Inga's Indulgence

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Seder Success

I tackled my first seder dinner yesterday, and I'm happy to report that I'm still alive.

Yes, I did kind of stray from the original menu that I posted last week, but the food was great and most importantly, the fam was fed. Though my family was ravenous, and would have probably been content eating cardboard by the time we got through all the rituals and explanations of Passover, they did seem to enjoy the food very much.

So, with no further adeau, I'm really proud to present to you Mama Chef's final Passover Seder Menu...

- Matzo Ball Soup
- Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Beets, Oranges, Walnuts,  
   & Red Wine Vinaigrette
- Garlic & Walnut Eggplant
- Crispy Flounder Cakes with Avocado Horseradish Cream
- Braised Chicken with Dried Apricots & Moroccan Spices               - Apple Matzo Upside-down Cakes

Matzo Ball Soup
(yield: approximately 10 servings) 

carcass of a medium (6 lb) chicken, insides & meat removed
 3 ¾ quarts (15 cups) cold water
1 large yellow onion, peeled & cut in half (keeping root end intact)
3 medium carrots, each peeled & cut into 2-inch pieces
2 medium stalks celery, each cut into 2-inch pieces
3 ounces celery root, peeled and halved
1 ½ oz parsley stems
2 bay leaves
5 black peppercorns
salt, to taste
1 pkg matzah ball mix
3 tbsp dill (optional)

Prepare the chicken: Remove the innards and skin from the entire chicken, and rinse it inside and out under cold running water. Remove the meat (thighs, drumsticks, breast, and wings) from the chicken, and reserve for Braised Chicken with Dried Apricots & Moroccan Spices (or any other chicken dish you may want to make). 
Place the chicken carcass into a large stockpot. Cover with cold water. Place the onion, carrots, celery, and celery root into the pot.

Wrap the parsley stems, bay leaves and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth. Secure the cheesecloth tightly with kitchen twine, and add to the pot. Bring to a boil, and skim off any foam that floats to the top. Season with salt. Reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 45 minutes, skimming every 15 minutes. Strain the bouillon, reserving the carrots and celery. Discard the onion pieces, celery root and cheese cloth. Adjust seasoning with more salt if necessary.

While the soup simmers, you can make the matzo balls. Just follow the package instructions, carefully.

Okay, you want to hear my opinion on using packaged matzo ball mixes? I say, why the heck not. Granted, you choose the right brand of course. I've tried my fair share of mixes, and they are not all created equal. Streits is currently my favorite brand, because their matzo balls come out light and fluffy, and don't take away from the flavor of your delicious broth, which you must prepare from scratch. 

Assemble the soup: Ladle the broth into bowls, along with carrots, celery, and matzo balls (about 3 balls per serving is appropriate in my opinion). Garnish with dill.

Spinach Salad with Roasted Beets, Oranges, & Walnuts
(yield: 4-5 servings)

2 tsp red wine (or grape juice)
1 tsp orange juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 1/2 oz olive oil
salt & pepper,
to taste
3-4 small red beets
4 cups Baby Spinach
1 medium orange,
cut into segments (reserve the unused portions for the vinaigrette)
1/2 cup walnuts,

 Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse and dry the beets (making sure to cut off the beet greens). Place onto a large piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil or vegetable oil, and fold the foil over the beets, sealing to form a pouch. Roast for up to an hour, checking for doneness with a knife after 45 minutes. The knife should ease right through the beets when they are done. Once done, let the beets cool slightly. Using a paper towl or kitchen towel, rub the skins off (they should come off easily). Dice into 1/2-inch rounds or half moons (depending on the size of the beets), and set aside.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk together the red wine, orange juice, and red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Continue to whisk as you drizzle in the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss the baby spinach with prepared vinaigrette (reserving 2 tbsp of the vinaigrette) and place onto a large serving platter. Arrange the roasted beets, orange segments, and walnuts over the greens, and drizzle with remaining 2 tbsp of vinaigrette.

Garlic & Walnut Eggplant
(yield: 4 servings)

1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/4-inch rounds
kosher salt, as needed
olive oil, as needed
1/3 cup walnut oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted & finely chopped
salt & pepper, as needed

Arrange the eggplant slices on a large plate or baking pan, and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Let sit 20 minutes. Rinse eggplant, and pat dry.
Coat the bottom of a large saute pan with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Once the oil is hot, add the eggplant slices, and fry until tender and golden, about 4-5 minutes per side. You may have to work in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove eggplant from the pan, and arrange in overlapping layers on a plate.

Drain away excess oil in the pan, and wipe the surface with a paper towel. Pour walnut oil into the pan and warm over low heat. Add garlic and parsley. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Pour warm oil over eggplant, and sprinkle with walnuts. You can definitely eat this dish immediately, but it is best to let it sit for at least an hour.

Crispy Flounder Cakes with Avocado Horseradish Cream
(yield: 8-10 cakes)

water, as needed
1 lemon, sliced
2 bay leafs
1 tsp whole peppercorns
2 lbs filet of flounder
2 eggs
1 1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 scallion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 cup matzo meal
vegetable oil, as needed

Avocado Horseradish Cream
1 avocado
1 1/2 tbsp prepared horseradish
juice of 1 lemon                           1 1/2 tsp salt

Poach the fish: Fill a saute pan 1/4 of the way up with water. Add lemon slices, bay leaf, and peppercorns and bring to a simmer. Add flounder filets to the pan in a single layer (if it gets too crowded, use a second pan). Simmer gently until fish is cooked through and opaque, about 20 minutes. Remove from poaching liquid and let cool.

Flake the cooled fish into a large bowl. Add 1 egg, dijon mustard, scallion, garlic, parley, oregano, salt, pepper, and 1/2 cup of the matzah meal. Gently mix until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. Form mixture into 8-10 patties (depending on how big you want them).

In a wide, shallow bowl, beat the remaining egg with 1 tbsp of water (this is the egg wash). Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of matzah meal into another wide, shallow bowl.

Fill a large non-stick pan with vegetable oil to reach 1/4 of the way up the sides, and place over medium-high heat. Coat the patties in the egg wash, dredge in matzah meal, and fry until golden brown and crisp on both sides, about 5 minutes per side. Serve right away with Avocado Horseradish Cream.

Make the Avocado Horseradish cream: Combine all ingredients for the cream in a food processor, and puree until smooth and creamy.

Braised Chicken with Dried Apricots & Moroccan Spices
(yield: 4-5 servings)

1, 6 lb chicken, insides removed & cut into 10 parts (reserve carcass for matzo ball soup)
vegetable oil, as needed
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
3 medium carrots
2 stalks celery
4 medium potatoes, large dice
5 sprigs fesh thyme
1/2 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock (you can use broth from the matzo ball soup)
1/2 cup dried apricots
salt & pepper, to taste

Fabricate the chicken: remove 2 drumsticks, 2 thighs, 2 wings, and two breasts from the body of the chicken. Cut each breast in half. Reserve the carcass of the chicken for the matzo ball soup*.

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat, and coat bottom with vegetable oil. Season chicken with salt and pepper, and brown on both sides.

Lower heat, and add the onions, garlic, cumin, coriander, turmeric and cinnamon stick. Cook, stirring, until onions have softened slightly, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, celery, potatoes, and thyme. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add wine, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce and chicken stock. Once everything reaches a boil reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 1 1/2 hours.

Apple Matzo Upside-down Cakes
(yield: 12 mini cakes)

4 sheets matzo
boiling water,
as needed
4 tbsp butter, plus more for greasing
2 grannysmith apples, peeled and diced
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup amaretto or frangelico
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12-portion muffin pan with butter.

Place the matzo into a deep bowl, crumbling it up slightly. Pour enough water over the matzo, to just cover. Set aside for 15 minutes. Once the matzo has absorbed the water and softened, place into a strainer and drain, squeezing some of the water out with your hands.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tbsp of butter in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the apples and 1/2 cup of sugar, and cook (stirring occasionally), about 10 minutes. Add the amaretto, and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until apples have absorbed most of the liquor. Remove from heat, and set aside to cool.

Combine eggs, vanilla, 1/3 cup sugar, and drained matzah in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly.

Distribute the cooled apples among the muffin pan. Top with matzo batter, filling about 3/4 of the way full. Bake 22-25 minutes, until tops have set and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool. Run a knife around the edges of each cake, and invert the pan onto a large plate. Some of the apples may get left behind (no biggie!) just help them along with a spoon.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Breakfast of Champions


      Another awesome accidental breakfast! Well, I wouldn't call it an accident per se; more of a compilation of some stuff I already had in my fridge. Really satisfying, healthy, and pretty damn delicious - this was the ultimate breakfast sandwich. In fact, I would probably have it again for all other meals of the day, including a midnight snack.

I hate to skimp on the recipe, but it was so simple that I think I would offend some people if I were to provide a recipe.

So here's the deal - toasted whole wheat pita topped with a shmear of cream cheese (you can use a tiny bit of creme fraiche or sour cream instead), topped with a few thin slices of cucumber, followed by smoked salmon, a poached egg, and finally a roughly chopped salsa of tomatoes, red onions, and cilantro. The contrast of flavors and textures in this baby makes it good enough to salivate over for the rest of your day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Lots of Matzah...

Though I'm not the most religious person, the birth of my son has inspired an urge in me to get in touch with my roots, so that I can eventually pass them on to him.
Taking a crash course in Judaism will probably be a bit overwhelming, but the holidays may be a better place to start. Conveniently enough, Passover, one of the most widely celebrated of the Jewish holidays is currently in session. Since I missed the opportunity to celebrate the first two seders with my family because I was away, I have signed up to host the last seder.

I don't know why, but Passover has always been my favorite Jewish holiday. Perhaps it's the optimistic nature, the celebration of liberation, or maybe it's the the fact that it revolves around family and food that really attracts me to this holiday. In any case, I am thrilled to make a perfect passover feast for my big mishpucha.
I know that the significance of Passover goes far beyond food. But if you think about it, food is really the force bringing everyone to the table. Hopefully from there, the thanks given for the feast will lead us to give thanks for our ancestors' liberation, and ultimately educate us about the significance of this holiday and of our faith in general.

Now, a traditional seder dinner comprises of several steps including lighting candles, reciting various blessings, eating foods that symbolize different elements of the Jews' exodus from slavery, and more. To be honest, I don't know that I can pull off the perfect passover seder, considering this is the first one I will host. But I will certainly try. I hope that the table I create will tell the story of Passover. In case I fail to do so, however, the Seder Plate (a special plate containing 6 foods that symbolize different elements of the exodus from Egypt) should do the trick. The 6 items traditionally placed on this plate are:

- maror & chazoret (bitter vegetable and herbs; romaine lettuce and horseradish are commonly used) symbolizes the bitterness of the Jews' slavery in Egypt
- karpas (vegetable to dip into salt water; celery, potato, or parsley are commonly used) - symbolizes the pain and tears cried during slavery)
- charoset (sweet mixture of apples, nuts, and wine) - symbolizes the mortar used by the slaves in Egypt
- beitzah (hard-boiled or roasted egg) - symbolizes the festival sacrifice in the Temple of Jerusalem, and also the mourning after the destruction of the temple
- z'roa (roasted shank bone or chicken wing) - symbolizes the lamb that was roasted as a sacrifice and eaten on seder night

Additionally, a plate with 3 pieces of matzah should be on the table.

I've decided to revolve my menu around the foods on the seder plate. But as much as I want to adhere to a traditional seder dinner, I do want to put my own modern spin on things. Here's what I'm thinking...
(Mind you, this menu is not set in stone. I may come up with something totally different between now and Tuesday...or not. We'll see)

Mama Chef's Passover Menu:
Matzah Ball Soup 
(okay so I may be contradicting myself here, but I don't want to put any kind of spin on this one because it's so incredible just the way it is. If it ain't broke, don't fix it right?)
Baby Spinach Salad with Beets, Oranges, Walnuts and Red Wine Vinaigrette 
(other than the components of this salad that are featured on the seder plate, oranges are a new addition by some Jewish households to symbolize more recent liberations for groups like women and gays) 
Pan Roasted Asparagus with Creamy Eggs and Herb Hollandaise

Crispy White Fish Cakes with Avocado Horseradish Cream 
(Gefilte fish is the quintessential Jewish Holiday dish, but quite frankly, it grosses me out. I may be wrong, but I have a hunch I'm not the only one. So this is my "upgraded" version)
Slow Braised Chicken with Apples and Dried Apricots 

White Chocolate Macaroons

I'll have all the recipes and pictures of my final menu up next week, so stay tuned and wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Mango Lassi Milkshake

(yield: 2 cups)

1 ripe mango, peeled & diced
1 cup vanilla ice cream
1/4 cup milk
pinch of salt
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
2 tbsp pistachios, chopped

Place everything, except for the pistachios, into a blender. Blend on high speed for about a minute
Pour into glasses, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

When things get hot...

This week we took our first official family vacation in Miami.

A place were everything is hot (from the temperature to the people) Miami definitely sparked some cravings for hot and spicy food. So naturally I needed a refreshing beverage to cool things down with. It had to be something fruity and tart. Put the baby to bed, add some rum, and you've got a recipe for my beverage of choice - the Mojito!

Because we were in beautiful Miami, surrounded by palm trees and sunny beaches, I couldn't just stop there. It had to be a special kind of mojito, a mango mojito...

Mango Mojito
(yield: 1 large pitcher, 8-10 servings)

juice of 4 limes
2 limes, each cut into 16 pieces
1 large, ripe mango, pureed in a blender or food processor
1/2 cup mint leaves, torn
4 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups rum
1 liter tonic water
crushed ice, as needed

Place the lime juice, limes, mango puree, mint, and sugar into a large pitcher. Using a muddler or a wooden spoon, smash everything together. Add the rum and tonic water, and stir well to combine.

At this point, you can chill the mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour (though this step is optional, it does help to bring out all the flavors of the mojito).

Fill each glass about 1/3 of the way full with ice, pour in mojito, and sip away.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Chopstick Diet

Ever since I started eating sushi, I've convinced myself that the use of chopsticks as opposed to a fork promotes weight loss. Sort of a bold thing to declare, but if put less literally, I just assumed that using chopsticks allows you to pace yourself during a meal, and in effect consume less food than you would otherwise. 

Apparently, I'm not the only genius out there, and such a theory already exists...

In any case, I love food that gives me an excuse to use anything other than a fork and spoon. And now with my theory officially confirmed, I have reason to use chopsticks all the time, yay!

Soba Noodles with Japanese Eggplant & Tofu
yield: 6-7 servings

canola oil, as needed
1 lb (3 medium) Japanese eggplants, sliced on the bias into 1/2-inch slices
3 scallions, sliced on the bias
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
3 tbsp peanut butter
4 tbsp oyster sauce
3 tbsp brown sugar
1 lb tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups enoki mushrooms
1 1/2 cups hot water 
1 lb soba noodles
1/2 cup bean sprouts
3 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Fill a large, deep pot with canola oil to reach 1/4 inch up the sides. Heat over medium-high heat. Brown the eggplant, about 4 minutes per side. With a slotted spoon, remove the eggplant from the pot, lower the heat, and add scallions (reserving 1/2 cup for garnish), garlic, and ginger. Saute 1-2 minutes.
Stir in peanut butter, oyster sauce, and brown sugar. Cook 1-2 minutes, until everything dissolves. Place the browned eggplant, tofu, and enoki mushrooms into the pot, and add water. Bring to a boil. Cover, and simmer 25-30 minutes, until eggplant is completely tender.

Cook the soba noodles: Place noodles into a large pot of boiling salted water, and cook 6-7 minutes.
Transfer noodles to the pot with vegetables. Add bean sprouts and sesame seeds and stir to combine. Garnish with reserved scallions.

Grab some chop sticks, and go.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Star Struck

One of my all-time favorite hobbies as of recently is shoving my husband's resemblance to Curtis Stone, my celebrity crush, in his face.
I know it's not very nice of me, but if I were him I would be flattered. I mean think about it, wouldn't you rather have your spouse fantasize about someone who is the spitting image of you over anyone else? I think things worked out pretty well for the both of us.

My wonderful hubby - he's not Australian, he's not a chef, but he does have dimples :)

                  What do you think?

Friday, April 8, 2011

Simplicity at its best

Sometimes, not all the time, but every so often, things are best when left really simple.

When it comes to desserts, I get a little annoyed with those that consist of a million components and that require a million steps to complete. I'm a firm believer in using simple, beautiful ingredients to yield complex flavors (oftentimes more complex than what you would get from one of those fancy, fru-fru desserts).

For a person who used to "ehhh" at the thought of vanilla or panna cotta, this Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta recipe has certainly converted me into a lover of both.

In case you're not following, Panna Cotta, literally translated to mean "cooked cream," is a custard made from cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin. If done right, this dessert should be smooth and decadent, but definitely not rubbery, which is what happens with so many unfortunate recipes.

Panna Cotta can be infused with whatever flavors you can imagine, but for this recipe I decided to keep it simple and evoke the rich, floral, luxurious notes of a fresh vanilla bean.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
yield: 8 servings

1 cup milk
1, .25 oz packet gelatin (powdered)
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp almond liquor
1 vanilla bean
1/4 cup blueberries, optional

In a medium saucepan combine milk and gelatin, and let stand 5 minutes before turning on heat.

Stir over medium-low heat until gelatin dissolves. Add heavy cream, sugar, and almond liquor. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean, and add to the saucepan along with the bean. Continue to stir, until sugar dissolves, 2-3 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, and let cool to room temperature. Distribute mixture evenly among 7-oz ramekins or cups, filling about 3/4 of the way up. Cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Garnish with blueberries.

That's all folks. Really, that's it!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Anti-recipe

This is not a recipe. It was breakfast for me this morning, and it was so incredibly beautiful that I feel compelled to share it with you.

You know when you eat something, and it's so perfect that it makes you feel like things couldn't be any better (at least for a split second)? This was that moment for me, and it happened after I married three simple ingredients in a bowl.

Two minutes in the microwave was what it took to simultaneously make some quick cooking, old-fashioned oatmeal and a blueberry compote. For the "compote," I combined a small handful of blueberres, a tiny splash of water and a pinch of sugar in a microwave-safe bowl. Their time in the microwave, punctured the blueberries, releasing a gorgeous, deep purple sauce. I topped my hot oatmeal with  a cool dollop of fresh ricotta, and ladled on the punctured blueberries.

Who knew that breakfast could be so sexy.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Dinner and a Wax

This weekend, when my husband went out with the boys, I decided to stay in with two of my favorite girls - my mom and my sister. After putting the baby to bed, the three of us had a whole night of food, laughs, and beautification.

My mom came equipped with her new wax machine, and after a glass of wine I was brave enough to volunteer myself as the first victim.  Believe it or not, a full stomach and some wine really work to mute the pain.

I planned a menu that would be both satisfying and relatively healthy. I kept my pregnant sister's needs in mind, while also considering the needs of my mom and I (both desperately scrambling to lose weight before swimsuit season begins). In the end, my menu was not exactly diet food, but it was okay because I figured that we would compensate by limiting our portion sizes (with the exception of my sister of course). Boy was I wrong! When the three of us get together the indulgence does not end, and mysteriously, a container of Haagen Dazs along with three spoons always emerges.

In any case, the food was good, the company was great, and the wax was...painfully necessary.

The Menu:
Pizza with Caramelized Balsamic Onions & Ricotta
Salad of Spring Greens with Asian Pear & Mojito Vinaigrette

yield: 6-8 servings
olive oil, as needed
pizza dough, store bought
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sugar
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1 tbsp olive oil
salt & pepper, to taste
Lightly grease a large rectangular sheet pan with olive oil, and stretch the pizza dough to cover the pan.

Coat the bottom of a medium saute pan with olive oil, and place over medium-low heat. Add onions to the pan, along with sugar. Cook, stirring, until onions are evenly caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Add garlic, and saute 1-2 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar, and cook for another minute.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spread the caramelized onions evenly over pizza dough. Dollop the ricotta over the onions, flattening each dollop slightly with the back of a spoon. Top with mozzarella. Drizzle pizza all over with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place into preheated oven  for 22-25 minutes, until cheese is melted and crust is lightly golden. Eat immediately.

yield: 4 servings
Mojito Vinaigrette:
1/4 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
3 tsp brown sugar
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/4 cup canola oil
 salt & pepper, to taste

6 cups spring greens (or mesclun leaves)
1 small Asian pear (or 1/2 of a large pear), sliced into 1/4-inch matchsticks
2 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Make the vinaigrette: In a large bowl, whisk together first 3 ingredients. Continue to whisk while drizzling in the canola oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Add spring greens, pear matchsticks, and sesame seeds to the bowl. Gently toss to coat everything with the vinaigrette.