Posts tagged Jewish
Wednesday, April 13, 2011

tsimmes

Tsimmes

Of all the dishes of my childhood, none was more loathed than tsimmes. Right around Rosh Hashanah and Passover, this graced our table practically at every meal. But whereas come September, I had many more options food wise, being that it was harvest time and all, come March or April, Russian stores had little to offer and by little I mean sad-looking root vegetables. This is a lot like what the farmers’ market currently has as well, minus the sad-looking part.

For some reason, my hatred of tsimmes inspired my mother, against all odds, to make me love the mushy honeyed carrots. She’d stand over me as I shoved spoonfuls in my mouth, gagging in the process. It was not a pretty sight, but in the spirit of full disclosure I should also add that I was a very picky eater as a kid, so it could’ve just been that tsimmes was the straw that broke the camel’s, or in this case my mothers, back. Or maybe because she was so enamoured of the dish herself, she was hoping that we’d be share our enthusiasm over it. Sadly, that never happened, and I avoided eating and making tsimmes until I hit thirty. Tsimmes was my food arch-nemesis.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

matzo brei with pear, ricotta and dried cherries

matzo brei with pears, ricotta and dried cherries

Not many of my friends actually look forward to Passover. Most of them, in fact, regard it with disdain – it’s just another reminder of even more things they can’t eat for over a week. Even my tref-eating friends feel the need to adhere to as much of the discipline as possible. “If not this holiday,” said a friend last year, “then when?”

matzos

He has a point. A week of avoiding bread and pasta (which is the least of Passover dietary complications) – might work wonders for the waistline, but someone like me always ruins a low-carb proposition. “But you can have potatoes,” I exclaim to heavy eye-rolling. So much for that spring cleanse.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

noodle kugel

noodle kugel

A few weeks ago a reader emailed me and asked me for a recipe for noodle kugel. A delicious mix of egg noodles, cottage cheese, sour cream, cream cheese, eggs, and other awesome stuff, noodle kugel is a traditional Jewish dish particularly popular around the holiday time. Popular, but here’s the kicker – noodle kugel is yet another traditional dish I grew up without. I think this is unacceptable, considering I have some pretty deep shtetl roots to show off. Mom, I’m looking at you – kasha varnishkes, and now this! What else are you hiding from me? This guilt thing, well it can work in reverse too.

yum

Despite being so deprived in my childhood, I’ve made various versions of noodle kugel before, mostly because friends would ask for it, but, frankly speaking, it always left me wanting more. I was the Goldilocks of noodle kugel. It was either too sweet, or not sweet enough, or too goopy, or too noodly. I was looking for the perfect noodle to custard ratio, and I couldn’t find it. It was never just-right. And though it’s in my nature to challenge notions when I hear the I-don’t-like-such-and-such, for some reason, in this particular instance, I just accepted what I thought was a fact about noodle kugel – it was just one of those things that was never going to excite me. In other words – I gave up!

eggshells

But that email above, gave me pause. Maybe it wasn’t the noodle kugel giving me problems. Maybe it was the fact that I failed to think properly about the recipe. What would make it good? What would make it so good, in fact, that I would want to eat it all the time? This weekend, determined to make it work for me, I got in the kitchen and played around with enough proportions and combinations, that by the time Andrew was up and ready to have breakfast, I had the winning recipe, cooling on the table. Andrew, an experienced noodle kugel eater, pronounced it a success, and I’m hoping he wasn’t just being nice because he ate a pretty large piece. I ate two whole plates, which hardly constitutes a “proper” breakfast, but I felt that given my 7 o’clock waking time and making a few batches, I felt I was owed a “treat”. Owed by whom – I’m not so sure, but owed nonetheless.

noodle kugel

I look back on this year (and by year I mean the Jewish calendar year) and I have to say that the second half of it has been particularly, ridiculously good to me. It’s been pretty much the bees’ knees kind of a year, all in all. With a year like this, I can’t wait for what the new one will bring. On the almost-eve I enter the New Year with a delicious, new recipe I perfected, a new tradition, and some second helpings of noodle kugel. If this is what the year is foreshadowing for me, I can’t wait. Shana Tova.

noodle kugel

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Friday, September 3, 2010

tarte tatin

tarte tatin

I can’t help, but cheat on summer a little. I’m just so tired of being so hot all the time, of dreading to turn my oven on, of running air conditioner non-stop. I’m even sick of tank tops (gasp!), and white wine (blasphemy). I’ve been sweating for three whole months, and now I just want it to stop, you know? This heat thing is getting old. East coast folks, are you with me?

tarte tatin

What I want are things that belong firmly to autumn. I want to take a walk in the rain in my jeans and a sweater with a scarf around my neck while holding hot cider in my hand. I want to stand over a huge pot of simmering apple sauce and smell the cinnamon. I can’t wait for that morning chill in the air, and that first red leaf I spot on the ground. Fall is full of such good things, it’s no wonder I’m more than ready for it.

nekkid apples

I have been long entertaining visions of tarte Tatin, but someway or another it always eluded me. I first had it when I was backpacking through France right after graduating college. A friend and I found ourselves in Nantes and after speaking with a few locals about where they like to have dinner, managed to find our way to the restaurant. I don’t remember much of the meal other than it was very good, rustic French home-cooking. There was little pretense and the focus was on making real, honest food that people might want to eat at the end of a long week. I remember thinking it was delicious.

tarte tatin tarte tatin

When we got to dessert, I ordered a tarte Tatin. I didn’t really know what it was, but I knew I liked tarts, and after our waiter said something about apples, which my limited French picked up, I was sold. I thought what I was ordering was a tradition French apple tart, a favorite pastry of mine. What arrived on a plate (accompanied by a glass of Sancerre) was something altogether different. The apples were not splayed out in a meticulously thinly sliced array, but instead sat atop a pastry – quartered, brown, and caramelized. At their bottom was this thick amber-colored syrup. The puff pastry had soaked a bit of that syrup where the two met. It was a strange and unexpected sight, and before I gave myself a chance to analyze this unfamiliar pastry, I grabbed a fork and dug in. I can still taste that first, revelatory bite. I even remember the plate the tart arrived on – white, with tiny blue flowers around the border.

tarte tatin

You would think that this would have been the first thing I would have made upon returning to the United States. You wouldn’t think that nine whole years would pass before I’d actually get around to making it. Well, embarrassing as this is, nine years did pass. And I finally got my act together and made the tart for my book club dinner. I can’t tell you why it took so long, but I am sometimes horribly disorganized, and, well, there it is. I have no excuse, just some lost time I need to make up. And so should you. Perhaps this weekend, as you welcome fall, this could be just the dessert to bring to your Labor Day barbecues. Summer won’t mind, I don’t think. It’s had three whole months to reign over us and I think it needs to move over and give fall a chance. I’m only trying to be fair.

tarte tatin
tarte tatin

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

beef brisket with merlot and prunes

I’ve a soft spot for humble meals made quietly, slowly, with nothing more than basic ingredients. Dishes that cook over slow heat for hours, particularly meat. Meat, that when you cut into it, slowly falls apart, so soft you hardly need to chew it. Meat that comes with a rich, thick sauce. Meals like this – I could eat on an almost-daily basis.

brisket. hello, gorgeous!

Sadly, I do not. Partly because I try to be thoughtful about meat consumption, partly because I work hours that don’t allow me, upon getting home, make a meal, that cooks over several hours (albeit, sort of happily cooks itself as time goes by) because that would mean, I would eat at midnight. Or later. And while I’ve fond memories of making and eating goulash at 1 am in college, college this is not, and somehow showing up for work late isn’t the same as skipping your 8am accounting class. The tardiness policy at work just isn’t very lenient.

brisket mise

Beef brisket is just one of those meals that if you’re spending a few hours at home puttering around, or expecting company for dinner, can be made with minimal effort and some glorious results. The concept is rather simple. You take a fatty slab of meat, brown it to lock in the flavor, brown the vegetables, and combine everything with something like wine, pomegranate molasses (with which I’ve been having a decade-long love affair!) and some dried fruit. In this case, the fruit of choice is prunes.

browning the brisketbrowning the brisket

Wait, come back! I know I just said prunes and I know they’re about as sexy as granny panties, but, please give them a chance. Cooked in stews, or slow-cooked in wine, sugar and spices, they transform themselves into something incredible lush and luxurious. I know, I just called prunes “luxurious”, when nothing could be more pedestrian. But, have I ever lied to you? Well then!

ready for cooking

I learned, pretty late in life, that brisket is sort of this traditional Jewish meal served during holidays or Shabbat meals. I didn’t grow up with it, so I felt it was my cultural duty to master the craft. Of course, I was cooking dinner with which I was hoping to impress, and I chose a dish that I’d never cooked before. Smart? I’d say not really. Was I a bit nervous? Absolutely. But everything came together without a hitch and the meat cooked perfectly and didn’t resemble pressed sawdust neither in looks nor in taste. If you’re looking for a centerpiece dish for Passover – look no further than this. And while it is always recommended that you do a practice run with a holiday meal beforehand, I’m pretty certain you will succeed with this one because the building blocks of a great dish are already included in the ingredients and the cooking process. If you cook it patiently and slowly, you will get a “humble” meal that will delicious and festive enough to be fit for a king.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

haroset

haroset

All right folks, this will be short and sweet here. Work’s been crazy and I am actually writing this to you on my lunch break – the nerve. I keep trying to sit down and put my thoughts together, but there’s just so much to do during the day and after work, that by the time I get home, I’m a bit spent. I also need to apologize for these hideous photos. The night I took these – my photo mojo was seriously off. I tried so many different angles, lighting options, camera settings, and in the end, it just wasn’t happening. I had to accept the fact that on some nights, your photos will look disgusting. Like these.

However, what’s exciting is that Passover is right around the corner. I like to think of Passover as sort of a Jewish Thanksgiving of sorts. Done right – you have amazing food, memorable meals with family and friends and an opportunity to get a little creative in the kitchen with all the holiday dietary restrictions. It’s a challenge to get so creative that you wind up not missing chametz, or the “forbidden” foods. And with all the cooking to be done for the holiday week, this dish should be the least of your worries. It practically makes itself and it’s also incredibly delicious. Make lots because everyone will want to spoon some on the side of the plate and kids will be eating double that. Allowed to sit overnight, the flavor meld better and develop. Ideally, you’d make this ahead.

haroset

The traditional Ashkenazi haroset is little more than apples, walnuts and honey with a few other ingredients, all mixed together. Apples and honey are nothing new in the Jewish tradition – it’s the thing to eat on Rosh Hashana – for a sweet and prosperous New Year. As for the haroset preparation, there’s really nothing to it – you simply toast some walnuts for a few minutes until they’re fragrant and crunchy, and chop them up finely. You then peel a couple of apples, core them and chop those as well. Some folks prefer their haroset minced, but I like mine on a chunkier side. That way you can really taste the apple texture. And while a lot of versions like to add a few glugs of Manishewitz, or a fortified kosher wine, I prefer to add pomegranate molasses, which gives my otherwise Ashkenazi haroset a Middle Eastern twist. A pinch or two of cinnamon and your haroset is done – provided, of course, you let it sit in your fridge overnight.

haroset

And with that, I shall return to my spreadsheets and Power Point slides. I know what you’re thinking – lucky duck! Don’t be jealous now – sometimes life just isn’t fair.

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