Matzo brei frittata

I’m coming up on a week of busy days with early starts. Grab-and-go breakfasts are in order. Yesterday, I found myself craving matzo brei—that Passover-morning classic of matzo scrambled with eggs—and decided to try mashing it up with my favorite make-ahead breakfast: frittata. Just for fun, here’s a rough write-up with some bad iPhone photos!

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I started by running 4 matzos under cold tap water until they were damp but not soggy. I crumbled the damp matzos onto a plate and let them sit and soften while I greased the heck out of a 9-inch nonstick cake pan. I heated a large glug of olive oil—maybe 3 tablespoons?—in a skillet over medium heat, and fried the soaked matzo until the smallest bits were toasty and fragrant. Then I turned off the heat and let the matzo cool slightly.

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While the matzo cooled, I chopped up the leftover parsley, dill, and scallions from making gefilte fish

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…and whisked together 8 eggs, 1/2 cup farmer cheese (I usually use Greek yogurt, but this week I got a little creative at the market), a large pinch of salt, and lots of black pepper.

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I stirred the herbs into the eggs, then mixed everything together in the cake pan. I let things sit and mingle for a bit while I preheated the oven to 350° F (and watched a bit of an old BBC Poirot episode).

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Once the oven was hot, I baked the frittata until it was fully set in the middle, which took about 25 minutes. Then I let the frittata cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, turned it out onto a cutting board, and cut it into wedges. Behold my breakfast for the week!

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Gefilte fish, hold the onion

Chag sameach, everyone! It’s the first night of Passover, and I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a year. Time to let this one out into the world.

I am one of the only people I know who genuinely likes gefilte fish. Yes, even the gelatinous gray pucks from the Manischewitz jar. To me, it’s one of the core tastes of Passover. But the premade gefilte fish I grew up on contains onions, which I am avoiding. So last year I decided to try my hand at a homemade version, flecked with scallions and herbs. It was a wild hit, and is now a permanent fixture on my seder menu. It’s flavorful enough to enjoy on its own, and delicious with a swipe of prepared horseradish if you swing that way.

I adapted this from a recipe by the great doyenne of Jewish American cooking, Joan Nathan. My primary tweaks were to swap scallion tops for onions, to add carrot for sweetness, and to bump up the herbs. Gefilte fish is traditionally cooked in fish stock; this recipe has you make a light vegetable broth instead. But if you have access to fish bones, definitely throw some of those in—they’ll contribute flavor and help the liquid turn into the familiar gel as it cools.

Although I’ve adapted this recipe for my own FODMAP sensitivities, it is not gluten-free, since traditional matzo meal is made with wheat flour. If that’s a no-go for you, your best bet is to buy gluten-free matzo and blitz it to crumbs in the food processor. Be aware that most gluten-free matzo is not kosher for Passover, so seek out the real certified stuff if that matters to you.

gefilte fish

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How I make chicken stock

I’ve had this blog for *mumblemumble* years, and I just realized I’ve never posted about chicken stock. So let’s fix that, because this stuff is a mainstay in my kitchen.

Homemade chicken stock is a lifesaver in so many ways. For folks like me who are avoiding onions and garlic, it’s an indispensable substitute for storebought broths. And because it tastes great on its own, it’s become my secret weapon for simple, brothy soups like egg drop soup, hot-and-sour soup, or avgolemono. I like to cook matzo balls, wontons, or tortellini in salted water, then float them in warm chicken broth. I use it as a base for miso soup and ramen. Even if you’re not a soup person, this stuff is great for cooking grains—rice, quinoa, buckwheat, etc—and it makes for a damn fine risotto.

Chicken stock is also an important part of my self-care these days. When my gut is acting up and I just can’t stomach the thought of solid food, I’ll heat up some stock and sip it from a mug, adding a generous pinch of salt and maybe a few slices of fresh ginger. It’s a nice reminder that food doesn’t have to be complicated and fraught, and that it doesn’t actually take much to nourish myself.

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Stout beer gingerbread cake

One day last fall, my spouse came home with five growlers of stout. How he got them is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say fridge space was at a premium for a while. I don’t drink beer, so I couldn’t help make a dent in the stash. Then, during dinner on Christmas Day, a friend mentioned she was craving gingerbread. A bit of quick Googling and easy baking later, and black beer gingerbread entered my life. Now, whenever my husband brings home stout while the weather’s chilly, I make him set aside a bottle for baking.

This is gingerbread the way I like it: plush and cakey, bittersweet and spicy. The beer and molasses make it impenetrably dark brown, and lend a gruff bitterness underneath all the flour and sugar. (If you don’t want to use beer, black coffee makes a reasonable substitute.) I also up the ginger ante by using two types. The ground ginger gets whisked into the dry ingredients; the fresh ginger gets finely grated and gently warmed with the wet ingredients, so that its hot bite mellows and infuses throughout the cake. You could easily omit the fresh stuff and just use ground, though—the cake will still be plenty intense.

The first time I made this gingerbread, I baked it in a bundt pan, as instructed on Epicurious and Smitten Kitchen. But, like many commenters on both sites, I ran into problems: the cake stuck to the pan, and it cracked along the seams when I turned it out. It turns out that this gingerbread’s wonderful qualities—its stickiness and softness—make it tricky to bake in a tall, narrow pan. Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative: a 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper. The parchment eliminates any risk of sticking, and the shallow pan means the cake stays flat and sturdy.

When ready to serve, use the parchment to lift the gingerbread out of the pan, then dust the whole thing with powdered sugar and cut it into squares. And here lies the one caveat of a rectangular cake: you may need to warn people that they’re about to eat gingerbread, not brownies.

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Swedish(ish) sandwich cake

Last week, we were invited to a potluck called “Dinner of Lies.” The directive: bring a dish that looks like something other than what it actually is. I love a good food-challenge, and decided to scale a mountain that had been tempting me for a while. It was time to tackle the Swedish sandwich cake.

For those of you who don’t spend as much time falling down foodie rabbit holes as I do, the Swedish sandwich cake—or Smörgåstårta—is a savory cake where the layers are bread, the fillings are usually fishy, and the frosting is cream cheese. They’re elaborately (some might say garishly) decorated, the kind of thing you might have made for a blowout party in the 1970s. I decided to adapt that idea into a pretty, elegant cake…

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…that’s actually a multi-layered sandwich.

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This was a PROJECT. Here’s how I tackled it, one element at a time (with pictures!):

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Five-fold challah

Fact: challah is one of the greatest breads in the world. Okay, as an American Jew, I may be slightly biased. But even if you didn’t grow up eating challah on Friday nights and holidays, it’s easy to fall in love with this showoff of a loaf. Made from a wet dough enriched with oil, eggs, and honey, it’s golden and shiny on the outside, fluffy and slightly sweet on the inside. It’s made for pulling apart, the seams of the braid acting as a guide. And if it lasts long enough to go stale, it makes the world’s greatest French toast.

Where I live, you can buy decent challah from bakeries and some grocery stores. But homemade challah blows them all away, and this recipe is my current favorite. Rather than kneading by hand and letting the dough rise at room temperature, this version slows things waaaaay dooooown. There’s no kneading at all. Instead, you let the dough sit quietly at room temperature, folding it over on itself every so often. The recipe recommends five folds, spread out over about 2 1/2 hours; I do mine about every 30 minutes, working or puttering or watching TV in between. But this is not the kind of recipe that demands precision and hovering. You could do one fold after 15 minutes, then another after 45. Basically, just keep folding until the dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticking to your fingers.

When you’ve folded the dough five times, transfer it to the fridge and let it rise overnight. The next day, braid the chilled dough–I’ve never mastered the spectacular six-strand, so I just do a simple three-strand plait–and let it rest again for 2-3 hours at room temperature. The result of this slow, lazy process is a bread with rich yeasty flavor and a gorgeously pillowy texture. When you pull it apart, the edges fray into delicate filaments. It’s the best challah I’ve ever made, and light years away from what you’ll find in a store.

Challah gets its gorgeous brown lacquer from an egg wash–preferably one with some yolk in it. You could beat a whole egg with a pinch of salt, but I find that makes way more egg wash than I need. Instead, I use my friend Andrea’s trick: stealing a bit of the egg I’m already using for the dough. Just pour off about 1 tbsp of beaten egg into a separate container and refrigerate it alongside the dough. The tiny difference in liquid doesn’t matter in a dough this forgiving, and there’s no need to waste most of an extra egg. Smart, huh?

five fold challah

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Mussels steamed with sour beer

Recently, my husband signed up for the monthly beer club at The Rare Barrel, a local outfit specializing in sour beer. This style of beer is crafted to maximize the acidic tang of wild fermentation–the same process that makes sauerkraut taste sour–while minimizing bitterness. The result is a brew that is light, tangy, and easy to drink. Even I, an avowed beer-hater, like this stuff. So when Sam suggested having a few friends over to help us finish this month’s beer-stash, my thoughts immediately turned to cooking with it. Specifically, mussels.

Of all the ways to cook mussels at home, it’s hard to beat simply steaming them in some flavorful liquid. For most of my mussel-eating life, that meant white wine with lots of garlic. But that’s far from the only way to go. I suspected that the light, acidic qualities of a sour beer would make it an ideal swap for dry white wine when steaming shellfish. And I was right.

Instead of the usual garlic saute, I started by sweating diced leek tops and fennel in garlic-infused oil. I threw in some chile flakes, thyme sprigs, and a bay leaf, then added the beer. After steaming the mussels open in their beer-y sauna, I scooped them out of the pot and finished the broth with a few chunks of butter for richness and heft, plus a dollop of mustard for spice. (I left the aromatics in, but you could strain them out of the broth if you prefer, since both leek tops and fennel bulbs can be tough.) Then I poured the enriched broth over the mussels, added a handful of chopped parsley, and set the bowl on the table next to a loaf of spelt bread–sourdough, natch.

Although I used sour beer here, this is really a “mussels steamed with some sort of booze” recipe. If you’re a beer drinker, any good-quality ale will do. If you don’t do beer, try hard cider (preferably on the dry side) or good old white wine. And, honestly, “good-quality” is in the taste buds of the beholder. If you like it enough to drink it, go ahead and cook with it!

sour beer mussels
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