Archive for the ‘beef’ Category


Crazy time, no?

I’m back in New York. Back in my apartment. Back here.

I thought I’d be returning to something resembling my old life. And I did for a brief period after pulling stuff from storage and setting up my kitchen again and hanging my clothes. I’ve been seeing friends across the street or downtown or even Long Island, catching up on doctor appointments that had been pushed off, going to my favorite dance class (floor barre!), reconnecting with colleagues over coffee.

And now that I’ve settled back in to my cozy studio with huge windows, I’m wondering when I’ll ever leave. Sure, there are walks in nice weather when the streets and Central Park aren’t too crowded. Trips to the grocery store more frequently than I’d like due to space constraints in my fridge and freezer (and second freezer) and cabinets.

But while I’m cooped up, I’ve started making my way back to cooking how I used to. With a camera by my side. With notes in the margins. With hills of cookbooks kicked to one end of the sofa as I page through one after another for inspiration. I’m not much for writing these days, so long intros are a thing of the past, but for now I’ve got a backlog of recipes that could serve us all well in the weeks and months to come.

First up, meatballs. (With a Passover variation as well.)



Makes approximately 4 dozen meatballs 

Recipe adapted from The Kitchn.

The key to meatballs is texture – you don’t want them to be dense or tough. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years. Don’t use meat that’s too lean. Beef should be 15% fat. If you use a leaner meat or mix beef with poultry, I add a little bit of olive oil to the mixture. Mix your meat and other ingredients by hand, and be very gentle. Don’t use a spoon, don’t use a spatula, don’t use a spoonula. Use your hands. (Wash them first, please). To make it a little easier, take your meat out of the fridge about 10 minutes before you plan on starting to take the chill off and let it soften a bit. (Don’t take it out too far in advance. I’m looking at you, E. coli and salmonella). When mixing, be gentle and handle the meat as little as possible, mixing just until the ingredients are evenly distributed. When rolling into balls, the meat will be pretty sticky, so dip your hands into a shallow bowl of water or oil every few balls.

Meatballs freeze well. If you have the space, freeze them in a single layer on a tray, and then put into a container so they won’t squish together. 

Passover modification: replace breadcrumbs with matzah meal, or omit bread crumbs and water altogether and make them gluten free.

– 2 lbs ground meat (I usually use a combination of beef and chicken/turkey)
– 1 medium onion
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 C fine breadcrumbs
– 1/3 C water
– 2 large eggs
– 1/4 C finely chopped fresh parsley
– 1 T kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Olive oil

Prep. Pull the meat out of the refrigerator and allow to rest in a very large bowl for 10-15 minutes, to take the chill off and make it easier to handle. Line a large baking sheet with parchment or heavy-duty aluminum foil.  You can place a metal cooling rack over the lined baking sheet – this allows the meatballs cook evenly from every direction, and if you’re using fattier ground meat, prevents the meatballs from sitting in their own fat. Heat the oven to 400F.

Grate. Over another, smaller bowl, grate the onion on the medium holes of a box grater. You should have about 1 cup of onion, including its juice.

Mix. To the meat, add onion (and its juice), garlic, bread crumbs, water, eggs, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper. With your hands, gently incorporate all the ingredients until just barely evenly distributed.

Scoop. With the baking sheet nearby, pinch off pieces of meat (about 2 tablespoons) and lightly roll into a golf-sized ball. You don’t want to press too hard to get the meat balls perfectly round, or they’ll be too tough. I cup my hands and gingerly roll/tumble the meat   between them until it forms a slightly lumpy ball. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet or cooling rack so they’re not touching.

Roast. Roast the meatballs in the oven for 20-25 minutes until browned. At 20 minutes, break one meatball open to see if it’s fully cooked through without any pink. Keep checking – once the broken meatball is cooked through, you’ll get to sacrifice another meatball. The more meatballs you need to check, the more treats for you. You can also use a thermometer – the official temperature the meat should hit is 160F (165F for poultry).


Tomato sauce

Makes ~5 cups

Adapted from Simply Recipes. This is one of those recipes where you spend all of your time chopping vegetables, and then you just throw it in a pot and let it cook and cook and cook and cook. You can take it off after 30-40 minutes, but it will lack the richness and tang that comes with time. If you prefer your sauce chunky, skip the pureeing step, but chop your vegetables more finely and uniformly. 

Use between 3 and 4 cups of sauce for the meatballs. I’m sure you can come up with a use for the rest. 

– 3 T extra virgin olive oil
– 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
– 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
– 2 celery stalks, including leafy tops, roughly chopped
– 2T finely chopped fresh parsley
– 4 cloves garlic, minced
– 3 T tomato paste
– 2 t red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
– 2 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sweat. Heat olive oil in a large cast iron pot on medium heat. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, and parsley until coated with oil. Drop heat to low and cover the pot. Cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and cooked through, but the onions aren’t browned.

Cook. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes, and increase the heat to medium. Cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomato paste starts to darken and brown. Add a half-cup of water (or use read wine if you have it) to deglaze the pan – scrape up all the good stuff sticking to the bottom.

Simmer. Add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Lower heat so sauce is simmering gently. Cover. Check on the sauce periodically, stirring and tasting for for salt and pepper. If it gets too thick, add some water. If too thin, leave the cover ajar so some of the liquid can evaporate. Let simmer for about 90 minutes.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the sauce until smooth.

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his way

We don’t normally celebrate Father’s Day in my family. Hallmark holiday as it is, his personality as it was, my father didn’t ascribe much value to a special day just for him. And when we did get together, he always treated. That was his way.

Was. Didn’t. Treated. Was.

Does the blow of the past tense ever soften?


Three Sundays ago was rough. We knew it would be. I filtered out and automatically filed away emails with subject line “Father’s Day” but the taunting was everywhere. I opened up Amazon to an Echo ad emblazoned with “Alexa, call dad.” Oh how I wish you could, Alexa.

The day arrived, and my mom suggested steak for dinner. It was the only thing he cooked, and he only cooked on the grill. (In all fairness, he did chop vegetables for my mom’s chicken soup, and he called himself the “stupid chef” instead of the sous chef. It was their own little joke.)

But he had brought the grill inside over the winter, and it still sits in the corner of the kitchen. And there it remains, the fireproof mat to protect the wooden deck (and house) lost to time. Or possibly the garage. But a plan is a plan, and my plan was to grill so I went with the next best thing: at the pool just a few steps through the woods from our house, the pool where I learned how to swim and to be part of a team, live several grills up for grabs.

I prepped a feast at home. While the rib-eye came to room temperature, there were roots to peel, florets to separate, leaves to clean, scapes to untangle, nightshades to halve. And then a rubdown with olive oil and a liberal shower of salt and pepper. I packed everything up in a mishmash of plastic containers and grabbed a long, sturdy pair of tongs.

The day was winding down at the pool, a few families lingered. I approached one of the grills, opened the lid, and scrubbed down the grates.

I turned a knob. Nothing. I turned a different knob. Still nothing.

Eventually, someone else’s father showed me how to turn on the flame. Research and trial and error are carrying me the rest of the way.


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Big surprise: another soup.


‘Tis the season, clearly.

You could call this one a lazy cook’s version of stuffed cabbage, essentially unstuffed cabbage in broth. It’s a throwback to my Eastern European roots, though it took me until my late twenties before even trying the traditional stuffed version. My reaction was mixed. The meat was dense, as if the leaves were rolled too tight, and studded with raisins. (Raisins! I plucked them out as best I could.) The sauce was on the too-sweet side but it did had a tart kick and a glossy silkiness that had me sprinkling it with salt and sopping it up with pieces of challah torn off the end of the loaf. I’ve only eaten stuffed cabbage a few more times since, and making it myself seemed a bit of a potscke.

Enter this winter when I’ve found myself eating soup for lunch or dinner at least five days a week. And ground beef in the freezer and a cabbage head rolling around the bin at the bottom of my fridge. I made the soup once. And then I made it again, tweaking and taking notes until I came up with my perfect savory-sweet-sour-spicy balance.

I played around with traditional (vinegar, paprika) and not-so-traditional (sumac, chili flakes) ingredients to get the tangy results I wanted. I also texted my Ukrainian-born sestra (Russian for sister, though we’re not officially related) Marina with questions. Do you put garlic in? NO! What do you put in your sauce? She sent a photo of a can with Cyrillic writing and a Chef Boyardee lookalike. It’s sweet, she said. Eh, I said.

Curious about the “true” taste profile of stuffed cabbage (I should have known there’s no single answer), I turned to the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Jewish food historian extraordinaire, the late Gil Marks. In his multi-page entry on the subject, he traces this peasant food’s eastward path from Turkey and/or Persia and talks about differences in palates across different geographies. Seems that, like the “gefilte line” (talk to Jeff Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern about that), there is a distinct preference for sweet in Galicia (today’s southern Poland and northern Ukraine) where sugar beet factories were common – or, actually a sweet-sour combination. North of Galicia is savory stuffed cabbage, and in gefilte fish this translates to being all about the pepper.

Then I went down a rabbit hole, poking around the family tree that my sister started a few years ago to remind myself where my greats and great-greats and great-great-greats and even great-great-great-greats were born. Essentially, my father’s side of the family is from Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (our last name used to be Skversky) and came to the US in the 1880s; my mother’s side is from Poland, Germany, and Hungary, coming over after WWII. So, both in and north of Galicia and that savory-sweet-sour-spicy preference makes sense.

Marina calls stuffed cabbage golubtzi. In my reading (Gil, again), I learned that the name comes from the diminutive form of the word dove – golub in Russian, holub in Ukrainian, golab in Polish – because all those cabbage rolls packed into the pot looked like cute little birds huddling together in a nest. Marina was floored when I mentioned this to her, I never thought of that, she said. Made all the funnier because she calls my sister (Robyn) ptichka – little bird.

I poked around in some of my other cookbooks to see what twists on stuffed cabbage I could find. First up, Jeff and Liz in their Gefilte Manifesto mix kimchi into their meat filling and sauce. Leah Koenig makes a soup in Modern Jewish Cooking that’s a mix of chorizo, cabbage, tomato, and potato. And my friend Meira told me about a soup she used to make that had ground beef and sauerkraut in it. Seems like there are a lot more variations to explore before Spring finally arrives.

(Thanks Inna for the great blue and white plates!)


This past week, I happened to go to two interesting dance performances, both of which explored identity, specifically Jewish identity. First was Ka’et Ensemble – a contemporary Israeli dance company comprised of only religious men. Their performance “Heroes” – described here – looks at different male roles and dichotomies such as secular/religious, spiritual/physical, strong/weak, and how they can influence each other, how there can be an ebb and flow. The other performance was Hadar Ahuvia‘s “Everything you have is yours?” – also discussed in the New York Times –  in which the choreographer and two other dancers show and tell and question the origins of Israeli folk dance, raising issues of cultural appropriation and looking internally into her own biases and assumptions.

I’d really love to get back to dance one of these days.

Unstuffed cabbage soup

Make sure to taste taste taste as you go. I’ve put total amounts of salt and spices as a guide, but this may not work for you, so see where I suggest you taste and adjust along the way. Use a big Dutch oven – mine was 7 quarts – because there is a lot of cabbage to add. It eventually cooks down, but it’s easier if you can put it in all at one time.

If you don’t want to add the grains, use only half a can of water or the soup will be too thin.

Makes a generous 3 quarts

– 1-2 t olive oil
– 1 lb ground beef
– 2 large onions, roughly chopped into medium-sized pieces
– 1 T kosher salt (I’m using Diamond Crystal these days, which is less salty than others)
– freshly ground pepper
– 2 t sumac
– 3-4 t hot paprika
– 1 t hot chili flakes
– 1/2 head celery (about 6 stalks), sliced into 1/2-inch chunks (about 1 1/2 C)
– 1/2 head cabbage, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces (about 8 C)
– 1/4 C brown sugar
– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes – don’t throw out the can because you’ll use it to measure water to add
– 3 T red wine or sherry vinegar
– 1 1/2 C cooked wheat berries or other grain (freekeh, barley, rice, etc.)
– Fresh parsley, chopped

Saute. Just barely cover the bottom of a big Dutch oven with olive oil – you don’t need much at all – and place over medium-high heat. Crumble ground beef into the pot and stir around, breaking up any clumps until it turns from pink to brown (but no need to really brown it until it develops a crust) and releases liquid and fat, about 7 minutes. Drain the beef and set aside, leaving the fat/liquid in the pot.

Stir. Drop the flame to medium and then cook the onion in the meat juice. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, the sumac, 2 teaspoons hot paprika, and the chili flakes. Cover. Cook until softened but not browned, about 10 minutes. The onion will, however, turn brown as it absorbs all of the meat juice. Add a little water if the pot gets too dry. Stir in the celery and cabbage. Keep stirring until the cabbage wilts. Taste a piece of cabbage to see if it needs more spice or salt and adjust accordingly. I found it needed more salt so I added another teaspoon. Stir in the brown sugar. It will taste too sweet, but the rest of the ingredients will dilute the sugar.

Simmer. Add the meat back to the pot and pour in the tomatoes followed by 2 cans of water. Bring to a boil and then a slow simmer. Add the vinegar. Taste again – at this point I added another teaspoon of salt and 2 teaspoons hot paprika.

Submit. Add in the cooked wheat berries and continue to simmer until the cabbage completely submits, about 30 more minutes. Taste along the way, adding salt or spice or vinegar or sugar.

Serve. Serve with parsley.



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It’s just a day into 2014 and I already have a recipe to share. It’s a housewarming recipe, the recipe that finally helped me feel like New York was my new home. Is my new home.

Kitchen Shelves

A few months ago, I subleased my apartment in Cambridge and moved down to New York with no plan other than to follow a dream and see where it takes me. After wandering from temporary apartment to temporary apartment, I landed in a friend’s place to finish out her lease. I slowly moved in, both physically and psychologically. I needed two trips up north to fill the closets and round out the kitchen, and there is still a lot that I’ve left behind. When my father visited just before Thanksgiving, he installed shelves and I finally felt like I had a place to call my own. A place to hang my hat. Well, to hang my pots and pans at least.

I’ve slowly returned to cooking and baking, even adapting (sort of) to not having a dishwasher other than my own two chapped hands. I’ve made soups and vegetables (recipes soon, pinky swear) and have managed to take photos in the small, so very small, area between the bed and the window on a cutting board precariously perched atop a moving box.

Harissa chili

On the last Friday of the year, I invited a crowd for shabbat dinner.

I borrowed a table and extra chairs. Ran to the store for a last-minute scroll of craft paper when I couldn’t find a table cloth. Trimmed roses and, with branches of eucalyptus, arranged them in a stumpy vase. Circled the table with plates and glasses and silverware. Lit candles. And, having prepared everything the day before, relaxed for a few moments before the first knock on the door.

Within minutes, everyone arrived and I made the rounds with introductions. We poured wine, blessed bread and passed bowlfuls of steaming chili. Conversation flowed easily in every direction.

After the last hug goodbye, I sat down on the sofa and drank the last few drops of red right out of the bottle. I smiled and flopped into bed. The dishes could wait.

So long, 2013. You’ve been good to me. 2014, I can’t wait to get to know you.

morning after

Harissa chili

This recipe is adapted from the spicy chili in Einat Admony’s Balaboosta. (More on Einat and her cookbook soon.) To make my life easier, I used cans where I could: canned kidney beans instead of dried, canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also replaced merguez sausage with lamb because it’s easier to find. The heat in the chili comes from the North African spice paste harissa. Since the spiciness of harissa can vary, use a light touch initially — you can always add more later. I like to serve this on top of wheat berries (I cook them according to these guidelines from the Kitchn), but you can use brown rice, barley, farro, or your favorite grain.

Serves 4-6


– 1 lb ground beef

– ½ lb ground lamb

– kosher salt

– freshly ground black pepper

– 3 T olive oil

– 1 ½ C finely chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)

– 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1 t sugar

– 1 28-oz can of chopped peeled tomatoes

– 2-3 T harissa (depending on how spicy it is)

– 1 t ground cumin

– ¼ t chipotle powder

– about 4 C water

– 2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed well and drained

– 4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Sauté. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over high heat (no oil) – it’s ready when you drop a small piece of meat in and it sizzles very loudly. If the pot isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up boiling your meat instead of sautéing. Add the beef and lamb to the hot pot and sauté until browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drain off any excess liquid, but leave all the good browned bits. Remove the meat and set aside.

Sauté again. Heat the olive oil in the emptied pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of harissa (you can add more later), cumin, chipotle, 2 tablespoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper, and water.

Simmer. Add the beans and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer for 2 ½ to 3 hours. After the first 30 minutes, taste for spice, stirring in extra harissa if you’d like more of a kick. Check the chili periodically, and if it looks dry, add some more water.

Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with sliced scallion.


I’m sort of in love with these carrots and parsnips (modified from this recipe). I hope you’ll indulge me a couple of photos.

Rainbow carrots and parsnips
Pomegranate-roasted carrots and parsnips

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a slam dunk

I’d like to introduce you to an old friend.

Every time I see him, it’s like a high school reunion. Not the kind of reunion with the awkward conversations (hi, how have you been, where do you live now, what do you do, how many kids do you have?) and prom flashbacks and cliques that somehow never go away. I’m talking about the real re-union with the friends who knew you when you were still living at home, who have met your parents, who have watched you on the court/in the pool/on the field/on stage. The friends whom you phoned after your first kiss, the night before the SATs, when you received your college admission letter. You may not see these friends very often – sometimes only in times of tragedy and celebration – but when you do, you just pick up where you left off.

The old friend is a cookbook. I’m not sure why he’s a he, but he is. Perhaps it’s because my mother gave him to me and she’s always trying to set me up with boys. This book was one of the first I ever cooked from. Unlike the baby steps I took with the Better Crocker’s Cookbook  and  Julee Russo’s Great Good Food and  the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, this one was a keeper.

Betty, printed before I was  born, I left behind in the pantry of my parents’ kitchen when I went to college. I lived on campus and took all my meals in the dining halls. Without a kitchen, there was little need to refer to her sticky and crumbling page 57 (pancakes) and page 136 (chocolate chip cookies).

Julee, with its line drawings and low-fat recipes of my dancer days, disappeared. I think I lent it to a friend and never got it back (it’s OK, Veronica … if that was you, all is forgiven).

Fannie was a gift from my aunt to my grandmother. She traveled with me state to state, home to home, getting buried in the bottom of the cookbook box with each move, eventually landing in the corner on the bottom shelf of my cookbook bookshelf. The color-coded tabs mark the basics – basic method for cooking green beans, basic method for cooking broccoli, pan-roasted potatoes – and now remind me how far my cooking self  has come. Quickly, though, Fannie found herself covered in dust as my cookbook collection grew and the bookshelf seemed to shrink. I haven’t cooked from her in nearly a decade.

But we’re here to talk about the cookbook that made it to real old friend status. His name is The Southwest, and he’s part of the Williams-Sonoma New American Cooking series. Cooking with Southwest was my first break from cooking the foods I grew up with. Unsure of how to mix flavors for a cohesive dinner menu, I relied on theme meals, and he provided a geographic crutch. One of the first times I entertained, I studied his pages day after day and cobbled together a handful of matching dishes. We started with a sopa de lima of chicken and limes, the main dish was salpicón beef  burritos , and dessert was brownie-mix brownies tinged with cinnamon.

I moved on from the Southwest to Japan (sushi rice salad and soy scallion grilled steak, anyone?) and the Middle East (mezze and kabobs), to Spain (once  you start with the Sangria, it doesn’t really matter what you cook) and France (ahh, France), but I always returned to my old friend.

Over the years, I’ve cooked my way through nearly half of his sixty recipes. A few have shown up on this site, and I turn to them so frequently that I think of them as personal signature dishes. But that first dinner Southwest and I prepared together never leaves my side. Whenever I’m looking for a slam dunk, I turn to salpicón.

So, when two food bloggers, Molly and Jess, plus husbands joined me for shabbat lunch, I pulled out Southwest, and flipped right to good old reliable.

Mia, Jess’s and Eli’s 11-month old daughter, slurped the salpicón from a bowl like it was spaghetti. With Southwest by my side, I won over the most honest of critics.

Thanks, old friend. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.


Salpicón is Mexican shredded beef that can be piled on salad or stuffed in a tortilla. This recipe is from The Southwest, one of Williams-Sonoma’s New American Cooking series. It’s easy  but does require a bit of planning as you need to cook the meat for 2 hours, let it cool (at least another hour), and then add the dressing. I like to make it a day in advance so that the flavors intensify. I always at least double the recipe, making 4+ pounds of brisket. In this case, the double recipe served 5 hearty meat eaters (plus baby) with only a tortilla or two worth of leftovers.

Serves 3-4 (with ample leftovers)

For the beef

– 2 pounds beef brisket (second cut is best)

– 3 T olive oil

– 1 onion

– 1 head of garlic

For the sauce

– 1/4 C chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (I use La Costena)

– 3-4 T cider vinegar (or white vinegar in a pinch)

– 3 cloves garlic

– 1/2 C olive oil

– pinch of sugar

– kosher salt and pepper

All the fixins

– vegetables to accompany: romaine lettuce, tomatoes,  avocado, 1 red onions (plus 1/4 C white vinegar, 1 T salt, and pinch sugar for pickling)

– flour or corn tortillas

Brown. In a heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm oil. Pat the brisket dry and brown well on all sides, around 5 minutes. Make sure that all brisket surfaces get dark brown.

Simmer. Peel the onion, cut it in quarters through the stem end, and add to the pot. Take an entire head of garlic and slice through it horizontally, and add it, skin and all, to the pot. Cover the meat with water, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours.

Cool. Take the pot off the heat and let the meat cool in the water (now a sort of stock).

Shred. Remove the cooled meat to a large plate. Using two forks or your fingers, thinly shred the meat.

Make dressing. In a small food processor, puree the chipotle and its sauce, vinegar, and garlic. Drizzle in the olive oil and keep pulsing until emulsified. Add sugar, salt, and pepper to taste.

Mix. Add half the dressing to the shredded meat and mix. Add more to taste, depending on how much heat you want.

Make the fixins. Finely shred romaine lettuce. Chop tomatoes. Cube avocado.  Thinly slice the red onion (I use a mandoline). Mix together 1/4 C white vinegar, 1/2 C water, 1 T salt, and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for about 30 minutes until the liquid turns bright pink.  Put each of the vegetables in a bowl and serve with the tortillas.

Heat. Place tortillas in a pan, cover, and heat in a low oven until soft and pliable.

Put it all together. Fill a tortilla with meat, vegetables, and refried beans (see below) and roll it all up.

Refried beans

I made these beans for my vegetarian friend Ilana, and the meat eaters devoured them. I adapted this recipe from one for refried black beans in, you guessed it, The Southwest. To give the beans a smoky flavor with using meat, I douse them in liquid smoke, which, if you’ve never tried, is really cool for vegetarian recipes. 

Makes about 2 cups

2 15.5 ounce cans of pinto or kidney beans

– 3 T olive oil

– 1 onion

– 2 garlic cloves

– 1 t cumin seeds, toasted and ground or 1 t pre-ground cumin

– 1/2 t cayenne pepper

– 5-10 sprigs of fresh thyme

– 1-2 C water

– 1/2 t liquid smoke (I use Colgin brand)

– salt and pepper

Drain. Rinse and drain beans.

Saute. Finely chop onion and garlic. Saute onion in olive oil over low heat until translucent, adding garlic after about 5 minutes. Saute 5 minutes more for a total of about 10 minutes, making sure not to burn the garlic. Add cumin seeds, cayenne, and thyme (you’ll remove the stems later), and mix quickly.

Simmer. Add 1 cup of water and scrap up all the good stuff that’s stuck to the pan. Then add the beans and liquid smoke. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme stems (most of the leaves will have fallen off).

Mash. Use a fork or potato masher to mash the beans. Add water as needed to get the consistency  you want. Season with salt, pepper, and additional liquid smoke to taste.

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family hold back

Welcome to the South.

Atlanta, to be exact.

I spent last weekend with my adopted Atlanta family. They “adopted” me years ago when my parents had moved to the West coast and getting home for the holidays proved difficult. The first time I went home with Meira was Rosh Hashana. I met the family – Monica, Caroline, Micah and relatives from Montreal – over dinner. A dinner that included simanim – eating symbolic foods to represent hopes for the coming new year. A dinner served on three tables that snaked around the dining room. (You know how much I like snaking tables for the holidays.) A dinner that included so much food and so many guests that it had to be served buffet style in the kitchen.

When we had gathered around the buffet, Meira pulled me aside and whispered “FHB.” In response to my tilted head and furrowed eyebrows, she explained, “family hold back – I’m afraid we won’t have enough food for our guests.”

At that point, I knew I was part of the Katz family.

The next morning when I stumbled downstairs, I found Deborah at the kitchen table, having popped over for breakfast. (Deborah! I used her first book as a source for my high school senior thesis. So, I’ll just say it again: Deborah!)

Over the course of the next few days, we had lunch with Roberta and Allen, Leslie and Chuck, and countless Atlanta families who have welcomed me back into their homes and their community many times since.

Over the course of the next few years, the Katz family grew, and I’ve joined in for many of their simchas (celebrations). First Caroline met Randy. Natanel soon followed as they purchased a  house just a few blocks from Monica. Then came Eden with those long gorgeous eyelashes. Then Micah met Eliana. Meira and I visited them out in San Francisco last year. Amanda Lynn and Chipper Jones rounded out the family. Caroline and Randy bought a mini-van for this growing brood.

The kids got nicknames. For a few months each, I called them Monkey and Duckie after the stuffed animals I bought when they were born. But, leave it to the Katz family – they are a family of nicknamers. Nanz and Shaindy quickly emerged. As Nanz grew, everyone around him got new names. Monica became Maman. Caroline and Randy became Mommy and Abba. Meira became Dodah. Micah and Eliana became Uncle Macah and Auntie Ana (with the British pronunciation of auntie, not the American “antie”). Deborah became Dodah Deba. This trip, I became Dodah Gayle (though I’m still pushing for Tante Gayle). Natanel also started calling me Miguel — I’m thinking he means My Gayle, and I’m cool with that.

As a birthday gift to Maman, I offered to cook shabbat dinner last week. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. When she heard I was visiting, Monica (I’m still getting used to calling her Maman) emailed me immediately to ask if I would cook for her and the family. In the days leading up to my trip, she and I emailed back and forth to decide on a menu and prepare a shopping list. Mere hours after my arrival, we went grocery shopping. For fifteen people. That’s right, fifteen family members and guests would grace our table that Friday night. I’ve never cooked for that many people in my life.

We filled a giant shopping cart at Kroger.  We bought over 8 pounds of mushrooms (that soup recipe will follow in a few days), 3 bunches of red chard, 10 pounds of potatoes, 4 heads of cauliflower, and on and on. While I’m mentioning Kroger, let’s talk about their in-house (kosher) butcher  for a moment. When he saw the two of us pondering the ribs in the refrigerated section, grumbling that they were not quite what we wanted, he approached and asked if he could help. I explained what we were preparing and that I needed thick short ribs – about 2-3 inches of bone – and cut in one or two rib pieces. He returned with a piece of meat, cut to my specifications, asking if it was OK. It looked great. He then spent the next 30 minutes while we filled that giant cart, cutting and packaging the meat exactly the way I wanted. I might actually consider that this year’s Hanukkah miracle.

While on line, Monica sent me back to the butcher to pick up a few more pounds of short ribs (again, exactly to my specifications). At this point we had north of 13 pounds of ribs. I can say for sure that I have never had that much raw meat in my posession in my life (though, I did once come close).

We got home and I set to work. I seared and I braised. I stirred and I blended. And then we all went out for Chinese food for dinner.

Before the guests arrived, Monica fretted that we wouldn’t have enough ribs to go around. The rule of thumb is one pound of ribs per person, but  I had figured that 13 pounds would suffice for 15 people since a few of those people were kids. Like a good Jewish mother, Monica was concerned that someone might go home hungry.

So, I made an executive decision. We were not going to serve buffet style. We were going to plate in the kitchen and serve everyone individually. You should try this because everyone thinks its fancy.

And no one in the family had to hold back.

Ana Sortun’s tamarind-braised beef short ribs (“Sultan’s Delight”)

This recipe is from Ana Sortun’s Spice” Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean with just a few modifications. It serves 8, but it’s easy to modify using the formula of 1 pound of meat per person. This is one of those recipes that can be made in advance and is better the next day. I like to use a cocotte (dutch oven) with a heavy cover because you can sear and braise in the same pot. If you don’t have one, use any other ovenproof pan covered with heavy duty aluminum foil.

– 8 pounds beef short ribs (1 pound per person)

– kosher salt and fresh ground pepper

– 1 C medium-bodied red wine (I used a shiraz)

– 1 C balsamic vinegar

– ½ C packed brown sugar

– 3-4 garlic cloves

– 1 large onion

– 1 carrot (or a handful of baby carrots)

– 2 T tamarind paste/concentrate (see directions below to make your own, or buy the kosher Golchin brand)

Prep. Bring meat to room temperature. Pat dry and then season meat on all sides with salt and pepper. Preheat the oven to 350F. Roughly chop the onion and carrot, and mince the garlic. Whisk the tamarind into a cup of water and set aside.

Sear. In an ovenproof pot (a dutch oven/cocotte is great), sear the seasoned meat in a tiny bit of olive oil – you don’t need to add much oil because short ribs do have a fair amount of fat.  Sear the meat until there is nice caramelization on all sides. You know it’s ready when the meat shrinks away from the bone.  You may need to do it in 2 batches, depending on the size of your pot. Put the seared ribs on a plate.

Deglaze.  Deglaze the pan with the red wine. Add the vinegar, brown sugar, and garlic and mix until the sugar dissolves. Pour the liquid into a bowl.

Fill. Lay the ribs in one layer on the pot. They can be a little bit crowded. Pour the liquid mixture and the tamarind paste dissolved in water over the ribs. The liquid should come ¾ up the sides of the short ribs. Add more water if necessary.

Cover. Cover the meat in the pot with parchment paper and then cover the entire pot with heavy duty aluminum foil. Then cover the whole thing with a heavy lid or an extra layer off foil. Essentially, you want the pot tightly closed.

Braise. Place the pot in the oven and braise for 3 – 3.5 hours. You know the short ribs are ready when they fall apart when poked with a fork. Some of the bones will probably be completely separated from the meat.

Strain. Use tongs to remove the meat onto a platter. Strain the liquid into a bowl.

Chill. Place the bowl of liquid into the fridge for at least an hour until the fat rises to the top and completely solidifies.

Boil. Boil the de-fatted liquid in a pot and then simmer until reduced by ¼. Whisk every once in a while – the sauce will thicken and glisten.

Reheat. Return the short ribs to the cocotte/dutch oven. Add half the sauce and about ½ C water. Cover tightly and reheat for 20-30 minutes, rolling the ribs around in the sauce every 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour a little extra warmed sauce over the ribs when you serve them with mashed potatoes, sauteed red chard, and “popcorn” cauliflower.

Tamarind paste

Tamarind is a fruit in a pod. You can buy the dried pods in Indian grocery stores. Making the paste from scratch takes a while but isn’t too labor intensive – I’ve actually made it a few times. What you’re interested in is turning the sticky stuff into a concentrate. This recipe is adapted from Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews.

– 1 pound tamarind pods

– 1 C sugar

– 1 T lemon juice

Peel. With your fingers, gently crack the dried pods and pull out the sticky seeds. The seeds are linked in a chain and have a fibrous “spine” running down the length of the fruit. The “spine” comes off pretty easily – discard this along with the pod shells.

Soak. In a large bowl, cover the sticky seeds with warm water. Cover and soak overnight (at least 6 hours).

Strain. With your hands, mash the pulp, separating out the fibers and pits. Cut out a large piece of cheese cloth and double it up. Place it in a bowl and fill it with the pulp. You want to have a lot of extra cheese cloth around the edges. Pull the edges of the cloth together around the pulp and keep twisting to strain out as much of the pulp as possible.

Soak and strain again. In a new bowl, dump the pulp that was left in the cheesecloth in more water. Again, mash up the pulp. Strain through cheesecloth again. You may need to do this a third time.

Boil and simmer. Bring all of the strained liquid to a boil in a large saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Mix in sugar and lemon juice.

Boil again. Increase the heat to medium and slowly boil, stirring with a wooden spoon. The mixture will continue to reduce and eventually turn very dark brown and take on a silky consistency.

Store. Once the concentrate has cooled, pour it into a glass jar. You should have about a cup. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to a year.

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hot behind

I hope you don’t mind that I got ahead of myself, sharing with you week six of my cooking techniques course before week five. But I absolutely had to get that pear recipe out to the world post-haste. As promised, here’s the missing lesson.

Week five’s topic was dry heat, which includes broiling, pan-broiling, grilling, pan frying, deep fat frying, and roasting. Every surface was firing – burners, grill, fryalator, oven. Normally I position myself as close as possible to all these heat sources for extra warmth – this was an unfortunate strategy on that Sunday morning.

Working at the grill, wishing I had been able to find a longer pair of tongs, I sweated it out.

Having moved into a smaller kitchen for that week, there was barely enough room for us to pass one another between the work table and anywhere else. Every few minutes, there was a bump and a “sorry.” An “oh, excuse me.” Someone spilled an entire container of vinegar. And in a cooking school, the containers are big. Really big.

We tentatively adopted the lingo we had heard in professional kitchens (or, let’s be honest, Top Chef), murmuring “behind” as we slid around each other, “hot” as we opened the oven door. By the end of class, we started pulling everything at once and the murmurs turned to shouts.

Open the oven. Hot oven!

Place a hot pan, steam rising from its roast, on the work table. Careful!

Carry a pan of cakes to the cooling rack. Behind you! Hot tray! Behind! Hot behind!

Hot behind!

Hehe. Hot behind!

Skirt steak diablo

For diablo salsa:

– 1/2 medium red onion

2 lbs ripe tomatoes

– 2 jalapeno chiles

– 1/2 C fresh cilantro (rough chopped)

– 1 t garlic paste (from 2-3 cloves)

– 2 T fresh lime juice and zest (3-4 limes)

– salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil to taste.

For steak:

3 T extra virgin olive oil

– 3 T cider vinegar

– 2 t fresh oregano, chopped

– 1 1/2 T sugar

– 1 1/2 t salt

– 2 lbs skirt or flank or hanger steak (all three types come from the abdomen)

– diablo salsa (or use a large jar of pre-made salsa)

Prep. Take meat out of the fridge, and pat dry. Allow to come to room temperature while you’re making the salsa. Finely chop oregano.

Make diablo salsa. There’s a lot of chopping and fine dicing here!  Chop the onion very finely and then soak in cold water for a few minutes (this softens the raw taste). Quarter and seed the tomatoes. Then cut them into a 1/4 inch dice. Wearing rubber gloves, seed and finely chop the jalapeno peppers. Wash and rough chop the cilantro, removing tough stems. Combine onions (discard water), tomatoes, jalapeno, and cilantro in a big bowl. Zest and juice limes over the bowl and mix. Add salt, pepper, and oil to taste.

Marinate. In a large bowl, mix together oil, vinegar, oregano, sugar, salt, half the salsa, and the meat. Marinate meat for 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to 4 hours in the fridge. If it’s been in the fridge, make sure to bring the meat to room temperature before grilling.

Grill. Light your grill (I can’t really give you instructions on this, because I don’t have one and all we did in class was turn on the gas.)   But if you live in an apartment and don’t have a grill, turn your stove to medium and heat up a cast iron grill pan. You don’t need oil on the grill/pan since the marinade contains oil. When the grill/pan is hot, remove the meat from the marinade and grill for 3-4 minutes per side — this will be nice and rare (add 1-2 minutes more if you want medium rare/medium). If the meat sticks to the grill/pan, then it’s not ready to be flipped. When you can take the meat of the grill/pan easily, it’s ready to flip.

Rest. Let the meat rest for at least 10 minutes to let the juices distribute. Once you slice it, it will get cold really quickly, so wait until you’re ready to serve before slicing.

Slice. Slice the meat against the grain, holding the knife at a 45º angle with the cutting board.

Eat. Arrange meat on your platter and serve alongside or topped with diablo salsa.

Before I end this post, I wanted to pass along a few tips that our chef instructor shared with us about dry heat cooking.

– With meat, like with braising, you want to first sear and then move the meat to a lower temperature. If you’re grilling, put the meat on the hot part of the grill and once you get nice grill marks and browning on both sides of the meat, move it to the cooler side of the grill and finish cooking off the inside. The thicker the meat, the further you should move it from the heat so that it doesn’t burn before it cooks. If you’re pan broiling, again sear the outside and then finish it off in the oven.

– To make criss-cross grill marks, make the first set of marks and then rotate the meat and place it on another hot part of the grill. If you keep the meat (or whatever you’re grilling) in the same place, the grill will be too cool in that location and won’t make nice marks.

– If your meat sticks to the pan or grill, leave it alone. When it’s ready, it will release itself from the heating surface.

– Always start meat at room temperature – generally take it out of the fridge an hour before you plan to cook it.

– Put salt and pepper on the meat before you sear – it will not only season the meat, but help the sear (I’m not entirely sure why that is).

– When you roast meat in the oven, make sure to put it on a grate so that all sides of the meat cook evenly.

– The classic way to roast a chicken is to season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour in a very hot oven (450-500ºF).

– When you deep fat fry, 375ºF is the optimal temperature for the oil so that it “sears” whatever you’re cooking. If the oil is not hot enough, it will just soak into the the food. If it’s too hot, it will burn.

– Meat rises in temperature about 5ºF after you take it off the heat. Get a meat thermometer. Here’s how you know how well it is cooked:

– Blue rare: very soft in the middle; 120ºF

– Rare: 120-125ºF

– Medium rare: when you push the meat, your finger leaves a dent in it; 125-140ºF

– Medium: when you push the meat, it only moves a little; 140-155ºF

– Well done: grey throughout; >155ºF (but seriously, who wants grey meat?)

I hope this helps!

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low and slow

How was your Thanksgiving? Are you all turkeyed out? After our dinner (do you call it dinner when you start eating at 4:30?), I made stock from our carcass – it’s nice and jiggly and nestled in the freezer, waiting for a starring role in my next soup.

I’m a little behind in updating you on my cooking techniques course, so get ready because here we go. After knives and eggs and soups, we braised.

The only rule in braising is to go low and slow. With a little (a lot of) patience, even the toughest cuts of meat end up spoon tender. In my former life as a medical student, the mantra “low and slow” referred to correcting a patient’s sodium when you’re in the hospital — too fast and you risk central nerve damage and lots of bad stuff. Good thing I left that world…these days if (when?) I’m impatient, I just end up with tough meat.

The basic techniques are (in approximate chronological order):

1) Sear the meat in a big cast iron pot (like an enamel-coated dutch oven, or, in French, a cocotte) – this seals the juices inside.

2) Deglaze – after taking the seared meat out, scrape up all the good stuff with liquid (wine, stock, etc.).

3) Add the meat back to the pot with the liquid and the “fond de braise” – aromatics (usually mirepoix vegetables, i.e., onion, celery, carrot) and herbs.

4) “Swiss” with tomato paste – swissing is a fancy way to say tenderizing, and the acid in tomato paste helps break down the meat.

5) Cover the pot tightly with “the inverted lid of foil” – in case you’ve never heard that term (I sure hadn’t), you first lay a large sheet of parchment directly on the food, letting the ends drape over the edges of the pot. Then put a large sheet of aluminum foil right on top of the parchment, again draping the ends over the edges. Then place a heavy lid over the layers of parchment and foil. Be sure not to place the foil directly on the food because it will galvanize (forget the science…the foil corrodes onto the food…not so appetizing).

6) Braise in a low set at 300°F – 325°F (you can also braise on low heat on the stove top, but using the oven allows for more even heating).

7) The meat is ready when it slides easily off a wooden skewer or toothpick; if it sticks, it’s not ready yet.

8 ) If you are thickening liquid for gravy by adding flour, make sure to boil the mixture so that the flour can expand, resulting in a smooth gravy.

Well, lesson done, let’s get on to the recipes Four recipes in fact. Short ribs. Ossobucco. Sea bass with fennel. And cabbage.

Cabbage? you ask. Yes, cabbage. You’ll see.

Braised shortribs with sour cherries

– 16 2-inch long pieces of beef short ribs (~5 lbs) – get ones with a nice amount of meat on them

– 1/4 C extra virgin olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of your pot)

– 1 1/2 C red wine – Côtes du Rhône or Cab

– 1/4 C flour

– 1 quart chicken stock

– 1 1/2 t salt (to taste)

– 8 garlic cloves

– 8 large shallots

– 1 1/4 C dried sour cherries

Prep. Preheat oven to 325ºF. Bring ribs to room temperature and season with salt and pepper on all sides. Peel garlic and shallots.

Sear. Heat oil in a cocotte over medium-high heat. In batches, sear the seasoned ribs on all sides. Remove meat and pour remaining oil out of the cocotte.

Deglaze. Add wine to the cocotte and scrape up all the browned bits with a wooden spoon, Don’t forget the sides of the pot. Reduce wine by a half down to 3/4 C.

Thicken. Add flour to the wine and stir to make a paste. Then add stock and bring to a boil, whisking until smooth.

Braise. Add ribs, meat side down into the pot. Cover with an inverted lid of foil (i.e., parchment and foil, as above) and then the pot cover. Bring to a simmer and then transfer to oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours.

Add more stuff. Add salt, garlic cloves, and shallots, cover, and return to the oven. Cook for another 1/2 hour or so.

Add a bit more stuff. Add the cherries, partially cover (you can remove the inverted lid of foil and just use the pot’s cover), and braise another 15-20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the meat comes out with no resistance.

Serve. Arrange ribs on a plate. Strain the liquid and reduce it to concentrate the flavors if you’d like (we didn’t because we ran out of time). Cover the ribs with cherries, garlic, and shallots. Use a turkey baster to draw liquid from the bottom (leaving the layer of fat on the top) and drizzle the liquid over the top.

Ossobuco alla Milanese

For veal:

– 8 veal shanks

– 1/4 C flour

– 6 T extra virgin olive oil, divided

– 1 carrot

– 1 onion

– 1 clove garlic

– 1/2 C dry white wine

– 1 28-ounce canned tomatoes

– 1 strip orange rind

– pinch saffron

– 1 1/2 t dried basil

– 1/4 C parsley (flat leaf, not curly)

– 2 C chicken or veal stock

– salt and pepper, to taste

– orange and lemon for garnish (optional)

For gremolata:

– 1 clove garlic

– 2 t parsley

– 1 lemon

– 1 anchovy (optional)

Prep. Heat oven to 325ºF. Finely chop the carrot and onion. Mince the garlic. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Remove a wide, thin strip of orange rind. For the garnish, remove rind from 1 oranges and 1 lemon and julienne. There should be no bitter white pith on the rinds.

Sear. Lightly flour the veal shanks. Heat 3 T olive oil (or enough to cover the bottom of the pot) and brown the shanks on all sides. Remove the shanks and pour off any remaining oil.

Saute. Return pot to stove, cover bottom with the remaining 3 T oil. Saute the carrot and onion until soft. Add garlic and cook 1-2 more minutes (garlic can burn easily, so don’t add it until the end).

Deglaze. Add wine, scrape up the good stuff, and boil over high heat until reduced by half. Add tomatoes, slice of orange rind, saffron, basil, chopped parsley, and stock. Season with salt and pepper, and then return shanks to the pot.

Braise. Cover pot with an inverted lid of foil (including the parchment first, as above) and lid, and  braise for 1 – 1 1/2 hours until skewer slides out of the meat easily.

Make gremolata. Finely chop garlic, parsley, and anchovy (or use anchovy paste). Zest half the lemon. Mix garlic, parsley, anchovy, and lemon zest.

Serve. Remove the shanks for the liquid and place in a shallow bowl. Reduce the cooking juices until thickened. Add half the gremolata and simmer for a minute. Pour reduced juices over the shanks. Sprinkle with remaining gremolata and with citrus julienne rinds. Don’t forget to dig into the marrow.

Sea bass over braised fennel

I am an anti-licorice kinda gal. I don’t like tarragon, strong basil, arak, or fennel. That said, this is the second fennel recipe that I’ve discovered that I actually like. Braising the fennel sweetens the bulb and removes some of that anise flavor.

– 2 large fennel bulbs (including fronds)

– 1 large onion

– 1/2 t anchovy paste

– 4 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided

– 1 C chicken, fish, or vegetable broth

– 1/4 – 1/2 t dried red chili pepper flakes

– 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

– 4 5-ounce skinless sea bass fillets (3/4 inch thick),  bones removed

Prep. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Cut fronds (the green dill-looking ends) and stalks off of bulb. Throw out stalks. Quarter fennel bulbs lengthwise and cut into 1/4 inch slices. Chop fennel fronds until you have about 2T (these will be for garnish). Cut the onion two different ways (you’ll be using it in two different parts of the dish: cut half into 1/4-inch slices, and finely chop the other half. Ideally, buy the fish already skinned. If you buy it with the skin and want to do it the hard way, place the fish skin-side down on a cutting board, slide a filleting knife (very thin and flexible) just above the skin and peel off a skin tag long enough to grasp. Hold on to the skin and slide your knife between the skin and flesh at a 45° angle to the board, almost scraping off the skin. Maintain the tension to help separate the planes. I wish you good luck – I’m not brave enough to try it!

Braise. In a skillet, stir fennel and onion slices and anchovy paste in 2 T oil over moderate heat for about 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add broth, and braise covered until vegetables are covered, about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Uncover and  boil. When the fennel is tender, uncover and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until liquid has evaporated — about 10 more minutes. Transfer fennel mixture to a shallow baking dish (ceramic or glass).

Saute in parallel. While the fennel is braising, cook the chopped onion, red pepper flakes, and salt with remaining 2T oil in another skillet over moderate heat. Stir occasionally and cook until onion softens, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, until very thick. This should take another 10-15 minutes.

Bake. Arrange fish fillets on top of the fennel mixture in baking dish. Spoon tomato sauce over fish. Cover with a sheet of parchment paper, and then cover baking dish tightly with foil. Bake until fish is just cooked through (falls off a skewer) – about 20-25 minutes. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Braised red cabbage

– 2 large onions

– 1 medium head red cabbage

-2-3 T unsalted butter

– 2 C red wine

– 3 T brown sugar

– 2 C orange juice (ideally, freshly squeezed…but, really, who are we kidding?)

– salt and pepper

Prep. Quarter, core, and shred the cabbage. Julienne the onions.

Cook. Melt butter over medium heat and cook onions until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

Braise. Stir in cabbage, wine, sugar, orange juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer covered, stirring occasionally, until tender – about 45-60 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

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I failed my first test today.

Not the first one in my life, of course. Just the first one of my cooking techniques course.

Today was knife skills. After waking up at 8 am (on a Sunday!) and fortifying myself for the drive through the first inches of snow on the ground (in October!) with a strong cup of coffee and over easy egg on toast, I sat myself down on a little chair with a little arm desk attached. I felt like I was back in high school.

Sitting in these little chairs, we learned the anatomy of a knife from tang to tip. How to hold a chef’s knife. How to sharpen a knife. How to test the sharpness of a knife by slicing right through a piece of paper.

We learned knife etiquette. Keep knives sharp. Always cut away from yourself. Never hand a knife to another chef; place it on the table and let him pick it up himself. Walk with your knife pointed downward. “A falling knife has no handle; do not attempt to catch it.” Clean and dry your knives as quickly as possible. Never put your knives in a dishwasher. Keep knives sharp.

We chose our knives and made our way over to a large stainless steel table set with a pile of vegetables at each of a dozen stations. We wrapped an apron around our waists and tucked a towel in the ties. I positioned myself in front of the stove and salamander to keep warm. We set our cutting boards down on a cloth so they wouldn’t move, placed a dough scraper under the right side of the board.

We practiced holding our knives: choke up on the bolster, just in front of the handle. We practiced our “claw” hand – curling our left fingers under and our thumbs in to hold our vegetables without slicing off a finger.

And then we set to work. We cried our way through a fine chop of an onion. We minced garlic and turned it into a paste with the tip of our knives.

We made batonnets from potatoes – just a fancy name for cutting them into french fry shapes. Then we diced cubes of all sizes. We medium diced zucchini (1/2 inch all around). We seeded peppers and tomatoes and cut them into a small dice (1/4 inch). We julienned carrots and bruniosed – cut them into teeny tiny cubes (officially 1/8 inch). I quickly learned that uniformity will be my struggle.

Next we sliced. Carrots into rondelles (coins), half moons and quarter moons. Celery into diagonal/bias cuts. Fennel shaved as thin as possible (mandoline optional).

Herbs followed. A few quick chifonnades of parsley and we had a nice fine chop without bruithsing the leaves and losing the flavors onto the board. Tiny slices of chives – as thin as possible. Rosemary chopped super fine. Get the picture with herbs? Teeny teeny tiny.

We also suprêmed oranges. I ate mine.

Finally we got cooking. Vegetables into some olive oil with canned tomatoes. Pasta into a huge pot of boiling salted water, and then into the vegetables. Parsley, chives, and garlic paste into melted butter, then butter brushed onto a split baguette and tucked into the oven. Potatoes soaking in water dried off and dropped into hot oil. And then tossed with parmesan and rosemary.

And then we dined.

When I got home, I tested my knives. I held up in front of me a piece of paper between two fingers. I held my favorite knife above the edge of the  paper and slowly lowered it, waiting for the swift swoosh of a nice long cut. Instead, barely a crinkle. The paper buckled under the weight of the knife, crunched a bit, and remained intact. I honed the knife and tried again. Crunch. Second knife. Crunch. Third. Crunch. Fourth. Crunch.


But after failure, success.

Using some of my new techniques and holding my (dull) knife correctly for once, I rough chopped many of the same ingredients from the morning into a stew for the week.

Moroccan beef and chickpea tagine.

I’m working on one pot meals. This is my first. And it’s good enough for company. Especially in front of a fireplace.

A tagine is a north African stew made in a dish called a tagine with a tight-fitting, pointy domed top. It is traditionally served over couscous. The inspiration for this recipe comes from my friend Sarah at FoodBridge (she actually made couscous from scratch!) and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and I used what I could find in my fridge. Butternut squash would be a great addition. When I made this, I made two versions – one with meat and one veggie. For the veggie version, I added extra chickpeas and made the stew in pretty much the exact same way. My friend Ilana told me that her Moroccan friends use really large chunks – whole carrots, potatoes and zucchini cut in half – and each person cuts off a few pieces of what they want. I’m going to try that next time.

If  you don’t want to use canned chick peas, you’ll need prepare dried chickpeas a day in advance. Sort through the dried chickpeas to remove any black ones or little stones. Soak them in at least three times the amount of water overnight (~10-12 hours) with a large pinch of baking soda. Rinse them off the next day and pour into at least double the amount of boiling water. Reduce to a simmer and cover for about 1.5  hours until tender but not falling apart. Drain and add to stew.

– 2-3 pounds of stew meat

– olive oil

– spices to taste (I like a lot of spice, and have provided approximate measurements):

– cumin (1-2 T)

– cinnamon (1/2 – 1 T)

– nutmeg (pinch)

– dried coriander (1/2 – 1T)

– turmeric (1/4 t)

– ginger powder (1/2 t)

– several saffron strands seeped 5 minutes in hot water)

– 8-10 C water

– 1 large onion

– 3-4 large carrots (or 2 large handfuls of baby carrots)

– 3-4  celery stalks

– 3-4 thin-skinned potatoes

– 2 large zucchini

– 3-4 C chickpeas

– salt and pepper

Braise. Heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large heavy pan (I used a large 6 3/4 quart cocotte) until it glistens. Cut meat into smaller pieces (3/4 to 1-inch cubes) and brown with half the spices. Add the water and bring to a boil. Scrape up the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes until the meat starts to get tender.

Prep the vegetables. Rough chop onions into large pieces. Cut baby carrots in half or peel and cut carrots into 1-inch pieces. Cut celery into 1-inch pieces. Scrub the potatoes and dice into 1-inch cubes. Cut zucchini into large half moons.

Simmer. When meat is tender, add harder vegetables – onions, carrots, potatoes – and the rest of the spices, salt, and pepper. Simmer, covered, for another 30-40 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add zucchini and simmer for another 20 minutes. Add chickpeas in the last 10 minutes.

Serve. Pour meat, vegetables, and broth over couscous (or Israeli couscous, sometimes called p’titim in Hebrew or acini de pepe in Italian)

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la rentrée


It always feels like the beginning of the year. The French have the perfect term for this. La rentrée. It refers to the early days of September. Children returning to school. Families returning from vacation. The coasts emptying out. The cities filling up again. The July sales (the French government dictates that stores only have sales in January and July) long gone. A return to “regular life.”

To me, this September feels more like la rentrée than any in recent memory.


Well, thank you for asking.

Remember when I said that there were some things in the works? I wasn’t just talking about food. I’m starting a new job tomorrow! Talk about feeling like the first day of school.

I’ve laid my outfit on a chair, shoes beneath. I have a few pens and a new notebook in my bag. My blackberry’s charged. My alarm is set. I’ve practiced the route to the office.

I thought I’d be writing today about making some big, last-all-week, dish that I could dole out in my new lunchbox every morning with a piece of fruit, granola bar, and diet Coke. Who am I kidding? Do you honestly think I have a lunch box?

For now, I’ll share my dinner (leftovers) with you.

Here’s to hoping I still have time to cook!

Lahmajun-style sauce

Lahmajun in an arabic meat pizza. I first tried it when I was in summer camp and one of my Syrian friend’s family invited me for a picnic lunch on family visiting day when my parents got stuck in traffic. One taste and I was hooked. These mini meat pizzas, never larger than four inches in diameter according to my long-forgotten friend’s mother, are a little spicy, a little sour, and a lotta good. I usually make these with store-bought pizza dough, using recipes from FoodBridge and Blue Jean Gourmet as a guide. Thanks ladies for helping me out here.

Too lazy to even roll out dough earlier this week, I turned the lahmajun meat topping into a sauce to put on top of barley. This is a bit more tomato-y than when I put it on pizza dough. The pomegranate molasses provides a sweet piquancy. I add a fair amount of harissa for kick. The pizzas are traditionally made with pine nuts and parsley, but I leave both ingredients out and finish with a little fresh mint.

– 1-2 T olive oil

– 1 onion

– 4 cloves garlic

– 1 lb ground beef or lamb

– 2T lemon juice

– 28 oz can chopped tomatoes

– 2 T pomegranate concentrate or pomegranate molasses

– 1-2 t baharat (or cinnamon)

– 1 T harissa (yes, I really do mean a tablespoon — I like things spicy — adjust to your own taste)

– mint leaves

Saute. Chop onion and garlic and add to olive oil in a large skillet. Saute until golden brown and translucent.

Brown. Add meat and brown.

Keep cooking. Deglaze meat with lemon juice, scraping up all the good stuff. Add tomatoes, pomegranate, baharat, and harissa to taste. And of course, salt and pepper. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes until the sauce thickens. If it gets too dry, add some water.

Eat. Serve over rice or barley and sprinkle with torn fresh mint.

PS – that cutie up there, that’s Caroline‘s son.

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