Blame It On The Weatherman

I neglected this blog for almost 2 month now – shame on me.

Before sitting down to write this post I was running all possible excuses through my head (new job, summer vacation, kids … the usual suspects) – but the pathetic truth is I was waiting for a young, fresh, white, medium sized, un-bruised cauliflower to appear on the shelf.

I desperately needed this cauliflower for my next cooking adventure (cauliflower risotto with chocolate from The Fat Duck cookbook) – but as far as the universe was concerned … well the universe did not give a damn !!! It was mid summer (and that means a lot in our part of the world) – and rare found cauliflowers resemble more of a thorn than a flower.

Us – humans – proved, during our short history on this planet, to be adaptive creatures always ready to face the next challenge standing in our way.  We were placed on the earth naked and empty handed – and we made quite an impressive way since that day. We learned to communicate, we learned to trade, we learned to build tools from whatever was around. We challenged bacteria, we challenged gravity, we challenged the speed of light. We started with fig leafs and ended with Louis Vuitton – we took a flame and turned it into molecular gastronomy, we were not given wings – but we did manage to fly !!!

And yet – there is one force that constantly reminds us of our true size in the universe – the mighty weather !!! No matter how much progress we managed to pull in all other areas – weather still controls our lives more than we want to admit.

Just visit your Facebook album from that lovely camping weekend you spent with your best friends last fall. The kids are playing joyfully on the grass while you and your mates are drinking cold beers next to the barbecue … lovely indeed. Now – use your imagination to add just one cloud to those blue sunny sky (no need for a full blown typhoon – a standard medium sized gray cloud will do the trick). What happened to your pastoral picture ? Can you see your tent blown away by the wind ? You are probably thinking – well – I should run and get all those bags into the car so the clothes don’t get wet … but hey … shouldn’t you collect those screaming wet kids first ? I’m sure you did give a small glimpse at those beautiful marbled steaks on the no longer burning grill (I know I would have) – what a waste …

Weather proves to be superior to us – it defeats us any time – hands down. We are all familiar with those weather disasters – typhoons, fires, mud slides … But I believe the day to day examples prove it best.

How does it feel to be a loaf of bread baking in the oven ?

I think I experienced the exact feeling while visiting India so many years ago. Pushkar – in the middle of Rajasthan – India’s dessert. Camels, sand castles, beautiful women wearing colorful saris and covered with countless gold necklaces and bracelets. Gold – Red – Yellow – that’s how I remember it.  We were young and wild and free (thank you Springsteen) – moving from one location to another – wearing the minimum necessary – doing the minimum necessary. Ignoring any warning signs – Ignoring the weather …

My ears were the first victims. They got so burnt it felt as if they were about to drop of my head like the fingers of a leper. My feat followed – swamping and swamping until they gave in and cracked – and I mean “Grand Canyon” sized cracks all over my heels !!!

My guesthouse’s manager pointed me towards the village’s doctor. Sitting in a small “about to fall” hat on the side of a “no-road” street – was this friendly Indian doctor. His “clinic” was cramped with countless tubes and bottles of medicine – looking as if they were left there since the dinosaurs age. He pulled a tube from one dusty shelf and handed it to me with a smile.

Luckily for me I was in my “no worries twentieth” – did not bother to ask any what/who/why questions. With a sense of trust entitled only to young stupid people – I applied the cream to my cracked heels and stepped outside smiling – heading directly to Pushkar’s sunset point near the lake to drink a bhang lassi and gaze at the sunset. Took a while but my heels did recover – I will never know if it was the medicine or the magic of nature.

I’ll phrase my next question as a toddler game question : If hot weather “expands” you – how does cold weather affect you ? Correct !!! It “shrinks” you !!! You start by putting your hands around your body in an attempt to get warm. Next – you enter your arms into your shirt too. Soon after – your legs will follow … without any advanced planning – you will pull your legs towards you – and than … you will probably try to squeeze them into your miserable shirt along with the rest of your body parts.

You do your best exposing as less as possible of your surface to the outer cold world – and as a result – you shrink !!! I assume that if you were given the physical ability you would shrink to the size of a singular dense point – ready for a new big bang that will set your molecules to an infinite expand motion – when weather conditions permits.

And don’t get me started about rain – our worst enemy !!!

Rainy days are rare in our part of the universe – but when they do arrive – they tend to behave like rainy days in all other parts of the globe – water is falling down from the sky – as simple as.

Picture me – stepping outside my shrink’s clinic door in the big city (after being “fired” politely from his supervision – he claimed there was nothing hidden in my deep subconscious  – WYSIWYG – as we like to describe it – although I left with a feeling he was just too afraid to dig in that mess) – back to that door … I stepped straight into one of the heaviest rain falls I have ever experienced in my home land. There was water – there was wind – there was me – and there was a very small pathetic umbrella – and that was about it.

On that specific day I decided to use public transportation instead of my car to avoid the hunt for a parking spot (it made sense when I left home to a cloudy yet dry environment) – wrong decision as it turned out. So here we were – me and my purple (yet still pathetic) umbrella – making our way through the streets – jumping in the puddles – getting wet by the rain – getting wet by splashes of water produced by the courtesy of the drivers …

When I finally embarked the bus – I was soaking wet – head to toes- no part was neglected. There is only one thing worse than wet shoes – wet jeans sticking to your legs while you sit !!! I had to escape this feeling – so I did what other people do best – I started meditating. I tried escaping my physical body – so I let my thoughts wonder as far as I dared – and guess were they ended up – I invented a magical spray that can be sprayed on trousers and will repel water – so you don’t get wet in the rain.

When I arrived home – I immediately called my brother (OK – no … I immediately took off those wet jeans and then called my brother) :

Brother : Ahhhh

Me : Ahhhh (that’s our version of hello – how are you – we haven’t spoke for a long time – I really missed you)

Me: Guess what – I finally got it – my start-up idea

Brother: Right …

Me (not discouraged yet): Did you ever get wet by rain – and had to stay wet all day

Brother : Nu Kvar (“come on already” is the best translation I can come up with)

Me: Well – what if we invented this spray – you know that you can sp…

Brother – Yhe Yhe I got it – we are going to invent a spray that will create a coating layer on the jeans and prevent the jeans from getting wet – and we are going to sell one on every rainy day in our country – brilliant !!!

Me (I do love my brother): Nope !!! We are going to sell 1000 on every rainy day in the UK !!!

Brother: Seriously ??? Those people have been living this way like – for ages !!! From the viking ages – even before they invented Muffins !!! They have solutions for that – trust me – they do not get wet !!! Its only here that rain gets us by surprise every time. Bad Idea – Bye

My next phone call was to my sister. Located under the wings of her Majesty in the royal kingdom – I felt she was the right person to shade some light on this mystery.

Sister (joyful as ever):  Hi sis – how are you – how are the kids ?

Me: What do you do when it rains ?

Sister: Not sure what you mean – you know – it always rains here

Me: When it rains in the morning – and you have to get to the office – and you are not a hi-tech snob driving your car from parking to parking … So you ride the subway – and at some point – you have to step outside … did I mentioned its raining ? So – how do you guys not get wet ??????

Sister: We do get wet

Me: Silent … very silent … there must be some more information coming …

Sister: Silent … very silent … waiting for my response …

Me: Don’t you have any solution to prevent you from getting wet ?

Sister: Well … some people wear those anti-rain suits – but most wont dare step outside looking this way. I think there is a spray to put on your shoes to prevent them from getting wet … we walk fast … and yep – sometime we arrive to the office wet …

Me: Are you actually telling me you spend a full working day in the office with a wet jeans ?

Sister: We try to dry it under the hand dryer in the bathroom …

Really??? I did mention that human beings are adaptive and creative … You people received more than enough time under the constantly dropping, gray, cold thing referred to as the English weather – I do respect the “adapt” part – but what about some creativity ?

You guys have dress codes for every occasion – you actually deny people from drinking bear in a pub due to them wearing sneakers (will never forgive you that night in London – never !!!).
You show up to weddings wearing expensive stylish bird nests on your heads – you always use your knife with your right hand. You sip your tea without making the slightest sound – you quote from Shakespeare as if you understand what he meant. You own the copyright for the Beatles, you are polite, you take pride in the English language, you people even got your own real QUEEN !!! And yet – you find yourselves sitting like ordinary people next to your office desks – wishing this long day will finally be over – just because you are wearing wet jeans ?????

If the mighty have succumbed how shall the weak emerge unscathed ?

Time to cook

As you could understand from this post – I did not manage to source this cauliflower for the risotto recipe – so I decided to cook some Asparagus instead.

I used a recipe from the book “On Vegetables” by Jeremy Fox (Ubuntu, Rustic Canyon). As the name of the book suggests – this book is all about vegetables – recipes are not very long – not too complicated – yet they feature flavor combinations I have never tried before.

Chilled asparagus, saffron, olive & fennel pollen

It was the black olive caramel that drew my attention to this recipe. Prepared a short shopping list – and 1 hour later I was back in the safe environment of my home – realizing I just missed one piece of the puzzle – fennel pollen. Since I have never heard of fennel pollen – I did some googling and learned this is the new favorite child of the neighborhood. It is “usually hand collected from wild fennel” – “It doesn’t taste like fennel seed or anise, so it truly adds a different flavor to food” – “When you add a dash to any dish, you transform the ordinary into extraordinary. Fennel Pollen is Slightly sweet and ridiculously flavorful, a sprinkling of fennel pollen makes pure magic.” – you get the picture …

I knew my spice store will not have this fancy pollen – I could obviously order a pricey box of this magic powder online – but that would mean delaying my cooking for at least a few weeks … and I could … Yep – I decided the dish will be prepared without fennel pollen.

And then this happened

The universe was on my side – finally !!! Like on most Saturday morning – I dragged everyone to visit mother nature – and there I was – surrounded by fields of wild fennel – and guess what – it was end of summer – and – they were all covered with this beautiful smelly yellow pollen !!! I do not have the words to express my feelings at that moment.

Black olive caramel

Pitted some oily shiny Kalamata olives and pureed them in my food processor. Then I prepared caramel (The books advises you to “just leave it alone and look for an amber caramel color” – and I advise you to do exactly that – worked for me). Added the olive puree to the caramel – let it cool a little – and then pureed it in the food processor again. The result was a squeeze bottle with this tasty black – sweat – salty “condiment” (borrowed this word from the book) – and a big pile of dishes.

Next was the saffron yogurt

Took the saffron and added some lemon juice – then added yogurt and some salt. As simple as it can be – but it does make you understand why saffron is the most expensive spice of them all … I believe i’ll be using this saffron yogurt a lot in the future – its simply that good !!!

Asparagus – nothing special. Cut – cook in salty boiling water for 45 seconds – place in ice bath – drain – add some lemon juice, salt, and olive oil – and they are done.

Platting was fun – placing the asparagus – adding “dollops” of the saffron yogurt and “dots” of the black olive caramel. A little sprinkle of shaved toasted almonds – and finally – those fennel pollen – done

IMG-20180930-WA0017

Sooooo good !!! Simple yet so surprising. Every part tasted good by itself – but all of the components together … It was really a perfect combination. The saffron taste – with a little sweet from the caramel – a little crunchy piece of almond … and last – but not least – those fennel pollen – they give a hint of anise without overpowering – I was so happy I found them.

This is one of those dishes that teaches you about the importance of flavor combinations. Every component had its role in the final result – and it was such a good result achieved with such a minimal effort … Defiantly a dish to remember when planning my next meal with friends.

 

 

Talks About Yolks

Has this ever happened to you ?

It felt as if I was kissed on the forehead with a cheerful “good morning sunshine” greeting by god himself.

I know some people will disagree – but personally – I believe yolks are one of nature’s most glorious inventions. Rich and creamy – nutritious – shiny yellow. A little salt – a tiny sprinkle of black pepper – some fresh baguette … perfection.

Me being me – I immediately turned to Google for all available information on “double-yolked eggs”. To my disappointment – I found out that my personal miracle was actually quite a common practice for young chickens (in their early period of egg-production – they produce a double-yolked egg every few days).

One just have to wonder – where the hell are all those double and triple yolked eggs ? how come we are deprived from that luxury ? The sad answer is – Uniformity. We – the consumers – like our produce uniformed and predictable. We expect apples to be in a specific size (2 month on a ladder thinning up apples in New-Zealand will teach you that) – we like our citrus shiny (waxed – please do wash the lemons before using their zest) and in the appropriate shape. Cucumbers need to be straight – tomatoes need to be round – watermelons need to be seedless – we are repulsed by the hairy peel of those kiwi fruits (yep – scientists already solved the problem) … and eggs ? we all know eggs have one yolk – so please don’t confuse us with any irregularity. We are taught that nature is all about mutations and different individuals – but when we look at produce – we expect industry standards – as if those fruits and vegetables were assembled on a fabrication line.

Double-yolked Eggs (identified using light) – bruised fruits – ugly vegetables – they all end up being used by the food industry – or even worse – being destroyed (some article claim its as much as 40% of the produce). Isn’t it ridiculous ? So much waste of great produce just because it is not “state of the art” looking ?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall – who is the guiltiest of them all ?

I never buy bruised apples/nectarines (or anything to be honest). I will never buy those fat cucumbers – nor greenish tomatoes. A cauliflower will not enter my kitchen unless it is small – firm and shocking white (even if my plan is to disassemble it and make a soup). I never buy a box of fruit – boxes are used to hide the least appealing members of the herd at the bottom. Peaches must be firm yet blushing red – grapes must have no seeds. I admit – I even pick my cherry tomatoes one by one.

Long friendly relationships with your food suppliers will allow you to do that (I claim its my delightful personality – my husband insists my open wallet deserves the credit).

I’m invited to walk with my butcher into his refrigerator and pick the best cuts of meat (my tribe is not vegetarian – just me). He will always call me when a fresh cut of “Pikania” arrives (especially if its from a primipara).

My wine supplier and I go a long way back (although the shop changed ownership 4 times during that period – different faces – same relationship). This friendship started when I first entered the shop with a label of a Rioja I drank in a restaurant a few days earlier. I left the shop with my requested 20$ Rioja + 2 additional 25$ bottles I could never explain why I bought. This relationship flourished so rapidly that 6 month later I was escorting a 100$ bottle back home – promising myself I will get out of this twisted relationship ASAP … did not … but i’m happy to update I did set some clear boundaries.

At the spice shop – I lie in wait like a predator near the spice counter. Old ladies – that’s my fetish. They ask for those unpronounceable spices – and surprisingly enough – the shop always have them – hidden behind those popular ordinary cumin and coriander. “What are you cooking with that ?” is my ultimate pick-up line. The best cooking lessons – free of charge.

But the most enduring will obviously be my greengrocer. I always challenge him for the weirdest stuff on the non applicable season – strawberries in mid summer – watermelon in winter … And i’m picky with my colors too – orange beets – white corn – purple carrots – yellow potatoes.

The current recipe required 3 Meyer lemon.

“I need 3 Meyer lemons” – “its mid July – I have fresh Limes” – “Nope” – “Meyer – never heard of that” – “Its a cross between a lemon and a mandarin – its sweeter and less acidic – and it has a deep color – a little orange” (I spill the information I collected from Google with all the confidence I can come up with) – “I don’t think they can grow in our climate” – “she wants those special mandarins – with the bump at the end” (helps the Arab friendly worker) – “No I don’t” – “Hold on – let me phone my supplier – if someone can get those lemons – he’s the guy)”. Now, that’s the part he picks up his phone – and i’m pretty sure he dials /dev/null (meaning nowhere in tech language) – and no one is actually on the other side of the line – but he does actually perform a full conversation – and announces proudly by the end – “don’t worry – come over tomorrow – your lemons will be here”. Needless to say no lemon will ever wait for me (nor white corn – nor colorful beets – nor colorful carrots – nor pea shoots) – but I do appreciate his enthusiasm – so I keep trying.

My quest for the holly Meyers moved to Facebook.

The US relocated TBD musketeer : “We have them in 6 packs for 4$ at the supermarket”

me : “You have shrimp in your supermarket too …”

him : “We also have lobsters and crabs in season”

me : “And guns and roses in all seasons”

him : “Nope – roses are available just in spring”

Still – no Meyer lemons for me.

I finally contacted the farmer actually growing those lemons – farmers take a lot of pride in their work – he was moved by the fact I could distinguish between lemon varieties (which I could not) – and he promised me that a few of them Meyers will be arriving to a grocery near my home at the beginning of the week. On Sunday 08:30 I stood at the entrance of the mentioned grocery – and picked some different looking lemons – a little orange in color and aroma – I baptized them as Meyers – put a nice V next to lemons on my ingredient list – and sent my husband on his motorcycle to get me some clarified butter and Lecithin from a tiny shop in the middle of a huge city (i’m not a chocolate and flowers girl).

Back to those eggs.

When reading a lot of recipes – you cannot avoid the confusion forced by the 2 separate parts of the egg – the white stuff – and the yellow stuff.

Most languages did their users the courtesy of using the simplest and clearest terms – egg white/egg yellow – want some examples ?

  • Spanish – yema de huevo / claras de huevo
  • French – blanc d’oeuf / jaunes d’œuf
  • Italian – tuorlo d’uovo / bianco d’uovo

I really have a lot of respect for the English language – but seems like something went wrong there. How else could you explain “yolk / egg white” ? I mean – you guys did bother to come up with a dedicated word for the yellow part – why stop there ? can’t you see the egg white looks neglected – unimportant – like the leftovers ?

But obviously the trophy goes to our mighty beautiful – yet – complex challenging language. Like anything defined by Hebrews – complexity is the main guideline (keep it complex – that’s the motto).

That’s our version : Helmon (yellow stuff) and …. Helbon (white stuff) – need I say more ?

Not a single cake recipe can be published in this language without someone asking the obvious question – do I need to whisk the yellow or white part of the egg ?

Generations of high school graduates will stare at their final Hebrew exam sheets – trying to figure out which is which – and why the hell can’t they just be called white and yellow like common sense requires …

Yet another great example of our ability to focus our efforts on the things that really matter in life.

Not only the egg white was called Helbon because it resemble milk (Halav) when cooked – the brilliant minds behind this conspiracy realized that the egg white consists mainly of proteins (not really true – but good enough for them). So they did what anyone would not dare to do – they named Proteins Helbon too. How hilarious does it sound telling your kids that beans contain a lot of “egg white” ?

Now that we mentioned proteins – and assuming that everyone knows that the yolks are the “nutrient-bearing portion of the egg whose primary function is to supply food for the development of the embryo” – looking at a picture of an egg – there is only one question left unanswered …

Where is Twitti ???  

The most reasonable answer will be that the yellow molecules will do some sort of extraordinary maneuver to form this fluffy yellow little chick – but obviously – that’s not what happens.

Have a look at those fertilized eggs – and all those little spots to become twittis

An egg is this incredible self sustainable tiny universe – sheltered by the hard egg shell – wrapped inside a breathing membrane – fully sourced with all nutrients needed for the tiny spots of cells to divide and develop into this wonderful living creature . A masterpiece of nature’s engineering.

Yolk Drops (Asparagus, Meyer Lemon, Black Pepper) – Alinea Cookbook

Its time for a little challenge. The Alinea cookbook is one of the most gorgeous cookbooks in my collection. Every recipe includes many preparations – and a lot of advanced molecular techniques are used.

This recipe was perfect for my adventure – a. because it was vegetarian b. because it was not too complicated

I started by preparing the Meyer lemon puree. I quartered the lemons – removed the seeds and put them (with the peel) in my blender. Took a little time – but they did turn into a puree eventually.

I pressed the puree through a sieve – added some simple syrup and some salt – and it was ready.

Next I prepared a very simple vinaigrette – just some Meyer lemon juice – some grapeseed oil – some salt – done.

Asparagus – I cut of the tips – blenched them in boiling water for 10 seconds and cooled in ice water.

The stalks were cut into pieces – blenched in boiling water for 45 seconds and cooled in ice water

Now – I had to turn my Asparagus stalks into – Asparagus juice – so – I bought a slow juicer – and got perfect juice.

I added some salt and Lecithin to my Asparagus juice – and set it aside – ready to become Asparagus foam later.

Last – my yolk drops. Mixed a few yolks with a little salt and put in a little squeeze bottle.

I warmed my clarified butter to 77 degrees (of course I used a thermometer to verify).

Using the squeeze bottle – I dropped the egg yolk into the butter – and they just puffed up and emerged to the surface. I collected them – a little bunch at a time – until I had a nice amount of those yellow little drops.

Time to assemble the dish …

I mixed the egg drops & asparagus tips with a little vinaigrette.

Used a blender to turn the Asparagus juice into foam.

I put some puree in the plate – put some egg drops & asparagus on top – and added the Asparagus foam on the side.

Then we took pictures – a lot of pictures – it was beautiful !!!

Then we tasted … should have stopped before that step. It was WEIRD – no other word could describe it better.

The Meyer lemon puree was delicious – but had nothing to do with the rest of the components on the plate.

The drops – if I would have blind tested them I would have never identify them as yolk drops.  They were nice – but nothing remarkable. Asparagus is always nice – and it was nice in this dish too – no complains. The foam – well – its adventures – and very nice on the plate …

I though maybe I did something very wrong – so I Googled a little – and found a few other adventurers who had prepared this dish at home. None of them liked it – I guess i’m in good company.

But I will surely try other recipes from this Alinea cookbook – i’m not giving up so easily.

Vegetarian Casserole

Casseroles are fun and easy to cook – and the result is always rewarding.

Cooking rich flavored Casseroles when using meat is a piece of cake – but achieving complex and deep flavors in a vegetarian Casserole – this was a challenge. It took me a lot of trying and a lot of failures. Most recipes I found resulted in disasters – mushy vegetables, bland flavors …

When my family members were drawn from their hiding places by the smell (“what’s cooking ? will it be ready for tonight?”) – I knew I got it right.

When cooking – I always think that using your imagination and being creative is a good advice – but in this case – I suggest to stick to the vegetables I used (you can omit the kohlrabi if you cant find fresh small ones). No green vegetables – no mushy vegetables.

One last thing – to get deep “Umami” flavors in vegetarian cooking – I use Vegetarian Dashi stock  (based on Kumbo & Shiitake). In this case – I used fresh Shiitake mushrooms instead. You can use either – or even use dried Shiitake (put them in a little warm water for 10 minutes – then add them and the water to the Casserole). But please – do use one of those options !!!

Ingredients

  • Onions, Carrots, Potatoes, Kohlrabi, Mushrooms (Shiitake/Portobello)
  • Umami Stuff – choose one of the 3 options
    • Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms
    • Dried Shiitake – re-hydrated in warm water – add both mushrooms (cut into cubes) and the water
    • Vegetarian Dashi – add it instead of part of the water. The simplest way to prepare it – just place some Kombu and dried Shiitake in a jar – add cold water to cover and let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours
  • A few garlic cloves
  • Red/Black beans – ready for cooking. Please don’t use canned beans nor frozen pre-cooked beans. The Casserole will cook for a long time – if you start with cooked beans – you will end up with a mush. See my post about preparing dried legumes for cooking
  • Tomato puree – Mutti – i’m biased
  • Smoked Paprika – Imported Spanish Paprika – do make the effort to find it – its worse it (smells like – “Mom – what are you cooking with bacon ?”)
  • Chili flakes – I think its a must – even a very little amount

Heat your oven to 150 degrees celcius.

Put a heavy pot (that can later be placed in the oven) on medium heat – and add a generous layer of olive oil (this is the only fat going into the Casserole – so do be generous).

I work in the following order – each time preparing the next vegetable to join the party while the previous are sweating in the pot (remember to stir the vegetables in the pot gently while preparing the next vegetables).

  • Onions – peel and cut to small “cubes” ( I try to cut all vegetables to the same size of my beans – the result is more appealing) – add to the pot and start simmering
  • Carrots – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
  • Potatoes – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
  • Kohlrabi – peel and cut to cubes – add to the pot
  • Mushrooms – remove stems – cut to cubes – add to the pot
  • Garlic cloves – peel and dices – add to the pot

When vegetables smell like heaven add

  • Tomato Puree – 2 tbsp.
  • Smoked Paprika – 2 tsp.
  • Chili Flakes – as much as you like

Stir gently to cover all vegetables in a nice shiny red color

  • Add the beans

Now add water (if using Dashi – add it now). Water should cover the vegetables + 2 centimeters – remember – we have uncooked beans in there – and casserole will be cooking for a long time.

  • Add a generous amount of salt (I use Atlantic salt – I do believe it adds flavor – but this is definitely not a must)

Bring to a boil. Turn of the heat. Cover with a baking sheet and the pots lid on top (the baking sheet helps reduce the evaporation of the liquid). Place the pot in the pre-heated oven for … a long time (2.5 – 3 hours). Although vegetables and beans will be fully cooked in 1.5 hours – we do need that long time to develop flavors and get the sauce “concentrated”.

Important Notices

  • Don’t put your pot in the oven and forget about it !!! The first 1.5 hours are safe – but after that – you need to check if there are enough liquids left a few times. We don’t want a soup – but you still need the liquid to be at the vegetables level at the end of cooking. So keep watching and if needed – add some boiling water.
  • Use your experience – if liquids are evaporating too fast (not all pots are made equal) – adjust the oven temperature. If I have to leave the house for an hour – I just lower the temperature to 100 degrees – check there are enough liquids – and leave. Casseroles are designed to be forgiving …
  • If by the end of cooking – you Casserole is still very “liquidy” – just open the lid and leave it in the oven for a few more minutes to evaporate the liquid. Liquids should be at the vegetables level when done.
  • After the first 1.5 hours – taste for salt – i’m pretty sure you will have to add some more

Once ready – take the pot out of the oven and … let it rest !!! Do not eat it immediately – it must be left calmly for at least 2 hours (there is some magic happening in a Casserole after its removed from the heat – ingredients “suck” up the sauce – and flavors “develops”). It will taste even better the next day.

Serve it on your favorite “sauce absorbing platform” – rice/quinoa/mashed potatoes … my favorites is real Couscous (not to be confused with Israeli couscous – nor with those awful instant couscous packages you can buy in any supermarket).

 

Preparing Dried Legumes For Cooking

As a vegetarian – one of your challenges is to find new sources for proteins.

Legumes are perfect candidates – both rich in protein and very comforting to eat.

I try to avoid canned legumes – and even frozen pre-cooked legumes. I prefer my legumes to be cooked in my chosen liquids (according to the specific recipe).

I buy dry legumes – soak them overnight – do some pre-cooking – and then freeze them in small batches – so they are ready to be used whenever I want to cook.

I know this sound like a lot of effort – but trust me – there is very small work involved – and once you have batches of different legumes ready to cook in your freezer – creating a delicious meal in a short time becomes a piece of cake. Its healthy – its even cheap – what more could you ask for ?

Here is my method (learnt from a lot of googling and cookbook reading). This method can be used for any kind of bean and chickpeas (some legumes like mung beans and lentils do not require any preparations).

Place the dry beans/chickpeas in a bowl and cover with a lot of cold water. Let them soak for at least 8 hours – preferably overnight. I usually put the bowl in the refrigerator to avoid fermentation – especially when soaking chickpeas. During the soaking time – try and replace the water a few times (I admit I don’t always do that).

After the soaking – its time for some pre-cooking that makes those legumes a little easier to digest (and helps avoid a lot of unwanted side effects).

Drain and wash the bean – place them in a large pot and cover with a lot of water.  Add 1-2 bay leaves and bring gently to a boil. While heating – a lot of foam will rise to the surface – skim as much as you can with a spoon.

When water are boiling – turn of the heat – drain the beans and wash under cold water.

Then … repeat this process (boiling – draining – washing) for 2 more times. You will notice that on the last boiling process – there will be almost no foam on the surface – well done !!!

After the third boiling – drain the beans and wash them – don’t let them dry. Put them in small plastic bags (zip-locks are great) – and place in your freezer immediately.

When you want to use them – just defrost the “block” of beans under cold water – and add them to your pot. Just keep in mind they are not cooked – so make sure your recipe calls for uncooked beans – or else – fully cook them before using.

French Crepes

Sweet Crepes are our family’s favorite breakfast.

A very easy recipe – yet – i’m actually proud of resolving the chemistry of the batter. I managed to master the process of preparing it – my method (described below) is easy and yields a batter with no lumps – no need to pass the batter through any colander.

The original recipe was taken from the Robuchon cookbook.

Ingredients

  • 45 gram sugar
  • 3 eggs + 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract (I use vanilla paste)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 200 grams all purpose flour
  • 2 spoons of melted butter
  • 2 cups of milk

Now – here is the method – just follow the directions in the exact order !!!

In a medium  bowl – put the sugar + eggs + vanilla extract and salt.

Whisk using a manual beater – no need for electricity in our case.

When the batter is homogeneous and sugar dissolved – and the flour and combine it with the batter.

You should get this yellow “mud” – very hard to beat – that’s actually good news.

Add the melted butter and beat again until it is fully absorbed by the “mud” and it becomes shiny.

Now – start adding the milk – a little at a time. Start mixing slowly – until the “mud” loosens up and is well mixed with the milk. Then you can add the rest of the milk and mix well. No lumps – no worries – piece of cake.

The batter has to rest for at least 30 minutes before you start preparing you crepes.

Preparing the Crepes requires a dedicated pan – and some practice – but its easier than it seems.

Heat the pan on low-medium heat. Rub some butter of the pan – just to give it a nice shiny layer.

Now take the batter in a ladle – and pure it on the pan while rotation the pan – so the batter is evenly (and very thinly) spread on the pan.

Watch the sides of the Crepe – when they start turning brown – its time to turn your Crepe to the other side.

You can do it this way

 

Or just use a spatula to carefully turn the Crepe over.

Let it cook for another minute and then put it on a plate and cover with another plate (just pile the Crepe one on top of the other to keep them warm until you prepare the rest). Make sure to wipe the upper plate from time to time from water drops.

Kids love them with Nutella – I prefer to sprinkle sugar and a lot of lemon juice – try sugar a Grand Marnier to feel really French for a moment.

 

 

Big In Japan

Someone once told me that I have a habit of speaking with exclamation marks at the end of my sentences. Known for being extremely open minded for constructive criticism – I decided on the spot to embrace his words and use them in the best possible way to improve myself – I immediately exiled them to “Siberia’s Gulags” coordinates within my brain’s gray matter.

When I started to write this blog – I asked my brother to review the posts I wrote. He came up with a lot of helpful tips – and one very annoying observation – “there are a lot of exclamation marks in your posts. I personally don’t like it but …” – yep – apparently my writing was also exclamation mark oriented – as if I was trying to make a point …

A few days ago – following WordPress.com’s advise – wondering around the wild west of blogging territories – reading posts published by other recognition seeking souls – I stumbled upon this post – High Spirits – The Awl – describing it’s author’s experience while visiting Japan.

A little long – a little tedious – but so well written. Cynical, full of accurate observations, presenting a lot of criticism yet glowing with love for human beings. Every paragraph was making a point without using even one exclamation mark. I got SOOOOOO jealous.

So here is an attempt of writing my version of a Japanese experience without using any exclamation marks. Wish me luck.

The second adventure of my expedition took me back to Japan. I decided to try a recipe from Nobu’s vegetarian cookbook.

I bought this book soon after returning from our visit to Japan last spring. Japanese cuisine is notoriously famous for not being vegetarian friendly – to say the least. Just google the words “vegetarian” and “Japan” together – and get your party pooper reading list. Lists of “can eat” dishes will make you want to cry when compared to the rich and mouthwatering dishes tagged with a big “NO NO” sign. Ramen broth is based on pork bones, everything is sprinkled with Bonito flakes (dried Tuna fish), Dashi is the base for everything – and yes – in most cases it gets its Umami taste from … Bonito flakes. Even those Yuba (Tofu skins)  skewers are dipped in a yummy – yet very fishy sauce. Ask for a vegetarian dish and they will happily serve you a delicious plate with absolutely no flesh of any previously living being on it – its just those noticeable rich flavors that reveal the truth of what’s actually in there – use denial – or eat Onigiri (basically stuffed rice).

That is why a known chef devoting a whole book to vegetarian Japanese cooking earned my immediate attention and my utmost respect.

Flipping through this book’s pages I realized it encapsulates Japan as we experienced it : Efficiency – Minimalism – Aesthetics (I just realized I can use bold instead of an exclamation mark). There are no stories nor personal philosophies or life changing revelations. Lists of ingredients are short – instructions are straight to the point. And the plates presented in the photos – No decoration except the natural dish ingredients … No “quenelles” of anything, no “paint brushing” with your sauce, no countless elements, no use of edible flowers to add color. Use your vegetable’s colors, play with contrasting colors to achieve this WOW effect, keep it clean – tidy, use symmetry – align everything …  and the result – I’ll let you judge by yourself.

Traveling to Japan had some additional warning signs attached to it. Everyone hearing about my plan bothered to warn me about this “crazy” place – those “strict” people – how hard it will be to manage without the language – how big and intimidating are the train stations … Some suggested to use local guides – almost everyone thought hiring a car was the wrong decision … Stubborn me – I stuck with my plan as if my life depended on it.

For us – the Japanese experience was actually a revelation. There was a different way of doing things – and guess what – judging by the outcome – it was obvious who’s methodology was superior.

Not long after we landed – everything about Japan already made sense. The polite and helpful young assistant near the train tickets vending machine at the airport – the spotless and quiet train that took us to Shinjuku station (for the first time since the invention of the iPhone – we did not participate in someone else’s one sided conversation). Shinjuku station – 36 platforms, over 200 exists – enormous waves of people in constant movement – all focused on their mission – from somewhere to another somewhere. We took 3 minutes for orientation based on the clear signs above our heads (Letter & Number – can’t beat this system) – and there we were – right out of the station – at the exact direction we needed to reach our hotel by a 5 minutes walk.

We were overwhelmed by the size of everything, by the unknown language, by the masses of people, by the trains circling in dedicated lines above the city buildings. We felt as if we were participating in some futuristic movie – in which we obviously were the heroes. At some spots we just stood for a few long minutes – like tourists – just staring at the rhythm of this incredible city. Shinjuku at night, Harajuku on a Sunday morning, Ginza buildings on a light rainy night, Sakura blossom in Kyoto – pure magic.

The kids were overwhelmed by this

The clean streets made sense – the way this was achieved took us by surprise – missing trash bins and missing benches – even we understood the hidden message after a while – you are expected not to eat (or not expected to eat) in the street – not to smoke on the street – take your minimal produced garbage with you. One cannot escape the non-existing resemblance to our local streets (spotted with endless empty trash bins – overlooking trash covered concrete pavements).

Japanese people made sense too.  We get it – the huge smiles taped on any customer attending employee are part of their job definition and in many cases artificial – but hey – i’ll take that over all the angry/bored/annoyed  (pick you favorite) faces staring at us with indifference every time we try to get minimal attention from their colleagues in our glorious land. Bowing in gratitude to customers leaving your shop makes sense – especially if their hands are loaded with countless bags of new purchased overpriced clothes. Being polite beats being rude – every time – no exceptions. There is no glory in managing a mess – you should see the efficient queue in that little “cotton candy” shop in Harajuku – pick you colors while you wait – arrive to the counter ready – give your order in a 3 word sentence – get exactly what you wished for. That’s how you make many little people happy – so many of them in such a short time …

A few days later – even those lovely young ladies in the middle of Kyoto made complete sense – they just did.

Technology wise – we resemble the Neanderthals when compared to the Japanese. But its the simplest technologies that actually capture your attention. Warm toilet seats … not required in our roasting oven part of the world – where a cold feeling on your bottom does no harm (it only indicates a previous male visit to the lavatory) – but you, cold winter challenged people, what’s wrong with you ? why aren’t you adopting this simple yet brilliant solution ? Is it lack of knowledge ? Is it the price ? Is it national pride ? Did you know those Japanese remarkable toilets come with a small appliance that plays music while you do your thing … no – its not intended to keep you company but rather to avoid embarrassment – how clever is that ? enough said about toilets (in a food blog).

One last story.

After visiting Tokyo for a few days – we headed north in a rented car. Mid April – beautiful spring – unreal Sakura blossom- constantly changing weather … we were caught by light snow on the road to Matsumoto.

Accidents are always sudden – that’s their nature. Happened right in front of us – a car and a small truck were involved – looked pretty bad. All traffic stopped immediately – cars moved to the side of the road (clearing space for the rescue teams that were clearly going to arrive soon). My husband did the same – and then got out of the car running towards the accident scene in order to help the people trapped in those cars. Took us a few moments to realize … he was the only one out there. Everyone else was sitting in the calmest possible way in their cars – putting their trust on the “system” to handle the situation (can you imagine) . I will never know what thoughts flowed through their minds while watching him climbing the upside down vehicle and trying to open the locked doors. All I can testify is that a few seconds later – they started stepping out of their cars – taking of their jackets – laying them tidy on the back seats … and running like Ninja worriers to join the effort.

Rescue teams arrived within minutes – injured people were evacuated in ambulances – the car and truck were towed from the road – the road was cleaned from all smashed glass and grease spots. Then came the accident investigators. They walked on the road over and over – measured the distance from everything to everywhere – made notes – discussed them – measured again … we set in our car for 3 endless hours. Needless to say that during the whole time not a single horn blow was heard. No self-appointed expert interfered with the “system”s processing of the event (OK – I admit – we did open our window and pointed them to a grease spot they missed – but they actually missed it – they did).

Everyone who is familiar with our “non-culture” can imagine how this scene would have looked like in our chaotic, sizzling, irresistible piece of land – not a pretty sight – not calm – nor quiet. But – to our defense I must state – it would have been a much shorter episode. Would have required 2 volunteering 4 wheel drive vehicles – a lot of improvisation – some team work – but traffic would have continue to roll within 30 minutes.

We arrived to Mastumoto at 22:00 – the small town was all dark. We were starving – but could not find any open restaurant. So we headed back to our hotel – planning to eat some leftover snacks from the journey. The young guy behind the counter took one glimpse at us and understood everything. He stepped out from behind the counter – and started walking outside – we followed. We walked into a tiny alley near the hotel – where he open the curtains on a little room which apparently was a restaurant. The elderly couple managing this place smiled at us – and served us the only option on the menu – Soba noodles … Hot or cold they asked in very clear Japanese … hot we answered in our broken English – obviously hot – it was snowing just a few hours before.  Those Soba noodles were the best meal we had during our visit to Japan – agreed by all. I used a lot of denial – was worth every bit of remorse my conscience forced upon me the next day.

I will not presume to draw any conclusions from this story. It was just a “clash” between very different civilizations (I usually don’t honor ours with this title – but I think we earned some good points during this event – so i’ll make an exception). No right or wrong – no better – no worse – just very different.

Onion “Steak” with Teriyaki Balsamic Sauce

The following sentence –  “It almost puts beef to shame” – marked this recipe as a top candidate for my research.

The Teriyaki Balsamic sauce calls for Kombu Dashi stock – so I started by preparing it.

I use a lot of vegetarian Dashi (based on Kombu & Shitakke)  in my cooking – it just adds this rich and “meaty” flavor that is so hard to achieve without animal proteins.

I usually prepare this stock by placing Kombu, shitakke and water in a jar – and letting it do their thing for 24 hours. Being eager to learn – I decided to follow Nobu’s instruction instead.

Placed my Kombu and mushrooms in a small pot. Added water – and warmed to 60 degrees. I used a thermometer to keep the temperature for another 50 minutes – then strained the stock.

Next – I had to reduce some Balsamic vinegar over low heat. Nothing too exciting (except the sticky amber colored syrup you end up with).

Time to prepare my onions. I cut my “Steaks” out of the middle of each onion – and placed them on a tray with those long beautiful sweet peppers.

I used the tops and bottoms of the onions to create very thin stripes of onions to be used for the garnish. The onions needs to be put in ice water for 10 minutes – then drained carefully and deep fried in oil. The fried stripes should be kept in a hot spot for 2 hours to “crisp” up. The process was easy – but I realized a little late that I should have used my mandolin to achieve even stripes. Using a knife resulted in some stripes being thicker – and not cooked enough when I took them out of the oil (thus not crisp enough when cooled). Should have known better … but I still managed to get enough crispy and very yummy onion garnish.

I entered the onions and peppers to the oven for roasting (recipe instructs to cook for 7 minutes – I knew this will not work – so I just tested them until they were fully tender and nicely colored – about 20 minutes).

While waiting for my “Steaks” to roast – I prepared the sauce.

Placed the Mirin in a sauce pan and heated to evaporate the alcohol. Added the Dashi stock, sugar and soy sauce and simmered for 5 minutes. I mixed some Kudzu starch (“Kudzu powder, is a starch powder made from the root of the kudzu plant. It is traditionally used in ChineseJapanese, and Korean cuisines mainly for thickening sauces and making various types of desserts.” – thank you Wikipedia) with water – and added it to the sauce to thicken it. Finally, I added my reduced Balsamic vinegar – and the sauce was ready.

I placed the thick sauce on a plate – put my roasted onions and pepper – and added some crisp onion garnish on top … here is the result :

 

And the verdict : It was delicious – everyone loved it – but I kept wondering … WHERE IS MY STEAK ????

This dish felt like the side dishes you would serve beside your steak. When I cook steaks on the grill I usually put some onions, peppers and eggplants to grill too – and serve them on the side. There was one big white elephant missing on that plate …

The sauce was good – but the Balsamic vinegar overpowered the Teriyaki. I should have known this would happen based on the amount of Balsamic used – next time I will prepare it with much less Balsamic.

Will definitely use this Kudzu stuff again to thicken sauces – you should give it a try.

On my next post – I challenge myself to avoid the use of my so loved “…” – stay tuned … (had to)

Udon Noodles

Important Disclaimer !!!! I’m not Japanese – and I’m far from being an expert in Japanese cooking !!!

Yet – I’m very good at finding the “correct” recipe online (the one that will yield the result I am expecting) – and then working them out – to make them doable at home in a practical way that can be encapsuled in our daily routine.

That’s the story of this recipe … I wanted to make fresh Udon noodles (fallen in love with them while visiting Japan). Searched and found this recipe Original Udon Recipe – by Fuji Mama – and gave it a go.

Result was awesome !!! Great chewy noodles !!! Exactly what I wanted – accurate recipe – family members couldn’t be happier – CHAPEAU Fuji Mama !!!!

There was only one issue … as you will see in the original recipe – it takes a lot of effort to work the dough – it even calls for using your feet.

I prepared those noodles a couple of times the way described in the original recipe (no feet – good workout for my arm muscles) – but I realized I was no Japanese housewife – there must be a simpler way to do that.

Important notice – the beast pictured above is powerful !!! The dough is so tough that even my brave and loyal Kenwood screams in pain every time I beg him to help me knead this dough … don’t do that to your mixer unless you are sure he’s got what it takes …

Now – here is my way of preparing Udon noodles – same recipe – different method.

In the bowel of your Mixer put 2 cups of bread flour + 1.5 cups of all purpose flour.

Mix 1 cup of hot water with 4 flat teaspoons of salt (yep – 4 – its not a typo) and mix to dissolve the salt.

Add the water to the mixer and start kneading slowly. It will look like a mess – you will feel the urge to add water – but trust me – be patient … the dough will eventually look like dough – a very dry dough though. To get chewy noodles you need to work this dough for a long time – at least 20 minutes.

When the dough is ready – wrap it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 4 hours. No – you cannot skip this rest !!! without it the dough will give you such a fight when you try to convince it to become noodles … don’t go there …

To make noodles out of the dough – I use a simple pasta machine. I roll up the dough using the pasta machine and then use the large pasta cutter to take the sheets and cut them into noodles. If the dough is dry enough and is well rested – this task is a piece of cake. Last piece of advise – use flour – a lot of it – make sure your noodles don’t stick to each other.

After a little practice – it takes me 10 minutes to turn this

into this

Watch me

Noodles should be cooked in hot boiling water. Large pot !!! Lots of water !!! Really boiling !!! No salt added to the water !!! 3-5 minutes – just taste them – make sure they are completely cooked – but don’t let them turn mushy.

Now pay attention – when noodles are ready – strain them in a sieve and then rinse them under cold water. But I mean – really rinse them. We need to take all that sticky stuff of the noodles. We want them slickly and chewy – not sticky and mushy.

Next step is really open to your imagination … just stir fry them with your favorite ingredients and your favorite sauce.

Here is my vegetarian version. Vegetables change based on my mood and on what’s available : Bok-choy, snow peas, Mushrooms (look for fresh Shiitake if you can),  Julienne of carrots, Broccoli … anything works.

My sauce is a combination of the following : Brown sugar, Mirin (good quality – not corn syrup marketed as Mirin), Sake, Soy sauce, a drop of toasted sesame oil + a little of my magic vegetarian Shiitake based sauce I bough on my last trip to Hong Kong and is about to be finished (I guess its time to panic).

Last (but not least) trick … I don’t use a wok to stir fry – since like most of us – my stove doesn’t have this special burner that enables the wok’s sides to be heated as well as the bottom of the wok. I use a flat “Sautez” that heats very well to stir fry. Its a trick I read somewhere online a long time ago – and I apologize I cannot give the reference as I really do not remember where I read it … so i just pass the knowledge on …

Heat it very well before you start. Add the vegetables (pay attention to the order based on their cooking time) – then add the noodles – then the sauce … stir … fry … add something crunchy (I love toasted cashew nuts)… add something green (green onions always work) – and you are done !!!

Green Beans

OK – i’ll admit two things about this recipe :

A – not sure if this even qualifies as a recipe … but for my defense I must state – this is by far one of my favorites !!! serve with anything – rice, quinoa, couscous,  next to your protein … simple and yet – delicious.

B – I know great chefs use a blanching technique for green beans – short cooking in boiling water – then an ice bath to stop the cooking process – a technique that will keep them beans crunchy and vivid green – I beg to differ …

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Three ingredients … so do make an effort to use the best … Fresh green beans – fresh garlic (not those horrible frozen cubes) – and most importantly – good qualify tomato paste  (i’m biased for Muti – can eat it with a spoon).

Clean the green beans – discard the steam and cut to half (yes – of course you should rinse them to).

Peel and chop the garlic cloves.

In a pot – over medium heat – put a nice quantity of olive oil – add the garlic when the oil is still cold !!!

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Let the garlic cook a little – the smell will tell you its time for next step.

Add the tomato pure to the pot – and let it cook in the oil.

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Once again – trust your nose to detect time to proceed – noses never lie.

Add water – not too much – you need to get to a sauce consistency …. not too thick not too watery …

Salt – and you are done.

Now add the green beans – and let cook – covered – for … as long as it takes for the beans to be fully cooked – tender – and covered nicely with this simple yet tasty sauce. Remember – those are not chef’s bean – but rather a housewife version of bean – let them cook … thoroughly … to the point they are “melting” tender – but yet resemble green beans.

Stir the beans gently once or twice while cooking – just to make sure they are cooked evenly and covered with sauce.

Whenever In Doubt – Strain (Thomas Keller)

“It was love at first sight.
The first time I saw The French Laundry Cookbook I fell madly in love with it.” (borrowed from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 – what a way to start a novel ….)

A few years ago – while doing standard Hi-Tech chores (browsing new cookbooks on Amazon) sitting in my small golden cage … I stumbled upon one of Chef Keller’s books (Bouchon I think it was). Spending my whole life on the left tiny corner of the universe – I’ve never heard of Chef Keller before … French Laundry ? Bouchon ? Did not ring a bell.

One month later – Plus five Books  – Minus a lot of $$$ – I was the proud owner of the full Keller’s cookbook collection – and Chef Keller became my cooking mentor without even being given the chance to object.

We live in the Mentoring era – in case you haven’t noticed … Just open your Facebook feed and be prepared for the Tsunami of mentoring you will be swapped by … I bother to read their posts – I watch their videos – I do make an effort !!! but all i’m left with at the end of the day is a persistent nagging sense of “WHO THE HELL AUTHORIZED YOU PEOPLE ???????”

Everyone is offering life changing advises – at exponential charges – based on … their last five minutes experience and their incomparable analysis capabilities !!! If they lost all their money – and managed to survive – they will teach any financially straggling family how to turn from poverty to royalty … If they wrote a successful book – they will teach you how to become J. K. Rowling … Earned 1000$ on the stock market – and you are ready to mentor others on how to beat the market with your super-duper algo-trading extravaganza algorithm …
“Get rid of all your daemons” , “Follow your dreams”, “You are capable of doing anything you set you mind to” , “Do that …”, “Don’t do that …”, “Its all about …”, “Its not about …”, “The secret is …” , “Well – there is no secret …” – I just wish judge “In My Opinion” from The Good Wife would come to the rescue !!!

 

Mentoring – is all about Knowledge and the Skill & Will to en-light others – IN MY OPINION !!!

Knowledge (and I mean vast knowledge) – is the cornerstone of any well constructed mentor. A true mentor’s knowledge must be wider than the information he is trying to communicate to the world. Want to teach the Pythagorean theorem – better know your algebra … Talking about the planet earth – be familiar with the whole solar system … Teaching how a plant absorbs water from the ground – make sure to understand Adhesion & Cohesion … presenting kids a gecko – know your Van Der Waals Forces (you bet that one of the kids will ask how does the gecko stick to the wall – and no – “like Spiderman” is not an acceptable answer).

PowerPoint effects, brilliant slogans, well fitted suites, right colored ties, baritone voice, great presentation skills – not even excellent humor –  can hide a non knowledgeable lecturer.  There is so much “I don’t know the answer to that question – I’ll check and get back to you” you can use before you loose your credibility …

One of my pleasures in life is exposing young children to the beauty of science. As dangerous as it may sound-  My kid’s teachers allow me to step into their classes once in a while – and do my thing … I come prepared with simple fun experiments (M&M/Milk/Soap/Food Coloring/Balloons) – they make a big mess – I get to talk about Molecules and bending light – we all have a great time.

Now – fun as it is – the time invested by me to be prepared for those lessons could only be described by the word RIDICULOUS !!! I spend hours performing the experiments at home – making sure everything works as expected. The right water temperature – right amount of M&M … I learn all the Physics & Chemistry involved – Including equations.

My rule – Never underestimate your audience !!!

One Passover I was allowed to talk to the kids about the ten plagues. I prepared a presentation on how scientists explain those plagues as a series of natural events. Did my homework – you can bet on it !!! Children were captured immediately by the subject  – 30 minutes into the presentation and they were still arguing about the Blood plague and the alga causing the water to turn red …

I presented them the Ipuwer Papyrus – containing a description of events that resemble the blood plague. I read all about it …  I DID !!! I knew when it was written, where it was written, by whom … I could even explain what was a Papyrus and how it was prepared if I was asked (and I was not).

And as expected – a little girl in the back of the class (back of the class kids – a remarkable species in human evolution) had a question about this very interesting Papyrus … “But how did they know how to translate the Egyptian hieroglyphs ?”    WT… – Where did this come from ?????  Not related to my lecture young lady … yet – so pertinent you just earned my respect for eternity.

Luckily enough I’m a loyal fan of the History Channel – and they came to my rescue. A few nights earlier I was watching a show presenting the 10 most valuable archaeological findings of ancient Egypt – and there it was – The Rosetta Stone – Ta-Dam – here you go little girl !!!

Knowledge is power – So So True !!!

Part Two – The Will & Skill to en-light others …

Meet Professor Eric Lander from the MIT university – my mentor for biology and genetics (yep – my chosen mentors tend to have the fatherly looking character … wonder what my therapist would have to say about that … if only I had one). Professor of Biology at MIT – one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project – described by many as a one of the greatest minds in the field ….  and yet – I first laid eyes on Mr. Lander while attending his online course Introduction to Biology – The Secret of Life on eDX.

Mr. Lander teaches this preliminary course – the very basic introduction to biology & genetics – to the freshest students at MIT … and for a very good reason … There is no way you can watch his lectures and not fall in love with biology – NO WAY !!! I challenge you – give it a try !!!
Its his passion – his “fresh from the oven” examples – his SKILL to break his knowledge into digestible particles – his long relationship with bacteria – his humor – his true WILL to make those students excited about genetics …

You know a great mentor when you see one – Don’t settle for less than the best – Choose them wisely !!!

Back to my cookbooks (that’s why we gathered here in the first place right ?) …

I have no doubt in my mind that all my cookbooks were written by knowledgeable chefs – actually – this is the reason I bought them. But regarding this Will & Skill part … Lets just say that when reviewing a recipe in each of those books – I always have the feeling that the whole restaurant team is watching behind my back – giggling with their mouth covered … just waiting for me to give it a try and “don’t forget to post the photos – so we can have a good laugh …”

Chef Keller’s recipes on the other hand, take you by the hand and tell you – I know its intimidating – I can see the long list of ingredients – there are many preparations – and you will be probably washing dishes till dawn …. but don’t worry – just follow my steps and I’ll get you safe to the other end – and “don’t forget to post your photos – so you can show off to all your friends” !!!

No book as ever taught me about cooking as did The French Laundry !!! Every recipe is explained in such details – techniques are taught – basic preparations get their moment of glory – the expected result of every step is so well described – no need to guess – no need to source information elsewhere … Just follow the recipe precisely – and there’s a good chance of success.

My cooking will always be divided to “Before” and “After” Keller (so will the piles of dishes at the end of my cooking adventures). Learn about emulsion – learn about intensifying flavors – learn about finesse – learn to STRAIN !!!

Chef Keller – you are a true mentor for generations of professional cooks as well as home cooks. The world is a better place thanks to you !!!

Enough talking – time to cook.

As my first recipe for this expedition – I chose one of the simplest recipes from Chef Keller’s “The French Laundry” : Blini with Roasted Sweet Peppers and Eggplant Caviar

The recipe calls for ONE SPOON of vegetables stock … I usually have frozen stock in my freezer – but this time Murphy dropped by … I had only two options …

I believe your choices in life define you as a human being …

Next was the pepper confetti.

I cut and pealed some colorful bell peppers – julienne-d them – and placed on a plate.

Keller’s instructions are to dry the peppers in the micro-wave – so I did … 10 minutes into the drying process – my peppers were still wet … 5 more minutes and – DISASTER !!! they were burning in some spots – while the rest was still wet …

 

OK – I took the blame – I probably set my micro-wave’s temperature too high – I admit – my micro-wave is a mystery to me … It was obviously the right technology for the task – but I was the wrong girl for the technology.

I decided to give it another go – this time – I decided drying the peppers in the oven – set on low temperature with the Turbo vent on. My peppers dried nicely – I had to monitor carefully and take out the dried pieces on time to avoid burning them … but the effort was well worth it – just look at my colorful confetti !!!

 

 

Now it was time for my eggplant caviar.
Living on the shores of the Mediterranean sea … eggplants are part of my everyday cooking. I roast them, fry them, fill them … Still – I decided to ignore my personal knowledge and follow Keller’s instructions like a newbie – its never too late to learn something new …

Took my eggplant – cut it into half and scored with a pretty crisscross pattern. Sprinkled with a little salt and set pressed for 2 hours to let the eggplant “render its excess liquid” …
Washed – Dried – Oil massage – Oven time …

When eggplant was all tender – I scooped the flesh out – put in a cheesecloth – and set aside for 2 hours to … “render its excess liquid” once again.

Then it was finally ready to become a caviar.

In my food processor – with a little garlic – some mustard – olive oil, salt and pepper – it became this gorgeous eggplant spread.

 

Roasted peppers followed

Took some lovely peppers – put them in the oven to roast.

When they were soft – I placed them in a closed container to steam (my salad drier – think of it – its a smart move – it has a built in colander – if you clean your peppers in there – you will end up with the skins separated from the nice juices that can be used to cover the peeled peppers).

Peeled – Diced – placed in a small saucepan with my vegetable stock. When most of the stock evaporated – I added butter, some chopped chives, salt and pepper – and Voilà !!!

 

 

Blini time !!!

Boiled a few potatoes – and when tender mashed them up. Added flour – Crème fraîche – eggs – salt and pepper – and … I was done. Cooked them on my crepe’s pan – and I got those adorable little pancakes.

 

A spoon of the eggplant caviar – two Blini – a spoon of the roasted peppers – and a sprinkle of this pepper confetti …

 

 

In any respectable scientific paper – here is the place to write your “discussion” section. With your permission – I will skip straight to the “conclusion” part …

I love my pepper confetti !!! They just made this dish look so joyful !!!

The Belini themselves were just little pillows of pure joy – and the combination of eggplants & roasted peppers was a great match !!!

Great start for my journey – not too complex – yet very rewarding. After enjoying the platted dishes – we kept eating those little Blinis with everything found in the fridge (Gorgonzola/Artichokes/Cream Cheese) – everything worked.

Will definitely make those little Blinis again !!!

The Tale of the TBD Musketeers

This tale starts with a bored lady (that would be me) …

Unlike what history books might tell you – and against all common sense – boredom is the fuel behind any human celebrated triumph or mourned disaster. As hilarious as this idea may sound – boredom runs the world !!!

The year was 2013, my kids finished their metamorphose from needy babies to much needier but self-occupying, self-minded, self-centered beings … Working as a freelance from home – loyal to my decision not to make work the center of my life … I got bored – so very bored.

My shelves bowed under the load of countless cookbooks packed with mouthwatering recipes, books I would open daily to read, but never used for cooking.

I was cooking meat balls, schnitzel and pasta over and over and over … kids food, efficient food …

It was time to act – turn the dream of actually cooking those restaurant dishes into reality.

Boredom and Passion – a match made in heaven !!!

All recipes in those cookbooks shared a few characteristics: lengthy list of rare ingredients, lengthy list of dish components, lengthy list of instruction for each component, lengthy list of pots and pans to be used, long preparation time …

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No wonder it took so long before I shouted Eureka …

I needed some extra hands (and an urgent pedicure as above picture discloses) – actually, many extra hands !!!

This was a classic social media “no worries” challenge …

Opened my Facebook and wrote my very first post :
“I would like to assemble a group of passionate cooks (real one – not virtual) .
Not every day cooking but rather cooking based on cookbooks published by the best world restaurants and chefs (who mentioned Thomas Keller ?) …
Cooking that involves an endless list of ingredients, multi layers, multi tasks, piles of dishes to wash.
I’m looking for people who want to join me – people that will rise to the challenge of sourcing weird ingredients like pea shoots … ”

I admit I did not see that one coming :

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Those damn pea shoots scared everyone to death … or was it the piles of dishes …

Plan B – head hunting …
I prepared a well-organized list of every friend/colleague that I though might be interested to join. Educated by my first recruiting experience – I set the entry level criteria as low as the dead sea level. Even a short cafeteria conversion mentioning an omelette was considered as a valid entry ticket.

Then I started sending personal messages to the listed subjects …

You would not believe the range of excuses people will use to avoid washing dishes !!! Kids were the shield armor of most … others used humility and some wanted to “first see what you guys cook” before they take such a life changing commitment …

Luckily enough – I did get four Yes !!!

And honest to god – it was like winning a lottery ticket !!!

My four Musketeers were the best team members I could have asked for. Over the time TBD was active – they proved to be great cooks, great wine drinkers – and most importantly – the very best company !!!

The next step of the project was handling our group’s PR  – there was no way we were going to work so hard without earning our friends admiration. What’s a cooking group without its fans ?

When opening our group’s Facebook page – I could not come up with any “catchy yet descriptive – short yet roles on your tongue – sophisticated yet self-explanatory – outsmart yet not annoying” name … so I did what every Hi-Tech warrior is trained to do … named it TBD.

TBD (to be defined) is our secret weapon – like a ninja sword it defeats any cross department dispute … sprinkle it like magic powder on your documents to save writing time … use it to bury tasks … use it to stop endless arguments … use it to avoid talking to people you dislike … use it to get into agreement with people you do like … use it to avoid the challenge of finding  free time in your colleges calendars … just USE IT !!!

TBDs have only one iron-rule – they remain TBDs from “cradle to the grave” – no TBD will be actually defined … NOT EVER

Identity challenged sections\bullets\tasks occupy a large part of any organizational documentation portal – silent witnesses for generations of well trained personal fighting their way through the mouse race.

So, TBD we are – till this very day !!!

eggclub

 

Challenged by our successful social media exposure – our spouses decided to create their own club – football and beer – featuring “Weihenstephaner Filled Eggs” as their signature dish.

 

 

Then we started cooking.

Dough started turning into Agnolotti …

Before each meetup we would go over our cookbooks (Ok – I admit – we focused on The French Laundry by Thomas Keller – and yes – I was responsible) – chose recipes for a full four course meal (canape – entry – main dish – dessert).
We broke up each recipe to its endless list of preparations – divided them between us to be prepared before the due date.

Meetups were hosted each time at another castle. We would cook the final stage of each dish together – set the table – serve – take countless photos – eat … and then get up to prepare the next dish.

My dream came true … Not only we managed to prepare those complex dishes – we actually managed to have a four-course meal of restaurant quality dishes.

Team work – never underestimate it !!!

We managed to transform those guys – into that … (swearing we will never ever do that again) …

Made canapes …

 

Main Dishes …

Sweet treats …

Food was great – wine was great – company was outstanding !!!

And then we stopped meeting …

It became hard to coordinate the dates … One Musketeer got relocated to a foreign country … Work pressure … Kids pressure …

Our WhatsApp group is still active – we keep sending photos of our latest masterpieces – and we keep trying to schedule and meet again.  We will – I’m sure of it !!!

Love you all TBD Musketeers – Unus pro omnibus, omnes pro uno !!!

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