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our recipe

You won’t find any vapors, gels, or foams at Union Square Café. What you will find on the white-clad tables and dark wood bar are dishes that come straight from the Greenmarket just steps from the restaurant. Repeated each year when the produce is at its peak, some dishes have developed a cult-like following that prompt phone calls and conversations that go something like this: “Is the BLT back on the menu yet?” No, the tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. “I was here last week and need to have the snap pea salad again. It’s still on the menu, right?” Yes, for as long as we can find great peas.

Amazing sugar snap peas are all over the markets these days and the price has thankfully dropped from $7 a pound to a more modest $5, at least here in Manhattan. And so, until you have a chance to visit and experience the real thing, I give you our recipe.

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USC sugar snap pea salad

USC Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Union Square Cafe Sugar Snap Pea Salad 

Adapted ever so slightly from the recipe provided by Union Square Café. When peas are the star, it pays to take the time to choose them carefully. I see a lot of people grabbing up the beauties by the handful, but I actually pick them one by one, making sure each pod is unblemished, fat and taut. Make sure that the peas only get a quick dip in the boiling water for a very light blanche so that they keep their crunch.

- 1 T kosher salt

- 1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed at each end

- ¼ C sliced spring onions (about 5-6)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 2 T Champagne or white wine vinegar

- ½ C extra virgin olive oil

- 2-3 T finely sliced mint

- 5 T grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

- 2-3 t fleur de sel

- 1 t freshly ground black pepper

Plunge. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add the kosher salt. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath, filling a large bowl with ice and water. Cook the peas in the water for just 10 seconds. Drain the peas in a colander and immediately add them to the ice water. Remove the peas from the ice water after about 2 minutes. Drain well in the colander and gently pat dry with a paper towel.

Slice. Julienne the peas by cutting them on a sharp diagonal. Watch out for runaway peas.

Mix. Place the spring onions in a non-reactive bowl (I used glass) large enough to mix the pea salad. Pour in the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Add the peas, mint, 4 tablespoons of cheese, fleur de sel, and black pepper. Mix the salad, taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cheese, and serve.

 

 

I have a quick little soup for you today and it’ll take me longer to tell you about it than it will for  you to make it. So gather round for a brief chat and then grab your blender and a handful of ingredients and get going.

cucumber avocado soup

It’s a chilled soup – you might even be tempted to call it a gazpacho, but I’d advise against it because it’s unbelievable creamy. While I haven’t (yet) posted a true tomato and cucumber gazpacho on the site, you might want to check out salmorejo, a Spanish tomato soup I first tried in Seville, or cucumber mint gazpacho adapted from Ten Tables in Provincetown.

But back to today’s recipe. I came across the it when Rivka mentioned that it was time for  one of her oft-repeated cold summer soups. As I’ve been forced to close my window shades from dusk until dawn when I’m not home and crank up the air conditioning while I sleep, it’s a welcome reprieve with a some jalapeño heat – but not enough to get you sweating again – requiring the same amount of effort as cleaning your blender when you’re done.

It does greatly benefit from a little bit of crunch to balance out the creaminess, so I toasted up some lavash chips. The  lavash itself has a little story, one that left me and my colleagues in a fit of giggles. Friday morning, I was greeted in the restaurant office by the following note perched upon a 4-inch stack of wraps, tortillas, and lavash.

A guest last night left this for you: endless possibilities… Some guests palm a hundred for a table. Others shower you in flatbread, I guess.

The prior evening, a bakery owner had stopped in for dinner and when we were chatting about his work, he said he’d leave me a few samples from his bakery. I schlepped the bread home, toasted it up with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and served it next to the soup. Luckily I have enough lavash to for an entire summer’s worth of chilled soup.

cucumber avocado soup

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s recipe. This is one of those recipes where you barely chop the ingredients, throw them into a blender, and press a button. One minute later, maybe two, you have soup. It is quite thick and creamy – if you’d like, add additional cucumbers and extra water to thin it out a bit. Top with something crunchy for a little texture – I used toasted lavash, but pita or tortilla chips would be great too. 

Update 6/23/14: To thin the soup out a bit, I doubled the cucumbers, and then added a bit extra salt. Excellent!

Makes approximately 6 cups

- 3 avocados, preferably Hass, halved and roughly chopped

- 3/4 lb seedless cucumbers (I used 5 large Persian cucumbers), roughly chopped

- 2 pickled jarred jalapeño peppers, chopped (with seeds), more to taste

- 1 1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you use regular yogurt, the soup might be a little bit thinner – not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

- 20 fresh chives, roughly chopped

- 20 mint leaves

- 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with half of the jalapeño and reserving 4-5 sprigs chives. Add 1/4 cup water to get the blending started, then blend on medium until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more jalapeno to taste. Thin out with extra water to get the texture that you want.

Chill. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Ladle. Fill bowls and garnish with chives, minced jalapeño,  and/or mint. Serve with something crunchy.

 

rhubarb thyme muffins

Once my maitre d’ trail was complete, I found my way back to the kitchen where my refrigerator was overflowing with greenmarket treasures. The crimson celery-like stalks of rhubarb beckoned.

rhubarb

Now, rhubarb and I don’t have much history. I’m not a fan of cooked berries unless they’re blue or come from a bog, so classic strawberry rhubarb pie, and, by association, rhubarb on its own, and I aren’t the best of friends. We don’t dislike each other; we just don’t run in the same circles.

We tried once to hang out – last year when I clipped a Saveur article and drooled over an upside down cake where rhubarb played the starring role. I read the reviews but never made it to the theater of my oven to see diva rhubarb on stage. She waited for me in the cold backstage of my fridge until she went sad and limp. This year, though, I made it my business to rekindle (or is it kindle?) a friendship. So, I got chopping, which I realize is where this little anthropomorphism should probably cease.

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I cooked down the rhubarb in a few generous pats of butter and a pile of sugar, more mountain than molehill. I looked for caramelization as the recipe suggested, but found only stringy mush in a pool of buttery syrup, more lake than puddle. With a combination of dismay (the rhubarb was, um, interesting looking) and intrigue (but its sweet and tart flavor was swoon-worthy), I persevered. I prepared a cake batter, covered the mess of rhubarb, slid the pan into the oven, and then pulled it out.

rhubarb upside down cake, downside up

The flip was a bit less than successful, so there’s no photo of a cake tinged pink. And with rhubarb mush, there was definitely no chance of a lovely cake covered in still discernable rhubarb pieces, flecked with crunchy caramelization. It tasted good enough, but when half of the cake remained after I brought it to family meal at the restaurant, I decided the recipe wasn’t worth a second try.

Nonetheless, it left me with a glimmer of hope. The next day, I went back to the market, brought home even more rhubarb, and sweated it out. Literally. It was one of those days when I had to close all of my window shades at high noon to keep the temperature in my apartment manageable even before I fired up the oven. And once the oven began its steady preheating climb, I had to turn on the air conditioning. But the rhubarb made me do it, and so do it I did.

My plan: muffins. While the oven was preheating, I made rhubarb compote. I diced the rhubarb and threw in some thyme…


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…then loaded it up with sugar and lemon…

rhubarb, thyme, lemon, sugar

…and melted it down…

rhubarb thyme compote

… to a silky compote. Looks a little like cranberry applesauce, no?

I threw together the cake batter I had used earlier, reducing the sugar and adding thyme to keep the muffins more breakfast than dessert. I scooped the batter into muffin tins, dotted with compote, and added another light blanket of batter.

rhubarb thyme muffins

Into the oven, and out of that oven, and off went the oven, and on stayed the air conditioning.

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Rhubarb thyme muffins

This recipe is inspired by a rhubarb upside-down cake in last year’s Saveur. I modified the caramelized rhubarb (which turned into mush, for me at least) into a lush not-too-sweet, still-somewhat-tart compote to which I added thyme based on this recipe. I used thyme because 1) I had it and 2) to keep this muffins out of cupcake territory. You’ll have about 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra compote – it’s fabulous spooned over Greek yogurt with a few clusters of granola. I also added some raw rhubarb to the batter – it cooks up nicely and gives some extra texture and a burst of tartness to the muffins. If I do try to make another rhubarb upside-down cake (and I have another pound-plus of stalks in my fridge), I’m going to go with raw rhubarb on the bottom, à la Melissa Clark’s recipe (read her notes here). 

You’ll need a total of 1 1/4 pounds of rhubarb to yield 4 cups chopped. 

Makes 16 muffins

For the compote:

- 3 C diced rhubarb

- 1/2 C sugar

- 1/4 t dried thyme

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

- pinch salt

For the muffin batter:

-  2 C flour

-  1 C sugar

-  4 eggs

-  1 C canola oil

-  2 t baking powder

- 1 t salt

-  1 t vanilla

- 1 C diced rhubarb

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease a muffin pan.

Simmer. Stir together the compote ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium-high and continue to simmer until the rhubarb cooks down to the consistency of applesauce, about 15 minutes. Let cool.

Mix. Meanwhile, mix together the batter ingredients. You can mix this all by hand in less time than it takes to drag your stand mixer out of the cabinet.

Arrange. Fill each muffin cup with a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Top with 2 teaspoons of compote and an additional tablespoon of batter per muffin cup.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 20 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.

from scratch

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It’s been over a month since I’ve found my way back to this place. During that time I’ve been preoccupied with a promotion to maitre d’ (!) and completion of my “trail.” Restaurant speak for training, the trail was harder and longer than I expected.

When my manager approached me about the MD role (double entendre duly noted), he warned me that it is one of the most difficult jobs in a restaurant. On par with expediting, he said, it’s crucial for ensuring a great experience for guests and for the team. I laughed off his warning, mostly because of the uncomfortable audacity of accepting a role that was acknowledged by him as one of the most important in the place.

But I was also lulled into a false sense of confidence by the ease and grace with which the other MDs did their jobs – they remind me of dancers who seem to effortlessly float midair while leaping – and by my own hubris that the job would come naturally.

A few trails in, I realized that it didn’t come naturally. I had memorized “the book” – the rules for organizing the dining room and reservations as well as the exceptions to those rules – but I wasn’t sufficiently comfortable with my level of knowledge. And it showed.

One afternoon when a large crowd descended upon the restaurant at noon, hungry for lunch and intent on sitting down immediately, I froze. Afraid to make a mistake, I was afraid to do anything. In a moment of panic, I viewed our guests as the enemy and wanted to duck behind the podium to shield myself from their bullets of inquiries, requests, and expectations. But I put on my best forced smile and welcomed them through the doors with the sole intent of getting them into the dining room and away from me as quickly as possible. There I stood, in the bastion of hospitality, praying that everyone would just go away so that I could breathe. After the first rush, I escaped to the coatroom for a few moments of quiet. I muddled through the rest of the afternoon and somehow finished out the service, ego bruised but otherwise unscathed.

I was embarrassed then, and I’m embarrassed now as I write this. Luckily, there’s a happy ending.

asparagus picklesd

To build back my confidence, I hunkered down and studied my job as if I were in school. Just as my father solidified my knowledge of math by pushing me to derive formulas from first principles rather than merely memorizing them, I dissected the book and figured out how and why it was set up the way it was, approaching it as if I were building it from scratch.

A visual person by nature, I drew out a timeline of each lunch and dinner service, each table and when it turned for the next, how many people could sit down in the restaurant at each fifteen-minute interval in a way that wouldn’t overload the servers and kitchen. I made a Gantt chart of each activity an MD needs to accomplish by what time and the activities of other team members that are dependent on those milestones. In other words, I geeked out.

Like a consultant, I spoke with servers to find out the best way to handle different situations, for example, when I might need to double-seat them – should I try to provide at least a five-minute buffer interval? Give them a heads up? Ask the host to provide a menu? – yes, yes, and maybe. I wrote long lists of useful phrases – how to explain to guests if we were running behind, if we couldn’t seat them at a seemingly available table, if there was a waitlist for the bar.

As you might have guessed, my approach worked and I started having fun in the restaurant again. I’m now officially an MD (our general manager calls me MD2 ), still building up my muscle memory, but approaching the job with confidence and a genuine smile.

While all of this has been going on, the greenmarkets have exploded and my earlier MD schedule (I finish at 3 pm when I work lunch) has allowed me to wander through an expanding and bustling Union Square each market day. The market now snakes around the north end of the square in two parallel rows that span about three blocks.

While I rejoiced in new produce – asparagusfiddleheads! rhubarb! strawberries! – and filled my fridge with color, MD trailing left me with no mental energy to cook. The result? These quick pickled asparagus – a good snack after a stressful shift. Or at least a way to get in a few vegetables before sticking a spoon into a pint of ice cream.

I’m back in the kitchen these days, so next up: rhubarb muffins! See you back here soon.

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Asparagus pickles

Adapted from Food & Wine. The pickles take just moments to prepare and are ready after a night in the fridge. They’re sharp and spicy and their flavor intensifies the longer they sit in their vinegar bath.

- 3/4 – 1 lb asparagus

- 10 sprigs dill

- 1 C white vinegar

- 1 C water

- 1 T kosher salt

- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

- 1 t black peppercorns

- 1/2 t red pepper flakes

Fill. Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and trim them so that they will fit into a wide-mouth 1-quart jar. Fill the jar with the asparagus and dill.

Heat. Heat the vinegar, water, salt, garlic, and peppers until the salt dissolves. Allow to cool.

Pour. Once the vinegar mix is lukewarm, pour it in the jar. Top off with a 1-to-1 mix of vinegar and water to cover.

Chill. Refrigerate overnight and eat within three days.

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they’re here

Ramps are here. Get them now. Enough said.

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Also, asparagus!

Fried eggs and ramps on a bagel

Just barely adapted from this recipe and this article.

Serves 1

Rinse a half-dozen ramps in cold water, removing any dirt and snipping off the hairy ends. Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add about 1 tablespoon olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the ramps and season with salt and pepper. Drop half a bagel into the toaster. When the leaves begin to wilt (1-2 minutes), push the ramps to the side and crack an egg into the hot pan. Sprinkle with salt and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook sunny-side up until the whites set and the yolk stays runny, about 2-3 minutes. Top the bagel with ramps and the egg. As you eat, this will make a mess – each bite I took dragged a ramp or two out from under the egg. It’s all good. Eat up!

trash or treasure

 

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People always say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and nowhere is this more true than in Manhattan. You might cringe to learn that I once pocketed a slightly distressed but relatively clean Longchamp bag sitting on top of (not inside) a garbage can in the stairwell of my apartment building. A frequent carry-on and beach tote, these days I use it to to store my camera equipment.

It should therefore be no surprise that when I spied a slab of white and brown marble peeking out from under a huge pile of black trash bags, I had to investigate. I pushed aside the bags to find a jagged 3-foot square-ish piece of table top (the wooden frame was precariously perched a few feet away). Score! I brushed off the monstrosity, balanced it against my hip, and teetered on home.

marble

After weighing the marble at home (28.8 pounds!), I inspected my find. Jagged edges that can be smoothed out with a little clear nail polish. A few knife marks. Some crayon drawings. A little scrubbing and a dip in the bath tub later and the slab was gleaming. Or at least as gleaming as a chunk of marble salvaged from the maws of a garbage truck can be.

This morning I recruited my treasure for a photo shoot of an unassuming cucumber salad.

quick cucumber dill pickles

The salad actually started as ice water. During yesterday’s busy brunch, there were no extra glasses for staff, so I grabbed a quart container from the dishwasher. I filled it with ice and flooded it with water and carried it with me the rest of the day. I joked with one of our managers that I felt like a true restaurant person drinking from it like I’d seen all the cooks do and she warned me to always sniff a container before taking a swig to make sure it doesn’t smell like onions.

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When I got home, I rummaged through my drawers and found my own stack of quart containers. I sniffed one – all clear. I grabbed an onion, a handful of cucumbers, and the last vestiges of dill hanging out in my refrigerator. A few swipes over the mandoline and the container smelled like onions.

After an overnight vinegary bath, the cucumbers were ready for prime time. I piled them onto a cream-cheese smeared bagel, and sat down to breakfast. I drank my coffee out of a mug. Because I don’t go back to the restaurant until Wednesday.

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Cucumber salad

This salad is a quick overnight pickle that won’t last much longer than a few days in the fridge. Layered on sandwiches, piled atop greens, or just stabbed with a fork, these cukes are refreshing, light, and ready for a picnic. 

- 6 Persian cucumbers or 1 English cucumber

- 1 medium red onion

- 1/2 bunch dill

- 1 C water

- 1 C white vinegar

- 1 T salt

- 1 T sugar

Slice the cucumbers and red onion as thinly as you can – I used a mandoline. Layer them in a quart container with the dill fronds. In a covered pint container, shake together the remaining ingredients until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour the liquid on top of the vegetables, cover, jiggle, and refrigerate overnight.

Dutchmill daffodils

ps – I’m loving these daffodils from Dutchmill Gardens at the Union Square Greenmarket. Also, blue-tinged tulips.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: I’ve never made matzah ball soup. I don’t need. Because my mom’s is the best.

One of the tricks is that she starts with a whole chicken and a ton of bones that she gets from our butcher. Then she throws in some mirepoix and enough dill to send me to heaven and lets everything simmer for hours and hours. The broth chills in the refrigerator until it gels in the best possible way. My mom even picks out the white meat chicken and saves it for my bowl because she knows that’s how I like it.

As for the matzah balls, well, they’re from a box. My mom prefers Streit’s or Manischewitz, essentially whatever she can find on the shelves in the pre-Passover frenzy. You won’t find her adding any schmaltz or seltzer either. Her secret is a very large pot. The largest pot you can find. And making the balls in several small batches to avoid over-crowding that pot. (In biological terms, consider the pot’s carrying capacity before dropping in that extra ball to avoid stunting the growth of all its neighbors. Am I the only nerd reading this blog?)

My mom has another secret weapon: my dad. In his own words, “Annie did the wonderful delicious magical details. I was only a simple assistant taking down Passover pots, buying ingredients, cutting chicken pieces in half, and cleaning the pots after some final tasting.” Sounds like a pretty good deal to me. I’d love to give someone pot washing duty!

my mom's matzah ball soup

ps – A big thanks to will.i.am. for the title of this post.

pps – You have to love living in a city where the local paper’s dining section on the day after Passover is “The Bread Issue.” We’ve got artisanal bakers, including Uri Scheft whose Bread Bakery Jerusalem baguettes are delivered daily to our restaurant. Also, nostalgia for the bread service that’s slowly disappearing. Then, rules for bread baking from Tartine Chef Chad Robertson – it all starts with patience – and a condensed version of his 38-page country bread recipe. (When I went to San Francisco a few years ago, Tartine sold out of bread by 10 am). And in case you want to bake some more, there are three additional bread recipes. After you make bread, you have to master the art of making toast. And then, figure out what to do with any leftover crumbs.

ppps – Today also marks the opening of Black Seed Bagels where Noah Bernamoff of Mile End Deli will introduce a New York-Montreal hybrid bagel.  After a decadent lunch, I swung by the shop and picked up a baker’s dozen. The thirteenth bagel is for eating on the way home, right?

Enough post-scripts. Let’s get to my mom’s soup.

Annie’s matzah ball soup

Adapted from this recipe. My mom uses soup mix or bouillon instead of salt in her recipe to enhance the chicken-y flavor – add it to taste, conservatively at first. Or use salt to taste. This is a huge batch, but it freezes well, so go ahead and make the whole thing. 

Makes at least eight quarts 

- 7 quarts water

- 1 5-lb chicken, cut into 8 (or more) pieces

- 2 lbs chicken bones from the butcher

- 1 large onion, chopped

- 1 entire head celery, chopped

- 1 lb carrots, chopped

- 1 large bunch rest dill, cut up roughly

- several tablespoons of Osem chicken soup mix (without MSG) or bouillon, or salt to taste

- 2 boxes Streit’s or Manischewitz matzah ball mix (for about 40 matzah balls) and whatever other ingredients they call for

Boil. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Add in the chicken and bones. Skim off some fat and “scum” that rises to the top several times until no more accumulates.

Simmer. After the skimming, add in all of the vegetables, dill, and the soup mix powder to the pot. (Again, be conservative with soup mix/bouillon at first until you see how salty the broth is). Lower the temperature to a simmer and cover the pot.  Simmer for about 3 1/2 hours.  Check on the soup every half-hour and stir. When done, the vegetables should be softened and the chicken falling off the bone.

Strain. Remove all chicken pieces, bones, and most of the vegetables and let cool. Discard any dill stems. Refrigerate the soup, chicken, and vegetables overnight. The next morning, skim the fat off the top of the soup. Remove the bones from the chicken by hand, shred the chicken and put it back into the soup along with the vegetables.

Make matzah balls. Follow the package directions, along with my mom’s tips. With wet hands, roll the dough into balls about one-inch in diameter. This is important: cook the matzah balls in small batches. Use a very large pot and only add enough matzah balls to form a single layer with a fair amount of wiggle room – you don’t want to crowd the pot when they expand. Cover the pot and simmer each batch of matzah balls for at least half an hour. They’re ready when you can stick a knife into the center without hitting any resistance. Remove the balls with a slotted spoon and place them in a single layer in a flat pan and refrigerate. We like our matzah balls fluffy but firm enough that they don’t fall apart. Make sure to store the balls separately from the soup, otherwise they’ll absorb too much soup and fall apart.

Serve. Reheat the soup with snips of fresh dill, and add the matzah balls carefully with a large spoon.

the brei

I can’t remember the last time I bought matzah.

Other than the seder feast preamble Hillel sandwich with its dab of bracing horseradish and spoonful of sweet apple and nut charoset nestled between two mismatched shards or maybe a few snapped rectangles smeared with Temp Tee and draped in smoked salmon the next morning, I largely stay away from the stuff.

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Every year, as I rush from my aunt’s house where we have the seders to the car/train station/airport, I grab whatever open box of matzah is on the kitchen counter and stuff it into a bag along with leftover ribeye and a few quarts of my mom’s matzah ball soup (more on that later).

matzah brei

My first morning back in the comfort of my own kitchen where I can make as big a mess as I want, I crumble a square or two of matzah into a bowl, scattering crumbs on the floor like a culinary Hansel and Gretel. Soaked in water, mixed with vanilla, milk, and an egg, and then fried, the matzah becomes brei, Passover’s answer to French toast.

This is the breakfast that dreams are made of.

matzah brei

It’s also what leaves me every single year facing the last few days of Passover with an empty box of matzah shards and an addiction-like need to make just one more batch. Or two. Or three. It’s what sends me out, year after year, foraging the grocery shelves in the shrinking Passover section for a new, shrink-wrapped, full box. More well-hidden than the afikoman (I found ours this year under the tablecloth), the mid-holiday box of matzah is elusive, assuming you don’t want the only flavor left: wheat bran. And no one wants that wheat bran straggler.

matzah brei

Unless I can borrow a few squares from a friend or neighbor, after a breakfast or two or three, I say bye-bye to the brei. And wait for Passover next year.

matzah brei

ps – If radiology was like this, I might have stayed in medicine. 

Matzah brei

This recipe makes a brei that is is like a big pancake, rather than a matzah scramble. While some like it savory, I take my brei sweet and add a fair amount of vanilla to enhance that sweetness. I don’t have real measurements other than one square of matzah and one egg per person. 

Serves 1

Crumble a square of matzah into small, but not tiny, pieces (about ½-inch wide) and place in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over top and allow to soak until the water cools enough so you can handle it. With your hand, cover and push the matzah against one side of the bowl and drain out as much of the water as you can. Mix in a splash of milk (1-2 tablespoons), a dash of vanilla (1-2 teaspoons), a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional), and an egg. With a fork, mix everything together. Generously coat a small pan (small enough so that the brei batter will fill the entire pan, about a half-inch thick) with olive oil and heat over a high flame for a minute or two until hot, but not smoking. The hot pan will help the brei develop a Drop the batter into the hot pan and distribute it evenly. Turn the flame down to medium. Then, do not stir it. You don’t want scrambled brei – you’re aiming for a large pancake. Peek under the brei periodically until you find it nicely browned and flip-able, loosening it from the pan a little bit at a time. This will take longer than you think, probably about 7-10 minutes. Yes, that long. Carefully flip the brei in one piece and continue to cook until browned, another minute or so. Slide the brei onto a place, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pat of butter.

 

Still life with eggs.

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

still life with eggs

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Also known as Passover baking.

Over the past week, twenty-four eggs have passed through my hands. One made it into breakfast. The remaining twenty-three were mixed into five batches of mini chocolate cakes and three of macaroons. Those macaroons will have to wait a few days but they’ll show up here soon enough.

I thought it would be fun to talk a little bit about my kitchen. There’s a blog called a stove with a house around it – it’s been dormant for a while, but the name stays with me, and I think of my place as a kitchen with an apartment around it. One peek and I was ready to sign the lease. My apartment in Boston had a big kitchen (you can see me cooking in it here), much more than I needed as a single chick living on my own. But now that I’m back in New York, living in an apartment a third of the size of my old one, my kitchen can best be described as, well, efficient. In real estate lingo that would mean small. But in my lingo, it means small but (and!) it works really well for me.

The kitchen itself is a galley, but by far the most luxurious one I’ve ever had. With a large, even slightly over-sized, gas stove, I can fit a full sheet pan in the oven with room to spare (think twenty macaroons per pan!). Then there’s … get this … a garbage disposal. And a dishwasher.

Turn around, and you’ll bump into a narrow counter and a French door refrigerator with an ice cube maker that I spent six weeks trying to turn on. Turns out, when a fridge isn’t connected to a water supply, when there is no water supply it can be connected to, it can’t make ice. No matter how many times you press the reset button.

To the right of the fridge is a doorway. And to the left of the fridge is a doorway. What it lacks in counter space, the kitchen makes up for in open space.

When I first moved in, I was concerned about the counter situation. I dragged over a waist-high wire shelving unit for storing pots and pans and other things that I always need in easy reach, but it’s not sturdy or deep enough to chop on.

I use my pantry for dishes and appliances and baking sheets because it’s too awkwardly-shaped to stockpile cans and other staples. I use my cabinets for those staples. I store my plastic wrap, foil, parchment paper and the like in a trash bin under my sink – everything stands up and the rolls stay put. I only have three drawers, so I keep my two sets of silverware in the same one, with milk utensils facing upside up and meat ones upside down.

It took me until this week to get the hang of my kitchen and to appreciate its efficiency. All those eggs up there put my kitchen to the test and I’m pleased to say that she (he?) made it through with flying colors. One counter was the mixing station. The other, the cutting. In between photo shoots, the table served as a scooping station. And then a cooling station. With the small space, I was forced to clean up while I worked. And because it was small, it didn’t take long to clean.

A few hours ago, I left the dishwasher running and now I’m in New Jersey with family.

To those of you celebrating Passover, enjoy your seders tonight. And to everyone, happy Spring.

xo

 

I sit down

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I don’t work on Tuesdays or Wednesday mornings. Which means that after a few double shifts landing me in bed no earlier than 1 am, I let myself indulge in a more leisurely morning or two: I sit down to a hot breakfast.

Not since my medical school days of 4-hour vascular surgeries have I so valued sitting down. One of the central tenets of being in the hospital was “sit when you can, eat when you can, sleep when you can.” (Another was that when your attending/chief/resident tells you to leave, you don’t ask questions, you don’t dawdle, you just get the hell out of there before there’s a reason for someone to call you back. I have to say, there are a lot of parallels between restaurant life and medical training.)

This past Wednesday, I woke up and did a little not-yet-ready-to-wear-my-glasses-or-contacts bleary-eyed on-my-phone reading, coming across this article about Mitchell Davis. Executive Vice President of the James Beard Foundation and host of Heritage Radio Network‘s Taste Matters, Davis makes the matzah ball soup for the James Beard House’s annual seder. The finishing touch to his recipe is dill.

Dill is the smell of Passover in my book. My Bubbie used to order our entire seder feast from a caterer, but she made the matzah ball soup her own by dropping in a fistful of dill, stems and fronds and all, as she reheated it. When I was tall enough to reach the stove, she periodically let me escape from our round robin hagaddah reading to stir the soup. Scampering to stand on the pink plastic-upholstered seat of a black wrought iron kitchen chair, Bubbie protectively behind me, I’d remove the lid and breathe in the first rush of dill-tinged facial-strength pore-opening steam.

I must have had Passover on the brain when, Sunday night after a double shift, I popped into a grocery store at a few minutes before midnight to pick up some greens. As an afterthought, I grabbed a fat bundle of dill. Home, I stuck the bouquet of dill into a glass of water and placed it in the fridge door. Fast forward to to Wednesday morning: me, lying in bed with my phone mere inches from my trying-to-focus eyes, reading the article about Davis’s soup. I plucked my glasses off the nightstand and stumbled towards my brewing coffee. (Thank god my coffee maker has a timer.) As I pulled open the fridge to grab the carton of milk, the dill brushed my arm and I caught a whiff. I spied some leftovers and, a few slurps of coffee under my belt, I channeled my inner Tamar Adler into a breakfast bowl. I had made a kale and freekeh* salad the day before, so I scooped up the kale ribs that I had set aside and threw them into a pan with some oil and a rough chop of dill. I mixed together some freekek and kale leaves with the sautéed ribs, slid an egg on top, and showered the whole thing with more dill.

And then I sat down.

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Kale, freekeh, and dill breakfast bowl

My basic breakfast bowl combo is an egg perched atop a pile of cooked or raw greens, grains, and herbs – pretty much whatever you have lying around. Swiss chard and arugula are some of my other go-to greens, and you can’t beat parsley or cilantro to top everything off.

Rescue kale ribs from your most recent salad. Saute them with a large pinch of fresh dill in a little bit of olive oil for a few minutes, then cover the pan to allow the tough stems to steam a bit. When the ribs are tender and the greens are a little browned, season with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lemon. Move the kale ribs to a bowl. Crack an egg in the same pan and cook it however you like. I fry my egg up so the edges are are frilly and browned and the yolk stays liquid. While the egg is frying, mix the warm kale stems with a few spoonfuls of leftover freekeh and a handful of shredded kale leaves. Top with the egg and some more dill.

Sit down and enjoy, even for a few minutes.

***

* OK, let’s talk about freekeh, folks. Some couples have a song. My friend Molly and I have a grain. I met Molly at a cooking demonstration where she was the only person who could identify the picture of a pile of green grains. We instantly bonded. Common throughout the Middle East, freekeh is an immature (“green”) wheat harvested early when still soft, then dried and set afire in a controlled blaze, lending a smoky flavor to the wheat. It’s name comes from the Arabic farik – rubbed – because after the grains are roasted, they’re thrashed together to separate them from the burnt chaff. Feekeh has an earthy, grassy flavor that I think needs to be tempered a bit with a little lemon juice; it smells a little bit like green tea. For more info and ideas on cooking with freekeh, I’d head on over to Maria Speck‘s Ancient Grains for Modern Meals.

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