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.