Sunday, December 29, 2013

Tuna salad with tahini

Slate, the online magazine, recently published an article called Mayo-phobia: Why Do Some People Hate Mayonnaise So Much?  Even more compelling was the tagline on their home page:  "Why do Jews have a problem with mayonnaise?  It begins with Milton Berle."  As this article makes clear, aversion to mayonnaise is not confined to Jews.  About 10 years ago, an article in The New Yorker discussing Pret-a-Manger  (subscriber access only) thought it was an American phenomenon, and noted that sandwiches sold in the chains British stores were far more mayo-heavy than what would sell in the US.

Be that as it may, my son, Harry, hates mayonnaise and avoids most foods that contain it.  This meant that he would not eat tuna salad or sandwiches.  While this is not necessarily a great tragedy, given the state of the fisheries and levels of mercury in tuna it is still a convenient quick lunch on occasion.  Fortunately, he discovered an acceptable way to eat tuna while spending much of the winter of 2010-2011 hiking in the Negev -- tahini.  Tahini is relatively indestructible, so it is better and safer to hike with container of tahini than an open jar of mayonnaise.  With canned tuna, some water and lemon, you have a pretty good sandwich filling.  I have adapted it a bit more, and we have it all the time now:

Tuna salad with tahini


  • 1 generous tablespoon tahini paste
  • 1/2 small lemon
  • water, about 1/4 cup
  • 2 cans tuna, preferably packed in olive oil and drained well (or even vegetable oil;  oil packed tuna is less fishy and dry than water packed)
  • optional additions: 1-2 hard boiled eggs, chopped; 1 rib celery,  chopped fine; 1/4 green pepper, chopped fine; chopped scallion or 1 tablespoon finely chopped red onion; tablespoon capers well rinsed; 1/2 preserved lemon peel, rinsed well and chopped
  • salt and pepper (white, red or black) to taste 


  1. To make the tahini dressing, put the tahini in a one quart or larger bowl; squeeze the lemon through a sieve or your fingers into the tahini.  Stir together with a fork, and you will notice that the tahini will stiffen.
  2. Begin to dribble in the water very slowly, stirring all the while.  The tahini will continue to stiffen, and will then loosen and turn into a creamy texture.  You will use about 1/4 cup of water, though the quantity varies with the tahini and the solid/oil ratio in what you scooped out.  The texture should be like a thick sauce.  (If you have ever had prepared tahini, you will know what to expect.)  The process will probably take less than a minute.
  3. Mix in the tuna, add whatever optional ingredients you want, bearing in mind that you will need less salt if you use things like capers. We generally make it with eggs, celery, red onion and green pepper.  I also like it with parsley.  The capers and preserved lemon make for a more special salad.
  4. Serves about 4 -- use as you would any standard tuna salad, but you will probably enjoy this a lot more.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Microwave ollebrod

A while ago I posted a longer, more authentic version of Danish beer and bread porridge. However, there may be times when you want to throw together some ollebrod on short notice, like when some people are dropping by and you are about to pull the leftover ollebrod out of your fridge and you can't find it because your son is home from college and he finished it at 2 a.m.  (The real reason for college vacations is to help parents keep their refrigerators clean.)   You may also feel like ollebrod for breakfast.

In desperation, I tried to make it in the microwave, and it was not bad at all.  You can cut a lot of corners and pull it off in around 15 minutes.  The results are a bit drier but still good.  The important thing is to taste it to make sure that the alcohol has cooked off.  In Denmark, they serve this to toddlers for breakfast.  You don't have to, but the raw alcohol flavor is definitely out of place.

Quick Ollebrod/Beer Bread


  • 3 slices of  brown bread  (see below)
  • 1 cup dark beer 
  • 1 inch piece orange rind, with no pith
  • spices ( your choice of a combination of small piece of  cinnamon stick, a cardamom pod, and some allspice berries or cloves -- I just used 1/2 in piece of  cinnamon and cardamom)
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried fruit (cherries, raisins or dates )
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar  
  • pinch salt


  1. Tear up the bread, put it in a deep one quart microwave-safe dish and in soak it in hot water while you assemble the other ingredients. Drain it.
  2. Add the other ingredients and stir.
  3. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for 3 minutes.  Stir to break up the bread, cover and microwave for another 3 minutes.  
  4. Taste the porridge.  Make sure the alcohol is cooked off and that it is sweet enough. If not add a bit more sugar.  Cook 2 minutes more if necessary, covered with paper towel. (The texture should be between a porridge and a pudding.)
  5. Serve with ice cream (vanilla or salted caramel), coconut sorbet, cream or milk, depending on occasion and inclination.
  6. Serves 2-4 depending on age and appetite.
The bread:  Almost any brown, dark or whole grain  bread can be used in this, and it is a great way to use up stale bread and leftover toast (and leftover beer for that matter).  Remember that caraway rye will make the results taste like caraway, so only use a spiced bread if you want the results to have that flavor.  A coriander-flavored Russian black bread would be worth trying. I generally use a combination of black pumpernickel and whole grain seedless rye, but in the pictured dish I used only whole grain rye.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Comfort food: a quick, inauthentic asopao de pollo

Asopao is a Puerto Rican dish of soupy rice that is, eaten all over the  Spanish Caribbean.  It is sometimes translated as gumbo, but this is misleading, since okra and roux are the defining features of gumbo and this has neither.  Whatever it is, it is straightforward and comforting on a chilly night and it reminds me of Maurice Sendak's early book, Chicken Soup with Rice, which was one of our kids' favorites.

It is also a super-quick dinner.  While I generally go for hyper-authenticity rather than speed, sometimes one has to rise to the occasion and use what is on hand.  So, rather than achiote oil, which I don't have and don't care for, I used a pinch of turmeric which may or may not have a myriad of health benefits, but which we have in the house for Indian and Middle Eastern cooking.  Also,  though traditionally made with a whole chicken, skinless, boneless chicken thighs are easier and less fatty than whole chicken and juicier and tastier than breasts.   Finally, I made it with pareve soup powder, which is probably not an authentic Puerto Rican ingredient.

This takes about 45 minutes from beginning to end -- how I define quick and easy, if not everyone does.

Asopao de pollo -- Soupy chicken rice 


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 rib celery, trimmed and finely chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, finely sliced
  • large pinch turmeric
  • 1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
  • 1 pound raw skinless, boneless chicken thighs, diced into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 14 ounce can of chopped or diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted (with green chile or garlic is even better)
  • 1 green pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • 1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut into half inch dice
  • Salt and pepper to taste.  If using canned broth or soup powder, hold off on the salt until the end.
  • 6 cups chicken broth (ideally homemade, but in the real world, boxed, canned or even soup powder is acceptable, and tonight I used a large spoon of Osem's pareve chicken soup powder with boiling water)
  • 1/2 cup short grain rice, like Spanish rice, Arborio or Canaroli
  • 1/2 cup green peas (presumably frozen -- if you have wonderful fresh peas, use them in something else)
  • 1-2 tablespoons capers, rinsed
  • 10-20 pimento stuffed green olives, rinsed and sliced
  • 4 scallions, while and some of the green, sliced


  1. Heat olive oil in a 4-quart pot on medium heat.
  2. Add onions, carrot and celery to the pot and stir until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add garlic, cook about a minute, until soft but not borwned.
  4. Add turmeric, stir a few times, add half of the chopped herb, and then the chicken.  
  5. Cook on medium-high until the chicken looses its raw color.
  6. Add the tomato, bring to the simmer, add the chopped peppers, turn heat down, and cook on low for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the broth, bring to the boil, and turn heat down to low and simmer for 5 minutes.  
  8. Add the rice and simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the peas, capers, and olives and simmer 5 minute more.  Taste the rice to make sure that it is cooked through, and if not, simmer for a few minutes more.
  10. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and set aside to settle and cool for 5 minutes before serving.
  11. Garnish with scallions and remaining herb.
  12. Serves 4 for dinner with a salad.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Tony Blair: a pink drink

How do you reckon the accomplishments in your life? It is really difficult. Some people will do this as part of an annual heshbon nefesh, the accounting of the soul, that is done as during the Yamim Noraim (Jewish High Holidays). But for most people who do it, the accounting is more of an individual version of collective self criticism.

Sometimes I try and think of what my accomplishments are and usually come up with two. The first was having Columbia's Contemporary Civilization Course switch the assigned edition of Augustine's City of God. Until the mid 1980s they had been using the translation by Doubleday, which was Catholic and very abridged. I argued for the Penguin, which was complete and included all the naughty bits which the Catholic printing eliminated and which I maintained were essential to understand the connection between sin, lust and political power. (They also make for a more fun read. Undergraduates don't mind being assigned more reading if it is sufficiently salacious.) My other great accomplishment was a Moroccan meal I prepared at Susan Paris' house in Brookline on New Year's Eve 1989-90. We had 6 salads, bisteeya, a  fish with charmoula, chicken with preserved lemons and olives, and a sweet lamb tagine. 

I think that I now have another accomplishment to be proud of: spreading the appreciation of Campari among the students of Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. If the increased demand for Campari leads a local store to carry it, I will be prouder still. 

To explain: I originally posted this in June when I was experimenting with cocktails for our summer vacation and called it Gin-or-gin, because it was made with gin, a bitter orange aperitif, and ginger beer.  Gin-orange-ginger -> Gin-or-gin.  Lame, I admit but the drink itself proved particularly popular with my son Harry's friends who came to visit, especially Steve Smith, who has turned out to be this particular cocktail's biggest fan. Harry made it at a party to mark block break (don't ask) at Cornell. Although it is impossible to obtain Campari in Mount Vernon IA, an enthusiastic mixologist in the student body apparently had a bottle of his own. The drink was a hit, which has helped to elevate the level of sophistication of the Cornell student body. The increase in demand may even entice local stores to stock it.  But, if you go to visit, I would bring along a bottle just in case.

Though they all loved the drink, they thought the name was "meh," and suggested calling it the Tony Blair. Why? Because he was a world leader who didn't have a cocktail named for him.(I am not that familiar with the world of world leader cocktails, and can't imagine what a Bibi Netanyahu or Angela Merkel might be, though one could think of some interesting combinations.) However, I thought that this name sort of fit: slightly pink, but leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. So try it.

ORIGINAL POST: Even though I have mostly been posting about cocktails recently, please don't get the wrong idea. However, the vacation at the Cape is rapidly approaching and I need to come up with things to serve on the dock. My alcohol consumption has actually declined (except while in Austin.)

This is a rough adaptation and mashup of some cocktails which were written about in the NY Times cocktail issue a few weeks ago. I don't love the name (something like Pink Lady might work better and describes the color if not the taste) but this is a terrific and refreshing combination of the flavors of ginger, gin, bitter orange (from the Campari), and mint, if you so wish it. Given the current Spanish obsession with gin and tonics and related cocktails, this would go nicely with a tapas spread. A tortilla, some fish salad, some cheeses, maybe some mushrooms sauteed in garlic. Who needs dinner?

The Tony Blair

  • Lots of ice
  • 1 ounce Campari
  • 2 ounces gin (less if you like a less strong drink)
  • 1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup (optional, but I like it)
  • Ginger beer to fill glass, about 4 ounces
  • Fresh mint (spearmint, not peppermint please) or lime wedges to garnish
  1. Fill an 8 to 12 ounce glass with ice. The larger glass has more room for ginger beer and means a weaker drink. 
  2. Add the Campari, gin, lime juice and simple syrup and stir for about 20 seconds.
  3. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with lime or mint. (If you want a stronger mint flavor, muddle a few leaves in the glass, but I prefer it just as a garnish.)
  4. Increase the ingredients proportionately to make for a crowd. Mix the Campari, gin, juice and syrup in a shaker or pitcher. Pour over ice in individual glasses and top with the ginger beer.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Red beans with sour plum chutney -- Lobio Tkemali

Many (okay, three) devoted readers of this blog have noted that I have not posted in the past several months.  This is because our kitchen is being renovated.  I won't go into this here because it has been much of my life for the past three months and blogging is an escape from it all.  Needless to say, our home cooking has been limited and rather uninteresting.  However, I have made a few things which can be done without an stove, oven or much prep work, so I thought I would share them here.  One of my favorite is a Georgian red bean salad with a dressing of sour plum sauce called Lobio tkemali.  Although better with home-cooked beans, it can be made with canned beans as well.  The sauce can be made in a microwave. If you have the sauce on hand, it takes a few minutes to pull it all together.

Lobio tkemali


  • 1 large can small red beans (red kidney beans are an acceptable substitute, home-cooked beans a significant improvement
  • 1 cup tkemali sauce (about 1/2 of the recipe below)
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped coriander
  • salt to taste


  1. Rinse the beans well to remove all of the gross liquid in the can. Drain well and put into a serving bowl.
  2. Mix in the tkemali sauce.
  3. Peel the onion and cut a few thin slices from the center for garnish.  Chop the rest fine.
  4. Mix the chopped onion and 1/4 cup of the coriander.
  5. Spread the remaining coriander on top of the beans, and garnish with onion rings.
  6. Serves 6 as a side dish or appetizer.

I give a double recipe for the plum sauce because it is almost as easy to make in a double as it is in a single recipe and it is very versatile.  It goes well with the George Foreman grilled boneless chicken breast or thigh with spice rubs that have been a mainstay of our kitchen-less diet as well as with shashlik and other kebabs properly cooked over charcoal.   It is the classic accompaniment to kachapuri, the Georgian cheese-stuffed bread.

Tkemali is the name of a Georgian sour plum and a sauce from which it is made.  The great Darra Goldstein recommends using slightly underripe Santa Rosa plums.  I don't know if I have ever even seen this variety, so I make the sauce with Italian prune plums, which are nice and tart and in season in September and October.  If you can 't find these plums, you can make it with empress or any other black plum,  underripe preferred.  Taste the sauce toward the end of cooking, and if it is sweet rather than sour, add some balsamic vinegar or tamarind paste,  bit at a time, until it is nice and sour.  The seasoning is really to taste, but I find that the proportions below make a delicious, sour, garlic, slightly spicy sauce.  The time is also approximate, and will depend on such variables at the power of your microwave, shape of the container, etc.

Microwave Tkemali

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (sunflower is more widely used in the former Soviet Union, I use canola
  • 15-20 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
  • 2 hot fresh chili peppers, red or green  (a variety like serrano, cayenne or bird chili is fine, keep the seeds in if you want the heat), slice 
  • 2 pounds fresh prune plums, quartered lengthwise and pitted
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  1. Heat oil is a 2 quart or larger microwave-safe casserole on high for two minutes.
  2. Add garlic and chili, stir, and zap two minutes more.
  3. Add plums and salt, stir, cover with a piece of paper towel, and zap for 5 minutes.
  4. Stir in half the coriander, and cook for 5 minutes more.
  5. Remove from oven, and taste for texture and sourness.  If too thin, return to the microwave for a few minutes until the texture of a thick compote.  The plums will lose more than 2/3 of their volume.  If it is not sour enough, add a bit of tamarind or balsamic vinegar until it is.  Return to the overn for a few minutes to blend flavors.
  6. When cool, and just before serving, stir in the rest of the coriander. (The sauce will keep longer if you hold back on mixing in raw ingredients until just before serving.)
  7. Makes about 2 cups of sauce.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Elletaria cocktail

On thing that I have noticed about natural and human disasters is that you can't get into restaurants after they pass.  Living in our Upper West Side bubble, the greatest hardship that we faced after Hurricane Sandy were the crowds in the restaurants.  I mean, expecting NewYorkers to stay at home and cook for 3 days in a row is probably unreasonable, so people flooded into the restaurants once the re-opened.  It was exacerbated by people coming from neighborhoods without power.

Something similar happened in Boston after the lockdown following the marathon bombing.  You couldn't get into a restaurant the weekend after it was lifted.  We were in the South End and waits at several places were one hour and up.  We wandered away from the hubbub and came to Masa for what turned out to be a pretty excellent nouvelle Mexican meal.  (The place has lots of vegetarian and fish options and a good brunch and it is worth checking out it you are in town.)

One of the highlights for me was their Elletaria cocktail, which combines two of my favorite flavors, pear and cardamom.  (Elletaria is the botanical name of the genus of some of the common varieties of cardamom.)  They made the cocktail with crushed cardamom seeds, which although it gave it  a strong spice flavor, also made it unpleasantly gritty.

So here is my adaptation made with a cardamom syrup.  It requires a little advance prep, but don't be put off, since it is really very easy.  It is also flexible.  The quantities of ginger, lime and cardamom are to my taste, but you can adjust them however you want.  I make it with white tequila, but you could also use white rum. I am not sure why anyone would use vodka in anything. For teetotalers, it can be made without alcohol, just mix the base with some club soda.  I like to make sure that the pear base is well chilled and the liquor is frozen.  This keeps the drink nice and cold and leads to less dilution when the ice melts. We served it before Shabbat dinner this week and it was a big hit, with teetotalers and others.  This is best made as a pitcher drink:

The Elletaria

For cardamom syrup

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/8 cup green cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup white sugar

For pear base:

  • 1 quart pear nectar, well chilled
  • 6 limes
  • 2-3 inch knob of ginger
  • cardamom syrup

To complete drink

  • 2 ounces of white tequila (or rum) per serving;  or 4-6 ounces of club soda
  • 1-2 limes cut into wedges or slices
  • ice cubes


  1. The syrup is best made a few days in advance, but can be made the same day if you don't have time.  Just allow time for it too cool.
  2. Bring the water to the boil in a small pot.  Add the cardamom pods and boil vigorously 5 minutes.  The water will reduce quite a bit.
  3. Add the sugar and boil 5 minutes more.  
  4. Shut the heat, let it cool a bit, and then transfer it into a clean jar with the pods and chill until ready to use.
  5. Put the pear nectar in a large pitcher, about 2 quarts or bigger.
  6. Squeeze 6 limes and add the juice to the pear nectar.
  7. Rince the ginger (no need to peel) and grate it either on a box grater, microplane, or in a mini food processor.  It you use the processor, you will need to slice it first.  You will be left with a coarse, wet ginger pulp.
  8. If you are fussy, put the ginger in a sieve and press it over the pitcher into the pear nectar.  If you are not, take the ginger by the small handful and squeeze the juice into the nectar.  The second way is much more fun.  
  9. Strain the cardamom syrup into the pear mixture, and chill until ready to serve.
  10. Add ice to the pitcher until it is nearly full.
  11. To serve, put ice is 8-10 ounce rocks glasses.  Pour about 1/2 cup of the pear base into each, add 2 ounces of tequila (more or less to taste) or club soda to fill the glass and stir to mix.  Garnish each class with a wedge or slice of lime.  If everyone is drinking alcohol, you can also use a slightly larger pitcher and mix the tequila with all of the pear base.

Zucchini and za'atar dip

Here is a variation of shredded zucchini dip, this time with za'atar, which has proven the most popular version with my guests.  In an earlier recipe, Tunisian-style with caraway, I suggested skipping the salting.  I am back to salting.  I have found that doing it very lightly helps get rid of the moisture very effective and adds to the savor of the dish.  It is really up to weather or not you want to salt and drain.  If you are preparing several dishes, it works well to salt the zucchini and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour while you do other things.  The cooking will go faster, and it will taste better.  

Za'atar  refers to a number of different Levantine herbs of the oregano family, as well as mixtures containing this herb along with sesame, sumac and other similar herbs.  I use Galil brand.  It will be good whatever you use.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe for zucchini with mint from Lebanese Mountain Cookery, by Mary Laird Hamady.  This is one of THE great cookbooks and is worth seeking out.  

Zucchini and za'atar dip

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 1-4 tablespoons olive oil, holding back a teaspoon or so (the more the better but it's up to you)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon za'atar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • juice of one lemon, or more to taste
  1. Wash the zucchini well.  Zucchini often has a lot of grit embedded in its skin, and the best way to deal with this is to soak it for about 15 minutes.  Then run it under cold water, and scrape away any parts which are still gritty.  If it is a hopeless case, just peel it, it won't hurt the dish too much.
  2. Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor.  I generally go with the grater here,  and find that the few minutes more grating is less that the effort involved in cleaning the processor.  
  3. Put the  zucchini shreds in a bowl and stir in the salt.  Leave it for 30 minutes to an hour, weighted down lightly if you can.  (I use a small plate topped by a can or my mortar.)
  4. Take the zucchini out by the handful, squeezing out the water, and set in another bowl.  This is more fun than it sounds.  Taste it.  If it is very salty (this is highly unlikely), you will need to rinse the shreds in a colander and drain well. 
  5. Heat the olive oil on medium high in a very large nonstick skillet and add the zucchini shreds.  
  6. Cook  on a high flame for about 15 minutes, until the squash is well-cooked.  You will be left with about 2 cups.
  7. Meanwhile, smash the garlic, peel it, and mash to a paste with some salt using the side and edge of a broad knife.
  8. Move the zucchini over to the size and add about a teaspoon more oil.  While stirring, add garlic and saute around 30 seconds, add the caraway for 30 seconds more,  then the za'atar for 30 seconds more.  Then incorporate the seasonings into the cooked squash.
  9. Cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Add the lemon juice and pepper, taste for salt and correct seasoning.  Some people may like more lemon juice.
  10. Makes around 2 cups. Serve with crackers, bread or raw vegetables as an appetizer spread to 4-8 people, depending on what else is being served.  It is also good eaten with a spoon.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Potato chremslach, aka Martian spacecraft

I have a very clear memory of eating these potato patties at my grandmother's seders when I was young.  I don't think she made them after 1968 when she discovered cholesterol.  My cousins and I devoured them and we used to call them Martian spacecraft, probably because we had problems with the double "ch" sound.

The most common chremslach  (the singular is chremsel, but you can't eat just one) are matzah meal or farfel fritters that are served sweet for breakfast or dessert.  These are completely different, and considerably less healthy.  They are made from mashed potatoes seasoned with schmaltz (rendered poultry fat -- do I even need to explain this?) and onions, stuffed with either chopped liver or gribenes (chicken cracklings),  dredged in matzo meal and shallow fried, preferably in schmaltz, but if you don't have enough schmaltz, a combination of schmaltz and oil will do fine.  You can consider this a healthy alternative.  They really do look beautiful sizzling away in a cast iron skillet, so I will try to remember to post a picture the next time I make these, in a couple of years.

I have though about making this for seder for several years, but reason (aka Amy) got the better of me.  This year, I found myself with a lot of chicken skin from which I made schmaltz and gribenes,  and I made these chremslach for hol ha-moed Shabbat dinner for six people, when my parents came over.  My father said they were better than what his mother used to make.  They are really not all that hard and can (and perhaps even should) be made in advance.



  • 1.5 pounds russet or other starchy potatoes, about 3 large
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup schmaltz, plus one tablespoon  (see  this recipe to make schmaltz)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper,  preferably white, but black is acceptable)
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup gribenes, chopped into small pieces if the pieces are large (these should be salted lightly if they are not already; see  this recipe to make gribenes)
  • egg wash of 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup matzah meal, more if necessary.
  1. Peel the potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch chunks, and boil in well salted water until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, saute the onion in one tablespoon of the schmaltz until soft and golden but not brown.  Set aside.
  3. When the potatoes are tender, drain and return to the dry pan to steam on medium heat.  This will dry them out and make them nice and floury and easier to mash.  (The pot will look like it will never come clean, but just soak it in cold water without soap for about 30 minutes and the starchy stuff will come right off. )  Put the potatoes through a food mill or ricer and if you don't have one, mash them.
  4. Mix the sauteed onions into the potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste.  These will be some of the best mashed potatoes you have ever had.
  5. When the potatoes have cooled a bit, mix in the yolks.
  6. Divide the potatoes into 8-10 portions, each should be about the size of a smallish egg.
  7. take one ball at a time and flatten it in our palm into a thick concave pancake.  Fill with a heaping teaspoon of gribenes, close up the ball and flatten into a patty the size of a small thick hamburger.
  8. Dip you hands in cold water, and then dip one patty at a time in the egg wash and then in the matzo meal, and set aside on a place lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for an hour, or overnight.
  9. Heat fats in a skillet (preferably cast iron) on a medium flame until it sizzles when you dip a piece of potato in it, 
  10. Carefully lower in one patty at a time, and fry for about 6 minutes on each side until well browned.
  11. Drain on paper towel.  Since there is a good chance that these will not have heated all  the way through, heat these in an oven before serving.  They are also good made up to two or three days in advance You can heat them on 350 for 20 minutes, or leave them in a slow oven (250 egress) for an hour or more.  They will not dry out and be extremely crisp.
  12. Serves 4-8 people, depend on appetite and risk tolerance.

A simple mess of greens for dinner

One of my favorite things to eat for a quick dinner is a dish of tender greens, sauteed in olive oil with garlic,anchovies and a bit of hot pepper, and served with grated cheese over garlic toast. That is basically the recipe right there,  but some of you may want more explanation.    There seems to be a trend towards radical simplification of the names of dishes in many restaurants, and I thought I would try it out, so here goes:


  • 1 bunch greens, 3/4 pound - one pound (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, more if you are not watching your weight or believe in the Mediterranean diet
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, peeled, one kept whole to rub the bread and the rest and sliced thin (think Goodfella's prison cooking here)
  • 1-6 fillets anchovy  (do not think about omitting, but use according to your taste;  4-5 seems right to me)
  • hot pepper (optional, see below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread (see below)
  • grated cheese to taste, about 1/4 cup, either Parmesan, Romano or ricotta salata
  • optionally, some fresh whole milk ricotta and/or an egg fried in oil so the white is a bit crisp 
  1. Wash the greens well to remove any grit or other foreign matter.  This is best dones in a sink or large bowl in several changes of water.  Dump the greens in, fill with water, lift them out and repeat until no dirt is left behind.  It will go quicker if you cut off the base of the stems where the leaves come together and sand collects.  You don't have to dry the greens, just cut the stems from the leaves and set them aside to drain.
  2. Prepare the bread if necessary (see below).
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Add garlic cloves (and whole pepper pod if using) and saute until soft but not brown, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the anchovies, and the crushed pepper is using.  Crush the anchovies with a spoon while they are a paste until they are mostly dissolved.  Add some freshly ground black pepper if you want.
  5. Add stems and saute about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the leaves and saute until wilted and almost tender.  This will vary with the greens used but took about 5 minutes with tender broccoli rabe.  If the dish seems dry, add a bit of water to the pan, about 1/4 cup, and heat until simmering. Taste for salt and pepper and correct seasoning, remembering that the cheese is salty too.
  7. Put the bread in a bowl, top with the greens, and top with the cheese.
  8. For a slightly more filling dish, smear the bread with some good fresh ricotta.  This is also good topped with a fried egg, wether or not you use the ricotta.
  9. Serves one for dinner, a few more as a side.  It is great with a glass of full-bodied red wine, nothing fancy.
The greens:  most recently, I used over-wintered broccoli rabe from the farmers market.  This was sweet and not at all fibrous and worth seeking out.  Other nice alternatives, when they are available would be lamb's quarters, spinach or very young mustard greens.  Older broccoli rabe would also be fine, but would need to be cooked longer, and if you don't like the bitterness, blanched first.

Hot Pepper:  This depends very much on your mood and taste.  If you want some of the pepper flavor but no heat, use a whole dried red chili pod (I use the kind you get in Indian groceries, not a chile arbol).  Saute it with the garlic and remove before serving.  For medium heat, add some Aleppo pepper with the anchovies, or for more heat, a large pinch of crushed red pepper.   

Bread: The ideal bread here is a frissell, particularly black-pepper frissell, which is a slice of a dense Italian loaf baked until hard and dry.  I get mine from Terranova Bakery on 187th St. in the Bronx.  If you don't have access to a good Italian grocery or baker, Any coarse loaf would do, though I prefer whole-grain breads here, as long as they are not sweetened.  Most recently, I used a piece of whole wheat ciabatta and it was great.  Toast a slice until it is light brown, and then dry it out in a slow 225 degree oven until it is dry, about 15-20 minutes.  If you start with old stale bread you just need to toast it.  Rub the bread with a peeled garlic clove. 

Pasta:  These greens are also good over pasta.  See a recent blog post from the NY Times for a variation with kale.  

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bring out your bread: Ollebrod/beer bread -- it is better than it sounds

I have just started cleaning out my freezer for Pesach and about half of its contents turned out to be bread. This was a good way to use it up.  It is also, believe it or not, one of my favorite desserts.  It is not bad for breakfast either.  It is not bread made from beer, but rather a porridge made of leftover bread.  Think pappa al pomodoro (Italian bread soup with tomatoes, olive oil and basil).  Or think Indian pudding.  I have never had luck with Indian pudding, but this is just as good, maybe better, and very easy to make.

Some background:  you may remember a scene toward the beginning of Babette's Feast.  After washing up in rural Denmark, Babette is enlisted to prepare meals for the local elderly population. Another volunteer demonstrates how it to prepare the local dishes.  One involves dried fish,  The other involves soaking stale bread in beer and water.  This is it.  Despite Babette's look of revulsion, it is really quite good.

Ollebrod (there should be a diagonal slash through the O but I can't get my editor to do it) may be the ultimate Danish comfort food.  Although it is often enjoyed (really) as a hot cereal at breakfast with milk or cream, we first had it at Acme, a "new"  Scandinavian restaurant in the village.  The food in general was quite good, though the service was abominable.  We were the oldest people there and the attitude was along the lines of "hurry up and finish your meal so we can give your table to someone younger, cooler and better looking."  But the ollebrod dessert was really memorable.  There was a pool of the bread porridge, toped with white chocolate foam and salted caramel ice cream.

I couldn't duplicate the chocolate foam at home, but the rest is pretty easy.  It is a great way to use up leftover bread:

Ollebrod/Beer Bread


  • 6-8 slices of  brown bread  (see below)
  • 2-3 cups dark beer
  • Boiling water if needed to cover
  • 2 inch piece orange rind, with no pith
  • spices ( your choice of a combination of 1 cinnamon stick, 2 or 3 cardamom pods, 2 cloves and 1 or 2 allspice berries -- I just use the cinnamon and cardamom)
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries, raisins or dates (I use cherries)
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup dark brown sugar  (the lesser amount only slightly sweet)
  • large pinch salt


  1. If you are taking the bread out of the freezer, toast it lightly.  This is optional if it is stale.  Use of moldy bread is not recommended. 
  2. Put the bread in a 2-3 quart pot and cover with the beer.  Set aside to soak about 1/2 hour.
  3. Add boiling water if needed to cover the bread.  Add the remaining ingredients, bring to a simmer, and cook on very low heat for about an hour, until a puree.  Taste this and adjust for sweetness, adding a bit more sugar if you like, and cook a few minutes more. (This dish holds well in a low oven or on a blech overnight on Shabbat.  It also reheats well in the microwave.)
  4. Serve warm with ice cream (salted caramel best of all, vanilla good, and for a pareve meal, coconut sorbet or soy ice cream acceptable) for dessert or with milk or cream for breakfast.
  5. Serves 4-8 depending on occasion and appetite.
The bread:  I used a combination of old-fashioned hard pumpernickel and sourdough whole wheat.  Sourdough rye (without caraway) or pain levain would also be good.  Almost any brown, dark or whole grain bread will work.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

El Papa: A cocktail

I had wanted to devise a cocktail to drink while awaiting the results of the conclave, but the College of Cardinals beat me to it, surprising everyone with Jorge Mario Bergoglio the first Jesuit, first Latin American pope who will be known as Pope Francis I, in Italian, Il Papa, but in Spanish, El Papa.  (La papa in Spanish is the potato.)  Fool that I am, I tend to be an optimist about these things.  Even though he said that same sex marriage is the work of the devil, as my wife said, he is the pope, what do you expect.  The Jesuit angle is intriguing, as is the choice of Francis as his regnal name, the first pope to choose a completely new name in a millennium.  As to the eternal and central question of whether it is good for the Jews or bad for the Jews, "Who knows?"  I will wait for the Forward to weigh in on this one since JTA is somewhat disappointing.  At least he did not choose Pius.

While pondering the consequences of this momentous choice, you can enjoy this cocktail.  An Argentine is said to be an Italian (like Bergoglio) who speaks Spanish and thinks he is French.  (As some have remarked, if you are going to go outside of Europe for your pope, Argentina is a pretty safe choice.)  This combines grappa and maraschino liqueur (both Italian), and adds some creme de cassis for the French touch.  If you pour it carefully, the cassis will pool on the bottom.  After two of these you won't know which side is up and you can  pretend that the red/purple on the bottom is like one of those cute yarmulkes that cardinals and popes wear.  What is Spanish about it?  The name alone.  I know all of this is a stretch, but it makes a tasty and potent drink.

El Papa

Stir 2 ounces of grappa and 1/2 half ounce of maraschino over ice in a large glass for about 45 seconds until well chilled.  Strain into a martini or wine glass.  Use up to 1 ounce of maraschino if you like it sweet.  Carefully pour about 1 tablespoon of creme de cassis  into the cocktail so that it sinks to the bottom.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The NAFTA: a cocktail

I thought that the North American Free Trade Agreement was supposed to lower or eliminate tariff barriers between Mexico, the US and Canada. Not so simple. (Mostly it seems to have undermined the livelihood of small Mexican corn producers.) I am thinking of starting a business to import some of Quebec's wonderful artisanal beverages (especially creme de cassis, brandy des pommes and cidre du glace) and feel like I need a tax accountant to help me figure out the import taxes.  Since it is tax season and my father is very busy, this will have to wait until April.  However, this is still a good time to experiment with the beverages and since I have Mexican, American and Canadian liquor in my cabinet, the NAFTA sort of emerged on its own accord.

This is an easy cocktail, based on something I once had at Ginny's the music club downstairs from the Red Rooster, and is largely intended to help me use up almost empty liquor bottles before Pesach.  Ginny's cocktail was made with a super-smokey single malt scotch and, frankly was better than mine.  But I don't have any single malt left in the house and this is a not a bad drink at all.  It combines tequila reposado (representing Mexico) with its herbaceous and smoky notes, the bourbon (representing the USA) for depth, and the creme de cassis (representing Canada) for its intense fruitiness.



  1. 1 ounce tequila reposado (I used 100 anos)
  2. 1 ounce bourbon (I used Corner Creek)
  3. 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  4. 2 dashed Angostura bitters
  5. 1/2 ounce creme de cassis (I used the incomparable and irreplaceable Bernard Monna, not yet available in the US -- use whatever you can get, and use more if you like it sweeter)


  1. Put a rocks class in the freezer to chill.
  2. Fill a drinking glass or cocktail shaker with ice.
  3. Add all the ingredients and stir (see below on stirring vs. shaking) for about 30 seconds.
  4. Fill the rocks glass with ice, strain in the stirred liquid, and add the creme de cassis.  If you are very lucky it will sink to the bottom, but if not, it will still be quite good.   
  5. Serves one. You can double, triple or quadruple, just use a larger shaker.

Stirring and shaking:  Pace James Bond, shaking does not bruise the delicate bouquet of the liquor.  It  chills somewhat more effectively, but in the process, dilutes the cocktail somewhat more.  It tends to be used when cocktails will be served without ice.  Since I think the NAFTA is best served over ice, stirring is recommended.  You could just skip this step and pour everything over ice and serve, but it is less fun, and less cold that way.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kale, chick pea and farro soup

As I noted in an earlier post while I am happy to use a bit of Osem soup powder now and again, I avoid canned beans when I can.  Go figure.

This is real detox food, something that we needed after the holidays and a deep-fat,sugar  and alcohol filled trip to Austin.   I will give the recipe how we made it (cooked, not canned chick peas but Osem soup powder, quick cooking farro) and suggest a varity of substitutions so that you can fit it with the way you cook.  If your pantry is stocked like ours, this is a super-easy soup an great on a chilly day.

Kale, chickpea and farro soup

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 stalkes celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 carrots, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and sliced
  • 1-2 bunches of kale (preferably Russian or lacinato kale, but use what you can get, including a bag of the pre-washed stuff); wash, remove coarse ribs and cut into thick shreds
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 to 1 1/2 quarts water (bringing it to a boil separately while you are doing the rest will save lots of time)
  • parmesean cheese rinds (optional, but highly desireable)
  • 1/2 pound chickpeas, cooked, with their soaking liquid (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon Osem powder, or two bullion cubes (more or less)
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking farro

  1. Heat the oil on medium-high in a 4-quart pot, and add the onion, celery and carrot as they are prepared and saute until soft but not browned.  Add a sprinkline of  salt and pepper, which will help this along, but not too much salt since the soup powder and cheese rind will be salty.
  2. Add the garlic and saute another minute.
  3. Add the kale and saute, stirring occasionally until it wilts and loses much of its volume.
  4. Add the water and cheese rind and bring the soup to the boil.
  5. Turn heat down to simmer and cook 20 minutes. 
  6. Add the chickpeas and their water and bring to the boil again.
  7. Add the Osem powder if using, taste for saltiness, and correct seasonings.
  8. Add the farro and cook about 10 minuts until tender.  If you are using pearled farro, not precooked, it may take around a half hour so add it when you add the water.
  9. Serve on its own, with a drizzle of olive oil, or some grated parmesean cheese.

Chickpeas:  I prefer homemade chickpeas for this, and often have some in the freezer.  Soak one pound of chick peas for eight hours or overnight in plenty of water with a pinch of baking soda.  Drain, rinse and put in a pot,  cover with water by about one inch, bring to the boil and simmer until done, about 30-45 minutes.  Skim the scum that comes to the surface at the beginning of cooking.  Use half the chickpeas and liquid in this soup and freeze the rest to use in the recipe of your choice.  If you insist on using canned chickpeas it will still be good.  Use one large can, drain and rinse well, and increase the liquid in the soup by about 2 cups. 

Choices, choices, choices:  Fresh cooked chick peas but MSG-filled soup powder?  That is how I cook and people tend not to complain.  By all means, you can substitute canned chickpeas, as above, or use a vegetable stock (preferably homemade) if you swing that way.  If you are not concerned about kashrut, or eliminte the cheese rind, use a chicken or meat broth.   The parmesean cheese rind adds great umami flavor.  Alessandra Rovati of the wonderful Dinner in Venice blog notes that Italian Jews will often throw cheese rinds into soups in lieu of meat bones. The quantity is hard to specify, I would say a 2-3 inch piece is sufficient. 

Failure report: channa dal hummus and the question of chickpeaness

Nota bene:  this is a report of a kitchen failure -- not a disaster, just a failure.  While it contains links to recipes and cookbooks, it does not contain any of my own recipes. 

My favorite recipe for hummus is Joan Nathan's from The Foods of Israel Today.    (This recipe may be found online on the MyJewishLearning website.)  It uses home cooked chickpeas rather than canned, which enables the cook to use the delicious cooking liquid to think the hummus to the right, creamy texutre and avoids the disgusting slime in which canned chickpeas are suspended.  I am in flux over whether life is too long or two short to perform a variety of time-consuming kitchen tasks, but I think that I am now firmly on the side of preserving your own lemons and cooking your own chickpeas (which I may then season in a soup with Osem powder, but we all have our own standards.)

However, I firmly believe that life is far to short to peel your chickpeas.  This is one step to far on the road to culinary obsession. I once had my cousin Leslie, a patient and tolerarnt soul if ever there was one, peel about a pound of chickpeas for use in a chicken couscous.  It took her nearly an hour and she was practically cursing me by the end.   However, some say that the only way to make truly creamy hummus is by peeling your chickpeas. Recently, the Smitten Kitchen Blog featured a recipe for Ethereally Smooth Hummus  which involves peeled chickpeas, canned or dried.  She adapted this recipe from Ottolenghi and Samimi's Jerusalem but the method is her own and she uses either cooking liquid, or in the caseof canned chick peas, plain water to thing the hummus.  It is worth checking out, but I am pretty sure that nothing can convince me to peel my chickpeas. 

But I did not want to give up on the ultimate hummus and thought I had a kluge. Channa dal is a kind of split chickpea used in Indian cooking and is particularly popular in Bengal.  So, I thought why not make hummus with channa dal, which are already peeled?  I soaked them an simmered them until barely cooked so that they would not dissolve into a puree.  I drained them, and then followed the Smitten Kitchen's recipe.  And the result was......underwhelming.  It lacked what my wife Amy called "chickpeaness."  I guess the key is in the "kind of split chickpea."  While very similar to chickpeas, the flavor was different and the hummus wasn't right.  It definitely lacked chickpeaness. 

One of my favorite jokes, from a Prairie Home Companion Joke Show, is:

"What's the difference between bonds and men?"

"Bonds mature."

However, it is not always males who fail to mature. We often joke at home that Amy has the sense of humor of an early-adolescent boy.  She thought that chickpeaness was very funny.  Much better than the channa dal hummus. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aunt Rhoda's Famous Chocolate Chip Cake

Trust me on this one.  (I am talking about you Nancy Sinkoff.)  I rarely use convenience foods and I don't know if I have ever baked with a cake mix before I  made this cake.    But this is delicious.  It is not a pareve cake since it contains a pint of sour cream, but it calls for oil rather than melted butter, probably because it is easier.  I was tempted to make it with butter but didn't -- why mess with perfection?

Don't believe me?  Amy brought a selection of leftover desserts from our Hanukah party into work:  great homemade rugelach, teiglach, cookies, pecan bars, and this cake.  This cake is what disappeared, and they all insisted on getting the recipe.

Why famous?  In Daniel Mendelssohn's book, The Lost, he explains that in Jewish America, someone was  famous for something if they achieved renown in a circle of the same 10 or 20 people they usually socialized with.  His grandfather was famous for his stories.  My Aunt Rhoda was famous for this cake.  This  was one of the ubiquitous flavors of my childhood.  There was always some at my aunt's house, she brought it almost everywhere, and it was always available to cap off a day of overeating.  I hadn't eaten this since my aunt died nearly 20 years ago,  until my cousin Barbara (Rhoda's daughter-in-law) brought it to a Hanukah party.  At the insistence of Amy's colleagues, we got the recipe from her, and it tried it out and it worked like a charm.

And this is easy.  When I say a recipe is easy you have to take it with a grain of salt since I have my own standards for these things.  But this is REALLY easy.   You can get it into the oven in about 10 minutes.

Happiness is three or four pieces of chocolate chip cake and a quart of milk.  Don't mess with it,  just enjoy it. 

Aunt Rhoda's Famous Chocolate Chip Cake


  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix
  • 1 package instant vanilla pudding
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Break the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly.
  3. Mix in sour cream and oil
  4. Mix in the cake mix and the pudding.
  5. Combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  6. Grease a 9X13 inch baking pan lightly with oil, butter or margarine. Add half the cake batter.  Sprinkle with half the cinnamon sugar and half the chips.  Spread the remaining cake batter over this and top with the remaining cinnamon sugar and chips.  
  7. Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool before eating.  Cut into about 20 pieces. Amy likes if just after it cools but when the chocolate is still soft.  I prefer it the next day when the chocolate sets a bit.  There will be more than enough that you can enjoy it both ways.  
  9. This cake is so moist that it lasts a long time, and also freezes well.  
The chips:  The recipe calls for 12 ounces, but most packages nowadays have either 10.5 or 11 ounces. One of these packages is fine, and throw in a few extras if you have.  The better the chips the better the cake.