Friday, March 19, 2010

SURE SIGN OF SPRING


Yes, artichokes are a pain to clean and are labor intensive. But they are delicious and they scream "SPRING". This member of the thistle family is one of the first heralds of spring and pairs well with fresh herbs-especially mint. Look for small/baby artichokes that feel heavy for their size (they will have a "meatier" heart) and have tight compact leaves.
Drizzle on your favorite olive oil and serve this throughout the season. The caponata can be stored, covered in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Caponata di Carciofi (Relish of Artichokes)

This caponata does not have the usual tomatoes and eggplant. Instead it is a concoction of early spring and late winter vegetables. I serve it with roasted chicken, duck and even fish. It adds flair to any table and for Passover we drizzle our matzah with olive oil and herbs and then dollop some of this caponata on top of it for a crunchy snack.

Yields about 2 cups

1 pound baby artichokes or frozen artichoke hearts
1 fennel bulb-julienne (save fronds for garnish)
2 leeks-white parts only chopped
3 cloves garlic,minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup white wine
½ cup golden raisins
¼ cup pine-nuts
¼ cup fresh mint-torn or cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley-chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme-chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. To clean the artichokes, use a paring knife to cut the outside leaves free from the body of the vegetable. Continue turning your knife around the artichoke until you have an equal amount of green leaves with yellow tops. Be sure to leave the stem intact. You can peel some of the tough green fibers from the outside. The stem gives the artichoke a pretty shape! Cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and scoop out the choke (if any) with a melon baller. Place the artichoke pieces in a bowl of cold water with lemon juice squeezed into it to keep the artichokes from turning dark.
2. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat and coat the bottom lightly with olive oil. Add the fennel pieces and leeks. Sauté the vegetables until the are lightly browned and have softened. Add the drained artichokes and continue sautéing until the artichokes are lightly browned. Add the garlic, tomato paste and white wine. Stir together. Add the raisins and turn down the heat to low and allow the mixture to simmer.
3. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat and add the pine-nuts. Toast the pine-nuts until they are lightly browned. Watch them carefully as then can burn quickly.
4. Add the pine nuts to the mixture. Add the mint, parsley and thyme. Salt and pepper to taste
5. Serve the caponata warm or cold. The caponata can be made three days before serving and stored covered in the refrigerator.

Monday, March 8, 2010

SPRING HAS SPRUNG!


Kosher and Delicious for Passover and Every Other Day

One sure sign that spring has sprung is the plethora of Passover products that start appearing on grocery store shelves. Each year I look forward to checking out what new foodstuffs were invented. Usually these products are meant to counterfeit their non-Passover counterparts. Each year I hold my own personal contest to see what the strangest and most Pesadich-y thing will be. Last year I was thrilled and simultaneously disgusted by the Pesadich soy sauce. I saved the bottle and put it in my cabinet just to remind myself of how scary food can get. I wrote last year about my friend Karen and her favorite find of the neon faux Passover mustard. We both thrilled to the thought of faux mustard on faux bread!

Well, that mustard and soy sauce are so last year. I found something that trumps all the ersatz foods out there. The new crop of Passover substitutes includes a product called Mac & Cheez. There is neither Mac (pasta) even of the Passover kind nor is there Cheese or Cheez. The product is pareve and the pasta is made from tapioca. It is nutritionally empty, there is not one vitamin in it. I bought a box and put it right next to my soy sauce and there it shall stay as a reminder of how bad faux food can get.

There is something really great that we can use for Passover. It is delicious, all natural and minimally processed. All Extra Virgin Olive Oil is kosher all year round and that includes Passover. The savvy Passover shopper is buying great olive oil this year.

Olive oil is the fruit oil obtained from the olive. Commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps and fuel for lamps, olive oil is grown and used throughout the world but especially in the Mediterranean.

Olive oil is produced by grinding or crushing and extracting the oil. A green olive produces bitter oil and an overripe olive produces rancid oil. For great extra virgin olive oil it is essential to have olives that are perfectly ripened.

Purchasing olive oil and knowing how to use it can be confusing. Add to that, the kashrut factor and it is no wonder that consumers and home cooks are bewildered by the array of products on supermarket and specialty market shelves.

Here is a summary of olive oils and their uses:
• Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO) comes from virgin oil production only and contains no more than 0.8% acidity. Extra Virgin olive oil accounts for less than 10% of oil in many oil producing countries. The superior fruity flavor makes this oil best used for vinaigrettes, drizzling on soups and pastas for added richness and a fruity taste for dipping breads and vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil does not require hashgacha (even for Pesach) as it is cold pressed.
• Virgin olive oil comes from virgin oil production only and has an acidity less than 2%. This oil is best used for sautéing and for making vinaigrettes. It is generally not as expensive as the extra virgin olive oil but has a good taste. This oil does require hashgacha.
• Pure olive oil. Oils labeled as Pure olive oil or Olive oil are usually a blend of refined and virgin production oil. This oil is perfect for sautéing. It does not have a strong flavor and can be used for making aiolis and cooking. This oil does require hashgacha.

Extra virgin olive oil is the highest quality olive oil. It is typically more expensive than other olive oils. Extra virgin olive oil is typically not recommended for high heat cooking. Every oil has its smoke point. A smoke point refers to the heat temperature at which the oil begins to break down and degrade. An oil that is above its smoke point not only has nutritional and flavor degradation but can also reach a flash point where combustion can occur. You can observe this when you have a very hot pan and hot oil and food are added to the pan and they produce a bluish and acrid smelling smoke or worse yet, catch fire.

Extra virgin olive oil has a very low smoke point of 375. I use my best extra virgin olive oil for making vinaigrettes, adding luxurious fruity flavor to pasta dishes, garnishing foods and dipping breads. When I am high heat sautéing or frying, I tend to reach for pure olive oil or a different type of oil.

Extra virgin olive oil has a long list of health benefits from reducing coronary artery disease, cholesterol regulation and possibly reducing risk of certain cancers. This makes the decision for using extra virgin olive oil a no-brainer.

The bigger decision is which oil to buy. Most of the world’s extra virgin olive oil comes from the Southern Mediterranean countries. I favor an organic, unfiltered Spanish oil. I also like estate grown products as I know that an farmer fretted over the olives and the weather. Many mass produced oils are made not from a single source or farm and the flavor can be uneven and harsh.

When cooking for Passover and for every meal, I recommend whole, natural ingredients. I never go to the dark side of cooking with products that are loaded with laboratory made ingredients and faux flavors or colors. For this holiday and everyday-let’s keep it real.


Chocolate Mousse with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Passover used to mean a hiatus from good chocolate. Recently there have been several new companies that have introduced kosher for Passover high end chocolate. I like to sprinkle my mousse with sea salt as a garnish. The sparkly flavor of the salt enhances the fruitiness of the olive oil and the chocolate.

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (must be at least 70% cacao)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup brewed coffee
4 eggs separated
2/3 cup powdered sugar (kosher for Passover)
1/3 cup brewed coffee
1 vanilla bean scraped

1. Melt the chocolate and cool to room temperature. Mix in the olive oil and coffee and set aside.
2. Combine the yolks and powdered sugar and whisk until foamy, add the chocolate mixture.
3. Beat the whites to stiff peaks; fold the whites into the chocolate.
4. Pour into a 9-ich cake pan or loaf pan lined with plastic wrap and chill 8 hours or freeze for 3 hours. Unmold onto a serving plate and slice.
For a variation I like to sprinkle coarse sea salt onto the top of the mousse. The sea salt brings out the fruitiness of the olive oil and the chocolate.


Poached Halibut in Olive Oil


I remember the first time I watched a chef/friend poach fish in olive oil. It was one of those moments when the light bulb goes off! The fish cooks through with a gentle heat transfer and gains the delicate olive oil flavor. The fish is moist and really luscious! Enjoy the fish hot or cold.

4 cups olive oil
4 6-ounce halibut filets-skinned and boned
1 whole head of garlic cut in half
6 thyme sprigs
1 rosemary sprig


Preheat oven to 275.
1. Place the olive oil into a large oven proof dish. Cover the fish with olive oil ¾ of the way. Add the garlic and herbs. Cover the fish directly with a piece of parchment paper.
2. Poach the fish until firm and completely translucent (about 15 minutes). Gently remove the fish and discard the garlic and herbs. Strain the oil and refrigerate covered. The oil can be used to poach fish again and will keep for up to 2 weeks.

Parsley sauce with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 large bunches of flat leaf parsley, leaves trimmed off (reserve the stems for stock making)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Place a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Sear the parsley for about 2 minutes until it is bright green and slightly wilted.
2. Place the parsley and extra virgin olive oil in a blender and process until the sauce has a smooth consistency. Salt and pepper to taste

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

KITCHEN GOLD

When I promised my husband that I would provide a steady supply of “Kitchen Gold” I think he was expecting something completely different than what he found in the freezer, refrigerator and sometimes balcony.

There is no recipe more important than Homemade Stock. Canned and vacuum packed products just do not even dimly resemble the nutritious, comforting homemade stock. Last night I taught a class at a local synagogue and was flooded with questions from curious home cooks. Stock making is an art and thankfully-also an easy one to master. Feel free to use your own “riffs” on my theme and make the stock your own. Add your favorite herbs, garlic, non-starchy vegetables,peppers...whatever. Just do not add salt. Stock should be neutral. When you make soups or sauces from the stock-you can add salt, hot sauce, spices or whatever your family likes.

As we prepare for an 8-day eating festival (Pesach), I think it is important to take some time to make homemade arsenal products. Stock is one of those. With a freezer loaded with stock- you will have soups, sauces and dinners at your fingertips. It is easy-call your local butcher, buy some bones and let ‘er rip. Stock making is mostly a passive project. You can be doing other tasks while the stock pot or slow cooker does the rest.
Stay tuned for my favorite Pesach recipes.

World’s Greatest Chicken Soup
Chicken soup is as warm and comforting as a favorite pair of slippers. It turns out that the myth of Jewish Penicillin is more than a myth. Chicken Soup may actually have some medicinal benefits. But, healing properties or not, it is a fact that almost every culture has some form of chicken soup. Try making your own stock, you won’t regret the time and you’ll appreciate the incredible taste. Everyone loves chicken soup!

Chicken Stock Yields: 4 quarts rich stock

5 pounds of chicken bones
Approximately 12 cups of water
1 large Spanish onion, chopped
3 large carrots, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
5 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 whole clove
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1. Place all the ingredients in a large stock pot and fill with water only to the level of the bones and vegetables. This will guarantee a rich, not watery stock. (Do not add salt at this point. The stock will reduce as part of the natural simmering process and salting the stock early can make it overly salty.)
2. Place the stockpot (uncovered) over medium heat and bring to a simmer.
3. Skim off any film that floats to the top. The film will make your soup cloudy and bitter.
4. Continue simmering for 4 hours. Turn off the heat and allow the chicken stock to steep for one hour. This allows for a complete extraction of collagen and gelatin from the bones.
5. Strain out the bones and vegetables and discard. Cool the stock in your stock pot in a sink filled with cold water and ice completely before storing covered in the refrigerator or freezer. Ladle off the fat from the top of the stock before using.
Stock may stored, covered, in the freezer for up to 3 months or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

From Stock to Chicken Soup Serves 8

1 pound white or dark chicken meat, cut into small cubes
½ cup of each: thinly sliced celery, carrots, parsnips, and celery root
½ pound wide egg noodles
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and white pepper to taste
Bring chicken stock to a simmer in a large saucepan or stock pot. 1.
Add the remaining ingredients and simmer about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender. 2.
Adjust seasoning to taste.