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Archive for December, 2010

Table for 2, Please.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

When my 9 year old approached me in search of the source of the dreamy smell that sent her following after her nose, I sheepishly answered: “DUCK.”   Knowing my little customer, I knew what was coming.

“I want duck.  When will it be ready?” 

And then came that moment of guilt that every mother knows quite well: the same guilt that rears its ugly head when sneaking a well-deserved piece of Godiva behind closed doors so the kids don’t see.  C’mon, what kind of mother takes the food out of her child’s mouth?   So I had to be firm and resolute, dare I say unyielding, as I explained that she wouldn’t be having any.  No, none at all.

Inasmuch as there is a way to cook for each season and holiday, there is also quite a difference between what to serve a crowd and what to prepare for an intimate dinner for two; serving baby lamb chops with a red wine reduction at a Super Bowl party would be about as appropriate as a candlelit anniversary supper of meatballs and spaghetti.  And though I am the biggest proponent of the family dinner, there are certain occasions which beg for a more private, special meal.  When those opportunities arrive, so does the chance to create something a little fancy, a little finer than your average macaroni-and-cheese fare.  Those are the times when you pull out all the stops, dig out your too-expensive-to-make-for-dinner recipes (the ones you keep at the back of your recipe box!)  and have a good time doing it all the while.  Cooking for two also means that you can choose to make something that wouldn’t work for a crowd, such as a dish that takes a bit longer to prepare or must be served immediately.

Enter the duck:  the perfectly succulent choice for a lovely upscale dinner for just the two of us…or, as it turned out, three (I just couldn’t stand the guilt after all). 


Seared Duck Breasts with Cherry-Ginger Pan Sauce

Duck skin is very fatty, but once properly rendered through searing, you are left with a deliciously crispy “crust” and plenty of rendered fat you can save for later use. 

Serves 2.


2/3 cup dried tart cherries
½ cup cognac
2 whole duck breasts, cleaned well with pinfeathers removed
Kosher salt
1 tsp. Chinese five spice powder*
2 tsp. olive oil
2 shallots (about 2/3 cup), minced
1 tbsp. grated gingerroot (scant)
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chicken stock (low-sodium)
1 tbsp. honey

*Chinese Five Spice Powder is a blend of the five most popular sweet and pungent Chinese spices: star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and black pepper.

Place cherries and cognac in a small bowl and set aside to soak and plump for 1-2 hours.

With the point of a knife, score the skin side of the breasts in crosshatch pattern, being careful not to pierce the flesh.  Season the duck breasts lightly with salt and rub Chinese five spice powder into the skin.  Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When oil is hot, add the breasts, skin side down.  Cook for approximately 10 to 12 minutes to render the fat from the skin.  When the skin appears crispy, turn the breasts over and sauté the flesh side for 3 to 4 minutes.  Carefully remove the duck from the pan, transferring to a platter to keep warm.  Pour off most of the excess fat into a heat proof container, reserving approximately 3 tablespoons of the duck fat in the pan (the remainder of the duck fat may be chilled and saved for another use).

Return pan to the stove over medium-high heat.  Add shallots, sautéing for about 2 minutes.  Add grated ginger and continue to sauté for another minute.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper.  Add chicken stock, bring to a boil and stir, gently scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the cherries and cognac mixture and honey.   Simmer for about 5 minutes or until slightly thickened and sauce takes on a more uniform rusty color.  Taste sauce and adjust seasonings as needed.

The breasts will have rested for several minutes and should now be medium rare. They can be sliced lengthwise or cross-wise.  Place several slices on each plate.   Spoon the warm pan sauce over the duck and serve over wild rice.

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross







A Recipe for Hibernation

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Gloves, hats and boots have all made their way to the front of my hall closet.  Like little soldiers lined up before battle, they’re at the ready for a cold winter.  Not surprisingly, my pantry is also hunkering down for the long hibernation, during which time I avoid going out without good reason and look for warming homey foods to serve up for dinner.

If staying out of the cold and minimizing shopping trips is a priority (as it is for me), then advanced menu planning and keeping basic staples in stock becomes a necessity during the winter.  Planning your meals for the week leads to more organized shopping lists…and less need to run out at the last minute for the missing ingredient in the dish you chose to prepare 10 minutes before you wanted to eat it.

The items you “stock up” on are quite different in the winter months as well.  Less variety of fresh seasonal produce may mean that canned and frozen vegetables end up becoming more heavily used in your home than in the fruit-bearing months of the year.  Extra dry goods such as pastas, grains, legumes etc. might take up more space in your cupboard, but that probably won’t bother you when the wind is rattling against the window and the thought of 20 degree wind-chills makes that box of spaghetti look oh so much more attractive.

When drafting your week’s menu, consider that most dinners fall into 2 categories: what can be quickly thrown together right before serving time to a pack of impatient hungry wolves (I mean family members of course!); and meals that may require more time, but that can be prepared in advance.  Your needs will greatly influence your choices, depending on your schedule and when you are readily available to cook.

Here are some sample suggestions for “20 minute meals”:

  • Grilled Salmon, Basmati Rice & Steamed Broccoli – a simple yet nutritious meal, and all three components can cook simultaneously!
  • Stir fry – the heat of a wok cooks wonderfully fast and you get both your veggies and proteins done all together.  Cook the rice while sautéing everything else.  (cutting up all the vegetables does take time, but can be done in advance – in the morning or the night before).
  • Quesadillas – this glorified Mexican grilled cheese will please most kids (and adults too!) and you can get creative with what you throw inside.
  • Veal or Lamb chops – season & sear on high heat, 15-20 minutes tops!  Serve with mint jelly or cherry preserves, baked potatoes (5 minutes in the microwave) and a salad.

Here are some satisfying cold-weather options that can be prepared in advance:

  • Classic meatballs & spaghetti – meatballs freeze wonderfully and the spaghetti can be made as you set the table.  Probably one of the heartiest dinners.
  • Stews – a terrific all-in-one dish.  Your crock-pot is not just for cholent!  Throw everything in before work or earlier in the day, and dinner will be waiting for you.
  • Casseroles – whatever can be assembled or layered in a baking dish and reheats well.  Even better when it can be prepared in advance and baked later. Tuna-Noodle, Lasagna, etc.
  • Soups – ain’t nothing wrong with a hearty soup and crusty bread for a light supper.

Just to start you off on the right track, here is the first recipe to put on your menu plan.  You’ll be warming up in no time.

Lasagna for the Carnivore

All components of this dish can be prepared separately in advance.  Béchamel sauce is an optional addition for those desiring a classically creamy element in their lasagna – completely delicious with or without.

Serves 6-8.

1 box dried Lasagna sheets (not the no-bake kind)

Prepare lasagna al dente (slightly undercooked) according to the package’s instructions.  Drain and set aside.  If preparing in advance, rinse with cold water and cover with plastic wrap.

Meat Ragu

2 28-ounce cans peeled Italian plum tomatoes, seeded and lightly crushed, with their liquid
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion (about 1 cup), finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped carrots
1/4 cup finely chopped celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
2- 2½ lbs. ground beef & veal mix
8-10 large fresh basil leaves, chopped or 1½ tsp. dried basil
½ tsp. oregano
Salt, to taste
¼ tsp. Pepperoncino (crushed red pepper), or more to taste
2-3 tsp. sugar, or more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup white wine

Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them as fine as possible with a wire whisk (you’ll probably need a knife as well).  Set aside.
In a large pot or large deep skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the ground beef and veal, stirring to break up the meat into small bits.  Continue stirring, turning the mixture until all of the meat is browned (no longer pink).   Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano.   Season lightly with salt, pepperoncino, sugar and black pepper, and heat until the sauce begins to simmer.  Reduce the heat to low, and continue to simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes.  Stir in the wine, and continue cooking for another 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened*.  Season to taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary.  If there is excess fat, skim with a spoon or use a paper towel to blot fat from the surface of the sauce.

*For a heartier, thicker sauce, continue cooking for an additional 30-40 minutes.

Yield: about 2 quarts

Béchamel Sauce (optional)

A classic creamy white sauce, the perfect foundation for cheese sauces.  Out of necessity, this is a pareve version, but ideally should be made dairy whenever made for non-meat dishes.  Use butter instead of margarine and milk instead of soymilk.

4 tbsp. margarine
3 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. nutmeg
2 cups soymilk (or non-dairy creamer)

Melt the margarine in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, to make a light roux, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the soymilk.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the Béchamel until ready to assemble the lasagna.

Yield:  about 2 cups, but you will only need about 1½ cups for the lasagna.


Preheat oven to 375°.

In a 9x13” lasagna pan, ladle about 1 cup of the meat sauce onto the bottom of the pan.  Spread evenly and place 5 lasagna sheets over the sauce, overlapping each one to form a layer.  Ladle a generous layer of the meat sauce over the noodles (about 2 cups) and spread evenly.  Drizzle a layer of the Béchamel sauce over the meat sauce (about ¾ cup) and cover with another layer of noodles.  Repeat with sauces and a final layer of noodles. Cover with the remaining meat sauce and spread evenly.  Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Cut into squares, serve and enjoy!

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross


Making Oil-Stained Memories

Monday, December 6th, 2010

When Chanukah arrives each year, the miracle of the oil is commemorated in our homes by our brightly lit menorahs…and our expanding waistlines.  One might argue that the miracle is, in fact, surviving a week full of fried foods without suffering a heart attack!  Notwithstanding my genuine concern for good nutrition, I have managed to approach Chanukah without any apprehension or guilt. After all, if eating latkes and sufganiot reminds us of the miracle of the oil and of the victory of Torah over the enemies who sought to destroy it, then bring ‘em on!  (It’s okay to eat without guilt at least once a year!).  There are eight days of Chanukah though, so no need to only indulge in latkes…there are countless other delicacies fried in oil to enjoy!

Chanukah is a wonderful time for entertaining, visiting with family and friends and creating lasting memories.  Serving up good fried food to a crowd often becomes a challenge, though.  What begins as crisp, flavorful goodness right out of the pan often ends as soggy, greasy indigestion.  It’s a timing issue: the more time it sits, the soggier it becomes.  And no one entertaining wants to be standing over a frying pan when the guests are in the living room.  So what is a host to do?  There are two options:  1) you can prepare them in advance earlier in the day, then refresh them (reawakening the crispiness) in a hot oven in a single layer on a baking sheet (a good choice for latkes), or 2) prepare everything else for entertaining in advance, leaving only the frying to be done at the last minute before or as guests arrive (but don’t forget to wear your apron!).   The latter is a good choice when making the following recipe for Spring Rolls – a fun change from latkes during Chanukah, especially if serving a meat meal.  The work of making the filling, assembly and dipping sauce can all be done up to a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator until frying time.  Don’t forget to hang up your apron before serving! 

Crispy Beef Spring Rolls with Plum Dipping Sauce

Do ahead: Start soaking the dried mushrooms first.  Meanwhile the other ingredients can be prepped.


Yield: 16 spring rolls



  • ¼ cup dried shitake mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, drained – reserving 1 tablespoon mushroom water, and chopped.   
  • 2/3 cup shredded cabbage
  • 1 small finely minced yellow onion
  • 1½ cups grated carrots (about 1 large or 2 small)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 tablespoon minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh gingerroot
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef (shoulder)
  • 16 thin spring roll rice wrappers (not egg roll wrappers)
  • Canola, corn or peanut oil for frying


Plum Dipping Sauce

In a small bowl, combine the following ingredients and mix to blend:

  • 1/3 cup plum jam or preserves
  • Juice of 2 limes (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Kosher salt, to taste
  • 1 Thai or Serrano chili, seeds removed and minced



Combine the soaked mushrooms, cabbage, onion, carrots, and green onions in a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients, breaking up the meat, so it is thoroughly mixed with the seasonings. Add the vegetable mixture and mix well. Set aside.

Fill a pie plate or bowl with lukewarm water.  Immerse one sheet of rice paper in warm water for a few seconds to soften slightly.  Work with one sheet at a time and be gentle, as they break easily.  Remove from water and place rice paper on a kitchen towel and let rest approximately 30 seconds until it’s more pliable.  Place approximately 2-3 tablespoons of meat filling closer to one side of the paper (meaning, not centered).  Using your fingers, mold the filling into a cylinder 2 inches long and 1 inch wide. Fold the bottom end of the sheet (shorter side) over the top of the filling.  Fold the two pointed ends of the wrapper in and then roll up to enclose – it should form a cylindrical shape. Set aside while you finish making the remaining rolls. Do not stack them.

Do Ahead: Spring rolls can be made a day ahead. Cover them with a damp paper towel, then wrap well in plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Refrigerating firms and toughens the wrapper slightly (if they are a little dry, wipe them gently with a damp cloth).

To fry, preheat a large pot or very deep skillet. When hot, pour about 2 inches of oil in the bottom of the pot. Heat to about 350°. Carefully place the rolls into the oil. Do not crowd the pan or place the rolls on top of each other – you will most likely do this in batches.  Fry the spring rolls until filling is cooked, about 3-4 minutes on each side, turning often until they are nicely brown and crisp. If they brown too quickly, reduce the heat as the oil is too hot. Remove the cooked spring rolls from the pan and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately with Plum dipping sauce. 

To enjoy a spring roll the Vietnamese way, put it on a lettuce leaf, top with cucumber and mint, and wrap it up. Then dip in dipping sauce.

Wishing you a deliciously caloric and illuminating Chanukah,

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross