Sunday, March 28, 2010

Passover Popovers: The Perfect Bread Substitute

For you MOT (members of the tribe) who are looking forward to Passover this week with a mix of excitement (love the Seder!) and dread (oy, matzoh for an entire week!), I may have something for you that will excite you a little more and ease the dread. Matzoh meal popovers.

I was introduced to these buttery puffs of heaven as a child by my Nana. My grandmother somehow made hundreds of these and they were huge -- big enough to slice horizontally and use to make sandwiches. And I don't know how she did it because you can't just double the recipe; for more, you have to make each batch separately. She must have spent days making them.

But they're easy to make. A little boiling, a little stirring, a little baking... Few ingredients. And, yum. They're so good and so puffy that many years ago my late cat Sequoia who loved all things baked took an opportunity while they were cooling on the counter to pounce into them and take bites from almost every one when I left them to run to the market for more eggs and butter (and then I had to go out again, of course). They're so good that once when I brought them to a Seder, some Israelis who were also guests chided me for bringing treif to the Seder table. They'd never seen a "bread" before that you could make rise with eggs. They certainly hadn't seen these before and, in fact, I haven't seen them elsewhere. They're kind of a signature Passover dish for my family. But, I've gotten requests so I'm sharing this truly cherished family recipe now.

A couple of tips:
1. As I mentioned, make only one batch at a time; don't double or triple the recipe. The popover just won't rise as well.
2. Make sure you let the dough cool twice -- once when you add the matzoh meal so you don't cook the eggs and the other after adding the eggs to let the dough relax and firm up.
3. When you remove the popovers from the oven, my mom suggests poking a small hole on the bottom of each one to release steam and keep them from collapsing. Seems to work.
4. If you store them, don't cover them. The moisture from a plastic bag or container makes them soggy and moldy. Keep them in a paper bag or an open plastic bowl. You can also reheat them to good effect.

Tillie's Passover Popovers
Makes about 15


2 cups water
2 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 stick of butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 cups matzoh meal
6 extra large eggs (if smaller, add 2 extra egg whites)

1. Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Combine the water, sugar, salt, and butter in a medium-size pot and bring to a boil.
3. Remove from heat and stir in the matzoh meal. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
4. Beat in eggs, one at a time. I'm now in the habit of using my KitchenAid stand mixer to do this instead of by hand and it's made a huge difference. I also just bought this great beater blade for the KitchenAid that has little spatula-like wings and really scrapes everything along the sides of the bowl so I don't have to stop and do it manually.
5. Refrigerate for 15 minutes until cool.
6. Spoon onto greased cookie sheets or into muffin tins.

7. Bake at 450 degrees for 13 minutes, then turn down heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 minutes. When brown, remove from oven and place on racks to cool. Use a toothpick or skewer to poke a hole on the bottom of each.

For those of you celebrating Passover, I wish you a good Seder with family and friends.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Taste Takes Flight

So, I don't know whether to applaud or bemoan this news. Taste Artisan Cheese & Gourmet Shop in Hillcrest is closing next Wednesday. However, like the proverbial phoenix, it rises in mid-April at the Little Italy Mercato on Saturdays--and if all goes according to plan, says owner Mary Palmer, the new TasteCheese will be at several other local farmers markets by mid-May. Okay, time for applause.

The Palmers (Mary and husband George) are referring to their new venture as "streetail," and it allows them to do something that's been missing while they've been minding a store: get back to the customers and get back to the cheese. Sourcing it. Learning more about it. Identifying new small artisan producers.

So, while the physical shop will no longer exist, TasteCheese will. They'll still offer cheese plates and gift baskets. Still offer cheese classes. Still offer a variety of cheeses. Of course, the latter will be scaled back to about 12 to 15 varieties a week given the limitations of storage and farmers market booths, but these cheeses will change throughout the year.


"We plan to cycle through our inventory each week to retail customers and chefs, and that will allow us to mix it up with a greater variety of artisan cheeses, a rotating selection of goudas, blues, and cheddars along with other customer favorites," Mary explains.

Get on the TasteCheese mailing list and you'll receive a weekly e-blast from Mary letting you know what's available at the upcoming market. The same information will be on Twitter (she's @shreddedblend) and Facebook.

And, you'll want to take a look at the website. It's being redesigned to offer customers more information, Mary says, and they're anticipating being able to do online sales as well. And, Mary will be writing a blog talking about the producers she's working with and other cheese-related info.

I spent some time with Mary on Wednesday, and clearly this transition is emotional and exhilarating. Probably liberating as well. It's been a challenging five-plus years in the store.

"There's been a shift in the paradigm of how to do retail in this country. There's no central square for specialty selling retail," she says. "There's too much travel involved for customers to get cheese here, bread there, meat somewhere else. That's now at the farmers markets. So, we decided to bring our reputation and audience to the place they're already going."

So, look for the Palmers and TasteCheese at the Little Italy Mercato on April 17.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

After the Seder: Passover Brunch

Passover. It's all about the Seder, right? Complete with a plate of matzoh, a Seder plate holding traditional symbolic foods, and a Haggadah at every plate to read the account of the Jews’ experience in Egypt and their liberation from the bonds of slavery.

Well, yes, Passover is focused on the Seder. But what happens after that when there’s an entire week  in which we’re expected to refrain from eating leavened breads along with a variety of grains? Fortunately, Passover coincides with the beginning of spring and with spring comes spring produce—asparagus, strawberries, artichokes, fava beans, and the like. So, why not create a Passover brunch that celebrates a new season?

Growing up, my parents would treat us kids—and themselves, of course—to matzoh brei, or fried matzoh. My orientation is toward the savory so I have always loved the plump, crispy pieces of matzoh that emerge from the pan sprinkled with salt. To be honest, it doesn't look like much and there's just no dressing it up, but it's delicious. And this is what I've long liked to serve for my Passover brunches with cold poached asparagus and horseradish dressing.

Now I’ve seen a lot of versions of matzoh brei that tend to be more of a matzoh omelet than what I make and it’s simply a matter of changing the ratio of eggs to matzoh. I like the matzoh pieces simply coated with egg so the ratio I use is one egg to two pieces of matzoh. All you do is break up the matzoh into bite-sized pieces, put them in a large bowl and cover with hot water. Let the matzoh pieces soak in the water for a few minutes to soften and before they get too soggy, drain the water. Beat the eggs in a separate bowl and add them to the matzoh, then gently stir the mixture together so each piece of matzo is coated with egg. Heat a large skillet (cast iron skillets are great for this), add vegetable oil to about ¼ of an inch and when a little piece of the mixture sizzles when it’s added to the oil, pour the rest of the mixture in. Stir and break up the pieces as they cook. The matzoh brei is ready when the pieces of matzoh puff up and are golden and crispy.


Then comes some decision making. Do you serve the matzoh brei with sugar and/or applesauce or salt and pepper and/or sour cream? It’s the classic Jewish conundrum (think potato pancakes at Chanukah). Resolve it according to taste or be a mensch and put it all out for your guests.

Now, this year, I’m expanding my repertoire. I asked two chefs in town, Matt Gordon of Urban Solace and Jeff Rossman of Terra, what they’d suggest for a Passover brunch and they gave me recipes that really elevate the occasion. Matt's cured arctic char or salmon is gives us bagels, lox, and cream cheese sans the bagels--and is really easy to make. And Jeff takes matzoh brei to a new dimension with sweet matzoh fritters. Serve with a little whipped cream to complement the sweetness or creme fraiche to offset it, depending on what else you're serving.

These fritters were a fun surprise. I hadn't used matzoh like this before. Let it soak and soak and the matzoh collapses into a dough-like substance. I didn't have a bag of raisins but I had a Trader Joe's medley of raisins, dried cranberries, and blueberries, and they worked just as well. Once I made them and had made up some whipped cream for strawberries, I tried them together and oh my...

Sweet Matzo Fritters
Jeff Rossman, Terra

Yield 30, ½-inch fritters.

4 ½ standard sized matzot, plain or whole wheat
3 large eggs separated
¾ cup finely chopped almonds or your favorite nut
1 cup raisins or currants
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
3 tablespoons matzo cake meal
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup granulated sugar
Vegetable oil for frying

¼ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix sugar and cinnamon together for topping.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, break up the matzot into small pieces and cover with water. Let them soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Use your hands to squeeze the matzot dry of all excess water. Press the matzot with your fingers or with a fork and completely crush them. With a fork, mix in the egg yolks, almonds, raisins, oil, cinnamon, lemon juice, zest and cake meal.

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and continue beating the whites until they form stiff white peaks. Fold the whites in the matzo mixture.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat enough frying oil so it comes up about ¼ to ½ inch up the sides. Drop generous spoonfuls of the batter into the oil. Fry the fritters until they are lightly browned on all sides, turning them once. Drain them on paper towels. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and serve.

I made Matt's cured salmon in about 10 minutes (good luck finding arctic char in San Diego right now; I tried.) Of course, then you have to wait--about 24 hours--for the salmon to soak in the flavors and "cook." But, it's worth the wait. Matt recommends adding Absolut Ruby Red to the curing mixture. I can't take in grapefruit so I used Absolut Citrus and it worked very well.

Cure for Arctic Char or Wild Salmon
Matt Gordon, Urban Solace

1 salmon fillet, about 2 pounds (remove bones, not skin)
2 cups kosher salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, roughly chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 ounce grapefruit-flavored vodka (like Absolut ruby red) **optional

Mix together all of these ingredients except the fish. In a container just big enough to hold the fish fillet, sprinkle a layer of the mixture about ¼ inch thick. Place the fillet in, skin side down. Cover with the remaining mixture.

For a small fish like arctic char, let sit for about 24 hours in refrigerator. For a larger fillet (salmon), two days may be required. To check, remove from salt and press gently on the thickest part of the fish, it should feel quite firm with just a bit of give under it. Rinse salt mixture off the fish and pat dry. Slice very thinly to serve with capers, slices of lemon, finely chopped onion, minced chives, grated hard-boiled egg, or crème fraiche.

All this goes well with a beautiful green salad or look for thick stalks of asparagus to make a shredded asparagus salad. Just use a vegetable peeler to create long strands of asparagus. It’s even prettier with a combination of green, white, and purple asparagus. Add shaved fennel if you like. I enjoy toasting pine nuts and adding them to the asparagus and then I toss it with my favorite homemade vinaigrette and top with shaved Parmesan cheese.

Dessert is simple. It's strawberry time and I like to take advantage of this and just serve them whole. My favorite accompaniment is a bowl of whipped cream spiked with cointreau. Keep the stems on the berries to serve as a handle for extreme dunking.

P.S. If you're looking for an fun celebration of Passover, check out Matt's second annual Urban Seder. This year, restaurant critic Steve Silverman and Sam "the Cooking Guy" Zien are leading the Seder, which will raise money for Jewish Family Services' "Project SARAH." Project SARAH offers a safe, confidential setting for adults and children who have survived domestic abuse.

Matt will be putting a contemporary spin on traditional Passover Seder dishes. For all the details go to the Urban Solace website.

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Friday, March 19, 2010

Larkspur's Picco: California Italian Designed for Sharing

I'm up in the Bay Area for a long weekend with friends and a whole lot of eating. I'm staying with my "brother" Joe and his family (Joe and I share the same birthday and have been close friends since we were 12; we're like twins of different mothers). They're just across the Bay from San Francisco in Mill Valley so I've been enjoying tastes of the area. Last night, he took me to a favorite local place he and his wife Audrey enjoy, Picco, in nearby Larkspur.

Picco has been around for several years and chef/owner Bruce Hill describes the cuisine as California Italian, which basically leaves a lot of room for interpretation and embraces flavors you would usually consider belonging to other cuisines. What do I mean? Well, one of the dishes that I saw come out frequently from the kitchen--which Joe and I also ordered--is the ahi tuna tartare. It has a decidedly Japanese turn to it, what with the round sticky rice cake as the foundation and the strip of shiso leaf on the top, and the tuna tartare itself blended with sesame and soy. There's a touch of chopped apple to provide some sweet crunch.

The dish is a perfect introduction to what Picco does, not the least because it also demonstrates the other key aspect of the restaurant. All its dishes are designed and plated to be shared family style. Our next dish, a risotto made from scratch on the half hour, was a generous portion for two, especially given how rich it is. The risotto changes depending on seasonal local produce. Ours was flooded with gorgeous green garbanzos, green garlic, spring onions, and basil. The risotto was creamy but with that terrific tooth bite you want and I was very excited to discover another way to use green garbanzos, which are one of spring's best treats.

Next up for us came a rather unusual salad Picco calls a "slice of ice." It's a plate holding a round of sliced iceburg lettuce, perhaps an inch and a half thick, topped with a creamy tomato-herb dressing, house-cured pancetta, and a soft-cooked egg. Break the yolk and then cut it pizza style. It was like eating a breakfast salad and very refreshing after the risotto.

By now, we were about topped out, but we'd ordered another dish and it was worth making room for--the mesquite grilled California lamb sausage, accompanied by fava beans, radish, crispy potato wedges, and a mint salsa verde. The sausage was a surprise in that it looked more like a small  loaf--think meatloaf--but a tremendous meatloaf, something Mom probably never made. The delicately seasoned moist ground lamb was in perfect play with the mint salsa. It was a fun riff on traditional lamb with mint jelly and far better. I loved the fava beans and radish combination, too.

We were full up but Joe had been telling me about a dessert he and Audrey like to get there and I couldn't pass it by: a chocolate hazelnut milkshake accompanied by soft-center chocolate madeleines. Usually, they serve four of these brownie-like pastries, but they gave us a mini order of two.

This is a grown-up dessert. The milkshake is really just a few sips so you get all that flavor but not in a huge overindulgence. The madeleines reminded me of a chocolate ganache cake I used to make long ago, with the molten flavors almost oozing out but cooked just enough to hold together. It's rich and decadent and it was a great conclusion to a wonderful and unusual meal.

Picco also has a little pizzeria next door that I'd like to try in the future. Clearly, both spots are popular in this cute little town. On a Thursday evening, both were packed.

Picco is located at 320 Magnolia Ave. in Larkspur.

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Zucchini Pancakes: Making Veggies Fun

My friend and fellow Les Dames D'Escoffier chapter member Julie Darling of Just Call Us Catering seems to be everywhere these days when it comes to volunteering to feed people in San Diego. Her latest project is to teach kids how to cook straight from the garden. And, she didn't have to twist my arm to help. So, on Tuesday I'll be with her at the Olivewood Gardens at the International Community Foundation Center's property in National City.

I can't wait to see their garden, where right now they're harvesting lemon grass, nasturtiums, oregano, rutabagas, leeks, celery, zucchinis, cauliflower and many other fruits, vegetables, and herbs. We'll have about 60 elementary school kids from the neighborhood there to learn about planting in the garden, maintaining it, and nutrition. I'll be doing a cooking class for them. What am I making? Well, with all that zucchini, why not zucchini pancakes?

This is a great way to turn a vegetable many kids and even adults may not like into something they'll enjoy. In fact, it's why I make them. Zucchini's fine, but I don't love the texture when I find it sauteed or in ratatouille. So, early on I started making these pancakes. And, come the end of summer when you can't seem to find enough ways to use them up from your garden, this recipe comes in handy. In fact, you can use this recipe for many other vegetables and the kids can help make it.

Zucchini Pancakes


1 pound of zucchinis
1 large yellow onion
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup of Panko or seasoned bread crumbs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetable oil or olive oil for frying


1.     Cut off the ends of the zucchinis and grate each one coarsely, using the big holes of a grater or your food processor's grating blade. Put the grated zucchini in a colander and the colander into a bowl and let the liquid drain from the zucchini.
       Cut the onions in half lengthwise and remove the skin from the onion. Then grate each onion coarsely, using the big holes of a grater. Add the grated onion to the zucchini in the colander to drain. Feel free to gently but firmly squeeze the grated vegetables to get out as much liquid as possible.

3.     Put the vegetables in a large bowl and add the Panko, baking powder, the oregano, the garlic (if you’re using it), and the salt and pepper. Stir it all together to fully mix ingredients.
4.     Add the eggs and mix well. The mixture should be moist but not runny.

5.     Heat ¼ inch of oil in a hot pan. Place a tiny bit of the mixture in the pan. If it begins to sizzle, the oil is ready for the mixture. Drop a large spoonful of the zucchini mix into the pan and flatten into a pancake. Don’t crowd the pancakes by putting too many in at one time. 

      Cook them for several minutes on each side until the pancakes are golden brown. Put the pancakes on a plate with paper towels placed on top to drain. Then serve with applesauce, creme fraiche, or sour cream.

Makes about two dozen, three-inch pancakes.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Gi-normous. Ugly. Meet the Delicious Shasta Tangerine

Sometimes Henry's surprises me. Today's trip to their Pt. Loma store found me staring at the largest, homeliest tangerine I think I've ever seen. And, now I'm in love.

The Shasta tangerine, known as Shasta Mandarins or Shasta Golds, are a relatively new variety. Released by the University of California, Riverside as TDE2 in 2002, they were derived from crossing Tangors, Dancy and Encore mandarin varieties (hence "TDE"). They're easy to peel, seedless, and run to the juicy tart side like Minneolas--another favorite of mine. In other words, delicious. And, they're in season from mid-March through May.

According to produce manager Robert Delgado, these Shastas are from Ivanhoe, a small town near Visalia in the San Joaquin Valley. "I've seen them before but usually they're considered a specialty item like pluots," Delgado told me. They must have a bumper crop this year because the store is selling them for 77 cents a pound (the other, bigger deal is the naval oranges at 15 cents a pound -- no, not a typo).

So, just how big are these tangerines? The one above on the right weighed in at 1 pound and a quarter and it wasn't the biggest in the bins. But, don't let that put you off. Even huge, they are a terrific eating fruit and tomorrow will likely see the whirl of the juicer at breakfast.

Henry's in Pt. Loma is located at the corner of Rosecrans and Midway.

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

In Stock and Ready to Go

For years my pantry always had containers and cans of ready-to-use chicken broth. I experimented with different brands, some organic, some fat-free and low-sodium. They were convenient. They are convenient. But that's really their strongest selling point.

When I finally bought my own house and built a garage, there was no question but that I was going to have a freezer out there. That freezer has enabled me to make and store my own homemade chicken stock. And what a difference that's made, especially recently when I was under the weather and wanted to easily and quickly make some nourishing chicken soup.

You can easily find endless numbers of recipes on how to make stock. I've tried several. But my last batch has been remarkable for the ease and lack of waste involved. And, of course, the flavor. I had been at Lucky Seafood in Mira Mesa and decided to get some chicken legs there for stock. I've always liked how the big bones in the legs yield rich marrow for the liquid. But they didn't have pre-cut legs. I looked around the case and saw big, five-pound block-like bags of frozen chicken bones. While I was pondering if this was something to pursue, a customer came up to order them and told me she buys them all the time to make soup for her family. Sold.

Now, at an Asian market, the produce choices are going to be different from conventional American supermarkets. Ordinarily, I'd have bought carrots, celery, onions, turnips, and garlic for my stock. I found carrots and onions, but there were no turnips. Or parsnips, for that matter. So, I bought a large pale daikon radish. Weird, I know, but stay with me; it was a nice addition.

I'm not going to give you a formal recipe for this stock experiment, but this is what I did. I pulled out a huge pot, loaded it with the defrosted bones (primarily breast bones) after trimming away skin and fat, roughly cut carrots and the daikon, two quartered onions, and the unpeeled cloves of a big head of garlic. I had parsley from my garden so I threw some in. And, I finished it up with about a tablespoon of black peppercorns before filling the pot with water. I brought it all to a boil, skimmed the foam, reduced the temperature to low and let it simmer for about three hours. Then, using a ladle, I poured it through a chinois to get a clear broth and seasoned the rich liquid with salt. I filled perhaps a dozen different sized freezer containers, with labels showing the date.

But, we're not quite done. Once the liquid was removed I was left with cooked vegetables and bones. First, I pulled out the carrots and garlic cloves. Save those cloves. You've been given a lovely paste to spread on bread or add to pasta, sauces, and the like. I don't like cooked carrots much but my sweet dogs do. So, those were set aside with the residual meat I pulled off the chicken bones. There wasn't much -- hence my "lack of waste" comment above (usually, I'm left with lots of over-cooked, tasteless meat by the end) -- but just enough for a nice treat for the girls. Or so I thought. I packaged the carrots and chicken meat in little baggies for individual servings and put them in the freezer. Another benefit of using mostly bones and not meat is that my stock yield was easily doubled and the flavor was big. I tossed the cooked daikon.

Then I got sick. Well, not really sick, but my stomach was bothering me. I pulled out a favorite cookbook, Nina Simonds's A Spoonful of Ginger, looking for a chicken soup recipe that might go down easily but not require much fuss to make. I found several but, of course, I already had my stock. And, I had those frozen little packets of chicken and carrots. So, I riffed on various themes I saw in her book to come up with something of my own. The ginger and rice wine lift it from the traditional Jewish penicillin I'm used to, giving it a clean, delicious, and, yes, comforting flavor, which got even better each of the three progressive days I ate it.

Ginger Chicken Soup

8 cups of chicken stock
4 quarter-size slices of fresh ginger, smashed with the side of a heavy knife
1 cup rice wine (Symonds likes Shaoxing wine)
3 green onions, trimmed, cut in thirds

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes. At this point, remove the ginger and green onions and add other ingredients you may have on hand. I put in about half a cup of the chicken pieces and carrots, half a dozen sliced shitake mushrooms, and chopped baby bok choy. I let it simmer for another 20 minutes and it was ready.

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