sale!) at Whole Foods on Sunday, fresh from our Carribean get-away and eager to fill up our fridge and pantry with edibles, I was rather indecisive of how I wanted to cook it.

Part of me wanted to roast it. Part of me wanted to braise it. Part of me wanted something simple and a part of me wanted a dish full of complex spices. In short, I was asking for the impossible and I wasn’t going to take it.

rosemary, cilantro, garlic, salt

After failing to find a recipe I liked, I decided to marry a few of my own. I was going to braise the lamb in beer, but add more spices and herbs than what the recipe called for. And perhaps that’s where I went wrong because the dish just didn’t know what it wanted to be. And so it was just so-so.

Tyler Florence recommended a Roast Leg of Lamb with beer, honey and thyme and while I liked the idea of beer, but not of honey or thyme. Another recipe with my favorite Alton Brown, suggested a grilled leg of lamb with pomegranate molasses. But we lacked an indoor grill, and for some reason, KS is not a fan of sweet/salty combinations. I managed to sneak some of it in anyway and he still doesn’t know about it (or he will once he reads this post).

We ate this dish in its entirety and are completely now lamb’ed out. And though this recipe was a bit of a letdown, the couscous I made along-side it was nothing short of incredible. But that’s for Sunday night. We’re off to DC for a wedding some the cherry blossoms festival. If anyone has any fantastic brunch recommendations in the Georgetown area or beyond, please let me know!

beer goes in

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