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Archive for April, 2009

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The first time I made sangria sorbet, it was a bit of a happy accident. And, I figured, no better time to make it than Passover when there is tons of wine floating around. And who better to share the recipe with than you, chers amis. Well, things did not quite go as planned. I started a happy little blog entry that went something like this:

After you’ve finished your Passover seder, you probably have some extra open bottles of wine left over. You could drink them, but I love turning them into this surprising dessert that’s a twist on the Spanish favorite. It is a great use of leftovers and I made it after last week’s pre-Pesach shabbat dinner with some remaining fruit and half a bottle of Merlot. I’ve given some guidelines below, but use whatever you have around and like.

Remember to make it a bit sweeter than you might normally drink.

Here is the lovely picture of my heaping cup of berries, macerating in the juice of a lime for about 10 minutes, ready to add the wine, orange liqueur, and simple syrup.

berries macerating with lime juice; merlot, mandarino liquour, and simple syrup ready to pour

I then added the equal amounts of wine (Baron Herzog 2005 Merlot), simple syrup (1.5:1 parts sugar:water) — 2 C each — and 2 shots of orange liqueur (Bartenura Mandarino). And stuck in the freezer. But, alas, when I was ready to aerate with my immersion blender as I had in the past, the mixture was not even slushy. This, after 4 hours. Back in the freezer for another few hours. Still liquid.

I expected a slushy mix due to the high alcohol and sugar content, but this was ridiculous. So, I added a cup of water. A few hours back in the freezer, and voilà– a little better. Mind you, it’s now been freezing for over 12 hours.

Well, I added a tray of ice cubes and whipped with my immersion blender. Back to the freezer overnight. Next morning – still a liquidy slush, but it tasted pretty good.

a liquidy slush

Not content and seeing a little more room in the container, I added a final cup of water to help it freeze, crossed my fingers and headed South to see my family for the seders. And go South indeed the sorbet went.

When I got home last night, I was pleased to see that the sorbet had FINALLY frozen somewhat solid. I aerated again with my immersion blender, hoping for the best, but the flavor is less intense than I like and the texture is still a bit gritty. It tastes like a mediocre, watered down berry granita with a slight off-taste that is the alcohol. I’m done with the doctoring. Into the trash it will go. But I did get some half-decent pictures.

<sigh>

I’ll have to work on this for next time. More fruit, no water, add orange juice. Because the first time I made it, c’était si bon. The second time – too much doctoring. Third time will have to be the charm … bon courage à moi! Because I need a little encouragement after this little disaster.

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Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

One of my main rules of cooking is that I never make anything that I don’t like. And I have never liked anything with an anise flavor. Never. I have even returned dishes in restaurants if they have too strong of a tarragon or anise basil seasoning.

A few years ago, I overheard my friend Naomi saying, “don’t yuck someone’s yum.” A pithy little phrase, but one that I sometimes have difficulty following. However, writing here has taken my cooking and exploration of food to a new level, and is an opportunity to check out things that I have not normally been particularly keen on.

So, when I went to a cooking demonstration at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts last week, I was thrilled to discover that of the dishes made, my favorite was a fennel and pistachio salad. Janna Gur, the Chief Editor of Al HaShulchan, Israel’s monthly foodie magazine, taught the course and took the participants on a gastronomic tour of Israel.

Janna Gur making lemon "fillets" (supremes)
Janna Gur making lemon “fillets” (suprêmes) for the fennel and pistachio salad; note, eggplants roasting on stove in background

The two main written recipes that Gur shared with us were actually ones she received from chef/ restaurateur/ artisan bread baker Erez Komarovsky (owner of Lechem Erez/Erez Breads); they were tied together by what she called “the beauty of their monochromatic palettes.” First, there was my favorite, the fennel salad with its yellow sand greens, and then a beetroot and pomegranate salad that Gur described as “a tiny jewel box” with its ruby colors and whose flavors together “sing.”

Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic salads

Gur also demonstrated a technique for “burnt eggplant” roasted on a gas burner or in the oven (prick the skin if you’re making in the oven to prevent an explosion) until the skin is charred and flesh is soft. She then shared a few variations on how to serve:

- traditional eggplant salad with mayonnaise and lemon

- “baba deconstructed”:  split burnt eggplant and flatten on plate; top with baba ingredients – tahina, lemon juice, tomato seeds, honey, fresh herbs, and then serve – eater scoops out the eggplant with its toppings

- Gur’s Romanian mother’s eggplant salad (she called it the “reds and the blues” – for the tomatoes and eggplants): scoop flesh out of the eggplant and chop; mix with grated tomatos (liquid reserved), chopped tomatoes, grated onions (so less sharp), chopped garlic, salt, pepper, and vegetable oil (not olive oil)

Janna Gur scooping out flesh from "burnt eggplant"

Woven throughout the demonstration were pictures and anecdotes of Israel’s progression from a literal culinary wasteland in the 1980s when Gur was an El Al flight attendant, carrying oranges from Florida and olives from Greece, to its current reclaiming of its historical title, “eretz chalav u’dvash” — the land flowing with milk and honey. Today you can find groves of pomegranates. A rich melting pot of Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish, Arabic, Mediterranean, and North African flavors and influences. Wineries rivaling those in France. Classics reinvented like Turkish malabi, a pudding made with rose water, turned into a rosewater-topped cheesecake.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to devour the cookbook that Gur signed for me and, given the success of the fennel salad, I can’t wait to try more recipes.

Erez Komarovsky’s Monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey.

There must be some chemisty (magic?) involved in the technique of submerging the cut fennel in ice water and then mingling with lemon suprêmes (in Israel, apparently these are called “fillets”) before adding a honey-based dressing with a little kick from a hot pepper. Whatever it is, I was determined to recreate the recipe as soon as I could buy some fennel for the first time in my life! Coming from an anise “yucker” that’s saying a lot. Perhaps my taste buds are changing. [For example, recently I bought some Absenthe on a whim and found it not altogether distasteful. And I did not have more than a few sips, so I can’t blame my judgment or lack thereof on la fée verte.] Or perhaps, Janna Gur and Erez Komarovsky are just that good. I’m betting on the latter.

If the acid in the lemon is too strong for you, try some Granny Smith apple, sliced into thin segments to provide tartness with less acidity and keeping with the color palette. Add a splash of lemon juice to prevent the apples from turning brown.

Serves 6

- 2 large of 3-4 small fennel bulbs

- 1/2 C lemon suprêmes (or, as Gur calls them, filleted lemon segments) – 3-4 lemons at least

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1 hot green pepper, chopped finely (I used a serrano pepper)

- 2 T honey

- 1/2 C pistachio nuts, roasted and crushed (I used unsalted ones)

Cut the fennel bulbs in half and then into thin longitudinal slices. Soak in ice water for about 30 minutes (I just stuck in a bowl of cold water and then in my freezer).

While soaking, roast pistachio nuts in 350ºF for about 10 minutes and allow to cool.

Drain and mix the fennel slices with the lemon segments (reserve juice for later). Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top and set aside to rest for 15 more minutes.

Mix fennel and lemon salad with olive oil, hot pepper, and honey. Add nuts immediately before serving.

B’tay Avon!

I had a little bit of leftover salad and, after marinating for 2 more days, it was great thrown on baby mixed greens with a few more roasted pistachios.

Fennel and Pistachio salad thrown on some mixed baby greens

** DOCTOR’S NOTE: Proceed with caution due to the recent salmonella scare  and recall associated with pistachios. Roasting is supposed to kill the bacteria, and I always roast nuts myself. Do what makes you comfortable in this respect. The salad can obviously be made without pistachios. Try pinenuts instead.

Erez Komarovsky’s “Jewel Box” Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad

From Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food: A Culinary Journey. I have not yet tried to make this salad at home, but it was also excellent (but I like beets!).

Serves 6

- 3-4 medium beets (if you want to cheat, you can probably use canned)

-2 T pomegranate concentrate (Pomi juice should work)

- 2-3 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- 2-3 dried chili peppers, crushed

- Coarse sea salt

- 1/4 C delicate olive oil

- 1/2 C fresh cilantro leaves

- 1 C pomegranate seeds – we used pre-packaged pomegranate seeds in the class; the trick to removing seeds from a pomegranate is to cut into quarters and then submerge in cold water – many of the seeds will rise to the surface; you can gently tease the remaining seeds from the white membranes with your fingers under water

Boil beets in water until tender. Cool, peel, and cut into a very small dice.

Mix with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, peppers, and coarse sea salt. Set aside for ~15 minutes.

Mix the salad with the cilantro leaves and pomegranate seeds. Pour olive oil on top and serve.

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sunrise, sunset

 

 

saffron infusion

On Wednesday, April 8, the morning of the first Passover seder, many Jews will partake in a rare ritual called Birkat HaChamah (“blessing over the sun”) after sunrise. I will not go into the explanation about how this all is calculated, but supposedly every 28 years, the sun is in the exact same position that it was in on the fourth day of creation, and many take advantage of this opportunity to remember creation and bless our Creator. The prayer said roughly translates to, “Blessed are you, Eternal our Lord, who makes the work of creation.”

Whether one is a firm believer, a zodiac fanatic, a fan of interesting ritual, I think there’s something here for everyone. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a little reminder be thankful that you do get up every morning. And if you’re an ardent evolutionist and think I’m sounding totally crackpot, well, maybe you’ll appreciate this little piece of NY history that I found referenced in the sheet passed out at the Hillel of my alma mater:

HEBREW FESTIVAL MARRED
Rabbi Arrested of Observance of an Ancient Talmudic Ceremony in Tompkins Square.

THE BLESSING OF THE NEW SUN
No Permit Had Been Thought Necessary for the Gathering and Policeman Foley Could Not Understand What It Meant – Occurs Once in 28 Years.

Orthodox Hebrews in every part of the world celebrated yesterday what is familiarly known among them as ‘the new sun.” … The celebration in New York was spoiled for some hundreds of people by the interference of two park policemen with a gathering in Tompkins Square, the arrest there of Rabbi Wechsler, and the flight of Rabbi Klein.

…Rabbi Wechsler and Rabbi Klein, who are the heads of two large east side congregations, decided to call their people to meet in Tompkins Square. Nobody was in charge of the services, and nobody thought of obtaining a permit for holding a public meeting, as required by city ordinances. The Hebrews gathered by the hundreds…

… By 8 o’clock [in the morning] the square and the sidewalks around it were crowded. Rabbi Wechsler arrived about that time and was astonished to see Rabbi Klein running away at full speed. This last phenomenon was explained a moment later by the appearance of Park Policeman Foley, puzzled and excited.

The celebration is rather a complicated matter to explain to anybody. Rabbi Klein’s knowledge of English is slight, while Foley’s faculties of comprehsion of matters outside of police and park regulations and local events are not acute. The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an Irish American an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure.

Both became excited, and the people clustered around them increased the confusion. When Foley was told in broken English about a “new sun,” he was doubtful whether it was an attempt to guy him, or whether some new infection of lunacy had broken out on the east side. His demonstrations became so threatening that Rabbi Klein understood that he was in danger of being arrested and clubbed, and chose the easiest and fastest plan of escape.

Rabbi Wechler’s English is better than Rabbi Klein’s, but he could not convey the significance and purpose of the assemblage to Foley. The one fact which that offical’s perceptions grasped was that there was no permit.

After some parley, he seized the rabbi by the neck and took him to Essex Market Police Court. After being kept among the prisoners in the police court for nearly an hour, the rabbi was arraigned before Magistrate Cornell who dismissed him because he had evidently not intended to do wrong, admonishing him, however, not to make trouble for Foley…

- New York Times, April 8, 1897

I can so picture this. And I sure hope the organizers of this year’s Birkat HaChamah celebration in Central Park have filed for the appropriate permits.

***

This week I wanted to make a shabbat dinner that was largely kosher for Passover (“KLP”) to try out a few recipes. As I was coming up with my menu, I was reminded of this great main course when I overheard a friend asking whether there were any real authentic Jewish meatball dishes. I’m not sure whether this qualifies, but it is one of my favorite recipes and was the centerpiece of the first meal I prepared with the intention of sharing in this blog. The theme for that meal was North African-Southern Mediterranean. This Moroccan recipe has a beautifully colored sauce, and its name in French and Arabic refer to the bright red-yellow-orange of the setting sun at twilight.

Sunrise. Sunset. Close enough! They’re both beautiful times of day. And a reminder of the beauty of nature.

Chems al aachi or boulettes de viande et sauce crépuscule (Meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)

chems al aachi/boulettes de viande et sauce crepescule/meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)

Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean. She says, “The Arab name of this dish, ‘chems al aachi’ means ‘setting sun’ because the golden color of the sauce is reminiscent of the glorious sunset in Morocco.” The color comes from a saffron infusion that is incorporated into the sauce as well as directly into the meatballs. The original recipe calls for mixing 3 potatoes, peeled and shredded, with the ground meat to extend the portions, but when I tried this, I found that the meatballs fell apart into meat mush. Further, this recipe does not make a large amount of sauce, so you can actually double the sauce ingredients (except for the amount of cilantro). I replace half of the ground beef with ground turkey and also roast the meatballs in the oven to remove some of the fat before cooking them in the sauce.

Serves 8 (made 41 meatballs using a rounded 1 tablespoon measure)

- 2 lbs ground beef, or mix of ground beef and ground turkey. Do not bother using lean meat – you will drain the fat off when roasting in oven.
- 2 eggs, lightly beated
- ½ C dried bread crumbs or matzah meal
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 t saffron threads, crushed and infused and ½ C hot water
- ¼ C olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (1 C or 2 large handfuls)
- 1 t sweet (Hungarian) paprika
- 1 t ground turmeric
- 1 t powdered chicken stock, or 1 bouillon cube crushed or ½ C chicken stock
- ½ C water (or 1 C if using powdered chicken stock or bouillon cube)
- Steamed rice for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Make saffron infusion by crushing 1 t saffron threads in ½ C hot (not boiling) water – allow to infuse for ~10-15 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the meats and eggs; add bread crumbs or matzah meal, salt, pepper, and ¼ C of saffron infusion. Knead well with hands to mix.

Form into walnut-sized meatballs and set aside. I used a tablespoon to keep the balls relatively uniform. Do not make the meatballs too compact or they will be tough when cooked.

rolling the meatballs, measuring with a tablespoon

Pre-roast the meatballs on parchment- or foil-covered baking sheet for 10-15 minutes to release and drain off some of the fat. This is what will remain when you remove the half-done meatballs to add to the sauce. NOTE, this step can be skipped if you are in a rush and want fewer dishes to wash, but I found that the pre-roasted meatballs tasted better and are probably a bit healthier.

dregs left over after pre-roasting the meatballs

While meatballs are roasting in the oven, in a large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil and add garlic, fresh cilantro, spices, powdered chicken stock/bouillon/stock, and 2 T saffron infusion. Cook until sauce turns yellow and then add additional water (total liquid added should be 1 C). The sauce is what gives the dish its sunset name.

Add the meatballs to the sauce in a single layer and simmer until cooked through, about 10-15 additional minutes. Meatballs should cook for a total of 25-30 minutes between the oven and stovetop (or on stovetop only if you skip the pre-roasting step).

Add remaining saffron infusion and heat through.

Sunset meatballs

sunset meatballs - made with potatoes, not pre-roasted, and made with less cilantro than called for; these fell apart into "meat mush"

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve hot with or without rice. If serving with rice, considering doubling the sauce recipe.

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springtime in manhattan

I was back in New York for less than 24 hours this week.

I was there for the annual reception that the non-profit on whose advisory board I sit has been holding for the past two years to honor community leaders’ work in ending family violence. Before heading home the next day, I wandered around my old haunts and in addition to the weather, about 20° F warmer than in Boston, there were some of the familiar tell-tale signs that Spring is hitting Manhattan.

First, the construction. I’m not talking about the UES falling cranes-type of construction to erect yet another east-of Lex monolith cookie-cutter apartment building that had the Times proclaiming the Fifth Mad Park once tony neighborhood one of the cheapest places to live (ahem…Yorkville anyone?). That, I’ve never had the patience for.  But, there is something strangely soothing about the life that “MEN AT WORK” orange signs, on-the-ground, public works construction lends to a city. The idea of renewal. Spring cleaning all around. Paving the roads after a long winter that someone had decided is over.Fixing the potholes.  Do you hear that, Boston? I repeat, Manhattan is fixing its potholes!

Then there are the flowers, struggling in their little urban gardens. Granted, I didn’t make it to Central Park where the trees blossom around the reservoir just a few weeks after cherry blossoms grace Washington, DC. But I did spy a few little blooms peeking out from their 2X3-foot cell on the sidewalk near the parked cars.

first spring blossoms in NYC urban garden

But, the true sign of Spring for me in Manhattan is when the fruit (and vegetable) guys return.

corner fruit (and vegetable) stand

Adorning (or shall I say staking their claim on) nearly every corner in my neighborhood and across much of Manhattan are fruit vendors. Some sell vegetables, like this guy above, but it’s the fruit that I’m after. Nothing fancy. Not much organic. No farmers’ market here. This is just how I would pick up some fresh fuit almost every day on my way home from work. Everything in the City is about convenience, so sometimes I would take a different train so that I would make sure to pass Rana, my fruit guy on my corner, because once I passed my apartment, I wouldn’t go back out to just grab some fruit. Rana knew I was loyal — I only went to the guy across the street when he was out of something I needed — so, sometimes he’d spot me an avocado or two on Saturdays on my way back from synagogue because he knew I didn’t carry money on the sabbath. I was always sad when Rana and the other fruit guys packed up when the temperature dropped, but like clockwork, they always returned with the sunshine.

corner fruit stand, extra inventory in the car

extra inventory in the car

One more image that I can’t resist sharing. Two gentlemen in Highland dress (not quite complete or formal, but a version of Highland dress nonetheless) also enjoying the Spring weather.

Highland dress

On the T back in Boston, I saw a man dressed like a yellow cow, or a “cowpie” to be exact, on his way to attend a Bruins (hockey?) game. He wouldn’t let me take his picture. But he wasn’t showing any leg.

Manhattan 1. Boston 0.

But who’s keeping score?

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