Thursday, August 25, 2011

All by myself

I was standing out front by myself, doling out food during service, when it hit me. I wasn't the new girl anymore. It was my third round of service (there are generally 3 per day),  every single one of them had been done alone, and that didn't bother me in the slightest. When I first started in the kitchen I was slightly intimidated by service. There are a lot of people to feed in a small amount of time. Also there is the lunch lady. The lunch lady's job is to make sure everyone gets what she feels is the appropriate amount of food. My job is to make sure that everyone gets food. Sometimes we disagree on the definition of the appropriate amount of food. At the beginning I was positively afraid of her. She can be an imposing lady. For a while, I would try to hide behind C while doing service, just to avoid her biting commentary. But eventually I realized that the only way service was going to work for me was for me to grow a backbone and stand my ground. So I grew a little backbone and tried my hardest to stand my ground and the lunch lady and I have grown to respect each other. I daresay, we might even like each other. That's what happens when you're no longer the new girl. 

I have a complicated relationship with recipes and cookbooks. For me, the word of some cookbook writers like Hazan, Waters, or Lebowitz, for instance, is the gospel truth. I will not veer an iota from their recipe. If I don't have, or can't use a certain ingredient listed in their recipe; or, if I can't manage a technique, I won't make it. On the hand, there are other writers- Bittman, Oliver, Hesser, to name a few- where their recipes serve me more as guidelines than instructions. I liberally substitute ingredients and change things around. Maybe it's a generational thing; or a gender one; or a stylistic issue, but some writers I will tweak and others I will not.  My tweaking of a recipe is not a qualitative judgment. I value my Bittman cookbook just as much as I do my Hazan.  But these are things I have been thinking about lately. When do you change a recipe? How do you know when  to use your creativity and instincts in cooking, and when to lay those things aside and follow directions? When is a recipe so changed that it leaves the domain of the original writer and enters yours? For instance, the muffins I made today were based on a Kim Boyce recipe, but I left out the ginger, swapped in yogurt for sour cream, browned the butter and added vanilla. So is that recipe still Kim Boyce's, or mine? Will there be a time when I will pick up my copy of The Art of Simple Food and not follow a recipe as it is written? (And if I do, will Ms. Waters hunt me down?)

The following recipe for plum crumble, or Plumble, as it has affectionately come to be known, is the bastardization of a few recipes. Mostly it is part of my ongoing quest to find and create non-dairy dessert recipes that can be served with a meat meal in accordance with Kosher dietary laws. Baking without butter sucks. The fruit part of this crumble is based on a Martha Rose Shulman recipe printed in Cooking Light in 2004. The topping of that crumble calls for (among other things) butter and oats. It's a great crumble, but not for a meat meal. So taking my inspiration from an apple crumb cake my mother makes that calls for oil, but didn't have the recipe for on hand,  I used the bottom of Amanda Hesser's peach tart from Cooking for Mr. Latte (which also calls for oil) as the topping for my crumble- subbing some of the white flour for oat flour to replace the oats in the Shulman recipe. (Confusing, I know). So without further ado, Plumble.

Liberally adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser  and Martha Rose Shulman in Cooking Light July, 2004

Ok, actually there is more ado. Some notes. One- the topping is not very sweet, if you would like it sweeter, make it so. Two- the topping is kind of crumbly flaky. Three- the topping is sparse. Four-I would love to try this with olive oil, or coconut oil (if I could get my hands on some). Five-there is no five.

Preheat the oven to 375

The Topping:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 oat flour
1 1/2 tsp white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbl soy milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil

 Sift together dry ingredients. Add the soy milk and vegetable oil, mix until crumbly.

The Fruit:
8-9 plums, sliced into about 16 cresents
1/4 cup sugar
3 tbl dry red wine
1 tsp vanilla (or a 4 inch vanilla bean, if you have one)
zest of one orange

Combine  ingredients in a bowl.


Place the fruit in a 8 inch baking dish. Scatter the topping in clumps over the fruit. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes, until the plums are bubbly and the topping is browned.

Also- New and exciting changes are coming to Hungry Souls soon. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Last one in makes the coffee

There is an unspoken rule in the kitchen, and that is, the last one in makes the coffee. If you're late that's the price you have to pay. You have to stand around waiting for the water to boil, trying to remember how each person likes their coffee, while the other women go about their tasks. In the grand scheme of things, this is not at all a harsh penalty for tardiness, but personally, I try to avoid it. Somehow, I always manage to get someone's coffee wrong- too weak, too strong, not enough milk, too much milk, etc. etc. I hate that.

Morning coffee usually happens about a half an hour to an hour after we've arrived. It's a nice little respite. By then on most days, huge pots of water have been put up to boil, one round of vegetables has been peeled and a tray or two of something has been counted out and is ready to go in the oven. Things haven't gotten chaotic yet. Occasionally, one of the women will bring in a baked good or some homemade jam and we'll have a snack with our coffee. Mostly though, it's just coffee and conversation.

The following recipe for cold-brew coffee is probably the best cold coffee you will ever have. I've been making it every week this summer and have not yet gotten tired of it. So, even if you don't drink coffee (crazy person) I urge you, make a batch of this. It will change your life. 

Cold Brew Coffee with Cinnamon and Cardamom 

Adapted from ErinH via Food52

Coffee Base:

2/3 cup coarsely ground coffee
3 cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon
a couple of cardamom pods, lightly crushed with the flat of a knife
2-3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, depending on how sweet you like your coffee

Combine all ingredients in a jar, or tupperware. Cover, and refrigerate 8 hours, or overnight.
Line a fine-mesh strainer with two layers of paper towels. Set over a large bowl and strain the coffee into the bowl. You should have about 2 cups of coffee base Pour coffee into a jar, or if you're me, an empty orange juice bottle, for more convenient storage.

To Serve:
Fill a glass 1/2 to 3/4 of the way with coffee. Add milk. Drink. To quote ErinH- die of happiness.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Quiet Day in the Kitchen

Not all days in the kitchen are chaos and havoc and catering events. Some days are slow moving and languid. On those days we do a lot of sitting and drinking coffee. Occasionally one or two of us will reluctantly get up and do service.  The other will wipe down the counter- again- and then sit down again. We talk and linger and then leave early. Usually, a quiet day is the function of a number of things: a) the amount of prep done the day before. b) the amount of prep needed for the next day, and c) the other women you are working with. All these things need to fall in line. There has to have been enough prep done the day before that the food can be put up in a short amount of time; the amount/type of prep that needs to be done for the next day needs to be small and not work intensive, and most importantly, you need to be working with women who work well together. Sometimes the stars align and this happens.
What I like most about days like those is actually the moment we leave. The kitchen is spotless and still and hushed in the darkness. Peering in from the outside, I am filled with a strange and overpowering sense of satisfaction and pride. Something about the slowness of day has allowed me to savor it; to really let the experience sink into my bones. Then to door closes and clicks shut. The sunlight is very bright.

When I think of slow days, I think of braising. I've already mentioned the fact that I love to braise. I will braise the heck out of anything I can think of.  I love the way food is transformed through braising- how it slowly mellows and deepens and becomes something else entirely. I love that braising takes time. I love sitting in front of my computer, doing my work, knowing that something is simmering lazily on my stovetop.

Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Lemon and Figs

Adapted from Bon Apetit, Dec. 1996 via Epicurious

Figs are just coming into season here in Israel. There is a hedge of fig trees on my way to my local supermarket, and the smell alone is enough to make you go on a fig buying frenzy. The original recipe calls for dried figs, so if you don't have access to fresh figs, you can use those.

  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 3 1/2- to 3 3/4-pound chicken, cut into 12 pieces

  • 4 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped onions
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  1 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 8 figs, cut in half lengthwise
1. Place flour in large resealable plastic bag. Season flour with salt and pepper. Add chicken to bag; seal bag. Shake bag to coat chicken lightly with flour.

2. Heat 2 teaspoons oil in large heavy pot over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add chicken and sauté until brown on all sides, about 7 minutes per batch. Transfer chicken to plate. Add remaining 2 teaspoons oil to pot and reduce heat to medium. Add onions and garlic and sauté until golden and tender, about 10 minutes. Add in wine, simmer for a few minutes while scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Stir in broth, 1/2 cup cilantro and lemon juice and bring to boil. Add figs and chicken with any accumulated juices to pot. Cover and simmer until chicken is tender, about 45 minutes. Alternatively, you could put this in a pre-heated oven at 325, also for 45 minutes.

3. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken to bowl and cover with foil to keep warm. Boil juices in pot until thickened to sauce consistency, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro over and serve.