Archive for April, 2012

26
Apr

Passover

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in Passover

So now I’ve taken long enough to write this post, that I can also tell you what I did with the leftovers afterward! Whee!

Okay, so I made my own haggadah this year because I wanted the people at the seder to feel more interested in having the discussions invited by the text without rushing along because they were starving. So at every opportunity, I added small courses within the service.

In related news: I now have enough dishes to serve more than 1 plate and 1 bowl course without resorting to disposables!

Bitter Herbs and Salty Tears
Kale and Carrot Salad

This dish was inspired by wilted kale salads in general and this one in particular, but I’ve never actually wilted my kale and this was one of the last things I made, so I didn’t have time to pull up a recipe at the moment I was making it.

So I shredded some curly kale. And I sliced some carrots in half and then thinly on a diagonal so that I had long, thin half-ovals. And I sliced some raw garlic.

I put some of the kale in a bowl, sprinkled liberally with salt, poured olive oil, massaged it all together for a few seconds, added carrots and garlic, and then repeated the pattern.

I didn’t massage enough or I didn’t wait enough or something – but the kale never seemed particularly wilty. It was very salty! In any other circumstance, it would have been way oversalted, but it was perfect for this particular situation.

The bitter greens mixed with tears aren’t really supposed to be easy to eat.

leftovers

Finely dice some onion and cook it down in a little olive oil.

Once the onion is soft, add the leftover salad.

Do not even think of adding more salt. You can, however, add a teaspoon of manischewitz wine.

Crack an egg on top. Cover to steam poach. Eat with a spoon.

I put the matzoh ball soup in after the breaking of the afikomen.

Now last year I was deeply intimidated by the judgement of the matzoh balls, so I put off making them until after guests had started to arrive. I had never made them. So my girlfriend, who had never even eaten them before, offered to give it a shot. I gave her the only advice I knew (from my grandmother): “Use the recipe on the matzoh meal box, and handle them as little as possible.”

They were okay that year. The outsides were fluffy, and the insides were a little dense and had a richer flavor. My mother spent the entire year after talking about how heavy they were. My mother, the convert from Mississippi (Okay, so fine – she’s been a jew for more than forty years and has had my grandmother’s matzoh balls, but still).

But I was fairly sure it wouldn’t be fair to pass them onto someone else again this year. I did have enough worries, though, that I bought a mix this year instead of using plain matzoh meal. Again, just as people were sitting down, I was throwing gobs of dough into the boiling water (just gobs, not even fully formed balls). I turned it down to barely a simmer and covered – and by the time the soup was to be served, they were perfect and the fluffiest I have ever eaten. Some completely fell apart, but there were plenty of balls for everyone’s soup.

Chicken Soup (for matzoh balls)

I have no idea why, but for some reason chicken soup is incredibly challenging for me. It does not come intuitively.

But I bought a whole chicken just for the stock, since trying to make chicken soup with less has failed me in the past.

So I cooked together a chicken, some onion peelings, carrot peelings, garlic, parsley, and stuff with water coming all the way up to the top – as if I were making stock. Then I strained the stock. The chicken got broken down for meat and all of the other strained solids were frozen for garbage (don’t compost the vegetable matter because it has had enough meat contact to lead to insects in the compost).

Clean the pot.

Then I melted a Tablespoon of chicken fat and cooked down a diced onion, three diced carrots, and three diced parsnips. Once they were flexible, I dusted them with a Tablespoon of matzoh cake flour, and stirred that in to make a pseudo-roux. Then I poured in the chicken stock. Any of the chicken meat that had ended up in smaller pieces, was shredded into the soup as well.

For seasonings, I ended up adding ground thyme, savory, black pepper, and a dash of cayenne pepper.

To serve: spoon a matzoh ball or two into a bowl and then pour the chicken soup over top.

Next thing I did in the service was to put welcoming Elijah way up earlier so that we’d sit with the door open welcoming people to come and have food.

We talked about Philadelphia’s new ban on feeding the homeless in city parks.

For the next dish, instead of a plain boiled potato and boiled egg, I served potato salad brought by my mother (so I don’t know the recipe), and deviled eggs. These were some deeply yellow egg yolks from Livengood Farm’s chickens.

Deviled Eggs

Boil eggs, then put them in cold water to stop cooking them, and immediately peel them.

If you have done this a day or so ahead and have refrigerated your eggs, warm them a bit in warm water before going on to the next step – because I think cold deviled eggs are no longer pleasing.

Slice the eggs in half and pop the yolks into a bowl (make enough eggs that it’s okay to discard 2 or 3 egg white halves that are the lest pretty).

For measurements here, let’s say I’m using 8 eggs.

Break up the egg yolks with a fork and splash them with a capful (1/2 tsp?) of white vinegar. Add
a Tablespoon of yellow mustard (in my callow youth, we used French’s, but I was really pleased with a slightly more upscale dijon) and a forkful (3-4 Tablespoons) of mayonnaise (we used Hellman’s). Mash together with a fork until completely smooth.

That’s it!

Fill the egg white hollows with forkfulls of yolks. And sprinkle with paprika.

And then came the dish I’ve been thinking about all year. MMmm a year of thinking about this next thing.

So after last year’s seder, I had a bag full of trimmed lamb fat from the shoulder roasts I’d been using. I rendered these down to yield a quart! of creamy pale lamb fat.

But what does one do with a quart of lamb fat? The only thing I could possibly come up with was confit – which led to rillettes.

Lamb RillettesAs I was dicing this year’s lamb shoulder, I kept aside all of the uneven and fattier bits to confit. I ended up with somewhere between two and three pound of lamb for the rillettes.

In a small dutch oven, I melted 1 pint of rendered lamb fat and fried up a finely diced onion until golden. Then I turned down the heat and added some water to moderate the temperature.

I tossed in a bay leaf, some peppercorns, an inch of soft cinnamon, a little ground cloves, ground thyme, ground savory, and a dash of ground oregano. A splash of wine, and it was all set to simmer for hours. 20 hours? (It didn’t need to cook that long, but I was able to keep it going overnight instead of making room in the refrigerator so I went for it – by adding a little more water to make sure there wasn’t a grease fire in my sleep because I worry, though in retrospect there might have been too much water to fat in the cooking ratio)

By then the liquid was reduced and the meat exceedingly tender. So I strained out the meat and shredded it with the stand mixer’s paddle. So while it was a time intense process, I was able to do other things during almost every stage of making it. As the meat turned to paste, I added more of the cooking liquid back into the meat until it was a spreadable paste. Salt to taste (took more than expected). I packed it into wee little 4oz jars, and then I melted more lamb fat to pour over top to seal it.

And then everything got stacked in the refrigerator (but I took them out two hours before serving so they could come up to room temperature and the fat on top could soften).

verdict: Erm… not as good as I’d hoped. I do not know if this would have been solved by using Even More Fat. Maybe. Also, I managed to undersalt them as well. Failing at sinful food, apparently. They weren’t inedible, but they didn’t taste… expensive. They tasted a bit like canned meat. ~shrug~

Chicken Rillettes

Some people coming to the seder, however, did not eat lamb. So after having seen how little time was taken up in making them, I decided to do a few chicken ones once the mixer was clean again.

I took the meat from the soup chicken – using mostly thighs – and sliced that into 3/4″ slices across the grain before putting it in the mixer with some rendered chicken fat. Once that was shredded, I added some seasonings (cinnamon, ground thyme, maybe a couple other things) and salted to taste.

Packed that in little jars and poured over with melted chicken fat to seal.

verdict: tastier! They were still a bit like chicken salad with extra schmaltz, but that’s yummy.

So… I ended up with about a pint of leftovers from the lamb rillettes (aside from the 2 untouched jars of each, which I set aside for the next Philly Food Swap) and no desire for that much plain fatty bread on toast points. So I tried adding a little to salads or the kale breakfast, but the best thing ever to do with the leftovers was to add it to pasta sauce!

Grill down another onion in some lamb falt, melt the rillettes into the pan, pour over with a basic tomato sauce and a hearty glug of red wine. Add some crushed red pepper. Best meat sauce ever!

Charosets

Quarter, core, peel, and finely slice 7 apples (4 roma, 3 empire in this case – I picked the ones with the best crisp snap to the texture). Then slice across to make a small, but distinct, pieces. Squeeze 1 lemon as you go – the single lemon was sufficient to last me through all of the apples.

In between each apple or two, add a dash of cinnamon and a handful of toasted pecan pieces (walnuts are more traditional for my family, but I’d already used up all of my walnuts by the time I made the charosets and had already shopped enough).

When you have a container full of apples and nuts, pour a cup of Manischewitz over and then tighten the lid you your container and shake well. Mix up the apples a few more times while they sit and absorb the flavors.

And then we had the meal proper! This year, my mother’s kidneys have started to fail. Following the writings of a doctor from Johns Hopkins, my mother has been eating an extremely low protein diet. (This is not the forum to discuss the effectiveness of this choice, nor am I a doctor, but I am supporting her dietary choices and cooking to suit her needs) So her food is almost exactly a vegan diet… only with an allowance for plenty of animal fats (since they tend to not contain much protein). (instead of the lamb rillettes, I made her a special vegetable one by running bits of some of the other vegetable dishes and some jarred artichoke hearts through a food processor)

My father, however, must have meat. And one of my guests doesn’t eat any meat other than pork or chicken, but he’s very picky about vegetables. This menu reflects enough variety to feed all of them. So there.

Dinner:
Braised Lamb with Horseradish and Parsley

Same dish I made last year – I used smaller horseradish roots and cooked them with longer, and this year they gave a most distinctly horse-radishy flavor to the meat. It was good, but almost too much. And if I do this again, I’m not going to bother with the parsley sauce. It’s not that tasty and it never gets used.

Mashed Potatoes

For the lamb juices. Just yukon gold potatoes (available as cheap seconds from the farmers’ market, so I yoinked them all) and butter – they were amazing and fluffy when just made, but lost some of their joy by the time all the talking and stuff was over. If I do mashed potatoes again, I’ll have to pay attention to keeping them warmer.

Lemon Rosemary Chicken

Again, same as last year, only I used rosemary instead of thyme. I also used a lot more olives this year because the store has switched from letting me just buy 10 from an olive bar to selling them in a pre-packaged container. I don’t think the chicken suffered from the abundance of olives, but I did have to dispose of more waste at the end of the meal.

Imam Bayildi

Working from the same recipe I’ve enjoyed before, I took three small-ish eggplants and cooked them filled with scallion, parsley, diced (canned because of the season) tomatoes, and a bit of lemon juice (and a lot of olive oil).

Braised Summer Squash

The eggplant didn’t fill the entire serving plate, so as soon as they came out, I sliced rounds of zucchini and yellow squash, sprinkled them with herbs, and covered with a little excess diced tomato and parsley mixture and set them to braising as well.

Braised Scallions

Many people have praised the braised scallion recipe from All About Braising by Molly Stevens. I was a bit confused, though, about the yield – since a pound of scallions (5 bunches) was only supposed to yield 2 servings.

So I bought 8 bunches (and used most of one of them in the eggplant dish) and figured I had a lot of other dishes as well.

I also figured that what this dish really needed in it was a swirl of tomato paste in with the braising water. I didn’t do that, but instead I drained the liquid from a can of tomatoes (again, for the eggplant) into the casserole dish and used that as my liquid component. Well, that and a stick of butter!

Roasted Asparagus

My usual recipe

Dessert
Walnut Date Torte

This was great last year, but this year I overcooked it a little (10 minutes!) and while it wasn’t burned, it was drier than last year and not as good. I soaked it in a bit of orange liquer, and that did not hurt it one bit. I could have probably added a lot more liquid, if I’d started on it a day or two earlier (week? What are the physics of fruit cakes?)

Nutty Dates

I was intending to fry these in oil with salt and pepper, but since the dates were softer than the average dried dates you get around here, I figured they didn’t need cooking. Instead, I just tucked walnut quarters (half of a half) in the pitted dates and left them for people to pick at.

Oh and the leftover charosets!

I made pie crust for the first time (yes, I waited until after Passover)!

Saga of the Pie Crust!

So I’ve been reading up on pie crust for about 2 years too scared to actually make it. Especially since I like Pillsbury and why would I make for myself something where I’d be aiming toward a goal I can buy for $2.50?

Then I found a friend whose pie crust is even better… so she’s talked me through it while I watched her. But I still haven’t bought a pastry cutter (because for some reason flat blades, instead of thick wires, are all you can find these days – and sure they cut better, but it’s harder to clear the gummed up butter caught in them)…

But I didn’t have any pie crust in stock, and honestly it was feeling like cowardice not to give it a try.

So on the first day of talking myself into it, I researched pie crust recipes on the internet and then I took a stick of butter and cut it into quarters lengthwise and then slices along the length. And then I wrapped it back up in the paper and put it in the freezer to forget about it.

On the next day, I decided I’d be more likely to do make crust a second time if things were simpler, so I grabbed Ratio and my food processor. And I put 6oz of flour and the 4oz (1 stick) of frozen butter in. Once I’d pulsed that into pieces, I was sure everything would suck because the processor made a much finer texture than my friend goes for in her amazing crusts. But I added the few splashes of cold water (from the filter pitcher I keep in the fridge, rather than making ice water) so that it would just barely hold together if I squeezed the stuff in a fist. And then I packed it tightly into a container and left it in the fridge overnight.

Finally, on the third day – I rolled it out. And it rolled out in a rectangle and refused to curve at all. (I used a wine bottle from my refrigerator, which had the benefit of being cold and heavy, but it was also a bit damp… but that didn’t hurt things as much as I was worried it would) Oh – and this is important – I rolled it out on a silicon mat. If got to be about the right thickness before it started trying to pull back in on itself.

Then I put the leftover Passover charosets in the middle, studded it with butter, wrapped the dough up and around and pleated it in place (for a galette), pressed some large-crystal sugar into the top of the dough, and baked it for a guestimated amount of time.

And it turned out much better than I expected! Real live flakiness and everything. The foodie guy who brought over funky cheese complimented me on the crust especially even though he thinks I could make pie crust all the time. Woo!

20
Apr

Why are you feeding people?

   Posted by: JS74nCLOr6    in ethics & ecology

Michael Ruhlman is a person who thinks about the whys and hows behind the food we eat, the methods we use to make it, and the sharing of it with others. He has given a TED talk. He has written many impressive cookbooks and books about cooking, with his most recent books exploring especially the fundamental components of cooking: Ratio and Twenty. And his recent post on Food Fascism has really struck a chord among the community of people who think about sharing food with each other.

The focus is on the decisions one person had to make in choosing the foods for a dinner that was part of her wedding celebrations – and whether it is reasonable for everyone to expect their preferences to be catered to, especially when that catering is expensive.

The whole post is not particularly long and worth reading completely for context. But his advice contained the following two paragraphs that will serve here as a summary:

“As you noted in a follow up email that no one in your party has any serious conditions (celiac disease, shellfish allergies), I would serve whatever the hell makes your daughter happy. I’m sure she’ll want a good variety, and so every normal person can enjoy his or her self.

But since you know that some of your relatives are a bit touched in the head with regard to their own diet, and that restaurants do charge by the head, I recommend including just what you elegantly wrote in your email on the invitation, politely. “I’m aware many in our big and diverse family may have diets they must adhere to, so if you suspect that our menu won’t suit you, please let me know so that we can let the restaurant know how many people will be attending the meal. If you won’t be attending do let me know, and also let me know if you will be joining us for the celebration following the meal.””

I’d say that a good 80% of the comments are in support of his positions, many of them with a wave of relief that they can admit to being unhappy about the sense of entitlement displayed by seeming-ubiquitous picky eaters.

There are even people with highly restrictive diets agreeing with his position because there are standards of behavior to be maintained:

The bottom line is that it’s never OK to rant and rave and make a scene about your food. Whether you’re at a party or a wedding, just remember that the event is not about you (unless of course it’s your own event). Even if you’re at a restaurant, the other diners don’t need to be subjected to your special dietary concerns. If you have a problem, quietly ask for a manager and pull them to the side to discuss it. Even better, write a letter to the management and don’t go back to the restaurant — both you and the restaurant will be better off. I’ve always appreciated a restaurant that will tell me up front that they can’t accommodate me as it means that nobody is wasting their time and even better, I’ve just increased my chances of not getting sick.

And I have to tell you that the whole discussion makes me wince. Because it’s the same discussion that you see in other venues – and it uses many of the same kyriarchal language that is used to refuse to examine privilege.

And I’m going to call BINGO

Who gets to be the “normal” eater and who gets the synonym for insanity? Well the picture right at the top of the post (which is held up as an ideal in the text) is meat and potatoes and a bit of vegetables. Ah, the golden era of nostalgia these days – the 50’s.

Also, there’s a generous accession that there are some people with real/medical needs to have restricted diets, and those are okay (but so inconvenient M I Rite?). And who are you to call the people eating fascists, when you are talking about asking for accreditation for food restrictions upon entry? Please may I have no ____, here’s my doctor’s note. Are you serious?

Why do we even care whether someone’s diet is restricted for health, ethical, or purely whimsical reasons? It’s restricted.

What reason do you have to want to feed people food they won’t enjoy? No matter that the reason!

Ruhlman says, “But foisting your diet on anyone or even talking about it in a way that even remotely self-serves or proselytizes, pisses me off.”

But by inviting people to eat your food and then serving people food they won’t enjoy eating is doing exactly that.

Making food for vegans and sneaking some butter in because you’re sure they’ll like it better that way if they don’t know – isn’t helping your guests. It’s helping you feel better about your own food choices. It’s betraying your guests’ trust that you are their friend and respect their ethics.

Making food for someone with an allergy and figuring that it’s not that severe, or probably faked, or just inconvenient to cater to, is risking their health. Even if they do not suffer for your choice, you are still the kind of host who is deliberately willing to compromise your guests’ health. Often times when this comes up, it’s discussed with a tone of spite – the cook getting back at the people who would dare make the person planning the menu think about the guests’ needs.

But even if it’s a fad diet. Even if it is just a food preference. Why are you calling them people who are important to you, if you don’t care what is important to them?

When I read the letter from the bride, I was pretty sure that the guests with the food restrictions were not just difficult to eat with, but also people who were generally unpleasant to be around. The answer there – don’t invite them. Don’t invite them and then test whether they’re willing to starve themselves for the pleasure of your company. Don’t invite them and expect a present when you are unwilling to offer food they can eat. Don’t invite people you know ahead of time you aren’t willing to have at your event. Because is slighting them on the invitation any less rude than slighting them on food? At least the former you can pretend was an oversight.

And what about more general cases? It’s important to ask yourself why you aren’t willing to accommodate the people you want to feed. What are you trying to prove to them? Why are you trying to normalize them?

And then once they are invited and you’ve undermined their needs and or values, don’t you dare say they aren’t being polite enough when they criticize you. (see also: tone argument)

And, yeah, it can be hard work to pay attention to what everyone will eat. It can take a certain amount of thought to pull together a meal with enough elements that people will enjoy that everyone will be pleased even if they can’t eat 100% of the meal. It’s much easier just to make a meal you’d like. But paying attention to other people’s wants and needs is one of the important steps in building friendships. It shows you give a damn.