Reuben Egg Rolls
I don’t think we have done anything quite this silly since the In-N-Out inspired Animal Style Latkes and I am fully expecting these to appear on This is Why You’re Fat sometime soon. As I was contemplating a Christmas post my thoughts turned to the sterotypical what-Jews-eat-on-Christmas, Chinese food. I knew I wanted something a little different from standard Chinese fare, that would top my trayfe on trayfe of last year. While the exact path to this absurd idea is now lost to me, after some brainstorming, I came up with the idea for reuben egg rolls, where Jewish and Chinese come together much like the Christmas itself.
Luckily, I now have a pretty consistent supply of deli products from Evan and Leo, who, by the way, after months and months of negotiations, have finally come up with a name for their deli: Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen. I am looking forward to buying something from them soon, but in the meantime I was happy to trade a burrito for the perfect amount of pastrami, pickles, and russian dressing.
Now I have a friend who freaked out at the prospect of a reuben without rye bread. In an attempt to mollify him I did try a few things like dusting the wrappers in rye flour and caraway seeds, but they didn’t stick well and ended up burning in the oil. So unless you want to make wrappers from scratch using rye flour think of these as a super tasty appetizer homage to the famous sandwich.
I suppose this is only not safe for work if you work for a Jewish institution or have an aversion to knowing where your meat comes from (yes Krista, I am talking about you). In my grand tradition of trayfing it up after the long stretch of the High Holidays, I decided to go whole hog… literally. I couple of Tuesdays ago I got a facebook message from Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, that he had gotten his hands on a pig and would be teaching his highly sought out Whole Hog Butcher class that Friday. Ever since Gordon and I took his lamb butcher class I had been wanting to get into the hog class but he hadn’t held one in months so I jumped at the chance and hit redial until I was enrolled.
crab cheese wontons
I have to admit I am a little burnt out on Jewish food after the hefty string of Hanukkah posts so I though I would cure that with a little bit o’ trayfe for Christmas. I also thought, what better way to do that than to simultaneously reinforce the stereotype of Jews eating Chinese food for Christmas. Like most stereotypes this one is based in some truth, being that in the past, Chinese immigrants often didn’t celebrate Christmas either and Chinese restaurants would be open on the holiday. These days, especially in the Bay Area, people are significantly more integrated (and inter-married, for that matter) and the majority of Jewish and Chinese-American families have some sort of celebration to attend with family or friends on Christmas, but I still know of some Jewish families who hold on to the tradition of Chinese food and a movie on Christmas. I still had some wonton wrapper in my freezer heading toward freezer burn that were leftover from making Aushak, the Bay Area is smack in the middle of dungeness crab season, and I really didn’t get in enough frying over Hanukkah so I decided to make some crab cheese wontons for my Chinese food for Christmas edition.
Crab Cheese Wontons or Crab Rangoon has it origins in Oakland, and originally appeared as an appetizer at Trader Vic’s (now in Emeryville), in 1957. I, on the other hand, developed an affinity for them after spending countless nights as a teenage hanging out, after hours, at Hunan Chef Wong (now The Hunan Chef) in Pleasanton. A friend of mine from high school’s family owned the restaurant, so he usually worked until closing there and I was waiting table at a pasta place in town and would usually drive past on my way home after my shift to see if he was still there. This was a pattern for a number of people and on any given weekend night there would be anywhere from 4-20 people hanging out, drinking beer and playing cards or dominoes. At some point, due to the various substances consumed, we would get the munchies. Sometimes we would just wander over to the 7-11 or Jack-in-the-box for snacks, but on occasion we could convince my friend would cook for us. This restaurant was not only a fun place to hang, but they actually have really good Chinese food and if we were really lucky he would make us our favorite… crab cheese wontons. I have never been able to recreate his recipe (mostly because he would never tell me what it was), but even the passable facsimile I make conjures up warm fuzzy feelings of nostalgia. My friend still owns the place, although I haven’t been there since I moved from Pleasanton. From the website it looks like they remodeled and I immediately thought of the night a bunch of us created a bizarro time-capsule out of a recently emptied Patron tequila bottle and hid it under one of booth seats. I imagine it was found by a very confused contractor.
recipe after the break
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.
Now that I am veering toward wellness I am going to take you all back one High Holiday to Yom Kippur and my standard Jewish holiday main dish, brisket. This year I had a small group of friends over for a break-fast meal. Almost all of us had fasted, including D. who was fasting and attending services for the first time after marrying a nice Jewish girl last year. He was finding fasting much easier than the rest of us and then he mentioned that he thought it might have something to do with the cafe mocha with whipped cream he had in the afternoon. Apparently, everyone forgot to tell him that drinks were out too. I, for one, was so hungry that I carved up most of the brisket before I remembered to take a photo.
When not enjoying brisket southern BBQ style I go for the slow and low braise of my childhood. Not only that ,but this is one of the rare recipes in which my general disdain for processed foods gets overridden by nostalgia. Yes, I admit it… I use the dry Lipton onion soup mix as brisket seasoning.
Recipe after the jump…
Mainly we are trying to add a little structure to our culinary adventures. Gordon and I love cooking, food shopping and talking about cooking, so we though we would combine our passion with food with our freakish knowledge of Jewish stuff. BTW – Gordon’s knowledge is significantly more freaky than my own so beware of any future post categorized as “Gordonopedia“. You have been warned. We also realized that fewer and fewer Jews (especially on the West Coast) have experience with traditional Jewish food. I was lucky to have experienced some of the traditional foods from my atheist-Jewish father, my lapsed Roman-Catholic mother and my extraordinary still-practicing Aunt Debbie. Let me tell you that lack of a religious structure means that most of my Jewish identity growing up was constructed around food and meals. Sunday at my dad’s meant bagels from the Bagel King or matzo brei, Hanukkah was latkes and Passover was the whole seder, but I don’t think I set food in a synagogue until my little cousins bar mitzvah when I was in high school. Despite the fact that my Jewish education expanded significantly as I got older and now borders on scary due to spending almost four of the last five years working in the Jewish community (and listening to Gordon on the subject almost daily during that time), nothing makes me feel more Jewish than cooking a traditional Jewish food and serving it to my friends and family.
I have a particular fondness for certain kitchen gadgets and techniques so I may occasional wax-on about those. .. and another word of warning… I don’t keep kosher and this is not a guide to kosher cooking. In fact, I love bacon, pork in pretty much all of it’s magical forms, shellfish, and dairy with my meat. This is what makes me a heathen. So please don’t bug me when I eat a Rueben sandwich or add bacon to a potato pancake. Some recipes will be totally suitable for a kosher kitchen and others won’t be. If you care about Kashrut, I have a strong suspicion you will be able to tell the difference. In fact, just this morning, I completed Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for curing your own bacon from his cookbook Charcuterie. So cue the first pork interlude:
Anyway, we will really begin with the ultimate Jewish baked good… Challah. Stayed tuned for the Great Challah Bake-off between the heathens.