Menu of the Week: A Taste of Jerusalem On Our Plate


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Jerusalem: if there is a city with a a more dense and layered history, and a more contested and drama-filled present, it is hard to imagine what city that would be. Symbolic center of Judaism, third holist city of Sunni Islam, and according to Christian belief, the place where Christ died and ascended, it would seem to be almost more than one city can bare. And yet today Jerusalem is a vibrant city with a diverse population of nearly 900,000. And according to Jerusalem A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, it’s a city with a rich and diverse food culture as well. The two authors, business partners in a handful of well-regarded London restaurants, both grew up in Jerusalem. Tamimi is a Palestinian from East Jerusalem, Ottolenghi, an Italian Jew from the western part of the city, but it wasn’t until they were both living in London that they met. And a creative collaboration it has turned out to be. I don’t get excited by many cookbooks, but this one has really captured my imagination. And so, inspired by Jerusalem, the city and the cookbook, I wanted to create a menu for our Monday night dinners which would capture a bit of the flavor of that ancient city. On the plate above, you can see what we came up with. I didn’t get pictures, but there was also a chickpea soup flavored with the spice mixture ras  el hanout, and an almond cake over which I poured a syrup made with orange juice concentrate, brown rice syrup and maple syrup.  More pictures and a recipe for baba ghanoush after the jump.

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Photos: Top–This is the plate we created to celebrate Jerusalem. Clockwise from center top: Whole wheat pita bread, baba ghanoush, chopped salad of cucumber, tomato, green beans and green onion, mixed baby greens and arugula salad with a citrus dressing created by Susanne, roasted sweet potato and red onions, rice with lentils and caramelized onions.  Photo above: Susanne prepares the rice and lentil dish for take out volunteers Kate and Judy. In the foreground, other components of the meal in various stages of preparation.

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Gathering to Celebrate a New Year With Friendship and Good Food

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My friends in the Bay Area have been coming to my home on New Year’s Day for so long, we can scarcely remember a time before this tradition began. My modus operandi is that I try to keep it simple; I set out a buffet of six or seven dishes (plus bread and a dessert or two), most of which can be  prepared ahead and served at room temperature, and everyone helps themselves to food and beverages and then settles in wherever they can find room to enjoy a mellow afternoon of conversation. Sometimes my menus have a theme, and sometimes I just cook dishes I think will go together, and I try to challenge myself by making at least one thing I’ve never made before. This year, my friend Susanne Jensen offered to contribute homemade squash ravioli, and so I dreamt up a more-or-less Italian menu around that (I hope soon to put up a separate blog post on Susanne’s raviolis). So, here in words and photos are five dishes we made for this year’s celebration. For dessert I made the Italian fruit cake, panforte, which I previously posted here. All these dishes could not have been done without the help of my friend, the inimitable Frank Melanson. Frank came three days before the party to help with all aspects of preparation.

Top photo: If a classic summer salad consists of tomatoes, cucumber and lettuce, of what would you construct a winter salad? That’s the challenge I faced in creating this dish. I based this salad on vegetables (and some fruit) which, in the Bay Area, are plentiful in farmer’s markets now. The major ingredient is savoy cabbage which we tore into pieces as you would lettuce, then blanched very briefly.  Once drained and cooled, we tossed in radicchio and belgium endive, as well as some fuyu persimmon slices and pomegranate, and some toasted walnut pieces which we lightly-glazed with maple syrup. While for everyday meals I seldom combine vegetables and fruits this way, for this holiday meal I wanted to create an especially colorful and seasonal salad. To dress the salad, I made a creamy vinaigrette dressing in the blender, with apple juice concentrate, lemon juice, umeboshi vinegar, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper and olive oil.

Photo below: Cannellini beans, are not only so Italian, but are also one of my favorites. When cooked just right, they’re rich and tender, and almost meaty. I soaked the beans overnight and then cooked them for about an hour, but I started checking them for doneness after 50 minutes. Cook beans in plenty of water, then the only real trick is in the timing: check them frequently towards the end of the cooking time. Overcooked beans turn mushy, o.k. for soup, but a no, no for salad, and undercooked beans just don’t taste right and can be difficult to digest. Once cooked and drained, I tossed them with a dressing of olive oil, lemon juice, white balsamic vinegar, umeboshi vinegar, garlic and parsley. Just before serving, I mixed marinated kale into the beans, and that recipe is here. Kumquats chopped small added an occasional textural and flavor surprise. See three more dishes we made for New Year’s Day, after the jump…

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A Peek Into The Kitchen: Preparing Our Monday Night Thanksgiving Dinner

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James made this huge pot of cranberry sauce. Is it enough to feed 120, we wondered. Turns out it was. Later, we stirred in sliced kumquats which we'd candied in maple syrup.

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Since I’ve been blogging, my camera has become another of the tools I bring with me wherever I go to cook. Last Monday was no exception, as I hoped to capture a feel for what goes on behind the scenes in preparing our Monday Night Dinner Thanksgiving meal. Our Monday-before-Thanksgiving celebration is likely to be both the meal with the greatest number of dishes and the largest attendance of all the meals in a year. In short, there is the potential for stress! As usual, things started out well, and I got a number of shots of the early stages of prep, which I share with you here.  Later, also as usual, things got more intense, and I had to put away the camera and devote 100 per cent of my attention to cooking.

As you might imagine, a meal like this takes some planning. Two months ahead of time, James Holloway, our other Monday night chef, and I hash out the menu.  A week ahead, we divide up the menu, deciding who will be responsible for purchasing and preparing each dish. I bought the pie ingredients on Friday, and spent most of Sunday preparing the pies and the tofu cream. Monday morning I was up early, left my home shortly after 9 and made it to Berkeley Bowl, which was in full pre-Thanksgiving madhouse mode, to do my half of the shopping.  By noon I was pulling up in front of the First Baptist Church, our dinner venue. James was already on site, and had the cranberry sauce nearly done. Later, Paul Schmitt, who regularly serves as our prep cook and pot washer, joined us. He did a heroic job of frying our croquettes on the griddle, among other tasks. And thankfully, Jeff Coate, who volunteers occasionally, also came by to help out. We put him to work trimming the green beans and making up the croquettes (we welcome kitchen volunteers who are willing to pitch in and do whatever needs to be done). It was a real team effort and by 6:30 everything was done, and only the clean-up remained.  We have been working together so long, we are like that proverbial well-oiled machine.  It’s a lot of work, but because we like each other and get on well, it’s also a pleasure.  I should add, that it really does take a village to put on a community dinner like ours.  It only happens because of the faithful work, year after year, of our volunteers, supervised by dinner manager, Ilona Pollak.  In a future post, I hope to highlight what they all do. In case you missed it, yesterday’s post shows and describes in detail everything we made. All in all, it was a lovely evening.

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James gives the cranberry sauce a final taste (more photos after the jump).

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Menu of the Week: Wild Rice-Tempeh-Pecan Croquettes Star In Our Annual Thanksgiving Celebration

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There is no meal in America as ritualistic as Thanksgiving, with family and friends pretty much expecting the same dishes year after year, and with turkey in the spotlight. I’ve eaten a fair amount of turkey in my lifetime, and to tell the truth, I sometimes enjoy it still.  But in Palo Alto at our Monday Night Dinners, for 24 years we’ve been creating another tradition. In our new tradition, we enjoy the hearty flavors of the season, but the turkey lives to enjoy another day. Some hundred people joined us for our Thanksgiving celebration Monday night, a meal satisfying enough, I doubt if any of them missed the old bird. Our meal centered on a croquette made of short grain rice, wild rice, pecans and tempeh and served with a roasted mushroom gravy.  Side dishes included cranberry sauce, mashed sweet potatoes, green beans with slivered almonds, mixed green salad with pear vinaigrette and cornbread. We began with a French-inspired onion soup and concluded with pumpkin pie topped with tofu cream. What’s not to like about that? After the jump, I describe the dishes in more detail and give links to recipes. Tomorrow, I’ll post a behind-the-scenes look at how the four of us who worked in the kitchen put this meal together.  As for me, I’m grateful that I’m able to do what I love: cook beautiful food for people. I hope your Thanksgiving is as meaningful as mine already has been!

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Menu of the Week: Greek Salad Stars in Mediterranean-Inspired Meal

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When planning warm weather menus, I often turn to the Mediterranean countries for inspiration. I reason that they might know a thing or two about a healthy, practical way of eating during hot, dry summers, given that they’ve had several millennia of experience. This meal, which we prepared for our Monday night dinner crowd in Palo Alto, is built around a Greek salad, with the addition of a rice salad, garbanzo and roasted vegetable salad, and pita bread with baba ghanoush. We began the meal with an Italian-inspired summer vegetable soup, for which I don’t yet have a shareable recipe, but I promise to post one soon, and we ended with Baklava (the recipe is here). After the jump, I explain this menu in more detail and share my easy-to-do method for making a tofu-based feta cheese substitute.

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Photo: Clockwise from center top: Toasted Rice Salad with Parsley and Mint, Pita Bread with Baba Ghanoush, Greek Salad, Garbanzo and Roasted Vegetable Salad.

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Menu of the Week: See the Summery Japanese Dishes We Made in Our MacroChef Cooking Class

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The Japanese vegetarian cooking class which Fumiko Arao and I had been planning for months finally happened last Saturday (June 25th), and with 15 participants, we declared it a success. From a teacher’s perspective, cooking classes are a bit of a three-ring circus: at the same time as you are imparting information and answering questions, you are cooking a meal for a crowd (and it better turn out well if your credentials as a cook are to stand up!). This is the first time I’ve done a class with a co-teacher, and it was a great relief not to have to be responsible for every detail and every dish. I so appreciate Fumi’s depth of knowledge when it comes to Japanese food. It is also gratifying that we were able to raise $500, which was matched by an anonymous donor, for a total of $1,000. A check has already been sent to an agency which supports children impacted by the earthquake-tsunami in Japan’s Tohoku region.  If you would like to receive the recipes, I will send them to you for a $10 contribution, which will also be donated to the same agency (email me at alindersf@aol.com for details). Thanks to everyone who participated, and especially to Gerard Lum, for photography (watch this space for a short video of the class), and to Bob Griffin for assistance in countless ways.  More photos after the jump…

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Photo above, clockwise from top: goma dofu garnished with wasabi, tofu burger with ginger-kuzu sauce, dried daikon with arame and carrot, chirashi zushi, and turnip-carrot-napa cabbage amasake pickle in the middle. (All photos by Gerard Lum)

To make sushi rice, you need to cool the rice. Fumi stirs, while Kay fans.

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Menu Of The Week: An Early April Meal Inspired By Japanese Vegetarian Cuisine

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Clockwise from center top: Short Grain Brown Rice with Bamboo Shoots, Warm and Spicy Cabbage Slaw, Braised Tofu and Vegetables (Click on photo to enlarge).

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I recently acquired a copy of Kansha, an elegant new cookbook on Japanese vegetarian cuisine by Elizabeth Andoh, who is widely thought to be the eminent person writing in English about Japanese food. I’ll review the book in another post, but for today I want to share the menu it inspired which James Holloway and I cooked last night in Palo Alto. In addition to the three dishes in the photo, there was soup with red and white miso, a salad of mixed baby greens with wakame, and we ended with apple pie, which had nothing to do with the menu’s theme, but which I just felt like making because I hadn’t made pie in a long time! Details about this week’s meal after the jump… Continue reading