Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cooking Tools That Rock: Mortar and Pestle

I can't tell you how much in love I am with my marble mortar and pestle. I was looking for an affordable mortar and pestle ever since I saw the one that my father-in-law uses, a wood mortar and pestle that is over 40 years old. It's all worn down and absolutely gorgeous.

I was very intent on not spending a fortune on my purchase. I kept on stalking the kitchen items section at TJ Ma*xx and Marsh*alls, until I found one last year. The following is a link to a 4" marble mortar and pestle on Amazon (I think mine is 5" or 6"), and it's $10 cheaper than the one I purchased, of course:

Fox Run 4-Inch Marble Mortar and Pestle

It sat on my kitchen windowsill for a few months as I really did not have many whole spices to use it with. I was finally inspired to crush some whole cumin seeds with the mortar and pestle to add to my cholent last Friday.

I put in about a teaspoon of cumin seeds, crushed away (man, that was FUN), then leaned in for a sniff.


I almost passed out.

Freshly ground spices are amazing!

Freshly ground cumin smells about 100 times better than jarred ground cumin. OMG.

Anyone want some bottled ground spices? Between this cool tool and my new microplane grater, I'll be using as many whole spices that I can pretty soon and will have lots of spices I no longer want. I feel a shopping spree coming on.

Not only do freshly ground spices taste better, whole spices last a lot longer than ground spices. According to The Frontier Natural Co-op, ground seeds, barks and leaves lose their potency after one year, and ground roots lose their potency after two years. Whole seeds and barks last two to three years, whole leaves and flowers last one year, and whole roots last 3 years.

I'm warning you try freshly ground spices, there's NO going back.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Sorry people, but I'm talking about Chanuka. It's not a very stressful time for me, I get to cook yummy things, and it brightens the cold winter nights.

First, I have to link to the Baker's Banter post about Potato pancakes without the frying pan: Easy-Does-It Latkes. I've been wanting to bake latkes instead of frying them, but was always wary of other people's recipes. I think I can trust the brains behind King Arthur Flour (their White Whole Wheat Flour has changed my baking!), so I'll definitely give it a try.

The bonus is that I can multi-task a little better, and bake batches of regular potato latkes while frying my favorite sweet potato latkes. Yummy.

Note to self: Make sure to do a self-clean on oven this Saturday night, to prepare it for dairy baking. Oh yeah.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

How have I not heard about this until now?

I have found a new obsession to fuel my food fantasies. How come it took me this long to find it? is fascinating. It aggregates pictures of food and recipes or articles about food from food blogs everywhere. Want to salivate over some good lookin' food, or find some new recipes or inspiration? This is the place to go!

I signed up for an account and have already added 3 favorites that I'd like to try:
How to Cook a Turkey: Part 1 - A No-Fail Method for People that Would Rather Watch Football than Wash Dishes - I've made turkey several times. When I purchased my first turkey, probably about 12 years ago during our first Thanksgiving as a married couple, I read a lot of articles about turkey and how terrifying it is to deal with it for the first time. I bought a fresh turkey, took it out of its packaging and took a good look at it, and started laughing. What is the big deal? It's just a really, really big chicken!

My turkey was fabulous. Really, people, turkey is not such a big deal.

The recipe in the aforementioned link (I haven't watched the video yet), seems to call for brushing butter over the turkey before cooking it. This sounds really interesting. Obviously, since I keep kosher, I'd use a pareve substitute like margarine. I usually use Earth Balance Buttery Sticks to replace margarine in all my recipes.

Steamed Broccoli With Grain Mustard Vinaigrette - I love, love, love broccoli, but never really do anything interesting with it. This looks like a simple, tasty recipe.

Turkey Chili - I have been having really bad luck with with our traditional cholent that we eat for lunch on Shabbos. My husband and other people like it, but I take one look at it and just don't want to eat it. I've been making it in a tiny crock pot when it is just my husband and I for the meal, so that we don't have so many leftovers. I'm thinking that the crock pot is just not made for this type of cooking, plus I could use a break from traditional recipes. So I'm planning to make larger batches of cholent replacement every few weeks in my 6 quart crock pot, freeze the leftovers in smallish containers, and heat them up the small crock pot. One of the items I'm thinking of making is chili, so I may try this recipe. (Without the green pepper. I hate peppers.)

Ok, now I'm hungry. Must go eat supper now ;).

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Cooking Tools that Rock - Microplane Zester

My darling sister gave me a gift card for Williams-Sonoma. That girl knows the way to *my* heart! So I went on a little shopping spree (a very little spree...$50 only goes so far at this store).

One of the things I splurged on was a new zester. I have the Oxo zester and have used it to zest lemons and limes, but found it pretty tedious and didn't look forward to using it. On a whim, I picked up a Microplane Grater/Zester while spending my gift card, and had a chance to use it before the holiday of Sukkos.


Wow! It was quite a difference. The zest came off that orange with a minimum of effort. I was actually having fun getting the peel off the orange, and can't wait to use this tool again.

One thing I particularly like is that the zester comes with a cover that the tool slides in and out of easily. This tool is *sharp*, so you'll be glad that the grating surface is covered when you're rooting around in your kitchen drawer for some other tool.

So, if anyone out there would like my old Oxo zester, let me know! It's up for grabs. My new Microplane is the only tool I want to use now.

Rating for the Microplane Grater/Zester: 5 stars out of 5.

Oh, and what was I making that required orange zest? I was baking the Chocolate-Orange Carrot Cake, which I originally saw in Bon Appetit magazine in 1998. The list of ingredients is odd (chocolate AND grated carrots AND sweetened shredded coconut), but the cake is delicious. Try it! This is a very special cake, which is very rich.

Unfortunately, my cake burned a little this time. Oh well. It was still good. Especially with the dark chocolate frosting on top ;). Mmmmmmmmm.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Cooking mostly done. Happy New Year!

Phew. Most of my cooking for Rosh Hashana is done: 2 cakes, 2 soups, 3 meat dishes, 4 side dishes, probably more that I can't remember right now. I actually planned things really well for once, but would be more "done" if my stove did not cave under pressure. 400 degree oven for 3 hours + 3 burners going = one unhappy stove that won't boil soup quickly.

I wish everyone a Happy New Year. A year of peace, gratitude, health and wealth. And a new kitchen to those of you who need one!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

I love books about cooks

Ok, this is kind of a "cop out" post. Hoping to post some great pics of my summer marketing at the farmer's market before we are fully into fall.

I've been working on my GoodReads selections recently. Following is a short review of a book I really, really enjoyed.

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry: Love, Laughter, and Tears at the World's Most Famous Cooking School by Kathleen Flinn

My review

rating: 5 of 5 stars
Fabulous book about a woman who lost her job and decided to learn how to cook at the best cooking school, Cordon Bleu. Fascinating look at what an education at Cordon Bleu entails, and a lot of interesting recipes.

Plus, a good explanation of things I will never eat in my life. Ever. Especially since many of them are not kosher ;).

This is on my "to buy" list.

View all my reviews.

By "things I will never eat in my life", I mean food items such as head cheese. Ugh. I think there was something to do with a pig's stomach lining. Ick!

But I do want to try a kosher version of her beef bourguignon, ever since trying Susie Fishbein's version on Passover.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cooking for the last days of Passover

We had a few more guests for the last days of Pesach, which was nice. Of course, this required a lot more cooking, but I had help from my sister and nieces who were visiting. Nice to not be cooking alone in the kitchen!

Part of the purpose of this blog is to keep track of various menus and recipes. The menu was a little restricted due to a visiting pregnant sister who is on a strict diet. So here's what is what was on the menu for the last days of the holiday (Saturday last week, and Sunday this week):

Night Seuda I – 5 adults + 3 children
Appetizer: Gefilte Fish
Soup: *Chicken soup w/*knaidlach (matzo balls)
Main: Primavera Chicken, p 109 PBD - people loved it, but I'm never a fan of italian dressing on chicken. Made it because my sister nixed recipes with fruit in them.
Side 1: Potato knishes (paper) - grand success. Doubled the recipe, which was way too much.
Side 2: *Zucchini-Kishke Kugel (paper) - This was horrible. No repeat!
Dessert: Brownies (made by my sister, pretty good for Pesach brownies)

Lunch I – 7 adults + 3 children
Appetizer: Salmon Gefilte Fish
Main: Chicken Cutlets with ground nuts (my sister winged this recipe, making a combination of ground nuts, matzo meal and various spices. They were pretty good.)
Side 1: Cold cuts
Side 2: Beef Bourguignon, p. 154 PBD - WOW. I didn't know that something that is just basically a beef soup could be so amazing. I'm sure that the 2 cups of wine had something to do with it (I doubled the liquids to stretch the soup for 10 people). It was a little too "adult" for some people, but those with more sophisticated palates liked it. Mmmmm. Plus, I'm proud that I made a good recipe with a title that I can't even pronounce ;). Side 3: Green Salad
Side 4: Cucumber Salad
Side 5: Leftover potato knishes
Dessert: Cake (I can't remember what I actually served for dessert. I know I didn't bake a

Night Seuda II – 6 adults + 3 children
Appetizer: The store was sold out of the fish I wanted. In fact, all I could get was a box of frozen tilapia, and a box of frozen flounder. I made a "fish in lemon sauce" recipe that was ok, not great. I prefer the recipe from The New York Times Passover Cookbook.Soup: Butternut Squash Soup, p. 103 S&S - Good, but as usual, my husband was making comments about "baby food". Pfft. I like it!
Main: Braised Beef and Onions, paper
Side 1: *Vegetable Puree, p. 118 PBD
Side 2: Tzimmes x2, paper
Dessert: *Apple Sauce - homemade, delicious.

Lunch II – 5 adults + 3 children
Appetizer: Grapefruit
Main: Balsamic-Glazed Salmon Fillets (paper) - I got lots of compliments, but I personally did not like them.
Side 1: Cheese Latkes, p. 225 S&S The recipe seemed really thick, so my sister and I went to town. We added milk, then more sugar and honey after the first batch seemed bland. Once we finished messing with it the latkes were amazing.
Side 2: Roasted Garlic Asparagus, p. 203 PBD
Side 3: Salad
Dessert: Chocolate Pudding (Yes, from a mix. Shut up.)

And then, after all this cooking, I said goodbye to my family members who left immediately after the holiday, and then was up until 4:00 am, washing and putting away all my Pesach dishes, and putting my kitchen back together.

I also spent 3 hours playing Star Wars Monopoly with my nephew in the afternoon. Am I a wonderful aunt, or what? Just trying to build some good memories with the nieces and nephews. He's already 11, so he won't be interested in doing this for too much longer.

I lost.

On purpose.

3 hours is waaaayyyy too long.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Passover Prep's been since Chanuka that I posted last! My job has been absolutely insane since January, and I've been sick with various winter ailments for a couple of months, so not much leisure time.

But, Pesach (Passover) starts Motzei Shabbos (Saturday night). I've been frantically cleaning this week I managed to um, erode, my right thumbnail on Sunday, cleaning my stove. My stove is old and hard to clean, and I should probably think about replacing it before Pesach next year. The kitchen is pretty much done at this point; I just have to do the countertops and sink tonight, then kasher the sink (basically, pour hot water all over it) and cover the counters. I think I can finish tonight! Woot!

One thing I've learned over the years (I've been making Pesach Seders for 12 years), is to plan my menus carefully. I sit down with my limited number of Pesach cookbooks, and my nice stack of Internet recipes, and carefully create menus. While I plan the menus, I review each recipe and create a shopping list. Even more so, if a recipe calls for an ingredient that may be difficult to obtain (Passover food supply can be erratic at times - this year, there's a margarine shortage, amongst other things), I'll put a star or a little number next to the ingredient, and also put a star next to the other ingredients on the menu that are needed for the recipe. That way, if I can't find the hard-to-find ingredient, I won't buy the other ingredients either.

In case anyone is interested, these are my menus for this year:

Seder I – 8 adults
Appetizer: Gefilte Fish (A&B frozen gefilte fish, just boil up in a pot)
Soup: Chicken soup (my mother is making it this year)
Main: *Balsamic Herb Rubbed Chicken, p. 95 PBD
Side 1: Boiled Potatoes (it's become a regular at the Seder)
Side 2: *Sweet Potato Kugel (p. 173 TON)
Side 3: Boiled eggs (a custom)
I need a vegetable. Hm.
We don't serve a dessert at the Seder, and really don't eat a lot at the meal at all, since we eat so much matza and romaine lettuce at the Seder. So I keep the food pretty simple.

Lunch I – 6 adults
Appetizer: Sole Amandine x2, (EKC)
Soup: * Broccoli Soup (paper)
Main: * Balsamic Braised Brisket with Shallots and Potatoes, p. 134 PBD
Side 1: *Overnight Potato Kugel (bake before Yom Tov, then put in oven overnight after Seder)
Side 2: Zucchini-Kishke Kugel (Paper)
Side 3: Purple Cabbage Salad, p. 82 PBD
Dessert: Chocolate hazelnut torte (fabulous and decadent), chocolate bark (from mother-in-law)

Seder II – 8 adults
Appetizer: Salmon Gefilte Fish (also A&B; my in-laws love it)
Soup: Chicken Soup w/knaidlach (matza balls)
Main: Glazed chicken (using Bartenura wine glaze that I discovered this year)
Side 1: * Vegetable Puree, p. 118 PBD (great alternative to mashed potatoes)
Side 2: Tzimmes, recipe doubled (S&S)
Side 3: to be determined

Lunch II – 3 Adults
Appetizer: Cantaloupe
Soup: Cream of Asparagus Soup, p. 47 PBD
Main: Pot Roast, p. 147 PBD, ½
Side 1: Roasted Caramelized Carrots, p. 206 PBD, ½
Side 2: leftover Potato Kugel
Dessert: Torte, Chocolate Crinkle Cookies (paper), raspberry sorbet

The little abbreviations after some items are the cookbook's initials, so I know where to look up the recipe.
PBD = Passover By Design. This is the newest, hottest Pesach cookbook on the market. Susie Fishbein has published several cookbooks (my favorite is Kosher by Design Entertains)
. It really is for the most part a compilation of Passover-friendly recipes from her 4 other cookbooks, or recipes from the cookbooks that she made Passover friendly, but there are new recipes as well. It's convenient to have all of her Passover recipes in one place, as I was photocopying my other cookbooks to have recipes for Passover.

TON = A Taste of Nostalgia: Tales And Recipes to Nourish Body And Soul. This is a very sweet cookbook, compiled by a famous Hassidic Rebbe and psychiatrist, Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, and another author, Judi Dick. The recipes are grouped by holiday, and Rabbi Twerski provides wonderful background about each holiday, and how it was celebrated in the "old country" in Europe, or in his family in the U.S. It's absolutely fascinating and a wonderful read, and the recipes are very "haimish". If you're looking for very, very classic Jewish recipes, this is the cookbook to get.

For years, I could not master potato kugel. I tried recipe after recipe, and I just could not make something that I considered good. It seemed that all my sisters had the same problem as well. I picked this cookbook up on a bargain rack at a book stall in a pizza store in the Catskills(!), and decided to try their Overnight Potato Kugel recipe. You basically make the kugel like other typical recipes, but then leave it in the over overnight at 200 degrees, with a pan of water underneath. The kugel is UNBELIEVABLY DELICOUS. I think that my guests were close to tears. It's just that delicious. Since I have guests sleeping over after the Seder, and I'm serving a seuda (festive meal) the following morning, and the oven is on anyways (we don't turn appliances off and on during the first two days of the holiday), I'll take the opportunity to make this kugel. I can't wait!

EKC = Enlitened Kosher Cooking. This is an interesting cookbook written by Nechama Cohen of the Jewish Diabetes Association. All the recipes are very low in fat and carbs, and easy to prepare. I have to admit that I don't always follow exactly what she directs you to do (for example, to save fat she has a specific way of sauteing leeks and onions; I just saute onions my way, and skip the leeks, which scare me). I've discovered some great salads and soups in this cookbook, and am slowly trying other recipes. Last year I took the cookbook to work and photocopied about 20 recipes for Passover.

Paper - this means that I got the recipe from someone else, or off the Internet, and I did not keep track of the source. The Broccoli Soup and Zuchini Kishke kugel recipes are from a small Pesach cookbook that a Yeshiva mailed as a fundraiser this year. My in-laws, who are eating 3 or 4 meals at my house let me review it and photocopy a bunch of recipes.

S&S: Spice and Spirit: The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook. This is a must-have cookbook for any kosher kitchen. It has all the traditional Jewish recipes that you could possibly need, and it has a nice guide to many Jewish customs and holidays as well. The recipes are well-written and are indexed well. Some of my more famous recipes are in here, including Spiced String Beans, Mushroom and Rice Casserole, and their classic chocolate cake recipe. If you are looking for a traditional recipe, this is your go-to book. I have purchased this cookbook for all of my sisters, and many brides. They all thank me right after they get married. I've copied out some of my favorite recipes to use over Pesach. They *do* have two Pesach cookbooks, the original Spice and Spirit Kosher Passover cookbook and the new one, but they are much more limited than the year-round and other Pesach cookbooks that I own. The recipes are very simple, and use a limited range of ingredients. This cookbook is printed by Chabad Lubavitch, a hassidic sect, and they do not mix matza meal and water during the holiday, which makes the already-limited Pesach diet even more so. They also peel everything, including tomatoes. Thankfully, my husband is not that strict, and actually complains if I do not make something with matza meal in it.

I usually make something out of the The New York Times Passover Cookbook as well, but since I've been really stressed and probably will not have a whole lot of time to cook before Shabbos begins on Friday night, I skipped it this year. I do hope to make some of my favorites for the last days of the holiday, which take place next Saturday and the following Sunday. These recipes are a bit more complicated, but are really wonderful. By complicated, I mean that I had to run out on a holiday eve to do something, and asked my sister to make the one last dish for the meal that night, a mushroom stuffed chicken from this cookbook.

When I came back, she was NOT HAPPY with me, and informed me that I was crazy for even THINKING of making this recipe, and had made something else. So yes, some of these recipes are a little more labor intensive. On the other hand, this same sister found a potato-vegetable kugel recipe in this cookbook that got rave reviews at her mother-in-law's house, and she now makes 3 or 4 of them every Pesach.

* the asterisks indicate that I should make this before the holiday or Shabbos begins. Usually the recipe requires a food processor or my trusty immersion blender, appliances that I cannot use during the holiday.

Now I must go finish the kitchen and get the cooking started! Have a wonderful, kosher holiday!

Update 4/18:
Margarine found. Tub margarine, but this will help for a couple of recipes, and to enliven the dry, dry matza. A local store went looking and found a supply. I'm impressed, since this store just stocks up once for Pesach, and doesn't care about anything after the first days of Pesach.

Also, for the first time EVAH, my kitchen is ready, the dishes are unpacked, and I've even cooked something, and it's not the morning of Pesach. Wow.

Oh, and I hurt all over. I need a massage.

Happy Pesach to those who celebrate it!