Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CHAROSET for Passover...apples & almonds

Passover is all about symbolism and ritual. Charoset, חֲרֽוֹסֶת, pronounced ha-ro-sit, is one of the symbolic foods that Jewish people eat each year during Passover seder. It reminds the Israelites of the mortar used to lay bricks when they were slaves in Egypt. I guess it can look like mortar!
There are two types of Charoset: (1) Eastern European "Ashkenazi" charoset is a mix of chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and sweet wine, and (2) Middle Eastern "Sephardic" charoset includes dates, nuts, raisons, wine and honey. We are doing the Ashkenazi style with apples and nuts.Above is the apple-almond charoset in a classic bowl with a big piece of shmurah matzah (such a cute garnish?!). Since charoset is brown and bland-looking, be sure you serve it in something pretty or contrasting in color.
SO tasty and incredibly simple to make - no oven, grill or burner required! My concoction calls for Fuji apples, roasted almonds (sweet silky nutty bite), cinnamon (heavenly), lemon zest and sweet Manischewitz wine. Below, I filled metal martini cups with charoset and had them scattered down the table. (Flower centerpieces by Language of Flowers in SLC and white glass flowerpots from IKEA.)

**Charoset, Ashkenazi style**
(food processor, big mixing bowl)
10 apples
zest from 3 big lemons
2-3 cups of roasted almonds
3T sugar
2 tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
2 cups sweet Manischewitz wine

(1) Cut up the apples (toss the core) into equal small sizes and put in the food processor. Chop up the apples into small minced chunks and transfer to a mixing bowl. Repeat until all the apples are chopped.
(2) Take the zest of 3 large lemons and add to the apple mixture. I use a Microplane to get fine grates.
(3) Mix in the sugar and cinnamon.
(4) Next, grind the almonds. I forgot to take a picture of the that step, as I was so excited to finish it, mix it and eat it! So, where was I? Grind the almonds and add to the mixture. It will stay good for over a week in the fridge. Flavors will intensify after the first few days. Voila!
Below is the same charoset in a steel martini cup (brown mix clashes with the silver, dontcha think?). Doesn't it look way more attractive in the white bowl above?!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

modernized GEFILTE FISH (...not from a glass jar...)

דגים ממולאים,  dagim memula'im... Gefilte fish, gefilte fish, gefilte fish... I get conflicting feedback about this dish. So many absolutely LOVE the canned variety (to my dismay!) and many really HATE it (I can totally relate). 99% of Jews I've met look forward to consuming it once a year at a Passover Seder.
I did not grow up eating Gefilte Fish (and I CERTAINLY didn't have ANYTHING resembling it coming out of a glass jar!). When it was time for me to throw my first seder about 10 years ago, I was told that Gefilte Fish was a MUST-SERVE and was advised (and expected) to simply buy the canned gefilte fish and serve them on individual plates fancied up with something pretty, like a piece of orange carrot and a lettuce leaf. Garnish was critical since gefilte fish is... well, ugly and colorless (eek).
My time in grocery stores spent staring at the egg-shaped specimens in the glass jars available by Manischewitz did not help (um, disturbing!). It was a nervous mix of mental and visual... just couldn't eat it. I certainly couldn't SERVE something I couldn't eat.

Aunt Gerry gave me my first Jewish cookbook, Joan Nathan's "The Jewish Holiday Kitchen." There was indeed a recipe for homemade Gefilte Fish. "It's SO much work to make," and, "What a pain!" people went on and on kept discouraging me.
Like most Asians, I grew up eating fishballs (like meatballs, but fishballs) in Vietnamese noodle soups and my mom bought frozen and fresh fishballs all the time, so minced fish shaped into balls was not completely foreign to me... but fishballs stored at room temperature in glass jars with hardly an expiration date?! Hmm, suspicious!
At the very beginning, ten years ago, I actually followed Joan Nathan's recipes diligently, meticulously... locating the carp, whitefish, pike and boiling fishbones, laboring for hours, etc. As the years went by, restless and rebellious, I keep doctoring up the recipes a bit with minor alterations, just to make life easier. What started out as a laborous hassle, is today a relatively EASY and yummy dish I look forward to making each year!
Make the gefilte fish the night before the seder. Store the fish balls in a tightly sealed container covered in the cooking liquid and keep in the fridge up until serving. What a odd and challenging shape to plate. Matt had the brilliant suggestion of cutting them into halves and stacking. Plate it next to a spoonful of beet horseradish and greens with an orange-dijon dressing mix. Funky vibrant fuschia horseradish and some greens JUST POP gorgeously against a clean white plate. 

(food processor, giant mixing bowl, big pot of water)
2# salmon, cut into 2" pieces
4# tilapia, cut into 2" pieces
2# dover sole fillets, cut into 2" pieces
2 onion
15 garlic cloves
3 carrots
1 bunch scallion
12 eggs
1 cup matzoh meal
2T salt
2 tsp pepper
2T fish sauce
3T sugar

(1) In a food processor, chop the garlic and onion. Transfer to mixing bowl.
(2) In the food processor, chop the carrot. Transfer to the garlic and onion mix.
(3) Grind the fish in small batches to a ground beef consistency and transfer to the carrot-garlic-onion mix. Repeat until all the fish has been ground and added to the mix.
(4) Add 12 eggs. Mix well. Use gloves to make it easier! 
(5) Add salt, pepper, sugar and matzah meal to the mixture. Mix well with gloved hands or spatula.
(6) Bring a big pot of water to a boil and add salt and pepper. When it boils, turn the heat down to simmer.
(7) Scoop out 1/4 cup of fish mixture at time and shape into round egg.
(8) Drop into pot of water. Do this until the fish mixture is gone or until the pot is full. Close the lid and let cook for 15 minutes. If all the fish mixture does not fit, repeat this step.
(1) In a food processor, combine the garlic and onion and grind until minced. Transfer to the giant mixing bowl. I use nonlatex gloves (surgical type) to keep my hands from smelling BAD and to keep food from getting under my fingernails (ew!) and to keep my manicured nails looking fresh (of course!).
(2) Next, chop up the carrots in a course mixture and add to the garlic-onion mix.

(4) Next add the eggs. Crack them in a separate bowl first to ensure no eggshells slip in.
(5) Add the matzah meal, salt, pepper, sugar, fish sauce. Mix well. I find it so efficient to use nonlatex gloves. Gloves for everything!

(6) Bring a pot of water to a boil then simmer, adding a generous amount of salt and pepper. Using a 1/4 cup measuring spoon, scoop out a chunk of the fish mix and, with your wet hands, form oval-shaped balls and drop them into the simmering pot of water.

(7) Let simmer until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. When they are done, store in a container the fishballs in the fishstock, sealed tight, in the fridge until serving. This could be made 3 days in advance.
On the night of the seder, bring it out. Time to plate it! Cut the egg-shaped gefilte fish in half and stack them half way on one side of the dish. Next to it add some greens tossed in a dressing (orange juice, dijon, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar) and a spoon of beet horseradish. STUNNING!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Breakfast Buffet for Kids :) ...and Snoopy reruns

Kids eat SO much at sleep-overs, slumber parties, overnighters...which means...WAY too much fun for me! I always look forward to the morning after BREAKFAST SPREAD!! Last weekend's spread was a big hit. The dvd selection was Snoopy reruns.
Here is what I put out...a few timeless favorites:
(1) Berries: strawberries, blackberries, raspberries (straight berries, no added sugar)
(2) French Toast & Maple Syrup: soaked in eggs-soymilk-cinnamon-sugar-salt, seared in olive oil (no butter)
(3) Eggwhites w/Scallion & Plain Eggwhites: cooked in olive oil with salt, pepper, maggi, sesame seeds on the side
(4) Jasmine Rice
(5) Semolina Bread w/Sesame: toasted with butter and jam
(6) Drink is water and soymilk
It is critical to build a child's palate, nurture it with fresh natural flavors and textures. Berries galore... This plate would last us the entire day, btw.
French toast made with sweet challah bread is the BEST. Cook them in strips so the kids don't waste large pieces or get overwhelmed. This way, they can go back for seconds to mingle:) Below is a tray of single serving bowls of maple syrup. These 1 inch Chinese teacups are perfect portion control size, super cute and practical.
Eggwhites rule. (The egg dish above COULD have been prettier and could use some garnish, but I was rushing, okay!) One dozen eggs separated, whites only (toss the yolk or save to make gnocchi). Cook half the eggwhites in just olive oil. Cook the other half in scallions and olive oil. Leave out condiments (kids LOVE adding toppings): bottle of Maggi (a version of soy sauce sold at most grocery stores in the asian section), pepper and sesame seeds in black and toasted. Scoop rice out ahead of time in perfect-size mini bowls (IKEA) ready to grab. Cover the rice bowls with foil until serving to prevent the rice from drying out. The girls LOVE eggwhites, rice and all the condiments.
My current bread obsession: Semolina bread with sesame seeds from Costco. (Two loaves for $4.45.) Semolina bread is chewy and dense with a hard crust, oh yum. Slice them thick, pop into the toaster, then spread with butter and jam. Can't go wrong with this one - big hit! They are still chewy and moist when they cool down (vs turn rock hard). These make delectable after school snacks. Save left-overs in plastic and reheat in the toaster the next day - still delicious!
Pictures are worth a THOUSAND words, right? At risk of sounding annoyingly redundant (if you've read previous recipes...okay, AND some laziness on my part, hmm...) the following are a handful of sequential pics in the order of...(1) french toast, (2) eggwhites-scallion and (3) the fantastic semolina bread from Costco: