Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Picture Perfect - Parshat Pikudei

In this week's portion, Parshat Pikudai, the job finally gets done. The nation completes all the work involved in constructing the Tabernacle and they do every last thing perfectly. They bring it to Moses and he is so pleased that he blesses them. This goes a lot better than the whole Mt Sinai incident. So it is time to celebrate ... I mean inaugurate.

God commands Moses to set up the Tabernacle on the first day of the first month as their tent of meeting. Moses is tasked with getting all the components in the right place and into action - he sets up the Menorah and lights it, he sets up the altars and anoints them with oil, and he fills the basins with water. He anoints Aron and his sons and dresses them in the priestly garments. He burns incense on one altar and offers up a burnt animal offering with bread on another. Thus completes the inauguration, and God's presence comes to rest in the Tabernacle.

You can imagine what a great party this was - it had the right lighting, great clothes, room fragrance and great food.

Speaking of great food, Sam and I recently enjoyed free meat from Joburg Kosher, a South African Kosher meat company based in Pennsylvania. Their jerky and sausage could easily have been served at this party in the Tabernacle. We could barely pronounce "biltong and boerewors” (the proper names of these products) but we could eat it. Together with our friends Seth and Jamie (who needed new-parent-nourishing) we gobbled up the sausages with chips, guacamole and beer, enjoying the sweet notes in the savory spiced meat. It would also go well with caramelized onions, in a tajine, or in one of my favorite pasta and mushroom dishes. Later that week we snuck the jerky into a movie theater and found it a very easy snack since it’s less chewy than normal jerky- the consistency, color and taste was more like peppered beef Carpaccio (thinly sliced raw steak). The packaging suggests eating the whole bag as a meal and I would have - it’s like a deconstructed steak to go.

So you here's to serving any kind of flavorful meat this weekend. One of my favorite meat recipes to serve at a festive occasion is kuftah kabobs. These are not kabobs on a stick with chunks of vegetable and meat - they're like a
Middle Eastern meatball made of ground beef, onions and spices. I've recently also been making a ground turkey version with a few twists and while they are more meatball than kuftah I much prefer the term turkey kabobs than turkey balls. As you're cooking this you may just invoke some of the inaugural smells from yesteryear.

Kuftah Kabobs

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 egg
1/2 cup of panko crumbs
1/4 tsp tumeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp olive oil

In a bowl mix all of the ingredients, except for the oil. Form small football shaped kabobs with your hands, scooping up a small palm full and rolling into an oblong shape. Set each rolled kabob onto a plate.

Heat a medium sized cast iron skillet over a medium flame. Pour olive oil into the skillet and nestle some of the kabobs into the pan, leaving enough room to easily rotate the kabobs.

Cook for two minutes and then roll a bit cook for another minute, until you have browned the kabobs all over.

Serve warm.

Turkey Kabobs

1 lb ground turkey
1 onion
1 zucchini
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp white wine
1/2 cup panko crumbs
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil

Peel the onion and shred it and the zucchini in a food processor.

Mix the shredded vegetables with the rest of the ingredients, except for the oil, in a large bowl until well incorporated.

Form small football shaped kabobs with your hands, scooping up a small palm full and rolling into an oblong shape. Set each rolled kabob onto a plate.

Heat a medium sized cast iron skillet over a medium flame. Pour olive oil into the skillet and nestle some of the kabobs into the pan, leaving enough room to easily rotate the kabobs.

Cook for two minutes and then roll a bit cook for another minute, until you have browned the kabobs all over.

Serve warm with salad, hummus and rice.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Crafty - Parshat Vayakhel

Amy Sedaris may poke fun at crafters in her book Simple Time: Crafting For Poor People, but crafting has some serious history. Last year's post on this week's portion, Parshat Vayakhel, had me commenting about the highly skilled artisans who helped build the Tabernacle. But when I read the portion this year I noticed that there are throngs of crafters who help to get all of the work done. "And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, and brought the goat hair they had spun to the Tabernacle." Some of the crafty Israelite women who had been spinning linen at home volunteer to learn how to spin goat hair and the other material that was to be used to construct the Tabernacle.

This kind of crafting effort reminds me of my mom who not only makes crafts for her own pleasure, but looks for ways she can put her crafts to use for the community. I'm lucky to have many of her beaded necklaces among my jewelry collection, and to have a home made Irish green quilt to snuggle under, but she was often the costume maker for our synagogue plays and the chuppah designer for family friends- finding ways to give back to the community with her two crafty hands.

The project of building the Tabernacle in the dessert required all hands on deck. When Moses asks the nation to contribute the necessary materials the collection piles overflow and he has to request that they stop bringing and start building. When Moses asks them for their skills, they show up. The crafters get to weaving an angel pattern into the cloth paneling, which was secured to the wooden frame of the Tabernacle. The architects build that frame with Acacia wood planks and bars. The planks and bars are overlaid with gold by the artists and melded together. Just as the materials were all connected to form the building, the Israelites come together with their various skills to make their community center a thing of beauty.

My post on this week's portion last year received a comment from my sweet neighbor Marissa, who suggested that I could use some acacia honey (I had been struggling to find a good food connection that week). Acacia wood is one of the many items listed as a Tabernacle building necessity that the Israelites donated. So I'm going to take her up on that suggestion.

I've done a bit of reading up on Acacia wood and Acacia honey. What I've gathered is that the tree is thorny with a reddish bark, thin feathery green leaves and wispy yellow blossoms. While the bark may have a bite, the honey from the blossoms is one of the most mild in flavor and is great to use in recipes where you want some sweetness but don't want it to overwhelm the dish. The honey is very light in color and keeps a more liquid, rather than viscous, consistency that makes it easy to mix with other liquids. You can purchase Acacia honey online, in specialty food shops, and even in some larger grocery chains. There are two honey showcasing recipes that I want to try out this week. One is an ambitious salmon dish with berries, honey and lime and one is a tamer but exotic pine nut honey tart. And if you're as fancy as Marissa you could even serve these dishes on Acacia wood platters.

By the way, there's a new feature on this blog that I've forgotten to tell you all about. You may have noticed the long list of recipes on the right side bar have gone missing - but don't panic- if you click on the recipe index link at the top right of the page you'll see a much more organized list that makes it easier to find a recipe by dish category - salad, fish, meat, dessert etc.

Honey Berry Chipotle Salmon
Adapted from a recipe that appeared in the December 2004 edition of Bon Appetit

1 cup frozen blackberries, thawed
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1.5 teaspoons chili powder
4 6- to 8-ounce salmon fillets with skin

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Press the berries through a sieve into a bowl and discard seeds. Take 1/4 cup of the pressed berries and put it into another bowl with honey, oil and lime juice. Whisk together for a glaze.

On a plate mix the brown sugar, cumin, salt, and chili. Dredge the salmon into the mixture and place each piece on a baking sheet. Brush with the honey, lime glaze, reserving a bit for a sauce to serve the fish with.

Bake the salmon for 15 minutes and serve warm withe the unused glaze drizzled over the top.

Pine Nut Honey Tart
I found some beautifully photographed pine nut tarts on several websites, and then found one with a pretty simple recipe on food.com

If you don't use Acacia honey, heat the honey over a low flame for a few minutes to make it less viscous and easier to work with.

2 cups flour
1 cup butter, divided
2 tbsp powdered sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup Acacia honey
1 lemon
3 cup pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the flour and 1/2 cup of butter into a food processor and mix until it looks like bread crumbs. Add the powdered sugar, 1 tbsp of water and 1 egg and pulse until the mixture pulls away from the sides of the food processor bowl.

Roll out the dough and fit it into a 9 inch baking tin. Prick with a fork and chill for 10 minutes. Bake the dough for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, cream 1/2 cup of butter and 1/2 cup of sugar. Then add in 3 eggs and beat. Add in the honey. Add the zest and juice of the lemon to the mixture as well as the pine nuts and the salt.

Pour the mixture into the baked dough and bake for an additional 45 minutes. Let it cool and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sugar and Spice - Parshat Ki Tisah

Since the cow in the room was addressed last year, we can move on to other topics.

At the beginning of this week's portion, Parshat Ki Tisah, a census with cash flow is taken. Each person gives a half shekel to be counted and their coins go to the upkeep of the Tabernacle.

That money buys some good things - from big objects like copper lavers and washing stations to smaller spice mixtures that were either mixed with oil for anointing or burned each day in the Tabernacle. These spices seem a bit mysterious to us now-a-days, with the only recognizable spice being cinnamon. But if there was cinnamon I bet it was good.

This gets me thinking about how amazing it must have smelled in the Tabernacle each day with bread baking, sacrificial meat grilling, a cinnamon anointing oil being rubbed over all surfaces and incense burning all day long. Yum, sounds like a place I'd like to hang out. You too?

Here are several recipes that if you cook up all at once in your home you may get close to evoking the sweet and savory smells from the Tabernacle. One recipe is for snickerdoodle cookies. I just found out that these were a childhood favorite of my mother's. My parents have a history of mailing long distance goodies to me but I hadn't known the tradition goes further back in our family's legacy. My mom's mother may have been the jello queen, but she had a few dessert recipes for solid items that would ship well. She used to bake snickerdoodle cookies - a plain cookie dough batter flavored with cinnamon and sugar - and mail them in a round tin to her college dorm. Now that's love. So Emma - this one's for you.

Cinnamon Snickerdoodles

6 tbsp butter or buttery sticks, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 and 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add in the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

Cover a baking sheet with a non stick mat.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Form each cookie by scooping out a tablespoon of dough, rolling it into a ball, dredging it in the cinnamon and sugar so that it is totally covered in the mixture. Then place the coated cookies two inches apart from one another on the non stick mat and flatten a bit with the palm of your hand.

Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy them or pack them up to ship to one of your favorite people'!

Herbed Polenta with Crispy Corned Beef
Sam loved this dish when I made it this week and said "you've got to put it on the blog." You can thank him when you've enjoyed your last spoonful of the dish.

2.5 cups water

½ cup ground corn meal

½ tsp salt

2 pinches pepper

2 leaves each of fresh or dried sage leaves, thyme, rosemary, and oregano

1 lb of corned beef slices

Simmer water in a medium pot. Whisk in the ground corn meal and dissolve. Let the cornmeal and water bubble for 20 minutes over a low flame, continually stirring with a wooden spoon.

Add in the salt, pepper and herbs and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste to see if more seasoning is needed.

Heat the meat under the broiler for 5 minutes until crispy.

Serve the corned beef over the polenta while it is warm and creamy.

Pita or Lavash
Adapted from Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler

Lavash is simply a longer, pocketless pita. The pitas in this recipe generally come out pocketless. This is best cooked in a cast iron or a grill pan (or over the grill if you happen to have access to one in the winter). Feel free to cut out the rising time.

4.5 cups of flour
1 packet of yeast (rapid rise)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup of water
Optional spices such as fresh garlic and rosemary

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in one bowl. In another large bowl, mix together the oil and water, then stir in half the flour mixture. If you want to add spices, such as the garlic and rosemary I suggested, now is the time. Knead in the rest of the flour and shape into a ball. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on your time frame).

After it has risen, knead the dough for ten minutes. If you have time, cover and let it rise again. If not, divide the dough into 12 pieces for nice round pitas, or fewer for larger longer lavash. Dip your hands in to some flour to keep them from sticking to the dough and flatten each piece with a rolling pin or your hands. Try to keep the pita ½ an inch thick. Keep the dough that you aren’t working with covered.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Wait for it to get smoking hot and then add one of the pitas and cook for 20 seconds (cook the lavash for slightly longer). Turn it over with tongs a cook for 1 minute on the other side (again, longer for lavash).

When large bubbles form on the bread turn it over again and watch as it puffs up. Press down gently with a dishtowel, and then cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from the pan and wrap the pita in a dry dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough, adding the finished pitas to the stack in the dry dishtowel.

Serve hot and moist!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not So Urban Outfitters - Parshat Tetzaveh

"What should I wear?" I repeatedly moaned to my mother as a kid - hanging from my closet door in Sarah Bernhardt-like despair. Now this question gets aimed in Sam's direction, and he, like my mom, has learned that I'd much rather complain than actually hear their advice (some how they always suggest the thing in my closet I'm hating most at the moment). I often wished I had a uniform like those of prep school students. Perhaps I should have yearned for the uniforms of the Jewish high priests that are described in this week's portion, Parshat Tetzaveh - they're quite a bit snazzier than any school uniform I've ever seen.

In the portion, Aron and his sons are anointed as the first priests for the nation and get some fancy outfits to go along with this new role. The Israelites with skills get recruited to make the garments and are given colorful yarn and linens to get the job done. The priests' main robes are blue and coordinate with embroidered sashes, pantaloons and head turbans, woven in purple and red.

The high priest gets a few perks in the wardrobe department- a golden crown and breast plate, and a special robe. His robe designated him as the high priest - its hem was adorned with mini woven pomegranates alternating with golden bells. This clearly took a lot of work to make and not only sounds incredibly artistic, but also enchanting. The red woven pomegranates hung like little jewels and the tiny gold bells would clack against each other as he moved so that everyone could hear when the high priest was approaching. The priests certainly didn't have to wonder what they were going to wear to work.

Playing with the pomegranate detail of the high priests' robe I've got a great pomegranate chicken recipe to share. Just when I was bemoaning the loss of my meat blog and the free meat that went along with it I scored another meat blog gig - this time for chicken with Grow and Behold. This young company sells pasture raised kosher chicken, which they'll be sending me in return for two blog posts a month that I'll contribute to their chicken blog. I've already eaten some of the chicken and it is delicious. You could get the chicken for this recipe from them if you're so inclined. To sweeten the deal all Double Portion readers get a discount on Grown and Behold orders - just enter the code "DBLP5" for 5% off an order over $50 and "DBLP10" for 10% off over $100. I'll keep this info posted on the side bar here as a reminder.

In case you really want to do up the pomegranate theme this week, here are some other pomegranate recipes that have appeared in Double Portion
Pomegranate Citrus Salad
Pomegranate Pizza (meat)
Pomegranate Margarita

Pomegranate Chicken
I learned this chicken recipe at a class that Lauren Klatsky taught.

1 cup pomegranate juice
4 boneless chicken breast cutlets
1/4 cup flour
Salt and pepper
1.5 tbsp olive oil
1 shallot
1/2 cup of vegetable broth, chicken broth or water
3 tbsp basil or cilantro, chopped

Pour the pomegranate juice into a small sauce pan and simmer over a medium flame until it has reduced to 1/4 cup.

Place flour on a plate and mix in a pinch of salt and pepper. Coat the chicken breasts in the seasoned flour.

Heat a tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown the chicken on both sides and remove from the skillet.

Reduce the heat to low and add the remaining half tbsp of olive oil. Mince the shallot and add to the pan to cook for 2 minutes until soft. Add the broth or water and simmer. Scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen any stuck bits. Add the reduced pomegranate juice and stir.

Cook the chicken in the skillet for 8 minutes on one side. Flip the chicken and cook another 7 minutes on the other side.

Place the chicken on a plate and add chopped basil to the sauce. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes uncovered and then pour over the chicken and serve.

Color Splash - Parshat Terumah

Reading this week's portion, Parshat Terumah, on a gray, cold, sleety day in New England, I'm drawn to the vibrant colors in the narrative. God asks the nation to build a home for his ark, a tabernacle where they can worship and where God will rest. And he wants it decorated with crimson curtains, purple linens, acacia wood furniture, lapis lazulai stone and lots of gold.

Sam and I have recently been doing some home decorating. After living amongst hand-me-down couches and sagging Ikea bookcases, we've been slowly acquiring sturdier pieces at bargain prices to replace them. We planned a weekend getaway around the Crate and Barrel Maine outlet (our Crate and Barrel crush developed while wedding registry building and has endured - to keep it affordable we stalk their pieces on Craig's List and at outlets) and are now nesting in our new living room set up. So I can understand God's desire to surround Himself with rich colors and quality materials.

One thing that needs replacing after this make over are our curtains. The fabulous Merimekko fabric, which we bought at a Crate and Barrel close out and had my mother sew into curtains for us, is too dark next to the new pieces. While we search for a replacement I am trying to picture the curtains that were made for the tabernacle. They're not like our curtains, which drape to the floor, suspended by a bar, accenting the sides of our large windows. The tabernacle curtains were more like thick room separators. And ours are striped, not angel clad.

"Make these of fine twisted linen, of blue, purple, crimson yarns, with a design of cherubim (angels) worked into it." The tabernacle curtains are used in three places - stretched around the outer-beam structure to form the building's walls, hung as an inner wall to partition between the area designated as the Holy and the Holy of Holies, and draped at the tabernacle entrance, serving as a blue, purple and crimson welcome screen.

The recurring spalshes of color - blue, purple and crimson - are not only all over the text but have also been all over my kitchen this week. There was the second iteration of a creamy tomato red soup which I've been trying to nail after receiving the recipe in bulk proportions from a restaurant. There was unseasonal blueberry pie baked at the request of a birthday girl (I'll try not to blame the purple confection on Batya as she gave me an excuse to make one of my favorite and easiest desserts in my repertoire). And finally, to comfort us amidst this cold there was an eggplant, mozzarella and tomato creation. I hope you'll enjoy some of them yourself.

Tomato Bisque

2 cans, 1 lb 12 oz each, canned whole peeled plum tomatoes with basil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp pepper
Red wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion
1 stalk of celery
1 carrot
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 tbsp tomato paste
1 sprig of thyme
1 sprig of oregano
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup of wine
8 oz buttermilk
8 oz milk

In a large bowl crush the tomatoes by hand and remove the dark basil leaves. Add salt, pepper, vinegar and sugar.

Chop onion, celery and carrot. Set a large pot over a medium high flame with the olive oil and add the chopped vegetables to the pot along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Crush the garlic cloves into the pot. Cook until the onion softens - 5-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, thyme and oregano and stir.

Pour the wine into the pot and scrape any bits that have stuck to the pot and stir. When the wine has cooked down a bit add the butter milk, crushed tomatoes, bay leaf and 1/2 of a can of water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and use an immersion blender to smooth out the texture. Serve warm.

Eggplant Roulade

1 eggplant
4 ounces mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup of herbed panko crumbs
1/3 cup zinfandel wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 large shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 tsp dried oregano
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the eggplant into 1/2 inch thick rounds. Salt both sides of each slice and lay them in a colander for 5 minutes. Rinse them and place on a baking sheet (the salting, soaking and rinsing removes some of the eggplant's bitterness). Drizzle the eggplant slices with olive oil and roast in the oven for 2o minutes. Allow the slices to cool.

In the mean time, heat half the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Add crushed garlic and diced shallot and stir. After 2 minutes add the herbs, wine, tomato paste and dried oregano.

Cut the mozarella into long thin rectangular pieces that will fit into each piece of eggplant when you roll the eggplant slice around it. Proceed to do just that- fold/roll a cooked and cooled slice of eggplant around the cut cheese and place it into a baking dish. Do this with each eggplant slice and cheese rectangle, arranging the rolled eggplant and cheese in the baking dish.

Spoon the tomato sauce over the eggplant and cheese. Sprinkle with panko crumbs and bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Blueberry Cobbler
This is a Real Simple recipe that I go to every time I serve a dairy meal on Shabbat. I used Meyer lemons this time which were divine in the cobbler crust. I use a milk and buttermilk combination as a replacement for heavy cream when I'm feeling a bit heavy myself, but if you'd like to indulge go ahead and omit the milk for 2 cups of heavy cream.

2 pints of blueberries
1/3 a cup and 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
1.5 cups and 1 tbsp flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp grated lemon zest
5 tbsp butter, cut into pieces
1.5 cups of butter milk
1/2 cup of milk

Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Place the washed blueberries into a 1.5 quart baking dish and toss with 1/3 cup of sugar and 1 tbsp flour.

In a large bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Add the butter and blend with your fingers by pinching it into the flour mixture until you get a gravely mixture. Add in the milks and mix.

Drop this mixture by heaping spoonfuls over the blueberries, doing a pretty good job to cover most of the surface. Bake for 35 minutes until the top is golden.

Pairs great with vanilla ice cream. If you're lucky enough to have a neighbor who makes honey ice cream you must eat it with that. Thanks Jess for allowing us to discover this winning combination.