Ready for my close up

I’ve received a number of requests for recipes I’ve posted to my Instagram account with some folks even asking for video demonstrations. I took vacation time for Passover, and today I offer you Cheap Beets’ first ever video. It’s for zucchini ricotta fritters, something I make every year for Passover. Enjoy!

Milk and Honey

Last week I went outside to Rich who was busy working on his bicycle. “Honey, right now I’m cooking some wheat berries in the pressure cooker. They should be done in about 15 minutes.” “Um, OK…” Rich responded. I could hear the skepticism in his voice.

“But I’ve realized that the dish I had in mind would instead be a perfect dish for Shavuot,” “Jewish Pentecost?” he asked, making sure he was thinking of the right holiday.  “Yup!” I said. “So tonight, we’re having macaroni and cheese,” then I paused, “from a box!” (There weren’t a lot of kosher mac and cheese options growing up, so it’s a totally foreign dish to me.) “Yippee!” Rich replied with a genuine enthusiasm for a true dish of his childhood.

Let me unpack this a little, starting with the wheat berries. A few months back, I went a little wild in the bulk bin aisle. I had come across some new recipes, and was so excited by them that I filled up my sack with all sorts of goodies. Along with wheat berries, I now have containers of mung beans, Kamut and other grains lining the shelves of my pantry.

But excited as I was with my bounty, I quickly remembered that I wasn’t going to be the only one enjoying the new dishes. Rich, of course, would be dining with me, and as willing as he is to try something new, quite often something completely foreign to him, I realize that sometimes I’m asking a lot of him. I took a good look at the small, round green mung beans and asked myself, Am I really going to feed my husband mung beans?

You see, Rich comes from a world of meat and potatoes, with a strong dose of dessert (cake and ice cream, not fruit). I, as you can probably gather from the blog, was brought up kosher and with a vegetarian streak. Our childhood palates are only the least of our different beginnings. When I first met Rich, I could have never imagined him ever being my husband. And how could I? He was raised in a very traditional Catholic household – an altar boy until 18, no less.  And I was raised in an equally if not more traditional Jewish household, with years of Jewish day school and a degree from Jewish seminary to boot.

So when we first got together, I asked myself the same question that I did looking at those mung beans: Is this really going to work?  And it’s been challenging at times, but my husband has proven to be a very capable student of Judaism. And he’s taught me about Christianity, especially where the New Testament has borrowed from the Old. More importantly, being in a relationship with Rich has taught me tolerance and acceptance of the unknown.

Next up: Shavuot. It’s the day the Jewish people celebrate the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. We actually count down the days from the second day of Passover, when the Children of Israel left Egypt, to their arrival at Mt. Sinai — in total, a seven-week journey. As Rich put it after I explained it to him: “So that’s where we got Pentecost from.”

Shavuot is also one of the three harvest festivals on the Jewish calendar, marking the end of the spring barley harvest and the beginning of the summer wheat harvest. There are more customs than laws for this holiday. Some observant Jews mark the occasion by staying up all night studying Torah. Reading the Book of Ruth, the story of the righteous convert which takes place during the barley harvest, is another popular tradition.

Jews eat dairy on the holiday. There are many explanations to this one, but most focus on the Children of Israel receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. And with the Torah, they also received the kosher laws and discovered that their pots and pans, and even their meat itself, would not pass muster.  Eating dairy, even today, is considered the easiest way to circumvent these issues.

This recipe is all of three ingredients, but each one touches on a Shavuot tradition. The Ricotta cheese is straight-up dairy, and the wheat berries pick up on the harvest theme. Finally, the whole thing is mixed with honey – as in “the land of milk and.” But most importantly, it’s an accessible dish for my husband, who’s still impressing me with his openness to my religion and cuisine.

Wheat Berries with Ricotta and Honey from The Italian Country Table by Lynn Rossetto Casper

This dish has its origins in southern Italy, where it is eaten for lunch, dinner or a snack. In the United States, it’s viewed as more appropriate for brunch or dessert. I cook my wheat berries for 18 minutes in the pressure cooker.

Ingredients

1 cup (5 ounces) hard wheat kernels (wheat berries)

Water

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups high-quality creamy ricotta

Honey to taste

½ cup currants or raisins

Generous pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)

  1. Soak the wheat in cold water to cover overnight in the refrigerator
  2. Drain and place in a 3-quart saucepan along with the salt and enough water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cook at a slow simmer, partially covered, about 1 hour, or until tender. The kernels will open up slightly.
  3. Drain the wheat and combine it with the ricotta. Blend in honey to taste and the currants or raisins. Turn into a deep serving bowl and dust with cinnamon, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature in small bowls.

Food-drunk at Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen

I have a problem. I don’t know if it’s treatable, or if it’s just one of those lifelong maladies. When I am at a function — bar mitzvah, wedding, food blogger’s cocktail hour — I lose all sense of control and eat until I’m food-drunk. Literally, intoxicated. We once went to the Phantom Gourmet block party, and a few hours in, Rich found me stumbling around Landsdowne Street,  Zeppy’s bagel in my left hand, and a chunk of chocolate in my right. I still don’t remember how we got home.

This is all by way of explaining why I have no pictures to show you from Beyond Bubbe’s Kitchen on Sunday night. Oh, I brought my camera, and even the tripod. But how can I take photos of food AND eat it at the same time?

Words will have to suffice. First, there was moist brisket, crowned with onion confit and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds,  cooked by Julio de Haro of Estragon. But I had to hustle, because rumor was Erwin Ramos from Ole! was about to run out of chocolate tamales! (Not to worry, they brought strawberry tamales as a back-up — vanilla custard sauce, people!) I may have had more than one bowlful of Tony Maws’ from Craigie on Main’s kasha varnishkes with homemade pasta and duck confit. Have I mentioned Michael Leviton of Lumiere‘s sweet, yet savory, Purim-inspired poppy seed “Oreo” cookies with poppy seed filling, which were served with a Bourbon-spiked milkshake? No? Oops, because I had three.

Somehow, I managed to stay lucid enough to meet Jewish cookbook writer extraordinaire Joan Nathan. But a funny thing happens to me when I am around certain cookbook authors. They are my version of rock stars, so I get really nervous, a bit giddy, and start talking really fast. Honestly, put me in a room with any of this year’s Oscar nominees, I’d be as cool as a bourbon-spiked milk shake, but put me near a cookbook author who has a section in my cookbook collection, and I’m a puddle. God help me if I’m ever near Mollie Katzen or Deborah Madison. This fall I met Mark Bittman, and I’m still not 100% sure what I babbled at him.

The recipes I have here, homemade ricotta and pickled beet salad, are from Jeremy Sewall of the Eastern Standard — sort of. His recipes were a bit sparse — Hemingwayesque, really — so I’ve added more detailed directions.  Also, I couldn’t help but modify the beets for my favorite kitchen companion, the pressure cooker.

Homemade Ricotta

Ingredients

1 gallon whole milk

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon salt

Hardware

A large pot

Thermometer (not necessary, but helpful)

Wooden spoon

Cheesecloth — The regular grocery store on the corner sells this, I promise. If you can’t find it, just ask.

Colander

Twine

Directions

Place milk and salt in the large pot, and bring to a slow simmer, making sure it doesn’t boil or scald. It should take about 45 minutes. Every so often, stir the milk, from the bottom, with the wooden spoon, to ensure the milk doesn’t brown and get stuck to the pot. (I speak from experience.)

While the milk is heating, line the colander, which should be sitting in your sink, with a double layer of cheesecloth.

When the milk reaches 175 degrees ( a gentle simmer) add the fresh lemon juice, and stir gently with your wooden spoon. Then, the most magical thing happens: curds and whey begin to separate in the pot. This should take no more than 10 minutes.

Next, take your pot over to your colander and spoon the curds and whey into the awaiting cheesecloth. Do not pour it, as that will destroy the delicate curds. Gently fold up the corners of the cheesecloth, and tie them up with the twine. DO NOT SQUEEZE. If possible, hang the cheesecloth above the pot as the whey drains.

In two hours, cut the twine, open up the cheesecloth, and gaze at your homemade, pillowy clouds of fresh ricotta.

Quick Pickled Beets

1 large beet, peeled, washed, stem and root removed.

(I had two small beets in my fridge, just hanging out — it is Cheap Beets — so I used those.)

Equal parts sherry vinegar and water, to one-half part sugar.

(Again, I wandered away from the directions. I used about a cup of water, 3/4 cups red wine vinegar, and a half-cup sugar.)

Preheat oven to 375

Place all ingredients in a small pan that is large enough to hold the whole beet. Cover with foil and braise in oven until you can pierce through the beet with a paring knife; it should take between 60 – 80 minutes.

(I used my pressure cooker, placing all ingredients in the pot and cooking for about 20 minutes. It was perfect.)

Sewall serves his salad with segments of a blood orange. I did not have any on hand, but if you do, I am sure it would taste delicious.