Posted by Elana Horwich
I don’t compliment myself too easily. In fact I have a complex about not being good enough. I am terrified that everything I do will suck and bring embarrassment to my family and the entire Jewish people at large. A neurotic Jew- that is so cliche, which only makes me feel more pathetic. I have been to therapy, I have seen healers, done yoga, tried alcoholism and acupuncture. If it wasn’t for a small dose of zoloft I wouldn’t even have the guts be writing this. But let me be clear: I don’t need the zoloft to tell you that I know how to make a friggin’ brisket.
My brisket is made with Jewish heart and Italian flavors. I cook it much in the same way a Northern Italian might braise a different cut of beef (in wine, tomatoes, and aromatics: meaning rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, etc.) to create a dish that tastes like Tuscany but feels like Shabbat.
While I am aware that there is such a thing as BBQ Texan Brisket, I do not acknowledge that as brisket. Until the state of Texas chooses to recognize reproductive rights, gay marriage and the replacement of oil with renewable energy, I will not recognize their brisket. Until then, no stars for the lone star.
Please let it be known that even though I keep throwing out the Jewish card on this one, my brisket is not only meant for the chosen people. Anyone who eats it feels chosen. You can line a hundred Jews up to tell me that my brisket is amazing but it won’t carry the weight of one Italian who gives me the same compliment. Of course, they call it spezzatino...my Italian friends still remember and still talk about my spezzatino. (FYI, spezzatino is usually made with cubed beef from a different cut.)
One day a few years ago, I made a brisket to combat a wave of depression that was trying to creep its way in, quite a lot of food and time when no one but misery is coming over to eat. If you bake it, they will come. Just as I was taking it out of the oven, in walked a group of my Italian friends (they called about 2 minutes beforehand to notify- very typical) in order to pick up something they needed. When they smelled and saw an 8 pound spezzatino in my kitchen they almost went through the roof. They called other friends, had them bring wine and before I knew it a dinner party was well on its way with a meal that no one has ever forgotten. And as for that wave of depression, postponed.
Brisket is actually incredibly easy to make and pretty hard to mess up. You can add a little too much of this or a little too little of that but as long as you have a few basics (which I will of course share with you) all the flavors will meld perfectly with time in the oven to bring you a delicious, juicy brisket. The problem with many briskets, however, is that they are either too sweet, too dry and/or too fatty. Sweet briskets can be tasty but I don’t want dessert for dinner and I don’t want my main course to further contribute to my hangover. (Note: It’s the sugars that makes you feel icky in the morning and quite frankly I would rather have wine and dessert than beef that topples over the glycemic index.) Furthermore, briskets don’t need to be dry in order not to be fatty. The trick to making a juicy, tender brisket is four-fold:
Make sure you have enough liquid in the pot. (wine, broth, etc)
Make sure you have a good pot. An important factor in making an amazing, fool-proof brisket is to cook it in the right pot. I use a Le Creuset enameled cast-iron dutch oven (buy here). Everything I make in that thing turns out delicious. When my sister got married, she asked me what to register for and I told her to get as many Le Creusets as she could. She’s a novice but an enthusiastic cook. Her husband called me to thank me for turning Danielle into a chef. It wasn’t me. It’s the pot. There are other top brands and none are inexpensive, but they will last you a lifetime and really make all the difference in your cooking.
Cook the meat with the fat still on it and with the fat side up so that the fat will insulate the beef and keep in the juices. Once the brisket is done, take it out of its juices, let it cool, and scrape off the fat before slicing it and returning it to its sauce.
Time. Brisket is a slow-cooked, braised meat. As long as the liquid is plentiful, the longer it cooks the better. (Note: The brisket cut of meat is historically poor man’s food; it cost less than tender cuts of meat like filet mignon, however if cooked long enough will be just as tender.) It needs lots and lots of time at a low temperature to break down the tension in the meat so that it will fall apart with no knife needed. I have even set my oven to 200°F, stuck the thing in at night and woke up in the morning to brisket breakfast. Time is so of essence that you will find your brisket to be even better the next day. (Always make it ahead of time for company and reheat.)
Ingredients: for 8-10 hungry people plus leftovers
1 6-8 pound brisket, kosher and/or antibiotic, hormone free
2 onions, coarsely chopped
2-3 stalks celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
2-3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves peeled garlic, whole
2-3 branches of rosemary
2-3 stems of fresh thyme (if you have)
5-6 fresh basil leaves (if you have)
1/2 bottle wine (an oaked chardonnay or medium bodied red like chianti or whatever leftover wine you have in the kitchen)
1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
Homemade or store bought chicken broth (if needed for more liquid, or just more wine- you want brisket to be just about covered with liquid)
salt- about 2 very generous teaspoons
5 or 6 russet potatoes, quartered
The day or two before:
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Heat a dutch oven over a medium flame. When hot add olive oil.
Put the brisket in on one side to brown a few minutes and then turn to brown on the other side. (One side will have a lot of fat and you are trying to brown the fat-less parts if any.)
Remove brisket and set aside.
If there is too much melted fat for your taste, remove a little before continuing.
Put in onions and cook until translucent.
Put the brisket back in fat side up.
Top with the carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, and basil.
The next step can get messy but its fun. If you prefer, use a knife or a neater system. Take out the tomatoes, one by one, and crush using your hand. Watch out for spurting juice. Pour in all juices from can.
Add wine (and broth if you feel necessary to mostly cover meat.)
Sprinkle generously with salt.
Cover well and stick in oven for 4-5 hours or longer at an even lower temperature.
Go take a walk and a nap.
When your brisket cuts itself with a fork, it is done.
Take out of oven and let sit to cool a bit.
Take brisket out of juices and let cool completely. When cool, refrigerate it covered.
In the meantime put the potatoes in the juice of the brisket in dutch oven and put on stove, covered, over medium flame, until potatoes are soft and cooked.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
Save all brisket juices.
Once cold, use a knife to slice off all the fat from the brisket. Then slice the brisket against the grain into ¼ inch slices. Place “in order” in a casserole dish fit for the oven. Add potatoes if there is room or put potatoes in separate casserole dish.
If you think the brisket juices should be thicker, boil them down a bit on the stove. Then when cool, you can cover the meat and potatoes with the sauce.
Refrigerate until ready to use.
When you are ready to serve, you can heat up the brisket in one of two ways.
Place potatoes and meat in casserole dishes and cover VERY well in heavy duty aluminum foil or double wrapped in regular foil, and bake on 350 for almost an hour until brisket and potatoes are well heated through. Place on serving platter, top with remaining juice and serve.
Keep everything in the dutch oven you baked it in and heat on stove on medium low or in the oven at 350 for one hour.
If you live in LA and would like to take classes with Elana, please visit www.mealandaspiel.com.
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March 21, 2013 | 12:23 pm
Posted by Elana Horwich
The Matzo Ball
Put a little schmaltz in your balls.
Those unschooled in Yiddish might suspect that I am suggesting you add a little fire to your life, a spring in your step, a little chutzpah to your decisions. Yes, that too. However, schmaltz is the yiddish word for chicken fat and we are talking matzo balls.
For the past months I have been raving about my delicious matzo ball soup in advertisements for my cooking classes. I named it Chick-sa Soup (Chicken Soup Easy Enough for Shiksas*). The title did offend some, but since I came up with the catchy wording with my dear friend Caitlin, a self-defined shiksa of unparalleled order (a blond-haired, blue-eyed Texan who, much to the dismay of her parents, married a man with the last name of Cohen), I decided to ignore the upset.
Jews own the domain of chicken soup, just like the Italians own the domain of pasta and Mexicans own the domain of the tortilla. If a Baptist automotive group held a class called “Emergency Tire Change So You Don’t Get Killed On a Lone Highway Easy Enough for a JAP,” I promise you, I would happily sign up!
But the truth is, I had never even made a matzo ball in my life. The closest I had ever come to making a matzo ball was watching Angie, our family’s housekeeper, make a batch according to package instructions. Who am I to profess expertise on the subject? Who am I to claim that my matzo balls are soooo easy that even a non-Jewish woman could make them? With what chutzpah do I permit such presumption!? Good lord, I’m walking around like I got schmaltz in my balls.
Having to deliver an easy and extraordinarily delicious recipe to my students that held up to my lofty proclamations presented me with the ultimate challenge. And ultimately, that is the game I love to play most in my job.
I have now explored the far and wide frontiers of the matzo ball. I have read countless recipes and endless explanations. The juries all point to the same factor: Put a little schmaltz in your balls.
I choose duck fat as it is a more indulgent choice. (For those hypochondriacs who are already in the hospital for heart failure, I would have you know that the French, who have an overwhelmingly better state of heart health than we do, consider duck fat to be part of a heart healthy diet as it contains a unique type of saturated fat that is actually considered to be beneficial. That said, those who are following the new American movement to fry foods in duck fat, no promises kiddos.)
These matzo balls are incredibly flavorful and quite easy to make....Easy enough for Jewish women, who nowadays are in fact some of the worst cooks I know!
*Note: I would encourage you to read Bon Appetit’s Matzo Ball 101 which highlights Associate Food Editor and Matzo-Ball-Master Selma Brown Morrow’s best tips for perfect balls. I thank her as much of my recipe below is owed to her expertise, gained from years of feeding her family.
Makes 12 medium sized matzo balls.
Note: Start this recipe the day before you plan to serve it. If it is already too late, plan on chilling the matzo ball mix for as long as you can, three hours at least.
1 cup matzo meal
4-5 tablespoons duck fat or schmaltz, at room temperature
4 tablespoons (homemade) chicken broth
1 ½ teaspoons salt plus more for salting cooking water
1 teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon dried ginger (don’t worry, they won’t taste like ginger...it just adds a taste of freshness to the matzo balls)
1 quart homemade or boxed chicken broth (for cooking matzo balls, not for serving them)
1 celery stalk
some parsley or dill to throw into cooking water
Homemade Chicken Broth for Serving: See BASIC CHICKEN BROTH
The Day Before:
In a small pot, add the 4 tablespoons of homemade chicken broth and set over medium flame until it is reduced in half to 2 tablespoons. Pour into a glass and set in fridge until it reaches room temp.
Whisk eggs, 1 ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, ginger and chopped herbs in a bowl until well mixed.
Stir in matzo meal and reduced chicken broth.
Add duck fat or schmaltz and stir in well.
Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge overnight.
The Day Of:
In a large pot, set 5 quarts of water along with the boxed or homemade chicken broth, carrot, celery and parsley or dill over a high flame and cover until it comes to a boil.
Add a small handful of salt to the boiling water/broth as if it were pasta water...it should taste salty like the sea.
Using wet hands, form the matzo meal into imperfectly shaped balls, about 1 ½ inches in diameter.
Place each one in the boiling water/broth. Stir to make sure they don’t stick.
Cover and cook for 50 minutes.
Cut one open to make sure it is fully cooked. If not cook them for a few minutes more.
Lift out of water with a slotted spoon and place one or two in a serving bowl.
Ladle homemade chicken broth into each bowl.
Optional: garnish with a little chopped parsley or dill.
*A shiksa is a yiddish word for a non-Jewish girl or woman. It traditionally has a negative connotation to it. However, much of the negative connotation comes from a certain jealous belief that non-Jewish women are more beautiful and could be a possible threat to Jewish women. For example, “Do you know Jonathan Goldstein? He’s not married but he’s dating a shiksa.” Shiksa, like goy, which is the general yiddish term for a non-Jew, points to non-Jewish men and women as outsiders. It is my hope, that by using these old Yiddish words in a playful new way, I will invite all to come inside for a little meal and a spiel.
If you live in LA and would like to take classes with Elana, please visit www.mealandaspiel.com
March 19, 2013 | 9:00 am
Posted by Elana Horwich
For years I had a recurring nightmare that I find myself in the Sienese countryside where Chianti grapes display themselves in Bacchanalian rows, inviting an aimless wanderer, me, in to taste a bite of their intoxicating deep purple fruit.
With a bunch of grapes ripped off the vine, emblazoning my hands with their royal juice, I feared the eyes of the landowners who were keeping a vigilant lookout for pesty crows and hungry trespassing Americans. I skulked behind the vineyard leaves, lest they catch me purple-handed.
In the fantasy the sunlight always came in from a 4 o’clock direction, which my therapist claimed, because the rays of light hit the “grapes” from an angle and not from a direct overhead noontime light, that this scenario must represent repressed Freudian urges that I have not yet dealt with and hence I was imagining myself in Italy.
Trapped time and time again in this nostalgic fantasy of perfect Renaissance landscape, crisp autumn colors, a late afternoon breeze carrying lavender and rosemary scents on its wings, and a bunch of freshly picked Chianti grapes in my hand, my anxiety was predictable and it always the same:
What would be the perfect cake for this situation? ! ?
Finally, with this recipe, I can put the Xanex aside.
(And so can you. This cake might put the pharmaceutical companies out of business. It’s that comforting.)
one 9” spring form cake pan, well oiled with extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of salt
½ cup raw honey- less if not using raw
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup 2% Greek yogurt
the zest of two (blood) oranges, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
Preheat oven to 350ºF
Beat eggs with a pinch of salt for 3 minutes
Add honey to eggs and beat for another three minutes
Fold in almond meal
Fold in olive oil, yogurt, orange zest and rosemary
Pour into pan and bake for 30-33 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean
Let rest on a rack and then carefully remove from cake pan, using a knife to peel away bottom.
Eat warm or save by covering with foil...will stay moist for several days.
Passover cooking classes are this week! If you live in LA and would like to take classes with Elana, please visit www.mealandaspiel.com
March 18, 2013 | 9:01 am
Posted by Elana Horwich
Charoset (pronouned cHa-roset, with an almost silent “c” like cHa-nnuka) is the delicious chopped fruit, nut and wine mixture on the Passover seder table that symbolizes the mortar between the bricks that the Jews laid while slaves in Egypt 3,000 years ago. Why the mortar we eat is sweet is not totally clear. Perhaps because we are no longer slaves? In any case, that is not what I intend to spiel about. I am sure there is a decent answer in any Passover haggadah, but quite frankly I am too lazy to get up and look at one.
MY question is: why would we Jews, a People who have overcome so much pain and strife, millennia of refugee status, genocide and horrible PR, a People who have risen to great success in financial, intellectual and creative realms, still continue to choose the cheapest of the cheap sweet wines, Manischewitz, to make charoset on one of the most important holidays of the year!?
Sure, every nice bar mitzvah kid loves a good taste of Manischewitz and I am no exception, but have we not grown up as a People? Has our collective culinary palate remained at adolescent status? Do we think we are still in the Great Depression, a time when we added sugar and a little vinegar to grape juice and called it wine?
I can hear a tirade of yentas lashing back, “it’s because Manischewitz is kosher, that’s why we use it for charoset. “ But if you are reading this, there is a 99% percent chance that you don’t even keep kosher. And if you do, there are many delicious, high quality kosher wines to celebrate our exodus from slavery.
My personal anthropological theory is that we have been using Manischewitz in our Passover charoset for so many years and generations that, as a People, we never thought to question it. Well People, QUESTION IT!
Here is a recipe that is Italian in inspiration. Chilled Moscato is one of my favorite dessert wines and the thought of drinking it with fruit and nuts transports me to the rolling vineyards of Piedmont where Moscato grapes are grown. I actually did quite an extensive research into traditional Italian Jewish charoset recipes from various regions and found that many Italian recipes call for the use of chestnuts, which, other than seeming difficult to use, remind me of Christmas. Many Italian recipes also call for the cooking of the charoset, which mine here does. But don’t worry, it cooks only long enough to meld the flavors together. You will still have a crunchy charoset and it won’t look like applesauce.
To learn the health benefits of the ingredients, what I call Vigor Triggers, please click on them.
If you live in Los Angeles and would like to take classes with Elana, please visit: www.mealandaspiel.com
March 15, 2013 | 9:00 am
Posted by Elana Horwich
Asparagus is in season!
Wondering why it has a unique affect on your potty? Me too. I don’t know why. But it does:
February 27, 2013 | 10:50 am
Posted by Elana Horwich
To see more Meal and a Spiel how-to videos or to take cooking classes with Elana, please visit www.mealandaspiel.com
February 22, 2013 | 12:05 pm
Posted by Elana Horwich
Contrary to popular belief, lemons are actually alkaline, helping to restore your body’s balance to lower levels of acidity. (It is believed in the alternative health world, and now even in much of the western medical world, that disease cannot live in alkaline environments.) But not only! Lemons are replete with other positive benefits for our bodies too. These delicious fruits add so much to many of our recipes. Lemons:
To see more Vigor Triggers, click here.
To take cooking classes with Elana, visit www.mealandaspiel.com
February 21, 2013 | 8:00 am
Posted by Elana Horwich
Live in LA and wanna take cooking classes with me? Visit www.mealandaspiel.com