Thursday, June 25, 2015

In the Pink -- Pucker Up for Rhubarb: Recipes for Borscht And Buckwheat Blintzes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote

Rhubarb Beet Borscht
I'm still seeing lots of rhubarb on the shelves of my supermarkets and produce stores here in California, which seems late in the season for these purplish red and green-tinged stalks.

I hope you have access to lots of fresh rhubarb where you live, but if you don't you can use frozen rhubarb available in many some  groceries, natural foods and specialty markets, and on line (no need to defrost for the recipes below, but defrost and drain first if using in baking.) That makes me think of buying some stalks, cutting in pieces and freezing them myself so I can have the tart goodness of rhubarb throughout the year.

My memories of this astringent ingredient are sweet, not sour. My Grandma Clara used to stew me up a batch of rhubarb harvested from a neighbor's field. 

The plant's stalks cook up pink.  Often strawberries or sugar are added to tame its astringency. In the borscht, I combine rhubarb's tartness with beets' sweetness. If serving cold, you may need additional seasoning.  I like to serve the soup cold at parties as "shooters" in shot glasses topped with a swirl of yogurt and sprinkle of minced dill or mint as an appetizer.

Buckwheat is from the same botanical family as rhubarb and blintzes made with the flour are an earthy complement to the tangy Strawberry Rhubarb Compote. The blintz wrappers are very versatile and can be used with a variety of fillings. Try the compote on top of cheesecake or ice cream.

Since your rhubarb may be more or less astringent than mine, taste as you add sugar since you may need more or less than I've indicated in the recipes.

Be sure to discard any rhubarb leaves as they contain toxic compounds.

Rhubarb Beet Borscht
Serves 6-8

1 1/2 lbs. beet roots, trimmed
8 cups vegetable stock or broth
2 Tbs. chopped garlic
1 lb. fresh rhubarb stalks, trimmed
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. sugar or more as needed
1/2 tsp. lemon juice or more as needed
Garnishes (see below)

Thinly peel beet roots. Cut into 1/4" dice (4 cups). Bring stock to simmer. Add beets and garlic. Simmer 15 minutes until beets have begun to soften. Slice rhubarb into 1/4" pieces (3 cups). Add rhubarb, salt, pepper, and cardamom to soup. Simmer until rhubarb is falling part and beets are completely soft, 30-40 minutes. Taste. Add sugar and or lemon juice to balance taste sweet-tart. Cool and puree half in blender or with immersion blender and return to pot. Serve warm with garnish(es) or chill. If serving cold, taste and correct seasoning before garnishing.

Garnishes: Chose from one or more: sour cream or yogurt; sliced hard-boiled eggs; sliced, boiled potatoes, and minced fresh dill or mint.
Creative Commons license see below

Buckwheat Blintzes with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
Makes 10-12

4 Tbs. melted butter, divided
1 recipe Buckwheat Blintz Crepe Batter (see below)
1 recipe Blintz Filling (see below)
1 recipe Strawberry Rhubarb Compote (see below)
1 Tbs. butter

Melt 3 Tbs. butter. Heat 8" omelet, fry or crepe pan over medium heat. Brush lightly with melted butter.  When sizzling, lift pan up and pour in 1/4 cup batter, swirling to coat bottom evenly. Return to heat.  Cook for 1 minute or until the top of the crepe is set and bottom is light brown or has brown spots. Turn out on a clean dishcloth. Repeat until batter is done, reapplying the melted butter before each crepe.

Lay browned side down. Place 2 Tbs. of filling in middle, leaving about a 1" margin at top and bottom of crepe. Fold top over filling, then fold bottom over. Fold one side over, then the other. Repeat with remaining crepes. Melt 1 Tbs. butter in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Fry in batches for 2 minutes on each side. Serve topped with compote.

Buckwheat Blintz Crepe Batter: Combine in a blender 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup buckwheat flour, 1 cup milk, 1/2 cup cold water, 2 eggs, 2 Tbs. oil and 1/4 tsp. salt. Blend on high until well mixed, then for 20 seconds.  Let sit for 1 hour and blend again.

Blintz Filling: Combine 2 cups ricotta cheese, 1 beaten egg, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Mix well.

Strawberry Rhubarb Compote:  Simmer 1 cup thinly sliced rhubarb with 1/2 cup of orange juice until just soft. Add 2 cups quartered strawberries, 1 Tbs. lemon juice and 2 Tbs. sugar.  Simmer until strawberries are just cooked. Chill. Use at room temperature.
Photo credits: Soup: Blog Appetit; Rhubarb, By RhubarbFarmer (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Another version of this post appeared in the j weekly.  

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My, My, My Negroni

Inspired by Negroni cocktails I had during the recent Negroni Week, I thought I would celebrate the Golden State Warriors' championship win tonight with the tipple.  

I also had almost everything at home for this simple cocktail except orange peel for the garnish.  I ended up garnishing my cocktail with slices of a Frog Hollow Farm apricot.  To complement the garnish I added a splash of peach schnapps. I liked the results and I share them with you as "My Negroni." For a traditional negroni, simply leave out the schnapps and garnish with the orange peel. I thought my version was a tad smoother.

For a more woodsy version of a Negroni, I direct you to the excellent Sunset Magazine version I had on my recent media tour. It is not more complicated, but the taste is more piney and the ingredients are more specific. The Forest Negroni is the creation of Sunset editor Nino Padova.

My Negroni
Makes 1 large drink

I used a traditional shot glass as a measure

1 measure Campari
1 measure sweet red (rosso) vermouth
1 measure gin
1/4 measure peach schnapps
2 slices of apricot or 1 slice peach

Fill shaker with ice. Pour in Campari, vermouth, gin and schnapps. Shake well.  Strain into chilled glass. Garnish with apricot slices.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

A Last Hurrah at Sunset Magazine's Menlo Park Campus This Weekend. Come Celebrate the Best of the West!

Sign from 2014 Celebration Weekend
If Sunset Magazine is said to celebrate the life in the West, the sale of it's famed 1951 Cliff May-designed Menlo Park campus is the end of an era and this weekend's Celebration Weekend could be the public's last chance to experience the mid-century landmark.

The move represents not just a change for the home, garden and travel icon of the West but for the population it serves in the coastal and southwestern U.S. Ever larger homes and gardens in suburbia are in many areas being replaced by an urban lifestyle accented by chickens, sustainable container gardens and recycled, homemade artisan maker-style crafts and projects.

Perhaps that shift in interests is reflected by the magazine's planned move in December from it's seven acre suburban campus filled with indoor and outdoor test kitchens, test gardens, wine cellar and offices to Oakland's Jack London Square. A second facility with wine and garden facilities is also planned for Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

At least that's the take I get from talking to Sunset editors at a recent media preview of the June 6 and 7 Celebration Weekend and from Editor in Chief Peggy Northrup's blog post.

Editors at the magazine vow to continue its coverage for both suburban and urban sectors of its audience and their passion for helping their readers live better shone throughout my tour.

The public can come experience all Sunset has to offer during the magazine's 17th annual Celebration Weekend at its campus at 80 Willow Road in Menlo Park.  It is always well attended but Sunset is expecting upwards of 20,000 attendees this year, so I recommend buying tickets in advance. (Plus you'll save $10). Tickets to some tastings and special activities are already sold out.

I went to the weekend last year and thoroughly enjoyed the food samples, kitchen tour, gardens, special exhibits and vendors for home, garden and travel as well as the entertainment and food trucks.
(Here's my write up of last year's event.)  Check the Sunset website for a full schedule of cooking demos (from famed chefs and Sunset staff) as well as entertainment, gardening, decorating and travel presentations..

This year I attended a media preview of Celebration Weekend.  Some highlights of that are below.
Please watch for a separate post with a cocktail and a mocktail recipe from the event.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Trip to Queens and Central Asia

Bukharian Jews lived in Uzbekistan in Central Asia on the spice route, so the seasonings in their food are complex and satisfying. These mantu (meat-filled dumplings) are from Salute in the New York City borough of Queens.  It is located in a neighborhood filled with amazing kosher and non kosher food providers with Russian, Middle East and Central Asian specialties ranging from pickled vegetables, cured meats, savory and sweet pastries to cheeses and much, much more. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Smorgsaburg in Brooklyn -- NYC Photo of the Day

With 100 or so vendors of all kinds of international treats all around me, what did I choose?  The fries from the Bolivian stand.  And they were great tossed with garlic, cilantro and Parmesan cheese and served with cilantro sauce. Several Smorgsaburg locations throughout the great counties of Kings and Queens depending on day and season.  This one was at the spectacular Brooklyn Bridge Park. 

For more info check out the Smorgsaburg website.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NYC Photo of the Day -- Coffee Soda

Think of the Manhattan Special as the Red Bull of its day, which goes back to 1895. Cold, sweet and intense, this espresso soda fueled many NYU study hours for me.  Now available in diet, which does help with the post drink jitters, it still is an acquired taste.  It is thick and syrupy, very coffee flavored, sweet and slightly carbonated.  Pretty much everything I like in one small bottle.  The Manhattan Special makes regular iced coffee seem like it's for sissies.

I've only ever seen this in New York.  It might exist elsewhere but to me it's something I can only drink when I'm in a New York frame of mind.

Update: BevMo carries the regular non-diet version.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Pizza of My Heart -- NYC Photo of the Day

Yes, this happened. This specimen is from Bleecker Street Pizza near where we ar staying. 
Great crust and texture, dry sausage. I'd go back but try a different topping. 

Thursday, May 07, 2015

NYC Photo of The Day -- Lebanese "Pizza"

These flatbreads covered with meat, tomatoes and onion are the work of  Manousheh on Bleecker Street in the West Village.  The staff was great, the oven roaring hot and the flatbreads crispy and tasty.

A quick dinner on the go after we sprinkled Aleppo peppers and squirted house made hot sauce on top before we took off to see Post Modern Jukebox in concert.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

NYC Food Photo of the Day -- Breakfast on a Roll

This photo is of what for me symbolizes the on-the-run, to-go breakfast of New York, a hard roll (known as a kaiser roll), split, buttered and stuffed with freshly fried eggs.  Ideally wrapped in waxed paper and quickly shoved in a paper bag, it is the deli and coffee shop breakfast of my young adulthood. Perfect with a cardboard cup of java to go.

This is the first in a series of (almost) daily (mostly) food photos of my month-long visit to the Big Apple and environs. 

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

From Floaters to Sinkers -- Matzah Ball Making 101

This is probably the trickiest and most detailed cooking post I’ve ever written, mostly because matzah balls are the most divisive Ashkenazi food I know.  Everyone has an opinion and most think their way is the best way.  Positions are taken young and kept for life.  I suspect marriages have failed because of sinkers and floaters.

With all that pressure, some home cooks are concerned about their matzah ball making ability and opt to use a mix (which still needs added ingredients and requires shaping and cooking) or ask others to make and bring the dumplings to their Seders.

Basically the debates center around ingredients, technique and whether the matzah ball itself is fluffy (a floater) or dense (a sinker).   Which is pretty much every aspect of matzah ball making. Oy.

One friend tells me she really prefers denser matzah balls, but she eats what she gets since she feels she “has no control” over how they turn out.

I can’t promise perfection, but I can give you some tips and recipes that should help anxious matzah ball makers.  Read on for my matzah ball recipes and my suggestions for gaining some control over the process and learn how to make the dumpling of your dreams, or at least close to it.

There are a variety of issues that affect your kneidlach success – the matzah meal itself, seasoning, leavening, liquid, and fat, as well as the shaping and cooking.

For some, the only good matzah meal is homemade, made of pulverized whole matzahs.  I’ve never done this myself, but it seems pretty straight forward and will yield the freshest matzah meal.  To make your own, break sheets of matzah into 1-2” sections and either grind in a food processor or put into double plastic bags and crush with a rolling pin, meat mallet or other heavy device.  You are aiming for pieces the size of commercial matzah meal (about 1/8”or less, be careful not to grind the matzahs too fine, then you’ll have made matzah cake meal).

If you are like me and use commercially prepared matzah meal, taste it before using.  If it tastes stale or rancid your matzah balls will, too. 
The freshness of your matzah meal will also affect how it absorbs your liquid ingredients, so homemade might need a bit less liquid. Add a bit more liquid if the mix seems too dry, although a drier batter is preferred if you want dense matzah balls.

Seasonings are another point of controversy – some recipes use a lot of salt, others just a trace.  Some salt the boiling water, others do not.  My preference is to add about ¼ to½ teaspoon of salt per cup of matzah meal and use very slightly salted boiling water (maybe a ¼ teaspoon for a big pot of water). Pepper is a deal breaker for some, mandatory for others and then there is the question of white or black pepper.  My choice is freshly ground black and I specify the amounts I like to use in the recipes below.

Adding garlic powder and onion powder are options.  If you are used to matzah balls from a mix you may want to include those, since the mixes have them listed as ingredients.  How much to add?  I’d say that depends on your preference.  Start with a ¼ to ½ teaspoon each per cup of matzah meal.

Other variations include adding 1-2 tablespoons of finely minced fresh dill or parsley for each cup of matzah meal.   I prefer to sprinkle the herbs on top of my soup instead of putting them in the matzah ball.

My basic rule is to add the minimal amount of any seasoning and cook up a small test matzah ball and then taste.  If the seasoning is too light, add more to the rest of the batter to compensate.  Keep in mind the kneidlach will be served in a seasoned chicken soup.

For leavening I use eggs and only eggs.  Different size eggs will yield different amounts of liquid.  I usually use large or extra-large eggs.

Some recipes, particularly those promising fluffy results, include baking powder (which is available kosher for Passover).  It is also an ingredient in commercial matzah ball mixes.  The basic amount to add seems to be 1 teaspoon per ¾ cup of matzah meal in addition to the eggs.  Adding baking powder might be good insurance if a lighter matzah ball is imperative for your family and you do not want to risk a cannon ball.

For denser matzah balls, I beat the whole egg.  For lighter, fluffier ones, I separate the yolk from the white.  I beat the yolk until combined, but whisk the whites for about a minute until foamy and add separately.  See recipes for specific directions.

I prefer seltzer as my liquid. Some recipes use just a little liquid (mostly denser ones), others use more.  For years I’ve used seltzer thinking it helps lighten the texture but I’ve never done a scientific testing.  You can also use water or strained chicken soup instead.

If you use seltzer, be sure it is plain, unflavored seltzer.  Do not use club soda, which has salt added or sparkling mineral water which may also contain salt as well as natural mineral flavors.

Fat is another variable.  I think a neutral-tasting vegetable oil helps give fluffier results, but melted (and slightly cooled) chicken fat (schmaltz) makes for the tastiest matzah balls.

I think the shaping is crucial in determining the density of your matzah ball.  The less handling, the fluffier your dumpling.
For ethereal, cloud-like kneidlach, use one spoon to pick up a portion of the batter and another spoon to slide the portion into the boiling water.  This results in free-form dumplings that are incredibly fluffy with no chewiness. Warning, even some floater enthusiasts find these too light.
For fluffy kneidlach floaters that actually look like matzah balls, wet your hands with cold water and handle the dough as little as possible to form rough rounds.  Don’t compress and don’t roll the balls in your hands any more than necessary.  I’ve seen batter destined for fluffy balls made dense by over handling by cooks who are determined to have perfectly round, evenly shaped matzah balls.

For dense, heavier matzah balls (I can’t actually guarantee they will sink, but they will have the slightly chewy texture those who like sinkers prefer), shape with wet hands, rolling and compressing the dough until if forms smooth, even rounds.

How your kneidlach are cooked can also help determine their fate as sinkers or floaters. Put your matzah balls in a pot of simmering water with plenty of room and they will expand more and have a lighter texture.  Crowd them and they will not expand as much and remain denser.

If you are multiplying the recipes or do not have a big enough pot to simmer the matzah balls in, either use several pots at once or cook them in batches. 
Many recipes tell you not to peek once your matzah balls are simmering.  For the fluffy matzah balls, I like to check after about 30 minutes to turn the dumplings over or spoon simmering liquid on them if it appears their tops are drying out.
Sometimes I find the matzah balls take more than the stated time in the recipe, so be sure to check for doneness and not just go by the clock.  I test by cutting one in half.  There should be no raw spots.  A fluffy dumpling should be uniformly creamy white inside.  A denser matzah ball will be more compact and darker, but still uniform.  Both types should taste cooked through.

Once the matzah balls are added to the water, make sure the water stays at a simmer.   The more intense boiling can break apart the dumplings.

I prefer to reheat the matzah balls in simmering chicken soup.  For a recipe and techniques for chicken soup, please check out my Chicken Soup 101 post.

I drain the cooked matzah balls on wire racks set inside baking trays.  For storing in the refrigerator, I place in sealed containers, separating layers with oiled waxed paper.  For longer storage, I freeze on a baking tray and then put the frozen individual dumplings in an airtight container or plastic bag.

Bring the refrigerated matzah balls to room temperature before using.  Defrost the frozen ones by placing them on wire racks until they are room temperature and then reheat in the soup.

Below are two recipes.  One is for fluffy matzah balls and it is based on a recipe from my husband’s Aunt Betty, who was the matzah ball making maven of her generation.  Another recipe is for dense matzah balls.  For a gluten-free option using chicken and almonds, click here. I can’t make iron-clad promises about texture and density in matzah ball making but I can promise that with time and an understanding of the variables, you will get a feel for what makes a good matzah ball for you and your soup.