Saturday, September 24, 2011

Rosh Hashana Interlude

This year has been a year of changes. At this point last year I was a Master's student in Jewish history with a part time job at an academic research project. Now, I am no longer a student, but a magistra. I am leaving my job at the project. I edit, translate and write. I work in a kitchen. I'm opening a business. I have a food blog. It has been a year in transit.
Change is wonderful. And stressful. And wonderful. It's helpful to have absolutes. My absolutes have been my family and my friends. They tolerate my highs and lows. They buy my muffins and give advice. They are shoulders to lean on, both literally and figuratively. For that I thank them.
The recipe for stuffed fish below is another absolute in my life. For as long  as I can remember it has been my favorite thing that my mother makes on Rosh Hashana. And when, earlier this week, I called my mother for some menu-planning advice, the only two things we could think of that she consistently makes on the Jewish New Year is this fish and my great-aunt's honey cake. (Which is entirely weird, because if there's one thing that my family does it's food traditions).  Because this is a traditional sort of recipe, the measurements are sort of vague. We've been making it for so long, that by now, we can do it by sight and feel. If you find yourself slightly flustered by the lack of measurements, take a deep breath and trust yourself. It's a good dish, this. It won't lead you wrong.
May the coming year be a year of peace and blessings and as sweet as honey.

My Mother's Stuffed Fish

1 largish firm fleshed whitefish, butterflied.

vegetable oil
 white button mushrooms, sliced (as much, or as little as you like)
2 onions, chopped
freshly ground pepper
a bit of water
1 egg

5 tbl mayonaisse
7 tbl ketchup
1 tbl lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350

Saute the onions in the oil until translucent. Add the mushrooms. Cook until they are browned. Add salt and pepper to taste, and then deglaze the pan with a bit of water. Transfer to a bowl and let cool a bit. Beat an egg into the mushroom-onion mixture. Add the breadcrumbs in slowly (I'd say start with about a 1/2 cup) until the mixture begins to hold together and look like stuffing. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

In a seperate bowl, mix together the ingredients for the sauce.

Loosly fill the cavity of the with stuffing. Close the fish and brush the sauce over the top.

Bake for an hour* until the fish is translucent and the stuffing has set.

* My mother usually stuffs a big fish- one that fits into an 11x13 pan. If you are using a smaller fish (or two smaller fish), adjust the time accordingly.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Battle Wounds

"...they come not single spies, but in battalions" Claudius, Hamlet IV.5

I do not speak of sorrows, but of life. I find that Claudius's maxim on the sorrows of the world, applies also to life in general. When life happens, it happens all at once. It comes in battalions. Life in the kitchen is no exception.

There are two sinks in the kitchen- a small one in the fore-room where we wash our private dishes- the mugs we use for coffee, etc- and a fairly large one in the prep room where we dump  our loads of vegetables to be washed and sorted. The big sink is a little bit essential. That week, it was also a little bit broken and by a little bit broken I mean the handle snapped off and couldn't be reattached. We would have to manage with one small sink. On a normal day, that would be difficult but within the range of not-chaos inducing. On that particular day, R. happened to be in kitchen prepping for a private catering event that she had later that day. This meant we had one more hand in the kitchen, which was useful, but it also meant that there was a whole lot more produce to wash and general stuff to be done than there usually is. We were all a tad bit uptight that day. Our dishwasher was testier than usual.  C. cut herself. And then, after, having been instructed to keep an eye on some cooking vegetables, I completely forgot and ended up with a nice pot of burnt. Broken sink. Burnt vegetables. Bleeding cook.  At that point I excused myself to the front to do service, both to avoid the wrath of the dishwasher, who hates nothing more than burnt pots, and to minimize my ability to screw something else up.

While doing service, as often happens, I ran out of whatever protein we were serving that day. I called to the dishwasher to pull me another pan out of the oven. He complied. He leaned in. I moved my arm back and felt a sharp pain on my upper arm. At first I thought I had cut myself on the sharp edge of the pan. I lifted my other hand up to feel. No blood. I continued service. Later, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realized what I thought was a cut, was really a nice long burn. My first real kitchen burn. My first battle scar. For a few weeks I walked around in short sleeves as often as I could, showing off to myself a little bit. For all my tough-guy posturing though, I soon discovered, that a) it was uncomfortable and b) it was also healing quite nicely. I barely have a scar.

All the while, R., old hand that she is, was calmly prepping chicken wings, laying them in pans, pouring on sauce and sprinkling them with sesame seeds. Save her car breaking down on the side of a busy highway while transporting food to an important event (another story for another time), there is very little that rattles R. So in honor of the unflappable R, chicken wings.

Grilled Chicken Wings in Sumac
As usual adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food  by Janna Gur
(what can I say, I like this book)

Sumac is widely used spice in Middle East. Less so, in the States. It is deep, ruby red in color and sort of salty and tart. You can use it in marinades and dressings, as its used here. Or sprinkle it over hummus, or fatoush salad. It pairs nicely with thyme. You can probably find it in your local Middle Eastern grocery store.

For about 25 wings:

1/2 C olive oil
3 tbl sumac
Salt and pepper

1. Clean and prep your wings. Remove stray feathers and break off the tips. Save them for stock.

2.  Mix together the olive oil, sumac, salt and pepper and pour over the wings. Cover and marinate for at least 4 hours.

3. Heat your grill until quite hot. Grill the wings for 10-15 per side, about 30 minutes total, until they are done and nice and crispy on the outside. Alternatively, if you do not own a grill, do not wish to grill or are a non-Chicagoan in a Chicago winter (real Chicagoans don't let a little bit of snow stop them) you can grill the wings under a broiler of an oven set to 425 F.

Monday, September 12, 2011

At last!

Hungry Souls' menu has been posted. Available muffins include Peach-Oat (with brown butter and vanilla), Mango-Cardamom and Whole Wheat Apple.
I will be accepting orders starting Oct. 2.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Peeling beets is cooking too

So, dear readers, remember how last week I mentioned a deadline? Well, that deadline ate my life. It kicked my butt. All the grand plans I had for the week, menu posting included, got entirely decimated. I am a deadline zombie. But the menu will get posted. Promise.
* * *
B. is the head of the entire נשים מבשלות program. She co-teaches a course on business management, but mostly her job is to urge us, cajole us and nudge us into opening a business. Sometimes, when I am not in the mood to be urged, cajoled or nudged, it can be annoying. But the honest truth is that without B. I would not be doing this. I would have given up ages ago. But B. has pestered me and pushed me. She won't let go. She won't let go because it's her job not to let go, and she won't let go because she absolutely and completely believes in me and my dream. I tend to think that B. has an unshakable faith in the ability of women to do what they set their minds to. But more than that, she believes in the importance of women doing the things the set their minds to.
B., ironically enough, is not a cook. She stops by the kitchen almost every day just to see what's going on and to make sure that things are moving smoothly, but she would much rather have someone cook for her, than do it herself. One week I was standing in front of a tub of beets, staining my hands red as I peeled them, B. popped her head into the kitchen. 
"Why is she peeling beets?" she asked, referring to me. "She should be cooking. She needs the practice." 
So, I reluctantly removed myself from beet duty and went to do something else. What it was I can't really recall, but I'm sure it was more cooking-y. I was sort of irked, but only afterward, when I was in the pool (doesn't everybody do their best thinking in the pool?), did I realize what I had wanted to respond to B.-peeling beets is cooking too. 
Prep work is an integral part of cooking. There's no way around it. Those beets need to get peeled one way or another. To be honest, I don't much mind it. (Except for washing lettuce. I hate washing lettuce.) I find the repetitiveness soothing. I like to touch my food, to feel its texture and weight. To get a sense of it. Part of cooking is learning your food. Part of cooking is prep. 

I have been wanting to tell you guys about this salad for forever, but was holding out till pomegranate season. Lo, and behold, pomegranate season is upon us now and so here it is- my absolutely favorite recipe from the oft cited Book of New Israeli Food, by Janna Gur.

Beetroot and Pomegranate Salad

As usual, notes: While pomegranate concentrate sounds like a very exotic ingredient, it can actually be found in almost any Israeli supermarket. It'll be near the ketchup and other sauces. Also, Gur calls for the beets to be boiled, but I vastly prefer my beets roasted. If you have a fear of roasted beets, by all means, boil the suckers.

3-4 medium beets
2 tbl pomegranate concentrate
2-3 tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 (or to taste) dried chili peppers, crushed
coarse sea salt
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cilantro, roughly chopped
1 cup pomegranate seeds

Preheat the oven to 375

1. Wrap each beet individually in its only little tightly-sealed packet of tin foil. Place in the oven and roast for 45 minutes to an hour, until the beets can be pierced easily with a knife (exact cooking times will vary). Remove beets and when they are cool enough to touch, hold each beet (one at a time) between your hands, and pull the tin foil down, scraping the peel as you go. The peel should slip right off. Let the beets cool completely and then cut into a small dice.

2. Mix the beets with the pomegranate concentrate, lemon juice, chili peppers and salt. Set aside for about 15 minutes. 

3. Add the cilantro and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle olive oil on top. Serve.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Bigger than my head

What you see above is not a distended watermelon; it is a pumpkin. It is the pumpkin that was bigger than my head. We conquered that pumpkin. It was actually a lot easier than it would seem. Pumpkins are surprisingly soft on the inside. How we came to acquire said gourd is no mystery either. The kitchen has suppliers. Sometimes they supply us with pumpkins bigger than my head. We made soup with it. The type of soup that goes over couscous. It's a good soup, made with summer squash, chickpeas, onions, cilantro and turmeric. But that soup is not the subject of this post.
There are a few other things in my life right now that feel bigger than my head and one of them is this: in a few days time there will be a new page on Hungry Souls entitled "Food For The Eating". On that page there will be a menu and some rules (no kicking, no biting, etc). The baked goods on that menu, which will include muffins, cookies, cakes and tarts will be for sale. The menu will change with the seasons, but the basic outline will remain (there will always be muffins).

I've been planning this for a while. After all, the point of my work in the kitchen is to prepare me for the world of culinary businessdom. And yet, (things one probably shouldn't admit in public), I don't feel at all prepared. It feels entirely bigger than my head; more than I can chew; water up to my neck. So this morning, after having spent most of my week ensconced in front of my computer working on an urgent translating project (deadlines!), I went into my kitchen and made Kim Boyce's Strawberry Barley Scones. I bruised butter into soft flour. I felt the smoothness of the rich dough between my hands. I moved slowly. I ate two scones with my coffee, hot and buttery, directly from the oven. I remembered why I love this and why I want to do this. So here it is, Hungry Souls' other page, Food For The Eating. Let me feed you.

Strawberry Barley Scones lightly adapted from Good to the Grain  by Kim Boyce

Here's the thing about Kim Boyce's wonderful book. Sometimes it is a pain in the butt, because sometimes you get it into your head that you really, really need to make Chocolate Chocolate Cookies, but you don't have any spelt flour in the house and you don't feel like dragging yourself all the way to the shuk to get some. Sometimes, you realize you have no idea what kamut flour is, nor have you ever seen teff flour despite the large Ethiopian population in Israel. Usually, in situations like that, I just say screw it, and make the recipe with whatever I have on hand. But not with Kim Boyce's recipes. When she says use barley flour, I use barley flour.  It just so happened that I had barley flour in the house since I have been playing around with barley-mango muffins, so I was able to make these scones. If you find yourself in a similar situation, that is to say with barley flour in the house, please do make these. They are spectacular.
One more thing (ok, two more things)- I find that Boyce's recipes often have too much salt. This may have to do with Israeli coarse salt versus American coarse salt. It just seems saltier. I've left the salt as written, but if you're in Israel you may want to cut it down significantly.  The second thing is that though these are Barley Strawberry Scones, I didn't use strawberry jam. But that's really neither here nor there.

Dry Mix:

1 cup plus 2 tbl barley flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Wet Mix:

4 oz (1 stick, 113.4 grams) cold, unsalted butter
1/2 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 egg

1/2 cup Strawberry Jam (or any other jam that suits your fancy)
1 tbl butter, melted
1 tbl sugar

1. Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350. Rub a baking sheet with butter. Sift together dry ingredients
2. Cut the butter into 1/2 inch pieces and add them to the dry mixture, rubbing the butter between your fingers until it is in small bits (somewhere between grains of rice and small peas). Do this quickly so the butter doesn't soften too much
3. Whisk together the buttermilk/yogurt and egg and pour into dry mixture. Mix until barely combined.
4. Turn the dough onto a well floured surface, and fold it together a few times. Divide the dough into 2 pieces. With floured hands, pat each piece into a disk about 3/4 inch thick and 7 inches in diameter.
5. Cover one disk with jam and top with the other disk. Press down lightly. Brush the dough with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges and carefully place them on the baking sheet.
6. Bake the scones for 22-26 minutes.
7. Eat warm with coffee (or tea, if that's your thing).