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Archive for the ‘cheese’ Category

soupe à l’oignon

The East coast seems to have been hit by a fair amount of rain over the past few days. I am accustomed to the summer thunderstorms that we often get in my hometown of DC — that crash-and-tumble excitement, the flashes of light thatbrighten the sky, a few torrential downpours that reveal a rainbow and hidden sun. Less so the Eeyore-inspired drizzle gray of Cantabrigia both new and old that has visited us here for the past few days. Combine that with a pulled muscle in my neck from dance class on Sunday and I need some comfort food.

Cookies? Nah…I want dinner. Mac and cheese? Maybe, but I had bucatini 2 nights ago and I don’t generally eat much pasta. My fridge is unusually bare after having made two big meals over the past few weeks, so I needed to scrounge around. I had just barely enough onions to throw together an onion soup, a meal in a bowl with the rich taste of caramelized onions, warm broth, toasted bread (or stale baguette, which I always seem to have around), and strings of melted cheese. When I was younger, this used to be my favorite dish to order in a restaurant, and the fancy presentation with cheese dripping off the side of a piping hot crock always impressed me. The childhood memory and thoughts of a steaming meal are a perfect recipe for uber-comfort on a weary dreary evening.

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Soupe à L’Oignon Gratinée (ou pas)

This is such an easy soup to make with ingredients that you probably have lying around your kitchen. Onions. Butter. Spices. Leftover dry white wine or Vermouth. Boxed or dried vegetable (or chicken or beef) stock. The homey richness comes from giving the onions enough time to caramelize. I do not use beef stock and still my soup comes out a deep dark brown with an earthy flavor.

Makes ~ 4-6 servings, depending on size of your bowls. I made 4 bowls that turned into 3 full meals (I was really ravenous that first night).

I’ve written this recipe the way that it came together — my apologies for not writing it in “standard recipe format” with a list of ingredients followed  by directions, but this was my thought process as I was throwing this easy soup together and I wanted to preserve the feeling. I’ve highlighted quantities to make your lives a little easier.

Melt 1/4 C butter in a medium or large soup pot.

Slice 3 yellow onions, 1 red onion, 1 shallot (or whatever mild onions you have around the house) into thin half moons. Light a candle nearby to reduce crying.

onions and shallot

every single onion and shallot I had in my kitchen

Caramelize onions in butter over medium heat with 3 generous pinches salt, stirring  every 5-10 minute. This took me about 30-45 minutes. If you burn the onions, it’s not too big of a deal. Just turn the heat down a bit and keep stirring. You want the onions to turn a really dark brown but not to turn to mush. The red onion retained a bit of its purplish color.

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

onions translucent, after 10 minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

caramelized onions, 30+ minutes

Deglaze with ~1/2 C dry white wine – I used an open Pinot Grigio  that I had in my fridge (this was probably not the driest, but it worked pretty well…and I took a few sips while cooking) – and increase heat until most of the liquid evaporates (can also use vermouth). Make sure to scrape up all the good onion bits stuck to the bottom of the pot.

Add herbs: 1/2 t savory, 1-2 T thyme crumbled through your fingers

Add 4 C broth: vegetable or fake (or real) chicken/beef broth. I am embarrassed to admit that I used some of that powdered parve broth substitute because that’s all I had around. Yup, this stuff is little more than salt and MSG. But the soup still turned out great.

Add 3 bay leaves.

Bring to  boil, then simmer ~30 minutes.

Remove bay leaves before serving.

This makes ~ 5 cups of soup which is great plain or you can serve it gratinée: sprinkle with cut bread crumbs from stale baguette and  shredded cheese.The traditional cheese to use is gruyère but I have never found a good kosher one. I used some Raclette which I had left over from my zucchini tart, and it was a pretty good substitute. I also tried some Ermitage Royal Camembert that I had in my fridge, and this worked surprisingly well.

ready to compose

the broth is really dark

ready for the oven

ready to pop into the oven

 Pop in oven at 350°F for 10 minutes to melt cheese or put under broiler for 2-3 minutes (watch to avoid burning too much).

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baked at 350

broiled, 2-3 minutes

broiled, 2-3 minutes

NOTE: if you want to make this for a meat meal, use margarine (I’ve done it before, it does work out) and obviously omit the cheese. You can make the soup completely parve with veggie stock, or use a meat or chicken stock. You could try melting soy cheese, but I’ve never tried it so can’t speak about how this will taste. I really do like this soup without cheese almost as much as I like it gratinée

***

As I was making the soup, I put on one of my favorite albums – a South African band called Mafikizolo‘s first recording called “Sibongile” that I bought when I was in Cape Town a few years ago. (Apparently, this CD has been discontinued and I can’t find mine; I have it loaded on my ancient 20 gig iPod that is on its last legs. I’ve backed it up, but if it dies, my music may be gone forever…sad Zahavah.) Sibongile means “Thank you, God” in Zulu, the album was released after two of its members survived a bad car accident. I love that they wear retro ’50s outfits and can pull off hats with panache to go with their swingy bluesy vibe, have a broad range of styles (some of their more recent music — not what I’ve uploaded here — is more clubby with a techno beat), and take pride in their roots (from what little I know) with references to townships in their recent album title and their music.

Here are some of my favorite songs from this album (the first three songs) that I play to chase away the clouds.

“Gugo’thandayo” – check out the stylin’ hats

 

“Marabi” – very toe-tapping, cheerful with a nice relaxed rhythm

 

“Ndihambe Nawe” – a little bit more of a percussive beat

 

Here is a newer song that I just dicovered:

“Emlanjeni,” meet you at the river

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hagiga

The past two days in the US (sundown May 28 – sundown May 30) marked the Jewish holiday of Shavuot that celebrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. One of the ways that many people celebrate this holiday is by staying up and learning Torah all night in what is referred to as a “tikkun leil shavuot.”

green roses for shavout

one shavuot tradition is to decorate with flowers

In recent years (or perhaps not so recent, but I can only speak about what I know…), I have noticed a trend towards incorporating less traditional ways of learning into these tikkuns. I first participated in one of these a few years ago at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and co-sponsored by Alma NY and several other organizations. It was described this year as follows:

Learn, laugh, and nosh your way through an evening of music, film, dance, traditional (and not-so-traditional) study along with coffee, cheese cake and more! Educators and artists from New York and Israel will present engaging programs  until sunrise in a contemporary twist on the age-old tradition of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, free and open to everyone at every level of Jewish observance or knowledge.

- The Alma Tikkun

In attending these tikkuns over the past few years, I have participated in discussions about the election of Sarcozy in France with a political history expert, gone to cooking classes (my favorite and the source of a great summer salad recipe to be shared when I have a chance) with Israeli chefs, seen a re-creation of a Tel Aviv night club with trance music for those comfortable listening to music on a yomtov (holiday), and tried out an aerial yoga class. Classes span the height of the JCC building on at least six of their floors including the indoor pool, and the building is literally crawling with all generations, manners of dress, religious levels, and languages. I loved that there was truly something for everyone and that so many different people came together for this celebration of learning and art in what some think of as a “just religious” holiday.

When I was given the opportunity to teach a class this year at the tikkun run by my own minyan (lay-led prayer group, for lack of a better term), I embraced to chance to attempt a not-so-traditional class. I led a dance and movement session for a handful of friends and community members (with a diversity of dance, yoga, and movement backgrounds), based largely on key elements of jazz dance. In researching other dance-related Shavuot celebrations for inspiration, I came across two that took place in Israel this year, one called Hagiga (celebration or festival in Hebrew; article in DanceInIsrael.com) and hosted by Vertigo Dance Company in their Eco-Art Village and another called Hagiga Levana (“White Festival;” article in DanceInIsrael.com) hosted by Adama in the Negev desert. Below is a video about Vertigo Dance Company’s “Birth of the Phoenix” piece that they performed at this year’s Hagiga (the set incorporates a traveling geodesic dome — think Epcot Center).

In my own jazz class Thursday night (the first one I’ve taught in a while), I tried to incorporate some of the fluidity of modern and contemporary dance movement into a workshop focused on isolating body parts (head, shoulders, ribcage, hips) and counting out different rhythms.

***

Another Shavuot tradition is to eat dairy, so my minyan sponsored a dairy potluck before our tikkun. I prepared this tart as an alternative to quiche. I have to say that though I am rarely a fan of potlucks (how many pasta salads can one person eat???), I think our minyan must be the foodiest of all groups I have ever encountered. There was amazing variety (polenta, veggie chili, watermelon feta salad, and bucatini just name just a few), healthy options, and lots of vegetables. I am in the process to pulling together everyone’s recipes to share.

Zucchini Tart with Raclette

zucchini and raclette tart from above

Adapted from a recipe prepared by Natasha at 5 Star Foodie when she made a 7 course French-inspired brunch for her daughter’s birthday (!!!). I’ve been waiting for the right occasion to make this tart and Shavuot seemed perfect. Most people make quiche, but I hate making crusts and I’m not a fan of heavy creams or custards.

The original recipe calls for swiss cheese, but I wanted to try something a little  bit different and was planning to make it with brie. When I couldn’t find Président brie in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods (what, you think I plan these things in advance after thinking about the food for weeks? No, I just embrace spontaneous action after way too much thought — see my first ever post, “notranches de racletten pensare, fare” — and it usually works out pretty well!), I discussed various options with the cheesemonger at Whole Foods and realized I had an amazing cheese – a Raclette made by Ermitage and imported from France – right in my fridge. Raclette is a Swiss cheese that I think has a nicer texture and flavor (nutty?) than the traditional holey and plasticy “swiss cheese” I grew up with in the US. It has a semi-hard texture and is fabulous melted with apples or pear thinly sliced and poached in white wine.

Serves 10-12 as side dish.

Ingredients:

- 2 cups large zucchini, grated (about 2 zucchini)

- 1 cup leeks, minced (1-2leeks, white parts only)

- 2 eggs

- 1/2 cup flour

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon salt

- 1 1/2 cup shredded raclette cheese – 2 oz (1/2 a package) – this is a pricey cheese from France ($18/4 oz from the Kosher Marketplace — see Resources) – aha, I still have some left to make a fruity, winey melted dish!

- Butter

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients together to blend well.

Batter will be thick. I initially freaked out because unlike quiches, this is not liquidy and there is no custard. But, it’s OK. Just butter your tart pan (you can use one with a removable bottom or a nice porcelain one like I did…either should work since this won’t drip out), spoon the batter in, and spread it evenly. The tart will rise a bit as it bakes.

zucchini and raclette tart entering oven

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. At 45 minutes, mine was still a bit jiggly, so I kept it in for another 10 minutes — if you’re counting, that’s 55 minutes total. At that point, it pulled away beautifully from the sides of the pan. Mine showed a little bit more green zucchini than Natasha’s, cut beautifully, and was dense and tasty without being overwhelming.

zucchini and raclette tart

And of course, I will leave you with an excerpt of one of Vertigo’s more recent pieces, called White Noise:

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city living

One of the perils of city living is that when the temperature rises, there is little respite. I have lived in most of the major cities along the northeast coast, so I can officially attest to this. Growing up in the suburbs, we could easily escape to our neighborhood pool where my sister and I spent many summers on the swim team. Or just sit on the deck in the sun. And while I love the excitement of living in a city, the hundreds of options right outside my doorstep, the (relatively easy…well, in NY) public transportation, the culture, the art, the vibrancy, I do miss having a large kitchen and easy access to an outdoor grill.

Granted, I fully believe that like washing dishes and taking out the trash, grilling should be largely relegated to men. But miss it nonetheless I do, or at least the authentic flavors. I have made do in many of my apartments, and I think I’ve done a decent job adapting. I once actually made an entire Fourth of July barbecue on a collection of George Foreman grills (culled from friends and neighbors).

While it’s not quite corn season yet, I have recently been making corn-on-the-cob in my oven and if I may brag, it might not be grilled  … but it’s really pretty good.

Oven-Roasted Corn-on-the-Cob

 The technique here is similar to grilling in that I use a high heat in the oven and steam the corn in its husk. After dousing with some butter and salt, cover the corn with grated cheese.

The cheese that I’m loving right now is 5 Spoke Creamery‘s Tumbleweed. This kosher (Kof-K) artisanal dairy had caused a bit of a stir in kosher and non-kosher circles, being mentioned in articles here (along with Sugar River Cheese Co.) and here, and in a recipe for cheese croutons featured in the New Yorker magazine a few months ago by Dirt Candy (a vegetarian restaurant in NY) chef-owner Amanda Cohen. I can’t wait to try her salad recipe, though I’m not sure I’ll actually candy the grapefruit. I’ll leave you to read what others have written about the Tumbleweed, but I would describe it as creamy, European tasting (probably because it is made with raw – aka unpasteurized – milk) if that makes any sense, and with a strong tangy slightly earthy flavor. It has a nice melt-in-your-mouth feel and it spreads well without being too soft. Let it come to room temperature before eating (but if you’re going to grate it, feel free to pull it right from the fridge).

Serves how ever many cobs you make.

- Corn-on-the-cob

- Butter (optional)

- Salt

- Cheese – such as 5 Spoke Creamery’s Tumbleweed

Preheat oven to 425ºF and put rack in middle of oven.

While oven is heating, pull the husks back and remove silks from corn. Replace husks over corn and wrap end of corn with aluminum foil if necessary to seal so that the corn will steam in its own little packet. Cobs don’t need to be completely covered – the burnt parts are nice…you just don’t want everything to completely dry out.

Place cobs directly on the oven rack and cook for ~20 minutes until corn is tender but still crisp.

Allow corn to cool a bit and then unwrap, peel back husk, and use one or two husk strands to tie the remaining ones together, creating a handle of sorts.

Slather with butter if you’d like, throw on a pinch of salt, and generously grate cheese over the top. Eat immediately.

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at long last

Most cheese should be brought to room temperature for a few hours before serving. And when I think about brie and Camembert (and clearly I think about Camembert more often than I eat it), I envision it as an off-white slice leaking out of a snow-white rind, almost melting and oozing easily onto a cracker ready to receive its runny mild flavor.
To the best of my knowledge, few people in the US store cheeses on the counter, so they rarely get to the point of stinkiness as in France, but our obsession with refrigeration prevents us from really enjoying and exploring the full palate and joy that cheese can bring.  One exception is baked brie. This is one of the easiest and fanciest-looking foods for entertaining and has become one of my signature dishes over the past few years when I made a few tweaks to tradition preparation.

When most people hear “baked brie” they think of  brie en croûte – a round of cheese slathered with preserves, typically apricot or raspberry, or maybe some dried cranberries and then wrapped in puffed pastry and baked. This is good but, in my mind, a bit too overdone. The main trick to brie en croûte is to use a good puff pastry and to cook at a pre-heated oven at a high heat, ~425°F for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. That’s it. Super simple.

Of course, I can’t really leave simple alone. When I do make this type of baked brie, I typically caramelize slivered almonds to cover the brie with before wrapping in a puffed pastry crust. Just different enough to get a few surprised looks. I remember making this for my friends Adam and then pregnant Pamela, who was thrilled when we realized that unlike French brie made with raw milk, in the US, brie is made with pasteurized mik, so she could indulge freely.

For my birthday 2 years ago (when I served “A Taste of Europe in Manhattan” for over 50 guests…NOT TO BE REPEATED without a serving and clean-up crew!), I experimented and came up with a slightly savory baked brie dish. It obviated the need for the puff pastry shell, using the natural rind to contain the oozing cheese and baked directly in the round wooded box, creating a unique flavor and presentation that preserved the essence of the brie.

missing a slice

This is potentially also slightly lower in calories (since there is no puff pastry). But, let’s be real. Once you’re talking about double écrémé cheese (almost 50% butterfat!) the only way to pretend you’re cutting calories is by moderation. Small portions — just un petit goût as the French might say, a little taste, a few forkfuls. But this stuff is so good, you might need to hide it from yourself!

a not-so-petit gout

a not-so-petit goût

I made this dish for my parents when they came to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with me soon after I moved to Cambridge last year. My father has been requesting the recipe for months so that my mother will make it for him (most of my father’s cooking is relegated to the grill…). So, here are the long overdue, step-by-step directions.

Finally!

Baked Brie sans Croûte with Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions adapted  from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I make these caramelized onions into almost a confit to spread in the middle of the brie.

I use a 2-pound Président Brie that I have only ever found in Zabar’s in New York (see Resources) because it comes in a nice wooden box.

President Brie in box, note tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

Président Brie in box; tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

This is definitely a party-sized recipe, but this recipe can be halved for if you want to make a 1-pound Brie (though the onions are pretty good and you should make the whole recipe, reserving the onions to serve warm on the side or for another use). Even if the cheese does not come in a wooden box, you can bake on foil and the rind should contain the cheese pretty well. In order to slice the Brie in the middle lengthwise, freeze the cheese for about 30 minutes while preparing the onions, and then score with a knife and use dental floss to evenly cut the Brie through to the center.

A 2-pound Brie serves 15-20 as an appetizer with water crackers or slices of baguette

1 2-lb wheel of Brie

2 onions

2-3 T olive oil or mix of olive oil and butter

2 T sugar

3/4 C water

1-2 T good balsamic vinegar (see Resources)

pinch Kosher salt (to taste)

dental floss (unflavored) – yes, dental floss

Preheat oven to 350ºF (You may be able to cook this at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, but I have always made it at 350).

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

Place wrapped Brie in freezer (~30 minutes) for easier slicing later.

Prepare caramelized onions. Slice onions into very thin half- or quarter-rounds. Saute in olive oil or oil/butter mix over medium heat for ~15 mintues until start to brown. Add sugar and water and raise heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are shiny and continue to darken, and the liquid is almost evaporated, ~ 10 more minutes. Add balsamic and cook additional 5 minutes until onions are dark brown and syrupy. Taste and add salt if necessary (the salt brings out the sweetness in the onions and give an extra bit of savory to the mix).

Remove  brie from freezer and unwrap. Score cheese all the way around with a knife.
scoring the cheese with a knife

scoring the cheese with a knife

Then wrap dental floss around the cheese, cross the ends, and pull so that the floss slices through the cheese evenly, cutting it into two pretty even halves.

cross the floss...

wrap and cross the floss...

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle ...

... yielding 2 even halves

... yielding 2 even halves

Place one half in wooden box bottom, cover with onions, and top with the other half of  the cheese.

cheese halves and onions

covering filled Brie

I like to score the top of the rind so that some of the cheese will bubble through and it is easier to tell when brie is ready. I also top the cheese with a little bit of the onion to give a little hint of what is inside, but again, not necessary.

Cheese should be baked in wooden box bottom, on aluminum foil (in case of spills) and placed on baking  sheet on center rack.

Brie, ready for oven
Brie, ready for oven

Brie is ready when cheese begins to seep through scores in top of rind and the cuts begin to separate.

Brie, fresh out of the oven

Brie, fresh out of the oven

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loads of kale

There has been a lot of talk about CSAs – community supported agriculture – in the world at large and in the Jewish community. For example, check out the past few Hazon Food Conferences and their The Jew and the Carrot blog.

I first learned about CSAs when my good friend, Meira, the source of the  pretzel chicken “nuggets” recipe, joined a CSA in New York and cooked interesting dishes with her fresh local vegetables. She always introduced each dish with, “I got this squash/cabbage/spinach from Eve, my Jewish female farmer.” She really seemed to feel a kinship with her farmer, especially after going to some sort of outdoorsy event way out on Long Island and driving past the Garden of Eve farm!

So, I was excited when my own local community decided to partner with a CSA. But I was also a bit apprehensive. Sure, there are a lot of pros – supporting local farmers and guaranteeing their livelihood, getting in tune with a more agrarian life (and a little reminder of the importance of the harvest in Jewish festivals), eating fresh (and almost entirely organic) produce, etc. And my friend Laura, whom I call “farmer Laura” since she will be be spending the summer as an ADAMAH Fellow — is organizing the CSA partnership and was quick to point out some of the logistical virtues partnering with this particular farm — Heavens Harvest — notably that they provide timely recipes that incorporate that week’s harvest and pre-pack everyone’s share (or half-share for couples or three-tenth-share for those single people out there…they’ve even thought of us!) which is apparently a vast improvement over other CSAs that have you bag your own which can take forever.

Despite all of these benefits, I was worried about one con – the loads and loads of kale that I would very likely be stuck with at the end of the season.

See, apparently kale is a very hearty leafy green and grows when other veggies can’t quite make the cut. So if the weather is really bad, kale will dominate.

Of course, I have never cooked kale. I’m not sure I’ve ever eaten kale.

But, I’m open to new things and in preparation for joining the CSA, I decided to buy some kale and make something with it. In case I needed a push over the edge, the label on the rubber band around the kale was written in French, calling the leaves chou vert frisé. I once had a boss who could convince me to do any menial task by telling me, “it’s French…you’ll like it.”

So I bought some curly green cabbage and tried a recipe on a card near the grocery store entrance.

looked like a bouquet, so I put the kale in a vase

looked like a bouquet, so I put the kale in a vase

Based on my experience, I think I’ll be joining the CSA…

Kale and White Bean Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Kale and White Bean Soup with Parmesan Crisps


Adapted from Whole Foods Vegetarian Tuscan Kale and White Bean Soup recipe card.

Makes ~ 5 cups soup or 4 servings.

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup diced onion

4 large garlic cloves, chopped

1-2 t thyme (to taste)

1-2 t oregano (to taste)

5 C ersatz chicken broth (i.e., parve chicken soup powder + 5 C water)

4 cups packed chopped kale (i.e., 1 bunch, chopped)

2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced; or 20-25 baby carrots cut into thirds

1 small can (14.5-ounce) diced tomatoes

1 small can (14.5-ounce) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

Parmesan crisps (see recipe below)

Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onion ~3 minutes until softened, then add garlic and cook together another 2-3 minutes.

Add 1t of each herb and carrots to pan and mix.

Add tomatoes, broth, and kale and mix a few times. Cover saucepan and allow kale to steam until tender, ~5 minutes.

Add drained cannellini beans when kale tender. Keep on heat until parmesan crisps finished to allow beans to warm.

Serve with parmesan crisps or sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

122-cropped

Parmesan Crisps

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Spread ~1T of parmesan cheese in ovals on parchment (1T per oval)

Parmesan crisps, uncooked

Bake in oven 5-7 minutes — WATCH VERY CAREFULLY –  these can burn really quickly. Remove before your smoke alarm goes off (like mine did the first time I tried this!).

Parmesan crisps, baked

The crisps will peel very easily off of the parchment paper.

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