Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What I'm Reading Today

Happy Wednesday.  Remember, if you are in the Bay Area this Saturday, come by and see me at the Chestnut Street Williams Sonoma.  I'll be signing copies of "eggs" from noon-2pm.  Hope to see you there!

Welcome to my first of two Spring holiday editions.  Happy Passover.  Whether you're making kkeftes de prasa or gefilte fish with head-clearing horseradish, I hope all your celebrations are special.  And, hey, if you don't celebrate Passover, read on...any and all of these recipes would be delicious for you too.
(Kirk McKoy/LA Times)

Cooking for a crowd is always a challenge-how to make a great meal without stressing yourself out.  My best tip for hosting a celebratory dinner: pick recipes you can make mostly in advance.  No one wants to show up and find you stuck in the kitchen.  If you're hosting a Passover Sedar this year don't miss the menu from today's LA Times, all the recipes are make-ahead: Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers, Vegetarian Chopped "Liver", and Roasted Salmon with Marinated Fennel Salad.  I was particularly attracted to the salmon as it would be a stunning main course on any Spring table.  Fennel is definitely the star here-thinly sliced and marinated for hours, even overnight, with onions, lemon, and thyme.  The salmon is then roasted on a bed of fresh thyme with the fennel over the top, allowing it to caramelize, which is the best way to eat fennel in my opinion.  It'll keep the fish moist and add just the right texture contrast.  I love the idea of plating the whole side of salmon on a big platter and bringing it to the table.  When you're shopping for fennel at the market it may be called anise.  Look for bulbs with the long stalks attached-you wont use them in the salad but they'll tell you that the bulb is fresh.

(Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Matzoh Balls...a true staple of the Passover table and my son's favorite soup any time of year.  When it's good it is oh so good.  When it's bad, ugh-dense, heavy matzoh balls that sit in your stomach like lead.  Every Jewish grandma has her tricks on keeping them light-carbonated water, egg whites, etc.  My trick is simply not over mixing-being gentle with the mixture keeps the matzoh balls light and tender (and using chicken fat instead of oil doesn't hurt either).  In today's Washington Post Bonnie Benwick writes of her trials and tribulations in the quest to make matzoh balls that aren't sinkers.  The variations she offers in her article are many but, her classic version does rely on a bit of seltzer water, claiming the carbonation adds extra lift and lightness.  She also makes a great point about not crowding the cooking pot-too small a vessel and the matzoh balls bump into each other, inhibiting them from growing to their full size.  I'm not so sure about the pyramid shaped version, above, or the versions with Shitakes or Chicken Liver.  I'm always happy to have my cousin Lori's classic and perfect version-straight up chicken soup with matzoh balls that are absolutely perfection.  

(Craig Lee/SF Chronicle)

Did you know that Passover desserts can be a real drag?  I used to think it took some incredibly creative baking to make a dessert with no leavened ingredients (goodbye flour).  But over the years I've come to love the challenge.  Depending on how strictly one follows the rules, you may or may not use butter (I avoid margarine at all costs so I'm sticking with the real thing).  Rather than trying flour substitutes, try to think about recipes that don't have flour at all-meringues or Pavlovas, flourless chocolate cake, and custards or puddings.  Then there's candy...ahh how I love my homemade candy.  My favorite Passover confection is Matzoh Brittle-think English Toffee with crunchy bits of matzoh, and no need for a candy thermometer.  In the San Francisco Chronicle Amanda Gold writes about her version and low and behold, it is exactly what I make every year.  The great thing about this recipe is that you can top it with anything you like-I usually do one version with sea salt, one with sliced toasted almonds, and one straight up.  This year I bought both dark and white chocolate-I think I'll try the white chocolate version with toasted peanuts on top.  Get creative-dried fruit, jimmies, contrasting mini-chips, or even a swirled version with milk and white chocolate.  It's so darn easy to make, you'll forget you're baking for Passover.

Happy Reading and Happy Cooking!

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