Posted by Rob Eshman
Uriel Heilman did something I’ve always wanted to do: he spent a day touring the Empire kosher chicken... empire.
His piece follows the life and death of a kosher chicken— he names it Bob—- as it makes its way from the company’s fully integrated supply chain.
Empire is making a play to expand into the beef market, and part of that means establishing its reputation as company that looks after its animals, its workers and its product. It hired a smart East Coast PR firm, Rabinowitz/Dorf Communications, to help the company tell its story in the Jewish world. (Full disclosure: Rabinowitz/Dorf consults with The Jewish Journal. Super full disclosure: A web search reveals that Rabinowitz/Dorf is pretty web savvy—it’s the owner of the domain EmpireKosherSucks.com. Talk about protecting your client).
The fact that a kosher company needs to establish its credibility is a sad commentary on how much damage the Rubashkin scandal has caused. By Heilman’s account—and the guy is a good reporter and writer—Empire really does take its ethical obligations seriously. Heilman quotes a Conservative rabbi’s opinion that Empire achieves the highest standards in its treatment of its animals and its workers. The story doesn’t go into the debate over whether kosher slaughter is the mopst humane form of chicken slaughter, but he does describe a killing floor that is quick, quiet and efficient.
This is good for Empire and good for the kosher “brand,” especially just as news comes out of Cargill Corporation’s recall of 36 million pounds of ground turkey for possible salmonella contamination. One telling detail in Heilman’s story is that the kosher inspectors—the mashgiachs—pull six times more birds from the line than the USDA inspectors. Hey, they answer to a higher authority.
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July 26, 2011 | 5:08 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Susan Orleans gets it almost exactly right when she writes in her New Yorker blog Free Range about the simple, concrete pleasure of waking up in the morning and feeding the chickens.
She lives out in the country now and has a few chickens. Every morning she lugs them a bucket of water and grain.
“Even at their messiest and most burdensome these chicken chores please me,” she writes. “It’s a concrete need—water!—to which I can respond specifically—here you go, birds, water!—and the cycle is complete… It is a relief sometimes to take on a task and see it through and know it to be wholly sufficient.”
That’s all true—I just returned from two weeks of vacation in Europe, and I found myself surprised that one thing I missed about home was my morning pseudo-farm chores. Feed the chickens. Feed the goats. Water the vegetables.
Why do I say “pseudo-farm?” Because on Monday I also had to pick up three empty PBR cans someone tossed into the front yard artichoke patch. Oh, and a used blue thong—not the kind you wear on your foot. If I dared fantasize for a second that I was living on a real farm in the real country, THAT certainly keeps sets me straight.
The one other big pleasure I get from my morning animal chores is this—the one Susan Orleans neglected to mention—is this gratitude. When I toss in the Timothy grass and fill up the laying pellets, the chickens and goats are visibly relieved. (I don’t have to lug water. Susan, do yourself a favor and get an extra garden hose and a self-regulating water bucket). The animals have been up with the sun, agitating the dirt, raising the volume on their clucks and mehs, until finally they see me, the big lumbering hay-carrying creature, calling their names, followed by that damn black dog. And they grow even more excited. They race toward me. They press around me. Thank GOD you’re here. Thank YOU.
Once I drop the food, they race up to it and chomp away, the goats butting each other over who goes first, the chickens according to their prearranged caste system. They all calm down. I read all this as gratitude, as a big THANK YOU.
A lot of what we do for others during the day goes un-thanked. That’s fine. That’s the way society works. The street sweeper who cleans Victoria goes unthanked—he’s finished before I’m awake. Ditto the gardeners who mow my lawn and leave before I’m home from work, the dishwasher in the restaurant where I have lunch—we all do tasks for love or money and receive a fraction of the gratitude due. But if feeling gratitude helps make us happy, so does, to some degree, receiving it. So how great is it to start each morning making seven chickens, two dogs and two goats the happiest they’ve been in hours.
Two mornings ago I walked out and received my gratitude in the form of a picture postcard moment. Ollie, it turns out, has been serving as roost for three of the new birds.
July 1, 2011 | 12:33 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
When it comes to Shabbat, I’m more of a lunch/nap Jew than a pray/sermon Jew.
I’m not anti-synagogue—some of my best friends are Jewish— but by the time Saturday rolls around, the place I most want to be is home. I spend my waking, working hours deep up the business of the Jewish community. When I walk into a synagogue, I get comments about The Journal, complaints, intense discussions on Israel and Obama—exactly what I get in the office. Isn’t Shabbat a day of rest?
My wife, the rabbi, she goes to shul. She loves to go to shul. And I know she wishes I would go with her. I know this because she tells me. No one likes to be a “shul widow.”
Once in a while, I go. And when I do, when I’m actually there, meeting people, praying, reading the Torah portion and the commentaries, hearing my wife beside me sing—I like it all.
It’s just that, most Saturdays, I prefer our backyard.
All this could be a source of tension—she’s in shul, he’s at home. She’s up and out early, he’s walking the dogs. But over the years, we’ve found a solution that splits the difference in our desires.
It’s called Sabbath lunch.
You won’t find a great deal of written law or custom about the Sabbath lunch in the ancient texts. But it’s a beautiful thing. Spiritual in the way a great meal with people you love can be spiritual. Religious in the way it brings the spirit of Shabbat into your home. In our home, it’s a savior: a way for us to celebrate the Sabbath together, even when one of us—me—prefers not to spend the morning in shul.
So, like most things religious in our home, we’ve flipped the traditional roles. The woman rabbi is off to shul, the man is home getting lunch ready. I’m fine with that.
Because Jewish law prohibits cooking on the Sabbath, a Sabbath lunch is actually easy. In the cold months you make cholent the day before and place it in a low oven. That and salad and challah and you’re good to go.
But this time of year, the long, warm, lazy afternoons—that’s when a Sabbath lunch can really lift you higher.
These days, I make cedar planked wild salmon the day before and keep it in the refrigerator. When Naomi comes home from synagogue, lunch is ready. We eat on our picnic table under our giant ficus tree, in dappled sunlight. The goats and chickens off in the side yard provide the appropriate shtetl soundtrack.
As long as there is $7.99 wild Alaskan salmon at Costco, the menu is simple: The salmon, a tomato, basil and mozzerella salad, a salad with fresh uncooked corn, arugula, fennel and avocado, cherries.
(The treat this week is olive oil we picked up at Ojai Olive Oil Company. We stopped by the farm in Ojai, got a tour from the co-owner Alice Asquith, and tasted all their varieties. The place is lovely and the oils are superb.)
Our kids come to the table. It’s hard to get them to shul by 10, easy to get them to lunch by 1. Nomi blesses the wine and challah. We eat and talk.
Then it’s nap time.
Shabbat lunch. Like I said, it’s a religious experience.
Cedar Planked Salmon
1 /3/4- 2 pounds fresh wild salmon, cut into 4 portions
2 untreated cedar planks (available at Whole Foods or lumber yard)
Salt, Pepper, olive oil
Heat gas grill to high, or make a hot fire. Soak planks in cold water at least ½ hour, preferably 1 or 2.
Salt and pepper salmon fillets, brush with oil. Place on planks.
Place planked salmon skin side down on grill. Reduce flame to low, or push coals to side of grill. Cover. Grill until just barely cooked through, about 7 minutes. No need to turn.
Test for doneness. Let cool, the cover and refrigerate.
Serve cold or room temperature with lemon slices.
June 22, 2011 | 1:54 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Our home is getting almost insufferably sustainable. To the artichoke farm front yard, the flock of hens and two goats in the backyard, the Prius in the driveway, I added a new 2011 all-electric Nissan Leaf. Pretty soon people are going to knock on our door looking for Ed Begley, Jr.‘s autograph.
I wrote a column about the Leaf which you can read here.
In it, I criticized our state, city and corporate leaders for not being ready with the consumer infrastructure that is necessary to charging and servicing an all-electric car. But I do like the car. (Eco, shmeco— I was able to get three months of Howard Stern for free on the new SiriusXM radio.)
Funny, too, that I’m driving a car named the Leaf.
When I first moved to Israel, I roomed with a South African woman who didn’t believe in eating any food that wasn’t processed and packaged. I’d return from the Machane Yehuda farmers market with stalks of leeks and cilantro and parsley and mint, and chop and chop to make tabouli or mint tea or whatever. One day she walked in to see me happily chopping away.
“Rob, you’ve taken over this whole kitchen with your leaf food,” she complained. “Is that all you ever eat, leaves?”
It occurred to me that a lot of what sustains us and other animals is exactly that—leaves. Either we eat them directly, or they are the critical way that things we do eat—from grapes to goats, get their nutrition. That’s why in the Bible God speaks to us through leaves: In Psalms, when they fall, God is angry, when they blossom God is kind. In the vision of Ezekial, God promises a world of endless leafiness: “Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail.”
I kind of like that my life, all these years later, still includes a lot of leaves…..and a leaf.
In my old housemate’s honor, here’s my favorite three summer leaf recipes.
Chicken in Grape Leaves
The grape leaves give this dish a slightly citric, vineyard-y flavor.
1 chicken, cut into eight pieces
salt and pepper
1 pint fresh or 1 cup dried figs, chopped
12 fresh grape leaves
1 cup dry, fruity white wine
6 cloves fresh garlic, sliced
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
1 Meyer Lemon, sliced thin
1-2 teaspoons fine aged balsamic vinegar
Heat olive oil in skillet. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Sautee until golden brown. Remove. Add onion and garlic and saute until soft. Line a casserole with one layer of grape leaves. Sprinkle on half the wine. Lay in chicken. Add figs, white wine, onions, garlic and lemon slices. Top with remaining grape leaves to cover. Cover casserole and place in oven until chicken is cooked through.
To serve, bring the casserole to the table. Remove the first layer of grape leaves. People like the whole leaf effect. Drizzle with a good balsamic vinegar , and serve.
Lemon Verbena Sorbet
This is adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook, by Jerry Traunfeld.
Nothing but vibrant and refreshing it’s lemon heaven.
Makes 1 quart, 8 servings
1 1/2 cups (gently packed) fresh lemon verbena leaves
1 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed Meyer or Eureka lemon juice
3 cups cold water
Grind the lemon verbena leaves and sugar together in a food processor until the mixture turns into a bright green paste, about 30 seconds; stop to scrape down the sides as necessary. Add the lemon juice and process for 15 seconds longer, then add the water. Strain the resulting liquid through a fine sieve to remove any bits of leaf. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Lemon Verbena Tea
I serve this at the end of just about every meal beginning in early summer, when our verbena plants… leaf out.
12 fresh large lemon verbena leaves
1 T. sugar
4 cups boiling water
Steep leaves in boiling water. Add sugar to taste.
May 13, 2011 | 12:34 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
The evangelical impulse in foodaism is strong. The only meat vegetarians eat is the tongue they have to bite to keep from commenting on your meal. We all want others to listen to our advice on what to eat, what’s good for you, what’s good for the planet, where the best tacos are. Foodiasm, like any religion, seeks converts. Whether by example or straight out harangueing, we want you to follow us. It’s not the best trait of any religion, but there it is.
Christians speak in terms of sowing faith to reap believers. I guess I take the metaphor literally. My particular call is to get people to rip up their lawns and plant vegetables. I’ll be more specific: artichokes. Three years ago I hired a group of day laborers (they were all legal, at least by Mitt Romney’s standards) to tear out the lawn and median strip that lay in front of our house since we bought it. Most houses on our block—most houses in America—suffer the same curse: dense lawns, underwaterered, under-oxygenated, sucking out nutrients from the soil, providing habitat for barely any insects, birds or wild creatures, and in general contributing nothing but soul-deadening neatness to our neighborhoods.
The men tore our lawn out, and in its place I planted rows of mostly globe artichokes that I bought for a dollar each from Home Depot, and from Pete the plant guy at the Venice Farmers Market on Friday (he’s also at Mar Vista on Tuesdays). In one season the artichokes rose up like spiny sage-green candelabras. I harvested 130 pounds of buds, much of which we ate and gave away, the rest I boiled, cleaned down to the hearts, then pureed with olive oil and stord all year for pasta sauce and bruschetta.
After the harvest I cut the plants down almost to the ground, and sure enough, new sprouts come up and form the next seasons plants. This has gone on for three years, automatic division and growth, helped along by plenty of goat manure, very little water, and occasional thinnings. This year I had 146 pounds. (Dividing artichokes is a skill I had to teach myself. With a sharp shovel slice down between the sprouting leaves. The root should separate easily and, when planted, grow into two new plants).
Why artichokes? They require little water (though they like more, they can make do with less), they love the foggy Venice climate, and they are utterly delicious. Convincing, right?
I gave some to Sebastien, who never complains that his neighbor created a vegetable jungle where a neat lawn once was. (If I went on match.com I couldn’t have found a more suitable neighbor—Sebastien grew up on a farm in the south of France, is also passionate about the environment and food politics, and as a very busy actor always seems to be away when the goats are loudest and the garden is at its least attractive).
I took the last of the spring artichokes, boiled them, stripped off all the leaves and the thiste, and marinated the hearts in olive oil, garlic lemon and bay—all from the yard except the olive oil and garlic.
Anybody can do this. Everyone should. But there I go, evangelizing.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Steam a large quantity of fresh artichokes of any size. When the bottoms can be easily pierced with a fork, they are done.
Strip away leaves, use your thumb to pr away the thistle, and place the hearts whole in a bowl. If some fall apart, that’s fine.
Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, minced fresh garlic. Bay leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, sme thinsliced lemon, salt and pepper.
Stir well. Cover and refrigerate 1-5 days before eating at room temperature.
May 11, 2011 | 4:17 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
What food blogs do you read and why?
I’ve stopped reading “amateur food blogs.” I read, like, the Vanity Fair or the People Magazine of food blogs. I read Eater, I read Grub Street. I read quite a few Jewish publications: Foodaism, Jewish Food ... I find the whole Jewish food movement fascinating and their obsession with Chinese food. Some of the best food writers are Jewish.
And he’s not even related to me!
Thanks Tony. SinoSoul is opiniated, informed and not politically correct. In other words, I like it.
Tony’s take on Ktown food, for example, could have sprung directly from my id:
Korean cuisine is a 2 trick donkey. Inevitably, if you go to a Ktown restaurant (not bar/pojangmacha), if you’re lucky, you’ll be offered 2 things: big red bowls of sop looking like neon afterbirth, or plates of self grill flesh*. That’s it. If interrogated, even Koreans will admit that is all they eat, at least in America. Anecdotal evidence provides panchan as not entrees, hence do not count in this culinary math equation of “bloody bowl + raw meat plate = 2 dishes in every Korean Menu”. A side of greens by the KBBQ grill negates this law, you say? Nope, that’s just an accoutrement to the 50% of all Korean dishes. What about dduk, the smart Korean kid from UCLA asks. Not enough close. It’s a meat vehicle which a Korean deploys as to not appear a Neanderthal when grappling blackened meat.
After 17 years in Koreatown, I can relate. I like the neighborhood BBQs, and the treyfaterias, and the cold noodles, but even given the fact most national cuisines have a limited flavor palate, it gets a bit tiring.
Anyway, thanks Tony. And I promise to post more. Now that I know you’re paying attention.
April 22, 2011 | 7:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The 12 days of Christmas. The 30 days of Ramadan. The 8 days of Passover. Holidays that come with built in sequels present major food challenges. All the anticipation and excitement over the special foods, the familiar smells, the favorite recipes, plummets along with your appetite after you overindulge at that first celebration. Specialness breeds contempt.
Now, just at the Passover hump, the glow is waning. The holiday of freedom is beginning to feel a bit confining.
One solution is to cook better. That is, really enjoy and explore the foods that Passover allows you to focus on, rather than bemoaning all the ones you are forbidden.
Passover it turns out is perfectly in tune with the season. Long before seasonal and local were buzzwords—about 3000 years before—Jews celebrated the Passover by making sacred what was seasonal and local—greens, eggs, lamb, wild gefilte fish….
Okay maybe not the last one.
So as Shabbat nears and the holiday crosses to halfway, I have some ideas for cooking the rest of the week. If you cook with the season, you’re doing holiday cooking.
To come up with them, I had two kinds of help. First, a visit to 51Lincoln, a restaurant in Newton Center, MA, whose wonderful chef, Jeffrey P. Fournier, does the seasonal local thing without any pretense or self-righteousness. It’s a little neighborhood place, elegant, but relaxed and easy-going (like Fournier). The vegetables are local (our waitress was moonlighting, by day she runs a farmstand just at the edge of Boston); the charcuterie made on premises, and the chef is installing a rooftop kitchen garden this spring.
Fournier, a native of Ainsbury, MA, grew up in a French-Armenian home, moved to LA, where he spent years at Café Montana and cooked with Hand Rockenwager. (He started his career as an artist—the restaurant’s walls are lined with his paintings).
Here’s what we ate there: you can make it yourself to help enjoy the end of the holiday: Steamed Asparagus with Homecured Salmon and Hollandaise, Cod with Herb Emulsion and Mashed Potatoes, Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Beet Aioli.
I’ll post some recipes and photos after Shabbat.
As for the second way to keep enjoying Passover, that comes from my mother-in-law, Ruth Levy. Every Passover she made us Popovers, airy puffed-up concoctions that are as close to sandwich bread as you get this time of year. She baked, I watched. After they were puffed and light brown, I slit them open and slipped in a piece of good cheese and perfectly ripe avocado. An ideal Passover lunch.
Thank you, Bubbie.
(adapted from Ruth Levy and Joan Nathan)
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo meal
(or half matzo meal, half matzo cake meal)
1/2 tablespoon sugar (or, to taste)
1 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2 Brush a baking sheet with oil; set aside.
3 In a medium saucepan, bring oil, 1 cup water, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.
4 Stir in matzah meal (or matzo meal/cake flour) until sticky, remove from heat and let cool completely.
5 Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6 Fill a large bowl with water.
7 Dip your hands in the water and then form dough into a ball about the size of a tennis ball.
8 Place on prepared baking sheet.
9 Repeat process until all dough has been used.
10 Transfer to oven and bake until popovers are puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes.
11 Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
12 Serve immediately.
April 7, 2011 | 7:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
This past week in Israel I stopped in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town a few miles west of Jerusalem off Highway 1. Abu Ghosh is famous for its hummus. The Guiness World Record for the largest bowl of hummus was claimed by a chef in the town a few years back. There are several restaurants that advertise on large signs in Arabic, English and Hebrew, “The Original Abu Ghosh Hummus.” In my experience you can’t go wrong at any of them.
But I had read and heard that the best is Naji. It is a relatively small place tucked onto a square which doubles as a chaotic (this is Israel) parking lot. On the same square is Naji’s Butcher Shop, which locals say is the best source for meat in town.
Naji’s Restaurant serves that meat grilled—I watched lamb chops cut as thick as fists go onto the flames. But the specialty is hummus, which comes in delicate ceramic bowls, topped with warm soft garbanzo beans, olive oil and lemon juice. This hummus has NOTHING in common with even the best Costco or supermarket brands. It is soft, melt-in-you-mouth dip, with a texture of clotted cream.
You can also order their other appetizer salads, all of which are standard-bearers: delicate baba ganouj, cabbage salad with a strong lemon dressing, and a house specialty, roasted squash blended with tahina.
Afterwards, you can walk, full and satisfied, to Abu Ghosh’s Crusader-era monastery. The grounds are peaceful, the structure among the best preserved in the world. When we walked in the monks were singing Psalms in the original Hebrew in the cavernous, echoey space. All in all, a day of religious experiences.
Al Naji Hummus [SLIDESHOW]