Thursday, April 21, 2011

Braised Pot Roast with Fennel Seeds

Even with Passover underway and Easter on the doorstep, the weather here has been cold enough (with one exception which I don't even want to discuss) for one last braising hurrah.

And this one is a doozy, wherein I learn, once again, that less actually can be more.

I didn't have any stock in the freezer so I wasn't sure what to use for the braising liquid for this pot roast. I did, however, have some leftover canned tomatoes in the refrigerator and I wasn't going to be making any pizza soon, so I decided I could puree that up with my handy dandy stick blender and braise the pot roast and root vegetables in that.

I wasn't sure how to season it and I was feeling a little lazy, so I decided to just throw some fennels seeds into the oil before adding the vegetables and call it a day. With a couple of bay leaves, salt, and pepper, it was delicious. The brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce and apple cider vinegar both sweetened and kicked up the flavor.

I decided to try my hand at dumplings and used a recipe from the Settlement Cookbook and they were ok, but nothing special. And of course this would be delicious with any of the usual side suspects - mashed potatoes, polenta, rice, or noodles.

If you have any cool temperatures left this season, I strongly recommend you make this dish. If not, save it and pull it out at the first sign of autumn chill. You won't regret it.

How do I know? I've already made it again twice.

This is the kind of recipe to use as a guideline. Don't have red onion and a shallot or two? I didn't have anything else so that's why I used them. I have also used leeks and regular onion and they all worked out perfectly. The same goes for the root vegetables - parsnips would probably be good, or beets, and potatoes would be especially nice.

You don't even need the meat. The last time I made this I had a rutabaga, fennel, sweet potato, and beets that all needed to be used pronto. I also added caraway seeds in a flash of inspiration which turned out to be a brilliant idea. I braised them up and then made soup, which I am eating right now for lunch. Perfection.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes


2-1/2 to 3 lb chuck shoulder roast
Garlic powder
2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)
1/4 red onion, roughly chopped
2 shallots, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, cut on the diagonal 1/4-inch wide
1 celery rib, roughly chopped
1 medium to large rutabaga, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
1 large fennel, cored and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 cups tomato puree
2 cups water (or vegetable broth)
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1-2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425 deg. F.

Place roast on an aluminum-lined rimmed baking sheet and season liberally with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika. Place in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the top is browned. Turn the
roast over and season the other side with salt, peper, garlic powder and paprika. Return to the oven and cook another 5 to 10 minutes, until that side is also browned. Remove from the oven and lower the heat to 325 deg. F.

While the meat is browning, heat the oil in a dutch oven large enough to hold the meat over medium-high heat. Add the onions and shallots and let them cook, stirring frequently, until just softened. Add the garlic, carrots and celery and cook another 5 minutes, still stirring frequently. Add the rutabaga and cook for another 5 minutes. Add the toasted fennel seeds and cook for 2 minutes more.

Nestle the meat into the vegetables. Add the tomato puree, water, Worcestershire sauce, brown subar, and apple cider vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a boil and then cover tightly. Remove from the stove and place in the 325-degree oven.

Cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the vegetables are soft and the meat is falling from the bone. Remove the meat from the dutch oven and continue to cook the remaining liquid, if necessary, until it reaches the
desired thickness.

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Monday, April 18, 2011

Matzoh Brei (Fried Matzoh)

Passover begins at sundown tonight. While I no longer celebrate it, I have many fond memories of Passover seders from my childhood. Unfortunately, the food is not one of them.

Except that, in a way, it is. My mother, never the most enthusiastic of cooks, happened to make the best matzoh ball soup I have had to date, and my father made a mean chopped liver, which is one of the few dishes that is actually better to me with matzoh than with regular bread (challah being a close second). The charoset, sweetened with concord grape wine and honey, was always welcome. And I was one of those rare childs who actually liked gefilte fish, especially when paired with a robust nostril-clearing horseradish. (And thanks to this link, I know that is because of my Lithuanian heritage on my father's side.)

But the rest of the meal was somewhat pedestrian and a little bland. The roast chicken was adequate, the frozen broccoli was usually overcooked, the matzoh stuffing was a far, disappointing cry from the Pepperidge Farms stuffing that accompanied our Thanksgiving and Christmas (yes, I get the irony) turkeys. And the sponge cake with either whipped cream and strawberries or chocolate sauce? Only good because it was the only dessert we were going to get, unless we wanted to eat the stale chocolate-covered coconut Passover macaroons our Great Aunt Hansi (who was neither great nor an aunt, but that's a different story) brought to the seder every year. Like the ubiquitous Christmas fruitcake, it might even have been the same box. Passover chocolate is not the best chocolate, but when it is covering the dreaded shredded coconut, it is awful. And yet, every year I would take one and take a gingerly bite, hoping against hope that it had somehow miraculously turned into a Snicker's bar but, alas, no such luck.

And the week would get progressively worse. There is only so much matzoh and butter or matzoh and peanut butter a schoolchild can tolerate at lunchtime. And tuna or chicken salad and matzoh sandwiches leave a lot to be desired. So, much as I actually did enjoy the seder, not to mention the four glasses of concord wine we were allowed - nay, required - to drink, the rest of the week dragged. Especially if Easter happened to fall during Passover, because my all-time favorite sandwich in the world was an egg salad sandwich, and my mother only made them on special occasions, and after we had gathered the 3 or 4 dozen dyed hard-boiled eggs the easter bunny had hidden all around our yard on Easter Sunday. Normally, that meant egg salad sandwiches for a week! Sometimes, though, it meant egg salad matzoh sandwiches, which was always such a disappointment to me because I knew it might well be a year before I would see egg salad again.

But I digress. And there was one other dish that made it much easier to give up bread for the duration. And that was my father's fried matzoh, or matzoh brei as I have come to learn it is called.

Matzoh brei is basically a version of french toast that uses matzoh instead of bread. You take the matzoh, break it into pieces, pour boiling water over it over a colander, coat it with an egg mixture, and fry it in butter or oil until the egg sets.

I used to love to watch my father break up the matzoh and run it under the faucet, then mix it up with the eggs and cook it over a low heat in the same electric skillet in which he worked such wonderful hash brown magic. When it was done, we would eat it with strawberry jam or apple jelly, and it was delicious with either. For some reason, it did not go well with syrup. Believe me, I tried. I think strawberry jam was my favorite, although these days my jam of choice is apricot or cherry.

As with my father's hash browns, I had trouble replicating his skill the times I tried to make fried matzoh in the past. Mostly, I think, it is because I did not have a recipe and just tried to follow what I remembered him doing back when I was a child. It always came out ok, but the matzoh was either too hard or too soggy. I could not find that perfect balance of water and egg to get the soft-on-the-inside crunchy-on-the-outside perfection.

I don't know when it occurred to me to look for the recipe in The Settlement Cookbook or why it hadn't occurred to me earlier, but look I did, and there I found the recipe.

It turns out that the secret is boiling water. Who knew? After the water has been poured and drained, you fold the matzoh into the egg mixture, then cook it in a large skillet.

The secret is that you cook it over a low heat and do not touch it for a while. Like Dad's hash browns, this dish does require some patience. Of course, it doesn't take nearly as long, but the lower the heat and, therefore, the cooking time, the softer the matzoh gets without getting soggy.

Matzoh brei is the only Passover dish I would have gladly eaten all year long. If you are looking for something special to get you through the breadless holiday, try this. As with other breakfast goodies, it can also make a delicious dinner.

If you are not Jewish or do not celebrate Passover, I would still recommend that you try it. It's quite delicious.
Home Cookin Chapter: Untried Recipes


Makes 4 servings

3 matzoh
3 whole eggs
4 Tbsp fat or oil

Break matzoh in small pieces in a colander. Pour boiling water through them; drain quickly. They should be moist but not soggy.

Beat eggs well, fold the matzoh in lightly. Add salt to taste.

Heat the fat in the skillet, add the egg mixture. Cook slowly, stirring from the bottom as the egg sets. Continue to cook gently until the eggs are set.

The Settlement Cookbook, Third Edition/Newly Revised (Simon & Schuster, 1976)

Exported from Home Cookin 6.46 (

Friday, April 15, 2011

He Gives Food a Good Name

I've never been a fan of Jon Bon Jovi, althought I have grudgingly had to admit that the man can act.

And now he's given an entirely new meaning to celebrity restaurant.

That's the kind of celebrity restaurant I would consider visiting.

I'd love to say that I thought of that title all by myself, but I got it from someone in the comments.

Photo from FishbowlDC

Friday, April 08, 2011

Baking Class: Pizza Blanca with Asparagus

My pizzas just keep getting better, if I do say so myself. Now that I have the method down I am not making them so often, and when I do make them, I am looking for something different from the usual tomato, garlic, olives-plus that I make most often. My forays into different styles have had mixed results, in particular my attempts at a white pizza. It has been hard for me to find the right sauce to use, and then to use the right amount of it.

Two things made this pizza the best of my non-traditional varieties. One is the way I made the dough; the other is the white sauce.

Let's start with the dough. The picture doesn't even begin to do justice to how soft and smooth it was after rising. I could not get the thought of babies' bottoms out of my mind as I admired this before turning it out to make the pizza. I think I might have even kissed it (is that so wrong?). It was smooth and shiny and I could tell just by looking at it that it was going to be the smoothest dough I've ever made.

And it was. It had a more dense, crispier texture than my usual crusts, without being as hard. All this time I thought it was the white whole wheat flour that was making my pizzas on the stiff side, but I think it might be how I was making it.

What made the difference this time was that I paid much more attention to how much bench flour I was adding as I was kneading the dough. I don't like to have a lot of mucky stuff on my hands, and wet dough definitely falls into that category, so I have a tendency to keep adding flour until the dough does not stick to the palms of my hands at all. This time, I monitored it closely and stopped adding flour as soon as it stopped clumping onto my palms. It's a fine distinction, but the best way I can describe it is that if I move my hands quickly enough, then I can get free of the dough without it sticking, but if I move them more slowly it will stick. As soon as I reached this stage, I stopped, whereas in the past I would have kept adding more flour until it didn't matter how fast or slowly I kneaded the dough, nothing would stick.

And that, I think, is what made this dough so good.

What made the pizza so good was the sauce. I started with a basic white sauce and added a few items that were subtle in and of themselves, but enhanced the overall flavor. And they were simple ingredients - onions and fennel seeds. I sauteed them in olive oil before adding the roux and then took it from there.

The result was most satisfactory. I think I have finally nailed the white-sauce pizza with this one. It was not too saucy, not too dry, and the fennel seeds gave it a bright burst of flavor without being overpowering. It worked beautifully with the asparagus I had on hand (In season! Yay!), but it would work just as well with any vegetable.

To make the pizza, spread the white sauce over the dough. Add a light layer of mozzarella cheese, then spread out the asparagus, or whatever vegetable(s) you are using. I also added minced garlic, of course. After that comes a light sprinkling of Parmagiano Reggiano. Bake at 475 deg. F. for 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and cheese is bubbling.

For my latest go-to pizza crust go here. If you're new to roux, here's the recipe for the white sauce.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes about 1 cup

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds
1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 Tbsp all purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

Heat oil in medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add fennel seeds and cook for 1 or 2 minutes until browned, but do not let them burn. Add onion and cook for another minute or two, until it is

Add flour and stir well to coat the onion and fennel seeds. Cook for 2 minutes but do not let it brown. Add the milk, stirring constantly to prevent lumps. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Without raising the heat, let the sauce come to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until the sauce has thickened and coats the back of a spoon (run your finger through the sauce, and it should stay on the spoon on either side of the "line" you have created).

If sauce gets too thick, add milk in small increments to make it thinner.


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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Oboy Obol

Is it just me, or does this seem a little silly?

Do watch the video. Because, you know, everyone gets those urges in the middle of eating a bowl of cereal.

Photo taken from

Monday, April 04, 2011

Recall of the Week: Jennie-O Ground Turkey

I have been going back and forth over whether or not it is feasible to have a "Recall of the Week" series.

I mean, it's not likely that there could be that many recalls, right?


I wonder how long it will be before these recalls are seen as just the nature of how we do business in this day and age. Or has that already happened?

Photo from Minnesota Public Radio's website

Baking Class: Soft Molasses Cookies

Before I took on the challenge of ginger snaps, I took a stab at re-creating one of my favorite cookies, Archway's molasses cookies, which I love, but will no longer buy, and would not buy even if they hadn't perverted that beautiful round shape with those stupid petals. They were soft and spicy and, other than the Dutch Windmills of which I have fond childhood memories (and which, the last time I tasted them several years ago, were nothing like my memory), the only Archway cookie that I would buy.

The last time I went looking for them I could not find them, nor could I find any Archway cookies on the shelf. A quick internet search confirmed that they had, indeed, closed in 2008. I was mildly disappointed, but was already not buying very many processed foods so it was not a terrible loss. I later discovered that Lance was buying the company so the brand was revived, but by then I was to the point where I basically could not put anything in my shopping cart that had HFCS, transfats, or chemicals in it.

So I decided that it might be interesting to see if I could find a recipe.

I found two recipes, both in Nick Malgieri's Cookies Unlimited. I have found the recipes in this book to be hit and miss, and this experience kind of highlights that. The first recipe was sounded like it might be the recipe for which I was searching, but it turned out to be a disappointment. The cookies, pictured left, were hard and smooth and tasted more of flour than molasses. I had not yet found my molasses cookie.

There was also a soft molasses cookie recipe in Malgieri's book, so I decided to try that. The result, pictured above, was also disappointing to me when I pulled them out of the oven. They were too soft, and too puffy, and had a cake-like texture and they also didn't have much of a flavor outside of flour. But I liked them well enough to take them to work and let the guinea pigs my co-workers taste them.

And to my surprise, everyone liked them. Some liked the ginger snaps much better, but there were a few who actually preferred these. And I must say, like gingerbread, after a few days they tasted much better. The texture got a little heavier and the molasses flavor got stronger.

There was one more recipe I had earmarked to try, from Tish Boyle's The Good Cookie, but when I read it over I realized it was basically a ginger snap. So I think I will let go of the search for the perfect molasses cookie (it was probably the chemicals and preservatives that made it so soft and chewy anyway) and go with the ginger snaps when I want a crispy, crunchy snap, and the soft molasses cookies when I want something a little softer.

I have not been the biggest fan of Cookies Unlimited, especially when measured against The Good Cookie, but in all fairness I should say that I have found some good recipes, that I will make again. This is one of them.
Home Cookin Chapter: Cookies


Makes 40 cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
3/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup hot water

Set two cooking racks in the top and bottom parts of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 deg. F.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a large bowl and whisk together until completely blended.

In a different bowl, using cream together the butter and the sugar. You can use a stand mixer, a hand mixer, or good old elbow grease to do this. Add the egg and beat until the mixture is smooth, then add the molasses and beat that into the mix.

Add the dry ingredients and the hot water, alternating half of the flour mixture, then the water, and then the rest of the flour mixture, using a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl between the hot
water and the rest of the dry ingredients. Make sure the dough is well mixed.

Drop the dough by tablespoons onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, keeping them 3 inches apart from each other. Bake them for 12 to 15 minutes, until they have risen and are firm. Slide
the paper onto a rack to let them cool and then take the cookies off of the parchment paper.

from Cookies Unlimited, by Nick Malgieri (HarperCollins, 2000

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