Sunday, September 30, 2012

Mac and Cheese Cold and Hot to the Rescue for Meatless Monday AND National Vegetarian Day (with Vegan Options)

Can you guess the secret ingredient in this Crazy Mac and Cheese?
Whenever my mother got out the pot to make her version of the “Dirty” Macaroni and Cheese Salad below my sisters and I would go sit outside on our front steps and wait for my uncle to show up. He seemed to have a second sense as to when my mom would be making his favorite salad.

Tasty and easy adaptable, dishes based on pasta and cheese are adult and kid friendly for a meatless Monday or any day, even National Vegetarian Day (Monday, October 1 this year).

Crazy Mac and Cheese is my take on the boxed macaroni and cheeses my sons seemed to prefer to my carefully crafted home-made versions full of stuff they declared “yucky.”  It has lots of cheese, a smooth texture, the requisite orange color and includes a few surprises.

I used a creamy Israeli sheep’s milk feta in the Pasta with Olive Oil, Feta Cheese, Olives and Herbs but any feta would work well in the recipe.
See the recipes for options for making these recipes vegan.

“Dirty” Macaroni and Cheese Salad
Serves 8

Dirty in the title of this recipe refers to using some of the olive brine in the salad. Substitute vegan cheese and mayonnaise to make a vegan version of this salad. I recommend Daiya brand cheddar shreds or wedges (cut in cubes) and like both Earth Balance and Vegenaise brand vegan mayonnaise.
8 oz. dried elbow macaroni
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped green olives stuffed with pimentos, cut in 1/4” pieces
3 Tbs. brine (liquid) from olive jar
1/2 cup chopped green onion, white and light green parts only
1 cup chopped red bell pepper, cut in 1/4” cubes
3 oz. orange-colored sharp cheddar cheese, cut into 1/4” cubes (about a heaping 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper, or to taste

Cook macaroni according to package directions. Drain. Toss in oil. Let cool. Stir in all other ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Crazy Mac and Cheese
Serves 4-6

Baking the mac and cheese melds the flavors and makes the squash and cheese combination work. Make your own winter squash puree or find it frozen or as jarred baby food in the supermarket.  I haven't tried it, but there is no reason a vegan version with vegan margarine, soy milk and vegan cheeses wouldn't work. (FYI - I like Earth Balance original spread, Trader Joe's unflavored and unsweetened soy milk and Daiya vegan cheddar shreds.  I don't have a preferred brand of vegan American cheese since I use it so rarely.  If you have one you like, leave a comment below and share.)

Oil Spray
8 oz. dried elbow or shell macaroni
3 Tbs. butter
3 Tbs. flour
1 and1/2 cup skim, reduced fat or whole milk plus additional if needed
4 oz. orange-colored sharp cheddar cheese, grated  
3 slices of American cheese, chopped
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. dry ground mustard
½ to 1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1 cup cooked winter squash puree (such as butternut or acorn)
Vegetable Sprinkles (optional, see below)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8” x8” baking dish or casserole and set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and keep warm.
Melt butter in sauce pan over low heat, whisk in flour until well combined. Pour in milk whisking as you pour until well combined. Raise heat to medium. Stirring or whisking often, cook until liquid thickens to about half. Add in cheeses, stirring until melted. Stir in paprika, pepper, mustard and ½ tsp. salt. Mix in puree and stir until combined. Add more milk if needed to keep mixture creamy. Taste and add more salt if needed and correct other seasonings. Mix sauce with cooked pasta. Place in greased baking dish and bake for 20-30 minutes until sauce is bubbling and top is just starting to brown. Serve with Vegetable Sprinkles if desired.

Vegetable Sprinkles – Finely chop raw red and yellow bell peppers, carrots, celery, or other vegetables your family likes. Let kids and others sprinkle atop their servings.

Pasta with Olive Oil, Feta Cheese, Olives and Herbs
Serves 6-8

I don't have a good feta substitute for a vegan version, but I'm thinking some Daiya wedge jack cheese cut into cubes might work.  Or try pressing the mositure out of some firm tofu and cutting into cubes and use those.  Skip the Parmesan cheese and substitute a sprinkle of nutritional yeast on top when serving if desired.

1 lb. dried pasta such as penne or rigatoni
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 1/2 cups drained and crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 oz. drained, pitted Kalmata olives, cut into quarters
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
Boil pasta until just tender. Drain. While still warm, mix with olive oil in large bowl. Add in cheeses, olives, parsley, mint, and pepper. Toss well. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled.
A version of this article first appeared in the j weekly.
For another mac and cheese recipe and more fond memories on Blog Appetit click here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Son Takes Granola & Goes, Leaves Parents in Empty Nest

Our youngest, once known as the Future Pastry Chef and the Future Architect and now known as the Future Technical Theater Arts Graduate, made a brief touchdown at Chez Blog Appetit recently after his return from his DisneyWorld college internship.

Before leaving to be a junior at University of California-Santa Cruz, Noah had time to sleep, visit friends, rent a house, get a job and watch a lot of television and make himself useful around the house (mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, etc.).  He also made his own version of his dad's  tasty granola recipe.  He included dried mango, more sweetener and less nuts in his granola. He took the whole bag with him to his new digs, so I didn't get a chance to sample it, but I bet it was delicious. 

I hope he'll share with his roommates, but you can see from the photo above, he already has his granola stash labeled, so maybe not.

Here's Gary's Granola recipe in case you'd like to make your own customized batch.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Suggestions for Delicious and Meaningful Rosh Hashanah Meals -- With Rabbi Frydman's Friend Neal's Brisket Recipe

Some of the symbolic foods of the Rosh Hashanah Seder
Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, sometimes spelled Rosh Hashana) is almost upon us and I thought I would do a little round up of High Holiday tips and recipes.

The first is my most recent compilation of  holiday recipes from the j. weekly.  At the j's suggestion, I interviewed rabbis who cook for some of their recipes and for some of the ways food adds meaning to their teachings as well as dining tables. The recipes give directions for a salad full of foods symbolic of the holiday blessings, a vegetarian pumpkin and chickpea entree and frosted brownies plus a vegan cholent for the break fast.

I had so many good responses from rabbis in the Bay area, the j. did not have room for all, so I wanted to be sure I got a chance to share Rabbi Pam Frydman's recipe for an easy, tasty brisket recipe.  Frydman was a congregational rabbi and is now director of the Holocaust Education Project of the Academy of Jewish Religion. She is also an author, with several books in the works, including a Holiday prayer book revision. Frydman’s menu for her holiday dinner includes a brisket recipe she got from her friend, Neal.
“Like all Jewish mothers, I make sure there is something appealing for every guest at my table,” she said. Like the other rabbis, she sees serving foods guests of all ages love as “a wonderful way to sweeten their relationship” with the holidays and a perfect recipe for the New Year.
The recipe is below.
Other Rosh Hashanah resources include:
My guide to the Rosh Hashanah Seder -- with a list of symbolic foods and their meanings
Recipes using some of the foods mentioned as having symbolic meaning at the holiday, including leek fritters, chicken tzimmes, chicken with chard, black-eyed peas, a pumpkin-date filo tart and more.
Everyone needs a chopped liver recipe:  here's my original version.  And here is one that is somewhat enlightened with a bit less cholesterol. 
Instead of gefilte fish, maybe try this gravlax recipe for home-cured salmon. Or perhaps this chopped herring salad from my husband's Aunt Lee.  It was so good it had grown men begging for more.
These Greek-Jewish inspired recipes include a fuss-free oregano baked chicken.
Here's a recipe for a one-pot dish -- Chicken with Barley
While I usually make a brisket for the holidays, the technique I use to cook it is in Pot Roast 101 with a recipe for tamarind pot roast.  (Plus a pot roast, which is very much like a brisket without the Yiddish accent, would be just fine for a holiday table.  I like to use a bone-in chuck roast.)
For another pot roast recipe that can be adapted for brisket, check out my zippy pot roast with cranberry sauce.
This grilled lamb would make a nice holiday entree.  It is based on some of the food traditions of the Karaite Egyptian Jewish community.
For an excellent vegetarian "Not Chicken Soup" and some beautiful vegan matzah balls (I call them matzofu balls), check out my recent j. weekly column here.
I'm a big fan of these red peppers stuffed with lentils with two sauces.  I've used it as a main course and as a side dish. (And the garlic sauce you make for it is killer!)
If you are looking for something to plop in the soup that gluten-free guests can slurp up, I recommend these chicken-almond dumplings.
Sweet and sour butternut squash is another side dish that works well for the holiday, plus it is really quick to make since it is based on a convenience food -- those cut-up cubes of butternut squash that are found in bags and plastic cartons in the refrigerated produce sections of most supermarkets now.
There are plenty more ideas throughout Blog Appetit, including lots of posts in the Jewish category.  Take a look around.  Find something you like, try it.  Let me know how it comes out.
Oh, and Happy New Year.
As promised Rabbi Frydman's brisket recipe:
Rabbi Frydman’s Friend Neal’s Brisket
Serves 8-10

3 1/2 to 4 lbs. beef brisket
About 5 peeled garlic cloves
1 oz. packet of onion soup mix
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
Soy sauce

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cut off any large chunks of fat from the brisket, rinse meat under running water and place in baking pan with a well-fitting lid. Slice garlic cloves in half lengthwise. Using a paring knife, cut a series of small slits in the meat, spacing them every four inches. Slit should be deep enough to enclose the entire garlic clove half.  Insert garlic clove halves into slits, turn meat over and repeat on the other side. Rub onion soup mix all over top side of the meat. If brisket is large, fold it and slather some of the mix on the top of the folded portion as well. Sprinkle with pepper. Squirt a few thick lines of ketchup on top of the meat from one end of the brisket to the other. Drizzle soy sauce from one end of brisket to the other parallel to the ketchup lines.

Pour water along the sides of the pan until there is a half inch of water along the bottom, being careful not to wash off the seasoning on the meat. Cover pan and place on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove, gently baste meat and add additional water if needed. Repeat every 30 minutes until the brisket is tender and a fork goes in easily. Depending on your pan and brisket, that can vary greatly and take about 2-3 1/2 hours or more.
Remove from oven, let cook, slice against the grain of the meat. Serve or store meat in the cooking liquid. Refrigerate if not using immediately. Warm brisket in reserved cooking liquid in 350 degree oven.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Happy 25th of Elul! Celebrate the First Day of Creation with My Ground Beef, Kale, Olives, Raisins & Almonds Recipe

One of the unexpected bonuses of doing so much writing about Jewish food and the association between food and observance in the religion is that I learn so much about Judaism.

I had a fairly secular upbringing (although my grandmother kept kosher, fed a pushke and pooh-poohed the evil spirits) and I did not receive much of a formal Jewish education.  I did go to some youth services and belonged to the synagogue youth group, went to high holiday services with my father and was raised in a Jewish state of mind (well, a Brooklyn-Jewish-Flatbush-Long Island-Ashkenazi state of mind.  Oh, and did I ever mention my rabbi was comedian Jackie Mason's brother?)

But I digress, my main point here is that researching the recipes and foods associated with Jewish traditions has not just broadened my waist line (I wish that was a joke) but my knowledge about Judaism. 

The celebration of the 25th of Elul (a date in the Jewish lunar calendar) is a good example of this process.

I was looking for something to base one of my recipe columns in the j. weekly on and was searching for a topic other than the impending Jewish New Year celebration.  I looked on the the Jewish calendar and saw it was the month of Elul.  After a little sleuthing about Elul (okay I checked Wikipedia and the Chabad site), I found out that the 25th of Elul (this year that's the 12th of September) is considered the first day of Creation.

No idea.

I always figured  the first day of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah - which starts the evening of September 16th this year) had that honor.   Wrong.  Definitely didn't attend youth services during Elul.  I might have learned the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the day man was created, the sixth day of creation.  But the start, the start was the 25th of Elul.

I got a (big) bang out of that.

If you are wondering about how food fits into this all, I'm getting to that.

Turns out the religious authorities advise us to celebrate the day by having a nice meal, in fact two nice meals – one in the afternoon and one in the evening.   It is considered propitious to consume two meals that day that feature bread and meat. We are also directed to eat something sweet to celebrate the creation and as a wish for a sweet year.

Since there are so many wonderful resources for bread near my home, I rarely bake it, so I didn't have a special bread recipe for the 25th, so be sure to pick up some tender challah or crusty artisan bread to serve with the Ground Beef with Kale, Olives, Raisins and Almonds. The recipe comes together very fast and makes a good dinner for any weeknight, not just the 25th of Elul. It has flavors that remind me of many Sephardic and Cuban dishes.

For something sweet, use your favorite cereal to make my Not-Your-Kid’s Marshmallow Treat Bars. You can see the recipe here.  (Be sure to use kosher marshmallows and parve cereal if you need to make those subsitutions.)

Ground Beef with Kale, Olives, Raisins and Almonds
Serves 8

2 Tbs. canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 lbs. ground beef (lean or very lean)
6 cups chopped kale, packed
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1-14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 cup thinly sliced green olives stuffed with pimentos
1/2 cup blanched, silvered almonds
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oil in a very large fry or sauté pan. Sauté onions over medium high heat until beginning to soften and turn brown, add garlic and sauté until just golden. Add salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, red pepper and cinnamon. Stir for a minute and then add beef.

Brown beef, breaking up any clumps (work in batches if your pan is not large enough and combine when all the beef is browned). Add kale. Sauté until kale begins to wilt, add tomato paste and diced tomatoes with liquid, stirring often until beef and vegetables are cooked through. Lower heat to medium. Stir in olives with pimentos, almonds and raisins. Sauté for a few minutes. Taste and correct seasonings if needed. Serve with bread and over cooked rice, couscous, pasta, grains or mashed potatoes if desired.
The original version of this post appeared in the j weekly.  You can see it here.
About the lack of photo. I apparently didn't take one of the ground beef dish. That happens sometimes. Oh Well.  Photo graphic from Microsoft Office clip art collection, my favorite source of royalty free art.   

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Tisket, A Tasket - I Like Vegetables Grilled in a Basket


I like to grill cut  up vegetables in my grill basket. Shaped like a saute pan or flat-bottomed wok, it is quicker than threading all the veggies on skewers and gives me all the char and taste.

This batch combines goodies my husband, Gary, scored from the farm stand -- baby eggplants and small, colorful hot peppers -- with onions and whole garlic cloves. You do need to stir and toss the veggies as they grill to prevent them from burning and to get them to cook evenly.

 Once the eggplant was tender and charred, I mixed the vegetables above with a batch of cherry tomatoes (also from the farm stand) I had previously cooked on the barbecue until they were soft and smoky in the grill basket.  I drizzled olive oil to taste, added salt, pepper, minced lemon zest and chopped basil and served as a side dish to my red-wine marinated grilled tofu and the guys' red-wine marinated flank steak.

 I used the marinade from this post.

To cook the tofu, I cut the block of tofu in half lengthwise and then in half crosswise, scored it deeply and marinated, turning often for about an hour before grilling on a greased rack.  I recommend cooking down the marinade and serving as a sauce otherwise it would be a bit dry.

To cook the flank steak, I did as directed in the post.  Be sure to let the steak rest 10 minutes or so before slicing it very thinly against the grain.

For an alternate version of the eggplant dish (made up more like a salsa with a slightly different flavor profile, plus ideas for other variations), please see my post here.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Lentils Sweet and Sour, Hot and Cold with Recipes

Some like it hot. Some like it cold (or perhaps room temperature). These lentil recipes are very obliging and can be served warm or room temperature. I am enamoured with lentils lately and decided to try two new recipes - one by a friend, another by a talented cookbook author and blogger.

Sweet and Sour Lentils is a favorite recipe of the Rosenthal family of Oakland. They even served it at their daughter’s bat mitzvah. Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil Pilaf is an unconventional approach to mujadara from Michael Natkin’s “Herbivoracious” (Harvard Common Press), a new vegetarian cookbook full of vibrant photos and recipes.

Recipes are used with permission (from Lori Rosenthal and Natkin's publisher's pr rep) and have been adapted for style and space as well as to reflect my experience making them.

Sweet and Sour Lentils
Serves 6-8
¼ cup soy sauce
1 bay leaf
3 Tbs. onion powder (granulated onion)
¾ cup vegetable oil
¾ cup honey or to taste
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 tsp. ground allspice
½ tsp. powdered ginger
4 cups water
3 cups lentils, picked over and rinsed
¼ cup chopped parsley

Put soy sauce, bay leaf, onion powder, oil, honey, vinegar, allspice, ginger and water in 4-qt. pot. Mix. Add lentils. Bring to a boil. Stir. Cover and lower heat. Simmer for 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours, adding water if necessary until lentils are tender but not mushy. Turn heat off and leave pot covered for 15 minutes. Uncover, remove bay leaf and stir. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature garnished with parsley. (Note: Use the brown or green "supermarket" style lentils. Vegans who don't eat honey can substitute agave nectar for the honey.)

Middle Eastern Rice and Lentil Pilaf
From “Herbivoracious” by Michael Natkin
Serves 6

¼ cup vegetable oil
3 lbs. white onions, sliced moderately thin
2 tsp. plus 1 tsp. kosher salt
½ cup white wine, dry vermouth or water
6 cups cooked long-grain white or brown rice, warm (see note)
3 cups cooked lentils, warm (see note)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small handful of parsley, coarsely chopped
Flaky sea salt

Heat oil in very large skillet over medium low heat. Add onions and 2 tsp. kosher salt and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft, about 45 minutes. Turn up heat to medium high and continue cooking about 20 minutes more, stirring often, until deeply browned and sweet. Pour in wine and stir to scrape up bits at bottom of pan. Mix half the onions with the rice, lentils, cinnamon, cumin, 1 tsp. kosher salt and several grinds of black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings (see note below). Form a mound of rice and lentils on platter, top with remaining onions, parsley, a grind of pepper and a few grains of the sea salt to taste. Serve warm or at room temperature. (Note: Cook the rice and lentils while the onions are cooking. Use regular brown or green lentils, not red lentils or the small, dark green French lentils. For three cups of cooked lentils, combine 2 cups of water with 1 cup of dried lentils. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender but not falling apart. Drain excess liquid. Natkin notes his recipe makes a milder, earthier mujadara, but he encourages experimentation. For a more assertive taste, try doubling the cumin and cinnamon and or adding ¼ tsp. of red pepper flakes.)

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form in the j.