Quick Bites Review: Ciao Bello

Also on the last day at my old job, my former employer threw me a going-away dinner party at Ciao Bello. I have been to Ciao Bello a couple of times, and haven't ordered any of the same dishes either time. And nothing has disappointed thus far. I had the rainbow trout special, with tomatoes, capers, and asparagus, and it was wonderful.

Though I've only been a couple of times, everything I've tried has been excellent. Highly recommended.


Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Quick Bites Review: Kenny & Ziggy's Deli

On the last day at my old job, my friend Jared and I (finally) went across the street to Kenny & Ziggy's for lunch. The owner was the subject of last year's acclaimed documentary, "Deli Man". It was well worth the wait. I had the corned beef sandwich (pictured), and it was fantastic. I also ate the entire plate of pickles they brought to our table, but that's irrelevant.

It was a bit more than I like to spend at lunch, but it was delicious. I will be back. Highly recommended.

Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Recipe: Bruschetta

Ingredients

  • First, make this fantastic no-knead bread
  • Three (3) - or so - Roma tomatoes, diced (about one cup)
  • One medium onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup - or so - fresh basil, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One (1) cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • Two or three (2 or 3) cloves of garlic, diced
  • Olive oil (not much)

1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut half of the bred into thin slices, then cut those slices in half. Place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Coat the tops of the bread with some olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic. Bake the slices for about ten (10) minutes, or until slightly browned.

2) In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, onion, basil, salt, and pepper.

3) Once the bread is ready, place a spoonful of the tomato mixture on each slice. Cover with the shredded Mozzarella. Return to the oven for about 15 - 20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.

4) Remove from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, then serve.

5) Enjoy!

Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Recipe: No-knead Artisan Bread

After challah (natch), this is my absolute favorite bread to make. So easy, so delicious, so versatile - it's fantastic. Serve it with some goat cheese - I like to add rosemary - and some strawberry preserves, and you have a fantastic Sunday afternoon snack.

Ingredients

  • Three (3) cups of all-purpose (or bread) flour - I use bread flour
  • Two (2) tsps. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1.5 cups lukewarm water
  • Preferred: Dutch oven

1) Mix the flour, salt and dry yeast in a large bowl. Add the water, and mix just until you have a rough dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise at room temperature for at least eight (8) hours. I usually let mine rise for about 24 hours.

2) Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Once it's preheated, place your uncovered Dutch oven in for about 30 minutes.

3) Remove the Dutch oven and, if it's not enameled, place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Put a little flour on your hands, and transfer the dough into the Dutch oven.

4) With the cover on, bake for 30 minutes. Remove the cover again, and bake for another 7 - 15 minutes. I usually go for about 10 - 12, but I like my crust extra brown and crispy.

5) Remove from the oven and Dutch oven, place on a cutting board to cool for a few minutes, then slice (or tear) and serve.

6) Enjoy!

 

Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Recipe: Hearty Vegetarian Brunch

Ingredients

  • Start by preparing this Israeli couscous recipe
  • Two (2) Tbsps. olive oil
  • Two (2) eggs
  • Two (2) Tbsps. water/milk
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One (1) avocado, sliced
  • Hot sauce - I use Tapatio or Sriracha

1) Beat the eggs and water in a small bowl. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the eggs, sprinkling with salt and pepper.

2) Make sure the egg is distributed evenly in the skillet. As the egg cooks, make sure it doesn't stick to the skillet by shaking the skillet gently, and scraping the egg from the sides using a spatula.

3) Once the egg is cooked enough, fold it over so it makes a semi-circle shape. Make sure the omelette doesn't break (but if it does, it's OK).

4) Place some couscous on a plate, top it with the omelette, then top that with the sliced avocado and hot sauce of your choice.

5) Enjoy!

Posted on July 27, 2015 .

Menu: Mexikosher Dinner

The last couple of weeks have been a bit hectic, so I'm just now getting around to posting about the dinner party I hosted. The theme was kosher-style Mexican food.

I studied in Mexico as a college student, and have traveled there many times since. Mexico is one of my favorite places, and it holds a very special place in my heart.

As a concept, kosher-style Mexican food may seem like an implausible idea. However, in researching the theme, I learned there is a sizable, old Jewish community in Mexico whose roots go back to the Sephardic communities of Spain, Portugal, and Turkey (the former Ottoman Empire).

(An interesting note for those like me who are interested in linguistics: The Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire used a language known as Ladino. I am very excited to be receiving a siddur (prayer book) in Ladino from an acquaintance in the near future.)

One of the watershed moments in Jewish history was the expulsion of the Jews (and Muslims) from Spain and Portugal during the Spanish Inquisition. Jews and Muslims were forced to convert to Catholicism, flee, or die. Many Jews chose to convert to Catholicism but continued to live observant Jewish lives in secret. These Jews were known as "marranos", or "conversos".

The first conversos came to Mexico with the Conquistadors, and were among the earliest European colonizers. Now, the Jewish community in Mexico is estimated at about 40,000 people. Unfortunately, this is not a side of Mexico I have experienced in my travels there, but it will definitely be on the itinerary of my next trip.

Now, on to the food and drink!

 

Drink: Red Wine Sangria

Ingredients

  • Five (5) apples
  • Four (4) oranges
  • Two (2) cups brandy
  • One (1) cup orange liqueur
  • Four (4) bottles of red wine
  • One (1) 20 oz. bottle of chilled sparkling water

1. Cut the fruit into wedges (I did quarters). Put them in a large pitcher. (I was making this for a group of folks, so I multiplied a basic recipe and made the sangria in a 2-gallon glass canister.)

2. Add the brandy, orange liqueur, and wine to the fruit in the pitcher, and stir. Let it sit in the refrigerator (covered) overnight.

3. Before serving, add the sparkling water and stir to mix. Add some fruit to the glasses when serving.

(After the party, I tried making jam from the leftover fruit ... It didn't turn out. Boo.)

 

Appetizer: Salmon Ceviche from "Jewish Cooking in America"

Ingredients

  • One (1) pound of boneless, skinless salmon fillet
  • Juice of three (3) limes
  • One (1) cup peeled, seeded tomatoes, drained and cut into small cubes
  • One or two (1 or 2) serrano chilies, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped scallions
  • One (1) Tbsp. olive oil
  • Two (2) tsps. finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • One (1) tsp. fresh oregano
  • One (1) cup avocado, cut into small cubes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Grated rind of one (1) lime

1. Cut the fish into 1/2-inch cubes. Put in a bowl, add the lime juice and some salt, and stir to make sure the juice soaks through all of the fish. Cover and refrigerate overnight (at least 12 hours), stirring occasionally. 

2. Add the remaining ingredients, toss together, and keep chilled until ready to serve.

3. Serve with corn tortilla chips.

Note: I used a whole avocado, which is more than the original recipe called for.

 

Soup Course: Masa Ball Soup

Instead of matzoh meal, this recipe uses masa harina for tamales for the dumplings.

Ingredients

  • Four (4) large eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup seltzer or filtered water
  • 1/4 cup chicken schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) or a neutral oil like vegetable or canola oil
  • One (1) cup masa harina para tamales
  • One (1) tsp. baking powder
  • One (1) tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • Three (3) qts. chicken stock
  • One (1) medium carrot, cut into 1/4" dice
  • One (1) stalk of celery, cut into 1/4" dice
  • 3/4 cup 1/4"-diced butternut squash
  • 1/4 cup cilantro (leaves and stems)
  • One jalapeno or Serrano pepper, thinly sliced
  • One (1) lime cut into wedges, for serving

1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, seltzer, and schmaltz (or oil). In a separate, small bowl, mix the masa harina with the baking powder, salt, and pepper. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate uncovered for 30 minutes.

2. While the masa dough is setting in the fridge, divide the stock evenly between two pots, season both with salt to taste and bring both to a simmer. Add the carrot, celery, and squash to one of the pots, and simmer until they are tender. Remove this pot from the heat and leave aside.

3. Remove the dough from the fridge and, using wet hands, form the dough into 1 - 1.5" balls, and place in the pot of stock that is still simmering on the stove. Once you've added all of the balls, cover the pot and simmer until they are cooked through, about 30 to 45 minutes. The balls can be kept warm in the broth until ready to serve.

4. Reheat both pots and, using a slotted spoon, place two to three balls in each serving bowl. Strain the broth from the pot that had the balls in it through a fine mesh strainer into the pot with the broth and vegetables. Ladle the broth and vegetables into the serving bowls and garnish with cilantro, jalapeno/Serrano peppers, and lime wedges.

 

Entree: Crockpot Brisket Tacos

ngredients

  • Five (5) lbs. brisket with most of the fat removed
  • Two (2) onions, each cut into 1/8th wedges
  • Four (4) cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • One (1) jalapeno, cut in half
  • For the dry rub:
  • Four (4) tsps. chili powder
  • Two (2) tsps. salt
  • Two (2) tsps. onion powder
  • Two (2) . cumin
  • One (1) tsp. chipotle chili powder
  • One (1) tsp. ground coriander
  • One (1) tsp. garlic powder
  • One (1) tsp. crushed Mexican oregano

1. Mix the dry rub ingredients together in a Ziploc bag.

2. Rub both sides of the brisket with half of the dry rub. Set the other half aside for later.

3. Cut the brisket in half, crosswise, so it will fit in the crockpot.

4. Cover the bottom of the crockpot with some of the onion and garlic. Lay the brisket on top. Scatter the remaining onion and garlic over the brisket, and add the two jalapeno halves.

5. Pour 1/2 cup of water around the edges. Put the lid on the crockpot and cook for 8 - 10 hours.

6. After the brisket is fully cooked, remove it from the crockpot, let sit for a few minutes to cool, then shred with a couple of forks.

7. Remove the onions, garlic, and jalapeno from the crockpot and set aside in a small bowl. Reduce the amount of juice in the crockpot to two (2) cups.

8. Return the meat to the crockpot and sprinkle with the remaining half of the dry rub. toss it to coat well, then turn the heat up to high. You can also adjust the seasoning of the meat at this point.

9. Serve in warmed corn tortillas.Top with the onion, garlic, and whatever other toppings you'd like. (Because this was a kosher-style meal, there was no sour cream, which is a personal favorite.)

 

Dessert: Vegan Tres Leches Cake

I was skeptical about this recipe - we all were, really - but it was fantastic. It was rich but not too heavy, and the fruit from the sangria were a nice (but dangerous) complement.

Ingredients

  • For the cake:
  • 1 3/4 cups pastry flour
  • One (1) tsp. baking powder
  • One (1) tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/3 cup Earth Balance whipped spread
  • One (1) cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup filtered water
  • Two (2) tsps. real vanilla extract
  • One (1) tsp. unfiltered cider vinegar
  • For the milk mixture:
  • Two (2) Tbsps. cream of coconut
  • Two (2) Tbsps. coconut milk
  • Two (2) cups plain soy milk
  • Two (2) Tbsps. vegan whipped topping
  • Optional:
  • Two (2) tsps. lime juice

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease and flour an 8" cake pan. Line the pan with parchment.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, and baking soda.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the salt, whipped spread, sugar, water, vanilla, and vinegar until blended.

5. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, whisking until smooth. Pour the batter into the cake pan. Bake for 30 - 40 minutes, or until you can insert a toothpick into the center and remove it cleanly.

6. Remove from the oven and let sit for several minutes, then remove the cake from the pan and let it cool on a rack. Cut the cake in half horizontally, then place the bottom half back in the pan.

7. In a bowl, mix the cream of coconut and coconut milk until they are about the consistency of condensed milk.

8. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the coconut mixture, soy milk, and vegan whipping cream until smooth.

9. If using, add the lime juice and bring the mixture to a boil.

10. The milk mixture has to come to a boil in order to soak through the cake.

11. Pour the milk mixture over the bottom half of the cake and press with a spatula until all of the milk mixture has been absorbed.

12. Add some more milk, then replace the top layer of the cake. Pour more of the milk mixture over the cake, and press with a spatula until it has all been absorbed. Let the milk mixture soak into the cake for at least 30 minutes, then refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

13. Serve with fruit and vegan whipped topping(if using).

 

This meal was fantastic, and I will make all of these dishes again.

Provecho! Enjoy!

Thank you.

 

Posted on June 24, 2015 .

Recipe: Shakshuka

For those who have not heard of it, shakshuka (or "shakshouka") is a fantastic dish of eggs poached in a mixture of tomatoes, peppers, and spices. It is simple to make, and an absolute treat to eat, especially with a group of friends. It's one of those dishes that feel extravagant yet comforting at the same time.

In the past, I have made Portuguese Baked Eggs, a variation on this dish, which is also fantastic. 

The name "shakshouka" and the dish's origins are not entirely clear, but it is believed to have come from Tunisia. The name means "a mixture" in Tunisian Arabic, which is a fitting description.

Shakshuka is a very popular dish in Israel, where it was introduced by Tunisian and Maghrebi immigrants. There are countless variations of the dish throughout the Middle East and the diaspora. I chose to prepare the version found on p. 66 of Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, with some slight modifications.

If you keep kosher or just want to make a delicious, easy, kosher-style meal, shakshuka is a great option. Eggs are parve - meaning neutral, not dairy or meat - so you can complement this dish as you like with either dairy or meat. Shakshuka is supposed to be eaten with pita instead of utensils, but that is up to you.

I prepared this recipe on a whim on a Sunday evening and invited some friends over. It was the perfect way to relax and prepare for the coming work week.

 Three of my favorite things: Tomato, bell pepper, and garlic

Three of my favorite things: Tomato, bell pepper, and garlic

Ingredients

  • Two (2) Tbsp. olive oil
  • Two (2) Tbsp. harissa or Pilpelchuma - I used Sriracha
  • Two (2) tsp. tomato paste
  • Two (2) large red bell peppers, diced
  • Four (4) cloves of garlic, finely chopped
  • One (1) medium white onion, diced
  • One (1) tsp, ground cumin
  • Five (5) large, ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • Six (6) large eggs
  • One (1) bunch scallions, chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Greek yogurt
  • Pita

Note: I used a cast-iron skillet because I love cooking with cast iron, but you can use a large frying pan or skillet instead.

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Heat the olive oil over medium, then add the garlic, onion, peppers, tomato paste, Sriracha, cumin, salt, and pepper. Simmer these until the peppers become soft.

3. Stir in the tomatoes and let simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. You want to create a nice, thick sauce.

4. Once the sauce is ready, make six (6) small indentations in the surface. Crack one (1) egg in each indentation.

5. Place the skillet (uncovered) with the sauce and eggs in the preheated oven and let bake for about 12 minutes. You want the whites to set, but the yolks to still be runny. (I cooked mine a little longer because runny egg yolks bum me out.)

*This step is optional, as you can simmer the sauce covered or uncovered on the stove with the same results.

6. Remove the skillet from the oven, if using that step, and let sit for a few minutes to cool. Be aware that the eggs will still cook in the sauce while it sits. If not using the oven, simply remove the skillet from the heat and let sit.

At this point, you can throw some pita, wrapped in foil, into the oven to warm before serving.

7. Scoop one (1) egg with some sauce onto a plate, top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt and scallions, and eat with warm pita. The pita is especially key when mopping up the sauce, which you will want to do with great relish.

 The finished product

The finished product

Enjoy!

Posted on June 2, 2015 .

Recipe: Israeli Couscous Salad with Grilled Eggplant and Artichoke

I'm going to a potluck Shabbat dinner tonight with the fine folks of Keshet Houston.

I did not, however, realize that it was a potluck until Wednesday night. So, I needed a good, simple parve/dairy recipe in a hurry. A quick Google search led me to this recipe, which I modified slightly with the addition of grilled eggplant and artichoke hearts.

I prepared it last night and let it sit in the fridge until dinner.

Salad Ingredients.jpg

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • One (1) cup Israeli/pearl couscous
  • Six to eight (6 - 8) Tbsps. lemon juice, to your liking
  • Three (3) cups chopped, flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint
  • One (1) 8 oz. tomato, seeded and finely chopped
  • One 12 oz. cucumber, seeded and diced
  • One (1) bunch scallions, chopped
  • One (1) 16 oz. eggplant
  • One (1) can artichoke hearts in water, drained
  • Salt (and pepper) to taste

1. Cut the eggplant into one-inch (1") cubes, drain the artichoke hearts, and place them in a medium bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and salt. Let sit while you prepare the couscous.

2. Heat one (1) Tbsp. of olive oil over medium/medium-high heat in a medium saucepan and add the couscous. Stir it until it starts to brown and smell toasted. Add two (2) cups of water, some salt, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer until all of the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender.

3. Heat one (1) Tbsp. of olive oil in a skillet/frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and artichoke hearts, and pepper to taste (optional). I cooked these until they were browned. When the eggplant and artichokes are ready, mix them into the couscous and let cool on the counter while you prepare the vegetables.

4. In a medium bowl, mix the prepared parsley, mint, tomato, cucumber, scallions, and lemon juice.

5. Mix the vegetables into the bowl with the couscous, eggplant and artichokes. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and stir well to mix. Add some more salt if needed.

6. You can serve right away, or refrigerate it. Enjoy!

I'll update with how it was received after dinner!

Update: It was a hit! And I've been enjoying the leftovers ever since.

Posted on May 29, 2015 .

Recipe: Spicy Whole Grain Matzoh-crusted Chicken

I made this on a Monday night after a long day in the office.

It's a pretty simple recipe to make, especially when you want something you don't have to focus a lot of attention on.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup whole grain matzoh meal - I used Manischewitz brand, of course
  • 1.5 lbs. chicken - I used boneless, skinless breasts
  • One (1) egg, lightly beaten
  • One (1) Tbsp. blackened seasoning
  • One (1) tsp. garlic powder
  • One (1) tsp. mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Sesame seeds
  • Some olive oil for the baking dish
  • Optional: 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Optional: 1/4 cup soy sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Start by mixing the matzoh meal and spices in a Ziploc bag. You can also mix them in a bowl, but I use a bag so there's one less dish to clean later.

3. In a bowl, lightly beat the egg. After washing the chicken thoroughly, dip it in the beaten egg until it is coated.

4. Place the egg-coated chicken in the bag with the spices, seal it, and shake it until the chicken is covered in the spice mixture.

5. Coat the inside of a 9x13" baking/casserole dish with olive oil. Place the chicken in the dish. At this point, you can drizzle a little more olive oil on top of the meat and place it in the oven.

6. For an extra step and additional flavor, I like to mix 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup soy sauce, then cover the meat with this mixture. The soy sauce is a nice complement to the ginger and cinnamon in the spice mix, and the olive oil helps keep the chicken moist while it bakes.

7. Bake the chicken at 350 degrees for 1.5 hours. You may want to busy yourself with other things, as the smell will drive you crazy while you wait.

8. Once the chicken is done, take it out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes to cool off, then arrange your preferred side dishes on a plate and serve. I had this with sauteed green beans and some risotto, which was a great combination.

I hope you enjoy!

 

Posted on May 20, 2015 .