Saturday, March 27, 2010

Homemade Gefilte Fish

Passover has been wonderful so far. The greatest accomplishment of the Seder was the homemade gefilte fish. My mother and I had a lot of fun preparing this recipe. We also learned a lot in the process. We were worried if the fish would smell bad (it did not), if we would have to deal with fish heads (we did!), and how difficult the process would be. It took under 45 minutes of active preparation. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers preparing gifilte fish for days is part of Jewish legends. I've heard stories about ladies who kept the fish in the bathtub to make sure that it was fresh! With the help of a fish counter and food processor, ours did not take the same amount of time-- but it was fantastic. Try it yourself and serve with horseradish. Don't be scared, it was fun. I will definitely be doing it again next year.

Sweet Style Gefilte Fish (Polish Style) (Adapted from Kosher Express)

What You Need (Broth and Gefilte Fish)
- Fish Bones from fish store
- 3 Carrots
- 2 celery ribs
- 3 small onions
- 3 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 pound carp, ground
- 1/2 pound whitefish, ground
- 1/2 pound pike, ground
- 2 eggs
- l medium minced onion
- l large minced carrot
- l stalk minced celery
- 1/3 cup matzo meal, about
- 2 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 tsp. black pepper
- 3/4 cup sugar (I didn't use this much this time, but next time I will)

What You Do

1. Start with making the fish stock by covering the fish bones, carrots, celery, and onions with water.
2. Add about 1/3 cup sugar and 3 teaspoons salt into the water.
3. Bring to a boil and then simmer while you prepare the remainder of the gefilte fish.
4. Ground the fish if it is not ground. The fish counter prepared the fish (we actually had a pound of each fish) but they would not grind it for us. Also, I had to take off some of the remaining skin. I then cut the fish up and used the food processor to grind the fish. Recipes call for adding water during this process to make sure that the fish remains the right consistency- I didn't need to.

5. Mince the carrots, onion, and celery.
6. Mix together the ground fish and vegetables.
7. Add the eggs, matzoh meal, salt, pepper, sugar (don't be scared, use it all!).
8. Chill, for easier handling, then shape into balls, using wet hands (re-dip as necessary) to form balls.
9. Add fish balls to the fish stock (with all the goods in the stock-- including the fish bones and heads!) and simmer covered for 2 hours.

10. Chill well.

11. Enjoy with boiled carrots and horseradish.
This is me looking "smug" (as my mother said) with a great sense of accomplishment-- homemade gefilte fish!

Oven Braised Barbecued Brisket

Although I'm cutting meat out of my daily life, I decided that I do not want to extend that practice to holiday celebrations. There is something very special about brisket on Passover. I am not ready to let go of that tradition (at least not yet). Here is the recipe my mother and I will be using this year for our Passover Seder on the first night.

Oven Braised Barbecued Brisket (from Gourmet Today)

What You Need
- 1 (4 pound) beef brisket, preferably second cut
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons veggie oil
- 1 large onion (halved lengthwise and thinly sliced lengthwise)
- 1 cup beef stock (reduced sodium)
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1/3 cup cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- Parchment paper

What You Do
1. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 325.
2. Pat brisket dry and rub salt and pepper all over it.
3. Heat oil in 12 inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
4. Add brisket and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 10 minutes.
5. Transfer brisket to a 13-by-9 inch baking dish.
6. Add onion to skillet and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until browned 7 to 8 minutes.
7. Add stock and deglaze skillet by boiling, scraping up browned bits for 1 minute.
8. Stir in remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
9. Pour sauce over brisket.
10. Cover meat with a sheet of parchment and cover pan tightly with foil.
11. Braise in oven turning meat once, until fork tender 3-3.5 hours.
12. Transfer brisket to a cutting board and slice across the grain.
13. Skim off and discard fat from surface of sauce. Serve sauce spooned over meat.

Passover Planning

I'm getting very excited for Passover (beginning Monday night this year). My mother and I are going to be taking a very big step this year and making our own Gefilte Fish. This will be the first time that we do not use a frozen loaf.

Our menu is as follows:
- Chopped Liver, Hummus, and Matzah
- 2 varieties of Charoset
- Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls
- Homemade Gefilte Fish
- Spring Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette Dressing
- Veggie Stew with Dumplings
- Oven Braised Barbecued Brisket

Passover this year is going to be a great start for spring. After returning from the holiday, I am looking forward to getting lots of different varieties of seeds going and making plans for some container gardening!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Easiest Soup Ever

It was a beautiful day in DC. I went to the farmers' market today and picked up some leeks and potatoes. I made the easiest soup (but still yummy) from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

I am in the process of re-evaluating my diet and beginning the spring with a fresh start. I'm reducing my consumption of meat and eliminating high fructose corn syrup from my diet. I'll post more about my thoughts on the new changes in the coming weeks. For now, here is the soup recipe:

Potato and Leek Soup

What You Need
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 3 leeks
- 3 medium potatoes
- 4 cups water
- Salt and pepper to taste

What You Do
1. Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes.
2. Wash the leeks very well and slice the whites and the light green parts into thin slices.
3. Heat butter.
4. Saute the leeks and potatoes in butter for 2-3 minutes.
5. Add water and cook until potatoes are very tender, about 20 minutes.
6. Salt and pepper to taste.


Also, I am out of town the next week, but when I get back I am going to start planting seeds for the season. Stay tuned for news on what I'm going to be planting and (hopefully) harvesting in 2010!

Saturday, March 6, 2010


A friend of mine had a pot luck dinner party last night. I was excited to think of starters to bring and had an interest in figuring out how to use filo dough. So, I came up with the decision to attempt spanakopita. It was a fabulous success. Most of the mini pies (with the exception of two) were gone by the time I left the party. One of the guests even had four of them! Also, it wasn't as hard to do as I had expected. I'm sad I don't have any pictures to share, below is a photo from google (I swear mine looked just like these). I really need to get a new camera.

Here is what I did:

Spanakopita (from the Food Network)

What You Need

-1/3 cup olive oil
-2 pounds spinach, washed and drained
-1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, chopped
-1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper
-1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
-2 eggs, lightly beaten
-1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
-1 pound filo pastry sheets

What You Do

1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saute pan, add half of the spinach and saute until spinach wilts, tossing with tongs, about 2 minutes.
2. Remove spinach and squeeze out excess liquid, then chop roughly.
3. Repeat with remaining spinach, using 1 more tablespoon of olive oil. (My pan wasn't big enough to do it in two batches, I needed to do four.)
4. Pour off any liquid from the pan, and add remaining olive oil.
5. Add scallions and saute until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Add the spinach to the scallions, along with the parsley, salt and pepper.
7. Cook over low heat for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat to cool. (This part can be done ahead and kept refrigerated).
8. Stir the feta and as much beaten egg to moisten the cooled spinach mixture.
9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
10. Brush a baking sheet with some of the melted butter.
11. Unroll the filo dough on a flat surface.
12. Using a sharp knife, cut the filo into 3 by 11 inch strips.
13. Use a pastry brush to brush a strip of filo with melted butter.
14. Place a small spoonful of spinach filling 1 inch from the end of the pastry.
15. Fold the end over the filling to form a triangle, then continue to fold up the strip in triangles, like folding up a flag.
16. Continue with remaining strips of dough, placing filled triangles on the baking sheet. (The recipe instructs you to keep all items with filo covered with a towel to avoid becoming brittle, I didn't do this and it turned out fine).
17. Brush the triangles lightly with butter, then bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden and crisp.
18. Serve hot.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

My grandmother just moved out of her old apartment and in the process gave me boxes and boxes of kitchen items. Included in these boxes was my grandma's famous pressure cooker. Famous, mostly, for making grandma's chicken. I am still working the grandma's chicken recipe to perfect it before posting, but I wanted to give you a taste of my excitement about the pressure cooker.

It cooks things in minutes! It is amazing! Go get a pressure cooker!

Okay, now that that is out of my system, I can tell you that the first attempt at grandma's chicken was a success and got me interested in learning more about the pressure cooker. So, while my mother was in town in past weekend visiting, we tried the pressure cooker for a beef stew. It turned out wonderfully and in less than a third of the time for a stew in the oven.

I adapted two recipes, the first from Busy Cooks and the other from the Yankee Pot Roast in Pressure Cooking for Everyone by Rick Rodgers and Arlene Ward. Here is what we did:

Pressure Cooker Beef Stew

What You Need

- 1-1/2 lbs. beef stew meat cut into cubes
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 Tbsp. oil
- 2 cups beef broth
- 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 onion, cut into 8 wedges
- 2 bay leaves
- 5 carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 4 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 1 inch chunks
- 3 stalks celery, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. pepper
- 2 Tbsp. butter (unsalted)
- 2 Tbsp. flour

What You Do:
1. Coat meat with flour.
2. Heat oil in pressure cooker over medium heat.
3. Add the meat and cook uncovered until well browned, stirring occasionally.
4. Transfer meat to a plate.
5. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 3 minutes.
6. Add the bay leaves.
7. Add beef broth (hot or at room temp), Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, and marjoram. Scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
8. Return meat to the pot.
9. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
10. Close cover and bring to high pressure, then pressure cook for 15 minutes. (High pressure means the button on the pressure cooker pops up! It is very cool to see this happen).
11. Remove from heat, reduce pressure, and remove cover. (I reduced pressure by opening the vent to remove steam, you can also run the pot under cold water).
12. Add the vegetables (including diced tomatoes and their juices), salt, and pepper.
13. Close cover and return to high pressure, then cook 15 more minutes. (The recipes called for 5 minutes but we like the veggies really tender).
14. Remove from heat, reduce pressure, and remove cover. (You could stop here but we wanted to thicken the sauce! For thicker sauce follow the remaining steps:)
15. Remove meat and veggies, leaving the cooking liquid.
16. Remove the bay leaves and let stand for 5 minutes.
17. In a small bowl, work the butter and flour together until smooth.
18. Whisk 1 cup of the cooking liquid into the butter/flour mixture to make a thin paste.
19. Bring the cooking liquid to a boil over medium heat.
20. Whisk in the paste and cook until the liquid reduces slightly and thickens into a light-bodied gravy (6 minutes).
21. Mix the gravy in with the veggies and meat and serve some extra gravy on the side.

We served the stew with egg noodles. It is a wonderful dish for a cold winter day and makes great left overs.

More to come on the pressure cooker! Stay tuned.

Rooting DC 2010

Sat. Feb. 20, I spent the afternoon at Rooting DC - a day long event at the Historical Society of Washington Building featuring panel discussions, information sessions, presentations, and demonstrations on food, gardening, and agriculture in DC! I know a couple weeks have passed, but I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned and share my excitement about the event (so you can keep an eye out for next year).

I attended four sessions. One on canning, another composting, urban agriculture and the last on container gardening. Although I learned a lot in the other sessions, I will focus on what I learned from Jennifer Jefferson in her session on Container Gardening with Herbs for obvious reasons.

Jennifer told us the following:
  • Take advantage of a sunny window, deck or patio to grow containers of herbs!
  • With herbs, "the more you pinch it, the more it grows".
  • Herbs are the gift that keeps on giving! And all you need is sun, soil, water, and a container.
  • Containers can be ANYTHING. Jennifer used the example of an old shoe that she turned into a container for herbs.
  • For large pots consider: lemon balm and mint.
  • Great herbs for containers include: anise, basil, cilantro, chives, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, and thyme.
  • Container gardening adds fragrance and beauty anywhere you place the containers.

Here are the steps to starting a container garden with herbs:

  1. Read about the herb of interest.
  2. Plan an area designated for the herb.
  3. Buy or pick up some pots (don't spend too much $$)
  4. Wash pots with soap and hot water.
  5. Fill up the pot with potting soil (you can use mulch halfway in the container).
  6. Plant the herb (she uses plants that are already started, but see my old posts on starting herbs from seeds).
  7. Take care of it, the plants have feelings too.

Jennifer was fantastic and I can't wait to start some new herbs from seed to get going for this upcoming season. She recommended checking out the following book: The Edible Herb Garden by Creasy. I'll check it out and let you know if I learn anything important as I begin my renewed adventure with container gardening this season.

The other great thing about Rooting DC was the free lunch and the goody bag with many packets of seeds inside. It is a great starting place for me for the spring. I definitely suggest checking out the event next year.

Rooting DC got me out of the gloom of the winter and got me thinking about the spring and summer coming around the corner.