When Jews make sausage
“Send a Salami, to your boy in the Army” that sign still hangs over the meat counter at Katz’s deli. Only in New York could those two words rhyme. I love salami, I love its texture, its fatty mouth feel and its subtle flavors. A good salami is dry cured and hung for weeks until it is a wrinkled shadow of it former self. Then and only then should it be sliced and enjoyed with a nice spicy brown mustard.
Of course for the home cook a dry cured sausage of any sort poses several hurdles. The first is obtaining the curing salts and bacterial cultures that ensure you don’t feed yourself botulism toxins. The second is having a dark spot that stays at 80% humidity and 60 degrees for 3 weeks. Perhaps in June I will go score a small fridge from the students vacating Unit 2 at Cal but until then I have to get my sausage fix differently.
Enter the hot smoke. A process of cooking at very low temperature (about 220 F) using wood smoke. You can also do the same thing without smoke, in Kansas City its called BBQ. I am trying two things at once, making an Italian style salami using a small amount of pink salt to preserve the color and give it that distinct cured flavor and also using a hot smoke cooking method (albeit without the smoke) to bypass the long curing process.
I had been wanting to make some more sausage for a few weeks, but was stymied by my inability to find a good source of beef fat. I had been to a number of meat markets with no luck, but then decided to go to the main branch of a local grocery store chain where they have a good supply of fresh meat. I asked one of the butchers and he was happy to supply me with about 4 lbs of beef trimmings and that yielded a little more than 2.5 pound of good clean diced beef fat. The best thing, no charge for the fat.
Recipe after the break
Chopped Chicken Liver
Liver. In popular American culture this word is usually accompanied by a child making a face of disgust and followed by a sneer of “yuck”. Being the unusual child that I was I have always loved liver although I didn’t always know I was eating it. My mother used to make me liverwurst sandwiches. When I was about 4 I asked her if there was liver in them and when she said no, I asked why it was called liverwurst. She replied that the city of Livermore (the next town over) wasn’t made of liver and I accepted this explanation as totally rational. I never bought the whole tooth fairy thing, but this I believed for a shockingly long time. It wasn’t until I entered 1st grade and started eating lunch at school that I discovered that most children find liver disgusting, but by then I developed a taste for it. As an adult I find myself periodically craving liver (this is probably due to my near constant state of iron-deficiency). I love it when there is one left inside of a whole chicken that I can fry up for a little snack and one of the greatest lunches I have ever had was a fried chicken liver po’ boy at Mahoney’s in New Orleans that Gordon and I split along with a cochon de’lait po’ boy (the ultimate in trayfe). It was a heart attack on a plate, with onion rings and an Abita beer on the side, but it was worth every moment of my lifespan I gave up. Marc and all his food intolerance chickened out and ended up eating a salad somewhere down the street. He may live longer as a result but I still dream of that sandwich.
Chopped chicken liver has been a staple of Jewish delis since they were invented (if you have ever seen the chopped chicken liver sandwich at Katz’s you’ve seen the holy grail of chopped chicken liver) I remember my mother making it once with an old hand-crank meat grinder. At some point everyone realized how bad it is for you and stopped making it, but once or twice a year we would go to Max’s and we would order it. Now that we have discovered that all things that taste really good are bad for you and some of the things we thought were better for you were actually making us obese (hello margarine) I decided that chopped chicken liver was coming out of my kitchen once again. Luckily I had two loaves of rye bread just dying for an accompaniment and two Rocky Jr. Liver Cups in the fridge. The cup is one pound of livers from organic sustainably farmed chickens. It also just sound like the prize to a NASCAR race and I am always trying to think of an event where it can be the trophy.
recipe after the jump
There might not be a more boring Asheknazi dish out there. Kasha Varnishkes (or just Kasha as my Mother calls it) is bowtie pasta with buckwheat. The tan of the noodles, with the brown of the grain, along with the white of the onions and the gray of the mushroom might sound bland… and it is. Yet, for some reason, it is a classic family favorite. So where does kasha varnishkes even come from? Great question. Kasha, in Yiddish, means buckwheat, and varnishkes comes from “dumplings” (wait for it…). The Jews used to put the kasha (buckwheat) in dumplings. But over the years, the Jews got lazy, they found out about the wonders of Italian pasta, and voila, now we have “buckwheat dumplings” without the dumplings.
Many people simply add goodies with the cooked buckwheat to the noodles, without use of the oven. This is great, but I find that putting it in the oven for the final step gives the noodles a nice addition: the noodles on the edge turn crispy and delicious. I find this to be critical, but this step, I guess, is optional.
The other day, as I reached for the bowties at the grocery store, there were nice colorful (spinach, tomato, and squash medley) bowties right next to it. I thought, hmm, there will add some color… As I started to make this dish, I couldn’t go wrong. It is so simple. As I took it out of the oven, I had a quick taste, and some was awry. I screwed up! I forgot the add the water. Anyway, I tried to salvage it by adding water after the fact. It finally tasted ok, although my girlfriend of Russian decent was quick to notice my misstep.
Continue for recipe…
Rye bread may be the quintessential Jewish bread. I know some people may argue that it is challah, but rye is the glue that holds so many Jewish lunches together. The reuben, pastrami sandwich, chopped liver, the patty melt … pretty much any Jewish deli will have loaves and loaves of rye any day of the week. Rye is a different kind of grain than wheat and is widely grown in Eastern Europe and Russia which explains how rye bread became a staple of Ashkenazi kitchens. The flours resulting from it vary as much as wheat flours do. (It also makes some pretty good whiskey) They are typically labeled light, medium or dark and this has to do with the bran content, with the dark containing the most bran and being the equivalent to whole wheat flour. The light rye will produce a softer spongier bread like you would find in a deli, but my household has been attempting to eat more whole grains so I sacrificed some texture for a bit more nutritional content this time. Rye breads is usually made with a mix of wheat and rye flours. Marc told me the other day the he is working on rye bread’s cousin, pumpernickel, which is made from all rye flour. Rye bread typically has a sour note to it and I consulted a number of recipes, which had wide variations in the sour starter but ultimately fell back on Cooks Illustrated.
Recipe after the jump
Filed under Bread, Deli, Parve
Schnecken, snails that every Jew can love
Schnecken, is a German word for snails. This spiral shaped sweet bread is the grandfather of the pecan roll, the morning bun and even those awful Pillsbury cinnamon biscuits that come in the cardboard tubes. As an aside, according to my brother-in-law, a long serving police officer in the mid-west. A schneck is any sweet baked snack, as in “I went over to the Mister Donut, there’s a box of schnecks in the break room”.
I was leafing through my copy of Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America and started reading about schnecken. She described how the Settlement Cookbook revised the recipe over the years as reflection of the gradual assimilation of the dish from the plainer German version made in a cast iron skillet to the nut and cinnamon laden version made in a muffin pan. As someone who grew up in Milwaukee (home of the Settlement Cookbook Co.) I own a few different copies of this book, including a 1931 edition from my New Yorker mother of all things. My curiosity piqued I pulled it off the shelf and after several minutes of hunting through the index (at the front of the book no less) I found a recipe for cold water schnecken. I was confused since the recipe didn’t call for cold water, in fact no water at all.
Instead it called for a heart attack’s worth of eggs, heavy cream and butter along with a cake of yeast. The cold water it turned out was part of the chilling process, of either 3 hours on ice or overnight in cold water. A reference to the lack of home refrigeration in the late 20′s. In addition the slightly cryptic instructions advised me to, “Bake light brown in a moderate oven 350 F. Watch carefully.” Intrigued I knew I had found a project to share.
I decided that I would try to stick to the recipe as much as possible making a few changes in light of changing materials.Yeast now comes dry, not in cakes and the call for 5 egg yolks was evaluated as to the size of those yolks in 1931. Also, I used up all the cream in the house making butter, so I used milk instead. My last thought is that you should line your sheet pan (I use a Silpat), when I was in college I worked as a dishwasher and I remember how many trips through the machine it would take to melt the sugar off the pecan roll pans.
Recipe after the break.
Filed under Bread, Dessert
Borscht (beet soup), beet salad, and pickled beets are classic Ashkenazi dishes but in order to make these you need to start with simple cooked beets. I personally love beets and really love them roasted. I tend to believe that people who claim not to like beets (I’m talking to you, Mr. President) have only had the canned, rubbery, disgusting version. I used to be one of those people, then one day I stopped at my sister’s and she was eating beets for lunch. As a young adult I made a point of re-tasting foods I didn’t like as a kid because 9 times out of 10 I would discover I liked them. My sis offered me a bite of her beets and I was hooked. They were sweet, and soft but with a slight firmness, and not a rubbery bit in sight. I immediately bought some at my local farmers market, brought them home and realized I had no idea how to cook them. I threw them in the oven at what turned out to be no where near enough time, got frustrated and didn’t attempt them again for several years. By this time I had learned to text, and Gordon came to my rescue. I believe the entire response text was “350 about an hour then peel” and that pretty well sums it up. Lately I’ve fallen in love with the golden variety, that my local Whole Foods always has. They are a subtler flavor and you don’t have to deal with the red juice staining everything.
More after the jump
Well, I have to say thank you Amiee, Gordon, and Dafna for inviting me to write. It is a real honor to be among such a distinguished group of foodies.
Undoubtedly, I will bring a new flair to the group – little meat, a plethora of fish, no trayfe, and NO dairy. Many ask me what I do actually eat, which is most often followed by my bitting response of “nothing.” If you ever come over and have my cooking, you would be utterly amazed what someone can do with such stringent restrictions! This no diary business of mine puzzles many. I actually strongly dislike the taste of diary (though I did have chessboard pizza last night), and it upsets my tummy. This fits into Jewish cuisine quite well though: the two largest groups of people in the world with lactose intolerance are… Asians and Jews.
As was previously alluded to, I do like being Jewish. My speech is peppered with Yiddish and my sarcasm, or lack thereof, highly mimics that of Larry David. I apologize if you find this too Jewy, but this is a Jewish blog after all…
Recipes are a bit difficult for me. “Take some onions, stir them in… some salt… some of this… and…” I will do my best to recipe-ize my cooking. But a word of caution, being in the kitchen is so amazing because there is food waiting to be make into yummy art. Use these recipes, and all your recipes, as a stepping stone for new ideas. Don’t be confined by what you read – be adventuresome!
So what makes food Jewish? I can’t give a good answer (wikipedia tries). However there is one thing that almost everyone can agree on (and this is extremely uncommon for Jews): food brings people together. For yontifs, simchas, and even shivas, all the Jews do is cook and eat. I love cooking, but, in the spirit of Jewish mothers, I make sure to fed family/friends/roommates/etc so they never go hungry!
Jewish butter, serve with bagels
“Its like butteh” -Linda Richman
So Amiee told me that she is working on a line of baking projects and that got me to thinking about the ingredients we use and where they come from. Since we are dedicated to the DYI concept I thought that I would whip up some butter. Butter besides being useful in baking is also delicious on fresh toasted bagels and bialys. For those of you interested in the subject, the idea of non-kosher dairy products is based on not knowing what non-Jewish farmers might have been doing in the production of their milk, cheese and whatnot. With today’s industrial production that is largely a thing of the past.
In the interest of full disclosure, I also have the better part of a half gallon of heavy cream in my fridge. I was in Costco the other day and picked it up on the premise that I would use it for topping on a birthday cake, pumpkin pie and perhaps some other dishes. A week later and I still have a pint or so left- so lets make butter!
BTW, you know that fear you have of letting the whip cream go to long and it suddenly becomes butter? Turns out it’s not that easy- takes the better part of 10 min with a stand mixer to get there. Pretty hard to do by accident.
Directions after the break
“Why the number 1?” you might ask. Well roast chicken is such an integral part of the Jewish family kitchen I am confident that the heathens will produce multiple roast chicken recipes. Roast chicken is a staple of Friday night dinners and holidays alike. This most likely has to do with the fact that kosher chicken was more readily available and cheaper than beef, and this has become the case once again as well. I tend to eschew meat and poultry that has been produced using factory or CAFO farming practices ,and given the propensity of these practices and a rash of other embarrassing scandals in the kosher slaughter business, I almost never buy kosher meat these day . That aside, kosher chicken has one distinct advantage: the salting process essentially makes it pre-brined. So if you don’t feel like going through the hassle of brining, which I believe is a must, get yourself a kosher chicken. If you want to brine your own, I suggest the Cooks Illustrated Basics of Brining guide, which is free for download.
Today I have discovered that the level of attraction between brine and my kitchen floor is intractable. For the third time in about six months I have spilled several quarts of brine, soaking my throw rugs. This may have a bit more to do with my bumblebee attention span and propensity to forget to close the jumbo zip-top bags I use for brining, before I walk away to get my meat. But a load of laundry and a second batch of brine got me back on track. One particularly handy piece of kitchen gear when roasting a chicken is (surprise) a roasting pan with a rack. You can go crazy and spend anywhere from $25 to $200 on a pan, but I think ones in the $50-75 are your best bet, giving you a good sized pan with a v-shaped rack. If you don’t have the cash to shell out for a pan you can also just make balls of aluminum foil to prop your chicken up off the bottom of the pan.
Last week I came into a large jar of local honey , my sweet tooth has yet to dissipate and my rosemary bushes went crazy this summer, so I decided to do a honey-lemon-rosemary chicken.
recipe after the jump
I’ll give him a 5…! The heathen’s are again awash in awesomeness. The incomparable Marc L. has agreed to grace our humble blog with his wealth of Jewish food knowledge and burgeoning gourmand credentials. Marc will definitely take the kashrut award in the group. While I may know a shit-load about the intricacies of Jewish-dietary law, Marc has the tendency to actually practice it a lot of it. (Dafna describes him as “super Jewish, well compared to you and I… not so much Gordon”.) I went on a rant one day, a few years ago, about how most kosher labeled and kosher catered food was processed crap and that if you just started with fresh ingredients you could make edible if not delicious kosher food and he not only agreed, but described to me how he puts an enormous amount of thought and effort into elevating kosher cuisine and incorporating green, local and sustainable food sources as well. When I had the painful task of attempting to plan a weeks worth of kosher, vegetarian dinners, for 40 hungry college students at a campground, Marc was the man I turned to to prevent me from starving everyone to death. Throw in the fact that we only had Wal-Mart in the burbs of New Orleans to do our grocery shopping and you will understand that having Marc as a wing-man/sous-chef was invaluable. (Actually… I think I may have just invented the next Food Network reality show.) He’s also just great fun to have a beer with.. I am looking forward to seeing his fabulous contributions. Oh, and in an effort to avoid totally annoying him, I have decided to not post the photo of him attempting to french braid my hair on a bus, but it is available for viewing if you are my facebook friend.