Matzah Balls

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All right, so it’s that time of the month when I come out of hiding to contribute to the kosher food blogging world, in this month’s version of the Kosher Connection- Link up. If you’re new to the program, every month there’s a theme, and a bunch of reputable food bloggers, and myself, get together to give their version of that theme. This month’s theme is “Get well Gil.” For the uninitiated, Gil Marks is one of the foremost experts on kosher food, and it’s long history. In fact he even wrote a freaking encyclopedia on it! I happen to love the book, and it only weighs in at a whopping 650ish pages, so you know, it’s typical light reading fare. But in all honesty, the book is incredible, and it literally covers everything imaginable related to kosher food, from Adafina to Zwetschgenkuchen (“a cross between a cake and tart made with Italian prune plums”), I highly recommend taking a gander.

Anyway, I was trying to think what would be an appropriate recipe, and it dawned on me – Matzah Balls! Think about it – it’s the ultimate healing food, plus, it’s one of those foods that epitomizes Jewish cooking (sorry S’fardim, I guess you don’t count!…I joke, next time I’ll make Jachnun, or something scary sounding like that). Onward!

Quoting Gil in the Encyclopedia:

“..By the 12th century, the concept of dumplings, originally made from bread, had spread from Italy to Bohemia, where it was called knodel (knot). From there, the name traveled with variations in pronunciation, to southern Germany, Austria, and France. The term also traveled eastward to the Slavic regions. The most widespread Ashkenazic name for dumpling became knaidel/kneydl, which is better know by the plural knaidlach/kneydlakh

As the medieval period waned, flour began to replace bread as the base…During the 8 days of Passover…Germans discovered that they could substitute matza for the bread or flour, creating the most widely known type..matzah knaidel

It was only in the early 20th century, after Manischewitz introduced packaged matza meal, that this dumpling achieved mass popularization and it’s current status as an iconic Jewish food.

Matza balls consist of only a few ingredients – matza meal, eggs, a little far, a liquid, salt, and pepper. Using matza meal in place of flour, and adding eggs resulsts in a lighter dumpling. Adding fat…produces a more flavorful dumplings…

Now, ever since our post on chicken stock, I’m sure that like me, you also have some chicken shmaltz lying around in the fridge (or maybe some duck fat??), and seriously, what better way than to incorporate it into some matzah meal, with some of that stock…it’s like the circle of life, man. First you make chicken, then with the leftover bones and scraps, you make stock. With that stock you get the base of your chicken soup, and you also have shmaltz to make knaydlach….it’s so deep man.

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I actually used Michael Ruhlman’s recipe for this (I like that everything is by weight…because, you know… a scale…I’m like a broken record over here…), and I took some matzah, and added it to a food processor to pulverize.

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To that I added, the remaining dry ingredients: baking powder, some fresh rosemary (which I had lying around, but you can use whatever you see fit), salt, and black pepper.

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I melted some fresh chicken fat (you can use vegetable oil if you’re a lightweight), added it to 4 eggs and 1/4 cup of fresh chicken stock, and mixed it all together.

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Then I mixed together, the dry and wet ingredients, and after thoroughly combined, I let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, to fully hydrate.

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Before you’re ready to go, bring a pot of salted water to a simmer.

Then I rolled it up into golf-ish sized balls (remember, they’re going to grow, so smaller than you expect….I make this mistake, every time mind you).

Dump the kneydels into the salted water, and cook until they’re nice and fluffy,  about 20-30 minutes.

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And there you have it…there might be some of you out there (ahem – Phoenix Fresser..) why not just make this out of a box mix?? Well I’m going to preempt that by saying, Hashem gets angry when you use a box mix (especially duncan hines…but that’s another post).

Anyway, we here at the Kosher Gastronome Headquarters would like to wish a full and speedy recovery to Gil (Yitzchak Simcha ben Baila).

As always with the Kosher Link Ups, click on the funny frog guy below to see what the other peoples are doing.

Matzah Balls:

Ingredients:

  • 4 squares of matzo (ie –  1 cup/140 grams matzo meal), well pulverized in a food processor
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/4 cup/60 grams schmaltz, melted (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 cup/60 milliliters chicken stock or water
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon chopped rosemary (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Directions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and stir until they are all thoroughly mixed. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
  2. With damp hands, form the matzo mixture into 8 golf ball-sized orbs (they will double in size).
  3. Bring a pot of salted water to a simmer
  4. Drop in balls, and cook for 20-30 minutes.

 

Boneless Chicken rollups with Porter reduction

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So apparently there are some people who mistakenly think that white meat is better than dark meat. Craziness right? Now don’t get me wrong, white meat that’s properly cooked, and fresh is awesome, and bad chicken is bad chicken no matter what color…however that being said, all things being equal, dark meat is way better. Now there are some that claim dark meat is annoying because it comes with bones, and these people, being the lazy people they are, don’t want to have to go through the trials and tribulations of having to work when they eat, so to these weird people, any sort of impediment in their course to stuffing said food down their gullets in one fluid motion is considered bad, so ergo, bone-in chicken is bad. I know what you’re thinking, who is crazy enough to think this, right?? Well I’m not going to name names (ahem – Dr Shmalexman) but suffice it to say, people like this do exist. Where am I going with this diatribe? Well what if we could take dark meat and remove the bone so even those lazy people out there can enjoy good chicken. I know what you’re thinking, why not just buy boneless dark meat, right? Well the only answer I have is, have you seen how much more they charge you for removing the bone? Just do it yourself, and it’s really not that hard. Onward!

So butchery is a great way to take out some aggression, and I highly recommend cutting down a whole chicken at least once, just to get a feel for it (plus, the chicken always comes out neater, and another benefit is you can make chicken galantine, which you should definitely do), anyway, if you decide not to butcher a whole chicken, go grab some chicken legs, and lets start cutting. First you’re going to want to cut the drumstick from the thigh, and the easiest way to do that is to take the bottom, and squeeze the leg and thigh together and start cutting down, and you should be able to wriggle your knife in between the two pieces, and cut right through.

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Once you have the leg, you can slice down directly over the bone to open it up, and then slide your knife under the bone but on top of the meat, to completely separate the meat from the bone. Then kind of do the same thing with the thigh, but I’m sorry, because I don’t have any good pictures, but basically cut along the bone, and then slide the knife underneath to cut meat away, and where the two bones meet you’ll need to cut away, whatever,you’ll figure it out, right? Gravy sauce.

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Allright, so now that you have your cut up chicken bottoms (or bought deboned thighs, because I know you guys, and I know that you’re thinking, hey why go through all this work, when I can just buy it…well you’re what’s wrong with our society!)…ok sorry for that.. moving right along…so I took the chicken, and rolled it up so it would be thicker, and more uniform, and decided you know what would be a great application for these pieces of chicken? Braising.

Braising is, in my opinion, a very underutilized technique. The idea behind it is like this – the gentlest and easiest way to cook something is by using water as a heat transfer medium (ie – it’s more predictable to cook something in water, than in air [the oven] because of how well water can transfer heat), but there’s one caveat, high heat develops flavor. So braising combines the best of both worlds, you get high heat cooking, and liquid cooking. The way it works is thusly – first you brown whatever protein you’re cooking, remove the meat, and add whatever veggies. Then you add enough liquid so that it will end up submerging half of the meat, cover the whole thing with a tight fitting lid, and continue cooking.

For our application, I rolled up the boneless chicken, and tied it with some twine. Set up a dutch oven over high heat, and browned the chicken on all sides.

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While that was cooking, I mixed some honey, dijon mustard, hot sauce, and porter beer. I removed the chicken, added the liquid to the pot, and scraped the bottom while it was cooking (as the chicken browns, it develops what’s called fond on the bottom of the pan, which is a big source of flavor, so scraping it off the bottom helps). I added the chicken back, covered the pot, and placed in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes…I think.

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When it was all done, the porter had reduced by a lot, and made an excellent thick sauce, and the chicken was actually pretty awesome, and I think you should definitely give this a try.

So yeah, that’s all for now, if you have any questions, let’s talk.

I’m not going to lie, I miss you random people I mostly don’t know, so I’m going to leave you with an empty promise that I’m going to try and post more often. I really want to but you know, life and all that gets in the way, so yeah, first world problems…whatever…enjoy the snow.

Meatballs…oh and, buckle up because this is gonna be a long post

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Howdy fellow internet peoples. 3 months…it’s been about 3 months since I’ve last posted, and while it’s been pretty hectic, I know that you have been waiting with bated breath for me, and I would like to let you know I’m still alive. Well, over the last few few months, I had some time to think about this blog and where it’s headed (and no, I’m not stopping, just keep on reading). You see, when I started writing my thoughts on this here website, I wasn’t really sure where it would take me. Heck, I’m still not sure, but there are a few things that I’ve realized along the way.  So here goes.

I’m a “food blogger” there, I said it. Some might even call me a “foodie.” But, I’m really not. Sure I really enjoy food, and I happen to write about it also, but ultimately what I view what I “do” is I enjoy taking the time to understand the food I make and eat. I know that sounds lame-azoid, but it’s true. You see I think that when it comes to “foodies” (it pains me to write them words) there are really two flavors. There are those that enjoy the “pizzazz” and flashiness of a given food. These types of people are more interested in stuff like presentation of food, artistic renderings of food, and the such. Then there are people that enjoy the inner working, the background, and the ancillary stuff. These individuals are more into how things work, and possibly the history behind a given dish or food. Now obviously a person is not exclusively one and not the other, but I think you can usually associate more with one than the other.

That being said, I think I’m more of the second type. I like understanding food. You might be asking yourself…what exactly does this have to do with meatballs? And um, how much longer, because you see, I got this thing…So kind of in a round about way, I made meatballs over the second days of Sukkos, and it made me think about this whole blog thing that I do. Lemme splain. You see people know I like food, and I’m always talking to people about food, and I really like doing that, but inevitably people ask me what I made, and I feel like (and I can be way off on this one) they’re thinking all right, let’s see what the “foodie” did…And I kind of found myself embarrassed to say “meatballs,” as if, “meatballs? That’s it? where’s the pizzazz? What made it different from run-of-the-mill meatballs that everyone else made…nothing?…boring…”

Am I talking Greek here? Does anyone else know what I’m talking about?

Anyway, it made me think. Like I said earlier, I don’t “do” the whole pizzazz thing, that’s not really my food modus operandi. I like understanding what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and expounding on that understanding.  I like to write, and I like to discuss food, especially when it comes to ideas about food, explaining how things work, and that sort of stuff. But, what I’ve come to realize is that by writing a food blog and being a “foodie,” over time I’ve kind of strayed away from that mindset. Lately, I’ve felt the pressure of having to conform to what a food blog is supposed to do..namely – supply recipes so people can make food, and go on with their lives. But, I’m not about that…so basically what I’m trying to say is that I’m going to try and change things up…I’m going to try and go back to what I think defines me as a “food blogger” a little better. So from a practical standpoint, I might have less practical “recipes” (oh by the way, did I ever tell you that I hate the institution that are “recipes”??…that’s for another time…), but I will hopefully have more ideas, and more sharing of what I try to do. And as always, I like discussing food…so please feel free to comment, feel free to give me your 2 cents, it makes me feel special.

Anyway, let’s move on to the meatballs, finally.

These were hands down the best meatballs I’ve ever made, and most likely ever eaten…and -gaspI didn’t even follow a recipe! Would you believe it?? How you might ask? Well it comes down to understanding techniques, and how and why they apply.

First thing I did was grind my own meat. Grinding your own meat makes worlds of a difference (yeah I’m that guy) from store bought ground meat. You obviously need a meat grinder (around $40 if you have a kitchen aid, you can even do it in a food processor if you own one, but I don’t pasken shaylos about the fleishig status), but it also requires patience, and know-how.  The main thing is – Keep everything as cold as possible. This prevents the fat in the meat from melting too soon, and pretty much clogging up the grinder. You also don’t want to go too fast in the meat grinder, and you’re going to need to nudge the meat every once in a while, but not be too forceful. I’ve done it around 6 times now, and it took me at least 3 times to really get the hang of it.

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I cut up the meat (which by the way, was some left over boneless short ribs thanks to my mom) into roughly 1″ pieces, and placed in the freezer,

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and then went to work on the spices/aromatics, so I could grind them all together.

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For the spices, I started by toasting dry whole cumin, black peppercorn, fennel, brown mustard seeds, and whole dried Japones chilies. Toasting it at this point, allows some of the essential oils to start developing more flavor. It only takes about 3 minutes, and doesn’t even dirty the pot.

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Once they were done, I put them in to a spice grinder along with three dried shiitake mushrooms, and ground it up to a fine powder. I’ll get to why I added the mushrooms in a second, but before that, let’s focus on the aromatics.

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On low heat, I sauteed shallots, garlic, and tomato paste, until everything was nice and translucent, like 5 minutes. The shallots and garlic lend flavor, and you want to do it on low so they don’t burn. The tomato paste lends a deep “umami” flavor that’s heightened by toasting it also.

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Umami is this word that gets thrown around a lot, but not really something well understood. For all intents and purposes, umami is really kind of like depth of flavor. Things that are “umami” are really intense, but not in a burnt type of way. Think of meaty stuff, or mushrooms. They’re “heavier” and more intense of a flavor. Now I know that’s a really crappy way of describing it, because at it’s core it is really a different taste, but the real beauty of the taste is that it deepens flavors. A perfect example is MSG, aka monosodium glutamate. Studies have shown that MSG is harmless, and in fact present in many common place foods we eat (tomatoes, mushrooms…) and what MSG really does, is hold food particles longer on your tongue, so you taste it more. (Now, I’m definitely not an expert in anything, and to be honest I’m not 100% sure if what I said was accurate, but that’s my understanding, if you know something I said was wrong, lemme know).

Anyway, recently more work has been done on glutamates (ala monosodium glutamate), and using it in cooking, and without getting too into it, it’s been shown that there are really two different parts to cooking umami stuff, there are the afformentioned glutamates, and something else called nucleotides, and they both work synergistically (whoa, big word…it means they work together). The glutamates in our dish come from the tomato paste, and the dried shiitake mushrooms are a great source for nucleotides. So what does that mean practically speaking? Well, both of these things work together to give us a deeper more umami oomph of flavor to our final product. And more flavor=happier patrons=more compliments=you feeling better about yourself=happier life…you can’t argue with math…it’s really quite simple.

After the spices and dried mushrooms were ground to a fine powder with my old coffee grinder (which by the way, I know most people don’t have a dedicated spice grinder, but that goes in that same category of “you can really taste the difference” and if you can you should definitely give it a try), and then added it to the aromatics to “bloom” which is yet another way for the essential oils to develop flavor in the presence of fat, and low heat.

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Once that was finished, I added it to the meat and then tossed it all together, and then sent through the meat grinder. To the ground meat, I added some salt and panko bread crumbs. By the way, if you ever were in this situation, and you wanted to see how everything tastes, you can take a little of the meat mixture, and cook it up, and taste it now to see if it needs any tweaks.

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Once the meat was ready, I formed medium sized meatballs, and placed them on an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, and placed into my preheated 425 degree oven, for about 30 minutes, rotating once.

While the meatballs were doing their jig, I started on the sauce.

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I happened to have a pot of stock going on the burner, so I took about 1-1.5 cups of the chicken stock, placed over medium heat, and added some ketchup, brown sugar, habanero sauce, and I think mustard. I let that cook for a little, and when the meatballs were ready, I placed in the sauce, and simmered for about another 20 minutes or so.

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I served this over some basmati rice, and in my lamest of opinions, it was actually purdy dern tasty.

All right, so that’s that, I’m not going to post a recipe because I’m a bad ass bruh…but in all seriousness, as always, do you want to know more of what I did because I didn’t really do such a great job explaining? Do you want to know how I cooked the rice (hint: that may or may not be a future post…)? Or do you just want to tell me I’m a huge dolt??? Let’s shmooze.

Gravlax

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I don’t know how the gene for liking preserved fish is managing to hold on so tightly, but somehow through the throes of evolution, people are still enjoying it, and not because they need to. You see back in the day, if you wanted to eat certain foods that weren’t just caught, such as fish which have a nasty habit of spoiling rather quickly, you needed to preserve them first. The problem with food, is that we’re not the only organisms that need it to survive. Apparently there are these tiny little organisms called bacteria, and they just love the taste of meat. So how do we get rid of said bacteria? We don’t…we just learn to get rid of the ones that we don’t like. And we’ve done that rather smartly (if we do say so ourselves) by subjecting the bacteria to something that we’re usually ok with, namely: salt. It’s rather ingenious, by putting enough salt, you basically are depleting the amount of water the bacteria can get to (through the process of osmosis), and either killing the bacteria or slowing them down enough that they can’t harm you. Another added benefit of adding salt to meat, is it dissolves the muscle proteins, making them weaker and more tender, but at the same time, the dehydration of the tissue allows the whole meat to be more dense and compact. What you end up with is this tender yet firm piece of animal flesh, ripe for placing on top of a bagel.

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Gravlax means “buried fish” and probably is named such because back in the day, the fishermen who caught the fish, didn’t even have a lot salt lying around to preserve the fish, so they would lightly salt it, and bury it underground. The fish would then ferment (which is technically a different step then just salting), and would have a very strong, cheesy taste. Modern versions of gravlax is simply salting a fish, and dry curing it for a few days.

Most gravlax recipes are pretty standard. Cover a piece of salmon with a lot of salt and sugar, place a whole bunch of dill on top, place something heavy over the fish to weigh it all down, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days. The only things set in stone is the amount of salt and sugar, and that you need to weigh it down, other than that, you can play around with it. You can use a different herb if you’d like, different sugars, etc…It does help to baste the fish once a day with pooled liquid to help redistribute the salt, and to make sure it’s evenly coated.

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For our gravlax, I followed the America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe. They used brown sugar for it’s slight smokiness, and also drizzled a little brandy over the fish. For the brandy, I used 777, which for some odd reason I had lying around, which I figured since it’s not really for drinking, maybe I can use it on fish (I’m still not sure if I could). If you don’t have any, it’s fine, there will be enough liquid that exudes out from the salt.

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After three days in the chill chest, wipe away everything from on top of the fish, and slice it really thinly.

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This “recipe” is really simple, all you need is time, and if left whole it can be left in the fridge for up to 1 week, just slice what you want, and use the skin to flap over the cut surface.

Anyway, in case you’re wondering, this is not the same as what we commonly refer to as “lox.” Lox apparently is Yiddish for salmon, but the lox we usually buy is cold smoked salmon. We didn’t get into it, but another way of preserving meats is by smoking it (although it really only “cures” the outer most layer), and when it comes to smoking you can either smoke with hot smoke (what you normally think of when you think of smoking [generally anywhere above 90 degrees, I think]), or you can cold smoke it, which leaves the meat raw, but gets the benefits of smoking (flavor, and anti-microbial).

I love lox, like a lot, I could eat it every day, but if you’ve ever had fresh lox (whether cold smoked salmon, gravlax, or whatever), you’d see there’s a world of a difference between fresh and the other stuff, to the point where, and not to sound snobby, but I wouldn’t even eat the non-fresh stuff, it’s just not worth the heartburn. This gravlax I made was up there was one of the best lox (I’m just gonna lump them all in one category) I’ve ever had. It was difficult to slice paper thin, but it was still awesome.

If you give this a try, let me know what you think

Gravlax

adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup packed (2 ⅓ ounces) light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 1-pound skin-on center-cut salmon fillet
  • 3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped fresh dill

Directions:

  1. Combine sugar and salt in small bowl. Place salmon in 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish and drizzle brandy slowly over top (it will drip down sides). Cover the salmon with the suger-salt mixture, patting it down, and then cover it with the chopped dill.
  2. Cover salmon loosely with plastic wrap, then place a dish on the tallest part of the salmon (close to center of fillet). Weigh baking dish with 2 or 3 heavy cans and transfer salmon to refrigerator.
  3. Every day for next two days, Take off the cans and dish, and baste the fish with the liquid that pooled on the bottom. Replace cans and dish, and place back in the fridge
  4. On the third day, drain off all of the liquid and scrape off the dill. Slice the salmon as thinly as possible on bias.(The salmon can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; it should be left whole and not sliced until ready to serve, and use the “flap” of skin to cover the cut surface)