Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gefilte Fish

When you hear "gefilte fish" you probably think "ugh, that stuff's disgusting!".  And why?  Because you probably bought a jar of it at the store and that's what you think it's supposed to taste like, and therefore is disgusting.  It's also because you haven't had a piece of gefilte fish made by my grandmother.

Every year for Passover and the High Holidays my grandmother makes her gefilte fish, sometimes making almost 100 pieces at one time!  She has to make this much, because not only does everyone eat it at that meal, but then we all want to take some extra home to eat later.  Those few family members who don't eat the fish are secretly told to accept their piece at the meal so whoever is sitting next to them can have seconds without anyone else knowing (you have to strategically figure out your seating to do this).

As my generation gets older we realize that we should start to learn the traditions of our family so that they can live on well into our own grandchildren's lives and beyond.  A few years ago I let my grandmother know of my intent to learn this skill of gefilte fish making, so we tried to find a good time to get together.  About a week before the set date my grandmother had to call me with the bad news - the fish markets only carry carp and pike during Passover and the High Holidays.  She tried several fish markets in our area and none sold it regularly during the year.  So, we had to put our plans on hold until last Passover when I spent a lovely day being instructed step-by-step by my grandmother.

Of course, the first step is probably the most disgusting - rinsing off the fish heads, skins and bones before putting them in the soup sock.  At least the folks at the fish market took the fishes' eyes out before packaging the heads up for us (ick!).

I slightly revised my grandmother's recipe below to include the tricks and tips she passed along - like grinding everything twice so that it is finely ground and any leftover bones are ground properly.  When I set out last week to make my own batch in my kitchen without my grandmother standing next to me I remembered almost everything she taught me.  But the one thing that I'd change is that when shaping the balls, they shouldn't be actual balls, they should be a little flatter, more like the shape of Reece's Peanut Butter Eggs.  This way they stay better on the plate and you can easily put the horseradish and carrot on top without them rolling off.  I personally like to have mine with just horseradish, no carrot, but most people do like the carrot.  My grandparents (and most people of their generation) like the jelled stock with theirs as well.  And please note the official recipe name - my grandmother came up with that herself.

In this day and age when most people serve the jarred fish or at most buy the loaf that you recook with a few seasonings then slice and serve, it's nice to keep this "old country" tradition alive.  I think the best compliment I received was from my husband's grandparents.  I had sent a few pieces home with them so they could try it and they said that it tastes just like what their mothers used to make.  Now if that isn't flattering, I don't know what is!

Marilyn’s Super Duper Gefilte Fish (my grandmother's recipe)

1 lb white fish
1 lb carp
1 lb pike
1 medium sized onion
1 small carrot
3 eggs, well beaten
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp white pepper
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsp matzo meal
fish heads, skin and bones
1tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Pinch of sugar
1 carrot, peeled and sliced

- Have the fish market filet the fish, saving the heads, skins and bones.
- Put the fish heads, skin and bones in a large pot (use a soup sock for easy removal).
- Add 2 qts cold water, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper, and a pinch of sugar.
- Bring to a boil and boil for at least an hour – while you are preparing the rest of the fish.
-Using the fine blade, put the carrot through the grinder and set aside.  Do the same with the onion.
- Put all fish through the grinder (it is best to slice the fish before grinding it into one inch strips to easily go into the grinder).
- When everything has been ground once, put it all back through the grinder a second time, alternating between handfuls of fish, onion and carrot (always end with the carrot so you know when everything has gone through).  It should be very finely ground.
- Place in a large mixing bowl (you could “catch” it in the bowl from the grinder the second time through).
- Stir in eggs, 2 tsp salt, ¼ tsp pepper and 1 tsp sugar.
- Gradually add about 1/3 cup water to make a soft mixture.
- Stir in matzo meal.  Mix thoroughly.
-Take the pot of fish heads, etc from the stove and remove the contents, retaining the fish broth and strain all the bones, etc thoroughly (if you used a soup sock, just remove it from the pot).
- Carefully bring the broth to a boil.
- With wet hands, make balls out of the fix mixture and place in the boiling broth.  Try not to allow the broth to stop boiling as you place the fill balls in it.
- Add the sliced carrot .  There should be enough liquid to cover the fish, if necessary add more boiling water.
- Cover the pot and bring to a rapid boil.
- Uncover and reduce heat.  Simmer for about 2 ½ hours.
- Shake the pot every 15 minutes or so so that the fish will coko evenly and not stick.
- Carefully remove the fish to a serving platter.
-Strain the stock and place in a glass bowl or glass jar.
- Arrange carrot slices around the fish.
- Cool and refrigerate until the stock jells (sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t).
- Serve with horseradish.

***This recipe should make 8 or 9 pieces of fish.
You can double & triple this recipe.  My grandmother has gone as far as 10 times (30lbs of fish) and ended up with 90 pieces of fish.  No adjustment is necessary in any o the ingredients – except maybe with the carrots in the fish mixture – you could subtract one with an order of over 18 pounds of fish.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Matzo Ball Soup

A holiday meal at my grandmother's just isn't complete without a bowl of her matzo ball soup.  Before the soup is served my grandmother comes out of the kitchen to ask the all-important question "one or two?" though we all know it's coming and already have our fingers in the air (newcomers to these meals are taught this tradition in advance so they are ready to place their matzo ball order).

Since we were not going to my grandmother's seder this year, I felt it unfair to ask her to bring us leftover soup, so I decided to take on this recipe myself.  I had never made chicken soup from scratch before (unless you count pouring a packet of seasoning into a pot of water and boiling it) so I was excited (and only slightly intimidated) by this undertaking.

When I swung by my grandma's the other day to pick something up I asked her to talk me through this recipe, and I'm glad she did!  She had some great tips for making this that really made it foolproof.  She provided me with "soup socks" so that I could put all the ingredients into it for easy clean-up (I put the chicken, veggies, herbs and cloves in the bag, but put the salt pepper and garlic salt right into the water), and provided me with the schmaltz that she had prepared herself earlier in the week.

Schmaltz is rendered chicken fat, which you can either buy at a kosher butcher, or you can make yourself by melting the fat in a saucepan.  My grandmother adds chopped onions to this and lets it saute, which gives the schmaltz a yummy flavor.  She keeps the onion with some of the schmaltz, but gave me a container w/o the onions.

Because the cooking process takes a long time and the matzo ball mixture has to set twice, I made the matazo ball mix, then as it set for the first hour as I prepped the soup and started that boiling.  Since it boils for 2-3 hours, I then moved the mixture into the fridge until it was ready 3 hours later.

After the first 2 hours I noticed that a lot of the water had boiled out of the pot (I had it mostly covered but left it a little open so it didn't boil over).  I added another qt or 2 of water and let it continue to boil for the last hour.

When the soup was ready, I lifted the soup sock with the chicken and veggies out of the water and used the steamer tray that came with my pot to help drain the extra soup out of the chicken, etc and back into the pot.  Since the chicken was then fully cooked, my husband cut it up and used it for a salad the next day with the cooked veggies.

I then cooked the matzo balls directly in the soup to give it a little more of that flavor.  When it was all done cooking, I let it cool and packaged up the soup and matzo balls separately to store in the fridge.  The next night I put 4 matzo balls and some soup into a small pot, boiled it for a bit and then served it up for a nice delicious meal!

I'm excited to have learned how to make chicken soup from scratch.  Now next time my husband or I are sick I'll just make my own instead of going out to the store to buy some.  I'm sure there's more medicinal quality to homemade chicken soup anyway....

Chicken Soup (my grandmother's recipe)

a chicken
3 carrots
3 stalks celery
small turnip
3 whole cloves
garlic salt

-Clean chicken and place in 4qts water.
- Add carrots, stalks celery, a small bouquet of parsley and dill, turnip (cleaned and quartered), parsnip, cloves, salt, pepper, and garlic salt to taste.
- Bring to a boil and let cook at a rolling boil for 2 – 3 hours until chicken is tender.
- Remove all ingredients, strain and serve.
- If the water boils out during cooking, additional boiling water may be added during cooking.  Seasonings may be adjusted at any time.

Matzo Balls

4 eggs well beaten
½ cup cold water
1/3 cup melted schmaltz, warm – not hot
1 tsp salt
1tsp sugar
¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup matzo meal

- Mix eggs, water, salt, sugar and nutmeg.
- Add schmaltz and beat well with fork or whisk.
-Add matzo meal and mix thoroughly.  It will be a loose mixture.
- Let stand at room temperature for one hour.  If it is still very loose, add up to ¼ cup of additional matzo meal.
- Put mix in refrigerator for several hours to set.
- In a large pot add salted water to boil.
- Wet hands and form batter into a ball the size of a clementine.   Drop into boiling water and boil for 40 min.
- Remove from liquid and drain in colander.  Serve with hot chicken soup.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Geshmearta Matzo

I remember my father making Geshmearta matzo ever year for Passover.  This recipe was created (so I'm told) by my great-aunt.  While I was never a huge fan of cottage cheese, I always looked forward to eating this treat every year.  When I moved out on my own I started making it myself and continue to whip up a batch every Passover.  Even my husband who doesn't like sour cream thinks this is tasty!  I eat it for breakfast or as a snack.

***Update from 2015: due to the decreasing size of the matzo, the number of matzo you end up with increases every year.  The original recipe said it made 11 pieces, when I posted this in 2012 I made 16 pieces, this year I got 21 pieces!  I use Manichewitz matzo, for reference.  I may start making smaller amounts in future years, or giving away a lot of geshmearta!

Geshmearta Matzo (an old family recipe)

¼ lb butter (1 stick), melted & cooled
3lb cottage cheese (I use 2lbs small curd, 1lb large)
4 eggs
½ pt sour cream
¾ c sugar
matzo meal
approx 21 pieces of matzo
Cinnamon to sprinkle

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, mix together the cottage cheese, eggs, sour cream and sugar.  Let sit until it comes almost to room temperature.
- Mix in the melted butter.
Add enough matzah meal to make it a good “shearing consistency” (I used about ¾ cup at first, then sprinkled a little more in a few batches in). 
- Schmear 1/3 cup of the mixture onto whole pieces of matzo, leaving some room at the edges; sprinkle cinnamon on top
-Bake for 25-30 min (until the edges of the topping begin to brown).

Monday, April 9, 2012

Spanish Chicken and Veggie Kugel

It's Passover once again.  Growing up, Passover was the time of year when you order a ton of candy from the catalog you brought home from Hebrew school, and then spent the rest of the week eating things out of a box marked Manischewitz that probably tasted like cardboard (the food...not the box).  In recent years, though Manischewitz foods and mixes have gotten a bit better, I've also realized that I can still eat like a normal person with minimal adjustments (if any) to my recipes.  This week I will be blogging several of my family's recipes that have become a staple of our Passover diets for years in addition to a few new recipes.

When my husband and I sat down and looked at this year's calendar and figured out our holiday schedule, we decided to spend the first seder up in Massachusetts with my mom's family and the second night at his parents' home.  We wanted to spend some time this holiday with my father's parents, so we invited them over to our apartment for lunch.  I looked over my recipes and aside from making my grandmother's gefilte fish (recipe to be posted later this week) for an appetizer  I chose to make as our main course Spanish chicken with a side of veggie kugel.

The veggie kugel recipe is from my friend (and bridesmaid) Jamie.  She sent it to me a few months back and mentioned as an aside that if you swap matzah meal for the flour, you can make it for Passover.  It includes potato, carrots, zucchini (which I admit I had never tried prior to making this the first time!), onion and a few binders, then it cooks for an hour.  So simple!

The Spanish chicken is a recipe that my sister-in-law (and also a bridesmaid) gave me at my shower in the recipe book they put together for me.  It seemed pretty easy and the flavors seemed to be something that most people would enjoy (chicken stock, white wine, garlic...what's not to like?!).  It came out super moist.  I ended up doubling the recipe and cooking it in two separate roasting pans so I didn't have to layer everything, so I added about 10 min to the cooking time and an extra 5 to the broiling time.  Below is the single batch recipe.

I literally spent all day yesterday cooking, so I intend to share lots of recipes over the next few days.  Whether or not you celebrate Passover, you'll be able to add at least a few of these to your cooking repertoire.

Spanish Chicken (original source unknown)

3lbs chicken (I used leg quarters and drumsticks)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
5 cloves garlic
8oz white wine (I used Kedem white cooking wine, which was kosher for Passover)
8oz chicken broth

- Rub Chicken with oil
-Place 4oz wine in food processor.  Add garlic and whirl until blended together.  Add 4oz chicken broth in processor and whirl together.  Add salt to taste.
-Pour mixture over chicken (add the other 4oz of wine and broth if the mixture does not cover the chicken) and marinate overnight.
- In morning, flip pieces to marinate both sides.
-Place chicken and marinade in baking dish (if you already had it in a roasting pan, just flip chicken right-side up and use same pan).
- Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 min.
-Remove foil, baste chicken and continue to bake, uncovered, for 45 min.
-Baste chicken (and remove excess liquid if chicken is too covered but don't remove it all) and broil for 5 minutes to darken the chicken.

Veggie Kugel (from Jamie at Skinny Apple, Fat Appetite)

2 lg carrots, grated
2 med zucchini, grated
2 med potatoes, grated
1/2 cup onion 
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil                                        
3/4 cup flour (or matzo meal during Passover)
Salt & Pepper to taste

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a food processor grate carrots, zucchini, potatoes, and onion (If you want a good arm workout feel free to use a hand grater).
- In a large bowl use a whisk to combine eggs and oil.
- Add all remaining ingredients except for the flour and stir.
- Add in flour (or matzo meal)
 - Pour ingredients into a greased 9 x 13 pan, bake at 350 degree for one hour or until toothpick comes out clean.