Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Weekend with Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking

Hummus, Twice cooked Eggplant and Harissa Pargiyot

A few weeks back the long awaited Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking finally arrived! Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook have delivered an absolutely wonderful book of (mostly) easy to reproduce recipes that any reasonably well equipped home cook can make. So when the weekend arrived I was geared up to try as many as possible (with more to come!).

Recipe 1: Basic Tehina Sauce

This is the foundation of a number of recipes including the famous Zahav Hummus so it's the obvious place to start.

Lemon juice and garlic get chopped together, rest for a few minutes to take the harsh edge off the raw garlic.

The mixture is strained and the garlicky lemon juice added to a whole jar (16 oz) of Tehina, water, and a little cumin.

The Thermomix makes quick work of this phase but a high power blender or food processor will work too.

You end up with an almost pure white sauce, most of which will go into:

Recipe 2: Hummus Tehina

The full recipes for these two and a length interview with Solomonov can be found here: For Israeli-Born Chef, Hummus And 'Tehina' Are A Bridge To Home. 

I just cooked up the chickpeas in my Thermomix and saved the cooking water.

And dumped in the tehina. And the processed the heck out of it. I probably had about 20 cl. of the saved water to make the hummus smooth and creamy.

Recipe 3: Crispy Halloumi

Dates and walnuts go into the Thermomix with a little Sherry Vinegar.

Halloumi (no substitues) fries quickly and holds it's shape.

Onto the puddle of date sauce with a few slices of apple and you're ready to go!

Recipe 4: Hummus Pitryot

This is just mildly spiced mushrooms (any kind will work, though Zahav uses Hen of the Woods) fried in a very hot pan so they crisp up and served on top of Hummus Tehina. Super easy and delicious.

Recipe 5: Twice Cooked Eggplant

Slice, salt and drain the eggplant.

Fry the crap out of it

Red Bell Pepper and Onions are diced and fried in the pan. Then toss in the eggplant and some Sherry Vinegar and break up the eggplant and cook until the vinegar evaporates.

Recipe 6: Harissa Pargiyot

First we make Harissa (or buy it) and marinate a couple pounds of cut up chicken thighs, thread 'em on skewers and grill.

Hummus, Twice cooked Eggplant and Harissa Pargiyot. Yum!

What's it all mean?

Honestly, if I hadn't had a bunch of football to watch I could easily have done all these recipes in one day. Almost anyone could easily assemble a very impressive dinner party without amazingly little planning. Just remember to make pickles 2 days ahead, soak your chickpeas and marinate meat (if any) the night before and you're good to go.

Zahav will probably gather quite a few comparisons to Yotam Ottolenghi's Jerusalem. We've cooked quite a bit from Jerusalem and while there are similarities, I'm finding Zahav more practical as a "home cooking" source.

Not ready to buy the book? There are the recipes for Yemenite Beef Soup and Lachuch here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Medical Issues: We go to the Emergency Room: Part 1

So, late in July Beth had what we were pretty sure was a gall stone attack. She went to work the next day, but the pain reoccurred and she headed down to the local ER to get checked out. Although she was pretty sure it was gall stones the pain is not too dissimilar from certain types of heart attack and who the heck wants to drop dead at work?

She got herself checked in and the rather lengthy process began including and MRI, ECG, and a long list of blood and other fluid tests. You won't have to imagine what it all cost because I'm going to lay it all out as each billing unit (there are 5) comes in and gets resolved. Our insurance company, Cigna,  processed all the claims within about three weeks and we began to receive bills from the hospital's processing company at about the 4 week point.

Important Lesson #1:

Print out all the documentation from your insurer. You'll need it when the bills start to arrive.

These two screen grabs show how our insurance company processed and paid the first set of charges:

Pretty easy to understand, just two line items and it's fairly clear what we should expect to pay. In fact, the company included an easy to read breakdown as well:

Pretty cool. We only owe $56.32! But wait! The actual bill hasn't arrived yet. Which it did just last week:

How could this be? The insurance company paid nearly all of this! The answer lies in the dates. The bill was printed on August 21. The insurance company processed the claim on August 17. I don't have an exact date, but it's pretty easy to believe it took more than 4 days for the payment to make it into the billing system and be credited.

My first step was to figure out which set of charges this bill referred to. That was made easy by the fact that the insurance company itemized the charges in a way that matched that used by the billing company. Once I had the right insurance company statement in hand I called the billing company to find out if the payment had arrived. In fact it had and not only did I not owe $563.20, I didn't even owe the $56.32. The $38.00 "not covered by [my] plan" was apparently waived and I ended up paying only $18.32. Yea!

Important Lesson #2:

Call the billing company before you pay! It's very likely your insurance company's payments have already hit the system.  

Well, in the end it turns out Beth does have gall stones but nothing was blocked. That probably means we'll have another episode some time in the future. I can only hope we'll have medical insurance as good as what we have from Cigna when that happens.

After this episode, we still have four more "billing units".  I'll save 'em up for the next post.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Budget Bathroom Renovation Part 1a: Medicine Cabinets and Mirrors: Destruction

This spring's house project is a bathroom renovation. It's going to happen in four parts:
  • Cabinets, Lights and Mirrors
  • Lavatory
  • Bath and Shower Surround
  • Toilet Room
As you may have gathered, this is the Cabinets, Lights and Mirrors episode. Some time ago the frame that supported our original bathroom mirror failed. We managed to get the mirror down in one piece, but almost as soon as we leaned it up against the wall it split into two razor edged chunks which at this moment are still sitting on our porch. (They'll be recycled along with the other construction debris in a couple weeks.)

The first step was to remove the old medicine cabinets, our nifty Restoration Hardware lamps, and the plaster and lath wall material.

With the old wall down we ran into two problems: one we knew about and the other a small surprise. We knew that we'd have to restore the two vertical studs that had been cut to install the old medicine cabinets.

No big deal here. Just cut some 2x3 to the right length and screw it into place.

The surprise was that fact that the wainscot is held top the studs using some heavy wires and big globs of a cement like substance. As a result there's about a half inch gap to fill to get the drywall out to where it should be.

Fortunately we had a bunch of lath from the destruction phase and recycled a bunch of it as shims to bring the stud surface out to where we wanted it.

We also cut some chunks of 2x4 to provide a sturdy place to hang the Ikea Hemnes medicine cabinets.

Now, buying drywall when you own a Mini Cooper might seem like a problem. Fortunately a 96" (8 feet) piece of drywall can be easily cut into 32" chunks which 1) easily fit into the Mini and 2) match standard stud placement.

Our house, having been built cheaply 90 some years ago, doesn't quite have standard stud spacing. But with a little trimming everything went up without much trouble. Then some primer and paint...

And it's time to hang the lights. After locating the mounting plates I drilled half inch holes, popped in lag bolts and screwed 'em in.

And they work!

Then the Hemnes cabinets go up. They hang from a pair of wood screws that go into headers I bolted between the studs. Each screw has a plastic spacer that prevents you from tightening it too much once the cabinet is hung.

The cabinets go in and you tighten the screws. The doors go on and you're done!

This was supposed to be an easy project. It would have been in a more modern house. We had to completely remove the old plaster and lath wall, shim out the studs, mount headers to support the new cabinets, replace the old plaster and lath with new dry wall and finally hang the lights and cabinets.

It was worth the effort.  There was about $600 in materials: Ikea cabinets, the new center lamp, dry wall, mud, primer and paint but we've greatly improved the appearance of the bathroom for not very much money.

The next phase is replacing the lavatory you can't see in the pictures - we've got the Ikea parts but the plumbing issues are a little tricky and will take me a couple weeks to work out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Vegas Baby 2015: L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon

The View From Our Seats
This trip we finally managed to make reservations at L'Atelier De Joel Robuchon in MGM Grand. Because this was our first night in town, we ate early, 5:30, and at least in the beginning had the place almost to ourselves. We decided to make our choices from the the Prix Fixe Menu B. The wine list, not surprisingly, is extensive and expensive. Even so there are plenty of bottles well under $100. We chose an Alsatian Pinot Gris at $60 that worked well with nearly all of the courses.

Shortly after being seated the cute bread basket arrived. The mini-baguettes were perfect tiny versions of their full size parent. The little boules are labelled as sour dough but were extremely mild.


One of Robuchon's signature recipes and apparently the standard amuse in all his restaurants. Foie Gras parfait, port wine reduction and Parmesan foam.  Creamy/salty/sweet and the Pinot Gris suited it wonderfully.

Cold Entrees

La Dorade Royale
The menu translates this as "King Snapper" but here in the USA it's "gilt head bream". A "ceviche" presentation on a little puddle of cilantro cream. Excellent and rather surprisingly tasty with the Pinot Gris.

La Tomate
Beth had the tomato dish - a *very* spicy gazpacho with a blob of buratta in the middle. This was the only dish that didn't pair well with the wine we chose.

Warm Entrees
L’oeuf de Poule
My choice - a poached egg, smoked salmon, frisee salad and crispy kataifi on top. This will show up as a first course at our house for sure.

Beth's choice - creamy sweet onion soup. This was so thick and sweet it almost tasted like caramelized squash soup. I have no idea what the crispy thingy on top was.

We both chose the same plats. This is the Salmon - a pair of very gently grilled salmon batons with an artichoke salad. Artichokes are a good reason to have a Pinot Gris.

And the quail stuffed with foie gras and the the famous pommes puree. There's a little herb salad there too. That was a pretty good size quail. The breast portion wraps the little nugget of foie gras. Beth was getting pretty full at this point - I snagged her quail leg and thigh.

Beth's dessert (yeah, we split 'em). From left to right, Cinnamon, Lemon, Strawberry, another citrus, and Chocolate. At this point these were actually too much for one person.

Ice Cream
And my dessert - berries, raspberry sorbet, and ginger ice cream.

Yikes! That was pretty expensive. It was actually about 40% of what we spent in Las Vegas (not counting gambling of course) but we're pretty cheap. The MGM Grand room was "free" via MyVegas as were several buffets where we loaded up at late breakfasts so we only needed a very light meal in the evening.

If you have any interest at all in what Robuchon is about this is the way to do it.

Up Next - Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender 18: Music, Cars, Burlesque!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Terrine de Foie Gras

Expensive? Yes. Delicious? Yes. Hard to make? Nope. Terrine de Foie Gras is just about the easiest of the old time “haut cuisine” dishes to make. Just duck liver (the foie gras) a little sweet wine, salt and pepper. Here’s how it works:

The Liver

This is by far the hardest part: cutting out the various veins and nerves. And it’s not really hard, just messy and time consuming. Neatness doesn’t really count since we’re going to jam everything into the terrine anyway.

You end up with a pile of liver and a pile of veins and nerves

The liver goes into a bowl with a little salt and some sweet wine. I used the traditional Sauternes, but Bocuse and others call for Port. I suspect that any sweet, deeply flavorful wine will work just as well. Once well mixed the liver goes into the refrigerator for a couple hours.

Then you just jam everything into a small (that’s a 3 cup) terrine lined with plastic wrap.

And into a bain-marie in a 200° F oven until the internal temperature reaches 115° F.

Pour off the tasty duck fat and save it for fried potatoes. Press the contents of the terrine for a couple hours, then back into the ‘fridge for a couple days.

While the terrine is settling in, make the Sauternes Jelly. If, like me, you bought half a bottle of Sauternes you’ll have almost exactly the right amount left over to make Sauternes Jelly.

Two days resting in the 'fridge and there you have it!


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