Monthly Archives: September 2009

The newest addition

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I am very pleased to announce that the band of heathens is expanding and we are adding an Israeli foreign correspondent. One of my most favorite people in the world and three time winner of the Bay Cities Produce trivia contest, Ms. Dafna L. She will be reporting from Tel Aviv for the next couple of months before she heads back to the US.  Dafna is an accomplished cook,  a stickler for quality ingredients and you are guaranteed to put a smile on her face by bringing her unusual fruit to try.  One of the most amusing conversations I have ever had with her was a desert island produce fantasy involving what one crop we would choose to cultivate should we ever get stranded. This conversation went on for a freakish length of time, with everyone else present quietly sneaking out to escape our weirdness, but we came to the firm conclusion that avocado was the only reasonable choice. Dafna also is  kindered spirit in that her kitchen organizational fastidiousness may actually surpass that of myself and Gordon. She almost cried tears of joy the day I gave her a label-maker. You can expect her first post in the next couple of days and I know I  am really looking forward to it.

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G’mar Hatima Tova

May you be sealed for a good year. As my family sits down to a nice home cooked meal I hope you and yours will be blessed with a year of good fortune, prosperity and happiness. Shana tova.

Bagels, lox, hard boiled eggs and all the fixin's

Bagels, lox, hard boiled eggs and all the fixin's

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Hunger and Yom Kippur

I am going to take a moment to diverge from my usual cooking banter … After several years of working and attending high holiday services at my former place of employment, I returned to services at my local synagogue, Temple Sinai. One of the most amazing traditions of this congregation is the Yom Kippur Food Drive for the Alameda County Community Food Bank. Every year the food bank brings a full size semi-truck and parks it in front of the Paramount Theater on the morning of Yom Kippur to collect food donations. The youth group gathers in front to help people unload their cars and virtually every family arrives with at least one bag of groceries to donate. Most years they collect around a ton of food. It is really quite amazing. As we spend the day choosing to go without food, take a moment to remember those who are hungry not by choice but by circumstance. This year food banks are struggling with greater demand for their services combined with fewer donations. On this Yom Kippur consider making a  donation of food, money, or your time to your local food bank.

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Lox, food for breakfast at night

Here we are, ready for slicing

Here we are, ready for slicing

This year, break-fast will be bagels and lox. I know Amiee has a whole side of cow on the cooker and I love a good brisket as much as anyone. But I wanted something that would be fun to make and would allow me to bring it all together after coming back from family services in the late afternoon (the joy of children is going to the short services). Since the bagels kettle and bake in less than an hour and the lox is already cured all I have left to do is slice some veggies.

There will be cheese cake for dessert, but more on that later.

Nova lox is yet another one of those little reminders of how poor Jews of Eastern Europe were. Clearly fresh fish was out of the question. Think of the fish that is associated with Jewish food. Smoked whitefish, gefilte fish (which is the tuna helper of appetizers) and of course lox. All of them preserved and all of them far from the caviar and Dover sole that might have graced a wealthier table. Lox has Scandinavian origins but I am not going to get in the middle of any arguments between Swedes, Danes and Norwegians as to who cured the first of these tasty fish.

As I mentioned before when I was a kid we would get our lox at Benjy’s deli. We would buy about 1/4 lb at a crack and it was pretty expensive. When I lived in Israel I realized that aside from canned, lox was the only form of salmon available. In Hebrew it is simply called salmon (say it with a slight Latin accent with an emphasis on the second syllable) Whether it was in the markets or on the menu that word always meant cured or smoked salmon. A pretty typical dish was pasta in a heavy cream sauce with chopped lox.

When I was an Israeli tour guide I would often drop groups in Jerusalem and then make my way home to the kibbutz I lived on. On my way to the bus terminal I would pass through the cavernous Mahane Yehuda markets. I would make my way up the crowded aisles past the fish mongers, butchers and bakeries stopping to pick up a few things to make dinner with. A bit of lox, fresh basil and a bottle of wine made for a nice meal in my own kitchen for the first time in a week.

If I am making bagels (and they are proofing in the fridge as I write this) then I should have some lox to go with it. Since I live in a part of the world where fresh wild salmon is almost a birthright it seems only right to make my own. Cured salmon is a pretty easy thing to do, like most cures it only requires time.

Recipe after the break.

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Yom Kippur shopping

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As most of you know Yom Kippur is headed our way on Monday. For many Jews (and most of my family for that matter), this is the one day of the year they end up in a synagogue. We also stay home from work, in order to stick it to the Gentiles, and constantly exclaim at each other things like “you’re watching television? On Yom Kippur?!!” The other main defining feature is the fast. Abstaining from food from sun down to sun down. The general point of this is to spend the day atoning and not be distracted by other facets of life like eating and grooming.  I tend to find the opposite effect among my friends and family, in that the fast creates almost unbearable crabbiness and obsession with food. What will the pre-fast meal be and

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The Bagel Chronicles, final edition

Chewy, Shiny and with a crisp crust

Chewy, Shiny and with a crisp crust

Growing up outside of Milwaukee we had almost no access to decent bagels. In fact the only time we had a steady supply was during the two years I attended Sunday school at Congregation Emanuel b’nai Jeshrun. Back in the day they were located on Milwaukee’s east side, next to my Alma mater, UW-Milwaukee. Since we lived way out in the sticks it was nearly a 45 min drive each way and my dad would take me. We always picked up the Sunday New York Times (there was no home delivery in those days) and then stopped in Shorewood for bagels and lox. Lox came from Benjy’s deli. Bagels came from the Bagel Nosh (sadly long gone), around the back of the same little shopping center off Oakland Ave. My most memorable moment there was one Sunday that we pulled up to see the door propped open and smoke pouring out of it. Undeterred, my father suggested that I see what the story was so I hopped out and made my way into the darkened store. There I found other customers still lined up at the counter and staff members filling bags with fresh bagels. After placing my own order I asked about the smoke and was told it was an electrical fire in the kitchen. That event has become my benchmark for deciding whether or not a food product has a loyal fan base. If people are willing to brave a smoky building for it- it’s probably pretty good.

So, gentle reader we come, at long last, to the end of the road to bagel nirvana. What did it take? In the end it required a willingness to change flour, embrace an additive and use less water that I would have thought advisable. Recipe after the break.

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Bialys

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With the return of the morning fog to the Oakland Hills, so too has my oven returned. While Gordon slaves away at his bagels, I chose a slightly less labor intensive, but no less rewarding, challenge.  The bialy. Bialys, as any good Jewish cookbook, or Wikipedia, will tell you, are a Yiddish specialty that originated in the Polish village of Bialystok (cue Nathan Lane). The onion and poppy seed filling brings you all the goodness of a bagel without all of the annoying boiling. They are very common in New York and San Francisco, but many people in other parts of the country have never heard of them. I can recall encountering them at a very young age.  Back when I was still young enough to believe that getting up early on a  Sunday was fun, I would head with my Dad to the Bagel King before my older siblings had risen from what my father described as “teenage crib death”. Every once in a while they would have bialys and my Dad would always get a couple and the warm scent of the onions would fill the car on the way home. When my taste buds matured beyond the blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese, I discovered the wonder of the caramelized onions on the chewy roll, preferably with a little cream cheese on top, but even plain they are still fantastic.

recipe after the jump

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The Bagel Chronicles part 2

The bagel is a simple thing and it can be found from coast to coast. Yet, most of what is passed off as a bagel today is in fact little more than a steamed roll with a hole in middle. Even the once celebrated Noah’s bagel is now akin to the product of every other food factory churning out edible non-foods by the millions each year. Unless you live near someone who sells real boiled bagels your only recourse is to make them yourself.

Today marked the second of my attempts to master the bagel. I have discarded my high fiber flour (see yesterday’s account) and switched to all purpose flour. The result was a dough that felt wetter but also seemed far more elastic. Early this morning I fired up the oven, boiled some water and set them through their paces. The result was a better bagel than yesterday but still not perfect. Good color and crust, the insides were a bit dense and a little too soft to be called a true New Yorker.

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These are our all purpose flour candidates. One went roll on me.

These are our all purpose flour candidates. One went roll on me.

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The Bagel Chronicles part 1

Yom Kippur will start Sunday evening. I have found two good ways to cope with the inevitable low blood sugar and hunger grumpiness that strikes late in the afternoon. One is to have a good game plan for what’s for break-fast. Two, make it complicated, taking lots of prep time and therefore keeping me busy while the clock continues its slow progress towards sundown.

This year I will be making bagels and lox from scratch. The lox I am not so worried about, I have a few recipes and plenty of salt for the curing. I will find a nice piece of wild salmon later this week. The bagels on the other hand are a different story. I have made bagels on and off over the years and found that they are temperamental little beasts. One day they turn out wonderful, the next like hockey pucks.

More after the break

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Schnitzel

Schnitzel fresh from the oven and ready for dinner

Schnitzel fresh from the oven and ready for dinner

Schnitzel is an Israeli staple. It is served so often in Israeli hotels and youth hostels that many tourists are convinced that there really isn’t any other entree in the Israeli diet. Now, the traditional Austrian dish is made with veal cutlets. While veal is part of the Israeli diet, Israelis tend to consume their veal on skewers of grilled meat. In fact most good skewer restaurants will offer not only chicken and turkey but also goose, veal and sometimes pork (called white steak so as not to use the word “pig”).

Now the common Israeli schnitzel is usually chicken and sometimes turkey (a very common source of meat in Israel- most of the schwarma is in fact turkey, flavored with lamb fat). If you go to an Israeli butcher on a Friday afternoon you can see them breaking down chickens and pounding the breast meat into a uniform thickness.

Now, you might ask yourself whether making schnitzel is worth all the work since you can go down to the grocery store and get some chicken tenders. To that I say, if you want to eat over-fried shoe leather that was made hours ago go ahead. But one taste of fresh schnitzel and you will be off the tenders for life.

My twist is that I oven fry it. I have a moderate fear of frying. Well its not so much a fear of frying but a fear of fry mess. Amiee and I share an aversion to mess. In fact we are both a bit nutty about keeping our kitchens “just so” and for me the idea of spattering oil all over the stove is a bit more than I can bear on a regular basis. Hence my oven fry scheme.

Directions after the jump

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