Saturday, April 26, 2008

At the crossroads of Passover and moving

Keeping kosher for Passover is difficult enough in a normal year. But when you are in the midst of moving and thus all of your cooking utensiles are packed away AND when you want to be eating all of the goodness that New York has to offer before you turn your nose up at her culinary largesse, then following the rules is particularly hard.

But we have been dutiful, and very creative (well creative once and then extremely repetitive.) Our meals this week have consisted of primarily Passover rolls with chicken salad (Daniel) or matzoh with turkey (me) for lunch. And then for dinner take-out Chinese, Thai, or Peruvian served with matzoh farfel in place of rice. I like to think of it as fusion...

Except that from each restaurant, our choices are very limited due to the eating restrictions, so I've basically subsisted on some sort of chicken, steamed vegetables, and the farfel all week. Sometimes when it's Thai there's a little papaya salad on the side. Very exciting. To keep things interesting I've been pouring sriracha on everything.

Because I missed baking so much, I decided to make use of a box of Passover cake mix that we had sitting in our cupboard from last year. Of course, all of our baking accoutrement were packed, so I improvised, and used an enormous Corning Ware. I decided to add all of the chocolate we had still in the house, so I threw in some leftover bittersweet chocolate morsels, I cut up a half a dark chocolate bar that had been sitting in the freezer, and disassembled some truffles to keep things interesting. Then I swirled in some dulce de leche syrup. The results - well, I get points for trying. Definitely not for aesthetics...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This year in Brooklyn...

So all of this packing has me a bit behind in the blogging, but here's a quick run down of our big seder. On the menu, lots of old favorites - brisket, mini potato knishes, Ariel's famous charoset (which I have to say was at its finest this year), matzoh ball soup with a horseradish pastou (that's a sauce, I didn't know either, until I found the recipe in Food and Wine), roasted asparagus and cauliflower, a big green salad (California style thanks to Nina), and for dessert chocolate covered macaroons and Susan Berson's chocolate chip kosher for Passover chocolate chip pudding cake.

The pudding cake, moist, delicious, SO addictive

Chocolate macaroons; I can never believe how easy these little guys are to make

I was pleased with it all, although there were moments of nerves and anxiety (especially when the cake, which Susan prepares in mile high Denver, took about 30 minutes longer to set than the recipe called for) and when I ran out of ingredients for the brisket sauce and had to run from store to store to find them.

But over all I felt calmer than I had in years past and it was so, so lovely to be with the whole gang as we didn't have a Brooklyn seder last year and with the move to California, next year is bound to be a little different. So, at the risk, of sounding sentimental, it was a very special night. But then there was the clean up -

Only a fraction of the aftermath

Friday, April 18, 2008

Sushi 101

Daniel and I celebrated our anniversary last night with dinner at what I think I can safely say is our favorite restaurant - Sushi Yasuda. This was our fourth time at this hallowed establish, but our first in front of the magician himself, Yasuda-san. What a way to go out.

We decided to forgo appetizers to focus on just the fish, and other than Daniel's eating restrictions (which Yasuda delightfully clarified with hand gestures mimicking scaled fish, eel, scallops, sea urchin) we left ourselves in his able hands. As he placed piece after piece of smooth, buttery, creamy, delicious morsels sushi in front of us, he schooled us in the ways of sushi. Some important points -

- a proper sushi meal does not include an appetizer

-a piece of sushi is optimally eaten five seconds after it is created to achieve the perfect dance of temperatures between the cold fish and slightly warm rice (making sitting at the sushi bar a purer experience)

-sashimi is a pretty new invention and less complete than sushi as rice is the true art of the cuisine (it's like a hamburger without the bun, he said)

-when you eat a sushi roll, it should have one ingredient, more than that is like polygamy

He also showed us how to properly pick up a piece of sushi if we wanted to dip it into extra soy sauce (he had pre-applied some with a brush, and suggested that we not add more, but if we REALLY had to, this was the way to do it...) He also gave us a history of sushi in Japan and the States. He was altogether delightful. But what really made the evening so fantastic was the food. Just heaven. Some stand outs:

-toro: buttery, melt in your mouth, sigh...

-eel: I had two kinds, I can't tell you which was which, but no one does eel like Sushi Yasuda

-several kinds of yellow tail

-hand rolls : Daniel's was blue fin tuna, I think; mine was uni (sea urchin); both were phenomenal; the seaweed kind of crunchy and more flavorful than you can believe seaweed could be; the rice warm and delectable; the perfect ratio of wasabi smeared inside; and then that incredible, incredible high quality fish

-oyster: half an oyster (Yasuda said they were so big he had to cut them in half) sprinkled with salt

-some kind of Japanese fish that Yasuda said has no name in English: firmer than many of the other fish; it tasted almost shiny

Honestly, there was nothing that I put in my mouth that didn't make me close my eyes with delight and utter disbelief. We hear that there is no place like Yasuda in the Bay Area. It will certainly be fun to search out a place that is even half the sushi fun house as Yasuda's palace. But Daniel has promised me that we will get to go back and visit our new friend the next time we're in NY.

Who's afraida a seder?

Preparations area well under way for our last Brooklyn seder for the foreseeable future. The first step was making Alice Waters' chicken stock to use for matzoh ball soup.

I spent many hours on Wednesday checking regularly on this pot of chicken, veggies, spices, and lots of water, worrying that it would never transform into the delicate broth that my idol Alice had promised.

The good news was that after an hour in this fragrant, the breasts of the beautiful organic, free-range bird were poached and tender and flavorful, and in a moment of inspiration, I decided that Daniel and I should have tortas for dinner.

So when 8:00 rolled around, we toasted some buns, heated up some refried black beans, chopped a few pickled jalapenos and an avocado, and created this guy, modeled after the delicious tortas we'd gorged on in Sunset Park many weeks ago.

By the time we were done with dinner, the stock had thickened and soaked up a bunch of flavor. I strained it, let it cool, and now it's sitting in a big pot in our fridge under a layer of chicken fat, waiting to be skimmed and turned into matzoh ball soup.

Then yesterday we hit up Fairway in Red Hook along with the rest of Jewish Brooklyn. Armed with our list, we ran a kind of Kosher Supermarket Sweep, and amazingly made it in and out of the store in about an hour.

Now I've got some eggs hard boiling for the seder plate and tonight, I'll start on the macaroons. Very exciting...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Bread Project - Whole Grain Focaccia

Yesterday, as I was making myself a little breakfast (the usual English muffin with Laughing Cow and jam - gotta stock up now before Passover and Europe interrupt my flow), I realized that we had no bread for Daniel's lunch.

Being the crafty baker that I've become, I thought, "Looks like a job for the bread project," and I thumbed through my recipes for something that I could make fairly quickly with ingredients that we had already in house. And so whole grain focaccia was born. I have no idea where I found this recipe, but with only one half hour rise, it fit the bill. I adapted it slightly, substituting a cup of white bread flour for one of the whole wheat cups to make it a little lighter, and forgoing sprinkling garlic on top. Instead I went for some rosemary, oregano, and gray sea salt. It came out very nicely, and I think Daniel's sandwich (turkey, hummus, and hot sauce) looked pretty good...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

You have 21

Last night, in a fit of true decadence, Daniel, our friend Alex, and I went to the 21 Club for dinner.

Daniel and I had been once a few years ago for his birthday and had been very eager to return ever since. So as a part of our let's-eat-everything- delicious-in-New York-before-we-move extravaganza, we headed back last night with Alex in tow.

We arrived at 8:30 and without hesitation ordered pre-prandial drinks. This is not a place where it is permissible not to drink. I had my usual vodka soda, Alex a martini, and Daniel on Alex's urging ordered a Manhattan. We felt quite yar, with the boys in their required coats and ties and me in a black dress.

The decision on what to eat was an easy one. We all went for the famous 21 Burger. Daniel had had one on our first 21 outing, and there was no way we were ordering anything else. We each ordered a salad as an appetizer, and we chose a mix of French fries and the pommes souflees as the potatoes to accompany our burgers. Alex also chose a bottle of red wine to keep our palates whet and wet.

The verdict: Daniel's (a beet and goat cheese) and Alex's (bibb lettuce with tomato and a huge hunk of blue cheese) salads were both really good. Both cheeses were really pungent in a fine way and Daniel's beets were sweet and nicely crunchy. Alex was so taken with his tomatoes that he apologized for being unwilling to share. My chopped salad, on the other hand, was not so good. Lots and lots of lettuce swimming in a kind of flavorless mayonnaise based dressing. Luckily, I had the yummy bread basket to keep me company (loved the raisin walnut rolls), and frankly, the less I filled myself with salad, the greater the chance that I would be able to finish my BURGER.

Oh that burger. Apparently cooked in duck fat, served on a grilled brioche bun with grilled onions, one little grilled tomato, and some "21 sauce" (ketchup mixed with spicy mustard) on the side, this burger is transcendent. So rich, so perfectly salty, so compellingly charred on the outside and pink on the inside. Just glorious. The French fries were excellent representatives of the skinny, slightly crispy variety and these pommes souflees characters were fantastic, little puffed up crisps of fried potato, which became soft as they deflated from one's bite. I ended up not being able to finish my burger, and frankly, since I woke up this morning it's all I've been able to think about.

We finished the evening with post-prandial drinks for the boys and coffee for me. And then we were so taken with our decadence on a Monday evening that we headed downtown to another past conquest, the Brandy Library, an incredible Tribeca bar that features the most complete array of brown liquors I've ever seen.

Heading home in a cab in the wee hours, I felt nothing but pride. This is the send-off New York deserves.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Just wait until there are bake sales to bake for!

This picture reminds me of those print ads that make big pieces of top sirloin look like landscapes. But this is no rich mulching soil. These are brownies. (With broken up pieces of Reeses peanut butter cups hidden inside! - clearly, Daniel's suggestion.)

Made with the Baker's chocolate one bowl brownie recipe, which I've been making since I was nine years old. It's a never fail. Daniel had a picnic to attend on Sunday, so of course, I HAD to bake something. Looking into the future, I can see myself getting a little fanatical when school bake sales come along. I'm going to be that crazy mother who arrives with brownies, cakes, and cookies (and blondies and lemon bars and sweet bread and pies). I will be an embarrassment to all who know me.

** I included this picture because I found it very funny that on being asked to photograph the brownies, Daniel, for effect, put the Tupperware inside of our planter of dead basil. Very artful indeed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Got to use up that chametz!

With all of the baking I've been doing, I've accrued a large amount of flour, sugar, corn meal, oats, baking soda, etc, etc, etc. I gaze at my baking cabinet like a proud mother, beaming at all of my little boxes and bags. But Passover and the Move loom, so I've got to use it all up. This week is about finishing the flour in advance of Passover, and then next week I'll finish off the non-chametz baking supplies before we have to pack up all of our belongings.

So yesterday afternoon, I adapted a Whole Foods recipe for sunflower cherry oatmeal breakfast bars. I did flaxseeds instead of sunflowers and pluot butter instead of cherry preserves and fresh tangerine juice instead of orange juice, and the result - delicious. A real keeper.

Oh lolly lolly

Scratch another must-sample-before-moving-to-California restaurant off of the list - Wednesday night we hit Tangra Masala, which serves Indian-style Chinese food. In much the same way that this country has added its own flavor to Chinese (and Italian and Japanese, etc) cuisine, so have the Indians, and in Elmhurst, Queens one can sample this fusing of tastes. (Although one does have to wonder if American tastes have filtered into Indian Chinese served in New York, making it New York Indian Chinese...)

Anyway, here's what we had...

Lolly Pop Chicken - pieces of fried chicken that look a little bit like lolly pops, with some sort of Thousand Island like dipping sauce.

The verdict: I'm ashamedly not a huge fried chicken fan, and that's what this basically amounted to. It really didn't taste particularly Indian or Chinese to me. But Daniel and our friend Alex seemed to enjoy the pieces, especially after they dipped the lollies in hot sauce.

Steamed vegetable momos - served with an almost salsa like sauce

The verdict: I'm curious about calling these momos, as I thought momos were a purely Tibetan phenomenon. Although, I suppose Tibet is at the crossroads of China and India. These were smaller than Tibetan momos that I've had and shaped slightly differently. The noodle part was a little dry, but the filling was well-flavored and the hot sauce was delicious. I even ate a spoonful of it by itself.

Tangra Masala Pan fried noodles - crunchy fried noodles, made mushy with lots of vegetables and a tomato based sauce on top

The verdict: the loser of the night for me. While I liked the crispness of the veggies, the sauce tasted like Chef Boyardee. On the recommendation of the waiter, we also tried the Tangra Masala chicken, which I also wasn't wild about. There was definitely something very Uh-oh Spaghetti-O's about it (which when I made the comparison, launched an enjoyable conversation about advertising, so there was a bright side.)

Goat Manchurian - pieces of goat with really fragrant spices

The verdict: One of my favorites. At Tangra Masala, you can order most of the dishes either dry or with gravy. Although my instincts would have led me to gravy, on the insistent recommendation of some chowhounders, we went dry for everything but the chicken Tangra Masala. This turned out to be a good call. Not having the gravy really allowed the flavor of the spices in the other dishes to emerge really nicely.

Chili Chicken - pieces of chicken fried almost sweet and sour style (without the sauce) with a spice mix similar to the goat.

The verdict: I almost never eat little morsels of Chinese style fried chicken, even though I used to love sesame chicken and the like, so this was a real treat. I wish it had been a little spicier though.

Gobi manchurian - lightly breaded pieces of cauliflower with cumin and some other lovely spices.

The verdict: as far as I'm concerned, the winner hands-down. Really unique tasting. Wonderful texture. The breading was so well seasoned, but you didn't lose the crunch or the consistency of the cauliflower at all. Fantastic.

All in all, it was a good night. I can't say I was blown away by the meal, but I'm very glad that we finally made it over there.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

My old friend the Upper West Side

Had the chance to walk around the Upper West Side yesterday. Lord, am I going to miss this city. Lots of memories. Couldn't help but thinking of what life was like when Daniel and Eric lived up there. Daniel and I always reminisce about our diets that year - spicy Cheese Nips, Top Ramen, hummus and challah, grape gingerale, and lots and lots of Ben and Jerry's. Boy things have changed.

The incomparable Zabars

Stopped at H&H and got an everything bagel for Daniel. H&H is not my favorite, but he really loves them. He ate half of it for breakfast this morning with some Laughing Cow and sliced tomato. Very restrained, and he seemed satisfied.

Cross another one off my list of foods that I have to eat before leaving the city - giant chocolate chip and walnut cookie from Levain Bakery on 74th Street. They're famous for their ooey, gooey scone size cookies. I'd been dying to try one for ages. I was going to take the whole thing home to share with Daniel, but then when I bought this, it was warm. So there was no question. I ate my half then and there. It was everything that was wonderful about a chocolate chip cookie. I'm in love.

Happy Birthday Ben! - carrot cake and CCCs

On Saturday night we celebrated my buddy Ben's birthday. A perfect excuse for baking. After asking him about his sweet preferences, I settled on carrot cake and chocolate chip cookies with toffee bits. The carrot cake was based on my friend Lynn's grandmother's recipe. Full of pineapple, cinnamon, a little rum extract, and of course, loads of carrots. Absolutely delicious.

As I've said before, I'm not great at the aesthetics of baking, so I enlisted the delicate Daniel to aid me in frosting (a decadent cream cheese, butter, and powdered sugar number.)

Using techniques he's seen on Ace of Cakes, Daniel shaved the top of one cake to make them stack well and went to work with our make shift cake plate (an inverted bundt cake pan). He did an excellent job, and I have to say, the cake was a huge hit. I'm glad to have it in my repertoire.

I was less thrilled with the outcome of the chocolate chip cookies, from the Alton Brown chewy recipe. I'd made these before and been really pleased with them. They'd been moist and chewy and really perfect, so I was excited to make them again with broken up Skor bar. But this time, for some reason, they didn't turn out as well. Very cakelike for some reason. One day, I'll be a good enough baker to understand why sometimes things work and sometimes they don't.