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In a Pickle

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011



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

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

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

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

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

Whiskey Glazed Corned Beef

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

Serves 6.

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

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

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

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

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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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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Super Bowl Spicy

Friday, January 28th, 2011

I don’t know much about football.  I have never understood the game.  I’m not even sure who’s playing this year…that’s probably more than I should care to admit.  I don’t feel that guilty though, because we all know that a good Super Bowl Party is only half about the game.  The other half is about what you’re serving, and how well it satisfies the munchies at half-time (and during the overpriced commercials).  Food, I know; food, I understand.  So I feel quite involved in the success of Super Bowl Sunday, no matter who wins…as long I’ve got it covered from my end and plates come back empty!

Fun, easy and casual fare is what’s needed –so put away your gourmet, high-brow recipes for another day.  If your guests can eat it with their hands, all the better.  And for whatever reason (…not really sure why!), go SPICY!

Just to remind you, here are the most popular serving suggestions for your big fanfest:

  • Chili – there are probably about a 1000 plus chili recipes out there.  Easy to put into a mug or hot cup and eat while watching the game.  Very warming and filling, great with tortilla chips and can be made ahead in your slow cooker.
  • Hot Wings (a.k.a. Buffalo wings) – spicy and finger-licking good are what you’re aiming for (recipe to follow).  And let’s face it – when else is it acceptable to serve something requiring that many napkins at a party?
  • Sub-sandwiches/Hoagies – sub or hoagie rolls work well, or if you have access to ordering a 6-foot long roll, it will be all the easier at assembly time.  Be creative with your fillings –here are some good options depending on your available prep. time:
    • Layer an assortment of mixed cold-cuts,  cut vegetables  and greens
    • Layer slices of thinly sliced grilled chicken and roasted vegetables
    • Layer paper-thin slices of slow-roasted ribeye roast or seared steak and top with caramelized onions and peppers.
  • Chips and Dips – crudités, tortilla chips, bread sticks, etc. can be paired with an array of bean dips, hummus, guacamole, spinach or onion dips, and the list goes on…
  •  Kebabs – pretty much anything skewered and grilled will be appreciated, from meats/poultry to fruits for dessert.

For all the years I’ve enjoyed Buffalo Wings – the perfect marriage of spicy and sticky sweet, tender with a crisp bite — never did I realize that they were so named because ( you guessed it!) they were made famous in Buffalo, NY.   The Anchor Bar in Buffalo made these spicy babies known and loved far and wide.   To this day, Buffalo is a city known for its wings…and I guess by extension, Super Bowl Sunday too. 

Traditionally Buffalo Wings are deep fried, or that’s how they do it in restaurants anyway.  I was able to get deliciously crisp results from roasting them in the oven, sans all the extra fat of deep frying on an already infamously caloric day.  These are also really easy, which is a plus for entertaining.   Win or lose, a sure touchdown!

Red Hot Baked Buffalo Wings

These wings are hot, but surprisingly addictive!  Have lots of napkins and ice water on hand!

Yield:  48 pieces

1 cup flour
1 tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. garlic powder
24 chicken wings, split in two at the joint

Sauce

This hot sauce can be mellowed by adding a little more margarine (1-2 tbsp.). 

  

½ cup hot red pepper sauce (I use Frank’s Red Hot sauce)
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. dark brown sugar
6 tbsp. margarine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Directions:

Combine flour and spices in a large Ziploc bag.  In batches, add some of the chicken wings to the bag and shake to coat with seasoned flour mixture.  Shake off excess flour and transfer to a large greased baking sheet or baking dish.  Arrange in an even single layer.  Repeat with all remaining chicken wing pieces.  Refrigerate for one hour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Bake for 40-45, turning chicken wing pieces over once halfway through cooking time.  Wings should be golden brown and have a crisp appearance.  Transfer to a large mixing bowl.

While wings are cooking, sauce can be prepared.   Combine hot sauce, salt, brown sugar margarine, and Worcestershire sauce in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir to blend and bring to a boil.  Season to taste with more salt or black pepper, if needed.   Remove from heat and pour sauce over wings (rewarm sauce before dressing wings if already cooled).  Using tongs, toss with sauce until the wings are coated.  Serve hot or warm and enjoy as you root for your team.

 

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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Season, To Taste

Monday, January 24th, 2011

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

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

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

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

2) Invest your love and care into those chops.

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

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

Fried Breaded Veal Chops

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

First cut veal rib chops (one per person)

Kosher salt

Pepper (use freshly ground black pepper)

Beaten eggs (figure about 1 egg:2 chops)

Matzo meal (figure approximately ¼ cup per chop)

Oil for frying (canola or vegetable oil)

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

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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Links to Savor

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

January is all about New Year’s resolutions: dieting, pretending to be more healthy (for a good week or two) and all of the promises made after “misbehaving” in December.   There’s a lot of post-holiday guilt in the air.  As I’m not much for food-guilt, I don’t “turn over a new leaf,” — I turn over a new page in a cookbook.  Winter is a great time, while we are cooped up in the snow, to explore and try new things in the kitchen.   Leave it to me to pick January to start my foray into the world of Charcuterie, specifically sausages (not exactly on the dietetic side).  And what an education it has been.

The packaged, industrialized hot dogs and bologna we buy in the supermarket are a far cry from the handcrafted artisan work of yesteryear.  Infusing the meat with your own creative touch and combination of flavors makes it unique and personal.  And though the history of charcuterie has revolved around non-kosher meats (a traditional charcutier in France exclusively dealt with pig), there has been a renewed interest in the craft of preserving and curing meats in the kosher world as well.

Sausages naturally seemed like a good place to begin, as fresh sausages are of the easier and more versatile categories of charcuterie to understand and prepare.  Making sausages mostly just involves grinding the meat, incorporating seasonings and other ingredients (fresh herbs, vegetables, etc.), stuffing the mixture into casings, and smoking or cooking them.  Natural casings come from the inner lining of the animal’s intestines (yum!).  There are also natural processed collagen casings (edible) that are made from the animal’s collagen tissue which is extruded into the shape of the sausage casing (this is the kind Park East Kosher uses in their homemade sausages).

How to Cook ‘em

Fresh sausages can be sautéed, roasted, grilled and even poached.  The main thing to keep in mind though, is that the heat should be moderate enough that the casing doesn’t burst.    The internal temperature should reach 150°F.  Here are the benefits to each method:

Sautéed: main benefit is to create a beautifully browned skin with tasty texture.  10-12 minutes on medium-low heat.

Roasting: easiest and most effortless method (but no amber skin).  10-12 minutes on 300°F.

Grilling: most flavorful method and a fantastic way to impart smokiness to the sausage.  Grill over indirect heat (at least part of the time), about 10-15 minutes.

Poached: the most gentle and uniform cooking method, but does not impart color or flavor, so should be reserved for sausages that have been cooked or smoked (ex. hot dogs).

How to Serve ‘em

  • Hoagie-style.   Put the sausage in a bun with roasted peppers and onions.  Don’t forget the beer.
  • Pasta and rice dishes abound – change up the seasonings in any style of cuisine.
  • Loose sausage.  Break the casing and use the meat mixture to flavor meat sauces, stuffings, scrambled eggs, etc. (then take a Lipitor!)
  •  To add flavor to stews, soups and especially smoked sausages for braised cabbage dishes.

Sausages can be stored fresh in the refrigerator for up to 1 week and in the freezer for up to 3 months (*double wrap in plastic and put in freezer bag).

With my newfound sausage wisdom, I tried my hand at the following recipe.  In moderation, a little bit of good sausage will cause not guilt, but new dimensions of added flavor to our food in the coming year. 

Spicy Sausage Jumbalaya

The famous Creole meal-in-one, combining rice, peppers and an assortment of sausage, shellfish and meats goes kosher.   Park East Kosher’s fresh hot veal sausages work nicely to provide heat in this traditionally spicy dish, but sweet sausages can be used for those who don’t like a “kick.”  If using smoked sausages, pre-cooking is not necessary; however, slices can be browned for best results for about 3 minutes prior to starting the recipe.

 

Serves 4.

 2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
1 green bell pepper, diced (1 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (1/2 tbsp.)
½ tsp. kosher salt plus more to taste
½ tsp. paprika
Freshly ground black pepper (or cayenne), to taste
1 cup long-grain rice
4 tbsp. tomato paste
1 lb. hot veal sausage , grilled or roasted and sliced crosswise into ¼” slices
1/2 lb. grilled chicken, cubed (optional)
2 cups chicken stock
3 scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped

 

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or deep skillet (with lid) over medium heat.

Add the trinity of onion, bell pepper, and celery, and sauté until the onion begins to become translucent and the bell pepper has softened a little, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and spices, and sauté for a minute more.  Add the rice, sausage and chicken, turning to coat with oil, and brown for a minute.  Add tomato paste, stirring very well to combine.  Immediately add the stock.  Stir well once more to combine all the ingredients, making sure that the rice is completely submerged in the sauce.  Bring back to a boil, cover and reduce to low heat.  Allow jambalaya to cook covered and undisturbed for 25 minutes.  Jambalaya will be done when the rice is tender and the sauce has been mostly absorbed.

Stir once by folding the rice up from the bottom and over on itself.  Fold in green onions and parsley.  Cover and allow to rest for 5 minutes.  Season to taste with kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper (or cayenne pepper if you like it hot).  Serve hot and enjoy!

 

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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Table for 2, Please.

Tuesday, December 21st, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

 

Seared Duck Breasts with Cherry-Ginger Pan Sauce

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

Serves 2.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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A Recipe for Hibernation

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lasagna for the Carnivore

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

Serves 6-8.

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

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

Meat Ragu

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

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

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

Yield: about 2 quarts

Béchamel Sauce (optional)

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

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

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

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

Assembly

Preheat oven to 375°.

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

Naomi Ross and Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

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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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In Search of a Kosher Philly Cheese Steak…Hold the cheese!

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

Perched on my kitchen stool, I hunched ever so slightly over the latest issue of Bon Appetit. I could not help but salivate over a recipe that would soon be brimming on my stovetop. But as my eyes glanced down the ingredient list, I winced with disappointment while the mental debate ensued as to whether the dish could be made kosher. I mean, really, what can you substitute for clam juice? And of course the real underlying question: after all of the necessary substitutions are made, would it even be worth it after distorting the intended taste with so many replacement ingredients? Jewish cooks of yesteryear did not have such conflicts of interest. Many of the products we so commonly use today, like margarine or soymilk, either did not exist or were not readily available. But more than that, Jewish cooks were comfortable with their cuisine and cooking traditions, no matter what their nationality. Their food might have been Persian or Italian, but what defined their food as “Jewish” was that it was cooked in a kosher way – it was guided more by mitzvot than ethnicity. Modern kosher cooking has changed drastically over the past quarter century. With more exotic kosher foods available than ever before and the massively popular cooking shows and print media, it is easy to become a “foodie.” It is exciting to experience new tastes and aromas and to explore different flavors.  But for a purist like myself, I have to wonder if having the faux-cheese on my burrito is actually satisfying or just a sad attempt to feel as though we can eat anything we want and still remain within the bounds of Torah law.  As a general rule, I try to stay away from such compromises, especially since substitutions often involve artificial ingredients and unhealthy fats. The fresher and more natural the ingredients, the better your food will taste.  And though I suppose we all make concessions now and then, when in search of a kosher Philly Cheese Steak sandwich, I opted for a Philly Cheese-less Steak sandwich without hesitation.  A different animal, but kosher and delicious all the same. 

The key to kosher “substitutions” or just plain doing without, is in knowing how to sufficiently build and intensify flavors in other ways.  In this particular case, it is essential to use a tender well-marbled meat (I used shell steak, but rib-eye is also a great choice).  Caramelizing sweet onions and peppers with additional spices also boosts flavor.  The natural juices are fantastic to savor…even without the cheese whiz.

Kosher Philly Steak Sandwiches

Paper-thin slices can be prepared in advance by Park East Kosher upon request.  If slicing your own, simply freeze the meat, thaw halfway and then shave off slices with a sharp carving knife – works like a charm!

 Serves 4-6.

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 large Vidalia onion, quartered and thinly sliced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and cut into 2” thin strips

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and cut into 2” thin strips

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. coriander

½ tsp. cumin

Plenty of freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

1 ½ lbs. shell steak (or rib eye steak), sliced paper thin and seasoned lightly with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 crusty Italian sub or hoagie rolls

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.   Add the sliced onion and peppers and sauté for about 5-6 minutes, until onion becomes translucent.   Add all the spices, stir to blend and continue to sauté for another 6-7 minutes, or until onions become a golden brown color.    Transfer mixture to a bowl and add 1 tbsp. canola oil to the hot pan.   Place pieces of shaved steak in a single layer on the bottom of the pan.  Sear for 1 minute, turn over and sear for another minute.  Transfer to a separate bowl and repeat with remaining steak.    Slice hoagie rolls almost in half (leaving the two halves connected) and toast lightly, if desired.  Fill with pieces of seared steak slices and top with caramelized onion-pepper mixture.

*If making in advance of serving time, the steak sandwich can be reheated – assembled and wrapped in foil in a hot oven.

  

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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