April 2011 Archives

Mom’s Matzoh Balls

For a full Passover feast, check out Baby’s First Seder Menu.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that my family does not reserve the eating of matzoh balls for Passover. They are on the menu at Thanksgiving and pretty much any other time we need a pick-me-up, some comfort food, or “penicillin.”

And, for even fuller disclosure: these matzoh balls are not from my mom’s recipe, even though my mom is the resident matzoh ball maker and the person I asked when I was looking for a recipe for the site. Nope, these matzoh balls come almost straight from the Streit’s matzoh meal package, since that’s the recipe Mom follows.

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Matzoh Balls
Makes 15-20

For broth, schmaltz, and soup to submerge the matzoh balls in, check out our small kitchen-friendly recipe for Chicken Soup here. If you don’t have schmaltz, you can substitute olive or neutral oil (I hear).

Ingredients
1 cup matzoh meal
4 large eggs
1/4 cup schmaltz (chicken fat; see note)
1/4 cup chicken stock
1 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground pepper

Note: When you make homemade chicken stock and cool it overnight, you’ll find that the top is covered by a layer of solidified fat or schmaltz. Skim it off and save it. You’ll want it to be room temp when you use it.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the stock, schmatz, salt and pepper, and mix well. Add matzo meal and stir thoroughly.

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours, or overnight.

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil. Moisten your palms with cold water, and form a bit of the mixture into a ball 3/4 inch in diameter. Drop it into the pot, and repeat with the remaining mixture until you’ve made all your matzoh balls. Reduce the heat slightly and cover. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes, removing the matzoh balls with a slotted spoon. Keep them in a large bowl, then add to soup no more than 30 minutes before serving.

Baking For Others: Almond Matzoh Toasts

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When I lived in Paris, my most favorite breakfast treat was the pain aux amandes–an almond croissant filled and topped with almond cream and sliced almonds and baked. Similar to it was my favorite afternoon snack, bostock, a thick slice of brioche topped with–you guessed it–almond cream and sliced almonds, and baked.

My host “sister,” a stereotypically thin French woman if there ever was one, also loved pain aux amandes. Only of course while I could put away one and a half, she would just barely finish a third of one before grinning, “my, that was rich,” and rubbing her nonexistent belly, expressing her satisfaction in a language we both knew fluently, the language of food.

Passover starts tonight, making both croissants and brioche irrelevant. But almond cream, which is made up simply of ground almonds, sugar, butter, and eggs, is totally of the moment.

As I would do for a croissant, a slice of brioche, or most recently a cut-up pound cake, I spread a homemade simple syrup on top of matzoh and then sort of iced them with my beloved almond cream. The almond cream solidifies slightly in the oven, its sweetness penetrating the matzoh crackers, turning them into almost biscotti-like confections, a nice change of pace from the matzoh crunch and macaroons that usually make up dessert at Passover.

From my kitchen, bringing you unleavened sweets, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**


Almond Matzoh Toasts
Makes 15 pieces

The smaller amount of sugar makes a subtle-tasting sweet, much like a biscotti. Use the larger amount if you’re serving these for dessert.

Ingredients
juice from 1 orange (1/4 cup)
1/2-2/3 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
1 cup sliced almonds
salt
3 tablespoons softened butter, diced
1 egg
3 sheets unsalted matzoh

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a small, heavy saucepan, combine the orange juice with the 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat and let simmer gently for about 2 minutes, until syrupy.

Combine the remaining sugar, 1/2 cup almonds, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely ground, then add the butter and pulse to distribute it. Add in the egg and process until the mixture is creamy.

Arrange the matzoh on the cookie sheet, breaking up pieces as needed to fit them.

Brush each slice generously with the orange syrup. Spread the almond filling across each, getting it all the way to the edges. Sprinkle with the remaining almonds.

Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the almond cream is firm, the sliced almonds are slightly golden, and the edges of the matzoh are brown. Serve for breakfast, snack or dessert, dusted with powdered sugar if you like.

There Is No Planet B: 10 Ways to Celebrate Earth Day Responsibly

April 22, 2011 marks the 41st anniversary of the first Earth Day. According to Wikipedia (therefore, everything I’m about to write is undoubtedly true), Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson created the first Earth Day as a teach-in. He chose April 22nd because it was a convenient date for almost all college students. It was after spring break, Easter, and Passover but before finals. This is the only real “holiday” that is specifically geared toward college students (except spring break), so it stands to reason that every student should do something to commemorate the day. Here are some fun and some more traditional ways for you to get involved:

1) Party Organically. Have an Earth Day themed party. This is probably THE easiest theme party idea ever because Earth Day encourages people to recycle, reduce and reuse. Therefore, you really don’t have to spend a lot of money on putting the party together. Just have the party outside and let nature do the decorating for you. If that isn’t an option, then make sure whatever you use is recyclable or reusable. For example, you could re-use your leftover St. Patrick’s Day decorations. As for the drinks, have locally produced wine and/or beer, or organic liquor—they actually make reasonably priced organic vodka, gin, tequila and rum. If you’re really feeling productive, you could arrange a “trashed” scavenger hunt in which people try to find the most trash. The winner gets a prize of your choice. During clean-up make sure everything that can be gets recycled!

2) Be a Locavore. A more low-key option is to host a dinner party in which all the food and drinks are locally produced. Think about it. Most of the food we eat is shipped from across the country or even the world. If we eat locally produced goods we can cut down, in a small way, on our carbon emissions. Go to your local farmers’ market, buy whatever looks the freshest, and see what you can make out of it. It’ll be like your very own Top Chef challenge! (You get bonus points for making the meal vegetarian because a lot of carbon is released into the atmosphere during the production of meat.)

3) Stay In. If all of that sounds like too much effort for you that night then why not just stay in with friends and watch an Earth Day themed movie? Some options are: Wall-E, Erin Brockovich, The Day After Tomorrow, An Inconvenient Truth, Planet Earth, or Life. Hopefully, it will inspire you to be a little greener in the coming days.

For those of you who wish to actually be a little greener on campus:

5) Don’t be Trashy. College students drink thousands upon thousands of cans of beer, bottles of wine, and handles of vodka a year. Recycle as many as you can! If there is no place in your dorm or apartment building go to a higher up and ask about installing several recycling bins throughout the building.

6) Hydrate Responsibly. Once that hangover sets in, don’t buy a bottle of water. It’s a habit that will add up over time. Save yourself some greens while going green by buying a water bottle. This way you can drink as much water as you need to get yourself back into drinking shape.

7) Waste Not, Want Not. When dining hall food is done buffet style rather than a-la-carte, people waste way more food. To help cut down on this waste (and your own waist), don’t use a tray when you go to get your food. It is much harder to pig out when you have to carry all that food. You could also go to the head of your dining hall and ask for there to be a no tray day. That way more people will realize how much food they are actually wasting.

8) Mood Lighting. Replace the light bulbs in your room or apartment with CFLs—you know the “pig tail lights” or “curlicue lights.” They last longer and will also save you money, and while you’re waiting for the light to burn out you can help Stephen Colbert come up with some new light bulb jokes. “Q: How many blondes does it take to screw in a light bulb?” “A: I don’t know, it’s only been 7 years, we don’t have to change it yet!”

9) De-fang “Vampire” Appliances. Did you know that chargers, power strips, and anything else that can plug into a wall use power when they are idle? I didn’t. It turns out that these “vampire” appliances can suck out power from the wall even when they aren’t being used. So, to cut back on carbon emissions, and save yourself some money, unplug your electronics from the wall when you aren’t using them.

10) Think…Before You Print. A lot of trees have to be cut down in order for college students to get their knowledge. There are new textbooks every semester and countless print outs of papers, articles and power points. Try to save a couple trees by buying used textbooks. You’re only going to use it for a semester, it will be cheaper, and a really smart person could have left some helpful notes for you in the margins. Also, try not to print out all the articles your teacher wants you to read. Read them online if you can. If you have to print anything out make sure you print it out on both sides of the page, so that way you will waste less paper.

Make Senator Nelson proud this Earth Day, and remember to celebrate responsibly because there is no Planet B!

Emily is a recent grad of Colgate University, where she studied International Relations and Art History and volunteered at the Friendship Inn and with the Colgate Hunger Outreach Program. She loves to bake cookies and writes about food doing good at Small Kitchen College.

Great Minds Eat Alike: Rachel’s Guide to Presenting Food

Our Great Minds Eat Alike series mixes up the usual BGSK offerings with interviews and submissions by cooks and eaters whose mentality towards cooking and eating meshes with ours. Today we bring you a how-to all about food presentation from Rachel Manley, a London-based foodie, blogger, and supper club host.

Rachel’s day job is on the BBC Food website, which means she gets to talk about food all day and sometimes go to photoshoots. She also hosts supper club/pop-up restaurant in the summer (in London!) and seems to be making all of her friends’ wedding cakes too. She loves making food look good, and she blogs over at What Rachel Ate. All photos by Rachel.

–Cara & Phoebe, the Quarter-Life Cooks

***

Despite working for a food website all day, I’m still always thinking about food: about my next meal, and the one after that. What I really love is cooking for people, it’s not only how I show that I care, I’m also a sucker for compliments on my cooking.

Because I’m often entertaining, my thing has always been making food look really good. My boyfriend laughs at me because I always talk about ‘plating up’ dinner, rather than just spooning it onto a plate. We all know we eat with our eyes, and with a few tricks and final flourishes, you can transform a plate of food from something from ‘blah’ into something ‘wow.’

I’ve taken my experience of hosting my own secret supper/brunch club and working on various food photoshoots and distilled it into ten top tips for making your food look really good when you have people over for dinner.

1. First things first. I think it’s important to remember that most quarter-lifers won’t have lived at home for a few years and will jump at the opportunity of a home-cooked meal (wouldn’t you?) So don’t think you have to cook an elaborate four-course dinner. A traditional roast dinner or even a really good shepherd’s pie is going to make people pretty happy. I also find serving coffee after dinner (with or without biscuits) always makes dinner feel impossibly sophisticated too.

2. Set the scene. I like to lay the table with a white tablecloth – it instantly makes things look classy. I made mine using white cotton from a fabric store and hemmed it on a sewing machine. [Editors’ note: how thrifty!] Tealights, napkins and fresh flowers are all inexpensive, yet really pretty. Try cutting your flowers short and putting them into old jam jars. Remember, though, that once all the food, wine and jugs of water are on the table, there won’t be much room, so you don’t need to go overboard.

3. Setting the table. When you’re living on a budget, I wouldn’t worry about having mismatched plates and crockery (it’s all part of the charm), but if you can must up the money to buy a set, plain white plates are perfect. (I got mine for 20p each in Ikea). A white background allows the food to shine and also means that any color you do add to the table will really pop.

4. A fresh bowl works wonders. Although it means a little more washing up, I like to decant most condiments or dips into a fresh bowl or plate, I’m probably a bit obsessive really, but I do think it makes a difference and your food will instantly look smarter than if you serve straight from the plastic container.

5. Family-style. I like to serve food on big platters where possible. It gives the impression of bounty and generosity, and you can make your food look really impressive, and it’s always nice and social for people to help themselves. It also means that you don’t have to worry about serving up several portions. This serving suggestion works better for some food than others, including anything oven-baked (which can go straight from the oven to the table), and salads.

6. Use the right plates. If you’re serving family-style, you need to do it properly. I’m a big fan of using large platters or big white plates – even a chopping board will do (Jamie Oliver is my main inspiration here). Take the example below: serving a salad on a large plate instead of a in a bowl makes it look instantly impressive.

7. Be individual. Sometimes, however, individual portions just work better – especially for desserts. I like to serve mine in small glasses or pretty china cups. This is especially great for make-ahead puddings and mousses, which are already individually sized, so you don’t have to worry about plating while your guests are waiting.

8. Think vertical. If you do decide to serve individual portions, remember to warm your plates first. I thought this was impossibly middle class until I tried to serve 12 people food at once; food gets cold fast. Presentation-wise, you also want to aim for vertical height and symmetry. Take sausage and mash, maybe with some braised red cabbage: spoon them side by side on the plate and the result is nice, but kinda boring. Spoon a mound of mash into the middle of the plate, however, and wedge the sausages on top, and – hey presto! An instant restaurant-style dish. All that’s left to do is to drizzle your gravy around the edge of the plate. I would then serve the red cabbage in bowls on the table.

9. Finishing touches. I’ve picked up a few final flourishes from food stylists I’ve worked with that can really transform a plate of food. I love fresh herbs, and I really think they add flavor to your finished dishes as well a bit of color. A drizzle of good olive oil and a twist of black pepper instantly brighten food, and a dollop of yogurt on a curry adds contrast in colour and texture.

10. Preparation is key. This might be stating the obvious, but when you’re hosting a dinner party, try to make as much as you can in advance. That way, you can relax when your friends arrive instead of being chained to the oven. If you’re fortunate enough to have foodie friends, then take them up on any offers to contribute food or help out.

From My Mother’s Kitchen: Uncle Denny’s Cilantro Chicken Milanese

One of the perks of being a food writer is that you get a lot of unsolicited inspiration. This is especially lucrative when you come from a family of fabulous cooks, who do not write about the food they make (though they should!).

A few months ago, I received an email from my Uncle Denny with subject line: recipe. Attached was a document containing instructions for John McPhee’s chicken, which apparently an old girl friend of his managed to glean from a book by the author.

The summer I lived in Los Angeles, my Uncle Denny and Aunt Barbara were kind enough to let me crash with them until I found a sublet of my own. In addition to the cozy Santa Monica room that formerly belonged to my cousins, and still houses an Alice in Wonderland quote painted on the walls, my temporary digs came with many a delicious So-Cal meal prepared by uncle and aunt. They fed me avocados and pointed me towards farmers markets and the Santa Monica food coop. By the end of my two weeks there, I had learned that when matters of food are concerned to always listen to Denny and Barbara.

It took me a few weeks after receiving Uncle Denny’s email, but eventually I did the smart thing: I cooked his chicken. The marinade makes use of one of my new favorite condiments (Greek yogurt), and functions as both an adhesive for the breadcrumbs and a source of incredible flavor. Though the result looks like chicken Milanese (and has been titled as such in my version), the flavor and texture is a much different combination. The outside of the chicken gets nice and crisp, but the beauty of using fresh breadcrumbs over a very thick, wet coating (the yogurt), means an incredibly most, rich bite. Perfection.

Best of all, says uncle: it’s delicious at room temperature, therefore a wonderful protein to prepare well in advance of a party or dinner so that you can enjoy your guests instead of enjoying the last minute cooking in the kitchen.

In early March, I had the pleasure of paying L.A. and my uncle a visit. He fed me guacamole and ginger tea as soon as I walked in the door. By the end of the weekend, we had meals at four different food trucks under our belts. Literally.

Until next time I make it out to Cali, I’ll be making this Cilantro Chicken Milanese, and hoping another gift lands in my inbox from out west.

From my kitchen, where I listen to my elders, to yours,

Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Cilantro Chicken Milanese with Raita
Makes 2 servings

This would be excellent alongside a simple Couscous Salad, Mediterranean Roasted Eggplant, or even Cabbage-Fennel Slaw. To save even more time, double the marinade and use half to dress the slaw in place of the vinegar mixture.

Ingredients
1 pound boneless chicken breasts (about 2)
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 lemon, juiced
Dash cayenne pepper
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oil

On a flat work surface, place the chicken breasts between two sheets of plastic wrap. Using a meat mallet, rolling pin, heavy skillet, or your iron clad fists, pound the chicken until thin, about 1/2 an inch.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, mustard, cilantro, garlic, soy sauce, lemon juice, and the dash of cayenne. Taste, and season with salt and cayenne pepper as necessary.

In an airtight Tupperware container or resealable plastic bag, pour half of the yogurt mixture over the chicken. Toss until coated. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, and up to 6. Reserve the remaining marinade for serving.

Just before you’re ready to cook the chicken, place the breadcrumbs on a shallow plate. Dredge the chicken in the breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess.

In a large cast iron skillet, heat the butter and oil over a medium-high flame. Add the chicken. (Note: if your pan isn’t big enough, you will have to cook the two breasts separately. Add extra oil as necessary for the second batch.) Cook the chicken on both sides until golden brown and cooked through, about 4 minutes per side.

Serve immediately with a generous dollop of the reserved marinade, and cilantro leaves for garnish. (Note from Denny: it also tastes great at room temperature!)

Antipasti Grilled Cheese

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Favorite Grilled Cheese Cobos: Grilled Cheddar Sandwich with Roasted Pears & Pecans; Perfect Grilled Cheese; Prosciutto & Fontina Panini with Arugula Pesto and Pickled Shallots; Radicchio & Mozzarella Toasts; Pesto Grilled Cheese; Grilled Mushroom-Cheddar Melts

You know we love grilled cheese (for evidence, see above). In early January, I posted about this Grilled Cheddar Sandwich with Roasted Pears & Pecans. We reposted it on Huffington Post later on and were awed by the cheese sandwich suggestions that readers came up with. So we figured it was time to get back in the kitchen and start grilling our sandwiches again.

I love the pungent, strong flavors of an antipasti platter. Sundried tomatoes are a BGSK favorite, as they’re easy to keep around in the pantry and can spice up even the most humble dish. Olives I find addictive and satisfying, and smoked mozzarella makes a run for being a top five cheese. My mom makes antipasti salads often as her brown bag bag lunches–lettuce topped with artichokes, cheese, olives, sundried tomatoes, and roasted peppers. I took these same parts and translated them into my favorite lunch–see if you can guess what that is!

From my kitchen, albeit small, to yours,

Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK

**Recipe**

Antipasti Grilled Cheese
Makes 4 sandwiches

Ingredients
8 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese
12 sundried tomatoes, chopped*
1/4 cup black olive tapenade
1/2 cup artichoke pesto (recipe follows)
1 baguette

Note: You can use sundried tomatoes that are packed in oil or ones that aren’t. Just find a brand you like. The tomatoes should be pliable, not hard, and not overly salty.

On bottom half, spread artichoke. Pile tomatoes, cheese. Broil 3-4 minutes. Spread top with tapenade and press on. Broil 1-2 minutes. Eat!

Artichoke Pesto
Makes 1/2 cup

Ingredients
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 clove garlic, coarsely shopped
kosher salt
1 cup canned artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained
3 tablespoons olive oil
red pepper flakes

Combine the pine nuts, garlic, and a pinch of salt in a mini food processor. Process until the garlic is chopped and the nuts are quite fine. Add the artichoke hearts and pulse again to make a paste. Drizzle in the olive oil and run the processor until the pesto is about the consistency of mayo. Add some red pepper flakes and taste for salt, adding more as needed.

This pesto will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.