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Archive for July, 2011

he said she said

He walked through the door, bearing gifts. A bag of groceries – cheese, chicken, lemons, nectarines, and wine. Foraging through the pantry and fridge, he gathered the meal.

Bread with cheese to start things off, with a little care in the kosher kitchen where milk and meat are kept separate. Cheese stayed at one end of the dining room table.

On the kitchen counter, an assembly line was set up. A bottle of wine was opened and poured.

He said, every Jewish mother knows how to make schnitzel. No, she said, every Israeli mother knows how to make schnitzel. She was neither. She watched him carefully.

The pans heated and the schnitzel stacked up. Avoiding the splattering oil, she moved to the dining room and gathered linens, continuing to observe at a distance.

The table was set. The limonana was poured.

The smoke detector blared. Its battery was removed and all the windows and doors were opened. The breeze chased out the smoke. They sat down to dinner.

There were leftovers.

Limonana

I had fresh lemonade at Joanne‘s this past winter. She uses Ina Garten’s (Barefoot Contessa Cookbook) ratio of 4:1:0.5 water-lemon-sugar, and who can argue with the recommendations of a woman with a lemon tree in her backyard? You can obviously adjust to your own preferences and I sometimes use less sugar. When you add mint, called nana in Hebrew, lemonade (limonada in Hebrew) becomes limonana.

- 4C cold water

- 1C fresh lemon juice (or, in a pinch, you can cheat and use bottled 100% lemon juice)

- 1/2C sugar (superfine is best, but I have great results with regular granulated sugar)

- handful of mint

- ice cubes

Throw the first 3 ingredients in a blender. That’s it.

Either add mint to the blender as well for a green-tinted drink, or add a branch-worth of leaves to lemonade right before serving to turn the lemonade into limonana.

Schnitzel

Schnitzel is breaded, fried chicken cutlets that are incredibly moist beneath the crispy crust. I don’t have exact quantities for this recipe, but more of a formula.

Slice boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets into thin strips, cover with wax paper or plastic wrap, and pound flat with a mallet. If yours has a tenderizing side, don’t use it. We made about one and three-quarters of a pound of chicken (3 large breasts) which we sliced into 12 strips.

Prepare four plates. Sprinkle flour on the first plate. On the second, break and beat a few eggs (we used 4). Dump a big pile of fine bread crumbs onto the third (you can also use panko, but I find the coating to be too thick and bready). Coat the chicken in flour, dredge through the egg, and coat with bread crumbs. Stack onto the fourth plate.

It’s best to use two pans to make quick work of the frying so you can serve all the chicken hot. Coat two pans with vegetable oil and turn heat to medium-high/high. Cover a fifth plate in paper towels and have the rest of the roll nearby. Once the oil is heated, add chicken to the pans in a single layer. Step away from the pan as you add the chicken (or if you’re cooking in a pair, the better dressed one should just step out of the kitchen and set the table) – this will splatter and make a mess. I think that’s part of the charm.  After a few minutes when one side has browned, flip the chicken and cook for another few minutes until brown on both sides. Remove the schnitzel and lay over paper towels in a single layer. Add more paper towels between each layer to absorb the oil.

Serve hot, sprinkled with salt, and plan for 2-3 schnitzel per person.

If you have any left over, slice and throw on a salad the next day.

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I’m back! I’m such a tease, I’m sorry. But I promise you, these brownies are worth the wait. And the anticipation.

Alyson, Ilana, and I had five days of sunshine, swimming, and general silliness. Let’s just say that the phrase whoo whoo got thrown around quite a bit during our vacation, inspired by the little red train we took through our resort one evening when we got lost. As in, chugga chugga chugga chugga choo choo! Yes, really. The arm gesture of pulling a bell was optional.

There was, however, no whooing when our flight landed and I looked outside our window.

As we disembarked and filed down the stairs, I snapped this photo before the police threatened to confiscate my camera if I took another picture on the tarmac.

In case you didn’t figure it out already, we were not in the Dominican Republic. The policeman’s shorts should give a clue. Shorts! And knee socks! We had an emergency landing in Bermuda (Bermuda!) due to a smoke signal coming from our engine. Yeah. Definitely no whooing at that stage.

Turns out, everything was alright. Four hours later we were back in the air. My requests for a short field trip to the beach were ignored.

During our trip, I took a break from everything in life. Including my camera. So, I don’t have any pictures of me on a hammock in the sun. Or of Alyson and Ilana lounging in the shade of a palm-covered cabana. Or the aqua blue Caribbean water.

Now home, I’m very tan.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about home recently and where my home is. Maybe it’s because my lease is almost up and I’m probably renewing. Maybe it’s because after 3 years here in Boston, I have a very strong chevra – a group of close friends. Boston is my physical home, but home is so much more than that.

I saw the band Stornoway a few months ago when my sister came to visit. (If you haven’t listened to them, you should. They have a folksy British vibe. So they have those swoon worthy accents. And as my sister says, they’re not too hard on the eyes either!) My favorite song, Fuel Up, captures my feelings perfectly:

Home is only a feeling you get in your mind
From the people you love and you travel beside

A few weeks ago, I was in DC, visiting my friend Reva.

Reva has a lovely home and I’ve always loved being part of it. During med school, we named her guest room “Gayle’s room.”

We did a lot over the weekend. And there was a fair amount of domestic bliss. Really, bliss for me. We went to her older son Isaac’s baseball game (and later performed some delicate hand surgery on his season-end trophy). We played board games and legos with her younger son, Eli. We drove first in her minivan and then in her husband’s white convertible. It reminded me of the days in med school when we used to drive around in my own white convertible. Except there was no car seat in the back of mine. Reva and I went out to dinner, but as usual, most of our time was spent in the kitchen, catching up, slicing and mixing, and cleaning. (Well, I’m not so good at the cleaning part.)

The boys got in on the action too when her husband Aaron and I made breakfast one morning — hash browns and eggs  — with Isaac’s help.

And then Reva and I made brownies together. In my experience, making brownies from scratch was a waste of effort since I really like the Duncan Hines ones. But, Reva explained, this recipe is worth the few extra bowls and elbow grease. After waiting patiently for the brownies to cool, one bite was enough. Well, enough to convince me to try these at home. After having a few more bites to make sure that I really liked them.

So, a few days later, I made a batch. But they just didn’t match up to Reva’s batch. I texted her that my brownies weren’t as good as her’s. She sent back instructions:

Over-brown the butter, I think! Leave out the nuts, add chocolate chips, and be careful not to over-bake. Also, chat with a friend during!

I made these a second batch the next day. (My office was quite happy to test both batches). I left the butter to brown and hand-beat the batter while balancing my phone between ear and shoulder and chatting with Meira and then Rachela. I only dropped my phone once. Luckily it missed the batter by a few inches. Lucky not because the phone didn’t get dirty, but because I didn’t lose a drop of batter.

Maybe I should call these whoo whoo! brownies.

Cocoa Brownies with Brown Butter and Fleur de Sel

These brownies are adapted from Alice Medrich‘s recipe in this February’s Bon Appetit. See that cover? Oh yeah, these brownies are on the cover. And never have I seen a dish so worthy of a cover.

The key to this recipe is the butter. Using cocoa means that all the fat comes from the butter. And browning the butter gives the recipe a nice nutty flavor. Don’t skimp here. It’s worth the extra pan to clean. And from me, that’s saying a lot. Or, you can brown the butter in a larger saucepan and then add all the other ingredients to the pan. One pan. Not bad! Before popping into the oven, sprinkle the brownies with a few pinches of fleur de sel.

- Vegetable oil spray

- 10 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/4 C white sugar

- 3/4 C cocoa powder – I’ve tried some of the fancier ones, but I’ve found that Hershey’s is the best for this recipe. Crazy, I know!

- 1 t vanilla

- 2 t water

- 1/4 t salt

- 2 eggs, chilled

- 1/3 C + 1T all purpose flour

- 3/4 C chocolate chips chopped into chunks

- a few pinches fleur de sel

Pre-heat and prep. Move rack to bottom third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Line an 8X8 pan with aluminum foil and spray with vegetable oil. The aluminum foil is key.

Brown the butter. This bears repeating – don’t skip this step! Got it? Melt butter in small saucepan or pan over medium heat. The butter will start to foam. Keep stirring and cook until the butter browns and little brown bits form at the bottom. When the foam starts to subside (in my experience, the foam never dies until I take it off the heat), take it off the heat and pour into a bowl. Scrape up those browned bits and add them to the bowl.

Mix. Add sugar, cocoa, vanilla, water, and 1/4 t salt. Stir to blend – it will be grainy.

Wait. Let butter sugar mixture sit 5 minutes until lukewarm (not cool).

Mix again. Add eggs to warm mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition. Keep beating until thick and glossy. This does take some work.

Keep mixing. Add flour and stir until blended. Beat vigorously 60 strokes. I’m not sure why 60 is the magic number of strokes, but fewer and the brownies bake up grainy. Add chocolate chunks and stir to blend.

Bake. Scoop batter into prepared pan (it’s thick, so you won’t be able to pour it) and smooth out with a spatula. Set timer for 25 minutes (but it may take up to 30 minutes) and bake until a toothpick comes out almost clean. There should be a few moist crumbs attached. If it’s really undercooked, put back into oven for up to 5 more minutes. But, don’t over-bake. Even if, like me, you like the crunchy corners.

Cool and cut. Cool in pan on rack and then remove brownies on the foil. DON’T cut while hot. Or warm. I know, it’s hard to wait, but do it. Then, when you cut them, use a big sharp knife. You’ll probably need to wipe the knife after every few slices. Cut into 16 squares or 24 bars.

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back in a bit

I’m off on vacation for a few days. Sun and sand. And probably a few thunderstorms. I promise to be back real soon. To tide you over, here’s a taste of what’s to come.

See you on the other side!

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Randi.

I’ve never met her, but she’s part of my vernacular. I know she’s a good friend of Meira‘s and that’s about all I need to know. Well, that and her salads. Every year or so, Randi sends Meira a salad recipe.  She’s sent many many salads. But this one – the one that Meira got from Randi who got it from Shevi – is the only one that matters in my book.

Thank you, friends!

Shevi-Randi Salad

This salad is a great, very different from anything I’ve ever tried, summer dish. Only make it when you can find fabulous mangos and avocado. I made a few modifications, but for the most part, this salad is the same one Meira forwarded along to me nearly a decade ago. A decade. The cucumbers are a recent addition, so recent, in fact, that they didn’t make it to pictures.

Dressing:

- 1/3 to 1/2 cup canola oil

- 1/3 cup cider or white vinegar

- ½ t garlic salt

- 2 T sugar

- 2 t spring onion or vidalia onion

- 1 tsp curry powder

- 1 tsp soya sauce

Salad:

- Lettuce – I usually use baby spinach or red leaf

- Avocado

- Paw Paw (papaya) or mango

- Cucumber

- Caramelized nuts – I use almonds

Blend dressing. Add dressing before service.

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Some friends and I are planning an island vacation. We spent hours and hours and hours choosing an island, the right flights, and the best hotel. In just over a week (1 week!!!), we’ll be lying on a beach, being served drinks. By hot men. Well, maybe the last part if we’re lucky.

I haven’t yet told my friends about my last beachy vacation when Elvera and I almost missed our flight home. (Ok, so I just spoiled the ending of the story).

In case you forgot, let me remind you about that trip. For a week in July 2009, my friend Elvera and I stayed with Joe and Victoria and their growing family in Panama City, and were wined and dined  nearly every night. Having quickly found a favorite restaurant and eaten there twice in four days, I was determined to meet the chef. With such a tight-knit Jewish community in Panama, it wasn’t difficult to get the email address of Darna owner and chef, Ayelet. We agreed to meet on the morning of my departure at her newest venture – Darna Bread. Leaving the next day for a few days of island hopping in Bocas del Toro, we settled on Sunday morning a few hours before our flight home.

After arriving from Bocas at nearly midnight and frantically re-packing our over-stuffed bags, we awoke early Sunday morning determined to find Darna Bread. With directions in hand, we found a taxi and in our broken Spanish (read: Elvera speaks medical Spanish and I can pick my way through a menu) tried to get to the cute little coffeehouse we had heard so much about from the locals. An hour later, several pantomime conversations with strangers on the street, and a little bit of a hike, we finally finally finally found our way. In addition to eating a delicious shakshuka breakfast, snapping photos, and checking out the lending library on the walls, I had the chance to sit down with Ayelet. She told me of her plans to open a third restaurant (now open) and how she and her sister ended up in Panama from Israel. We shared recipes and her challah recipe below has become a favorite.

As we were chatting, Elvera kept giving me looks. Tapping her watch. Leaning her head towards the door. I, of course, saw her…and ignored her. She finally came over and said we really had to go. Just a few  more questions? She frowned. A few questions later, I joined her back at our table, ate the last, now cold, bites of shakshuka. We called a taxi, paid, threw our remaining bread in a bag. As we jumped into the taxi, our phone rang — it was Joe, wondering where we were and sounding a bit panicked. We assured him we were en route. We had the taxi wait while we ran up to grab our luggage and hug Joe, Vic, and little Jack goodbye.

We got to the airport 59 minutes before our flight was scheduled to take off. That’s one minute after the check-in cutoff. Some spectacular negotiating tactics finally got us onto the flight and on our way home.

Luckily, I haven’t had to use any of these negotiating tactics since then.

Darna Challah

This is Ayelet’s recipe with just a few little tweaks. I use my mixer to knead the dough. And I like Ayelet’s use of a bowl of water in the oven while the challot are baking to help the crust form. This recipe makes 2 very large challot. It’s a little more time intensive than my bread machine challah recipe, but I actually think it has a better texture.

- 3 T dry yeast

- 3 T sugar

- warm water (~2C)

- 1 kg bread flour (aka 8 cups)

- 1 T salt

- 3 eggs

- 3/4 C oil

- 1 egg for egg wash

- sesame seeds

Prepare the yeast. Dissolve yeast in ~1/2 C warm water and sugar. Allow to percolate until frothy. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Mix the dough. Throw flour, yeast mixture, salt, eggs, and oil into your mixer. Start to knead with the dough hook and slowly add water “until you get a nice dough.” OK – I realize these are not the most exact directions, but this is what Ayelet suggested and I’m sticking to it. I added about 1.5 cups of water. Then I had to add some flour. Then a little water. And a little more flour. But it just kind of worked. Eventually the dough came together, stopped sticking to the bowl and completely wrapped around the dough hook.

Knead. I let my mixer do some of the kneading (about 5+ minutes) and then knead it by hand on a floured surface for another 5+ minutes.

Let rise. Roll dough into a ball and let rise in the mixer bowl, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 1 hour over a warm oven until it doubles in bulk. Punch the dough down, knead it and let it rise again until doubled. Divide dough into six or eight equal-sized balls, depending on whether you plan to make 3- or 4-stranded challot (or 12 or 16 if you’re planning to make 4 challot).

Braid. Divide dough into equal-sized pieces – the number of pieces depends on how many challahs and what type of braid you plan to make. Roll each piece of dough into a long strand. If you want to make a four-stranded braid as pictured, start by pinching four strands together at one end. A four-stranded braid is actually weaving and always starts on the same side (rather than conventional braiding that involves alternately crossing strands from the right and left). Weave the leftmost strand over its neighboring strand, under the next one, and over the fourth, laying it down on the far right of the braid. Pick up the new leftmost strand and weave over-under-over as before. Continue until the end of the braid and tuck the ends under the loaf.

Bake. Whisk an egg with a few splashes of cold water. Brush this egg wash over the challah and sprinkle with seeds if you’d like. Place a bowl of water in the oven to create steam. Bake at 350°F for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

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