Category Archives: Entree

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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Wednesday, Thursday, Fried-day…

It's

About once or twice a year, I open my freezer to find…that I have trouble closing it again.

This occurrence doesn’t happen on a strict schedule or anything, but it seems I have a packrat sort of mentality when it comes to frozen goods. I’ll find some great steaks on special, and I’ll buy some–stick them in the freezer, “for later.” Or I’ll find some short ribs, get a sudden hankering for braised short ribs, change my mind once I get home, and stick THEM in the freezer, “for later.” Same goes with chicken, with fish, with fresh pasta, and other frozen goods.

Until, one day, I have real trouble closing that freezer door. It takes a good amount of readjusting the contents and pushing on the door with my knee to get the magnetic strip to stick. Why I never learn my lesson, I do not know.  But then I go on a frenzy eating everything out of our freezer, refusing to buy any more meat or frozen goods until that freezer is empty!  Eventually, that “for later” timeframe is NOW!

Most recently, I took some catfish and chicken breasts out of that fridge to thaw. I didn’t have a particular idea of how I would eat them, but necessity breeds invention, doesn’t it?

And so, “Fried-day” was born. I had a sudden brainstorm to FRY all of the items and make chicken schnitzel, fried catifsh, as well as fry some cauliflower…and make some hush puppies!

You’ll want to fry the items in a particular order–most importantly, the catfish last (otherwise everything will have a fishy taste). I fried them in the following order: hush puppies, cauliflower, chicken schnitzel, and then catfish.

Organizing is pretty easy–Prep the chicken first–pound the breasts until they’re about 1/4 inch thick, squeeze some lemon juice on them. Dip them in flour, egg, and then breadcrumbs, and set aside before frying. (The full chicken schnitzel recipe is here).

For the cauliflower–blanch the florets. Then shake them in a bag with matzo ball mix (that’s my version of “semi-homemade”). They’re ready to fry, too.

For the catfish (and you can use either corn meal or flour–but we prefer flour): Cut the fillets into about 3-4 pieces. Combine some flour, baking powder, and Lawry’s seasoned salt. Beat a few eggs in a separate bowl. Keep the flour and egg in separate bowls. Dip the catfish pieces in the flour mixture, then the egg, then back into the flour mixture. Set aside before frying.

The hush puppy recipe is below–and you’ll want to form them into balls right before putting them in the oil, so you’ll want to start frying them first.

What you end up with is a tasty pile of fried goods! And that’s usually a great thing.

The hush puppies (if you’ve never had them, they’re fried corn meal balls–but much more delicious than that sounds) couple well with ranch dressing if you’re someone who needs to dip them into something. The fried cauliflower, in our household, disappears like lightning–it is SO delicious cooked this way. And the schnitzel and catfish get nibbled on throughout the day, whether on their own, or made into a sandwich with pita, hot sauce, and hummus.

Recipe for hush puppies follows after the jump…

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Dduk bok gi (or the ever boring sounding “stir-fried rice cake with vegetables”)

dduk-bok-gi

I loooove dduk bok gi–whether it’s the spicy kind or the mild kind with bulgogi.  The chewy cylindrical rice cakes nestled amidst savory soy sauce seasoning, or hot sauce–both are wonderful and fun to eat.

My fondest food memories are comprised of walking through the streets of Seoul with my cousins or aunt and eating red hot dduk bok gi from food stands, bursting out with tortured laughter between bites and gulps of water.  The stuff can get REALLY hot!  And we love it that way.   We love it so much that one of my cousins theoretically gave herself digestive problems from eating dduk bok gi so often.  (She claimed she had an ulcer from dduk bok gi consumption).

for dduk-bok-gi

Of course there is the mild kind, too–with soy sauce marinade and bulgogi.   So delicious as well, but oh so different.  I first ate the mild ddukbokgi variant at my cousin’s house–I was surprised to see the rice cakes swimming in a sauce that was NOT red and bubbling, but I ate them ravenously, just the same.  Maybe I just love rice cakes.

Still, nothing tops the fiery red spicy dduk bok gi, the stuff that sets your mouth on fire, the stuff with just a hint of sweetness, the stuff that is reminiscent of the foodstands on the streets of Seoul.

Even today, I seek out spicy dduk-bok-gi, such a comfort food.  I’ll go to the Korean market and buy myself some, quickly down it for lunch (with a glass of water).  But you can make your own, too.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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the nth attempt

making kubba batata

I’m still trying to make a decent kubba batata or kibbeh batata…kubba/kibbe made with a potato shell. The kubba I remember and love had a shell that was savory but very light, unlike the more rustic and “chewier” bulgur based shells.

Oh, and of course, I have a long lasting love affair with potatoes. There are very few, if any, dishes made of potato that I dislike.

I constructed the kubba into round flat patties–the outside being potato, the inside with normal kubba filling. Half of the batch was made with a pure (cooked) potato shell…and half the batch was made with a mixture of cooked potatoes and rice, mashed together. Assembled, before frying, they looked delicious and oh so delectable.

kubba batata in progress

But alas! Disaster struck once the kubba went into the hot oil.

I’m not one to only advertise culinary success–I think that tragedy is only part of the cooking experience, and always entertaining. After all, without unfulfilled desire/tragedy/disaster, the story gets pretty boring and insignificant.

So–revel in my potato kubba tragedy:

disaster

Bleah.

At this point, I’m convinced that the shell must contain egg, even though my husband says he’s never seen his mother include egg as an ingredient. He never actually saw her construct kubba, so I have my doubts. I’ll be sure to use egg next time. I’m desperate to find a potato kubba recipe, or at least know what ingredients the shell might contain. Cooked, mashed potato…egg…flour?

The great Kubba experiment

kubba in process

I loooove kubba, at least, the way my mother-in-law made it, Iraqi-style with an incredible thin shell and flavorful and juicy meat stuffing. She was a fantastic cook, someone who (along with a good friend in college) instilled my foodie tendencies and gave me the base for my cooking fervor. They say that in the Middle East, you can judge a cook by his/her (more likely her) kubba, just as in Korea you judge a cook by his/her (more likely her) kimchi.

By Middle Eastern standards then, I am a horrible cook, because I have never made a decent kubba. I’ve made some great tasting filling, but my kubba or kibbe or kibbeh or kobeba, once constructed, has a dry, thick shell that overwhelms any juicy meat stuffing. I guess that’s an improvement from my first kubba attempt–I couldn’t even get the filling around the meat, I just had lumps of disaster.

And yet, every few years, I try to make kubba on my own. Each time, the results are a little closer to the real thing, though I’ve never been able to replicate my mother-in-law’s kubba (some day, some day). The traditional recipe calls for a bulgur cracked wheat based shell, but I am beginning to think that that is not what she used (the cream of wheat below is for a different kind of kubba, the kind that goes into stews).

ingredients for kubba

The ingredients are above–spices, pine nuts, parsley, an onion, ground beef…and bulgur for the shell (the cream of wheat again, is for a different kind of kubba, described later on below).

This website that I and my friends share with you–one of the purposes of it is to serve as an archive for my own recipes. And these days, I’m trying to compile family recipes, and in this case, re-create a family recipe.

Visually, the kubba were a success. And they do beat kubba I’ve had in some restaurants.

kubba

But my husband and I, we’re still dreaming of his mother’s kubba. Next time, I’ll work on making a thinner shell, and maybe using something other than bulgur for the shell base. He and I are now in agreement that his mother did not use bulgur for the shell. Maybe matzo? Who knows. We’ll keep experimenting. It’s how I ended up making many of her other dishes, guessing secret ingredients and other components until the dishes tasted just like hers.

Still, there’s something you can do with leftover kubba filling–it’s easy and not as complicated as making kubba, but it’s just as delicious. And if all your kubba fails, you will still be left with something savory and delicious to eat, something I call “kubba meat omelettes” that my mother-in-law also used to make. And I think it might actually be an authentic dish, though I can’t verify that.  It is also called “Uk.”

kubba filling

Eat it in a pita with some hot sauce (sriracha, or sambal oelek…or just some hummus), or eat them on their own. It’s a good reward, successful kubba or no. They’re great for brunch, served room temperature or cold. In sum, they’re versatile and yummy.

And they’re good for my cooking self-esteem. For, of all else fails, at least there are these tasty omelettes to fall back on. I wonder, sometimes, if these came about from the failed kubba of other cooks.

But onward to other kinds of kubba!

There are several different kinds of kubba–in addition to the kubba above, there is kubba made with semolina, cooked in a stew like dumplings.

kubba for the kubba bamia

The above kubba look different, yes, because the shell is made of semolina (or cream of wheat). The stuffing is also different–less spicy than the kubba above, and void of pine nuts.

The cream of wheat kubba is not to be fried…they’re included as dumplings in a stew…

Cooked in an okra stew, the “kubba bamia” is wonderful…

kubba bamia

The stew by itself is great–a favorite in our household, but with kubba the stew takes on an extra flair.

Recipes follow after the jump…

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The lune

Butternut squash lune pasta!

I purchased a pasta roller last week, an attachment to my kitchenaid mixer that I’ve been eyeing for quite some time. I’ve also been hesitating for quite some time, because it’s an expensive accessory for a food (pasta) that I don’t eat very often, and pasta is a food that I generally try to avoid (I’m watching my weight though admittedly, I generally watch my weight in a very passive manner–as I just recently watched myself gain two pounds…okay, enough of that weight digression).

Despite the odds, I purchased a pasta roller in a moment of self indulgence. And I used it.

Instead of tackling something entirely new for Muffin Top, I decided to use a recipe in our archives–that of Mario Batali’s Pumpkin Lune with Butter and Sage, using The French Laundry’s recipe for pasta dough (minus one egg, because I only had six eggs on hand). Given that this was my first time making pasta dough from scratch, I thought I would use Connie’s directions as a spiritual guide.

homemade butternut squash lune pasta (ravioli) in process

As Connie suggested, I started making the pasta dough in a large mixing bowl (what a great suggestion) and aside from keeping my marble clear from broken yolk, it actually helped keep the flour well intact. I was surprised at how simple pasta is to make, and silently vowed to make pasta more often.

But it’s a bit of work–especially that kneading part! The French Laundry recipe says to knead the pasta dough for a minimum of 15 minutes (and then to knead it an additional 10 minutes). So I was kneading for nearly 30 minutes, in fear of “pasta collapse,” according to directions:

Even if you think you are finished kneading, knead it for an extra ten minutes; you cannot overknead this dough. It is important to work the dough long enough to pass the pull test; otherwise, when it rests, it will collapse.

Whatever pasta collapse is, it sounded terrifying. So I kneaded. Vigorously. For half an hour. By the end, I wasn’t exactly sweating, but I was definitely feeling warm. A good way to burn off calories for the imminent pasta fest. While the pasta dough rested, I focused on the filling. The pasta dough is supposed to rest for between 30 minutes to one hour, so you’ll want to work accordingly.

I’d roasted a small butternut squash the night before. Yes, I used butternut squash because that’s what I prefer…and you’ll definitely want to do the roasting beforehand if you want the timeline to work well. The squash took about an hour to roast–Mario Batali’s recipe states half that time, but my squash, like Connie’s, was not anywhere near soft at that point. Plus, you’ll need cooling time for the filling.

If you’ve roasted your squash/pumpkin the night before (or before making the pasta) the filling is a quick step: it’s simply combining ingredients and mixing/mashing them together.

Rolling out the pasta was a fun matter–kind of like craft class for me, really! Though I rolled the pasta out to the appropriate thinness for ravioli, according to my pasta roller’s directions (notch “5”), I think I will roll them out thinner in the future. It was still very satisfactory, and the thicker pasta gave the lune a rustic mien.

Filling and making the ravioli reminded me of my childhood. No, I’m not Italian, but I am Korean, and the round pasta, with filling, and the process of sealing the edges in reminded me of making mandu or mandoo with my mother. Though Batali’s recipe says to just seal the edges, I was a bit dubious…so I used little dabs of water on the edges before sealing and pinching the lune shut. (Be sure to not leave ANY air inside the pasta–otherwise they will pop open while being boiled!) The water seal was a great reassurance to me–and none of my lune popped–the result was good enough for me.

homemade butternut squash lune pasta (ravioli)

In the end, I had a very good little stack of lune. I was disappointed by the fact that all of the pasta rolling work had resulted in only fourteen ravioli (though they were sizable). I had hoped to have enough to freeze for another meal, or enough to give to a friend. But nope. So you’ll want to double the French Laundry pasta dough recipe to match it to the Batali (or likewise, halve the Batali filling recipe).

The hardest part was done–I followed the recipe for the butter and sage–yes, the lune splatters as it enters the hot butter as Connie says (so watch out). And I did leave the amaretti cookie out because I didn’t have an amaretti cookie.

Oh, and like Connie, I didn’t throw away the pasta scraps–I saved them to eat a rustic pasta meal a couple nights later.

Enjoy–thank you Connie and Batali and Keller, for the inspiration, and for initiating me to pasta making!

Recipes follow after the jump…

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