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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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Baaaa-B-Q!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Americans eat a lot of red meat, and by “red meat” what I mean is beef (the kind that went “moo”).  By comparison, we eat far less lamb.  The average American consumes a staggering 65 pounds of beef per year in contrast to ½ pound of lamb.  The question is: why?  Practically speaking, America is not breeding and processing as much lamb as say, Greece, whose culture and traditions are replete with sheep herding, pasturing and culinary tradition.  With less supply and demand in the States, those little baby lamb chops have become an expensive occasional treat, not exactly the norm of every-night cooking.   Despite that, lamb is still a great source of vitamin A, vitamin B6, Pantothenic Acid, phosphorus, and manganese and also very low in sodium content.  So perhaps it’s time to mix it up and enjoy this distinctly tender sweet meat, a flavor all its own especially when grilled or broiled.

Knowing your lamb…

Ever wonder what the difference is between lamb and mutton? Lamb and baby lamb?  It’s always good to clarify and know just what we are eating!   A lamb is defined as a young sheep less than one year old; a baby lamb is generally between six and eight weeks old and is prized for its very tender pale pink meat.  Sheep generally breed in the fall and birth in late winter/early spring…which is why Spring is synonymous with lamb.  “Spring lambs” are generally between 3-5 months old when slaughtered.   Age matters in terms of taste – the younger and smaller, the tastier and more tender.  Mutton is meat from a sheep over two years old, and has a much less tender and darker flesh with a gamier flavor (perhaps a reason it has been unpopular in the United States).

Bring out the flavor…

I love braising some of the tougher cuts of lamb, like lamb shanks, for a wintry stew, but it’s often a tough sell with kids because of the gamey odor  (“ma, are you cooking my gym shoes?”) infamously associated with lamb cookery.  So if potting your lamb dish, do select the freshest meat you can get.    Pairing lamb with refreshing aromatics also quiets any gaminess and accentuates its true flavor – mint and lamb is a natural marriage, but other herbs and citrus work well, too.  In the spring and summer, I head outdoors and fire up the grill, as open fire cooking seems to eliminate any off-putting odor (and the bugs don’t mind anyhow!).  Well-grilled lamb yields wonderfully succulent results, and my kids ask for seconds and thirds to boot!

Grilled Lamb Chops with Balsamic-Mint Reduction

Serves 4.

  1. 12 Baby Lamb chops (about 1” thick), frenched*
  2. Kosher salt
  3. Freshly ground black pepper
  4. Oil for greasing grill

Preheat grill on high (to about 450 degrees).  Grease grates of grill (an oil-soaked wad of paper towels and tongs do a good job of this.)

Season chops liberally with salt and pepper.  Place lamb chops on grill and close cover.  Grill for about 4 minutes per side, turning once during cooking.  Transfer to a platter and allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.  Drizzle Balsamic Mint Reduction (a little goes a long way!) over lamb chops and serve.

*To “French” means to cut the meat away from the end of a rib or chop, so that part of the bone is exposed.  Park East Kosher is happy to do this upon request.

Balsamic-Mint Reduction

An intense sauce that can be made ahead and stored for months in the refrigerator.   Decorate a plate with a drizzle for an appealing presentation and real flavor boost!

  1. 1 cup high-quality balsamic vinegar
  2. ¼ cup honey
  3. 2/3 cup fresh mint leaves
  4. Kosher salt
  5. Freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1 tbsp. margarine

Bring vinegar, honey and mint to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Simmer until mixture is reduced by half – consistency should be syrupy and coat the back of a spoon (about 15-20 minutes).  Add the margarine and whisk until blended.  Strain out leaves and season sauce with salt and pepper.   (If making ahead, rewarm before serving.)

 

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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Feast and Be Merry

Monday, March 14th, 2011

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

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

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

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

-Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

Porcini-Crusted Rib Roast with Wild Mushroom & Shallot Ragout

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

Serves 6.

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

 

Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Wild Mushroom & Shallot Ragout

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

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

 

Directions:

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

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

 

By Naomi Ross

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Calling all white-meat lovers…

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

Chicken is quite ubiquitous these days.  Affordable and commonly raised, it has become our “go-to” protein for an average dinner.  And while many a great chef approach chicken as a blank canvas upon which to express their culinary creativity, it’s also easy to get stuck in a rut.  Chicken is chicken, you might think.  But I think not.

Not every chicken is created equal.  If you’ve ever had a Cornish hen, sweet and tender, you’d know it was a different chicken.  With its delicious natural juices flowing throughout, this young bird (slaughtered when they are only about five weeks old) is not only flavorful, but a wonderful choice for an elegant dinner.   The Rock Cornish Hen, a 1950’s cross-breed between the Cornish and Rock hens, has attained much popularity both because of its convenient single serving size and because the breeding resulted in a chicken that is mostly white meat.   In addition, a smaller bird means shorter cooking time.  So a succulent whole roasted bird could be on your table in less than an hour (longer, if stuffed).  This is a win-win solution for elegant serving, especially to a crowd of white-meat lovers.

Some more helpful Cornish tips for the best results:

  • Roasting is a great choice for Cornish hens – ideally 400-450 degrees.
  • The average bird size is 1-2lbs.  Figure 1 lb. per person, so a larger Cornish hen can feed 2 people, especially if serving other courses.
  • Cornish hens can easily be served split in half – the bones are weak and can be cut through easily with shears.
  • Cornish hens are delicious stuffed – about ½ cup per bird.  Do not over-stuff or pack tightly as it will affect cooking times.
  • Do not stuff hens until just before you put them in the oven to avoid any potential for salmonella food poisoning.

It’s easy to get yourself unstuck, I find, when fresh and flavorful options are before you.  Try this recipe this week for some new chicken inspiration.

Honey-Glazed Cornish Game Hens with Spiced Compote Stuffing

Aromatic spices make the hen’s sweet meat especially fragrant.  Perfectly accompanied by the dried fruit and nut stuffing that is cooked within, this dish is also gluten-free.    Serve with dry or semi-dry white wine.

Serves 6-8
1/3 cup oil
1½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. allspice
Freshly ground black pepper
4 Cornish hens, pinfeathers removed, rinsed and patted dry
2 cups Spiced Compote Stuffing (recipe below)
½ cup honey
Preheat oven to 400°F.  Adjust rack in the middle of the oven.
Whisk together oil and spices in a small bowl.

Stuff cavities of each Cornish hen loosely with about ½ cup spiced compote stuffing (do not pack tightly or over-stuff).  Place on a rack set in a large roasting pan.  Rub spice mixture all over hens evenly.  Tuck wings underneath body, then secure legs together and tie with kitchen twine.  Try to arrange birds on rack so that they are not touching, in order to ensure good air circulation during roasting.

Roast hens for about 40 minutes, occasionally brushing with pan drippings.  Pour honey over the Cornish hens and continue to roast for another 20 minutes.  Cornish hens are done when juices run clear when a thigh is pierced, and internal temperature reaches 160 degrees.  Remove hens from oven and allow to rest.  Transfer hens to a serving platter, serving halved if desired.

Spiced Compote Stuffing

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1¼ cups)
1 shallot, chopped
1 tsp. kosher salt
¾ cup dried apricots, sliced
½ cup dried prunes, sliced
¼ cup dark raisins
½ tsp. cardamom
1 tsp. cinnamon
¼ tsp. ginger
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup white wine
1 cup whole almonds, toasted and finely chopped

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until hot and oil is shimmering.  Add the chopped onion, shallot and salt.  Sauté for about 6-8 minutes, or until onions start to become golden.  Lower to medium heat and add dried fruits and spices, stirring to blend for about 1-2 minutes.   Add white wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine is mostly absorbed and the fruit is softened (about 6-8 minutes).  Remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the chopped almonds.  Set aside to cool.

Cook’s Tip: Nuts can be toasted in a single layer on a baking sheet for 10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Cook’s Tip: For no fuss slicing, spray knife with non-stick spray prior to slicing dried fruits.

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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In Praise of the Braise

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

When we turned on the heat this past week, the new reality of the cooler weather began to sink in…to my cold hands and feet, that is.  As everyone knows, we are creatures impacted by the seasons, and this applies to our cooking as well.  So it was a natural response when, asked by a friend what recipes I was working on, that I dismissively replied, “recipes for the ‘Braising Season.’”

“The WHAT season?  What was that you said?”

Braising.  Simply put, the perfect cooking antidote for cold wintry nights, bound to warm the body and soul.  Or, if you are looking for a real definition:  Braising is a cooking technique in which the main ingredient is seared, or browned in fat, and then simmered in liquid on low heat in a covered pot.  Also known as “pot-roasting,” this is an essential technique for yielding succulent, tender results from otherwise tough cuts of meat.   By slowly simmering the meat in liquid (often wine or stock), the connective tissue found in more economical cuts of meat (parts of the animal that were well exercised) breaks down and melts into the fabulously flavorful cooking liquid which in turn helps to tenderize the muscle fibers.  The cuts of meat that benefit the most from this cooking method include: brisket, shanks, kolichel and short ribs; however, chicken (bone-in), firm-fleshed fish and vegetables can also benefit from this method with mouth-watering results. 

Beyond the amazing aroma that will fill your home when braising (and jealous neighbors wishing they were eating at your house for dinner!), there’s also some practical benefits to mention.  First of all, one-pot cooking means less clean-up.  Braising is also pretty much hands-off once the meat has been seared and the cooking has commenced.  This means your dinner can be prepared hours in advance and your hands are free to do other things while it cooks away.  

Braising can be done stove-top or in the oven.  I favor a combination of the two – browning the meat stove-top to start, then transferring to the oven for the majority cooking time.  With this approach, a pot that is both stove and oven friendly is particularly helpful – a Dutch oven or LeCrueset type of covered enameled pot/casserole will be great for this.

Comforting and homey, a pot roast will satisfy on the coldest winter night, transporting you back to your grandmother’s kitchen.  In recent years though, some braises have taken the front and center at high-end restaurants.   Here is my take on Braised Short Ribs – perfect for an intimate dinner or a crowd, this rich dish can be prepared in advance if desired.

Braised Short Ribs with Port and Pomegranate Sauce

Serve over a bed of mashed potatoes or parsnips.

Serves 4-6.

2 tbsp. olive oil

4- 4½ pounds beef short ribs

1 cup chopped carrots

1 cup chopped onion

1 cup chopped celery

8 garlic cloves, minced

¾ tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups dry red wine (Cabernet or Merlot)

2/3 cup Port

1½ cups (12 oz.) crushed tomatoes 

1 cup low-sodium chicken or beef stock

5 tbsp. pomegranate molasses

1 tbsp. honey (or more to taste)

1 bay leaf

2 tbsp. minced parsley or more for garnishing

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Heat oil in a heavy, large, oven-safe pot or casserole dish, over high heat.  Sprinkle ribs with salt and pepper.  Working in batches, brown ribs, turning occasionally, about 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to plate and set aside.  Lower heat to medium-high.  Add carrots, onion, and celery to the pot.  Season with ¾ tsp. salt and ½ tsp. black pepper.  Sauté for about 5-8 minutes, or until vegetables become tender, stirring occasionally.   Add garlic, stir to blend, and cook for another 3 minutes.  Add red wine, and bring to a boil, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add Port, tomatoes, broth, pomegranate molasses, honey and bay leaf, and stir to blend.  Bring back to a boil, and simmer for about 6-8 minutes and until mixture is slightly thickened.  Return ribs to the pot, and boil for about 5 minutes.  Cover and transfer to oven.  Bake until meat almost falls off bone, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours.

Skim off excess fat from surface if necessary.  Using tongs, transfer ribs to a large bowl.  Return pot to stove over low heat.  Season to taste, adding more salt, pepper or honey if necessary.  Add minced parsley and simmer cooking liquid until slightly reduced, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and top ribs with sauce.  Sprinkle more minced parsley to garnish, if desired.

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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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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