Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My funny Memorial Day weekend

I can't remember how many thousands of demos I have given in my classroom as well as around the country. Not only do I always meet wonderful people, but hardly a week goes by when I don't meet someone who tells me how fondly he/she remembers the demo he/she attended, and how much fun and how delicious it was.
The great exception was this past Sunday, where I was invited at a major appliance store. As always, my hostess and I worked on the menu, I supplied the recipes, the shopping lists, I described the format. Early that morning, After 2 and a half hours in a crowded stiflingly hot train, I finally arrive at my destination. I ask the harried woman at her desk to see my hostess, and she answers me that she didn't want to give up her Sunday with her family. OK, I said, I can deal with that. Who then did she designate to replace her? Nobody, was the irritated answer. And she points to 2 bare plastic tables. Do we have a sink? No. Where is the stove? about half a mile away. Who is working with me? Everyone is busy, she kept saying, and pointed to a lame clerk who kept disappearing every chance she got. Needless to say, it went downhill from there. Wherever I stood, whatever I tried to do, telling myself all the while that the guests are arriving in less than an hour, and trying not to look frantic, I was jostled and, for the most part, ignored. It took me a whole half hour to finally understand that this was going to be a real disaster, and gathering all the pride I could muster, I left in tears. My whole day was ruined, and a dozen times I started writing the store a letter that never left, but the gist of which I would like to share with you: All the high tech appliances in the world will not buy you a sense of hospitality, or a sense of class.
The next day was a perfect Tikkun for that fiasco: my children, nephews, nieces and their babies all came for dinner. The house filled with togetherness, good cheer and good food, and we ignored the thunder and lightning beyond. What nachas! I did end up being a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kosher gelatin

A good friend recently brought me some gelatin from Israel, and I decided to play with it. I catered a Lechaim last week and served a salmon mousse I made with that gelatin. Judjing by the way it disappeared right under our eyes, it came out really fabulous. It is simply called, generically and uncommercially, "Kosher Gelatin" and has a perfect Manchester Badatz Kosher supervision. Can anyone out there use his/her pull to see what it would take to have sold in NYC stores? It leaves the Osem and Kojel brands in the dust. With this gelatin, we could whip up some fantastic creations, sweet and savory. Keep me posted!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Cooking for brides

Hachnasat Kallah is my favorite Mitzvah. All the young brides for whom I made Sheva Brachot, and all the brides that took my classes know that: I am in their corner!
Recently I was asked to write a column about cooking for newlyweds in the Five Towns magazine. Judjing by the number of grateful e-mails I received, It was quite useful. Since this magazine's site is not set up yet, I would like to share this article with all of you. Enjoy the ridiculously simple dishes, and the quiet and delicious times with your husband!

NEWLYWEDS: COOKING FOR TWO

A few years ago, my husband passed on to me David Halberstam’s wonderful book “the fifties”, which I read with great fascination. In one of its chapters, the young bride would doll herself up in the late afternoon and, at the first sound of the bell, race to open the door for her husband, all smiles and endearments, handing him his favorite drink, ushering him into the spotless dining room, the table set up with all its finery, fresh flowers adorning the table, the air fragrant with the promise of a delicious dinner. As we all know, this paradigm of conjugal bliss is gone, and who can honestly say they are sorry to see it go?

Fast forward fifty some odd years: Cooking for two in this harried world in these hard times. On the face of it, investing all that time for just two people sounds like such a waste. Especially when you consider that most brides come with little or no knowledge of how to whip up a meal, which ultimately means they would spend even more time at it than an experienced cook for uncertain results at best, a further deterrent. As a result, most young brides just run to the corner deli and buy a few pints of whatever drab institutional stuff they can get their hands on, and round it all up with pizza or sandwiches, and serve their purchases more often than not on disposable dishes, probably because they sense, correctly in my view, that the second rate meal they are about to serve is not worthy of soiling the spanking new china and cutlery they have just gone to such great pains to acquire. (Remember the bridal registry?)

Gosh, what a difference half a century can make in the politics of domestic life! The first model was quickly discarded, because it seems that the highlight of the housewife’s otherwise uneventful day was the dinner hour when she brought all her charms and hard work to bear. The second model, well, what can I say? It dies hard. I hope and pray it is on its way out as well, because the uninspired “treats” it provides put a serious damper on the romantic atmosphere so essential to the togetherness of a new couple who, just yesterday, were strangers to each other, and who need all the props (I hope the word is not too crass) they can get.

So, does this modest cook presume to have a solution? I can only share with you what I did in the first year of my marriage, which became the objects of countless bridal classes. Judging by all the grateful e-mails I receive about these classes (one of them read: “Dear Levana, my husband loves you”), it is certainly worth a shot here. I have too unfussy an approach to food and cooking to ever let it take too much of my time at home (outside, of course, it is my lifework). I started by establishing the guidelines, and have never veered away from them, even when cooking for hundreds. No store bought prepared foods, no junk, no just-add-water foods, no bottled salad dressings. I was now ready to work with all the rest, and yes, there is a lot left, and only the best and most wholesome to boot. Is half an hour labor a day acceptable to you if the reward is a whole wonderful meal from start to finish, even if you know hardly anything about cooking? One hour baking time for dishes that will last you two meals? I am including a soup, which takes 15 minutes to prepare and 2 hours to cook but makes over a gallon, which means very ample servings for 4 meals. Of course I don’t mean you should serve it everyday of the week. Serve one quart at dinner, freeze the others containers and take them out at a later time, they will be on tap! Same goes for salad dressing: multiply the recipe, and store it in a big glass jar. When you see how delicious salads can be when dressed properly, you will enjoy them more often.

These recipes are hardly recipes, they work beautifully, mostly by default, because of what I don’t do to them: I put absolutely nothing that will ruin them. So, let’s start with the bare bones, and in further columns we will move up to more elaborate preparations when you have mastered the basics. Here then some of my family’s favorites, to this day: roasted salmon, vegetable soup, roast chicken and potatoes, tossed salad and chocolate chip cookies

ROASTED SALMON

1 pound salmon fillet, skinned and boned, cut into 1inch slivers, a little wider if this is your main course

first way:

preheat oven to 425 degrees. place salmon in one layer in a baking pan. Nothing on whatsoever. bake 20 minutes. not a minute more.

second way:

same temperature and cooking time. Season salmon with salt, pepper, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, dry thyme and basil


VEGETABLE SOUP

3 quarts (12 cups water)

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

6 cloves garlic

1 large bunch flat parsley

1 large bunch dill

6 ribs celery, peeled and cut in large chunks

3 large potatoes, cut in small cubes

2 large carrots, cut in small cubes

2 large sweet potatoes, cut in small cubes

1 tablespoon salt

Bring water and olive oil to boil in a wide bottom pot. In a food processor, using the metal chopping blade, coarsely grind the onion, garlic, parsley, dill and celery. Add to the pot. Add remaining ingredients. Reduce the temperature to medium and cook, covered, 1 1/2 hours. Taste the soup: add a little water if it is too thick, and a little salt if necessary. Let everyone use ground pepper in their own bowl.

second way:

Saute the ground mixture (onion, garlic, celery, parsley, dill) in the olive oil until wilted, before adding the water and remaining ingredients.

variations:

Add one or 2 of the following: canned crushed tomatoes, split peas, lentils, bay leaves; skip the potatoes if you are using split peas or lentils


ROAST CHICKEN AND POTATOES

one whole chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds

1 large onion, sliced in a food processor

4 large potatoes or sweet potatoes, cut in 2 inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

first way:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. place the onion slices in the bottom of a baking pan just large enough to fit your ingredients in one layer. Place the chicken breast side down on top of onion, potatoes all around. Drizzle the oil over the potatoes. Bake 45 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side up, and toss the potatoes. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer

second way:

Same temperature same cooking time same procedure. Season chicken with dry herbs, lemon juice, paprika, garlic etc... eliminate the potatoes if you would rather not have them, just seasoned roast chicken


TOSSED SALAD

romaine lettuce torn into bite size pieces, and perfectly dried (no iceberg)

sliced kirbies

tomato wedges

small wedge onion, minced

Put all greens in a salad bowl. If you would like, add some grated carrots, sprouts, radishes, cranberries or raisins, chopped nuts

dressing:

first way:

1/3 cup olive oil. 1/4 cup cider vinegar or fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

second way: same ingredients plus 2 tablespoons dijon mustard, a little water, 1 teaspoon oregano, 2 cloves minced garlic

chocolate chip cookies

2 eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

good pinch salt

1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips, best quality

Preheat the oven to 375*f. Cream the eggs and sugars with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla, and mix in thoroughly. Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and mix at low speed. Fold in the chips by hand. Drop the cookies in heaping teaspoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with foil, 1 inch apart.

If the baking tray is professional heavy gauge, bake for 10-11 minutes. If it is lighter, bake for 8-9 minutes. The cookies will firm up as they cool, so do not be tempted to bake them longer or they will harden. Bake only one tray at a time (you will get 2 trays total)

Store in tin boxes. Do not refrigerate. Separate each layer of cookies with foil or wax paper so they don=t stick together.



Monday, May 22, 2006

Campari tomatoes

I am sure you have noticed how dramatically the tomato situation has improved around the New York area. It almost got to the point where the pink, mealy and tasteless tomatoes which were almost our only option are now a thing of the past. But there is a tomato that's making a killing, and since its season is so short, I urge you to pounce on it: Campari tomatoes. They are everything a tomato should be, and then some: sweet beyond belief and bursting with color and flavor. This is the greatest tomato I have ever tasted. They come in quart clear plastic tubs, about a dozen to a tub. They are so fabulous that all you need to do to them is either eat them out of hand, or quarter them and sprinkle them with some sea salt. You are in for a fabulous treat!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Going bananas

My family consumes an amount of bananas that would make a small chimp feel threatened with serious competition. A couple years ago, bananas saved my son Yakov from complete boredom and starvation on a plane trip from Sidney Australia to LA where some clerical mix up left him upward of twenty hours without his Kosher meals. His neighbor in the next seat asked him how he could bear it, each time the flight attendant would produce yet another banana, and he assured him he was quite satisfied, happy, even.

I use bananas in smoothies, in pies, in cakes, in drinks, you name it. Listen to what Seth, one of my new guests at a demo last week, wrote me:

"By the way,
All the dishes were excellent but I forgot to tell you how much I liked the cake. You see, I have always hated bananas. Anything with the slightest banana taste made me sick. The cake you made last week was the first time I ever liked something with bananas.
I'm a changed man!"

OK, Seth, I cured you of one phobia so far. No charge for the consultation. And, just so you know what made him a convert, here is the recipe; Enjoy it, and never throw away ripe bananas again!

BANANA CHOCOLATE CHIP CAKE.

1 CUP OLD-FASHIONED ROLLED OATS (NOT QUICK OR INSTANT)
1 CUP STRONG EARL GREY TEA
1 1/2 CUPS BROWN SUGAR, PACKED
3 EGGS
1 CUP OIL
2 CUPS ALL PURPOSE FLOUR, WHOLE WHEAT PASTRY FLOUR, OR SPELT FLOUR
2 TEASPOONS BAKING SODA
1/2 TEASPOON SALT
1 TABLESPOON VANILLA
3 VERY RIPE BANANAS, DICED SMALL
1/2 CUP SEMISWEET GOOD QUALITY CHOCOLATE CHIPS

PREHEAT OVEN TO 350 DEGREES.
LET THE OATS SOAK IN THE TEA WHILE YOU PREPARE EVERYTHING ELSE. IN A FOOD PROCESSOR, CREAM THE SUGAR, EGGS AND OIL UNTIL FLUFFLY. ADD THE FLOUR, BAKING SODA, SALT AND FLAVORING, AND THE OAT MIXTURE IN 3 ADDITIONS, PULSING EACH TIME ONLY UNTIL COMBINED, 2-3 SECONDS, NO MORE. STIR IN BANANAS AND CHOCOLATE CHIPS WITH A LARGE SPOON. POUR INTO GREASED AND FLOURED 10" TUBE AND BAKE 1 HOUR, OR UNTIL KNIFE INSERTED IN THE CENTER COMES OUT CLEAN. INVERT TO COOL ON RACK

Counting the days

At Lincoln Square Synagogue, where I have my classroom, we were privileged to have, this whole year, four wonderful Kolel boys from Israel. Whenever their schedule allows them, they drop in on my demos. One of them has nicknamed me "Chaval Al Hazman", Hebrew slang for "there are no words". I look forward to our date at my house on Shavouot. Last night one of them told me something that touched me no end: "Do you know why I am counting the Omer? Because each day gets us closer to our Shavouot date at your place". How cute is that? Now, you see why I adore them?

What pots should I buy?

That is the question I am always asked at every demo. Thirty years ago, my mother in law bought me a set of Farberware pots and pans for my shower, commenting they had served her right in all her lean years, and she hoped they would do the same for me. And serve me right they did. A few years ago, I surveyed my "collection", a little wisfully. Yes, my pots and pans looked worn, and had a few bumps and a few loose screws and handles here and there, and I asked myself, "Don't you think it is about time to get rid of them battered pots and pans and buy a spanking new line?" After all, what could be a better showcase for me? After debating the question, very briefly, I asked myself again, why? Yes,why should I get rid of them? Everyone, feel free to buy $250.00 pots, but my cheap line and I have always been a team, and I owe it much of my reputation, and it has my complete alliegiance. In fact I was pleased to see, at a few prestigious houseware stores, a vamped up Farberware line, somewhat sexier looking than mine, but still very economical, and highly serviceable and efficient, sturdy 18/10 stainless steel.
Last year I was visiting my friend Shuli in Florida, and as usual, I found her slew of cats, which she likes to call by their idiosyncratic Hebrew names: Feivish, Chaimel, Esti, etc... This time I noticed a new one, and she told me his story. She found him at the ASPCA, who was about to put him out of his misery because he was quite old and ailing. She begged them to do no such thing and to let her take him home. She said he did so well in his new setting she actually had to have him neutered. What do you know, he had a lot of life left in him!
So: no such thing as an old pot! It works, why discard it? I just won about a thousand dollars worth of magnificent All-Clad pots for a demo I gave in Bloomingdales. As soon as I took them out of their wrappings, they looked so insolently beautiful that I put them away safely and completely, where my old pots, my babies, who were getting so upstaged, couldn't take a look at them, and more importantly, couldn't be looked at: how could I do them such an affront? Besides, as my husband, the quintessential self employed worker, always says, "The service is you". Yes, you, not the pot. Thirty years and much delicious food later, my opinion hasn't changed, au contraire! I hope you are not disappointed to hear such plebeian comments from a professional. In fact, I even hope you will be enboldened to use your ordinary tools to make wonderful food without waiting until you can afford the designer line.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Kallah Magazine Articles

Here are my most recent articles that appeared in Kallah Magazine. (Scroll down a bit and the three articles appear one after the other.) The most recent article appeared in the Pesach edition:

Looking Forward to Passover Cooking

I grew up in a very modest household but I remember fabulous food at every meal, especially on Pessach. So much so that I actually wait for this time of year to showcase my culinary stars.

So, what’s wrong with me? Instead of looking for Pessach to be over, I wait for it to come around. I can hear all of your concerns about cooking for Pessach: “I have to cook with my hands tied behind my back. Groceries are triple the price. I don’t have my regular amenities at my disposal. This is such slavery, I’ll need a week’s vacation to recuperate and get back to normal.” And on and on… Is this your idea of celebrating freedom?

On the other hand, I am thinking, “This week is my gastronomic week. On Pessach I can go for broke (a life-long habit I am not even trying to shake; why should I? I credit it in great part for making me the cook and hostess that I am). I get to work with only the best and most seasonal ingredients. Here is my chance to streamline recipes and ingredient selections. I get to stay away from bread and rice and ice cream and pizza and other delicious nemeses because they are halachically verboten.” And on and on…. [...] Complete recipes included for: Tilapia-stuffed seabass with watercress horseradish sauce. Roasted garlic artichoke soup. Lamb shanks dry fruit stew. Roasted asparagus. Endive and apple salad with walnut dressing. Almond wine cake with strawberry sauce (read more).

Here is an article from the Purim edition:

PURIM TREATS: EDIBLE GIFTS

Since I only have eyes for kosher, homemade and natural, Purim is perfect time to send a select few some fabulous, homemade, fun and useful goodies (did you say fun and useful? Of course! Absolutely not an oxymoron).

Do you think you have just found the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe? Or the perfect raspberry vinegar recipe? Or the best chutney recipe? Well then, be a pal and share it with your friends!

I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade but I think homemade gifts will beat some perplexing …uhh, confections…we find in our baskets. The thing with me is I never lose my head when making a menu, not even when the menu is as simple as what to offer for shalach manos.

This year, for your Purim baskets, let your friends sample some of your homemade creations. Why serve junk when you can, as I always do, start with serious ingredients and end up with fun results?

Here are a few tried-and-true tips on making delectable shalach manos.[...] Complete recipes Included for: Apricot Peach Chutney, Zuchinni Walnut Bread, Teriyaki Sauce, Chai Tea Spice Mixture, and Raspberry Vinegar. (read more)


And finally, an all year pleaser:
The Art of the Brunch

Chefs are a funny bunch. Their idea of a day off is not, as you might think, staying away from the kitchen. Au contraire! I am always amazed when the chef at my restaurant describes the meal he and his wife enjoyed at a different restaurant on his day off or of the dinner party he prepared for friends.

One of my recurrent dreams, as a restaurant owner and cooking teacher, is to open a kosher version of Sarabeth’s Kitchen, the popular chain of restaurants which utilize the best ingredients and serve renowned brunches.

Why do I love the concept of brunch so much? Beside the absence of meat dishes, the kosher brunch dining experience encompasses absolutely everything else at one time.

I call it brunch a toute heure (brunch anytime) And so egalitarian: the lines between breakfast, lunch and dinner are totally blurred, and we are left with one continuous and wonderful meal, with infinite variations, available in short order at all times of day. Including complete recipes for: Zuchini Bread, Fruit Smoothies, Salmon Tartare, Spinach Frittata, Riccota Cream with Berries (read more).


Check out the Kallah Magazine Blog to go behind the scenes of Kallah Magazine.

Monday, May 01, 2006

seeders, and proud of it

One of my nephews, who used to look robust in his teenage years, spent a year in Israel when he was twenty, came back almost 80 pounds lighter, and never looked back. A dismal school dorm diet jolted him into rethinking all his meals. Not only has he maintainted his featherweight ever since, but he assures me he is never on a diet. So, what gives? Beside becoming more conscious of what he ingests, he shared a ridiculously simple trick with me, and with whoever asks him: Eat things that take time to eat! And what might that be?

Well, to name a few, watermelon; popcorn; sandwiches prepared with whole grain dense bread; soup; salad; then comes my (and my husband’s) great favorite: sunflower seeds, in their shells of course. We simply couldn’t live without them. It’s the perfect eat-like-a-mensh-or -you-might-choke kind of food. Plus, it is delicious. Our favorite brand is Frito Lay; they come in 2 ¼ ounce vacuum-packed bags. We have done all the math: with all the painstaking shelling, it takes one and a half hours to finish a bag, a two hundred calorie treat. And so good for you, with the perfect oils and vitamins.

We hunker down to a bag (each, of course, there is a limit to sharing, even between a husband and a wife. Don’t touch my seeds!) just before watching a movie, or reading a book, or making our calls (if the other party mentions anything about a funny sound in the background, just answer innocently that you don’t notice anything) or even on short plane rides (yes, we dispose of our shells considerately!). You would think there was a famine, if you saw how doggedly we comb areas where we think a stray seed may have gone into hiding, no doubt trying to escape the onslaught: under a bed, a table, a blanket.

This week we ran out of them, and I frantically looked for them in every bodega, every supermarket, every pharmacy, with no luck. I was beginning to think that we had depleted, or maybe even drained, the national supply. I called Frito Lay in alarm, but they were very reassuring: they did notice they are flying off the shelves faster, so they are making them faster from now on, all the shelves were being filled as we spoke. You will never run out, from now on. Thank you Frito Lay! And thank G-d for small blessings!


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