Archive for January, 2011


On Slow Cookers and Brisket

Most of the time, I am pretty busy. And it can be hard to balance a love of cooking and a deep appreciation for warm, long-cooked meals on cold Winter days with a busy life .

Just when you’d think I’d give up and spoil myself with take-out, think again. Here comes the slow cooker.

(If you like 30 Rock, you undoubtedly read that as “here comes the fun cooker!” because, despite its lack of a ham button, that’s what goes through my head every single time I take it out of the cabinet.)

I once thought of this small appliance as something that people with minimal kitchen skills used – a very passive approach to meal preparation and a way to escape the need for actual cooking skills. But then I had my third child and all of my negligible free time disappeared. If I cooked, she was on my hip and, if she wasn’t on my hip, she was screaming. This posed a problem. How the hell was I supposed to make dinner?

So, I asked my friends: “What do you make for dinner when the baby wants to be held all the time?” After about a million “make reservations!” punchlines, one friend looked at me and said, “Oh my god, Cori. How come you don’t have a slow cooker?” I sheepishly admitted my own snobbery and was summarily set straight. “Remember that delicious stew I made the last time you came over?”, she said, “Slow Cooker!”

Off to Target I went. Off to change my life forever.

Since then, I’ve become adept at slow-cooking different stews, soups, and beans, but was initially hesitant to use it for meat. I started slowly, with a basic recipe for bone-in chicken with white wine, tomatoes and herbs. It was fine, but I wasn’t wowed. Then came a pulled pork recipe, which was much better. I tried lamb shanks next, with fantastic results. The lamb and pork became permanent fixtures in my dinner-making recipe rotation, but after nearly four years of owning this contraption, I had yet to use it for beef.

As if on cue, I read this post and learned of the slow-cooker’s magical powers over brisket.

“BRISKET!”, I thought to myself, “It would be a disappointment to my Jewish people if I didn’t try this.” (Though, admittedly, less of a disappointment than happily eating pork and shellfish on a very regular basis.) So, I went to the market and picked up the ingredients for my mother’s brisket recipe, put them in the slow cooker, and let it cook on low overnight.

The results were amazing, like the culinary equivalent of seeing god. The brisket was almost criminally tender. I had never experienced brisket without a little bit of toughness, so I couldn’t believe that it was literally falling apart with the slightest touch. And it was absolutely delicious, too. All briskets should aspire to be that good.

Now I had a problem. I only had two brisket recipes – my mother’s and the one posted on Smitten Kitchen. That definitely had to change, so I started experimenting with different spices, sauces, and techniques in order to bolster my brisket-making confidence.

So far, the best brisket variation I’ve come up with is this barbeque-style concoction, which is now the recipe that everyone in my house refers to when they ask me to make brisket. I threw it together by mixing elements of my mother’s sweet, tangy, broth-based recipe with a lot more seasoning and a lot less liquid. It took a few tries to get the flavor balance right, but we certainly didn’t let the mistakes go to waste. It was still tender, slow-cooked brisket, after all, so no one cared too much that it needed more heat, salt, or seasoning. We just added some hot sauce and gleefully allowed our cholesterol levels to rise with the beefy tide.

It’s so funny to think that I’ve come to rely on a once-shunned appliance for making really good, really craveable dishes.  Four years ago, I would have laughed in disbelief if someone had told me that I’d use this contraption on a regular basis and that it would be the ONLY way I’d ever cook brisket. But, they would have been right and I would have eaten slow-cooked crow. Nowadays, the slow-cooker comes out at least twice a month and, when it does, it’s greeted by happy children who want to know what’s for dinner.

Joy and rapture usually follow if I tell them that I’m making this:

Sweet, Smoky Brisket

  • Brisket – 6 pounds
  • vegetable or olive oil
  • 3-4 large onions, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1.5 C ketchup
  • 3/4 C white or cider vinegar – to taste
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 2 T molasses
  • 3 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 3 tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 T worcestershire sauce
  • 1 T mustard (I use brown deli mustard, but yellow or dijon would work, too)
  • 3/4 tsp liquid smoke
  • a few shakes of hot sauce (optional, but I like Trader Joe’s Jalapeno hot sauce)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Season brisket generously with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and sear the brisket on all sides over medium-high heat.  Place seared meat in the slow-cooker insert or a dutch oven/covered casserole dish and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium and add some more oil to skillet. Saute onion and garlic until soft and almost caramelized – about 15 minutes – stirring occasionally, lowering the heat as needed so they don’t burn.

While the onions and garlic cook, combine the last 12 ingredients in a large bowl and pour over the seared meat, making sure to coat it thoroughly.

Top meat and sauce with the caramelized onions and garlic. If using a dutch oven/casserole, cover tightly with foil, then place the lid/casserole cover over the foil to seal tightly, cook in a 350-degree oven for 3-4 hours. If using a slow cooker, which is definitely the preferred method, cook on low for 7-8 hours.

I like to make this recipe at least a day in advance. When the brisket is done, I usually move it, along with the sauce, from the slow cooker insert to a large, covered casserole dish and chill it in the fridge overnight – at least 12 hours. (Obviously, if you’ve cooked it in a casserole, you can skip this step and just stick it in the fridge.)

The following day, about an hour before you want to serve the brisket, remove and discard the solid fat that has settled on top. Slice the cold brisket to your desired thickness. If you prefer a smoother sauce, puree or strain the sauce and then put in back in the casserole. Add the sliced brisket back into the sauce and reheat in a 325 degree oven until the sauce bubbles and the meat is heated through.

Serve as open-faced sandwiches with coleslaw or over egg noodles with a big, green salad on the side.

Lilah turned 8 last month and this is what she chose for her birthday dinner. We made open-faced sandwiches on onion rolls and ate them with sweet potato fries, cole slaw, and grilled asparagus, followed by chocolate cake for dessert, of course. A yummy celebration, indeed!

Dairy-Free Waffles

Having a child with a severe food allergy seems overwhelming to a lot of people. The reality of it is: You get used to it. You have no choice. And it’s not as hard as you might think.

Lilah has been allergic to dairy since she was a baby. Not lactose intolerant, but actually allergic to milk protein. Like, if she had a sip of milk, her throat would close up and she’d die without an Epi-Pen injection.  In fact, her allergy is so severe that if a dairy product touches her skin, she gets hives at the point of contact. So, living without dairy is what we do and, given the alternative, we do it quite willingly and happily.

Admittedly, cooking without dairy was hard for me to get used to at first, but I did, and we’re probably healthier for it. Actually, I think learning to live without dairy has made me a better, more resourceful cook because I can’t count on the extra oomph from a pat of butter, a dollop of sour cream, or a sprinkle of cheese to round out a dish. Searching for extra flavor in other ingredients – spices, vegetables, herbs, high quality oils and vinegars, condiments, nuts, and olives – has been a wonderful learning experience, one that I wouldn’t trade for all of the fromage in France.

That being said, it does complicate things sometimes. Eating at restaurants, for instance, can be hard. We can’t just go wherever we want, we have to be sure that whatever restaurant we decide on isn’t going to result in a trip to the ER.  Thai, Japanese, and Chinese food, are all usually safe, tasty bets and, as a result, Lilah has become a sushi connoisseur. Of course, glatt kosher places are also totally safe, like our favorite Middle Eastern place up the street. It’s a win-win: the food is excellent and we can be 100% confident that it’s dairy-free. On the other hand, French, Greek, Turkish, and Indian food are all, unfortunately, too risky for Lilah to eat. And Italian food, with its abundance of cheese in the food and on the table, is completely out of the question.

Another sticky wicket in the dairy allergy dining experience is breakfast. We cannot go out for breakfast at all with Lilah, which makes me kind of sad because I love going out for breakfast and brunch.  Yeah, sure, she could eat bacon and eggs, but that’s boring and rather unfair, especially considering that her companions (namely, her siblings) would be gorging themselves on pancakes, waffles, and cheesy omelettes.

So, to get over my brunch angst, I’ve been experimenting with different recipes for YEARS in an attempt to make delicious, dairy-free pancakes and waffles from scratch. The pancakes are still only just OK, in my opinion, but I’m a stickler for buttermilk, so it’s unlikely that anything will ever strike me as a suitable replacement for that true, sour dairy tang. (And yes, I’ve tried using soy yogurt thinned with soy milk as a replacement, but the results are not even close to being as good as the real thing.) However, I think I’ve finally nailed the waffle recipe. I made them this morning and they were gorgeous – crisp, light, not too sweet, not too eggy. They are a bit labor intensive, but using a mixer or electric beaters helps to speed-up the prep work. Unless you’re a masochist. If you are, then, by all means, knock yourself out and whisk those egg whites by hand.

Anyway, we all loved them. The kids begged for seconds, then thirds, and even declared that they didn’t need maple syrup. My husband and I enjoyed ours with some coffee and fruit, happily acknowledging that this one is finally a keeper.

Dairy-Free Waffles

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 1/2 cups plain or vanilla soy milk (not unsweetened), at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 1 large egg white, at  room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup melted vegan margarine or vegetable oil, plus more for brushing the iron
  • 1/4 cup sugar

Preheat a waffle iron to medium-high.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg yolks, vanilla, and 1/4 cup melted margarine or oil. Whisk the milk mixture into the flour mixture until a batter is formed. Take care not to over mix the batter.

In medium bowl with a hand-held electric beaters or whisk, or in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the 3 egg whites until they just begin to hold a loose peak. Scatter the sugar over the whites and continue beating until they hold a soft peak. Using a rubber spatula, fold a third of the egg whites into the batter to lighten the base. Fold in the remaining whites.

Brush the inside surface of the iron with margarine or oil. Pour in enough batter to lightly cover the surface of the iron, about 1/3 to 3/4 cup, depending upon the size of the iron. (Take into consideration that the batter will spread once the lid is closed.) Cover and cook until golden brown and slightly crisp, about 5 minutes. Repeat with the remaining batter. (If the waffle iron is well seasoned or nonstick it is not necessary to brush the inner surface each time before cooking the waffles.)

Serve the waffles immediately with syrup, jam, or fresh fruit, then pat yourself on the back for putting a waffle iron on your wedding registry.

Roasted Eggplant Dip

“Hey Mom, what smells so good?”, chirped Lilah as she jumped down the stairs. The smells of roasting eggplant, sauteed onion, garlic, and smoked paprika had made their way up to her room and she was jonesing for a taste. “Oooh, are those olives? Can I have one?”, the question was a formality, asked as she plucked a large, green olive out of the jar.

“I’m making eggplant dip and, yes, you can have an olive.”, I said. “Wanna help?”

Her answer was yes, of course, so I put her to work measuring pantry items and peeling the cooled eggplants. Then, once all of the ingredients were assembled, I let her push the button on the food processor and watch her hard work come together. After everything was mixed into the eggplant, her reward was the first taste on a freshly toasted pita chip. The verdict? “It tastes as good as it smells.”

I love this dip, too, and not just because it tastes great, but also because it’s the product of a very forgiving and endlessly adjustable recipe. You can truly make it suit your own taste.

Some ideas: Puree the eggplant with the tomato paste and simply fold in the other ingredients for a chunkier dip. Puree everything together for a smooth dip. Trade the paprika with a some sriracha or chile flakes for a spicier dip. Swap the green olives with pitted kalamata olives if you like more brininess. Replace the red wine vinegar with balsamic for more sweetness and depth. Add an anchovy, pine nuts, or some oregano if the mood strikes. You could even replace the eggplant with pureed white beans for a jacked-up Mediterranean hummus.

The possibilities are endless, but here’s the version I prefer:

Roasted Eggplant Dip

(adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 2 medium or 3 small eggplants
  • Good olive oil
  • 4 ounces fresh or jarred roasted red peppers (about 2 roasted peppers), diced
  • 1/2 cup large green olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 cup diced yellow onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.

Place the whole eggplants on the pan, pierce with them a fork in several places, and rub with olive oil. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, until the eggplant is very soft when pierced with a knife. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and lightly browned – about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika, cook for 1 minute, then set the mixture aside.

Halve the eggplant, peel, and discard the skin. Place the eggplant, onion mixture, peppers, and olives in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse until well-combined, but not completely pureed. Pour into a mixing bowl.

Add the parsley, lemon juice, capers, tomato paste, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours to allow the flavors to develop. Taste for seasonings and serve at room temperature with toasted pita triangles and veggies.

This would also be a wonderful accompaniment to grilled chicken, shrimp, fish, or pasta.

This is one of those cakes that you can take ANYWHERE. Dress it up with fresh, barely-sweetened, homemade whipped cream and it’s perfect for a holiday or dinner party. Serve it as is with coffee. Make it with bananas instead of pears and take it to a neighborhood potluck.

It’s pretty perfect and very delicious.

Right now, I’m making the banana version to bring to our friends’ house, where it will be enjoyed as we watch the Patriots crush the Jets in tomorrow’s NFL play-off game.

Edited to add:  So, the Pats didn’t win, but the cake was still delicious. Also, I’ve decided that I’m going to experiment and make this with fresh, in-season cherries this Summer. I’ll let you know how it turns out. My bets are on scrumptious.

Pear-Almond Cake with Chocolate Chunks

(adapted from Rachael Ray)

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 large pears—peeled, cored and thinly sliced (or two sliced bananas, if you are pear-averse)
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I just chop a good quality bar into chunks)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup granulated sugar, the vanilla extract, and the 2 eggs until pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes; whisk in the butter. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined.
  4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan and top with half of the pear or banana slices and half of the chocolate; repeat with the remaining batter, pears or bananas, and chocolate.
  5. Using a food processor, finely grind 1/4 cup almonds with the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Add the egg white and process until smooth. Drizzle over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup almonds. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool slightly, then dust lightly with the confectioners’ sugar.

Where I’ve Been.

Hi.

I know, I haven’t blogged in awhile. Life gets busy and, with three kids, even the laziest days are filled with distraction and demand. But that’s not really why I haven’t been writing here.

I started feeling really awful over the Summer. My energy level took a huge dive and there were some alarming changes in my breast tissue. As I’m normally a healthy, fit person, I couldn’t imagine what was wrong with me – the vapors, early menopause, disco fever, cancer?? After endless blood tests, ultrasounds, and doctor’s visits, I was told that my hormones were in a precarious state of imbalance (in my mind, this looked like St. Bernard on a high-wire) and that it was probably due to a combination of insulin resistance and ovarian cysts. Not knowing the root of the problem was the psychological equivalent of walking around all day, everyday, with a sharp pebble in my shoe, so finding out it wasn’t something super serious was a huge relief.  I’m managing everything pretty well with meds, diet, and exercise. Trying to adjust to a life without sweets has been hard, but totally worth the effort. I feel a lot better now.

(Actually, disco fever sounds pretty awesome and I wish it had been the cause of my troubles. Any excuse to wear this.)

Other than being preoccupied by my own imminent decrepitude, time moves fast. The days bleed into each other like, well, like bleeding bloody days.  The kids are getting bigger and most of my domestic energy is spent trying to stop them from becoming more grown-up. This is obviously an exercise in futility, but like a pit bull, I won’t loosen my jaws until the struggle itself becomes futile.

This will be all too soon, in Noah’s case. He started 5th grade this year and turns 11 in March. He’s doing well in school and is enjoying his steadily increasing independence. His life is all about friends, school, camp, music, and fun these days. When he’s not busy with those things, he’s eating, growing, and taking things apart just to rebuild them.

The girls are good, too. Lilah is 8 now and still a wise, creative soul with an incredible amount of common sense. She’s super bright and expects a lot from herself, which is both a blessing and a curse. She loves to read and draw for the most part, but her feistiness comes out when she’s horsing around with her friends or playing soccer.

Aviva is almost 5, which blows my mind. She’s in that stage between preschooler and big kid – still biologically drawn toward cuddles and comfort, but unwilling to hold my hand when we cross the street. She’s a sassy, clever girl who loves preschool and playing with her friends. We’ll register her for kindergarten next month, which is something I’m not at all ready to accept. In fact, my insistence on keeping her small runs so deep that I’m planning to spend most of August at home with her, enjoying lots of carefree fun during the last few weeks before she starts elementary school.

See? Pit bull.

Now that I’ve bored you with a quick update, here are the highlights of the past 7 months in short order:

– Yoga. I started doing it because I lacked the energy to do my normal, cardio-heavy workouts and now I’m hooked. And really, really strong. Because my schedule is pretty packed and I can’t make it to a live class with any regularity, I take my classes online through Yogaglo. I love it.

– Noah went to overnight camp in Maine for 3.5 weeks over the Summer. We missed him like crazy, but he had an amazing time – learned lots of new things, made lots of new friends, and was really sad to leave when we picked him up. To cheer him, we ended his month-long Jewish indoctrination by taking him out for some delicious Maine lobster on our way home. Sacrilege never tasted so sweet.

– Aviva is learning Chinese in preschool. She’s picking it up so quickly that I’m thinking about hiring a tutor to help her continue the language when she starts kindergarten. She loves trying out her new words on actual Chinese people, so this comes in very handy when there’s a long wait to be seated at Hei La Moon.

– Lilah blocked all shots in goal during the Spring and Fall soccer seasons. Hell yeah!

– August brought us an ancient scourge: head lice. There is truly nothing like the moment when you realize that your child – your child with super thick, curly hair – has a head full of bugs. Thankfully, for me and for my children, this moment occurred in public, so I couldn’t fly right into screaming banshee mode. The delayed reaction proved to be advantageous because when I got home, I was able to just skip the hysteria phase and go right into the heavy drinking phase of head lice coping techniques. I only reverted back to the banshee phase once, when close inspection revealed that all three kids had it…and that I had it, too. The next 6 days were spent spinning through an endless cycle of combing, nit-picking, laundry, and stupid movies. Was it the end of the world? No, definitely not. Do I ever want to go through it again? Fuck no. In fact, if given the choice between Louse House: The Sequel and a non-serious injury, I’d take the injury…unless it was a bug-related injury, of course.

– We barely celebrated the high holidays this year. Our house was still somewhat disorganized from the lost week of lice, I was exhausted, and the kids had just started a new school year. We weren’t up for hosting Rosh Hashanah dinner for our extended family like we usually do, so we didn’t.  In hindsight, I missed it and plan to make up for it with a huge, fun Passover seder.

– Michael and I went to The Rally to Restore Sanity back in October. My parents had already planned to have the kids at their house that weekend anyway, so we went for it! It was the first time in five years that we’d been away without the kids.  It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but we had an amazing time – saw some sights, went to some museums, ate some fabulous food, and rallied sanely. It also made us realize that we should spend a weekend away without the kids at least once a year. Grown-up travel is much more relaxing than family travel.

– Lilah turned 8 last month. We celebrated by getting her a fancy new bike and letting her host her very first slumber party. Seven extra girls invaded our house and, even though we braced for chaos, everyone behaved really well. The giggles tapered off around midnight and we didn’t hear another peep until 7am. This has led me to conclude that these children could stand to spend some time with 8-year-old me and my 2nd/3rd grade friends. We’d teach them to raise some sleepover hell. None of this “asleep at midnight” malarkey.

-The December holidays were good. Chanukah was fun, as always, and the surrounding weeks were punctuated by visits with dear friends. We welcomed the new year at home with the kids, playing games and dancing.

Happy 2011 to the handful of you who read this blog. I hope to be here more often this year.