Trust In Me, Baby

You guys, I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve had one recipe for years, truly one of the most delicious things I’ve served, but I haven’t shared it here. Why? Firstly, because I lost the recipe years ago. Secondly, when I found it, I was reminded of how, well, icky, the ingredients are. To wit, when I called Sylvie to tell her I’d found the recipe for the broccoli kugel last year, her response was very telling: “Don’t tell me what’s in it.” When I talked to my mom about the recipe last week, she said it sounded “disgusting.” This despite the fact that I am convinced I got the recipe from her. She has no recollection of this, or the time I called her from Jerusalem and made her recite the entire recipe over the phone. (In 1999, when a long-distance call meant something.)

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Honestly, I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to share the recipe here, but then #kugelgate happened, and I saw my opening. First, I want to be clear that there are many different types of kugels – roughly translates as “baked puddings” – out there. You’re probably most familiar with dairy lokshen kugel. Lokshen means noodle, and it’s usually sweet and creamy. But that can’t be served at a meat meal. For those meals, you might see a potato kugel as a side, or a yerushalmi kugel, full of black pepper and caramelized sugar (it’s really a magnificent dish). Or you might see a broccoli kugel similar to this one.

The recipe has a few more ingredients than Ivanka’s – er, I mean Jamie Geller’s, and I’m going to go out on a limb and say mine is far tastier. One of the secret, and essential, ingredients in this dish is… drumroll…French onion soup mix. In my defense, back in the day when I was working on a master’s in Gastronomy and Food Studies, I happened upon a book about Jewish American Cuisine. I can’t remember what project I was working on, but I do remember the authors clearly stating that French Onion Soup mix is essential to American Jewish cuisine. Still don’t believe me? Go ask your mom or your grandmother what’s in their brisket.

Because this is a parve kugel, there’s mayo to make the kugel fluffy, and non-dairy creamer and margarine to finish it off. Like my mom said, disgusting. I actually made this recipe last year with heavy cream and butter, and while that might be “better”, I found both versions equally delicious. When I served it to a Shabbat dinner guest, she and I spent a good chunk of the evening cutting sliver after sliver of it, in that way you do to just “straighten the edges” in the pan.

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Opposite Twins

The crust is made with Corn Flakes. Please use Kellogg’s if you can; it’s time to speak with our wallets. While you’re at it, please consider making a donation to publications like The Forward because it looks like there will be some First Amendment issues coming to a head in the next couple of years. They need all the help they can get.

Update: I’ve checked online and perused my Jewish cookbooks, and this recipe looks like it’s the creamy broccoli kugel in The Spice and Spirit Cookbook, a truly outstanding cookbook I wholeheartedly recommend.

And now, the broccoli kugel:

Ingredients

1 large bunch broccoli, or one frozen bag of florets

1 cube vegetable bouillon

1 1/2 Tbps. margarine

1 1/2 Tbps. flour

1/2 cup nondairy creamer

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 Tbsp. onion soup mix

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup corn flake crumbs

Thoroughly wash broccoli and trim off tough ends.

Cook broccoli in 3-quart saucepan with water to cover until tender but not too soft.  Add vegetable bouillon to water and continue to cook.  Drain water and mash broccoli.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine margarine, flour, and nondairy creamer in a 1 1/2 quart saucepan.  Simmer over a low flame until thickened. Remove from flame and allow to cool 5 minutes.

Add mayonnaise, onion soup mix, and eggs and mix well. Add cooled mixture to broccoli and mix until well combined.

Grease 8-inch square pan.  Pour 1/4 cup crumbs on the bottom of the pan and pour broccoli mixture on top.  Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup corn flake crumbs.  Bake for 30 minutes.

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Hipster, Meet Toddler

For the past dozen years I’ve lived in a neighborhood in Boston called Allston. Think Venice Beach, with maybe a touch of St. Mark’s Place. It’s full of students, mustachioed, tattooed hipsters riding bicycles, and there are still punks leftover from the 80s. This year a civic board I sit on for the community built a pop up skate park/vintage market/bike co-op/event space. It’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

bea, eating grilled cheese

Being the student enclave, Allston is where you go for cheap eats and to find food from around the world: Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Taiwanese, hot pot, Venezuelan, Honduran, Korean, Burmese, Vietnamese, ramen, Lebanese and Indian. It’s got some of the best beer bars in Boston, and a thriving vegan scene. The girls’ day care is also in the neighborhood, in a building just behind some of the best restaurants in all of Allston. There’s Lone Star Taco, where I get my amazing nachos. Deep Ellum, which shares a kitchen and an owner with Lone Star, has incredible beer, remarkable cocktails and it cures its own lox. You’ll never have vegan ice cream like they sell at FoMu any place else. Whole Heart Provisions does this thing with a seared avocado and crispy lentils and za’atar that’s just… wow.

And then there’s Lilli’s favorite restaurant, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. The restaurant started as a food truck; they still are on the road and share the parking lot with Lilli’s daycare. We passed one of the trucks leaving the lot today, and she pointed and said, “Grilled cheese truck!” You can get a cup of tomato soup with your sandwich, or some poutine, or even grab a burger and a nice beer. There’s also an old school Ms. Pac-Man to play, along with a pinball machine.

grilled cheese

As you can imagine, getting out at all is tricky with a toddler and a baby, but I am here to report that, after close observation at Roxy’s, as well as making dozens of them in my own kitchen, I have perfected the grilled cheese sandwich. It’s kind of like America’s Test Kitchen around here, but for grilled cheese. (Rich could write much the same for French toast: frequently requested, hardly ever “actually” eaten, to use the toddler’s new favorite word.)

First haircut

Today I offer tips and tricks from extensive research, rather than a definitive recipe. This is not cave-aged gruyere on artisanal sourdough. My kid eats provolone (“circle cheese”) on challah or white bread. To my own taste, there’s something to be said for rye with a nice, sharp cheese. A college classmate of mine who’s now a junior doctor in London (damn you, Jeremy Hunt!) swears by Munster cheese, although she says it’s impossible to find over there. I know people enjoy caramelized onions, or maybe some mushrooms or sautéed greens. All are good.

On Making A Grilled Cheese Sandwich

I prefer non-stick and Rich prefers his cast iron. Whichever you do, go you low and slow. Put your stove top on medium, then turn it just a touch towards low. Your sandwich might take about 15 minutes to make, but it’s worth the time.

Here’s the big reveal: Instead of buttering the outsides of your bread, use a thin layer of mayo. (Hellman’s if you’re on the East Coast, Best if you’re out West.) Over the past few weeks I’ve tried to measure out how much that would be – a teaspoon? Two teaspoons? A tablespoon? — but I’ve realized it will really depend on what size bread you’re using. But the mayo is what makes the bread that deep brown, and greasy in the best way possible.

I also don’t assemble my sandwich on the counter. Once my bread is shmeared, I turn to my heated skillet, add a generous tablespoon of butter, watch it melt, then put a slice of bread down. Then I add my cheese – at least two slices – then top it with the second piece of bread. Fry that sucker for a good six minutes, then gently lift up a corner and admire how nice and golden it’s turned. Flip with a spatula, slide a second pat of butter on the pan, then cook until golden and gooey.

Finally, and this is key, once you’ve finished making your grilled cheese, quickly remove it from the pan, slice it in half, then prop the two pieces on their side on a cutting board. This will cool it down enough to eat, and will prevent the bread from getting soggy. Then you can proceed to cut it into toddler-sized triangles, or squares, or “squares and triangles” as has been the request this week. (The geometry on that one took me back to high school math.)

on its side

So, yes, fried, mayonnaise-slathered, grilled cheese, for the toddler. Judge away. She’s so tiny that she needs the calories however we can get them in her. And she barely eats half of what we give her, anyhow. Which means we (mostly Rich) gets to eat a lot of grilled cheese. And French toast.

 

Urban Adventure

I’m not sure if it was the aroma of Rich’s challah French toast or the furry little paw poking at my nose that woke me up last Saturday morning, but when Rich overheard the one-sided conversation I was having with the owner of said paw, he strolled in to see what was happening.  He was still holding his beloved cast-iron skillet, wiping down the remains of the morning’s meal.  “Would you like to have an urban adventure, Ms. Sleepy, Sleepy?” he asked. “There’s an exhibit at the ICA I’m interested in seeing that ends today. We can go to the exhibit, then go to Flour bakery for a bite.” I had my coat on before he had put down his skillet.

The exhibit Rich was interested in viewing was a retrospective of the expressionist artist Mark Bradford. A 2009 MacArthur Fellow, Bradford is an artist without a paint brush, utilizing found art — most often billboards he’s scavenged around his native Los Angeles — to create collages that explore race, class and gender in urban American society. Like an archaeologist digging through a site’s remains, Bradford scrapes away at the layers on billboards.

Mark Bradford -- Kryptonite (2006)

I had never been to the ICA, and there were a few things about the museum I really appreciated. The first was them waiving me through when I flashed my university ID. (Why had I never been here before?!?) I loved that they provided free audio tours on iPods for all their visitors; another option was to call the number printed on the descriptive card next to each painting. Since it was the weekend, we opted for using free minutes and left the iPods for other visitors. I also really enjoyed that throughout the exhibit were docents who would gather perplexed visitors, myself included, and walk us through some ideas that the artist was perhaps trying to convey.

After the museum, we walked a few blocks over to Flour bakery. I haven’t had a ton of stuff from Flour, but I’ve loved every bite I have had there; I still think fondly of a grilled tofu sandwich I had at their Washington Street location last October.  But it was the daily special, the salmon cakes, that caught my eye.  Full confession: Even though I’ve considered myself a vegetarian for good chunks of my life, I absolutely adore fish. As long it has fins and scales, I will eat it with relish — or make that tarter sauce. Steamed, fried, poached, pickled or baked, I love it. I remember once, when I was in high school and had been a vegetarian — er, pescatarian — for years, that I announced to my parents I was going vegan. “But Molly,” my mom pointed out, “you love fish.”

So clearly I had to have the salmon cakes. I actually got them to see how they compared to mine. During the layoff, salmon cakes had become a house favorite. It’s a total pantry recipe; I’d always have the canned salmon, the panko bread crumbs, mayo and eggs in the house. The toughest and ickiest part of the preparation was removing the bones from the canned fish. I am thrilled to report I have discovered Bumblebee now makes a package of salmon already skinned and deboned, costing less than $2. And so inspired by Flour, I revisited an old favorite, this time with sweet potato and chipotle.

Patty cake, patty cake, baker's man

Salmon Cakes with Chipotle Mayo

Ingredients

1 can or package salmon — approximately 5 oz.

1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

2 eggs

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 green onions, chopped

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions

In a 2-quart saucepan, boil the sweet potato in 2 cups water until tender.

Drain potato. After it cools, place the cubes in a medium-size bowl and mash well. To this, add the rest of the ingredients and mix until well-combined. I find that using my hands is the best way to get this done.

Heat oil in 10-inch nonstick skillet. Using 1/4 cup of fish mixture per patty, form patties and fry in skillet over medium flame, approximately 5 minutes per side, until golden on both sides. Add more oil to skillet if necessary.

While the patties are frying, make the chipotle mayo.

Chipotle Mayo

Combine in a bowl:

4 tablespoons mayo

1 chipotle pepper and its adobo sauce, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

Squeeze of lemon juice

Flour served their salmon cakes with a mesclun salad on the side. Tonight we had ours resting atop a pile of garlicky chard studded with currants. It was delicious.