L'chaim and a Sweet New Year
A proper New Year’s celebration often includes the symbolic consumption of a fruit that you have not yet tasted this season. Pomegranates are often used as they are just reaching their full ripeness at the end of summer. Often this involves messy digging about in the flesh of the pomegranate for the small seeds or arils that are the only edible part. While my kids love this (and often make a huge mess- this stuff stains!) I am ready to move on to something a bit more elegant.
As this thought was rolling around in my head, one of the food blogs I follow ran a short piece on doing infusions using a whip cream dispenser. Since I have one around that I never use, I thought it would be time to find a new use for it. Before I give you the link to the infusion post, let me recommend that their post on wild meat should be avoided if the sight of whole cooked animals makes you queasy.
Now, this whole infusion business has become the trend of the moment (witness the NYT’s is telling you that it is) and I hate to pile on… no I don’t.
First a few words about pomegranates in Jewish life. Regarded as one of the Seven Species on the Land of Israel (the others being wheat, barley, olives, figs, grapes and dates) they pop up frequently in the bible. The shape was (and still is) used on decorative pieces. The head of the high priest’s staff was a pomegranate as are the decorative handle covers of a Torah cover. The pomegranate is said to contain 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of commandants (or mitzvot) in the Torah. Of course you know you have a Jewish pomegranate when the calyx (or tip) is a perfect six pointed star.
On a more prosaic note. The English word grenade is a corruption of the Spanish for pomegranate- granada (as in, granada de mano or hand grenade). In Hebrew the same cognate is used and both the fruit and the weapon is a rimon. So be careful what you ask for at the market!
Sweet Haman's Ears
There is only one mandatory action on Purim, that is to hear the story of the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of their enemy, Haman. One might debate whether this was due to Esther’s sexual manipulation of the king at her uncle Mordecai’s urging or it was in fact due to divine intervention.
What is not in debate however is the ferocity of the Jewish observance of the event. Jewish custom is to get stinking drunk and yell, scream and stomp every time Haman’s name is read aloud and generally remind everyone that we hold grudges for a very long time.[Don't believe me, the Jews are the only people to remember the tribe of Amelek- just so we can observe the commandment to blot out their memory. That's more than 2000 years of holding a grudge because they tried to jump us in the desert.]
This extends into the foods consumed on Purim. Oznai Haman (Haman’s Ears) come in several forms, ranging from stuffed cookies to this interesting fried pasta recipe I found. Of all of the Purim foods I have seen these turned out to be the most life-like and perhaps raising the greatest number of questions for a liberal western Jew to answer as he presents a plate of these fried ears to his kids.
I invite you to offer your own thoughts on consuming something that looks so much like a body part, and remind you that between Haman and his 10 sons (who were all impaled on wood spikes) there would have been 22 ears, snacks for everyone.
Can you smell the beefy goodness?
Pot roast is my father’s favorite dish, for the leftovers. He has a great fondness for cold pot roast sandwiches. Now I could blithely tell you that my father is a Jew, and therefore this is a Jewish dish. But it does in fact appear in a number of Jewish cookbooks, and is usually considered an alternate Shabbat dinner option- for those who could afford to move up from chicken to eating cows.
But the real reason I chose to make this dish was for my friends Sandra and Rona. When I was visiting each of them in Wisconsin a few weeks ago I noticed that they both had shiny new crock pots (or slow cookers in the new marketing parlance) bubbling away on their counters. Crock pots seem to have made a comeback in the last few years. Spurred by the move towards comfort food, the recession pressure to shop further down the food chain and the fresh crop of good looking cookers in sexy colors and styles (including this monster).
Now, I cannot think of a more welcoming site when it has been hovering near zero Fahrenheit for the last fortnight, but like anything this dish benefits from some careful selection of meat and flavor components. First the meat, you want to pick out a large piece of chuck roast. Preferably a chuck-eye roast rather than a seven bone or top blade roast. Different markets will call these different names, so what you want to look for is a large well marbled piece of chuck with no bones and that is at least 2 inches thick. Also make sure it will fit in your cooker.
But my father is right about one thing, it is a great meal for leftovers. I just packed them into the fridge- tomorrow we’ll try those sandwiches.
Recipe 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
Nothing more dangerous than a dull knife
It would come as no surprise to the guys I grew up with that I like sharp pointy objects. Growing up in rural Wisconsin (nearest neighbor, 1/2 mile away) I had ample time to learn the finer points of hunting, fishing and carpentry. When I was in high school my buddies and I would tramp around the woods on the weekend trying to kick up rabbits amongst the old mink cages that were part of the large abandoned fur operations that littered the area. Once in a while we got lucky and managed to actually hit a fast moving rabbit (on white snow no less) and bring something back. Now, we had an ethos of everything you shot- you ate. So even if it didn’t become lunch it went back to someones freezer skinned and dressed.
In a moment like that you quickly realize that the blade on your Swiss army knife is not sharp enough or big enough to do that job well. You need a real hunting knife. Not one of the huge Rambo things, they only look good in movies. But a medium sized competent blade that was exceedingly sharp. Twenty years later I find myself doing a lot of meat trimming in the course of learning to make sausages so I revisited my knife collection looking for that exact combination of sharpness, ease of use and comfort.
So, it gives me a great deal of pleasure to offer my endorsement (not sponsored in any way) of the Buck knives Woodsman. I’ve had mine for at least 25 years and its still razor sharp makes short work of even the toughest connective tissue. Remember, good tools make for better food.
Fresh from the smoker
Go ahead, I dare you- google the words “Jewish sausage”. At the risk of inviting bad puns, lets face it there isn’t a lot of food there. That being said I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that at one time there must have been a wide world of Jewish sausages and smoked meats given the absence of refrigeration and the need to eat every scrap of protein that came into the house. My first stop was to consult with Claudia Roden who confirmed in The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day that there had been a very wide array of Jewish sausages in both Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. Sadly what is left to us today is the kosher salami (which I love) and the poor array of supermarket sausages in Israel.
But I was compelled to make sausage for Sukkot (I’m a sucker for an alliteration) and so I pressed on. Merguez is a traditional lamb sausage first made in North Africa and then spreading with the post colonial diaspora to France and then beyond. I sought direction in my production from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curingby Michael Rulhman. I highly recommend the step by step directions. I found a nice shoulder lamb roast at the market, but sourcing fat (which you need) was more difficult. Most of the recipes I have call for pork fat- I non-starter for me. I looked for lamb or goat fat at the Halal markets, with no luck. I also looked for beef fat at the supermarket meat departments. With nothing in hand and unwilling to schlep all the way down to Oakland to see what Whole Foods might have I started looking at some of the meat in the case to see if there was something fatty enough to trim the 1/4lb of fat I needed. There were some nice small brisket pieces, I bought the fattiest one and took it home to trim.
The brisket, btw, makes great hamburger.
Recipe and pictures after the break
Ok, let me be honest- this isn’t really Jewish per se. But it is based on my childhood. My parents were New Yorkers, born and bred in the radius of the subway system. Upon attaining parenthood they yearned for the wide open spaces of New Jersey and shortly after my brother’s arrival they had settled into what was called a “farmette” a 14 acre hobby farm where my mother kept a few horses. In order to qualify for the property tax exemption for working farms there had to be some crops or livestock. This led to a few seasons of buying black Angus calves that were fattened over the summer and then sold (one side of beef ended up in our own deep freeze- I can still see the solid wall of butcher paper wrapped meat). Later we switched to pigs and then a few years after that we moved to Wisconsin. There my parents bought an old working farm, 50 acres complete with an old dairy barn, sheds and an orchard.
The orchard proved to be a mixed blessing. There was fruit simply falling of the trees each Fall and with it the imperative to try and save some of it for the winter months. My mother set to canning and freezing with a frenzy. I have strong memories of cranking bushels of apples through our Foley food mill to make apple butter and the blocks of canning paraffin and Ball jars in the kitchen cabinets.
Which leads me to my current project. Last night I reached into the fridge to grab one of the Bartlett pairs I had stashed there so they wouldn’t over-ripen in the recent heat wave we are (still) having. Lo and behold, they were frozen solid- all of them. I quickly realized that upon defrosting I would have pear mush and that if I was going to salvage anything from this purchase decisive action was called for. I grabbed my food mill, my copy of the Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition – 2006 and went to work.
Details and photos after the break.
Kitchen Aid Food Grinder Un-boxing
just like it was a nifty new smart phone
I just got a new toy, a gift from my mother (thanks Karen) so I could try to make sausages. I am still waiting for an order of casings so until then I will entertain you with these pictures of the un-boxing.
Pictures after the break