Homemade Gefilte Fish

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Delicious Gefilte Fish

Delicious Gefilte Fish

In my family, just saying “homemade gefilte fish” causes us to salivate. Food memory, for sure. Any man, woman or child who makes homemade gefilte fish will swear theirs is the best. And the variations on this Jewish delicacy abound: some add sugar (Polish) and some use Salmon, heaven forbid (sorry my Pacific Northwest friends). In my Midwestern-upbringing opinion, however, the best recipe incorporates Walleye and Northern pike. But since I live in Seattle I use all white fish, some with fat and some without.

An array of fish

An array of fish

Making gefilte fish evokes memories of Jewish holidays. My mom used a very different method and put the fish and stock into a roasting pan in the oven. I don’t recall that her fish was one of her better dishes. Thankfully, my Bubbie-in-law made the very best, gold standard fish and I remember taking copious notes while she ground the fish by hand, her long braids wrapped up in a head scarf. My sister- in- law Nancy would alternate years with me, and she had a good set up with an extra stove in her garage. Every year, the two of us would critique the fish without mercy and, sadly, we just couldn’t get it to taste as good as Bubbie’s.

Nancy passed away over 10 years ago so I am the only gefilte fish maker in my family. Each year my mixture varies a bit since Passover falls at various times, usually in April. This year trout, dover sole and cod were recommended and it was one of my top batches for sure! Having my special fishmongers Kenny and Big Mike at Uwajamaya is the key. They grind the fish and save the bones, heads and the like for my fish stock. In addition to the delicious fish, they handed over rockfish heads and halibut bones and skin.

Fish heads!

Fish heads!

Before you start, open all the windows in your kitchen, and close doors to the areas where you don’t want the smell of fish to emanate. Put on the exhaust fan over your large pot. Change into a ratty old tee shirt (mine is purple and says “Iowa” ) and know that when you are finished, you will need to go straight to the shower with a bar of soap and shampoo and scrub every inch of your body.

Gefilte Fish

Yields around 23-25 large fish balls, about 4.5 oz each.

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Fish Stock Ingredients
  • 5 lbs white fish heads, bones, skin
  • 3 large carrots, cut into 2 inch sections
  • 3 large celery, cut into 2 inch sections
  • 2 large brown skinned onions, quartered (keep the peel on for color)
  • 4 large sprigs of fresh parsley
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp peppercorns
  • 5-6 quarts water or enough to barely cover the above
Instructions

Put all the stock ingredients in an 8 quart pressure cooker for 20 minutes at full pressure. Remove the pressure cooker from the stove and place under cold running water to lower pressure quickly. Strain liquid through a chinoise into the largest pot you have (at least 8 quart). Discard all solids. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, just simmer the stock for an hour in a huge pot and strain. Note – you can do this a day prior to making the fish balls.

Add 6 fresh peeled and cut up carrots and more fresh parsley to this liquid and bring to a simmer while you are forming the balls

Fish Ball Ingredients
  • 1 ⅔ lb ground trout
  • 2 lb ground dover sole
  • 2 ¼ lbs true cod ground
  • 4 eggs – beat with whisk
  • 1 1/3 large brown skinned peeled and chopped onion – finely chopped 1/4 inch or so
  • ½ cup matzo meal
  • ¾ tsp ground white pepper
  • 1 ½ Tbsp sea salt
  • ¼-½ cup lukewarm water (add more if needed – do it slowly so not too much)
Instructions

Use your huge stainless steel bowl to mix the above ingredients together. Adjust the consistency and taste as needed so that you can still form balls with wet hands, but the mixture should be moist and not at all stiff. Let the mixture sit on the counter for about 15 minutes before forming the balls. Use wet hands to form balls that are oval, smooth and around 4 – 4.5 ounces each.

Forming fish balls by hand

Forming fish balls by hand

Slip the balls gently into the simmering stock. If your pot isn’t large enough, divide the broth between two stock pots. I happen to have a huge pot that is perfect for this amount of fish.

Don’t crowd the pots! Bring to a low boil, cover pot and lower the heat. Cover and simmer on low for 45 minutes. Every 15 minutes or so I shake the pot and baste the balls so they are moist. At 45 minutes remove the pot lid and reduce heat even more.

I take a slotted spoon and take out the fish balls to a rimmed dish but continue to simmer the stock for one hour until it is golden, reduced and concentrated.

Once cooked, store the cooled fish balls with liquid half way up the sides of your container. Refrigerate and serve cold with hot horseradish.

This will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. This year I saved the stock and I plan to make a smaller quantity of fish in the next month or so, and I’ll also use some of the fish stock for a nice fish-based vegetable soup.

Note: In the past I have used different mixtures of fish:

2009:
1 ½ lb rockfish
1 ½ lb dover sole
2.8 lbs rainbow trout

2012
1 ½ lb trout
1 ½ lb petrale sole
1 lb red snapper

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Reuben Pizza Revolution!

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Reuben Pizza - Ready to Eat!

Reuben Pizza – Ready to Eat!

I find food inspiration everywhere. Sometimes I try new recipes from cookbooks that I own (think Jerusalem or Silver Palate). Often I sample a dish at a restaurant then hurry home to recreate it as best I can. My family and friends email me recipes they like and want to share. Or I might pick up a magazine while getting my haircut and find gorgeous pictures of tempting food I immediately want to try.

From time to time, however, I find myself creating recipes with no discernable inspiration … aside from my imagination. For no reason at all, I recently came up with the idea of constructing a pizza based on a Reuben sandwich — you know, corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese, thousand island dressing, mustard, rye bread… I LOVE Reuben sandwiches but I rarely have them – I’m picky and will only order them at great places such as Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor, Michigan or a top notch deli. And they’re not exactly en vogue …definately forbidden for those who are gluten free, dairy free, paleo, low cal or kosher — no siree!  I have no food restriction in my life, but I eat a Reuben only once or twice a year.

I recently had a hankering to make homemade pizza. Nothing atypical about that, right? What I find a little bit embarrassing to admit – I pictured topping the pizza with all the ingredients for the sandwich plus using caraway seeds. Embarrassing because WHEN THE THOUGHT OCCURRED TO ME, I WAS MIDWAY THROUGH A YOGA CLASS. So much for being in the moment and focussing on my breath. I was focussed on what I could eat that night. And it just so happened that I had recently made a small corned beef right after St. Patrick’s Day. It was sliced and ready to go but the thought of just plain old corned beef with all the fixings or corned beef sandwiches didn’t sound that great. And corned beef on top of greens, grains or just salad? No thank you!

Anyway, I hopped in the car and jotted this down on the way home. With my own corned beef, how far off could I be? Later on, ut of curiosity, I googled Reuben pizza to discover, alas, that there really is nothing new out there – just recreations and tweaking of basic concepts. That being said, I love the version I made, which was honestly exactly what I wanted and crafted from my head before I did a Google search!!

A Delicious Slice

A Delicious Slice

Reuben Pizza

Makes one average (12-14 inch) pizza

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 Crust Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup warm water (110 F – 115 F)
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast such as Red Star
  • 1 1/2 cups bread flour (Gold Medal Better for Bread is fine)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons whole caraway seeds to top the dough
Instructions

In a medium bowl, mix warm water and honey with a whisk and sprinkle yeast over the top; stir to dissolve. Let this stand five minutes until the liquid bubbles. Add oil, salt and finally one cup of the flour. Stir in as much flour as it takes to form a ball, then turn out onto a floured counter and knead for five minutes – adding flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the counter. Put this ball of dough into a clean oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft-free area until doubled in volume (about one hour). 15 minutes before the hour is up, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Knead the dough for a couple of minutes, then cover it with a towel and let it rest for five minutes. This makes it easier to roll out. I start with a rolling pin and after a bit I push the dough into a 12-14 inch round circle, which is a little on the thick side. Place the pizza onto a well oiled pizza pan and sprinkle the top of the pizza with the caraway seeds. Press the seeds into the dough with your hands. Place the pan into the center of the oven until slightly brown (about nine minutes). When you take out the crust, reduce the oven to 350.

Caraway Crust

Caraway Crust

Meanwhile, get the rest of your topping ingredients ready: (I put this on in the following order:

Topping Ingredients
  • ⅓ cup Thousand Island salad dressing (I make mine but you can buy it too).
  • 10 oz strips of corned beef (I used homemade but high quality deli meat is OK)
  • 1 ½ cups (¾ lb) good sauerkraut (I bought this in the refrigerated section of my supermarket)
  • 8 oz shredded Jarlsberg Swiss cheese (you will see from the pictures I used slices but next time I’m doing shredded so it melts better)
  • 1 ½ Tbsp extra olive oil to drizzle on top
Instructions

I make the pizza just the way I like my reuben sandwiches: a skim of thousand island dressing, a lot of corned beef, a fair amount of sauerkraut, and a layer of melted swiss cheese – but not so much cheese that it overpowers the meat.

Once the toppings are layered, I bake the pizza at 350 for an additional 5-10 minutes until the cheese is really melted.

When the pizza is out of the oven, rest it for five minutes then slide the pizza onto a cutting board and cut into wedges, I serve it with a squeeze bottle of yellow mustard, fancy deli mustard, halves of dill pickles and creamy cole slaw. If you close your eyes, you’ll know you are eating a reuben…pizza.

Sooooooo good and fun to make.

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Amazing Jerusalem Artichokes

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Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes - Ready to Eat!

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes – Ready to Eat!

I almost forgot about Jerusalem Artichokes this year – but thankfully bag after bag of these funny looking vegetables were piled on several stands at the Sunday farmer’s market here in Seattle.  And these little tubers were so cute and inexpensive that I just couldn’t help myself.

Hard to Pass Up!

Hard to Pass Up!

I actually investigated and potatoes and sunchokes have the same number of calories and starch but sunchokes have a lot more iron.   A native of the sunflower family (hence the name sunchokes), they have kind of a nutty, sweet flavor and are a fun vegetable that can add some much needed variety on your winter menu.

This is one of my favorite ways to prepare them…sorry I didn’t snap a picture with a poached egg!  Next time for sure…

Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes

Yields four healthy portions

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Ingredients
  • 1 lb Jerusalem Artichokes
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp anaheim chili, diced ¼ inch
  • 2 Tbsp yellow sweet pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp shallots, finely diced
  • ½ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • ½ large lemon, zested and juiced-keep the zest and juice separate
  • 4 poached eggs for serving time(optional)
Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and place the rack in the center.  Scrub and cut sunchokes crosswise into ½ inch pieces and put in a large bowl.

Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a small saute pan on medium.  When oil is hot, add the shallots and pepper and cook gently for three minutes.  Pour the peppers/shallot/olive oil mix over the sunchokes.  Spread into one layer on a rimmed cookie sheet (I did this in my toaster oven) and bake for 35 minutes or until the sunchokes are soft when poked with a knife, much like a baked potato.  Remove from the oven and squeeze the juice of ½ lemon over the entire mixture, stirring around.  Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes.  Stir in lemon zest as it comes out of the oven.

Put each serving in a shallow soup bowl and top with a poached egg.   The poached egg can be mixed through to coat the sunchokes with the gooey egg yolk and soft egg white right before digging in!! Believe it or not, I eat this for breakfast or as a light dinner followed by a fresh vegetable salad.

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Lazy Day Turkey Thighs

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Turkey Thighs - Fresh Out of the (Toaster) Oven

Turkey Thighs – Fresh Out of the (Toaster) Oven

On days when you are not inspired to be creative but want something delicious, filling and easy – consider turkey thighs! I’m especially fond of them because you can roast them in the toaster oven or in your standard oven – easy peasy.  And you know how pork belly and bacon are foods du jour?  I predict that turkey wings, turkey thighs and chicken fat will soon be on every menu!  You saw it here first, folks!

Succulent Turkey Thigh Meat

Succulent Turkey Thigh Meat

Lazy Day Turkey Thighs

Makes 3-4 servings

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Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • ½ red or yellow pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 large turkey thighs (~1 ¼ lb each)*
  • 4 tsp spice rub
  • ½ cup chicken broth (does not need to be homemade)

*Turkey thighs at my upscale supermarket cost $2.99/lb and each weighed about 1.25 lbs; $7 can easily feed four! You can easily double or triple this recipe as needed.

Instructions

Preheat toaster oven or regular oven to 425.  Line rimmed baking tray for the toaster oven or regular oven  with heavy aluminum foil.  Place onion and pepper slices on the bottom of the tray.  Dry the turkey thighs with paper towels, trim any excess fat and place them skin side up on top of the vegetables. Rub the skin of the turkey with olive oil and pat in the spice rub to coat the top of the skin.

Roast uncovered 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 325 and continue baking another 40-45 minutes or until the meat is really soft and the skin is crisp and dark.    Remove the turkey thighs and let them rest at least 10 minutes before tearing the meat from the bone (I do this wearing disposable gloves, and I save the bones to make stock).  After removing turkey from the pan, set a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat.  Add whatever is remaining on the bottom of the bake sheet to the skillet along with the broth and simmer until slightly thickened.  Remove turkey skin (or not – in our house we eat the crispy skin) and carve turkey meat.  Spoon onions and sauce over the top and serve with mashed garnet yams and oven roasted green beans with walnuts.

Note: When I turn the oven down after the first 30 minutes, I add halved small carrots and halved brussels sprouts to the sheet, drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper.  This is also great served with brown rice studded with dried cherries.

 

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Belizean Black Beans

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Beautiful Bowl of Beans!

Beautiful Bowl of Beans!

Black beans are probably my favorite treat when I am in Belize…and my husband makes the very best ones I’ve eaten, hands down. They are so creamy and filling and hearty that we have been known to have a large soup bowl of stewed beans with shaved cheese and condiment on top for dinner! It’s a perfect meal. And during my most recent visit, my two and four year old grandkids really loved these beans and gobbled them up for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Who knew?

This formulation came from various people: A Mayan woman in Punta Gorda, who made these beans over a fire in a cast iron pot, told us about using Culantro (wild cilantro) to flavor the beans. I could write pages about Culantro! Sadly, it is hard to find in supermarkets even here in Belize but I’m usually able to find some at Big Tree Produce. It resembles dandelions without the flowers.

Fresh Culantro

Fresh Culantro

The idea of including baking soda was mine, a concept from the Jerusalem cookbook. I’m not sure of the chemical reaction here, but the addition of baking soda helps break down the skins of the beans and make them ever so soft. The vegetables used from the onset almost make a vegetable like stock that infuses savory flavors into the beans and makes them taste more like a stew.

If you really believe that canned beans taste the same as cooking them yourself, I dare you to try these. You’ll never go back!! In order to get Wayne to share his recipe, I  had to divulge a couple of my own“secret” recipes including how to make homemade corn tortillas and salad dressing. But I was finally able to pry it out of him and am happy to share it here!

Belizean Black Beans

Yields 16 cups

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Ingredients
  • 2 lbs black beans
  • 1 large peeled white onion, diced ½ inch
  • 1 small head garlic cloves, peeled and minced (at home I will use 8 cloves since the heads of garlic there are larger)
  • 1 whole medium tomato
  • 1 whole scrubbed but unpeeled large carrot
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Season All
  • 2 scant tsp baking powder
  • Two bunches culancho or cilantro, cleaned and roots removed – bruise by twisting the leaves with your hands (divide into two bunches).
Instructions

Clean the beans well to remove stones and dirt then rinse them with fresh water in a colander. Place in a large pot and add cold water to cover the beans by 2 ½ inches.

Soak cleaned and rinsed beans overnight at room temperature or for at least 10 hours. Drain thoroughly and add fresh water to cover the beans by 2 ½ inches in a large soup pot (6-8 quart) and bring to a boil. We don’t skim the grey gunk that rises to the top but rather stir it in. My wanna-be-chef husband insists the foam adds nutrients (!).

Reduce heat to a medium boil. Add the remaining ingredients (reserving one bunch of culantro) to the pot once the beans are boiling.

Once the vegetables and seasonings are added, reduce heat to a medium boil and mostly cover the pot for 1/2 hour (I leave a tiny bit uncovered so the steam can escape), stir and then completely remove the lid and continue on medium heat for 30 minutes to an hour until the beans are pretty soft.

With your tongs, fish out the carrot, tomato, culantro or cilantro and add the remaining bunch of fresh culantro along with two or three teaspoons of salt.

Continue cooking with the lid off on medium heat until the beans are much softer, about another half hour . The water should still be one inch above the beans, so add more water if you need to. Taste and season to your liking. Remove culantro or cilantro when done.

Let the beans cool for another 1-2 hrs in the juice, then put half in the freezer with the juice and half in the fridge to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner! These will last five days in the refrigerator. The bean juice thickens by the next day.

Serve with grated hard cheese (Edam or Parmesan) on top and condiment (link) or chopped tomato.

Notes: If you are serving this to people who dislike cilantro, omit the Culantro or cilantro. In Seattle I substitute bunches of cilantro for the culantro since cilantro is much easier to procure. Also, the black beans here in Belize are fresh and tiny and cook quickly, so it might take longer to get packaged black beans to soften. Just keep tasting! You can also use these drained beans in salads or omelets, or blend them for refried beans.

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Hamentashen – Favorite Jewish Delicacies

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Ready for the Oven

Ready for the Oven

 

A beloved (but lesser known to the outside world) and joyous Jewish holiday is Purim – and this year the holiday begins at sunset on Saturday, March 15, and ends on Sunday evening, March 16. Purim recalls a time when Jews living in Persia were saved from extermination.

It is one time where Jews whose background, especially those of Eastern European or Mediterranean (Ashkenazic and Sephardic) descent, observe the date with lots of partying and drinking. And there is one food that is found at nearly every celebration – or one filled cookie I should say. Hamentashen (plural) ! Pronounced HAH-men tash en, these triangle-shaped, filled cookies remind us of Haman (the villain’s) three cornered hat.

In my case, these cookies remind me of my Aunt Tillie aka Teensy and my Aunt Esther, my mother’s older sisters. They made the very best hamentashen and I love, love, love these little delicacies. While my three kids were in college, I used to send boxes of these adorable cookies for them to enjoy in their dorm rooms and to share with friends.

The oil dough is so easy to work with and the filling isn’t too sweet. Best of all, they freeze for up to three months and travel well – no crumbling or fragility here. I like these so much I make a few times during the year – not only for Purim!

Heavenly Hamentashen

Heavenly Hamentashen

Aunt Tilly’s and Aunt Esther’s Fruit Hamentashen

Makes approximately 30-40 cookies

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PASTRY DOUGH:

Ingredients

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 Tbsp fresh orange juice
  • ½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Rind of one medium orange, grated
  • dash of salt
  • 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. non aluminum baking powder

Instructions

NOTE: I know I talk about playing with recipes from time to time… but FOLLOW THESE INSTRUCTIONS for good results!

Combine flour with baking powder, salt and orange rind. Using a food processor or heavy mixer, mix eggs, oil, orange juice, sugar and vanilla. Gradually add dry ingredients. The dough will be soft. Scrape it into an oiled bowl and cover with saran; refrigerate the dough overnight so it firms up.

FILLING:

Ingredients

  • 12 ounces dried California apricots, dice in food processor or by hand
  • 12 ounce pitted prunes, dice in food processor or by hand
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup apricot or other flavor jam (don’t use sugar free)

Instructions
Dice prunes and apricots, stir in jam and cinnamon to combine. This fruit filling will be thick.

A Dollop of Fruit Filling

A Dollop of Fruit Filling

ASSEMBLY:

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or lightly oil them. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and adjust so the cookie sheets fit on the middle racks.

Divide dough into 4 pieces and keep it refrigerated except for the piece you’re rolling. Roll each quarter of dough on a lightly floured board or pastry cloth into a 1/8” thickness. Using the top of a 4” glass dipped in flour, cut out circles.

Put a heaping teaspoon (walnut size) of the fruit filling in the center of each cookie, and pinch the dough around it so it forms a triangular shape. You can recombine the scraps of dough and roll them again to form additional circles. Bake 15-20 minutes until nicely brown. Cool on rack. These can be frozen between layers of waxed paper for up to three months.

Notes: I have a really cute circular ruffled cookie cutter that I used for these cookies – it makes them look a little fancy when I am in that kind of mood. And from time to time, I fill the hamentashen with a nice thick poppyseed filling…next year I might share that recipe too!!  At times I have rolled the dough much tinned which yielded many more cookies, but thicker dough seems to hold the cookies better-otherwise they seem to “flop” over and they aren’t so pretty.

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Old-Fashioned Beef, Barley & Bean Soup

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Beef, Barley & Bean Soup

Beef, Barley & Bean Soup

It’s still cold and blustery, so I’m posting yet another soup recipe.  This one rotates through our dinner menu at least every three weeks and is filed under “Things I love” in my recipe files.  It’s origins?  My friend Anita’s grandmother, my mother, Wayne’s bubbie, my tastebuds…in summary, it seems like almost every family I know has their own version. And now I have my own.  Compared to other recipes I’ve seen, I add more soup meat and legumes, I omit dry bouillon, there are no canned tomatoes in my version and I make mine in the pressure cooker.

This recipe alone should entice all of you to go forth and purchase a pressure cooker, or P.C.  There is nothing like creating this hearty soup in just 35 minutes – enough to serve a bunch of people with enough leftover to freeze.

It’s an old fashioned soup so the veggies are not al dente and brightly colored.  This is more like something from yesteryear – filling, hearty, not especially beautiful but comforting and satisfying.

English Short Ribs

English Short Ribs

Beef, Barley & Lima Bean Vegetable Soup

Serves 8-12, makes over 20 cups of soup

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Ingredients
  • 2 ½ lb soup meat (beef neck bones or short ribs) – I use thick English shortribs  (see photo)
  • ½ (I round mine a bit)  cup pearl barley, rinsed
  • 1 cup dry lima or other small white beans such as Northern beans
  • ½ cup combination of yellow split peas and brown lentils
  • ½ lb fresh green beans – ends trimmed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • 6 crimini mushrooms, stems removed and cut into 6 pie-shaped wedges
  • 5 large carrots, cut into ½ inch pieces (I don’t peel mine because they are organic)
  • 1 whole brown-skinned onion – remove the skin but leave the root end attached
  • 2 stalks celery, washed and sliced thin
  • 1 small tomato, cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste (remember the tube?)
  • Salt and ground pepper to taste
Instructions

Pressure Cooker Method:  Cover meat with water and bring to the boil and skim the grey gunk that rises to the surface.  Add the rest of the ingredients and water to cover the veggies and meat by about two inches. Cook until lima beans are done (approximately 30 minutes under high pressure).  Bring down pressure manually.    Using your handy dandy kitchen tongs, remove the whole onion and soup bones.  Trim the fat away from the meat and remove the bones, then cut meat into bite sized pieces.   Season with salt and pepper.  Return to the refrigerator and when it is cold, you can discard the orange fat layer that forms on top.  I leave this in place if I am freezing the soup and take it off after I defrost it because the fat protects the soup while in the freezer. THIS SOUP SHOULD BE EATEN A DAY AFTER MAKING IT!

The next day this soup thickens a great deal (we call it glue soup in our house) so add water if you want a thinner soup.  It tastes great with a hearty green salad and fresh bread.  This soup keeps for five days in the refrigerator and freezes for up to four months.

If you don’t own a pressure cooker, follow the same method but cover the pot with a lid and simmer for 2-3 hours until the meat is very soft and the barley is cooked through and through.

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Things I Love – Spicy Mayan Chocolate Cookies

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Marvelous Cookies (and milk)

Marvelous Cookies (and milk)

I cannot believe I am writing about yet another type of dessert I’ve just made.  If we spoke face to face, I’d assure you that I prefer savory food, that I don’t like weird (to me) combinations like cayenne and black pepper and chocolate and cinnamon and coffee altogether, ever.  So when my middle sister Susan came to town last November and announced that she wanted to make these concoctions for Thanksgiving, I protested heartily, confident in my belief that they wouldn’t do a thing for me.

BOY WAS I WRONG!  She pulled a few out of the oven and gave me a tiny bag (just five cookies) of these to take home.  I popped one into my mouth as I was driving back from the knitting shop and …Oh-My-Goodness.  The flavors were subtle and the spiciness came at the end of the bite.  I begged for the recipe, which Susan got from her friend Jill who got it from Momofuku in New York.  A close version appeared all over the internet with minor variations as well, some adding nuts, some with semi-sweet chocolate, some with more or less spice, some with allspice, some rolled in cinnamon..some recipes posted as far back as 2002.  The more things change, the more they stay the same, I suppose.

Susan’s cookie recipe is now included with my computer recipes under “cookies” … but also under “things I love.”  And I’m sharing her recipe with you.  These one or two bite beauties are the perfect ending to a nice meal, just my style.  And the word “Mayan” in the recipe?  Ha!  Mayan refers to a culture or civilization of indigenous people mainly in Central America who had a big hand in discovering the wonderful world of chocolate.  I’ve visited Mayan ruins in Belize, Mexico and Guatemala so the word resonates with me.

Just wait until you bite into this plain looking cookie and dark warm chocolate comes forth, followed by an intoxicatingly spicy aftertaste.  Just wait…

Balls of love

Balls of love

Mayan Chocolate Cookies

…via Susan via Jill via Momofuko but who knows where the recipe originated: with my changes and explanations

Yield about 3 dozen cookies

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Ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup (1 ½ sticks) salted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar, divided ( ¾ for the dry ingredients/dough and ¼ for rolling the cookies)
  • 1 1⁄2 cups all purpose flour
  • 
1 1⁄2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
  • 
1⁄2 tsp fine sea salt
 or table salt
  • 1⁄2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 
1 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
  • 
1⁄4 tsp fine ground black pepper (I used pre-ground)
  • 
3⁄4 cup unsweetened Scharfenberger or other great quality cocoa powder
  • 
1 large egg, room temperature
  • 
2 tsp pure vanilla
 extract
  • 1⁄2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Guittard 60% -they are pretty big so if you prefer semi sweet chocolate chips, use five per cookie rather than three)
Instructions:

Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, espresso powder, cayenne, ground pepper and cocoa powder in a medium bowl and stir to combine.

In a small cup combine egg and vanilla.

Using an electric micr beat butter with 3/4 cup sugar for six minutes on high speed.  This will make the cookies lighter in texture, so don’t omit this step.  I actually set a timer, impatient person that I am.  Lower speed and add egg and vanilla until incorporated.

Add sifted dry ingredients together in three batches and stop the mixer when everything is evenly combined.  Do not overmix.

Cover the bowl of dough and refrigerate (it will be thick) for a half hour.

Preheat oven to 350.

Roll a piece of dough the size of a walnut (about 1 inch in diameter) in between the palms of your hand. Press an indentation in the center of the ball  and place three of the large chocolate chips in the center, and then mold the dough around the chips. Roll into a smooth ball and coat in the 1⁄4 cup sugar that was set aside. Place on parchment paper on baking sheet.  I put 18 cookies per sheet since they don’t spread much.

Bake for eight minutes.  Let them cool on the cookie sheets.They form cute little half domes. Let them rest five minutes or so.

Note: these are the best right out of the oven while the centers are gooey and chocolaty.  OR I put the pre-baked, room temperature cookies in my handy preheated toaster oven at 300 degrees for two minutes.  OR I zap a few in the microwave for 8 seconds.  In addition,  I roll the raw cookies in sugar, just like before baking them but “flash freeze” the raw balls of dough on a parchment lined cookie sheet in the freezer.  Once solid I store them in a ziplock container, then remove a few for 45 minutes before I bake them in the toaster oven.  This way you can do a few at a time and they are always fresh.

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Meat & Beets: Beautiful Borscht

Click here to view recipe.

Beautiful Borscht

Beautiful Borscht

This recipe was incubated with my friend Eileen, and originated with Eileen’s mother. She raved about how filling and wonderful this old-school, hearty soup was and indeed it was everything I wanted and more. Sweet and sour, rich with meat and filling beets and cabbage…my red blood cells just gobbled up this dish.

Eileen kindly gave me her mom’s original recipe but I actually (gasp!) quantified it and changed a few things even more for you, my dear readers. The original recipe was a bit sketchy on the details, so before I made it I phoned with many questions… Did she forget to list onions as an ingredient? (no) How thick should the flanken be? (thin) How small a cabbage? (the smallest you can find). Should I discard the tiny bones in the meat? (no, keep them in-but I didn’t listen to this bit of advice).

Eileen even offered to come to my house after I made this dish to see if it was seasoned correctly. Hmmmm… I decided to try it on my own first and finally got the recipe to where I was happy. For me, getting the taste right was similar to seasoning meatballs rolled in cabbage. As an aside, she came over the following day and claimed it needed more lemon, garlic and salt.

Simmering Away

Simmering Away

Beautiful Borscht

Serves 8 – 10

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Ingredients
  • 3 lbs. flanken** short ribs cut about ¼ inch wide, fat trimmed***
  • 1 bunch large beets – peeled, halved and then sliced (3 -4 cups after slicing)
  • 1 small cabbage (about 1 ½ lbs) – cut into 3-inch by 1-inch chunks
  • Juice from 3 1/2 – 4 large lemons (plus more juice if needed)
  • 3 Tbsp dark brown sugar (I changed from the white sugar originally called for and I actually added an additional 2 Tbsp for my palate)
  • 5 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 ½ Tbsp. sea salt (add more if you wish)
  • 3 quarts of water

**Flanken short ribs are very different from traditional English short ribs most of you have seen; they are cut across the bones rather than parallel to the bones. Just ask the butcher for Flanken style short ribs if you aren’t sure.

***Don’t get too neurotic about removing all the fat from the soup ribs before you start cooking because you can remove a solid layer of fat after the final dish is prepared and refrigerated overnight.

Flanken!

Flanken!

Instructions

Put meat and short ribs along with salt and water into a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, skim off foam and then cover and lower to simmer. Cook for 1 ½ hours. Add sliced beets and cabbage and bring back to a boil, lower heat and cover – cook for another hour, stirring every 20 minutes or so. When you first add the beets and cabbage it looks so colorful and beautiful like in the photo – don’t get too excited because the whole soup cooks down and turns ruby red and the cabbage pretty much melts away.

Remove the lid and add the lemon juice, sugar and garlic and put the lid back on. Continue simmering for a half hour. Taste for salt, lemon and sweetness and add more if needed. I take my tongs and remove the flanken – tearing the meat into bite sized pieces, cutting away visible fat and omitting the small bones.

I made this on a Tuesday night and by Wednesday there was a layer of fat that had solidified on top. I easily removed this fat layer prior to serving. In true Ukrainian fashion, I ate mine with thick slices of boiled potatoes, rye bread and a hard boiled egg! This kind of simple, nurturing peasant food really speak to me.

This is a great winter dish and makes enough for a few meals with leftovers to freeze. It is perfect when the temperature dips and you need something to warm the cockles of your heart.

End note: apologies to everyone who lives in my condo building for the smells that emanated from my unit. I know cooked cabbage and beets isn’t the sweetest smell – but it sure tastes good!

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Fabulous February Salad

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Beautiful Bowl of Salad

Beautiful Bowl of Salad

You have probably figured that I have a salad fixation. My love of fresh produce escalated enhanced after my last visit to Belize. I buy many vegetables there, but often at a huge cost. For example a single butternut squash cost $15.00 and sweet peppers, while vibrant and colorful, are a whopping $6.00 a pound…you get my drift.

By the time I returned to the United States I dreamed of salad and vegetables. I pulled up my “Returning Home Grocery List” and after oooing and ahhhing at my favorite Seattle supermarket, I filled my refrigerator containers with mostly winter items for salads: crunchy napa cabbage, fresh baby spinach, arugula, kale, parmesan cheese, garbanzo beans (from my freezer), roasted chicken breast meat, fresh mint from my still alive rooftop plants, tuna , toasted walnuts, toasted sunflower and pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, hard-boiled eggs, cooked quinoa, cottage cheese, quickly made pickled red onion, cherry tomatoes, rainbow carrots, and homemade croutons.

All the fixin's

My Mise en Place

For your information, it takes me under 20 minutes of prep time to wash, chop and store what you see. To begin the week, I made one of my salad dressings by blending some Tahina sauce (similar to this recipe but thinned with a bit more water). I like to make an additional easy dressing and then I’m good  for several days to create simple or complex salads that I eat for either lunch or part of dinner. Like an artist, these are my tools.

The components change every few weeks depending on my mood. I might have citrus fruit sectioned or dry cherries on hand, vary the nuts, add steamed colorful potatoes, avocado, swap out sliced steak for chicken or fish, and add different grains. Often in the winter I warm a lot of the ingredients when I eat at home.  In the summer I lighten up and include many varieties of fresh herbs…and every salad I make isn’t an exact carbon copy of the previous one. I thrive with variety.

One reason I believe many people don’t eat healthfully is that it takes too much time and effort. When we’re hungry – seldom do we want to take the time to prepare a nutritious meal or snack. So I plan ahead! If I have a lot of work to do or will be on the road I put my salad in a huge jar or container along with the dressing; very early in the day–that way I never have to hunt for something healthful and filling to eat.

Here’s an example of a lunch salad I composed the other day: Napa cabbage, arugula, beans, mint, hard boiled egg, roasted chicken breast, toasted walnuts, toasted sunflower seeds, pickled onions, cherry tomatoes, and lots of fresh black pepper. And I topped it with my latest salad dressing obsession my son concocted – delicious!

February Salad Dressing

Just enough for one person

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Ingredients:
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • About 8 drops   toasted sesame oil
  • pinch of sea salt
Instructions:

Put everything into a small jar with a lid and shake, shake shake. You can double or triple the ingredients and make enough for the whole week. It keeps well at room temperature.

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