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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

 

Filling

  • 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

 

Preparation

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

 

 

 

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Beyond Fish Sticks

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

No matter how good a cook you are, how apt you may be in the kitchen or how successfully you entertain, there is nothing quite as challenging (or humbling!) as getting your kids to eat new things.   I may be able to flambé, puree, and poach with ease, but get my five-year old, with raised eyebrows and arms crossed, to consider a dinner other than grilled cheese: that, my friends, is tough.

Surely, the exhaustion that follows the nightly struggles with a “picky eater” can leave a parent frustrated and dejected.  For if the job of a parent is to care about what your child eats, then it’s the job of a child to wear a parent down until you find yourself wondering “would it be so bad if I just gave in and made my kids macaroni every night?  C’mon, what would be so wrong with that?!”  Such were the thoughts that went through my mind the other night when defending a delicious chicken dinner.  Then my sanity returned.   With renewed conviction, I reminded myself that balanced nutrition and a healthy exposure to different foods were things worth fighting for.    

Food Neophobia, a reluctance to try new foods, is common in young children.  Up until age 2, most toddlers are open to trying new foods; but as children begin to become more independent, with greater control over what they put in their mouths, most kids experience some neophobia.  Some aversions may be attributed to sensory issues (as a child, I hated tomatoes because they were “slimy”), but new research has found that other taste preferences may be hardwired genetically.  “How much a person prefers sweet and dislikes bitter,” writes Cynthia Sass, M.P.H., R.D, “depends partly upon the number of taste buds and the type of taste receptors he or she inherits….Some people inherit genes for taste receptors that are acutely sensitive to bitterness” (EatingWell Magazine, Feb. 2007).  And that sensitivity might get in the way of consuming some of the healthiest foods associated with cancer and cardiovascular disease prevention, such as Brussels sprouts or kale or even grapefruit.  

Research scientists and nutritionists stress that there are a number of strategies parents can employ to overcome neophobic behavior.

  • DON’T GIVE UP!  It can take 10-15 tastes before a child can learn to appreciate a new flavor (case in point – by the end of a year in Israel exposed to a barrage of Israeli salad, I had become a tomato fan).   Start introducing tastes early – the younger, the better.
  • Try turning tasting sessions into a game as encouragement to try new foods.  Punishing for not eating green beans may be effective in the short term, but will not produce a vegetable lover! 
  • When introducing new or “challenging” foods with your kids, prepare them with sweet or intense flavors.  For example, baked fish is much more appetizing with teriyaki sauce; sauté spinach with something sweet like raisins and pine nuts or sweet roasted red peppers in order to make it less bitter to their palates.
  • Get your kids involved!  A trip to the supermarket to pick a “new” vegetable or ingredient will rouse their interest and might be just what’s needed to inspire more open eating, as well as empower them to feel that they too are a part of meal-time decisions.  If they can’t shop with you, then find ways of involving them in the preparation.  Cooking together is a great way of getting kids excited about what they are going to eat. 
  • Start small and work your way up! If your children won’t eat vegies, then it would be unrealistic to expect them to get excited over Brussels sprouts the first time around.  Start by introducing unfamiliar foods in a familiar way.  If pasta is a staple, try introducing sweet (less bitter) vegetables into the background.  Reintroduce it again in other subtle ways until it is no longer foreign.   If they develop an appreciation of the food, move on to something bigger.
  • When all else fails, the cardinal rule of feeding kids applies: if you fry it, they will eat it!  Kids love the crunchy feel of fried foods, however unhealthy they may be.  As a general rule though, I save this as a last resort or as a treat.

 

Even with these suggestions, some of my children would still be thrilled if they could have a diet of nothing but noodles.  And frankly, if I really discovered the secret to getting kids to eat, I’d be awarded the Nobel Prize.   That there is no magic pill may be true, but by encouraging a diverse diet and exposing them to new tastes, I have to believe that they will one day reap the rewards of both good health and an appreciation of the wonderful world of food that G-d created for them.  At the very least, it’s positive for them to see their parents trying new and interesting things – after all, the best way to teach is by example.

The following recipe was created with my “anti-meat” children in mind.  Many thanks to Mordechai, Sasha and her friend Shani for being taste-testers – it must have been good if she asked for some to take home!

Oven-Fried “Lollipop” Chicken

A little less caloric than classic fried chicken, this oven-fried recipe still yields a flavorful crispy crust.

 

Yield: 12 “lollipops”

12 chicken drumsticks

5 slices rye bread or French bread, crusts removed (makes about 3 cups crumbs)

1 large clove garlic

½ cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

½ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. ground black pepper

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

1/3 cup Dijon mustard

¼ cup honey (scant)

1 tbsp. margarine, melted

1-2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 425°.  Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with foil and grease with non-stick spray. 

Push the skin and flesh up to the nub of each drumstick, leaving the bone exposed (a natural handle) – a sharp paring knife may be helpful for this or you can ask your butcher to prepare them for you.

Place bread in bowl of food processor and pulse a few times to break up the bread slices.  Add the garlic, parsley, salt and peppers.  Pulse until coarse crumbs are formed, and the garlic and parsley are processed and distributed.  Transfer to mixing bowl.  Toss with melted margarine. 

In a separate small bowl, mix together mustard and honey until well blended.  Dip each drumstick in the honey-mustard mixture, and roll in breadcrumb mixture, pressing the breading onto the drumstick to adhere.   Place each drumstick in the prepared pan.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, turning drumsticks over halfway through baking time.

Serve hot and enjoy!
Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

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IN PRAISE OF THE BRAISE, PART II: SLOW COOKING MAGIC!

Sunday, October 24th, 2010

When the Crock-Pot was invented in Missouri in 1960, no one could have foreseen how great the impact of this modern day slow-cooker would be.  It changed the way many women cooked, allowing them to easily prepare early in the day and have a hot dinner magically awaiting them upon their return, hours later!   Indeed, it was a woman’s dream and freed up much time spent at the stove.  From stews to chili, pot roasts to soups, the slow-cooker has enabled the working person to serve up home-cooked food while putting in a full day at the office.  Interestingly, the Crock-pot also transformed the way Jewish women prepared their weekly Shabbat cholent, a dish that was traditionally made and left in the oven or on the stovetop overnight; nowadays, it is pretty much exclusively prepared in a crock-pot.

With slight variation, most slow cooker recipes are quite simple: dump, cover, go!  This simple formula notwithstanding, crock-pot cookery recipes abound, displaying an incredible amount of creativity and ingenuity for what is mostly a hands-off cooking experience.  With that said, here are some helpful guidelines to ensure good crockery cooking:

  • What the crock-pot does best is braising – cooking a food (usually meat or vegetables) in a small amount of liquid at low heat for a lengthy period of time. The long, slow cooking develops flavor and tenderizes foods by gently breaking down their fibers.  The point being:  tough cuts of meat benefit the most from braising (some examples would include flanken, brisket, and shin meat).
  • A tight-fitting lid is very important to prevent the liquid from evaporating. Some people even close the lid over a piece of parchment paper to create a better seal.
  • To brown or not to brown?  Though many crock-pot recipes call for browning the meat as is classically done when braising (see last week’s article!) prior to slow cooking, many do not.  The benefit is that the meat develops more depth of flavor.   Generally, this is a matter of personal preference.  However, browning is a must with ground meat, and enables one to reduce the fat by draining after browning.
  • Spray the inside of your crock-pot with non-stick cooking spray for an easier clean up.
  • Most crock-pots come with low or high settings, allowing YOU to control the cooking time based on your own schedule.  High will cook faster, low will cook slower. The average cooking time for slow cooker recipes ranges between 4-10 hours.  Some slow-cookers have a “warm” setting, helpful for keeping food hot after cooking has completed.

 

With cooler nights upon us, what better way to warm up than by coming home to a hearty stew of Braised Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables?  Prepare in the morning and forget about it till dinnertime!

Braised Lamb Shanks with Root Vegetables

Serve over a bed of Basmati rice or couscous.

Ingredients

 

1 Tbsp. olive oil

5 meaty lamb shanks

1 large onion, thinly sliced

3 large carrots, peeled and cut in 1” chunks

1 fennel bulb, fronds and stalks discarded, halved and sliced crosswise

1 celery stalk, sliced

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into 1” chunks

2 parsnips, peeled and cut into 1” chunks

5 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp. kosher salt or more to taste

¾ tsp. ground black pepper or more to taste

1½ tsp. dried rosemary

1½ tsp. dried thyme

3 Tbsp. flour

3 Tbsp. tomato paste

¼ cup orange juice

2 cups dry white wine

½ cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock

¾ tsp. grated orange zest (optional)

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  Sear the shanks on both sides until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Transfer to the slow-cooker bowl.  Add onion, carrots, fennel, celery, potato, parsnips, and garlic to the bowl.  Combine remaining ingredients in a small bowl, mixing to blend and dissolve flour.  Pour mixture over lamb and vegetables.  Cover with lid.  Place bowl in slow cooker and turn on “low” setting.  Cook for 8-9 hours.  Skim off fat if necessary, and season to taste with salt and pepper.  

Serves 4-6.

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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“Fast” Meals

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Over the course of the Jewish year, there is no dearth of food-related ideas to write about.  In fact, considering how central food is to Jewish observances and lifecycles, I rarely find myself lacking in material.   There’s always another holiday coming up, and always the need for what-to-serve, what-to-eat.  But Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is the biggest fast day of the year.  It’s not about food. Come this Friday night, Jews all over the world will stop eating and drinking for a day (that alone is something to write about!)   But Yom Kippur is not about fasting either; It’s about rising above the absence of food, and all the distractions in order to connect and think and pray.

It’s hard for us to celebrate without food to mark the occasion.  Consider the “seudat hamafseket” (the last meal preceding the fast of Yom Kippur).    I always find this to be the most conflicted meal of the year – highly functional while at the same time festive and yet also in keeping with the seriousness of the day.   Go try to put that into a menu – it’s slightly paradoxical, from a cook’s perspective anyhow.      The meal needs to be homey and satisfying, without spiciness; sweet and celebratory, with solemnity.  It needs to be a meal that ends with contentedness, knowing that we’ve eaten all that we want so that we no longer have to, and no longer need to.  At that point we can go into Yom Kippur prepared and ready to focus on the meaning of the day.

You’re of course wondering then, well what do we eat?  (It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it?)  I recommend this fruity, tangy chicken recipe, smothered in sauce over a bed of mashed potatoes.  The following dish is simple to prepare, and the sauce can even be prepared a day ahead.  Serve with green beans and a nice salad and don’t forget to drink lots of water.     

Fresh Apricot and Orange Chicken

12 oz. jar orange marmalade

4 fresh apricots, pitted and sliced

¼ cup white wine

Juice of 1 lime

¼ tsp. ground ginger

1 whole chicken (4 lbs.), cut into 1/8ths

¾ tsp. garlic powder

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Place first five ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until apricots are very tender and sauce has slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse chicken parts and pat dry.  Place chicken in a roasting pan and sprinkle with garlic powder, kosher salt and black pepper.  Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake uncovered for about 1¼-1½ hours, until chicken is nicely browned and sauce is bubbly.   

Wishing you an easy and meaningful fast,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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FIGS FOREVER

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Searching the markets for this year’s “new fruit,” an object to be sanctified and enjoyed by many on Rosh Hashanah, is always an adventure.  Unfortunately, it is often an anticlimactic experience for me.  Much as I enjoy scouting out the exotic cherimoya (out of season and unripe this time of year) or the much sought after star fruit (which looks much cooler than it tastes), I often end up with a misunderstood fruit that commanded a misunderstood price at the center of my holiday table (or likely later in my holiday garbage).   And so, each year I return to the aisles in anticipation of finding that fruit which marks the newness that Rosh Hashanah is all about…and secretly hope that it will taste good, too.

But this year is different.  This year is sweet with inspiration.  I didn’t have to look to the far ends of the earth to find a fruit pregnant with newness; I had only to look in my own backyard – my own Biblical backyard, that is.   This summer, I enjoyed many walks and hikes in Israel, and was frequently reminded of the “shivat haminim” (the seven species including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) which the Torah declares are abundant in the Land of Israel.  And indeed they are.   One of my favorites is the fig.  The plump beauties I encountered on my trip bore no resemblance to the crusty, dried Tu B”shvat specimens of my youth.  Dark and dull on the outside, you only had to pull them apart to reveal the rosy-red juiciness that lies within, the myriad internal flowers that are the actual fruit.   It says in the Talmud that Torah is like a fig tree, which has fruit at various stages of ripening; the longer one works at it, the more one finds.  This idea gave me much hope – that each day there is something new to learn, ripe for the picking and filled with blossoms of potential.  That’s an idea to start the New Year with.  That’s a newness to bless.  Move over cherimoya…the fig is back.

Figs are not only delicious to snack on, though; they also lend a terrific element to cooked dishes.  Figs possess a delicate flavor that can add depth and sweetness to your holiday cooking.   Pairing veal with fresh figs worked wonderfully for me when developing the following holiday recipe, infusing the meat with subtle fruitiness.  I hope your guests with think so too.

Roast Veal with Muscato-Fig Reduction 

Serves 6.

A meat thermometer is an invaluable tool in determining perfectly cooked meat.  Be sure to use one in this recipe for perfectly moist veal.

 

  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ½ small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (a scant cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 3½ lb. veal shoulder roast
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 10 fresh black mission figs, halved
  • 1 cup Muscato (sweet white wine)
  • ¼ cup beef or chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Place chopped onion, fennel, garlic, and shallot in the bottom of a medium roasting pan (large enough to fit a rack).  Season with salt and pepper and toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil.  Place rack over vegetables.  Rub remaining tbsp. oil all over the veal roast and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Place roast on the rack.  Place pan in oven and roast for 10 minutes, until browned.  Turn roast over and repeat for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove pan from the oven and reduce oven to 325°.  Drizzle honey over roast and add figs and wine to the bottom of the pan.  Cover with tented foil and return to oven.  Bake for 1 ½ hours or until meat thermometer reaches 155 degrees internally.

Remove from oven and transfer veal and rack from pan to a platter or cutting board.  While veal rests, pour the contents of the bottom of the pan through a sieve set over a small saucepan.  Reserve the figs and set aside.  Press the vegetables against the sieve to release any additional liquid into the saucepan.  Discard vegetables.  

Place saucepan over medium heat, add stock, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce liquid by half, about 15 minutes (sauce should thicken to syrupy consistency – if sauce is too thin, pour off a small amount into a cup, dissolve cornstarch into the liquid and add back into the sauce.  Stir until thickened.).

Slice veal into thin slices, and place onto platter.  Pour sauce over veal (or serve on the side in a gravy boat) and garnish with reserved cooked figs. 

Just when you thought Rosh Hashanah couldn’t get any sweeter, here’s a bonus recipe incorporating another of the “seven species” into the menu, one that is also one of the symbolic foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah: dates.  Two symbolic fruits for the price of one!

On Rosh Hashanah night, we eat dates because the Hebrew word for date is “tamar”, which sounds similar to “tamu”, to consume.  We pray that G-d will consume our enemies and grant us all a very sweet New Year.

Orange-Scented Date Crumb Bars

If you weren’t a date-lover before, you will be after these treats.  Perfect for dessert or tea, these bars are great anytime.

  1. 1 1/4 cups water
  2. ¼ cup triple-sec or orange flavored liquor
  3. ½ tsp. grated orange peel (optional)
  4. 1 1/2 cups chopped pitted Medjool dates (about 10 oz.)
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. ¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  8. 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  9. 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  10. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  12. ¼ tsp. cloves
  13. ¼ tsp. allspice
  14. 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, diced, room temperature
  15. ½ cup toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease an 8×8-inch metal baking pan.  Bring water, liquor, and orange peel to simmer in medium saucepan.  Add dates and simmer until very soft and thick, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Stir in vanilla.  Cool to room temperature.

Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves and allspice in large bowl.  Stir to blend.  Add butter.  Using fingertips, rub the butter into the mixture until moist clumps form. Press half of oat mixture evenly over bottom of prepared pan.  Spread date mixture on top.  Mix chopped pecans into remaining half of oat mixture, then sprinkle the mixture on top of the dates.  Press gently.  Bake until brown at edges and golden brown and set in center, about 40 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on a cooling rack.  Cut into bars and serve.

 

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

 

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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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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The Ultimate ‘Cue

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Walking outside on a Sunday evening, you can’t help but pick up the subtle yet unmistakable scent of BBQ in the air.  The aroma draws us in, gets our mouths watering, and at the same time throws us back to a million memories of summers past enjoying the company of family and friends over the delicacies of the grill. 

There is something extraordinary about the results we produce from cooking over an open fire, and there is very little as satisfying as a good barbeque.  With the grilling season upon us, here’s a helpful primer in time for Memorial Day.

That said, let’s focus on the quintessential barbecue obsession–the mother of all BBQ, the reason men happily spend hours working a hot grill, the piece d’resistance of carnivores everywhere.  That’s right.  Ribs.  I’m not talking about flanken or braised short ribs.  I’m talking about gooey, sticky, eat-it-with-your-hands and sink-your-teeth-into-it ribs.  I’m talking about the kind you need a stack of napkins for on the side.  Ribs fall into the category of a “patchke” (a project, so to speak); however, there are some “patchkes” that are worth preparing for special occasions, if only once or twice a year.  And these should be on that list!

Preparing good ribs are not difficult, but they are time consuming, so plan ahead.   Allow plenty of time to marinate your ribs.  “Marinades are the lifeblood of barbecue,” writes Steven Raichlen, today’s foremost BBQ guru.  The flavors need the proper time to sit and absorb.  I created this recipe after dreaming about the finger-licking ribs I had as a child, and they are delicious.  Your guests will tell you so, too!  

Brown Sugar & Bourbon Ribs

 

Serves 4.

Getting Started:

  • Before you begin, don’t forget to check your fuel supply.  It would be a shame to prepare such wonderful ribs and then realize that you have no more propane or charcoal to cook them!   
  • Preheat your grill for indirect grilling – this means that the food will not be cooked directly on the heat.  If your grill has 3 zones of heat, set the back and front burners to medium heat and keep the center burner off.  If your grill has 2 zones of heat, set one side of the grill for medium heat and leave the other side off.  Keep the lid closed until the heat registers at around 350 degrees (as opposed to direct grilling in which you would preheat it to at least 500 degrees). 
  • Oil your grill grate just before placing the food on top.  You can use a wad of oil- soaked paper toweling and rub it on the grates with tongs.  Oiling the grates will prevent your food from sticking.
  • Be organized! Have everything you need for grilling ready and on hand at grill- side before you start. (That means your meat, tongs, basting sauce, serving plate, etc.)

 

Ay, there’s the rub!

American-style ribs are marinated by way of a rub, a spice mixture applied to the meat in order to flavor and cure it before grilling.

Ribs

1½ tbsp. dark brown sugar

1 tbsp. kosher salt

1½ tsp. black pepper

¾ tsp. cayenne pepper

1½ tsp. thyme

1½ tsp. garlic powder

¾ tsp. onion powder

1 tbsp. paprika

1½ tsp. dry mustard powder

8-10 beef spare ribs

1 ½ cups (12 oz.) pineapple juice

 

Mix all the spices together in a small bowl.  Rub the spice mixture into the ribs on all sides (I didn’t say “sprinkle”, I said “rub”…with your fingers).  Place ribs into a large baking dish or foil pan, cover, and refrigerate for 4-8 hours, or even overnight (and no, a half-hour is not enough!).  

Getting Tender

These ribs are pre-cooked in order to make them more tender before being finished on the grill.  Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Pour pineapple juice into the pan.  Cover with foil and bake until the meat is tender, about 45 minutes-1 hour. 

All in Good Baste

There are many different kinds of BBQ sauces in the world and several different styles even just within the United States.  The classic sweet, tomato-based sauce that has come to define “BBQ sauce” is just one type.  Bold flavor contrasts are the benchmark of a great sauce (e.g. sweet vs. sour, smoky vs. fruity), one which will hopefully enhance and finish the dish when brushed on during grilling.   

BBQ sauces with high sugar content, as with the following recipe, should be applied in the last few minutes of grilling because the sugar burns easily.  While your grill preheats, prepare the basting sauce to have at the ready.

Basting Sauce

½ cup dark brown sugar

¼ cup bourbon whiskey

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. soy sauce

¼ cup apricot butter or apricot jam

Whisk all ingredients in medium-sized bowl to blend.

Grill Time

Grill ribs in the center of your grill (or where there is no heat), with the cover closed, until heated through and slightly charred, about 6-8 minutes per side. Brush generously on all sides with basting sauce.  Grill until sauce becomes a sticky glaze, about 3 minutes longer per side. 

The ribs are done when the meat is very tender and has shrunk back from the ends of the bone.  Transfer to a platter and serve.  

Long summer days are upon us.  Heed the call of your barbeque favorites, and make some delicious new memories on your grill this summer.  With your tongs in hand and napkins at the ready, let the grilling begin!
By Naomi Ross

 

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