Growing up, Passover was one of 2.5 Jewish holidays my family would celebrate.

My uncle, while he was alive, was a strong presence leading the seder with charisma and a mischievous delight in tradition. After his death, my aunt was more thoughtful and pursued discussion and commentary. Passover was the time of year I spoke most openly about Judaism at my public school, taking in butter, matzoh, and salt, and sharing with my classmates. In college I learned even more about it during that one year I was dating someone more observant than I (and she has since gone on to become a rabbi). The first time I got drunk was at Passover, and I’ll still argue passionately in favor of the richness of the cheap, sweet, syrupy Passover wines of my youth (and have so argued on this blog).

It’s a holiday that has a strong emphasis on food. On problematic food. On being rushed and hurried and fleeing servitude so that bread could not rise. It’s a holiday of learning rules through food and exploring the Jewish way of reasoning from text to law through centuries of debate and logic. It’s about learning logical discourse and boolean algebra through food. And unlike my approach to gluten free cooking (bread? Whatever – let’s eat rice! And all sorts of things are fun without wheat!), this holiday requires that you deal with the matzoh. It’s not enough to eat leavened bread, but it is also required encouraged that you partake of the food that is problematic. And that leads to creativity and weirdness and often some rather dry and tasteless food.

But you know me, and creativity and weirdness are favorites of mine. I love this holiday, but I’ve never cooked for it before. I love this holiday, but I’ve never hosted it before. But now I have a house.

And I had a friend who pinged me and mentioned that she really, really liked matzoh and could there be acquiring of it? And I took that question and replied, “Well, I guess I could host Passover.”

So I invited some friends…

And had 21 RSVPs. Including my parents, jews and non-jews, the proudly child free and three children, people who keep kosher and people who only vaguely know that ham and cheese sandwiches are problematic, vegetarians and people who refuse to eat vegetables, and also the neighbor who has taken to asking for food from me (and her boyfriend).

From them, there were the following contributions: My mother made her signature chopped liver and brought a fruit bowl; Lulu brought coconut macaroons; Redwizz brought his secret family recipe charoset; another friend offered stuffed mushrooms and spinach kugel (but they ended up canceling); and my boss kindly dropped off her leftovers from the first night’s seder she hosted. All the rest was up to me. I did end up at the last minute get some amazing help from Geeksdoitbetter and Carrie, and the seder would not have gone nearly as well without their (especially Geeksdoitbetter’s) help.

Appetizers

mystery dip
So my boss’s husband makes a vegan mushroom/artichoke mousse mold thing to offer vegetarians instead of gefilte fish. I plan to get his recipe. But also included with their leftovers were little matzoh sticks, so I knew there had to be dip! This was my mother’s job. It was rapidly determined that either cream cheese or sour cream would be likely to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the mousse, so it was thinned with mayonnaise. Then, because it was dip, the flavor needed to be boosted a bit, so she added oregano, hot pepper, black pepper, and salt. The result was pretty tasty but not perfect.

chopped liver with little matzoh crackers

(not included were the pitted dates I split up the side and stuffed walnut quarters into. I was going to toss them in the over with honey, salt, and pepper, according to an ancient roman recipe, until just warm enough to be soft and pliable. Instead, a few were nibbled just stuffed.)

Seder

Charoset Okay, so my family’s recipe is hand cut apples with crumbled walnuts, cinnamon, and red wine. Redwizz’s family recipe is apples, dates, orange juice, almonds, and cinnamon, mixed in a food processor until it looks like mortar. Oddly, they don’t taste all that different, and his is easier to eat on matzoh (as well as being acceptable to those who do not imbibe).

First Course

I gave the diners a choice among potatoes (roasted leftovers from my boss – and surprisingly tasty), hard boiled eggs (using these directions from Coconut and Lime with great results), and gefilte fish from a can.

Second Course

Chicken Soup with Matzoh Balls and/or Noodles – I make stock all the time. I make flavorful stock! And I had a bag of vegetable ends in desperate need of a round of stock making. What is more, when I was out in the Italian Market questing for chicken fat (which can not be found there!), I happened to be in line behind someone buying a quantity of chicken wings and asking for the tips to be thrown away, so I managed to acquire them for free. But I was using a larger pot than I’m used to, and even though I increased the amount of vegetables and spices accordingly, it still tasted like water after hours of cooking. Like water! So I ended up getting a (small) whole chicken just for the stock. And then it had flavor! But that was surprisingly stressful.

The matzoh balls were also a little scary. I was sure I could do it, but I kept being sure I could do it later and procrastinating it farther and farther off. Until Carrie showed up and offered to help, and I managed to talk her into making them even though she’d never seen nor tasted them before. I gave her all of the directions I’d accumulated from my grandmother (who made amazing ones) – use the recipe on the matzoh meal box and don’t handle them much) and set her to it. And they turned out a little dense, but they floated and were tasty

The noodles were storebought and standard. I’m glad I didn’t make them too far ahead because by the time the meal was over and we went to clean the pot they had turned into a gelatinous mess.

Main Course

I decided to go with both dairy and meat options (just nothing mixed) and let people choose their own adventures. I had also planned several parve/vegan dishes, but those (accidentally, I swear) ended up being the ones cut from the menu once it was clear there was plenty food.

Meat

Mark Bittman’s Braised Lamb with Horseradish and Parsley

I love that this dish incorporates food mentioned as historically relevant in the service, and I love that it’s braised – eliminating the holiday’s tendency toward dry meats. The lamb shoulder was sourced from Esposito’s, and they were willing to remove the bone and package it separately for me. They also had special seder plate lamb bone sections, but since I was already buying a lamb bone, I just went with the shoulder piece. I bought three shoulders – two in the 3 pound range and 1 in the 5 pound range. And there was a lot of painstaking trimming of fat from that cut that I’m not sure was necessary, but the end product was succulent and beautiful.

Right, so the first step was taking all of the bones, roasting them, and them adding them to a pot with some vegetables to make stock (and then cleaning them and roasting the three prettiest for the seder plate).

Then I took the huge dutch oven my mother bought me as a housewarming present (my first one of my own! At the time I wasn’t sure I’d use one that big, but I’ve already used it a lot) and browned the lamb cubes in batches, sprinkling with salt and pepper. Even with the olive oil, the lamb still stuck a bit – and I suspect it might have released if I’d waited for a proper sear, but I could not resist stirring the meat a good bit.

When I was on the last batch for browning and it was looking just about done, I added the slivered garlic and let that cook for a bit together. Then in went a glug of manischewitz concord grape (the recipe allows for white wine, but I love cooking with the manischewitz too much) and the lamb stock. And then the rest of the meat… which possibly should have gone in before the stock because I had to be very careful not to splash.

And I simmered the lamb for several hours and then didn’t add the peeled fresh horseradish (because I was scared and it was incredibly tasty without) until the last half hour of cooking, overnight, and the reheating on the day, but it didn’t end up changing the flavor much at all.

I almost forgot the parsley sauce, and few people used it – but I made it thick, with just a minimal amount of oil and vinegar (done by sight, so I have no measurements for you). It was delicious, and I’ve enjoyed using it up at leftovers – stirred into sour cream dip for chips and mixed in with egg salad)

Lemon Thyme Chicken

I feel a bit bad about this one. It has been so long since I’ve paid money for meat, that I’d planned to only spend money on ethical meat. And there I was at the farmers market staring at the $14/pound meat when this was already the most expensive meal I’d ever made and I’d been buying tables and chairs and a sink! And I walked away (after buying 4 dozen eggs) and bought cheap meat at the grocery store, where I bought enough thighs and breast meat to feed everyone for about $14. Next year I’ll do better.

Right, so step one was to peel and thickly slice an onion or two and to lay them in the bottom of the casserole dish (this adds moisture and keeps the meat from cooking to the dish, making cleanup easier).

Then I took a jar of pre-peeled garlic and shook enough into the dish to give more even coverage for the bottom – it doesn’t have to be perfect. And I tossed in about 10 oil-cured black olives to round out the flavor.

I arranged the chicken so that the thighs (with skin and fat) were around the outside and the breasts (skinless and cut into thigh-sized pieces, so three pieces per half) were filling in the center.

On top of that came freshly cut thyme (on the stem) and roughly-cut chunks of lemon. I usually make this dish with rosemary, so I used too little thyme to affect the chicken as much as I wanted, so in future I’d recommend really piling the stems on or/and also dusting with powdered thyme.

If you have more of the breast meat, you can also add a swig of wine and start the cooking process with aluminum foil over to keep it from drying. There were enough thighs (roughly half the meat) in this batch that no additional liquid was needed and it was fine uncovered. It went into the 350F oven right before we started reading, so let’s say it cooked for an hour and a half. I have, however, accidentally overcooked this dish by as much as an hour and had no ill effects or drying of the meat.

Dairy

Kale and Feta Matzoh Pie

This recipe was inspired by Gourmet’s Spinach and Matzoh Pie, but I was already supposed to have someone bringing spinach kugel and I love the more bitter greens. Really, this recipe was begging for some kale!

I bought three spring tops of curly kale from Landisdale Farm at the farmers market. The day before, I shredded the kale and cooked it down with a pinch of salt (so that I’d have more room in my refrigerator).

The next day, I assembled the lasagnas.

I mixed up a pound of fresh farmers cheese (from mexico, featured in my local supermarket… tasted like try, crumbly sour cream with a bit more culturing), 2 cups whole milk, 3 eggs, freshly ground nutmeg, and some salt and pepper, in a bowl with a fork. It was fine, even without the blender.

And I ended up with two casserole dishes almost exactly the size of a piece of matzoh, so I used one to soak the pieces in the 2 cups of the mixture while assembling in the other… and then just laid the rest of the pieces on top to assemble the second one. There didn’t seem to be any difference between the dish that had been oiled and the one that hadn’t when it came time to serve.

Then I finely diced an onion and reheated the cooked kale, squeezing out the moisture as I went. I also minced and threw in about a quarter cup of fresh dill.

Once the moisture was mostly evaporated, I stirred the kale into the remaining egg/dairy mixture and crumbled in a good half of the pound of feta I’d bought from my local halal.

Then I assembled: matzoh, filling, matzoh, filling, matzoh – matzoh, filling, matzoh, filling, matzoh. And I had just enough filling left to put a very thin layer on the top of both – perfection. And I crumbled almost all of the rest of the feta on top (let’s say 3 ounces per dish).

This was baked ahead and served only slightly warmed. It was delicious! I love the body of the kale in this, and I can’t image spinach being nearly as good.

It even freezes and reheats well! I love this dish! Such a success.

Greens and Quinoa Pie

This was my very first time tackling quinoa. I know that’s delinquent of me, but still. The grains were smaller than I expected, and there was no way they were going to be cooperative in a strainer for rinsing and draining – so I soaked them. Only then the toasting process was unfortunate, and I had to give up on that step. Perhaps toasting them dry and then soaking them next time.

So I cooked 3/4 of a cup of quinoa (because I’d eyeballed the amount and had no use for a quarter of a cup, so I went ahead and cooked it all) and set it aside until I was ready to deal with making the dish.

In my largest skillet, I cooked the romaine and some other lettuce-y head that was pale and spiky (but not frissee) and bitter enough to be related to chicory. Then I tossed them into a strainer in the sink and squeezed them occasionally as guests started trickling in and milling about the kitchen.

The last thing I did before settling people into the dining room to start the seder was to assemble the skillet of cooked onions, green onions, dill, cooked quinoa, and squeezed cut up lettuces.

Once we started taking turns reading the story of Passover, I sneaked back a couple times into the kitchen (and hid the afikomen) to get it cooked, the three eggs beaten and added, and the cheese – the remaining 2 ounces of feta and the last of the stichelton from my cheese tasting. And then I popped it into the 350F oven (in the skillet, not juggling the whole transfer to a pie plate) to finish cooking evenly.

It turned out pretty tasty, froze well, and received praise from the one guest who claimed to love quinoa. While filling and sturdy, I’m not sure it was exceptional enough to make next year.

Golden Gratin – Yam & Apricot Casserole (could have been vegan)

There is no good reason why this dish isn’t parve and vegan! No good reason! But for some reason the recipe is made for it to be meat, and there’s a tendency among the commenters to make it dairy, too. Having made it, I say that it would lose nothing from being vegan.

So you peel your orange-fleshed sweet potatoes or yams and cut them into chunks.

Then you make a base syrup out of apricot nectar (I was planning up substitute orange juice, but my coop just happened to have a bottle of apricot nectar across from the check out – and I just used the one bottle, which was less than 4 cups, but whatever)… and then the recipe calls for a cup of chicken broth. Why, recipe? Why? I happened to have a quart jar of oolong tea hanging out, so that was a perfect substitution. Other substitution options would be orange juice, white grape juice, water, or vegetable stock.

The recipe then called for 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted pareve margarine. I used 3 Tablespoons of butter because I don’t believe in margarine. Honestly? I could have skipped the butter entirely, and that might have improved the dish.

Then 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots. I had bought Turkish Apricots from nuttyguys.com on a Groupon without a purpose a while back, and they went into this. Geeksdoitbetter cut them into quarters (and she peeled the yams and washed the kale and did all kinds of things to make this dinner go).

So the apricots cook with the nectar and tea with some cinnamon and black pepper and then you add the yams and cover and cook until the yams are fork tender. At this point, I put them up until the next day.

I was careful to keep the chunks of sweet potato intact in the repackaging so they’d still be individual pieces the next day, and they were delicious.

On the next round, when I served the leftovers a few days later, I mashed them into a smooth yamy puree and topped them with a crumble topping of 1/4 cup rolled oats (not kosher for passover), 1/4 cup matzoh meal, 1/8 cup matzoh flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and as much olive oil and neccessary to get it the right amount of crumbly. Baked for 40 minutes, and it was de-light-ful. Well, it was a (potentially vegan, and it would have been fine) sweet potato casserole with a crumble topping – what’s not to love?

Parve / Vegan dishes

Asparagus

The Soup Vixen helped me acquire half a flat of asparagus from the Italian Market. I was going to roast them right before serving… and that didn’t happen. So now I have a pickling and canning project. Woo!

Dandelion Greens

Come on – what says bitter greens and spring time so much as dandelions? These were (again last minute, so didn’t happen) going to be quick sauteed with olive oil and vast quantities of garlic.

Carrot Casserole

These were going to be cut into coins in the food processor and baked with a little liquid (probably vegetable stock) and some za’atar seasoning. This was the first recipe to be abandoned because I found the golden gratin, but I still bought the carrots

Savory Red Pepper and Onion Matzo Brei (not vegan)

Also would have been tasty, but was a dish that sounded best made last minute.

Dessert

Coconut Macaroons

My friend has a quest to find the perfect coconut macaroon recipe, so I made doe eyes at her for many of them for Passover. And it worked – she made 4 batches.

Only there was an error in the handing down of the familial coconut macaroon recipe, and this try called for 2 egg whites per package of coconut (instead of the 1 called for by the condensed milk people)… and that made the recipe harder for her than it should have been. Apparently the extra egg pools out into eggy feet around the base of each macaroon, and she had to tear them off individually. (also, her dishwasher broke mid macaroon making)

That said, the macaroons were soft and sinfully delicious and way better that the dusty, dry ones from the boss’s Passover leftovers. I brought the leftover macaroons to work, and there was so much praise!

My friend, however, is still looking for an even more perfect recipe. The condensed milk flavor was more noticeable than she wanted and there was the egg issue, but the ease of the recipe was a big plus.

Walnut-Date Torte

Whooo! So my stand mixer is also new so me, so this was my first time whipping egg whites. It was amazing. It was a miracle that I didn’t eat the sugar/whipped egg white mixture with a spoon. I can see meringues in my future. Pavlovas with summer fruit.

Right, so the walnut stuffed date appetizers (which didn’t happen) and the dates for this cake were prepped at the same time. I just took my measuring cup and every time the date was dry or not pretty or didn’t split easily, it was cut into bits (quarters the long way, and then 4-5 slices down the length). I ended up with slightly over a cup and a half from that method, which was exactly what the recipe called for. Then I added the half a cup of boiling water and let it sit to hydrate.

For the walnuts, I just learned that the way that entry is written explicitly means you measure the 1 1/2 cups of walnuts, then toast them, and then chop them. Done!

And then I got out the food processor my sister got me (which I absolutely did not steal from KitchenMage) as a housewarming to chop the walnuts with 1/4 cup light brown sugar until finely ground. Then the recipe calls for 2/3 cup matzoh meal, but I’d misread the recipe before shopping and also bought matzoh flour for just this recipe, so I was determined to use it! So in went 1/3 cup matzoh meal and 1/3 cup matzoh flour, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, and a pinch of salt.

Instead of orange zest, I just happened to have some orange peel soaking in water in my fridge awaiting accumulating enough to candy… so I minced up an eighth of a cup of blanched, soaking (so much milder than fresh) orange peel and added it to the dates. I really liked this change.

I beat the egg whites until the looked like they were thinking about peaks, and then I started slowly adding the remaining 1/2 cup white sugar. And the volume didn’t increase as much as I was expecting, so I might have beat slightly longer than requested, but they were holding stiff, glossy peaks and looking lovely when I did stop. They made that lovely crinkly sound when you fold into them.

But first – the 4 yolks get mixed into the dates and orange peel. First the dates were added to the egg whites and folded in, and then the nuts and flour were folded in. This was seriously one of the most delicious cake batters ever! (And I’m a devoted batter eater. I find the batter is almost always significantly tastier than the end product, and this was no exception).

I had enough batter for two medium (8″?) pie plates. It baked at 350F for 40 minutes until a toothpick came out clean (I didn’t notice the springing away from the edge of the pan phenomenon), and I served it in the pan.

It was okay and definitely decent on the first day.

By the second day, however, it was nice! You should definitely make this 1-3 days ahead. You know what was also nice? Drizzling it with cointreau! It’s in the good fruitcake family, and it does well being treated that way.

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Yet another delicious meal made out of scraps and leftovers in my fridge.

It all started with a text message to geeksdoitbetter asking: given that I have leftover rice and leftover raita in my fridge, how many more ingredients do you think I’d need to add before I could call it food?

Her reply was that all I’d need to do would be heat it up and add curry.

On further inspection, I noticed I also had some collard greens in need of attention, so a slightly more respectable meal was born.

Curried Collard Greens

Wash and cut up your greens (I went for roughly one inch square pieces).

Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a pan. Add a Tablespoon of mustard seeds, and drape the pan with foil or a spatter guard because they goal is to have them pop.

Once the mustard seed start popping, add a teaspoon of cumin seeds and a generous sprinkle of asaphoetida.

After just a minute (or less) of toasting the spices, add the greens to your pan.

Sprinkle with a curry powder of your choice. I was hoping to make a dent in a jar of tandoori seasoning, but that ended up needing more fenugreek and turmeric to smell right.

Go ahead and throw the rice in, too, since this will add some moisture and heat to the leftovers (note: leftover rice can develop nasty food poisoning, so store/eat with care).

And then I added both leftover tamarind chutney (1-2 Tablespoons) and the leftover raita (1/2 pt container) and stirred them in until the collards had an even coating of a fairly dry sauce.

The end result wasn’t necessarily classy, but it was a decent and serviceably dinner. It ended up spicier than I was expecting, even.

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6
Apr

Giveaway – Soup Bible

   Posted by: Livia   in cookbook, invitation, Review

When Groupon* ran a special for Barnes and Noble a few months ago, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it – share my favorite cookbook.

book cover: mauve-ish tones, a bowl of brownish, yet creamy, soup - The Soup Bible
The Soup Bible – edited by Debra Mayhew

Of all my cookbooks, this one has the most wear and the most dirty pages. It reliably offers inspirations and I’ve only had a couple recipes that were less than satisfactory (and one was definitely my fault for adding much more of an ingredient than called for).

It has light soups and hearty ones, simple and complicated. It has ones made from ingredients scrounged around a bare pantry and ones that require special shopping trips. It has some which have become reliable staples frequently prepared. And there are still new recipes I am excited to try in the future. I think I’ve made about half… maybe fewer… but that’s cooking for one and an eclectic palate.

Now here are my reservations about this book: Debra Mayhew is the editor, not the author. You have to look very hard to figure out who wrote the original recipes. Also, this is not the book Debra Mayhew originally edited (though I didn’t figure that out until I’d already fallen deeply in love with this version), which is The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Soup – and this is a Barnes and Noble abridged version.

Those reservations aside – it’s amazing. The photography looks straightforward and explanatory, but it takes quite a bit of skill to make bean soup look that lovely. The directions are easy to follow, and the language is spare, so you don’t roll your eyes too much at the cultural appropriations. And – yes – so many cultural and so many different soups! It’s really a very exciting collection.

So I’m giving one away. Leave a comment and tell me your favorite soup or favorite cookbook. And if I get more than one comment, I’ll pull out a random number generator to pick a winner.

*note: I am not affiliated with Barnes and Noble. I do have a membership with groupon, and the link is a referral code that will give me $10, if you are new to their service and make a purchase. I don’t actually expect to make any money, but I couldn’t think of any reason not to use that link.

I’ve been trying to be thrifty this week. I had to buy tables so I could invite people over for a Passover seder.

But I lucked out last Friday to find leftover crudite from some workplace event put out in the staff room. And I had empty lunch containers at the right time, too. I acquired cauliflower, broccoli, grape tomatoes, orange bell pepper, mushrooms, baby carrots, and a decorative yellow chile.

Breakfast Mushroom Sautee

So the mushrooms were something I wanted to eat for breakfast. So I made half a slice of bacon, removed it to drain and left the fat in the pan to cook the rest.

I turned the halves of mushrooms into slices and then sliced up the yellow pepper and an onion. They went in onions, then mushrooms, then pepper. As it was cooking, I cut in some fresh rosemary.

And then I just stirred it until the mushrooms released liquid and then browned a bit.

I spooned this over top a fried egg on toast, and it was enough to have covered 2 or 3 eggs, but I still had my spoon and just went ahead and ate it directly without company.

I didn’t know what to do with the cauliflower, until I remembered the remains of the Saint Agur I’d been thinking would melt into a nice pasta sauce. I also had a random jar of hot pepper garlic pasta sauce that my parents hadn’t gotten around to using, so had passed on to me. And I’m just going to take a moment to give this a review on its own. That jar is not pasta sauce. It might be the random oddly-sized scraps of garlic and hot pepper (red, decently thick fleshed), having been left over from making a pretty jar of pickled peppers, that you decided to put into a jar with some oil… but it is not sauce. It’s a bit harsh. I have a very sturdy constitution, and it was threatening me with heartburn. So it’s an ingredient… a way overpriced one… but it’s not what it claims to be. Luckily, I was just using it to perk up the cheesiness – unluckily, I hadn’t realized how much oil I’d be unable to avoid adding on top of the cheese. Should you try this, just cut up some garlic and hot peppers on your own.

Spicy Cauliflower Penne

Start the water boiling and just start the cauliflower cooking when you put in the pasta – this isn’t going to take much more than the 9-10 minutes the pasta cooks. I think this dish is well suited to a whole wheat or spelt pasta.

Cut up an onion, and got that started in a teaspoon of olive oil.

Then I went through the cauliflower and barely broke it down even more – into a fork-friendly size – and added any extra stem bits into the pan right away to give them more time to cook. Then I turned the heat higher than medium and added the cauliflower, looking to get it softer and a bit browned without actually making it limp.

When the vegetables are two minutes from the right consistency, turn down the heat and add the cheese in clumps. Stir them in to melt evenly. And here I added some of the hot pepper garlic ‘sauce’ and stirred that in – about 2 teaspoons or so, draining out as much of the oil as possible. It benefited from some black pepper ground on top, too.

Then I used a slotted spoon to shift the al dente penne to the cauliflower and stir it in so that it was coated with sauce and absorbed that for the last bit of its time and sucked in flavor, too.

And then I ate most of the broccoli dipped into hummus, but I had a few pieces left when I was trying to decide how to use up the rest of the vegetables. While looking in the fridge, I noticed I still had a partial can of red thai curry paste waiting for use. Perfect! It was only after I started cutting that I noticed just hot very orange this dish was going to be – at least there were a few broccoli pieces to add a little contrast. Actually, that shocking bit of contrast looked amazing on the plate.

Carrot Red Thai Curry

Rice: 1/2 cup short grain rice; 1 cup water; pinch of salt; 1/2 tsp coconut cream – boil, reduce heat to low and cover for 20 minutes.

Curry – wait until there’s only 10 minutes (or less, but I have no patience) left on the rice before starting to cook.

6 ounce cans of coconut milk are the best thing for the single cook!

Shake the can until it sloshes (keeps the fat from sticking to the lid and sides) before opening, and then pour it into your pan to heat. Once the oil starts pooling at the top, add about a third of a pound of baby carrots, sliced in half.

Cook for a few minute before adding the curry paste – 2-3 teaspoons, stirring in and tasting between each addition.

Add the broccoli.

And then add a(n orange) bell pepper, cut into 1 x 4 cm strips).

Stir to coat and cook evenly. When the bell peppers just start to look no longer raw, take them off the heat and you’re ready to plate.

This made two portions.

I’d put the second portion in my freezer and gone out to the porch to eat, when one of my new neighbors came by and asked if I’d made enough for two since she was very hungry. I’d expected her to end up disappointed either because of the lack of protein or the spiciness level, but she came back full of compliments with my container empty.

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The plan was to meet up with RedWizz at 8:30am to go to the Italian market. I had made the mistake of admitting out loud that I considered that a buffer and the real start time more like 9am… so I ended up actually leaving the house at 9:30am.

And then we had breakfast at an Israeli cafe, which happened to be just about my platonic ideal of a coffee shop – loose leaf and bagged teas, exciting coffees, specialized pastries, a few hot dishes, eclectic comfy seating, sun streaming in the window, rich dark wall colors, many textures and dark wood, exposed brickwork, recycling. Pretty much all that was missing was a bin to compost the tea and coffee grounds.

And since it was Saturday, we had a Yemenite sabbath dish which seems to be served only in this cafe of all of Philadelphia Jachnoon(picture). It was dense and chewy, but rich and satisfying.

Italian market

We parked by a place selling exotic mushrooms and herbs; we snerked and decided to check it out on our way back.

Fiorella’s – spotted on the way to an ATM, this store is easy to miss because it’s not directly on 9th (it’s on Christian St). When we went in, it looked crowded, but that was only because there was a tour group inside and the Old Guy Behind the Counter(TM) was having a great time talking about the good old days with the tour guide while the group looked like they’d have been much happier to be able to sit down. I spotted some liver sausages and picked out 5 links that would be perfect to split 2 ways. The woman helping us, however, is apparently not qualified to separate sausage links, so we had to wait for OGBC to tie some off for us while still talking.

Spice Corner – I got ounces of ground thyme, an offer to split a bag of grains of paradise, and lovely south philly atmosphere as the proprietrix was telling someone asking advice about a spice (something that starts with T and tastes like cinnamon – no idea) that he should ask this guy she’s talking to right here, since he’s one of the best chefs in philly (no idea who he was, but he seemed pleased by the compliment).

Claudio’s – RedWizz was all full of nostalgia for the imported Italian foods of his youth. We also spent a while pondering the various truffle oils, salts, pates, and stuff. By the time we’d meandered (and it’s a cramped store) over to the refrigerated section and found the truffled chocolate spread, one of the guys at the counter had noticed us and popped over with little spoons to taste the chocolate. And, yeah, he ended up buying a jar. And then we were finally ready for the Gauntlet of Cheese! There was a huge group ahead of us doing the cheese tasting and discussion thing in a way that tied up traffic and resulted in them buying provalone… but I only judge a little. We two were eying up some of the blues, and I went home with an oozy, gooey blue. The guy right next to me, however, was totally going after my kind of cheeses – a bit funky, gooey in the center, and crumbly around the edges. We bonded, and I gut to hone in on his sampling action, too. I considered asking about the ricotta but felt like too much of a dork (and couldn’t think of a time soon when I could eat it fresh). We then squeezed down to the meats section, and I followed RedWizz’s lead and bought some bresaola of tasty.

DiBruno Brothers – but we weren’t done with cheese! I had asked my mother whether she had wanted anything, and she’d asked for some Stilton, so I knew that DiBruno’s was the next place we had to go. When my turn came, I called over that I wanted small slices (1/8 – 1/4 pound) of both Stilton and Stichelton. He obliged me by finding a Stilton of very similar character. Then one of the local blogs I read, Madame Fromage (who has since received contract work from DiBruno’s), has been doing a blue cheese invitational this month, so I also went for the Fourme d’Ambert featured by the author who gave me my 20qt soup pot. And then I was just about ready to quit, but the cheesemonger pouted and was all, “But you started off so well!” so I went and asked for a gooey/crumbly cheese he’d recommend… and he brought back (what he said was) his favorite in the entire store: ardrahan (more from Madame Fromage). And then he tried his second favorite – a semi-firm bright orange aged cheese with bright crystaline crunch of joy… but that was not really what I was looking for that day. So I bundled up what I had and was about to leave when I heard one of the other cheesemongers telling a customer, “I would love to introduce you to the best stinky cheese in the store!” So I turned to him and asked what it was, to which he replied, “Well… you’ve already bought it.” Win!

Talluto’s – had some lovely prepared foods, and RedWizz selected a sublime-sounding frozen filled pasta.

We cleverly skipped Fante’s, or I’d never have made it out with my wallet and schedule intact.

Esposito’s – One the way back up the other side of the street, I showed RedWizz my favorite of the butcher shops in the market. This one is large, with space to walk around; clean; and reasonably priced.

And then we stopped at a few vegetable stands, and I ended up with – blackberries, scallions, cauliflower, baby okra, about a dozen artichokes for $1, and some starters for collard greens.

Now that sounds like a full day, doesn’t it?

Well, right after I left to drive out to my parental home to celebrate my parents’ 44th anniversary (yes, they are very much aware that they married on Leonard Nimoy‘s birthday).

On the way, I stopped off at a nursery and ended up with some surprise strawberries and kale in my possession. La la la!

I spent some time hanging out with my parents. My father renewed his application for unemployment benefits. I filled out my taxes (though I’m apparently missing the paper with how much student loan interest I’ve paid this year – Gah!). My mother shopped the internet for office chairs.

I enticed my mother downstairs for her requested cheese tasting (part of her request was that I not leave her with so much cheese that trying to have it not spoil would weigh upon her mind, so the cheese was leaving with me in the evening). In comparing the Stilton and Stichelton, we came to almost exactly the opposite conclusions of Madame Fromage… and I think in our case the Stilton was the younger wheel, and that seemed to be the primary difference between the two. In out case, the Stilton won, but they were very similar and would need to be compared on the day of visit to buy again, since it’s all in the individual chunk.

The Saint Agur did not wow my mother, but I have devised plans to make it part of a pasta sauce of amazement. What could go wrong?

And then the Fourme d’Ambert was her favorite, and she kept a chunk of that one to nibble on in the future. The ardrahan was lovely, but it lacked spine in such company. I am looking forward to enjoying that one on its own some day soon.

And then we set out to my parents’ anniversary dinner at Harry’s

Harry’s Savoy Grill

Ever since they opened up their companion location on the Delaware Waterfront, they’ve been increasing the prominence of seafood on their menu. Sadly, this leaves their amazing Prime Rib in an easy to miss corner, and they clearly weren’t selling the quantity of beef they used to. (And we didn’t help much, since my parents can’t put away as much as they used to, and we went for multiple courses).

Both of my parents started with the French Onion Soup (dark musky broth that might even have been a little too dark; creamy onions, gooey cheese toasted just slightly too long), and I went with the asparagus and ham soup (cream of asparagus and chunks of ham… would have been more appealing with more texture of the asparagus, since that was the springly touch that hooked me to order it).

I ordered the foie gras mousse to share with my mother. It was rich and oily, but so light and aerated that it was hard to capture a flavor on the tongue. On the provided buttery toasts, you mostly tasted the bread. The stewed raisins were also a delicious accompaniment, but I’m still not entirely sure what foie gras tastes like. After we ran out of bread and the entrees came, I found that the mousse made an excellent condiment for french fries.

My parents both went with sandwiches for their entrees – my mother had the open-faced prime rib sandwich, and while she did send it back for being cold, the second time around it was as delightful as ever. Their prime rib is tender and flavorful (their secret is lots of rosemary in the fat layer and slow roasting it at 275F for hours), and the french fries with crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, and salted perfectly. My father selected the rather clever debris sandwich – which scraps of the prime ribs cuts and shreds them in a peppery sauce. The sandwich is then piled on with pickles and coleslaw.

My choice was the seasonal salad – red oak, mâche, fried eggplant, french breakfast radish. It was a little oily, but delicious. You’d think the eggplant would come in pieced of strips to eat with the greens, but it was the base underneath with two large (1/2 cm thick) rounds of battered and fried eggplant (perfect for covering with sauce and mozzarella and making parmesan). Once I discovered them, however, it worked well to slice them up and gather together a little of everything in each bite – I don’t usually pay attention to the relative proportions of ingredients other than at a taste level, but it was very satisfying to have it just work out that everything lasted to the end.

But the biggest surprise was what a difference their new pastry chef, Jessi Allen, had made with their dessert selections. Harry’s desserts have always been good, but fairly standard. This time they were exceptional. Let me turn this into a long story. In 2003, I went to Seattle for a conference and found that one of my favorite desserts – crème brûlée – was better there than it had every been back home: richer, creamier, warmer, more delightful on my tongue. I ate crème brûlée everywhere I could there… and then have hardly ever had it since. No one’s quite as good at it on this coast. It’s usually cold from the refrigerator with a thick crust you chisel through, and the rich creaminess is just spoiled knowing that it ought to be even more so. Here it’s treated like a dish that’s easy to rack in storage and quick to pull out as something flashy – whereas in Seattle, it was treated like something you’d enjoy eating. It has been one of the big heartbreaks of expanding my food knowledge. But tonight! Tonight my mother ordered crème brûlée, and it was amazing. It was the crème brûlée of Seattle. It had a bit of wobble in its hips and a sashay on your tongue. It wasn’t too sweet and the caramelized crust was tissue thin.

I had the chocolate bombé: a decadent, breastlike mound of cake, mousse, and chocolate coating. It had pretzels for pizzaz and texture, and they were still crunchy, providing lovely sparkles of salt. The candied bacon did not fit the dish as well, but the pastry chef had them completely separate from the rest of the bombé – 4 pieces adorning the plate – so you weren’t tied to them. (While we’re talking decorating, the cake was, however, unfortunately held to the plate by one of those unfortunate chocolate smears that cause sly winces on the internet)

And my father had a simple bowl of berries and whipped cream, whether they were willing to provide even though it wasn’t on the menu.

10
Mar

Cleaning Mushrooms

   Posted by: Livia   in adoration, Food

There must be half a dozen ways to clean mushrooms – brushing off the dirt with a dry brush, wiping them with a damp towel, rinsing them in water, peeling them, and probably a few more.

Oh, yes – peeling them. I love this trick. It’s terribly time consuming, but incredibly satisfying. You get a clean surface and no additional dampness (though apparently dampness doesn’t matter for your result, just your processing aesthetic). It appeals to my cooking rhythm. You pop off the stem, and then just pinch under the cap and peel back delightful curls of the outer layer.

Another benefit of such ridiculously time consuming a method is that it really helps get your priorities in order. There are few cooking things as divisive as how to clean mushrooms, and it can be painful to watch someone try to help with a different method from the one you prefer.

Having someone help you clean mushrooms requires taking a breath and realizing that the mushrooms will get clean at the end, and you have to let the person helping you do so in her own way. And that’s one of the skills that has made a huge difference in my life.

note: I didn’t learn this skill on my own. It was taught to me by a lovely biologist in Baltimore who used to host dinner parties.

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There’s a good chance I’ll be moving into a house! A real house! (with hardly more counterspace than my current apartment, which wouldn’t be nearly as charming without owning this URL – but there’s lots of room to add furniture, shelving, and counters)

As part of looking forward to moving all of my belongings, I have a goal of not buying any groceries all month. I’ve already caved with a packet of soba noodles, but they’re small and light and I was in Chinatown.

So I’m going through my mind and reviewing what’s in my pantry, refrigerator, and freezer and pondering how they’d match together.

Okay, so I’ve been overeating because as soon as I come up with another plan for food, I have to do it right away, but still.

I’ve finished off three lingering containers of loose tea. Yay!

And I’ve started a plan for soup –

  • I have a bunch of leeks
  • I’ve pulled a random/unidentified cut of beef from the freezer to thaw
  • I have several large cans of black beans
  • I have an open jar of pipian sauce

Simple, right?

Only I was pondering this potential soup in my mouth, and I think it will not be pleasing to have chunks of meat in this soup.

My first thought, of course, was, “Oooo… if only I had bought a meat grinder for my recently acquired Kitchenaid.” (thanks, @geeksdo1tbetter) And, yeah, that would be lovely… but let’s be honest that it probably isn’t really something I want until I also own a dishwasher. And, either way, I don’t have one.

So the only other way I know to get a pleasing texture will be shredding the beef with slow braising. And, ~whine~ … I don’t want the soup to take that long.

But, on the plus side, it will help heat the house.

So here’s the rough draft of the soup plan:

Beef Black Bean Soup

In medium saucepan
  • beef
  • can of tomatoes
  • red wine
  • 1 tsp pipian (to get the flavor started in the meat, but I’m not sure about its pH and texture and all, so not too much)
  • -> braising

in large saucepan

  • whites of leeks
  • carrots
  • big can of black beans
  • quart of stock
  • -> cooked until beans are soft
  • -> add beef
  • -> add more pipian to taste

in large skillet

  • greens of leeks
  • 2 tsp oil
  • -> fried hard over high heat for greasy, salty, delicious garnish of joy

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Thursday
Did not make progress of truffles because I had house buying mischief. Closing date is set to January 31st.

Mortgage rate would be 5%, which is higher than I’d hoped. Apparently rates went up right before the holidays. Do you think it would be weird/too late to shop around more?

I still don’t believe that the sellers will have all the repairs done in time, but I’m starting ye olde boxe collection of moving.

Gah!

Then met up with Hugh for dinner and socializing at Cheesecake Factory. I think they secretly add crack to their food because it’s bizarrely tasty.

And then I conned him into running errands with me: dropped of sewing machine for repair and bought rubber caps for the bottoms of my kitchen chairs (because it’s only okay for them to cut into the rented flooring.

Whee! Good times.

Friday
Made 5 batches of vegan ganache to be the center of truffles. Also made Smitten Kitchen’s buckeye filling.

And then I was wooed out of my kitchen by book group and potential movie watching, and I packed up my goods and rolled some chocolate balls that night. I even dipped some of them.

And then Smittywing showed up! I’d… erm… sort of forgotten having invited her up a couple months ago, but luckily my apartment was in decent shape and able to accommodate a guest with barely a hiccup. Plus I put her to work on the chocolate front. :)

Went home, went to bed, and resolved to wake up early to complete the truffle process.

Saturday
OMG – so nuts.

Breakfast of freshly baked bread while covering kitchen in chocolate as part of the frantic truffle making process.

Smittywing was kind enough to take orders and make labels for all the truffles. And a sign to post by the farmers market. And add signature garnishes to the tops for identification. Yay sous chefing!

And then I got a call reminding me that I hadn’t left the key with Lulu last night at book group, so I ran over quickly to open the door to the site before heading back home to finish making stuff and putting on clothing.

Ended up completing the following truffles: laurel, earl grey, peanut butter, and thai-inspired

Spent some time helping sell. Spent some time out front with Bitmonger doing a dance with the sign and encouraging people to come in and sample our wares.

And then we were running out of chocolate, and we were only a small fraction of the way into the bake sale… so I headed off back home to make more truffles (though as I was heading out, I did see more people with baked goods headed in). Smittywing came with me to review the shocking news of the day on her computer, and I twisted her arm into making a batch of (amazing!) cookies, too.

So we rolled chocolate in chocolate and talked politics of OMG.

Oh, and there was also experimental orange peel candying. Is there a trick to getting them dry enough not to make syrup?

completed truffles: masala and green tea
completed cookies: mexican hot chocolate snickerdoodles

Went back. Rendezvoused with MeriSunshine , who had made black cocoa brownies that were all light and fluffy.

More chocolate was sold, and a significant profit was made – another year’s worth of BiUnity’s operating expenses covered. Whee!

Geeksdoitbetter showed up, looking glorious, just in time for final call and the wrap up auction.

And then we went back to Lulu’s and Bitmonger’s place and had dinner. Much gratitude to Geeksdoitbetter for making dinner of infinite amounts of pizza go. I had no idea how much I needed that until it happened.

Sadly, we still didn’t watch Memento (which had been an option for both book group and tonight) – maybe next Thursday?

We did spontaneously schedule a dim sum brunch for next week.

And as I left, I surreptitiously snuck both Smittywing and D into the prospective house for a looksee.

Sunday
There was sleeping in on Sunday!

And then I started on cleaning the kitchen… and it was bad enough that I used the technique of just picking an edge and working along methodically. Then a round of dishes… then more cleaning… And we got it all in decent shape by noon (well, aside from some spots on the floor…). And that was good because I’d had a moment of insanity the previous week of inviting SCA people over for crafting at 1pm! Way to overbook my weekends.

There was still time, in the midst of the cleaning, for a fancipants breakfast. Bagels. Fried eggs. Potatoes. Scallion cream cheese made just that morning from scallions picked from the pot on my porch. An orange.

So then Smittywing departed and the SCA people started arriving.

The first one brought rosemary and garlic bread, for which I made some honey butter, and a kumihimo project (I think). We spent some time talking calligraphy and bookmaking, and I sent her home with a pen nib that I acquired in the Great Bryn Mawr Paste Room pillage of ’02.

The second person showed up with a bar of good chocolate, some yarn to ball, and a sewing project.

We ended up discussing garden plans, and it looks like I’ll have a set of 4 large raised beds to plant in next summer! Whoooo!

That makes my next summer diversified gardening plan up to:

  • 2 small vining vegetables in Lulu’s front bed
  • hot peppers, maybe a squash, maybe some other vegetable not tomatoes in Jen’s back yard
  • tomatoes, hot peppers, and some things not susceptible to late blight yet tasty to my parents in (you guessed it) my parents’ back yard
  • And raised beds of awesome, too!
  • And I think I’ll still pursue negotiations with the funeral home next to the prospective house to see if I can garden on the roof of their garage

I made a dinner out of random things hanging around in my fridge:

  • ground meat (beef, veal, pork) cooked down very thoroughly with some onions. Sauced up with some sheep’s milk version of gorgonzola. And then mellowed with some light, fluffy ricotta. Tossed with whole wheat penne. Topped with parsley.
  • Side dish of Dandelion greens wilted down in olive oil with ground savory, parsley, clove, red wine, fish sauce, and a lot of pepper.

I sewed a wee coptic book with a 2 needle version. I am not sure I did it correctly, but it worked. Next step will be gluing the covers together and trimming them to size, and then I’ll decide whether it needs a book or some sort of closure.

Monday
And I have almost all of the dishes done and everything! Whee!

And still had time for a brag-worthy breakfast. I minced the last of the ghost chilies (saving the seeds) and cooked that down with a portabella in bacon fat. Once that was thoroughly cooked and seasoned, I mixed that with the very last of the ricotta and used that as the filling for an omelet. Toasted up a bagel and had more of the scallion cheese. And a bit of tea. \o/!

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I have two charity things going for which I am offering truffles: The Purple Dove – raising money to support LGBT youth and Death Bi Chocolate.

The latter had a call for vegan things, so the first round will be vegan – that just means I have spices steeping in coconut milk, instead of heavy cream.

Flavors I have started so far:

Earl Grey – 3 tea bags. Steeping so slow. – ganache made

Thai-ish – lemon grass, galangal, and green cardamom, Demerara sugar – ganache made

Green Tea – matcha, wasabi powder (will add black sesame later and maybe grated fresh ginger), Demerara sugar, buckwheat honey – ganache made

Masala – Penzey’s Rogan Josh, Garam Masala, and Kala Jeera (a favorite from last year), brown sugar

Laurel – Bay leaves, pink salt, buckwheat honey

Now I need to start on breaking up the chocolate.

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22
Dec

Roman Barley Risotto

   Posted by: Livia   in course, dinner/lunch, Food, historical, non-vegetarian, Recipe

I just wrote this up for a friend, so I might as well post it here while I’m at it. Having first tried this dish at one of my Roman Cooking Workshops, this has since become my favorite way to cook barley.

“Wash and crush barley which has been soaking since the previous day. Put on the fire. When it boils add sufficient oil, a small bouquet of dill, dry onion, savory, and leg of pork. Let all this cook with the barley for flavor. Add fresh coriander and salt pounded together, and bring to the boil. When it has boiled well remove the bouquet and transfer the barley to another saucepan, taking care that it does not stick to the pan and burn. Cream well, and strain into a pan over the leg of pork so that it is well covered. Pound pepper, lovage, a little dried pennyroyal, cumin, and dried seseli. Moisten with honey, vinegar, defrutum, and liquamen, and pour into the pan over the leg pork. Cook over a slow fire.” (Apicius IV, IV, 1)

But I did make some changed. For one, no matter how much I love that a leg of pork is an incidental ingredient in this barley recipe, I just don’t have those lying around. I do, however, have a steady supply in my freezer of cubes of leftover roasted pork shoulder (it’s a thing – my mother likes this particular roast, but they suck at eating leftovers).

Also, gruel just sounds like prison food, and I’ve yet to find a congee I like. So I made it with a slow addition of liquid so that it was tender and pleasing but not drippy.

Roman Barley Risotto

Soak barley overnight.

In a nonstick pan, add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and sautee some onions and minced stems of parsley and cilantro (I got that trip from the DVD extras of Bend It Like Beckham).

Heat up some stock

When the onion is translucent, drain the barley and add it to the pan. Add some stock.

Bind together a bundle of fresh dill, drop it into the pan and sprinkle in some dried onion flakes, savoury (and/or thyme), and as much roast pork leftovers as looks tasty.

Let cook until the stock has been absorbed, and then add more stock.

Mince cilantro leaves and stir them together with 3/4 teaspoon salt (more or less – this dish can take a lot of salt), crushing and juicing the leaves. I found that the dish could absorb quite a lot of cilantro, so go wild. If you don’t like cilantro, substitute parsley – but the addition of green was a great choice.

Season the barley with the salt and cilantro, stir, taste. How’s the salt level? How’s the texture? Does it need to cook more? Feel free to have another addition of stock. Also, how’s the dill flavor? I might have been tempted to mince in some of the dill, too. If it’s strong enough, go ahead and discard the dill. Note the ingredient seseli in the original recipe – could totally be referring to dill fronds, carrot fronds, parsley, anise, caraway, or even fennel)

Grind cumin and black pepper and add to taste. I was generous with the pepper but more moderate with the cumin, so it would be a background note.

If you don’t have lovage, you can substitute celery or margoram (or skip).

And then once the barley is fully cooked and creamy, you’re finishing by mixing in honey, red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, maneschewitz wine (defrutum is young wine that has been boiled down to only 1/3 the volume of the original), and liquamen/fish sauce.

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