Monday, January 28, 2008

friday night special

a while back, i posted something about making farfalle pasta and using them in that most staple ashkenazi friday night side dish, kasha & bowties. that recipe used whole grain kasha or buckwheat groats. it just happened at that time that i had made bowties for something (else) and had kasha on hand i wanted to use up. of course, the two naturally went together.

while not everyone is a fan of the whole grain type {me included!} or is "mental" enough to make their own pasta {include me here}, this is easy-er way to make this earthy flavoured shtetl concoction which is so venerated. i should add that it's also the way 99.9% people make it!

a few things before starting — wolff's kasha. MEDIUM grind. essential.

if you can't get it, any other medium grind buckwheat groat will do.

on the subject of bowtie pasta, or farfalle (farfalline), try to get hold of the smaller type. i dunno, i just kinda like it better than those large ones. of course, it'll taste the same — just as good — with the regular sized ones. just use more than the 2 c i call for here, to compensate.

stock or water to cook the kasha? STOCK, naturally. if you do end up using water, you'll need a bit more salt and pepper at some point or can add onion and/or garlic powder. it really is best made with leftover (chicken) soup stock but regular stock powder can be used, too.

kasha & bowties

earthy-flavoured & studded with browned onions and mushrooms, this savoury side dish is also known as kasha varnishkes. it is typically served alongside a plate of brisket or roast chicken and is their perfect accompaniments. kasha and bowties also goes well with vegetarian dishes like baked tofu or seitan and plenty of vegetables.

makes 8 to 10 servings


1 c medium grind kasha (i use wolff's brand)
1 egg or egg white

2 c broth (vegetarian or chicken)
1/2 to 1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp or more pepper
2 tbsp margarine or chicken shmaltz

2 large onions
2 - 8 oz pkgs (button) mushrooms
2 cloves garlic, opt.
2 tbsp oil or margarine or shmaltz

2 c mini farfalle (or equivalent large size)

salt & pepper to taste


cook in the following order (for best results and quickest way):

place water in a large pot to boil the pasta. while waiting for the pasta water to boil and to cook pasta, continue with the following —

make the onion mushroom mixture:

cut the onions in either thin rings or half moon shapes or in a dice. slice the mushrooms and garlic also, if using.

in 2 tbsp oil, cook the onions until they are golden (this will take a while over medium heat), and then add the garlic. stir fry it for about two minutes or so. add the mushrooms and cook, stirring until they become limp and exude their juices.

it should take about 5 minutes or so for them to fully cook. you will see there will be no juices left, if there were any to begin with, once all is cooked.

place in a bowl and set aside.

make the pasta:

cook the mini farfalle according to package directions (mine is about 8 minutes); make sure not to overcook them while cooking the above mixture.

place in colander and drain well and let cool. set aside covered.

make the kasha:

before cooking the kasha, have the broth mixture ready: heat the broth until very hot either on the stove top or in the microwave. you can also boil water in the kettle and just add powdered stock.

melt the margarine in the stock and add the salt and pepper. don't worry about getting it perfect now as you'll adjust it later.

measure out the kasha grains.

in a small bowl, beat the egg well. add the kasha to the egg, or vice versa, and stir so that all is coated.

this is essential so that the grains become separate and do not cook to a mush. the egg provides a sort of protective barrier. the mixture should be thick and not watery or runny (there shouldn't be any egg left showing).

in a nonstick pan on medium high heat, add the kasha mixture and cook for about 4 or 5 minutes, stirring and breaking up any clumps. DO NOT add any oil to the pan. it is always dry roasted. it will become fragrant and toasted. if the kasha colours, turn down the heat.

add the hot stock to the kasha and stir well.

cover the pot with a lid to contain the steam and cook for about 10 minutes over low heat.

check around 8 minutes to be on the safe side.

once 10 minutes are up, lift the lid to see if there is any liquid left. there should be none. it should not be wet at all. if it is, recover the pot and continue cooking until all the broth is absorbed.

mix the kasha well to fluff it up. at this point, i turn the heat to medium and cook it without the lid for about 5 minutes to dry out the kasha a bit.

assemble everything:

in a large bowl, mix the kasha and the bow ties together.

stir well but gently. taste for salt and pepper and adjust. some people will serve the dish as is, at this point.

add the onion mushroom mixture and stir well again. retaste it and adjust the flavours if necessary. i also add about a 1/2 tsp sugar (don't knock it til you try it!); some people add onion or garlic powder. i've seen it made with chopped parsley, too (<-- weird, LOL).

serve as you would any side dish. goes well with brisket or roast chicken.


Monday, January 21, 2008

you know those things you spit out?

who'd have thought you could make a great oil from something you brainlessly spit out and discard from one of the world's most ancient fruit without even a second thought. well, obviously, someone at some point, did. it's no wonder grapeseed oil is costly — can't imagine just how many of those little grape seeds it takes to squeeze out a litre of oil.

grapeseed oil is one of my favourites when it comes to cooking, especially for frying things. if you haven't tried it, you should. amazingly, there is little smell in comparison with other vegetable oils which is a big plus when you have to fry anything. while it's not completely odourless, it is noticeably tamer. another good thing about frying with grapeseed oil is that its smoking point is at a much higher temperature than regular vegetable oils (approx 215 C).

beyond frying, it is also good for salad dressings and general use.

buy some. try it. as martha says, "it's a good thing" ;)

more about it, here and here. just remember, however, to buy PURE grapeseed oil and not a blend.

bad kitty! bad!!!!......

my cat, like every other cat i have known, has his ways. suffice it to say, there is never a dull moment around here since he arrived a little over a year ago and, when i think about it, it's probably more accurately said that he has his way of wrapping me around his little paws.

his newest obsession, of late, is fresh running water. forget the cat water bowl ..... 5 minute old water is just no longer any good for him. of course, he has now familiarized himself with every faucet in the house and somehow knows EXACTLY when i am near one, leading him to come running full force, howling for water even if he doesn't want it. since burmese cats are clumsy by nature, he invariably smacks into a wall or doesn't make it over the bathtub in time. good thing he has a hard head. LOL.

in spite of howling, meowing & yowling and being told, "NO! enough already!!" he persists trying to wear me down. no doubt he knows a sucker when he sees one and continues on, acting as if it will be his last lick of water before collapsing and passing out. this, of course, does wear me down. in defeat, the tap turns on and peace is restored.

one tap, however, is strictly off limits (big surprise that that one is his favourite?). cats and kitchens i won't put up with. as a kitten, he decided "counter surfing" was a fun activity and sought out anything edible other than cat food. {hmmm, 2 loaves of freshly made & perfect looking challah bread devoured by sharp kitten teeth comes to memory; at least he left a pretty pattern}. since there is no door on the kitchen, keeping him out of there was next to impossible. after a lot of training, i thought i had him "broken", until this —

old habits die hard.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

¡arroz, por favor!

whenever my friend, aymee, from mexico, shows up for a visit every several years, i know it'll be a feeding frenzy, lots of sangria and tons of gossip. this visit was no exception but unfortunately because of a tight schedule, time was cut short. this meant little opportunity for our regular lounging around not caring about time. aymee's visits are fun because she is a great cook and knows a lot about mexican cooking both traditional and 'new'. maybe it helps that she was also trained as a professional chef de cuisine!

coming from a jewish family, many of the foods she & her family ate had to be tailored as cerdo or pork and its by-products play a big role in mexican food. a traditionally common ingredient used as a cooking fat has been lard. since this doesn't fit in with the jewish way of cooking, the natural alternative has been to use rendered chicken fat, or schmaltz, which is a good analog. this was used a lot in her family's cooking as for example in the following staple recipes.

an easy to make (side) dish, and one which is eaten regularly in many parts of mexico — even as a main dish, is arroz al estilo mexicano or mexican style rice. aymee's way of doing it is pretty much the same as what i have here which is a fusion of her way and a recipe i have used as a guideline for many years (from the art of mexican cooking).

there are many kinds of rice dishes in mexico and all manners of cooking it. the rice here is cooked like you would with a risotto and not the "american way" of dumping everything in all at once. all is done without using a lid until the final moments where the remaining liquids are drawn up by the rice, leaving you with a tasty arroz you will really enjoy.

arroz al estilo mexicano

makes enough for 6 to 8 servings


12 oz or 1.5 c long grain white rice

1 heaped c tomatoes, chopped
2 large cloves garlic
1/3 c chopped onion
1/4 c water + 2 tsp oil (see note in recipe)

1 dried chili of your choice (opt)
i use either an ancho or pasilla

5 tbsp chicken fat (shmaltz) or veg oil

28 oz or 3.5 c chicken or vegetable broth or water

1/2 c frozen or fresh peas

1 - 1 1/2 tsp salt
pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp or more cumin powder (opt)


soak the rice for 12- 15 minutes in hot water.

while letting it drain well, continue with making the paste you will need to add to the rice. if you like, place the rice on a clean tea towel and spread it out to air dry. it should not be "wet" when you need it for the second stage of the recipe (frying the rice).

chop and measure the tomatoes, onion and garlic.

place in a blender or food processor. if using fresh tomatoes that are not very juicy then add the water and 2 tsp oil and process until it is a smooth paste which is an orangey-red colour. some tomatoes need the extra liquid, others don't. if using canned tomatoes, you won't need it most likely. (try to use fresh). add a little extra water ONLY if absolutely necessary to blend the mixture. set aside.

in a good pan, which has a lid, place the chicken fat or oil. heat it over medium heat. if using the dried ancho or pasilla chili, add it now. cook it on both sides until it softens and becomes puffed up. remove and add it to the broth for later.

add the rice and let it cook until lightly golden brown. make sure to keep stirring. if the rice is wet, chances are it will stick.

when it is ready, add the paste you made all at once. cook it until it is completely mixed with the rice and any moisture evaporates and gets absorbed by the rice. your paste may not be as thick as mine is, don't worry about it. i don't add much water to the paste when grinding it.

add the broth (with the chili if using) in 3 additions so the rice will cook through slowly:

1st addition — add about 3/4 c. don't concern yourself about being so exact. cook it until it is completely absorbed.

2nd addition — add half of what is left of the broth and cook again, stirring all the time, until it absorbs and you see it bubbling and "asking for more". add fresh peas now (frozen in next stage).

3rd addition — add the rest of the broth, stirring. add the salt, pepper and cumin (if using). add the frozen peas at this point. cook until the liquid is absorbed and there are lots of holes visible. there should still be some liquid but it will be kind of thick.

turn the heat down to a complete minimum. place the lid on the rice and cook it for about 7 to 8 minutes. take a peek half way through to see if it needs the full time. test a grain or two at this point to see if it is cooked.

remove the pan from the heat, and let it sit another 10 minutes. the rice grains need to stabilize and firm up.

stir well. taste and adjust seasonings, if needed.

garnish with cilantro or flat leaf parsley. you can serve this with quartered hard boiled eggs also.

¡buen apetito!

beauty is only skin deep

like they say, what counts is on the inside and not the outside.

this won't win any beauty contests, but beyond the skin of this bean lies something really good....

frijoles refritos.

another staple item used in many mexican dishes are beans of all sorts. while maybe not a number one item enjoyed by the average north american, beans provide necessary complex carbohydrates, not to mention necessary fiber in one's diet.

the following recipe is for the common bean (black) bean paste seen in virtually every mexican restaurant and home. while the final product does not exactly scream "look at me, i'm gorgeous", it is one of those things that have to be eaten to appreciate.

frijoles refritos, or refried beans, taste better a day or two after you make them. of course, the best way is to use dried black beans (or other beans of your liking) but that is time consuming and not everyone wants to go that far. if you do, don't presoak them; rather, cook them with a chopped onion and some oil or chicken fat (schmaltz) and water ~ about 3 inches above the beans until they are tender and can be squished easily between your fingers. this can take as much as 8 - 12 hours over a lower heat, depending how old the beans are. add more water as necessary but don't overdo it. the easier way is to use a can of black turtle beans which have already been cooked. follow the directions in the recipe below first to pre-prepare them for the frijoles refritos.

the finished bean paste can be frozen also with no detriment to it.

frijoles refritos — refried black beans


1 can (19 oz) black beans or beans you've cooked yourself
4 to 5 tbsp vegetable shortening or oil or schmaltz
1 small onion, chopped


if using the dried beans, see the preamble in this posting (introduction). if using the canned beans, pre-prepare them by first rinsing them completely.

place them in a pot and add 1/2 small onion and 1 tbsp oil or fat. add 3/4 of a can of water and bring to a boil. cover and let cook over low heat for about 20 minutes. add salt to taste.

to make the frijoles refritos,

place the 1/2 small onion in a pan with 4 tbsp oil or fat and cook the onion until is softened and translucent. do not brown the onion.

add half of the beans with their juices to the onions and cook over medium heat until it boils.

start to mash the beans and let it cook for about 3 minutes or so until it gets thick.

add the rest of the beans and repeat this, mashing until you get the consistency you like.

let this paste cook over medium to medium high heat until it starts to reduce.

you must stir it continually and not let it burn.

you will see it will start to reduce and your spoon will leave a division in the paste.

cook until the paste is fairly dry. you will notice the texture has changed, especially around the edges and bottom of the paste. it should still have some movement and not be a solid hard mass. taste to see if more salt is needed.

remove to a bowl and serve as desired. it will improve the next day.

keep it well covered in the fridge. freeze what you don't need for later.

reheat in a pan, with a little oil and water, especially if it is overly dry. enjoy on its own, with tortillas or tostadas, or in enchiladas or burritos.