Thursday, March 29, 2007

a canadian pasta event & a passover connection

passover means a big no to many of the foods we eat, and take for granted, on a daily basis. admittedly, this isn't the holiday for those who rely heavily on carbohydrate based comestibles like cereal and pastas as their dietary staples since all those things are banned during the 8 day observance.

until not too long ago, foods like passover noodles were just not available or even imagineable. noodles, or lokshen as they are called in yiddish, where limited to ones made from eggs and were not store-bought. they were made like you would do for a very, very thin omelette, rolled up and cut into pinwheels. these home-style were, and still are, served in soup in place of or alongside matzo balls. due to innovation and market demand, i'm sure, new products such as passover pastas and cereal have become easily accessible in grocery stores stocking passover goods. personally, i find it a bit strange to be a consumer of these things since the point of the holiday is to rid oneself from even possessing these items, whether they are kosher or not for passover use. in any event, it's not in my family tradition to use such foods so i refrain from doing so.

why am i telling you this, you ask?

a little while back, i was kindly invited by ruth of once upon a feast to participate in an event she is hosting called presto pasta nights. unfortunately, at the time she first wrote, i was inundated with life's "stuff" and had no time whatsoever to contribute. this, added to the current getting everything ready for the huge passover holiday, left me with little time to breathe let alone blog [ergo my lapse in posting the past several weeks].

additionally, i was faced with a little dilemma as ruth was looking for something from me that could be made during passover. what was the dilemma? well, i don't use pasta ever during the holiday! i did not want to say anything at the time — i wanted to see if i could come up with an alternative and i think i did. this should help those who do not use pasta for passover or cannot find it locally.

so without further ado, i'm offering a much loved "pasta" popular in many parts of the world which is acceptable for the pessah holiday.

potato gnocchi for passover

making gnocchi is easy and fun. it may take a bit of practice at first but the steps are quickly learned. as i don't have time to post pictures for the recipe itself right now, you can follow the steps here to see how to do it yourself. have fun! you can use their recipe for a non-passover version. michael chiarello also has a nice non-passover version with pictures on his great site , napa style.

photo: wvpb


3 floury potatoes, medium sized

1/3 c matzo cake meal
1/2 c potato starch
1 large egg



bake the potatoes well wrapped in tin foil until they are done. pierce the potatoes several times before wrapping them. once they cool down a bit, either mash or rice them. it takes about 50 minutes for them to bake @ 350 F.

you can also boil potatoes until they test cooked with a fork [usually 15-20 minutes]. drain them and let cool a bit. peel them while still warm and mash or rice them.

what's the difference? the baked ones make for a better gnocchi as there is less water content.

place the mashed potatoes on some flat surface dusted with potato potato starch.

make a well in center of potatoes and add the potato starch and cake meal. add the egg and some salt. with a fork beat the egg in the center to scramble it up. don't let it overflow or run out of the center.

with your hands, incorporate the ingredients by knead the dough until it is soft and not overly sticky.

at this point, the dough needs to rest. cover it and leave it for about 30 minutes.

divide the dough into four parts.

roll each part into a long, cigar shape, which is about 3/4 of an inch thick.

with a knife and some potato flour [should the dough still be sticky], cut the dough in 1/2 inch pieces.

take a piece of dough against your index finger and with the fork in the other hand, press down slightly on each one with the tines to give the typical gnocchi indentations. the gnocchi should roll as you do this [see the tutorial i mention above for a visual explanation and the finished product or the video below]. this gives you an indentation and gives the ridges, both of which help the pasta to cook faster and provide a place for the sauce to pool. don't get frustrated, it takes practice! they will still taste amazing even it they don't all come out perfectly.

cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water. they will cook quickly but wait a good minute or so once they rise to the surface of the water.

remove drain them well once they are cooked.

serve with your favourite tomato sauce. here and here are two basic sauces.

these can also be simply sauteed in olive oil [or butter or a combination of the two] with garlic and chopped basil leaves and then seasoned with salt and pepper.


ok, i'll be extra nice — here's a video of how to do it for those of you who, like me, are visual.

VideoJug: How To Make Gnocchi

Saturday, March 24, 2007

a nice passover appetizer

passover is a holiday which is traditionally heavily centered around meat, with many families only having one separate set of dishes for the holiday instead of the typical three as during the rest of the year [dairy, meat & neutral/parve].

this spring holiday is probably one of the only times when my diet consists of lots of meat so i guess this will be my opportunity to fill up my blog with all those meat dishes that are good for anytime of the year, not just passover.

the following recipe is an appetizer i have long loved and look forward to eating at the seder meal. it is typically served with a zesty tomato sauce called salade cuite.

les croquettes de pomme de terre pour pessah
passover meat stuffed potato croquettes

makes 18


potato casing:

4 to 5 large potatoes [idaho]
1 egg
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
chopped parsley, optional


4 tsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp each of: cumin, cinnamon, coriander*
pinch nutmeg, optional
salt, pepper to taste
1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/4 c red wine vinegar (KLP)
1/4 c chopped parsley

*these are sefardi spice combinations; you can use whatever spices you enjoy.

matzo meal or potato starch
1 egg, beaten


in skillet, heat oil and fry onion and garlic until softened. add spices and fry a minute longer.

add beef and break up as while frying. cook until it is no longer pink. drain off all fat.

stir in vinegar and sugar. cook until liquid evaporates.

transfer to a food processor and process until you get a paste [la "miga"]. shape these into 18 ovals which measure 2" x 1 1/2". chill them to make them firm up. do not skip this part or they won't hold together properly.

for potato casing:

boil potatoes with skin on in salted water until soft. rinse and peel while still warm. mash them well.

add the salt and pepper and only 1 egg. mix well. divide into 18 equal portions.

to make the croquettes:

using matzo meal or potato starch, flour your hands well. take a portion of the potatoes and form it around a portion of the meat. make sure it is well closed. you can freeze these at this point, too.

dip each croquette into the egg which you have beaten well in a bowl. fry these in oil until golden. only fry about 6 at a time.

when golden brown, drain on paper towel.

serve warm or room temperature with a tomato sauce [salade cuite].


Friday, March 23, 2007

the "other" gefilte fish

this one is for those people who hate [gefilte] fish or are allergic to it and comes in extremely useful at yomtov [holiday time]. it is an old recipe for a facsimile of the most jewish of appetizers and uses ground chicken or turkey of all things.

having made this many times, i can say it's "nisht geferlach" [loosely translated .... "not too shabby!"] and worth trying once. in yiddish, it is called falsher which means false. in ultra religious circles from which the recipe originates, rules are strictly adhered to; who knows, the fish may have consumed bread before it was bought and not digested it making it not kosher for the holiday! a definite no-no at pessah.

this can also be made gluten free [no matzo meal] by using potato starch.

remember, pictures to follow one of these days. for now, use your imagination.

falsher [gefilte chicken or turkey]

16 portions, approximately


10 c chicken stock
2 onions, sliced
5 stalks celery, sliced
5 carrots, sliced thinly

salt & pepper
sugar, optional

2 lbs ground chicken or turkey
2 eggs
1/2 c matzo meal or potato starch


in big pot, place the stock with 1 onion, 3 stalks of celery and 3 carrots. bring to boil and then simmer.

in a food processor or grinder (or by hand with the classic wooden bowl and hackmesser), place chicken or turkey with the rest of the onion, celery and carrots. process/grind/chop until all is well blended. place this in a bowl. i like to grind the vegetable a bit first if using the food processor.

add eggs, matzo meal or potato starch, with a 1/2 c of stock and then season with salt and pepper. add sugar if using. the mixture will be very, very soft.

with wet hands, make it the same way you would gefilte fish balls. they will expand as they cook also.

place these carefully into the stock which has been brought to a boil.

cover and simmer for at least a half hour. they don't need to boil for hours as with the fish.

nota bene: do a small test before by boiling a small piece to check for salt and pepper.

garnish as you would with traditional gefilte fish on a bed of lettuce.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

and that's the way the ball bounces ....

with less than two weeks left before the first seder, there is much to do before the night of april 2nd, 2007. every day counts at this point, and for some every minute — there are still ovens and stoves to scour, food to rid the house of before the end of the month, not to mention shopping to be done, guest lists to confirm, and final decisions on what to make for the holiday, especially on the first two nights.

something funny however seems to happen at this time every year. people start to get anxious over what to serve searching through tons of cookbooks, the internet, and magazines and often, in the end, after much racking of the brains, revert back to basics of what has been typically served since time immemorial. part of me thinks there is something comforting sticking with the old standards. i've usually ended up doing one night traditional and one non-traditional to curb, or rather, appease my need to make new things. i can't count how many times i've been at some seder where someone has served non-traditional dishes only to notice the questioning look of "so .... where's the brisket? what do you mean there's no brisket?!" i guess the rule of thumb is "know your crowd" before you get creative.

passover would not be passover without the classic soup addition of matzo balls, otherwise known in yiddish as halkes or knaidlach. while there are undoubtedly as many recipes for these as there are cooks, there are probably equal numbers of cooks with their own secrets as to how to make the perfect matzo ball. much of it comes down to three things:
  • size: i have seen matzo balls at some of our delis taking up the size of the bowl itself, as big as a small grapefruit and in other instances as small as large marbles for a more refined and manageable size.

  • texture: hard or soft is always the issue. i've often heard that if they're hard, they were not made properly. who knows, i like them both ways.

  • taste: that's a personal issue but i tend to go with the "know your crowd" caveat before getting creative and having no one eat them.
in terms of tricks people use to make matzo balls come out perfectly, the common ones are beating the egg whites before adding them or using seltzer or soda water. i've never done it that way and don't need to since i use the following recipe. the other recipes are different in that one is stuffed with onions and baked before adding it to the soup and the other has ground almonds in it. which ever way you try it, i still firmly believe opening the pot before they've finished cooking equals matzo ball death!

i unfortunately can't post pictures until later on for the first two recipes as the kitchen's not ready [yet]! they will be added later. i will add pessah recipes over the next week and a half but, as i said, no pictures — for now you'll have to use your imagination.

before going any further though, a famous little story:
When Marilyn Monroe first visited Arthur Miller's parents for Friday night supper, her ignorance of Jewish food was all too apparent. "Gee, Arthur, these matzo balls [dumplings] are pretty nice," Monroe declared. "But isn't there any other part of the matzo you can eat?"
quoted from chicken soup, please article.

never-fail soft matzo balls

this recipe always works. not much more to say than that.


4 eggs
4 tbsp oil
4 tbsp ice water
1 c matzo meal

1/2 - 3/4 tsp salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp pepper

salted water for boiling


whisk together the eggs and oil then add the water with the salt and pepper. add the matzo meal with a spoon and then set aside in fridge for at least 2 hrs [overnight is best].

when ready to make the matzo balls, heat a large pot of water to boiling and add salt [~1 tsp]. fill a bowl with water to moisten hands while forming them. using a tablespoon, take the mixture and form smooth balls. make them all like this and place them on a plate. then add them to boiling water one at a time.

note before cooking all of them: it's best to take a small marble sized piece and let it cook for 10 minutes or so [covered] and then taste it before continuing with all of them to adjust for salt and pepper.

cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid and set the heat to low. cook for 30 minutes exactly and don't open the pot to peek inside even though it's tempting.

remove the pot from the burner and still closed, let it rest for 15 minutes.

makes 12 large matzo balls or 24 smaller ones. they can be made before the holiday and frozen until needed.

stuffed & baked matzo balls

the following recipe is interesting in that each matzo balls has a little stuffing inside it and has been baked to a golden brown before serving in the soup. i've tried it on guests and the consensus was that they were very good. it is from joan nathan. it's a little more work than usual and not as soft texturally as the other two recipes here but it's worth the results.



1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp oil or shmaltz
2 tbsp matzo meal
1 egg yolk
salt, pepper to taste
1/8 tsp cinnamon

matzo ball itself:

4 eggs
2 tbsp shmaltz or margarine
1 c matzo meal
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp chopped parsley
4 tbsp chicken soup or water

12 c water


for the matzo balls:

beat eggs and fat together. stir in matzo meal, salt and parsley. add the 4 tbsp (up to 6) of chicken stock or water. put in fridge for 1 hour at least.

for stuffing:

fry the onion in oil or fat until very browned and crisp. remove from heat and put in small bowl. add the matzo meal and seasonings. mix in the egg yolk and stir well.

to make the matzo balls:

divide the matzo meal mixture into 12 portions. dip hands in water and make a ball. press a hole in the center with your thumb and wiggle it a bit to enlarge the hole. add 1/12 of the stuffing mixture, about 1 tsp, and close up the matzo ball.

do this to all of them. add the matzo balls to the 12 c salted water which has been brought to a boil. lower the heat to simmer and cook the stuffed balls well covered for 1/2 hour.

preheat the oven to 350F. oil a 12 portion KLP muffin tin.

remove the balls from water after 30 minutes. place each one in the greased muffin tin. oil the matzo ball a bit too before baking. bake them until they are golden brown.

serve these in chicken soup as you normally would.

knaidlach mit mandlen

this version has the addition of ground almonds [mandlen] in it. i usually make very small knaidlach with these by the tsp or 1/2 tsp. the final texture should be soft.


1 large egg
3 tbsp unmelted soft margarine, leveled

3 - 4 tbsp water or stock
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp onion powder
pepper to taste

2 tbsp ground almonds, leveled
6 tbsp matzo meal, leveled


beat the egg well with a wire whisk.

mix egg and margarine together.

add stock or water and seasonings.

with a spoon, mix in the almonds and matzo meal and stir well.

refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

take spoonfuls and form the balls with wet hands.

add them to boiling and salted water or the soup itself and cook covered for 30 minutes.

do not lift lid during cooking or they will sink to the bottom and chances are they will harden.


i will leave you with this question — is it just me or does almost everyone feel they can't eat anymore once the matzo ball soup part is done??

Monday, March 19, 2007

pet food recall

pet owners — dogs & cats —

MAKE SURE you check the list of foods that have been recalled and IMMEDIATELY stop feeding your dog or cat them.

to be on the safe side, i would head to the vet immediately. many pets are dying from kidney failure or possibly could due to complications from eating these foods.

MENUFOODS has announced that you should keep your original packaging of the foods and any vet bills in case they pay out for losses.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

recipe revisited

here is the step-by-step for one of my favourite soups i gave the recipe for in a previous post. no need to look back for the ingredients and measurements, all is here [there are some other recipes for some great soups in that post too, however] .

stay away from the canned version of this one, the following is extremely easy and even better — especially since you made it yourself! trust me, you won't be sorry you took the time to make this. it goes even faster if you buy fresh presliced mushrooms.

easy cream of mushroom soup

this can be made dairy with whole milk & butter or parve [non dairy] with soymilk and margarine with just as good results. while it does not use cream, i do suggest using whole milk though you can make it with 2% with good results.


2 - 3 small containers of white button or café mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small onion, diced
3 -4 vegetable bouillon cubes [or equivalent in powder ~ 2 1/2 T]
2 c water
2 tbsp butter or oil

1/4 c butter or margarine
3 tbsp flour
1 -2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

3 c whole milk or plain soymilk


in a pan, heat 1 tbsp oil or butter & fry the onions over med-low heat until coloured [lightly browned] and remove to a plate to cool. the onions should not crisp as they fry .... they will be pureed later therefore turn down the heat if they fry too quickly.

while onions are frying, slice the mushrooms.

add these to a large soup pot with 1 tbsp oil or butter and saute until they soften, approx. 5 min on medium heat.

add the water and the bouillon cubes or powder and stir to dissolve. break up the cubes first to speed things up. cover the pot and simmer 20 to 25 minutes over low heat.

once this is done, set it aside and take another pot. and melt the 1/4 c of butter or margarine on low heat.

add the flour and make a roux. this roux is not 1:1 so don't add more flour.

keeping the heat low, stir it constantly so it does not burn. it should be bubbling.

cook about 3 to 4 minutes and then add the milk and whisk quickly so that lumps do not form [or any that have formed will be dissoved]. turn up the heat med-high and keep whisking until it is thickened, approx. 5 to 10 minutes. it should not be super thickened in terms of final texture.

add this milk mixture with the salt and pepper to the mushroom mixture and stir well to blend.

in a blender, add the onions you fried and about 1/3 to 1/2 of the mushroom mixture or a little less and carefully purée this. watch out because it will fly out of the blender if you are not careful. you might want to do small amounts or start of on a slow setting and work up to purée.

be careful as it is hot. return this to the soup pot and stir. add more butter, salt & pepper if desired. i also add a tsp of sugar.


Sunday, March 11, 2007

the eggless wonder

finding recipes that work really well and do not use or include traditional ingredient conventions has always been of great interest to me. these days with so many different kinds of allergies rampant, people following the latest diet which usually omits some ingredient or groups of them, or even those people, like myself, who have culturally different eating habits, it is useful to have a variety of options from which to choose. it's no fun not to be able to enjoy the same kinds of foods as everyone else.

the other day while going through my things in my cleaning frenzy, i luckily found a whole bunch of missing files. in one of these was this recipe which i used to make [mostly for a friend who is allergic to many things], until i lost it. a fortuitous reunion for me since i am trying to use up excess amounts of flour before passover arrives in 3 weeks.

this is a basic all purpose chocolate cake which surprisingly has no eggs in it and can be made either dairy or parve [non-dairy]. despite being egg-less, it is just as good as a regular chocolate cake. admittedly, the texture is somewhat drier than your standard one but this can be balanced by using a moist frosting. sometimes i will use a plain strong coffee solution and, with a large pastry brush, moisten each of the two cakes prior to icing them. it is great for a birthday cake or just an everyday one. it makes terrific cupcakes, too, which can be brought to work for that single serving .... frosted, of course :)

the cake can be made with either cake flour or all purpose, however the cake flour must be sifted first, along with the cocoa. it also uses buttermilk, or soured milk, which you can make yourself. it will not work without this, as the acidity of the liquid is essential to activate the rising agent which, in this case, is baking soda. the cake is successfully made parve by using soymilk and souring it with plain white vinegar.

baker beware: for those of you who do not follow recipes, i suggest you give in and do it the way i show here. baking is an exact science. you need the buttermilk or soured [soy] milk and you need the baking soda [not powder] for the necessary leavening reaction to take place, both while mixing the batter and baking it. remember: sift, sift, sift — this ensures there are no small lumps which always seem present in both cake flour and cocoa.

eggless all purpose chocolate cake


1 2/3 c. cake flour or all purpose
1 c. sugar
1 tsp baking SODA
1/2 tsp salt
8 tbsp cocoa powder (dark is better)

1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. buttermilk or soured milk*
3 1/2 - 4 tbsp prune baking paste or applesauce**
2 tsp vanilla extract

*to make soured milk/soymilk: measure 1 c of the liquid and add 1 tbsp white vinegar. stir and wait about 10 minutes until it sets; it will become thicker. do not skip doing this.

**this is optional but highly recommended. i have found it helps to add extra moisture content due to the absence of the egg. the prune baking paste goes extremely well with chocolate and is not noticeable.


preheat oven to 350F.

butter or grease two 8 inch round cake pans (if you go larger, it will not work). you can make cupcakes too but remember to cook them for less time. test after 12 - 15 minutes.

measure out the flour and then sift it to remove any small lumps. this is required if you are using cake flour. i usually aerate the cake flour with a whisk before measuring. you do not need to sift first to measure out the flour as in other recipes.

sift the cocoa into the flour and then add the other ingredients. if you can, use the dark dutch processed cocoa or something like valrhona. it makes a big difference colour wise and taste wise.

mix them together well. you can resift everything at this point if you think there are any lumps.

mix together the wet ingredients: the oil, buttermilk or soured milk, applesauce or prune baking paste and the vanilla extract.

add this to the dry ingredients and mix well. you can do this by hand or with a beater. make sure there are no dry spots in the batter. it must be completely smooth.

divide these equally into the two pans. it will not look like there is enough but there is.

bake the cakes for only 20 minutes. do NOT open the oven before or they may fall. test after 20 minutes, you may need to bake a few minutes longer.

let them cool for 5 minutes in the pan. remove them to a rack and cool them completely.

they can be iced with your favourite frosting or served with confectioners sugar dusted over them, or even better — whipped cream.


Thursday, March 08, 2007

a favourite flatbread

one of my favourite flatbreads has to be naan. there's good reason why this bread is always the most ordered item in many a restaurant. with its smoky flavour only a tandoor oven can achieve, this bread is generously brushed with rich clarified butter [ghee]. i mean, who can resist? since i obviously don't have a tandoor oven, i either have to settle for take-out or the at-home version. of course, if you must have one, you can always build one yourself as did this guy in england! quite amazing. [look here, too].

having tried countless recipes over several years, i think the following one from m. jaffrey [a recipe she got from someone else] is pretty decent for a "made-at-home" kind. what's even better is that it's quickly cooked on the stovetop in a very hot pan, cast iron if possible. this particular recipe uses a combination of baking powder and baking soda instead of the traditional yeast. the dough will last at least 24 hours refrigerated with no significant deterioration in flavour or texture. i don't suggest letting it go beyond that as the baking powder just doesn't hold up for that long [this comes from experimentation]. another good thing about them is that they can be cooked and refrigerated until needed; a reheating in the oven well-covered in tin foil or a quick zap in the microwave brings them back to life. of course, freshly made is always best.

the dough, once formed will feel silky soft and is extremely supple. if you have prior bread making experience, you'll see it is a bit different in that it is a tacky dough. don't be tempted to add more than the called for amount of flour or you'll end up with a heavy end result.

naan bread नान نان


scant 5 c. all purpose flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp yogurt
1 c. milk
1 c. water
1 egg
1 tbsp butter, melted
vegetable oil

kalonji ["onion" (nigella)] seeds
sesame seeds
extra melted butter
salt, if using unsalted butter


mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. set aside.

in another bowl, mix the sugar and yogurt well with a whisk.

add the milk and water.

add 2 c. of flour and beat well until smooth. do not undermix as you want to develop the gluten at this point.

add the egg and mix well.

add the melted butter and blend.

add another 2 c. of flour and mix very well.

finally add the final cup of flour in three additions. you may not need all of them.

knead the dough well for about 5 minutes until it is completely smooth. the dough feels really nice at this point! take note that the dough is somewhat "tacky" and not like a regular bread dough. do not go beyond the 5 cups of flour.

scale the dough into 8 equal portions.

take a pyrex and place a very thin layer of oil on the bottom of it. shape the dough into hockey puck shapes and place them in the pyrex. turn them over so that both sides are coated with oil. do not skip this step or a skin will form.

i tend to make half right away and then the other half the next day. i like to place them in an oiled ziploc type bag and store them in the fridge overnight.

let the dough rest for a minimum of 1 hour before shaping.

to shape the naan, take one of the pieces of dough out and place it on your work surface. do not flour the surface. the oil will prevent the dough from sticking.

with both hands, hold the dough and gently stretch it out lengthwise. then at one end, elongate it so that it is wider on one end. this will give the traditional shape of the naan (sort of like a teardrop). pull it so that it is quite thin, approximately 10 to 12 inches. just make sure it will fit into your frypan!!

once well stretched, brush the top with melted butter.

heat up your [cast iron] skillet over medium heat. do not oil it. make sure it is well heated before you add the naan or it won't cook properly. the pan should be hot.

melt some extra butter and set it aside with a brush.

sprinkle the elongated bread with both the sesame and nigella seeds (kalonji). i sprinkle salt on top, too but that is optional; i find it tastes better lightly salted. i also like to take my hand and press down on them to make sure everything sticks. i suggest doing this or the seeds will fall off when you transfer the naan.

place the naan by lifting both ends into the fry pan and let it cook until you see bubbles form on top of the bread. it will seem weird as these bubbles form like when you blow bubbles with chewing gum. the surface of the naan will also change colour and start to look cooked. once you have these, take a spatula and flip the bread over; it should be browned by now. cook on the other side for about 2 minutes or so. both sides should be lightly browned.

if you want to see what the real deal looks like in terms of bubbles when made at the proper high temperature in a tandoor, look here.

you can brush melted butter on top either during the cooking or afterwards.

wrap the naan in tin foil while you cook the rest.