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Archive for March, 2010

Toffee chocolate matzo. This stuff is truly crack. Completely utterly addictive crack. Once you start eating it, I guarantee, you will not stop. This is the best Passover candy ever. And I say that as a survivor of Hebrew School Passover candy sales, where we made our parents buy awful, awful candy for some sort of fund raising purpose. Girl Scout cookies sell themselves. Passover candy does not.

The recipe is very versatile. Matzo with toffee and chocolate makes an excellent base for any number of toppings. I liked the simplicity of just adding walnuts on top, but other variations on this recipe have used crystallized ginger, almonds, peanut butter chips or sea salt. Really it is very hard to go wrong here. Even without any toppings, this stuff flies off the plate.

A few notes: Stir the toffee constantly when you are cooking it on top of the stove. Watch the toffee carefully, there is nothing grosser than burned and bitter sugar. Rinse out the pan as early as you can after pouring the toffee over the matzo to prevent the remaining toffee from permanently sticking. If you are making a meat based Seder, then you can substitute margarine for butter. If you don’t have matzo and/or want to make this a year round recipe, use saltines or graham crackers instead of matzo. Finally, allegedly this will keep for a week, but I doubt it will last long enough to test that.

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Olive Oil Matzos

Passover food is usually awful. Matzo that tastes like cardboard, desserts that are dense, tasteless bricks, and dried out brisket that you have to wait an eternity to eat. But I’m here to tell you that things don’t have to be that way. I am reforming Passover food. And we are starting with matzo.

It is possible to make fresh, crisp matzo from scratch. Matzo that doesn’t taste like last weeks newspaper. Matzo that you would want to eat year round. Are you on the band wagon yet? Because I am. These were delicious. Crispy, flavorful and nothing like the stuff from the supermarket. These can be eaten year round and served without the justification of, well it is Passover. I think these would be wonderful dressed up with some exotic colored sea salt (pink salted matzos anyone?) or perhaps with some thyme or rosemary sprinkled on them. But they are also wonderful in their current simplicity.

These may or may not be kosher for passover, depending on your level of religiousness. Technically, matzo must be made in 18 minutes and with special flour. Obviously, I did not do that, but I think it is possible with this recipe. Even with taking photos and doing some clean up, making these took about 35-40 minutes to do by myself. The most time consuming part is rolling out the dough to extreme thinness, so if there are two people rolling, this becomes very doable. But I am not particularly observant to say the least, so take my kosher advice with a grain of pink sea salt.

A few notes. The oven is going to be extremely hot. The baking sheets will be extremely hot. Wear a glove (don’t just use a mitt) and be careful. I managed to burn the knuckle on my thumb (hence the oven glove recommendation) and it hurts! Watch the matzos very carefully, there is a fine line between crisp and burned.

Most irregular shaped matzo you’ll ever see

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Chicken Caesar Salad

Finally a use for the salad tongs I bought the Resident Frenchman ages ago. They are clearly too big for our bowl, anyone want to donate a large wooden salad bowl to us?

When I saw this recipe in Fine Cooking this month, I thought it would be perfect for this weather – much lighter than the dense food we’ve been eating all winter. Plus it looked super good. But, this recipe wasn’t just good, it was amazing. It was difficult not to eat all the croutons before they made it into the salad and lick the dressing bowl clean (okay, maybe I did do that). Seriously, I know this recipe looks a little involved, but it is surprisingly simple and the results are delicious. I’ve never made my own croutons before and it was well worth it, they tasted fresh and perfectly crunchy. And the dressing…well, I want to marry this dressing. Mmm…thick, flavorful, perfect.

To speed up the cooking of the chicken in the salad, I pounded the chicken into paillards. Paillards literally means flattened meat in French. They are what you would use in chicken piccata. Paillards are a great – they cook up extremely quickly, which is nice when you are short on time. You can buy them at the grocery store, but they are extremely easy to do on your own, especially when you have a meat mallet and some frustrations to work out. In case my directions and photos are not enlightening, Martha, of course, has a slide show on how to make them. Oh Martha, I love you even though you might run me over if I was in your way.

Pre pounded Post pounded

A few notes: Fine Cooking recommends grating your own cheese. I’m sure that is amazing, but store bought grated is just fine, as long as it is decent quality (i.e. not Kraft). Try to find more coarsely grated cheese to add texture to the salad and dressing. If you do grate your own cheese, use the food processor. Don’t skip the anchovies. They may look gross, but they give the dressing the classic Caesar flavor and don’t add fishiness. Finally, the dressing has a raw egg yolk in it. I buy organic, cage free eggs and we go through them regularly. The Salmonella rate for eggs is extremely small (0.005% to be exact). If you buy quality fresh eggs, a raw yolk will mostly likely not make you ill. If you disagree, then coddle the egg by placing a room temperature egg in its shell in boiling water for 45 seconds to slightly cook it.

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Happy (almost) St. Patrick’s Day! You know what this means. No, not green beer. It means a shortage of caraway seeds. I went to three grocery stores before I finally found them and then managed to lose them in the house for twenty minutes (They were sitting on the table. I don’t know how I missed them).

This is the first time I’ve made soda bread and it was wonderful! Cooking the bread in a skillet gives it a nice crunchy crust, with a moist scone-like interior. Delicious. About that skillet though – I used an 11 inch pan, instead of a 10 inch skillet. It turned out fine, though a nice cast iron skillet would probably result in prettier browning. But your generic pan will be fine, as long as it is at least 10 inches wide and can go in the oven.

However, this is not “real” soda bread. According to Melissa Clark, no one in Ireland eats soda bread, and when they do, it it made of flour, buttermilk, salt and baking soda. No eggs, no butter, no caraway seeds, no currants. What I love most about the article (and Melissa Clark), is that after making real hardcore soda bread, she decided that it is terrible and that authenticity is overrated. I concur. I’m not sure I could deal with baking something that didn’t have butter.

A note about baking powder. This recipe requires a good deal of it. Make sure yours is fresh by putting a pinch (about a teaspoon) of it in a cup of hot water. If it fizzles, it is still good. I recommend buying organic baking powder or making your own to avoid any ingredients that have aluminum (which results in that metallic taste and green/blue color).

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Banana Bread

When I was a kid, I named my imaginary children Apple-ish, Orange-ish and Gum-ish. This leads to many questions. Yes, I really liked the suffix -ish. Yes, I had an imaginary husband; his name was He-Man. No, my brother wasn’t born until I was 9, so I was an only child for a long time. And no, there was no Banana-ish. Why? Because I don’t love bananas, so they didn’t make it into my imaginary family. Usually I think bananas are boring. I’ve read there is a reason for this, the banana variety we eat is considered bland but was very fungus resistant at a crucial time.

But then we had some bananas sitting on the kitchen table, rapidly turning spotty and mushy (obviously I wasn’t eating them) and I thought, banana bread! Banana bread is a vast improvement on bananas – nothing like mashing something up and baking it up with some butter, sugar and nuts to make it taste better (note: this works well for fruit, less so for spinach).

I picked this recipe out of the many across the internet because I really like the website where it was posted (Joy of Baking) and it turned out to be an excellent choice. It is not a flashy bread (other recipes I checked out included bourbon, which seemed intriguing, but also too much), but I don’t think banana bread isn’t supposed to be flashy. The brown butter Bananas Foster tart I want to make is where bananas go to be flashy. This is solidly delicious, not overly banana-ish (which leads to the dreaded mushiness) and the aroma when baking is unbeatable. Seriously, this is the best smelling thing I have baked in awhile.

And finally the answer to the usual last question, yes, I was a weird kid. My parents didn’t have cable. I blame them.

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Recently I have been on a tour of other peoples kitchens. I journeyed to Brooklyn to make La Petite Grocery Ravioli (mmmm….just as good the second time) and I went to Union Square to make this recipe. I have discovered that cooking is much easier with a sous chef(s). Not only do they chop the garlic and do the dishes, but they also take the photos! Thanks to Sous Chef Cha, this is the most thoroughly documented recipe I have ever made.

When I first read this recipe, I thought, yum! Then, of course, I mentally started modifying the recipe. Since fresh figs aren’t available right now, I used dried figs. Delicious, but I look forward to remaking this in the summer with fresh figs. If you use dried figs, try to massage them back into fruity shape so they slice better. Originally, the recipe called for Stilton and pine nuts, but I immediately thought that walnuts would be better. I bought a generic blue cheese instead of Stilton (Sorry Brits, but your cheese was overpriced at Food Emporium). The result was a delicious savory tart. Even my mom liked it and she is usually anti-onion.

Finally I know some of you are thinking, puff pastry again? I promise, I am not getting anything from the puff pastry lobby! If such a thing exists. Actually, it probably does in France, since they have legislation regarding bread. Only in France.

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