Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Fare

Alas, spring has sprung in our little corner of the world. To celebrate we had a few people over for lunch yesterday. I couldn't stop myself from the picnic theme the beautiful day dictated. I laid out my red-checked tablecloths, prepared a few batches of fried chicken, a bowl of za'atar spiced potato salad (with homemade garlic aioli), and served pitchers of lemonade. As a starter I made my favorite egg salad, served it alongside plates of pickles and olives and hummos. For dessert? Brownies and choc chip cookies of course.

Favorite Egg Salad (adapted from Fine Cooking magazine)
Boil 9 eggs until hard cooked. When ready peel and place in a med. bowl. With a potato masher chop up eggs (or with knife chop them finely). Then add 4-6 oz. smoked salmon cut to a small dice, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 2 tbsp. chopped dill or chives, 1/2 red onion diced, 3 tbsp. drained capers, 1 tbsp. lemon juice, 1 tbsp. dijon mustard, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently, serve on bed of lettuce or cocktail bread or toasted pita chips.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Like LA

OK- I'll say it outright; I like LA. In the past I have been hesitant to give myself over to feelings of affection when discussing or contemplating Los Angeles. Maybe it has to do with some sort of inane sense of loyalty I hoard for New York. I think I convinced myself somewhere along the way that you're either a New York Person or an LA Person. And I decided to come out strongly in the New York category, by stocking up on black turtlenecks, memorizing dialogue from various Woody Allen films, and developing an affinity for a cramped, indoor existence. Also by being a vocal LA sceptic.

During this most recent trip, I decided that liking LA did not make me shallow or superficial. To begin with the weather is spectacular. Well, there is nothing revelatory about that observation, but really, the positive effects of living under such a gracious and brilliant sun cannot be downplayed! There is a kind of freedom that comes with such easy conditions, a kind of freewheeling joy.
Obviously there are lots of perks and advantages to living in Southern California, The food and produce has to be on the top of that list. Four hours after landing at LAX we found ourselves enjoying little plates that seemed to be magically replenished at a restaurant called AOC. The French blue cheese was my favorite thing of the evening, that and a sighting of Jim from The Office, who casually walked past our table.
The most memorable meal we had was at Cafe Talesai, a Thai restaurant located in a modern and clean looking strip mall around the corner from my parent's place. We started off with corn fritters that were small, and crispy-crunchy, and full of fantastic flavor and texture when eaten with the cucumber sauce it came with. The spicy stir fried eggplant confirmed my new status as an eggplant lover. It was fragrant and sweet and left you with a nice spicy kick. The eggplant itself was firm and almost fish-like in texture. And then the pad thai...the glass noodle pad thai, made me realize that the pad thai from my local Thai restaurant is gluey and woefully inadequate. Sometimes knowledge can be a dangerous thing, and I fear I won't be having Thai food again for quite some time.
And then there was the Farmers Market at Venice Beach. I don't know how to describe the pure joy I felt as I walked through this cornucopia of color, sound, taste, smell. The strawberries looked like they were stocked by Central Casting, they were perfect and plump and bright red. They tasted as good as they looked; sweet, juicy, and completely unblemished. We got a round of fresh OJ for everyone (kiddles, hub, et moi) which was sucked down to it's last drop. The imbibing experience was made more delightful by the benevolent California sun shining on our bare arms. I almost felt as though I was drinking sunshine in a cup. There was a bluegrass band that provided the soundtrack, and pony rides for the kids. The Farmer's Market was where I decided to let myself like LA.
OK, true, I'm yet to have a memorable slice of pizza in Los Angeles. And I won't even discuss the bagel situation. But there is a lot of good stuff in LA. Adding a splash of sun automatically makes everything taste better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Napoleonowitz Layer Cake

This Passover I have discovered that there is at least 13 ways of looking at a matzah. After the matzah ball soup, the matzah brei, the matzah pizzas, the matzah lasagne, there is Layered Chocolate Cheesecake. It's ricotta mixed with plain yogurt and a bit of sugar, spread between pieces of milk-softened matzah and then topped off with a gracious coating of chocolate.
It's creamy, subtly sweet, slightly sour and thankfully chocolate. The matzah layers give it structure and form. It becomes soft and almost puff pastry like in consistency. Like a Matzah Napoleon; a Napoleonowitz.
I would even venture to say that I would make it on any old day, even if I wasn't restrained by Passover guidelines. But really I won't, you never matter how tasty or delicious a recipe is, because it takes about a year to get over Passover and to look at matzah without feeling a sense of bored dread.

Napoleon0witz Layer Cake
Mix a container of ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 c. plain yogurt, 1/2 c. sugar, 1 slightly beaten egg, until smooth. Pour 1/2 c. milk in shallow pan. Place individual matzah slice in milk for a minute or two. Remove from milk, replace with another piece, put milk soaked matzah on baking sheet, spread a 1" layer of ricotta mixture over, top with another piece of matzah, repeat until ricotta mixture is all used. (I recommend making 2 cakes with 5 matzah layers each). Bake in an 350F oven for 20 minutes. In a large bowl melt 2 c. of the chocolate of your choice- I combined milk and dark. Pour melted chocolate over top layer of matzah and let it drip down the sides.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Vegetarian Moussaka

Sometimes you have to meet your fear squarely in the eye, stare it down, and obliterate it. While I'm not ready to lock myself in a room full of rats, I am willing to make eggplant for dinner tonight. I don't know what it is about eggplant that freaks me out, but until now I have managed to avoid it in all my culinary explorations and adventures.

A Vegetarian Moussaka is on the menu for dinner tonight, so of course eggplant is going to play a role. I broiled the eggplant, layered some soy crumbles sauteed with diced onions on top, piled on some chopped plum tomatoes sprinkled with oregano and kalamata olives, and then topped it all off with a bechamel sauce with feta stirred in. The eggplant is so mild and unobstrusive, I have to wonder why I harbored such an aversion for so long.

Vegetarian Moussaka
Remove skin from 2 eggplants and cut into 1/2" slices. Place on paper towels and sprinkle salt over slices, let sit for 1/2 hour. Place eggplant slices on baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Broil for about 15 minutes. Layer bottom of casserole dish with eggplant slices. Chop 2 onions and saute in 1 tbsp. olive oil, when onions are soft add soy crumbles and 1 tsp. parsley flakes or 2 tbsp. diced fresh parsley, cook until heated through. Layer soy crumbles on top of eggplant. Drain a 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes and coarsely chop tomatoes, mix in 1 tsp. oregano, add a handful of chopped kalamata olives. Place on top of soy crumbles. Melt 2 tbsp. butter in a saucepan whisk in 2 tbsp. flour continue whisking until smooth, pour in 1 1/2 c. 1% milk, stir constantly until milk thickens. Add 2/3 c. of crumbled feta. Stir until feta melts in.
Place in oven and bake at 375F for 45 minutes.