Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MORE THAN A BARE CUPBOARD

CUCINA POVERA

I think the concept that best explains how I think about food is the notion of Cucina Povera. This Tuscan concept is one born out of humble and peasant ingredients both afforded in the region of Italy and grown locally. The phrase Cucina Povera means "poor kitchen". The idea is almost more of a technique and way of thinking rather than just a bare cupboard. Leftover bread becomes a thickener and method of stretching soup, yesterday’s pasta becomes today’s soup and so on. Cucina Povera is the way many of our grandparents functioned in their kitchens and similar to the way many chefs work in professional kitchens.

In the kosher kitchen-we only have so many ingredients to work with, both at home and professionally. Many ingredients that most chefs take for granted are not part of my daily repertoire due to kosher restrictions. I have a meat and pareve kitchen and cannot just add cream to a soup or sauce to thicken it. I have to work a bit harder and find other ways that fit into the kosher laws. I do not believe in using faux foods for substitutions and look to natural ingredients that are already kosher and in season. In the spirit of Cucina Povera-I embrace my constraints, accept the materials I have to work with and move on. I always say that if a recipe cannot be made without completely mutilating it-then do not make it. I have never put soy crème brulees on my menus and never will. I also do not sell faux crab or mock sour cream. Real sour cream is amazing and who doesn’t love crème brulee? I know I do-after a dairy or pareve meal. The artificial stuff doesn’t come close and I have too much respect for my ingredients, clients and family to ever serve ersatz food.

Kashrut is all about making choices-not getting around them with cheap imitations. With Sukkot looming and more celebratory meals with family and friends-I hope we can all look at the harvest holiday with fresh food choices. Feed your family the best and the freshest delicious foods you can. Do as the Tuscans do and look at what is growing locally and in season. Make the most of it and Buon Appetito!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

SANDWICH SUMMIT

I don’t know David Sax-but I think I would like him. David is the author of SAVE THE DELI (Houghton Miflin, Harcourt). This guy has taken up a cause that is near and dear to my heart. Home-made food that speaks of favorite recipes, old family secrets passed down generation to generation, hard work that doesn’t allow for short cuts, passion and soul. David’s SAVE THE DELI campaign stands for everything that is good and honest in the food industry. It is exactly what I have been working hard for and rallying about for years. Real food made the old fashioned way. That is food worth eating, standing in line for, reserving a table for, learning how to cook and feeding to the family. It is Jewish soul food.

Several years ago I wrote a post for the jew and the carrot. I was bewildered and shocked by the sign I saw wishing the Los Angeles Jewish community a Mazel Tov on their new Kosher Subway. I was puzzled then and frankly still am. This week the Jewish Week wrote an article regarding another kosher Subway that had just opened in Miami. The article quotes a customer who had eaten at the restaurant every day since it had opened. The customer was extolling the virtues of the steak and cheese sub. I know this is the moment to rant on and on about fake cheese or is it fake steak? One way or the other something is faked in order for it to be kosher. Having been a chef in the kosher community for over a decade-I know where and with whom I can fight my battles. Hey- steak and cheese guy-the food is not real. The steak is cheap, poor quality and pre-sliced. The cheese came from a laboratory-not a farm. Get a clue. If it was good everyone would be eating it; including folks who don’t keep kosher.

I put that sandwich right up there with fake crab meat, faux crème brulee, soy shrimp and the piece de resistance –Pesadich Macaroni and Cheese! Steak and cheese guy is lost to me and others like me who toil no matter how hard to make high quality food that has nuance, subtlety and integrity.

So, for everyone that loves Jewish Soul Food and looks for something other than portion size and price to determine how good the meal is-I am proposing a SANdWICH SUMMIT. Come to Chicago, to the Spertus institute of Jewish Studies. Let’s roll up our sleeves, eat home made foods like brisket, corned beef and pastrami, latkes hot and greasy right out of the pan and discuss how we can SAVE THE DELI and Jewish food.

Friday, September 18, 2009

APPLES AND HONEY

I use this simple sauce when I really need a quick pareve dessert. This egg custard dresses up everything and once you get the hang of it, you can customize it to fit your taste and pantry ingredients. As in all pareve recipes, it is important to use the best ingredients possible. Use a good apple juice, high quality honey (I use raw honey) and the best quality vanilla bean. The pay off will come when you serve the dessert. Dip your apples into this decadent sauce or drizzle it over your favorite apple cake. Shana Tova U’Metuka,

Apple and Honey Sabayon

6 egg yolks
½ teaspoon cornstarch
¼ cup honey
½ vanilla bean-scraped
1 ½ cups apple juice
1. Place the egg yolks and cornstarch in a bowl and whisk together until combined. Set aside.
2. Place another glass or metal bowl over a pan of simmering water. Do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the surface of the water.
3. Place the honey, scraped vanilla bean and apple juice in the bowl over the water bath. Whisk the mixture until the mixture is combined. Add the eggs and cornstarch and whisk constantly until the mixture has tripled in volume and a thermometer reads 140 (the temperature recommended for egg safety). You can use an immersion blender for this and save your arm muscles for something else!
4. Remove the bowl and continue whisking for several minutes until the sauce has cooled down. Place the sabayon in a container with a tight fitting lid. The sabayon can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 days.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

JUST DUCKY


Even at my age you still learn new things about yourself. Just this week I learned that I cannot go too many nights in a row without getting a requisite 5-6 hours of sleep. I become a zombie that has no sense of humor and very little patience. Not good for me, my family, my staff or anyone.
I also learned that I could be star struck.

Last Sunday, Spertus Institute hosted an event with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I wrote the menu for the reception several months ago and was excited at the time. I pulled out my best tricks and fanciest VIP hors d’oeuvres for the night.

During the reception a waiter came to the kitchen and told me that someone really liked the duck pancakes and could I put a plate of just the pancakes together for this one guest. I asked who the guest was and I got a shrug and vague answer.

I put together a plate of duck pancakes and went out to the reception. I went to a table and asked if they liked duck pancakes. I was greeted with a semi-enthusiastic “who doesn’t?” Clearly not who I was looking for. Finally, a Spertus Institute Department Head saw my pancakes and directed me to the table where Justice Ginsburg was sitting.

Photographers gathered around and I was given an introduction to the Supreme Court Justice, the room grew quiet, I broke into a sweat, felt the heat crawl up my neck and turn my face beet red and I stammered “I like duck too!”

Here is the recipe that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg enjoys-I do too!


For the Duck
1 cup shredded Duck Confit -see JEWISH COOKING FOR ALL SEASONS (John Wiley and Sons) or JEWISH SLOW COOKER RECIPES (John Wiley and Sons)
¼ cup hoi sin sauce
Dash of harissa or favorite hot sauce
1 tablespoon of soy sauce

1. Combine all of the above ingredients in a medium-mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper

For the Pancakes
2 eggs
18 ounces soy milk
8 ounces all purpose flour
2 ounces canola oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
¼ cup sliced thin scallions
Pinch of salt and pepper


1. Place all of the ingredients except the scallions into a blender and process until thoroughly mixed (about 30 seconds). Stir in the scallions
2. Transfer the batter to a bowl, cover and allow to rest in the refrigerator at least one hour.
3. Place a non-stick pan over medium low heat. Brush the pan with canola oil. Drop the batter by spoonfuls into the pan. I make small pancakes-about 2 inches in diameter. You can make them large or small.
4. When the pancake looks dry and set (about 1 minute), gently flip the pancake to the other side. Continue cooking until the other side is dry about 30 seconds. Place the finished pancakes on a parchment lined baking sheet.

Assemble the pancakes

25 chives
2 tablespoons hoi sin sauce
1. Heat a small pan of water to a simmer. Add the chives, turn off and allow the chives to blanch for 2 minutes. Place the blanched chives in a bowl of ice water. Remove the chives and dry thoroughly.
2. Brush one of the pancakes with a small amount of hoi sin sauce. Place a small mound of duck confit in the center of the pancake. Pull the sides of the pancake together to form a tube. Secure the sides with a chive wrapping around and tied in front securely. Place the finished pancake on a parchment lined baking sheet. Continue until all of the pancakes are made.
3. To serve the pancakes-gently heat them in a low oven at 200 for about 5 minutes. Brush a serving platter with additional hoi sin sauce. Sprinkle with additional chives.

Monday, September 14, 2009

HOT AND TRENDY VEGGIES




Dinosaur Kale is the new “it” veggie this fall says Matt Lauer of the Today Show. I didn’t know we had “it” veggies-but I am all for it. Matt further states that you can tell how good it is for you just by looking at it. He’s right. Dinosaur Kale, Cavalo Nero or Black Kale looks rich and heavy-though dark green and not black. The leaves have huge scale like indentations (thus the nickname Dinosaur Kale) that promise enormous amounts of fiber and vitamins. It’s just got to be good for you!

I love the stuff. It is the kale for kale and non-kale lovers alike. It is mild tasting without the bitterness of some of its other cabbage cousins. It also, despite its scaly appearance, has a soft pleasant texture that cooks up quickly and pairs well with other vegetables. In my new cookbook JEWISH SLOW COOKER RECIPES (John Wiley and Sons) I wrote a great recipe using this veggie, which is the new “black” this season. It is Ribollita. This simple and easy Tuscan bread soup shows off the kale to its best. I urge you to try it soon.

I also wrote a recipe that will help you take advantage of the seasons trendiest green. After all-the Tuscans have been eating it forever-we should too.

SAUTEED CAVALO NERO

Olive oil
3 shallots, sliced thinly
3 cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
6 tightly packed cups Cavalo Nero, cut into ½ inch wide strips
½ cup white wine
½ cup golden raisins
salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil for garnish

1. Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Add the shallots, garlic and red pepper flakes and sweat them until they are very soft and fragrant but not browned (about 10 minutes).
2. Add the Cavalo Nero. Increase the heat to medium high. Add the white wine and raisins. Place a laid on the pan and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is very soft and limp about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking until the liquid has evaporated.
3. Place the kale on a serving platter or bowl and lightly drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve the kale with fish, chicken, veal or other “it” veggies!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

HEAVENLY CHALLAH


I think we have the best challah in our house. My husband, who is also a professional chef, is in charge of making the challot. I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that I am just proud and kvelling about my husband’s challah because…well, because he is my husband. Yes and no! I am proud of the challah that he makes and that I am the spouse of someone who can create “divine” loaves. But, I am especially proud that he bakes challot with soul. Dennis’ challot are dense, chewy, honey flavored and gorgeous. He spends a lot of time on them and plots out his designs every year.

Last year he did this funky tricked out challot. He braided the loaves, wrapped them in coils and took scissors and snipped pieces of dough all around so that the challot appeared spiky and feathered. When they baked, the spiky ends became browned and crispy and stood out. Really cool! Sometimes he goes for the simple braid or coil, but even then he really gets into it.

Dennis uses a combination of whole-wheat flour and white flour. The whole-wheat flour adds a nutty flavor and density to the challah. We use honey, usually raw honey, instead of sugar and oil, NEVER margarine. For the holiday challot we use a combination of raisins, dried apricots, dates and figs. You can also add dried cranberries, cherries or whatever you like.

Last week I wrote about some serious bread problems in Chicago. I am no less troubled about the state of decent kosher bakeries today. I have been talking to friends about my recent discovery of the wretched loaves in Chicago and everyone agreed that the situation is dire. So, what are we going to do about it? I for one am never going to purchase a challah from them again. I am renewing my vow to make my own bread or simply go without. I am also offering my services to help make better breads. Call me-you know who you are

This will make 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves.

1 1/2 cups tepid water
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon yeast
1/3 cup honey
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped dried fruit or raisins
4 cups (approx.) AP flour


Egg Wash
2 egg yolks
¼ cup water
Whisk together and set aside
Optional toppings: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, Charnushka seeds


1. Make a sponge: Place the tepid water, whole-wheat flour and yeast in a large mixing bowl or in a bowl that attaches to a mixer. Stir this mixture together or do like we do and use your hands and really get in there and mush it together. Cover the mixture and allow it sit in a warm place for 30 minutes.
2. Add the rest of the ingredients adding only enough flour until the mixture is not wet and sticky. You many not need the entire 4 cups of flour. Knead the dough for 5 minutes until the dough is supple and smooth. Cover and let it rest for at least one hour or store the dough wrapped tightly over night in the refrigerator.
3. Shape the dough into your favorite loaf. Place the loaves on a lightly greases sheet pan. Cover with a clean towel and let rise for two hours.
4. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with seeds if using and bake in a preheated 350 oven until the challot are browned and make a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom (about 30-45 minutes).
5. Let the challot sit for at least one hour before cutting it. The baking process continues for 20 minutes after the bread is removed from the oven. Steam continues cooking the bread and making it dense and moist. Cutting the crust would allow the steam to escape.

Challot can be baked and stored, covered overnight at room temperature (not in the refrigerator) or can be frozen for one month.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

TROUBLE IN BREADVILLE

My Fridays are frenetic, frantic and leave me frizzled! I run around like a maniac so that I can rush home make an elaborate dinner for my family and oftentimes, friends. I don’t usually question if I could be doing a better job of “doing a Friday”, I just accept it as something I have chosen to do and move on.

Several weeks ago-I had a weak moment. I woke up on Friday morning at 5am and ran downtown to my kitchen at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, got my work done and jumped back in the car and sped up north to pick up my son Jonah from school and stopped at the grocery store to get the few items I needed to round out the Shabbat meal. All was going well-until the trip to the store. I bought a challah! I had not started my dough that morning or Thursday night. I was tired, frazzled, fschizzled (as Jonah would say) and just not in the mood.

Let me say before I go on-we always have homemade challah on Friday night. I regard it as kind of like the mail service. Through snowstorm, blinding rain, extreme heat and whatever else….we will have homemade challah. Except that one day.

The challah was made at a local kosher bakery and shipped directly to the Whole Foods, my regular haunt. I knew something was wrong the second I picked up the offending item. It was light as a feather. Too light. Not normal. I was rushing and blowing through the store-I also had no choice.

Table set, dinner ready, dessert divine (as always) and the challah was really scaring me. It was unnaturally brown but without the crust, it weighed next to nothing and smelled faintly of fake vanilla. You know that smell-the one that is usually associated with soft serve ice cream. Sort of vanilla-y, but not really.

Candles, blessings, wine etc…. and the moment of truth. Awful! No texture, no density, no flavor other than the fake vanilla and worst of all-NO SOUL! We joked about, discussed whether or not I was losing “it” and ate the meal. I was seriously upset.
I bought another one the next week as an experiment (I made the real one). I inspected it closely. It is made up a fine network of gluten strands and air. I pushed it down and it made a ‘swoosh” sound and bounced back up. I did it again and the same thing happened. Over and over again the challah defied the laws of physics. I put it back in its PLASTIC bag and enjoyed the dinner with our homemade challah.

I sort of forgot about the challah until a few days ago. I had stuck it in the microwave (to me it is a bread box-I never use it) and out of sight-out of mind.

The challah had not changed. It was still the same. It did not mold and still defied physics. This was one sturdy little challah. It is not normal and not good.

I live in Chicago-we boast a major Jewish community. Why can’t we get a decent kosher bakery? The breads have no heart. I buy breads for events all the time. It is hit or miss. I am concerned as to why we don’t have an artisanal bakery. I am thinking of gorgeous baguettes all crispy and crusty and NATURAL brown colored. How about challot that are dense and heavy with eggs, bread flour, honey and natural fats-say oil for example? This is a trend folks. Not a fad. Great bread is in! A good baguette is the new black this year. How about it? When did the amber waves of grain become synonymous with soulless, artificially flavored puffballs of dough? Am I the only one who is upset by this? Does anyone else see the difference in the great breads out in the world and the wretched loaves we get? Seriously-walk by a bakery or look one up on line, call me for examples and check out what everyone else is eating. I talked to some friends who said that they actually eat this stuff every week! For real? Call me. I will come over and show you how to make bread. And, if for some reason you don't know want to make your own-then let's just insist that the bakeries get better. This stuff is not good. It is not good for you and seems anti-religious! This cannot be something you would say a blessing over.

As we approach the new year-I say we do some food Teshuvah. Let’s all agree to stop eating what isn’t good for us, not wonderful and to stop putting up with less than great products. Just because it has a hechsher doesn’t mean it is good.
Or, do you go by the idea that it doesn’t need flavor as long as it’s kosher?

More on food Teshuvah-coming soon. Also-a great challah recipe, next post.