Monthly Archives: April 2008

Matzo Shortage 2008!

ready for the Seder

I guess I wasn’t the only one who drove all over town looking for matzo last week before Passover began. Unlike others, I found one box of matzo. However, I could not find, to save my life, kosher-for-passover matzo meal or chrain (grated, bottled horseradish).

I drove to no less than seven stores in search of matzo meal and chrain (I’d bought the matzo a few days earlier on what turns out to be a fortunate lark). I’m talking: Whole Foods, Andronico’s, Afikomen, Star Grocery, two Safeways (note to self: Safeway had the best assortment of Kosher-for-Passover foods, sans matzo, matzo meal and chrain), and (you never know–but they ended up having no Passover items at all) Trader Joe’s. NO matzo meal. NO chrain. And though this was a day before Passover began, I was still surprised: after all, Passover lasts EIGHT days. There’s got to be enough kosher-for-Passover eats for eight days and it was incredible to me that stores ran out before the holiday even began.

But here’s the important question, the reason for my frantic matzo meal and chrain search…

How was I going to make gefilte fish?! Matzo meal is a crucial ingredient (other than ground up whitefish) in gefilte fish, and chrain is a crucial accompaniment. And gefilte fish is, at least in our household, a crucial dish served at the Seder table. Alas, I found an old container of matzo meal from Passover past. Not entirely kosher–and I fretted before I used it, rationalizing that I’d done my best to hunt down matzo meal, to no avail. (I wonder how many other Jewish families had to make compromises this year with the matzo shortage).

gefilte fish prepared

I was first acquainted with gefilte fish when I used to buy and devour the kind in jars. I remember my preference used to be Rokeach brand over Manischevitz. But that all changed when I tasted my mother-in-law’s gefilte fish for the first time. She made hers by hand. It was fantastic–the texture of the gefilte fish was firm but not like something out of a rubber mold, the aspic just light and with distinguishable flavors.

I had to make mine from scratch too! I watched her make gefilte fish the next year, helped her form them, put them into the boiling broth, complete with fish heads, and vowed to make my own from that point on.

I thought it would be complicated–it isn’t very complicated at all. Just a tad time consuming with a very delicious outcome. You’ll want to start the gefilte fish the day before the dinner because it requires overnight chilling in the fridge to assure a firm aspic. And remember to put your order in for ground up whitefish far ahead of Passover (and also to buy your matzo meal in advance) so that you have all you need without the stress of hunting down ingredients.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Hedonistic crawfish boil, topped with etouffee…!

Crawfish Etouffee

I know, it’s been a month since the last post on Muffin Top! March was a crazy month with a lot of business-oriented travel. In terms of food, that meant a lot of rushed and convenient meals at home resting between trips…and then a lot of rushed and convenient meals on the road. But we’re back. It’s April. And good news: it’s crawfish season.

We have a crawfish boil every year–an homage to family roots in Louisiana. We began our tradition tentatively several years ago, not knowing at first where to order live crawfish, and treading through the logistics carefully. We did our research and found the Louisiana Crawfish Company–every year they deliver 100+ pounds of fresh, live crawfish to us, with nary a dead shellfish (impressive).

Just make sure to have them delivered the same day as your boil, they don’t keep very long at all! We hunt down the outdoor burner at a local party rental place, and have industrial-sized boiling pots from our local Smart and Final. The list goes on. But we’ve got that list down pat.

And now we have our own tradition, resembling those of my husband’s childhood. He boils the crawfish, and I make the etouffee halfway through the boil. The organization is now like second nature, and the boil proceeds with a breezy familiarity, despite the hustle and bustle and occasional wayward crawfish making his way to freedom. We do sometimes wonder if one or two make it, as we don’t live too far from a creek.

crawfish

Crawfish boils are a jolly occasion. I love cooking, as you know, but I especially love food as a center of social gatherings. And there’s just something about getting an order of live crawfish, boiling them along with potatoes and ears of corn in a spicy concoction, spreading them out in a large pile on a table, and then, communally, shelling each one.

Crawfish pile

Food tastes better when your friends are a part of the cooking process, when there is a community around the eating. Mrmmm. And not just because it makes shelling go faster! (Seriously, when you’ve got over 100 pounds of crawfish, it takes several hours to plow through it as a crowd, let alone as an individual).

There’s always a communal bowl on the table–not for the shells, but for tail meat. We make sure everyone knows to keep shelling and filling the bowl with tail meat. Don’t stop shelling! we joke. Keep filling that bowl! Because that bowl of crawfish tails becomes…etouffee.

Oh yes. Etouffee, a Creole dish of butter smothered crawfish, is my favorite culinary part of the boil. There’s something about the red crawfish stacked in piles on the table, the cheerful hubbub of shelling, everyone focused on getting that tail meat out that makes it one of my favorite annual occasions. But nothing beats the etouffee part of the boil for me. I eagerly eye the communal bowl–and as soon as there’s at least four handfuls in that bowl, voila! I whisk it off to the kitchen and disappear for about half an hour as I make the etouffee.

It takes about as long as it takes to make basmati rice. So start the rice when you start making the etouffee, and you’ve got a perfect pairing at the end: rich buttery smothered crawfish paired with rice. Say it with me: mrmmmmmmmm.

And–later on, the crawfish tails that don’t make it into the etouffee? You pack that up in little ziploc bags, and give to your guests to take home. No one ever seems to get sick of crawfish. One of our guests also takes home a garbage full of shells each year–he makes crawfish butter with the stash, in an illustration of the adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The gorgeous crawfish keeps delivering!

By the way, there’s never ever any leftover etouffee.

Recipe for crawfish etouffee follows after the jump…

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