Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

March 22nd, 2021

Nana’s Matzo Ball Soup

Passover is coming. I’ll be making my grandmother’s matzo-ball soup this week on Mass Appeal and talking about her on our local public-radio station, New England Public Radio. Here’s the simple recipe, associated with Jewish grandmothers the world over. Happy Spring!

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
2 tablespoons soda water
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup matzo meal
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Instructions:

In a small bowl, beat the eggs. With a balloon whisk, whisk in the parsley, dill, soda water, oil, salt, and pepper. Then stir in the matzo meal. Cover the mixture, and refrigerate it for at least an hour but not more than 6 hours.

Oil your hands, and shape the dough into small balls (about 1/2 inch across). Pop the balls CAREFULLY into salted boiling water.

Simmer the balls, covered, for 25 minutes over medium-low heat. Do not peek at the balls while they are cooking. Drain the matzo balls.

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, covered, and place the balls in it. Simmer, covered, for at least 15 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

Marching into Spring with Maple

March 17th, 2021
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association

We New Englanders love having four varied seasons. (Or five, if you count mud season!) I wouldn’t trade our climate for the monotonous sunshine of California or Florida. Nevertheless, at some point during the winter I begin to find the gray skies, snow, and ice a bit tiresome.

Fortunately, at just about that point every year maple season arrives. We have just entered Massachusetts Maple Month. I love maple syrup. Its viscous sweetness adds flavors to a wide variety of dishes, from salmon teriyaki to maple pudding.

I also love Maple Month because even when there’s snow on the ground I know the sap is starting to move through the trees, signaling that spring is on its way. Maple is the first local agricultural product of our year, and I welcome it.

I recently asked Winton Pitcoff, the coordinator of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association, whether he had any idea what kind of season we can expect this year.

He laughed.

“I like that there’s thing about maple,” he replied. “Nobody asks the tomato growers in March what kind of tomatoes we’re going to have.”

He noted that although it is too early in the season to make firm predictions he is optimistic. The sustained cold temperatures in recent weeks and the snow cover in the woods should help the trees “get some rest and charge up from the sap.”

He added that despite some recent years in which the weather has been less than ideal, the state’s maple farmers have steadily increased their capacity to make syrup. “That’s testimony to the skill of our sugarmakers,” stated Pitcoff.

He noted that this year’s sugaring season will be different from usual because of COVID-19.

Last year, the pandemic hit just as sugaring was gearing up. “It was hard,” he recalled. “It was particularly hard for the sugarhouses that have restaurants. But agriculture doesn’t stop. We still had a very good crop. People sold less during the season but sold a lot over the course of the year.”

People’s increasing reliance on home cooking and desire to support local businesses helped fuel the strong sales of the past year, according to Pitcoff.

This year, sugarhouses will again boil syrup, and maple weekend will take place in some form on March 20 and 21. Some restaurants and farms will be open; others may do curbside pickup and/or make appointments to spread visitors out.

Pitcoff recommended that readers check the association’s website or contact their favorite local sugarmakers to see what is planned as the month progresses.

“Each [sugarhouse] is going to do what they’re most comfortable with,” he told me. “We’re trying!”

Meanwhile, he encourages everyone to continue to support this native agricultural enterprise. “There’s nothing more local and regional than maple syrup in New England,” he enthused.

He suggested that all in the state try to develop new-to-us culinary uses for maple syrup, including adding it to coffee or tea instead of sugar.

I did my part by making maple ice cream. It might seem counterintuitive to make ice cream when the temperatures are still cold, but New Englanders eat ice cream copiously all through the year.

The ice cream is only mildly maple flavored; I didn’t want to make it overly sweet. You may always add a little more syrup. I hope this frozen treat pleases your palate this maple month.

Maple Ice Cream

Ingredients:

1-1/2 cups milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup maple syrup
1-1/2 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 pinch salt

Instructions:

Heat the milk until it is steamy but not boiling. While you are heating it use a separate bowl to whisk together the egg yolks and the syrup until the mixture is thick.

Whisk a bit of the hot milk into the egg mixture. Then whisk more, up to about 1/2 or 3/4 cup.  Whisk the milky egg yolks into the remaining milk. Cook over medium heat until the custard begins to thicken but does not boil (about 2 to 3 minutes on my gas stove).

Remove the custard from the heat and strain it into a heatproof bowl or pot. Cool thoroughly.

When the custard is cold whisk in the cream, vanilla, and salt. Place this mixture in your ice-cream freezer and churn until done. This recipe makes about a quart of ice cream. It’s lovely served with roasted or candied walnuts or pecans on top.

Here I make the ice cream in a video. And I’m also embedding a couple of Saint Patrick’s Day videos for recipes that have appeared previously on this blog, my favorite Irish Soda Bread and my Irish Cheese Fondue.

Enjoy this special day and month!

Tinky Makes Maple Ice Cream

Tinky Makes Irish Soda Bread

Tinky Makes Irish Cheese Fondue

Year of the Ox (or anytime) Dumplings

February 11th, 2021

February may be the shortest month of the year, but it’s long on holidays. When I was in second grade our class performed a short play in which each of us got to talk about one of this month’s special days.

In the next week alone several holidays are coming up: the Chinese New Year, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, and Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday. I don’t have room to celebrate them all in this column so I am focusing on the first. I encourage you to do something for every single one, however.

Tomorrow, February 12 (also Lincoln’s birthday!), marks the start of this year’s Chinese New Year. I love lunar holidays. To those of us who measure out our lives according to the Gregorian calendar, holidays that don’t fall on the same date every year offer a welcome unpredictability.

This lunar new year comes on the second new moon after the winter solstice so it can fall anywhere from late January to late February. This year it’s right in between.

As many readers know, there are 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac. Each is assigned an animal, and the animals repeat in a cycle of 12 years, roughly corresponding to the time it takes Jupiter to orbit the sun. This year will be the year of the ox.

People born in this year (or born 12, 24, 48, or 60 and so on years ago!) will exhibit ox-like characteristics. They will tend to be hard working, dependable, and generally solid.

The Chinese New Year is a time when Chinese families get together. During these reunions family members begin the new year’s celebration, which lasts for more than two weeks, by preparing food together. A special favorite, especially in the north of China, is dumplings.

My dumpling recipe isn’t necessarily authentically Chinese, but it has plenty of Chinese flavor and flavors. I have to admit that I cheated a little; I purchased my dumpling wrappers.

To me dumpling wrappers are like tortillas, something one makes best if one makes them all the time. I have never made them. I hadn’t even made dumplings themselves before starting to work on this article.

I actually strayed further by using store-bought wonton wrappers rather than dumpling wrappers. The wonton wrappers, which like most of the ingredients in the dumplings are available in most supermarkets, are slightly thicker than dumpling wrappers and therefore a little easier to work with.

I hope making and eating the dumplings will give you warm feelings of family and hope for the months to come. Happy Chinese New Year! Here’s to finding something to celebrate every day of the month and every day of the year.

They’re almost ready!

Year of the Ox Dumplings

Ingredients:

for the filling:
1/2 pound ground pork (or ground chicken if you don’t eat pork)
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup finely chopped cabbage (preferably Chinese cabbage, but any cabbage will do in a pinch)
2 scallions (white part only), chopped
1 tablespoon grated carrot
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small finger ginger, minced
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pinch sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

for the dipping sauce:
3 tablespoons soy or tamari
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil or toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon chili oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon minced ginger
1 scallion, chopped (white plus some green)

for assembly:
24 wonton or dumpling wrappers (possibly even more, depending on how big they are)
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
canola or peanut oil as needed for frying

Instructions:

Combine the ingredients for the filling. Refrigerate them while you assemble the other ingredients.

Combine the ingredients for the dipping sauce in a bowl. Set them aside.

For each dumpling, spoon about 1 teaspoon of the filling into the center of a wrapper. Do not overfill your dumplings! Combine the egg and the water.

Use your finger to coat the edges of the wrapper with a bit of the egg mixture. Fold the wrapper in half to cover the filling, and seal carefully with more egg mixture. Put the filled dumplings on a plate or board, and cover them with a damp paper towel.

Pour enough oil into a nonstick skillet to cover the bottom, but barely. Heat the oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add enough dumplings to make 1 layer. (The dumplings should not touch each other in the pan.)

Cook the dumplings until their bottoms begin to brown and then flip them over and brown them lightly on the other side. Reduce the heat to low, add a splash of water (about 1/4 to 1/3 cup). Watch out for sizzling and splattering when the water hits the oil.

Cover the dumplings. Cook for 2-1/2 minutes. Uncover the dumplings and cook them until the liquid has almost disappeared and the bottoms are crispy. Remove them to a serving platter. Repeat with the remaining dumplings. Serve with the dipping sauce.

Makes a lot of dumplings.

I made a video of these to send to Mass Appeal so you can see my technique. (I use the word loosely! I used too much oil in the pan.) I also made my beloved key-lime pie as a Valentine treat on Mass Appeal. Here are those videos:

Tinky Makes Dumplings on Mass Appeal

Tinky Makes Key-Lime Pie for Valentine’s Day

Eating with Joe and Kamala

January 14th, 2021
Courtesy of JoeBiden.com

The White House will become more sophisticated after Wednesday’s inauguration of President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris.

I’m not referring to policy or character here. I have opinions about policy and character, of course, but I leave their analysis to straight-news reporters and pundits. As a food writer, I’m considering the culinary attitudes of Biden and Harris.

Americans have long been fascinated by the foods their presidents eat. When I visited Mount Vernon in Virginia a few years back, I happily came home with a recipe for one of George Washington’s favorite dishes, hoe cakes.

In general, the Trump White House has been characterized by its fast-food-oriented banality.

In their 2017 book Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency, former Trump campaign cronies Corey Lewandowski and David N. Bossie wrote, “On Trump Force One there were four major food groups: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza and Diet Coke.”

Joe Biden is also known for his embrace of humble American food. A caterer who frequently served him when he was vice president characterized the politician’s food leanings as “very Joe-from-Scranton” in the Washington Post.

Nevertheless, Biden’s culinary tastes are a bit more complex than those of his presidential predecessor … or at least more varied.

True to his reputation as a sociable creature, Biden goes beyond the lure of anonymous fast food.

He and his wife often dine at restaurants, where he chats with the staff. “Everybody knows Joe. He’s come here so many, so many, so many times,” the proprietor of the Charcoal Pit in Wilmington, Delaware, told Food and Wine.

Biden is perhaps best known for his love of ice cream. To pay tribute to his ice-cream habit, I offer here a simple recipe for one of his favorite flavors, chocolate chip.

Vice President-to-be Kamala Harris has a richer relationship with food than her new boss. Perhaps this is because she herself cooks, something Biden rarely seems to do.

She tries to prepare dinner every Sunday for her extended family, which includes the stepchildren who famously call her “Momala,” and she and her husband Doug Emhoff have been cooking up a storm during the pandemic.

Harris is a dab hand with roast chicken. True to her international roots, she likes to prepare and consume Indian cuisine. And she can chop an onion like nobody’s business.

To highlight Harris here, I have chosen what may seem like an odd recipe: a tuna melt. There is a story behind the recipe, however.

In April, her senatorial colleague, Mark Warner of Virginia, posted a video of his technique (I use the term loosely) for preparing a tuna melt.

His method was simple and a little sad: blob lots of mayonnaise on two pieces of bread, fork some tuna straight from a can onto one piece, put pre-sliced cheese on the other piece, put the sandwich halves together, and heat the whole thing in a microwave.

Harris posted a video reply in which she instructed Warner in the preparation of a more refined—and less soggy—tuna melt. Her sandwich involved several additional ingredients and the use of an actual stove.

“This is called a skillet,” she informed her fellow senator with a twinkle in her eye as she held up a cast-iron frying pan.

I watched her video carefully and have transcribed the recipe as well as I could here.

Although her basic tuna salad differs from mine in a few ways (most notably in the inclusion of Dijon mustard, which Warner called “definitely Northern California”), it’s a solid recipe. I enjoyed the sandwich I made according to her instructions.

I suggest that readers enjoy a tuna melt and chocolate-chip ice cream for lunch on Wednesday as the inauguration takes place. This menu isn’t fancy, but it’s very American … and it somehow fits the scaled-down ceremony being planned in this pandemic year.

Joe’s Chocolate-Chip Ice Cream

Of course, you may use any vanilla ice cream recipe as the base for this treat. This one is very simple and very tasty.

Ingredients:

2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped chocolate chips or finely cut chocolate (the better the quality of the chocolate, the better your ice cream will be)

Instructions:

Combine the first four ingredients, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Freeze in an ice-cream freezer. Just before you think the ice cream is ready, stir in the chocolate pieces, making sure they spread throughout. Serves 4. This recipe may be doubled.

This is tasty by itself, but my family felt impelled to gild the lily and cover the ice cream with hot fudge sauce and whipped cream!

Kamala’s Tuna Melt

(inspired by Kamala Harris’s video with Mark Warner)

I actually prefer to brown my sandwich in butter rather than mayonnaise; I like the flavor of butter. This is Harris’s method, however.

Ingredients:

1 can tuna drained and lightly chopped with a fork
1 tablespoon finely minced red onion (Harris notes that one may omit this step and put a thin slice of red onion on the bread later)
1/4 cup minced celery
2 generous tablespoons mayonnaise, plus additional mayonnaise for grilling
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
chopped parsley to taste
freshly ground pepper to taste
about 1/2 teaspoon salt
the juice of 1 lemon wedge
2 pieces of bread
1 slice sharp cheddar (or a couple of slices if your wedge of cheddar is small)

Instructions:

Combine the tuna, the onion, the celery, the mayonnaise, the mustard, the parsley, the pepper, the salt, and the lemon juice.

Barely toast the bread. Put some of the tuna mixture on 1 piece of bread. (Refrigerate the remaining tuna for another use.) Place the slice of cheese on the other piece of bread, and put the pieces of bread together to form a sandwich. Lightly spread mayonnaise on each outer slice of bread.

Heat a cast-iron skillet, and toast your creation on each side until the sandwich is a pleasing color and the cheese has melted. Serves 1 senator.

Waffling My Way to Hanukkah

December 10th, 2020

At this time of year, as the days shorten and the sun dips lower in the sky, many cultures and religions help offset the weather with holidays that celebrate light. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which begins at sunset this evening (Thursday, Dec. 10), is one such holiday.

In fact, Hanukkah takes place at what is arguably the very darkest time of the year. This lunar holiday takes place just as the moon joins the sun in getting closest to its darkest time. It lasts for eight days.

Also known as the festival of lights, Hanukkah recalls a time in the second century B.C.  when the Israelis book back their land from Syria and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.

They lit an oil-powered menorah (candelabrum) that was supposed to burn continuously. Unfortunately, they had only enough oil to keep the flame burning for a single day. Miraculously, it lasted for eight days and nights, until more oil could be brought to the temple.

Hanukkah celebrates several things: a Jewish victory (not a common thing in world history), the strength of religious faith, and above all the power of light.

I love lighting my menorah each night of this holiday. AI was fortunate to have a Christian parent and a Jewish one. Consequently, our family celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah.

When I was a child, I saw this as a plus mainly in terms of presents: the month of December was one long series of gifts. (My birthday falls in December, adding to the pile.)

I still enjoy giving and receiving gifts at this time of year. As I get older, however, lighting the menorah and trimming the Christmas tree help me to remember my parents and their families and to celebrate my rich dual heritage. Those activities also brighten my home at this darkening time of year.

Naturally, as a food writer, I celebrate the season with food. The main food associated with Hanukkah is oil, in commemoration of the miraculous oil that burned for so long in the temple.

Olive oil, a mainstay of Middle-Eastern cuisine and life two millennia ago, was the oil used in the temple in Jerusalem, but one may use pretty much any oil one likes in cooking Hanukkah treats. For frying I often choose a neutral oil like canola oil.

The most popular Hanukkah recipe is for latkes, potato pancakes. I’ve posted several latke recipes here over the years. This year I decided to make my latkes slightly differently—in the waffle iron.

I got the idea from Ina Garten, a.k.a. the Barefoot Contessa. Her most recent cookbook features hash browns prepared this way. I reasoned that hash browns and latkes aren’t really all that different.

I call my creations (drum roll, please) … WaffLatkes.

To be frank, the Wafflatkes can’t QUITE match the crispiness of the fried version of this dish. They are pretty tasty, however, and the waffle pattern is fun. They’re also exceptionally easy to make and lighter than traditional latkes.

Happy Hanukkah! Enjoy the light and the yumminess….

WaffLatkes

Ingredients:

2 large baking potatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 egg, beaten (you may need another one!)
chopped fresh chives to taste (optional but tasty and colorful if you have them on hand)
2 to 4 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
lots of freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
canola or olive oil for greasing the waffle iron

Instructions:

Wash the potatoes well. Grate them with a box grater or with the grater attachment of a food processor. Wrap the potato shreds in a dish towel. Carry it to the sink, wring it out, and allow the potato pieces to drain while you get out the rest of the ingredients and maybe drink a cocktail or two.

In a medium bowl combine the egg, the chives (if you’re using them), 2 tablespoons of flour, the salt, and the pepper. Stir in the onion and potato pieces, followed by the olive oil.

If the batter doesn’t seem to hold together at all, stir in a little more flour and/or another egg. Don’t worry about making it perfect, however. Wafflatkes are allowed to be a little ragged.

Brush your waffle iron with oil. Preheat it to a medium-high setting. When it is ready plop small spoonsful of batter onto its quadrants. Flatten them a bit if you wish. (The waffle iron will do this for you, but I tend to become a little paranoid.)

Cook the little cakes just a little longer than you would normally cook waffles, making sure they are golden brown. Serve the waffles immediately as they come out of the iron—or pop the first ones into a 300-degree oven until you have finished cooking the rest. Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish.

And now the video, Tinky Makes WaffLatkes