Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Oakland Asian Cultural Center Needs Your Support


The Oakland Asian Cultural Center is a true treasure. Go on a Saturday and take an Asian home cooking class or learn how to carve elaborate vegetable garnishes, look at the walls with its testament to the rich pan-Asian heritage we have in Oakland, hear the kids practice their Chinese zither music, listen to the boom of the Korean drums or witness the grace, beauty and strength of Philippine folk dance or Shaolin Kung Fu. Or maybe attend a lecture, reading or performance. It is a multi-function, multi-interest kind of place. It also supports the businesses and residents of Oakland's Chinatown.

It is a living conduit of tradition, skills, knowledge and history between generations and between cultures Asian and not.

I first discovered the OACC for its food heritage and traditions cooking class. As we cooked the foods of Tibet, Vietnam, Mongolia, Korea, China, Thailand, India, the Philippines and more we were learning from someone from that culture about not just tastes and techniques but the place these foods hold in the culture. (Thanks to the Alliance for California Traditional Arts for co-sponsoring these classes).

Now, the OACC is in danger of losing half of its $80,000 grant from the city of Oakland in programming money.

We are in danger of losing a resource that really can not be replaced. Go the website, take a look at the class and programming list. Join a class, see a performance, send in a contribution and please send an email to an Oakland city council member and ask him or her to continue OACC's support. (OACC reassures me that even if you are not an Oakland resident, your support can make a difference in retaining the funding.)

Please attend the April 1 City Council meeting where the cut will be discussed. For other ways to help (including info on how to send an email to the city council with your support) the OACC and its programming and services, please click here or contact Jennifer Chu, Development Coordinator, at

On a personal note, I'm not Asian-American, I'm a German-Russian Jew. But I've been able to gift my sons the gift of knowing at least the traditions of their Jewish heritage through Jewish programming. I look at this as akin to that.

I also believe that its by sharing cultures, acknowledging differences, understanding similarities and enjoying the process of sharing that we grew as people and a nation. To me, that's one of the most important things OACC offers. I hope you'll join me in making sure all that OACC does is not snuffed out.

Update 4/5/10: OACC thanks all for support. They expect to know more within a few weeks.
About the photo: Some ingredients from the Filipino cooking class. You can see write ups, photos and slideshows of some of the classes here.

Argentina Picks from Epicurious (And Me) -- Where, What to Eat

Long-time readers know I am in love with all things Argentina after my trip last year to Buenos Aires. Here's a link to an Epicurious round up of all things delicious in Argentina I thought would add to what I've written. See below for more of my suggestions.

Some comments on the article -- I ate at Bio, the organic restaurant and had a coconut caramel flan that was gilded with a large scoop of dulce de leche. I probably ate Argentinean gelato at Freddo (or a similar chain) because I ate it everywhere. The helado were scrumptious everywhere. They are made in a gelato style but without heavy cream, so they are relatively lighter in texture and fat. I also recommend Sanjuanino for empandas.

Some other of my top faves not listed in the link: Cooking with Teresita (learn to make your own empanadas) and the private restaurant experience at Casa Saltshaker.

For more on my visit to Buenos Aires and environs, click here.

About the photo: Inside the market in the San Telemo neighborhood in Buenos Aries.

More on Passover

Here are hints from Passovers present and past. Look for recipes such as a Green Chile Quiche and Zucchini Crust Pizza as well as recommendations for other websites to check out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The World's Best Custard Matzoh Brei?

You'll have to make it and decide for yourself if this sweet brunch or dessert version of the classic Jewish Passover favorite is really the best in the world or just the best my kids have ever tasted.

They claim it is the best and other relatives concur. My father-in-law has me make it for him even when it is not Passover and he could eat regular bread. A cousin's son made his family travel from Los Angeles to Oakland for Passover one year just so he could eat it.

Wondering what matzoh brei is? Well, it's kind of a scramble of eggs, matzoh (cracker-lie flatbreads eaten in place of leavened breads at Passover, also spelled matzo and matzah) and other ingredients.

If you grew up on a less luxurious and diet-unfriendly version or are a fan of savory matzoh brei, made without sweetener and with lots of onions and maybe a little lox, you may want to save Custard Matzoh Brei for dessert. But do give it a try. After all (in my family at least), it's the world's best.

World's Best (?) Custard Matzoh Brei
4-6 Servings

I've written about my matzoh brei before, you can see the original version here. I keep refining it. To be honest, every time I make it, I change it up, so feel free to make your own variations.

I admit this can be a very rich dish if you make it with whole milk, but you can cut some of the fat by using fat-free milk (which is what I usually do). You could also replace the eggs with egg substitute (which I don't).

10 whole matzoh
Four eggs, beaten
One-quarter to one-half cup sugar (or more or less to taste)
Two cups of whole, low fat or fat-free milk
Tsp. of vanilla extract (kosher for Passover)
2 tsp. grated orange rind (optional)
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cinnamon
Grating (or dash) of nutmeg
1 Tbs. unsalted butter (or more as needed for the frying pan)
Cinnamon Sugar (optional)

Dip whole matzohs into warm water until wet on both sides. Drain well and break into small pieces in a large bowl.

In another bowl, combine sugar, eggs, milk, vanilla, orange rind, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and beat to mix well.

Pour over drained matzoh. Let sit for 10 minutes to allow matzo to absorb some of the custard mixture. Stir the mixture occasionally.

Heat butter in a very large frying pan over medium heat. Add matzoh mixture and fry in butter, adding additional butter as needed. (If too much for one pan, cook in batches and keep cooked matzoh brei warm in a 250-degree oven. Be sure the matzoh brei has room to fry not steam in the pan. If you will be holding the matzo brei for any time, slightly under cook it so it won’t dry out.)

Let the matzoh brei mixture set in the hot pan for a minute or two and begin to brown, then use your spatula to break it into chunks and turn. Keep turning and breaking up the matzoh brei every one to two minutes for a few more times until the custard mixture is absorbed but the matzoh is still moist and the outside of the mixture is browned and slightly crisp.

Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, if desired.

Serve by itself or with maple syrup, jam or other toppings.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Have a Happy, Healthy and Gluten-Free Passover (with Recipes for Chicken Almond Soup Dumplings, Lemon Pistachio Bars and Chicken Tangine with Quinoa)

That's no matzoh ball in that soup -- it's a gluten-free chicken-almond soup dumpling.
Cooking gluten-free dishes while being chamtez free is a challenge for those with wheat sensitivities as well as for those who are hosting them during Passover. That’s because traditional matzoh and matzoh meal are off limits. Ashkenazi traditions prohibiting rice and beans add additional restrictions.

One solution is to substitute oat flour matzoh, but it can be hard to find. Try rethinking the menu and choose foods that can be served to all guests. Just be sure any prepared ingredients are gluten free.

Below are some recipes from my j. weekly column. Click here to see the original column.

Chicken-Almond Dumplings, based on Turkish and Moroccan Jewish recipes, look like matzoh balls floating in chicken soup, but their savory taste make them delectable in their own right.

The Chicken and Vegetable Tagine is served with quinoa, a grain-like seed with a slightly nutty taste.

In Pistachio Lemon Bars, a nut base replaces the typical matzoh meal crust.

Chicken-Almond Dumplings
Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, minced
1 cup finely ground almonds
3 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup minced parsley
¼ cup potato starch
4 cups of chicken stock
4 cups of water
3-4 quarts of hot chicken soup
Chopped dill for garnish

Combine chicken, almonds, eggs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, parsley and starch. Mix. Refrigerate for an hour. Take 1 Tbs. and shape into balls. Place on oiled baking tray. Refrigerate until ready to cook. Bring stock and water to a simmer in a large pot. Working in batches, poach for 5 minutes after dumplings rise to surface and scoop out. Repeat. Reserve or discard liquid. Serve in soup sprinkled with dill.

Chicken Vegetable Tagine with Quinoa
Serves 6

2 Tbs. oil
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 ½“ pieces
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. salt
2 cups 1” cubed, peeled sweet potatoes
2 carrots, sliced
3 cups 1” cubed, peeled eggplant
2 cups chicken stock
3 cups chopped chard
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
3 cups water

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over high heat. Brown chicken. Remove to plate. Lower heat to medium high. Add more oil if needed. Sauté onion and garlic until golden. Add cinnamon, paprika, pepper and salt. Stir. Add sweet potatoes, carrots and eggplant. Sauté 3 minutes. Add stock. Bring to a simmer. Add chard and tomatoes. Cover. Cook 10 minutes. Add chicken and accumulated juices. Cook until chicken and vegetables are done. Serve atop quinoa.

Place quinoa in pot with water. Bring to a simmer. Cover. Cook on low for 15 minutes. Fluff with fork.
Variations: Make the quinoa with chicken stock and/or heat stock or water and simmer with 1/4 tsp. of saffron threads.

Pistachio Lemon Bars
Makes 16 bars

2 cups plus ¼ cup shelled pistachio meats (toasted if raw)
2 egg whites
½ cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tsp. minced lemon zest
3 eggs, beaten
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs. unsalted melted butter or pareve Pesach margarine
2 Tbs. potato starch

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line 8x8” baking pan with foil, with overhang on all sides. Grease foil. Chop 2 cups of pistachios. Mix with egg whites and sugar. Press into pan. Bake 20 minutes or until puffed and browned. Mix juice, zest, eggs, sugar, butter and starch. Pour on crust. Bake 20-25 minutes until curd is set. Remove. Cool to room temperature. Chop remaining nuts. Sprinkle on top. Lift by foil, remove foil and cut into bars.
Variations: Instead of topping with additional chopped nuts, try with some shavings of dark chocolate. You can also make this with other citrus juices or combinations.

Passover 2010 -- Potato Gnocchi

Passover cooking doesn’t really faze me. I do a lot of cooking from scratch anyway. It is the sheer amount of cooking that gets to me. I’m not referring to the Seder meals, that I can handle. It’s the day in and day out needing to prepare every bite my family and I eat that wears me down. The only short cuts are expensive packaged foods of dubitable taste and quality. Every meal requires lots of planning and cooking.

That’s why when my sons were young I came up with my Passover Potato Gnocchi recipe. I could bake extra potatoes one night, turn them in an easy- to-use dish the next night and even make extras to use for a quick meal or side dish later. This recipe is parve (meaning there are no meat or milk ingredients), so it is very versatile. My sons loved helping to make the gnocchi as well as eating it, preferably smothered in tomato or pesto sauce.

Passover Potato Gnocchi

Makes about 80 gnocchi

Gnocchi are small Italian dumplings served as pasta. These use matzoh cake meal instead of flour, which give them a nutty, almost whole wheat taste. I’ve simplified their shaping to make forming the dumplings fairly quick and easy.

Use the gnocchi with your sauce of choice or just toss them with butter or cheese. You can also play with the flavor by adding additional seasonings or a few tablespoons of chopped or pureed herbs to the batter. This makes enough for 4-5 as a main course (with a hearty sauce) and about 6-8 as a side dish. The recipe can be doubled if you want to make extra. See the notes at the end of the recipe for storage tips.

Be sure to use potatoes that are steamed or baked, not boiled. Soggy potatoes absorb more of the cake meal and result in a doughy tasting gnocchi. Exactly how much matzoh cake meal you’ll need will depend on the moisture in your potatoes.

2 lbs. russet potatoes, baked, or cut in large chunks and steamed until just soft.
2 eggs, beaten
½ tsp. and ¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
About ¾ to 1 cup of matzoh cake meal flour, plus additional as needed

Allow potatoes to cool. Remove skins. Rice or mash potatoes thoroughly in large bowl until smooth. Mix in eggs, ½ tsp. salt and pepper. Add ¼ cup of matzoh cake meal, stir until absorbed. Add ¼ cup more and stir until absorbed. Add additional ¼ cup of matzoh cake meal and stir again. Begin to mix and knead the potato mixture with your hands until the matzoh meal is well combined and has formed a soft dough. Knead in more matzoh meal as needed until the dough’s surface is fairly dry. You should be able to roll a bit of the dough into a ball in your hands and not have it be sticky.

Divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Dust a clean, dry work surface with some of the matzoh cake meal. Roll out one part at a time into a log about ½” wide and 12” long. Cut into 10 pieces and roll by hand into small ovals. Keep the ovals about the same width and length to make sure they cook evenly. (Optional, press the back of a fork into each oval to create “ridges” to catch the sauce.) Place gnocchi in single layers on baking tray or plates. Repeat until all the gnocchi have been rolled out and shaped.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add ¼ tsp. salt. Add about a fourth (20 or so) of the gnocchi at a time to the pot. The gnocchi will float to the top fairly quickly. Cook for an additional 2 minutes and scoop out with a slotted spoon. Toss the gnocchi in oil, butter or sauce to prevent them from sticking and keep warm. Return the water to a boil and repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked.

To make ahead, shape all the gnocchi and place in single layers on baking trays. The dumplings should not be touching. Cover with wax paper and then place a very slightly dampened tea towel on top. Store at room temperature for up to an hour or two and then boil as directed. If you need to keep them longer than that follow the directions for freezing.

To freeze uncooked gnocchi for later use, set dumplings in a single layer on baking tray. Place in freezer. Once individually frozen, remove from tray and store in plastic freezer bag. Do not defrost. Cook in boiling, salted water as above until cooked through.

To store leftover cooked gnocchi, toss in olive or other oil to coat and store covered in the refrigerator. Gently reheat in sauce, in steamer or in microwave.

(Originally published in the Temple Beth Abraham Omer)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Let Them Eat Bread -- Sweet and Savory Bread Puddings Plus a Soup Recipe

I was inspired to write my last j. column about using up bread because of the leaven-free holiday I'm facing, but I end up creating recipes to use up bread all the time. It seems like I always have some extra crusts, slices and frozen hot dog rolls around.

You can read my column here. (I feel like I should lead you with a crumb trail!)

If you haven't already tried a savory (main course) bread pudding, I highly recommend it. I use chicken stock instead of milk, but I still get a luscious custardy texture. Play with the flavorings and ingredients with whatever you have on hand. It's a very adaptable recipe. Try making it vegetarian by replacing the chicken stock with vegetable stock, adding more vegetables and maybe some cheese.

The sweet bread pudding is adapted from one I had back in 2000 or so at a great little bed and breakfast in New Orleans, The Muses. Georgia, the owner, is also the woman who taught me on a previous visit how to make the pain perdu style French toast my children (and others) adore.

The soup is adaption of similar soups I've made before. Once you ladle on the hot soup, it really changes the bread's texture. This version is vegetarian.

I’ve made recommendations about what kinds of breads to use in each recipe, but I’ve also made these dishes with all sorts of leavened odds and ends. I’ve made the Chicken Shalet (shalet refers to a hearty noodle or other dish baked in an oven) with a mix of everything from sliced sourdough bread to defrosted hot dog rolls. The New Orleans Bread Pudding also works well with white bread, cake, or muffins. A hearty rustic peasant bread substitutes well for the whole wheat with the Winter Squash and Greens Soup.

Chicken Shalet
Serves 4

2 Tbs. oil, plus extra for greasing casserole
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chopped greens
2 cups chopped tomatoes
¼ tsp ground mustard
¼ tsp. ground dried sage
¼ tsp. ground dried thyme
¼ tsp. ground dried oregano
¼ tsp. ground cayenne
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground black pepper
½ cup water
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups chicken stock
4 cups 1” rustic bread cubes
2 cups shredded, cooked chicken
½ tsp. paprika

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 2 quart casserole. In a large pan, heat oil and sauté onions and garlic until golden. Add tomatoes, greens, mustard, sage, thyme, oregano, cayenne, salt and black pepper. Add water. Cook, stirring often, until greens are cooked and water evaporated. Remove from heat. Combine eggs with stock and add with bread and chicken to the vegetable mixture. Mix well. Pour into casserole. Sprinkle with paprika. Bake for 50 minutes.

New Orleans Bread Pudding
Serves 6

¼ cup + 1 Tbs. butter plus extra for greasing casserole
2 cups milk
½ cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups ½” challah cubes
¼ cup rum
1 cup pecan halves
2 bananas, cut in 1/4” slices
1/8 tsp salt
½ tsp nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 2 quart casserole. In a sauce pan, heat milk, butter and sugar until ¼ cup butter has melted and milk is simmering. Slowly add to eggs in a large bowl, continually whisking. Mix in salt, nutmeg, bread cubes, rum, pecans and bananas. Pour into casserole. Dot top with 1 Tbs. butter. Place casserole inside a large baking dish. Put in oven. Fill outer dish with hot water up to level of pudding. Bake for 55 minutes or until set.

Winter Squash and Greens Soup
Serves 6

2 Tbs. oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. Herbes de Provence OR Italian Seasoning
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
¼ tsp. ground cumin
4 cups 1” cubes of winter squash
8 cups vegetable broth
8 cups chopped kale and/or chard
½ tsp. sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
6 cups 1” whole wheat bread cubes

Heat oil in large soup pot. Sauté onions and garlic until golden. Add seasoning, salt, peppers, cumin and squash. Stir. Add stock. Simmer about 15 minutes. Add greens. Simmer until vegetables are cooked. Stir in sugar and vinegar. Place a cup of bread cubes in each individual bowl and ladle hot soup on top. If desired, pass grated cheese.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What I've Been Cooking

I hope to eventually post these recipes here:
  • Easy pho with cilantro fish balls
  • Tamarind Caramel Stir Fried Fish with Red Peppers
  • Chicken and Sausage Paella
  • Mushroom Stew with Sauted Chicken Thighs
  • King Cake
Plus, watch for recipes from my columns in the j. newsweekly for New Orleans Bread Pudding, Chicken Shalet (savory bread pudding) and Winter Squash and Greens Soup.

Also in the near future, Passover recipes, including one for Pesach gnocchi.