Monday, April 30, 2012

Gluttonous Weekend

This last weekend was a good one for both home cooking and restaurant visits. Let me just dive into the recipes, then:

Udon, Tofu and Bok Choy in Soup

Where to buy ingredients: Sun Oriental Market has the best selection of Korean and Japanese ingredients I've found so far in Portland. And lots of vendors at the Portland Farmers Market are coming up with bok choy.


  • 1 piece of kombu (dried kelp), about 4 inches square
  • 4 cups of cold water
  • 1 small pouch of bonito flakes
  • neutral cooking oil (e.g. grapeseed, peanut, or canola)
  • 1 piece of fresh ginger, about 1 inch long, peeled and minced
  • 3 Tablespoons of light soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons of mirin
  • 1 block of firm tofu, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 head of bok choy, washed and roughly chopped
  • 1 lb of frozen udon noodles
  • Green parts of 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil


  1. Place kombu in a cooking pot and soak in cold water for 20 minutes.
  2. Bring to a boil, then add the bonito flakes and remove from the heat.
  3. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drain with a fine mesh strainer, pressing the solids. Reserve the broth (dashi).
  4. In a clean cooking pot, heat just enough oil to film the bottom over medium-high heat. Add the minced ginger and saute for a minute.
  5. Add the broth, soy sauce and mirin and bring to a boil. Add the tofu cubes and reduce to a simmer.
  6. Simmer for 5 minutes, then add the bok choy and simmer for 3 minutes more.
  7. In a separate pot, cook the udon according to the package instructions (usually, 1 minute in boiling water), then strain and add to the soup.
  8. Once the soup comes back to a simmer, remove from heat and add the scallions and sesame oil, stirring to incorporate. Serve hot.

The other meal combines two dishes from opposite ends of the Middle East, a "tagine" from Algeria and a "sabzi" from Iran. I'm using scare quotes because this meal was improvised, based on recipes I've cooked before, dishes I have eaten, and ingredients I had readily available to me. I do not vouch for their strict authenticity--though they both tasted pretty good to me.

Lamb Shank "Tagine"


  • 2 whole lamb shanks
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of: whole coriander seed, whole cumin seed, and whole fennel seed
  • 1 onion, sliced thin
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 carrots, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup dry, robust red wine
  • 1 large can of tomatoes, hand crushed
  • 1 cup of whole prunes


  1. Preheat oven to 325.
  2. Season the shanks with salt and pepper.
  3. In a large, heavy kettle or casserole (preferably ceramic or enamelized cast iron, though I did it in regular cast iron and it worked fine), heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Sear the shanks on all sides, then set them aside.
  4. Lower the heat to medium and add the whole spices. Stir a few seconds until just fragrant.
  5. Add the onions, garlic and carrots. Saute until the onions are slightly caramelized.
  6. Add wine, turn up the heat to high until reduced by half.
  7. Add the shanks and the tomatoes, cover, and put in oven.
  8. After an hour and fifteen minutes, turn the shanks over and add the prunes. Return to oven and cook for another hour.
  9. Serve with cooked basmati rice and "Sabzi" (see next recipe)

"Sabzi" (Iranian-Style Braised Mixed Greens)


    Several handfuls of fresh spinach, washed and stemmed
  • 3 scallions, sliced thinly, white and green parts separated
  • 2 Tablespoons of butter
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or so) of dried mint
  • 1/2 cup of chopped fresh parsley
  • handful of radish microgreens (available at Portland Farmers Market--if you can't find them, mix regular-sized radish greens with spinach and cook the same as the spinach)


  1. Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat.
  2. Add white parts of scallions and cook for a minute.
  3. Add spinach and cook, stirring, until all leaves are wilted, about 5 minutes.
  4. Season with salt, pepper and mint.
  5. Add green parts of scallions and parsley and continue cooking, stirring, for a minute.
  6. Remove from heat, add the radish microgreens, and stir in.
  7. Serve with lemon wedges.

As for restaurants:

  • Though both pho and Hanoi are in its name, the real thing to seek out at Pho Ha Noi may be a specialty of the city of Hue, bun bo Hue dac biet: A spicy broth with thick, wheat-based noodles, various cuts of beef, slices of slightly spongy pork meatballs and, my favorite, chunks of gelatinous tendon.
  • Two visits to the Sunday buffet at Aroma, and no disappointments yet. Protip: The pongal may look like baby food, but it's not, unless your baby likes red chiles, whole peppercorns and curry leaves. Top it with the sambar, and you'll be loving it until your next trip to the bathroom.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More of Eco's Gourmandise

I'm not just doing this for your edification: I will have to return this book to the library soon, and I would like to have these recipes or the names of dishes available for future reference, research and practice!
My teachers liked to eat well, and this vice must also have remained with me into adulthood. I remember mealtimes, somber rather than lively gatherings where the good fathers would discuss the excellence of a bollito misto, prepared as my grandfather had instructed.

It required at least half a kilo of shin of beef, an oxtail, a piece of rump, a small salami, a calf's tongue and head, cotechino sausage, a boiling fowl, an onion, two carrots, two sticks of celery and a handful of parsley. All left to cook for various lengths of time, depending on the type of meat. But, as my grandfather insisted and Father Bergamaschi confirmed with emphatic nods of the head, once the boiled meat had been arranged on a serving dish, you had to sprinkle a few pinches of coarse salt and pour several spoonfuls of boiling broth over the meat to bring out the flavor. Not many vegetables except for a few potatoes, but plenty of condiments - mostarda d'uva, mostarda alla senape di frutta, horseradish sauce, but above all (on this my grandfather was firm) bagnetto verde: a handful of parsley, a few anchovy fillets, fresh breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of capers, a clove of garlic and the yolk of a hard-boiled egg, all finely chopped, with olive oil and vinegar. (63-64)

The above description, with its reference to cotechino, might have been the reason why I ordered the charcuterie special of duck cotechino at Duckfat last night. I need to find an excuse to replicate the bagnetto verde

Excellent beef braised in Barolo then arrived at the table.

"My son will never understand the beauty of such a thing," he said. "Beef with onion, carrot, celery, sage, rosemary, bay leaf, clove, cinnamon, juniper, salt, pepper, butter, olive oil and, of course, a bottle of Barolo, served with polenta or puréed potato. Go on, fight the revolution. All taste for life is gone. You people want to be rid of the pope, and we'll end up being forced by that fisherman Garibaldi to eat bouillabaisse niçoise. What is the world coming to!" (69)

Warning: Impending slaughter of an endangered species!

The sailors were about to haul up a large turtle of the kind to be found south of Corsica. Dumas was delighted.

"There'll be work to do. First you have to turn it on its back. The turtle innocently stretches out its neck and you take advantage of its imprudence to cut off its head - thwack! - before hanging it by the tail to let it bleed for twelve hours. Then you turn it on its back again, insert a strong blade between the carapace and the breastplate, being very careful not to perforate the gallbladder, otherwise it becomes inedible. Remove the innards and retain only the liver - the transparent pulp inside serves no purpose, but there are two lobes that, because of their whiteness and their flavor, seem like two veal noisettes. Finally, remove the membranes, the neck and the flippers. Cut them into pieces the size of walnuts, leave them to soak, then add the pieces to a good broth, with pepper, cloves, carrot, thyme and a bay leaf, and cook together for three or four hours over low heat. In the meantime, prepare strips of chicken seasoned with parsley, chives and anchovy, cook them in boiling broth, then add them to the turtle soup, into which you've poured three or four glasses of dry Madeira. If you have no Madeira, you can use Marsala with a small glass of brandy or rum, though that would be second best, un pis-aller. We'll taste our soup tomorrow evening." (115, 117)

My stay in Sicily ends here, and I'm sorry I won't see what is going on in Naples and beyond, but I wasn't here to enjoy myself, nor to write an epic. At the end of these travels I remember with pleasure only the pisci d'ovu, the babbaluci a picchipacchi (a way of cooking snails), and the cannoli ... Ah, the cannoli! Nievo also promised to let me taste a certain swordfish a' sammurigghu, but there wasn't enough time, so all I can savor is the aroma of its name. (139)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Eco's Gourmandise, Installment 1

Umberto Eco's newest novel, The Prague Cemetery, is his most controversial, and not surprisingly so: The central character is a forger behind the fabrication of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and is as anti-Semitic, racist and generally misanthropic as one would expect such a character to be. However, like many of the protagonists of his previous novels, this one is a gourmand as well. And since Eco imagines him as an Italian of Piedmontese origin, exiled to Paris, with a brief sojourn in Sicily, there are plenty of mouthwatering descriptions of food mixed in with the rants about Jews, Masons, Jesuits, women, non-European "inferior races" and the lower classes. Here are a few of them, to whet your appetites:
The power of art ... to be rewarded by a visit to the Café Anglais.

My memory must be in my nose, yet I have the impression that centuries have passed since I last savored the aroma of that menu: soufflés à la reine, filets de sole à la vénitienne, escalopes de turbot au gratin, selle de mouton purée bretonne ... And as an entrée: poulet à la portugaise, or pâté chaud de cailles, or homard à la parisienne, or all of them, and as the plat de résistance, perhaps canetons à la rouennais or ortolans sur canapés, and for entremets, aubergines à l'espagnole, asperges en branches, cassolettes princesse ... For wine, I don't know, perhaps a Château Margaux, or Château Latour, or Château Lafite, depending on the vintage. And to finish, a bombe glacée. (17-18)

I find it relaxing to labor away for a few hours preparing some delicacy. For example, côtes de veau Foyot: meat at least four centimeters thick - enough for two, of course - two medium size onions, fifty grams of bread without the crust, seventy-five of grated gruyère, fifty of butter. Grate the bread into breadcrumbs and mix with the gruyère, then peel and chop the onions and melt forty grams of butter in a small pan. Meanwhile, in another pan, gently sauté the onions in the remaining butter. Cover the bottom of a dish with half the onions, season the meat with salt and pepper, arrange it on the dish and add the rest of the onions. Cover with a layer of breadcrumbs and cheese, making sure that the meat sits well on the bottom of the dish, allowing the melted butter to drain to the bottom and gently pressing by hand. Add another layer of breadcrumbs to form a sort of dome, and the last of the melted butter. Add enough white wine and stock until the liquid is no more than half the height of the meat. Put the dish in the oven for around half an hour, basting now and then with the wine and stock. Serve with sautéed cauliflower. (18-19)

I would have enjoyed a visit to Chez Philippe in rue Montorgueil to put myself in the appropriate frame of mind for this form of self-hypnosis. I would have sat down quietly, taken my time in studying the menu - the one served from six p.m. to midnight - and ordered potage à la Crécy, turbot with caper sauce, fillet of beef and langue de veau au jus, finishing with a maraschino sorbet and petits fours, washed down with two bottles of vintage Burgundy.

By then, midnight would have passed and I would have had a look at the night menu. I would have allowed myself a turtle soup (a delicious one comes to mind, made by Dumas - so did I know Dumas?), salmon with spring onions and artichokes with Javanese pepper, with a rum sorbet and English spiced cakes to follow. Further into the night I would have treated myself to some delicacy from the morning menu, perhaps the soupe aux oignons, which the porters at Les Halles would also be tucking into at that moment, happy to demean myself with their company. Then, to prepare myself for a busy morning, a very strong coffee and pousse-café of cognac and kirsch. (45-46)

Of my grandfather and my childhood I remember above all the bagna caöda: a terracotta pot of bioling oil, flavored with anchovies, garlic and butter, is kept hot on a charcoal burner, and into are dipped cardoons (which have been left to soak in cold water and lemon juice - or some said milk, but not my grandfather), raw or grilled peppers, white leaves of Savoy cabbage, Jerusalem artichokes and tender cauliflower - or boiled vegetables: onions, beetroot, potatoes or carrots (but as my grandfather used to say, this was stuff for paupers). (48)

I think four quotes is enough for now. There will be more installments, at least until I have to return the book to the library. There are four-hundred pages of reactionary spleen and trained gluttony to go.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Before Hot Librarian ever applied for the job that brought us here, there were three restaurants, enjoyed on a family vacation to Maine, that convinced me I could live here: Duckfat, Bar Lola and Asmara. So why haven't a blogged about any of them yet? Perhaps I am fundamentally a novelty-seeking individual. Perhaps the fact that I enjoyed them as a tourist is subconsciously influencing me away from them as I seek to refashion myself into a Mainer.

Or perhaps, it's just because I hadn't gotten around to eating in them yet.

The Little One and I got to Asmara yesterday. I don't understand why the place is not overrun with families overflowing from the Children's Museum around the corner: What could be better, from a child's perspective, than a restaurant where using your hands is not just permitted but expected? The decor is very kid-friendly as well: LO insisted on sitting in the front booth, near wooden sculptures of a giraffe, an elephant and a zebra.

Until moving to Portland, I was more familiar with Ethiopian food than that of their neighbor (and enemy) to the north, Eritrea. The relationship between the two countries might be compared to a forced marriage that gave way to an acrimonious divorce. The very short version: Eritrea had been an Italian colony. After the Italians left, the Ethiopians annexed the country without asking the Eritreans if that was what they wanted. The Eritreans fought against the Ethiopians in a decades-long civil war. The Eritreans ultimately got independence, but since then the two countries have fought several border wars in which thousands of people have died.

In spite of the deadly animosity, there are cross-border cultural links and similarities. For example, Tigrinya, the most commonly spoken language in Eritrea, native tongue of 60% of the population, is also spoken by about three million Ethiopians.

All of this is to say that while Eritrean food is very similar to the Ethiopian food to which I became accustomed in my Washington DC sojourns, the food at Asmara has some subtle differences, and I do not know enough to say whether those differences are an authentic representations of how tastes differ in Asmara (the Eritrean capital city, not the restaurant) as opposed to Addis Ababa, or are the result of concessions to a Maine palate. While one can get spicy dishes at Asmara (the restaurant), even the spicy dishes are more gently spiced than what one finds in Adams-Morgan.

Nonetheless, the food is delicious. Our choices were constrained by the fact that LO and I would be sharing, so I let her pick: We got the lentils, with a side of cabbage, carrots and potatoes. All dishes at Asmara come with a side salad of lettuce and tomato, dressed in a light vinaigrette that seems, to me, to show some lingering Italian colonial influence. All are served on top of a piece of injera, the spongy, sour flatbread that serves as the sole utensil. The best part, in my opinion, is ending the meal by eating the pieces of injera into which the sauces and dressings of the dishes, sides and salad have soaked. On previous visits, HL has gotten their African sweet tea, which is generously seasoned with clove, and complements seasoning of the dishes nicely.

The service has always been pleasant, on each of our visits. An especially well-thought-out touch of hospitality is the provision of steamed cloth napkins before the meal, so that one can wipe one's hands before the meal.

I am surprised, given the fact that Eritrea has a long coastline (and left Ethiopia landlocked upon its secession), that there are not many fish or seafood dishes on the menu: Just one, with salmon, which I'm pretty sure is not caught much in the Red Sea. Chicken, beef and lamb are amply represented, and there are many vegetarian options as well (as evidenced from our meatless meal).

One complaint is that they only provide one piece of injera per entree--and if one orders only one entree, then the "plate" is the only piece. If you request extra injera, they charge for it: $2 a piece. Even so, with a single entree and one extra piece of bread, we left satisfied at a reasonable price: $17 for the two of us, including tax and tip. On weekdays they serve lunch specials, with a couple selected entrees at an even lower price.

Another disappointment, though not with the restaurant itself: Every time we have been there, it has been nearly empty. This is a place that deserves to be buzzing. Hopefully this entry will do its small part to remedy that situation.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Bread, Dumplings and Noodles

First an administrative note: I recently had occasion to read back obsessive-compulsively through this blog. And noticed that it took a real nosedive around the time I got a day job. Not just in terms of the frequency and length of entries--that was to be expected--but, more mortifying to me, in the quality of writing as well. Yes, an increase in typos and grammatical errors, but more than that, a loss of some snap in the prose. (That more non-job energy has been going into other forms and venues of writing may explain it, in a somewhat gratifying way, but is no excuse.)

With that stated, I'll try to do a better job in this week's entry.

Earlier this week I was introduced to The Bread Shack in Auburn. Did you know that Auburn was home to an internationally renowned competitive baker? I, for one, did not. I was introduced to it over a lunch hour by a colleague who shall be referred to as the Charming Professor, or CP for short. Now, I will confess that I was focused primarily on the conversation. But I could not help but notice that the cranberry walnut chicken salad sandwich (on cranberry walnut bread) I was eating was one of the most delicious things I have ever had in sandwich form. As a consequence, I think I may at times have spoken with my mouth full, unwilling or unable to refrain from taking another bite. CP ordered a sampler of cookies for the table, sparing me the agony having to choose among the many cookies, tarts, and pastries for a sweet. All the cookies were buttery, perfectly crisp and just sweet enough. But the snicker doodle in particular was a taste I want to have again and again.

Last night brought us into the already praised Schulte & Herr for our third visit, an unexpected dinner. We were graciously seated despite a lack of reservations. The Little One was emphatic about having the Wurstplatte, Hot Librarian wanted the Maultaschen (ravioli-type dumplings filled with soft white cheese and greens, served with roasted root vegetables). So despite wanting the Maultaschen myself, I took one for the team and ordered the Wurstplatte. LO tore through half the sausage and the ham, and generous dollops of the sauerkraut (braised with bacon for extra pigginess) and German potato salad. Yet my gambit worked, for HL had had a late lunch and wasn't very hungry: I got a couple of maultaschen and some deliciously sweet roasted parsnips and carrots--leaving no room, alas, for the plum streusel.

Today for lunch, in the midst of our Saturday grocery shopping, I took LO where I would have preferred to go last night, Pai Men Miyake. LO was emphatic about wanting the gyoza. I also ordered the edamame for us to share, to make sure she would have some vegetable matter. The sashimi soba that I ordered was refreshing and well-balanced, perfect for a warm spring day. But the real highlight was a special small plate that I ordered at the end of the meal, to fill the hole inevitably left by a tasty and moderately portioned Japanese meal: deep-fried oxtail. The oxtail had been braised into a shreddy, near gelatinous state, then formed into a cube which was breaded and deep fried, then served with a streak of sauce made with sendai miso (a four-hundred-year-old delicacy whose praises are well-sung here) and, for balance, a little mound of kimchi. It was a special, so I may never taste it again.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Passover Recap

Dishes listed in order of appearance:
  • R.W. Knudsen 100% Concord Grape Juice: A big hit with the Little One. We may have to ration her consumption.
  • 2007 Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone: An amazingly complex wine for only $14. Still has some tannins to it, so it could probably stand another year or two of bottle aging.
  • Freshly prepared horseradish: Nose-tingling. It will be making an appearance of my matzah brei some time this week, and several other dishes in the weeks to come.
  • Haroset: Best haroset ever, by acclimation. None of us could stop eating it. Recipe in one of the earlier entries.
  • Tangerine, olive and fennel salad: Working in those non-traditional seder plate components. Very simple: peeled, de-pithed segments of four tangerines; about twenty cracked green olives brined with lemon and hot peppers (Ziyad brand--you can get them in large jars at al-Ahram), pitted; a bulb of fresh fennel cut into matchsticks. Mix them all together and dress at the last minute with olive oil. Tasty--would have gone well with fish (but Hot Librarian convinced me to take baked haddock off the menu, on the correct assumption that we would have too much food).
  • Matzah Ball Soup: Best ever. See the recipe in an earlier entry for the soup itself. For the matzah balls, follow this Smitten Kitchen recipe recommended to me by my mother. Sorry, ma: My chicken soup is now better than yours, though I can't take full credit for it. The Goransson Farms rutabagas, that I suspect had spent the colder days of winter in the ground sweetening up in preparation, imparted a dark orange hue to the stock and a luscious flavor.

From this point forward, both LO and HL had managed to fill themselves up with haroset, salad, and matzah ball soup, so all opinions are solely mine.

    Roasted lamb shoulder: I love Southpaw Farms lamb. If you can find a lamb purveyor whose lambs are solely milk and grass fed, and slaughtered when they're still young and tender, you can duplicate this. Otherwise, sorry. It starts with a bone-in shoulder. Because the lamb is young, it's relatively small--about two and a quarter pounds. Then brine and rub with the spice mixture as I described in an earlier entry, and let it sit in the refrigerator at least four hours. Preheat you oven to 375 (350 in the case of my hot-running oven). Put the shoulder in a small roasting pan, covered with aluminum foil. Put in the oven for 30 minutes. Then remove the foil, rub the shoulder all over with olive oil, and put back in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Let rest. We probably let it rest too long because we had only just started reading the seder when it came out of the oven. Even so, best lamb ever.
  • Salade aux fines herbes: This was simple. A package of pre-washed mache from Whole Foods. Whatever herbs I could grab there yesterday morning--tarragon, parsley, chives--and also the fennel fronds left over from the other salad. Season with salt, and dress with a standard shallot and dijon vinaigrette. Went very nicely with the lamb.

HL and OL returned to the festive meal in time for the dessert, for which I can take no credit (except for having ordered it), a flourless chocolate-almond-raspberry torte from Standard Baking Company. It was good. Even I, without much of a sweet tooth, had a generous slice.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Passover Marathon, Part 2

Why does Ashkenazi Jewish food have a reputation for being bad? Probably because it is so simply seasoned, that it takes a great deal of care for the cook to get it to cross the boundary between bland and delectable, without crossing that further bound into oversalted. As a case in point, my great-grandmother's chicken soup, which became my mother's chicken soup and is now, in effect, mine. I don't have a recipe, because my great-grandmother's refrain in the kitchen, whenever someone would ask for a recipe was, "until it's right." This is an until it's right recipe. If you can't tell the difference between right and not right, maybe you should let someone else make it.

It starts with a chicken. I didn't want to do a huge batch, so I opted for chicken parts instead today. I would have preferred backs, but Pat's didn't have them for sale. Instead I took one leg and four wings. Another trick I've been known to do is throw in some feet, for color, but those were easier to find in Flushing. I'm sure I could have found chicken feet at one of the many Asian markets in town, but I didn't want to add a stop this morning.

Then the vegetables: an onion, a small rutabaga, four carrots and four ribs of celery, all chopped coarsely, along with two whole cloves of garlic, some sprigs of parsley and about six whole black peppercorns.

Then the water: Cover it all with about three quarts of water. Add a little bit of salt, but not too much--leave yourself some leeway to adjust the seasonings along the way.

Bring to a boil. Skim off foam as it appears. Lower to a simmer. Keep skimming off foam. After it has boiled about an hour, taste the soup. Adjust the seasoning. Then wait until the chicken joints are all coming loose. With a whole chicken, that could take an additional two hours. With pieces, as with today, it took about an hour additional, for a total of two hours. Taste the soup again, adjust the seasoning, wait a bit, and taste again. When it tastes like the people you will serve it to will know you love them, then it is ready.

Drain the broth. Reserve the carrot and rutabaga pieces and put them into the broth. Eat the plain boiled chicken with some of the freshly prepared horseradish (and some of those roasted beets I mentioned in the last entry, that weren't part of the official menu) as a cook's treat lunch. (Or make it into a chicken salad that goes great on matzah--but Hot Librarian doesn't like chicken salad.)

As for the lamb shoulder, I did come up with a nice spice rub. First I rubbed the meat with coarse sea salt. Then I pan roasted about half a teaspoon of fennel seeds, and crushed them with a mortar and pestle. (Note: Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews do not consider fennel kosher for Passover. Another reason I am not Orthodox, and tend to prefer the Sephardi palate.) I mixed the crushed fennel with half a teaspoon each of cumin and coriander powder, and about a quarter teaspoon of cardamom powder, in a small plastic bag, and shook it up to distribute the spices evenly. Then I rubbed the mixture all over the lamb. It's a small shoulder, about two and a quarter pounds, so I won't start roasting it until after I pick the Little One up from preschool. Before then, I'll print the haggadot.

Still to do in the kitchen (and I may not get a chance to blog about all this today):

  • Roast the lamb;
  • Roast the vegetables (carrots, celeriac and potatoes with lemon and savory);
  • Make the matzah balls and reheat the soup;
  • Make the orange, olive and fennel salad;
  • Make the salade aux fines herbes (mache with tarragon, parsley and chives in a shallot vinaigrette)
  • Assemble the seder plate.

Passover Marathon, Stage 1

Passover cooking is constrained cooking. One cannot use flour or any bread other than matzah. Even if one is in a family where the laws of kashrut are usually disregarded, it's probably best not to engage in any flagrant flouting of them, so no pork, no shellfish, and no use of dairy at all since, unless one is in a vegetarian household, it is also traditional to have some sort of large piece of roasted animal flesh as the centerpiece protein--with lamb being traditional among those of Sephardi and Mizrahi background, and chicken, duck or goose being more common among Ashkenazim. There must certain traditional items: a purely decorative roasted shank bone from a lamb or goat, hard boiled eggs, fresh herbs and leafy green vegetables, a paste that is supposed to look like mortar called haroset, usually made with apples and nuts and wine (but recipes vary), and bitter herbs, most often horseradish, called maror.

There are other, more recent traditions that have cropped up in households like ours that celebrate Passover for its political significance as a tale of human emancipation, rather than in a traditionally religious framework: oranges a sign of support for gay liberation and feminism; olives in solidarity with Palestinians. And then there are the traditions that have no religious or political significance, but whose neglect would cause open familial strife: For example, what would Passover be without matzah ball soup?

The shankbone has been roasted. It came out of a Southpaw Farms shank that I braised earlier this week for a kind of lamb stifado. Southpaw Farms are the sellers at the Portland Winter Market whom I praised earlier as the purveyors of the best lamb I've had in the United States. One of their lamb shoulders has just finished defrosting, and I need to figure out how I want to spice rub it for tonight.

"This is the bitter herb that we eat as a remembrance of our affliction...." I'll spare you the Maxwell House haggadah liturgy. Really, this is fresh horseradish from another mainstay of the Portland Winter Market (farm name escaping me at the moment) who had horseradish roots for sale last week. I had already been making use of the root earlier this week. What was left, I ran through the food processor, put into a Bell jar and covered with distilled white vinegar. This will be making me happy for weeks to come. I just took some roasted beets out of the oven, one of which will go into a toned down version of maror for the Little One and Hot Librarian. For that, just puree one beet with about a half-teaspoon of the prepared horseradish. I just dressed the other two roasted beets with cumin, coarse sea salt, lemon juice and olive oil.

And here's the haroset. Because HL doesn't like the taste of alcohol, and LO is 4, this is an alcohol-free version. 3 Macintosh apples, coarsely chopped and cored but not peeled, 6 seeded Deglet dates, coarsely chopped, 2 dried Turkish figs, two small handfuls of walnuts, pan-toasted, about 1/4 teaspoon each of cinnamon, clove and cardamom powder (maybe a bit more of the cinnamon, but not too much), and finally 2 tablespoons of R.W. Knudsen 100% Concord Grape juice. Put them all in the food processor and pulse, do not grind. You want to keep pulsing until it looks sort of like this--mortar-like, but with the fruits and nuts retaining some integrity, not mushy baby food.

Now I need to check on my chicken soup, and rub some spices on the lamb. More to come.