One of the more pedestrian comfort foods. I was making this for a friend, and realized that even though this is not a dish I make frequently (maybe once every 8 years or so), I have strong opinions about it.

My strong opinion: Why so little flavor?

So let’s start with the filling.

Let’s start with the eggs in the filling. I never notice them, they don’t seem to provide much structural support, and they make your cooking/reheating slightly more complex than just – assemble and heat until hot enough you’d be happy serving it. So I don’t use them. Your mileage may vary.

But you should totally have other things in there. Other green (but not watery) things! For a pint of ricotta, there should be at least 2 scallions – sliced thinly all the way up including the green parts (but not any dried tips, let’s be real). There should be a huge amount of parsley (a fluffy pile of minced leaves that looks to be about the same volume as half your amount of ricotta). You have a mix of dried italian herbs? Throw a bunch of that in the filling. You have fresh basil? Mince and throw in maybe as much as a fluffy pile of 1/4 the volume of your container (I don’t know – it depends how flavorful your plant is – go by what smells good to you). Mix that together. Taste. Add salt. Maybe add pepper. Mix again.

Some people add spinach or chard to the recipe. Either have a delicate hand with the fresh leaves, OR cook the leaves first, press very dry, cut up finely, fluff with your hands, and stir in thoroughly making sure you don’t have clumps.

So now you have your filling.

Let’s fix the pasta – take any old box of dried pasta shells. Boil the water, pick out just the intact shells to throw in (a few more than you’ll actually need because a couple usually tear while cooking), and cook for the package directions. Most dried pasta has a range of times depending on how firm you want it, but jumbo shells boxes usually just have the time for ‘pretty darn firm’ because they know you aren’t eating them straight away – people only make them for stuffed shells. And then once they are cooked and drained, rinse them in cold water (so they stay firm – and in this case getting the surface starch off will benefit you by having them less likely to stick together and tear)

Now you get your casserole and your sauce. I just use jarred sauce. You can have your own sauce opinions.

Spoon a little bit of the sauce into the empty casserole dish and spread around.

Grab a shell, stuff it with the ricotta (you get to balance your ricotta/shell ratio based on your preferences and relative amounts of materials), and lay them out in a single layer on the pan. Again, you get to choose how orderly your layout might be.

Once you have all the shells in the casserole dish that you want to have (this works best if you have chosen a dish sized to have the shells fit fairly firmly together inside, but still all in a single layer). And pour more sauce over it. Because I am not a fan of crunchy pasta (I know people who are, so not judging), I make sure to spread the sauce to get all of the pasta surfaces at least a bit wet and red even if they aren’t buried fully in the pasta sauce.

If you have it on hand and are feeling the gooey cheese, sprinkle mozzarella on top.

(If you have a casserole dish with a lid, you can totally freeze this right now)

Bake at any temperature (250F-375F) until the dish is as hot as is aesthetically pleasing to you. I go until the cheese on top is bubbling and maybe browning in a couple spots. (If frozen, make sure it’s warm throughout before caring about the condition of the topping – that might mean thawing ahead or not using the highest heat you possibly can)

Serve and eat. Enjoy!

This is another Roman recipe. I made it for Noisemakers IX.

So a lot of SCA events just have a bowl of hard boiled eggs in the shell – pretty much for people to fill up on when they aren’t adventurous for weirder dishes. So I found a recipe that would make hard boiled eggs one of the adventurous dishes.

These were served cut into quarters and already drizzled with the sauce, and a side pitcher so you could add more sauce, if desired.

Ova Elixa: liquamine, oleo, mero vel ex liquamine, pipere, lasere – Apicius VII, xix.2

Boiled eggs with a sauce containing fish sauce, olive oil, red wine, black pepper, asafoetida

So for the fish sauce, I ended up being convinced by my favorite cheese mongers to try . And I chose this dish to use it on because I thought the woodiness and the eggs would go well together.

We strewed the plate with baby arugula so the eggs wouldn’t shift in transport from the kitchen to the buffet.
The pitchers with the sauce were made by Brunissende.

And this was at the very start of the buffet so that it would be like the sources in a Roman dinner party – from eggs to nuts – but I forgot to put out the nuts in the end.

Okay, so this is not an accurate redaction. Or, well, it’s about (slightly less) as likely to be accurate as anything else.

There’s a play by Plautus (Poenulus 325-6) there’s a reference to laterculi with the only description being that they are composed of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, (wheat) flour, and nuts.

Okay, so the name is also descriptive. It’s the word for bricks or tiles.

Some people take this description and match it with gastris, a food from Crete described by Athenaeus as walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds and poppy seeds, with fruit, honey, pepper and white sesame seeds. That will lead you to redactions both simple and amazing.

Now that last gastris redaction – which looks to me like a seedy fruitcake – would be perfect to make in an 8″ x 8″ x 2″ shape that was not unlike a common Roman brick shape.

On the other hand, Athanaeus’ gastris recipe has fruit and no flour. But Plautus was very clear that flour was involved in this project. Flour would be easy to add to the gastris because the nuts are working in a similar way. But it’s also leeway to go in a completely different direction.

One could make candies out of the honey and seeds with just a bit of flour.

Or! And here’s what came to my mind as being kinda fun – you could make pop tarts and call them tiles.

Okay, so pop tarts. First place to go is Smitten Kitchen‘s homemade pop tart recipe.

Next the filling. I liked how La Spelonca separated the poppy seeds and the sesame seeds. It both made them look more dramatic and kept the flavors clear and less like bagel toppings. So tentative working plan is to have two different flavors of pop tarts: Poppy Seeds and either almonds or walnuts or both; and Sesame Seeds and either hazelnuts or pistachios or both.

Okay, so poppy seed filling is a thing. But my first google search yielded only recipes that called for milk… but the Romans mostly ate their dairy in the form of cheese. It just didn’t feel right.

So I kept looking and loved this one that described the method and thought process beautifully and clearly – cook poppy seeds with a minimal amount of water, grind, cook again with honey and sugar.

Okay, so first I have to find the poppy seeds. So off I go to Amazon. And the first review right off the start informs me that real bakers look for unwashed poppy seeds for a richer, nuttier flavor and a better texture. Well, okay. So off I go looking at the unwashed poppy seeds and their reviews. And then things started to get weird. There was some division, but also some overlap, between the bakers and the people making poppy seed tea. And some of the people making the poppy seed tea seemed more interested in the color of their tea than the flavor, but others loved the flavor. Erm… And then I got to the ones talking about how ‘effective’ their tea and/or baked goods were. And there was the one who assured people that the reviewer really could tell that these poppy seeds were unwashed because there was plant material included as well. Ummm… I object! Because if I’m baking and there’s plant material, don’t I then need to wash the poppy seeds? But it wasn’t all double entendre and drug references, because there were still people staunchly championing the unwashed seeds while listing their preferred baked good and their baking credentials. But then I got to the one that was all, “I just made the best batch of muffins ever. Now I’m off to take a nap.” And I just. Now I have no idea whether kolaches is actually a baked good or just a wink and nod drug reference in the land of amazon reviews. So I still haven’t what to buy for making a large quantity, but I picked up half a pound of what are definitely washed seeds at a spice shop in the Italian Market.

So poppy seeds and water in a small saucepan. Check. Going well. The poppy seeds take on moisture, darken, and swell.

Grind the poppy seeds… doesn’t go so well. I put some in my mortal and grind it with the pestle… and it goes okay, but every time any utensil touches the poppy seeds there’s mess left behind. And so after a few desultry grinding attempts I figure I might as well see if I might like the consistency of it not ground all that much. So I put it all back in the saucepan and add the honey. And then add more honey because honey was more common that sugar back in the day. And then panic! Because the honey just liquifies and everything becomes sloshy. And cooking it more doesn’t make it any drier. And what if I really needed sugar to get a good paste because of how honey is like an invert sugar? Eh, whatever – let’s refrigerate what I have and see how it moves tomorrow. Plus I’m going to add nuts to it.

And the paste is fascinating! I used a fork to move it and it’s sort of a non-Newtonian liquid. Woo!

Okay, so crust. Filling. Assembly!

I got a friend with skills and a marble rolling pin to help with the first set of rolling out (I’m hoping I can use my pasta roller when I’m on my own). I rough guessed a size that’s smaller than pop tarts. My goal is to find a size that stretches my supplies while still being large enough to not get grabbed by the handful. One or two should be an intuitively obvious portion size. These ended up about 4″ x 3″ (and I think I could go a smidge smaller and have them about the size of poker cards).

I did one batch with just an egg white wash for sealing and one with a beaten egg. I think I’ll go with the beaten egg for future versions (because simpler to brush and more efficient use of stuff).

About 2 teaspoons of filling lumped in the center. And then I spread it out with my fingers because everything else seemed to just get coated in seeds more than helping to move them where I wanted. I left 1 cm margin. I can try getting a narrower margin, but too narrow might lead to disaster. And then I crimped the edges sealed with a fork and poked holes in the top.

I started the oven at 350F. And then after 10 minutes with no obvious cooking I popped it up to 425F. Total cooking time was 25 minutes, and that was a little too much (very brown, some corners just starting to burn, still entirely edible and hella tasty). Then I looked at the recipe, which was 350F for 30 minutes. So I just panicked too early.

When they were cooking, there was enough butter in the dough to lead to puddles of bubbling fat that were almost frying the pop tarts. So not okay for a toaster! But it was kind of sexy on a lined sheet pan.

When you bite in, the first taste is browned butter. And the second bite is also butter with a bit of pastry. When you get to the filling, it’s amazing. The nuts and poppy seeds are a lovely texture among the crispy pastry flakes and I’m not going to worry about grinding the poppy seeds at all for the future. And the honey is a great balance to the butter. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. They’re going to make the best breakfast.

So plans for the future:

* reduce butter per 2 cups of flour from 1 cup to 3/4 cup (12 tablespoons)

* try rolling out with pasta roller

* Cut to 3.5″ x 2.5″

* Poppy seed & almond is great. Also try sesame seed & hazelnut.

* Make 75 of each flavor; 150 total. Freeze before baking.

The last day I was in Istanbul, my host let me help her make Sigara böreği. Here’s my attempt to document what we did so I can remember for the future.


3 bunches of fresh spinach (with large leaves) from the farmers market were washed thoroughly in several changes of water. She had 2 salad spinners going at once.

In a skillet, 1 minced medium/large white onion was softened in a generous glug of olive oil. Once it was soft, she peeled and shredded in 2 smaller potatoes (all that she had on hand, perhaps more would have been used if she had it) (large holes on a box grater). Stir stir stir. Cook Cook Cook.

And then the cleaned and roughly chopped spinach went in. And we cooked it until is was a soft and homogeneous mixture.

Season with black pepper and salt.

Then the heat was turned off, and it was set aside to prepare the wrappers.


Was not made with phyllo dough! She hod bought freshly made circles of thin dough from the local market. Yufka! Which I just found at a market in this city, which is why I am now thinking about making them on my own.

So she spread out this 2″ round of dough in a single layer on the counter (and kept the rest covered lest it dry out).

And she mixed together yogurt, eggs, and olive oil until it had a soupy texture (and she added ingredients as needed to get the right consistency).

Spread a thin-ish layer of the egg mixture over the yukfa. Fold the yukfa in half, so you now have a semi-circle. Slice the semicircle into 6-8 (I forget which) long triangle wedges.


Spoon 1-2 Tablespoons of the spinach filling on the wide part of the triangle. Tuck in the corners and roll the dough around the filling. If it seems dry, feel free to add more of the egg mixture to seal, but it shouldn’t be wet either.

Lay your finished cigars on a lined baking sheet. They can now sit overnight in the refrigerator (I don’t remember if this is just okay or preferred).

When ready, bake at 425F for 15-20 minutes.

Things that are missing from this recipe
She also had white cheese (like feta) that went into this dish. Was it mixed into the spinach once it had cooled? Or was it in the egg mixture? I don’t remember.

Were there any herbs in the spinach mixture? A bit of parsley wouldn’t hurt.

Other similar recipes online

vegan ->

ETA: Okay – so I’ve made it now and can answer all the questions I had before!

First – this is not a crispy version. This dough looks terrifyingly designed to be crispy. I was sure that everything was ruined because I only had storebought Yufka instead of getting a fresh batch from a local market. Everything turned out fine.

Second – Yes, add the cheese to the filling once it has cooled. I ended up using a mixture of peccorino romano and sheep milk beyaz peynir. Whatever brined white cheese should be tasty. Also, I was worried about the saltiness of my cheese, so I was moderate about the salt in the filling. But, really, it could have used more salt.

Third – resting time is important! The first batch I cooked was the last batch I made, and it ended up releasing a puddle of oil that made the rolls soggy. I was resigned to finding them tasty anyway. But the second batch, which had been sitting long enough for the dough to fully hydrate and the tops (brushed with more of the egg/yogurt/oil mixture) to get a little tacky, didn’t lose any liquid and came out fairly similar to the ones I’d had in Istanbul. And the tops turned lovely golden and brown.

Cooking time – 425F for 20 minutes.


More Roman food

   Posted by: Livia   in Food, historical, lists, SCA event

Fair warning – there might be a lot of posts all in a row. I’m planning a ancient Roman menu and am going to be putting my thoughts together here.

Starting off with 2 main sources – Apicius, which I’m familiar with, and Mark Grant’s Roman Cookery (which references ancient sources and then sometimes veers pretty far off, and I’ll need to go back and check his translations)

Outline (links to specific posts for each recipe to come later)

First thematic group

So this Roman Cookery book has a recipe for Ham in a red wine and fennel sauce (p.124-125) that’s described in the “Heidelberg Papyrus” which I haven’t tracked down yet. But it looks simple and tasty, and more importantly looks like it can be served on the side of either sliced ham as a preserved meat or ham as a cut of meat, cooked and sliced cold.

If the latter, there is an easy recipe for pork boiled in water with dried figs and bay leaves in Apicius (VII, ix, 1 & 2)

This would be lovely near Cabbage Salad that Grant (p.142-143) cites from Mnesitheus of Cyzicus, quoted in Oribasius’ Medical Compilations. Possibly also hard to track down. But it’s sliced cabbage in vinegar and spices. The closest recipe in Apicius (III, ix, 1) has you dressing the cabbage with salt, old wine (not vinegar), and oil. But most of his recipes have you cooking tha cabbage.

this group: gluten free, dairy free, fish free

second thematic group

Cucumbers in a quick refrigerator pickle (Apicius III, vi, 3) – I’ve made this before, and it’s pretty easy. Recipe does contain liquamen.

Olives & Celery – another Mark Grant recipe (p.74) from Columella – which should be significantly easier to double check. I want to take the serving of this as an olive and celery tapenade piped into celery logs

Hard Boiled Eggs – quartered and dressed with liquamen, pepper, and asafoetida (Apicius VII, xix, 2) and I figure there will be some plain eggs held back for less adventurous people and children

Patina of Anchovies – wash the anchovy, and steep in oil. Arrange in an earthenware saucepan, add oil, liquamen, and wine. Make a bouquet of rue and origan, and put it in. When cooked, remove the bouquet. Sprinkle with pepper and serve. (Apicius IV,ii, 11) – they were available for a good price and seem iconic for Roman food.

notes for this group: gluten free, dairy free, contains egg and fish

thematic group 3

Moretum is in Grant (p.72-73) citing pseudo-Virgil, but I’m also pretty sure the Apicius listserve has had copious discussions of this cheese, herb, and garlic spread with more than one ancient source.

Goat Cheese and Rice in Vine leaves – Grant (p.94-95) from a commentator on Aristophanes. Rice and cheese wrapped up in leaves, browned and fried in honey. For some reason the directions include unwrapping the rice as a stage, and that’s weird. So I need to look into that (and find an excuse to skip that step). This is a labor intensive reach recipe I might ditch. My plan is to make it a month or so ahead (possibly host a workshop to have several people help) and take it as far as browning the wrapped packets, and then freezing them. And then on the day of they can be reheated by frying them in honey.

Selection of white brined cheeses. Totally influenced by my trip to Istanbul, but I’d like to offer a couple different feta-like cheeses that have different flavor profiles.

Selection of crudite

  • carrots
  • asparagus (blanched – Grant p.142 from Anthimus)
  • endive
  • celery
  • broccoli rabe (if fresh and affordable)
  • sliced mushrooms

Lucanian Sausage (Apicius II, iv, 1) if my sausage making friend can get it done in time to smoke and age. This is supposed to contain fish sauce, and I’m torn between leaving it out and offering versions with and without… or making people suck it up and only try if they’re willing to have some fish sauce. Whatevs. Also considering whether it would be a good idea to have this on the table with the other pork products, but I like it with this group of food items more… will think about dietary restrictions.

Almond-stuffed dates (Apicius VII, xiii, 1) – which I’ve made often and are always well received

notes: gluten free, (possibly fish free – see sausage)

thematic group 4

Sesame Crackers – yeah… there are 2 drastically different hypotheses in Grant (p.154-155) from a short line in Athanaeus, so the end product is totally unreliable, but I’ve had an Alton Brown recipe for sesame crackers that I’ve been meaning to try for months now.

Honey & Sesame Flatbread (Grant p.97 from Athanaeus) would be a performance piece made hot the day of. Only if I’m feeling up to the added stress. One of the reach goals

Mushroom-shaped Bread (Grant p.53-54 from Athanaeus) is again pretty damn hypothetical. The sources just specify the shape and the things that make it different from a standard white bread recipe. But we don’t know their standard recipe. I’m willing to do some experiments and make some educated guesses, but this is something supported by archaeology as well as text, and the redaction looks like it would be easy to make in foil tins, which would make it super easy for this sort of setting.

Fried Dough with honey & seeds (Grant p.57-58 from Cato) is the performance piece my sausage-making co-conspirator wants to make. And since several people have offered friers it wouldn’t be too logistically complicated.

And then maybe some not roman at all honey butter for the bread, and olive oil with herbs.

notes: 2 recipes are dairy free, all the gluten, fish free, vegetarian, some dairy

breakfast set up

Coffee, Tea

Hydromel (Grant p.82-83 from Bassus) actually looks like it would make a good weak hot apple cider
1 part cider | 2 parts honey | 3 parts water

Seed stuffed buns (Grant p.106-107 from Plautus) Again, a very oblique mention. I’m thinking of these like miniature pop tarts stuffed with poppy seeds & almond or sesame seeds & pistachio – or something like that. And these would be something where we’d make it way ahead and freeze and then just pop them in the oven first thing when we go to set up. **expanded here**


Prep timeline

4 months – 1 week ahead
Cabbage salad (refrigerate in jars)
stuffed dates with nuts (freeze)
Lucanian sausage (hang dry / refrigerate)
Stuffed leaves (freeze)
Cucumber pickles (refrigerate in jars)
Seed stuffed buns (freeze)
make signs and labels for everything with all ingredients

week before
boil pork / find where to buy ham (vacuum pack and refrigerate)
hard boil eggs
make olive/celery tapenade
sesame crackers
double check your signs/labels

1 day ahead
– celery, carrots, mushrooms
– blanch asparagus
– cook sauce for ham/pork
– bake mushroom-shaped bread (maybe reserve a couple to bake on site for delicious smell and hot bread-ness)
– mix dough for flatbreads
– thaw frozen things
– triple check your signs and labels

Day of event

  • start coffee and hot water
  • bake seed buns
  • make hot cider hydromel – serve in crock pot
  • is there a mini crock pot for the ham/pork sauce?
  • fry dates in honey (can be done in a tray in the oven)
  • peel hard boiled eggs
  • fry stuffed leaves in honey (can probably be done in a tray in the oven)
  • quarter eggs and dress with sauce
  • slice ham/pork
  • fill celery logs with tapenade
  • arrange crudite and cheese plates, arrange all the other things, too, why don’t you?
  • how are we feeling about the fried dough and flat breads?

Just got back from a trip (which is what I meant my first post back to be about, but writing this instead), so I had a massage schedule because my back had been hurting and there was a long plane trip. Surely those would be disastrous together. Surprisingly, however, I’m doing pretty well, so the massage was just an extra bonus trailing end of vacation time.

Anyway, that put me walking to work from center city, which is rare for me. So I took the opportunity to try somewhere new for breakfast.

Schlesinger’s Deli
1521 Locust Street
Open 7-9 daily

I was looking for something light, but I have also completely run out of bagels… so the possibility of decent bagels won out.

I ordered salami & eggs (scrambled). They were cooked very firm and completely serviceable. The bagels were running low by 10am, but I scored an everything bagel. It had a crust, but not so much of one that it scratched my gums. The inside was bagel-y, instead of bready, but there was no stretch to the texture. Again, it was okay. The fruit cup side looked completely unimpressive, but was surprisingly good – they’d managed to ind canteloupes with flavor (still rare around here this time of year).

So I wasn’t wowwed but had nothing bad to say.

Except then I saw a patron come in and casually sexually harass one of the waitresses (“Can I get you anything?” “Come over on my lap and ask that again.”) and the waitress brushed it off and took it in stride, as she has to. But the manager was present and did nothing but welcome those patrons to the restaurant. So I was a bit disappointed.

And then that same manager publicly scolded one of the other waitresses for having been late to her shift and how dare she want to leave on time after that. She should stay the same amount late, since he has a restaurant to run and this is serious. And no matter how valid the critique, I should not be able to give you details of it, and it should not have happened right in front of the cash register.

So, no, I will not be going back there.

And, yes, I’d feel the same way even for the best bagel in New York.


Broccoli & Butter

   Posted by: Livia   in ethics & ecology, Food

In 1988, I was taking a course on logic. And, as is common in classroom debates, the topic was legalization of marijuana.

And we had the usual arguments with health studies and traffic studies and prejudicial enforcement. Fine. But the one that finally won the argument was this slippery slope extrapolation of, “Well, if you are going to go around saying people can’t get high when they are harming no one but themselves (i.e. in a controlled setting without involving non-users), then you might as well restrict people from consuming butter.”

Now at the time, this was ridiculous. And yet the class also had trouble pointing to the one thing that made it a different case.

In 2012, the arguments are exactly the same, but people take seriously the possibility that butter consumption might be affected by governmental oversight of some form. And every single time this comes up, I remember how incredibly unlikely it seemed back then.

What does broccoli have to do with health insurance? (NYT)
Broccoli in the Supreme Court decision (WSJ)
regulating soda size in New York (NYT)
Ruhlman fights back (tongue in cheek) with butter protections (blog)


Cena Trimalchionis

   Posted by: Livia   in Food, historical

Right, so my local SCA group is experimenting with a casual Latin reading group, and we’re working our way through the Cena Trimalchionis.

So far, the dishes are more edible than I remembered them being in Latin class back in the day, so I’m pondering a bit on making a dinner from the text. We’ll see. But for now, I’m using this spot to make notes.

Initial Nibblies – black and green olives

First Course – fake eggs served in baskets with straw under a wooden chicken sculpture.
Make a thin pastry ‘egg’shell from a dough that is mostly just flour and lard. Maybe the size of a small balloon. Prebake them. Pre-roast a doormouse chicken thigh. Put that in the shell. Fill with peppered egg yolk hollandaise sauce. Top with a little pastry to close the shell, and bake for another 8-10 minutes.



   Posted by: Livia   in Passover

So now I’ve taken long enough to write this post, that I can also tell you what I did with the leftovers afterward! Whee!

Okay, so I made my own haggadah this year because I wanted the people at the seder to feel more interested in having the discussions invited by the text without rushing along because they were starving. So at every opportunity, I added small courses within the service.

In related news: I now have enough dishes to serve more than 1 plate and 1 bowl course without resorting to disposables!

Bitter Herbs and Salty Tears
Kale and Carrot Salad

This dish was inspired by wilted kale salads in general and this one in particular, but I’ve never actually wilted my kale and this was one of the last things I made, so I didn’t have time to pull up a recipe at the moment I was making it.

So I shredded some curly kale. And I sliced some carrots in half and then thinly on a diagonal so that I had long, thin half-ovals. And I sliced some raw garlic.

I put some of the kale in a bowl, sprinkled liberally with salt, poured olive oil, massaged it all together for a few seconds, added carrots and garlic, and then repeated the pattern.

I didn’t massage enough or I didn’t wait enough or something – but the kale never seemed particularly wilty. It was very salty! In any other circumstance, it would have been way oversalted, but it was perfect for this particular situation.

The bitter greens mixed with tears aren’t really supposed to be easy to eat.


Finely dice some onion and cook it down in a little olive oil.

Once the onion is soft, add the leftover salad.

Do not even think of adding more salt. You can, however, add a teaspoon of manischewitz wine.

Crack an egg on top. Cover to steam poach. Eat with a spoon.

I put the matzoh ball soup in after the breaking of the afikomen.

Now last year I was deeply intimidated by the judgement of the matzoh balls, so I put off making them until after guests had started to arrive. I had never made them. So my girlfriend, who had never even eaten them before, offered to give it a shot. I gave her the only advice I knew (from my grandmother): “Use the recipe on the matzoh meal box, and handle them as little as possible.”

They were okay that year. The outsides were fluffy, and the insides were a little dense and had a richer flavor. My mother spent the entire year after talking about how heavy they were. My mother, the convert from Mississippi (Okay, so fine – she’s been a jew for more than forty years and has had my grandmother’s matzoh balls, but still).

But I was fairly sure it wouldn’t be fair to pass them onto someone else again this year. I did have enough worries, though, that I bought a mix this year instead of using plain matzoh meal. Again, just as people were sitting down, I was throwing gobs of dough into the boiling water (just gobs, not even fully formed balls). I turned it down to barely a simmer and covered – and by the time the soup was to be served, they were perfect and the fluffiest I have ever eaten. Some completely fell apart, but there were plenty of balls for everyone’s soup.

Chicken Soup (for matzoh balls)

I have no idea why, but for some reason chicken soup is incredibly challenging for me. It does not come intuitively.

But I bought a whole chicken just for the stock, since trying to make chicken soup with less has failed me in the past.

So I cooked together a chicken, some onion peelings, carrot peelings, garlic, parsley, and stuff with water coming all the way up to the top – as if I were making stock. Then I strained the stock. The chicken got broken down for meat and all of the other strained solids were frozen for garbage (don’t compost the vegetable matter because it has had enough meat contact to lead to insects in the compost).

Clean the pot.

Then I melted a Tablespoon of chicken fat and cooked down a diced onion, three diced carrots, and three diced parsnips. Once they were flexible, I dusted them with a Tablespoon of matzoh cake flour, and stirred that in to make a pseudo-roux. Then I poured in the chicken stock. Any of the chicken meat that had ended up in smaller pieces, was shredded into the soup as well.

For seasonings, I ended up adding ground thyme, savory, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

To serve: spoon a matzoh ball or two into a bowl and then pour the chicken soup over top.

Next thing I did in the service was to put welcoming Elijah way up earlier so that we’d sit with the door open welcoming people to come and have food.

We talked about Philadelphia’s new ban on feeding the homeless in city parks.

For the next dish, instead of a plain boiled potato and boiled egg, I served potato salad brought by my mother (so I don’t know the recipe), and deviled eggs. These were some deeply yellow egg yolks from Livengood Farm’s chickens.

Deviled Eggs

Boil eggs, then put them in cold water to stop cooking them, and immediately peel them.

If you have done this a day or so ahead and have refrigerated your eggs, warm them a bit in warm water before going on to the next step – because I think cold deviled eggs are no longer pleasing.

Slice the eggs in half and pop the yolks into a bowl (make enough eggs that it’s okay to discard 2 or 3 egg white halves that are the lest pretty).

For measurements here, let’s say I’m using 8 eggs.

Break up the egg yolks with a fork and splash them with a capful (1/2 tsp?) of white vinegar. Add
a Tablespoon of yellow mustard (in my callow youth, we used French’s, but I was really pleased with a slightly more upscale dijon) and a forkful (3-4 Tablespoons) of mayonnaise (we used Hellman’s). Mash together with a fork until completely smooth.

That’s it!

Fill the egg white hollows with forkfulls of yolks. And sprinkle with paprika.

And then came the dish I’ve been thinking about all year. MMmm a year of thinking about this next thing.

So after last year’s seder, I had a bag full of trimmed lamb fat from the shoulder roasts I’d been using. I rendered these down to yield a quart! of creamy pale lamb fat.

But what does one do with a quart of lamb fat? The only thing I could possibly come up with was confit – which led to rillettes.

Lamb RillettesAs I was dicing this year’s lamb shoulder, I kept aside all of the uneven and fattier bits to confit. I ended up with somewhere between two and three pound of lamb for the rillettes.

In a small dutch oven, I melted 1 pint of rendered lamb fat and fried up a finely diced onion until golden. Then I turned down the heat and added some water to moderate the temperature.

I tossed in a bay leaf, some peppercorns, an inch of soft cinnamon, a little ground cloves, ground thyme, ground savory, and a dash of ground oregano. A splash of wine, and it was all set to simmer for hours. 20 hours? (It didn’t need to cook that long, but I was able to keep it going overnight instead of making room in the refrigerator so I went for it – by adding a little more water to make sure there wasn’t a grease fire in my sleep because I worry, though in retrospect there might have been too much water to fat in the cooking ratio)

By then the liquid was reduced and the meat exceedingly tender. So I strained out the meat and shredded it with the stand mixer’s paddle. So while it was a time intense process, I was able to do other things during almost every stage of making it. As the meat turned to paste, I added more of the cooking liquid back into the meat until it was a spreadable paste. Salt to taste (took more than expected). I packed it into wee little 4oz jars, and then I melted more lamb fat to pour over top to seal it.

And then everything got stacked in the refrigerator (but I took them out two hours before serving so they could come up to room temperature and the fat on top could soften).

verdict: Erm… not as good as I’d hoped. I do not know if this would have been solved by using Even More Fat. Maybe. Also, I managed to undersalt them as well. Failing at sinful food, apparently. They weren’t inedible, but they didn’t taste… expensive. They tasted a bit like canned meat. ~shrug~

Chicken Rillettes

Some people coming to the seder, however, did not eat lamb. So after having seen how little time was taken up in making them, I decided to do a few chicken ones once the mixer was clean again.

I took the meat from the soup chicken – using mostly thighs – and sliced that into 3/4″ slices across the grain before putting it in the mixer with some rendered chicken fat. Once that was shredded, I added some seasonings (cinnamon, ground thyme, maybe a couple other things) and salted to taste.

Packed that in little jars and poured over with melted chicken fat to seal.

verdict: tastier! They were still a bit like chicken salad with extra schmaltz, but that’s yummy.

So… I ended up with about a pint of leftovers from the lamb rillettes (aside from the 2 untouched jars of each, which I set aside for the next Philly Food Swap) and no desire for that much plain fatty bread on toast points. So I tried adding a little to salads or the kale breakfast, but the best thing ever to do with the leftovers was to add it to pasta sauce!

Grill down another onion in some lamb falt, melt the rillettes into the pan, pour over with a basic tomato sauce and a hearty glug of red wine. Add some crushed red pepper. Best meat sauce ever!


Quarter, core, peel, and finely slice 7 apples (4 roma, 3 empire in this case – I picked the ones with the best crisp snap to the texture). Then slice across to make a small, but distinct, pieces. Squeeze 1 lemon as you go – the single lemon was sufficient to last me through all of the apples.

In between each apple or two, add a dash of cinnamon and a handful of toasted pecan pieces (walnuts are more traditional for my family, but I’d already used up all of my walnuts by the time I made the charosets and had already shopped enough).

When you have a container full of apples and nuts, pour a cup of Manischewitz over and then tighten the lid you your container and shake well. Mix up the apples a few more times while they sit and absorb the flavors.

And then we had the meal proper! This year, my mother’s kidneys have started to fail. Following the writings of a doctor from Johns Hopkins, my mother has been eating an extremely low protein diet. (This is not the forum to discuss the effectiveness of this choice, nor am I a doctor, but I am supporting her dietary choices and cooking to suit her needs) So her food is almost exactly a vegan diet… only with an allowance for plenty of animal fats (since they tend to not contain much protein). (instead of the lamb rillettes, I made her a special vegetable one by running bits of some of the other vegetable dishes and some jarred artichoke hearts through a food processor)

My father, however, must have meat. And one of my guests doesn’t eat any meat other than pork or chicken, but he’s very picky about vegetables. This menu reflects enough variety to feed all of them. So there.

Braised Lamb with Horseradish and Parsley

Same dish I made last year – I used smaller horseradish roots and cooked them with longer, and this year they gave a most distinctly horse-radishy flavor to the meat. It was good, but almost too much. And if I do this again, I’m not going to bother with the parsley sauce. It’s not that tasty and it never gets used.

Mashed Potatoes

For the lamb juices. Just yukon gold potatoes (available as cheap seconds from the farmers’ market, so I yoinked them all) and butter – they were amazing and fluffy when just made, but lost some of their joy by the time all the talking and stuff was over. If I do mashed potatoes again, I’ll have to pay attention to keeping them warmer.

Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Again, same as last year, only I used rosemary instead of thyme. I also used a lot more olives this year because the store has switched from letting me just buy 10 from an olive bar to selling them in a pre-packaged container. I don’t think the chicken suffered from the abundance of olives, but I did have to dispose of more waste at the end of the meal.

Imam Bayildi

Working from the same recipe I’ve enjoyed before, I took three small-ish eggplants and cooked them filled with scallion, parsley, diced (canned because of the season) tomatoes, and a bit of lemon juice (and a lot of olive oil).

Braised Summer Squash

The eggplant didn’t fill the entire serving plate, so as soon as they came out, I sliced rounds of zucchini and yellow squash, sprinkled them with herbs, and covered with a little excess diced tomato and parsley mixture and set them to braising as well.

Braised Scallions

Many people have praised the braised scallion recipe from All About Braising by Molly Stevens. I was a bit confused, though, about the yield – since a pound of scallions (5 bunches) was only supposed to yield 2 servings.

So I bought 8 bunches (and used most of one of them in the eggplant dish) and figured I had a lot of other dishes as well.

I also figured that what this dish really needed in it was a swirl of tomato paste in with the braising water. I didn’t do that, but instead I drained the liquid from a can of tomatoes (again, for the eggplant) into the casserole dish and used that as my liquid component. Well, that and a stick of butter!

Roasted Asparagus

My usual recipe

Walnut Date Torte

This was great last year, but this year I overcooked it a little (10 minutes!) and while it wasn’t burned, it was drier than last year and not as good. I soaked it in a bit of orange liquer, and that did not hurt it one bit. I could have probably added a lot more liquid, if I’d started on it a day or two earlier (week? What are the physics of fruit cakes?)

Nutty Dates

I was intending to fry these in oil with salt and pepper, but since the dates were softer than the average dried dates you get around here, I figured they didn’t need cooking. Instead, I just tucked walnut quarters (half of a half) in the pitted dates and left them for people to pick at.

Oh and the leftover charosets!

I made pie crust for the first time (yes, I waited until after Passover)!

Saga of the Pie Crust!

So I’ve been reading up on pie crust for about 2 years too scared to actually make it. Especially since I like Pillsbury and why would I make for myself something where I’d be aiming toward a goal I can buy for $2.50?

Then I found a friend whose pie crust is even better… so she’s talked me through it while I watched her. But I still haven’t bought a pastry cutter (because for some reason flat blades, instead of thick wires, are all you can find these days – and sure they cut better, but it’s harder to clear the gummed up butter caught in them)…

But I didn’t have any pie crust in stock, and honestly it was feeling like cowardice not to give it a try.

So on the first day of talking myself into it, I researched pie crust recipes on the internet and then I took a stick of butter and cut it into quarters lengthwise and then slices along the length. And then I wrapped it back up in the paper and put it in the freezer to forget about it.

On the next day, I decided I’d be more likely to do make crust a second time if things were simpler, so I grabbed Ratio and my food processor. And I put 6oz of flour and the 4oz (1 stick) of frozen butter in. Once I’d pulsed that into pieces, I was sure everything would suck because the processor made a much finer texture than my friend goes for in her amazing crusts. But I added the few splashes of cold water (from the filter pitcher I keep in the fridge, rather than making ice water) so that it would just barely hold together if I squeezed the stuff in a fist. And then I packed it tightly into a container and left it in the fridge overnight.

Finally, on the third day – I rolled it out. And it rolled out in a rectangle and refused to curve at all. (I used a wine bottle from my refrigerator, which had the benefit of being cold and heavy, but it was also a bit damp… but that didn’t hurt things as much as I was worried it would) Oh – and this is important – I rolled it out on a silicon mat. If got to be about the right thickness before it started trying to pull back in on itself.

Then I put the leftover Passover charosets in the middle, studded it with butter, wrapped the dough up and around and pleated it in place (for a galette), pressed some large-crystal sugar into the top of the dough, and baked it for a guestimated amount of time.

And it turned out much better than I expected! Real live flakiness and everything. The foodie guy who brought over funky cheese complimented me on the crust especially even though he thinks I could make pie crust all the time. Woo!


Why are you feeding people?

   Posted by: Livia   in ethics & ecology

Michael Ruhlman is a person who thinks about the whys and hows behind the food we eat, the methods we use to make it, and the sharing of it with others. He has given a TED talk. He has written many impressive cookbooks and books about cooking, with his most recent books exploring especially the fundamental components of cooking: Ratio and Twenty. And his recent post on Food Fascism has really struck a chord among the community of people who think about sharing food with each other.

The focus is on the decisions one person had to make in choosing the foods for a dinner that was part of her wedding celebrations – and whether it is reasonable for everyone to expect their preferences to be catered to, especially when that catering is expensive.

The whole post is not particularly long and worth reading completely for context. But his advice contained the following two paragraphs that will serve here as a summary:

“As you noted in a follow up email that no one in your party has any serious conditions (celiac disease, shellfish allergies), I would serve whatever the hell makes your daughter happy. I’m sure she’ll want a good variety, and so every normal person can enjoy his or her self.

But since you know that some of your relatives are a bit touched in the head with regard to their own diet, and that restaurants do charge by the head, I recommend including just what you elegantly wrote in your email on the invitation, politely. “I’m aware many in our big and diverse family may have diets they must adhere to, so if you suspect that our menu won’t suit you, please let me know so that we can let the restaurant know how many people will be attending the meal. If you won’t be attending do let me know, and also let me know if you will be joining us for the celebration following the meal.””

I’d say that a good 80% of the comments are in support of his positions, many of them with a wave of relief that they can admit to being unhappy about the sense of entitlement displayed by seeming-ubiquitous picky eaters.

There are even people with highly restrictive diets agreeing with his position because there are standards of behavior to be maintained:

The bottom line is that it’s never OK to rant and rave and make a scene about your food. Whether you’re at a party or a wedding, just remember that the event is not about you (unless of course it’s your own event). Even if you’re at a restaurant, the other diners don’t need to be subjected to your special dietary concerns. If you have a problem, quietly ask for a manager and pull them to the side to discuss it. Even better, write a letter to the management and don’t go back to the restaurant — both you and the restaurant will be better off. I’ve always appreciated a restaurant that will tell me up front that they can’t accommodate me as it means that nobody is wasting their time and even better, I’ve just increased my chances of not getting sick.

And I have to tell you that the whole discussion makes me wince. Because it’s the same discussion that you see in other venues – and it uses many of the same kyriarchal language that is used to refuse to examine privilege.

And I’m going to call BINGO

Who gets to be the “normal” eater and who gets the synonym for insanity? Well the picture right at the top of the post (which is held up as an ideal in the text) is meat and potatoes and a bit of vegetables. Ah, the golden era of nostalgia these days – the 50’s.

Also, there’s a generous accession that there are some people with real/medical needs to have restricted diets, and those are okay (but so inconvenient M I Rite?). And who are you to call the people eating fascists, when you are talking about asking for accreditation for food restrictions upon entry? Please may I have no ____, here’s my doctor’s note. Are you serious?

Why do we even care whether someone’s diet is restricted for health, ethical, or purely whimsical reasons? It’s restricted.

What reason do you have to want to feed people food they won’t enjoy? No matter that the reason!

Ruhlman says, “But foisting your diet on anyone or even talking about it in a way that even remotely self-serves or proselytizes, pisses me off.”

But by inviting people to eat your food and then serving people food they won’t enjoy eating is doing exactly that.

Making food for vegans and sneaking some butter in because you’re sure they’ll like it better that way if they don’t know – isn’t helping your guests. It’s helping you feel better about your own food choices. It’s betraying your guests’ trust that you are their friend and respect their ethics.

Making food for someone with an allergy and figuring that it’s not that severe, or probably faked, or just inconvenient to cater to, is risking their health. Even if they do not suffer for your choice, you are still the kind of host who is deliberately willing to compromise your guests’ health. Often times when this comes up, it’s discussed with a tone of spite – the cook getting back at the people who would dare make the person planning the menu think about the guests’ needs.

But even if it’s a fad diet. Even if it is just a food preference. Why are you calling them people who are important to you, if you don’t care what is important to them?

When I read the letter from the bride, I was pretty sure that the guests with the food restrictions were not just difficult to eat with, but also people who were generally unpleasant to be around. The answer there – don’t invite them. Don’t invite them and then test whether they’re willing to starve themselves for the pleasure of your company. Don’t invite them and expect a present when you are unwilling to offer food they can eat. Don’t invite people you know ahead of time you aren’t willing to have at your event. Because is slighting them on the invitation any less rude than slighting them on food? At least the former you can pretend was an oversight.

And what about more general cases? It’s important to ask yourself why you aren’t willing to accommodate the people you want to feed. What are you trying to prove to them? Why are you trying to normalize them?

And then once they are invited and you’ve undermined their needs and or values, don’t you dare say they aren’t being polite enough when they criticize you. (see also: tone argument)

And, yeah, it can be hard work to pay attention to what everyone will eat. It can take a certain amount of thought to pull together a meal with enough elements that people will enjoy that everyone will be pleased even if they can’t eat 100% of the meal. It’s much easier just to make a meal you’d like. But paying attention to other people’s wants and needs is one of the important steps in building friendships. It shows you give a damn.