Buttered matzah: the affliction of affliction

As you may know, because I allude to it bizarrely frequently, I am Jewish. EW, wow, I just ate something nasty. More on that later. Shit. OK, so this week is Passover, and I’ve been following it religiously (HA) (oh dear) and not eating either chametz or kitniyot. So basically nothing I normally eat on a regular basis.

I have been eating a giant amount of matzah (the other day my boss came over, looked at me, and said, “You’ve really been putting away a lot of matzah this week”; note to everyone—never, ever say this to anyone) and have encountered a number of challenges. You may think this is a joke. It is NOT. Buttering matzah is one of the most difficult things Jews face, cooking-wise. Brisket? Pah.

The first step is to not use butter that has been in the freezer for a long time, improperly wrapped. (See paragraph one of this post. Throw out any such butter you possess.)

The second step is to take your butter out of the fridge to soften it. You cannot use hard butter; the pressure needed to butter will cause the matzah to break everywhere, and matzah will fly all over your apartment. The ideal way to butter matzah would probably be telekinetically, or maybe with one of those olive-oil vaporizers. Or nonstick spray. It would not affect the taste.

Then, take a piece of matzah out of the box. I have been using Yehuda Matzos because that is what my parents gave me.

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The Paschal Yam

I don’t know whether you throw a seder, make a seder, host a seder, or just plain have it, but yesterday, I created my very own out of nothingness. As is the tradition with Jewish holiday meals, you have to spend at least two full days cooking, and they need to be dishes like kugel, soup, and some sort of a roast. And there should probably be a bottle of wine for every two people, since the seder guide (Haggadah) commands that each person drinks four cups of wine, at the specified point, over the course of one meal. Four cups, unless of course you accidentally drink the second cup when you were supposed to just hold it up and say a blessing, and then you drink five cups, which is exactly what my 29-year-old brother did, and he ended up lying on the couch asking my mom for a ride to his friend’s house like some sort of drunk adolescent.

The traditional seder, in brief.

The traditional seder, in brief.

So I made a seder. I say “made” because it really did involve lots of creations- cooking, setting a table, deciding on our own style of seder plate arrangement, creating the flow and ambiance of the seder, etc. This is a cooking blog, however, so I’ll stick to the food creations, mostly. I spent about a week figuring out my menu. I knew there had to be matzo ball soup, sans chicken. I knew there had to be wine. I knew there had to be more matzo than anyone could really want. But that’s basically where it ended. How does one go about deciding what to feed people on this night that is different from all other nights? I started by taking the dish that I loved most from my past- a Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette (with gruyere and sage) from Smitten Kitchen. I removed the crust and instead put the dish on top of a bed of quinoa. Since I have a vegetarian household, that dish was my “roast” which was okay, since the squash was technically roasted. Once I had my main course set, I felt like some sort of appetizer and side dish were necessary, but I kept being drawn to dishes that called for cream and lots of butter and other heavy, way-too-filling items. I thought mini crustless quiches would work, but that would totally have competed with the squash.  Then I wanted something with artichokes, but that never really got anywhere. Sweet potatoes are a common dish, so I was going to make whipped sweet potatoes. But again, so heavy and filled with fat, whereas I needed people to be able to stuff themselves on all my dishes and not get weighed down by just one. Continue reading

More on bulgur, unsurprisingly

So I am having a few issues with bulgur.

  1. I don’t know how to spell it.
  2. I have no idea how to identify the coarseness of my bulgur. Every time I read about bulgur, it says, “Bulgur is identified by number corresponding to coarseness.” I have never ever seen an identification of bulgur.
  3. I am still secretly worried that the stuff I call bulgur is not really bulgur. See (1).

Nevertheless, because of food uninspiration etc., I am making that bulgur thing I posted about recently. So you don’t have to click two different links, here is the recipe. In unrelated news, does anyone have any advice for things I should make in the coming weeks? I don’t feel like eating anything. Maybe it’s time for summer or something. But I don’t like summer.

So right now I’m cooking the bulgur in the rice cooker. (The recipe said “salt to taste,” but she was just talking about salting two cups of water, so it makes no sense. How are you supposed to know how salty your water should be?)

This seems like the sort of recipe that can be done slowly in calm steps, so I’m not worrying about anything, no frantic chopping, no slippery knives, wet cutting boards fresh from the sink. I’ve been listening to the Splendid Table and cooking and eating on and off all afternoon and evening. It’s the new Sunday. (This, and everything else I posted this week, is from Sunday.)

“Imagine this: two wild truffles reaching out to each other across an abyss, desperately trying to escape from their same-sex prisons.” That is a quote from a very old episode of the Splendid Table. First I thought she was talking about chocolate truffles, and then I figured it out and it was less funny, but still really weird and sort of homophobic-sounding. Poor truffles. Continue reading

The Most Exciting of Days, and a Gratin

Hi! I’m back for another round of guest-blogging!

At the time of writing this post, I am pretty confident that my endorphin high is only just beginning to simmer down. 12 hours before writing this post, at 6:45am, I was standing outside in nothing but meager running clothes, in below-freezing temperatures, pre-sunrise, waiting with 15,000 other people for the NYC Half Marathon to begin. I cannot describe to you how incredibly cold we all were. One girl asked “is this what the Titanic was like?” I would imagine not, but damn was it cold. Shortly after that, I was literally leaping down the streets of Times Square and slapping the hands of small children cheering from the sidewalks (and then the hand of a fireman standing in the middle of a tunnel below battery park, cheering like it was his job, which it may actually have been at the moment). It was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. And before my training officially ends and I return to eating like the health freak that I am, I figured- why not make one of the few dishes that is covered in cheese, cream, and caramelized onions!

Lots of preparation required. I hope you have a few good knives.

Lots of preparation required. I hope you have a few good knives.

I recently purchased Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison (she wrote the ever-popular Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone) and have gone through most of my yellow post-it notes on all the recipes I must make. This is my first recipe, and I was quite pleased with how clear the directions were (for the most part). Last weekend, Julie and I made an onion tart, and I discovered that there is a whole category of technically-for-dinner dishes that are just smothered in cheese and cream! This will be the death of me, it will. Anyway, this Sweet Potato Gratin with Onions and Sage really made me sweat in the kitchen. There’s a lot of chopping and slicing and grating and boiling and sautéing before you get to put it all together. It’s definitely not a recipe I’d recommend for a weeknight, unless you prepare all your ingredients on day one, and assemble on day two (probably not a great way to go about things). I would imagine it could be a great crowd pleaser at a small dinner party, as it is supposed to serve about 4 and looks/sounds quite intricate and fancy.

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I'm not a fan of boiling veggies, since you lose some nutrients. But considering the intense bad-for-you-ness of the dish overall, I just figured screw it.

I’m not a fan of boiling veggies, since you lose some nutrients. But considering the intense bad-for-you-ness of the dish overall, I just figured screw it.

In addition to the 13.1 mile endorphin rush that even made grating cheese seem not that bad, this cooking adventure made me happy to find a way to showcase my brand new, incredibly old milk-glass Pyrex cinderella mixing bowls. They were the perfects sizes for arranging all my ingredients as I prepared them, and I was able to bake the whole gratin right in the largest of the bowls. It was all fancy and showy, especially considering I was only cooking this for me and the boy. But alas, after slicing the sweet potato, sautéing the chopped onion with the sage, chopping parsley with some garlic, and finally boiling the sweet potatoes for just 1 minute, the assembly seemed very simple and anticlimactic. I mixed all the ingredients (save for cream and cheese), then put a third in the bottom of the lightly oiled dish. On top of that, half the cheese. Then more of the potato mixture. Then the other half  of the cheese. Then the rest of the potato mixture. Finally, I grated a bit more cheese on top – the recipe calls for parmesan throughout and on top but I figured I’d just do gruyere all the way through. Finally I poured a mixture of .5c milk and .5c cream, slightly warmed, over the whole thing, before baking it covered for 25 minutes and uncovered for another 25 at 350. Tada! In regard to the finished product – it was good. Definitely very good. But I think I would have enjoyed it just as much if not more without the cream. Just a roasted veggies dish with cheese. Maybe I would have added more cheese to compensate. Also I think butternut squash would do this dish well. Update: after a night in the fridge, the dish is actually even tastier (upon microwave reheating).

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Sweet Potato Gratin with Onion and Sage, ever-so-slightly adapted from Vegetarian Suppers by Deborah Madison

2 tsp oil, for sautéing the onions
1 large onion, chopped into 1/2-inch dice
2 tbsp chopped sage, or 2 tsp dried
3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
a large handful of parsley leaves, chopped, with 1 plump garlic clove
3/4 c. Gruyère or smoked mozzarella
freshly grated parmesan (I omitted this, and just put a little more Gruyère on top instead)
1 cup cream or half-and-half

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Before baking.

After baking.

After baking.

Irish soda bread: instinctive baking

The entire Internet was full of Irish soda bread this week (well, and corned beef, but I ignored that), and I’d been wanting to make some, in my ever-continuing pursuit of bread that does not involve waiting 3 years to eat it. Though simultaneously I am planning to make a sourdough starter soon, which is the opposite. Anyway. There were a million recipes, and I chose this one because it wasn’t sweet and had some whole wheat flour.

I took some butter out of the fridge to soften (I was very excited—usually I try to use butter straight from the freezer and it is disastrous) while I weighed my flours in my new scale.

Storytime: When I got the scale a few days ago, the first thing I did was try to weigh Fitzpatrick. He bit me really hard when I picked him up, but I held on valiantly. Then I couldn’t get him to stay on the scale. So I don’t know how much he weighs. But the scale only goes up to twelve pounds, which he is probably more than. Then I weighed a grapefruit, and it was 263 grams. Then I weighed some generic Robitussin, and it was also 263 grams. I found this freaky and really funny, but I have told this to like six people already and no one else thought it was funny. Alas.

Back to the baking. Flours, baking soda, salt. I squashed the butter into the flour with my fingers. (It never looked like breadcrumbs, as the recipe says, but I wasn’t aspiring for that because my cutting-butter-into-flour never goes like it’s supposed to. I am comfortable with this now and it seems OK.) Then I remembered I hadn’t made my buttermilk yet, so I did. Then I wrote a post about buttermilk. Continue reading

How to: Make buttermilk

I used to always be really irritated whenever a recipe called for buttermilk, because it was always between one drop and half a cup, and no one wants to buy an entire quart because it will go bad. And somehow, buttermilk that has gone bad is even scarier than regular milk that has gone bad (which in itself is a true test of character).

Then I read this, which says that the buttermilk you buy in the supermarket isn’t even real buttermilk. (Actually, just now while searching for that article I found this, which says that that other article is a lie, but whatever. Slate is so angry.) So then I felt less bad about making my own “buttermilk” as a substitute.

It is super easy: Combine one cup of milk with one tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice. (I prefer lemon juice because I can’t stand the smell of vinegar, but my entire bottle of lemon juice recently leaked all over my fridge because I laid it on its side.)

EDIT: The slightly more correct way to do this is to add the tablespoon of acid first, then add milk up to the one-cup mark—so you’re adding very slightly less than one cup of milk.

(1 2/3 c, for a recipe.)

Then wait a while—five or ten minutes or so. That’s it. It will look curdled and may be a bit clumpy. (At least, mine was, so I hope that is normal.) Don’t drink it, that would probably be gross. Just put it in pancakes or whatnot.

Curdle-y

How to: Make brown sugar

White sugar is just brown sugar that’s had the molasses removed from it, so to make brown sugar you just add molasses back to white sugar. If you happen to have bought molasses for a random recipe, you can use it to make your own brown sugar, and then you don’t have to keep buying two different kinds of sugar. Ta-da.

This is a mise-en-place. Or maybe a mis-en-place. But I think the former. (The Prego jar on the left is my brown sugar container.)

I got the measuring spoons at a bridal shower.

Put one cup of white sugar in a bowl. Add one tablespoon of molasses.

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How to: Make burnt almond butter

I’m starting a new series where I teach you how to make ingredients. Mostly because I want to have all the recipes in an easily locatable place and don’t have to go all over the Internet the next time I want them.

This one is even less of a recipe than the others, though: almond butter.

I first made almond butter when I bought a bunch of raw almonds from Fairway intending to make chocolate-covered almonds, which I love. (I lost my taste for peanuts and peanut butter after using them in 15 mouse traps, so I had to move on to a different nut.) However, then I realized that buying ready-made chocolate-covered almonds from Fairway was less expensive per ounce, and I was really annoyed at myself and had no idea what to do with raw almonds. For some reason roasting them just seemed horribly daunting.

Anyway, eventually I roasted them, butterized them, and ate it very happily, mostly on pancakes with honey. When I ran out I decided I needed more. Trader Jacqui bought me some cheap almonds from Trader Joe’s, her homeland. I roasted them today while simultaneously crisping macaroni and cheese, and as a result waaay over-roasted them. This wasn’t actually clear until I started pulverizing them, but IMPORTANT NOTE: Your almond butter should NOT be the color mine is in these photos. I’m posting this anyway because the process is the same whether you have burnt the shit out of your almonds or not, but almond butter should be much lighter!!! Just keep that in mind. Continue reading

Rye bread + rutabaga

It turns out that when I am stressed, I cook really weird combinations of really weird foods. Tonight I made quinoa with cheddar cheese, rutabaga–carrot purée, and Swedish rye bread.

On my way home I was contemplating what to make for dinner, and I was like, haha, I should go get a rutabaga and finish that stupid experiment. Then I was like, well … I guess I will go get a rutabaga. I procrastinated for a while at home because I desperately wanted something warm and bready immediately, so I looked up whole-wheat and/or rye biscuit recipes, and then ended up finding the recipe for Swedish rye bread when I googled quick rye bread. It’s a quick bread (no yeast), but not sweet. I also pretty much picked the first rutabaga recipe I found on Epicurious because I wanted something edible, i.e. not just roasted vegetables (which were good the first night but unappetizing subsequently). The quinoa was just to round things out. The bread wasn’t really part of dinner, it just happened.

So. I went to the wax turnip area of the supermarket, and discovered that the wax turnips all weighed like 2.52 pounds. But then I dug around a bit and discovered some much smaller, different-looking wax turnips beneath the giant ones. These weighed less. Obviously. So I put two in my basket and went about the rest of my shopping. (Things got dicey when I spotted a jar of almond butter for $11.99. And there were no regular almonds in the rest of the store. But I didn’t buy them. And now I want almond butter desperately again.)

At the checkout counter, several things happened:
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