Monday, April 30, 2007

Riva Cucina


Usually I don't write about restaurant openings because really, what can you say? An opening is just a chance to get a sneak peek and a bite and that's usually it. But last Friday's opening of Riva Cucina in Berkeley was a little different, for me anyway.

Chef Massimiliano Boldrini is from Emilia Romagna and there were lots of signs that his new restaurant will be a taste of that region, which is known for luscious cuisine. Starting off on the right foot, they served a sparkling red Lambrusco instead of Prosecco or Asti. If you haven't tried this lovely and refreshing wine you're in for a treat. On a warm day like Friday it was just perfect.

The chef was serving up a delicious creamy pasta with prosciutto and asparagus. The pasta was al dente, flavorful and reminded me more of pasta I've eaten in Italy than pasta I've eaten in the US. The other bites were tasty as well, some citrusy salmon, savory crostini with a sausage topping, a skewered version of salad Caprese and crisp crema fritta, a dessert I have never seen on any menus in the Bay Area. In a word, yum.

The regular menu features inexpensive pastas, panini and a few roasted items. I was pleased to see they will be serving Snake River Farms beef (the same beef I had at the French Laundry) and Kurobata pork. Both are great Japanese style, produced-in-America ingredients but will undoubtedly be cooked with a true Italian sensibility. While it's too soon for a real review, I have to admit my hopes are high for Riva Cucina.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Arugula Shrimp Salad: Recipe


You may have noticed that there haven't been very many new recipes around here lately. But it's not because I haven't been cooking. I've actually been cooking quite a bit. The recipes I've been working on have been for a wine retailer so I haven't shared the results here the way I usually do. Now that one of the recipes is up on the client's site, I thought I'd go ahead and reprint it here.

It's a fun challenge pairing recipes with wines. You can plan all you like, but ultimately you just have to taste your dish with the wine and see what develops. Sometimes one element can throw the whole thing off. Other times it just sings. When I learned I would be pairing a dish with a Pinot Gris I decided I would put together a seafood salad. I was very lucky that the dressing only took a couple of tries to get right.

Even though I created this recipe almost two months ago, the ingredients are perfect right now. In fact my organic produce box, delivered from the farm this week, featured two of the main ingredients, avocados and arugula. I also happen to have a couple of Meyer lemons on hand and maybe you do too? If you are looking for an elegant salad, I hope you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

Arugula and Endive Salad with Shrimp and Meyer Lemon Dressing

Serves 4

Meyer lemon vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon honey
1 clove garlic. pressed through a garlic press
1/3 cup fresh squeezed Meyer lemon juice
zest of one Meyer lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Shrimp:
28 small shrimp (51-60/lb size) about 8 ounces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil

Salad:
2 1/2 ounces arugula (1/2 of a 5 ounce bag)
2 medium belgian endive, sliced crosswise into strips
1 avocado

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Make the vinaigrette by whisking together the salt, honey, garlic, lemon juice, lemon peel and olive oil.

Peel and de-vein shrimp. In a small bowl toss shrimp with salt, a couple grinds of pepper and olive oil. Place shrimp on a baking sheet lined with tin foil. Bake for 4 or 5 minutes or until pink and cooked through.

Toss the salad with about a 1/4 cup of the vinaigrette. Divide salad greens onto four salad plates. Scoop out bits of avocado using a teaspoon and place with shrimp on top of the salad.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Educating Peter: Book Review




Here's the thing I hate about wine, the attitude. You know what I'm talking about. Wine should be something we enjoy and yet it easily slips into something that intimidates instead. Of course it's not the fault of the wine. It's the people who write about it, sell it and pour it who use it as a weapon against the unsuspecting. I haven't actually met any intimidating winemakers, although it may just be a matter of time.

In my quest to learn more about wine I have been attending wine events, reading up on wine but mostly tasting, as you might imagine. Reading about wine sounds like the most boring thing in the world, but as with anything else if the the writer is talented the subject turns out be fascinating. Two recent books have utterly delighted me in this regard--Lettie Teague's book Educating Peter and Rick Kushman and Hank Beal's A Moveable Thirst Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country. They actually have quite a bit in common. Both are conversations between a wine novice and an expert.

In Educating Peter How I Taught a Famous Movie Critic the Difference Between Cabernet and Merlot or How Anybody Can Become an (Almost) Instant Wine Expert, wine expert and executive editor at Food & Wine magazine Lettie Teague teaches her friend film critic Peter Travers about wine and lets him ask all the silly questions and make all the silly mistakes that put novices like me at ease. Teague is gentle and kind and knowledgeable and just the kind of the friend you'd want taking you by the hand. She has an enthusiasm for wine that helps coax her Chardonnay-loving pal into a wider appreciation of wine.

Whether she's explaining the proper temperatures for serving wine or the importance of oak it's always in a pleasant down to earth manner. The book explores wines from many of the major wine-producing regions of the world. Along the way you get tasty little snippets of Hollywood gossip like John Irving's favorite wine or the celebrity connections to Santa Rosa--sorry you'll have to read the book I'm not telling!

This book is a delight and a real asset to anyone like me who wants to learn more about wine without feeling like they are in school again.

READ MORE
Over at Bay Area Bites is my review of A Moveable Thirst, an equally charming book.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Rick Bayless at IACP




The conference concluded with an awards dinner where chef and restaurant owner Rick Bayless was given the IACP Humanitarian award. It was the third time I heard him spoke at the conference and as with each prior instance, my admiration for him grew even greater. I have to admit, I have always liked Rick Bayless and adore his cooking at Frontera Grill.

Recently I finished reading The United States of Arugula. I was particularly struck by a discussion of the decision Rick Bayless made to work with Burger King. That decision resulted in much criticism. His ideas of engaging big companies, like Burger King, rather than isolating or ignoring them made sense to me then as it does now. I can't help but think he might have had something to do with the recent announcement that Burger King intends to ensure that their suppliers treat animals humanely.

Earlier in the week I heard Bayless speak at a session on heritage breeds. He is a great supporter of both heritage breeds and using local indigenous ingredients. On the panel he talked about his experiments with cooking heritage breeds of chicken and beef and stated that what excited him most about being in the kitchen was working with the pure flavors he found in these products. We learned that there are challenges in cooking non-conventionally grown meat and heard his suggestions for serving very lean beef raw, in dishes like carpaccio and tartare. When asked whether heritage breeds needed to stay local or go global to be sustainable, he said "Let's celebrate what each area has to offer, and try to make it more available."

His enthusiam for flavor and "terroir", stood in stark contrast to the enthusiasm for techniques outlined by other speakers at the conference such as Herve This, a pioneer of molecular gastronomy and culinary innovators Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche of Moto.

At a morning panel discussion on the availability and usage of indigenous ingredients, Bayless shared an overview of the culinary history of Mexico. The influences in Mexico come from countries and cultures as diverse as France, the Philippines, Spain, Austria and the Moors. His historical and anthropological perspective highlighted the complex nature of determining "authenticity". He said food is always a reflection of place, and therefore different everywhere. Rather than bemoan the lack of consistency, he celebrated the differences and said he never claims the food available to him in Chicago is better or worse than what is available in Mexico, just different.

In the evening award ceremony Bayless never spoke about his own accomplishments but praised his staff for their volunteer efforts and commitment to the community. He also credited his wife with helping to make the Frontera Farmer Foundation a reality. This non-profit organization is committed to promoting small, sustainable farms serving the Chicago area by providing them with development grants. He came across as extremely humble and never even mentioned that he closes his restaurant at Christmas and allows any employee who wishes to join him on a trip to Mexico to learn about the food and culture. What other chef offers their employees such a thing? Ultimately he said, food is about conviviality which made for a great affirming end to the conference. I can't imagine that anyone left the room without a greater appreciation for Rick Bayless. I know I did.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Favorite Things:Moo cards


Have you seen these? They are mini cards you can make from your own photos. On the reverse side you can have any text printed you like, space permitting.

I used some of my favorite food photos that are loaded up at flickr, and made them into business cards. Not to brag or anything, but they have been a big hit. Everyone seems to want one and it's fun seeing who chooses what.

Now the company that makes them, Moo, is also selling notecards. They are a bit pricey, but I just might order them anyway....

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Vanishing Cookbook


One of the most practical sessions I attended at IACP in Chicago was The Vanishing Cookbook. The panelists included Tanya Steel, Editor in Chief of Epicurious.com, Rick Rodgers, noted cookbook author and award-winning cooking instructor and Pam Chirls, Senior Editor at publisher Wiley responsible for books such as The Soul of a New Cuisine, The Professional Chef and The Bon Appetit Cookbook. Their combined experience in the publishing world is tremendous and provided the audience with a snapshot of what the cookbook publishing landscape is like these days and what it takes to succeed.

First the good news. We learned that cookbook sales are up--but that there is more competition for shelf space than ever before. We heard about the growth of the celebrity chef, but also learned food bloggers can be celebrities too(!) The presentation covered topics such as how much income you can expect as a cookbook author (5-100k depending on numerous factors). We heard about all the right reasons to consider writing one and many of the wrong ones.

Some tips I learned from Steel about being on the web were to consider podcasting and even more importantly, video. Her suggestion for bloggers and webmasters was to purchase a camcorder kit and keep the videos to three or four minutes, and said even a 90 second clip can make a good video.

Much of the presentation was devoted to the cookbook proposal process. Lots of useful tips were shared such as, be the only one who can write the book, consider a spicy memoir, don't ignore the web and look for cookbook ideas at places like the Gourmet Products Show and the Fancy Food Show. Rodgers told us about how he came up with the idea for a fondue cookbook after seeing how many companies were introducing new fondue pots.

From Chirls we learned the essential elements in a proposal such as a compelling introduction, table of contents and at least five properly formatted and fully tested recipes. Editors often try out those recipes! Despite the challenges, the tone of the presentation was upbeat and optimistic. It was encouraging to all of us considering writing a cookbook...

You can download the full presentation I saw from Rick Rodgers web site (just click on the Vanishing Cookbook image).

Still curious about publishing a cookbook? Reading Dianne Jacob's book Will Write for Food is one way to learn even more about what it takes. Actually if you are at all interested in writing about food her book is worthwhile. I have a copy and refer to it frequently. This week you can read an interview with her and even ask her some questions over at David Lebovitz.com.

READ MORE
Over at Bay Area Bites is my take on Recipe Cards Redux


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Business of Food: Organics Gone Mainstream




At the first morning session at the IACP conference in Chicago there was a panel discussion on the topic of organics. The speakers were an interesting mix--there was Samuel Fromartz who wrote the book Organics, Inc. Michael Abelman, the founder of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, a farmer and an outspoken advocate of organics. Representing the business of organics were Jim Adams a former journalist and the Marketing Director at Chipotle Mexican Grill and Michael Brandeisky, VP Strategic Marketing Initiatives responsible for natural and organic products at Kraft.

Fromartz set the context by presenting organic as part of "a larger conversation" about who produces your food and how they produce it. He outlined two directions, one where organics was growing with more choices being offered to consumers, the other was about ideals, stewardship of the land, local producers, social justice and clean food. But is it idealism versus growth? Fromartz doesn't think so. He believes both can and should coexist. He said there is fear of organics "selling out" but with only 3% market share, it's less of an issue than it might seem. His overall message--keep pushing the envelope.

After showing some disturbing footage of factory pig farms, Adams told a most interesting anecdote about his company switching from a conventionally raised pork to Niman Ranch pork, a more "natural" and humanely raised product. The company had to raise the price of the carnitas burrito by a dollar to support the change. The result? A four times increase in sales of carnitas burritos. Later a pig farmer challenged his assertion that pigs were given growth hormones and Adams agreed that he didn't know anything about it. It was unfortunate that this inaccuracy ended up lessening Adam's credibility.

Brandeisky talked about the commitment Kraft has made to "organic and natural" and said that many consumers switch to organic and natural products after a major illness or when they get pregnant or have children. He said Kraft doesn't see it as a fad and that it fits well with their strategy to serve consumers by "helping them to live and eat better". And yet he mentioned nothing about the other issues that Fromartz had raised. Was the audience too polite to a corporate sponsor of the conference to question him about stewardship of the land? I doubt he would have had much of an answer as to what Kraft is doing in that respect, but since the question wasn't asked we really don't know.

Abelman was by far the most rousing and popular of the speakers. He told the audience that he had addressed the same conference in 1993 and that back then what seemed radical, is now mainstream. He said that the definition of organic has become more narrow but that it is more than just about the chemicals in our food. He called for a renewed commitment to the values that lead to the movement in the first place. He asked the audience to rethink issues of scale, and how we grow responsibly.

Both Abelman and Fromartz concluded the presentation with a discussion of the choice between buying local and buying organic.Abelman said he mostly chooses local over organic. He went on to explain that organic is not the only issue and that a relationship with a food producer enables him to have a dialog that otherwise wouldn't happen. Sometimes local producers just don't have organic certification but are still "doing all the right things". Fromartz concluded that it is ultimately a false choice--that we must do both, not one or the other. All in all this was a most thoughtful and provocative presentation.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blogging here, blogging there...



Blogging pretty much everywhere! Most of the time my blogging happens locally here and over at KQED but this month I've been blogging all over the place. First I blogged at the University of Nebraska Press about about Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book. And today you'll find my first post over at the IACP Global News Blog. It's an IACP conference First Timers Report. I do hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Tru: Restaurant Review

Rod Stewart spoiled my dinner at Tru. Ok, that's not exactly true. Let me just start by saying that as good as my dinner was, I lost a lot of my focus once I spied Rod the Mod from across the room. So with that out of the way, on to the review. Tru is a very elegant restaurant. The dining room feels spacious and has striking contemporary art work on the walls by big name artists like Maya Lin, Gerhard Richter, and Ed Ruscha. It is clean and bold and feels like a sophisticated art gallery. The service is impeccable, well-trained staff strike just the right balance of being cordial, helpful and unobtrusive.

My dining companions and I chose to order the Grand Seasonal Collection for $110. In addition to a couple of amuse bouche, we began with a selection of sashimi then saddle of Rabbit in a Rabbit Consommé, with Morels, Pea & Lavender Emulsion. This was light in texture but rich in earthy forest flavors.


Next came the tagliolini with a chunk of peeky toe crab and a creamy vibrant uni sauce. The pasta was a little overcooked but it was delicious nonetheless.


The British Columbian King Salmon, Red Wine Bouillon, White Bean was one of two main dishes and it was great, perfectly cooked salmon, surprising and unexpected contrasting flavors all worked well together and felt very satisfying. The crisp tapioca chip garnish was very unusual but also very good and beautiful to look at, like a glittering piece of pink pearly jewelry.


The Braised Veal Shank, Sweetbread Cappelli, Carrots, Veal Bouillon was the other main dish, and here the pasta was cooked al dente the veal was tender and the carrots super sweet. This was a very comforting dish.


We opted to skip the cheese course and it was lucky that we did. A rose champagne foam with a piece of grapefruit was heavily scented with a house made grapefruit oil that was as refreshing as a glass of juice in the morning. The rose napoleon was very sweet and so the unsweetened foam cut the intensity and balanced each bite.


After that came a ridiculous succession of divine mignardise and chocolates. Thank goodness for restaurants that still value the pastry chef! What wonders they can achieve. Gale Gand pulls out all the stops. Thanks to Tim for choosing a Crozes Hermitage Rhone that was dry and pleasant and worked with everything. And thanks to Nancy for indulging us by ordering off the "left side of the menu". Perfect choices and a perfectly indulgent dinner.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Post Modern Cuisine


Homaro Cantu and Ben Roche the Executive Chef and Pastry Chef of Moto are fascinating to listen to. They are brilliant innovators, great creative thinkers, inspired inventors and yet something disturbed me deeply about their presentation, " A Savory and Sweet Look into Post Modern Cuisine" at the IACP conference yesterday.

They talked about their kitchen as if it were a science lab. They video record everything because they want to document their efforts, but they don't believe in paper (except for when they are printing with edible inks on edible paper). Cooking, it seems, should not be limited to a stove but be something that is accomplished with "anything you can plug into a wall", including printers, lasers, freezing "anti-griddles", you-name-it.

Their goals are noble. They say they want to conserve energy, but really they want to save the planet. They believe in sustainability and in using only the best, most local, organic. and highest quality ingredients. They patent new technologies that they believe can be mass produced but donate profits to charity when they do deals with big companies. Not all of their inventions are necessarily food-orented. For example they even created a point of sale system that allows them to track costs in real time to ensure profitability.

They recruit all kinds of people to work in their kitchen/lab--engineers, soldiers, designers, mechanics, it could be anyone. They rotate everyone through the kitchen and dining room so everyone learns everything. They don't tell anyone when they are moving them from one place to another to keep everyone on their toes. They have meetings where anything at all can be discussed, because you never know where the next great idea will come from. It all sounds great.

But for all the talk of innovation, very little was said about taste. Even less was said about pleasure, unless it was the pleasure and fun of being in this wild environment of their own design. It saddened me to think that this is where food is heading, somewhere so efficient and focused and profitable, and yet without passion, heart or love.

The food at Moto is something you have probably heard about already--doughnut soup, hot ice cream, bubbles of sorbet filled with gasses, charcoal made from white bread and the like. I think of myself as open minded especially when it comes to food, but the offerings on a recent menu such as nitro sushi roll, goat cheese snow and balsamic, langostines with rice pilaf fries, chicken-fried mac-n-cheese, fruit and pasta, and chili cheese nachos for dessert really don't sound all that good to me. I have not eaten at Moto, but reading the reviews on their website I see words like fun, innovative, futuristic, playful, oddball and fantastic. What I want is just plain deliciousness. I hope in the "post-modern world" that's not too much to ask for.

Welcome to IACP


Ok I'm a newbie. That's the reason you are seeing a badge instead of pictures of the opening night event at the famous Merchandise Mart. In the showrooms were different and sometimes interactive and artistic food displays. Highlights? Well the best food was the beef and potatoes with cuban beef, tenderloin, mini meatloaves and brisket. As far as the potatoes go there were potato puffs, truffled mashed potatoes and a smoky cajun potato salad.

There was also a deconstructed or perhaps reconstructed bananas foster that was liquid with frozen ice cream beads from Moto and some wacky jelled flower displays that I had never seen before. One jelled display was a whole human being and had different botanical looking elements embedded within. There were also life-sized models of clothing made from cabbage leaves and other vegetables. Go ahead. Use your imagination.

Oh! I forgot to mention I saw "Betty" of the Reynolds Wrap ads. More celebrity sightings later.

More on Moto next...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Tofu and Celery Salad: Recipe


There is something tremendously satisfying about making meals out of virtually nothing. Of course, my pantry is far from bare. But there are times the fridge is almost empty. Today I am enroute to a conference and as a result I'd been too busy to shop and so on Monday I was faced with very little to work with. In fact I was down to not much more than a package of tofu and some organic celery!

I had thought I would make scrambled tofu for breakfast one day, but really it just doesn't work without toast. Searching on the newly designed Epicurious web site I found what sounded like a terrific recipe. As usual I made some tweaks and the result was very satisfying indeed. For one thing I used soft tofu which I think absorbs the vinaigrette better and I skipped the sesame seeds and added some ginger. I think you could also add garlic if you like. I could see making this for a potluck or serving it as a light and cool no-cook Summer dinner.

Poor tofu, so many people seem to dislike it. But not me. I love it's creaminess and mellow flavor. This recipe is for tofu lovers and will not win over anyone who finds the texture of tofu unappealing. It reminds me a bit of those Japanese appetizers like the Summer dish hiya yakko tofu which consists of a cube of cold tofu served with a garnish of thinly sliced ginger and green onion, in a bowl with some soy and yuzu. If you are a tofu lover, give it a try, if not, just move along.

Tofu and Celery Salad
2- 4 side salad portions

1 (14-oz) block of firm or extra firm silken tofu
2 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar (if using seasoned omit black pepper)
2 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 large ribs of celery

Rinse tofu and pat dry, then cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices in 1 layer on a triple thickness of paper towels on top of a large baking sheet, then cover with another triple thickness of paper towels and another baking sheet if you have one. Weight the pan down with 3 1-lb cans or a large cast iron skillet to remove excess moisture and firm it up, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, whisk together oils, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger and pepper in a large bowl. Trim celery, then slice very thin diagonally. Cut tofu crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide matchsticks and transfer to a bowl. Toss gently with dressing, celery and season to taste. Do not use a spoon or you will break up the tofu. Served chilled.

Enjoy!

READ MORE
Over at Bay Area Bites is an announcement about the Tofu Hakiu contest. I swear, I am NOT making this up!


Monday, April 9, 2007

Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book




Today a quick break from Passover posts to let you know about Jane Grigon's Vegetable Book. While I may not have a massive book deal like some other food bloggers, I am very proud to have written the introduction to this new American reprint of a classic book, published by Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press.

Jane Grigson is one in a line of great British food writers that includes people like Elizabeth David, Claudia Roden, and Nigella Lawson. I was really pleased to be chosen to write the introduction to her book because even though it is almost thirty years old, it is as relevant as ever. Her writing is straight-forward, funny and well-researched, all things I admire.

Grigson loved food and loved the wonderful bounty of fresh produce in England. She knew that British food was no joke, and was eager to see enthusiasm for all that was fresh, homegrown and delicious. The recipes in the book are not necessarily healthy or even vegetarian, but are tastes from many countries using the best possible ingredients available to her.

If you are not familiar with Jane Grigson I hope you will read my post today over at the University of Nebraska Press blog or better yet, pick up a copy. With great stories in addition to great recipes, it's one of those books that can live happily in your kitchen or on your nightstand.

READ MORE
Over at the University of Nebraska Press blog is my post on Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book, check it out!


Friday, April 6, 2007

Matzoh Toffee & other Sweet Treats for Passover


The traditional sweets for Passover are a mixed bag. Sponge cakes are often rubbery, flourless cakes too dense. Passover cake and brownie mixes bought at the store are usually expensive and the end product is not as good as treats made from scratch. Macaroons can be good but many of us are used to the canned Passover variety which, like rainbow colored jelly fruit slices, we mostly enjoy for nostalgia's sake.

Just because it's Passover doesn't mean you have to eat lousy sweets. If Passover gives you matzoh, then why not make matzoh candy?

Here are three recipes for treats to make during Passover. The first two are good for using up matzoh and farfel, which is kind of like matzoh bits. The last is a recipe to make all year round, but just happens to be Kosher for Passover.

Toffee Chocolate Matzoh Crunch

2 sheets of matzoh
1/4 Cup butter
1/4 Cup brown sugar
2/3 Cup chocolate chips
2-3 Tablespoon chopped nuts--any kind but I like pistachios

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the sheets of matzah on a greased sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Cook the butter and brown sugar until melted, then pour it over the matzah and bake it until bubbly and slightly toasty looking, maybe 5-7 minutes. Remove from the oven then sprinkle the chocolate chips on the matzah. You have to leave it for a minute or two to melt enough so you can spread the chocolate evenly across the matzah. Spread it then sprinkle it with chopped nuts. Put in the fridge until it hardens then break it into pieces and store in an air tight container.

Passover Nut Brittle
makes about 1 1/2 pounds

2 Cups matzo farfel (you can substitute little chips of matzah)
2 Cups sugar
1/2 Cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 Tablespoons salted butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 Cups chopped mixed nuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread matzo farfel and nuts on a large shallow baking pan (1/2 to 1 inch deep) and toast, until golden, stirring every five minutes. total baking time should be about 15 to 20 minutes. If using some toasted nuts, do not toast them again, but add them to the toasted farfel. Transfer to a bowl, then line pan with a Silpat mat or with foil (shiny side down). If using foil, grease the surface or spray well with cooking oil.

Bring sugar, water, vanilla and salt to a boil in a deep 2- to 2 1/2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring slowly until sugar is dissolved. Boil gently, without stirring until syrup begins to turn golden. Resist the urge to stir, and continue to boil, swirling pan occasionally. The sugar will clump up and get white, before melting into a golden caramel syrup.

When the caramel begins to turn a deep golden color, immediately remove pan from heat and carefully stir in butter with a wooden spoon (mixture will rise up and bubble vigorously). When bubbling begins to subside, immediately stir in toasted farfel and nuts, when combined, quickly pour onto baking pan, spreading and smoothing with back of spoon or heat resistant spatula, before mixture hardens. Spread the mixture as thin as you can, it's fine if there are some holes in the surface.

Transfer baking pan to a rack. If using a foil-lined pan, when cool enough to handle peel off foil and transfer brittle to rack to cool completely. Break brittle into bite-size piece.

This last recipe recipe I found in The Healthy Jewish Cookbook just last year, but it doesn't taste healthy, just crunchy and delicious. I've adapted it a bit based on my experience making the original recipe.

Cinnamon Balls
makes about 2 dozen

3 egg whites
1 heaping tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 2/3 Cup ground almonds
1 Cup brown sugar
Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat the egg whites until very stiff and dry. Add the cinnamon, almonds and sugar and mix well. Lightly shape heaping teaspoons of the the mixture into balls, set on a greased cookie sheet and bake until set--about 20 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar before setting aside to cool.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Passover on the web, a food blog round-up


This year Passover seems to have slipped under the food blogger radar. Two years ago there were lots of moving posts that I linked to from many prominent food blogs. You can check out those posts at Eggbeater, the Amateur Gourmet and Tasting Menu...This year the pickings were awfully slim, but there were some good ones nonetheless. Ok, the posts just keep coming, maybe we were just off to a slow start?

Here are the 2007 Passover food blog posts:

Ronnie at Around the Table prepared a Passover seder for 31 people and mades a memorable dish called Tsimmes. Coming along for the first time was her high school friend, Christine, who was moved by the experience and almost wished she were Jewish, for the day anyway. She blogs about the experience at Around the Table.

Ariela at Baking and Books made an Ethiopian dish for Passover. Head over to her post to learn more about the Ethiopian Jewish connection. Don't skip the racy bits!

What do you put on matzoh? Emzeegee and the hungry three has answers including the classic butter and salt and some other toppings that turn matzoh into breakfast, lunch and even dessert.

The Chocolate Lady of In Mol Araan shares her 2007 Vegetarian Peysekh Survival Guide which includes recipe for Bananaless Wakbt Banana Cake, Very Nice Potatoes and more.

Lydia at a Perfect Pantry made some matzah brei, a traditional breakfast dish that's kind of like Jewish french toast. Of all the Passover dishes, matzah brei is one of the best ways to make matzah tasty.

Ed at Serious Eats shared a hilarious Japanese video that shows how to cut matzah in half. Would I make this up?

Catherine at Albion Cooks made a vegetarian matzoh ball soup. It's a favorite comfort food and one of the tastiest dumplings your will ever eat.

Carolyn at 18th Century Cuisine shared a French recipe for biscotins. It may be an old recipe but it was new to me.

Gluten-free By the Bay shared a huge list of gluten-free Kosher for Passover recipes. Some of these look like year-round winners. I never thought of using quinoa during the holiday.

Teddy at Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen has been posting about Passover all week long. You'll find lots of recipes and even a video.

If I missed your food blog post, feel free to put a link to it in the comments section.

Tomorrow I share some recipes for sweet treats including Toffee Matzoh Crunch!

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Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Keeping Kosher for Passover


While most people know about Passover seders, the holiday is actually observed for a whole week. What does that mean exactly? Well, for one thing, it means keeping Kosher for Passover.

Keeping Kosher for Passover is a bit different from just keeping Kosher. Here is a basic summary of the major laws of Kashrut or "keeping Kosher" literally proper or fit:

* You are not allowed to serve milk and meat in the same meal

* Only animals that chew their cud and have split hooves are permitted for example lamb and beef but not pork, and must be slaughtered in a special way

* Fish can be eaten but must have both fins and scales

* No shellfish is allowed

Whether these laws were created for health reasons or for more humane treatment towards animals we may never know, but they have been in effect for a very long time and many people around the world observe them.

Kosher for Passover means keeping Kosher plus it means not eating any "leavened baked goods". Specifically you can't eat chometz which is anything that contains barley, wheat, rye, oats, or spelt and is not cooked within 18 minutes after coming in contact with water. Additionally Jews from Eastern Europe like myself, avoid corn, rice, peanuts, and legumes since they can be used to make bread. Lots of foods have additives that make them unsuitable for the holiday. For details on how the most observant Jews keep Kosher for Passover, check out this guide. It might seem silly, but think of it like giving something up for Lent. It's just a kind of reminder to keep you thinking about the themes of the holiday for a little while longer.

Because you don't use yeast, a lot of cakes, muffins and rolls use eggs, especially egg whites for leavening instead. Passover baked goods can be dry and rubbery. Fortunately Dannon All Natural yogurt is not only Kosher for Passover but a great ingredient to increase the tenderness in baked goods. If you are keeping Kosher you can use the plain, vanilla, coffee and lemon flavors of yogurt in recipes and as a substitute for higher fat dairy goods like cream cheese, sour cream and whipped cream which is something I do all year round.

This year I tried three recipes from Dannon that are specifically good for Passover. My favorite was a mini muffin recipe. It was so good I would make it year round.

Lemon Vanilla Yogurt Walnut Passover Mini Muffins courtesy of Dannon

2 tbsp. canola oil + 1 tbsp. for greasing pans
3/4 cup Passover cake meal
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. grated lemon peel, or more to taste
3/4 cup Dannon® Natural Flavors Vanilla Lowfat Yogurt
4 eggs separated
36 large walnut pieces

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease mini muffin pans. In a large bowl, add cake meal, salt, ground walnuts, sugar and lemon zest.
2. In a medium size bowl, add 2 tablespoons of oil, yogurt and egg yolks and whisk together. Add to cake meal mixture and mix well.
3. In a clean dry bowl, add egg whites and beat until stiff. Gently fold 1/4 of the whites into cake mixture to lighten; then fold rest of whites into mixture until just combined.
4. Spoon 1 tablespoon of mixture into each mini muffin pan, top with a piece of walnut and bake for 12-14 minutes or until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Yield: 36 mini muffins (2 muffins per serving)

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Charoset or why am I eating mortar?


My favorite part of the hilarious bestseller Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris is when he tries to explain Easter to his fellow French class students. The more he explains about Jesus, the bunny and a basket of eggs the more impossibly ridiculous it sounds. So it is with charoset.

In the beginning there was a seder plate. Seder means "order" as the Passover meal has a distinct order to it and describing what is on the seder plate, a kind of centerpiece to the dinner table, is one of the rituals of the evening. On the seder plate were various symbolic items, bitter herb which is usually some horseradish, matzoh and a roasted lamb shank. The bitter herb represents the bitterness of slavery. The matzoh is the bread of affliction or what the Jews ate on their way out of town. The lamb shank is symbolic of the lamb offered as a sacrifice.

Somewhere along the line, various other things were added making a much more crowded plate. I don't know exactly when rabbis added charoset but they did it to offset the bitterness with a little sweetness. A mixture of apples, walnuts, cinnamon and sweet wine, charoset is supposed to represent the mortar that was used by the Jews in making bricks when they were slaves. Only charoset doesn't really look like mortar and why would it taste sweet anyway? And why would you eat it? There is another reason for charoset that I only recently read about. During their slavery in Egypt, Hebrew women would deliver their infants in apple orchards in order to escape the Egyptian authorities who were ordered to kill all newborn males. And so we eat apples. Wacky, don't you think?

There are lots of recipes for charoset that reflect the fruit and nuts available in different parts of the world and not all recipes contain apples, but being of Eastern European descent, I choose the apple and walnut version. In Pesach for the Rest of Us Marge Piercy recalls a non-Jewish friend calling it Jewish guacamole! It's not quite as good as guacamole, but it is nice and tastes something like a sweet salad or a condiment. During the seder we eat it on matzoh but it's good with yogurt or just as a snack.

Charoset is one of those dishes you make to taste. It is more of a method than a recipe, but here is a formula you can tweak and make your own:

Charoset
2 red apples, I like Galas
1/4 cup sweet Kosher concord grape wine
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Peel the apples, core and chop them roughly, but fairly finely, add some chopped walnuts, then add the cinnamon and Kosher wine to moisten. You should have a thick but slightly chunky mixture. If you want to serve it on matzoh it needs to be "spreadable". If you are serving it as a snack or with yogurt you can make it chunkier.

Enjoy!

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Monday, April 2, 2007

Pesach for the Rest of Us




Tonight is the first night of Passover. But Passover actually lasts all week so why not a week of Passover posts? This week I will be sharing recipes, stories and kicking things off with a book review.

Passover is a holiday that commemorates the Jews exodus from Egypt. It has themes that everyone can relate to; slavery, liberation, freedom, redemption, hope, renewal, being a stranger in a strange land. Through story telling, responsive reading, songs, prayers and food the idea is to relive the experience and not just remember it. Making Passover relevant to you is central to the holiday.

I'm fortunate that the Passover seders or dinners that I attend are filled with special touches that make them personal and meaningful. At some seders we tell stories from our own lives, discuss personal issues that we are facing, we add songs that feel right and at one we even add a dance. In this spirit is a wonderful new book by the poet Marge Piercy called Pesach for the Rest of Us Making the Passover Seder Your Own. There are recipes, poems, songs, and stories in the book. I like the fact that while there are many traditional recipes there are also lots of vegetarian variations too. The book is friendly and welcoming and filled with humor and little twists on tradition.

For example I love the suggestions for additional prayers for washing your hands and a prayer over the matzoh:

"Let us bless this moment when we choose to eat matzoh. Our ancestors, in their haste to be free, had no choice. It was matzoh or nothing. For so many people in the world today, they must eat whatever they can, if they have anything to eat at all. Let us bless those who work to end hunger, and bless all those who suffer it."

Amen! Wishing you a very meaningful Passover. Tomorrow stay tuned for recipes!

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