Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Amazing Green Latkes

Ever heard of a GREEN latke? And no - I don't mean the one that fell behind a cabinet last Chanukah and has been there ever since (it having been missed during cleaning for Pesah). Well if not, then read on, or stop by my house if you're in town to taste one.

It's not really Chanukah around our house without both lotsa latkes and REAL sufganiyot. Both are a bit hard to come by where I live, unless you make them yourself or have friends who do.

We do have two kosher bakeries here, both selling jelly doughnuts. But one makes them by simply deep frying bread dough (how very, er, um, clever). The other, our local King Soopers grocery store bakery, makes decent U.S.- style "bismarks" but they're dairy. Oh, and our kosher grocery does get them from somewhere "back East," but considering that their Chanukah cookies this year were the consistency of a hockey puck, one is reluctant to trust the doughnuts.

As for the latkes, we can get them commercially but: think either frozen, or flat and often with enough oil infused to fuel a good size Chanukiah (Chanukah menorah).
Roll Your Own

So the answer, my friend, is simple: you gotta learn to roll your own. The recipe I use is pretty much the classic, but the secret is in the technique.

To make about 20-24 latkes I use roughly five pounds of potatoes. This year we bought a big bag of BIG potatoes (see photo), weighing about a pound each, so that meant only five potatoes to peel per recipe. With smaller spuds you'd need more. To the five pounds of potatoes I add one onion, and we also used BIG onions, also weighing nearly a pound each, so we only needed one.

Now here comes the technique: I run the potatoes through the food processor (I'm using the standard grating blade on my Cuisinart, not the fine grater). Then I drain them, squeeze out liquid as much as a I can, and run them through the processor a second time! Using the fine grater, you see, would result in long fine strands. This technique results in shorter pieces, but finer than what you'd use for hash browns, for instance.

Finally, the onion gets run through the processor (just once is enough) and added to the potatoes. Into the mix go two eggs, a half cup of flour, a teaspoon of salt (coarse 'kosher' salt is best), and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (okay, from a jar is almost as good). 
Fry Baby Fry

Now for the next secret. Most people simply don't use deep enough oil when they make their latkes. The trick to big puffy latkes, instead of flat and sometimes oil-laden ones, is to deep fry them, almost as if you were making real french fried potatoes, rather than pan frying them. Use enough oil - I generally use Canola oil - to just about let the latkes float in the frying pan as they cook.

The temperature of the oil is also important. To high and the outside burns while the inside stays raw. Too low and they never get brown enough, and get really greasy.
Finally when ready I drain my latkes on a couple of thicknesses of paper toweling, then actually stand them on end on fresh paper towels. The latkes are now ready to serve, or perhaps to stick in the oven (remember to take the paper towel out of the pan, please) until your guests arrive. They can even be frozen, or refrigerated a few days, and re-crisped as you heat them in a hot oven.

Going Green

Aha, you were wondering ... what about the promised "green latkes"? My better half, the inveterate Jewish blogger Lady Light, loves green latkes, and the trick to making them is so simple its almost silly.

You simply take a small can (it says 13.5 ounces on the one I used my recently) of spinach, or a box of defrosted frozen chopped spinach, (or if you want you could certainly cook and chop your own easily enough). Squeeze out the liquid as best you can. Then mix the spinach with a bit less than half the latke batter from five pounds of potatoes.

The spinach latke mix is cooked just the same as regular latkes, although the results are of course a bit darker and a bit green. If done properly, the result should be about a dozen spinach latkes and a dozen regular latkes (which is enough for only about six people around my place, which means making FOUR recipes to serve to the couple of dozen guests expected for our Chaunkah party), ready to be topped with your choice of applesauce or sour cream.

A Chanukah feast: 
Regular latkes joined by the Kosher Kook's Amazing Green Latkes

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Cholent

So, All Hallow's Eve (Halloween for those into marketing) is over - celebrated by pagans and unfortunately some of our co-religionists, such as those at an Orthodox Union affiliated Shul near me that had a dinner with "Jewish Ghost Stories"  led by their reform-ordained "Kiruv Rabbi." Oh well, I don't go there.

Next up is Thanksgiving. I have no problem at all with Thanksgiving. In fact, I think that American Jews really should honor our holidays - I risked my life in combat for this country, and our national holidays do have a level of Kiddusha as long as we can freely practice Judaism here, which hopefully will be never ending.

So ... between the carved Pumpkins of All Hallow's Eve, and the luscious pumpkin pie (which CAN be made pareve, by the way, but with extra effort) of Thanksgiving ... I've been urged (okay, ordered by my significant other) to post about this wonderful recipe for Cholent in a Pumpkin.

Now remember a Pumpkin is, after all, another kind of squash. It's kosher. Period, end of sentence.

So, some years ago, the day after All Hallow's Eve, our local King Soopers was simply giving away all of its unsold pumpkins. I chose a couple from the pile, went home, and started looking for creative things to use them for.

I found an answer in this lovely little cookbook I bought years ago, entitled "Come for Cholent."  A tip of the hat to the author - Kay Kantor Pomerantz - for wonderful recipe ideas. (The book, by the way, looks to still be available at about $9. I checked at Amazon.). This book is a compendium of nothing but Cholent recipes, many of which I've made (you just GOTTA try her recipe called "Death By Cholent).

I haven't been able to reach Ms. Pomerantz, so I hope she doesn't mind my repeating what she suggests for Pumpkin Cholent, which she says is a dish of Syrian origin.

She suggests you take a pumpkin, cut off the top, scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff from inside, and then stuff the pumpkin with a chicken mix. She lists a pound of chicken to a half cup of diced onions, which you can brown if you'd like. Then she adds a half cup of rice, a can (10 ounces) of stewed tomatoes, a cup of kidney beans, a quarter cup of oil, four cubed potatoes, some cinnamon, salt and pepper, and water to cover. The stuffed pumpkin goes into a pan, a couple of inches of water are added around the outside, and the whole thing is wrapped tightly in foil and put in the oven. (I'd say if you have a cast iron Cholent Pot that's the right size, forget the foil and use the pot).

Whatta recipe!

Now I would suggest that the ingredients have to be scaled to fit the size Pumpkin the pagans celebrating All Hallow's Eve left over for us. I've also some suggested changes, ranging from the use of lamb to using sweet potatoes for the potatoes. Of course kidney beans are great, but a mix of almost any type of beans you like works too. And soak them, overnight, or at least cover with boiling water and let sit a few hours. Organic brown basmati rice would be a good choice for that part of the recipe. Indeed it might even be possible (though I haven't tried this) to leave out the meat and make a vegetarian or even Vegan cholent.

Cook as any other cholent, overnight.

And...the pumpkin becomes the pot for almost any variation of cholent you'd like to stuff in it, and you get to EAT THE POT!. I love it!!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yehi Ratzons - A Rosh Hashannah Seder For A Sweet New Year

An almost universal custom in Judaism is to start the Rosh Hashannah seudah (meal) by saying Yehi Ratzon (a prayer for a good and sweet year) and dipping an apple in honey - the honey of course to symbolize the sweet year we're praying for.

There are some whose custom is to just say that one Yehi Ratzon, indeed many Askenazim (Jews of most recently European descent) have that custom. Now truth be told, a couple of generations back I'm mainly Polish, so I could get away with that. But that's no fun. No sir, not at all.

My eyes were opened when we were invited by Sephardi (Jews of Middle Eastern descent, basically anyone who isn't Ashkenazi) friends in Jerusalem for the Rosh Hashannah seudah. Not only did they do one Yehi Ratzon after another, each on a different symbolic food, but they served a wonderful dish made with that food each time. Without getting into any arguments, I hope, about changing one's customs a bit - we've fully adopted the Yehi Ratzon's and try to find a creative dish to sample for each. Indeed we've even made up an elaborate Rosh Hashannah Seder sheet, and had a bunch of copies laminated, enough for all of our guests most years to have a copy of the prayers and explanations to read as we go along.

This year we're eating out at the house of an elderly couple who can't get out, and together with another couple all three families are pitching in to cook. Among other things (such as the wife's wonderful Challah, made with honey instead of sugar), we drew the majority of the Yehi Ratzons. So....here we go.

After the apple dipped in honey, we turn to beets - chosen because the Aramaic word for beets is 'silka' and the Hebrew word is 'selek,' both of which sound like the Hebrew word 'sileik,' which means 'to remove,' which is what we hope will happen to our enemies. (The exact order of the Yehi Ratzons, other than starting with apples and honey, is not set in stone, by the way. You also don't get demerits if you don't do one or another).

In past years I've often made Harvard beets. This year the vote was for a beet salad. Now one could buy fresh beets, trim the tops, boil in water until tender (maybe an hour and a half), then let them cool somewhat, cut off the top, slips off the skins, and cut them up. Alternately one could cheat and buy a can of cooked beets. It being Rosh Hashannah, I can not tell a lie. I cheated and used two cans of beets, instead of two pounds fresh. Just do remember that the canned beets need kosher certification, since they are cooked.

Cut the beets in bite size pieces, and marinate them for at least a few hours. The marinade I used, for two pounds (cans) consisted of two tablespoons of sugar, the juice of two lemons (well, the equivalent using Realemon), a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (did I mention extra virgin?), a big pinch or two of cinnamon (to taste), a couple of tablespoons of chopped parsley, and a bit of salt (to taste, or leave it out). I also threw in some finely sliced red onion. Gee, and that's just the second of what will be NINE (9) Yehi Ratons!

Next we do pomegranate, one of the traditional symbols of Israel and the New Year. The Kabbalah says that a pomegranate has 613 seeds, one for each of the mitzvot in the Torah. I have it on good authority that a reasonably large number of Jewish children - and some incredulous adults - have actually counted the seeds. I also hear that many say that their total was different. Well, all I can say is that 613 is no doubt the average, not the count for each and every pomegranate. So don't go and spoil a good explanation.

In any case, what we're doing again this year is cutting up the pomegranate, taking out the seeds, and passing them around in a bowl. Now I admit that's not really creative, and I do see a bunch of great looking pomegranate recipes on the POM web site. So I'm already thinking of next year. Or maybe even the next week or two, on Succot.

Next come dates, in Hebrew 'tamar.' That's similar to another Hebrew word, 'tam,' which appears in another word, 'sheyitamu." And THAT means 'may they cease to exist,' which is what we're hoping for our enemies.

In any case, we aren't responsible for the dates, nor for the next Yehi Ratzon, which is squash, so I'm anxious to see what our friends cook up with those two - I've already been promised squash and rice. One could, of course, just eat the dates plain. The squash too, for that matter. Squash, or 'k'ra,' is by the way the first food mentioned in the Gemarra, and the name among other things sounds similar to the word for 'tear.' We're praying that any evil decree against us in Heaven be torn up.

Continuing, we come to leeks. That food was chosen because leek in Aramaic is 'karthi,' which is similar to the Hebrew word 'karet,' which mean to cut off, destroy or decimate - which is what we're asking be done to our enemies.

In some years I've simply sliced the leeks and served them. That's hasn't proved too popular. Sauteed leeks got somewhat higher grades.But this year I'm out for the kill - I made Leek Fritters, or 'Keftes de Prasa, ' using a variant of Sephardic recipes I found in a pile of cookbooks.

For this recipe I'm using about two pounds of leeks, (weight before they're cleaned). That's three great big leeks, but it could take twice as many to make two pounds if you have only a little leak (oy, them's the jokes folks).

We start by cleaning the leeks - cut and off and discard the stem, most of the green part, and any loose layers. Then slice the leeks lengthwise, and then crosswise in roughly half inch slices. These go into a big bowl of cold water and get swished around - it is not to check for bugs. It is to wash out any dirt left in the leek. Finally lift out the leek with a slotted spoon and put in a colander. DO NOT just pour into the colander. Any dirt, you see, should have settled to the bottom of the bowl. It's sort of like gold panning (What, you've never panned for gold? Gee, visit Colorado, buy a pan, and I'll teach you!) except the stuff on the bottom isn't the shiny stuff, its the dirt.

We now cook the chopped up leeks. One could cover them with salted water, bring to a boil, and then simmer until the leeks are tender, which could take three quarters of an hour. Then you'd have to drain them, and squeeze out the water. Gee, it's so much easier to just nuke them for 15 minutes. No added water needed, just what's clinging to them.

While the leeks are cooling down (stick 'em in the refrigerator, or even freezer) take three Matzahs, break them up and soak in water. One could use some sort of nice bread, I guess. Do cut off the crust if you do. (And yes, this recipe could be made for Passover for those who, like me, don't choose to follow the somewhat curious custom of gebrokts.)

Now, squeeze the water out of the matzah, mix with the cooled leeks, and add (for the two pounds of leeks) two beaten eggs, a teaspoon of salt, and a half teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper (okay, jarred pepper if you must, but I warn you it won't be quite as good). At times of the year other than Rosh Hashannah when the custom is not to eat nuts (for reasons I find a bit obscure) one could also add a half cup or so of chopped walnuts. I mixed by hand, but one could use a food processor. If it all feels a bit too moist to hold together, add some matzoh meal - I used a bit over a 1/4 cup, so let's say 3/8 of a cup.

We now shape the batter into patties, about two inches round and half an inch thick. These take a little deft handling so that they don't fall apart but don't be fooled - after cooking they will be just fine. I get about 16 little patties out of two pounds of leeks. In theory that would be enough for 16 people to each have one for the Yehi Ratzon but let's get real - these are so good everyone will want seconds. Each of the patties is then coated with matzoh meal. Very carefully, so they don't fall apart.

We're getting there. While doing the above we were, of course, heating up a frying pan with an inch or so of oil (please use good oil, say canola, or even cooking-grade olive oil). And of course the next step is obvious - the leek patties are fried, being turned once. Say four minutes on a side.

I do suggest putting the patties in the hot oil by sliding them off a spatula, rather than attempting to put them in by hand. Not only may they fall apart if you handle them too much, you could well be burned by a tiny drop of the hot oil, at  which point you will drop the pattie and it will definitely break into itty bitty pieces. But that's not the problem any more - its the splash the pattie could make when you scream and drop it - splashed oil that may hit your hand, which could mean a trip to the burn ward of the local hospital. And that definitely is not what we want just before Rosh Hashannah.

Assuming no such untoward incident, finish up by retrieving the cooked leek fritters with a slitted spoon (actually I prefer to use a flatter soup skimmer). Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately while hot, perhaps sprinkling a little salt on, and with some lemon wedges is nice. Alternately, put in the refrigerator (or even freezer, to keep longer), and then reheat before serving.

We're down to the last three Yehi Ratzons, and around my house we've developed what might be a unique custom of our own. But first  I'll explain the Yehi Ratzon's: on carrots,  fish, and a head.

Carrots, in yiddish, is 'mehren,' which has a second meaning: to increase. We ask that our merits increase. Some, meanwhile, use fenugreek, which in Aramaic is 'rubia,' which sounds similar to the Hebrew word for increase, which is 'yirbu.' Fish are chosen because the reproduce in large numbers and we should recall that the first commandment given to man was 'be fruitful and multiply.' Finally the head (we use a fish head, as you'll see, but some even use the head of a sheep. The cooked head of a sheep, which they eat. We have a friend who does that and I'm just dying to be invited to his house for Rosh Hashannah.). In any case, it says in the Torah, in the book Devarim, that the Jews will be "as a head and not as a tail."

So...our way of doing it. I cook a whole fish, with carrots, and serve it up. Thus we have the fish head, the fish itself, and the carrot all in one dish.

My choice of fish this year, and most years, is whole trout. Now without a question the best way to obtain those trout would be to catch them in any of the thousands of beautiful trout streams here in Colorado. But alas I didn't buy a fishing license this year, so it's off to Costco, which usually has beautiful whole trout at a good price - without the need for a license.  One disappointment this year was that one of the four trout I bought wasn't cleaned very well - it still had most of its guts inside, and one eye was missing - not at all Costco quality. Still, it was a pretty good fairly fresh trout (packed a day earlier according to the label), and obviously  I don't mind cleaning fish.

(Oh, and I do still shop at Costco, although I'm furious that they're still selling treif Pita with an unauthorized kosher certification on the package.)

My method of preparing the fish is super simple. At least I think it is. I poach them in a court bouillon. Now some say poaching is becoming a lost art in America, but really it's the only way to make this dish. And the term court bouillon sounds fancy, but really it isn't. The French just want to impress us. A court bouillon is any liquid in which you poach things, and could be as simple as salt water. Could be simple, but not if you want really nice fish.

To a couple of quarts of water in my fish cooker (You don't have a fish cooker, you say? Shame on you. Its' a long pot that covers two burners. It's supposed to have a lift-out internal tray to make it easier to get a fish out, although one of the handles on mine broke and I can't find a replacement tray. A new good  fish pot is at least $40-$60, so I just struggle).

But I digressed. To a couple of quarts of water I added a half a cup of chopped celery, a sliced up onion (sliced and then each slice cut in half), a quarter cup of chopped parsley (fresh is best, dried works), a bay leaf, a tablespoon of chopped fresh thyme or teaspoon of dried, the same of basil (I used dried for both, phooey), two cloves of finely chopped garlic, a dozen black peppercorns, teaspoon of salt, quarter cup of vinegar (you could use white wine vinegar, but I discovered mine had become cloudy, so I used rice vinegar), and finally a quarter cup of white wine. Now puh-lease do NOT use that horrid stuff sold as "cooking wine." Use regular wine. Stuff you'd gladly drink. Follow this rule: If you wouldn't drink the wine, then don't cook with it either.

Bring to a boil, keep at a low boil for half an hour, and voila, a court bouillon fit for a king. Or at least a French gourmet.

The rest of it is simple. Put the whole, cleaned trout in the fish pot. Mine is big enough to hold two nice size trout at a time. Lower heat to simmer. Poach for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. Then very carefully lift out of the liquid. When all my fish are done, I take out the whole cooked carrots, slice them and put on the fish, which is then chilled and served cold. If it weren't Rosh Hashannah I'd serve the fish with horseradish sauce, but horseradish just doesn't fit the spirit of the day, so instead I offer up tartar sauce.

And we end our Yehi Ratzons with the "first course" of our Rosh Hashanna meal .... one half a trout  per person, the flesh defty removed from the bones and served with some of the carrot.

By popular demand (um, would somebody demand, please?) the rest of the meal, in brief: Vegetable soup; Israeli salad; whole roast turkey; cranberry-orange sauce (I bought a pile of cranberries cheap right after Thanksgiving, and froze them); carrot kugel; squash and rice; and of course Honey Cake for desert.

Monday, September 14, 2009

An 8,500 Foot High BBQ !!!

There's always something special about a barbecue, particularly if you're in the wilderness and about 8,500 feet up the side of a mountain.

As is obvious from my other posts I have a great big grill just dandy for a backyard BBQ for a dozen folk, or more. But its a little tough to haul a grill like that around.

Now folks who don't keep kosher can of course just bring a bag of charcoal, or some wood, and cook their food on a filthy public grill in some park. But we have to bring our own - this time a brand new ultra-portable gas grill which we got on end of summer closeout at King Soopers for the princely sum of $6. (Which may be what it's really worth, since the stem the gas regulator screws into broke first time out).

So off we go to Rocky Mountain National Park and Trail Ridge Road, the highest continuous road in the lower 48 states, with friends and their kids. Hungry friends and their even hungrier kids...so naturally the first stop after a couple of hours in the car is at a wonderful picnic area at an elevation of about 8,500 feet.

Ah, the menu ... your typical America BBQ - Hamburgers, Hot Dogs, Roasted Corn, Cole Slaw, Potato Salad, and the expected condiments.

For the Cole Slaw - shredded red and white cabbage, shredded carrot, and some dressing (mayo, rice vinegar, sugar, salt, nice and simple).

Potato Salad a bit fancier ... chopped up celery, red onion, and hard boiled eggs added to the boiled potatoes. Potato Salad does take a little technique. You don't want to boil them too long or they'll turn into mashed potatoes, nor for too short a time, obviously, or they'll be raw. Then you peel them hot (under flowing water is my technique), slice them thick, and gently toss with the other ingredients. The dressing sounds suspiciously like the Cole Slaw dressing, only I added some honey mustard.

As for the rest, well I can't claim to have made the hot dogs, though I'd like to learn how some day. For variety, half were luscious quarter pound knocks for the adults, the nice fat kind that really don't fit in the standard hot dog rolls. And the hamburgers were just plain, unadulterated chopped meat (yes, I do have fancier ideas, but hey this was a picnic in the mountains, so simply was the word!).

And the corn. Ah, the corn. Roasted in the husk, a technique that brings out the maximum sweet flavor. I wet them down first - at home I let them soak for a while before roasting on the big grill.

All washed down with home made lemonade (okay, I'm addicted to the simple recipe on the Realemon bottle - 1 cup lemon juice, 1 cup sugar, 2 quarts water). And to top it off, of course, nothing would do but some fresh watermelon.

Watermelon - The End To A Perfect BBQ

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Surplus of Salads

I think I went a little bit overboard on the salads last Shabbat - I made six or seven different salads for just one meal!

To explain: Three families were getting together, for a grand total of 10 hungry people, for lunch, with everyone contributing something. I drew the salad(s).

Family One contributed all of the meat: Lamb and beef. And not just any old lamb, mind you. Lamb they had watched being slaughtered (okay, just the husband watched). We have a member of our community who is a shochet, and if asked he'll kill a lamb or chicken or two for friends every now and then. Hey, it's the only way to get fresh lamb in our community, since the only two sources of fresh kosher meat we have - a Target and a kosher market - don't stock fresh lamb (well the market does get in fresh lamb, but it freezes it immediately and refuses to even call you when it comes in if you want to go get a pound or two - nor will they grind it for you).

Unfortunately our friend had also frozen the lamb. Bummer.

Bigger bummer - he has this wonderful lamb, and his wife won't eat lamb. It's almost like she's a vegetablearian or something. Thus the contribution of six pounds of pot roast, to complement the three racks of lamb ribs.

Family Two got the job of cooking the meat (plus they made fish and provided the drinks, both hard and soft).

So, as I said, we got the salads ... and the Challah (which my wife baked).

Let's see: there was broccoli cole slaw, pasta/bean salad, marinated asparagus salad, spinach salad, a spectacular eggplant/pepper salad and, for desert .... what else? ... a fruit salad.

Now I've got to admit I bought a bag of already-shredded brocolli stems and carrot, so the broccoli slaw really wasn't all my doing. But I did dice the apples that went into it. But the walnuts I used weren't in the shell, they were bought already chopped (you got me!). And hey, I didn't dry the grapes to make the raisins either, I must confess.

Toss with a dressing - mayo, rice vinegar (I've been using that a lot these days, in place of either wine vinegar or cider vinegar - the rice is a LOT milder and has a less vinegary taste), sugar, a little salt if you must. Simplicity itself.

Next the pasta/bean salad. The recipe came right off the can of the Westbrae salad beans that I used (thank you Westbrae for all the certified kosher beans). Well, almost right off the label. I've made a few changes over time. In fact enough changes so that one of these days I'll do a post just discussing the bean salad.

Hmm...In that case, maybe I won't even bother to go through the ingredients: Just click on the picture tand you can see them all:

And here's the finished product:
Next up, the asparagus.

Now this is real simplicity. Cook (being careful not to overcook ... I simply nuked the poor things for a few minutes), cool, and pour on some marinade (I used plain old bottled Italian dressing if I'm lazy or in a hurry).

Chill overnight. Wonderful!

The spinach salad is almost as easy, the way I make it. Simply slice up a red onion (thin slices), and toss in a bunch of sliced mushrooms. I used the brown baby bellas, but white would work just as well. Of course all sorts of other yummy things could be added to the salad - peppers, various greens, maybe some chopped hard boiled eggs. But remember, this is a half dozen salads I'm making, and I still needed time to make our own Friday night Shabbat dinner (a modest affair of Tuna salad with deviled eggs on red leaf letttuce, chicken noodle soup with matzoh balls, a chicken with mushroom stuffing and a salad).

When it's time to eat, toss the spinach salad with dressing (If you put it on in advance, say the night before, it will marinate. Yuck.) - I prefer Italian (indeed the same as the dressing I used for the asparagus), or perhaps some vinegar, oil and spices - and maybe a handful or two of your favorite croutons.

And now, the real tour de force, and eggplant and pepper salad. This one is a bit more work than any of the others, but worth every minute. AND it counts toward my 100 eggplant dishes.

First the eggplant is sliced (perhaps three slices to the inch), salted, and left to sit for an hour or so. Next it's rinsed off and dried. The slices are then fried in hot olive oil. Not too hot, mind you, or the eggplant will burn before cooking through. And don't be trying to cheat and use some other oil. We're talking FLAVOR here, not just something to fry with. Then drain the fried eggplant slices and arrange on a platter in a single layer (well, you can overlap a little bit if you have to in order to fit all the slices).

Next, the eggplant is sprinkled with some vinegar (did I mention I'm using rice vinegar a lot these days? Well, for this too, although I guess no self-respecting Middle East cooking traditionalist would agree.) Perhaps two or three tablespoons of vinegar for two eggplants that weigh a little less than a pound each.

Now comes a fun part ... sautee sliced garlic in the left over olive oil. For the aforementioned two eggplants I used eight or ten cloves of garlic, which is almost twice what some folk do. But I'm a garlic freak. Careful, don't let them burn, just get a nice golden brown. Then sprinkle them on the eggplant.

Finally, we fry WHOLE peppers in the olive oil. They could be all green, or some green and red, or yellow, or whatever color you like. Just fry them until they're browned nicely and soft. Then drain, cool a bit, cut open, and get rid of the seeds and stem. Finally, cut the pepper into the strips, which go on top of the eggplant and garlic. Pure salad artistry, if I do say so myself.

And for desert, as I said before, what else could there be but another salad? A fruit salad.

By now, worn out, it had to be something simple. So I simply cut a couple of pineapples in half, took out the core, sliced up the fruit, and put it back in the shell. The wife pitched in and made some canteloupe melon balls. Oh and then we threw in handfuls of grapes. Ah, and sliced up some strawberries. As I said ... something simple.

The Kosher Kook shows off his simple fruit salad.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Thanksgiving in July

Who says Thanksgiving comes in the Fall?

Why not celebrate Thanksgiving in July
- and write about it in August, to boot?

To explain: Our youngest child is home for her first visit in several years - the military gave her a month off and a round trip ticket from Israel. And high on her want list was a "real" Thanksgiving dinner, an American treat that its tough (though not absolutely impossible) to duplicate anywhere else in the world, Israel included.

So ... the menu is Thanksgiving in July. And as a Friday night Shabbat dinner, no less ... and yes, I know that traditionally Thanksgiving is on Thursday. But many years ago we switched to Pizza on Thursday, and Turkey on Friday night, combining the celebration and sanctity of the Sabbath with American tradition -- and as a Jewish U.S. Army combat veteran, I think I'm more than entitled to do that. (Okay, this past Thanksgiving we were invited to friends for Thursday night, so we actually had TWO Thanksgiving dinners. And with the one we just did in July, that makes THREE this year.)

What we had was an almost traditional Thanksgiving menu... with just a few caveats. The first is that Kosher turkey in this part of the country now runs $60-$80, up from $15-$20 for the exact same bird, on sale, just three or four years ago, which is a bit pricey So for this dinner we went with just Turkey breast (bought on sale frozen some months ago) ... actually two of them ... which turned out to be not such a bad choice at all.

But on with the meal:

It being Shabbat Kiddush comes first - for this meal we used a nice Merlot as our kiddush wine.

Next, of course, comes HaMotzi - wonderful home made Challah. I must admit that I didn't make the Challah. That was my wife's doing, with my grandson's happy hands helping (he was in town visiting too!). But at least the recipe was my doing, a classic Challah recipe I modified both to work a bit better given the high altitude at which we live, and to cheat a bit by using a bread machine for the initial steps. But more on that recipe in some future post.

So far, you might complain, there's been no sign of "Thanksgiving," nor is there for our next course - Gefilte Fish, which is definitely not a dish I would imagine that the Pilgrims made. But what the heck, it is Friday night, and maybe the Pilgrims DID eat some kind of fish at their meal. (And I bet it was fresh, not the pre-chopped frozen stuff we made.)

Oh, well. Perhaps some of the Chamutzim we had on the side - Pickles, Olives and Roasted Sweet Red Peppers - were on the "real" Thanksgiving menu.

But wait, now we finally come to our first sign of Thanksgiving - the L'Chaim, made over a drink called a "Turkeyball." For those who have never heard of the Turkeyball - which I suspect is just about everybody - it's a cocktail based on Wild Turkey bourbon. You take an ounce of Wild Turkey, 3/4 of an ounce of Amaretto, and a "splash" of Pineapple juice (1/4ounce to be strict, as much as you'd like is perfectly fine). Shake them all with ice, and then either strain into a little glass, or pour over crushed ice and garnish with a mint leaf or two (fresh from our weed patch out back).

Next - the soup. I'll discuss my classic Chicken Soup recipe some time in the future, but let it be said that the Pilgrims may well have had some type of soup made with fowl. Of course I doubt they had matzoh balls in it, as we did. But hey, it WAS a Shabbat dinner.

Finally ... after a tossed green salad ... the main attraction: Turkey.

The trick is to keep the Turkey breast moist and juicy while cooking it thoroughly. The secret these days is to use an oven roasting bag. Indeed with the bag you can even let the Turkey sit keeping warm for an hour or more without it drying out.

The recipe I used: Rub the Turkey breast with a blend of spices (I used one tablespoon each of garlic powder, poultry seasoning, sage, and thyme) mixed with two tablespoons of Olive Oil (did I mention Extra Virgin?). Put a tablespoon of flour into the cooking bag (they claim this keeps it from exploding), then the Turkey breast. Finally, for obvious reasons holding the bag opening up, pour in a cup of chicken broth (okay, I used powdered mix to make it, shame on me, and kind of dumb to boot considering the fact that I had a big pot of fresh chicken soup simmering right there in the kitchen) to which you have added a quarter cup each of chopped celery, onion and carrots.

Now, tie up the bag, make a few slits in the top, and roast at 325F. It will probably take at least 2-2 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the Turkey breast.

As for the rest of our meal, that was indeed "pure" Thanksgiving.

On the side a cranberry-orange sauce: One bag of cranberries (craftily bought cheaply after the "real" Thanksgiving and frozen for just such a critical time of need such as this), a cup of sugar, and a cup of liquid. The liquid is the juice of an orange, and enough water to make up a cup. Before juicing the orange wash it, zest it, and throw the zest into the cranberry pot. Bring to a boil, cook 10 minutes, and refrigerate overnight. Pure Cranberry delight, far better than your basic sauce, which is made without the orange.

Also on the side: a sweet potato-pineapple casserole with marshmallow fluff. A friend with whom we traditionally share Thanksgiving is the specialist in this dish, so I won't (well, I can't) detail how it was made.

For desert, our friend brought Pumpkin pie. After all, what's a Thanksgiving dinner without Pumpkin Pie?

But, not wanting to be outdone, I finished off with a chocolate pie - using a marvelous non-dairy (Pareve) recipe I found years ago and which has become a family tradition. Next time I make it, I'll reveal the recipe, which is so simple its almost criminal that the pie is so good.

The Kosher Kook's Inkredible Pareve Chocolate Silk Pie

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Some Thing Cheesy:: Eggplant Parmesan

Ah, the last supper (you'll forgive the term) of the Nine Days, and what better way to get ready for the fast than a classic Eggplant dish. Of course the REAL last supper before the fast is simply a hard-boiled egg and some bread (traditionally dipped in ashes, but I don't have a good recipe for ashes).

My choice - Eggplant Parmesan, with a definitely Jewish twist.

For starters I slice the eggplant, salt it liberally, and let it sit for an hour. I've been told its an old wive's tale that you have to do that ... well, guess I'm an old husband.

Now for the Jewish magic - the breading. Matzoh meal! And in fact not just any old matzoh meal this time. I still have some 18 minute and Shumrah Matzoh meal left over from Passover, just begging to be used.

Added to the Matzoh meal - a pile of wheat germ (for a delicious nuttier flavor and some obscure health reasons), a bunch of sweet Hungarian Paprika, and if I have any around some garlic powder (usually I only have 'real' garlic on hand). The eggplant is then washed off, coated with the matzoh meal mixture, dipped in beaten egg, and then coated again in the matzoh meal.

Next we brown it in hot oil - Canola is my suggestion (Wesson brand today).

To put it all together we need some sauce and cheese. I use about a quart of tomato sauce per eggplant, and the choice of sauce is endless. Tonight its Marinara, another time it might be garlic and mushroom, etc. First a little sauce in the bottom of the pan, then a layer of the fried eggplant, then more sauce to cover. Next comes a layer of sliced mozzarella cheese. Now a second layer of fried eggplant, sauce to cover it all, a final layer of sliced cheese. Finally, at my wife's suggestion, a sprinkled of mixed shredded mozzarella and cheddar. In all two eggplants, two quarts of tomato sauce, about 12 ounces of cheese (six slices of packaged sliced mozarella, since in this burg I can't get fresh sliced), a handful of shredded cheese, to fill a half steam table tray.

About 45 minutes in a 325F oven (I use a toaster oven for dairy) ... and perfect eggplant parmesan. Well, I hope its perfect.

For sides ... choose a veggie, a salad, perhaps some pasta ('m partial to green noodles in garlic butter sauce). Ah...and some Merlot to wash it down.