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Monday, April 29, 2019

Klops, an Eastern-European Meatloaf

I'm so mad that this was the best picture of this that I took. But by the time I was eating I was so hungry so I just forgot.
It doesn't sound good, does it? Klops. Blech. It's actually a very traditional meatloaf that's quite popular in Polish/Lithuanian Jewish homes. There's a recipe in The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden and if you search "Klops meatloaf" you'll learn all about this favorite of Poland. It's a very Eastern European thing to put foods inside of other foods, if that makes any sense. This meatloaf has hard-boiled eggs in it! I've had it before from a friend's recipe and did not care for it at all. I thought it was dry, gray, and bland but everyone else seemed to love it. I really love meatloaf and I wanted to make my own version of klops, but make it more like the meatloaf I had growing up, which is a savory, tomato-laden labor of love.

There are going to be a couple of ingredients in here that aren't totally traditional, but please trust me on these. I know you're going to want a wonderfully authentic Polish-Lithuanian recipe, and while those are all nice and fed many people, you've come to my page and I want to give you something with a little twist that will give you an excellent result in the end.

Miso, specifically white miso, is an excellent additive of salt for meats. I love seasoning food with it because it adds a savory depth of flavor to everything it touches. I think miso is one of the most-perfect foods, and it works especially well in this because of the acidity of the tomatoes. I chose roasted ones because they're going to have a little less moisture in them in exchange for more flavor. You can pick up a 14 oz can of fire-roasted tomatoes at just about any grocery store nowadays, and you won't regret it.

Klops Meatloaf
serves 6-8
  • 2 lb course ground beef, ideally an 80/20 blend
  • 1 medium onion, grated
  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed and minced
  • 1 can roasted tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp white miso
  • 1 small cucumber, about 1/2 cup, diced fine
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/3 c matzoh meal (or dry crackers, whatever you have)
  • Fresh mint and dill, chopped fine, about 3 Tbsp of each
  • 3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
  • 1 cup quartered mushrooms, optional
  • 1 large tomato, optional
Make the hard-boiled eggs first by cooking them for 12 minutes with a teaspoon of baking soda added to the water, which will help you peel them faster! Another little trick is to drain them and then shock them immediately after cooking with ice to help peel them more quickly. 

You're going to want to use a whisk to make a sort of paste out of the miso and the egg. The reason we're using miso instead of salt is because it's going to add a savory saltiness to the meat without drawing extra liquid out, like a hard salt would. I know it sounds funny, but it's not always the best idea to put hard salt into a ground meatball product. Since it's softer, use liquid or paste. You can also use soy sauce!

Drain the tomatoes of the juice and add them to the ground meat, the rest of the vegetables, the matzoh meal, and your egg mixture. Moisture is your frenemy when it comes to meatloaf, so you want to control it as much as possible. You want to use a sort of "liquid" salt like miso instead of a hard salt like kosher salt because the latter will draw moisture out of each strand of meat and it'll have nowhere to go, unless you want to let the whole loaf sit in the fridge for a day or so, so it can pass nicely through and through without issue. I also have cucumber and grated onion in this recipe, which are quite moist, but it's a fragrant moist that you'll be grateful for. 

With your bare fingers, mix everything together, sort of like you're doing a pie crust. Add in the herbs and give everything a good knead. It's okay if you get a little rougher at this stage! You want to make sure you don't have too many air pockets here at this stage. Lay out the meat all on a large sheet of plastic film in a tube, and roll it up tight to make a  big sausage shape. You're going to wrap it as tight as you can and let it hang out on the counter for the 10 minutes it's going to take you to peel your eggs. What's happening now is you're letting the flavors mesh. You can do this up to 24 hours ahead of time and you can let it all hold in the refrigerator instead.

When you're ready to bake your meatloaf, heat your oven to 375 degrees F and choose a casserole dish that will hold everything with ease, ideally with sides that go up at least 2 inches all the way around. To form your meatloaf, unwrap the meat and take half of it into your casserole dish. Lay it into a flat oval and make a lovely little channel in which to lay your eggs. You're laying them on their sides so they go in a nice line all the way down. Take the rest of your meat and lay it on top of the loaf you've just made to sandwich the eggs in. Use your hands to pat and shape it into a nice tight loaf, the tighter the better.

Drizzle a little oil on top and season generously with salt and course ground pepper to give it a nice crust. If you like mushrooms, fill in around the sides of the loaf so it can soak up and cook in the fat. You can make a nice sauce out of this later, if you so choose!

Bake for 1 hour at 375. Remove from the oven and let hang out on your cutting board for at least 15 minutes. One of the reasons we let this meatloaf rest before serving is to help it retain its shape when you cut it. The whole idea of a meatloaf is for it to be a lovely homogenous thing, and it's especially lovely for leftovers. Who doesn't love a meatloaf sandwich for lunch?

Please be careful when you remove it from the oven, as there's quite a bit of fat that's sure to have cooked off. If you've cooked mushrooms around the sides, spoon them out into a dish gently, and then spoon out the fat that's rendered off. Reserve at least a couple of spoonfuls for the sauce, if you plan to make one. If you do want to make a nice sauce, simply chop up one large tomato, saute it in some of the fat that has been drained from the meatloaf, and add in the mushrooms that were cooked in the oven. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then blitz in a blender with some breadcrumbs or matzoh meal. 

The sauce is entirely optional, as it's quite yummy on its own. For sides, I suggest a squash puree or roasted potatoes. You're going to have tons of leftovers, so you may as well make it the day before your work week starts so you can have easy leftovers.

Thanks so much for reading! Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Brisket for Two - a Nod to Passover

Presented with apologies to all of my ancestors that survived Lithuania just long enough to pass this on
this important culture to some idiotic child like me. 
I'm easily the worst possible source for how to host a Passover Seder, but I had a little feast anyway. Genetically, I'm 50% Ashkenazi Jewish and 50% Indigenous Pinoy/Tagalog...so dang, do I know how to deep-fry some good stuff, and that's about the beginning and end of what those two cuisines have in common. I like to celebrate all holidays that I'm able to, even if I can't have any bread, cookies, scones or muffins for the next week. (Not 'can't,' won't is more like it. 100% choice.) While I realized I didn't actually have a proper seder plate, I still wanted to celebrate the first night of Passover with my husband. So we did something completely casual for the two of us!

I've had a few Passover Seders here and there, so let's just get down to it: The Passover Seder is a very special one that involves story telling around the table. Every piece of what the table has on it means something. It's a ritualistic meal and a very important one at that. This blog is merely to show you what I did and I don't want anyone to get offended (not that I could see how) but we did want to celebrate the freedom of the Hebrews.

Motivation time:

If you ever feel insignificant: 10,000 years of civilization with every single aspect of nature (that wants you dead, by the way) fighting against you, as well as other peoples fighting against you, you've made it. You were the one that made it through the infinitely small chances of coming into existence. Every single life is unbelievably unlikely, and you are the one that's here, reading this now. After everything the last 10,000 years has thrown at the human civilization, you made it. I don't know if that's by chance or not, but the blood and souls of your ancestors were fighting hard for you to be here. Some of mine got lost in a desert for 40 years, but dammit they made it. Just so one of their descendants can screw up a Passover Seder. I hope they at least developed a sense of humor over all those millenia.

We'll get to the meal in a minute, but before all that I want to at least touch on what goes on your traditional Seder plate. I'd like to point out that nothing on this particular plate is eaten, just put up for the ritual and for the story you tell as you sit down for the meal. This story is a very important one to tell, and quite important to the actual ritual of eating.

What goes on the Seder Plate

  • Zeroa (shank bone)
    • Usually a lamb shank bone, it represents the sacrifice offered up from the Hebrews on the eve of their exodus from Egypt
  • Beitzah(hard-boiled egg)
    • This represents a sort of "new beginnings", a universal Springtime symbol! It's not eaten from the seder plate, but lots of folks serve an appetizer of chopped egg salad or deviled eggs before the meal.
  • Charoset(yummy)
    • This 'paste' is actually delicious! It's a mash of apples, pears, dates, walnuts, honey, and a dash or two of kosher wine. Do yourself a favor and set some aside for yourself for the dinner table. If there's any leftover, spread it on matzoh the morning after for a treat!
  • Maror (bitter herb)
    • Usually horseradish or romaine lettuce, it represents the bitterness of slavery
  • Karpas (spring vegetable)
    • Most folks use parsley, which is bitter, but also alive and springy, served next to salt water to represent the tears cried by the slaves.
Now that that's all out of the way, we can get on to what you can actually serve for a Passover Seder. Roast chicken is a fairly traditional staple, and so is brisket. So long as it's not mixing milk and meat, and the meat is kosher, go nuts! It's all entirely up to the host's preferences. This hostess did...

Favorite Easy Brisket for Two
  • 2.5 lb brisket (it's what they had at the butcher)
  • Ground spice mix
    • 3 Tbsp kosher salt
    • 2 tsp coffee grounds
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 1/2 tsp whole coriander
    • 1/4 tsp whole cumin
    • 1/4 tsp ground cayenne
    • 5 or 6 allspice berries
  • 1 leek, sliced
  • 1 large tomato, cut into wedges and salted
  • 3 medium carrots, sliced
  • Boiled potatoes 
  • Garden Herbs
  • Hard-boiled Eggs (dyed because Easter was yesterday)
Grind your spices in a mortar and pestle (or a spice grinder if you have it), putting the salt in the bottom first, then the cumin and coriander, then the rest of everything else. Grind it to be course yet so everything's all about the same size. You'll just love the aroma! Mix it with a few drops of a neutral oil (grapseed or canola will do) and rub it all over your brisket. Re-wrap it and let sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes, but of course the longer you let it sit, the better. 

The moment I get home from the butcher, I like to salt and pepper my meat and rewrap it in the paper. I think this lets the salt do its magic a little easier, and it just gets things going. Prepare the vegetables by washing and chopping them simply. The best part about meals like this is that you can start it in the middle of the afternoon, forget about it and go on about your day, and then come back to a delicious meal. I suggest 2+ hours of cooking time, so please plan accordingly. 

To prepare a brisket, first preheat your oven to 400 degrees and break out your favorite casserole pot. I have this incredible old pot that my great-grandmother used. I have no idea where it came from, I just know that it's been in my family for generations and that it's the best damn pot I've ever had. Pick something that'll go both on the stovetop and the oven without cracking or blinking an eye (so to speak). Pots like these are investments, and I highly suggest you get one!

Set your casserole pot on a high flame and add a small glug of canola oil to the bottom. Let heat and give it a gentle swirl. Unwrap that brisket that's been pre-seasoned, and place it - fat cap side down - into the pot. Turn the flame down to medium-high and turn on your vent. It might help to open a window lest your home kitchen is like mine without a commercial vent. You're going to let it sear for at least 3 minutes before you turn over and let it sear on the other side for another 2 minutes. Remove from the pot and set on a plate. Turn that heat back up to high.

Terrible picture, but you get the idea.
Dump in all of your vegetables that you've chopped and cook for 2 minutes. Stir, scraping the bottom, and then cover and reduce the flame to medium. Let cook for another 2 minutes, open the top and scrape up all the goodies. Arrange the veggies so they are an even surface to put your  meat back onto. Let your meat rest atop the veg, fat cap side up, and cover. Let cook on the stove for about 10 minutes before putting in the hot oven. When you do put it in the oven, decide then if you'd like to introduce any herbs from your garden. A big bunch of parsley might be nice, or some dill. Either way, pop that covered pot into that oven.

Cook for 45 minutes, then turn the heat down to 325 and cook for another 90 minutes (or an hour and a half). You can take this time to take a shower, go for a walk, read a magazine, or do any other errand around the house. You can also prepare some yummy sides! Here's my favorite easy way to do red-skinned potatoes:

Take large red-skinned potatoes and pop them all in a tall stock pot (mine is about 4 qt). Fill the pot with water so that the potatoes are completely submerged and add a little more than a half a cup of kosher salt (I'm seriously not kidding) into the water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.Cook until soft, then let sit for at least 15 minutes. Drain this salty water and let the potatoes air-dry on a paper towel. They're going to form a beautiful salty crust, so don't be alarmed. Now, they're soft and ready to be fried in butter or oil! Simply smash them or cut them in rough cubes, then cook on a medium-high heat to brown! The result is like a french fry only without all the work. You can also add in chopped herbs, sliced asparagus...whatever you like! I took some asparagus from my garden and mixed it in with these glorious potatoes to serve as my side-dish.

The picture is only blurry because it's steamy!

To make the perfect hard-boiled egg, begin with cold water, completely covering the eggs in the pot. Bring your pot to a boil, turn the heat off, and cover. Set the timer for 15 minutes, then drain and pour ice straight atop the eggs. This will make peeling a much easier feat in the future, believe you me!

I did have a little more than some fun dyeing these eggs. Simple technique! Dye a base coat in the normal method, but leave it a little pale. Then make a layered solution of white vinegar and canola oil. Drop a few drops of dye into the oil, and quickly drop in the egg. Swirl it around a bit and then let drip on a tray lined with a cooling rack The effect will be a beautiful marbled one. If you're feeling fancy, dust on some luster dust with a paintbrush while still damp. Gorgeous!

Your brisket should be done about now. Remove from the oven and let hang out on the stovetop for about 15 minutes. You're letting everything rest and making it easier for yourself to slice. I suggest thin slices, crosswise from the grain. Serve with your potatoes, herbs, eggs, and more!

Thanks so much for joining me on this post. I'm loving my new work schedule and I hope you guys love it, too.  Chag sameach! (That's yiddish for happy holidays)

Follow me on Twitter and Instagram if you aren't already doing so. Just yesterday I've had a minor panic about what to do with a traditional passover breakfast of Matzoh-brei.  Enjoy a photo of it here!

 Happy cooking and happy eating!

Monday, April 15, 2019

Vegan Graham Crackers

Wow. A portrait orientation. Crazy. 

I know it's barely April, but I can't stop thinking of summer! My favorite thing about summer is campfires, snapping and crackling, dancing up to the sky as if to praise. And what's the best thing about a campfire? A s'more, of course! Now I've spoken before about homemade marshmallows in a few posts previously, but this post is about my favorite childhood snack. No, really! I would have a stack of graham crackers with a glass of ice cold milk and it would be the best thing ever.

If you want to make your own marshmallows, I've got a few recipes. If you want to make your own chocolate, please sponsor a cacao tree and save it from loggers! Now, let's get cooking with this incredibly easy graham cracker recipe, that you won't even need a mixer for!

My Favorite Graham Crackers

  • 312 g AP Flour
  • 85 g coconut sugar
  • 85 g vegan butter
  • 2.5 fl oz (a little less than a third of a cup) honey 
    • Seriously. It's an animal product but I swear it doesn't harm a single animal. Please. Buy honey and support apiaries who are trying to keep bees alive. But if it seriously still bothers you then just use molasses or maple syrup. But please buy honey.)
  • 1 1/2 tsp Baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 Tbsp almond or oat milk
  • 1 vanilla bean, scraped(you can also use 2 tsp good vanilla extract or 1 tsp of vanilla paste)
Preheat your oven to 350 F and prepare a sheet pan with a silpat mat or with parchment paper. Seriously, don't skimp on this part. I don't care if you have a nonstick cookie sheet. Please just do this because it makes it so much easier in the long run.

Combine the flour, sugar, vanilla, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Cut the butter into cubes and, with your fingers, rub the fat into the flour. This is very much like you're making a pie! You're looking for crumbs that are just a little bit smaller than the size of a pea. Make a well in the middle and pour in the honey. Using your fingertips, flick the flour mixture over the honey and stir by hand. Pour the milk over and knead gently for a few turns, just to get it to come together. Turn out onto an oiled surface, ideally a marble slab. You're going to end up with a spectacular dough that's going to smell incredible.

And since there are no eggs in this dough, you can eat this raw. You probably will, too.

Oil your hands quite well and pop your dough onto your prepared sheet tray. The trick with this one is to roll out your dough on/inside the tray, so you're manipulating it as little as possible. You can oil your rolling pin as well, but you won't need to if you have a marble one. Just make sure that it's even in thickness! You can tear and fill where you need, and then not worry about it!

Use a wheel cutter (better known as a pizza cutter) to score the sides of the sizes of crackers you want. I wasn't exactly sure if it was going to be perfect, so I kind of just went with a size I thought was comfortable with. These will puff up in an unattractive way if you don't prick these with a fork, so I make sure to prick it mercilessly. 

This is a 'half sheet pan.' It's available at most restaurant supply stores! They're larger than residential cookie sheets.

Bake in a hot oven for 11 to 13 minutes. Once done, evacuate, turn off your oven, and set the pan on a cooling rack. Don't try and move the crackers themselves, as they'll still be quite soft. I know it'll be hard to tell when they're done because they're already gorgeous and golden-brown. You'll know for sure that they're done because they've completely set, gone slightly darker around the edges, and your house smells awesome.

You'll need to cool for at least 15 minutes before snapping. Because you're using an invert sugar (or a liquid sugar) it's going to soften up with heat. As it cools, it will become nice and brittle! This is also why gingerbread is so malleable when warm but strong and snappy when cooled. 

Store in an airtight container, lest they go stale, but honestly they probably won't last 24 hours. So do yourself a favor and make a double recipe.

Thanks so much for sticking with me with this new schedule! Blogs will now be posted every Monday, by 7 pm CST. Then, please join me for #Foodiechats on Twitter! You can ask me anything food-related, ask me for gardening advice, or just ask me how my day is going. I'll ask you how your day is going and we'll have a nice connection where we relate to each other. Doesn't that sound great? Sure it does. Now get out there and make some s'mores with my graham crackers!

Happy cooking and happy eating!

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash

You know the basics of cooking. Let's now ramp it up!
Learning to cook is easy for some, but most have issues out of fear. My husband told me a lovely piece of wisdom in reference to creating a design or a piece of art: "You have to make a mistake at least once." The best part about mistakes when cooking? You still get to eat it, even if it doesn't turn out exactly the way you've planned. Chef make mistakes all the time and that's okay if you do, too.

I read somewhere that about 25% of all restaurant meals are eaten at home, meaning DoorDash, Uber Eats, and GrubHub are a far better business model than anyone ever expected. If you look on Craigslist you can make a living just delivering food for people, and it looks to be a decent amount. It's a good side-hustle if you're looking to pick up an extra hundred bucks over the weekend or on a spare night. For the consumer, though, it's the eternal struggle:

Do I eat out or stay in? Or do I stay in and get delivery? If I get delivery I still have to tip the driver. But if I get takeout I have to leave the house. But if I'm going to leave the house I may as well just eat out. But I don't want to leave the house or spend money. Should I cook? I don't want to cook, I had a long day. But it's so expensive if I don't cook...

See the problem? With some basics, some practice, you can go from "eh" home cook to "hey!" home cook. This is a really simple recipe that you can prepare mostly ahead of time and that will produce restaurant-quality results. Marinade the chicken in the morning and then roast the squash up to six days before you reheat in the oven and produce the squash puree. The leeks take the shortest amount of time, so go ahead and do that right when you cook.

Honeyed Chicken with Butternut Squash
perfect dinner for 2
  • 3 Tbsp good honey
  • 1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • A few grinds of green peppercorns
  • A pinch of sumac
    • Most stores carry this - it's bright red and is a powder. You can find them in specialty stores, too! 
  • 2 boneless-skinless chicken breasts, ideally around 6 oz
  • 1 small butternut squash
    • The smaller the better! The big ones have too much water in them and are not always as flavorful as the smaller ones. 
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 oz (4 Tbsp) butter or vegan butter substitute
  • 1 small leek, sliced ultra-thin
  • Butter/oil for frying
  • Fresh or Dried mint for garnish
Start with the squash. Turn your oven to 325 degrees F and split the squash down the middle. You can pitch the seeds, or you can see if you want to plant them and grow your own squash. After all, it's spring! (And for anyone who wants to be all "ooohh but you're a SEASONAL cook why cook with squash "pls leave me alone I had it in the cellar from last fall and didn't want it to go bad) Squash is a pretty awesome fruit that is packed with vitamins. Plus, it's got a super-bright color! 

Winter squash has a gorgeous custardy quality when cooked. Roast it simply by splitting down the middle, scoring it  quite deeply with a paring knife (this just means you make slashes on the inside of the flesh). Rub with either butter or oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for an hour and change, or until unbelievably soft. You can do this ahead of time and reheat in the oven at 400 for 10 minutes with excellent results!

To marinate the chicken, simply combine the honey, vinegar, salt, green peppercorns, and sumac in a bowl with a whisk, and add your chicken. Rub it into the chicken breast and let it sit for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. The reason you can do this quickly is because of the honey. Honey has a wonderful group of enzymes that break down proteins. You can add a little honey to any dish with a lot of stringy thick muscular fibers, like brisket, to help speed up the process in tenderizing. I like to use honey instead of pineapple for this, as honey won't break anything down to the point of being slimy. 

When  you're ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and give it a quick rinse before patting dry. Discard the marinade. I like to use my cast iron griddle, but not everyone has one of those. You can use a good thick-bottomed frying pan so long as you get it hot. give the chicken a good hard sear with high heat for at least 2 minutes on one side before flipping over. Lower the heat to medium and add the shaved leeks. Cover and cook for another 4 minutes. This is called "sofrito" and it's a cooking technique that was developed a very long time ago, dating all the way back to the ancient Shepardi tribes in Jerusalem, travelling all the way up to Moorish Spain. 

Meanwhile, let's focus on the squash. Scrape out the squash from the skin with a spoon into the pitcher of your blender or food processor. I have a vitamix so I'm going to use that. Add your 2 oz of butter, and a fat pinch of salt. Simply blend this until ultra-smooth, stopping in between and scraping down the sides of the machine of your choice, and that's your puree. Don't worry, it'll stay plenty hot!

Now that your 4 minutes are up, turn off your heat and let sit while you contemplate your plating.

A post shared by Art Of Plating 🇮🇹 (@_artofplating_) on

(Follow @_Art of Plating on Instagram for more ideas!)

Plating a restaurant-worthy or even a restaurant-style dish is pretty easy. You have quite a few factors to play with and it can seem overwhelming. Every chef is like an artist and we all have different factors and techniques that we like to use and play with. When coming up with a dish, I think of the four pillars of salt, acid, fat, and heat as my foundation. Each dish must have those four components, no matter what. If I personally think about plating, my four pillars of things to play with are:
  • Color
  • Height
  • Texture
  • Negative space
With color: Is it visually pleasing? Will the colors in this dish be monochromatic or will they be opposing? 

Will the way I plate this be tall enough? How can I add height to this to make it seem more of a special thing? We associate tall things with marvels of engineering; how can I capture that in my dish?

Do I have too many smooth and creamy things? Do I have enough crunchy things? Do I have enough soft things to play against the hard things? How do the textures look compared to one another?

Am I going to fill up this plate or not?

Big rookie mistake: you don't have to use every single piece of space on the plate. Sometimes, it's better to just let things be. It's okay to just let things be and stand by your decisions. When things are left minimal, you know that they are done in a purposeful way. 

This sushi from Sakura shows a good play of negative space. Not every bit of plate needs to be taken up!

Plate with a big fat spoonful of our squash puree in a ring. I like circles and symmetry sometimes, so I figure that'll work. To get it nicely rounded without it being fussy, pour a big dollop in the center of your plate, pick up your plate, and then gently tap from the bottom with your fingers to spread it. 

The leeks will come next, and you can kind of do those however you like, but I like to try and keep them compact if I can, in either a single diagonal line across the circle or just in another circle that will mimic the shape. Finally, chicken goes on top! Sprinkle with mint, all over, and enjoy!

Now you, yes YOU, can take your own blurry food pics at home! 
With these simple tricks and techniques that anybody can learn, you can have the restaurant experience without the paycheck and the loud ambiance and the dim lighting so you can't see the food. I hope you've enjoyed! Happy cooking and happy eating!