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New Year News

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Did you ever have an epiphany in the kitchen? A sudden moment of questioning everything you always thought you knew about how to prepare a certain dish or ingredient? The proverbial light bulb went off in my head this past week and of course, I welcome you to come along for the ride!

A few weeks back I blogged about the difficulty in understanding certain kosher cuts and where they come from – in that case, specifically, the deckle (click here to read post). Deckle is only one of a bunch of “cheap cuts” that most people group together and relegate to “pot roasting”. Another such cut is the somewhat mysterious kolichel. Go ask around – ask your mother, your grandmother. They’ll tell you kolichel is for pot roasting, for cholent, for any dish that will cook a tough cut long enough until it’s good and tender. Even I’ve written that….until now.

The kolichel is from the clavicle-shoulder area of animal…a highly exercised piece of flesh. Unlike a rib eye or chuck roast, it contains little to no marbling of fat and no sinews or connective tissue within the cut (as you would find in a minute roast)…in other words, an incredibly lean piece of meat. So there I was at my counter, cutting up a kolichel for what I believed would be a long, tenderizing cook. All of a sudden, I got to thinking: if the process of braising breaks down fat and connective tissue in a fatty tough cut, then what’s going to happen if there is isn’t any to break down? Is this actually the right cooking method for a lean cut, albeit a tough one? I started hearing a voice in my head saying “This is wrong. This is all wrong.” Sure enough, eating my stew that night was like chewing leather. There was no fat to keep the meat moist. That was my proof. It was time to go in a different direction, parting ways with generations of bubbies.

As if I were a student in one of my own classes, I heard my own voice questioning: How do we keep a lean cut tender? How do we treat other lean meats? Then the idea came to me: go thin and go fast (a throwback to our discussion on Scallopine from a few months ago). Thinly slicing and pounding to tenderize, followed by a lightning fast cook could yield the same tender results, couldn’t it? In fact, YES! The results were a tender, flavorful, and economical use of this much misunderstood cut…and a good lesson to be bold and try new things in the coming year!

As a side note, this blog has been nominated for “Best Kosher Food Blog” on joyofkosher.com. If you like what you read here, please show your support and go vote. Thanks!

Tender Beef Marsala

Thin slices are crucial for this dish’s best results. See “Cook’s Tip” below for no-fail slicing techniques.

Serves 4-6

1 kolichel (about 1½ lbs.), thinly sliced crosswise no more than ¼-inch-thick
Kosher Salt, to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
6 tbsp. olive oil, divided
¼ cup flour
2 large garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup Marsala wine
1/3 cup beef or chicken stock
½ tsp. oregano
1½ tsp. whole grain mustard
¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Cook’s Tip: For easy, thin slicing, freeze meat for 1-2 hours prior to slicing (meat will be half-frozen). Use a very sharp carving knife to slice crosswise.

Lay slices of meat out in a single layer on a large cutting board in between two pieces of plastic wrap. Using a mallet or rolling pin, pound slices to an even 1/8-inch thickness. Season slices with salt and pepper.

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge each slice in flour, shaking off excess, and place in pan. Brown on each side, turning once, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to a plate and repeat in batches with remaining meat, adding additional olive oil to the pan if needed.

Reduce to medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, and add garlic. Sauté until golden, about 1-2 minutes. Add Marsala, stock and oregano, stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring to a simmer and continue to cook until mixture is reduced by a third, about 4-5 minutes. Whisk in mustard, stirring until well blended. Return beef to the pan, turning to coat with the sauce. Cook for another 1-2 minutes until beef is just heated through. Transfer to a serving platter, sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.

One-Bowl-Wonders!

Tuesday, November 8th, 2011

By Naomi Ross

The click-click-click of my radiator plays its little tune and I hear the sweet, raspy sound of heat coming up on a cool autumn night. The days are getting shorter, and as the leaves slowly descend, so does the realization that whether I like it or not, the cold is coming. And so I go through the list in my head: Winter coats: check. Snow boots: check. Rock salt: check. Really yummy weeknight suppers that will warm and nourish my family: come again?

Now is the time to start thinking and planning for the many cool nights ahead. And why not outfit yourself with a new recipe “wardrobe” for the coming season?! Winter soups and stews are a great place to start. Think “heartiness factor” – by this I mean identifying those essential ingredients which are helpful in making a dish “hearty.” Legumes such as chick peas, beans or lentils add protein and substance to any soup or stew and are a great pantry item to keep on hand. Grains and pastas are filling and add tremendous body either in your soup or as bed upon which to put your stew. I like to keep my pantry stocked with these items the whole year, but especially when the weather gets colder. Meats, whether chunks of beef stew meat or even a turkey wing, are definitely hearty, and although I prefer to purchase meat fresh, it’s never a bad idea to keep a package or two in your freezer for a bad weather day.

I’m a big fan of soups – especially ones that can be a meal unto themselves. This year, I started my own search in my recipe box. Much like shopping in your own closet, I’m often pleasantly surprised at what I might find: in this case, an old tattered paper, folded in four, with the scribbling of my husband’s old roommate. I am suddenly transported back to their apartment years before, and to the day he showed us how to make his mother’s Niku Udon, Japanese Beef Noodle soup, the way he ate it growing up in Japan. BINGO. Thick Japanese Udon noodles, meaty strips of beef and a flavorful broth make this an especially earthy and satisfying soup… a recipe to kick off the cool weather season.

Here is an adapted version of that recipe. You can use any fatty, marbled cut of meat (like rib); however, I prefer skirt steak. Skirt steak is from the diaphragm. It has excellent flavor and texture, but can be salty. For this reason, it is recommended to either rinse or soak the meat prior to use, then pat it dry.

Easy Beef Udon Noodle Soup

Udon noodles are thick Japanese wheat noodles that can be found fresh in the produce section (Nasoya brand) or in the Asian section of the supermarket (such as Eden brand).

Serves 4.

1 (8.8 oz.) package Udon noodles
3 cups water
1½ cups Sake (Japanese rice wine)
2 tsp. sugar
Pinch of salt
3 cups thinly sliced onion (2 medium onions)
1 lb. skirt steak, very thinly sliced crosswise into 2” long strips
4-5 scallions, cut into spears
3-4 tbsp. soy sauce (Kikkoman or Yamasa)
Freshly ground black pepper

Prepare Udon noodles according to package instructions. Rinse, drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, combine water, sake, sugar and salt together in a medium pot (4-quart). Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add onions and simmer together until the onions are soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add meat and scallions and simmer until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes (do not overcook meat or it will become tough). Add 3 tablespoons soy sauce; stir to blend. Season to taste with more soy sauce, if needed, and black pepper.

Place Udon noodles in each individual serving bowl and generously ladle hot soup over noodles to cover. Serve and enjoy!

The Meal Before…

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The ”High Holy Days,” as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have come to be known, are referred to in Hebrew as the “Yomin Noraim” – Days of Awe. I like the word “awe.” Encapsulated in three short letters are all the reverence, astonishment, solemnity and grandeur that is associated with standing in judgment before the Creator. Feeling true “awe” is not unlike a moment-of-truth, an epiphany, an “ah-ha” experience…the catharsis of realizing who you really are and how you fit into the greater scheme of things. As such, we each experience due apprehension as Yom Kippur approaches, knowing we have much to answer for both individually and collectively as a People.

Strangely, despite obvious trepidation, the meal preceding the holiest fast of the year is considered to be a festive, joyous meal. Just as it wouldn’t occur to me to have a lavish banquet prior to a court sentencing, the seudat ha-mafseket (last meal before fasting) seems a bit counter-intuitive, no? But here’s where practical meets spiritual: the practical need to satiate and strengthen ourselves before a day of fasting and prayer is met with the spiritual joy and gladness derived from a chance at forgiveness, of starting anew with a clean slate. That hope, that opportunity is enough to infuse a festive spirit into an otherwise serious time.

And so we prepare our menus just the same way. Practically, we minimize the spiciness, reduce the saltiness and prepare foods that are filling, yet easily digested. Spiritually, we set the table with our finest and create an atmosphere of holiday. Were I born of Hungarian roots, I’d imagine myself walking into my would-be Hungarian bubbie’s kitchen, only to be met with a homey dish of Chicken Paprikash before the fast. It just seems like the right thing to have. Also mashed potatoes (I’m all about mashed potatoes before a fast): comforting, nourishing, and fit for a feast. In that alternate Jewish-Hungarian universe, here’s how she’d prepare it…

Chicken Paprikash

Traditionally this dish is made with sweet Hungarian paprika (or sometimes a mix of sweet and hot paprika). Using smoked paprika adds a smoky element of flavor – be sure to look for the highest quality paprika you can find.

8 chicken leg quarters
1½ tsp. Kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 large or 3 medium onions, sliced (about 4 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. flour
½ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season chicken with ¾ tsp. salt and a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven or large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken quarters, about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper to the pot. Sauté until onions are translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Season with remaining salt, more black pepper and paprika. Stir to blend and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in flour. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add wine and stir to blend. Return chicken to the pot. Spoon liquid over chicken quarters, cover and transfer to preheated oven.

Bake covered, for 1¼ -1½ hours. Serve hot over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

High Holy Cooking

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Back to school, back to work, and back to all things routine: that’s how September goes, as we return from leisurely summer days to the pace and rhythm of ho-hum everyday life. That is…until the holidays come just a few weeks later. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year that kicks off the “holiday season” in the Jewish month of Tishrei. And since repentance, prayer and Divine judgment can really work up an appetite for you and those you love, there’s a whole bunch of festive meals to prepare for this month as well.

Much like an accountant during tax season, I often think of September as “crunch time” – time to regroup from summer, reorganize for the coming year and to physically and spiritually prepare for the upcoming holidays. I make a lot of lists. My messy and tattered lists then give birth to new lists. I may not always know weeks in advance what I’ll be serving for holiday meals (c’mon, I’m not that organized!), but since it’s generally a given that food will be served, it’s a safe bet to pull out those “4F” recipes: family-favorite freezer-friendly. These are the ones worn and stained from years of use, and like an old friend you can rely on, quite a good place to get an early start to holiday cooking. These are often, but not always, cooking-for-a-crowd recipes – dishes which have a large yield or which can easily be doubled or tripled (and if you find yours are, then BONUS!).

MORE FREEZER TIPS FOR THE OVERLY AMBITIOUS BALLUSBUSTA

Moderate batches. When cooking in advance, even if cooking for a crowd, I recommend freezing in moderate portions; you can always defrost 2 small pans of noodle kugel if expecting more guests, but you don’t want to defrost a large tray when only half was really needed. Practically speaking, this is also a much smarter move time-wise as it takes longer to both freeze and defrost larger items.

Know thy freezer. Meaning, know what freezes well and what doesn’t.

            Thou shalt freeze: meats, soups, kugels, cakes and cookies.

            Thou shalt not freeze: vegetable dishes, salads, soft cheeses, fruit pies

The right gear. Make sure you have freezer zip-top bags, freezer-friendly containers (especially if using glass), plastic wrap and foil.

Label, label, label. Writing the date the dish was made is also helpful.

The less air, the better. Squeeze out excess air when freezing in bags – it can cause freezer-burn and takes up more space. Containers should be frozen mostly full. However, some headspace is needed for freezing liquids as they expand when frozen.

Don’t freeze hot food. Allow hot food to cool before freezing (hot food will raise the temperature of the freezer, possibly spoiling all the other food in it). If not completely cool, allow plenty of space around the container when initially frozen so cold air can circulate around it – it will freeze faster and thus taste fresher when used.

Cooking ahead is essential when strapped for time, but also an invaluable way of staying stress-free when entertaining. More than this, before Holiday time, consider advanced preparations an investment into your holiday experience, one which will allow for more time focused on the holiday itself. So as I freeze and label this week, I’ll be reminding myself that on Rosh Hashanah we’ll be crowning G-d as the King of world…and not me queen of the kitchen!

Here is a “4F” (and child-friendly!) recipe for Sweet and Sour meatballs – perfect as a light entrée or as mini-meatballs for an appetizer served over rice.

Mom’s Sweet & Sour Meatballs

These can be easily doubled to serve a crowd.
Serves 6-8

3 pounds ground beef (neck)
3 eggs, beaten
¾ tsp. onion powder
¾ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs
1 (16-oz.) can whole cranberry sauce
1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
½ cup (4 oz.) chili sauce

Combine beef, eggs, spices and matzo meal together in a large bowl, mixing until well blended.
Using wet hands, break off small amounts (about 1-2 tablespoons each) and roll into meatballs. Repeat with remaining beef mixture. Set aside.
Combine cranberry, tomato and chili sauces in a large heavy pot. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to blend. When sauce begins to boil, carefully drop in meatballs. Return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 1-1½ hours. Skim fat from surface, if necessary (if making in advance, this is easily done after refrigerated or frozen as the fat will congeal). Serve hot over rice or couscous.

American Grill

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I don’t know how it came to be that our country’s independence became synonymous with mass consumption of grilled meat, but somehow, throwing steaks and burgers on the grill has come to represent freedom and independence here in America (not so for the cows…just saying.).  Not that I’m complaining – any excuse for a BBQ is a good excuse as far as I’m concerned, and here is your chance to master all of the grilling tips you’ve been reading about on the blog for the past few weeks.  For good measure, I’ll throw in a few more important rules to grill by.
It can be very tricky to get a feel for “doneness,” to know how long is long enough, and how long is too long.  Raw chicken is a no-no, and dried-out steak is a waste of money and a chore to chew.  So in honor of the “stars and stripes,” let’s grill and eat well this 4th.  Here are the do’s and don’ts:

  • Do poke your meat (not with something sharp) – a well-trained finger will be able to feel doneness by touch.  Rare is soft and squishy, medium has a spring, and well done is taut and firm.
  • Do Not cut into the meat on the grill to check for doneness – all the juices will pour out.  If you must cut, remove from the grill and allow it to rest for a few minutes (you can always put it back on if necessary).
  • Do consider purchasing an instant read meat thermometer – it will take the guesswork out of grilling.
  • Do Not constantly move the food around on the grill.  Give it a chance to sear and build itself a good crust – this will also minimize sticking to the grates.
  • Do time your grilling – it will give you more awareness of how long you’ve had something on the fire and also more of a feel for the next time you grill.
  • Do allow for a resting period immediately following grilling (prior to slicing).  This will allow the juices to settle back into the meat and stay juicy.  (Resting is not needed for fish).

As much as I enjoy grilling, I like to enjoy my company more, so I don’t want to stand at a hot grill for hours.  I try to make smart choices when entertaining a crowd: either items that are fast on the grill, several of which can be made at once (e.g. burgers and dogs) or a larger item that can be sliced and serve a crowd (see the recipe below for London broil).  And don’t forget to factor in “bone time” – meaning, anything bone-in will take much longer than boneless.

With your tongs in hand and “kiss the cook” apron happily splattered, you’ll grill to the sound of fireworks in the background and a meal that will make your country proud.

Best wishes for a happy 4th,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

Orange-Soy Marinated London Broil

A London broil is a common term for a thick cut of meat that is generally broiled or grilled like a steak, but then thinly sliced across the grain.  Here, a shoulder London broil is tenderized by way of a flavorful Asian-inspired marinade – perfect for a BBQ!

Orange-Soy Marinade

  • ½ cup tamari soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. grated orange peel
  • Juice of 1 large orange (about 1/3 cup)
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 1½ tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tsp. wasabi powder (Japanese horseradish root)
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1-2 lb. shoulder London broil*, about 1½” thick
  • Oil for greasing

Combine all marinade ingredients a large mixing bowl.  Whisk to blend.  Place London broil in the marinade and turn to coat.  Cover and refrigerate, marinating for at least an hour and up to 6 hours. (Allow London broil to come to room temperature prior to grilling –take out of the refrigerator about 20-30 minutes before).

Preheat grill to high heat (about 450 degrees).  Carefully oil the grates of the grill (a wad of oil-soaked paper towels and tongs do a good job of this).  Remove meat from marinade (discarding marinade**) and place on the grill over high heat.  Close cover, and grill for about 8 minutes per side, turning once during grilling for medium-rare, about 125 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, or longer for medium-well done (thicker cuts will also require more time).   Transfer to a cutting board and allow meat to rest for 10 minutes.  Using a sharp, non-serrated carving knife, slice thinly across the grain and serve.

*Park East Kosher is now carrying Kobe-Wagyu beef, prized for well-marbled texture and superior flavor.  Be sure to inquire about a Kobe-Wagyu London broil when placing your order.

**Steak Salad Option: Marinade can be reserved for a salad dressing: simply bring marinade to a boil for 5 minutes in a small saucepan (to kill any bacteria).  Remove from heat and cool.  Slowly pour ¼ cup of olive oil into marinade, whisking constantly until emulsified.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Place thin slices of warm grilled London broil over a bed of mixed greens.  Garnish with thin slices of cucumber and radishes.  Drizzle dressing over salad.

 

By Naomi Ross

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Grill It Healthy!

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

When most of us hear “outdoor grilling,” we think of Sunday BBQs, Memorial Day, Father’s Day or July 4th: the highlights of summer entertaining.  Let us not underestimate, though, the greatness of the weeknight grill.  And while we usually associate grilling with fattening foods, let us now embrace some of the healthier options before us.  Besides the obvious benefits of grilling, namely a no-mess clean up (I loathe cleaning up), a quick prep (can you say “15-minute meal”?), and being able to make a sandwich that can be called “dinner,” grilling foods naturally low in fat and cholesterol – such as poultry, fish and vegetables – is one of the most effective ways to bring out flavor while infusing your food with a delicious smokiness and character.

I try to keep it simple when I grill.  Foods with a higher fat content (like a rib steak) generally require little more than a seasoning of salt and pepper to yield extraordinary results, as the fat keeps the food moist and juicy, even under extreme heat.  However, for foods lower in fat or more delicate in nature, a little more care and consideration often has to be given.  There’s a fine line between a juicy burger and a dried out hockey puck.  The trick is staying on the right side of that line!  That’s said, here are a few tips dedicated to healthy grilling:

  • Know when to add fat. (Yes, you read that right).  A little fat goes a long way in terms of flavor and moisture (and practically speaking, to prevent sticking to the grill!).  Don’t worry, we’re not talking about serious calories here.
    • Brush it! Get yourself a paint or pastry brush that can be used to brush on a thin layer of olive oil to low or non-fat items that would likely get dried out (for example: vegetables, skinless chicken breast, etc.).
    • Add it! Ground poultry is very low in fat and can get dried out quickly.  As in the recipe given below, sometimes adding a small amount of fat to the ground mixture (like the aioli below) can ensure the success of the taste and texture of a dish.
  • Know when to add flavor. Let’s face it: fat tastes good.  So when the fat is missing, how do we maximize the flavor?  Spice rubs and marinades can transform food, especially for foods which can be mild in taste, such as fish and poultry.
  • Know when to protect. Open-fire cooking exposes food to intense heat.  Delicate foods like fish benefit from the smoky flavor of the grill, though often also need protection from the heat. 
    • This is where the tradition of grilling a whole fish wrapped in banana leaves comes from.  More commonly, grilling on cedar planks (that have been soaked in water) can impart wonderful flavor without scorching the fish.
    • Indirect grilling can also be helpful here. This is where you grill not directly over fire, but rather on the opposite side of the grill, a gentler method.
  • Know when to take it off. We all suffer from the nervousness of “what if it’s not done?”  Unfortunately, all too often, erring on the side of caution results in over-cooked food.  The more you grill, the more of a feel you’ll get for the timing and texture of cooked meats.  Don’t forget, you can always put it back, but you can never undo over-cooking.

With these tips in mind, I developed the following recipe: a low-fat turkey burger boosted with the zing of sundried tomatoes and aroma of rosemary.  Not sure what to make for dinner tomorrow night?  Read on…

Sundried Tomato Turkey Burgers with Rosemary Aioli

Aioli is a garlicky mayonnaise from the Provence region of southern France.  Here, a Rosemary Aioli has a dual purpose: dressing the bun as an accompaniment, while also lending the turkey meat extra moistness and flavor.

Makes 8 burgers.

 

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing grates
    • 1 shallot, diced (about 1/3 cup)
    • ¼ cup sundried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    • 1½-1¾ lbs. ground turkey (white meat)
    • 1½ tbsp. Rosemary Aioli (see recipe below)
    • Hamburger Buns or Multigrain Rolls, sliced in half
    • Baby Arugula

      Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat.  Add shallot and sauté for about 2-3 minutes, until translucent.  Add sundried tomatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste; continue to sauté for another 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

      In a large mixing bowl, combine turkey, shallot-tomato mixture, and 1½ tbsp. Rosemary Aioli.  Mix until just combined.  Using moistened hands, gently form into 8 patties.

      Preheat grill to high (about 450 degrees).  Grease grates of grill (an oil-soaked wad of paper towels and tongs do a good job of this).  Place burger patties on grill.  Close cover and grill for about 4 minutes per side, turning once during grilling.  Toast bun halves on the grill for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown and grill marks appear.  Remove and transfer to a platter.

      Assembly: Spread bun halves with a small dollop of Rosemary Aioli (see recipe below), then top each with a burger, and a handful of arugula.  Cover with bun top and serve.

      Rosemary Aioli

        • ½ cup mayonnaise
        • Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tbsp.)
        • ¼ tsp. salt
        • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed (about 2 tsp.)
        • 1 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled or 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
        • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

           

          Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

           

          DO AHEAD: Can be made a day ahead and stored in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator.

           

          By Naomi Ross

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          The Dairy Catharsis

          Sunday, June 5th, 2011

          Since Passover, Jews have been counting upwards.   I am referring, of course, to sefirat ha-omer – the counting of the 49 days from Passover up to the holiday Shavuot.  While some might argue that we are counting up to cheesecake and blintzes on what is Judaism’s only dairy holiday, in fact we are anticipating the giving of the Torah.  We mark the holiday with several customs – many learn Torah the entire (first) night, we eat dairy foods commemorating our readiness in the desert to accept the new laws of kashrut (we had no kosher pots at Mount Sinai!), and many adorn the house with fresh flowers and plants representing the blooming springtime mountain that was Mount Sinai.

           

          Although the essence of Shavuot is all about Torah – accepting, learning and keeping the Torah – I would be lying if I didn’t admit that, like many, I get a little caught up in what I’ve often referred to as “the dairy catharsis”.   After a year of serving meat dishes at most formal meals, it’s easy to get carried away.  (What, like making 8 desserts is too much?  You think?)  If I may offer a deeper insight into this custom (and validate my dairy obsession!), consider this idea:  Torah is considered the spiritual food that nourishes our souls.  In other Biblical sources, Torah is compared to milk.  When a child is born, its sole source of nourishment is milk.  Just as a mother displays enormous love and nurturing by nursing her baby, without which he could not survive, so too G-d’s giving of His Torah was an act of complete love and nurturing.   Eating dairy foods on Shavuot is a reminder of this kindness, a symbolic way of recognizing this Gift.  So you see…it’s a mitzvah to eat cheesecake!

           

          With so many rich options, it is often challenging to find balance and to not get caught in the common pitfalls of good dairy menu planning.  The result may be a menu filled with overly cheesy, overly heavy dishes that leave the palate little desire for anything, let alone the hyped cheesecake.  What could be the most enjoyable holiday meals of the year often leave many lethargic and slightly nauseas.  What a shame!  Strike balance with your Shavuot menu; for every heavily creamy or cheesy dish, serve at least one that is not.  Also, go heavy on the salads.  By taking advantage of the fresh produce that springtime has to offer, you will round out and lighten up your menu.

           

          Classic through and through, Poached Salmon is an elegant yet simple entrée choice.  It will also leave you time to prepare the more fattening stuff!  Serve with a green, leafy salad and pair with a glass of Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio.

           

           

          Poached Salmon with Cucumber-Dill Sauce

          A classic appetizer or light entrée, the secret to perfect poached salmon is choosing high-quality fresh fish and not overcooking it…always safer to check sooner than later for doneness!

          Serves 4 for entrée, 8 for appetizer.

          • 1½ lbs. salmon fillet
          • A handful of parsley sprigs
          • A handful of dill sprigs
          • 1 lemon, quartered
          • 1 onion, quartered
          • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
          • 1 bay leaf
          • 6 black peppercorns
          • Kosher salt to taste
          • 2 cups water
          • 2 cups white wine

           

          Place the fish, skin side down in a large, deep skillet.  Add all ingredients, adding more water and wine if necessary to cover fish (it should be immersed in liquid).   Place skillet on stove and bring to a simmer.  Cover and reduce heat to low, simmering fish for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish.  Salmon is done when it flakes easily. Carefully remove the fish with a slotted spatula.  Discard skin and poaching liquid.   Chill until serving time.  Serve with Cucumber-Dill Sauce (recipe below) and garnish with lemon.

          Cucumber-Dill Sauce

          • 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and diced
          • 2/3 cup sour cream or mayonnaise
          • 3-4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill (or 3-4 tsp. dried dill)
          • 2-3 tbsp. minced onion
          • Juice from ½ lemon (about 1 tbsp.), or more to taste
          • 4-6 tablespoons milk or water
          • Kosher salt to taste
          • Freshly ground black pepper

          Mix all ingredients except milk/water together in a small bowl. Add water/milk gradually to thin until consistency resembles a sauce.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and more lemon juice if needed. Cover and refrigerate.

          (Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.)

          Yield: about 1 1/2 cups.

           

           

          By Naomi Ross

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          Grill Season

          Monday, May 23rd, 2011

          Dust off your lawn chairs and break out the bug spray.  Just when you were convinced that winter would never end, spring has sprung!  And if your allergies haven’t clued you in, then check the calendar because Memorial Day is almost here.  Memorial Day arrives at the height of Spring and inaugurates “grilling season,” a time of year when people enjoy cooking outside, eating outside and just being outside in general.  That, my friends, means we have much to do and much to prepare for a season of outdoor cooking.

          Surely, the appeal of dining alfresco is not just about the menu.  It is the combined experience of being in the backyard with family, friends and great food that conjures only the best of memories.  Those backyard days will be upon us once again, and the chance to create to some new wonderful memories is worth getting excited over.

          In some ways, outdoor entertaining is a lot easier than eating indoors.   Quicker clean-up and less prep time (since half of the food is prepared outside during the party) certainly make for a more relaxed kind of entertaining.   Even so, since we spend most of the year dining inside, sometimes we need a little help shifting gears.  Here are some quick tips to help you make the most of your outdoor summer entertaining:

          • Prepare your equipment. Plan ahead and make sure last year’s grilling equipment is in check: propane tank filled (if you have a propane grill), fresh briquettes if using charcoal, good long tongs for safe grilling, steel brushes (or refills) for brushing and cleaning grates.  A small side table (or stacking tray) is helpful to have next to your grill for extra work space.
          • Keep the critters away.  Nothing is more bothersome and unappetizing than trying to enjoy a meal while you yourself are being feasted upon by bugs!  Prepare ahead and get candles made from real citronella oil.  Place them at the perimeter of your patio or outdoor dining area for extra protection and light a half-hour before guests arrive. Try not to place candles too close to food as the scents can be distracting.  It’s probably not a bad idea to set some bee traps as well.
          • Nothing says summer like color.  Choose bold colors – mix up stripes, patterns and bright solids for all of your linens and serving needs.
          • Designate a space (a closet, drawer or storage bin) to store all your outdoor entertaining paraphernalia—fun tablecloths, placemats, caddies, etc.   Entertaining is way easier when you don’t have to go looking for all those items in 15 different places.
          • Develop a theme – whether it’s a Mexican fiesta or a down home Southern BBQ, picking a theme for the menu and even decorations livens up any party.  Make it fun for you and your guests.
          • Simple desserts: Give yourself a break and keep it casual with simple yet delicious desserts.  Grilled slices of pineapple or peach halves are remarkable, especially topped with ice-cream (pareve) or sorbet.  Chocolate fondue is quite simple to prepare and always a crowd-pleaser, surrounded by an array of banana chunks, strawberries, dried fruits, pretzel rods or cubes of pound cake for dipping.  (Don’t forget the skewers — they are easier for dipping than toothpicks!)

           

          Pick easy-to-prepare, flavorful recipes that will allow you to enjoy your time outside as well!  The following recipe is a great place to start…let the grilling begin!

          Espresso-Rubbed Rib Steaks with Grilled Pineapple Salsa



          When warm grilled rib steaks meet a cool bold salsa, it’s satisfying both for the eyes and for the palate.

          Serves 4.

          Espresso Spice Mix

          1. 3 tbsp. finely ground espresso
          2. 1 tbsp. dark brown sugar
          3. 1 tbsp. chili powder
          4. 2 tsp.  paprika
          5. 2 tsp. dry mustard
          6. ½ tbsp. kosher salt
          7. 1 tsp. ground black pepper
          8. 1 tsp. dried oregano
          9. 1 tsp. ground ginger
          10. ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
          11. ¼ tsp. cinnamon
          12. 4 rib steaks, approximately 1 inch thick
          13. oil to grease grill
          14. Grilled Pineapple Salsa (recipe below)

          Combine all spices in a small bowl (DO AHEAD: spice mixture can be prepared up to a week ahead, stored in a tightly covered container).
          Rub one side of each rib steak with a heaping tablespoon of the spice mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

          Preheat grill on medium-high heat.  Carefully oil the grill grates (tongs and oil-soaked paper towels do a good job of this).  Place the rib steaks on the grill, rub-side down, and cover grill.  Cook for about 6 minutes per side, turning the steaks over once during grilling, for medium-rare doneness. Transfer ribs to dinner plates and allow 5 minutes resting time before serving.  Serve each steak with big spoonful of Grilled Pineapple Salsa (recipe below).

          Grilled Pineapple Salsa

          Grilling the pineapple caramelizes the fruit’s natural sugars and intensifies its flavors.  The salsa can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead.

          1. ½ ripe pineapple, peeled and sliced lengthwise into ¼” slices
          2. ½ small red onion, minced (about ¼ cup)
          3. 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
          4. ½ red bell pepper, seeded and diced
          5. Juice and zest of ½ large lime (about 1 tbsp.), or more to taste
          6. 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
          7. 1 tbsp. minced fresh cilantro
          8. 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
          9. Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

          Preheat grill on medium-high heat. Carefully oil the grill grates (tongs and oil-soaked paper towels do a good job of this).  Place pineapple slices on the grill.  Grill for about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once during grilling.  Transfer slices to a cutting board and dice into ¼” cubes.   Place diced pineapple in a large mixing bowl, and add all remaining ingredients.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and additional lime juice if necessary.

          Cook’s Tip: To save grilling time, grill pineapple at the same time as steaks.  If preparing salsa ahead, prepare all other ingredients, and then add in warm grilled pineapple while steaks are finishing immediately prior to serving.


          -Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

          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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          Season, To Taste

          Monday, January 24th, 2011

          Every now and then, there is something deeply satisfying about returning to simplicity, especially the taste of simplicity.     My grandmother did not have complicated recipes, and did not use fancy ingredients – not that she had access to them either.   White truffle oil and chipotle peppers did not exactly abound in Brighton Beach sixty years ago.   There were no panko crumbs, let alone corn flake crumbs.  Like many cooks of her generation, what she lacked in sophisticated ingredients, she more than made up for in the ability to take basic items, season them well and cook with a yiddishe taam, a personal touch and flavor that was infused with love.  This kind of cooking had no measurements; it was completely dependent on feel and taste.  It did not require a cookbook, but rather an understanding of the food before you, and the attention and patience to see it done right.  Back then, this kind of instinctive cooking – of knowing how to bring out the best from what you’ve got – was the norm, not the exception.  It was passed on, mother to daughter.  The result: fresh, flavorful food, well-seasoned by a caring hand whose sole aim was to nourish and please.    Fast forward a generation or two and you’ve  got a lasting memory strong enough to make a grown man coo with delight at the thought of his grandmother’s fried breaded veal chops.  She served them aside mashed potatoes with schmaltz-fried onions and mushrooms (I said “flavorful,” I did not say low fat!).  Also sautéed spinach.  It probably ranks high on his “last meals” list.   “He,” of course, could be your everyman, an average Joe…or in this case, let’s just call him my husband.

          Being a bit inquisitive (in the kitchen anyway), I started digging around for more information about this much adored recipe.  After hearing about it for so many years, I couldn’t help but wonder if they actually were as good as his memory led him to believe, or perhaps it was the last remnant of a tasty childhood time and place.   Perhaps like a fine wine, these chops were improving with age!  It was time for me to see for myself….it was time to taste the truth.   And then, it was time to see just how quickly I could polish off the succulent chop, having gnawed at the bone, leaving it nearly clean with hardly a crumb of crispy breading in sight.

          To make such a dish is blissfully simple so long as you remember a few important points.  Namely,

          1) Season liberally with salt and pepper (No, I can’t tell you how much.)

          2) Invest your love and care into those chops.

          3) Serve them straight, hot out of the pan.

          4) Apply Rules 1-3 to all things in life.

          Fried Breaded Veal Chops

          Here’s how the recipe was told over to me (I’ve taken the liberty of including my “translations”)

          First cut veal rib chops (one per person)

          Kosher salt

          Pepper (use freshly ground black pepper)

          Beaten eggs (figure about 1 egg:2 chops)

          Matzo meal (figure approximately ¼ cup per chop)

          Oil for frying (canola or vegetable oil)

          Season the chops with salt and pepper (or season the beaten eggs).    Dip chops in the eggs.  Then dredge in the matzo meal – try to get an even coating all over.  Fry until golden brown (Place a large frying pan over medium-high heat.  Add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan in a generous layer – at least ½ cup.  When oil is very hot – a drop of water sizzling upon contact – add the breaded veal chop.  Fry until deeply golden brown, turning once, about 8-10 minutes per side depending on thickness.  Transfer to plate lined with paper toweling to drain).  Serve immediately.
           

          Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
          By Naomi Ross

           

           

           

           

           

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