Archive for June, 2009

the rebbetzin’s roast

Rebbetzin's Roast with couscous

One of the qualities about which I am least proud is my tendency to leave certain things to the last minute. Humanities papers in college (but yet studying for my science or math exams well in advance…?). Switching my purse to match my outfit when I’m leaving the house and already late. Buying ingredients for a shabbat meal even though I’ve planned out a menu for days.

Well, the last one came back to bite me right before Shavout last week when the only kosher butcher in town closed 6 hours before sunset. I had heard from friends that they kept strange hours and here it was on their website in black and white for all to read:

Open: Sun. 7- 4 Mon. & Tues. 7- 6 Wed. & Thurs. 7- 8 Fri. 7- 2

But, I still didn’t believe it. So, they close on Fridays 6 hours before sunset, clearly they don’t REALLY expect people who work to actually be able to conduct all of their shopping on Wednesday or Thursday evenings before 8 or on Sundays before 4.

Clearly they do.

And when a holiday starts on a Thursday evening, they close at 2 pm as well. I found this out when I called at 3 pm on that fateful Thursday to check on their hours.

(I understand their logic, but is this customer-facing in any world that normal people live in? I resent kosher monopolies and this makes me a tiny bit nostalgic for the days when the community banded together and rioted when the local kosher establishments took advantage of their customers, e.g., during the Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902 secondary to a 50% increase in the price of meat, described at the time by the NYT and put into nice historical context in this excerpt by Monroe Friedman in Consumer Boycotts, referring to noted social historian, Cliffie, and Yale Professor Paula Hyman. Yes, I realize that this is a much more extreme example of the issue at hand, but really, 6 hours before the holiday begins?)

Well, I was walking towards my  ZipCar a few minutes past 3, deep in thought about how to adjust the meal that I had planned around having a  brisket (to be prepared as salpicon, a Mexican shredded beef dish dressed in chipotle and adobe sauce) in case I could only buy chicken breasts at the local Trader Joe’s. And then I walked past the house of a local rabbi, Rabbi Ganz, and remembered that his wife, the rebbetzin (the title for a rabbi’s wife, though she introduces herself as Rifka — she is a down-to-earth, approachable woman) has a thriving counseling practice and, more important for the matter at hand, commutes weekly to New York to see her patients and often purchases meat and some other groceries in Queens. She had once mentioned this to me, and out of a stubborn  dedication to serving meat that I was craving without compunction, and little second thought about embarrassing myself or social convention, I unabashedly emailed R’ Ganz on my BlackBerry at 3:13 pm:

I actually have a very very strange request – I seem to have missed out on going to the Butcherie today…and didn’t realize that it closes at 2 pm (! yes, at 2 pm even in the summer…I’m clearly still accustomed to NY rushing around before yom tov). Is there any chance you guys have an extra brisket in your freezer that I can buy off of you? I know it sounds very very funny, but I’m not sure who else to ask since many people here seem to be veggie, or veggie-like (alas, Cambridge!). Worse case scenario, I’ll just cook chicken, but I’ve had this yearning for brisket …

And here was his response at 3:22:

… As for the roast, what we have in the freezer is a 3 pound square chuck roast which you are welcome to take …

In under 2 hours, I had completed my fruit and veggie shopping, returned my ZipCar, and arrived at the Ganz’s door to pick up the roast to defrost for the following evening. Meat would be mine and my guests’ for Friday night.

The Rebbetzin’s Roast, aka, Moroccan Brisket with Olives, Tomatoes, Onions, and Preserved Lemons

you can see the garlic cloves sticking out of the meat

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today. The original recipe calls for a 5- to 6-pound brisket for 10-12 servings, so I was afraid that a 3 pound chuck roast would not be nearly enough for my 8 guests (so of course I also made chicken) and we ended up having enough leftovers to feed me for lunch for several days. I had never made a chuck roast before and was not familiar with how it might differ from a brisket (and didn’t have much time to research), so I just took a leap and hoped for the best. This roast did not seem to shrink as much as a brisket does. I made a few substitutions (Goya Manzanilla Spanish olives with pits, canned preserved lemons), braised the meat in a pan that is way too big (I need a Dutch oven for anyone who cares), and the only complaint I have is that the roast didn’t quite slice as nicely as was hoping it would. Perhaps I didn’t let it cool sufficiently?

The flavors are intense – salty and tomato-ey and quite concentrated. One of the beauties of this dish is that everything can be prepared in advance and the flavors intensify over about a day.

Serves 8-10.

3-pound chuck roast

5 garlic cloves

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

5 T vegetable oil, divided

4 large onions, diced and divided (recipe says this will yield 8 C…I got closer to 6)

1/2 t turmeric

1/2 t ground ginger

1/2 t ground white pepper

2 bay leaves

1 celery stalk, diced

3 large tomatoes, diced and divided

1 C water (or more)

jarred preserved lemons1 1/2 C green olives (recipe calls for pitted Moroccan olives; I used Goya Manzanilla Spanish olives with pits because that’s what I had)

2-3 preserved lemons, diced (these are not difficult to make — you essentially quarter lemons and pickle them in salt water for several weeks, but I had some Roland brand jarred ones (O-U) on hand that I had bought at Christina’s – see Resources)

1/4 C coarsely chopped parsley

1/4 C coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Prepare the meat. Pierce skin of the roast with knife in 5 places and insert garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T oil in heavy skillet or roasting pan. Add the meat and sear on all sides (several minutes each side), then remove.

Prepare the veggies. Add 2 more T oil to the hot pan and sauté 3 of the chopped onions until limp. Add all the spices (turmeric, ginger, white pepper, bay leaves), celery, 1 diced tomato, and water to the pan. Sauté for 1-2 more minutes and let cool.

preparing vegetables, pre-roast

Cook the meat. Place roast in the baking pan and surround with the cooked vegetables.

roast surrounded by veggies, ready to go in oven

Roast the meat, covered, in the oven for 3 hours or until a fork goes in and out of the meat easily (I guess this is what is meant by the term “fork -016 sharptender”). Periodically check the roast to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pan. If you are using a big turkey pan (like I do since I do not own a Dutch oven…) that does not have a proper cover, you will probably need to check the roast periodically to make sure there is enough liquid. Otherwise, you might (like I did) end up with some lovely caramelized onions and tomatoes (which actually are quite lovely, but might not be quite the effect you are seeking). When ready, remove, cool, and refrigerate, reserving the vegetables. You can prepare this a day ahead of time.

Prepare the tomato-onion sauce. Heat the remaining 1T of oil in a frying pan and add the remaining 1 chopped onion. Saute until onions are translucent. Add the remaining 2 diced tomatoes and simmer, covered for a few minutes. Set aside or refrigerate overnight until ready to serve meat.

Slice and reheat meat. About an hour before your plan to serve the meat (or once meat has fully cooled — I probably didn’t wait long enough and tried to slice when still warm), cut it against the grain into slices ~1/4-inch thick. Return the slices to the baking an along with the reserved vegetables in which the meat was cooked (the tomato-celery-onion mix). Reheat the meat, covered, in a 350ºF oven for ~ 30 minutes.

Complete the sauce. Add to the tomato-onion mixture the olives, preserved lemons, and half of the parsley and cilantro (2 T each). Heat in a small saucepan.

olive-tomato-onion-preserved lemon sauce

Remove the brisket and arrange on serving platter with vegetables (caramelized or otherwise), covered with sauce and garnished with remaining 2 T each of parsley and cilantro. Don’t forget to pluck out the bay leaves.

rebbetzen's roast, a few days later

A special thank you to my gracious neighbor who took many process photos during the holiday when cooking is cool, but photo-taking, while uber-tempting for me, is not.

-016 sharp

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When you write a food blog, people think that you cook all the time and that everything you make is gourmet. While I do cook quite frequently, most of what I make is really pretty simple. Recent past dinners have included a big plate of green beans with toasted almonds. Oven-roasted corn on the cob covered with grated cheese. Marinated zucchini alongside roasted cumin and cayenne sweet potatoes. Panzanella. As you can tell, I eat a lot of simple veggies.

So, it is such a treat when someone cooks dinner for me. And a few weeks ago, I was the recipient of just such a treat. Not only was I treated to a home-cooked dinner, but my Israeli friend C. baked me pitot (the plural for pita in Hebrew).

C. had been disappointed to learn that despite my supposed foodie status, I use a bread machine to make challah. “What, it braids it for you in the machine?” he asked.

When divulging this embarrassing little secret (well, I guess it’s not much of a secret since I unabashedly shared it early on right here), I explained that in my experience, baking is chemistry, and while I have in the past studied science, I am no chemist. “But no,” C. said, “baking bread is physics.”

Well, if I am no chemist, then I am certainly no physicist.

Luckily, C. is.

And this is only one of his manifold gifts. He plays guitar, has a knack and appreciation for vocabulary and grammar in all the languages he speaks, and combines a piercing intellect with a direct, no-nonsense style that is refreshingly candid without being harsh.

So, I arrived in his kitchen the other evening to find a square white bowl filled to the brim with a slightly deflated mound of off-white dough. After heavily flouring the counter, C. kneaded the dough a few times…

pita dough, kneaded

… and then rolled it out about ¼ inch thick (or a centimeter, in keeping with the scientific and Israeli metric system).

pita dough, rolled out

Now, this is where C.’s methodology differs from that of other pita-makers. And it was at this point that C. launched into an explanation about what conditions are important in helping the pita form its pocket. Most people normally separate the dough into about a dozen small balls and roll each one into a flat round. But having each pita the same thickness helps ensure consistent results (granted, we did not discuss the possibility of all the pitot failing to form pockets…). And, perhaps more importantly, rolling out the dough only once is significantly more efficient than rolling dough out twelve times. And, I was getting hungry.

OK, back to physics. Roll the dough too thin and the pita will be crisp and cracker-like; too thick and it may never form a pocket. So, one centimeter is what has worked best in C.’s experience. I think he mentioned something about thermodynamics in the oven, the expansion of gas in the dough as it’s baking, the importance of an oven that distributes heat evenly from top and bottom to ensure equal pita sides (which he has yet to master) … and I’m not sure what else … I was getting hungry.

So C. forged ahead, cutting out pitot in just the right size with a bowl. Rather than re-rolling the scraps (inefficient), C. cuts the pitot close together to reduce wasted dough and bakes the triangular/square/star-shaped scraps which often form mini-pockets with crunchy end-bits.

cutting out pitot with bowl

As he was cutting, C. continued to explain, “the ambient temperature is important for the rising of pitot,” so I checked the wall thermometer: a pretty high 74˚F – plus, it was humid outside. This did not bode well for the pita.

C. looked concerned. My stomach grumbled.

My bread machine was looking pretty good right about then.

But so was the pita as C. finally laid it out on the baking sheets to rise as he turned on the oven to preheat (500˚F). He said it would it would take the oven longer to preheat than it would to prepare the rest of dinner.

pitot and end pieces, ready for final rising

While the pitot were rising, we set to work on everything else. I sliced up a caprese salad, cut the tips off the haricots verts that C. sautéed with garlic and dill, and then we  threw salmon on a grill pan with some olive oil and freshly-squeezed lemon juice.

Finally, the pitot and scraps had sufficiently risen …

pitot after final rising, ready for oven

… and were ready for a quick bake in the hot oven. No more than about 5 minutes per tray. No opening the oven to peek (or to take pictures). Just trust the physics. Patience. Ahhhh…

pitot starting to puff

And the pitot puffed as we sat on the kitchen floor in front of the oven.

the pockets are forming!

We took one pita batch out and put the next in. I continued to sit in rapt attention in front of the oven door.

And then the smoke alarm went off.

I have never been a fan of cooking salmon on a stove top.

C. quickly disconnected the alarm as I removed the grill pan from the fire and opened every single window. And kept checking the pita in the oven (through the glass…I did not open the door!).

After we pulled the last pita out, perfect pockets intact, we sat down to eat, mopping up the olive oil and balsamic from the caprese with the warm fluffy dough.

I am not sure I’ll ever be able to buy pita in a store again.

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