Thursday, January 22, 2009


So, there's this appetizing place in NY called Russ and Daughters. It specializes in fish products. Any kind of salmon: smoked, preserved, etc. and any kind of herring you could possibly want, or if it's caviar you're after, they sell it too. It's pretty amazing. Apparently it's been on Oprah, which decidedly lowers its street cred in my book, but that's simply because I'm kind of a bastard.

I was educating Danny and indirectly his sister who, along with his mother, recently "discovered" a corner of NYC they love besides Bloomingdale's and Broadway - Zabar's (and yet, they've never been to the Met, which totally kills me because I pretty much grew up there, but that's another rant for another day). I was poking around on Russ and Daughters website telling Danny what they sell, he was telling his sister over the phone, and I noticed they have a blog.

On their blog is a particularly hilarious blurb, "Boy Eats Herring and Becomes Funny, Active, Smart, and Intelligent, and Also It Makes Him Look More Like President Barack Obama." First of all, it's just funny. Second of all, the kid looks so thrilled to be eating a piece of herring off a fork, it's awesome. Third of all, he does kind of look like a miniature Obama. I think it's the forehead and haircut.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Homemade cake mix?

First of all, there's this highly underrated cookbook I have.  It isn't food pornography, it's not hawked by an American TV personality, and it's definitely not glossy.  It's written by Norene Gilletz, and it's called "The Food Processor Bible."  My mom has the old copy, which is liberally stained on many, many pages.  I'm sure I've eaten more things from it than I realize.  

Anyway, one of the standbys from when I was a kid and my mom would make my brother and me birthday cakes - towering, multilayered, very homemade, jam-and-icing laden, delicious confections - she'd use this one recipe for chocolate cake.  In the book, it's called "cockeyed cake."  Two posts previously, I mentioned it as the healthiest chocolate cake could ever hope to be.  It happens to be vegan, and I could see it being a homemade cake mix.  The dry ingredients could be mixed up weeks or months is advance, and then after measuring out a certain quantity, water, oil, vinegar and vanilla could be added.  Baking time is 30 minutes.  Not bad.  

The recipe is as follows:

1.5 c flour
1 c sugar
1/3 c cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
0.5 tsp salt
5 tblsp oil
1 tblsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c cold water

- Food processor the dry ingredients 10 seconds until blended.
- Add wet ingredients and process 6-8 seconds until just blended.
- Bake in a greased 8 inch square pan for 30 min at 350 F.

A couple things... the recipe suggests using peppermint as a substitute for vanilla extract.  I'm sure orange or almond would taste excellent too.  Also, remember that baking soda/vinegar experiment from back in the day in science class?  It's a simple acid-base reaction that forms carbon dioxide gas (and water).  This carbon dioxide is where the leavening for the cake comes from, so once you add the vinegar, don't continue food processing too long, and try to have your oven preheated so you can throw the cake right in.  Also, the recipe said a greased pan.  I would consider greasing and flouring, because of the 2 cakes I made in a greased-only pan, one came out ok and the other kind of got messed up when I took it out of the pan.  It might have been my fault, but mreh... :)

If you wanted to store things, I could see measuring the dry ingredients into a ziplock bag, labeling it, maybe writing necessary amounts of wet ingredients + baking time and temp. on it so you don't forget, and storing it in a cabinet until you want chocolate cake and you want it NOW.  

Also, this cookbook is really nice... it has a nice balance of meat based recipes, vegetable ones, starch, and dessert.  It goes from more traditional recipes to recipes for Cantonese short ribs.  There are recipes specific to the Jewish tradition (like Passover things, etc.), but cookbooks containing pork recipes never stopped me, so the reverse should be true for any non-Jews.  Besides, haroset is really tasty.  (It's a paste of walnuts, apples, honey, cinnamon, sweet red wine (Manishewitz, represent!), and maybe some ginger.  Or if you're from the Middle East, you do a banana and date-based one.)  This cookbook doesn't have quite the amount of veggie recipes I'd like, but this is a quality cookbook for anyone who says "fuck it" to knife skills.  Because the food processor does the work for you.  

But I digress... anyway, that's my cake recipe!  

Put some cherries between 2 of those babies, whip some cream and cover the whole deal, and you have yourself some very respectable layer cake for dessert.  Just make sure you have people coming over, so that you don't end up eating the whole thing yourself.  


Holy crap, people, the Giant supermarket by me was literally OUT OF REGULAR LENTILS.  

I kid you not.  I had to make lentil soup from red lentils.  More on that later, but dude.  Out of LENTILS?  


Out of Goya AND the house brand.  I could not believe mine eyes.  This recession thing is for real.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Holy working week, Batman!

This is going to be a slightly scatterbrained post.

I have not been doing anything particularly awesome in the culinary sense this week. I did satisfy a craving for black forest cake by making my own. I made 2 rounds of the simplest and almost healthy chocolate cake in the world (coincidentally and completely by accident, it's vegan). Then, I got cherries from TJ's in light syrup, which I put between the two layers, and then I covered the whole deal in whipped cream (good-bye, vegan).

That was probably on the whole cheaper than buying a slice of cake somewhere which would have likely tasted of additives and other crap and would have left me feeling sad and unfulfilled. However, the downside is that I have half a black forest cake sitting in my fridge pleading with me to be eaten every time I open the fridge.

Bad planning, HungryGrad. Very bad. Must make massive cake construction coincide with a dinner party or something.

In other news, I have decided to limit the amount of pasta that Danny and I cook in one week to 1 pound, tops. Danny is a hardcore starch hound, but I think after this week even he is tired of pasta. We made lemon dill pasta salad, lime cilantro pasta salad, and a parsley pesto on pasta. I don't want anymore bloody pasta.

Happily, tonight is going to be pan seared fish, papaya salsa, and rutabaga latkes. I can't wait. I'm so tired of pasta that I engineered a sardine salad for lunch today. 1 can of sardines, 1 can of kippers, a glob of yogurt, some capers, mustard, and I think I should have squeezed some lemon in, but I didn't. I chopped up a ton of dill, sliced some cukes, and put it all in a tupperware with a few slivers of Jarlsberg. Ate it with a spoon, because I didn't even want bread.

People, I actively miss beans.

I made a vat of curried chicken a couple weeks ago, sans the chicken. I doubled the recipe (because I love it so much) and in lieu of chicken, I threw in 3 cans of beans - kidney, garbanzo, and some weird whitish ones. It was gone very rapidly, and is definitely in the running for something to make for the week, especially since it goes very well with lima bean and dill rice (a Persian thing) which is good because we have a huge bouquet of dill that needs to get eaten. Another possibility for this weekend's cooking activities is a lentil soup of epically hearty proportions, as well as a minestrone. I am so back on the bean. I want the minestrone to be vegetarian, but I haven't decided if I want to include hotdogs in the lentil soup. Need some input from Danny. There's also half a head of red cabbage that's going to get cooked down with an apple and an onion and some vinegar and sugar into sweet and sour cabbage.

This is odd, but i'm craving spinach. The frozen-in-a-block kind. I want to put it in the microwave, thaw and warm it, drain it, and then put the entire package on a steaming hot baked potato with a touch of sour cream, and some sauteed/roasted garlic. And some salt and pepper. That would make me incredibly happy.

Hm. Yet another meal possibility for the week...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Syringes in the Kitchen

This is a most unattractive picture of me imitating a mad scientist injecting sufganiyot (briefly mentioned here) with jelly.  More specifically Polaner All-Fruit raspberry whatevertheycallit.  I love raspberry preserves/jam/jelly.  

I'm sure there's a better technique for preserves injection that doesn't involve unused dental syringes (because Danny had his wisdom teeth out, the dentists' office equipped him with 2 syringes to clean out his mouth holes - or whatever you want to call them - so we had some good equipment).  When filling doughnuts of any kind, celebratory or not, is there a better way to jammify them?  Obviously people have been doing this for much longer than there have been syringes, so they must have some way to go about this culinary pursuit.  

I've seen recipes for a two-part doughnut with jelly in the middle like a sandwich, but I'd imagine it would get absorbed and kind of gooky during frying.  Other recipes say to use a syringe or a spoon and a small hole.  Hm.

This frying/filling business isn't something I'm familiar with or good at...

Saturday, January 3, 2009

When life gives you lemons... CLONE them, and make SUPER lemons!!!!

(Madd, madd props if you got that reference.)

If you didn't, that was from Clone High, a fantastic cartoon show MTV did for 2 seasons.  The first season was amazingly excellent, but the second season was a little too trippy and disjointed for my viewing tastes.  

But anyway, I had lemons.  And eggplants.  And ample amounts of tahini.  And I'm sick and I wanted something garlicky to kill the cold viruses.  Despite the shakiness of this particular bubbe meise, baba ganoush and hummus sounded excellent.  I've written about how to make baba ganoush before, and rereading it, it still sounds right.  Adding the tahini straight from the jar (instead of premixing it with lemon juice, salt, smashed garlic, and water to get the dressing you'd pour over falafel) amps up the creaminess and minimizes any residual wateriness from the eggplants.  And I've written about how to make hummus before, too.  Rereading it, it sounds pretty good, although if I was only making 1 can of chickpeas, I'd probably cut the garlic back to one clove.  But then, I never make just one can's worth of hummus because between Danny and I, it would be gone in a few hours.  

I made both, and it really does make me feel better.  The strong garlic and lemon make it through my sinuses and I can actually taste something!  Huzzah.  Now I have to wait 30 minutes before I take a cold-eeze because of the citrus.  

Friday, January 2, 2009


I've noticed men prepare very distinct foods, foods that inspire the most macho of men to don an apron and a grim expression, pick up a fire extinguisher, and sally forth.  In the US, these dude foods include things like vats of chili and barbeque, mainly hearty meat dishes.  Very similar to these particular foods is cholent, a dish that is confined primarily to the eastern European Jewish communities.  

Men make cholent.  This doesn't mean women don't (this woman certainly does...).  But what I mean is everyone's father/boyfriend/husband/brother knows how to make it, and they have their own special additions.  The particular variant I grew up eating is pared down to basics, easy to throw together and even easier to cook.  

Cholent is all beans and meat, with the most expensive ingredient being the meat.  Bare bones of what you need for four people (4 people!  4 of them!  If you live by yourself, you'll be drowning in cholent if you don't at least halve your recipe!) is 2 cups of dried beans, 1 cup of dried barley, and 3 pounds of meat.  The meat should be decently marbled; if it's too lean you'll be chewing on shoe leather, but if it's too marbled you'll be drowning in grease.  Generic stew beef is perfectly acceptable.  Just make sure you cut it in chunks.  For flavor, you'll need 1 whole onion, a bunch of paprika, a couple bay leaves, dried ginger (optional), salt, and pepper.  The only caveat is that because the beans need a good soaking, you have to start 2 days before you want to eat it.  

Before I get to the recipe, I want to talk about beans.  You can use pretty much any dried bean mixture you want.  I'm particularly partial to 1 cup (at least) of dried large lima beans, and then a cup of whatever else, usually kidney or pinto or navy beans.  I've never used black eyes peas (don't use lentils), but pretty much anything is fair game.  

So, let's say your beans and barley are sitting in the pantry, the meat is cut in chunks in the fridge, and you want cholent on Friday night.  That means on Wednesday night before you go to sleep, you measure your 2 cups of beans into a really large bowl (they swell up like you wouldn't believe), pour in water until the level is twice what it was with just dried beans, leave it on your counter, and go to sleep.  The next morning, transfer them to the fridge before you leave for work/school.  

When you come home on Thursday, get out your crock pot.  Drain the beans, and dump them into the pot. Measure one cup of barley, and dump that in too.  Cut an onion in half from stalk to root end, slice it up, and throw it in.  Toss in ~2 bay leaves, a very generous amount of paprika (the sweet kind is what I'd use here), on the scale of tablespoons... probably ~2-3.  For the dried ginger, I'd do ~2 teaspoons.  Grind a generous amount of pepper in, and sprinkle some salt in, too.  Salt and pepper can be adjusted post-cooking to taste.  Heat up a pan, and brown your meat chunks.  Dump them into the crock pot.  Now fill the crock pot with water until the water level is 1-1.5 inches above the beans and meat.  At this point, I like to take a large spoon and attempt to mix everything so it's more evenly distributed.  Sometimes it works, sometimes I just end up smushing the beans and barley around.  It doesn't matter either way.  Cover the crock pot, turn it on low, and go to sleep.  

When you wake up in the morning on Friday, check the water level in your pot.  If it's dropped below the surface of the beans, etc., add more.  When you come home, you'll have dinner all set.  Usually cholent needs more salt.  Only once in 25 years of me being alive has it almost had too much.  Oh, a caveat about cholent; you will think you want more.  You will be like "Hey, I'm not full!  I want another bowl!" and then all of a sudden, "Oh sweet merciful lord I cannot move from this table.... unngnghghghghghghngnnghgnghghghhh... there is a lead shotput in my belly."  Be careful.  Also, this goes extremely well with vodka toasts.  You can do 4-5 shots with a meal of cholent and feel as sober as an observant Mormon.  Cholent will keep you full practically forever.  It's hot, thick, rich, and the beans get gloriously creamy and the meat falls apart.  

Dude food, comfort food, Jewish soul food, whatever.  It's an awesome winter dish.  

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Russian Spam

Despite its complete ridiculosity, I thought I'd share this tidbit.  Russians like spam, but allegedly they really like Polish spam.  Much like Coca Cola from Mexico, spam from Poland is superior.  The literal translation of the tin is "mechanically separated pork."  

Anyone want some mechanically separated pork?

Vacation Rocks My Face Off

It really does.  For one thing, school isn't raining down all kinds of unimaginable hell on my head, the constant buzz of fear has finally shut off because I don't have to live one of my recurring stress nightmares (teaching a subject I know nothing about), and I am surrounded by people who communicate their thoughts fully and comprehensibly.  

Actually, my anxiety dreams have grown up with me.  When I was a little kid,  like 8 or so, I used to dream about going to school naked.  I went through puberty, spent a lot of time in locker rooms primarily for basketball and fencing, started dating, and as a result of observation and very rarely getting turned down by boys, I learned that for all my supposed freakishness (and all the awful teasing from girls), I'm actually pretty hot.  So, those dreams went away.  But far from being free from anxiety, I then dreamt about walking into class, sitting down in the front row, and knowing nothing about whatever the professor is professing.  The second semester of my freshman year in undergrad, I accidentally walked into the wrong chemistry lecture, realized it was organic chem - not general chemistry - and slunk out with my heart pounding from a mixture of abject terror and relief.  Once I got over that, I've dreamt about having to get up in front of a room full of people, feeling perfectly confident, and then realizing I know NOTHING about the subject about which I am supposed to speak.  Well, just got done with that.  Two 2-hour sessions a week for a semester is a very effective shock therapy.  

I wonder, with what maladjusted phobic scheme will my brain ambush me next?

Anyway, after knocking another thing that scares me off the list of Things That Scare Me, I was totally primed for vacation.  Two amazing Chanukah celebrations later, I am fat and happy.  Actually, I'm not really fat even though I feel that way from a surfeit of really good food.  Because Chanukah is a celebration of a miracle of oil (oil for a menorah lasted 8 days even though there was technically only enough for 1 day), fried food is the order of the day(s).  Our celebration included sufganiyot (no idea how to spell that, but it's pronounced soof-gah-nee-yoht'... not a short "o" in the last syllable) which are jelly-filled doughnuts.  I used a syringe to inject Polaner's All-Fruit raspberry preserves into the doughnuts my mom made.  I know there's probably a less labor intensive way to do it, but I don't know about it... We also did potato latkes (potatoes, onions, egg, flour, water if needed) with apple sauce and sour cream, and my dad made falafel with all the fixings to round out the fried thing.  

That's why I feel fat and happy, instead of just happy.  But the funny thing is I managed to put on a pair of skinny jeans for a New Year's Eve party I pretty much despaired of ever fitting into.  Something stayed my hand when I went through my closet recently.  They were too nice; the denim is a deep saturated blue, they don't cling all the way down my calves, they're long enough, and they fit inside boots I own ever so perfectly.  I couldn't toss them.  When I realized I could slide myself into them, I paired them with a super sequined top that was possibly supposed to be a tunic on a shorter person under a black velvet blazer (after the leaping around with joy finished).  I resembled the Times Square ball; just imagine it in a blazer with reddish hair.  And of course, shoes.  Mine look something like this, only black and a different brand which I've forgotten.  That just goes to show you, sometimes even when you feel like a greasy blob, it really is just in your head.  Hah.  

But actually, between Chanukah and New Year's, I did something other than eat.  While I was in New York, I introduced Danny to my best friend from high school who is the one person I've known since I was 15 with whom I can carry on a serious conversation and still joke about poop and farts.  Knowing anyone over the course of your most formative years when everyone changes so much and still liking them and having them like you back is pretty huge.  He's in law school now, as brilliant and goofy as ever, after finishing a master's in Slavic Studies at Columbia U. and writing a book, and translating things, quitting smoking for the bazillionth time, and generally boggling my mind with all the stuff he does.  The three of us went out in a particularly deserted part of town, in bars with animal heads mounted on the walls, talking, laughing, and drinking beer.  It was a tremendous relief when it turned out he and Danny got along.  I didn't expect a table-flipping brawl, and it wasn't something I'd really been dreading, but, well, you know... 

So, there was that, some museum hopping, and TONS of sleeping.  Currently, I have a cold.  It's not bad, just a nuisance that's keeping me from doing things I want to do.  Danny made some amazing chicken soup, which combined with naps, tea, and cold-eeze is keeping me more healthy than sick.  Hopefully this trend will continue.  I want to take a shower, but I straightened my hair yesterday (which was a TON of work) and lack a showercap.  Drat.  I might sacrifice my hard work in the name of not being smelly anymore.