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Archive for June, 2010

TOPS FOR THE 4TH

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

He wipes his forehead, beads of sweat slowly building from the beaming sun above and sweltering smoke below.  Another burger meets the grill.  And another.  The sizzle makes him crack a smile, as he knows that hungry bellies will be happy and sated soon.   Good times.  Family times…they keep him grilling.

That’s a lovely image.  It sure would be a shame if he ruined those burgers.  Dry and rubbery, hockey puck-like burgers are not the stuff great family memories are made of.  A great burger, in all its perfect simplicity, is a beautiful thing – juicy, flavorful and satisfying.  And hey, let’s face it: even if your company leaves something to be desired, at least you’ve been well fed!  Albeit a commonplace American meal at this point, a hamburger is worth taking the time to do right.

A good burger is half about the burger and half about what you put on top of it.   If the meat is the body of the burger, then the fixings – relishes, sauces, vegetables and the like – are its personality, the accessories which dress up and add style and flair to your meal.

The Burger

Some people try to gussy up their meat with all kinds of seasonings and spices.    I prefer to let the true flavor of the meat speak for itself, adding few spices, if any.   Fat plays a huge role in the flavor and juiciness of a good burger.   Most grilling authorities recommend between 15-20% fat content which, for the kosher consumer, means either ground chuck (about 20%) or ground neck (about 15%).   Extra lean ground beef (usually from the shoulder) may seem like a healthier choice, but does not contain enough fat to sufficiently lubricate the meat as it cooks and will end up producing a dry burger.

A hot, oiled grilled is the perfect place to cook a burger.   Over high direct heat, a burger only takes about 4 minutes per side for medium (less if you like it rare).   And even though the sound of grease meeting the fire is oh-so-thrilling, do your best to restrain yourself from pressing down on the meat – it’s a great way to squeeze out  the juices and dry out your burger.  Like a steak, once the burger comes off the grill, allow 2-3 minutes for the meat to rest so that the juices can settle back in.    Then you can assume the creative task of dressing your burger.

The Fixings

Much like not wearing white after Labor Day, classic American sensibilities dictate that a hamburger comes with bun, lettuce, tomato, pickles and ketchup.   Period.   But in 2010, anything goes:  Caramelized onions, grilled Portobellos, arugula, sweet chutneys, spicy relishes.   Contrasting flavors and textures are what make the burger an open canvas, fully customizable.  Yes, the burger is individualistic food, personal food.    So this Fourth of July, go all out, change it up, and top it with the best…your best!

Lamb Burgers with Mint Chutney and Pickled Red Onions

Beef is so last year!  Ground lamb has a flavor all its own and is the perfect match for mint – a refreshing burger!

Serves 6.

1 ¼ lb. ground lamb

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

¾ tsp. ground paprika

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Gently mix together all ingredients in a mixing bowl.  Form the mixture into approximately 6 thick patties (about ¾” each).  Do not over-handle.

Preheat your grill to high heat, and carefully oil the grates (a wad of oil-soaked paper towels and tongs work well for this job).

Place the patties on the grill.  Grill for about 4 minutes per side, flipping once during grilling.   Transfer to a plate and serve on a toasted bun with a spoonful of Mint Chutney and Picked Red onions on top.

Mint Chutney

1 cup packed mint leaves

1 shallot

1 large garlic clove

1 tbsp. sugar

2 tbsp. water

¼-½ tsp. red pepper flakes (or more if you like it hot!)

3 tbsp. lime juice (from about 1-2 limes)

1 tbsp. lemon juice (from about ½ lemon)

½ tsp. cumin

¾ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp ground ginger

Place all ingredients in a food processor.  Process until fully blended.  Season to taste.

Picked Red Onions

1 red onion (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise, cut thinly crosswise

2 whole small jalapeños

2 cups seasoned rice vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon coarse kosher salt
Place onion and jalapeños in heatproof medium bowl. Mix vinegar, lime juice and salt in a small saucepan. Bring just to a boil, stirring until salt dissolves. Pour over onion and jalapeños. Let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour and up to 8 hours. This can be made 1 week ahead; cover and refrigerate.

Wishing you all a delicious and restful summer,

-Naomi Ross & the Park East Kosher Family

By Naomi Ross

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Summer’s Bounty

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

It’s easy to get really spoiled in the spring and summertime…with things that grow, I mean.    After a long winter of tasteless tomatoes that were grown long ago and far away, stockpiled in a supermarket where the bland, waxed apples reign supreme, my taste buds nearly go into shock with the first bold taste of spring.   Nothing beats a seasonally ripe strawberry in all its sweet glory, its fragrance still lingering in the air even after the last bite – nothing, except perhaps a freshly picked ripe strawberry. 

I admit it.  I’ve been particularly spoiled in this way over the past 2 years.  Come spring and summer, about half of the produce finding its way to our table has either been grown in our own home garden, or from our CSA.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, a growing trend in America modeled after the successful European farming cooperative initiatives.   In a CSA, local farms are supported by “shareholders” who have purchased a share of what will be grown on the farm that week.  Most farms offering CSA programs practice organic and/or  sustainable farming techniques.  Each week, I am delighted (and often surprised!) by the adventure of what I’ll find in my CSA box, some of which is not even available at your average supermarket: crisp, flavorful greens;  sweet heirloom varieties of beets and tomatoes; squash in all sizes and shapes.  It’s all simply fantastic.  Sound fun?  You can find a CSA near you at http://www.localharvest.org/csa

Farmers’ markets are another great way of accessing locally grown produce at the height of the season.  You’ll be amazed at the variety and the freshness, and you’ll probably learn a lot, too…especially if you snag a chef and follow his lead!  You can find a list of farmers’ markets near you at http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets.

Between my CSA and our garden, my own cooking has changed quite a bit as well.  Instead of letting my menu dictate my shopping list, I now let my ingredients dictate what I’ll be cooking…a refreshing and redemptive change.   If you’re brave-hearted enough to let go and make that jump, it’s hard to go back.  The following soup was created with a surplus of Toscano Kale.  Tuscano Kale is a super-tasty Italian variety of Kale (a type of cabbage), sometimes referred to as Black Kale, Dinosaur Kale, Palm Tree Kale or Lacinato Kale.  It’s packed with vitamins (more A, K and C than you’ll find just about anywhere) and flavor.  If you can’t find it in anywhere, you can use regular Kale in its place, although not with the same results.  With a hunk of crusty bread, I find it to be a perfect lunch or dinner appetizer.   I hope you’ll think so, too.

Hearty Kale & White Bean Soup

Using a turkey leg lends excellent flavor to this soup’s broth.   If preparing your own white beans, be sure to soak them for several hours or overnight prior to cooking them.

 

Serves 6.

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large turkey leg

1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 stalks celery, sliced

2 small potatoes, peeled and diced

½ tsp. kosher salt

3 garlic cloves, minced

6 cups vegetable broth or water

2 ½ cups cooked small white beans (a scant 1½ cans)

1 bunch Toscano Kale, center stem removed and leaves cut into 2 inch strips

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large soup pot over high heat.  Place turkey leg in pot and sear on both sides, until browned, about 2 minutes per side.  Remove the turkey leg and reduce heat to medium-high.  Add onions, carrot, celery and potatoes, stirring to coat, and scraping up any browned bits.  Season with ½ tsp. salt, and sauté until just tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes.   Add broth or water and return to a boil.

Add the white beans, kale and seared turkey leg to the pot.  Stir to blend and reduce heat to low.   Simmer covered for about 25-30 minutes.  Remove turkey leg from the pot, and dice up the meat from the leg.   Return diced turkey meat to the pot.   Adjust the thickness of soup if necessary with additional broth or water.   Season to taste with plenty of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.    Serve hot and enjoy!

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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One Kebab, Two kebab…

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

Few people can resist the allure of open fire cooking.  The scent of caramelizing  juices rising up under your nose is enough to awaken man’s primeval roots.  Where smoky charring flavors meld with the subtle sweetness of delicately spiced meats: that is a meal worth breaking a sweat over.  Put it all on a skewer and the possibilities become endless.   

Shish kebab, literally “skewer” and “roasted meat” in Turkish, may have gotten its start by nomads skewering meat on their swords for a quick and inventive meal, but over time have impacted cooking traditions around the world, from Persia to Japan to India to the United States.   Traditionally, shish kebab are made with cubes of lamb that have been seasoned and marinated.  The speed at which the small pieces of meat cook make for a 10-minute meal-in-one, especially if you throw some vegetables on your stick, too.   Nowadays, whether fish is your fancy or a fruited kebab for dessert, there is no limit to how creative you can get.  Be sure to keep the following top five Do’s in mind when ”kebab-ing” (anything can be a verb, you know! ):

  • DO prepare pieces of meat/vegetables in uniform size pieces – about 1-2 inches to ensure even cooking.
  • DO choose bold flavors in your marinade or herb rub.
  • DO pair vegetables/fruits with similar cooking times to the meat (i.e. onions, peppers, cherry tomatoes, pineapple work well.   Hard vegetables like potatoes or carrots should be parboiled first).
  • DO soak wooden skewers for at least 20-30 minutes before threading and grilling to prevent catching fire on the grill.
  • DO oil your grill first to prevent sticking.

Admittedly a “newbie” to Indian food, I was recently introduced to a whole new world of vibrant flavors and tastes at a kosher Indian restaurant in NYC.    Ever since that memorable meal, Indian spices and ingredients seem to be finding their way into my home cooking, for example in the following Indian-inspired kebab recipe.   

A spicy Tamarind dipping sauce is the perfect complement to these kebabs.   Also known as Indian date, the tamarind is the fruit of a tall shade tree native to Asia and northern Africa and widely grown in India.  Available in Middle Eastern or Indian markets, tamarind paste is the extracted sweet and sour pulp found in the tamarind pod…and quite possibly my new favorite ingredient!

 

 

 

Indian Kebabs with Spicy Tamarind Dipping Sauce

Chicken or Turkey Kebabs work well in this recipe and come already cut and  skewered from Park East Kosher both in white and dark meats.

Serves 4.

1 tbsp. cumin

1 tbsp. coriander

½ tsp. ground black pepper

1 ½ tsp. turmeric

¼ tsp. ground cloves

1/8 tsp. nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

¼ cup cilantro leaves (packed)

1 tsp. fresh gingerroot (about ½” chunk)

2 cloves garlic, peeled

4 chicken or turkey kebabs

Place all ingredients (except kebabs) in the food processor and process until uniform spice mixture is formed.   Divide mixture amongst kebabs, about 1-2 tbsp. per kebab and rub into each kebab all around until coated.   Marinate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat grill to high.  Carefully oil grates (I use an oil-soaked wad of paper towels and tongs for this job).   Place chicken kebabs on grill for about 4-5 minutes per side, turning once; Turkey kebabs may take a little longer, about 6-7 minutes per side.

Transfer to a platter and serve over Basmati rice with Spicy Tamarind Dipping Sauce.

Spicy Tamarind Dipping Sauce

¼ cup tamarind paste

¼ light brown sugar

½-1 whole jalapeno pepper, seeds removed (how hot do you like it?)

2 tbsp. water

2 tbsp. fresh lime juice (from 1 lime)

1 clove garlic

1 tsp. fresh gingerroot

1/8 tsp. ground cloves

Place all ingredients into a food processor.  Process until blended and smooth.   Adjust seasonings to taste.

Yield: ½ cup

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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On the lighter side…

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

I walked out this morning to the sun shining, the birds chirping, flowers blooming.  Ah…to behold the beautiful weather of summer!  The Creator of the world set into motion the seasons of the year, each one acting in a different way to affect our emotions and senses, and of course, our palates.  When the weather is cold and dreary, we retreat to the shelter of our homes, longing for the comforting foods that will warm our souls and get us through the winter.  But when the heat of summer arrives, what we naturally crave is something light and juicy that will satisfy our need to be refreshed.  It’s easy to cook by rote, making the same heavy food year round –  but often we fail to adapt to the changing seasons because we are afraid to be creative in the kitchen.

When it’s 90 degrees outside, our appetites are often sapped, leaving our bodies in an unnecessary state of lethargy after a heavy meal.  Oneg Shabbos (the enjoyment of Shabbos) as well as the enjoyment of any weekday meal can be found in lighter and more refreshing foods if we dare to be creative and explore new choices.  Let’s go for a walk on the cooler and lighter side…

  •     Salad it up!  In the warmer weather, replace those heavy kugels and side dishes with more salads: green leafy salads, grain salads, marinated salads and pasta salads. 
  •     Cold Soups.  There is nothing like coming home on a hot summer day, all red and flushed, to a beautiful bowl of cold fruit soup.  Guests always appreciate being cooled off, too!
  •     Reconfigure your serving style.   Instead of serving a single appetizer and then a much larger main course, expand your appetizer to a larger first course with dips, spreads and crudités.  Then serve a more moderate main course to allow for more balanced eating. 

In my family, we love serving grilled meat or chicken salads as a main dish for a light summer dinner or as an entrée on Shabbos afternoon.  It is not nearly as heavy, and everyone enjoys the different combinations we try.  Mix it up with different types of greens and dressings, raw or pre-roasted/grilled vegetables.  Have fun!  Be improvisational and creative with your cooking!   Here is a delicious family favorite – when basil is abundant, a little pesto makes all the difference. 

Grilled Steak and Portobello Salad with Honeyed Pesto 

Serves 4-6.

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

½ tsp. dried or 1½ tsp. fresh chopped thyme

Kosher salt

Freshly ground pepper

½ cup olive oil

1 lb. filet split steak (or shell steak)

2-3 large Portobello mushrooms (caps only)

1 pkg. baby arugula

1 pint grape tomatoes

Whisk balsamic vinegar and spices together in a large mixing bowl until blended.  Drizzle olive oil into mixture while continuously whisking until all of the olive oil is incorporated.   Add steak and mushrooms to the mixture and turn to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Preheat grill to high.  Carefully oil grates to prevent sticking (I use an oil-soaked paper towel with tongs for this job).  Remove steak and mushrooms from the marinade (discarding marinade), and place on the grill directly over the heat. Grill steak on each side for about 5 minutes, mushrooms on each side for about 3-4 minutes, turning once during grilling.  Transfer to a plate or cutting board.

Place arugula on a large serving platter, spreading to create an even layer of greens.  Thinly slice steak across the grain and transfer to the center of the greens.  Repeat with mushrooms, and place on either sides of the steak.  Garnish with grape tomatoes and dress with spoonfuls of Honeyed-Pesto dressing.

Serve immediately.

Honeyed-Pesto Dressing

Pesto can be made in advance and stays for weeks in the refrigerator, perfect for dressing up salads or sandwiches anytime.

 

1 bunch fresh basil (2 cups packed leaves)

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

¼ cup honey (scant)

Juice of half a lemon

2 garlic cloves, peeled

½ cup olive oil

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Place basil leaves, pine nuts, honey, lemon juice and garlic in food processor bowl.  Pulse in food processor until ingredients are pulverized.  Then with the motor running, slowly drizzle olive oil in a continuous stream until emulsified.   Season to taste with salt and pepper.

By Naomi Ross


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