Monday, January 28, 2008

Freshness - Storing your Stuff

As a family of mainly produce eaters, we buy a lot of produce. I love to open up my refrigerator and admire the cabbage, or sniff the oranges - just to know that I have 'what to to cook up' at hand that day. Realistically, that means always keeping a fair supply of carrots and celery (for soups and stir-fry's), plenty of onion and garlic of course, as well as my favorite, fresh ginger, not to mention in the winter a selection of winter squashes and root vegetables (you already know I love my root vegetables). Add to that list some salad greens and a few peppers and some sort of cooking greens and you can see that my refrigerator always has a range of veggies that have different storage requirements to keep them fresh and ready to use.

And then there's Hachavah Ha'organit and my beautiful box of veggies that arrive freshly picked for my pleasure. Of course, organic veggies already taste better than their conventional counterparts, but how to keep the at peak flavor is the question of the day. The issue is ethylene, the gas emitted by some fruits and veggies which can cause other veggies to go bad. Proper storage in your refrigerator can keep your veggies fresh and happy for a few days.

Onions, garlic, butternut squash, sweet and white potatoes are easy - no refrigeration, which eases crowding but they do need air and dry conditions to stay in good shape. Try to keep them in open baskets (away from heat) with a good amount of air circulating and put a bit of toweling at the bottom of the basket to absorb moisture and prevent rot. As well, make sure that you get to the bottom - put the freshest stuff at the bottom and move last weeks' onions to the top of the pile. These vegetables are best kept away from light as well so that they don't start growing roots, which impact their flavor - once a vegetable starts concentrating on growing, it becomes tougher, tends to dry out and just change due to the work involved in sending out roots. That said, it doesn't mean you have to throw out those sprouting onions and potatoes. Cut out the 'eyes' and other sprouted parts and use them - they just may not have the same bang for the buck and occasionally there will be off or bitter flavors but in a pot of soup with other things, not such a big deal.

What about greens, you say...If you look in my refrigerator, you'll note a lot of unidentified plastic bags with various lumps and bumps in them. I tend to wrap much of my greenery in cloth towels to keep them fresh and long lasting. All salad greens, fresh herbs, celery and cooking greens get wrapped. BUT there are some caveats. Tender greens - young bunches of arugula, cilantro, certain kinds of lettuces, do best with a light toweling, even just paper toweling wrapped around them. They thrive being wrapped but if they're overwrapped, in a heavier towel, they just start to wilt. After they're wrapped, pop them into a plastic bag and fridge them and they'll be fine for a good few days. Cooking greens, romaine lettuce and other hearty greens, including parsley, will be fine in towel and plastic bag. Celery absolutely needs plastic or it just yellows and a lighter towel just helps keep the ribs crisper and leeks and scallions do well with a light towel and bag to keep them from getting slimy as the days pass. Air your veggies out while in plastic - a few holes in the bags will keep air circulating better.

Tough guys like cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage, do fine just in plastic - but don't wait too long to cook them or moisture will start to build up in the plastic that begins to break the vegetables down, yielding brown and unattractive produce - let alone no as tasty anymore. Peppers do well in plastic too - and if you're planning on using them quickly, just leave them out for a day or two, especially if you're house is as cold as mine.

Speaking of what should be left out, or in defense of ripening properly. There is nothing sadder than vegetables and fruits that are not given their due and allowed to ripen on the vine. They will never improve really, how can they, once they've been ripped from their 'homes in the field.' But we can allow the flavors to continue to develop or at least, give ourselves the best chance to eat produce at its peak of flavor. Store your unripened fruit - pears for example - out in the open, letting them lose their intense hardness and refrigerate when they're a bit softer. Of course, there are those who like their pears hard...

A few thoughts on the tomato - buy them in season. Summertime is tomato time and those reddish looking guys that you buy during the year, will not have the taste or the texture that you're really looking for. Don't refrigerate your tomatoes - they don't improve with refrigeration. Actually, studies show that they lose flavor with refrigeration. If you must buy your tomatoes out of season, stick to cherry tomatoes which will be tastiest. Don't buy them in bulk and eat the when they're the most intoxicating to sniff.

Another recipe with my next post.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Root Vegetable Stew

Winter means warming stews, and in our house that's a succession of root vegetables in all of their winter glory. If you haven't rediscovered your 'roots' it's time. There are so many lovely options at the market, both here in Israel and in the US. From parsnips and carrots, to assorted winter squashes (think beyond butternut) to turnips, rutabagas and my current favorite, Jerusalem artichokes.

I went looking for new inspiration and found it in a recent article in Ha'aretz's magazine section. It was a recipe for root vegetables roasted with chestnuts. I fiddled a bit here and there, as I am always a fiddler and as I wanted to focus on certain flavors - bringing out the sharper and more strongly flavored roots. As for chestnuts, you can purchase them fresh in the market, score them and roast them in the oven and peel and use them or you can take the easy way out and buy them vacuum packed in the grocery store. They won't have the same texture and deep flavor though, but they will give good flavor even from the package.

Roasted Vegetable Stew:
J'lem Artichokes - I used about 2 pounds. Peeled and chopped into large 2-3" chunks. I rolled them as I chopped, so they had a nice edge and shape to them.
Sweet Potatoes - 2 pounds. Small ones are lovely here and you can either slice them from top to bottom and then in 1/2 or in chunks according to size.
4-6 small Carrots (or chunked as desired)
3 Turnips - peeled, halved and sliced.
6-8 cloves of Garlic, peeled.
6-8 small onions (you could use shallots, pearl onions or just chunk bigger onions), peeled.
Chestnuts - 2 dozen (or less according to taste)
Butter/olive oil for satueeing.
Mangold/Swiss chard - 1-2 bunches, chopped.
Salt and Pepper

Possible add ins - rutabaga, parsley roots, celeriac, parsnips, winter squashes.
Other additions that could be nice: slices of cabbage and fennel - (meaning 1/4'd pieces of the vegetables).

Saute at a high heat, in a heavy, deep bottomed pot or pan, the chunked vegetables in a few tbsp's of butter and/or olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and herbs (fresh or dried) - sage, thyme, rosemary and hot pepper flakes (or toss in a dried, hot pepper). Let the vegetables brown - stirring frequently. If things stick too much, add some white wine or a bit of water with a dab of apple juice and a squeeze of lemon.

Once everything is nicely browned, add water to the top of the vegetables and bring the pot to a boil, add a few bay leaves, then transfer to the oven and roast until tender and beautiful, about 30 minutes.

While it's baking, saute 2 bunches of chopped mangold in a bit of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Stir the mangold into the finished casserole along with some freshly, chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Serve with quinoa pilaf (I'll tell you how to do that another day) or a cooked grain of your choice.
By the way, this went beautifully with a rich, red cabernet sauvignon that we had been saving. The stew warmed our bellies and the wine went to our knees. A perfect winter combination. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 13, 2008


I love cold cereal. The crunch, the cool milk sliding down your throat, the sweet and saltiness of the grains in the bowl. As a kid, it was my favorite breakfast of champions (although my mother never bought Wheaties) from Cheerios, to the more sophisticated Raisin Bran to later health food store favorites. Cold cereal was the 'go to' meal when you just didn't know what else to eat. Over the years, I switched to soy and then rice milk and although I no longer ate much of it, I still enjoyed a bowl once in a while. Granola had of course entered the mix, although most granolas were always too sweet or too gussied up with ingredients that to my mindset, didn't belong in granola in the first place.

Belonging to the Park Slope Food Coop for 10 years, taught us a lot about granola. There were dozens, from the boxed types found in the cereal aisle, to the bulk section where at least 8-10 flavors were displayed. From Maple Almond to Rainforest Nut, there was a granola for every palate. And so, we bought granola - and ate with yogurt or applesauce or on it's own.

In Israel, there's a decent variety of granola but I wasn't wowed by any one brand. Some are more muesli style, with lots of nuts and flakes, with some roasted element to the grain and others are more seriously toasted with just a bit of dried fruit. They are all, like in the US, expensive and recently I decided it was time to make our own. I am now a certified granola maker, with a bit of help from Deborah Madison's recipes in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. At the same time, our organic fruit and veg guy, Hachavah HaOrganit also decided to start making granola and mueseli too! His is good, very toasty with a serious crunch to the grains and nuts and a chew that takes time to become 'one with the milk.'

Here's ours.

Nutty Raisin Granola
6 cups rolled oats
1 cup of quinoa, rinsed well. (This works well and even the non-quinoa eaters, will eat it).
1-2 cup chopped nuts - I like sliced almonds, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seed in combination.
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1-2 cup raisins and other dried fruit (chopped apricots, dates, and/or dried cranberries)
1/2 cup safflower or canola oil (I've also used grapeseed oil)
1/2-3/4 honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, apple juice concentrate.

Preheat the oven to 300. Toss the dry ingredients together except for the dried fruits. Whisk together the oil and syrup and combine with dry, tossing a few times to mix it through well. Spread onto a rimmed cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake, stirring every 10 minutes until golden and toasted - about 30 minutes. Add the dried fruits and cool completely before storing in a tightly closed container.
Note: We often double this with great success and just eat it faster. You can cut the oil down and fiddle with the sweetener but you need something wet to help give it a satisfying crunch other than just toasting it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy 2008

2008. We marked it with a party chez nous, 2nd year in a row except this time - as one friend put it, 'we had more friends.' It was a lovely night but I had worried about what to do food wise. Start time was after 9pm which meant that most will have eaten some kind of evening meal. Jess had pulled out all the stops for her Hannukah party - from bruschetta to apple fritters to frittata squares it was a well executed and tasty party. But I didn't want to spend my whole night attached to the stove.

Decided to focus on dips and desserts. Straightforward offerings like feta and pepper, spicy peanut, a perennial favorite and muhamara, adapted from Howard Solomon's recipe via Paula Wolfert. Natan said he'll blog about dips so I'll go no further on these. These worked well as early nosh along with sweet and spicy pecans, vegetables, crackers and thinly sliced, fresh baguettes from Lehem shel Tomer, the local artisinal baker. Along with a later arrival of spinach pie, people happily stood around the table and ate and drank from our array of wines - Golan shiraz, Dalton Red (which is a very acceptable table wine), and Dalton Canaan, their very drinkable but light white, and whatever else got opened, along with beers of every style and type (thanks to Raphi).
But it was desserts that I was most interested in. Specifically, I'll share with you my adventures in making Passion Fruit Parfaits - it was quite successful but required a few 'fixes.'
It was really delicious. Rich and creamy without being overly sweet because of the punch of the passion fruit.

1 plastic bag of passion fruit concentrated juice - 395 grams. El Sembrador brand was recommended.

1 can of sweetened, condensed milk.

1 can of crema de leche

1 envelope of unsweetened gelatin. (Next time I'll try agar agar)

Heavy cream. We used at container which was about 25oml which is a bit more than a 1/2 pint.
Blend puree/juice and milk and crema de leche.
Heat 2 fingers of heavy cream - figure about 4 oz, and dissolve the gelatin into it. Stir and warm gently, about 5-10 minutes. Add two more fingers of heavy cream and mix.
Mix everything together and pour into small cups - I used 4oz plastic cups.
Refrigerate until firm - about 4 hours.

Sliced strawberries. Macerate with a few tbsp of sugar and lemon zest. Let sit at least 1 hour.

Whipped cream. Whipped about 250ml/1/2 pint, with a few tbsp of sugar to a nice, billowy mass.
Top each parfait with a tbsp of strawberries and then pipe in a bit of whipped cream.
Was able to make and top about 30 parfaits.

A few comments on ingredients and substitutions. I used frozen passion fruit puree which was really nice as it had some body and also the crunchy seeds from the passion fruit. I did not have sweetened condensed milk - couldn't find, so I combined evaporated milk and about 1 & 1/2 cups sugar and gently heated them up for about 15 minutes until fully combined. My next problem was Crema de leche which investigation told me was essentially caramelized milk, South American style. If one has canned condensed milk, you can fully immerse the cans into water (closed) and cook them in hot water (making sure they stay fully immersed) for about 3 hours. When you open, you've reduced the milk into a luxurious dulche de leche. Another option has you take the opened cans and pour the milk into a pan and bake it in a water bath in the oven for an hour or so - alot safer as the cans can burst and that's a mess as well as being rather dangerous. I tried Method 3 and reduced the milk in a double boiler for an hour or so until it was creamy and if not completely as unctuous as I would have liked it sure looked and smelled good. I have investigated futher into what Crema de Leche, is and Melina who's from Beunos Aires, said that it's cream but a certain kind of cream. Online, I found this..."In English its just "cream" or heavy cream.....or even light cream, its what people pour into their coffees, or to make thick sauces." So, I guess, you could use light cream for the Crema de Leche but I don't think that my reduction plan was wrong but sweetness will be lighter which is not a bad thing.

Here are some other recipe options depending in what you have in the house. My plan is to keep my eye out for sweetened condensed milk, maybe it's in Tel Aviv in Tiv Taam and keep some on hand for future batches. As well, I think this would be great made with coconut milk. I'll keep you informed of future testing.

Homemade Condensed Milk
1 cup Hot water

4 cup Powdered milk

2 cup Sugar

1/4 cup Margarine or butter
Blend in blender until very well mixed.
Store in refrigerator or freezer.


Sweetened Condensed Milk-Copykat Recipe

3/4 C. sugar

1/2 C. water

1 C. plus 2 T. powdered milk

Combine all ingredients.
Heat to boiling.
Cook until thick, this will take 15 to 20 minutes.
This equals one can.


Homemade Evaporated Milk

1/3 cup powdered milk
1 cup milk
2/3 cup powdered milk
1 cup HOT water
Mix well. Refrigerate.