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big eyes

Growing up, my mom used to call me eagle ears — I could hear every single conversation going on in the house. I even listened to my mom doing an alumni interview for a kid applying to Princeton. This kind of got me in trouble since I was applying the following year and should not have been “overhearing” the interview.

There was no doubt that I *ahem* had a big mouth.a very full fridge

And when it comes to cooking and entertaining, I definitely have eyes that are bigger than my stomach.

If this is sounding strangely like a bedtime story gone wrong, fear not, I haven’t gnawed away at Grannie.

But, I do tend to grossly over-purchase groceries to the extent that much of my food has the potential to go to waste. I shop when I’m hungry. And I make half-hearted attempts at grocery lists. Reading foodblogs about mothers of 7 who feed their families each week on little more than I could spend on a pair of shoes puts me to shame. Or at least makes me reconsider my habits. A little bit.

A recent case in point – I was making a brisket for Rosh Hashana dinner and figured I would double the recipe since my parents love this so much. So I bought ten  pounds of brisket.

Ten pounds of brisket.

I should have known that I was going overboard when the butcher didn’t even have a single 10-pounder but had to give me two normal, family-sized briskets, one 4 pounds, one 6, to reach my desired weight. Then, of course, the briskets didn’t fit into the cocotte I had planned on using – actually a single one would have been a tight squeeze. But that didn’t stop me. I was determined to make ten pounds of brisket, so I pulled down my huge turkey roaster and layered it with the two slabs of meat, marinated them for an hour …

a perfect fit

…and filled the pan to the brim with tomatoes and onions.

ready to cover and pop into the oven

The result – five hours later, the apartment smelled fabulous and the meat had cooled sufficiently to be sliced down.

slicing can get a little messy

Six carnivores barely made a dent in the four-pounder. And my vegetarian sister even tried a bite. She was feeling adventurous. But didn’t feel so well after the bite.

And we still had more than six pounds of brisket left. And I had already cooked and/or prepped three more different meals. And there are only so many brisket sandwiches that my six-foot-three father can eat!

My more experienced brisket-maker friend Michele swooped in to the rescue – following her advice, I sliced down the remaining larger brisket, covered it with sauce, and froze it in a baking dish – a main course for another dinner.

the first layer

ready for the freezer, enough for 8-10 more

My spoiled little cat, Prescott Winslow III, hid behind the tablecloth, thinking I would not see him while I sliced (and sliced and sliced – ten pounds of brisket takes forever to slice, even when you spread out the slicing over a few days!), hoping for a few scraps to fall.

I can see you, PWIII!

Now I have learned my lesson for brisket, but what should I do with the six butternut squashes, four pomegranates, three bags of potatoes, and two cauliflowers that I still have?

Tomato and Onion Braised Brisket

Rosh Hashana Brisket

I found this recipe on Epicurean last year and it was such a success that I made it again this year, but went a bit overboard. The main modification I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of oil in half. I made a “rub” with the 1 1/4 C of oil that they call for, but it was so much that I now have a lovely jar of seasoned oil in my fridge that I have been using for salad dressings. I suggest cutting the oil down to 1/2-3/4 C depending on what cut of brisket you use.  I used a “New York Cut Brisket” which the butcher explained is a bit more marbled with fat than others. If you are given a choice of first- versus second-cut brisket, my understanding is that first-cut is leaner and is often less flavorful (but might not shrink as much).

Another tip – make sure to cover the brisket tightly with a well-fitting lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Last year, I didn’t cover the pan tightly enough with foil and forgot to baste every hour or so — which resulted in a lot of burnt bits of tomato and onion (if you’re being generous, you can call it a nice caramelized crust). This year, I basted better, and the brisket was fabulously moist and tender. While my dad had requested some special crusty bits, the lack thereof did not seem to stop him from having his fill, and taking a few sandwiches for the road.

Also, make sure you give yourself enough time to make the brisket: 5.5 hours minimum! It requires an hour of marinating, 4 hours of roasting, and at least 20-30 minutes of cooling before you can slice it — ideally it should be refrigerated overnight, and the brisket definitely tastes better the second day.

Serves 8 with leftovers (really!). I am NOT giving you the excessive doubling of the recipe that I did.

– 4-5 pound brisket (or slightly larger if you are neurotic)

– salt and pepper

– 1.5 t dried oregano

– 1.5 t dried thyme

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

–  1/2-3/4 C olive oil

– 2 large onions, thinly sliced (or chopped)

– 2 C coarsely chopped tomatoes (you can use canned tomatoes in a pinch)

Marinate the meat. Season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides. Then coat with a mixture of oregano, thyme, garlic and olive oil. You can either do this in a zip lock bag or in the pan you plan to use. Let sit at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat oven to 300ºF and prepare the vegetables.

Roast and baste. Put the brisket in your pan and cover with the onions and tomatoes. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 3.5 to 4 hours. Baste with accumulated juices every hour or so.

Cool. The brisket is ready when it has shrunk, the tomatoes and onions have lost their distinct shapes and formed a sauce (you might be able to see some bits of tomato skin, but not much else), and the end of the brisket can be pried off with a fork (but it’s not falling apart). Remove the brisket and sauce to a platter (or cutting board) and allow to cool before slicing. Degrease the pan juices and pour over sliced meat.

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beef chewing gum

Willy Wonka: Don’t you know what this is?
Violet Beauregarde: By gum, it’s gum.
Willy Wonka: [happily, but sarcastically] Wrong! It’s the most amazing, fabulous, sensational gum in the whole world.
Violet Beauregarde: What’s so fab about it?
Willy Wonka: This little piece of gum is a three-course dinner.
Mr. Salt: Bull.
Willy Wonka: No, roast beef. But I haven’t got it quite right yet.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) as quoted by IMDb

About 6 weeks ago, I received a package of Holy Cow Kosher beef jerky after I tweeted the vendor with my interest in trying it, offering to share my opinions with this new market entrant.

The marketing material on the package gives some pretty high expectations: “American’s favorite Kosher beef jerky!” ??? And, I’m not even commenting on the incorrect capitalization of “Kosher” <sigh!>.

package close-up

I was a little disconcerted by the actual package because there seemed to be a fair amount of moisture surrounding the meat (apologies for the glare – this was the best picture I could get). I thought jerky was supposed to be very dry.

jerky close-up

But, hey, I take my job as a food taster seriously. I didn’t want to trust just my taste buds … I wanted to get balanced opinions from a wide range of friends coming from different backgrounds. Waiting for the right occasion took a little while, but it finally arrived – my good friend Sacha was finally back in town from DC and threw a late night barbecue.

Lots of meat. Hungry people. A little beer and scotch flowing. Let the opining begin.

I arrived shortly before 11 pm with my 2 oz bag of Holy Cow jerky poking out of my purse between my wallet and cell phone. After eating a hamburger, I busted the bag out and explained our task for the night, dispensing brown nibbles to all attendees. The comments came fast and furious.

One friend, somewhat prone to (melo)drama, and who admitted to not liking beef jerky in the first place, spit the jerky out and called it “stale plastic in bargain basement teriyaki sauce…like a dog chew toy…” Granted, I’m not sure why he knows what a dog chew toy tastes like, but I’ll leave that for another discussion.

Another non-jerky eater described the flavor as “weird” but was impressed that the ingredient list was all pronounceable with only one preservative.

Our final jerky novice was similarly not impressed, handing her piece to her husband after one tentative bite, dismissing it as “tasting like poop.”

Her husband, on the other hand, our first jerky pro, felt that the meat “was already a little too moist and loose already…had a good taste but went too quickly… it should require a bit more work to loosen it up.”

Sacha, our most voracious meat eater and consistent traveler, said that there was absolutely no comparison between this jerky and what he calls the gold standard, Jeff’s Gourmet dried beef jerky sticks that he buys and eats on airplanes.

The self-described “ultimate cheapskate” who spent time in Texas and therefore should know a thing or two about jerky called the meat “something like a Japanese candy” and eventually had to throw it out despite the starving children in Africa.

Finally the most experienced jerky connoisseur, having actually made jerky with roommates while in Yeshiva in Israel, described the Holy Cow jerky as having a texture that immediately brought to mind “fleishig” chewing gum. Again, not boding well for jerky.

Now, a note on the jerky’s texture. The company’s website states:

Through our revolutionary production process, we’ve mastered the art of Jerky making. The result is truly fantastic flavor with a lean, tender finish – never brittle and dry. Moreover at Holy Cow! Kosher, we never use artificial ingredients, No Trans Fats or unnatural preservatives. If you’re looking for 100% quality, you found it.

So, they seem happy with their “tender finish” but our consensus was that “brittle and dry” is really the way to go with jerky.

The précis for Holy Cow!:

– Nice use of natural ingredients
– Poor texture, too moist for jerky
– Mediocre taste
– I would not buy this again, especially because there are better options out there

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kosher french chorizo

Yup. You heard me right. It’s like a whole bunch of oxymorons rolled into one.

Let’s just start from the end and work our way backwards.

Chorizo, a pork sausage. Recipes for homemade chorizo abound, but the image that most often springs to mind is spicy sausage, encased in I don’t even want to know what. Usually spiced with a combination of garlic and peppers, this sausage has its local variations and can be purchased fresh (requiring cooking) or fermented and cured, the former more often in South America, the latter most often in Europe. Mine is from France (and I can’t tell you how I got it!), so it’s the cured version. And meant to be sliced for sandwiches (or thrown atop salads). Clearly my kosher variety is made with beef instead of pork.

For no good reason, I have been holding onto this lovely quasi-contradiction in my fridge for a few months (as a cured meat, it can last quite a while). And then…something struck…and I had to eat some meat (this might sound a little familiar) and I had to have it right then.

Eager to taste this rare delicacy (rare in the kosher world, that is) that I had heard so much about, I dug in with my knife and made a little dinner. I found that, lacking a deli slicer, my bread knife was the next best option. Thinking about cinco de mayo next week, I threw together a quick guac of avocado, grated onion, grated tomato, fresh cilantro, lime juice, salt, and cumin, slathered it on some lavash, added baby greens, spread out my treasured chorizo, and rolled everything up.

quick Mexican-inspired wrap for my chorizo

I ate the wrap standing over the cutting board. No plate. No napkin. Nothing. But you’ll keep my little secret, right?

I heart meat

Mmmmmmmm. I heart charcuterie.

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sunrise, sunset

 

 

saffron infusion

On Wednesday, April 8, the morning of the first Passover seder, many Jews will partake in a rare ritual called Birkat HaChamah (“blessing over the sun”) after sunrise. I will not go into the explanation about how this all is calculated, but supposedly every 28 years, the sun is in the exact same position that it was in on the fourth day of creation, and many take advantage of this opportunity to remember creation and bless our Creator. The prayer said roughly translates to, “Blessed are you, Eternal our Lord, who makes the work of creation.”

Whether one is a firm believer, a zodiac fanatic, a fan of interesting ritual, I think there’s something here for everyone. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a little reminder be thankful that you do get up every morning. And if you’re an ardent evolutionist and think I’m sounding totally crackpot, well, maybe you’ll appreciate this little piece of NY history that I found referenced in the sheet passed out at the Hillel of my alma mater:

HEBREW FESTIVAL MARRED
Rabbi Arrested of Observance of an Ancient Talmudic Ceremony in Tompkins Square.

THE BLESSING OF THE NEW SUN
No Permit Had Been Thought Necessary for the Gathering and Policeman Foley Could Not Understand What It Meant – Occurs Once in 28 Years.

Orthodox Hebrews in every part of the world celebrated yesterday what is familiarly known among them as ‘the new sun.” … The celebration in New York was spoiled for some hundreds of people by the interference of two park policemen with a gathering in Tompkins Square, the arrest there of Rabbi Wechsler, and the flight of Rabbi Klein.

…Rabbi Wechsler and Rabbi Klein, who are the heads of two large east side congregations, decided to call their people to meet in Tompkins Square. Nobody was in charge of the services, and nobody thought of obtaining a permit for holding a public meeting, as required by city ordinances. The Hebrews gathered by the hundreds…

… By 8 o’clock [in the morning] the square and the sidewalks around it were crowded. Rabbi Wechsler arrived about that time and was astonished to see Rabbi Klein running away at full speed. This last phenomenon was explained a moment later by the appearance of Park Policeman Foley, puzzled and excited.

The celebration is rather a complicated matter to explain to anybody. Rabbi Klein’s knowledge of English is slight, while Foley’s faculties of comprehsion of matters outside of police and park regulations and local events are not acute. The attempt of a foreign citizen to explain to an Irish American an astronomical situation and a tradition of the Talmud was a dismal failure.

Both became excited, and the people clustered around them increased the confusion. When Foley was told in broken English about a “new sun,” he was doubtful whether it was an attempt to guy him, or whether some new infection of lunacy had broken out on the east side. His demonstrations became so threatening that Rabbi Klein understood that he was in danger of being arrested and clubbed, and chose the easiest and fastest plan of escape.

Rabbi Wechler’s English is better than Rabbi Klein’s, but he could not convey the significance and purpose of the assemblage to Foley. The one fact which that offical’s perceptions grasped was that there was no permit.

After some parley, he seized the rabbi by the neck and took him to Essex Market Police Court. After being kept among the prisoners in the police court for nearly an hour, the rabbi was arraigned before Magistrate Cornell who dismissed him because he had evidently not intended to do wrong, admonishing him, however, not to make trouble for Foley…

New York Times, April 8, 1897

I can so picture this. And I sure hope the organizers of this year’s Birkat HaChamah celebration in Central Park have filed for the appropriate permits.

***

This week I wanted to make a shabbat dinner that was largely kosher for Passover (“KLP”) to try out a few recipes. As I was coming up with my menu, I was reminded of this great main course when I overheard a friend asking whether there were any real authentic Jewish meatball dishes. I’m not sure whether this qualifies, but it is one of my favorite recipes and was the centerpiece of the first meal I prepared with the intention of sharing in this blog. The theme for that meal was North African-Southern Mediterranean. This Moroccan recipe has a beautifully colored sauce, and its name in French and Arabic refer to the bright red-yellow-orange of the setting sun at twilight.

Sunrise. Sunset. Close enough! They’re both beautiful times of day. And a reminder of the beauty of nature.

Chems al aachi or boulettes de viande et sauce crépuscule (Meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)

chems al aachi/boulettes de viande et sauce crepescule/meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)

Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean. She says, “The Arab name of this dish, ‘chems al aachi’ means ‘setting sun’ because the golden color of the sauce is reminiscent of the glorious sunset in Morocco.” The color comes from a saffron infusion that is incorporated into the sauce as well as directly into the meatballs. The original recipe calls for mixing 3 potatoes, peeled and shredded, with the ground meat to extend the portions, but when I tried this, I found that the meatballs fell apart into meat mush. Further, this recipe does not make a large amount of sauce, so you can actually double the sauce ingredients (except for the amount of cilantro). I replace half of the ground beef with ground turkey and also roast the meatballs in the oven to remove some of the fat before cooking them in the sauce.

Serves 8 (made 41 meatballs using a rounded 1 tablespoon measure)

– 2 lbs ground beef, or mix of ground beef and ground turkey. Do not bother using lean meat – you will drain the fat off when roasting in oven.
– 2 eggs, lightly beated
– ½ C dried bread crumbs or matzah meal
– Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
– 1 t saffron threads, crushed and infused and ½ C hot water
– ¼ C olive oil
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped (1 C or 2 large handfuls)
– 1 t sweet (Hungarian) paprika
– 1 t ground turmeric
– 1 t powdered chicken stock, or 1 bouillon cube crushed or ½ C chicken stock
– ½ C water (or 1 C if using powdered chicken stock or bouillon cube)
– Steamed rice for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Make saffron infusion by crushing 1 t saffron threads in ½ C hot (not boiling) water – allow to infuse for ~10-15 minutes.

In a large bowl, combine the meats and eggs; add bread crumbs or matzah meal, salt, pepper, and ¼ C of saffron infusion. Knead well with hands to mix.

Form into walnut-sized meatballs and set aside. I used a tablespoon to keep the balls relatively uniform. Do not make the meatballs too compact or they will be tough when cooked.

rolling the meatballs, measuring with a tablespoon

Pre-roast the meatballs on parchment- or foil-covered baking sheet for 10-15 minutes to release and drain off some of the fat. This is what will remain when you remove the half-done meatballs to add to the sauce. NOTE, this step can be skipped if you are in a rush and want fewer dishes to wash, but I found that the pre-roasted meatballs tasted better and are probably a bit healthier.

dregs left over after pre-roasting the meatballs

While meatballs are roasting in the oven, in a large sauté pan or skillet, heat oil and add garlic, fresh cilantro, spices, powdered chicken stock/bouillon/stock, and 2 T saffron infusion. Cook until sauce turns yellow and then add additional water (total liquid added should be 1 C). The sauce is what gives the dish its sunset name.

Add the meatballs to the sauce in a single layer and simmer until cooked through, about 10-15 additional minutes. Meatballs should cook for a total of 25-30 minutes between the oven and stovetop (or on stovetop only if you skip the pre-roasting step).

Add remaining saffron infusion and heat through.

Sunset meatballs

sunset meatballs - made with potatoes, not pre-roasted, and made with less cilantro than called for; these fell apart into "meat mush"

Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Serve hot with or without rice. If serving with rice, considering doubling the sauce recipe.

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I try to listen to my body. So when I wasn’t feeling well and craving meat, knowing that I’m often anemic, I didn’t waste much time. Because when I’m hungry, I need to eat!

Without easy access to a (kosher) butcher or deli here in Cambridge, I don’t have many options. Granted, my options were probably a bit wider than most given the, er, interesting way I shop for food. In my fridge is meat that I have from France – some saucisson sec and beef chorizo – and a bag of beef jerky that I found in the Kosher Marketplace on my most recent trip to NY. The beef jerky won because … well … I felt the French meat deserved to be shared.

I ripped the bag open and took a tentative first bite. See, I’m not typically a jerky kind of gal. I have been known every once in a while to make mac and cheese from a box (much to Ellie/the Baking Architect’s shock and chagrin), but for the most part, I’m a fancy little lady.

The jerky was chewy and tough – just like a cowboy would want to snack on during the day. Not too salty, not spicy, not overpowering. Just dried meat. I reached my hand back into the bag.  Maybe I would save some  jerky to throw on top of a salad. A couple bites. Spinach with tomato and avocado. The picture would be nice – the thin brown pieces atop the green leaves. A few more pieces.  Maybe a lemon vinaigrette. Keep chewing.

Before I knew it (and you saw this coming), the bag was empty. I’ll have to buy some more — luckily the company offers free shipping in the continental US!

beef jerky

The jerky is made by RJs and supervised by the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California). Ingredients are pretty simple which is probably what makes it good quality — beef, low sodium soy sauce, brown sugar, liquid smoke. Each bag is 3 ounces (3 servings) and pretty low in fat, high in protein, and high in sodium. Nutritional information is available on the website.

If only they made South African biltong or boerewors … because Kosher Heaven is no longer anywhere to be found on the web!

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