Sunday, October 7, 2012

Stuffed Cabbage and Thumb Cookies

What would sukot be without stuffed cabbage?

I'm sure the stuffed cabbage haters of the world could come up with some snarky replies to that rhetorical question, but for the rest of us, the dish is an irreplaceable part of the suka experience.  Since nostalgia is the secret ingredient in stuffed cabbage, I took the recipe from my Ema, with no changes other than using purple cabbage for some of them (because how often do you get to cook purple?).

While I had Ema's recipe box open, I asked for the recipe for thumb cookies, too.  These are small, crumbly walnut coated cookies filled with jam that can usually be found at the Levinson estate around the chagim.  The name comes from the indentation you make with your thumb.  Once you eat one, it's impossible not to eat a second, but eating more than five in one sitting is just bad manners.

Fortunately for you readers, although I usually cannot be bothered to write out recipes in full, Ema saved me the work by doing so herself:

Stuffed Cabbage:

For each 1 pund of chopped beef:
1/4 cup uncooked rice
1 egg
 1 onion, grated
1 carrot grated
1/4 cup vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup tomato sauce
water to cover

Combine chopped meat, rice and egg. Grate in onion and carrot. Blanch 10-12 cabbage leaves (I just do the whole cabbage in boiling water for about 20 minutes, then I use as many leaves as I can, sometimes even patching together pieces of leaves to cover the meatballs - I make them about 3" Iong, I think). 
Place them close together in a heavy frying pan, add the sauce and enough water to just cover. Cover tightly and cook over moderate heat for 30 minutes. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Bake in the oven 20 minutes at 350 to brown on top, turning once to brown under sides (I never bother to turn them). Hot water may be added in small quantities if necessary during the baking period (I never did that).   

Thumb Cookies*:

1/2 cup margarine
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup chopped nuts (any kind you like)
1 cup flour (sifted)
pinch of salt
strawberry preserves

1) cream margarine and sugar.
2) add beaten yolk of egg
3) add salt and flour
4) Roll dough into balls 1"
5) dip in slightly beaten egg white
6) roll in nuts
7) make depression in center with finger
8) place on greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 8 min.,
9) remove sheet from oven and angain, press with finger (it has puffed up) , then bake for 10 min or until done
10) Place preserves on center of each cookie while still warm

*I double the recipe.  Also, instead of steps 8-10, I filled the raw cookie with jam, and just baked for about 20 minutes

Beet Soup

"Beets," she said.  "Let's make a beet soup."

What she didn't say, but what I knew, was that the soup couldn't taste like borscht.  I like borscht, and it's easy enough to make, but Rachel doesn't.  Borscht is cold and sweet, and she wanted something hot and not too sweet.  The soup should taste like beets, but not overwhelmingly so, we decided.  How in the world were we going to pull it off?  When added to a dish, beets have a way of making you forget about all the other ingredients, not always in a good way.

After sifting through some recipes she sent me, and a few more that I found myself, we agreed on the following course of action: put sliced beets (pre-cooked, vacuum sealed), onions, sweet potato, and carrot into a large roasting pan.  Pour over a glaze of honey, vegetable oil, cinnamon, salt and pepper.  Roast until the thin edges just begin to blacken things, then dump into a large soup pot.  Add water, and puree with a stick blender until it looks like tomato sauce.  Taste.

When's the last time you tasted food that elicited an involuntary smile?  As soon as we tasted this soup, Rachel and I looked at each other for unspoken confirmation - did you just taste what I tasted?  Warm, smooth, thick, and sweet, of course, but not a one-dimensional sugary sweetness.  It was carmelized and savory, like the root vegetables within, all the while with the distinct beet flavor.  This soup was no borscht, and yet it was definitely beet soup.  We had succeeded beyond our wildest dreams.

Restaurant Night: Salmon Teriyaki, Potatoes, Zucchini

If I ever buy salmon on a routine shopping trip, I had better be ready with a good justification.  After all, the stuff costs a good 75 shekel per kilo or more.  It's more expensive than the chicken and beef we buy, and even that is only reserved for Shabbat or Yom Tov.  My explanation? Restaurant Night.

Beans, eggs, tofu stir fries and noodle soups are the kinds of frugal, yet delicious foods that we eat on a regular basis.  But what about that occasional luxury that everyone deserves?  Eating out seems like the obvious way to get it, but in our experience it isn't.  Between the sticker shock upon receiving the bill and the schlepping needed to get to and from any decent restaurant in Haifa (when one is sans car), there has got to be a better way.  And that's how Restaurant Night was born.

With Restaurant Night, we can have our salmon dinner for two for a total of about 50 shekel instead of 200+.  Although this is expensive for a frugal meal, it's an incredible bargain for a luxurious one.  Plus, one of the best things about the priciest types of meat, chicken and fish is that they are often the easiest to cook.  Salmon requires only a hot pan with a little oil, and some basting with teriyaki sauce.  It's less than 10 minutes from start to finish.

The potatoes are our now-classic hash browns.  Some poetic liberty has been taken with the name, as the potatoes are cut into chunks rather than grated into a hash.  The chunks are pan fried in shallow oil until about 75% done, at which point any/all of the following are added into the oil: onions, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and herbs (fresh or dried).  The dish is then cooked until everything is golden and delicious.  The zucchini slices were sauteed in the salmon juices.

And after a dinner like that, both your belly and wallet can afford to split a 20 shekel pint of Ben & Jerry's with your plus-one.

Sourdough Sandwiches

Last Friday we disposed of the sourdough starter that had been cultivating in our refrigerator for the past two months or so.  Over that time I baked three batches of bread which, though not bad, were not really good enough to justify the effort required to properly maintain a sourdough starter.

Keeping a starter sounds easy: scoop some out, discard, feed with flour and water.  Repeat.  The thing is, flour costs money, so I put the starter in the fridge (rather than out at room temperature) in order to have to feed it less.  After a while, it smelled so bad that I started Googling questions like "is it safe to eat sourdough starter if it smells like nail polish remover?".  That acetone phase passed, but the point is that it's easy to let your starter fall into a state of neglect, which only means you'll have to feed it with more and more flour.

Lastly, Peter Reinhardt's instructions were too overwhelming for my schedule.  It's not really his fault - his book is intended for people who want to bake on a professional level, not those who want simple home recipes.  As such, it often instructs its readers through a series of waiting steps that can take days to complete, and requires them to do various things at four hour intervals.  With sourdough, these steps ensure proper development of the wild yeasts and bacteria within, and I took short cuts.  Maybe that's why my bread, while tasting good, ended up extremely dense.  All three times it came out dense, even when I added regular yeast to the dough on my third try.

Still, dense bread is ok for sandwiches when thinly sliced.  And for toasted sandwiches, it's actually great.  We made a bunch of sandwiches with our sourdough.  These (pictured at the top of the post) aren't the best - the best were the grilled cheese sandwiches; they didn't stand a chance of lasting long enough to be photographed.  But these were pretty good in their own right - one containing tuna salad and a combination of red and green lettuce called חסה משי, and one containing the same lettuce with feta and tomatoes.

2012 Spring/Summer Highlights

Falafel-like chickpea balls, using canned chickpeas and flour.  Much easier than real falafel.

Fritters made out of the same stuff as the falafel-like balls, but coated with coarse semolina (סולת)

Breaded zucchini sticks

Pan-fried salami batons over mustard-cabbage stir fry

Salami subs with wilted greens (left) and sweet roast root veggies (right)

Mac & Cheese

Red bean chumus

Miso-glazed eggplant with romaine and scallions on a sub roll

Birthday Bundt cake with chocolate icing

Cheesecake, chocolate cookie crust

Cereal bars with meringue, marshmallow, coconut and chocolate

Shakshuka with feta and green olives

Stir fry with crispy tofu and eggplant