Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day BBQ Menu - Chicken Kabobs and Berry Sorbet

It’s Memorial Day and a tradition is to celebrate with a barbecue. But instead of the hamburgers and hotdogs my parents would have thrown on the grill, I’m thinking of chicken and vegetable kabobs and taking advantage of some of the season’s wonderful fruit with homemade berry sorbet for dessert. (I've included directions for making the sorbet without an ice cream maker. If you are grill-less, the kabobs can be broiled in the oven instead of cooked on a grill.)

Serve these chicken kabobs with a salad, some crusty bread or pita, and some hot sauce or fresh salsa. Drizzle the pomegranate molasses barbecue sauce over it all for a unique tang. (Pomegranate molasses is available in Middle Eastern markets as well as online or in some specialty or larger supermarkets.)

Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs
Serves 4

1 ¼ cups olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon cumin
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup minced yellow onion
4 zucchinis cut into approximately ¾” chunks
1 red onion cut cubes or wedges about ¾” thick
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded, and cut into ¾” cubes
2 ½ pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1” cubes

Make the marinade. Combine olive oil, lemon juice, peppers, salt, oregano, cumin, garlic and minced onion. Reserve ¼ cup of the marinade. Add in cubed chicken and vegetables to the remainder. Cover and marinate for at least an hour or up to several hours in the refrigerator, turning occasionally.

If using bamboo skewers, soak skewers in water for about 30 minutes before cooking. Thread chicken and vegetables on skewers. Grill over medium high heat. Baste as needed with reserved marinade, turning occasionally until chicken is cooked through.

Pomegranate Molasses BBQ Sauce
Makes about ½ cup

½ cup pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan over low heat. Mix well. Heat, stirring occasionally for 20 minutes. Do not allow to boil. Pour into container or serving bowl and allow to cool. Mixture will thicken as it cools.

Fresh Berry Sorbet
Serves 6-8

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 ½ cups berry puree (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries or a combination)
juice of ½ lime

Heat water and sugar together until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool completely. Taste the puree to see how sweet it is. Add about 1 ½ cups of the sugar syrup (reserve the rest for another use). Use more or less syrup to taste. When the sorbet is frozen it will taste less sweet. Combine puree with 1 ½ cups of the cooled syrup (reserve the rest for another use) and the lime juice. Refrigerate until cold. Put into ice cream maker and follow manufacturer's instructions. When the sorbet is finished, pack into a freezer-safe container and freeze for an hour or two to harden. Let sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

Adaption for Those Without Ice Cream Makers:
Once the strawberry puree-simple sugar mix is cold, pour it into a metal pan or other freezer safe container that is wide and flat. Place in the freezer and stir and scrape the mixture every half hour or so with a sturdy fork until frozen. Remove from the freezer about 20 minutes or so before serving and scrape to break up and serve. The result will be grainier but just as tasty.

A version of this post first appeared in the June issue of the Temple Beth Abraham newsletter, the Omer.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Dairy Queen -- Or I Make Ricotta Cheese, Yogurt and Yogurt Cheese

I’m urban through and through. My mother thought I’d never live anywhere there weren’t sidewalks, subway access and tall buildings and laughed at my angst at moving to suburbia (a single family house in Oakland). But even with my New York accent and big city ways, I have always hankered to produce my own cheeses and yogurts. I don't know if is my foodie passion or reading Tess of the d'Urbervilles at too young an age, but the dairy arts have always appealed to me.

I had made the relatively simple yogurt cheese for years but in honor of the Jewish holiday Shavuot with its dairy food associations, I thought I would add ricotta cheese and yogurt to my list of homemade staples (which also includes pickles and granola).

For more information on Shavuot and its dairy tradition, please click here to see my column in j. weekly, where these recipes originally appeared.
The cheese and yogurt recipes below require little special equipment, mostly cheesecloth and an instant read thermometer. They do require a little patience, but they are well worth it for their taste and freshness.

Ricotta Cheese
Makes 2 cups

This cheese is light and fluffy. It can be kept a few days but will become denser. Eat fresh sprinkled with salt, pepper and chopped herbs or with berries and honey. Use it to make fillings for crepes, omelets or even lasagna. Adapted from Cucina Fresca by Viana LaPlace and Evan Kleiman.

2 quarts whole milk (or try with half goat's milk)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2-6 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Combine the milk and cream in a pan. Cook over a medium-low heat stirring occasionally until the milk begins to simmer (about 185 to 190 degrees on an instant read thermometer). Add a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir and watch for the mixture to separate into tiny curds about half the size of a small grain of rice. Repeat until curds appear. Reserve the rest of the juice for another use. Pour the curdled milk into a colander lined with a dampened, double layer of cheesecloth. Drain over a deep bowl for an hour or until very thick. Discard the liquid, or whey, or use to make soup or bread. (I made a fabulous corn chowder with it.) Store airtight in the refrigerator.

Homemade Yogurt
Makes 1 Quart

Use however you’d use commercial yogurt. This is based on a recipe from ReadyMade magazine. Be sure the yogurt you use as a starter has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins.
1 quart whole or 2 percent milk
2 Tbs. plain yogurt (whole, low-fat or non-fat)
Cook milk over medium-low heat stirring occasionally until it reaches 180 degrees on an instant read thermometer. Remove pan from heat. Let cool until milk is 115 degrees. Add yogurt and mix well. Pour into a quart jar with lid. Wrap in towels. Place in an insulated cooler bag or ice chest for 12 hours or overnight. Afterwards, store finished yogurt in the refrigerator.

Yogurt Cheese
Makes about 2½ cups

Use yogurt cheese as a spread either plain or seasoned. Be sure your yogurt has live, active cultures and is made without stabilizers or gelatins. Try goat (my favorite) or sheep milk yogurt for extra tang.
32 ounces of whole, low-fat or non-fat plain yogurt

Place the yogurt in a colander lined with a double thickness of dampened cheese cloth over a deep bowl. Allow to drain in the refrigerator 12 hours or overnight. Serve as a spread. Keep refrigerated in an airtight container. For a thicker cheese, tie the drained yogurt in its cheesecloth to the handle of a wooden spoon and suspend over a bowl for another four hours. Serve plain, seasoned or shaped into logs or balls and rolled in cracked black pepper or minced herbs. Wrap in plastic. Store in the refrigerator.

Update: For recipes for a whey chowder and one using the fresh ricotta as a blintz filling, please click here.
About the photos: Top: Ricotta cheese with berries and honey. Bottom - Homemade yogurt ready to be zipped up in cooler bag for 12 hours. For a photo of the yogurt cheese spread on rustic bread and topped with olives, herbs and a drizzle of olive oil, click here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New Post on I Wanna Be a Food Writer

A new post is up on my blog that tracks my dreams, achievements, lessons learned and more as I hone the craft of food writing. This one reflects back on important lesson in becoming a successful writer -- learning to listen. Click here to read the post.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Tidings and Promises

Sorry to have been absent, but lots of doings here at the Blog Appetit household with the oldest son graduating college.

Watch for upcoming posts:

Chicken and Sausage Paella
Wot's for Dinner -- Easy Ethiopian Stews
Easy, Low Cost, Not-Quite Authentic Lasagna

(I still hope to post my recipe for Easy Vietnamese Pho and Tamarind Caramel Stir Fried Fish sometime soon.)

PLUS -- I have a lot of Asian cooking class info to post from last year and a new round of classes at the Oakland Asian Cultural Center is starting up. Plus I'm designing my first series of cooking classes. These will be on learning Jewish cooking if your mama (or grandma) never taught you. More on that collaboration with the Bridges interfaith group as it develops.

In addition, I have lots of thoughts on cookbooks borrowed, bought and swagged (i.e. given to me with the expectation I might eventually write about it) that I hope to find time to write about and let you know.

All this and I have my day job, too. (Not to mention a ton of contractors trying to fix those pesky roof leaks.) So, please keep watch and we'll be back in action soon.

Please leave a comment if any suggestions or questions about Blog Appetit or for me.

Thanks for reading Blog Appetit.
About the photo: Homemade yogurt cheese with olives, parsley and olive oil.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Oven-Roasted Sardines with Herbs, Lemon and Garlic

I hadn't planned on the sardines, but there they were, plump, fresh and inviting, snuggled cozily into beds of ice at the fishmongers. These beauties were economical, too, less than $5 for a pound. Plus they were relatively local, having been caught wild in the Pacific.

I had planned to grill them but my barbecue was unreachable through the piles of construction materials in the yard, so I ended up marinating them in olive oil and lemon juice with lots of fresh mint, parsley and garlic and roasted them in a very hot oven in the marinade. I served them with whole wheat pasta and a side dish of sauteed greens. Healthy for heart and soul.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

What is Jewish Food, or, That's Funny, It Doesn't Taste Jewish

When I was growing up, I knew with certainty what Jewish food was. It was brisket, stuffed cabbage, matzoh ball soup, and everything else my grandmother fed me. It was liver roughly chopped by hand in an aged wooden bowl, glistening with chicken fat and dotted with flecks of burnt onions.

It was food that needed special plates and silverware for meat and dairy and the wonder of the magic of pareve, foods that could be eaten with anything. Mostly it was food Grandma had grown up eating as prepared by her Russian-born mother.

But what was Jewish to me then was really just a snapshot of one kind of Jewish food – a New York interpretation of Russian shtetl cooking.

So what is Jewish food?

“The food of the Jewish people is also the history of the Jewish people. The dishes, flavorings, and traditions chronicle the resources of the lands they were exiled to and from,” says author Marlena Spieler in The Complete Guide to Traditional Jewish Cooking.

The Jewish Diaspora brought red pepper to Hungry and pumpkin to Venice. These and other ingredients and cooking techniques influenced the local cuisines where Jews lived just as Jews were influenced by the available foods and prevalent dishes. Challah’s distinctive braid, for example, may have been adapted from a local bread in Germany. Italians still savor a dish from Rome known as carciofi alla giudia (artichokes in the style of the Jews).

Spieler’s book features food traditions and recipes from Russia, Poland, Ukraine, Germany, Hungry, Romania, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Morocco, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Israel, the Middle East, India, Central Asia, China, the United States and Latin America.

The food I ate in my grandmother’s kitchen would have been recognized by Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe as distinctly Jewish, although the food might be not sweet enough for the Poles and not spicy enough for Romanians. Ashkenazi food traditions began when Jews settled in the Rhine Valley and spread as persecution drove them further ever further eastward. According to Spieler, it was a cold weather cuisine. Cabbage and cucumbers were fermented into sauerkraut and pickles. Fish and meats were smoked and salted. Meat was scarce and often used as a component of other dishes to make it go further. Beans and grains were plentiful. Once potatoes were introduced they were widely eaten.

Sephardic Jews had very different food influences. Those who lived toward northern Spain had food ways that reflected the legacy of the Roman Empire such as grapes, wheat and olive trees. Those in the southern end of the Iberian peninsula were influenced by the occupation of the Ottoman Turks, and incorporated spices such as cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper in their cooking as well as rice, almonds, citrus, eggplants, spinach and artichokes, according to Joyce Goldstein in Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean.

Other cuisines developed independently of these major groups, but the spread of the Sephardim after their expulsion from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497 affected the Jewish food cultures they came in contact with by trade or settlement. Sephardic Jews changed their cooking, too, as they began to learn new regional specialties.

As varied as the many cuisines of the Jews are, though, very few dishes can be traced back to the foods eaten in Judea more than 2,000 years ago, according to Gil Marks, author of The World of Jewish Cooking. Among them are Sabbath stews (such as cholent and hamin) and charoset (Passover nut and fruit pastes), but even then the ingredients and cooking methods would be unrecognizable to our ancestors.

One unifying factor that has shaped Jewish food is the religion itself, with its dietary laws, home-based, food-centered celebrations and the tradition of according symbolic meaning to some dishes.

According to Marks, it is this aspect of Jewish food that creates similarities in our varied cuisines. He points out all Jewish communities use foods mentioned in the Torah as “symbolic ingredients in assorted festival dishes.” Since foods had to be prepared in advance, “vinegar was commonly added as a preservative and often sweeteners or raisins would be added” to balance the flavor, resulting in a tradition of sweet and sour dishes across the Jewish food experience.

Another example would be cooking dishes fried in oil, such as latkes (Eastern European potato pancakes) or sufganiyot (Israeli jelly doughnuts) as symbolic foods for Chanukah, celebrating the oil that lasted for eight nights.

Dietary laws resulted in Jews creating a cuisine that was different from their non-Jewish neighbors and helped preserve a special sense of community, but this differentness also lead to persecution.

During the Inquisition, officials used the testimony about the eating habits of newly converted Christians to make sure they had abandoned all Jewish practices, according A Drizzle of Honey: The Lives and Recipes of Spain’s Secret Jews by David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson. Preparing Jewish dishes and avoiding pork were seen as proof of unrepentant ways. Penalty for being discovered could be death.

The last century has seen other disruptions in traditional Jewish food ways. Many localized food traditions were lost because of the Holocaust. Writer Mimi Sheraton went to Bialystok, Poland, and found that virtually no trace of the city’s famed bialy, a chewy bread roll with onions, had survived the Holocaust.

As opportunities for migration to Israel and elsewhere became available, long established Jewish communities in other countries began to dwindle. The survival of many cuisines began to depend on communities that were now scattered. But others have now discovered the many flavors of Jewish food. Israeli cuisine has been influenced by this influx of food ways. Cookbook writers have become amateur historians to track down historic dishes as they worked to preserve the legacies of Jewish cuisines. Translating these recipes had another impact, as the mostly Ashkenazi Jews of North America and Europe began to discover Sephardic and other Jewish cuisines and incorporated them into their Jewish food repertoire.

I like to think that as we share our Jewish food heritage we begin to understand the diversity of the Jewish world and people. Slathering Yemenite hot sauce on pita bread, making a Tunisian vegetable dish, or eating other Jewish recipes from around the world connects me with Judaism and our shared history as much as when I try to recreate Grandma’s chopped liver. It is food out of our tradition that has become my tradition. To me, that’s what Jewish food is.
A condensed version of this essay appeared in the Temple Beth Abraham (Oakland, CA) Omer.

About the photos: From top: chopped liver, stuffed cabbage, seder plate (charoset is to the left of the parsley), potato latkes. For more photos and writing about Jewish food on Blog Appetit, click here , including recipes ranging from noodle kugel to sweet and sour pomegranate fish to tzimmes tamales.

Happy Cinco de Mayo 2010

No new posts for this Mexican holiday -- but click here to see my past posts on tamale making, posole, tortilla lasagna and more.
About the photo: Street food in Tijuana circa December 2005. Those are catcus paddles on the griddle on the left. The oval-shaped corn tortillas in the back are known as huraches and are served open faced and topped with stews and other good things.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Good Enough to Eat -- Bake Sale Photos

At last, some of my photos from the Share Our Strength Bake Sale last month. Click here for more info on the event. I contributed the vanilla baby pound cakes with vanilla cognac syrup from Rose Levy Beranbaum's new cookbook Rose's Heavenly Cakes.

More on Rose's Heavenly Cakes later. Again, thank you to all the participating food bloggers (see below) and, especially, organizer Anita Chu of Dessert First. Here's Anita's recap of the event.

The San Francisco bake sale was one of 23 in the country that weekend which raised a total of $16,500 for the program to combat childhood hunger. Our bake sale raised $1,650 of that!

From Anita, here's the list of the participating bloggers:

Marisol :

Mothering the New Mom -- Recipes to Bring New Mothers

Lately I feel like I’m in the middle of a baby boom with many friends and colleagues recent or expecting mothers. That made me think about my first weeks home with my sons and the support I received. While I valued the cards, visits, flowers and baby clothes, I think what I most appreciated were the gifts of healthy, prepared food that allowed me to just reheat and eat. (Marlene, thanks again for that turkey meatloaf!) As any new parent knows, there are days when shopping and cooking are not on your baby’s agenda.

If you are planning to bring food to a new mother, remember they need lots of fiber, iron, protein, folic acid and calcium. Nursing mothers need to introduce certain foods slowly to make sure their babies are unaffected. Whenever possible choose pesticide-free ingredients, and check with the new parents in case they have any special requests.

Below are some recipes I developed for my j. weekly column. (You can read the original here to see how these dishes connect to the Jewish tradition).

The first dish has chickpeas and spinach, both recommended for new moms, and a mild Middle Eastern flavor. Dried fruit is also recommended for new moms, and this versatile stewed compote can serve by itself as a starter or dessert. Or top oatmeal or yogurt with it for a breakfast or snack.

Chickpeas and Spinach with Yogurt Mint Sauce
Serves 4

This makes a mild dish. For a spicier one, double the garlic, black pepper and cumin and add a dash of ground cayenne red pepper.

1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbs. minced fresh mint leaves
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 Tbs. olive oil
½ medium onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
1-15 oz. can cooked chickpeas, rinsed well and drained (about 1 ¾ cups)
12 oz. fresh spinach leaves
1 cup vegetable broth
2½ cups cooked brown rice

Combine yogurt, mint and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir well and set aside for an hour. (Use non-dairy yogurt to make this dish vegan.)

Heat oil in large fry pan over medium high heat. Sauté onion until softened, add garlic, sauté until just brown. Add salt, pepper, cinnamon and cumin and sauté for a minute. Add chickpeas, stirring well. Place spinach leaves on top of chickpea mixture, packing down if necessary. Add vegetable broth. Cover. Cook until spinach is cooked, stirring occasionally so spinach and chickpeas are thoroughly mixed. Taste and correct seasonings. Serve on brown rice topped with yogurt sauce.

Stewed Fruit Compote
Serves 4

I used a combination of prunes, apricots, cherries and figs for my compote, but any selection of dried fruits will work.

1 lb. mixed dried and pitted fruits
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
½ cup water
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

In a small pot, mix fruit, lemon zest and water. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until just simmering. Cover. Put heat on low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes until fruit is soft and most of the liquid is evaporated. (Cooking times may vary depending on fruit.) Remove from heat, stir in juice. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.
About the photo: Not your grandmother's stewed prunes -- compote with prunes, apricots, cherries and figs.