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Phyllis Bieri

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Review: Eat Like a Rainbow (Win a Copy)

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Singer-songwriter (and The Jew & The Carrot contributor) Jay Mankita recently teamed up with The NY Coalition for Healthy School Food to create Eat Like a Rainbow – a “rocking, funky, danceable collection of quirky kids songs about healthy food and sustainable living.”

Sounds great, but would kids actually listen to a CD about eating fruits and vegetables? Last weekend, I tested it out on the experts, my three daughters.

Validation for this kitchen geek

For three months I’ve been enjoying my new kitchen in deeply gratifying ways. It transformed my Thanksgiving experience (referred to as “The Super Bowl of cooking”) due to my increased refrigerator, freezer, countertop, cooktop and oven capacities. The new island configuration without the previous wall completely transforms my interactions with my children, family and guests.

I still bake challah every week, but now I have more refrigerator space for the dough to rise Thursday night. I tried baking the loaves in my new steam oven last week and they were extra moist. Next week I’ll try using the oven’s thermometer probe on the challah. Confessions of a kitchen geek. The kitchen was always the hub, but now it is open and accessible, and I reside in it with tremendous gratitude.

Today’s Harold McGee article on heat in the NYTimes provided me with a new level of validation.

Kohlrabi. What I do with it.

Kohlrabi used to be one of those vegetables I feared when I picked up my weekly CSA share. Now it’s the one I search for in the swap box. It resembles a Sputnik satellite, but dates back to 17th century Europe, where it got its German name for cabbage (kohl) turnip (rabi). Hailing from the wonderful and prolific brassica family, it is closely related to broccoli and tastes like a juicier version of a broccoli stalk.

They’re Kashering My Kitchen

I was not raised kosher, in fact I wasn’t even raised Jewish. I grew up eating everything. I chose to become a Jew out of love, and I have never stopped loving this people that I chose. But sometimes they drive me crazy.

I love food, and I love to cook. I could not, cannot, and will not limit myself to those food groups permissible in Leviticus. As a friend of mine says, “Halacha is not my thing.”

My kitchen is clean and organized, like my mother’s. I have attachments to many implements and cooking utensils, e.g. my grandmother’s spatula, my father’s cherry cutting board, the patina on a vintage 8-inch cast iron frying pan. I could go on.

An MRI in my kitchen

I’m re-doing my 1985 vintage kitchen. A few months ago I ripped the handle off an oven, four burners have never been enough, and the ancient dishwasher is so loud it sounds like a street-cleaning machine. The cabinet veneer is peeling. The wimpy double ovens are horribly slow, poorly callibrated, and situated in a doorway making me turn sidways everytime I try to access them. (Forget about induction — that came much later). I could go on. Take, for example, the white tile floor. Anybody tried to keep a white tile floor clean in a heavily trafficked kitchen? It’s hopeless, and I can’t take it anymore.

Renewing Passover Traditions

The first seder I ever went to, I hosted. I was deep into conversion classes with my husband-to-be and we had tons of questions. It was the opposite of scripted. We used a Reconstructionist haggadah a friend’s family had put together, and the conversation flowed. The older generations regaled us with their memories. Though it was over 10 years ago I remember it well. There was just one problem. My food was warming on the stove and in the oven, forever. Who knew that you spent so long talking before eating the meal? I ruined my first seder. Everything was dehydrated to shoe leather, the matzoh balls leaden after simmering for so long.

If a recipe ends with “serve immediately,” it is not for Pesach. That was my first huge lesson. I think I’ve hosted almost every first night since then, but I’ve picked up a lot of things on the second nights when we’ve gone to other people’s houses. The whole evening has changed with the advent of our children, as well. Here are some of our evolving traditions:

Keeping pesach. What’s for breakfast?

Pesach approaches, and the kids are busy learning about it in school. We have never kept pesach before, but this year it looks like we’re going to try thanks to Jewish day school education.

I’m wondering what to serve for breakfasts at home. Can I make pancakes with matzoh meal? Does anyone know if there is a whole grain matzoh meal available, or any other ground flours that are acceptable? Looks like I’ll be bringing quinoa back to the table.

Highly personal, idiosyncratic restaurant reviews from our recent Israel trip

Just got back from 2 weeks in Israel with my husband, 3 daughters (ages 7, 5 and 3), and Israeli nanny. This is a brief re-cap of some of our meals, in chronological order:

Orca – Tel Aviv. The finest dining experience we had. Hip, understated decor. Great wine list, smooth service, remarkable food. Surprised by the veritable treyf fest on the menu, though Israeli friends said this was a trend in Tel Aviv over the past 15 years. Had to try the fire-roasted tomato soup, garnished with “squid stuffed with pork.” In the states we would at least call it pancetta or chorizo, anything but “pork”.

My challah journey

About 25 people stood around a large rectangular table, and each shared a memory about challah. One person had never measured a cup of flour. Another had joined a challah-baking fertility circle and was now pregnant. I was teaching challah baking at LimmudNY for the second year, and the emotions surrounding the simple act of baking challah ran deep.

I bake challah every Friday, with very rare exceptions. One year, early in my Jewish observance, I forgot it was Pesach and baked challah as usual. That wouldn’t happen anymore, but baking challah has become an integral part of our family’s shabbat rituals. Perhaps it was the Wonder Bread consistency of store-bought challah that made me a challah baker. Perhaps it was a bit of the convert’s zeal. In the small town where I grew up, challah was not a part of my consciousness. I think I first learned about it from a menu describing challah french toast, and I wondered how to pronounce the “ch.”

Deluged by beets

25 pounds of unwashed root vegetables hit my kitchen last week like a mack truck. This was one of my two CSA’s winter shares, which the farmers offered for the first time this year to increase revenue with their surplus produce. I hate to pass up an opportunity for locally grown organic produce, so I signed up for both CSA’s winter shares.

Quinoa. Learning to love it.

Who knew that quinoa packed so much protein in its weird little spirally grain? Turns out, it’s a pseudo-grain since it comes from a plant, not a grass, and indigenous Andean natives considered it holy. The Spanish conquerors found that heretical and tried to ban its use for a few centuries, to no avail.

I decided to cook it after a friend of mine, Chana Citron, taught me that it is an ideal kid food. Provides all essential amino acids, and packs an enormous amount of protein (12-18%). First rule, which I learned the hard way: you must rinse it. Boxed brands supposedly are pre-rinsed, but I don’t trust them. Unfortunately, I didn’t rinse my first batch. The kids dutifully tasted a bit and immediately, unanimously rejected it. Ruined by saponins, the bitter coating that prevents birds from devouring the entire crop.

It is amazing how many recipes neglect the rinsing part. The grains are small, but I happen to have a strainer fetish, so with a fine-meshed strainer it is a snap to rinse under cold running water in the sink.

In search of the perfect latke

At Hazon’s food conference two weeks ago I was shocked when I tasted the latkes. They were delicate, lacy, not greasy, flecked with tiny bits of green, and utterly heavenly. I had never tasted a latke made for more than 20 people that was worth eating, and this preparation was for 150 people.

It took some sleuthing to figure out the recipe. First I cornered the very busy chef of Isabella Freedman, insisting on seeing the machine he used to grate the potatoes so finely. He showed me his industrial-sized Robot Coupe, and I realized the grater holes were about 3 mm wide rather than the usual 5 or 6 mm wide in a standard Cuisinart. That was my first problem. How to grate my potatoes so finely?