Sunday, March 23, 2008

Beef Cholent for a Sephardic Passover

So we got invited to Passover at a non cohousing friend's house. Neither Elmer nor I are religious. He's decidedly NOT and I am... er... what you would politely call a "free spirit". However, we love going to other people's religious functions. I think being aware of, appreciating & honoring religious ritual that is not your own is the key to world peace.
Also, there is usually damn good food, and as a couple we have never be accused of turning down damn good food.

This particular Passover is a kind of an "orange on the Seder plate" kind of Passover. Cheryl, the organizer, lovingly refers to it as Matzopalloza. She spreads her joy in her culture by encouraging us all to cook food appropriate for the occasion.
This year, she decided that we would have a Sephardic passover and would some brave, intrepid, adventurous cooks be interested in making Cholent?
Brave? Intrepid? Adventurous? That's us! We'll do it!!
(Okay, what the heck is Cholent?)
A quick web search later and we get an understanding that it is a stew that is cooked long and slow so that one can have hot food on the Sabbath without having done any work to cook it (hence violating Sabbath rules about resting on the Sabbath).

We got our basic recipe from here.

Despite the injunctions on this website not to use a crock pot, our oven does not go as low as the cook wanted us to cook at, but our crock pot did.
Also, as cooks we intrigued with the concept of slow cooking recipes, specifically ones that do not start with the phrase "Open a can of..."

Beef Cholent for a Sephardic Passover (Feeds 12 - 14)

3 cups dry mixed beans (we used Bob's 13 bean mix because that's what we had in the house)
4 Tbs olive oil
2 large onions chopped into chunks.
6 cloves garlic
3 Tbs Sweet Hungarian paprika
3 tsp salt
3 tsp pepper.
1.5 cups toasted buckwheat/kashka
2 lbs fingerling or other waxy potato, cut into large chunks.
2 lbs beef (we used boneless short ribs, because that's what we had already).
1 lbs beef bones (we bought cheap ass shin bones)
6 eggs in shells, washed

Take your beans and soak them in water that is at least 3 fingers over the level of beans in the bowl for 5 - 8 hours.
Pull your eggs out of the fridge, wash them, and let them come to room temperature.
Pour boiling hot water in your crock pot and preheat the crock pot at the high setting while you work.
Drain your beans.
Turn oven to 400. Put beef bones in a cast iron skillet and roast them in the oven for 30 - 45 minutes. Set the beef bones aside.
While that is going cut the onion into large chunks.
Slice up the shallot
Mince up your garlic.
Cut your potatoes into large chunks.
Take the still messy skillet and quickly brown your beef on all sides. Set aside. Drain fat from skillet.

In same skillet saute the onions & shallot until translucent, 5 - 7 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook another few minutes.
Add the Salt, pepper & paprika. Saute a little more.
Take that gloriously fragrant mixture out and put into a large bowl (not a white one, or you will be cleaning paprika stains with Ajax for a while, trust me on this).
Add the soaked beans and mix together.
Add the potatoes and mix.
Add the buckwheat/kashka and mix.
Despair. Realize you have made enough to feed an army and begin to think that your crock pot is too small.
Empty the water from the crock pot
Put a small layer of bones at the bottom of crock pot.
On top of that put in a layer of the bean mixture.
Lay in half of your meat pieces. Nestle the six eggs in between the meat.
Cover with another layer of bean mixture.
Lay in the other half of the meat pieces.
Cover with the rest of the bean mixture.
Rejoice. Realize you are at your limit for the crock pot and you just made it.
Pour in enough hot water to attempt to cover.
Cover top with foil to make sure the lid & pot cover tightly.
Put on lid.
Leave at the high setting for one hour.
Freak out when you realize that the buckwheat is going to expand and wonder where that expansion is going to go.
Pray (see, we're religious!) .

After an hour note that the liquid is bubbling over the lid.
Get a pan and put it under the crock pot to catch that.

Now... ignore the crock pot for a minimum of 7 hours.

The cholent ended up smelling strange. Perhaps it was the kashka, but it reminded me of what corned beef hash out of a can smelled like. A little off putting. But it was stick to your ribs thick and chewy. Lack of enough water I presume. And despite the smell we could NOT stop eating it. It was even better reheated the next day.

We packed what we did not eat (which is STILL A LOT) and put it in the freezer for Passover. We will probably reheat in the crock pot and add more water at that time.

More Passover cooking soon.

Next year perhaps our friends and neighbors will gather for Passover in the Common House.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Frozen Cranberry Fig Bars

A couple of days ago 28 Cooks posted a recipe for “vegan raw chocolate brownies”.
And my brain went “murp?” Then my brain went: “well heck, lets swap out the dried cherries with dried cranberries and throw in some cinnamon and then, and then…”
Elmer did not share my sense of intrigue. “It needs a better name. You start with the words “vegan” and “raw” and you have already lost 75% of the room. Throwing out other words like “Chocolate” and “Brownie” won’t save you.

But fortunately for this blog post, I did not listen to Elmer. I went out and I made those vegan raw chocolate brownies and they were good. They were damn good. Even he said so. He ate four.
So I brought them to an Ides of March party. Once people knew what they were, most folks passed (apart from the Hostess, who was amazed at how good they were). I brought the rest to a rehearsal the next day and just left them on the counter with the other nut deserts (labeled walnuts and dairy free) and they got gobbled up.

Damn Elmer. I hate it when he is right.

But the idea of a bar of pressed gooey fruits masquerading as something else has stayed with me, so last night I got busy again. I had in my mind a brighter taste. No chocolate, but something sunny, something nutty and sweet. Of course, that meant I basically had to use the bones of this recipe as a structure on which to makes something entirely unknown. I mean, why stick with what you know? Let’s just start substituting away!

So I played this little game in my head and planned on doing the following.

28 Cooks Original Recipe

1/2 c dried dates

1/2 c dried cherries

1/4 c carob powder (or cocoa powder)

1 c walnuts

3 tbsp agave nectar (or honey)

KathyJ’s Bastardization
½ c dried figs

½ c dried cranberries

¼ c almond powder

1 c raw cashews

3 tbsp agave nectar

Well… that’s how it started, then it rapidly got more interesting from there.

See, the original recipie did not make very much, so I doubled it and I doubled the bastardization.

I threw the figs, the cranberries and the almond powder in the foodprocessor and pulsed it.
Food Processor
Once that was combined I threw in the cup of cashews and pulsed the machine. I wanted the cashews to be in larger chunks, so they did not turn into the same dust as the almond flour.

I tasted it.
Elmer tasted it.
It was missing something.
“Add the Agave nectar,” Elmer suggested.

Fig Ball
This is when we note clearly and for the record that my darling husband is not always right. We should have added the cardamom and any other ingredients at this point.
We failed.
Don’t fail.
Add anything loose now. Once you add the agave nectar, the whole thing seizes into a big sticky ball and it is very hard to incorporate any new ingredients.

“Whoops. Sorry. How’s the taste?” he asked.
“Still missing something,” I replied.
We ended up adding a ½ cup of coconut flakes and the cardamom to fix it. This did not go over well. The coconut dulled the bright taste and the cardamom did not quite get into the nooks and crannies of the fig mush.

Frustrated, I threw the fig mush into the pan I had put out, and found that unlike the doubled brownie recipie, it didn’t make enough to cover the whole bottom. That was a surprise until I realized that I had not doubled the amount of cashews in the recipe. *sigh* Too late now. Fortunately, the mass is sticky and rigid enough that I just squished it over to the side and it stayed that way.

Fig Mush
Sadly, it looked remarkably like ground meat.
Happily, my intrepid shopping at little Armenian Market Around the Corner from my Work saved the day. I had a bag of pre-ground pistachio meats and I pressed a layer of crumbly, beautiful green pistachios into the top. That made it look cheerful and spring like. I then threw the pan into the freezer to let it sit and solidify all night.

By the morning the taste had regained it’s brightness and the pistachios had a lovely crumbly, buttery feel in the mouth. There was only a hit of cardamom, so I might up that if I was making this again, but it was a wonderful, complexly flavored, pressed fig bar. Pretty enough to serve to your dairy free, vegan, raw food eating, no nut allergies neighbors, should you have any. Just, don’t tell everyone else what it is.

Fig Cranberry Bars

Frozen Cranberry Fig Bars
1 Cup Dried Figs
1 Cup Dried Cranberries
½ cup almond powder.
½ cup flaked coconut.
1 Cup raw cashews (can be roasted & salted, that would be a nice flavor too)
1 tsp of cardamom. (you might consider doubling this)
4 Tbls of agave nectar (or honey)
Dusting of ground Pistachios (4 oz?)

Grind pistachio meats in your food processor until crumbly. Reserve pistachio meats and wipe down inside of food processor bowl.
Reassemble food processor.
De-stem the figs by chopping the woody part off with a sharp knife.
Put figs, cranberries, almond powder, coconut, cardamom in a food processor. Pulse until combined and loosely mushy. Add the cashews. Pulse only until the pieces of cashews are the size you want them. Add the agave nectar. Make sure it is the last thing you add. Pulse until all the ingredients have made a big, sticky ball.

Take ball out of food processor and press flat into a small square pan. Press ground pistachios into top. Put pan into freezer. Freeze for 2 - 8 hours to stabilize.

Cut into 1.5 inch squares. Consume.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Pizza Matrix

Even during the period of building cohousing (rather than the soon to be joy of living in it!) the members of Camelot Cohousing have been very focused on food.

It's just that, well, while we were running the business we could not really concentrate on nurturing each other through our food. We had to focus on "being fed" so we could pay attention during the long meetings, especially Monday nights when people are racing to a 7:00 pm meeting after work. Now throw in food allergies and picky eaters and you have a recipe for potential food organization disaster.

Thus was the Pizza Matrix born.

The pizza matrix is an excel spreadsheet. On one of the sheets I maintain a master list of every cohouser and their likes and dislikes for pizza toppings. Likes and dislikes are weighted. Allergies are weighted more heavily.

So in the example above (click on the picture for a closer view) Cameron is allergic to shellfish. Toppings that are fish get a -5. He also does not eat pork, so all pork products get a -1. He does like mushrooms and peppers, so those get a +1. Anything his is ambivalent about is left blank, for a score of 0.

1) When we hold meetings, people let me know whether or not they will be coming to a meeting. I copy and paste all the user information into a different sheet I call the "smaller grouping sheet" and delete the lines for the members who are not coming. I then total up what each topping "scores". This tells me what kind of toppings I should order when I go to order. The toppings with positive numbers should be ordered, the toppings with negative numbers should not.

2) Now, the color coding and the number of pizzas to order. Men, in general, eat more slices of pizza at a sitting than women. I usually assume:
3 slices per man
2 slices per woman.
Children, eat depending on their age.
1 - 7 year olds tend to eat 1 slice.
7 - 12 year olds tend to eat about 2 slices.
13 - 17 year olds tend to fall under the amount of pizza of their sex.
18 - 25 year olds (not kids, but bottomless pits of food needs) 4 slices (we don't have any of these at the moment).

So on the smaller grouping sheet I then count how many men we project to have at the meeting, how many women and how many kids in each slice bucket. Assume 8 slices per pizza, and you now have a good idea how many pizzas to order.

3) When you go to place your order, you now look at the totals line for each topping to get an idea of what kinds of pizzas to order (because you already know how many pizzas you need from Step two. Last night, for example, we needed to order 12 pizzas.

1 lg Veggie no onion
3 Cheese
2 Pepperoni
1 Hawaiian
1 Chicken Pesto
1 Chicken garlic
1 Meatball
1 Meat lovers

Now this method is not fool proof. For one thing, you will need to be sensitive to the "Meat-atarian" to "Vegetarian" split. Some folks don't like vegetables getting in the way of their meat. Some folks don't eat meat at all. Fortunately, in general if you like vegetables on your pizza, you usually don't mind vegetarian pizza so much. So last night, although we only had one vegetarian there, I ordered a whole pizza, but because onions scored so low, I just make sure that the vegtarian pizza has no onions. We had 2 slices left.

The 3 cheese pizzas are really for the kids. There was only 1 slice left.

If people fail to show up to the meeting and also fail to let you know they are not coming, then you can over order, which is what happened last night, we ended up with an entirely uneaten pepperoni pizza. The people who like pepperoni happened to be the people who did not make it to the meeting last night and who also did not let me know.

But the end result which matters is, everyone who is eating has something that they CAN eat and there is enough food to feed everyone, a key point when you are feeding your neighbors.