Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Forget the Candy! Make a Traditional Irish Brambrack!

With Halloween approaching, U.S. adults are filling up on ginormous bags of candy to give out to trick or treaters. If we're having a party, there may be candied apples or popcorn balls to eat. But if you're in Ireland, what you're probably enjoying is brambrack.

Why should we care about Ireland? Well, that nation, with its Celtic history, gave us what is now Halloween. It began centuries ago with Samhain, an end-of-harvest festival celebrated on October 31 with bonfires meant to burn out old spirits. People would wear ugly masks to confuse spirits and make noise to frighten them away from their homes. They might also leave food out to appease them.

Eventually, as Christianity spread through Europe, during the eighth century the Catholic Church designated the first day of November as All Saints Day (All Hallows) to commemorate those saints who did not have a specific day of remembrance. The night before was known as All Hallows Eve. And that, over time, became known as Halloween. 

Maeve Rochford of Sugar and Scribe invited me over to learn how to make one of the most cherished of Irish Halloween traditions, brambrack, a dense bread/cake filled with dried fruit soaked in whiskey. In fact, "bram" comes from the old English word "beorma," or fermented. Brack comes from "brac," or speckled (from the colors of the fruit).

Maeve recently visited O'Hara's Bread Bakery in Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. She told me that the bakery makes 2,400 loaves an hour for weeks in anticipation of Halloween. Traditionally, the breads would include little tokens that foretold the future for the person eating it--coins for good fortune, toy rings for marriage, and even death tokens. 

While brambrack is a yeast bread, many, including Maeve's Aunt Margaret, make it without yeast (with eight children, she didn't have time for rising). So that's what Maeve made me. She used baking soda instead and the extra benefit is that you get a stronger crust. This bread is also made with cold black tea.

Now, ideally, you'll bake these bread/cakes in 7-inch cast-iron pans. But you can also make one large one in a Dutch oven. It just may take longer to cook.

While she was making the bread, Maeve also showed me some cool baking tips. First, she likes to refrigerate lemons she's going to zest. That, she said, helps separate the peel from the pith. When mixing the dry ingredients, she uses a spatula and with it folds the ingredients together so that more air gets into the mixture. She keeps an extra bowl of flour around that she dips her blending hand in both to keep the wet mixture from sticking to her hands and to better collect the excess so that there's no waste when she turns the dough into the baking pans.

Once the dough was divided into the pans, Maeve showed me two options for the top of the loaf. One was to just leave it alone (photo above) for a more rustic look. The other was to lightly spread hot water on the top with her fingers for a smooth look (photo below). She also said you could do an egg wash on the top. Just know that with either water or an egg wash, the rise won't be quite as high because of the weight of the liquid.

When the loaves are done, look for a horizontal crack in each. Surprise, that's actually a good thing.

You also don't need to wait for the loaves to cool. When you remove them from the oven, carefully flip the pans to release the brambrack, slice and serve with really good butter and jam. And a cup of Irish tea. That's what I had and, oh, I could have eaten the whole loaf. The bread is dense but not fruit cake dense. Just nice and solid with punches of sweetness from the fruit. Slathered with soft butter and jam, it was the perfect cool weather treat with a cup of Irish breakfast tea.

Tea Brambrack
from Maeve Rochford of Sugar and Scribe
Makes 2, 7-inch loaves or 1 large loaf


2 cups whiskey
2 cups dried fruit (raisins, apricots, figs, cherries)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup self-rising flour
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Zest of half a lemon (refrigerate the lemon the day before to improve zest)
1 1/2 cups cold black tea
1/4 cup melted salted butter, plus another 1/4 cup more to butter the cast iron pans
1/4 cup milk
Extra all-purpose flour 


Mix together the whiskey and dried fruit and let the fruit soak in the whiskey for two days before making the loaves.

To make the loaves, preheat conventional oven to 350°. Put extra all-purpose flour in a bowl just large enough for you to dip a hand in. Coat the cast iron pan/s with butter. Set aside.

In a large bowl, fold together all dry ingredients using a spatula. Smash any lumps of brown sugar. Mix well. Add the lemon zest. Add the tea and melted butter. Mix ingredients.

About three-quarters of the way done mixing, add the milk and stir it in.

Drain the whiskey from the fruit and add the fruit to the mixture.

Put away the spatula and dip your hand into the extra flour. Then use that hand to fold in the fruit and finish blending the dough, turning it into a ball. It will be wet, which is what you want.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. If you're making a large brambrack, it could take up to an hour. Test the loaf at 45 minutes. When baked, remove from oven, flip the pans to release the breads, slice, and serve.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Buttermilk Brined Chicken

Those of you who know me know that I've come to love making my own butter, especially cultured butter. But what to do with the residual buttermilk?

Sure, you can incorporate buttermilk into sweet breads, pies, and cakes, make pancakes with it, dunk chicken into it to make fried chicken. In fact, there are endless things you can do with buttermilk. But with only one cup at a time... well, I thought about it and decided that with the amount of chicken I make for myself for a couple of meals I could use it for brining.

Now I actually don't usually brine chicken--or turkey for that matter. I guess I'm a lazy cook. But the thought of the chicken thighs and wings bathing for 24 hours in that buttermilk, augmented with some salt and pepper, some garlic, and my favorite smoky Aleppo pepper was irresistible.

It's easy enough to pull all these ingredients together and pour them over the chicken. I started out with them in a casserole dish but realized that a gallon zip-lock bag would be much better for full immersion. In the course of the day, I periodically reached into the fridge and flipped the bag around to make sure the pieces were equally saturated.

Once I was ready to cook them, I heated the oven to 400° and drained the brine, and placed the chicken pieces on a rack over a foil-covered tray. I roasted them for close to an hour, ultimately slicking down the chicken  with honey for the last 10 minutes before removing the tray from the oven.

What the buttermilk brine did was sublime. The chicken was beautifully tender. The flavors were subtle--a hint of the garlic and Aleppo pepper remained--and the skin crispy and sweet from the honey.

I'd love to hear how you use buttermilk! Leave me your ideas in the comments below!

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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Braised Chicken for Fall

Have you ever worried you've lost your cooking mojo? See that raised hand? That would be mine. After a summer in which I spent very little time in the kitchen--a combination of off-putting hot weather and, well, no time or energy because of family health issues--I've felt off my game.

But this week, with cooler weather for at least a couple of days, I finally felt excited again about being in my kitchen. Finally motivated to pick up a knife, turn on the oven, and make myself a real dinner. But I started with the familiar--braised chicken thighs. This dish is one of my favorite comfort food go-to's at home as the weather cools. The chicken is transformed into melt-in-your-mouth bites by braising in vegetables that release their juices, along with the fragrant herbs and smokiness from the dry Marsala I usually add. The added bonus is the sweet aroma the kitchen takes on when it's cooking. It just makes me feel good to be home.

I make this dish many ways, depending on what I'm craving and what ingredients I have. Braised chicken is so easy and so versatile you almost don't need a recipe. What you do need is the chicken, of course, some vegetables, herbs, spices, and white wine. I veer from tomatoes, red peppers, garlic, onions, and leeks to marinated artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, capers, and fennel. Love carrots and celery? Add them. Winter squash? Eggplant? Go for it. Sometimes I'll bread the chicken, otherwise I'll just sprinkle the pieces with salt and black pepper. I like to include dried herbs like oregano, marjoram, and thyme. If I want heat, I'll add diced chiles or crushed red pepper flakes. Most often I turn to Marsala or sherry, but if I have an open bottle of Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, in that will go. I usually make this just for myself. Two pieces turns into two meals for me. But I've made it for six people with a dozen pieces and just added more ingredients to a larger pot. No problem. You may just need to brown the chicken in batches and cook the dish longer.

Braised chicken for one or two takes about an hour in a 375° oven. You can use a clay pot (don't preheat in that case so the pot won't crack from the shock of the heat) or a heavy metal pot, like a Le Creuset Dutch oven. Whatever you use needs to be oven ready in terms of the handles and lid top for metal pots and pots that can absorb higher heat for clay.

Prep your veggies. Then add some olive oil to the pot on the stove and add your seasoned chicken, skin side down, with enough space between them so they don't steam. Let the skin brown--don't pull the chicken from the bottom of the pot. Wait to turn the pieces until they lift easily.

Then, once the chicken is skin side up, start layering half the vegetables. Once you have one layer in, add half the seasonings. Add the rest of the vegetables, the rest of the seasonings, and your wine. If you don't drink wine, you can add a little apple juice or chicken broth.

Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and place it in the oven to cook for an hour. Serve it over grains--I made farro for it this week--so you have something to absorb the sweet and salty juices. Make enough for a second meal. It tastes even better the next night!

Braised Chicken with Mediterranean Flavors
Serves 1 or 2
(printable recipe)

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 chicken thighs
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 onion thinly sliced
3 to 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 dozen or more pitted Kalamata olives
1 dozen quartered marinated artichoke hearts
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
crushed red pepper flakes
3 ounces Marsala

Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 375°.

Heat olive oil in a heavy, oven-ready pot that has a lid.

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Place the chicken pieces skin side down in the pot. Let brown. Turn only once the chicken easily lifts from the bottom of the pot.

Layer half the onion, garlic, olives, and artichoke hearts over the chicken. Sprinkle with half the herbs and sprinkle in some crushed red pepper flakes. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Layer in the rest of the onion, garlic, olives, and artichoke hearts. Add the rest of the herbs, more crushed red pepper flakes if you like, and salt and pepper. Drizzle the Marsala over the mixture.

Put the cover on the pot and place in the oven. Cook for about an hour.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Mom's Chicken Soup

As I write this, the temperature is 101˚ in San Diego. In September. Oy. So making soup hasn't exactly been on my agenda. But yesterday, when it was just a mere 95°, my mom wasn't feeling great. It didn't help that as she's been clearing out her house in preparation for moving, the fridge and kitchen in general are emptying and the chaos surrounding the move has meant she hasn't been eating well. She needed to have something easy, comforting, and nutritious to eat.

So, I brought her back to my house, pulled out the familiar big yellow enameled pot--a Belgian precursor to Le Creuset from the late '50s that my dad bought her when they were first married and that she just gave me in the move--and made her the chicken soup she's long made me.

Now there are all sorts of ways of making chicken soup and certainly more elevated and sophisticated than this. But this homey Eastern European Jewish version is what I grew up with and love. And it's so easy to make. Every family needs its go-to soup. This is ours. It's sweet from parsnips and carrots. And my mom's twist--adding fresh dill at the end of the cooking process--adds a brightness to an old-world tradition that makes it very specific to our family. During the holidays, usually Rosh Hashanah (which begins this Sunday night) and Passover, she serves just the broth with sliced carrots, cooked separately to eliminate the fat, and ethereal matzoh balls. She always saved the cooked chicken for my dad, who adored snacking on it.

But if we were sick with colds or flu or just wanted a warm, dense soup, we got the full complement of all the ingredients and maybe even some matzoh balls, too.

So, that's what my mom got yesterday, sans matzoh balls.

Here are some tips my mom has for making it:
  • You can add zucchini to the soup, again to add sweetness.
  • Use drumsticks and thighs because the thicker bones have more marrow, adding richness and flavor to the broth. If you include white meat, that'll be to save and eat later, as she requested yesterday.
  • Skin the chicken pieces to reduce the amount of fat. Now these days, in the name of cholesterol, we don't save the skin, but back in the day the skin was sliced and sautéed with sliced onions to make something called gribenes--think the most delicious crispy cracklins. The rendered fat? That would be schmaltz.
  • Be sure to skim any foam from the simmering soup as it cooks but even more effective is to make the soup a day before you serve it. Refrigerate the soup and the fat will rise to the surface and congeal so you can remove that layer before reheating it.
  • Add the herbs as the end of the cooking process.
  • If you're serving just the broth, be sure to have an extra carrot around to slice and boil separately. Then add those slices to your broth. They'll taste fresher without having been cooked in a broth with fat.
  • If you're making matzoh balls, cook them in water separately and then add them to the soup as you reheat it to serve. 
  • If you're adding noodles, cook them separately (otherwise they soak up all the liquid) and add them before serving.
  • Chicken soup (even with the matzoh balls) freezes beautifully so you can make it well in advance or keep containers around to have in a cold/flu emergency.
I will often add other root vegetables like rutabagas or turnips for flavor.

Chicken Soup
From Evie Golden
Serves 4 to 6

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into circles (reserve 1/3 for later if serving just the broth)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and sliced
4 chicken drumsticks and/or thighs, skinned
1/2 chicken breast, skinned and cut into 2 pieces
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
7 to 8 cups water
1/4 cup fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons fresh dill, minced

In a large, heavy pot add the garlic, onion, 2/3 of the carrots, celery, parsnip, chicken, salt and pepper, and water.

Bring the mixture to a strong simmer, then cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cook for at least 1 hour (I prefer 2 hours). During that time, periodically lift the lid and skim any foam. Toward the end of the cooking process, stir in the herbs and let cook for another 10 or 15 minutes.

Let cool, pour the soup into a container, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. 

Before serving, remove the soup from the refrigerator and lift off the congealed fat. Pour back into the pot, and gently reheat. Taste and adjust seasonings. If you're serving just the broth, bring a small pot of water to the boil and add the reserved slices of carrots. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the carrots are cooked through. Drain.

Serve either the soup with the vegetables and chicken or just the broth with the cooked carrots added.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Galaxy Taco Announces New Season of Taco Tuesday Takeovers

Just got a note from Galaxy Taco's chef/owner Trey Foshee, listing the fall lineup of chefs and others who will be at the restaurant as guest taqueros and create a set of three innovative tacos for guests.

Foshee started this tradition in January with his friend Chef Jason Knibb of NineTen. And, Knibb will be back again on September 27. Tonight's guest chef will be Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House.

"It's a real casual thing," said Foshee, who opened Galaxy Taco in La Jolla Shores a year ago last July. "We happen to have some heavy hitting people coming in but that's because they're my friends. It's not a competition. We kept getting asked all the time what we were going to do for Taco Tuesday and though this would be fun, but we're doing it as something of value and something we're offering in addition to what we already do."

I've been to these Taco Tuesday Takeovers, most notably one with Isabel Cruz. While it's essentially an evening like other evenings at the restaurant in that you can order off the menu, there's a celebratory air to it since friends and family of the chef tend to show up and hang out at each other's tables. And the featured taquero roams the restaurant chatting with them and other guests, answering questions. It takes on the air of a party--and then there are the tacos. You just don't know what creations these chefs and other talents (he's had authors and artists participate, too) will come up with.

Here's the lineup:

September 20: Juan Carlos Recamier of Ceviche House
September 27: Jason Knibb of NineTen Restaurant
October 4: Jose "JoJo" Ruiz, Executive Chef/Partner Lionfish 
October 11: Ruffo Ibarra Arellano, Chef/Co-Owner – ORYX Capital, Tijuana
October 18: Stevan Novoa                                   
October 25: Hanis Cavin of Carnitas Snack Shack
November 1: Dia de los Muertos guest chef dinner
November 8: Gisselle Wellman (Top Chef Season 13) of Pacific Standard Kitchen 
November 15Brittany Cassidy of CDC Rustic Canyon 
November 22: still open
November 29: Jeff Jackson of The Lodge at Torrey Pines

"Taco Tuesday Takeovers" run from 5 p.m. until close. The guest chefs will create three signature tacos. Customers can order these in addition to regular menu items. Since it's not a formal event, there's no start time, but reservations are suggested.

"I'm doing it for the fun of cooking with friends and seeing what they come up with," Foshee said. "The chef will be available to discuss their tacos and anything else, but I'm not setting anything formal up. Tacos are not that complicated. This is really just for the fun of it. We'll learn from them. They may learn from us."

Galaxy Taco is located at 2259 Avenida De La Playa in La Jolla. You can make reservations by calling 858-228-5655 or on the website.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Mort's Favorites

Over the years I've shared with you food I've made for or with my dad, Mort. I've done it because his love of food was contagious and inspired how I cook, market, and enjoy eating out. He was an adventurous eater at a time when Chef Boyardee and Swansons frozen dinners were more popular than crepes or tempura, just two of the dishes he introduced us to at L.A.'s few French and Japanese restaurants when my siblings and I were growing up in the '60s and '70s. He instilled that adventurousness and his happiness in the kitchen in his children. For him food and family were his greatest joy and totally intertwined. I think I've written here that my first memory is of him holding me carefully over the stove when I was about three, teaching me how to make scrambled eggs.

My dad suffered from Alzheimer's and Lewy Body diseases for the past few years. He lost his battle with them last Sunday, September 4, and my heart is broken. I always loved going out to eat with him or cooking him meals, but those activities became especially important to me as a way I could still connect with him as dementia took greater hold over his mind. He loved going out for burgers at The Habit, for Thai food at Supannee House of Thai or for sushi or Chinese. He got a kick out of visiting my friend Tommy Gomes at Catalina Offshore Products, who treated him and my mom like VIPs and gave them samples that could serve as a meal. Although he always was a big story teller, especially about his family, the conversations over the meals we shared in his last years often surprised me with new bits of information that his long-term memory could still dredge up. And he could always make me laugh, up to the end. He wasn't a joke teller, but a smart, naturally funny person who relished having the right comeback.

It also became a pleasure to prepare special edible treats for him--things I knew he'd love.

When I look inside my mom's refrigerator, there are still a few jars of preserved peaches I made for him early this summer.

He was delighted when I made him pickles--both bread and butter pickles and dill pickles.

The pickles are long gone, which makes me happy since he enjoyed them so much.

I even made him pickled beets--even though I detest beets. He was thrilled. This falls under the category of "anything for Dad."

But I was tickled--and so was he--that I found one of his favorites, sand dabs, at a local fishermen's farmers market. I dusted them in flour before pan frying them for a big meal that made him so happy.

Then there were his Tom Aches. These are Dutch pancakes made with beer that come from our long-time family friend in Amsterdam, Tom van Leeuwen. For years all I had was a list of ingredients, no measurements. Dad knew what the proportions were and I was able to work with him, while he was still able, to make them and create a precise recipe. Now it's something I can make for friends or my nieces and nephews.

Dad taught me how to bone fish, eat artichokes, and marinate and roll flank steak into delicious broiled pinwheels. My mom and I just discovered tucked away in the living room bookcase a recipe book he had created for himself, complete with a hand-written table of contents for dishes like Turkish Spinach Salad, Cooking Guy's Frittata, and Chocolate Toffee Matzoh. He learned as a boy from Rosie, the cook at The Park Manor, his family's catering business in Brooklyn, how to make appetizers and carve fruit bowls for weddings and bar mitzvahs. It was something he did for dinner parties he and my mom held. Dad took us both to fine dining restaurants and to the original Tommy's on Rampart and Beverly Blvd. to get big, messy chili-laden Tommy Burgers--and we were expected to know how to behave and enjoy ourselves at both.

We loved the nights he'd come home from work with a big pink box in hand. It meant that he'd been in L.A.'s Chinatown, back when he worked downtown, and had pork buns for us. Sometimes, his secretary's mom and aunt made extra tamales for us over the holidays and we'd devour them as the rare treat they were. I can't think of too much he wouldn't try or encourage us to try back when these foods considered exotic--if they were considered at all.

There were so many ways I enjoyed my father. We shared so many interests--in jazz, college football, The New Yorker, politics, shopping. Even in the depths of his dementia, we'd reminisce about the restaurant meals or street food we enjoyed back when I lived in New York. Sharing a meal together? That, ultimately, was everything. He--with my mom, of course--turned me into a person who lives to eat, and eat well. Even as I'll miss him, I'll always be grateful for that.

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Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The Heat is On! My Favorite Chilled Soups to Beat the Dog Days of Summer

Here we go again. In San Diego we got almost a week of coolish, breezy weather in August before getting slammed again with another heat wave. I don't know about you, but I'm very nervous about my next SDG&E bill.

When the temperatures climb there's just no turning on the stove in my house. So I turn to chilled soups filled with vegetables or fruit that are simple to prepare and don't make me sweat. I thought you might appreciate these, too. Especially as we say goodbye to some summer crops that will make way for the fall harvest.

Evie's Chunky Gazpacho: Of course, I had to start with tomatoes and my favorite chunky gazpacho. As many of my friends and readers know, this gazpacho is something my mom has made for years and I adopted as my own. It's a powerhouse of nutrients and the more nutrients, the better the flavor. This soup is packed with it. It starts with the tomatoes, but adds cucumbers, corn, onions, garlic, bell peppers, chilies, cilantro, and lime juice--and I'm just getting started! Make your own tortillas to accompany this!

Coconut Peach Gazpacho: My friend Jesus Gonzalez, formerly the chef at Rancho La Puerta, makes a dynamite Coconut Peach Gazpacho that's a blend of savory (onion, cucumber, chili) and sweet (peaches or other seasonal fruit, agave nectar, and apple). Add some acid from lime juice and a touch of mint and you've got another refreshing summer soup!

Cucumber and Radish Confetti Soup: Many years ago, when I lived in New York and suffered from the sweltering humidity that is particularly eviscerating in the Northeast, a friend of mine introduced me to cucumber bisque. This simple chilled soup made with hothouse cucumbers, yogurt, garlic, dill, and tomatoes became a staple for me. Then I decided to scratch the tomatoes and add radishes to get a bit of a bite. Loved it!

Grant Grill's Cucumber Soup: Several years ago I visited the U.S. Grant Hotel in downtown San Diego to check out their rooftop garden. They were growing tomatoes and peppers, Persian cucumbers, fennel, and a host of magnificent fragrant herbs. There I sampled their rich and creamy (from a blend of yogurt and sour cream) Persian Cucumber Soup. Even with the potent flavors of chilis, cilantro, mint, dill, and garlic, those cukes burst through.

Chilled Honeydew Coconut Milk Soup: Chilled melons may be the most refreshing of summer eats. Combine the melon--and an uber sweet honeydew at that--with fresh ginger, coconut milk, lime juice, and a smidge of kaffir lime powder and you have a dish that will serve as virtual armor against the dastardly rays of the summer sun.

Chilled Melon Blueberry Soup: I actually just wrote about this in July, but the heat is on and I love this combination of melon with blueberries and potent herbs like tarragon and basil. Thanks to the yogurt, it has a welcome creaminess and tang.

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