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Apples 101

OK, I deserve a snarky title for one of these once in a while. Apples are great. They are nutritious, not expensive, easy to eat and fix, and they should be a universal flavor. It is amazing how many of them you can eat. Two or three apples per day means fourteen to twenty-one of them a week, about five to seven pounds of fruit. That's pretty modest. If a whole family eats like this, you purchase your apples by the case. Hello Your DeKalb Farmer's Market, but I get ahead of myself.

First, apples are not punishment food. No fruit is punishment food if it is decent quality. If you have a decent supermarket produce department or an orchard or a green grocer,you can get apples that taste better than most junk food. In the West, apple is a universal flavor. Apples replace soda, junk food, and baked sweets without deprivation. An apple in your purse can keep you out of the mall food court.

Then why doesn't everybody eat mass quantities of apples? Well, apples cost out well, but as I've said before on this blog, cost outs are bullshit, plain and simple. People are not rational. Eating well means altering your supply chain. You won't find good apples in Walgreens, CVS, QuikTrip, or even your employer's cafeteria most of the time. You need to patronize a decent produce department, green grocer, farmer's market, or orchard. Second, they are big, heavy, and mostly water. You are going to be hauling home a lot of fruit. Third, you are going to need bowls. For apples, you will need a fruit bowl in the refridgerator. Apples ship ripe. Pears, plums, and stone fruits ship green and need a ripening bowl.

You also have to get used to bagging lunch and taking snacks from home to be a hard core apple eater. One thing you don't have to learn to do is cook. One can eat apples out of hand. Suddenly, people get very dainty at this point. Apples can be big. There are smaller ones if this is a real issue. Other people think apples taste sour. I think they are sour in a good way like Coca-cola, which by the way is my favorite food along with....

I think people think that apples taste sour because they are used to eating pastries which offer a fatty sweetness. They are also the ones that don't regularly go for fruity fillings even when they eat pastries. I even knew one person who would scrape the fruit off her cheese cake. I don't know what can help such souls, but as for the rest of us, apples are decent tasting.

The other objection to apples is almost paradoxical. They are considered not enough food to be really good. They are too sweet. One should not eat sweet food as a snack. One needs protein. The fact is apples have enough calories to keep you and a taste that satisfies. There is nothing low about eating fruit for a snack or having desert with every meal. Humans haven't eaten all meat all day long since hunter gatherer days and the Neolithic was 10,000 years ago. Get over it, and enjoy your apples.

I did buy, peel, and hack up two celery roots. They are now in my fridge awaiting being made into salad on Thursday night. I also made dilled rye bread and bought the largest moqua I have ever seen. I hope they taste good. Moqua can be huge without being either sour or bitter. It means more cutting, less skin, and more porous meat to soak up dressing. Moqua squash aren't cucumbers, but don't let them know that.

I made rolls with the new dilled rye bread so I could make submarines to take to LITA this weekend. I have a weekend conference and can't eat the food provided. The subs are a sort of consolation prize. The waldorf salad is for the meals I'll eat at home at night. Subs and salad make a nice meal. Subs are in short supply when you keep kosher. I have provolone cheese in the freezer for the subs and I have banana peppers. This shouldn't be too bad a weekend food wise. Of course I need to bake more bread again soon.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/28/10

Hertzel's Pink Stains

One of the great things about being alone for a lot of Sukkot is that I am in charge of my own cooking. This year it was easy because I have lots of fruit, some chili cheese cornbread that I froze and never ate for Rosh HaShanah, and just needed one more dish. I decided to make shredded beet salad. Unfortunately, I got stuck making it last night when I also owed the Open Door five pounds of carrot salad. How do you make five pounds of carrot salad? You start with a five pound bag of carrots, a knife, a grater, and a peeler. How do you make three pounds of shredded beet salad, start with three pounds of topless beet roots, available cheap at Your DeKalb Farmer's Market. Do the math before you get started. That's eight pounds of assorted roots.

My kitchen became a factory. Actually, getting the beets ready for the grater was worse than grating them. They had small blemishes that required a bit of surgery. Otherwise, the beets were hard as rocks and more or less grated themselves. I am an old hand at grating vegetables. The shredded beet salad included cut up caned apricots (the kind canned in syrup work better in salads. It's how I add sugar to salads. Other times I use Craisins or raisins, or certain fresh fruits.), roast peppers (I wanted to use banana peppers, but I had an open jar of roasted ones.), and some Spanish olives. I used some of the apricot syrup and pepper brine in the vinagrette dressing (When did we stop calling it Italian dressing?). I also used Spike Seasoning (I never met a spice I didn't like) and ginger powder and of course unfiltered cider vinegar and peanut oil.

I ended up with a medium size container full of salad that I'll eat multiple times with the chili-cheese cornbread. Also my cooking muse woke up. Sometimes I feel my cooking gets into a rut. This time I thought a great way to make a Waldorf style salad is with celery root. If I can grate up eight pounds of vegetables, I can scrape a celery root or two and cut it up for blanching. I also want to make my own pseudo Veg-All. Veg-All no longer has a kosher certification mark, called a hecscher. I miss Veg-All.

Now you are wondering about the title for this entry. Well Hertzel, my beautiful, white, neutered tom cat, is asserting himself. He enters the kitchen where Lysistrata, my brown, classic tabby, queen cat (also spayed in case you are wondering, but she was spayed while pregnant), is ruling the world from one of her table-top nests. She doesn't care about the food and knows that if she so much as sniffs it, she is down on the floor. She wants to be number one cat, but Hertzel has something to say about that. He swaggers into the kitchen, tail held high like a flab and back arched. And if I ask "Will you make a meow Hertzel?" he lets out a tiny, raspy squeak, that is often inaudible to human ears, but his mouth is open wide to show a meow came out. I pet him and tell him he's a good boy. He purrs loud and clear. Lyistrata looks like: "Hey, how did you do that?" There is such a thing as being a clingy pest, and then there is asking for affection. Well, I petted Hertzel while I was grating beets, and now there are pink stains on his head and rump. Fortunately, beet juice is nontoxic. It even tastes good.

And if you don't like beets, well that is your loss. They taste good and they have a beautiful color. Happy Sukkot Y'all!

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/22/10

Simple Pleasures

OK, that's a cliche name for a blog entry, but it's true, simple foods are often the tastiest. They make you feel grateful right before new year's and done well, they have their own kind of elegance that is hard to beat. Think string bean and crowder pea salad with blanched carrots and black radishes. The radishes get blanched too which tames them. Dress them with a well seasoned dressing (I added smoked paprika and Frontier Herb Taco Seasoning. I never met a spice or spice blend I did not like.), and this simple dish with which many ethnics folks grew up, is not just comfort food, but something really elegant.

Pigeon peas are another great example. When I first saw dried pigeon peas (There are frozen ones, but I've never bought them. They are probably quite good. Now there is a project for me.), I thought they were quite exotic because they are a Caribbean/South American vegetable. Somewhere along the line, they became a part of the rice dressing versions of stuff treat. Stuff treat is vegetarian stuffing made without a bird. There is a bread version too, but that has nuts in it so I don't make it any more. The rice or barley version tastes better anyhow. The strong taste of pigeon peas (Strong but not sharp or nasty, just there in a good, beany way like chick peas or lima bens.) is a natural for poultry seasoning, rosemary, and white pepper.

Pigeon peas also stay nicely firm when cooked. This makes them an excellent candidate for all manner of bean and bean and pasta salads. This last batch of pigeon peas, from the infamous, old container ended up as an ingredient in an old friend, beans and greens casserole. I have four versions of this dish: escarole and soup pasta or noodles, escarole and rice which is always short grain brown rice, chard and soup pasta or noodles, and chard and rice. This was the chard and rice version and for seasoning I used Bragg's Perfect Pinch which I am learning how to use. (Yes, I never met a spice I didn't like.) The casserole came out really good. The Perfect Pinch and chard were naturals and the pigeon peas shown.

The funny thing about all these pigeon pea dishes is that as far as I know, I am the only one in the world who makes them, unless some fancy chef in New York or some other adventurous old Jewish grandmother has figured them out. All the pigeon pea recipes I see on the web are South American/Caribbean ethnic and involve tomato and garlic and chiles. This, like my rutabega salads, breaks new ground, and it shouldn't be that easy.

And speaking of new ground, the Sukkot menu is simple and brutal at the same time. Midweek holidays with a lot of in and out call for bread. I all ready have the chili cheese corn bread that I never defrosted. I will need another side dish because I am due to run out of Thousand Island cole slaw either before the holiday or during it. I bought three pounds of beets which are going to become grated beet salad. This is healthy but not low sodium or without some sugar. Syruped fruit is just better in salad than juice pack and I usually add pickles and/or olives. You have to shake hands with the Devil in the kitchen.

I also want to make dill rye bread. That is the hard part since bread takes time. I just took my last loaf of bread (beet bread remember that?) from the freezer so I need a replenishment. I figure if I come up short, I also have provolone cheese and I may fix some sub rolls with half the recipe. Having subs for either a Shabbos in the future or for this Shabbos/holiday combination is a great idea. It might also be good to have subs to take to LITA so I don't feel left out when others are enjoying the buffet. The problem is where will I find the time. Well, you know what they say about the busiest people.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/20/10

Guinea Pigs in the Refidgerator

The week before RoshHaShannah I burned my favorite pasta safe and rice pot, so I had to find another that had gotten disgusting due to a link beneath the sink. I cleaned it and it is good to go, but rice won't taste the same cooked in a metal pan rather than an enameled one. I'm not sure why. It is going to be an experiment.

My other scheduled kitchen experiment (as opposed to the spontaneous kind) this week is to make apple chips. There are loads of recipes for them on the net. One can make them pareve because you use oil for greasing the pan in which they slow bake. They take a while to make, but the recipe looks easy. OK, folks here is the punch line: I've never eaten them in Toco Hills.

I'm not sure why. There is one school of thought which says that if it's not done there has to be a reason. Maybe apple chips have no shelf life. Maybe they take too long. Maybe they don't taste good or that the store bought ones taste better. Come to think of it, I've never eaten the store bought ones in Toco Hills either. On the other hand, one would think that if apple chips were any good, cooks all over Toco Hills would make them since they are pareve and fruit based and it's a way to serve apples to company. Apples are a universal flavor.

There is another school of thought which says that those who run kosher kitchens are cut off from the rest of the cooking world, so if no one they know makes apple chips, you can guess the rest. Networks do not always reach everybody. In fact they commonly fray and snap. You can see this in how few women in some net subcultures use GIMP which is free versus pricey, Paintshop Pro. The Paintshop Pro users blame a lack of cookie-cutter tutorials and ready-made tubes for their lack of interest in GIMP.

I guess I will learn what lies at the bottom of the dearth of apple chips. I personally think they will be a great way to break the fast.

Farmer's Market today yielded two pleasant surprises, well actually three. Paula Red apples were back and mislabeled as Red Paulas. They are the taste of early autumn. There were also prune plums the size of hen's eggs. They actually taste as good as they look. Prune plums are another autumnal treat. Finally, there was red chart only $1.49 a bunch. I scrapped my plans for making vegetarian Johnny Marzetti or rather postponed them. I'll make bean, rice, and chard casserole using the last of those wretched pigeon peas this week. Rice is good at soaking up oil and pot liquor, and chard is an old friend. Meanwhile, six of the Paula Red (not Red Paula!) apples are guinea pigs for my experiment in apple chip making. I'll let all of you know how it goes.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/12/10

5771 Will be the Year of the Belly

I'm serious. I had my share of kitchen disasters, a broken loaf of bread, almost burnt rice, which I caught just in time enough to salvage. Thanks to Hurricane Earl, the Farmer's Market did not have purple sweet potatoes. It also did not appear to have any of this year's apples. There is something almost evil about eating last year's apples with honey to celebrate the New Year. It is better to eat white nectarines, prune plums, and fresh mission figs.

Substitutes in hand, I set about baking. I made beet bread. Last night, I purchased cheese at Kroger's. Kosher cheese is expensive, inferior, and a treat that also makes me sad because I miss the fine, artisinal cheese I used to buy and eat from time to time, before I started obeying dietary laws. I bought both provolne and monterey jack cheese. I wanted an aged cheese that had no yellow coloring. The jack was cheaper than the cheddar. It even tasted really good. I made it into chili cheese cornbread. I had a pablono pepper and risked putting my eczema riddled hands and the rest of me into agony by cutting it up. I pat myself on the back for courage under fire. It looks like I grabbed the wrong beans yesterday morning and made crowder peas instead of speckled limas, so maybe it is time for a new tradition this week.

My most audacious act was standing at the sink and picking over seven (yes seven!) pounds of green beans. They were only .69 a pound, and I got what I paid for. There were broken, deformed, and partly pollinated specimens among the better beans. Five pounds of beans are destined for the Open Door as string bean sald. They need only be blanched and mixed with rehydrated dried tomato pieces, cut up fresh dill, and cut up scallion tops. The other two pounds of beans are for string bean and crowder pea salad with other blanched vegetables including carrots and black radish. I'm probably going to use a Mexican seasoning in the dressing. This is to help it go with the chili-cheese corn bread which I'm going to freeze and defrost in time to serve for Shabbos.

In addition there is kobacha squash with pineapple and dried cherries. The kobacha squash was a pleasant surprise. In fact, it was a fantastic surprise. It was smooth, sweet, and delicious with a much denser texture than calabaza which is really milk pumpkin. Squash with fruit is a family recipe which my Grandma Senecoff created by adding orange juice to frozen squash, the kind one buys in a brick. I improved the recipe and use fresh product, but it is one of the few family recipes I make.

I guess it is the time of year, but I think about the debt I owe my mother who taught me to bake. Without here I'd be dependent on Publix store bakery for bread. I would have been dependent on Simone's for bread as well. That is a horrible thought. Simone's is now out of business. Kosher bread is even more fraught than kosher cheese. There are a few companies in the business, and they behave...like monopolies. Before I kept kosher, I ate mainly supermarket 100% whole wheat bread. This is a cheap, good tasting, and very wholesome product. When I started keeping kosher, I first tried to make 100% whole wheat bread. It took a while to learn that this was pretty easy. Then it was on to bread with vegetable additives, Roman meal style rye bread, and fancy breads, but usually with a very high whole grain percentaage. Home made bread is simply twenty times better than store bread, anybody's store bread. It's even better than the artisinal breads at the Farmer's Market. The one thing I haven't tried making is sour dough. That is because the bread I need is a sandwich loaf that will work with fairly sweet spreads.

Cheese is another matter. Historically, Orthodox Jews have not been great consumers of fermented dairy and hard cheeses. They have eaten mainly fleishig, which is sad. This has meant the whole artisian cheese revolution has passed them by. I can't make my own cheese, so I'm stuck. Let's just say beans taste great if you make them up from dried, shuck them fresh, or even use a frozen product. Cheese is my sacrifice and the one I feel.

I don't really miss the restaurants. I occasionally miss a good German wurst or smoked turkey sausage. I miss smoked oysters and muscles. That's not a lot ot miss and food is not worth a fight. I can fix better baked goods than any bakery makes. I am the World Champion Produce Warrior. My mom is number two in the Produce Warrior rankings. No one is vying for the number three spot. No one wants to come close to challenging me. That is what is really sad.

I've nearly done all my cooking. I'll be a guest at my own party for RoshHaShannah. Happy 5771. Good eating and it's the year of the belly.

Eileen H. Kramer -- 9/7/10