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Archive for March, 2011

The Pesach Menu Hotline, Part 1

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

No sooner do we put our Purim groggers (noise makers) away, that we take out our Passover menus and brush off the haggadahs.  Passover will be here in less than a month, and my next few blog postings will be dedicated to getting ready and getting organized! (Breathe.  Breathe.)

Getting Organized:

Part of the pre-Passover stress can be reduced if you do your menu planning now.  Planning ahead will not only make shopping more manageable and organized, but if you make a large menu plan for all of your holiday meals, the cooking will become easier as well: you’ll be able to create an organized master cooking schedule.  Taking a few minutes to plan now will save you hours later, enabling you to effectively tackle how and when everything will be made.  Perhaps you’ll choose to double a main dish, freeze half and save it for the end of the holiday.  Maybe there is a vegetable dish that, upon further consideration, is best prepared closer to mealtime.

If you don’t already have one, create a Passover folder for menus, photocopied recipes, important shopping lists (not just for food), cleaning lists and even receipts.  Why reinvent the wheel each year?!  Loose scraps of paper are easily lost or misplaced and it would be a shame to lose all of that information.

Passover Menu-Planning: The Real Deal

Each year, another Passover cookbook comes out that we run to purchase without hesitation.  Our secret hope is that it will contain the answer to the real question we are asking: “how can I make the same chometzdik food I make all year kosher-for-Passover…and still taste good?”  The answer to this question is: you can’t.  Instead, let’s shift our mentality and rather ask, “Which are the best recipes to make which naturally do not require chometz* or that require only small substitutions?”  Let’s free ourselves from getting stuck in a rut.  The world is full of wonderful foods that do not require chometz.  If we choose recipes that are innately good and not just “not bad for Passover,” then we will all be happier with the food we are eating and how it comes out.   Roasted vegetables are a simple side dish, but delicious.  Marinated salads can be prepared in advance and are a great way of adding color and balance to what can be the heaviest meals of our year. Your favorite green leafy salad is welcome any time of year.  Start with main dishes and fill in as you go.

With your folder in hand, you’ll be on your way to freeing yourself from a stressful experience, and better able to focus on the enjoyment of the holiday.

The following recipe is a great example of an entrée that is innately good in all its simplicity, whether on Passover or the rest of the year.

*Chometz is leavened or fermented wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley – forbidden to be eaten on Passover.

Lemon-Herbed Roast Chicken


There is something remarkably aromatic and juicy about roasting a whole bird.  This “Julia-style” treatment is my go-to method!

Serves 4.

  1. 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, plus 2 large whole sprigs
  2. 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, plus 3 whole sprigs
  3. ½ tsp. garlic powder
  4. ½ tsp. kosher salt
  5. ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1/3 cup olive oil
  7. 1 lemon, zest reserved, and quartered
  8. 1 onion, quartered
  9. 1 shallot, minced
  10. 2/3 cup chicken stock
  11. 1/3 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Clean whole chicken inside and out, removing excess fat or pin feathers if necessary.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Combine chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, garlic powder, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon zest in a small bowl and mix to blend.  Rub this mixture all over the chicken and inside of the cavity.  Stuff quartered lemon, onion, and herb sprigs into the cavity of the chicken.  Using a long piece of twine, tie the legs together tightly.

Place the chicken back-side up on a V-rack or grate in a frame-proof roasting pan.  Roast for 15 minutes, and carefully turn chicken breast-side up.  Roast for another 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to roast for another 45 minutes-1 hour or until an inserted meat thermometer registers 170 degrees internally.  Remove chicken from the oven.

Tilt the chicken forward, allowing the inner juices to run into the roasting pan. Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Allow chicken to rest for 20 minutes before serving.  Meanwhile, place roasting pan over medium high heat.  Add shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes, scraping up browned bits from the bottom.  Add chicken stock and wine, and bring to a boil.  Simmer over medium heat, continually scraping up browned bits from the bottom and stirring until they dissolve and the sauce thickens. Skim off excess fat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cut up chicken into eighths (e.g. breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings).  Discard lemons, onions, and chicken back (or save for your next stock). Serve chicken with sauce on the side.

 

By Naomi Ross

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Feast and Be Merry

Monday, March 14th, 2011

“Booooh, Haman!  Booooh, Haman!” my toddler shouted, fingers waving in the air.  He’s only two, but he knows that Purim is coming, and boy is he excited.  Purim, the joyous festival commemorating the turnabout of events that resulted in the salvation of the Jews in Persia from certain annihilation, will be celebrated this coming Sunday.  Each year, we celebrate the day through four mitzvot prescribed by Mordechai in the Book of Esther, four acts meant to engender joy and gladness amongst the Jewish People:  publicly reading the megillah (Book of Esther), giving one another gifts of food and drink, giving charity to the poor and enjoying a celebratory meal.

Feasting and drinking were paramount in the kingdom of Ahashverosh, the king of Persia.  Parties would extend for days and weeks; the extravagance knew no bounds.  Such was the backdrop of Haman’s evil schemes and plans to destroy the Jews.  Purim is about recognizing the hidden miracles threaded throughout the story of our survival, the Divine Hand that can turn the self-same lavish feasts used to plot our destruction into a cause for elation and thanksgiving.  The se’udah (meal) should resemble a feast with all the trimmings: the best of what is within a person’s means.  Traditionally, meat and wine are served, as it says in the Talmud, “Ein simcha elah bebasar…beyayin – There is no real rejoicing without meat and wine.”  The point is not gluttony.  The point is to elevate the mundane, dedicating the physical toward a spiritual end.

Masks and costumes, groggers (noise-makers) in hand, our Purim planning is well under way.   A special day calls for a special dish and I am pulling out all the stops.  Nothing says “banquet” like a big ‘ole rib roast.  There is something regal about the look of rib bones peeking out from the succulent meat, a stunning presentation.  What’s more, you can really choose how big of a rib roast to serve based on the numbers of guests – a smaller roast (with just a couple of ribs) for a few guests, or a large roast (with 4-7 ribs) for a crowd.  The following recipe is easily doubled – don’t double cooking times, though; rather, adjust cooking time based on internal temperature (a meat thermometer is indispensible for this).

Enjoy the day, eat lots of Hamantashen, and have a very Happy Purim!

-Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

Porcini-Crusted Rib Roast with Wild Mushroom & Shallot Ragout

A standing rib roast is a prime cut of meat from the rib section, bone-in.  Its well-marbled meat makes it ideal for dry roasting, leaving a delectable caramelized crust on the exterior, but juicy and moist on the inside. This cut is best served rare, so don’t be afraid when you see pink!

Serves 6.

  1. 2 oz. (about 1/3 cup) dried porcini mushrooms
  2. 6 garlic cloves, peeled
  3. 1½ tsp. chopped fresh thyme (from about 2-3 sprigs)
  4. 1 tsp. kosher salt
  5. ½ tsp. black pepper
  6. 2 tbsp. olive oil
  7. 1 [4-lb.] rib roast (with 2 rib bones), fat trimmed
  8. Wild Mushroom & Shallot Ragout (recipe below)
  9. 1 tbsp. flour
  10. 1½ cups low-sodium beef stock
  11. 1½ cups dry red wine (I like Cabernet here)

 

Directions:

Place mushrooms, garlic, spices and oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade.  Process until all ingredients are ground up, and consistency resembles a paste.  Rub mixture all over the roast, spreading as even a coating as possible.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place roast fat-side up on a rack placed in a flameproof 9×13 roasting pan. Roast for 20 minutes.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast until a thermometer inserted straight down into the top center reaches 130 degrees (for medium-rare), about 1½ hours.  While the roast is cooking, prepare the Mushroom and Shallot Ragout (you will need it for the next steps).

Transfer roast to a cutting board.  Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Skim any fat from the top of the pan juices and transfer 1 tablespoon of fat to a small bowl.   Mix 1 tablespoon flour into the reserved fat until a smooth paste forms.  Set aside.  Reserve any juices in roasting pan.

Set roasting pan atop a burner over medium-high heat. Add reserved porcini soaking liquid (from ragout recipe below), broth, and wine; bring to boil, scraping up any browned bits.  Continue to boil until reduced by approximately half (about 8 minutes).  Add Mushroom and Shallot Ragout and stir to blend. Bring mixture back to a boil.  Add the fat-flour mixture, whisking constantly until incorporated.  Continue to cook on medium-high heat until sauce thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Season sauce to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

To serve, either place the whole roast on a serving platter for a stunning presentation, carving tableside, or slice in the kitchen and arrange the slices on the serving platter.  Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.  Serve with Mushroom & Shallot sauce on the side or spooned over the roast.

Wild Mushroom & Shallot Ragout

This mushroom sauté can be served by itself as a flavorful side dish or used as a wonderful gravy base, as in the recipe above.  Ragout can be made up to a day in advance.

  1. 1 cup boiling water
  2. 1½ oz. (about ¼ cup) dried porcini or other dried mushrooms
  3. 2 tbsp. olive oil
  4. 2½ cups sliced shallots (about 7)
  5. 12 oz. assorted sliced fresh wild mushrooms (oyster, chanterelle, shitake, just to name a few…)
  6. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  7. 1½ tsp. chopped fresh thyme (from about 2-3 sprigs)
  8. ½ tsp. kosher salt
  9. Freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:

DO AHEAD: Combine 1 cup boiling water in a small bowl with the dried mushrooms.  Set aside and allow mushrooms to soak for about 30 minutes.  Strain mushrooms, reserving and setting mushroom water aside for later use.  Coarsely chop mushrooms and set aside.

Heat olive oil in large, deep skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shallots and sauté until shallots are translucent and just beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic and continue to cook for another minute, stirring to blend.  Add dried mushrooms, fresh wild mushrooms, chopped thyme and salt.  Stir to blend and sauté until mushrooms are wilted and mixture is reduced, about 8-10 minutes.  Season to taste with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and more salt, if necessary.

 

By Naomi Ross

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Stuck on Salmon

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Last week’s article (“In a Pickle”) touched on the process of brining.  Just in case you thought I was done exploring the wonders of curing, that transformative art of preserving food with salt – well, I’ve only just scratched the surface.  It’s fantastic to behold the unmistakable flavor that curing produces, whether in your first bite of a corned beef sandwich or of its briny sidekick, the pickle.  But how much more satisfying would it be to have a hand in the process yourself?   If I’m a believer that anything homemade tastes better (you’ve probably guessed that I am by this point), then what’s stopping us from doing our own curing?  So let’s go!

Virtually anything can be cured or pickled.  A classic example and an easy place to start is salmon.  Cured salmon is very similar to lox in texture and flavor, except that it is not smoked.  Home-curing salmon is a very simple thing to do and has the added bonus of introducing your own pick of flavors in the process.  Traditional gravlax is famous for its dill flavor, but there are many other choices as well: citrus, anise, horseradish, etc.  Once cured, you have a delicacy on hand that can be a bold embellishment, gussying up your plainest appetizer, or a subtle accent, incorporated into main dishes and salads to add more complex dimensions of flavor.

Cured salmon tastes best when sliced translucently thin, but it can also be diced up for tartare (normally prepared with raw salmon) without the worry of attaining super fresh salmon that day.  Depending on its thickness, it can take anywhere from one to three days to cure salmon, packed in a large amount of a salt-sugar mix.  The key is in giving enough time to cure the thickest part of the salmon – a thinner, smaller piece will require less curing time.  Since timing can be a crucial factor, plan ahead and leave a little bit of wiggle room. Here are some more tips to ensure home-curing success:

  1. Fresh is best.
    Look for salmon with a bright color, moist and firm in texture, with a clean smell – no fishy odor (if possible, wild salmon is the best!).
  2. Pan size matters. The fish will release a large amount of liquid, which when mixed with the salt will form the brine that cures the salmon.  That’s a good thing!  You want the brine to cover as much of the fish as possible, so choose a pan just large enough to hold the salmon with some extra space for the brine.
  3. Under a brick. Placing weight on the salmon will press out water and speed up water loss (ideally 4-8 lbs. of even weight to 2-3 lbs. salmon).  Try to weight and press the salmon as evenly as possible. A heavy pan, brick or some unopened cans of peas work just fine.
  4. “Paper thin.” A good, sharp, non-serrated slicing knife and a bit of practice is very helpful in yielding paper thin slices, the tastiest way to serve it.

Citrus-Cured Salmon

A fresh and bright tasting cure, this salmon will enhance a wide array of dishes and hors d’oeuvres. Slice paper thin for the best taste and flavor, and enjoy for up to 3 weeks if wrapped well in dry parchment paper in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1½-1¾ lbs. cured salmon

  1. 2 lb. salmon fillet in one piece, not thicker than 1½”, skin on, pinbones removed
  2. ¾ cup kosher salt
  3. ¾ cup sugar
  4. Zest of 2 lemons and 2 oranges
  5. Juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  6. ¼ cup Absolut Citron vodka (50 ml. bottle)
  7. 1/3 cup fennel seeds, toasted*

 

Rinse salmon fillet and pat dry with paper toweling.
Mix the salt and sugar together.  Sprinkle half of the mixture over the bottom of a pan or baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon.  Place the salmon on the salt mixture. Drizzle lemon and orange juices and vodka all over both sides of salmon. Cover with the remaining half of salt mixture, then layer the lemon and orange zests, and a layer of fennel seeds.  Cover with plastic wrap.

Place a heavy pan, some cans or even a brick on top of the salmon to weight it down.  Place pan in the refrigerator for 48 hours.  Redistribute curing ingredients over the salmon halfway through curing, as necessary.  Salmon is fully cured when firm to the touch at the thickest part. If it still feels soft and raw, then cover and allow to cure for an additional 24 hours.

When salmon is fully cured, remove from brine, discarding liquid and spices.  Rinse under cool water and pat dry with paper toweling.  Wrap in parchment (or butcher’s) paper and refrigerate (rewrap if paper becomes wet over storing time).

 

*Seeds can be toasted for 5 minutes in 300 degree oven or a small, dry frying pan on medium heat.

 

Cured salmon can be served simply, sliced thin on rye toasts or crackers with crème fraiche or sour cream.  If you want to further explore the possibilities, try the following recipe for tartare – delicious and elegant.

Citrus-Cured Salmon Avocado Tartare

Served spooned on thin slices of English cucumber or red radish, this recipe makes for a refreshing appetizer or hors d’oeuvre.  Simple to prepare, but extraordinary to savor.

  1. 1 cup (about 8 oz.) citrus-cured salmon cut into ¼” cubes (lightly packed)
  2. 1 Persian cucumber, scrubbed and diced
  3. 2-3 tbsp. minced red onion
  4. Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
  5. Juice of ½ lime, or more to taste
  6. ¼ tsp. cumin
  7. 2 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
  8. 1 ripe Haas avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
  9. Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients except for avocado in a mixing bowl.   Fold in avocado, mixing gently.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and more juices, if necessary.  Cover and chill (can be made up to an hour in advance).
Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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In a Pickle

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011



Very little compares to a good corned beef sandwich: served warm, thinly sliced, with spicy brown mustard on rye, please.  Spoken like a true New Yorker.  My dad insisted the meal was only complete with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray and a sour pickle on the side.  He would not be alone in voicing strong opinions as far as corned beef is concerned, a meat which has truly become a mainstay in the Jewish delicatessen experience.

What is “corned” beef anyway?  “Corns” of salt, large rock-salt kernels, were used to cover the meat in what is one of the oldest forms of food preservation.  In fact, the term “Corned” first appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary as early as 888 AD!  A simple brining process creates a transformation — firming, preserving and pickling the meat.   The unique, cured flavor that is imparted to the meat bears little resemblance to its un-cured former self, savory and piquant with each bite. Though corned beef was originally an Irish invention intended to preserve meat for travel, its flavor and taste have been celebrated in Jewish-American cooking for well over a century.

Serving glazed corned beef became a popular in the 1950’s, writes Joan Nathan in Jewish Cooking in America, as a “Jewish rendition of glazed ham….where glazed ham was always a centerpiece at holiday buffets, and to avoid serving the forbidden pork themselves, Jews would coat a cooked corned beef with dark corn syrup,…and then bake it as they would a ham.”  Surely graduating this dish to a more elegant status was one of the smartest moves we could make. The delectable contrast of salty-sweet that is found in a sweet glazed corned beef is even more satisfying than the aforementioned deli sandwich.

Nowadays, making corned beef is a very easy thing to do, as butchers today have simplified the process for us.  Whereas in yesteryear, pickling your meat took several days, butchers now sell cuts of meat that have already been pickled and are ready to go – pickling spices included!  You can pickle just about any cut of meat, but the most popular cut for corned beef has always been first cut brisket.  Long, slow simmering (not a hard boil!) will yield both tender results and a leftover cooking  liquid perfect for cooking or moistening any desired accompanying vegetables that can be served alongside the meat (fantastic for cabbage!).

This robust glazed corned beef recipe packs a punch.  Be sure to grab a glass of your favorite Irish red beer and enjoy every bite.

Whiskey Glazed Corned Beef

Molasses provides the gooey sweetness and unmistakable flavor in this recipe. Both unsulphured original and robust varieties of molasses are available in markets.  I recommend using “Original” for this recipe,as “robust”  will lend too strong of a flavor to the dish.

Serves 6.

1 4-lb. corned beef brisket
1 onion, peeled
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks
1 orange, sliced
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
7-8 black peppercorns
1½ tsp. pickling spices
½ cup unsulphured molasses
¼ cup whiskey (I use Jack Daniels)
2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

Place the corned beef in a large pot and fill with cold water – enough to cover meat by a few inches. Place pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Discard water and refill with fresh water.  Repeat the above steps two more times (discarding the water removes the impurities that have been released from the meat).

Fill with cold water once more, and add onion, carrot, celery, orange, garlic and spices.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, maintaining a simmer.  Cover and simmer for about 2-3 hours, or until tender when pierced with a fork.  Transfer corned beef to a large baking dish.  Discard cooking liquid (or save, if desired, for other uses, such as cooking or moistening vegetables).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine molasses, whiskey and mustard in a small saucepan.  Place over medium-low heat and bring to a boil, whisking until ingredients are completely blended.  Pour sauce all over corned beef.  Bake for 15 minutes; baste liberally with sauce and then bake for an additional 10 minutes.  The reduced glaze should be thick and gooey.   Remove from oven and allow to cool.  For best results, use a sharp, non-serrated knife to make very thin slices.  Arrange slices on a serving platter, and serve with remaining sauce on the side.

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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