Thursday, April 24, 2008

'Jewish Cooking in America" (Nathan) & "The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook" & "The Book of Jewish Food" (Roden)

Date I made these recipes: April 20, 2008 (Passover)

Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-58405-8 © 1994
Recipe: My Favorite Brisket – p. 175

The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook – Recipes and Memories from Abe Lebewohl’s Legendary Kitchen by Sharon Lebewohl and Rena Bulkin
Published by: Villard
ISBN: 0-375-50267-X © 1999
Recipe: Potato Kugel – p. 150-151

The Book of Jewish Food – An Odyssey from Samarkand to New York by Claudia Roden
Published by: Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN: 0-394-53258-9 © 1996
Recipe – Carrot Tzimmes (Honeyed Carrots) – p. 164

Being a gentile and all, I don’t know if one wishes the Jewish community a happy Passover or not, but I will pass on a hearty “thank you” to today’s cookbook authors. Every dish was a winner.

Let’s start with the brisket. I’ve never met cookbook author, Joan Nathan, but I want to. I’ve heard her several times on Public Radio’s The Splendid Table and she always has great stories to tell. Her book is the same—a story for every recipe and when I got to “My Favorite Brisket,” I knew that’s what I had to make. And so off I went to find one!

Knowing that one of the Byerly’s stores in St. Louis Park, Minnesota caters to a large Jewish population, I drove over to that store and found plenty of kosher brisket. But at a price of $28.00 on up, I decided that I didn’t need kosher and that chuck roast, as noted in the recipe, would make a fine substitute. And it was indeed delicious. There’s nothing like a piece of meat that is slow-cooked.

And then to accompany my brisket, I pulled another cookbook off the shelf, this time The 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook. (I have several Jewish cookbooks but since I wasn’t feeding an army of people or catering at a Passover party, they’ll have to wait until another time.). But before we get to the recipe discussion, you need a brief history of this deli.

Once upon a time, a man named Abe Lebewohl opened up a deli on 2nd Ave and 10th Street (hence the name) in New York City’s East Village. And they did booming business. And then somebody murdered Abe (to this day, the killer has not been found) and all of New York was in shock. The 2nd Ave Deli didn’t just serve food it served FOOD, lots and lots of good food and with a lot of heart thrown in for good measure.

Despite everything, Abe’s family carried on and last year, Abe’s nephew moved the restaurant to Murray Hill. Frankly, I don’t care where it is, I’d walk across Manhattan to get there. Its’ just that tasty.

Several years ago, a friend and I ate at the deli and I’m not kidding when I tell you everything was piled a mile high. I had a pastrami sandwich (a mile high) and a bowl of potato salad (a mile high) and whatever Susan had was a mile high as well. And I was quickly stuffed to the gills and was planning to abandon ship when our server came by and suggested a doggie bag.

Now, silly me, I said I didn’t think that was best because I was soon heading for the airport to come home to Minneapolis. The look she gave me was one of horror but she recovered and said “Honey. Take it with you. You can eat it on the plane.”

And so I took it with me and I ate it on the plane (back in the day before most of us are forced to feed ourselves in the air or die trying) and it was just as tasty on bite number 22 (or so) as it was on bite number one. I have to admit I was rather surprised that nobody attacked me to wrestle the food out of my hands but maybe by then the smell had diminished such that nobody knew the treasure I had in my lap!

The same could not be said for a flight out of New York a couple of years ago when I brought back two pounds of Zabars coffee, one pound of Italian cookies (always the ribbon cookies, always) and a dozen H&H bagels. (My girlfriend is kind enough to live in the Upper West Side where all these shops exist). When I got up to the airline counter, the agent, who had been reading something on the screen, suddenly snapped his head up, sniffed the air and said “I smell bagels!”

People, I am not ashamed to say that I tried my best to bribe my way into first class with my bagels, alas to no avail. Well, he has only himself to blame for the near-revolt that happened when I got on the plane with my culinary delights. I was suddenly everyone’s best friend. (Next time around I’ll way my leftover sandwich and see what that does – can’t hurt!)

This potato kugel recipe will be your new best friend as well. It does not disappoint and although I had my misgivings about it at first (it sounded rather bland), it was a perfect accompaniment to the brisket a/k/a chuck roast. In fact, I’m thinking it will be a perfect accompaniment to eggs in the morning. And don’t even get me started on the shredder disk for my Cuisinart. I love that thing and could have sat there all day shredding everything I could get my hands on. It’s the littlest things that mean so much.

As to the vegetable portion of our program, the carrot tzimmes I made to balance out the heaviness of the meat and potatoes was just the thing. The cookbook says that they are typically eaten at Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and are a symbol of prosperity and good fortune. I guess I missed that holiday by just a few months but hey, life is too short to stress about when to serve carrots. I’m in need of some prosperity now and so hope I’m forgiven for either being late to the party or getting a jump on next year!

Finally, let me leave you with a cute little anecdote from The Book of Jewish Food:
Mrs. Cohen, who is having lunch with Mrs. Marks, says, “Do you know Debra Joseph is having an affair?” Mrs. Marks asks, “Who’s doing the catering?”

My Favorite Brisket – Serves 8 to 10
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 5-pound brisket of beef, shoulder roast of beef, chuck roast, or end of steak
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, peeled and diced
1 10-ounce can tomatoes
2 cups red wine
2 stalks celery with the leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
¼ cup chopped parsley
6 to 8 carrots, peeled and sliced on the diagonal
Optional: jar of sun-dried tomatoes

Sprinkle the salt and pepper over the brisket and rub with the garlic. Sear the brisket in the oil and then place, fat side up, on top of the onions in a large casserole. Cover with the tomatoes, red wine, celery, bay leaf, thyme, and rosemary.

Cover and bake in a preheated 325-degree oven for about 3 hours, basting often with pan juices.

Add the parsley and carrots and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes or more or until the carrots are cooked. To test for doneness, stick a fork in the flat (thinner or leaner end of the brisket). When there is a light pull on the fork as it is removed from the meat, it is “fork tender.”

This dish is best prepared in advance and refrigerated so that the fat can be easily skimmed from the surface of the gravy. Trim off all the visible fat from the cold brisket. Then place the brisket, on what was the fat side down, on a cutting board. Look for the grain – that is, the muscle lines of the brisket-and with a sharp knife, cut across the grain.

When ready to serve, reheat the gravy.

Put the sliced brisket in a roasting pan. Pour the hot gravy on the meat, cover, and reheat in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Some people like to strain the gravy, but I prefer to keep the onions because they are so delicious.

Joan’s final note on this recipe was to add a jar of sun-dried tomatoes to the canned tomatoes as they add a more intense flavor to the brisket.

Potato Kugel – Serves 8

Check out this hilarious introduction to the recipe: “Like all Jewish kugels, this makes for heavy eating (starches like mashed potatoes or rice go down like celery sticks by comparison). So what’s the problem? You were planning to go dancing after the Seder, maybe?”

2 ½ pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large onions (use 1 ½ cups grated; don’t tamp down)
3 eggs beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ corn oil
1 cup flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 cup matzo meal
Corn oil for drizzling and greasing pan

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, fine-grate potatoes (don’t liquefy, leave some texture), and strain to eliminate excess liquid. Don’t overdo it; just let the water drain out. Fine-grate onions, and mix in a large bowl with potatoes. (If you don’t have a food processor, you can grind the potatoes and onions in a meat grinder.)

Add eggs, baking powder, ¾ cup corn oil (most of it cooks out), flour, salt and pepper; mix well. Fold in matzo meal, making sure that everything is very well blended.

Pour batter into a greased baking pan (your kugel should be about 2 inches high) and drizzle top with corn oil from a flatware tablespoon. Bake for 55 minutes, or until top is golden brown (check occasionally to see). Serve hot.

Carrot Tzimmes (Honeyed Carrots ) – Serves 6
1 ½ pounds carrots, sliced
3 tablespoons goose fat, butter, or light vegetable oil
Juice of 1 orange
¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
2 tablespoons honey

In a large wide pan, saute the carrots in the fat, stirring and turning them over. Add the rest of the ingredients and water to cover. Simmer gently, covered, for ½ hour, or until the carrots are tender. Remove the lid towards the end to reduce the liquid to a shiny glaze.

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