Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Pesach—Passover—is one of my favorite Jewish holidays. Yeah, you get presents at Hanukah and you get to dress up and be silly for Purim. But Passover? It says family, celebration, food.

This year, sadly, my Passover did not say family to me. Because I’m saving my vacation days and my money for an upcoming trip to Israel this summer, I couldn’t go home to Virginia or to family in North Carolina this year. Sad, I know! I did usher in the Passover holiday with Sunday brunch with friends (Courtney made a wonderful matzah brei), but it’s not the same as Passover seder. This is also the first year I’ve ever been wholly responsible for my own care and feeding during Passover. I almost didn’t buy matzah! Imagine that.

I was inspired by my nostalgia for traditional Passover foods, so I decided to finally some of my store of frozen chicken stock and make chicken soup and matzah balls. I often forget that I love matzah balls and I should really look into making them all year round, instead of just during the Passover season. They are delicious! The recipe I followed was on the back of the matzah meal box, but there are hundreds of variations. Once I made them with dill mixed in—that was exceptional. The most important factors—and I believe most matzah ball makers will agree—are the salt and the density. No matzah ball, in my opinion, is worth the name if it doesn’t have that saltiness in each bite. Not overly salty, mind you, but definitely detectable.

Matzah ball density is a debate that has gone down through the ages, for sure. I prefer ‘sinkers’—matzah balls so dense that they sink right to the bottom of the soup bowl and require some effort to break apart. Others—and I know many!—prefer them to be light and fluffy, like little clouds of matzah meal floating in their soup. The deciding factor is cooking time. The less time you simmer the matzah balls in water, the denser they will be. The longer, the lighter. My matzah balls were dense, dense, dense. Almost brick-like. I loved them.

And thank goodness that matzah balls are great by themselves because my chicken soup? I did not love it so much. Or at all. I apparently didn’t have enough patience for soup making on Sunday. I couldn’t find a recipe that pleased me, so I decided to wing it on my own. That’s never a good idea for me—I’m definitely a recipe driven cook. I had both chicken stock in the freezer and chicken broth in my pantry, so I put both in. I also added an onion, a few crushed cloves of garlic for the fun of it, and threw in a whole array of spices (parsley flakes, some poultry seasoning, and things that I simply can’t remember) and set the whole mess on the stove to simmer. I’m not entirely sure what went wrong, but I’ll try to figure it out. In the first place, I started out with too little liquid—I should have definitely started with more stock. I believe I didn’t simmer it for long enough. I’m really not sure. I would like to try again, but we’ll see where my taste buds take me in the future.

(For a successful soup read, go read about spinach and green garlic soup at Orangette)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Salad Days, Part II

Well, it’s been a couple of months since I started work at the Café, and, truly told, I’m ready for my tenure there to be done. It is a nice enough place to work—it’s just these 50-60 hour work weeks don’t agree with me. I am one tired blogger, that’s for sure. It is a stressful work environment, and sometimes entitled students at the end of the day is just too much for one girl. I have, in the meantime, made some friends and learned a little more about a different facet of the service industry. And I’ve certainly seen enough salad to last a lifetime.

I remain rather fascinated by the seemingly infinite combinations that people will come up with for their salads. My favorites are the ones that clearly show that a lot of thought was put into them. Some people go the sweet route: some combination of grapes, raisins, cranberries, dried pineapple, mango, mandarin oranges, dried figs, sometimes corn, beets, and carrots. These people often get the thai sesame lime dressing or the raspberry vinaigrette. Others go the crunchy road and ask for soy nuts, sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, croutons, tortilla strips, or sesame sticks to adorn their salad. Some of my favorite types are the ones who actually don’t get any vegetables on their salads at all—they order cheese (we have 5 different types), croutons, chicken, tuna, or tofu and never stop to consider the broccoli, beets, and other tasty veggies that we carry.

The salads that are unmistakable are the ones for the body-conscious girls (though, to be honest, very few overweight women come in to the Café…possibly because there are very few overweight women on the university campus. The environment at that school is not very conducive to any type of “big is beautiful” mindset, the more’s the pity). For the most part these salads are pretty well balanced: a healthy combination of vegetables and protein with one of the lighter dressings, accompanied by one of our addicting seeded rolls. But some of these salads are just simply a mess. These people will just get whatever catches their fancy, ignoring tastes and textures in the composition of their salad. One might get mango and garlic marinated mushrooms, along with capers, beets, dried figs, roasted red peppers, and, oh what the hell, tuna and pepperocinis with creamy smoked tomato dressing. A more typical occurrence is this: someone gets lentils, chickpeas, an egg (often just the whites—waste, waste, waste), chicken or tofu, cucumbers, tomatoes, and one of the grated cheeses (cheddar or pecorino romano), balsamic vinegar, and ask for it extra chopped. Or, as one young lady wrote on a slip last night, extra especially chopped. Which means the lettuce pieces and ingredients should be teeny tiny—unrecognizable as food, preferably. The more mushy parts of the salad—the chick peas, lentils, tomatoes, egg, and grated cheese—combine to become this mass of strange consistency. On one of my first shifts, I asked one of the other workers “Why extra chopped?” Her response was a shrug and “well, I don’t think many of them actually like salad…”

Which, of course, begs the question, why eat salad in the first place? Especially ones as expensive as ours (that chicken and hand-pulled mozzarella, not to mention the natural and organic veggies, are quite pricey).

And my favorite salad? Well, I prefer “no-base” salads—salads without lettuce. Because, honestly, I’ve always thought that lettuce is a usurper worthy of Napoleon. I invoke Israeli type salads and get lots of tomatoes and cucumbers, raw onions, and sometimes chick peas. Then I take a more Mediterranean twist as I put on the fresh mozzarella and black olives. Usually I finish it off with balsamic chicken, rosemary balsamic dressing, tortilla strips and toss to combine. The result? Always tasty.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

An Offering for Goods in Return

Well. It has been a while, hasn’t it? This blog is turning into a very interesting exercise for me. I started it because I wanted something to write—something other than my private on-line journal and the paper journal that I keep for My Eyes Only. I am continually excited to see that my readership seems to be growing! Or, at the very least, people glance at the blog once in a while. So, my friends, I have a question: what would you like to see on my blog? More recipes? More restaurants? Continue my musings any which way I please?

I live to serve. Well, within reason.

And, in return for your comments, I’ll tell you a story about eggs and greens and balsamic vinegar. Sounds good, right? Well, it was. A couple of weeks ago, I went through one of my periodic “I eat too many carbs, oh no, oh dear, what shall I do?” phases. This coincided with my arrival on, an all-things-food website which is really starting to take up a lot of my time. From the message boards to blog stories, this site is a veritable goldmine of information related to the culinary pursuits. I was looking for recipes for healthy, high-protein dishes. I found this: Wilted Green with Balsamic Fried Eggs.

What a lovely recipe! I made it for the dear GF and myself for dinner one Saturday night, using arugula (we both are just crazy about arugula’s peppery kick). Eggs over greens are mighty delicious, and the balsamic reduction just added a luxurious note to the entire dish—though I would have given quite a lot to have the balsamic that I ate in Arthur Avenue in NYC. This dish is healthful and, what’s more, very filling. We elected not to have toast with it, which was a mistake on our part. Next time, there will definitely be toast! As well as shallots, I think, as recommended in the comments. I also think that it will stay a dinner or lunch dish—it was just a tad too rich for my personal breakfast taste.