Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Brisket & Brei

I might miss a lot during Passover like  pasta, beans, rice, pizza, but there are lots of Passover goodies that stand out.  This year I made the Passover dinner for my parents & grandma.  It was a small & relaxed dinner, but just like any good Jew I made enough food for a small army.

Anyone who knows me knows that my favorite vacation ever was to France and I LOVE anything French, so it is no surprise I Frenched up my brisket this year.  Schlepping my cast iron dutch oven to New Jersey to make le Daube Provençal De Boeuf Brisket as part of the dinner was worth it!  I loved the way this came out & come colder weather this well reappear on my list of fave comfort foods.  Imagine using a beautiful piece of brisket to make a beef stew.  Browning the brisket first.  Cooking the carrots, onions, & garlic with tomato paste, and then stirring in a whole bottle of bold red wine.  Nestling the brisket back into the pot below the rich wine.  Before popping the whole thing in the oven to cook for the next 3 hours add the very French flavors of thyme, bay leaves, Niçoise olives, & thinly sliced orange rind.  I made a couple of adjustments for Passover - no flour & no salt pork - but it didn't suffer for it.  The brisket was tender and flavorful.  I served it over the Passover Gnocchi, but it really over powered the delicate pillows of goodness.  They really are best left to simple sauces that let them shine.

I also made coriander ginger orange braised chicken - one of my fave chicken dishes.  Side dishes green & white roasted asparagus & stuff derma.  My chicken soup & matzoh balls came out yummy - using a recipe from an Italian Jewish cookbook making matzoh balls with olive oil & some of the chicken from the soup.  We did have to scrounge a bit to come up with enough (4) bowls for all of us... mom & dad have been packing everything away in anticipation of moving soon (hopefully).  I did away with the traditional gefilte fish and made a poached tuna in endive cups with a homemade horseradish aioli... everyone but dad liked that.

After many failed attempts as French macarons, mom & I decided to make a simple dessert of cut fruit and chocolate dip.  Grandma brought a small packaged apple kugel that was great.  Heated up in the microwave, it tasted very strudel like - only missing some of the sweet white icing drizzled over it.

It was a successful dinner, except that I am messy.  Things were going well, it seemed to stay under control while I was home by myself, but towards the end there I seemed to lose control and the kitchen turned to a mess.  Luckily since I cooked, dad did most of the clean up while mom & I took grandma home.  I forgot to mention that the bottom of my dutch oven is forever stained - he scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed.

The next morning before dad took me home I smelt my favorite Passover tradition (well besides that whole "you have to drink 4 cups of wine thru dinner" thing), Matzoh Brei.  For those not in the know, Matzoh Brei is matzoh that has been broken up, soaked in hot water till it becomes just soft enough, mixed with a beaten egg or two, & then fried in a pan.  Ok, you may be thinking, soft matzoh & egg whatever... but when it is done right it is great.  The real trick is the whole water part - not enough and it's not soft enough, too much and its soggy and gross... it is a fine line.  My dad's has always been the best & he had made a bunch for mom & me in the morning.  YUM!

How was your Passover Seder?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Good (the bad & the ugly will come later)

The last couple days I have been happily toiling away in my kitchen.  I have been working on some new recipes for my family's Passover dinner on Monday.  I have had some successes and some failure.

In my search to make something different, I came across this blog.  In the Israeli Kitchen, Mimi has a recipe for Passover Gnocchi.  Now, to anyone out there that has been celebrating Passover all their life, this sounds like some taunting urban legend - and that's what I thought.

There are a lot of things I miss over Passover: bread, beans, Cheerios, oatmeal, pizza, rice, & of course pasta.  When I came across Mimi's recipe I figured, what the heck, I have everything on hand.  I had never made gnocchis and heard stories of how difficult they can be to make.  I don't know if it is the use of the matzoh cake meal & potato starch that helps make them light & fluffy, but they were.  They were easy to make.  Smelt like matzoh balls when I took the rested dough out of the fridge.  And YUMMY!  After boiling for only 3-5 minutes, I tossed them in a pan with some tomatoes and olive oil, tore up some basil over top, and it was good to go.

I actually made two batches already.  The first, while good, were way too big.  I wasn't aware they would poof up so much when they cook.  My next batch was much better sizewise.  I also perfected my gnocchi forming skills on the second batch.  Here are my tips on making these:
  1. Make them smaller than you think you should.  As soon as they hit the water they will fluff up to little pillows of goodness.
  2. To form the gnocchi with a fork I first pressed the fork lightly into the gnocchi on the counter, then flip the fork over, & with my other hand used my thumb to flick (lightly)/roll the gnocchi off the fork tines.  Once you get the hang of it, it goes really fast.  If you are doing it with a kid, I think just pressing the fork in would be a good job for them.  The rolling of it is just what I prefer.
  3. Start boiling your water right before you pull your dough out of the fridge.  These really are best made & served fresh and best not to let them sit around.  Also have any have your sauce ready before they go in the water... they will be done before you know it.
  4. Make the gnocchi on parchment paper.  Doesn't just make clean up easier, but if you are like me and you have a small kitchen & aren't making the gnocchi next to the pot of water it makes transporting and dumping in the pot much easier.
Yesterday I made a nice easy tomato sauce by tossing a couple tomatoes and garlic into the food processor.   Added tomato paste into a hot pan with olive oil and some crushed red chili peppers.  As the gnocchi floated to the top and boiled for a few minutes, I just scooped them out and dropped them in the simmering sauce.  Yummy!

My other big success this week... AIOLI!  I made actual aioli.  For anyone who doesn't know, aioli is fancy French mayonnaise flavored with garlic and/or other herbs.  It takes a long time & lots of patience, but totally worth it.

First I dropped 2 egg yolks into my food processor.  Because you are using raw eggs, it is best to use the freshest eggs you can find (I also wouldn't suggest this for anyone like the very young or old that shouldn't eat things like raw eggs).  I added in some salt, pepper, juice of 1 lemon, and 2 cloves of smashed garlic.  I filled my measuring cup with about 1/4 cup of olive oil and 3/4 cup of grapeseed oil (this oil is light and has no taste - great for dressings).  And now the patience comes in.  I turned on the food processor and began adding the oil drop by drop.  This is NOT an exaggeration!  The oil must be added SLOW, literally drop by drop for it to emulsify with the egg yolks to create the aioli.  It takes a long time, but when you see that creamy mixture come together and really start to look like you finial product it will be worth it.  Do not be tempted to pour in the oil, you'll only have a sloppy mess.

There was only one little problem, which luckily didn't occur till the very last moment.  The food processor stopped.  It didn't slow down, it didn't make a noise... it just came to a dead stop.  Luckily I was at the very end and after an hour or so of cooling off it seems to be working fine again.

I was so happy with the thick aioli.  After tasting for flavor, I added in some mustard (both Dijon mustard & powdered mustard - I like mustard) and horseradish.  I let the flavors meld together over night.  I am very happy with the end product... not only good for sandwiches and the tuna dish I have planned for Passover dinner, but it was perfect for dipping fries.

So those were my big successes... next up, the FAIL.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Passover Sneak Peek

Just having a small Passover dinner with Mom, Dad, & Grandma next week.  I am going to do the cooking (probably enlisting Mom & Dad as sous chefs).  I decided to make a few changes to the traditional meal.  Since my brother won't be up north for Passover, there is little reason to serve Gefilte Fish this year - I only enjoyed it as a vehicle for large amounts of horseradish (eating it with a spoon isn't normally acceptable).  I haven't tossed out the fish course all together, just tweaked it a little.

Here is the menu for our Passover Seder

Chicken Soup with Sephardic Matzoh Balls
Poached Tuna in Endive Cups with Horseradish Aioli
Moroccan Orange Salad
Le Daube Provençal De Boeuf Brisket
Coriander Ginger Orange Chicken
Roasted Asparagus
French Macarons
Lemon Meringue Pie

I am also going to try to make Passover Gnocchi to serve the Frenched up brisket over.  I'll keep you posted on my progress.

What are you making for your Springtime Holiday?