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Archive for October, 2009

613

seeds

One year in elementary school, we had a “Mitzvah Fair.” Sort of like a Science Fair, but fewer experiments.

We had learned in Hebrew class that there were 613 seeds in a pomegranate, supposedly corresponding to the number of mitzvot — commandments or good deeds (depending on the context) — in the Torah. So, I paired up with a friend and we counted the number of seeds. Well, we tried to.  We bought two fruits, trying to make this project as scientific as possible, but weren’t able to count beyond about 400 per pomegranate. And, we did count the ones we ate.

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and to my pre-teen self, the fruit was the epitome of exotic. My friend and I had no idea how to remove the seeds. We cut the fruit in quarters, losing many seeds in the process, and then plucked the remaining seeds out by brute force with our less-than-nimble fingers. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is ubiquitous. And, thanks to a tip from my Atlanta family, I now know that the easiest way to remove pomegranate seeds is to carefully slice through the skin, gently pry open the fruit, and submerge it in a bowl of water. The water helps loosen the seeds (called “arils”) and they sink to the bottom while the membrane floats. You can then roll remaining seeds out of the fruit, re-submerging the clustered seeds periodically to help separate them from the membrane.

pomegranate

Our pomegranate experiment less than successful, my friend and I parted ways. Instead, I recorded myself as G-d giving the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Talk about hubris!

I found the room in the house with the best acoustics – the bathroom – and sat in the tub with a “boom box” taping my forced deep voice, enumerating each commandment and explaining it to the best of my nine year old abilities. To this day, I remember saying, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and explaining, “for she is your neighbor’s and not yours.” Yes, I really said “for” in lieu of “because.”

Pomegranate Chicken

pomegranate chicken

Adapted from Ethel Hofman’s Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home. I doubled the recipe (and have included that doubling here) and used mostly boneless skinless chicken breasts. Essentially, you poach the chicken in olive oil which keeps the meat moist and the chicken can be easily reheated without fear of drying out. The original recipe calls for making juice from pomegranate seeds, but I take a shortcut, using either pomegranate juice of concentrate (which is just a juice reduction available in many Middle Eastern grocery stores).  Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana as a reminder of the commandments that we have kept over the past year, as we pray in synagogue for our merits to be counted. I have made this dish the past two years as part of my family’s Rosh Hashana meal.

Serves 8-10

- 1/3 – 1/2 C olive oil

- 4 T minced garlic

- 2 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chickens, quartered or 8 boneless skinless chicken breasts or a mix

- 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/4 C pomegranate concentrate

- 1/2 C dry white wine (I used Beckett’s Flat 2004 Reserve Chardonnay)

- Juice of 2 lemons (~ 1/4 C)

- 1 T cinnamon

- 1 T sugar

- Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F.

Bake chicken. Spread chicken pieces in a pan in a single layer. Cover with minced garlic, salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. The recipe calls for 1/4 C oil per whole chicken, but this seemed like a little too much to me, so I cut the oil down a bit; use your judgment — there should be approximately 1-inch of oil in the tightly-packed pan . You could also toss the chicken, oil, and garlic in a ziplock bag and then spread the chicken in the pan. Bake in oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes or so with the pan juices. My chicken did not brown at all.

Prepare sauce. Bring to boil pomegranate juice or concentrate, white wine, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar. Lower heat for 5 minutes. The sauce should reduce to about 3/4.

Finish chicken. Drain excess oil from chicken. Pierce each chicken piece several times and pour sauce over chicken. Continue baking chicken with sauce for 10-15 minutes.

This chicken is great served at room temperature and on salads. If you have a pomegranate, sprinkle some of seeds on as garnish.

spinach and chicken salad with pomegranate dressing

Pomegranate Salad Dressing

pom seeds with lemon

Using virtually the same flavor combination as the pomegranate sauce, I created a salad dressing to complement the chicken that I cut up and threw on a bed of baby spinach.

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate concentrate

- Juice of 1 lemon (~2 T)

- 1 t cinnamon (optional)

- 1 t sugar

- salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and let the flavors mingle for at least 20 minutes.

Toss liberally over salad greens and sliced pomegranate chicken.

pomegranate dressing

pomegranate

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and the fruit was extraordinarily exotic to me. We had no idea how to remove the seeds and did it by brute force, plucking each seed out with our less-than-nimble fingers, crushing many in the process. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is

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big eyes

Growing up, my mom used to call me eagle ears — I could hear every single conversation going on in the house. I even listened to my mom doing an alumni interview for a kid applying to Princeton. This kind of got me in trouble since I was applying the following year and should not have been “overhearing” the interview.

There was no doubt that I *ahem* had a big mouth.a very full fridge

And when it comes to cooking and entertaining, I definitely have eyes that are bigger than my stomach.

If this is sounding strangely like a bedtime story gone wrong, fear not, I haven’t gnawed away at Grannie.

But, I do tend to grossly over-purchase groceries to the extent that much of my food has the potential to go to waste. I shop when I’m hungry. And I make half-hearted attempts at grocery lists. Reading foodblogs about mothers of 7 who feed their families each week on little more than I could spend on a pair of shoes puts me to shame. Or at least makes me reconsider my habits. A little bit.

A recent case in point – I was making a brisket for Rosh Hashana dinner and figured I would double the recipe since my parents love this so much. So I bought ten  pounds of brisket.

Ten pounds of brisket.

I should have known that I was going overboard when the butcher didn’t even have a single 10-pounder but had to give me two normal, family-sized briskets, one 4 pounds, one 6, to reach my desired weight. Then, of course, the briskets didn’t fit into the cocotte I had planned on using – actually a single one would have been a tight squeeze. But that didn’t stop me. I was determined to make ten pounds of brisket, so I pulled down my huge turkey roaster and layered it with the two slabs of meat, marinated them for an hour …

a perfect fit

…and filled the pan to the brim with tomatoes and onions.

ready to cover and pop into the oven

The result – five hours later, the apartment smelled fabulous and the meat had cooled sufficiently to be sliced down.

slicing can get a little messy

Six carnivores barely made a dent in the four-pounder. And my vegetarian sister even tried a bite. She was feeling adventurous. But didn’t feel so well after the bite.

And we still had more than six pounds of brisket left. And I had already cooked and/or prepped three more different meals. And there are only so many brisket sandwiches that my six-foot-three father can eat!

My more experienced brisket-maker friend Michele swooped in to the rescue – following her advice, I sliced down the remaining larger brisket, covered it with sauce, and froze it in a baking dish – a main course for another dinner.

the first layer

ready for the freezer, enough for 8-10 more

My spoiled little cat, Prescott Winslow III, hid behind the tablecloth, thinking I would not see him while I sliced (and sliced and sliced – ten pounds of brisket takes forever to slice, even when you spread out the slicing over a few days!), hoping for a few scraps to fall.

I can see you, PWIII!

Now I have learned my lesson for brisket, but what should I do with the six butternut squashes, four pomegranates, three bags of potatoes, and two cauliflowers that I still have?

Tomato and Onion Braised Brisket

Rosh Hashana Brisket

I found this recipe on Epicurean last year and it was such a success that I made it again this year, but went a bit overboard. The main modification I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of oil in half. I made a “rub” with the 1 1/4 C of oil that they call for, but it was so much that I now have a lovely jar of seasoned oil in my fridge that I have been using for salad dressings. I suggest cutting the oil down to 1/2-3/4 C depending on what cut of brisket you use.  I used a “New York Cut Brisket” which the butcher explained is a bit more marbled with fat than others. If you are given a choice of first- versus second-cut brisket, my understanding is that first-cut is leaner and is often less flavorful (but might not shrink as much).

Another tip – make sure to cover the brisket tightly with a well-fitting lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Last year, I didn’t cover the pan tightly enough with foil and forgot to baste every hour or so — which resulted in a lot of burnt bits of tomato and onion (if you’re being generous, you can call it a nice caramelized crust). This year, I basted better, and the brisket was fabulously moist and tender. While my dad had requested some special crusty bits, the lack thereof did not seem to stop him from having his fill, and taking a few sandwiches for the road.

Also, make sure you give yourself enough time to make the brisket: 5.5 hours minimum! It requires an hour of marinating, 4 hours of roasting, and at least 20-30 minutes of cooling before you can slice it — ideally it should be refrigerated overnight, and the brisket definitely tastes better the second day.

Serves 8 with leftovers (really!). I am NOT giving you the excessive doubling of the recipe that I did.

- 4-5 pound brisket (or slightly larger if you are neurotic)

- salt and pepper

- 1.5 t dried oregano

- 1.5 t dried thyme

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

-  1/2-3/4 C olive oil

- 2 large onions, thinly sliced (or chopped)

- 2 C coarsely chopped tomatoes (you can use canned tomatoes in a pinch)

Marinate the meat. Season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides. Then coat with a mixture of oregano, thyme, garlic and olive oil. You can either do this in a zip lock bag or in the pan you plan to use. Let sit at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat oven to 300ºF and prepare the vegetables.

Roast and baste. Put the brisket in your pan and cover with the onions and tomatoes. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 3.5 to 4 hours. Baste with accumulated juices every hour or so.

Cool. The brisket is ready when it has shrunk, the tomatoes and onions have lost their distinct shapes and formed a sauce (you might be able to see some bits of tomato skin, but not much else), and the end of the brisket can be pried off with a fork (but it’s not falling apart). Remove the brisket and sauce to a platter (or cutting board) and allow to cool before slicing. Degrease the pan juices and pour over sliced meat.

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