Asparagus, Ramp & Feta Matzo Brei

Full confession, last night’s dinner was (very not-Kosher-for Passover) beer with a Marcona almond chaser. I had stopped by my local beer bar with hopes of getting some school reading done. Alas, I quickly struck up a conversation with a charming neighbor seated on the adjacent stool. We spent the next few hours discussing beer, jazz and the upsides of midlife crises.

Beer for Dinner

While I do not regret my choices, they did leave me with a fair amount of reading to plow through before tomorrow evening’s class. I needed a quick dinner that would assuage my Jewish guilt and make use of the glorious spring vegetables I managed to score at Saturday’s farmers’ market.

Ramps

Asparagus, Ramp & Feta Matzo Brei

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 (or more) glasses Sancerre
  • 10 ramps
  • 10 stalks asparagus
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 sheets matzah
  • 1 ounce feta cheese
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring a small nonstick skillet up to medium-low heat with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Pour yourself a nice glass of Sancerre while the butter melts.
  2. Rinse the ramps and trim off the tips. Chop into 1/2″ pieces, keeping the stems and leaves separate and splitting any large stems longways. Rinse the asparagus and remove the twiggy ends by breaking with your hands. Chop into 3/4″ pieces.
  3. Add the ramp stems to your butter and sauté, stirring frequently, until they start to get limp. Add the asparagus, starting with the thickest ends and working up to the tips. Cook until the asparagus is al denté (3-5 minutes). Add the ramp leaves and continue to cook until fully wilted. Add a little salt and pepper.
  4. Break the matzah into small pieces in a small bowl and top with water. Crack the eggs into a cup and whisk with a little more salt and pepper. Drain the water out of the matzah, using your hand to hold it in place. Add the eggs as well as the ramps and asparagus, crumble the feta over the top, and stir gently until combined.
  5. Place the pan back on the heat and add 1/4 tablespoon of butter. Pour the matzah mixture into the pan and let sit undisturbed for 7 minutes or so until the bottom is browned and the whole thing has started to set. Flip onto a small plate. Add the remaining butter to the pan, slide your matzo brei back into the pan and let cook undisturbed for another 3-5 minutes until nicely browned.

Asparagus Ramp Feta Matzo Brei

This may not look like much, but it is mad tasty, particularly with a second glass of Sancerre. Now about that reading…

Asparagus Ramp Feta Matzo Brei Closeup

EAT THIS: Matzo Balls, Ramps, Shrooms & Eggs

Matzo Balls Ramps Mushrooms Poached Egg

Insomnia so bad that you arrive at the market while the farmers are still setting up? Console yourself in the knowledge that the early bird gets Wilklow Orchards‘s foraged ramps. Take them home and sauté them in butter along with a handful of mixed mushrooms from John D. Madura Farms. Fry up a few of your leftover matzo balls in a little more butter. Add a poached egg (thanks to Evolutionary Organics). Ponder a nap.

Planes, Trains, Bourbon & Brisket

I am supposed to be in Wisconsin right now.

Three years ago, I spent Rosh Hashanah with Juliet, Phil and their son. It was a lovely visit that ended with promises to do it again next year. Alas, life and a brand new job got in the way, so the past two years’ celebrations have consisted of an apple dipped in honey at my kitchen counter.

Two months ago I purchased a plane ticket. On Friday I awoke early to pack. I hauled a suitcase, an overstuffed purse, and a backpack full of schoolwork (plus some work work) through morning rush hour. The B train was mysteriously out of commission, necessitating two transfers and a whole lot of stairs to get to my meeting near Columbus Circle. I cut out half an hour early and flagged down a taxi to LaGuardia.

Two hours, $100, and a fair amount of screaming later, I found myself at Delta’s Special Services desk shaking with a mixture of frustration, rage, and a very full bladder. There was no way I was making my flight to Madison, though they could get me into Milwaukee for a mere $1,000 change fee. I appealed to the agent’s sense of rationality, explaining that the Grand Central Parkway had been shut down and that my driver refused to listen to my directions. Nothing. I played the damsel in distress. Nada. I pulled a diva trip. This man was a brick wall. Then I did the only other thing I could think of. I hauled my bags to a corner, sat on the floor, and commenced crying. Nobody even noticed.

Half an hour and a couple of weepy phone calls later, I had a plan. I would head upstate for a night or two with Beth and her boys.

It’s a straight shot on the M60 bus to Metro North’s Harlem-125th Street Station. Under normal circumstances, the trip takes about 25 minutes. But, as even the casual reader must know by now, this was no ordinary day. I couldn’t even squeeze onto the first bus that arrived. I boarded at the back of the next bus, which filled up quickly. We inched our way to Manhattan. At each stop, more people clambered aboard. Tensions were high. More than one person screamed obscenities. A fist fight very nearly broke out. The trip lasted 90 minutes.

I managed to squeeze myself and my bags–which seemed to get heavier and heavier–off of the bus when we hit Second Avenue and found the nearest liquor store. I was going to need a little something to take the edge off during the next leg of my journey. I hauled my bags up what I thought would be the final flight of stairs and boarded the 6:22 to Poughkeepsie.

As we pulled out of the station, the conductor announced that the train was an express and that the first stop would be Beacon–the stop after my intended destination. At this point, I decided to skip the plastic cup and swig my wine straight from the bottle.

Jasmine and the Bottle

Seventy minutes later, I lugged my bags up one staircase and down another before tossing them into the back of a taxi that, naturally, had to drop two other people off before delivering me. I arrived at Beth’s doorstep just before 8:30pm. In the time it takes to fly to London, I had managed to make it 55 miles from my starting point.

By 8:45 I was halfway through a Negroni. By two in the morning we’d polished off our second bottle of Prosecco and were headed to bed.

Somehow Beth wrangled the boys and made it to soccer by 9:00am, which is about the time I opened my eyes. I stumbled down the stairs feeling a little worse for the wear. A cup of coffee and two large glasses of water gave me the strength to make breakfast: scrambled eggs, toast, and a glorious orange tomato from Fishkill Farms, where Beth gets her CSA share.

Then I threw on some clothes, grabbed a bag, and headed up the road to the Cold Spring Farmers’ Market. I was eager to see what the Hudson Valley had to offer–and hopeful that I might stumble on a brisket to take the sting out of the previous day’s travel debacle. I picked up purple potatoes, fennel salami, parsley, and canoodling carrots.

Kale Potatoes Carrots

I was about to give up on my brisket plan when I spotted Full Moon Farm‘s stand. Three pounds of grass-fed beef and my backpack was about as heavy as I could conceive given the 30-minute walk back to town. But first, I took a quick stroll through the grounds at Boscobel to admire the view of the Hudson Highlands.

Hudson Highlands

Beth and the boys arrived home a little after me. We spent the early afternoon hydrating and threatening to nap while the brisket defrosted in a bowl of water. Around 2:00 I set to work.

Braised Brisket, More or Less

  1. Get a good piece of meat. Make sure it’s defrosted. Sprinkle with a generous dose of salt and pepper.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 325.
  3. Bring a large dutch oven up to medium heat with some vegetable oil. Sear the brisket until you get some nice color on it. (Depending on the size of your pot and the size of your brisket, this may require some finagling.)
  4. Remove the meat and add a couple of chopped onions. Cook until soft and starting to color. Add a few cloves of chopped garlic and cook for a couple more minutes.
  5. Ransack the spice cabinet and add whatever strikes your fancy. I went with ginger, fennel, brown mustard seeds, thyme and some other stuff I can’t recall. Allow the spices to toast in the fat for a few minutes.
  6. Add a small can of tomato paste and whatever leftover booze you can dig up. A Stella Artois worked just fine for this brisket, but you could do something darker. Red wine is always nice.
  7. Got some chili paste in the fridge? Go for it. Just about any condiment you’re looking to use up will do here. Dried fruit is also awesome.
  8. Bring the pot up to a boil, pop a lid on, and stick it in the oven. Ideally, the meat will be submerged in the liquid, but not to worry if the ends are sticking out.
  9. Now would be a good time for a nap. Or maybe a shower.
  10. After a couple of hours, give the sauce a taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and perhaps a pinch of sugar. Flip the meat and return to the oven. Repeat in another hour or so. 
  11. Some people like to pull the meat out while it is still firm, slice it against the grain, layer it into a pan, cover with the sauce, and continue to cook. This is handy if you’re serving a large crowd or are aiming for something a little more photogenic. Personally, I like to leave the meat whole and continue to simmer until it is pull-apart tender. (Go past this point and you basically have the best beef stew you’ve ever experienced.) A little fresh flat leaf parsley is a nice touch at the end.

Braised Brisket

Cocktail time!

The End of Summer

Add a few cubes of ice to a rocks glass. Slosh in a stiff pour of bourbon. Top with ginger ale. Using a microplane, grate a little fresh ginger in. Garnish with a wheel of lemon. Toast to the end of summer and spend the next couple of rounds reminiscing about sandy sheets and outdoor showers.

Bourbon Ginger Cocktail

Thomas and his two kids joined us for dinner. Dylan and Benjamin concocted an elaborate fantasy involving costumes and camping gear while the older boys disappeared upstairs.

Around 6:00 we sat down to the brisket, accompanied by grilled potatoes and carrots and a kale and pear salad with a maple dijon vinaigrette.

Grilled Carrots and Potatoes

Kale and Pear Salad

In truth, most of the kids had plain tomatoes and hot dogs. But Benjamin, always the iconoclast, embraced this new meat swimming in its mysterious and murky sauce. He ate heartily and then quietly disappeared from the table. A couple of minutes later, he reclaimed his seat and passed me this missive.

I Love Brisket

It was an unconventional Rosh Hashanah, to be sure. But it was also a lovely one. Next year in Madison!

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls

On Sunday I hosted a potluck dinner for some of the amazing women I met/got to know a whole lot better during last summer’s two-week Paris study trip.

As expected, the menu was eclectic, seasonal and delicious. We had deviled eggs, cucumber salad, carrots and radicchio roasted with raisins and balsamic vinegar, a soba noodle salad, roasted fennel, and an array of not-kosher-for-Passover bread products. Camille, who came straight from her job at Threes Brewing, contributed to the chametz situation with a nice growler of IPA.

I’m still working my way through the potatoes from my winter CSA share, so I whipped up a batch of caramelized leek and cheddar potato skins. And, despite my indulgence in all manners of leavened grains, I felt compelled to make up for not having attended a seder this year by making matzo ball soup–albeit a vegetarian and Asian-inspired version.

Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls 

  • 1 large bunch spinach
  • 6 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons red miso paste
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups matzo meal
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 leek, minced
  • 1 bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 teaspoons plus 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and quickly blanch the spinach. Strain into a sieve, pressing hard with a spoon to extract as much liquid as possible. (Squeezing the spinach into a tight ball with your fist is also an effective strategy.) Chop finely.
  2. Melt the coconut oil and miso in a small pan, stirring with a fork to combine.
  3. Whisk the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Stir in the matzo meal, water, miso oil, leek, parsley, a couple of teaspoons of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Bring a large pot of water plus 2 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Wet your hands and form the matzo mixture into smooth balls about the size of a large gumball, dropping them into the water as you go. You’ll need to rinse your hands every so often when they get too gummy.This recipe should yield around 40 matzo balls. If you’re a patient person, you might do these in two batches. Alternately, you could just cram them in like I did. Maintain a vigorous simmer for 25 minutes or so, during which time the matzo balls will twirl and plump. Miso-Spinach Matzo Balls
  5. OK, that was shockingly easy. Now one last step, courtesy of my mom, who swears by this technique. Scoop the matzo balls into a container, cover with the salted water, and store overnight in the fridge.

I worried that the soak would lead to a container of starchy mush. But these matzo balls hold beautifully, requiring nothing but a quick simmer in the broth of your choosing the next day. I went with a hot and sour tom yum-style vegetable broth with lots of fresh ginger and lemongrass, garnished with shiitake mushrooms and cilantro. The resulting dish was complex in flavor yet familiar enough in texture to evoke memories of the Maxwell House Haggadah and Manischewitz. Fortunately, Sari brought better wine.

Spinach-Miso Matzo Balls

Potato Gratin with Mustard & Gruyere

I fly to Florida in six hours for a healthy dose of sunshine and family. But first I’m headed to Christmas dinner with friends, presenting an excellent opportunity to unload some of the potatoes that are piling up from my winter CSA share.

Potato Gratin with Mustard & Gruyere

  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon dried mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 white peppercorns, ground
  • 1-2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 pound good quality gruyere, grated
  • 1 small bunch chives, minced
  • 4 large potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  1. Preheat the oven to 375. Whisk the cream, mustard, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. (Do not be tempted to use a medium bowl or you will be scraping potato starch and cream off of your counters. Take it from me.) Stir in half the gruyere and all but a tablespoon of the chives.
  2. One by one, peel the potatoes and slice them into 1/8″ disks. (A mandoline will make this task infinitely faster.) Drop the potatoes into the cream mixture as you go, as this will prevent them from browning.
  3. Grease a smallish baking dish with 1 tablespoon butter. (If, like me, you never remember to take the butter out to soften, just drop the butter in the dish and pop it in the oven for a minute or two.)
  4. Spread the potatoes in the baking dish, reserving the most uniform slices for the top layer and making sure to scoop out most of the cheese as you go. Give everything a good press to even it out and then arrange your top layer of potatoes artfully. Pour the cream mixture over the top, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top, and dot with second tablespoon of butter.Pre-Bake Gratin
  5. Pop this in the oven and let cook for an hour or so until the top is a dark, crusty brown and the potatoes are presumably cooked through. (If you want to be exact about it, you could make sure a butter knife slides in easily.) Garnish with the remaining chives. WARNING: Your apartment will smell insanely good.

OK, I haven’t actually tried this yet, as I still have to transport it to Williamsburg along with myself and my suitcase. But, given the ingredients, I have trouble imagining it will not be delicious.

Potato Gratin with Mustard and Gruyere

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

Seven adults, an almost three-year-old, an almost two-year-old, and a baby born just six days ago are descending on my 600-square-foot apartment this afternoon. I spent the past week gathering ingredients from far and wide. I take a certain amount of pride in noting that nothing on today’s Thanksgiving table was sourced from a large grocery chain. I take a little less pride in the fact that I bought cheese in three different stores because I failed to actually make any sort of shopping list.

Our 17-pound turkey hails from Vermont and was procured through my CSA. It has been soaking up its dry brine since Tuesday night.

Turkey in Dry Brine

Last night was time for more prep work. I transformed a loaf of bread into rustic croutons. I made a slow-simmered turkey stock using the neck and a few other odds and ends, along with a little pancetta. I baked sweet and spicy candied pecans. I cooked up a batch of cranberry, apple and caramelized onion chutney. I did my best to tidy up the apartment.

Over the years, I have developed a system for helping myself stay on track when preparing an elaborate meal. Today’s game plan will continue to evolve throughout the day, but this is the general direction.

Thanksgiving Game Plan

I inexplicably awoke at 7:00am, leaving me with more time than anticipated. It was too early to pull the bird out of the fridge. And, until I remove the bird, there’s pretty much no room for anything else I manage to prep ahead of schedule.

Packed Thanksgiving Fridge

I pondered this dilemma over a cup of coffee until I remembered that turkey liver I had shoved in a bowl and stuck next to the mushrooms for the ciabatta, sausage, fennel and cremini stuffing. Suddenly I had a vision of the amazing chopped liver made by Maison David’s Michel Kailfa that I had the chance to sample during June’s study trip to Paris. Frenchmen don’t get much more charming that Michel. And chopped liver doesn’t get tastier than his.

But I would do my best.

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 turkey liver
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme, leaves stripped
  • 1 small pinch red pepper flakes
  • 4 cremini mushrooms
  • 3 tablespoons madeira
  • 1 small handful flat leaf Italian parsley
  • salt and pepper
  1. Bring half the oil up to medium heat in a small pan. Add the liver and sear, rotating as it browns, for approximately five minutes.) You’re aiming for something like a medium-rare steak.) Remove the liver to a small bowl and add the rest of the oil.
  2. Add the onion and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until they are nicely browned and limp. (I have a hunch that Michel takes his onions past this point, which may make all the difference.) Add the mushrooms, thyme leaves and red pepper. Continue cooking, stirring frequently. The mushrooms will soak up the remaining fat and then gradually release liquid. Once they have done so, add the madeira and cook stirring continuously and scraping the bottom of the pan until mostly evaporated. 
  3. Dump the liver, onions and mushrooms, and parsley into the small bowl of your food processor and purée for a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Chopped Turkey Liver with Cremini Mushrooms

Liver is packed full of good nutrients, including iron–which is good for those of us that tend towards the anemic. A smear of this on a cracker is a great way to get your strength up for a long day of cooking.

Out with the Old (Potato Salad)

This week was one of the toughest I have ever experienced. What little time I wasn’t working I devoted to psyching myself up for the next day. With help from my truly amazing network of friends, I crawled across the finish line around 7:00pm on Friday–just in time to suck down a comically large flaming cocktail (with my buddy Justin, though I assure you I could have gone it alone) before catching the Loser’s Lounge tribute to Talking Heads.

Scorpion Bowl

I awoke Saturday with a determination to move forward with positivity. I brushed my teeth, threw on a pair of overalls and headed out to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. It seems that mother nature is also looking for a fresh start. Ramps, rhubarb and the last of the winter root vegetable stockpiles are finally giving way to all manners of green things. Despite the fact that CSA season starts back up this week and I am leaving the country next Sunday, I loaded my bag with cucumbers, garlic scapes, kale, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, parsley, scallions and a head of red leaf lettuce twice as large as my own uncommonly large head. Oona was just as titillated as I was by this bounty.

Oona and Veggies

Given my commitment to renewal, it seemed fitting that Saturday would be the day I finally cleared out the dregs of my winter CSA share from the crisper bin. While good quality vegetables grown sustainably and distributed in a community-minded manner are always welcome, I will confess that this year’s crop was a bit overwhelming for me. I’ve learned that people welcome an offering of apples, but look askance when you show up at a dinner party with a bottle of wine and five pounds of dirt-coated potatoes.

Poatoes

As luck would have it, I’d been invited to a barbecue and assured that potato salad would be most welcome. Ken is a Louisiana boy with a couple of books under his belt and takes his food seriously. For three days, Ken had filled my Facebook feed with photos of giant slabs of meat in various stages of preparation. And so I set about concocting a classic American potato salad with just a bit of Cajun flair.

“I’m Horrified by How Much I Want More Potato Salad” Potato Salad

  1. Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Scrub a mess of potatoes, chop them into large pieces and drop into the boiling water. Boil until the potatoes are fork tender (maybe 20 minutes), then pour into a colander. Return the potatoes to the hot pot, dump in some vinegar (white, apple cider, red wine, or whatever else you have on hand) and stir to cook off any excess water and allow the vinegar to soak into the hot potatoes.
  2. Prepare five hard-boiled eggs using your own preferred technique or my loose interpretation of Betty Crocker’s instructions
  3. Chop half a jar of gherkins (yes, the sweet ones) into very small pieces. Do the same with the light green and white portions of a bunch of scallions and a pile of flat leaf parsley. Peel the eggs, thinly slice whichever one came out the prettiest and roughly chop the rest.
  4. When the potatoes are mostly cool, stir in a few very large dollops of mayonnaise, a large dollop of the prepared mustard(s) of your choice, a good dose of mustard powder, a quarter cup or so of the gherkin brine, some additional vinegar, plenty of salt and pepper, a little cayenne and paprika, and whatever else strikes your fancy. (Diced Vidalia onion, celery, and red bell pepper come to mind, but I did not have any of these on hand.) Gently fold in the scallions, parsley, chopped egg and gherkins. Taste and adjust the seasoning with additional mustard, vinegar, brine, salt, pepper, etc. I like a potato salad with a sharp mustard bite and just a little sweetness from the gherkins.
  5. Spoon the mixture into a bowl, garnish with paprika and sliced egg, and let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

Potato Salad

Somehow I had it in my head that the barbecue started at 2:00 rather than 3:00pm. Ken and his family were gracious enough to welcome me at 2:45 while the rest of the guests rolled in at more appropriate hours. There was much beer drinking and meat eating. Peter and I fell out a few hours later to meet friends in Prospect Park for some New Orleans music thanks to Celebrate Brooklyn. I strolled home around 10:00pm sated by beer, meat and dancing. Summer is (finally) upon us.