Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Jewish Flu Shots

It's cold and flu season, and nearly everyone I know is sick or has just been sick. As a result, I live in constant anticipation of catching "it." Is my throat sore, or am I just thirsty? Is that a sinus headache or a hangover? Do I have a fever, or am I just allergic to work? Today really did feel like the onset of something so I decided to break out the emergency chicken-soup kit.

Back in the 90's, I was going to open up a food cart selling Jewish soul food (always ahead of my time). To help in my research, my mother compiled all the recipes for matzo ball soup from herself, my grandmothers, and my great-grandmother. It is no longer in pristine condition, but nothing as useful and important as this should remain unmarred. I usually choose my matzo ball recipe based on yield and time commitment, so tonight, solo and lazy, I followed Grandma Elma's in the top right corner.

Grandma Elma made a coveted and impenetrably guarded chicken barley soup, a recipe she took to her grave. My mother, her daughter in law, thinks her secret was "too much salt." I don't remember Grandma Elma's matzo balls, probably because nobody would ever let her make anything but her signature soup. Her matzo ball recipe is as basic as it gets:
2 eggs
2 Tbs chicken fat
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup matzo meal
1 tsp salt
let stand at least 1/2 hour
There is no indication of cooking time, I guess that everyone knows you boil matzo balls 30-40 minutes, the shorter the cooking time the denser they will be. I switched out the water for club soda, because I had it. I also added the slightest amount of dill to the mixture, and should have added extra pepper and even the tiniest amount of nutmeg.

While the balls cooked I heated up the broth with carrots and onions. I made this stock in the early fall. It was very rich and authentically Jewish tasting, so I labeled it so:
Grandma Elma didn't like that many people, but she did like me. And if she were alive I think she would endorse my stock. The secret was chicken necks.

Here's the thing: you make matzo ball soup or chicken soup for other people, you don't make it for yourself. If you yourself are sick, you open up a can of Progresso. You don't go to the trouble of making yourself homemade matzo balls. Why? Because you can't be bothered to think of things like, "it would really be special with just the tiniest amount of nutmeg" or, "I don't have any schmaltz, better render some before I get started." Who are you trying to impress?

I didn't have schmaltz. I did have some duck fat. The matzo balls were overcooked, and could have used that nutmeg, but delicious anyway. I ate this while doing my W-2's for Half & Half, the very last step in finishing up 2010 and the business.
The china, incidentally, was Grandma Elma's. (Grandma, if you're reading this somewhere: Yes, it's true that most the salad plates smashed in the shipping, and I have accidentally broken most of the dessert bowls, but I'm pretty sure I can order Noritake replacements on the internet).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

RIP Bears/Jets

At the risk of offending Laura, I was sad to learn today that we would not be having a Bears/Jets Super Bowl XLV. I was hoping to make some Chicago-style beef sandwiches vs meatballs. Or Chicago hot dogs vs. NY pizza. Or Chicago pizza vs. NY hot dogs. Before my dreams were killed, I prepared a "good luck" apple pie for the Bears/Packers game and for National Pie Day.

Meanwhile, I've had a breakthrough since my last post about football: I kind of get it. Once I finally understood the concept of "downs", it all started to click...more or less. Which is great, or would be great, if one of "my teams" had made it through today's gauntlet. Oh well, now I have a couple weeks to plan a Green Bay/Pittsburgh menu (hint: I've had a hankering for party subs).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Babytime BBQ

My friends Mary and Niki had themselves a set of twins last month. The least I can do is sign up to bring meals to the new sleep deprived moms. In the years since my friends started having babies, I've noticed that not only have new baby meal deliveries become the norm, they've also become hyper-efficiently organized through the magic of facebook and google doc spreadsheets. As a Virgo who was raised by a librarian, I actually think I might be pretty good at developing some kind of software/iphone app for post-natal baby meals...hmmm...

In any event, it was my turn on Sunday and I still had some spare ribs from last year's pig. I slow cooked them in the oven with this 6 hour recipe but accidentally put the smoked paprika in the rub and made a bbq/finishing sauce with the remaining meat juice, yellow mustard and worcestershire sauce. Trust me, it was better than it sounds. I made some really simple braised mustard greens and then got weird with my starch component: butternut squash mac and cheese.

Now this came to me as a result of 1) feeling like new parents need all the vitamins they can get and squash is full of those and 2) having a ton of frozen squash in the freezer from my CSA. I'm not, nor do I want to be perceived as someone who likes to cut the fat out of regular recipes, but it really was good with half the cheese and milk that would normally go into mac and cheese. And most of all, I love how it looks like it's made out of artificial cheese!

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
(serves 2 new parents)

3 cups cooked elbows (I used whole wheat from about 1 cup dry)
1 cup cooked winter squash*
knob of butter (that's 1 or 2 tablespoons) plus more for pan
1/2 cup milk
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 cup (more or less) grated cheese--your choice!
breadcrumbs or panko

Preheat oven to 400 and prepare your pan by greasing it with some butter. Then in a 2-4 qt saucepan, melt the butter. Add the milk, then the pureed squash, and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the cheese might be salty too. Add cheese and continue to whisk so that it looks like queso cheese sauce. (You can also do squash then cheese then season--maybe that makes more sense.) Fold into the noodles, and pour into baking dish. Sprinkle on a little cheese for the top, breadcrumbs or panko, and then dot with a little butter. Bake for 30 minutes, until sides are bubbling and surface is golden brown.

*if you're starting from scratch, half and scrape out the core of a butternut, kabocha, acorn or any other hard winter squash. Rub with a little oil, roast at 425 until flesh is super soft. Let cool, then peel and puree in food processor. Remainder can be frozen for soups or whatevs.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

coastal Living 2, part iv

On New Year's Day we left the 80's and said hello to the 90's with this fusion benedict:

Buttermilk biscuits with ham, spinach, poached eggs and a ridiculous curry sauce from Vij's . Then we watched a few episodes of The Golden Girls, cleaned up the cabin, and returned to 2011. To me, it makes perfect sense to celebrate the ascent of a new decade with nostalgia for times past...but all the same, I think I can wait awhile to find out how I will remember the last ten years.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Coastal Living 2, part iii

Our totally 80's New Years Dinner. We started around 2pm with a couple rounds of gin fizzes: my favorite new holiday tradition. And because the fizz itself dates back to the 1880's, it qualifies in our 80's meal. Around 6 we began the meal's preparations with salami, cheese and triscuits...honestly, is there really a better cracker out there than the original triscuit? One of my earliest memories is of hiding underneath the dining room table, eating triscuits and cream cheese. This was the 1970's, but triscuits are timeless.

I shucked a dozen oysters with my beloved oyster knife...

And then proceeded to defile them by attempting to go "Rockefeller" via improvisation. Sometimes, this just doesn't work. To be fair, they weren't disgusting. Storm said, "They taste like pizza!", which, bless him, he meant as a compliment. I'm not showing the photo now; maybe after I've perfected them I'll do a 'before and after post' on Oysters Rockefeller, but let's move onto our second course, Dungeness crab cocktail:

Also, please admire the last vestiges of my NYC manicure, inspired by the Rothkos at MoMA.

Our main course was Penne alla Vodka and broccolini with sausage, both flawlessly executed by Storm:

There was much debate over how much pasta to make for 6 people. The recipe called for one pound and served 6, but we all felt like we'd want more and be sad when there was no more to be had. Of course, 2 pounds was waaay too much. Multiple glasses of champagne and a few more rounds of gin fizzes didn't give any of us the kind of judgement needed to abstain from more pasta. By 11:40 we were drunk, painfully full, and sacked out on couches watching the Bourne Ultimatum on a 13" TV. But our midnight toast was so inspired, I feel completely redeemed: Alka Seltzer with crushed ice and lemon wedges:

Dessert really should have been a nice white chocolate mouse with raspberry coulis, but instead it was warm chocolate chip cookies and Patrick's homemade candy bars. And that was New Year's Eve 2011.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Coastal Living 2, part ii

For our New Years weekend, we somehow ended up with the theme of "80's Cuisine." How did this happen? Naturally, it was decided over a few bottles of wine. I took over dinner duty on Thursday night and eased into the theme with a ham, broccoli salad, braised cabbage and a potato gratin dauphinoise.

The cabbage and broccoli are both adapted from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. The ham came from my pig and was cooked, covered, in a 325 oven for a couple hours, glazed with mustard and brown sugar and finished with the potatoes. The gratin was one of the best I've ever made, and had I remembered the nutmeg it would have been even better. The key is to cook the potatoes in cream before baking the dish. The beauty of a gratin is that it can withstand high or low oven temperatures and unpredictable cooking times; if souffles are the Veronica of the baking world, gratins are a true Betty.

The next day, I combined the leftover potatoes, cabbage and ham and improvised my own version of bubble and squeak, a British Empire comfort food, for lunch. With some dijon on the side, this was almost better than from whence it came:

Potatoes Gratin Dauphinoise

butter for gratin dish
2lb potatoes
3 C. heavy cream (yes, you can cut with milk, but at this point, why?)
2 cloves of garlic
salt, pepper, fresh nutmeg
1 C grated gruyere or comté

butter a gratin dish and set an oven to 375. Gently begin heating cream in a big enough pot to hold the potatoes. With a mandoline, slice potatoes to about a 1/8" thickness. You want them as thin as they can get without falling apart before they make it into the dish. Add the potatoes to the cream as you slice, and avoid letting them sit out lest they oxidize and turn grey. Let the cream and potatoes come to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes, without letting them get to a hard boil. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of nutmeg. Pour the potatoes and cream into your dish, spread the cheese on top, and then bake until brown and bubbling, maybe 30 minutes, but don't sweat it. It's ready when you are.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Coastal Living 2, part i

On Thursday, I went back out to the coast for New Years in Gearhart, OR with Jon, Pat, Storm, Mike and David. This is the time of year that Portland lies under a shroud of bone-chilling rain and heavy skies for weeks, with no end in sight. Mike and I left at 11 am, on Highway 26. 35 miles into the drive, as we started climbing into the mountains, we drove through the cloud cover and arrived in a winter wonderland, with bright blue skies, snow capped fir trees, and honest-to-god sunlight. Postcard worthy. Approximately 2 miles later we hit a patch of ice on the 2-lane highway, spun around twice across the entire road, and slid back into a guardrail. Were we hurt? Nope. Was the car damaged? Not at all. Once again, I have Matt Lauer and the Today Show for thank, because Wednesday's segment on Winter Driving while I was doing yoga in my living room reminded me that when there are icy conditions you can steer, and you can break, but you can't steer and break at the same time. Storm and David left a bit later and got held up by an accident involving 3 cars and a tree a few miles past the site of our earlier ice capades. Never forget that Oregon is a fickle mistress. This is what was waiting for us in Gearhart:
My friends Matt and Kelly, who now live in LA, have the cutest house in the cutest town that boasts one of the prettiest beaches in Oregon. I always thought I was more on the "mountain cabin" end of the either/or spectrum when it comes to vacation homes, but the house on B street is making a good argument for coastal living. Victor is now under the impression that every 4 days he gets a trip to the beach.