Sunday, July 12, 2015

Winner, Winner


There is so much food to talk about- ice cream, more ice cream, Persian rice, a rockin' onion tart, a new grill sitting in my backyard etc. All the food, as they say around here. But first, chicken and the mystery that is Jamie Oliver.

I don't want to like Jamie Oliver as much as I do. As a sometimes grumpy introvert, I should find his relentless cheerfulness and enthusiasm annoying. Plus, he's everywhere. He's always publishing a new cookbook, starring in a new TV show, backing a new initiative, and so and on and so on. Enough. Hallas. And yet, somehow, someway I find his cheerfulness encouraging and enthusiasm genuine. His cookbooks are always good; his tv shows informative, and his initiatives causes that I believe in. I keep on waiting for him to let me down, and he keeps on hitting out of the park (insert parallel British idiom here). How in the ever-loving world does he do it? I mean, where does he find the time and the energy? Obviously he has assistants and staff and sous-chefs and probably a ghost-writer or two, but still. Still. What is this loveable thing we call Jamie Oliver? How?

Which brings me back to chicken. I've made this chicken a few times now and every time it exceeds expectations. Sure, I mean, look- basil and tomatoes and a whole head of garlic are never going to be bad, but there's nothing quite like the transformation they undergo after an hour and a half in the oven nestled between chicken pieces. I don't know how Jamie Oliver knew it, but somehow he did. Somehow he knew how garlic would mellow and sweeten and tomatoes could collapse and infuse; how the great brightness of basil could become a complex back-note, a bass-line, if you will. Maybe Jamie Oliver knows the science of it, but to me it's a little bit magical- and isn't that the point?


Chicken with Tomatoes, Basil and Garlic

Adapted very lightly from www.jamieoliver.com

4 chicken legs
4 chicken thighs
salt
pepper
a big bunch of basil, roughly chopped
a good amount (about two handfuls) of tomatoes (cherry or grape tomatoes work best)
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves but not peeled
half a red chili, chopped (optional)
olive oil
a bunch of new potatoes, sliced (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Place the chicken in one layer in a pan or oven-friendly pot. Season with salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half (or in quarters if they are very big, and add them to the pot, pushing the under the chicken. Add the basil, garlic, chili and potatoes, if using. Drizzle with a few good glugs of olive oil. Place in the oven, uncovered, and cook for and hour and a half, until the chicken skin is good and crisp and the meat is falling off the bone.

The dish can be served as is, or you can remove the meat from the bones and serve over pasta.



Monday, June 15, 2015

Three Years


This Passover I saw your mother and met your dog. This was so unexpected, so unanticipated that I did not know how to process it. As it is, earlier in the holiday, sitting together with our friends, I was struck with a wave of missing you so strong that it felt like a physical thing- we weren't even discussing anything related to you-it was just the situation, all of us around a table, snacking, talking. Then your mother, and your dog, who you loved. You talked about him a lot. There he was, nosing at my hands and pushing his head into the curve of my palm to be stroked. And your mother, well, I hadn't seen her in years and years, maybe even over a decade. She looks the same, except she doesn't because loss is one of those things that leaves its mark.

I wasn't emotionally prepared, but then again, especially now, I tend to think that we are never really prepared.

Three years.



I've been meaning to write about this ice cream for a while- since Passover, but it's fitting that I'm writing about it now, since that last time I saw Bayla was at the great Mouseline ice-cream parlor in Jerusalem. This ice cream is not quite as good as their chestnut ice cream, but it's pretty close. It's another one of Nigella Lawson's magical no-churn recipes, and it's easy as pie. If you can find chestnut puree you can make this in two easy steps. If you can't find chestnut puree, that's fine too, it's actually quite easy to make. All you need is some vacuum packed roasted chestnuts, sugar, water, and a food processor and you're good to go.

To ice cream, friends and good memories.


No-Churn Chestnut Ice-Cream

Lightly adapted from Nigella Lawson

1 cup sweetened chestnut puree (recipe below)
2 tablespoons dark rum, chocolate or coffee liquor
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1. Mix together the chestnut puree and rum or liquor. Set aside.

2. Whip the cream and confectioner's sugar until it just forms soft peaks. Fold in the chestnut puree mixture.

3. Transfer to an airtight container and freeze twelve hours or overnight.

Sweetened Chestnut Puree

Lightly adapted by Krakra58 on nigella.com

12 oz vacuum packed peeled roasted chestnuts
1 cup sugar
2 cups water
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. Combine chestnuts, sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 25-35 minutes until the water thickens and becomes syrupy and is mostly evaporated.

2. Remove from heat and strain, reserving the cooking liquid.

3. Place the chestnuts in a food processor and blend until smooth. Slowly add the reserved syrup until it is the consistency of say, pumpkin puree.  Mix in the vanilla. Proceed with ice cream recipe above. Left-over puree should be stored in the fridge, though honestly it's so good you'll probably just end up eating the leftovers right there and then.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Back in the Saddle

As some of you might know, for the past eight months I had been working part-time as a translator for a news agency. I liked the work, I loved the people, I hated the hours. I think maybe, somewhere in the world  there are people (namely, my former colleagues) who can get to work at 6am twice a week and still function as human beings. I am not one of those people. Waking up at 5:30 am screwed with my equilibrium. The work was shift-work so my early mornings did not occur on a set schedule-except for the last 4-5 months when I consistently worked every Sunday morning and one other day of the week. My sleep schedule was a wreck. I was losing evenings to early nights, and hours of other freelance work post-shift when I would wake up from my nap groggy and slow. It goes without saying that I haven't been doing much entertaining over the past few months. Weekends were a time to breath, to gather myself in quiet before I had to go stumbling out into the early morning dark again. A lot of friends have fed me over the past little while. A lot of friends provided me with books to read so I could sooth my brain. I am incredibly grateful to those lot of friends.

I started a new job about two and a half weeks ago. It's too early to tell whether I like the job or not. I'm still getting adjusted, but so far it's been pretty good. The people at my new office seem nice and the work is more interesting than I had anticipated. To be honest though, the best things about my new job so far are the hours and the location. I start work at 9:30 am, and live about a 10 minute walk from my new office. This means I can wake up at 7:30 like a normal person. I can shower, drink my coffee, get dressed, put on make-up, pack a lunch and still have time to check my email before I mosey on down the block to work. For this reason alone I hope I am able to keep this job for a long, long time.

 I have my life back. Suddenly I want to talk to my friends. I want go out. I want to cook new foods. I want to entertain. So entertain, I did. For the first time in ages, I hosted friends over the weekend. We ate outside in my garden, where surprisingly, both the strawberry and blackberry plants have survived the winter. We ate tacos. We drank cocktails with too much gin in them. We talked for long whiles. It was glorious. 10/10 would host again.

Also glorious was the alternative lentil-walnut filling I made for the tacos. I had originally planned to just make fish tacos, but two of my guests hated fish, so I needed another, non-meat filling for the tacos. Generally, I am wary of foods that are not meat but claim to be like meat. Meat is meat. Other food is other food. But I found this recipe on Food52 and generally Food52 has never let me down, so I figured I would give it a shot. It was by far the most popular dish on the table. And sure, it doesn't look like much-but damn, is it good-meaty and tangy- and pretty much everything you want to put in your taco.

Lentil Walnut Taco Filling

Lightly adapted from Gena Hamshaw on Food52

1 1/4 cups walnuts, toasted
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove of garlic
1/2 cup tightly packed sun-dried tomatoes (oil packed is best)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder (or more, to taste)
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 cups cooked brown lentils

1. Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Add the soy sauce, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, spices and vinegar and pulse a few more times. Add the lentils and pulse until the mixture is incorporated. Hamshaw says the mixture should look crumbly-mine was smooth and had the texture of pate.  Serve in tortillas or taco shells with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, slaw and any other fun taco accouterments of your choosing.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Chaos Rising


Passover is chaos. There really is no other word for it, the explosion of noise and activity that lands on my parent's house over the holiday. It's inevitable and there's nothing to do but to embrace it and hold on tight.

I always have big plans for what I want to cook over Passover. My mother and I begin swapping recipes months in advance and I'm always looking for the most exciting, interesting things to make. My mother, on the other hand, is more practical, and is always looking for the things that are the easy and traditional. This year, our positions are reversed. I sent my mother the easiest, simplest recipe for roast I have ever encountered. It is also one of the best. My mother said, well, I was thinking about lamb if I could find it.

I envision my mother's Passover kitchen-long and narrow. Someone, one my nieces, is asking for a sweet omelet for breakfast. Another wants yogurt. A third is asking if they can help with the meringues, because I am always making meringues. My brother is making coffee. My hands are probably coated in sugar, or egg whites, or something. This is Passover. I think, lamb. Yes, lamb is good. I love lamb, though I'm really the only one in my family who does. Lamb should be seared, just right, then eased  between carrots and potatoes and onion and garlic and red wine. I envision myself standing over the stove searing that lamb, the oil jumping and hitting my skin, while my sister is reaching over me putting up a pot of potatoes to boil and my mother wants to check on something in the oven. I think, nah. Why don't we do away with the searing, and the onions and potatoes and carrots. Let's just open a can of tomatoes, leave the garlic unpeeled and just stick everything in the oven. It doesn't all have to be chaos and noise.

 Let's just do that.

Happy Passover.

Braised Beef with Tomatoes and Garlic

From Smitten Kitchen

28 ounces canned tomatoes
1 3 lb chuck roast
1 head of garlic, cloves separated, but unpeeled.

1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. If using whole canned tomatoes, give em a good chop. If not, place the roast in a heavy oven-proof pot or casserole. Pour the tomatoes over the meat and then add the garlic. Season well with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and braise for 3-4 hours, until tender. Serve sliced or just falling apart with the sauce and garlic.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

DIY

Continuing a trend from my previous post, I am not very good at this whole "do it yourself" thing. I'd like to be making my own jam, but I'm also afraid of giving everybody botulism. I've made my own ricotta cheese a few times, and it's been pretty good, but I can't really find a recipe that I like enough to keep on ruining perfectly good cotton towels for (don't get me started on the lack of cheesecloth around here).Once, I tried to make a necklace out of an old t-shirt, because Pinterest said it was easy. I don't want to talk about the results. But the internet promised homemade Kahlua  with no waiting time, and it was almost Purim, and I was working from home and I needed to procrastinate take a break, what else was I going to do? It was the perfect procrastinating break recipe, after all- just a few ingredients, and almost zero work time. I was dubious, but I figured, why not?

I have never gotten so many requests for a recipe before. It's possible that said requests were the result of inebriation and not the quality of the actual liquor, but having tasted the liquor while sober, I have to say it was pretty gosh-darn good. It was sweet without being cloying and had a deep coffee flavor that somehow managed to not be overwhelming. I even got a few coffee-haters (heathens) to drink it and like it. Beat that, suckers.

So here, by request, is Homemade Kahlua:
Adapted from The Graceful Kitchen

I cut this recipe in half, because 4 cups of liquor is a lot if you don't have empty bottles to store it in. Feel free to use the original measurements.

1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant coffee
1 cup vodka (don't waste the good stuff on this-use something cheap)
1/2 tablespoon vanilla extract


1. In a saucepan, stir together the sugar, water and coffee. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 2-2 1/2 hours until you are left with a dark thick coffee-flavored syrup. Cool.

2. When cool add the vodka and the vanilla extract and bottle.

Happy Drinking!



Monday, February 9, 2015

Simple Living


I have a reputation for being a little bit of a fussy cook. Certainly I have a reputation as a fussy baker. Now, fussy is a pretty relative term. All things being equal, I think I'm pretty un-fussy. In fact one might say, I am the opposite of fussy. I won't decorate cakes. I won't do writing. The last time I tried to make a frosting flower it came out looking like a sad lump of pink. My double layer cakes are often crooked.But I think what people tend to mean when they say I am fussy, is that I don't often make anything that can be just dumped in a bowl/pan/pot. The recipes I make often have multiple steps and use numerous cooking utensils. I have been known on occasion to even brown butter in recipes that do not call for browned butter, just because I can. Now, this is not a value judgment. No one way of cooking is better than the other. It is simply the way I cook. I like the meditative qualities of cooking and baking-so for me, extra time in the kitchen is something I value. Other people don't find cooking as calming, or don't have the time to spend puttering around, trying new things. That's fine, too.

The cake (which is honestly more a bar than a cake) I am sharing with you today is about as un-fussy as you can get. It is quick, easy and endlessly adaptable. The recipe is my mom's and it's one of those cakes that showed up a lot in my childhood-along with the ubiquitous Wacky Cake. Often times my mother would make it with apples, though I seem to remember that sometimes it appeared in a blueberry version. When I made it a few weeks ago,for the first time in forever, I used strawberries and rhubarb, because that's what I had in the house. But really, probably any fruit would do. I have a bunch of cranberries sitting in my freezer and I have a feeling they're going to be my next experiment. It'll probably be delicious. That's not bragging. It's just that this cake is really, really hard to screw up. It is not much more than a crumble of flour, sugar, oil and baking powder that gets pressed into a pan, covered with fruit, and then topped with the remaining crumble. The result is more than the sum of its parts. What more could you ask from a cake?

My Mom's All-Purpose Crumble Cake
Adapted from Ricky Krakowski

The Crumble:

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Fruit:
6 medium apples, sliced, or about 3 cups of your desired fruit
1/2 cup sugar
a pinch of cinnamon (or any other spices you feel like playing around with)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 f. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the egg and oil and mix until crumbly. In another bowl, toss the fruit with the sugar and desired spices.

3. Grease a 9x13 pan. Press 3/4 of the crumble into the pan. Spread fruit over the dough, then top the fruit with the remaining crumble. Do not press. Allow it to remain pebbly and sandy. Bake for about 30-35 minutes until the top is golden and the fruit is jammy and bubbling. Cool and cut into squares. Serve.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

There and Back Again


It's been a while. I have been there and back again. And sick with endless cold/sinus thing. And slammed with work. I've barely had a moment to stop and find the headspace to just write, which is sad, because it feels like I have eaten all the food over past month or so. In Chicago, I discovered possibly the best coffee I have ever tasted from a small little company called Dark Matter coffee. It was a revelation. In New York, I had the best lamb chop I have ever had in my life, and learned the smoky tang of a cranberry marshmallow at Pardes, only the best kosher restaurant ever. But these are not important.

This is what is important: a meal eaten on a fold out table in my parent's room as my mom recovers from knee surgery. Talking with old friends-on the couch, in a car, on the subway, for five minutes, outside of a store. Sitting in the back of minivan, listening to my nieces argue over Harry Potter. It's coming back to my grandmother's house, cold and tired and full and sitting down to a hot cup of tea and cocosh. That's what's important. The moments in between. The just being together.

 I made these muffins for my mom, because she asked for muffins and I couldn't resist the fresh cranberries when I saw them at Trader Joe's. I've since made them again using rhubarb instead of cranberries, thinking they would impart a similar tartness, but to be honest, it's better with the cranberries. Cranberries are always better. I take these muffins to work with me now. I eat them blearily in the early morning. I think of my mother. I wonder if she is still eating the ones I left in her freezer. It's a way of being together, sharing a quiet moment, even when we're not.


Cranberry-Orange Muffins

Lightly adapted from Williams Sonoma

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one orange
1 egg
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup of pecans, chopped.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners. Whisk together the flour, sugars, baking powder salt and orange zest.  In another bowl, mix the egg, oil, milk and orange juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix until just combined. Fold in the cranberries and the nuts. Spoon batter into the tin (I find that an ice cream scoop works well for this).

2. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Eat.