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Spanish-style chicken with mamaliga

19 Apr

chicken before passover

Planning meals right before Passover is a challenge. We do our best to use up all our chametz — stuff that is forbidden during Passover — which leaves us with little to chow down on just before the holiday starts.

We usually get our kitchen squared away for Passover on the weekend, though now that we’re retired it’s more out of habit than necessity. But here we were, with a kosher-for-Passover kitchen on Monday and very little that is not kosher-for-Passover in the pantry. Hmm, no pasta or noodles allowed, not even matzo before the holiday starts, and we hadn’t done our big fruit-and-veg shopping and so I didn’t have any potatoes. What could I serve with chicken breast?

Then I had a bright idea. Why not eat kitniyot? This is a word that refers generally to rice, beans and seeds — things that are not forbidden on Passover by law but have become taboo among Ashkenazi Jews (from central and eastern Europe) by custom.

The powers that be in Conservative Judaism, of which I am a member, recently ruled that it’s OK to eat kitniyot at Passover. But my daughter and her family follow stricter kashrut standards and won’t accept that ruling, so we’ll go by our long-standing tradition and abstain during the holiday.

BUT…kitniyot are not the forbidden chametz, and so cooking with them will not invalidate the kosher-ness of my Passover pots and dishes. And since it’s not Passover yet, why not eat kitniyot until Friday night, when the festival begins?

Our custom has always been to open fresh packages of foodstuffs for Passover, and I didn’t have any unopened packages of rice, so that was out. But I did have a nice big bag of stoneground cornmeal from the Livesay Grist Mill at Fiddlers Grove in Lebanon, Tennesee, a sourvenir from the Wilson County Fair where my musician son played last August. I hadn’t opened it yet because I was waiting to use up the box of Quaker cornmeal I had just bought before he presented me with this gift — and how often do we use cornmeal?

All this is prelude to tell you why I came up with this dish that we had for dinner last night. And I made enough to have once again before Passover. Since we’re in Jewish mode, I’m calling it mamaliga, which is a Rumanian-origin cornmeal mush similar to polenta, but without any cheese added.

Ingredients:

3 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 cups cornmeal
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped (I used two mini-peppers)
1 stalk celery, sliced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 large chicken breast halves, cut in half horizontally to make thin, flat pieces (about 1 lb. total)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

For the mamaliga:

Bring the water with the salt to a full boil. Slowly add the cornmeal while stirring briskly with a wooden spoon to avoid lumps.

Lower the heat and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for 10 to 20 minutes until the cornmeal is thick and pulls away from the side of the pan. Keep on very low heat until ready to serve.

For the chicken:

Heat the oil in a large skillet over  medium heat and saute the onions  for about 3 minutes.

Add the pepper, celery and garlic and continue to saute for another 3 minutes or so until the vegetables are soft.

Shove the vegetables aside and add the chicken slices to the pan. Cook 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until no longer pink.  Add the tomatoes and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the mamaliga among four plates (or make two plates and save the rest for another meal). Top each serving with one of the chicken slices and a generous amount of vegetables.

Serves 4

 

 

 

 

Passover Chocolate Truffle Cake

3 Apr

Passover chocolate truffle cake

Passover is less than three weeks away (yikes) so you’re probably planning your holiday meals.

This recipe isn’t what I’d call easy, but it’s really yummy and it’s gluten free. You can kid yourself that it’s good for you because it’s made with sweet potatoes – which you can’t really taste, but which help make it lighter than most flourless chocolate cakes.

You can gussy it up more than I did in this photo by garnishing with berries and/or whipped topping.

Ingredients:

16 oz. semisweet chocolate, divided
1½ cups baked mashed sweet potatoes at room temperature (or use canned sweet potatoes)
1/3 cup plus ¼ cup sugar
1 Tbs. vanilla sugar or 1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 oz. very soft unsalted butter or margarine
6 large eggs, separated
¼ tsp. salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 9-inch spring form pan with parchment paper.

Melt 10 oz. of the chocolate in the top of a double boiler and let cool.

Using a wire whisk, blend together the mashed sweet potatoes with 1/3 cup of sugar, the vanilla sugar or vanilla and the softened butter until well blended.

Stir in the egg hyolks and then the melted chocolate, mixing to blend.

In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer, starting on low speed. When the egg whites are foamy, add the salt and whip on high speed, slowly dusting in the remaining ¼ cup sugar. Beat until stiff, glossy peaks form.

Fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the sweet potato mixture and work in to lighten the batter. Then gently fold in the remaining 2/3 of the egg whites, blending well but taking care not to deflate the mixture.

Spoon into the prepared pan and bake for about 40 minutes. The cake will rise somewhat, look dry, and have a slight crack on top. The middle should be soft but firm.

Cool in the pan for about 20 minutes, then remove the sides from the pan and cool on a wire rack. Chill for at least an hour.

Make the ganache glaze: Chop the remaining 6 oz. of chocolate. Bring ¼ cup of water to a gentle boil and add the chocolate all at once. Remove from heat and stir briskly with a wire whisk until all the chocolate melts and is a thick sauce-like consistency. Refrigerate for an hour.

Invert the cake onto a platter so the flat bottom faces up. Pour the glaze over the cake, using a spatula to even it out and spread along the sides.

Serves 8 to 10

Easy Passover Brownies

24 Mar

Passover browniesGroan! If you’re like me, you’re up to your elbows in Passover cleaning and starting to think about the cooking. For everyone in the midst of this craziness, I wish you energy to complete the task and joy when everything is done!

I make these brownies every year because they’re easy and they’re good. In fact the recipe is almost exactly the same as the non-Passover brownies-from-scratch recipe I use year-round except it leaves out the baking powder (even though you can find kosher-for-Passover baking powder) and it uses a little less cake flour than all-purpose flour. If you wrap them well, they’ll keep for a few days.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
⅓ cup matzo cake meal
¼ tsp. salt
6 Tbs. cocoa
1 stick butter or margarine, melted (tip: if you melt it in the baking pan, the pan will be nicely greased!)
½ cup chopped nuts or chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat eggs. Add sugar gradually and beat until light and fluffy. Add the salt, matzo cake meal and cocoa powder and mix well. Add the melted margarine and mix well.

Stir in the nuts or chocolate chips.

Bake in a greased 8-inch square pan for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Wrap leftovers carefully so they don’t dry out.

Makes 16 brownies

Passover Chiffon Cake

8 Apr

Passover Sponge CakeOK, I lied — I told you last week that there would be no blog this week because of Passover. That’s because I was so fermisht by a 10-day visit to my daughter and her family in New Jersey that I got my dates confused. Obviously, this week is not the Passover holiday. I thought I had prepared and scheduled enough blogs ahead of time so that I wouldn’t have to do one today, which is my first day back home. But I miscalculated by a week.

So I hope you’re pleasantly surprised to receive another Passover recipe today. Next week there will be no blog because of Passover.

You may already have a favorite Passover sponge cake recipe, but if you don’t you may want to try this one. We tried several before settling on this one, which I like because it’s very light, fairly moist and slightly lemony. It also keeps very well, if you wrap it tightly in plastic.

If you don’t observe Passover, just skip this week’s recipe — no one in his or her right mind would make a Passover cake unless they had to!

A few important things to remember when you make a sponge cake: Make sure your tube pan is completely clean and dry before you pour in the batter. Don’t open the oven door until it’s time to take the cake out of the oven; the movement may cause the cake to fall. And don’t be tempted to bake the cake for less than the recommended baking time. The cake may look done, but if it’s a little underdone, it will break and fall out of the pan when you turn it upside down to cool.

Ingredients:

1 cup matzo cake meal
¼ cup potato starch
1½ cups sugar
1 tsp. salt
½ cup vegetable oil
8 large or extra-large eggs at room temperature, separated
½ cup water
¼ cup lemon juice
1 Tbs. grated lemon rind

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl. Make a well in the center and add the oil, egg yolks, water, lemon juice and rind, in the order named. Beat until very smooth, about 5 minutes at medium speed on electric mixer.

Beat egg whites until very, very stiff. Gradually fold egg whites into the yolk mixture very gently, until all traces of white are mixed in. Do not stir.

Pour into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 70 minutes.

Invert tube pan on a large plate or flat surface. If the pan has no “feet” on the top rim, invert it so it rests on a bottle or funnel. Cool completely. Loosen the edges of the cake with a knife or spatula.

Serves 12 to 16

Passover Apple Kugel

1 Apr

Passover Matzoh Apple KugelHere’s one of my favorite Passover recipes. I’ve been making it just about every year for 40 years. I got it from my cousin, Linda Israel, who invited us to a seder at her home soon after we were married. This recipe can easily be doubled.

(Note: Due to the Passover holiday, Bobbie’s Best Recipes will not be published next week.)

Ingredients:

3 boards of matzoh
2 medium apples
3/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbs. margarine, melted
3 eggs, well beaten
rind of half a lemon, grated
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Soak the matzoh in cold water until it is soft. Drain and break  it up into small pieces in a large bowl. Peel and chop the apples and add to matzos along with the sugar, raisins, melted margarine, lemon rind, cinnamon and salt. Mix together with the beaten eggs.

Pour into a greased casserole or square baking pan. Bake for 45 minutes. Cut into squares to serve.

Serves 6 to 8

Perfect matzoh balls

25 Mar

Passover Matzoh BallsIt’s time to start thinking about Passover. (I know — ugh!) With less than three weeks left, those of you who observe this annual frenzy of cleaning and eating are probably planning your seder menus. For almost everyone, matzoh ball soup will be featured prominently. In case anyone out there doesn’t already have the perfect matzoh ball recipe, I thought I’d tell you how I do it.

But first of all a caveat: I can give you instructions, but getting a perfect matzoh ball is almost more a matter of intuition than a recipe. Ask my daughter; she followed my recipe a few times with disastrous results, because she didn’t yet have the “feel” for it.

The secret is to make the matzoh ball mix just firm enough. Too soft, and your matzoh balls will fall apart. Too hard, and your matzoh balls will bounce. (Of course some people like them chewy. Me, I like them so fluffy that they seem to melt in your mouth.) Because of the size of the eggs, or because some of us don’t measure exactly, the mixture can be different from time to time. After you mix the matzoh meal into the egg mixture, it should feel firm but loose — not soupy, and not hard to stir. If it seems too loose, add a sprinkle more of matzoh meal. Too firm, add a teaspoon or so more water or broth. After you’ve made matzoh balls a few times, you’ll know what this mix should feel like, and your matzoh balls will be perfect every time.

The best matzoh balls are made with rendered chicken fat (schmaltz). But how many of us cook with chicken fat any more? I used to use fake chicken fat called Nyafat that you could buy in the grocery store, but they stopped making it a few years ago. I’ve seen recipes with oil, which I think is too liquidy. You can use margarine, which is what I do at Passover, though during the year I prefer to use solid vegetable shortening, which has the same consistency, if not the flavor, of chicken fat.

I like large matzoh balls and serve one per person. If you prefer, you can make them smaller and give everyone two. This recipe makes eight large matzoh balls. It can easily be halved if there are just a few of you or doubled to serve 16.

Ingredients:

4 eggs at room temperature
4 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. chicken fat, shortening or margarine, melted
4 Tbs. chicken soup or water
2 tsp. salt
1 cup matzoh meal
1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped fine, optional (or 1/2 tsp. dried)

Directions:

Beat the eggs and then beat in the fat, the chicken soup or water and the salt. Sprinkle in the matzoh meal and the chopped parsley if you use it,  and stir quickly with a fork so that there are no lumps. Add a sprinkle more matzoh meal if the mixture seems too loose.

Place plastic wrap on the surface of the matzoh and press down to remove air. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes, and up to a few hours.

Fill a large saucepan (a Dutch oven is good) with water and heat to boiling.

Wet your hands and form round balls with the matzoh meal mixture. You can drop them in the boiling water as you make them, or place them on a plate or board until you’ve made them all to assure a uniform size.

Put the balls in the boiling water. Within a minute or two, they should float to the top. If any balls stick to the bottom of the pot, give them a little nudge with a wooden spoon to loosen them. When the water returns to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover the pot loosely.

Cook for 40 minutes. Remove the matzoh balls with a slotted spoon to a pot of chicken soup. You can serve immediately, or reheat the matzoh balls with the soup. (If you haven’t made the soup yet, place the matzoh balls in a large covered container, cover them with water, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.)

Serves 8

Passover Granola

28 Mar

Passover GranolaI was a little hesitant about trying to make granola out of matzo. If you’ve ever tried one of those Passover cold cereals you’ll understand! But there’s a new product out this year called Matzola, a granola-like snack. I had a sample at a women’s event a few weeks ago and it’s very tasty. Only problem is it costs about $7 for a small can. So I went online to look for a recipe for Passover granola and found this one that originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times. It’s very nice mixed with yogurt for breakfast — and it’s also a tasty snack!

Ingredients:

2 cups matzo farfel
1 cup unpeeled almonds, cut in half or coarsely chopped
½  cup shredded sweetened coconut
½ cup honey
¼  cup oil
½ cup raisins
½ cup diced dried apricots

Directions:

Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the farfel, almonds and coconut in a large bowl. Pour in the honey and oil and mix well. Let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes. Spread the mixture on the baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. (It tends to get cooked faster at the outer edges of the baking sheet. Check it frequently to make sure it doesn’t burn.)

Add the raisins and apricots and toss well. Transfer to a platter and cool completely. (It will seem a little “wet” when it comes out of the oven, but it gets more solid as it cools.) Store in an airtight container.