Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Quick and easy side dish- bean and onion salad

This is a recipe for a tasty side dish which costs almost nothing, is very healthy, and takes less than five minutes to make. Compliments main courses which are fatty or creamy, as it is both light and acidic.

I found myself with pork chops and 40 minutes to make dinner. I make porkchops the way my mother always did when I was growing up- coat 'em with breadcrumbs and shove 'em in the oven. Dinner obviously needed to consist of something more. It's early August in New York, hot and sticky. Dinner should be light. We always treated our pork chops like schnitzel- with lemon juice on top. I thought that instead, it would be nice to have a lemony, acidic side dish instead.

Looking around the house, I grabbed some cans from my pantry.

1 can of corn
1 can of red kidney beans
1 can of chick peas.

All three were drained and then rinsed before going into a mixing bowl. I had a half a vidalia onion sitting in the fridge looking to be used. That was chopped medium sized and added as well. To the bowl was added a few generous dashes of lemon juice.

Note that this is meant to be lightly acidic, so have a light hand with the lemon juice. If you're unsure of how much to add, taste and adjust as needed.

 Finally a tablespoon or so (I measure with my fingers and add as I see fit) of dried thyme is thrown in, and the bowl is folded with a wooden spoon. Don't worry too much about the thyme- it's a nice flavor, but not overbearing- so if you add too much, it isn't likely to ruin anything by any means.

Place mixing bowl in refrigerator and let sit to chill.

A nice variant on this recipe is to throw in some mozzarella balls and couscous (maybe even some chopped up parsley) to make a tabbouleh salad.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wild Ramp Ice Cream

My father and I went for a drive last saturday and caught the latter end of a foraging party out to pick wild ramps. Ramps are a kind of wild leek, and have become a very in-ingredient among chefs in the last couple of years. Which is unfortunate, because they take about ten years to grow full size. Even that wouldn't be so much of a problem, but when foragers take them, they dig out and damage the bulb as well, which means more ramps won't grow back, even though the bulb, stem, and leaves are all flavorful and edible. I'm told I sound like a hippie on this, but since they've become such a hot ingredient, the plant is swiftly becoming endangered because people are greedy.

So when you read this recipe, before you run out and start pulling (or buy it from a farmers market or whatever) just remember that each one will take a decade to regrow.

Ramps are a wild leek. Their flavor is a combination of the sharpness of a green onion with the aromatics of garlic. They are among the first green edibles to shoot up in the spring, which is one of the reasons for their popularity. Like all onion-types, they can be pickled, made into a mayonaisse, enjoyed in salads and sandwiches, and so on.

Well, there I found myself with a bushel of wild ramps and didn't know what to do with them. On the way home, we stumbled onto a farm selling fresh eggs and another selling raw milk.

Looking back, the rather obvious answer SHOULD have been to make ramp popovers, but I'm dumb. Instead I thought: ice cream. I figured that I had to take advantage of such beautiful ingredients, why not ice cream?

I didn't measure this out, so I'll have to just give a general idea. I took ~10-15 ramps and (after cleaning) chopped them up. About 1 quart of raw milk was placed on the stovetop on a medium heat, and the ramps added and stirred. The milk was brought to a simmer and kept there, stirring, for 10-15 minutes. A couple of leaves were tested and found to be nearly flavorless- the milk had extracted the flavor from the leaves, which made the plant parts now superfluous. The milk was sieved and the plant matter discarded. The milk tasted of sweet onions. Milk was placed into the refridgerator to chill.

To the chilled milk solution was added 1 cup of heavy cream, 1/4th cup sugar, and 2 eggs, followed by several minutes of gentle stirring until homogenous. This was added to the ice cream machine. Some milk solution was leftover and put aside for possible popover experiments. Ice cream was tested while still soft- sweet onion taste was there, but sharpness had returned with a vengeance. Ice cream was placed in freezer for the final freeze. On hardening, tested again and sharpness was once more gone, leaving a sweet and flavorful, aromatic ice cream.

It's maybe not an everyday thing. I can certainly see it as a fun and different way of adding flavor to certain hot soups- like maybe a nice borsht. Still, you could probably get about the same flavor with green onions, something to keep in mind if you don't have access to wild ramps.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Amarula ice cream

I went and bought myself one of those expensive ice cream makers that has an active refrigeration unit. Well, I had to justify it somehow. I tried one of the recipes in the provided recipe book but only found that the recipes were so sweet that I had to just dump everything down the sink, to my dismay. So, I figured to hell with it. I looked around for something nice to make ice cream with. And then I remembered that bottle of Amarula that my sister kindly left with us the last time she was here, and an idea formed.

1 cup heavy cream
1/8th cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup Amarula

Combine in bowl and stir gently to fully
Dissolve sugar. Use in ice cream maker per your machine's instructions. You will get lovely Amarula flavor from these proportions. Be wary of adding more, as the increased alcohol content may prevent it from freezing fully, whereas this recipe will do so beautifully.

Saturday, February 2, 2013


On a cold February day, there is little so comforting as choucroute. It's tasty, healthy, hearty, and hot. Simply put- it's a bunch of meat cooked in sauerkraut and wine.

Now, before you go off reeling in disgust, keep a few things in mind. Sauerkraut here in the states tends to be associated with tounge-puckeringly sour flavor. That tends to come from industrially processed sauerkraut, especially the liquid. Remember that sauerkraut is meant to be pickled, but most sauerkraut you buy tends to be canned. The canning process cooks the kraut in addition to the pickling, which will really affect the flavor and texture. Choucroute will also have you rinse the kraut, which leaves you with a dish much, much more mild in flavor. That said, sauerkraut, even rinsed and with much of the pungency cooked out of it, still has a slightly sour taste. But it's worth a try.

For myself, I was off in New Jersey with my father, learning to drive. After a few hours of not hitting anyone, we were both hungry. We went to the nearby town where my father knew there was a German butcher. The smells inside were intoxicating, and my father and I agreed that choucroute would be a lovely dinner. He kindly paid for ingredients and I agreed to cook, it seemed fair.

One nice thing that I can't recommend enough: if you have a German butcher who makes his own sauerkraut, buy it from them. We did, and the flavor difference is immediately notable. For one thing, you get a little more flavor from the cabbage, but it is also less pungent than normal kraut because less vinegar is necessary for preservation. Ours came out of the barrel with very little liquid. Combined with how mellow it was, I decided not to bother with rinsing the sauerkraut. If you are buying yours from the store- and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that- be sure to rinse yours.

Substitutions: I have *loads* of celery seed, as you may have been able to tell form my last recipe for celery soda. The traditional ingredient is juniper berries, of which I have none. However, I'm not the worlds biggest fan of juniper, finding the flavor a tad pungent and overwhelming. Celery gives you the gorgeous aromatics without the pungency, so I like it as a substitute. Feel free to change as you wish.

As for the meats: look, this is a flexible enough recipe that you can throw whatever you like in. Some people use fish. Some people use beef. Things that need to cook longer should be put in at the beginning (pig knuckles and such) while the wurst and pork chops should be put in at the end.

The wine: don't use "cooking" wine. Use something inexpensive but nice- Riesling is traditional- but any dry white wine will do.

Had I not had two pounds of somewhat fatty uncured hickory smoked bacon from dartagnion, I would have chopped two large onions and sauteed them in a pot with a large amount of goosefat (alt: duck fat, pork fat). However, with how fatty my bacon was, I sauteed the bacon first until it was almost fully cooked and all the fat had rendered out, then added the chopped onions (chopped to about 1 cm square) and cooked them until soft. To this was added rosemary, thyme, a bay leaf, a quarter teaspoon celery seed, 2.7 pounds sauerkraut, a half dozen small peeled potatoes, and a bottle (750 mL) of white wine. Reduce heat to very low, cover, cook for an hour and a half. Add three generously sized smoked pork chops, four bratwurst, four knockwurst, four weisswurst. Cook a further 20-30 minutes. Remove the meat. Drain sauerkraut. Serve the meat with the kraut on the side.

Pictures will be added later, as I'm still cooking this as I type.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Principles of Meatloaf

I recently received an email request from my son Adam for my meatloaf recipe and have been delaying my reply because, as you may have guessed, I make meatloaf without a recipe. I'm sure most of us have a list of basic dishes they've made all their life, learned from watching a grandparent, and have never written down the ingredients and amounts especially because it all changes slightly each time depending. But there are some general principles and standard ingredients which will reliably produce a savory meatloaf with the correct remembered taste. So here's my crack at it and feel free to adjust to your own taste.


2 lbs Ground beef
breadcrumbs - preferably Progresso Italian Style or Colonna Italian Style
Onion - finely chopped and sautéed in butter until transparent and slightly brown
2 cloves garlic finely minced and added to the onions for the last few minutes sauteeing
Mushrooms - chopped and sautéed in butter
eggs (approx 1 egg per pound of ground beef)
parmesan cheese - grated
milk to moisten breadcrumbs
salt, pepper, herbs and spices, chopped parsley

Loaf pan - 2lb size usually around 7½ x 4¾ x 3½ inches deep

Basically, I add a small amount of milk to the breadcrumbs and set aside to allow it to be absorbed.
Meanwhile, I chop the onions and mushrooms and saute them in butter.
Put the ground beef into a large mixing bowl and dump the other ingredients on top of the beef.
* Add herbs and spices, salt & pepper - how much depends on whether you use plain or Italian flavoured breadcrumbs. Do give it a few good grinds of black pepper. I hate bland food. Be careful what you add as some herbs have very strong flavors and can easily overwhelm your dish ie oregano, thyme.

Now GENTLY mix it all with your hands. (You did wash your hands carefully with soap and water first, right?) You want everything to form a soft but uniform mix. Do not overmix, squeese, or beat the ingredients - texture is very important.

Place the mix into a loaf pan and bake for about 1 hour at 350F. Check for doneness - meat should be nicely brown with crispy bits at the edges and juices run clear. If needed, leave in another 15 min and check again.

When done, allow to sit for 15 min or so to settle and then serve hot. Can also be allowed to cool and eaten cold. Makes very nice sandwiches.

If you want an actual recipe - here's one I absolutely love (and it's very similar to mine): http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2010/09/my-favorite-meatloaf/

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Celery Soda

New York Jews love it. Everybody else hates it. Celery Soda is not just a name- it really IS a celery flavored soda.

Now, before you run screaming into the night, let me give you some background. First, the taste. Many people, when thinking of the flavor of celery, imagine old celery which has a very pronounced flavor, its stalks dark and heavy. There's a certain muskiness to them. This is not the flavor of celery soda. In fact, this recipe calls for celery seeds. Not salt, seeds.

In fact, celery seeds come from a particular variety of celery which is cultivated for the beautiful flavor and aroma of its seeds, while the stalk and roots (celery and celeriac, respectivly) are pretty much ignored. In terms of smell, it is rich, a little spicy, very aromatic. The taste when home made can most closely be approximated by ginger ale, with a little more aromatics and almost a hint of something like licorice. Real licorice, not the red stuff.

That said, before getting any further, a serious health warning. No, not allergies- if you're allergic to celery, I presume you're smart enough to avoid this. No, what I mean is that there are two kinds of celery seeds. There are celery seeds for eating and celery seeds for growing. DO NOT MIX THESE UP. Celery seeds for eating, as I mentioned before, are specifically cultivated from a different plant. Celery seeds for growing grow the other type of plant. Celery seeds for growing also tend to have other things mixed in with the seeds like tiny twigs and such. Most importantly, they are often sprayed with an anti-fungal compound which is toxic. So don't go to your local hardware store to buy these. Buy them from spice selections. They're good and they're cheap. If you're lazy like me, I bought three 1 pound bags from Amazon for $13. Yea, it's overkill, but it's really cheap stuff and lasts a really long time. The company I got mine from is really good, and worth taking a look: http://www.frontiercoop.com/products.php?ct=spicesaz&cn=Celery+Seed

When I've lived outside of New York, I miss it so much. I know how much it drives my poor mother and sister crazy that they can't get it. Celery soda has a pleasantly light sweetness combines with an aromatic astringency that cuts through fat and grease. As such, you can always tell the real Jews at places like Katz's and Carnegie because we're the ones with the celery soda to go with our pastrami (not corned beef) sandwiches. Also: hot pastrami is not hot because you stuck a refridgerated hunk on a meat slicer then microwaved it- it's hot because it's kept hot after the smoking and hand sliced. Damn, I could go for some pastrami....mmmm. Anyway, it really cuts through it nicely.

So, this recipe is dedicated to my benighted family members who can't get it.

Okay! Do yourself a favor and get a coffee mill/spice grinder. I have a mortar and pestle, but with the tiny seeds it would be a nightmare dealing with them in the mortar.

In a small saucepan, combine one cup of sugar with a half cup of water. Heat over a high heat until the sugar is mostly dissolved, then turn heat down to medium. While it is heating, grind 1 and a half heaping tablespoons celery seed. You don't need to powderize it, so a few seconds should more than do the trick.

Once all the sugar has dissolved and the sauce pan is clear and colorless, remove from heat and add the ground celery seed. Give it a good stir, then set aside, covered, for one hour. After an hour has passed, filter through a fine mesh. Don't use a coffee filter. The simple syrup will be too thick to filter properly, and it's possible that it will pick up a flavor along the way, while a mesh won't. If you're like me, the only fine metal mesh you have around is a tiny little egg-sized powdered sugar sifter, bent 3 ways from sunday. God, it's like making coffee at my grandfather's all over again. Alternately, you can use that french press sitting around that you never use.

Anyway, filter into a small mason jar (or something sealable) and stick it in the refrigerator to chill. You can use it immediately too, of course. You now have your celery syrup. Add a tablespoon to a glass, then add seltzer to taste. I find letting the syrup sit overnight is best before use.

This recipe is scalable, so feel free to double or triple it as you like. The syrup will keep in your fridge for practically forever, so you can easily make a small batch and just whip it out to make yourself a glass whenever you like. I'd be really curious to try making some cocktails with it actually. Asti- I think I have our next group activity planned!