Saturday, April 25, 2009

got the garden started. . . and that's all i did.

well, the part time working thing (leaving plenty of time to read & cook!) has turned into a full time+ working thing for a few months (leaving hardly any time to read and cook). the money is nice (means more books and kitchen gadgets!), but i miss my free time.

that said, i don't think any interesting cooking has gone in my house in the last 2 weeks.

readng wise, picked up a copy of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but haven't had a chance to start reading it yet. I remember seeing the movie when it came out, but the only thing i remember is the lady doing voodoo in the middle of the night, during the witching hour - 30 minutes before midnight is for good magic, and the 30 minutes after midnight is for evil magic.

I sure was surpised to find this book in the american history part of the library.

looking to the summer, the garden got started this morning - tomato, lettuce, and basil seeds went in. I used old egg cartons with holes punched in the bottom as seed starters. once the seeds germinate and get an inch or so high, i'll put them in the big planters. that buys me 2 weeks or so to get the old nasty planters cleaned out and get some good dirt.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

small post Passover wrap up

Passover is over, we've restocked the pantry, and now I can't find my list of all the yummy passover things I made. But I have promised myself I will get all my passover friendly recipes together and put them all in one 3 ring binder so I don't have to go searching for them next spring.

I did find these two still on the refridgerator printed off from some random website, and they were tasty.

Spinach & Potato Casserole - difficulty level - Easy.

3 good size white potatoes, or 6 good size red potatoes
20oz frozen spinach, defrosted and drained
3 green onions, chopped
1 sweet pepper, diced
8 to 12 oz ricotta cheese
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt & peper
1 cup shredded cheese
4 matzah sheets

preheat oven to 400 and bake potatoes till tender, about 45 minutes. Cool, peel and slice potatoes into 1/4” slices. Reduce oven temp to 350. In medium bowl, mix spinach, green onions, sweet pepper, ricotta cheese, lemon juice, and season w/salt & pepper. Wet the matzah under running water until pliable but not falling apart. Grease the bottom of a baking dish and put the first sheet of matzah as the bottom layer. Put down ¼ of the spinach mixture, then a layer of potatoes, followed by some shredded cheese. Continue making layers until you run out of ingredients, and make the top most layer shredded cheese.

Bake for 35 minutes, until cheese on top is bubbly. Wait a few minutes before serving, so it can firm up, and cut into squares for serving.

Cheese wise, we used up the fontina that was in the fridge, and it was awesome. My matzah didn't quite fit into the baking dish I used, so I ended up farfelling some of it, and it still worked fine.

And now for some dessert . . .

Cardamom Apple Cake – difficulty level is a little harder. You'll need a food processor, an electric mixer of some kind, and nearly every bowl in the house.

½ cup matzah meal
1 cup chopped or slivered almonds (see note below)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cardamom
5 large eggs at room temperature and separated
1 cup sugar
2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and grated
few tablespoons powdered sugar

preheat oven to 350 and grease a baking dish. Use a springform pan if you've got one (I don't). Pulse almonds in food processor until finely chopped, then add matzah meal, salt and cardamom and pulse some more until finely ground. Don't go too far,you don't want paste.

Beat egg yolks in a bowl until smooth then add ¾ cup sugar a little bit at a time. Keep beating until mixture is thick and pale. Stir in the nut mixture then the apples. In another bowl, beat the whites until you get stiff peaks. Beat in the remaining ¼ cup sugar a little at a time, keeping your stiff peaks. Fold a little of the egg white mixture into the egg yellow mixture to blend, then quickly fold in the rest of the whites. Scrape all batter into baking dish and bake for 40-45 minutes until top is browned and springy. Remove from oven, sprinkle top with powdered sugar, and let cool completely. The cake will puff, then sink a little.

This apple cake is the messiest, most involved dessert I've made in a long time. And you know what? It was so good it was worth the mess. It is not gluten free by any means, but you would never know it wasn't made with flour. Slivered almonds are insanely expensive! I bought the cheapest bulk whole almonds I could find, and chopped them by hand before they went into the food processor, and it was fine.

too many books, not enough time.

Again, i'm splitting books and food into two separate posts. Becoming a habit? Perhaps.

I finally, finally, finally got my hands on a copy of Scott Lynch's second Gentlemen Bastard book Red Seas Under Red Skies. I told my husband if he wakes up one morning and I'm gone, it means I've driven to Wisconsin (or wherever Lynch lives out there) to demand he finish writing the next book in the series. These books are pure, unadultered, guilty pleasure FUN in an 1800's-ish not-Venice and now not-South Seas. Think Casanova meets Ocean's 11, except Locke Lamora makes Danny Ocean and Casanove look like idiots. Red Skies isn't what I expected, and is more about Jean than Locke, but that's turning out to be okay. Jean spent most of the first book being a side kick, and now that he's in the spotlight, I can see that he deserves it. When I say Red Skies isn't quite as good as the first book, it means it's only a 9 out of 10, instead of a 12 out of 10.

I need to quit going to the University Library, because I keep getting the fascinating yet impossible to read books there. It's been a week, and i'm barely 60 pages into my early supreme court book. It's dry, it's boring, it's actually really fascinating, and it's going to take me forever to finish it. I wonder if they have the next book in that series?

Too many books, not enough time. My employment has gone from part time to full time for a little while, which is nice, but totally eats into reading time. And soon it will be gardening time, which is nicer. I am going to get those lettuce seeds planted this week if it kills me! That means it better not snow or I will be really pissed off. After lettuce is tomatoes, then herbs. I'll be eating tomatoes off the vine for breakfast in july!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

April 11th, part 2: food is better than the book

April 11th, part two. The food is better than the book.

Review of Gordon Dahlquist’s Glass books of the dream eaters. Not a bad book, but not particularly good either. If you were stuck on a desert island with nothing to do, it would be a good, long, book to have.

The Passover cooking is going strong, read on for recipes for a spicy north African Beef Stew, deliciously light Chocolate Walnut cookies, and Zuchini & Tomato gratin.

Moroccan Beef Stew (adapted from Faye Levy’s 1000 Jewish Recipes)

2 lbs cubed stewing beef
2-3 tbsp oil
1 large onion, chopped
Up to 3 cups water
4 tbsp minced garlic
Good pinch hot pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp paprika
Salt & pepper
2 lbs red potatoes
1 large (or two small) sweet pepper peppers, chopped
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in large dutch oven over medium high heat, and brown beef on all sides. Remove beef, and add the onions to the pan. Cook onion till softened, 5-7 minutes. Add beef back to pan, stir in garlic, hot pepper, cumin, paprika and salt & pepper. Add enough water to barely cover the beef, stir, and bring to a boil. Simmer over low-medium heat for 90 minutes, adding more water if needed. Cube potatoes, and add to stew, pushing them down into the liquid. Simmer another 30 minuets, then stir in sweet peppers, cooking into they soften, 5-10 minutes. Garnish with cilantro.

Chocolate Walnut Cookies off the interwebs, somewhere.

2 1/2 cups walnuts
3 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup unsweeted baking cocoa powder
1/4 tsp salt
4 egg whites
1 tbsp vanilla extract

preheat oven to 350, and line baking sheets with parchment paper. finely chop the walnuts. if you are using a food processor, be careful because you don't want them pulverized, just chopped. toast the walnuts in the oven for about 7-8 minutes, and let cool. in a large bowl mix sugar, cocoa and salt. stir in walnuts. fold in vanilla and egg whites, stiring until the mixture has moistened, and darkened. do not beat or overmix, you just want it blended. Drop batter by teaspoonful onto baking sheets, and bake for 12-15 minutes, until tops are glossy and begins to crackle. let cool on baking sheets, then remove to racks. makes about 3 dozen cookies.

i was afraid these cookies would be overly rich and heavy. Nope. light, airy, and a nice balance of bitter chocolate to sweetness.

Zucchini & Tomato Gratin

I think I made this last year. it's from my French Provincial cookbook.

2lbs zuchini
3-4 tbsp butter or oil
1 can diced tomatoes, with juice
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 tbsp basil
1 cup matzah meal or breadcrums
4-5 tbsp grated Greyere, Danish Fontina, Swiss, or other swiss-like firm white oily cheese

Slice zucchini thinly, and layer in a colander with generous sprinkles of salt between each layer. don't be chinsy with the salt, it's important because it leeches the moisture out of the zucchini, and you'll be washing the salt off later anyways. Let zucchini sit for 1 hour, then rinse with cool water, and dry the slices on paper towels. Taste a peice. see? not as salty as you'd expect, and crispier and crunchier than unsalted zucchini.

Preheat oven to 400, heat the butter/oil in a skillet over medium heat. in batches, sautee the zuchini until browned. remove the zucchini from the skillet. add the tomatoes, garlic, basil and salt and pepper, and bring mixture to a boil. simmer for 5-10 minutes, until it has thickened a bit. Stir the zuchhini back into the skillet, and mix everything together. Pour into a baking dish. in a small bowl blend the matzah meal and the cheese, and sprinkle it over the zuchhini. dot with butter, and bake for 25 minutes.

April 11th part 1: the joy is back.

I’ve decided to split today’s post into 2 parts, otherwise it would be annoyingly long, even for longwinded me.

I remember a conversation I had with my Dad when I was maybe 12 years old I’d just discovered astronomy, and had found some basic books that were on my reading level. I was giving my Dad a run down on all my cool astronomy knowledge (this is was a super nova is, this is how you find the big and small dipper, etc). I told him that everytime I learned something new, I came up with a few more questions that led me to find the answers to those questions and thus learn more. He welcomed me to the world of knowledge, and said he was proud of me.

A simple, inconsequential conversation that I never forgot. But over the years, I did forget the joy of learning, the joy of discovering, the joy of finding the questions never end, and that finding the answers are just as satisfying as forming the questions.

I am thrilled to say that I have rediscovered that joy. Just not in the way I expected. About a year ago, I got interested in Law. If you’ve been following this blog, you know I found a few introduction books, some books that focuses on different cases, I just went nuts at the library as things looked interesting. The joy of learning was slowing returning.

“Marbury v Madison”. If you are a law student, you know what that is. If you are not a law student, suffice to say reading about that causes a supernova of learning joy to blossom within me. Now I was to learn everything I can about John Adams (who strikes me as an aristocratic prick) and Thomas Jefferson and what the framers really thought, everything I can about the continental congress, and which factions wanted what, and who had who in whose pockets. Because politics hasn’t changed a bit. I want to get the “Landmark Supreme Count Descisions” book from the library. I want to learn what all the latin words I don’t know means. I want to learn about history and philosophy of Law. I’ve never read To Kill a Mockingbird, and now I want to.

The joy is back. And it feels great.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Pre-Passover Bread

Passover is only a few days away, and the planning and plotting has begun! to prepare for a week withouth delicious yeasty bread, i felt the need to be as bready as possible this weekend. and give up some yeasty bready secrets to making challah and bagels, the two most Jewish breads that you can't have during Passover. I'm pretty sure i've posted both of these recipes in some fashion or another before, and they are both adapted from The Book of Jewish Food, by Claudia Roden.

Challah (makes two braided loaves)
1 pgk yeast
1 1/8 cup warm water
little bit of honey
1/4 cup sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg for later
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup oil
4 to 5 cups flour (have 5 cups ready, you probably won't use it all)

for dough that doesn't need as much flour (and thus is moister), start a pot of water to boil on the stove. you're not going to use this water for anything, it's just to get additional moisture into the air, and really makes a difference in the winter when the air is drier.

dissolve the yeast in the warm water with a little bit of honey. wisk well, and leave for 10 minutes. it should get foamy. in a very large bowl, beat the eggs, then mix in the salt, sugar and oil. add the yeast mixture and beat again. slowly add the flour in, about a cup at a time, until you have a soft, kneadable dough. do not feel like you need to use all the flour, in fact, the less flour you use, the better. dip your palms in flour, and knead for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic. Pour a few drops of oil in the bottom of the bowl and roll the dough around to grease it. cover, and let rise for 2 and a half hours in a warm place, such as near the pot of boiling water.

after it's risen, punch down and knead a few more times. divide dough into 2 even peices, and divide each one of those into 3 peices. roll out into 6 ropes to make two braided loaves. let these rise for one hour on a greased cookie sheet for one hour. preheat the oven to 350, and brush the loaves with egg. bake for 30 minutes, and let cool on racks.


not in the mood for Challah? How about bagels? they are more fun to make, and make a great gift.

Bagels (makes 10-12)

3 1/2 cups flour
1 pkg yeast
1/2 tbsp salt
1 large egg (or 2 small) beaten
1 1/2 tbsp oil
3/4 cups warm water (you may not use all of it)
1 egg white

In the challah recipe, you add flour to wet ingredients, this recipe is the opposite, where you are adding water to dry ingredients. so you may not use all the water, or you may need more, depending on the moisture content of the flour and of your kitchen.

in large bowl, mix flour, sugar, yeast and salt. fold in egg and oil. it will be a very dry dough, this is okay! now add the water a little at a time until you get a pliable, yet heavy dough. if you've ever made pasta dough, this will feel a little like that. knead for 10-12 minutes or until soft and elastic (this dough will never get as elastic as challah dough, so try not to knead it past 12 or 13 minutes or it will just get tough). put a little oil in the bottom of the bowl and coat the ball of dough. cover at let rise in a warm place for 2 hours.

after 2 hours, punch down and knead a few more times. divide dough into ten or twelve dough balls, as equally sizes as possible. take each dough ball and punch a hole in the center with your thumb, then form it into a bracelet. you just made your first bagel!! make the bracelets a little bigger than you expect, as the dough will spring back some. form all your bagels, and let rise on a greased cookie sheet for an hour and a half.

preheat the oven to 375get a big pot of water boiling on the stove, and once it's at a boil, boil the bagels three or four at a time for 2-4 minutes each, flipping them over every so often. if you've got a slotted large spatula, that works great for this. after the bagels have been in the water bath, let them dry a bit on parchment paper, wax paper, or some cheese cloth.

brush the bagels with egg white, then press into a plate of any toppings you want, like sesame seeds or fried onion. bake on a greased cookie sheet for 15 to 18 minutes at 375. they should be slightly browned and getting crispy on the outside when they come out. let cool on wire racks.

these bagels are nothing like panera or big apple bagels. they remind me a little off Brueger's bagels in detroit, but i don't know if that chain exists anymore. they are chewy, fluffy, and still have some weight to them.

have fun!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Constitutional Law is totally fraking awesome.

Lesson learned from Fienman's Law 101? Constitutional law is as fascinating as contract law is boring.

Lesson learned from the case against Philip Harvey's Adam & Eve company, as chronicled in The Government vs Erotica? Constitutional Law is totally fraking awesome, it makes me feel all and warm and fuzzy and empowered n'stuff. I have this urge to look up a bunch of first amendment lawyers and randomly send them thank you cards.

Finished Silverberg's Valentine Pontifex. An excellent book, but my least favorite of the trilogy. My order of favorites equals the order in which they were written. Each book focuses on something very different, which is nice and refreshing, I just enjoyed most the focus of the first book. Was a little funny, I finished Pontifex the same day my copy of Silverberg's Dying Inside arrived. Silverberg's writing style reminds me a little of the dreamy style of M. John Harrison's, as found in his Viriconium stories, and this is a good thing.

On the recommendation of a friend, I picked up Gordon Dahlquist's The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters at the library. Holy crap is this book heavy! In pure tare weight and prose! Dahlquist sure loves his details, from the laces on green boots and trim on robes to mysterious facial scaring, and the sounds the road makes under a carriage. This Victorian adventure is beautifully rendered, well paced, and loaded with characters both cruel and intriguing. Romantic and sexy in the original senses, it'll be a sad ending if there isn't a single romantic hook up. Weight of prose wise, the novel lands half way between George R R Martin Song of Ice and Fire novels (obscenely long, but so good you don't care) and Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (obscenely, needlessly long and rambling and in dire need of some severe editing). I believe Dahlquist is a playwright for his dayjob, I have to wonder if his plays run 6+ hours?