Thursday, February 26, 2009

Root Vegetable Stew with Gremolata -- Good Without the Bones

I love a good osso bucco oozing with marrow, lush with fat and with the deep meat flavor of veal shanks. But as much as I love the meat, I love the gremolata topping more. Bright and lively with the spritely zip of raw, minced lemon, garlic and parsley it refreshes and enhances the whole dish.

My enchantment with gremolata has led me to experiment. I’ve mixed it with olive oil for a fast pasta sauce enlivened with some red pepper flakes and sometimes freshly made bread crumbs. I’ve sprinkled it over soups, steamed potatoes, cooked vegetables and even salads. I’ve substituted other herbs for the parsley. I even made an Asian version using garlic, lemongrass and cilantro.

One of my favorite ways to use gremolata is as a topping for a hearty root vegetable stew. Somehow the concept of root vegetables resonates with me as a good substitute for the primitive bones of osso bucco, and the gremolata works its tasty magic in a similar way, making this tomato-based stew something really special.

An aside: This was on our Valentine’s Day Menu. My husband spent the morning with me at the Grand Lake Farmers’ Market here in Oakland, CA (one of my favorites), where we got all the fresh ingredients for the dish. We served the stew with wide egg noodles and some sourdough bread we bought at the farmers’ market from an artisan baker based in a former industrial district of the city. Local and global and made with lots of love, it was a swell Valentine’s treat.

Root Vegetable Stew with Gremolata
Serves 6 to 8

2 Tbsp Olive oil
Medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound, new red potatoes, sliced
4 small turnips (about ¾ pound), cut into fourths, sliced
1 large carrot, sliced into rounds
½ of small fennel bulb (white only), roughly chopped
½ tsp of Provencal seasoning
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 large can diced tomato with juice (28-32 ounces)
2 cups water or vegetable stock
1/8 tsp saffron threads
12 ounces of kale, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp chopped fennel fronds (the green feathery part from the fennel bulb above)

Gremolata Topping
1 Tbsp minced lemon zest
2 Tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp minced fresh garlic

Heat oil in a deep sauté pan or a large diameter pot over medium high heat. Sauté onions until golden, add garlic and sauté until lightly brown. Add potato, turnip carrot and fennel. Mix to coat in oil and sauté a few minutes. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper and stir well. Add the tomatoes with juice, water or stock and the saffron. Stir well. Bring to a simmer. Cover, adjust heat and let simmer until the root vegetables just begin to soften. Add the kale, stir, return to a simmer and cover. Simmer until the kale has cooked through. Stir in the fennel fronds. Set aside. Mix the ingredients for the gremolata topping. Put stew in serving bowl. Scatter gremolata on top. Serve by itself or over wide egg noodles, polenta, rice or orzo.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Support Your Local Newspaper

You need your local newspaper more than you probably realize.

While the death of newspapers has been predicted ever since I was in j-school (oops communications school) way back when, now they are really in trouble.

I'd love to write more about how I love the smell of ink and newsprint in the morning and more, but time has been so short lately.

Go out and buy a local newspaper today (often Wednesday you'll get a food section, too, as a bonus) before it is too late.


About the -3o-: -30- or ### at the end of what you have written (well when we used typewriters anyway) are traditional print journalism ways to signify the end of your article (or more accurately, copy). Let's hope we aren't heading towards -30- of newspapers and what they contribute to our on-line and off-line communities.

I remember years ago all the moaning about what it meant for expression and news and viewpoints when most big cities in America went to one daily newspaper. Can you imagine what it would be like without any?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pancake Day

I just learned today is Shrove Tuesday (we'll it's NOT on my Manischewitz holiday calendar), thanks to food blogging Twittering tweeps. The day is also known as Pancake Day in some parts of the British Commonwealth, since in those lands the traditional way to celebrate this is with pancakes.

Wish I had known that when I was at Trader Joe's this a.m. They had a interesting looking maple-flavored agave nectar for sale in the new item section. I thought it would make a swell pancake topping, but since I had no plans to make pancakes, I just couldn't find a reason to pay the $3.49 (or was it $2.49) for it. Maybe its just as well I didn't buy it since the idea behind the fat and egg laden flapjacks, crepes and similar treats is to USE up ingredients traditionally frowned upon during the more austere diets of Lent.

I'll take any excuse for pancakes for dinner, so it seems like the kind of holiday food I'd flip for (sorry about the pun).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Live From Las Vegas!

Hi from the back room of the beautiful furniture showroom I work at the World Market Center in Las Vegas. I have lots of updates on my experiences ranging from Hawiian broth to famous eateries. Watch this space for an update after I return home.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Forget About the Chicken Soup, A Pot of Cholent Will Fix You Right Up -- Jewish Beef and Bean Stew

Since the weather across much of America right now is cold and frightful, I have a suggestion.

Make cholent, a kind of Jewish cassoulet or bean stew.

Call it what you will, (goodness knows we Jews have a multitude of names and variations for it) but no matter what you call it, it's food that will stick to your ribs and warm you down to your bones.

Cholent, virtually a one-bowl meal cooked in a slow oven, over a low flame or, more recently, in a slow cooker or crockpot, was started before sundown on Friday and left to simmer until Saturday lunch, providing a satisfying hot meal without any “cooking” on the Sabbath. The custom dates back centuries. Across the Diaspora, virtually every Jewish community had its own variation of this dish. While the ingredients (and what the dish was called) varied, the concept remained the same.

But changes in our lifestyles and religious observances need not make this comforting stew (often of long-simmered beef and beans in a thick, savory sauce) obsolete. Cholent is not just for Sabbath anymore. It makes a great make-ahead dinner, particularly now that the weather has turned colder.

There is no one way to make cholent. Below is a slow-cooker version that requires little work and produces a hardy cholent with relatively traditional ingredients and a rich and satisfying gravy. Add a bit less liquid if you prefer a drier stew, a bit more if you would like a soupier dish. This recipe assumes a four-quart capacity slow cooker. If yours is larger or smaller, adjust ingredients proportionally.

Slow Cooker Cholent or Eastern European Style Beef and Bean StewServes Six

My first experiences with cholent were ones were made by a college boyfriend’s mother, who was from Poland. I think she cooked them in the oven because I remember they had a deep, almost roasted flavor. She packed her cholent pot full of extra goodies such as kishke (vegetable stuffed intestine) and eggs that cooked in their shells in the cholent and tasted almost caramelized. This version leaves out the kishke, sometimes called stuffed derma, but keeps in the eggs. Using a slow-cooker or crockpot produces a more stew-like cholent with a looser "sauce."

Vegetable oil or spray
1 large onion, cut into a large dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup diced carrot (cut into ¼” dice)
2 pounds boneless chuck or brisket, cut into 1” cubes
1 pound red new potatoes, left whole if very small (about 12-14 potatoes) or cut in halves or quarters if larger
½ cup lentils or pearl barley
2 15-ounce cans of white beans, drained and rinsed (about 3 ½ cups cooked beans)
½ teaspoon salt or to taste
1 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
½ teaspoon ground dried thyme
¼ teaspoon ground dried ginger
1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
2 cups of chicken stock or broth (approximately)
6 raw eggs in their shells

Spray or lightly oil inside of a 4-quart or larger slow cooker pot. Turn on to high setting.
Add onion, garlic, carrots, beef, potatoes, lentils, beans, salt, pepper, thyme, ginger and paprika. Slowly pour in the chicken stock until it comes up about ¾ of the way to the top of the meat, potatoes and beans mixture. (The slow cooking will release more moisture into the dish). Bury eggs, still in their shell, in the mixture so they are covered.

Cover and let cook approximately 8-10 hours until the potatoes are cooked through and the meat is falling apart tender. Taste. Correct seasoning if necessary. If the mixture is too soupy, leave cover off and cook on high for approximately an hour until the sauce has thickened.

If the cholent needs to be kept warm after this point, keep covered and turn heat down to low.

Serve in bowls with challah or other bread and/or over noodles. A note about the eggs: They will be hard cooked. The whites will be tinged a pale brown and have picked up the taste of the stew from the long, slow cooking. Serve them unshelled and let your guests or family peel their own or peel them all before dishing the cholent out.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Celebrate World Nutella Day

Into every life a little Nutella must spread.
If that's not the motto of World Nutella Day, it should be.

For those of you who are somehow outside the loop -- Nutella is an addictively delicious chocolate-hazelnut spread made by Ferrero of Italy.

Today's event and round up are being sponsored by Ms. Adventures in Italy and Bleeding Espresso, who will be presenting roundups of all the spoon-licking fun.

Which brings me to my favorite Nutella recipe. Open jar. Insert spoon. Lick said spoon. Repeat. Hide empty jar until you can sneak it out in the recycling

A Nutella crepe was the very first thing I ate on in France on my last trip to Paris. The stand was across from the Eiffel Tower. It doesn't get any better than that.
About the photo: The Paris crepe stand's supply of Nutella.