Archive for the ‘fish’ Category

Today’s installment of quasi food science – or is it food quasi-science? – will also involve salt and water and protein.

Last time, we used a salt (or sugar) solution to prevent (egg yolk) proteins from denaturing and aggregating during the freezing process. This week, that same salt solution (no sugar here) causes partial (fish) protein denaturation and also prevents aggregation which in this situation is a good thing because it creates a water-retaining gel. I turned to Harold McGee and Cook’s Illustrated (here and here) for a little help.

So, let’s talk fish protein for a sec. Like meat, fish protein is largely muscle fibers. Unlike meat, fish proteins are shorter and run perpendicular to very delicate connective tissue made of collagen. When heated to 120F-130F, the collagen dissolves into gelatin and the muscle layers separate – the fish flakes.

For tender flakes, we don’t want the muscle fibers to contract any more than they need to before the connective tissue dissolves. A salt-water brine helps. It allows salt to enter cells through diffusion (there’s more salt in the brined than in the cells), and then water follows by osmosis (cells have a greater concentration of “things” floating around in them than the brine does). Salt partially dissolves the contracting fibers and also disrupts their ability to aggregate. As with the yolk, salt ions trap charged protein groups and the proteins can’t bind as tightly to one another or fold onto themselves. This loosening up makes more space for water molecules to wedge their way in. When you apply heat, protein fibers contract but not as much as they might if those water molecules weren’t in the way, and the fish loses less moisture as it is heated.

Brining offers two more benefits. One, it seasons the fish, giving it better flavor. Second, it reduces albumin, the white protein (egg white albumen is a type of albumin) that often congeals on the surface of the fish and really noticeable on pink salmon. So, it’s prettier too.

If you’re still awake, here’s the recipe. Finally.


Quick-brined salmon with miso-lemon glaze

Makes 8 4-ounce servings

Adapted from Food & Wine. The recipe calls for 2 pounds of salmon but I typically make one pound at a time (I’m just one person, especially during “stay-at-home” orders) and save the leftover glaze in the fridge for a few nights later. Make sure to bring the glaze to room temperature and stir well before spreading on fish. I’ve only ever used this on salmon, but I suspect it’s quite good on milder white fishes as well. 

– 1 T kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
– 2 lbs salmon (with or without skin)
– 3 T canola oil
– 2 T fresh lemon juice
– 1 T shiro miso (white)
– 1/2 t grated garlic (one medium-large clove)
– Sesame seeds, for garnish
– Lemon wedges, for serving

Prep. Preheat the oven to 450F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Brine. In a shallow bowl or baking dish large enough to fit all of the fish in one layer, combine the salt with 2 cups room temperature water and stir to dissolve. Add the salmon and additional water to make sure it’s submerged. Let brine at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk the oil, lemon juice, miso, and garlic until smooth.

Bake. Drain the fish, pat dry with a paper towel, and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Generously brush all over with the miso lemon glaze. Roast until golden and just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Transfer to plates, garnish with sesame seeds and serve with lemon wedges.

Read Full Post »

caught up

Hello, 2016. It’s going to be a good year, I’m convinced of it.

I was in DC for New Years with my friends Nachama and Ilana. It was a chill weekend – we saw Kiss Me Kate at the Shakespeare Theater (free tickets!): nothing like a little musical (blatant misogyny aside) to get the year started right. We went to synagogue (!!), something I’d like to do a teeny bit more of going forward, and walked a lot and ate a lot and caught up a lot.

salmon farro grain bowl

Based on this photo, you might think I’m starting the year off with a cliche: a healthy looking grain bowl as an antidote for holiday gluttony. But I’m posting it on behalf of Nachama who asked for help with easy lunch ideas for her microwave-free office. Even though I sent her a few articles on mix-and-match grain bowls (here, here, and here), she asked for more specific instruction.

So, here’s one of the first lunches of 2016. If you’re going to buy pre-washed greens (arugula, baby kale, etc.), find some that are in plastic clamshell boxes rather than bags – in my experience, they tend to last longer.  I make a batch of grains to last a few days, and they’re even better if you drizzle them with a little olive oil and lemon juice for . Sometimes I even cut up two days worth of veggies to make salad assembly easy. One thing I left off this bowl was crunch – mostly because I forgot, but on other days, I’ve toasted a bunch of pumpkin seeds to throw on top.

Roasted salmon for one

Adapted from the New York Times’ recipe for salmon roasted in butter. This is a versatile recipe – Mark Bittman suggests making it with butter and dill or parsley, olive oil and thyme, or peanut oil and cilantro or mint. I didn’t have any fresh herbs, so chose to use some mustard seeds to go with a mustard vinaigrette. I adapted the recipe for a single small fillet of wild salmon, but I’ve also made this recipe in a larger skillet for several pieces or one large piece – you may just need an extra minute on each side. 

Heat oven to 450ºF. Place 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds in a roasting pan or skillet just large enough to fit your salmon and place it in the oven. Heat about 5 minutes, until seeds start to pop. Add a 5- or 6-ounce piece of salmon to the pan, skin side up. Roast 3 minutes. Remove from the oven, then peel the skin off. (If the skin does not lift right off, cook 1 minute longer.) Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn the fillet over. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again. Roast 2 to 3 minutes more, depending on the thickness of the fillet and the degree of doneness you prefer.

oven-roasted salmon

Salmon freekeh grain bowl

There are infinite variations on grain bowls and I typically grab whatever I have in the fridge and pantry. For the first grain bowl of 2016, I topped 2 handfuls of arugula with 1 Persian cucumber (cubed), 3 radishes (thinly sliced), 1/3 cup freekeh (cooked in a pressure cooker), and a fillet of salmon. Then I drizzled the whole thing with a few tablespoons of mustard vinaigrette (1/2 t whole grain dijon mustard, 2 T red wine vinegar, 1/4 C olive oil, salt, and pepper). I work from home these days, but you can keep a jar of the vinaigrette in the fridge at work – it should be enough for about three salads.


Read Full Post »


shabbat table

Shabbat shalom from my apartment!

Well, this photo was actually last shabbat, but one week later, I get to say the same thing! If you look closely, you’ll notice that nothing really matches, but most of the stuff sort of “goes.” When I left Boston, a friend helped me pack and, more than anything else, she helped me purge. She convinced me to get rid of my service for twelve and only bring down six meat plates and four dairy plates. She said that I’d never have an apartment large enough to entertain more than six people.

Well shame on me for listening. Last Friday, I cooked for seven (and a baby). If you look closely, you’ll see there’s only enough for six on the table. One of my friends is typically late and I didn’t expect her until dessert. When she showed up pretty close to on time, I had to scramble. I managed to assemble a blue, white, and yellow mishmash of a table.

The menu took shape when I decided to make my favorite carrots. Then, still thinking of Paris and my favorite foods from the late great Les Ailes restaurant, I decided to make chreime – a spicy Tunisian fish stew – as the main event since I had a few non-meat eaters in the crowd. I rounded things out with haricots verts tossed in garlic scape dressing and roasted potatoes, straight from the farmers market.


We started out with bowls of cucumber gazpacho, a cross between this recipe and this one, essentially cucumbers, onion, avocado, sherry vinegar, yogurt and bread.

As usual, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough food, so I burnt a few eggplants and mixed the flesh with a dash of tahini and pomegranate molasses à la Ottolenghi.

burnt eggplant

It’s hard to make mushed eggplant look good, but a sprinkle of parsley helps.

Ottolenghi's burnt eggplant with tahina

After dinner, we retired to the couch and ate dessert clustered around my coffee table. I spread out a cloth and piled on the desserts. There was a magnificent almond cake, a chocolate zucchini loaf (I promise to share), and a massive plate of watermelon and berries.

Have a great weekend, all!

Burnt eggplant with tehina and pomegranate

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. You can also add some chopped cucumber and/or halved cherry tomatoes. If you have pomegranate seeds, they would be lovely to sprinkle on top. Since this was a last minute addition to my dinner, I just used what I had. 

Makes about 2 cups

– 3 medium eggplant

– 1/2 C tehina

– 1/3 C water

– 2 T pomegranate molasses

– 2 T lemon juice

– 2 garlic cloves, crushed

– 1/4 C chopped parsley

– salt and pepper

Burn. Poke several holes in the eggplants with a fork or sharp knife. Put them on a foil- or parchment-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for about an hour, turning them a few times, The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

Drain. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to train for at least 30 minutes.

Mix. Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tehina, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, a pinch or two of salt, and a grind of pepper. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice, or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.


Chreime (Spicy Tunisian fish stew)

Just barely adapted from Lior Lev Sercarz‘s recipe in Saveur. I doubled the recipe and added some crushed tomatoes so make a soupier dish. I couldn’t find small red Thai chilis, so I substituted larger serranos and added the seeds to the mix – the result was only a little spicy, so I might add more next time. I made the sauce first in a large skillet, then divided it between two skillets so the fish would have enough room to cook.

Serves 8 – 10

– 3 lbs fish such as sea bass or grouper, cut into 4- to 5-ounce filets

– 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

– 1/2 C olive oil

– 20 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

– 5 serrano chilis, stemmed and finely chopped

– 1 6-oz can tomato paste

– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

– 2 C water

– 3 C minced cilantro

Marinate. Combine fish, juice, salt, and paper in a bowl; set aside.

Cook. Heat oil in a large (at least 12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chiles (including seeds); cook, stirring until soft 1-2 minutes. Add paste; cook, stirring until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, cilantro, and water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 6-8 minutes.

Simmer. Split the sauce between two large skillets. Divide fish between the two skillets, skin side up, with its juice and cover; cook until fish is done, 18 – 20 minutes.

Read Full Post »

And, just like that, it’s September. 


That was the opening line I planned to use as I scrambled to get this post out before sunset last Wednesday as Rosh Hashanah rushed in. Instead, I used those last few hours to curl up with a good book (well, two good books) and enter the Jewish New Year calmly and with anticipation rather than racing the clock with rushed dread of not finishing and disappointing. Disappointing whom? I guess myself.

Now, ten days later, I finish this post minutes before Yom Kippur begins because after some time for reflection, this is how I want to start my new year. Right. Now.


In the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah, I thought about the secular new year, eight months ago, when newlyweds Veronica and Brian and nearly a hundred friends and family members and I took plane, train, and automobile to reach Sacred Valley, Peru.

Mere days before the wedding ceremony, I met most of the guests in Lima at the rooftop cocktail reception that started our ten-day wedding extravaganza. While in the capital, we toured the city, tested the choppy Pacific waters, bought more alpaca gifts than any sane person should, and ate and drank.


Each evening brought a party and each party brought music and dancing. There was a rocking ukulele at the rehearsal dinner. And the dance floor at the wedding opened with Veronica and Brian’s first dance (with a well-rehearsed lift) and ended with la hora loca, the “crazy hour” that went on well into the morning, leaving everyone covered in confetti, dressed in flowered necklaces and Incan headdresses, and dancing with human-sized furry cuy – guinea pigs – that, when not entertaining, serve as traditional Andean dinner rather than childhood pet. 

After the four days of wedding festivities, the adventure began with that plane-train-automobile trip to Sacred Valley, not too far from the Incan capital of Cusco.

After settling in to our new digs, we started up the New Year’s Eve party, complete with beer and wine and coca tea, with streamers and sparklers and silly hats (and a certain bride wearing traditional yellow underwear). We barely made it to midnight before we started dropping off like flies, mumbling something about setting a 5 am alarm and where’d I put that raincoat and will they have breakfast for us.


The next morning, I dragged my groggy self out of bed, tied on my just-barely-broken-in hiking books, and surrendered to a backpack filled with every possible item I just might need. Bug spray and sunscreen. Poncho. Protein bars. Water. More water. T-shirt. Long-sleeved shirt. Hat. Change of socks. Flashlight.

A short bus ride, and we walked past a flurry of retail activity to get to the train that would get us to the Inca trail. Along that short walk, hawkers cried out their wares. Good hat to protect from sun! Coca gum for altitude! Umbrella! Hiking stick!


The train dropped us off at KM104 and we started out the first day of the New Year under a brilliant sun.

From this side of the mountain, eight months later, the details are a blessed blur. There were ups and downs, zigs and zags, slippery rocks, narrow cliffs, rain and wind, and never enough water. The poncho went on and off and on again as the weather changed moods like Mercury himself.

By the end of the first mile, I was falling back. By the end of the second mile, I was holding up the caboose. There were a few of us back there, pacing ourselves, enjoying the view, breathing the air. Or, perhaps merely catching our breath. Or, many breaths. We crawled up the nearly vertical “gringo killer” stairs, and caught a few more breaths. We climbed the just-100-more, I-mean-200-more , I-mean-350-more, see-you’re-almost-there steps. Guides can be cruel like that.

And then, we really were almost there. We reached Intipunkuthe Sun Gate. As the clouds parted and the fog lifted and we shed our rain gear, we shared a clear view of Machu Picchu that those who had rushed ahead of us missed.


We all made it up. We all made it down. We all returned to explore Machu Picchu the next day.

Which, strangely enough, brings us back to that fish photographed up top.

On Rosh Hashanah, we decorate our table with fish or lambs’ heads, or just a whole roasted fish. We make a blessing that we be like the head, and not the tail. A leader, and not a follower. And not someone who falls behind.

Earlier this summer, in June, I bought paiche, a sustainable Peruvian fish because it was on sale and its thick, firm fillets looked like they would cook perfectly evenly. No head. No tail. Just the good stuff in the middle. I asked Facebook whether anyone had ideas about how to cook the fish, and continued to haphazardly throw items in my basket. Brian, now settled into Lima, and waiting for Veronica to join him, embraced his new heritage and suggested that I “cook it in some banana leaves! Amazon style.”

I looked in my pantry, and just could not find any banana leaves. Crazy, that. No banana leaves. But I tucked the idea away for another day.


I did however remember a spicy fish dish that I had I had dogeared in Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem months prior. I skimmed through the recipe and it looked pretty simple. Pan fry some fish, add a few pantry staples, and voilà, a quick dinner. Or so I thought.

Had I read the instructions top to bottom, I might have realized that this was no quick dish. Three hours of well-past-prime-time-TV marinating and pan frying and stirring and simmering and saucing on a night when I had wanted to eat minutes after key in door, I was annoyed. I finally sat down with fork and knife at 11 pm.

I stayed annoyed until the next afternoon, when, over a lunch of leftover paiche and couscous, I read my friend Leah‘s blog post entitled “Are we being held hostage by the 30-minute meal?“. Leah is writing her second cookbook (you might recognize a few recipes from here in her first!) and was testing time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka after time-intensive chocolate babka until she got the recipe just right. During these hours upon hours of kneading, rising, waiting, twisting, baking, cooling , Leah found herself considering quick, get-it-on-the-table cooking versus the attention and time for reflection afforded by more complex recipes.

“When we allow everyday cooking to be the only cooking we do,” Leah says, “I think we ultimately lose out. By elevating and idealizing the 30-minute meal, we inherently discredit any recipe that takes longer to make. We abandon the deeper pleasure of tackling a difficult recipe head-on and emerging on the other side, battle-scarred but victorious. ”

I realized the next day that I had indeed gone to bed victorious. emerging with merely a small battle-scar burn on my finger. Because, man, that fish was good. And the prior evening was calm, the work sometimes complex, sometimes messy, sometimes slow. Once I realized that this was going to be an evening project, I got there on my own pace. I breathed. And then breathed again.

Reflecting on the my Peruvian New Year, and my Brooklyn Rosh Hashanah, and my Brooklyn Yom Kippur, I wish for me and for you the ability to lead well and follow well, to slow down and watch the fog clear, to enjoy the quiet moments, to accept the scars, and to just get through it however you do.

This year in particular is one of new beginnings for me, and I hope to embrace each experience and learn from it. Before I get all hokey on you, l’m going to escape to light some candles. Let’s hope I don’t burn myself on the match.

L’shana tova and G’mar chatima tova. Let each and every one of us have a good year, a safe, easy, and meaningful fast, and a year of beautiful moments.


Pan-fried paiche with harissa and rose

The original recipe in Jerusalem calls for sea bass, but I figured that any firm white fish would be a good substitute. I found paiche, a South American fish, on sale and it worked perfectly. I suspect halibut or snapper would be great too. I left out the currants. This fish is spicy. Really spicy. I made the recipe with a full 3 tablespoons of harissa and next time I’ll only use 2 tablespoons. I had to serve it with couscous to counteract the spiciness. I happened to have some dried rosebuds tucked away in the back of my pantry, originally purchased as tea infusions. I’d say they’re completely optional, but are lovely for color if you have them. 

The longest part of this recipe is marinating for 2 hours, and then cooking takes about 45 minutes. I don’t think the recipe will suffer if you marinate it in the morning and leave it, covered, in the refrigerator, until evening or if you give it a quick 30-minute counter top marinate.

Serves 3-4

– 2-3T harissa, divided in half for marinade and sauce

-1 t ground cumin

– 1 lb firm white fish, skin removed (paiche, sea bass, snapper, halibut, etc.)

– all purpose flour, for dusting

– 2 medium onions

– 2 T olive oil

– 6.5 T red wine vinegar (~1/3 C plus 1 T)

– 1 t ground cinnamon

– scant 1 C water

– 1.5 t honey

– 1 T rose water

– 1 T mint leaves (optional)

– 1 t dried edible rose petals (optional)

– salt and pepper

Marinate. Cut the fish into 3 or 4 pieces. Mix together half the harissa (1-1.5 T, depending on how spicy you like things), cumin, and a few pinches of salt in a bowl. Pat the fish dry and then coat with the marinade on all sides. Place the fish on a plate and let marinate for 2 hours in the fridge. While I normally marinate meat in a plastic bag, fish is too delicate and might fall apart.

Slice. Slice the onions into half moons. The original recipe calls for finely chopping the onion, but I like the longer strips.

Fry. Spread a handful of flour onto another plate. Dredge the marinated fish fillets through the flour and gently shake off the excess. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the fish for two minutes on each side. Remove the fish, but keep the oil in the pan.

Cook. Now that the fish is out of the pan, add the sliced onions and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring, until the onions are golden. Add the remaining harissa (1-1.5 T), vinegar, cinnamon, a few pinches of salt, and several grinds of pepper.

Simmer. Pour in the water, lower the heat, and let the sauce simmer gently for 10-15 minutes, until quite thick. Add the honey and rose water to the pan, and simmer gently for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning and salt. Return the fish fillets to the pan. Spoon sauce over the fish as it warms up in the simmering sauce. This should take about 3 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, add a few tablespoons of water.

Sprinkle. Serve the fish warm or at room temperature with some couscous. Sprinkle with torn mint leaves and crumbled rose petals. Keep the couscous and a glass of water nearby.

Read Full Post »

We’re going to do things a little differently today. I’d like to introduce you to Josh Lewin, Executive Chef of Beacon Hill Bistro. We met earlier this year at a dinner he hosted in honor of Tamar Adler and her book, An Everlasting Meal (I’m a fan!). If you haven’t tried his food yet, I’d suggest heading over to Charles Street and pulling up a chair next to the window in the long and narrow, two-table deep restaurant. Josh wanted to share with you the tradition of celebrating Nowruz, Persian New Year, as one of the many ways he opens his arms to welcome Spring. At his restaurant, he hosts Passover seders and Easter brunch. With friends, he celebrates Nowruz, Persian New Year, and makes the traditional fish dish, Sabzi Polo Mahi. ~ Gayle


We inch toward Spring this year with baited breath as the calendar’s turn last week was sandwiched between an ice storm one day and the threat of a slushy accumulation the next. Images of green and sprouting seeds unfortunately remain strictly in our dreams.

And yet, we inch along and stubbornly prepare to celebrate, weather be damned. This year, Passover falls early and finds itself overlapping with Easter and the likely less familiar celebration of the Persian New Year, Nowruz, which always falls on the first day of Spring and for the thirteen days following. The Nowruz celebration is enjoyed by most Iranians, regardless of their religion.

Like Passover with its seder plate and Easter with its eggs and bunnies, Norwuz is a holiday steeped in symbolic tradition. The word Nowruz means “new day” and the Haft-Seen (seven S’s) table setting is part of its celebration.  These seven S’s refer to the Farsi spelling of the required items which in English include garlic, apple, sumac, bean sprouts, oleaster fruit, vinegar, and a sweet pudding made from wheat germ.  Some welcome additions to the standard list might include a mirror, a goldfish, rosewater, or even painted eggs. As on the Seder plate, each item has its purpose and is a poignant reminder of the holiday.

The Nowruz festivities start with a thorough Spring cleaning, or khouneh tekouni, which, to those of you preparing for Passover by searching for crumbs in every corner of your house, probably sounds familiar. The goal is to clear the space to make room for the hope of a happy new year. Over the course of nearly two weeks, the old is phased out and hospitality is offered to friends and family. Like the first cuttings of Spring flowers, such as hyacinth and daffodil which traditionally decorate the holiday home, a new year begins.

So, this year, as various calendars converge to celebrate Spring, I offer this love letter to a global approach to the turning season. May we all appreciate the thawing of our previous experiences, leaving us a fertile platform for a fresh start.  May we clean our homes and welcome our families. And may we celebrate each other, where we’ve been, where we hope to go.

May we set our tables with the symbols of our chosen tradition. May we see our favorite memories in them. May we create new ones. And as in the Sephardic tradition, may we be sent on our way with a bit of broken bread (afikomen) to carry with us into whatever is next, for luck, remembrance, hope.

Eid eh shomah mobarak. Chag  same’ach. Happy Spring, everyone!


Josh explained to me the symbolism of each element on the Haft-Seen table, which, like in his restaurant, take advantage of local produce and are prepared with patience and care.

Sabzeh. Mung bean sprouts. Symbolizes rebirth.

Samanu. A pudding made of wheat germ. Pictured here is simply wheat germ, not pudding’d. Symbolizes affluence

Senjed. A fruit called oleaster. Not thought to be common here. But it actually is a common invasive plant species called the autumn olive (or autumn berry, or russian olive). I use it at the restaurant to make a sorbet, it has a flavor similar to cranberry, but a bit sweeter. It gets the name “autumn olive” from the shape of it’s leaves. One of our farmers in South Dartmouth forages it for us. Pictured here is the pickled fruit. Traditionally it would be dried fruit.

Sir. Garlic. Symbolizing medicine. Pictured is local garlic that we cured in house.

Sib. Apple. Symbolizing beauty and health. Locally grown Cortland apple.

Somaq. Sumac. Symbolizing sunrise. Traditionally the fresh fruit would be featured. But with the slow arrival of Spring, I could not collect any fresh sumac. The dried spice is pictured. I love sumac. A lot.

Serkeh. Vinegar. Symbolizing old age, and patience. Pictured is a chardonnay vinegar in which we preserved tulsi, the holy basil of India. We made this last fall (yay, patience).

There are a number of extras sometimes included at the Haft-Seen table. I include rose water. I carefully distilled this rose water from the petals of beach (wrinkled) roses that I collected over the summer on the beach in Wesport with Eva, of Eva’s Garden in South Dartmouth.


Sabzi Polo Mahi

Herbed rice with fish is a traditional meal eaten early in the Nowruz celebrations. In Persian cooking, the rice would be boiled briefly and then layered and steamed with herbs, aromatic vegetables, and spices. A skilled cook, using this method, ends up with perfectly cooked and flavored rice as well as a layer of crispy cooked rice from the bottom of the pot, called tadeek. Anyone who’s eaten a properly cooked paella will be familiar with the concept.

Without a Persian mentor to teach you the technique, I suggest cooking your rice using the risotto method, which allows you to control the flavor from the beginning, and also finish with a respectable tadeek. Use freshly ground spices if at all possible, you owe yourself that.

Persian Jews are largely Sephardic, so they eat rice over Passover. If you’re Askenazi (from Eastern Europe), you can replace the rice with quinoa. As a seed, quinoa is  a great substitution for those who need one, given we are celebrating seeds and new growth anyway.  Follow the simple cooking instructions for quinoa, but rather than cooking in plain water or broth,  flavor your cooking water to mimic the Sabzi Polo by bringing your cooking liquid to a boil with  garlic, cinnamon, and herbs and steeping it for an hour.

I’ve chosen to use a fish called hake for this recipe. It is a close cousin to cod, and usually readily available in a dedicated fish market. Hake is a popular choice among Sephardic Jewish cooks in Spain, wehre they would call it merluza. Traditionally this might be a whole fried fish. 

Serves 6.

For the rice:

– 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

– 2 tablespoons butter

– kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

– 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

– 1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek

– 2 cloves garlic, finely diced

– 1 cup spanish onion, finely diced

– 4 cups arborio rice

– 6 cups warm water, vegetable broth, or other cooking liquid

– 2 cups finely chopped herbs, use your favorites. dill, parsley, cilantro, chives, … as you please.

In a wide, shallow skillet with a heavy bottom, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Add the onion, garlic, spices, and about 2 teaspoons of salt. Cook this, gently, until vegetables are soft, but avoid any browning.

Add the rice and stir to coat, cook about 2 minutes.

Add liquid to cover and stir, continuously. As the water reduces, continue to add more until rice is fully cooked. Simple rule for when to add more liquid… when the liquid won’t immediately return to fill the space it has been stirred away from, it is time for more.  The rice will let you know when it is cooked, by sight and taste. This will take about 20 minutes.

Just before finishing the cooking. Turn the flame to high. Stir once, then resist the urge to stir again. You will smell rice toasting. Give it two minutes, quickly stir in the fresh herbs and adjust with salt and pepper if needed.  Then remove the rice on top and you’ll be left with tadeek below. Reverse them for serving, tadeek over the top!

For the fish:

– 6 5-oz portions of hake fillet

– 2 cups matzoh meal mixed with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

– olive oil for cooking

Heat a heavy bottomed pan, large enough to hold the fish without crowding, over medium high heat with the oil.

Coat the fish on both sides with the seasoned matzoh meal and add to the hot pan, cooking for about 3 minutes, then rotate 90 degrees and cook one more minute. Turn the fish and finish cooking on the second side, for 3 to 4 more minutes depending on thickness.

Read Full Post »

Today I have a special treat for you.

I spoke with Michael Leviton, chef and owner of Lumière and Area Four, last weekend in anticipation of tonight’s fourth annual Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen event.

BBK is just what it sounds like: local chefs, Jewish or not, reinterpreting Jewish culinary traditions. Past years have featured duck pastrami sandwiches and a towering croquembouche of cream puffs covered in caramel, a nod to the sticky, honey-soaked teiglach dessert served on Rosh Hashanah. While neither pork nor shellfish will make an appearance, the event is not strictly kosher.

Leviton is no stranger to turning traditional food on its head. For the past two years, he has hosted Passover seders, and just a month ago he initiated at Lumière Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Eve, an institution in many Jewish households, including his own (and mine). Does he have plans to celebrate other Jewish holiday at the restaurant? “Not really. I think [Passover and Christmas] are sort of the biggies. I think those are also the best tie in with non-Jewish things as well. Our seder is very inclusive and very interfaith. Obviously Chinese food and a movie is on Christmas Eve and the rest of that menu has latkes and some Christmas-y food – it really runs the gamut.” As a rule of thumb for how he develops these menus and dishes, Leviton explains, “From my standpoint, what I do with [these meals] is because of the training I’ve had. It’s not just enough to have the technical training, but you have to combine that with a cultural understanding of food and where it comes from.”

That technical training and cultural understanding began in high school when Leviton  worked in several delis in Newton, MA, though at that point, Leviton muses, “I thought I would never want to do this.” But the energy of the kitchen lured him back in: “I took some time off from college and had a desk job, but found that I really couldn’t sit still. So I took a job in a kitchen. I was a prep cook in a Souper Salad…Then I cooked the next few summers and as soon as I graduated, I left for San Francisco where I was very fortunate to meet the right people very early on.”

Leviton’s early mentors read like a who’s who of the restaurant world with chef after chef referring him to others who could help him hone his craft. I suspect playing “chef geography” in such a tight-knit community might be just as entertaining as “Jewish geography.” Leviton’s first restaurant job was with Joyce Goldstein at the now-closed Square One restaurant. A prolific cookbook author (I have Cucina Ebraica and Saffron Shores), it’s not surprising that Leviton characterizes his time working with Goldstein as “a very formative experience.” He then left for France where he picked up “a level of attention to detail and finesse” and returned to San Francisco to work with recent French transplant,  Alain Rodelli. A few years later, Rondelli introduced Leviton to Daniel Boulud, helping him land a job at Le Cirque in New York. Then a few years later, Rondelli asked him to fly back to San Francisco as sous chef of his new eponymous restaurant.

After shuttling from coast to coast, Leviton returned to New England in the mid-90s, first as Executive Chef at Upstairs at the Pudding (now Upstairs on the Square) and then opening Lumière in 1999 and the more casual Area Four less than two years ago.

On keeping with the BBK theme, I asked Leviton whether his own grandmothers influenced his cooking. Leviton chuckled. “Not at all. One I can’t ever really remember cooking and then the other one was not a particularly good cook. She cooked the crap out of everything. My dad will talk about his maternal grandmother being a very good cook. And that’s sort of about it. I was fortunate enough growing up because my mom wrote a low cholesterol kosher cookbook. So I was exposed to a lot of cooking, not all of it stuff you’d necessarily want to eat, but I was exposed to the idea of cooking and the process throughout my childhood…My kids like to cook a little bit, but my [10-year old] daughter will definitely work the front of the house. She’s a pro.”

Though his family is Ashkenazi, hailing from “the lands of potatoes and cabbage,” Leviton explains, “my palate definitely runs more towards Sephardic. And especially around Passover, we become Sephardic for a week. Then we eat rice. Also, the  flavors are so much more exciting.”

This mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cultures is reflected in Lumière’s seder courses. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the seder menu,” Leviton says, “but even there we’re trying to take some ideas from a variety of different cultures in the context of Jewish. It’s always trying to look at it through a slightly different lens, take a look at these classic ideas and re-frame them a little bit. We make a Persian  charoset recipe which I love because it’s not apples and cinnamon. It’s dates and almonds and raisins and orange and a pinch of cayenne. It’s a completely different palette of flavors. What I loved about it is if you think about where this holiday comes from initially, it’s from a desert climate. It’s from the Middle East and you have to figure they were celebrating their own foods back then. They weren’t using cinnamon and apples and walnuts. It was dates and almonds and things like that and to me, it made a lot more sense. We still make my Aunt Sharon’s charoset, but the one that everyone eats is the Persian one.”

As in years past, Leviton and Area Four pastry chef Katie Kimball will prepare a dessert for BBK. With Purim less than a month away, Leviton and Kimball are planning to make tri-cornered hamantashen cookies with sweet sesame filling and sesame candy on top, a break from the traditional poppy seed “mun” filling. Last year, they used that mun filling to make their own version of oreos.  And the year before that were alcoholic milkshakes. No doubt, the lines at their station will be snaking around the room.

Thanks so much, Michael. I can’t wait to meet you and Katie tonight and sample your creations!

Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette

Michael Leviton’s Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette (works well on chicken too)

Leviton explains, “I developed this recipe a number of years ago for something that I did for Myra Kraft’s. I took the idea of gefilte fish and turned it on its ear. For me, the best part of gefilte fish is the beets and horseradish. So we did a beet tartare with a horseradish vinaigrette and then a maple mustard glazed sable.”

I made a few adaptions to the recipe, replacing difficult-to-find smoked sable with smoked haddock. I served the fish atop a pile of baby arugula. I also changed the order of the ingredients slightly to reflect the order in which I made each component. Any modifications I made I have italicized.

The maple mustard marinade is quite intense, more mustard than maple with a good amount of spice (I used Maille brand mustard). I used the leftovers for boneless skinless chicken breasts that I cooked in a pan on the stovetop – incredible! I think this would work with a mild white fish as well. 

Serves 4 as an appetizer

For the seasoned white wine vinegar (you can skip if you have Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar in your pantry)

– 1 cup white wine vinegar

– 1 cup sugar

– 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the beets

– 4 small red beets – tops removed

– 4 tablespoons seasoned white wine vinegar (recipe above) – I used a Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar

– 4 tablespoons water

For the fish

– 4 two ounce pieces of smoked sable (the more cube-like, the better) – I was only able to find a half-pound of smoked haddock

– 2 ounces maple syrup – make sure to use the richer Grade B

– 7 tablespoons Dijon mustard – I used a blend of regular and whole seed (“moutarde a l’ancienne”) Dijon

– 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

– 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the vinaigrette

– ¼ cup seasoned white wine vinegar

– ¼ extra virgin olive oil

– Freshly grated (or prepared) horseradish – I grated fresh horseradish root with a lemon zester and added a tablespoon (I like things spicy)

– 1 tablespoon minced chives

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Season the vinegar. Combine the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive pan and heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Roast. Wash the beets and place on a 12 inch by 12 inch square of aluminum foil. Fold up the sides and pour in the water and vinegar. Seal the top by folding over the edges of the foil. Place the foil package in a sauté pan (I placed my foil packet on a cookie sheet) and bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. (If your beets are larger, they may take up to 90 minutes to roast.)  Remove the beets from the foil package and, when cool enough to handle, peel. 

Puree. Coarsely chop the beets and puree in a food processor. The puree will not get very smooth. This is not a problem. Remove the puree from the processor and reserve.

Marinate. Combine the maple syrup, mustard and sherry vinegar and whisk well. Place the smoked sable in the glaze and let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Glaze. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the canola oil and then the smoked sable portions (excess glaze removed). Cook for about one minute or until the glaze caramelizes. Flip the fish over and cook for another minute or so, until the sable is warmed through.

Whisk. To make the vinaigrette, combine the seasoned vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the horseradish to taste, Right before service, add the chives and mix well.

Assemble. Meanwhile, heat the beet puree in a small sauté or sauce pan. Add the chives to the vinaigrette. Place a spoonful of the puree in the center of each of four plates. Top with the sable and drizzle the vinaigrette around.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

I woke up the other day and made lunch. I ate it for breakfast.

Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to grab lunch later in the day.

See, I was flying down to Philadelphia for a conference.

With the CEO of my company.

On our teeny tiny corporate plane.

So petite, that you can’t stand up in the cabin. You have to crouch.

Especially when you’re wearing 4-inch heels.

Flying south, we saw the entire island of Manhattan and I could almost make out my old apartment building on the edge of Central Park at the 86th Street transverse.

Flying north, I dreamt of dinner.

Mac and cheese, to be exact.

From a box.

Salmon en papillote with tomatoes and basil

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan‘s recipe for salmon and tomatoes en papillote.

I like to make my salmon in individual packages, but if you’re serving a crowd, you can make an entire filet wrapped in a very big sheet of parchment (or aluminum foil). There are lots of great flavor combinations – try cilantro/lime/tequila or thyme/skinny asparagus/white wine or ginger/sesame oil/soy sauce/spring onions. You get the picture.

Preheat oven to 475ºF. Throw a handful of small tomatoes (cherry, pear, etc.) into a pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sauté until they start to blister and brown. Pat salmon filets dry with a paper towel and place them on a rectangle of parchment (about 4 times as large as the filet). Crush a few leaves of basil in your hand and lay them on top of the fish. Top with a slice or two of lemon and a few squeezes of lemon juice. Add a nice drizzle or two of olive oil and dust with salt and pepper. Surround the fish with the tomatoes.

Fold the parchment around the fish into an airtight envelope (or something resembling an airtight envelope). Tie with kitchen twine. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, depending on how well done you like your salmon.

Cut open the packet and eat.

Read Full Post »

last dance

My mini food-processor danced his last dance tonight. You may remember him from the garlic scape photo shoot. We first met during Passover 2 years ago when he made me two batches of cookies. I liked him so much that I converted him to non-Passover use and kept him around all year. I nicknamed him “chop-chop” and he lived on the countertop next door to the stove. Until tonight.

I walked into my kitchen and dropped two grocery bags on the counter. Salmon was on the menu. In between trips to the fridge, I turned the oven to 500°F, cleaned and sliced a few potatoes, unwrapped and patted dry 2 salmon fillets, and lined a baking sheet with parchment. Into the fridge the groceries went. Into the oven the potatoes went (thanks, Jess, for reminding me how to roast them!). Onto the computer I went. Tired of my en papillote in aluminum foil method, I sought inspiration for dinner. A quick search – “salmon lemon dill” – did the trick.

The music began. I gingerly approached with a bouquet of dill that he grabbed from my fist and twirled into a fine paste with a clove of garlic. He spun around with the olive oil, but sputtered when I introduced him to lemon juice and zest. The music played on and I gave him a moment to catch his breath.

Seeing that the potatoes were almost done, crisping and blistering on one side of the parchment, I dropped the oven down to 400°F and cuddled the salmon onto the other side.

A few pieces of bread perked him up, but soon his turns slowed and he made a graceful bow and exit. The music played on.

Ten minutes later, I spooned his inheritance on the salmon and sat down to eat.

Salmon with lemon dill pesto

– 1/2 pound salmon

– 1/2 C dill fronds and stems

– 1-2 cloves garlic

– 3-4 T olive oil

– juice and zest of one lemon

– 1-2 slices of bread (I used half a pita)

– salt and pepper

Roast salmon. Preheat oven to 400ºF. Rinse salmon fillets and pat dry. Season with salt and pepper and bake on parchment for 10-12 minutes until opaque.

Make pesto. In food-processor, puree dill and garlic. Add olive oil and lemon juice and zest and continue to pulse. Soak bread in water until mushy. Squeeze out most of the water and add bread to the dill mix. Puree until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve. Spoon pesto on top of salmon and serve warm.

Read Full Post »

I  bet you thought I was going to talk about Thanksgiving. Nope. Too predictable. Instead, I have a very special gift for you.

Today, I want to introduce you to Julie. She has been thinking about starting her own food blog, so help me encourage her with this baby step she’s making. Julie has actually been with me on my entire blogventure. We were in Paris together exactly 2 years ago when I met Clotilde Desoulier at a book signing and decided to start little cooking diary. We spent that night figuring out where we were going to spend the next 5 days and how to actually get there, with periodic breaks for me to gush about how excited I was to start a blog. We checked airlines, train schedules, and travel sites, finally formulating our plan at 3 am. We would take an overnight train from Paris to Berlin, spend the day and a night in Berlin, and then go to our main destination, Prague the next morning.

Arriving in Berlin, we toured around, drank some beer (I know, me, beer!), cancelled our hotel, and spent the night in a casino. We jumped on the early morning train, snoozed, and a few hours later, disembarked when we heard commotion in the aisle and the conductor shouting something in Czech (well, we assumed it was Czech). We found a taxi and showed the driver a printout of our hotel address. He loaded our luggage into his trunk and then started driving into a residential neighborhood in the mountains. We looked at each other in the back seat and shrugged; I mouthed to Julie, “I thought we were just a few minutes from downtown Prague.” Neither of us spoke Czech and our driver didn’t speak English (or Russian for that matter). The driver pulled up next to another car parked near the driveway of a house. A quick exchange of words with the driver of the parked car and our driver was gifted with a GPS. Again, Julie and I shrugged at each other. We started driving and driving and finally, from the back seat, we were able to inquire as to why this was taking so long. Turns out, we had managed to detrain right after we crossed the border into the Czech Republic, over an hour from Prague. Our driver returned us to the border station and refused our money. We took another train to the right stop this time.

Prague was freezing. We went to the castle, the opera, the Alte-Neu synagogue. We ate venison (first time ever for me) in a restaurant just a few blocks from our hotel. We took a mini-cruise along the Vltava River.

The prior year, Julie and I had spent the days leading up to Thanksgiving together in Amsterdam and Brussels. It seems Thanksgiving has become a bit of a tradition for us. This year, we are both in Miami with our families. I’m hoping Julie and her parents will come over for dessert.

You know, I said this wouldn’t be a Thanksgiving post. But apparently it is. Thanks, Julie, for being a great friend and travel partner!


I was asked to write a guest blog a while back by my friend, Gayle, and I procrastinated because I really didn’t know which dish to write about.  I love food, and all cuisines—from the most complex and authentic to the simplest of dishes. Having a wide range of different dishes prepared by my mom, who is one of the best cooks I know, and by experiencing the cuisine of different countries through the travels I’ve done over the years, I’ve developed a special love for food.  And of course, if there is an idea about a dish in my head, I always try to make it at home. As I was deciding on the menu for the blog post, I really wanted to combine something old and traditional with something new and fresh that I could relate to my every day life.

Back in February, I was in Amsterdam for a friend’s wedding and was invited to one of the sheva brachot. The hostess informed everyone that she wasn’t going to be cooking much, just dunne pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I was very excited to try real traditional Dutch food. Finally, when she brought out a huge plate of what seemed to me a stock of typical Russian blini, I was pleasantly surprised to see a taste of home. “This is not Dutch,” I thought to myself,these are Russian blini!” I grew up with blini, topped with caviar, lox, Nutella, jam or whatever other toppings you could think of.  After seeing 30 Dutch people eating their Dutch dunne pannekoeken and folding them a different way, I realized that food is what binds us together; we may come from different corners of the world but we all eat the same food. The only difference is that we call it our own, and by our own names: blini, blintzes, crepes, or dunne pannekoeken. It’s that comfort food that is universal and loved by the whole world.  This is the reason I chose to share the blini recipe with you, along with another episode from my life—that reminded me of my childhood—that would complement the Russian blinis.


<<note from Gayle: I made these and they came out so well that I ate the entire batch for breakfast. I used skim milk and it worked very well. I think I could have thinned out the batter a bit with more hot water to make the blini easier to spread in the pan. Julie recommended experimenting with the right “ladle size” to give you just enough batter to cover the bottom of your pan. I used ~1/3  cup of batter and made 10 blinis. Julie’s thinner batter made closer to 15 blinis. >>

1 cup of milk (or soy milk)

– 1 cup of flour

– 2 eggs

– 1/4 cup of oil

– pinch of baking powder

– pinch of salt

– 2 tablespoons of sugar

– 3 -4 tablespoons of hot water

Blend all the ingredients, except for hot water, with a hand blender until smooth; add the hot water, mix everything well; add more water if needed to get the right smooth consistency.  Heat up and grease a frying pan and pour a ladle full of batter into the center of the pan and quickly move the frying pan in a circular motion, so that the batter spreads evenly all around until it’s all set. Cook for a minute on each side or until brown.

Stack the ready blinis up one on top of the other until all the batter is used. If the first blin didn’t come out right, don’t get discouraged! There is a Russian saying that says that the first blin isn’t meant to come out right: “Pervi blin komom!

Now that you have the recipe for authentic Russian blinis, I would like to share a recipe for home-made lox fillet that you can eat along with your blinis.  Recently, my mom’s friends were visiting from Canada and at one of the meals my mom served lox, one of the sisters said: “Why do you buy lox, it’s so much better to make it at home.” Huh?! Home-made lox? I thought lox was Scandinavian, and one of those foods that can only be bought, like canned tuna. And then I was quickly reminded that her father used to bring fresh and salted fish direct from the Caspian Sea and sell it in my hometown.  I didn’t realize that he was the one salting the lox. It’s almost as if I could still taste of delicious, fresh, and juicy lox in my mouth from when I was about 10 years old. The recipe sounded simple, so I decided to try it—and it was too easy to make and too delicious to not continue making again and again.


Take a fresh salmon fillet with the skin on, wash it, pat dry it with a paper towel and put it in a glass dish. Cover the fish with salt all around about 2mm (or if you use kosher salt I use 1 layer of salt all around). Cover with a lid and keep it on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 16-22 hours. Wash off the salt, pat the fish dry with a paper towel, dip the towel in some olive oil and smear it all around the fish.  Slice fillet as you like and enjoy it with anything from a cracker to home-made blinis for Sunday brunch, or as a starter for Shabbat lunch. Enjoy!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: