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Posts Tagged ‘jewish’

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As you saw from my last post, we had Thanksgiving in Merida this year at my mom’s. Since we’re not a traditional posse, we decided not to do a traditional meal. But let’s be honest here, turkey was not on the original Thanksgiving menu, a feast that lasted for 3 days and included seal, deer, fowl (most historians think it was actually duck and goose), lobster, and other seafood creatures. So, are we the non-traditional family or are all of you who eat turkey?

With that, being a Jewish family, we decided to make brisket. Being the best cook in the family I was charged with braising the bovine. However, back to the non-traditional thing, I did not do a traditionally Jewish-flavored brisket. Since we were in the Yucatan I decided to do a Yucatecan-flavored brisket, something that every Mayan Jew in the world could enjoy. In Spanish brisket is called faldo de res, pibil is traditional Mayan seasoning (sour orange and achiote), hence, we ate Faldo de Res Pibil.

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My ingredient list included 5 tbsp achiote paste, 1.5 tbsp dried cilantro, 1.5 tbsp peppercorns, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp cinnamon, 2 cups sour orange juice, 2 cups water, 1 tbsp salt, and 2 tbsp minced garlic. Oh, and 3 pounds of faldo de res.

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Really simple, I mixed everything together in my mom’s braising pan, drowned the brisket in it, covered it, and let it slowly braise in the oven at about 275 degrees for about 6 hours or so.

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I also made Yucatecan pickled onions. I sliced up 7 small onions and boiled them for about 10 minutes.

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After that, I strained them and let them soak in a mix of 1 cup of orange juice and the juice from 1.5 limes. I put that all in the fridge and let it rest until serving time.

While everything was in the oven we all decided to head out to a festival being held in the town of Tekanto, about 45 minutes from Merida. They had set up a bull fighting ring in the town center. I have never been to a bull-fight, and while the night we were there wasn’t the actual fight, it was very interesting to see the Matador understudies and the entire culture surrounding the bull-fight.

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If you ask me, I don’t quite get the fascination with the whole thing. It’s really not fair to the bull seeing as it gets poked and prodded before being taunted for all to see. If you want a fair fight, poke and prod the matador too. Then we’ll see survival of the fittest as nature intended.

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Before taunting the bull they paraded a heifer around and sliced its throat for all to see. That brought on some major cheers. Again, I just don’t get it, but it is a sight to see, no doubt about that. These guys had that thing butchered down to the bone within 20 minutes, I’ve never seen such fast knife work. I thought about inserting one of the photos I took of the butchering, but it’s pretty graphic, so use your imagination. I hear that the meat is donated to feed the less fortunate, so I’m cool with that, but it’s still rather inhumane.

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When we got back to mom’s the brisket was ready. I let her do the carving. Unfortunately for me, I was in the middle of a sparring match with Montezuma so I didn’t get to enjoy a full meal. I did taste some of the brisket though, and it was delicious! If I ever make it again I would probably cut the sour orange juice down by a half cup and replace it with more water as it was a strong flavor, but it was a good flavor, especially seeing that it was my first attempt at something like this, something that may never have been done before since pibil dishes are usually marinated and then cooked in banana leaves, not braised. That’s the fun of cooking, trying something new and learning as you go.

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Even since it was featured on CheckPlease a while back I have wanted to check out Blue 13. I don’t know why, but it really appealed to me for some reason. When I saw that Chef Curren was doing a Restaurant Week menu I took that as an opportunity to finally get off my ass and take my wife out for some rockin viddles. Turned out to be a damn good idea.

Located in the River North area, Blue 13 is on a very residential strip just off the hwy. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing. It’s good because it allows for a neighborhood feel without any pretension. It’s bad because there’s nowhere to park! I hate paying for valet. I am Jewish (culturally, not religiously) after all. After finding a place to park a couple of blocks away Yuki and I were ready to get out of the cold and fill ourselves full of tastiness.

When we got there a couple of tables lingered a little longer than expected and our reservation was about 15 minutes late. No worries, 15 minutes is acceptable. So, we headed to the bar and I had a beer while we bitched to each other about how frustrating both of our jobs are. Basically, a nightly routine. When we got to our table we already knew what we wanted so we ordered up dinner, ate some good bread with great olive oil, and awaited the feast.

Yuki started off with the Duck Confit Tortellini. Served in a caper and cilantro butter sauce it was absolutely delicious. The only thing wrong with it is that the pasta was just a little too al dente, and not by much. Maybe another 45 seconds or so in salted water and it would have been perfect. On the other hand, this was the first time I’ve ever had capers with cilantro. I hope it’s not the last because it was a really weird pairing that actually works quite well.

I got the Beet Salad with Champagne Vinaigrette. I did tell you the other day that if there’s a beet salad on a menu I’ll probably get it. It didn’t hurt that their restaurant week menu only had two options (they did have a $44 pre fixe option with more choices, but that’s a little pricy for my blood). I will say this, Chef Curran’s beet salad is one of the most creative ones I’ve ever eaten. Nice sweet golden beets, frisee, endive, candied hazelnuts (quite possibly my favorite of all nuts, excluding my own of course), and, get this, marshmallows made with beets and balsamic vinegar. It was the marshmallows that set this salad over the top.

Yuki got the Arctic Char entrée. A beautiful piece of fish with a nice crispy skin and juicy flesh (is there anything better than juicy flesh?). It was served on a grain salad that consisted mainly of quinoa and pearl barley as well as a big smear of pureed butternut squash. All of the flavors worked in harmony and completed a very satisfying dish.

I got the Guinness Braised Veal Cheeks. These were some of the most tender cheeks I’ve tossed into my organs, like a really soft brisket. Served on buttered noodles with sautéed brussel sprouts and a smear of creme fraiche. It was garnished with a baby carrot and some baby cilantro. I’m beginning to realize that Chef Curran likes to use cilantro. Honestly, I got no beef with that! In fact, I got veal. The only problem with this dish is that I found that it could have used one more pinch of salt to really bring out the beery goodness of the guinness. Otherwise this was a success.

With two dessert options we decided to get one of each, and that really wasn’t a hard decision to make. Yuki had the Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Gelato. A classic that he didn’t really fiddle much with. It was very straightforward but executed nicely.

I got the Chocolate Peanut Butter Waffle. Waffle with candied peanuts, peanut butter sauce, chocolate sauce, and a scoop of vanilla gelato. As I started eating it I was greeted with a very nice surprise, very nice indeed. In the chocolate sauce were little pieces of BACON!!! It’s desserts like this that make me glad I don’t keep Kosher. Bacon truly does make everything better.

Service throughout the night was spot on. The servers were casual, yet professional. Food was brought out in good time and plates were cleared promptly. The atmosphere was also very casual. Exposed brick walls with heavy rock’n’roll on the speakers, but not too loud that it hindered conversation.

Way back when I worked at a restaurant called The Outpost I always thought that it should have been something more like this. Honestly, if I ever did open up a restaurant it would be along the lines of Blue 13, except I’d play more classic rock and throw some Fela in the mix. Otherwise I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Besides being a great Japanese housewife, I also have a little Italian bosom to me. I’m very worldly for being a midwestern Jewish man. The other night I made a classic Southern Italian Chicken and Pepper Stew along with a Tuscan-style soup. Instead of a Tuscan Bean Soup that uses cannelloni beans I used chickpeas, simply because I had a can in my cupboard.

The soup couldn’t be simpler. I used 1 bunch of kale chopped, 1 onion sliced, 3 garlic cloves diced, 1 quart of chicken stock, and 1 can of chickpeas drained and rinsed.

I put everything except for the chickpeas in a pot along with a couple of bay leaves. I brought it up to a boil, covered the pot, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer for about 45 minutes so that the kale would get nice and tender. I didn’t add the chickpeas until a few minutes before dinner time. Since they were canned the didn’t need to be cooked, just heated. I seasoned with salt and pepper just before serving.

For the chicken I used about 1/4 cup of parsley chopped, 1/2 onion sliced, 3 cloves of garlic diced, 2 plum tomatoes skinned and diced, 1 dry pint of sweet peppers seeded and sliced, 4 thighs and 4 drumsticks skinned with the bone in, and 1/2 cup of white wine.

In my pan I heated up about 3 tablespoons of olive oil and sautéed the onion for about 6 minutes. I took the onion out, added another 3 tablespoons of olive oil, and added the chicken. I browned the chicken all over for a few minutes and then put the onion back in. I poured in the wine and let it reduce by half for about 5 minutes or so. Then I added the peppers and tomatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper, stirred it up really well, covered the pan, turned the heat down to med-low, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I stirred it occasionally throughout the 30 minutes. Just before serving I mixed in the parsley. Another simple, yet delicious dish.

I got some nice crusty bread to serve with everything. I did make some white rice for Yuki since she needs rice in her guts. I stuck with the bread though so I could sop up all of the juices and dip into my soup.

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After Tuesday night’s overly complex debacle of a meal we wanted something clean and simple for dinner last night. Yuki had requested my matzo ball soup, so that’s what I gave her. (feel free to insert any number of jokes)

The ingredients I use for my chicken soup are 1 diced onion, 3 medium carrots chopped, 3 stalks of celery chopped, 5 garlic cloves peeled but left whole, and 1.5 pounds of skin-on bone-in chicken thighs.

There are two basic ways to make chicken soup. One is to throw all of the ingredients into a stockpot, cover it with cold water, and bring it all to a slow simmer for a couple of hours, usually with a whole bird instead of just thighs (I think white meat in chicken soup is a waste as it doesn’t have nearly as much flavor as dark meat). That’s they way my dad makes it and his soup tastes pretty good. I do it a little different.

I heat up my stock pot and pour in about 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Then I dump in the onion, carrots, and celery and let them sweat for about 5 minutes. I don’t want them too translucent, I just want the sweetness drawn out a little. After the veggies are slightly cooked I lay the thighs in skin-side down. A minute or two later I pour in 2 quarts of hot water, add the garlic, a bay leaf, and a couple pinches of salt.

After it’s been at a low boil for a few minutes a foamy grit will surface. I take a large spoon and skim that off. I do that 6 or 7 times. This gives the broth some clarity. The muck isn’t bad for you, it’s just bitter and unnecessary. Skimming broth is the key to a clean soup. Once the foam stops surfacing I turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and let it slowly simmer for about 2 hours.

Once the soup has cooled a little I take out the chicken, skin it, and shred the meat. At this point the chicken should be relatively flavorless as hopefully all of the taste is in the broth. I like to put the chicken back in for the substance.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the Matzo Ball Mix for your mazto balls. While it isn’t that difficult to do it from scratch, the mix ensures the perfect texture every time. You just need one packet of mix, two eggs, and two teaspoons of oil. I also add a tablespoon of dried oregano for a little more flavor.

Mix everything in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 15 minutes to harden up a tad. While it’s in the fridge bring the soup to a light boil again. The package says to boil them separately in water, but matza balls should absorb some of the broth flavors.

Keeping your fingers wet, the mix is sticky, form balls about the size of a quarter and drop them into the boiling soup. There’s absolutely no need to make them any bigger. They do expand as they cook and if you make them too big the soup flavor won’t penetrate all the way through. I’ve never understood why some people make their balls so damn big. Maybe to compensate I guess. At any rate, that’s it. Let the balls cook for about 15 minutes and the soup is ready.

I made my wonton crisps while the soup was simmering. I used 1 package of shiitake small diced, 5 eggroll wraps cut in half diagonally, 2 cloves of garlic minced, 6 green onions sliced, and some fresh shiso leaves (the same ones our friends gave us, they are pretty damn delicious!).

I heated some oil to 375 degrees in my little Cuisinart deep fryer and fried up the skins. I let them drain on paper towels while I prepared the mushrooms.

In a heated pot I poured in 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and added the garlic. I let the garlic go for about 45 seconds and then I threw in the shiitake and green onions. I sort of stir-fried them for about 5 minutes and then poured in 1.5 tablespoons of soy sauce and a pinch of black pepper. I let the soy sauce absorb into the shiitake for about 3 minutes and then turned of the heat.

To serve, I laid the crisps down on a plate. On top of them I placed one shiso leaf. Then I spooned some shiitake mixture on top of that. That’s all she wrote, a great Jewish-Japanese dinner.

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What many people don’t know is that the Spanish were using pasta way before Marco Polo brought it over to Italy. I’m referring to fideos, short pasta that’s very similar to broken angel hair. In fact, if you can’t find fideos you can easily use angel hair pasta. Just break it down into 2-3 inch pieces. Another difference is that the Spanish like to toast the dried pasta before using it. This does two things. First, it adds an extra nuttiness to the flavor. Second, this causes the pasta to get even drier allowing it to soak up more of the sauce. Cooking fideos with clams is a classic Spanish dish, although I added more vegetables than the Spanish typically do to clams. I’m Jewish (I know I know, clams aren’t Kosher, but I’m not a religious man, I’m a foodie!), not Spanish, so I can get away with that.

The first thing I did was toast the fideos. I spread about 4-5 oz’s on some foil and toasted them until they became nice and dark golden in color. Then I let them sit and cool while I prepared the rest of the dish.

My ingredient list is two chopped celery ribs, half an onion diced, 1 purple potato diced, two plum tomatoes chopped and seeded, three garlic cloves minced, some broccoli florets broken down into smaller pieces, handful of basil leaves from my back porch, and a half cup of white wine. I also quartered an eggplant lengthwise, but that was used as a side and not in the main dish.

Of course, the stars of the show were the clams. I used little neck clams and got 12 of them for two portions. I only needed 5 per person, but got the extras in case some didn’t open. Sometimes my brain works perfectly as two of them didn’t open during cooking.

I started by sautéing the garlic and onion in some olive oil for about 6 minutes, just until the onion started to get translucent. Then I added the celery and let that go for another 3 minutes before added the potato. The potato was cut small enough that it didn’t need too much time to cook through, only about 5 or six minutes before adding the broccoli. Again, the broccoli was cut pretty small, it only needed about 3 minutes or so, then I added the tomato and seasoned with salt, pepper, and a few dashes of paprika. I mixed it all together and then added the toasted fideos. Once the fideos were well incorporated I poured in the white wine and let that come to a quick boil. Once boiling, in went the clams. I covered the pot and shook it around every minute until the clams opened up, anywhere from 3-6 minutes. Any clams that don’t open need to get tossed in the garbage immediately.

I kept the eggplant extremely simple. I heated up some olive oil to its smoking point and pan-fried the eggplant on all sides until it got a nice toasty color. If the oil isn’t hot enough the eggplant will absorb it all, so you need to make sure it’s hot.

To serve, I took the clams out off the pot and stirred in the basil leaves. That also allowed all of the clam juices to be evenly mixed into the dish. Then, I just put the clams on top of the fideos and vegetables in the bowl and drank everything down with the white wine I used in the dish. I sliced up some crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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Alright, I’m Jewish and not Mexican. But hey, both of our cultures were slaughtered by the Spanish so we share the same plight. Not really, but my mom lives in Mexico. To celebrate Mexican Independence I made my first attempt at a mole. Whole Foods had these fantastic lamb shoulder steaks on sale. Using a Oaxacan Red Mole recipe as my base, I altered it to fit the ingredients I could find as well as to make it more of a braise to break down the fat of the shoulder cut instead of a sauce like you typically see with a mole. While it’s usually not the best idea to screw around with a recipe you’re unfamiliar with, especially one with as many steps as mole, I’m confident enough in myself that it was no problem. The results almost couldn’t have been better!

To start, I soaked 3 ancho chiles and 4 New Mexico chiles in boiling water. I was looking for guajillo chiles, but couldn’t find any. So, I used the New Mexico ones instead. I have absolutely no idea if the two chiles are at all similar, and still don’t, but thought it was a risk worth taking.

While the chiles were soaking I heated up a skillet and, one spice at a time, toasted 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds, 1/4 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried oregano. Once cooled I ground them up with my pestle and mortar.

Then I used the same hot skillet to roast two garlic cloves. Keep the skin on the cloves and just let them sit in the hot pan for about 2-3 minutes per side. When they were cool to touch I put them in the blender with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and made a smooth puree.

I cleaned out the blender. I de-stemmed and de-seeded the chiles and pureed them with about a cup of the soaking water which had taken on a lot of the chile flavors and aromas. The recipe I was using only called for a tablespoon or so of the water, just enough to puree the chiles. Since I wanted a braising liquid instead of just a thick sauce I used a lot more of the water. I also set some aside in case I wanted to add more, but didn’t need to. After the chiles were pureed, I strained them into a bowl and set aside.

Alright, time to put the mole together. I heated up about 3 tablespoons of soy oil and added the spice mix from my mortar. After about 15 seconds I poured in the tomato sauce and then the pureed chiles. Careful though, it splatters! I mixed that all around. Once it started to boil I added 1/2 cup of sugar, 1.5oz of Mexican chocolate, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I let that come to a gentle boil.

While the mole was coming up to a boil I heated up some oil in a hot skillet, cut the lamb steaks into bite-sized pieces, and seared them off in batches. As they were seared they were tossed into the mole. I let them braise in the mole for about 30 minutes then I added two chopped carrots and let it all braise for another 45 minutes. The sauce became nice and thick.

For starch I made some cilantro mashed potatoes. I took 4 good-sized russets, skinned them, quartered them, and tossed them in a pot with cold water. I added salt and three large peeled garlic cloves. Then I brought it up to a boil. Once the water started to boil I let the potatoes go for about 25 minutes.

While that was going on I took a handful of cilantro and blended it with about 2/3 cup of soy milk. I then took 4 tablespoons of butter and cut that into smaller pieces. Once the potatoes and garlic were cooked I drained them and added them back to the pan. I poured the cilantro milk in and mashed it all up real good one pat of butter at a time. Then I seasoned with salt and pepper. They might have been the best damn mashed potatoes I’ve ever made!

For a side I heated up some olive oil and threw in two cloves of crushed garlic. A few minutes later I added 1/2 of an onion chopped and let that saute down a bit. Then I threw in a jalapeno that was seeded and sliced. A few more minutes and I threw in a bunch of sliced mushrooms. I had a few shiitake left in my fridge as well as a carton of buttons. Once those were almost cooked through I tossed in 1/2 radiccio that I had thinly sliced. I let that all wilt down, seasoned and then served. For garnish I broke up some cotija cheese.

To garnish the mole I diced an avocado. I also diced a red onion and soaked it in water for most of the day to draw out the rawness. Besides those two garnishes, I laid a few cilantro sprigs on top.

I have to say, for a Jew, I make a mean mole! The ony thing I think I’d do different is cut the sugar from 1/2 cup to 1/4 quarter cup. It was slightly sweet, but not so much that it was bothersome. Soy chingon!!!

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Last night was the first night of Passover. In America, typically the first two nights of Passover are a huge deal in the Jewish household (in Israel they only have Seder on the first night). Families get together for big feasts of traditional foods and celebrate the liberation from Egypt led by Moshe himself, called a Seder. I do want to state that I am not religious, I’m atheist. However, I am culturally Jewish and thoroughly enjoy a meal that consists of Matzah Ball Soup and slow braised Brisket. This year my brothers and I had the first night at our cousins with my mom’s side of the family.

Here is the traditional Seder Plate that sits in the middle of the table. It contains the symbols of the Passover story. Starting at 2 o’clock is the Beitzah, a roasted egg that symbolizes the festival sacrifice. Then is the Zeroa, a roasted shankbone symbolizing the lamb’s blood that was marked on doors to keep the Jews safe from the 1oth plague. After that is the Maror, we use green onion to remind us of the bitterness and harshness of slavery. Charoset is next, apples, honey, walnuts, and wine that are blended into a thick paste representing the mortar used by Jews in constructing Egyptian storehouses. Next is Karpas, parsley is used for the coming of Spring. There’s a bowl of saltwater that is used to show the tears shed by Jews in slavery. You dip the Karpas into the saltwater. Finally, in the middle is a glass of wine that’s set aside for Elijah the prophet.

At each individual seat there’s a small plate with the edible symbols. After we get through the Haggadah and eat the Seder plate dinner gets started.

The first thing that get’s passed around is Gefilte Fish. It’s basically a classic Eastern European fish dumpling made out of whitefish and pike. It’s eaten with horseradish.

Next is the Matzah Ball Soup. I had two matzah balls, but had already cut them up into bite sized pieces when I remembered that I needed to take a photo. I also forgot to take a pic of the matzah, but that isn’t the end of the world. I do have to say that my Matzah Ball Soup is far superior, but that’s always the case.

Then some fresh vegetables. Cucumbers, tomatoes, and red onions.

Here’s Grandma’s chopped chicken liver. Unfortunately it’s the only thing she makes anymore. She cooks up the livers, seasons them, and mashes it all down. My cousin Lorrie has to salt it though. Grandma’s taste buds aren’t quite what they used to be. But hey, she’s 86! She gets a pass.

Some bagels made out of matzah meal. They resemble bagels in shape only, but they aren’t bad.

Here’s the famous slow-braised Passover Brisket. Brisket is to Passover what turkey is to Thanksgiving. Again though, my brisket is better. I made the brisket last year, but not this year. I need to take charge of it again for the betterment of all our digestion.

Dessert consists of various cakes made with matzah meal flour and fresh fruit. Chocolate cake with raspberries, strawberry shortcake, brownies, carrot cake, grapes and strawberries.

For some reason I always tend to eat too much at Seders.

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