Best. Matseh Klays. [Thus Far]

Some people call them kneydlakh  … but in my family, my parents always referred to Matzoh balls as “Matseh Klays (Matzah Kleis)”. Some like them small and floaty, others like them huge and heavy. One of the strongest food memories of my childhood was going to 21 Restaurant in Double Bay in the 1970s, having my cheeks squeezed by the owner Janczi, receiving a packet of chewing gum, and waiting for my father to order Matzah Ball soup.

Back to the present:  I have been experimenting with recipes for matseh klays for some years now.  As a novice, I started using the instant Osem brand of Matza balls.  They are extremely consistent, but fairly bland in character.  And having made them, I figured out that it was probably just as easy to make from scratch.

First rule: I use coarse matseh meal. Fine matseh meal will produce a much more dense dumpling, if that’s what you want (bleh).  Vary the meal (coarse+fine) if you like.  I prefer Snider’s coarse matseh meal, but the Australian Solomons brand is just fine.

Second rule: separate the eggs, and beat the whites to stiff peaks. This will give you a  lightness to the dumplings, even if you want the heavy sinker types. Oh, and use the BEST eggs you can possibly get. Free range, organic, biodynamic – this will make a huge difference to the taste.

Third rule: you may add any spices that you like … but the most traditional besides the regular salt and pepper is ground (powdered) ginger.  I used white pepper this time instead of black, and also grated in some nutmeg.  Finely chopped fresh parsley is often added.

Fourth rule: you need to add a fat to bind them more thoroughly. Shmalts (chicken fat) is traditional); but olive oil is perfectly acceptable. You can fry a chopped onion in either, and add that to the mixture if you like.  I didn’t add the onions this time, but I did add a slug of oil. I think it gives a lighter feel to the dumplings than shmalts.

Fifth and most important rule: after having beaten the whites until stiff, you beat the yolks lightly with the spices, and then fold together with a large metal spoon. Then add the matseh meal, and mix extremely sparingly (i.e. only barely combine).  Put the mixture into the fridge, and let it rest for 30 minutes minimum.

Sixth rule: boil a light stock (using powder will be fine); when it comes to a rolling boil, take the mixture out of the fridge, wet your hands, and form the balls into the size of a 20c piece (US – size of a quarter; UK – size of a 50p coin). Drop them straight into the stock, turn the flame down.  Roll the dumplings around so they absorb the stock evenly. They will take 30 minutes to cook.

Once the klays have been made, they can be refridgerated and then heated in the boiling chicken soup (goldene yoykh) before being served.  Klays take up a lot of liquid in the initial stage, so if you have an excess of stock then by all means, use that during the initial stage … but if not, instant stock will do just as well.  It won’t take long to reheat the klays in the fresh stock.

Special credits and thanks to the great Claudia Roden, upon whose recipe I based my own matseh klays (Roden uses the term kneydlakh). Her work, “The Book of Jewish Food” (Penguin, 1996) is one of the greatest cultural resources: a comprehensive history of the Jewish diaspora as well as a superb cooking book.

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Risk it for the Brisket

Okay, I don’t usually blog about meat-based recipes, because my partner A and I have a mostly vegetarian or fish-based diet, supplemented by the occasional free range chook (that’s chicken in Australian).  But on Pesakh (Passover) I usually become a bit of a backslider, and cook a brisket for 1st and 2nd night Seder.  It’s probably the most traditional Passover meat to eat in Ashkenaz households. This year’s brisket worked rather well.  I had about a 6 lb. piece (about 2.5kg), and started at about 9:30am on Erev Pesakh by rubbing the meat with a dry herb rub: chinese five-spice powder, a spice rub from Tasmania which included ginseng and bush pepper, some olive oil to bind and a bit of golden syrup.  Then after leaving it to rest for about 20 minutes, I sealed the brisket in our outdoor barbeque.  Brisket is a cut of meat that barbeque devotees in the United States consider very highly, but here in Australia we don’t tend to use it in the same way. Butchers usually chop it up for stewing meat.

 

Having sealed the meat all over, I brought it back inside and added more eastern spices: whole cinnamon sticks, star anise, some grated nutmeg and some green (spring) onions. Then I added root vegetables: carrots, fennel (instead of celery – I hate celery), red sweet potato (kumera), spanish (red) onions.  I also added about a punnet of baby tomatoes.               After this, I made up a weak stock with some kosher stock powder; then also added about half a bottle of red wine, and a bit more salt and pepper.  I covered with tin-foil,  and put it in a slow oven (140°) for 2 hours.  Then I turned the oven fan on, and baked for another 1.5 hours.  Finally I took the cover off and cooked it for a final 30 minutes. I took the meat out to rest in silver foil.

 

 

 

 

I also removed the vegetables carefully, and put them in a roasting pan along with par-boiled Dutch Cream potatoes (a particularly good roasting spud) that had been roughed up, tossed with olive oil and salt, and some thin cut parsnip pieces.  The vegetables would go in later to crisp up, and they were a treat!

 

Meanwhile, we had this enormous amount of really fine braising stock at the bottom of the pan … what to do?  Well, I decided to put it on the heat and just reduce it to about one quarter of its original volume.  You can’t use thickening agents on Passover except matzo meal, and it’s pretty yuk to use in such circumstances. The reducing method worked a treat.  The sauce was like a classic demi-glace, without all the irritation and labour of preparation.  And the proof of the pudding was in the eating – it was, beyond doubt, the best brisket I had ever cooked.  You could taste the spices in all their complexity, thanks to the sauce.  All this goes to prove that sometimes, you really need to risk it for the brisket.

p.s.  If you want to see les décorations séduisante and A’s haute couture for the evening, visit his blog:

http://ratherbeinthefrontrow.wordpress.com/2012/04/07/passover-2012-one-for-the-books/

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Vows

For the month of April 2012, I made two temporary vows: to suspend my Facebook account and to give up alcohol for the duration of the month.  The latter, I suspect, was more symbolic than anything else; I do indulge a little too much on the weekends, and although I know that the absence of alcohol will probably help shed a few pounds, the induced abstinence resonates more with the idea of making a vow. I will write a separate post about breaking the Facebook addiction in the coming days.

Vows can be dangerous things to undertake. Witness the stupidity and eagerness for victory that accompanies undiluted vows from early Hebrew literature: in the Book of Judges, Yiftakh  (Jephthah/Jefthe) vows that he will offer a burnt sacrifice of the first thing that greets him at his gate, should his battle against Ammonites be a success. Foolishly assuming that this would be some sort of animal, he is horrified when his daughter (his only child, Yiftakh’s daughter is only apocryphally known by the name Adah – in most accounts she is nameless) comes out to celebrate his triumph.  Over the centuries the Rabbis have had many arguments as to what happened next – whether Yiftakh did, indeed, offer her as a sacrifice (against all Jewish tradition), or whether his daughter gave up a life of worldly concerns, and became a religious devotee (a prototype of the monk or nun). Before she either dies or goes into reclusion, she is given two months to farewell the world. The Italian composer from the early Baroque period, Giacomo Carrissimi, wrote a magnificent setting for that moment of the story, in his oratorio “Jephthe”. The composition is replete with lush suspensions in the very best late Renaissance, early Baroque style. Here’s a great recording, sung by The Gabrieli Consort under the direction of Paul McCreesh:

I guess that even though vows can be dangerous, they can also inspire great beauty …

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Who are they … Where are they … What happened?

They are my great-grandfather’s siblings … photos taken in either the late 19th or early 20th centuries.  According to my grandfather’s cousin Fruma Ber, my great-grandfather Yitzhak Isaac Toltz was born in the town of Vidzy, now in Belarus, but formerly a shtetl (village) in Lithuania.  According to another cousin, he was born in the larger city of Kaunas. Unlike the other parts of my family tree on my father’s side (some tracing back as far as 18th century Poland), information on the Toltz side only begins with Yitzhak and his siblings. There are no records of the surname Toltz in Vidzy in Sefer Vidz, the Yizkor Bukh(Memorial Book) of the town, published in Israel in 1998. There are, however, people with the surname Shtolz who lived in the area. Here are the pictures. The first set is of my great-grandfather’s brother Smuel (Shmuel) Toltz:

Smuel's army picture

Another featured picture of Smuel in army uniform

A close-up picture of "Smuel", but more likely Sholom.

 

 

 

 

The last picture above (a close-up picture of Smuel) does not resemble the other pictures. All the names were labelled on the back of the photographs, and it seems that the last picture above is actually of Smuel’s brother Sholom Toltz.  Below is a picture of the two brothers in uniform, and also a picture of Sholom and his wife, taken in Paris in 1933. Perhaps they both survived the war?  Sholom looks distinctly like my great-grandfather Yitzhak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next picture is of Shlomo Toltz, who migrated to Czechoslovakia sometime after my great-grandfather left for England. These are an unusual set of pictures – mostly family shots, in a distinctly rural environment.

Slomo and his family, in a formally posed photograph

Slomo and his mother, or mother-in-law

A less formal shot of Slomo at the family property.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last pictures are of Yitzhak’s sister Sorrel, along with a picture of an unknown baby, a possible picture of Slomo (here written as Shleima) in his army uniform, and another unknown adult family member.

Sister Sorrel on the left

Unknown infant

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Raie Rosenberg’s Egg Salad

“So, you vant to know how to mek Ek Seled?”

Some years ago a group of friends (known by the arcane name of “the Mordies”) initiated our own Pesakh Seder – held usually between 2nd and 5th night. It was based on a traditional Seder, with some fairly queer sensibility thrown into the mix. As well as the usual fare, egg salad was de rigeur for all others sitting around the table, but not for me!

Oy – let me explain something about our regular fare at Pesakh.  Pesakh (Passover) in our family involves the formal food of the Seder (hard boiled eggs, salt water, green vegetable like parsley or rocket, horseradish, matza) and then elements of the traditional Ashkenaz meal.  We begin with gehakte leber (chopped chicken liver with onions) and gehakte beytse (chopped egg and onions) to accompany the extra matza.  Then we have goldene yoykh mit kneydlekh (clear chicken soup with matza balls).  We avoid gefilte fish.  After this is the main meal: usually roast chicken or brisket, roast vegetables, salad, etc.  And then a pareve dessert – usually a fruit based dessert.

So how is egg salad different to chopped egg and onions, and what makes this egg salad different from all other egg salads?  In the context of our family, my mother doesn’t like it very much – I don’t know whether it’s the onion, or the mayonnaise, or something else.  So she just minced eggs with spring (green) onions, and that was it.  Fairly simple.

HOWEVER: this egg salad, brought by Sue-Ellen Rosenberg, has particularly special meaning. First, it’s pretty much the nicest one I’ve ever eaten. Second, it has yikhes (lineage) – passed to Sue-Ellen from her mum Raie.  Third, it reminds me of those special Seders. So here is Raie’s recipe as interpreted by me, with extra input from Sue-Ellen’s great instructions.

Ingredients:

  • 12-18 eggs (I used 15)
  • Good quality mayonnaise (I made my own quirky one with egg yolks, tarragon mustard, lemon juice, rice bran oil, salt and fennel fronds, but you can buy a good quality whole-egg commercial variety – at Passover time I would replace the rice bran oil with a light olive or sunflower oil)
  • 1 spanish (red) onion
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • Sea salt

 

Sue Ellen’s instructions: Boil the eggs.. Not too long.. You don’t want them to turn grey. Like 8 to ten minutes.  Mum used to go off at me if I did and she would force me to work with soft eggs. Once she made me do this with two dozen eggs and it was a nightmare! Soft eggs…. Urggggghhhh

My input: I used this method to boil the eggs – it was perfect!  Use this link below:

http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_perfect_hard_boiled_eggs/

 

Sue Ellen continues: Finely chop spring onions by hand.
Chop Spanish onions finely in magimix and squeeze out excess moisture with your hands. Fun!  I always leave this step out. It’s entirely up to you.

   

My comment: I did this – actually it was a very good addition.  A helluva lot of moisture comes out of the Spanish onions when you squeeze them – see pic 2 and pic 3 above.

Sue Ellen continues: Chop eggs in your magimix too. I don’t have one so I use an egg slicer and mash with the fork. I think you get a better texture that way to be honest. My comment: I would agree about texture – the hand-chopped is better, but the magimix does a serviceable (albeit a bit uniform) job.

Sue Ellen: Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Add mayo and fold in. Avoid too much stirring. Mum used to go spack at me if I did, so it has stuck in my head! Season with sea salt and garnish with some more spring onions. Dead easy … The worst part is peeling the eggs really!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that is it.  Simple things are almost ALWAYS the best.  And I used this on sandwiches for my niece’s 1st birthday party today.  Within 5 minutes they were all gone.  You snooze … you lose.

 

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Zucchini and Corn Fritters

“Zucchini Fritters.  THEY’RE vegetarian. You know how to cook them.”

That was the pronouncement from my mother when we were discussing the celebratory lunch to be held at my aunt’s house, just after my graduation.  The truth was, I had never cooked zucchini fritters.  Corn fritters, yes, but not zucchini ones.  Moreover, mum cannot eat gluten, so this needed to be taken into account.

Cooking for vegetarians and also for those intolerant to gluten may appear to be a challenge on paper, but really there are many options available if one thinks outside the box.  This time, I based my recipe on a classic fritter from Bill Granger’s first cookbook, but changed fundamental ingredients, and added flavourings.  These would be delicious with sour cream or by themselves, and served as a de-facto latke around Chanukah time.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1.5 cups rice flour
  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 2 heaped teaspoons Spanish paprika (the good hot stuff, from the tin)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 80g Pecorino Romano
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • Kernels removed from two fresh cobs of corn
  • 6 zucchinis, grated
  • 4 spring onions, chopped finely

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the flours, baking powder, celery salt, paprika, cumin and sugar together.

Beat eggs until they emulsify, and add milk.  Make a well in the middle of the large mixing bowl, and gradually pour in the wet egg/milk mixture.  Beat well, making sure that there are no visible lumps.  The batter should look like it is holding together fairly well – somewhat like pancake batter.

Place corn, spring onions, pecorino cheese and zucchini in a large bowl, and stir well so that there is an even distribution.  Pour the batter into the dry mixture, and stir.

Heat some light olive oil in a frypan on medium-high heat, and add a large spoonful of the vegetable batter mixture.  Depending on the size of your frypan, you should be able to cook 4-5 at a time.  Cook until the underside of each fritter is golden (basically, cook until it is cooked – about 2-3 minutes per side).  Flip and repeat.  Drain on a paper towel, and keep in a warm place until the entire batch is done.

I think this made a huge amount of fritters … something in the order of 35.  But they were all eaten fairly rapidly!

 

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A spring vegetarian risotto

It’s been a while since my last post – what can I say?  Life takes over sometimes …

Anyway, my English family is in town to celebrate the conferral of my PhD, and my brother-in-law is vegetarian.  We eat mostly vegetarian these days, but I thought I would invent a new risotto recipe in his honour, so here it is, step-by-step.  It is based on the classic Milanese recipe as espoused by the inimitable Stephanie Alexander, but with enough significant alterations for me to claim originality.  Here’s a step-by-step guide for making it, and indeed, making any risotto.  You can replace the spring vegetables listed with anything else.  Just make sure you use complementary flavours.  A list of suggested variations are at the end of the post.

Ingredients:

  • 1 large lemon, zested and juiced
  • A few strands saffron (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon of tarragon, finely chopped
  • 90g best-quality parmesan, grated finely
  • 1.5L good quality vegetable stock (you can make this if you have time)
  • 2 small onions, finely diced
  • 2 x 60g of butter, splash of olive oil
  • 600g carnaroli rice (believe me, buy the carnaroli – it’s so much better than arborio)
  • 1/2 cup vermouth (I use Noilly Prat, but you can use white wine if you wish)
  • 200g shelled peas (frozen are acceptable, fresh are better)
  • 1 packet samphire (sea asparagus), if available
  • 2 bunches asparagus
  • Freshly milled black pepper

First, zest and juice your lemon(s), and then steep the tarragon and/or saffron in the liquid:

Place your stock in a separate pot close to your risotto pot, and heat slowly.  I used a very good quality commercial stock because I ran out of time.  If I was making a classic risotto, I would use home made chicken stock, and in the past I have made my own vegetable stock.  This time it was a bit of a compromise.  Avoid using a tetra-pack stock unless you know it is of exceptional quality.  You get what you pay for.  The stock must be hot, but don’t let it boil.

Then heat the first 60g butter in a pan slowly with a splash of olive oil (the latter will stop the butter going brown too quickly).  Throw the onions in and fry gently – do not let them colour, as this will carry through the entire dish and make it bitter:

After the onions have softened and turned translucent, throw the rice in, turn the mixture to coat all the rice in the buttery-oily goodness, and keep turning until the rice is toasted, or as the Italians say, ‘until it screams’.  You will hear the sizzle and see a slight change in the colour – it’s not dramatic, and for goodness sake do NOT burn it!

Once the rice is at this point, turn up the heat to absolute highest point and add the vermouth.  You will want it to evaporate as quickly as possible, and burn off all alcohol.  Turn the heat down at this stage to the minimum flame.

Okay, now is the boring part – it will take 20 minutes or so, but this is what makes a risotto truly creamy and proper.  Ladle the hot stock into the rice whilst stirring, constantly.  Is your arm tired?  Get your beloved to stir for 5 minutes or so whilst you prepare the vegetables.  In this case, I had a pack of samphire, or sea asparagus, which just needed a wash under cold water.  The land asparagus was snapped off at the ends and then cut into 1.5 inch pieces on the diagonal.  I shelled the peas and added them too.  Here they all are:

Okay, you’ve prepped your vegetables. Meanwhile, your beloved will have incorporated the rest of the stock into the risotto, and it should be looking delicious and creamy now.  If this is the case and the rice is just cooked (a tiny bit of give left in the centre is perfect), then turn the heat off, drop in the butter and parmesan, give a good stir, and let that incorporate into the risotto.  Then add the lemon juice and zest.  Give yourself a good grind of pepper at this stage if you so desire.

The vegetables will need only a modicum of cooking.  Bring a pan of salted water to a rolling boil, drop the vegetables in, bring back to the boil, turn to medium and leave for 3 minutes maximum.  Drain.

Drain the vegetables, and add to the risotto.  Enjoy!

Serves at least 6 people.

 

Alternatives: if you are a vegan, omit the butter and just use olive oil for the frying; and use a vegan cheese instead of Parmesan.  If you are kosher, then you will use kosher Parmesan – this is a milkhig meal, so don’t try and modify it to be pareve – it won’t be as good without the butter.

Other alternative spring vegetables to add could include haricots verts (green beans), mange-touts (sugar-snap peas), and broad beans (I would double peel them).  I will put up other vegetarian risotto recipes in the future.  Enjoy!

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Underneath the cherry tree

Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers, but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms. (Ikkyu Sojun)

The celebration of the cherry tree  in Washington dates as far back as 1905, when the author and Japanophile Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore proposed planting trees on the reclaimed waterfront of the Potomac River (now known as the “Tidal Basin”).  Her vision was realised in 1912, and by 1935 the first Cherry Blossom Festival was held in the American Capital.  Most of the photos here were taken on Friday 25 March, the day before the official opening of the season.  It was a cold day (with the promise of snow on the weekend), and I was eager to avoid the crowds.  I have tried to capture the extraordinary beauty and enigmatic shapes of each branch and flower as much as possible.  First impressions of the hype surrounding the festival (and the crowds) should not put you off going.  The landscape architects and gardeners, and those who conceived of the project and brought it to fruition should be congratulated for creating one of the most beautiful and striking thematic plantings I have ever observed. (The photos at the end of this collection are of cherry trees blossoming in Dupont Circle)

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Spring has sprung …

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where da boidies iz?

Da little boids upon da wing … hey, dat’s absoid.  Da wing’s upon da boid!

Enough of this frivolity: from a beautiful warm beginning, the weather has chilled again just in time for the cherry blossom festival.  (Cherry blossoms will be a separate posting)  Those early flourishes of colour are, nevertheless, beautiful and they awaken a post-chrysalis feeling of joy and excitement, after the quietude of winter.

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Autumn by any other name …

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness,

Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun.

Enough of Mr Keats.  Yes, this is waay overdue – some images from my arrival in DC, when the Fall was almost fallen:

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