Best. Latkes. Ever. December 11, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: latka, latke, potato pancake, Recipes
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No, not THAT Latka.
Whenever a Jew holiday rolls around, I inevitably think of potato latkes.
The magical taste of fried potato, and not just the lightly-French-Fried variety… no… this is deep brown crispy golden serious kettle cooked potato chip type frying. It’s what makes it all so so much better.
I’ve tried a few different recipes, but when I thought about the subtleties of what separates the good latke from the great, it all came down to some very simple stuff. Great latkes were bigger & spongier, basically, offering a better interior texture than something that felt more like deep fried mashed potatoes.
So the secret is…. hand shred the potatoes using a box grater. Do NOT use a food processor. I don’t care how much easier it might sound. DO NOT DO IT.
Here’s the Wagstaff method:
- I use decent sized Russet baking potatoes, with a ratio of 1 potato to 1 beaten egg in mixing the batter. I’ll get 2-3 large latkes out of each potato, maybe 3 inches in diameter.
- Hand shred those peeled russets with a box grater. If you like the latkes with a sweet addition like applesauce, mixing in a small amount (maybe at a 1:4 ratio) of hand shredded sweet potato works well.
- Take those potato shreds, throw ‘em in a tea towel, and wring the ever lovin’ CRAP out of them to dry them out. You want to remove as much water as you can.
- Mix the dried potato shreds in a bowl with the following ratios per potato: 1 beaten egg, 1 tablespoon of flour, a pinch or two of salt & pepper, and 1/4 cup of finely chopped onion.
- And here’s the trick to getting the inner consistency right: Add 1/2 tsp of baking powder & 1 tsp of white vinegar to the mix. If you usually have the latkes with sour cream like me, I substitute 1 tsp of a vinegar-based hot sauce like Cholula for the vinegar, and cut down a little on the black pepper.
- Mix to form a batter, form patties with your hands similar to hamburger patties, and then fry in a wide pan (in batches if you’re doing a lot) in enough olive oil so that the oil will come up the sides of the pancakes slightly, maybe 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch. The pancakes as they cook will absorb the oil.
- Fry about 5 minutes a side on medium heat, and then turn repeatedly until you get the level of brown you want.
- Drain on paper towels, keep warm on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven if necessary.
The baking powder/hot sauce or vinegar combo will give you some rising action when you cook them, the interweaving shreds of hand-chopped potato & slightly translucent onion cooked inside give you a great inner texture – you get a smooth & creamy potato flavor, but with some bite…. I guess you could call it “al dente.” And you get the wonderful dark brown crispy fried potato goodness on the outside.
And for me, the hint of hot pepper flavor in ‘em with the Cholula combined with the sour cream & onion makes it all very very nice indeed.
And am I the only one out here who thinks that giving chocolate coins to Jewish kids on Hanukkah only confirms a Jewish stereotype? Back when I was a kid, I far preferred the Milton Bradley “Control The Media” board game, myself.
I think the Maccabees did, too. Now eat, bubelah, eat!
Mamma Mia! That’s A Spicy (Turkey) Meatball! September 5, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: italian food, pasta, recipe, spaghetti, turkey meatballs
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Purists have sneered at yours truly for substituting ground turkey for beef/pork mixture in making meatballs for spaghetti. I did it partially for health reasons, although as you’ll see in the recipe that follows, I’ve sorta destroyed a lot of that aspect to get the flavor & texture I like.
Whatever. I’m downing a near bottle of wine every time I make this, and that’s good for me, right?
Even if it isn’t, who the hell cares, right?
Anyway, I recommend giving this one a try – it’s easy & quick, and is authentic enough for my tastes. I don’t think Clemenza would scoff & refuse any, never mind strangling me with piano wire.
- I start with 1/3 pound of regular ground turkey, the 7% fat version. This will make 8 medium sized meatballs for 1 big appetite like mine.
- It goes into a mixing bowl with the following rough measurements of things I generally eyeball: 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes or to taste, 1/2 tbs dried basil, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp olive oil, 1 tbsp of grated parmesean cheese, and most importantly of all…. 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs saturated to mushiness with a medium bodied red wine, like malbec, sangiovese, tempranillo, or chianti. The crumbs should be like a wet sponge without a film of wine left over.
- Mix all that together, and then divide up into 8 meatballs. Don’t overmix or the meat gets stringy. Just enough to evenly distribute everything.
- I put the meatballs on a pyrex pie plate, put a paper towel on top, and start them in the (EGAD!) microwave for 3 minutes on high.
- Have a pan, preferebly non-stick ready with a minimal coating of olive oil, on medum. Remove the 80% cooked meatballs from puddle of liquid fat in the pie plate – this removes most of the fat & leaves the olive oil/breadcrumbs/cheese behind as the moisture holder – and brown them ever so gently on a couple of sides in the pan, to get “edges” on them. This only takes a couple of minutes.
- Add a good basic tomato sauce to the pan – I have a recipe for one on this blog linked here – bring to a simmer, cover and let cook for 15 minutes or so. That’s all the time you really need, with a stir or two. Then dress your favorite pasta with it.
That’s it! It takes very little time & makes great sorta-healthy meatballs.
And the more wine you drink with ‘em, the healthier they are. Isn’t that convenient?
Southwestern-Style Chicken For The Lazy April 27, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: black beans, Chicken, spicy
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Feeling tired tonight after a long stressful week, and I wasn’t quite sure how to cook the boneless chicken I’d thawed. So after paging through some of the cookbooks in the vast Wagstaff archives, I landed on the often overlooked & tragically underrated Joy Of Cooking.
The older edition of this pretty much handles every sort of food concoction you can think of, from the basic to the complex yet familiar. And the updated edition adds all sorts of ethnic goodies more in line with the modern American palate. It’s all just basic good cooking, really, useful for the novice and the (ahem) expert.
I found an interesting recipe for a parchment baked southwestern chicken, and altered it slightly to fit what I had sitting around. This is what I came up with:
1. Opened a can of black beans, drained ‘em, and divided them in half. I put half in the fridge for another night & used the rest.
2. Mixed the following into the beans: cayenne to taste (1/2 tsp or so), 1 tsp garlic powder, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, 1 tsp red wine vinegar & 1 tbsp olive oil. You can also mix chopped onion in if you want.
3. Took the half a chicken breast, salt/peppered both sides.
4. Put the chicken on a piece of foil, covered it with the seasoned beans, sprinkled 1/2 tsp of paprika on top, and wrapped the whole thing up tight in foil to sit on a baking dish. (You can also use parchment).
5. 400 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.
Opened it carefully to avoid the steam, and then dumped the entirety of it over some white rice I’d cooked in some chicken broth. This made one portion. Want more? Do the math & wrap each portion individually.
Good stuff – super easy, the chicken comes out wonderfully juicy with a good texture, basically over ready-made rice and black beans. Clean up is also practically nil – basically just throwing out the foil and a light wash of the baking dish it sat in.
It’s stuff like this that makes me wonder why some people claim they can’t cook for themselves. Seriously… what could be simpler?
Some Cheap Wine Reviews April 18, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: cheap, malbec, pinot grigio, tempranillo, Wine
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So, what do you when you want to branch out from that two-buck Chuck? Well, you try some slightly more expensive (still less than 5 bucks a bottle) varieties, telling yourself that the wine glut caused by a generation of UC Davis agronomists increasing the grape yield all over the map has driven down the price of drinkable wine and the odds of a five buck or less bottle going just fine with a meal are pretty damn good.
And for the most part, the following wines are all okay. I haven’t dumped any of them down the sink, left them out for a few weeks to become home made salad vinegar or consigned them to the “cooking wine” dungeon (especially since I’d rather cook with a wine I’d drink).
Let’s start with a couple of cheapos from Fresh & Easy market, repackaged & relabeled to hide their non-vintage (grapes from different years) origins or simply just inexpensive – three bucks a bottle! The first was “Big Kahuna” Tempranillo. While slightly thinner than the other cheap Tempranillo I’ve been buying lately from Trader Joe’s (La Granja), it wasn’t bad and paired nicely with some red sauced pasta. And both of them are the non-corked capped bottles, which isn’t as much of a black mark as it once was, especially considering that I’m not cellaring any of this stuff – it’s pretty much being finished off in one or two sittings. Another passable variety is Recoleta Malbec/Bonarda, another lighter red that goes well with my Italian cusine. While the Trader Joe’s cheap Malbec, La Finca, is also very good, this one will certainly be worth picking up whenever I’m in Fresh & Easy restocking on whatever they might have on sale.
The Sprouts health market seems to be the only locale to find another cheap brand that I had some good luck with, Gato Negro Malbec. Their other cheap label, Crane Lake, wasn’t quite as good – tried the Pinot Grigio, and I think I’ll stick to the Villa Borghetti or Gaetano D’Aquino Pinto Grigio I get regularly at Trader Joes.
I’m certainly no wine connoisseur – although when I’ve gone to tastings, it seems I actually do prefer the more expensive stuff. I’ve tried to convince myself that I therefore must have expertise, but since I’m drinking this cheap mass-market stuff along with my (ahem) wonderful cooking, I doubt I’d care all that much in the difference between a decent five buck wine versus a supposedly wonderful twenty dollar one. It’s all cleaning out my cholesterol, ain’t it?
Two Decent Cheap Beers April 8, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Food.
Tags: Beer, craft brews
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… courtesy of Trader Joe’s, and I don’t even mean Simpler Times, the uber-cheap craft beer (made by Minhas craft brewery) version of what we all supposedly remember as yesteryear’s dad beer for when he wants to watch Sonny Jurgensen. That stuff is certainly drinkable, but I usually opt for spending a few more bucks on something a little more upscale.
The Josephsbrau brewer for Trader Joes (from what I can find, it’s actually contract work by Gordon Biersch) makes a very good oatmeal stout, Stockyard. It’s somewhat sweeter than Guinness, but has solid flavors of coffee & chocolate, and a nice creaminess to the texture. I also liked Josephs Brau PLZNR Czech-style lager, which has a nice sharp & hoppy bite to it. The PLZNR went well with spicy Chinese food, and the stout paired nicely with an oven-fried garlic chicken concoction I made the other night.
Not the best pilsner or stout I’ve ever had, but certainly passable.
Inauthentic (But Very Good) Kung Pao Chicken April 4, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: chinese, dinner, spicy, szechuan
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NOTE: All ingredient amounts are for 1/2 of a boneless chicken breast & 1 serving of vegetables. If you’re less antisocial than I am, then the math is up to you.
First, cut up some boneless breast (or thigh meat) into 1 inch pieces. Marinate in 1 tsp soy sauce, 1 tsp cornstarch and 1 tsp of peanut oil. Mix it up with your hand for best results (Yeah, I know, “That’s what she said”). Marinate in the ‘fridge for a half hour.
I cut up some broccoli florets, carrot & white onion the last time I did this. I’ve also included peanuts, snow peas, bok choi, and red bell pepper. Any/all of those in whatever combo you like works fine.
Sauce: In a mug or small bowl combine: 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp sugar, 1 tsp white vinegar, 4 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp sherry wine, 1 tsp (or more if you like it spicy like me, I use a heaping teaspoon) hot pepper paste (I like this kind) and 2 tsp of dark sesame oil. Mix it all up to dissolve the sugar and set aside.
Aromatics: Mince a good sized garlic clove with about 1 tsp of fresh ginger, and put in a small cup with a tsp or so of sherry wine.
To Cook: Use a smokin’ hot wok or a frying pan over high heat. First, add a little peanut oil and chow up the vegetables to how you like them – I usually like them a little crisp, but with the edges slightly blackened. Remove from the pan.
Re-oil the pan (a little if it’s a well-seasoned wok) and add the marinated chicken. Cook the chicken until slightly browned on the outside and done on the inside (use the stirring spoon to test for firmness, and yes, she also said that). You can either remove the chicken from the wok for the next step, or simply clear a space in the middle, and add the aromatics with the sherry. The sherry will boil off very quickly, stir the garlic/ginger until fragrant (it’ll also deglaze the pot a little) and then stir the chicken back in with it until it’s well mixed. Add the cooked vegetables. Then add the sauce & stir until well mixed & the sauce thickens and coats everything, which should take no more than a minute or so.
Serve it on up! Sprinkle some chopped green onion on top, why dontcha. Goes well with rice (duh) as well as noodles or even a nice piece of crusty bread.
It’s hot stuff too, so have plenty of beer and water on hand.
The Marinara Variations March 29, 2012Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: homemade pasta sauce, pasta, sauce
I make a mother sauce to keep around & add stuff to (sausage, mushrooms, clams, ground turkey) as I dole out portions from the batch in the ‘fridge, so what I’m interested in, mostly, is how to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes, the balance of the garlic, and whatever other spices I’m throwing in.
I posted my basic sauce recipe a while ago, but to recap: 1 chopped carrot + 1 cup chopped onion sauteed in 1/4 cup of olive oil until translucent, add 4-5 garlic cloves, minced until fragrant. Then, a 28 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, mashed & 1/4 cup of wine. Bring to a rolling boil, cover, reduce to simmer for a half hour. Then, add 1 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp pepper & 1 tbsp of dried basil. Ba-da-bing!
Now, I’ve played with this recipe in numerous ways. I’ve dropped the onion and replaced it with about a teaspoon of sugar. I’ve added the wine to the carrot/onion/garlic mash and cooked it down to a near syrup before adding the tomato. I’ve fried half of the tomatoes to bring out their sugars before adding the rest. I’ve added chicken broth instead of, or combined with the wine. I’ve dropped the pepper in favor of some garlic powder and dried mustard. Thyme is nice instead of basil. All the results have been good, although different.
Generally, the better the quality of tomato, the less “stuff” I like to add to the sauce. I’d rather have the flavor of pure sweet tomato, so when I spring for real imported San Marzanos, I’ll usually go light on the additions. Cheaper canned tomato, like the Trader Joe’s version, can be easily dressed up with the additions above. But with the top of the line, I usually only go with carrot, garlic & the chicken broth/wine combo before adding salt & pepper to taste at the end.
Non-Dairy Macaroni & Cheese, Please February 14, 2010Posted by Jim Berkin in Cooking, Food.
Tags: cheese, Macaroni, non-dairy, vegetrarian
Hell, I worry about EVERYTHING. If it’s not my cholesterol ticking back up despite my red wine guzzling, it’s zombie Nazis kicking in my doors at 3AM when I have to get up for work early. (They’re lactose-intolerant too).
One of the things I gave up when knocking my LDL down was mac & cheese as a side dish with dinner every now and then. I love the stuff, I must admit, even if it’s from a box mix using flourescent orange “cheese food” that’s most likely radioactive and left over from the Korean War. It didn’t matter to me, it just tasted damn good.
So, how do duplicate that flavor without all that milk, butter & cheese in the sauce, which may as well be cement poured into my arteries after a while?
I searched around on the internet, figuring that the collective experience and wisdom of various vegans out there was to be found someplace, and I came across a very elaborate a complex recipe using ingredients like soy, miso, tahini, tomato paste, lemon juice & brewer’s yeast for the sauce. While this was an interesting dish, I found the aroma of the sauce closer to a box of Kraft than the taste, and the sauce was a little too liquidy and thin for my palate. But I’m giving you the link, since you might like it more than me.
Since I’m lazy, I tried concocting something simpler. And what I came up with, while not as tangy as that box of war surplus dehydrated cheez wiz, is pretty good and packs a nutritional wallop.
Lazy Person’s Non-Dairy Stovetop Mac & Cheese
All my measurements here are for a single portion, perfect for the crazed shotgun wielding loner. If you have friends or family to feed, have fun with the math.
1. Melt 1 1/2 tbs. of margarine in a pan.
2. Sauté about 1/2 cup of finely chopped onion with 1 tsp salt until tender
3. Stir in 1 tbs of flour to make a yellow roux
4. Add 1 1/2 cups of non-sweetened soymilk (The Silk brand of this comes in the dark green carton)
5. Bring this to a nice simmer. Stir it so it doesn’t stick. Now add 4 oz. (1/4 of a 1 lb box, duh) of elbow macaroni
6. Give it a stir or two to prevent sticking, cover & simmer on low for 8-9 minutes.
7. Stir in 1/4 cup (or more if you like) of shredded soy cheddar cheese – 2 slices if you buy it in those American-Cheese-Slices type packs. Just tear ‘em up into little pieces to help them melt when you stir them in.
8. Stir in 1 tsp of brewer’s yeast
9. Put into a covered bowl and let sit for 5 minutes, then chow down.
It’s a mild cheese flavor, so probably experimenting with different types of soy cheese might be interesting here. The brewer’s yeast added a little bit of tang to it, along with a big dose of B vitamins, which makes this the perfect dish for someone coming down off acid, I suppose.
Crunching the numbers, this portion runs @700 calories, with a whopping 30 grams of protein, no cholesterol, 19g of vegetable fat, 75% of the calcium you need for the day, and 100% of a bunch of B-vitamins. Not too shabby, and it has the taste and consistency of a mild mac & cheese cheddar dish…. think the gooey middle of the baked mac & cheese.
I know, I know…. nothing is EVER as good as actual cheese. But this is better than absolutely nothing. And it’ll even go well with red wine.
Thrift Store Reads June 11, 2009Posted by Jim Berkin in Books, Cooking, Food, Movies.
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On a recent safari to some local thrift stores in search of a getting-harder-to-find VHS storage cabinet of some kind, I came across a couple of books worth having, that is, if you happen to be me.
Even if you’re not me (and I assume you’re not, unless you’re Parallel Universe Wagstaff™, complete with beard and evil personality, or then again, perhaps just a beard because you’re a Rabbi), you’d probably enjoy What Einstein Told His Cook by Robert Wolke, a nice & highly readable tour of kitchen science a la Alton Brown, complete with some simple recipes but mostly heavy on the chemical behavior of food and the physical behavior of cooking and cooking equipment. Understanding the science of what’s going on as recipes come together (and to paraphrase Hannibal Smith, I love it when a good recipe comes together) remains invaluable to any good cook, especially whenever you feel like a little improvisation. After all, what WILL happen if you decide to switch a few ingredients around?
Ever substitute cod liver oil for confectioner’s sugar? The results will surprise you.
Or perhaps they won’t. They’ll certainly make you regular, however.
The other book I found was a companion to Donald Spoto’s The Art Of Alfred Hitchcock, something I’d come across some time back – this time I found Donald Spoto’s other book on Hitchcock, the biography – The Dark Side Of Genius. I’ve only browsed through the bio so far, and while it seems to accentuate the negative, I liked Spoto’s book on the films themselves, so I’m looking forward to the same level of analysis even if it takes on a tad too much psychobabble to explain Hitchcock’s motivations and so forth.
I tend to like entertainment bios that go in that direction – it’s why I liked Ed Sikov’s book on Peter Sellers or Mark Lewisohn’s book on Benny Hill – 2 guys who always made me laugh but were somewhat damaged individuals in their private lives (though Sellers clearly wins the heartless bastard sweepstakes whereas Hill was merely a workaholic loner), so despite some of the negative reviews on Amazon, I’m guessing the Spoto book will be a winner.
Oh – and I found a very nice little mini-bookcase for five bucks that holds my excess VHS very nicely! Room rearranged & HDTV in place – on with the sports & old movies!