Thursday, June 23, 2011

Remember that time in Madrid....

All I wanted was to use a clean bathroom.

The day I got stuck in the elevator was the same day I squeezed a good 7 kilo of oranges by hand (ok, more like 3 kilo- I had help.) Why was I squeezing more oranges than the world by hand, you ask? Well, the kitchen is pretty well equipped- we've got an industrial food processor and mixer, two nicely sized ovens and a range that shoots out a scary amount of flame when you turn it on. We've got stainless steel counters and two very large sinks. But, we don't have a juicer. Nope-all we've got is small, plastic lemon squeezer. Mostly we make do since we don't really juice much other than the odd lemon here and there. But on that particular day we had received a 7 kilo shipment of small, late-season oranges- the type of oranges that are meant to be juiced, not eaten. There was nothing to be done. The oranges had to be juiced or they would go to waste. So myself and two of the other women I work with rolled up our proverbial sleeves and went to work. We worked in shifts. We gave each other pointers on how to more efficiently juice the fruit. We encouraged one another. By the end of the day the kitchen was littered with the empty half shells of oranges. I was tired and sticky. My hand had a nasty cramp. I needed to pee.
Going to the bathroom while working in the kitchen is a tricky prospect. The bathrooms on the floor main floor (where the kitchen is located) serve a good number of people. Sometimes there's no toilet paper. Sometimes, there's no soap. Luckily, there's also a super secret bathroom up on the top floor reserved for the administration.  It's a clean bathroom with soap and toilet paper. Preferable in every way.
Because I was so tired, I opted to take the elevator up the two flights. Well, the elevator chugged it's way up the two flights and then settled. The doors opened a crack and then, didn't...I pressed on the door-open button. Nothing. I banged on the doors. Nothing. I yelled. Nothing. I pressed the alarm. Repeatedly. From downstairs I heard somebody yell-"hey, stop playing with the elevator." Luckily, I'm not claustrophobic. Luckily, also, I had cell phone reception. I called C, the head of the kitchen.
"Listen," I said, "I think I'm stuck in the elevator." I could hear her yell from all the way down the hall and up two flights of stairs.
"Abed, Tiki's stuck in the elevator!" Within minutes the elevator doors closed and it jerked to life. On the ground floor I was unceremoniously yanked into C's arms the minute the doors opened. She lifted me up and started to carry me into the kitchen.  Over her shoulder, I could see Abed, the maintenance guy, laughing. I started to laugh as well.
"C," I said, "put me down." She put me down. Through my laughter, still sticky and smelling of oranges I managed to say, "I still need to go to the bathroom."
I took the stairs.  

Citrus Semolina Cake
Adapted from The Book of New Israeli Food by Janna Gur 

If you don't like semolina cake, this cake is not going to convert you. If you do like semolina cake (and really, why wouldn't you?) this cake is lovely and nice and bright. It's worth the squeezed oranges.

6 eggs, separated
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 cup (100 grams) ground coconut
1 cup (140 grams) sifted  flour
2 1/2 cups (270 grams) semolina
1 1/2 tbl (25 grams) ground almonds
4 tsp (20 grams) baking powder
1 cup (240 ml) vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups (360 ml) orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
1 cup (240 ml) orange or lemon marmalade.

The Syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Preheat the oven to 350.
1. Beat the egg whites with the sugar until they hold stiff peaks.
2. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients.
3. In yet another bowl, beat the egg yolks, gradually adding the oil, juice, zest and marmalade
4. Stir in the dry ingredients until well combined. Gently fold in the egg whites.
5. Pour the batter into a well-greased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 30 minutes, until the cake turns golden and a toothpick comes out dry.
6. While the cake is in the oven prepare the syrup: bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Cool slightly.
7. Pour the syrup evenly over the cake. Cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Onion Queen

Somehow I have found myself designated as the onion queen of the kitchen. I mean, nobody actually said, you're the onion queen, but more often than not, when there's a pile of onions to be peeled, chopped, thrown in the food processor or otherwise dealt with, I'm the one standing in front of them. It's slightly ironic, since I'm the slowest onion peeler around. The other women in the kitchen somehow are able to peel whole onion in seconds with nothing but their thumb and a paring knife. Me, I've got to have cutting surface and a knife. I'm way too clumsy  to be trusted not to stab myself or someone else while I'm struggling to peel an onion in the air. I cut off the ends of the onion then slice it in half and use my fingers to lift off the thin, papery layer.  It takes time, man.
My recurring onion duties actually probably derive from the fact that I don't mind shedding a few tears while I'm cooking. Cooking isn't baseball- you're allowed to cry. I'm happy to let the other women in the kitchen do things that won't irritate their eyes. So, the onion queen it is. I could do worse.
I've adapted  this recipe for onion jam from a recipe I got  from our dear family friend, Lisa. Lisa is sort of a surrogate mother to me and I don't see nearly enough of her. While I"m the queen of onions, Lisa is the queen of quick, non-fussy, very, very good food.  I'm sure she got this recipe from someone or somewhere. I just don't know who, or where. In the meantime, I'm very happy to keep on calling it Lisa's Onion Jam.

Lisa's Onion Jam

This isn't really a jam. It doesn't quite congeal. I like to call it jam anyway just to be contrary.
Also- unfussy. Want to use red onions? Go for it. Don't have demerara in the house? Use white or brown sugar. Play with the proportions and flavors. Go wild.

2-3 medium onions, thinly sliced
3/4  cup demerara sugar
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
a nice pinch of salt
pinch each of freshly ground black pepper, cloves, nutmeg (optional)

1. Saute onions in oil over med-low heat until they're nice and soft like.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer on a low heat for an hour, or more if you have the time. The jam is done when the onions are soft and the liquid is slightly syrupy.
3. Burn your fingers while trying to take the pot off the heat. Hop around the kitchen a bit, swearing all the while. Run your hand under cold water.
4. Try again, this time with pot holders.
5. Transfer to empty mustard jars. Why mustard jars? Why not?

The jam will keep for quite a while in the fridge. Eat with everything. Especially in a sandwich with cheese.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Kubbe II

I was remarking to one of the women I work with the other day that I am beginning to develop a complex about my culinary heritage. My family is about as Eastern European as you can get- my dad's family was from Poland and my mom's from Hungary. In contrast, the women I work with are Yemenite, Moroccan, Bukharin and Indian. They make exotic cubano and lahukh and zhug and sambusak. My grandmother's delkelach seem so tame in comparison. In truth, I am fully aware that I have a rich culinary tradition and that I come from a long line of very good cooks. But still, it is at once exciting and intimidating to be exposed to so many new foods and traditions in such a short span of time.
The thing about traditional food is that, paradoxically, everyone's got their own version and everyone is certain that their's is the one authentic version. I'm fairly certain that the recipe for kubbe I'll be posting below could be vigorously, and legitimately, disputed. (You should just hear my grandmother and her sister debate honey cake). Traditions develop and evolve. They differ according to geographical location, religious affiliation and family. They get tweaked by whim, or necessity.  In the small amount of research I did for this post I found at least 5 different "traditional" kubbe recipes, and each one of them was unlike the other in fundamental ways. The one I am posting is the one that most closely resembles the version that A taught me. Tweak as you'd like.

Again, rolling kubbe is tedious work. Friends are recommended.

Fried Kubbe

Adapted from Rafael Cohen. Translation (loose), mine.

The Dough:
400 grams fine grain bulgur
1 tbl. paprika
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tbl. salt
3 tbl. flour
1/2 cup water

1. Place the bulgur is a bowl and cover with water. Soak for 40 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients and knead until a uniform dough is formed.
3. Pinch off about a walnut sized piece of dough and form into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the dough.

The Filling:
1/2 kilo roughly chopped beef
2-3 cups of finely chopped onion
5 stalks of celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1. In a wide pan, heat the oil. When hot, add the onion and fry for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until golden.
2. Add the celery and cook 2 minutes more.
3. Add the meat, salt and pepper. As the meat cooks, move it around with a spoon or spatula so that it breaks up.
5. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated- about 10 minutes
6. Transfer the meat to a strainer and let cool. The filling should only be used after it is dry and cool.

Making the kubbe: (even if you do not read Hebrew, I highly recommend visiting Rafael's site and having a look at his photographs. They very clearly demonstrate the correct way to fill kubbe. It is a lot less complicated than it sounds.)

-Take a ball of dough and place in the center of your palm. Using your other thumb, make a small crater in the center of the dough. Use your fingers to widen the crater, so that you create a sort  of bowl in the center of your hand. Fill the "bowl" with the filling. Cup your hand and pull the dough over the filling, closing it with the tips of your fingers. Make sure that the filling is completely covered and that there are no cracks or holes in the dough. Roll the dough into an oval shape between your hands, pinching at the ends, so that it looks a bit like a torpedo. Repeat with the rest of the dough and filling.

At this point the kubbe can be frozen and fried at a later date.

Frying the kubbe:
1. Heat oil for deep frying in a wide, deep pan.
2. Place the kubbe in the oil, and fry until they become a dark brown.
3. Remove and drain on paper towel-lined plated

Serve with tehina on the side.