The Protocols of the Chefs of Waldorf – a Jewish Culinary Conspiracy

(The Kitchen of the Waldorf Hotel, mid-20th Century)

“Izzie, how was your Yomtiv?”

“Good, but too short. How ‘bout yours, Jake?”

“Ditto. And after eight days of Pesach cooking at home and my stomach bloated like a matzoh ball, the last thing I feel like is…more cooking.”

“Well, you’d better. There’s eight-hundred hungry customers out there and the boss said we gotta wow ‘em. That we gotta come up with an appetizer that’s never been served before.”

“You’re kidding! Izzie, I have no koach for this.  Well, I guess it’ll be a good break from Pesach, when we’d been eating stuff served since Yetzias Mitzrayim. I heard they made a big Seder here – lots of leftovers in the walk-in fridge. Too bad we couldn’t just serve ‘em some charoses and call it a day.”

Silence.

“Izzie, did you hear me? What’s that crazy look on your face?”

“Don’t you get it, Jake? We can.”

“You’re meshugana. We’ll get fired in a second. Even the boss knows what charoses is – just cut up apples and walnuts.”

“Who said just charoses? What other leftover are in there?”

Jake sticks his head into the fridge and sighs. “Not too much. Just a lot of Karpas – you know, celery.”

“Perfect!”

“Izzie, maybe you’re still shikker from the Arba Kosos. How we gonna give these fancy people charoses mixed with karpas? Most of ‘em aren’t even Jewish – they won’t even get the joke.”

“So we’ll make it not Jewish.”

“Huh?”

“What’s the most not-Jewish ingredient we got in this place?”

“I dunno, Izzie. Mayonnaise, I guess. I tried to put some on Selma’s cornbeef instead of mustard once and she accused me of converting.”

The door to the dining room opens. “Hey, you guys – we’re serving dinner in ten minutes. Have you come up with the new appetizer? And it better be good!”

“Sure, boss. Comin’ right out.” Jake turns to Izzie, whispers: “That’s it. Just mix it all together.”

“Charoses, Karpas, and…mayonnaise?”

“Yep.”

Jake takes a taste. “You know, it’s crazy, but it’s not bad!”

The boss comes is. The cooks point to the tub of Seder leftovers with confident smiles.

“Well, I must say, I’ve never seen anything like this before. What should we call it?”

Jake gives Izzie a little kick from behind the counter. “Well, boss, since we worked so hard on it, we named it after you and your wonderful hotel. It’s…Waldorf salad!”

Vegan Banana Ice Cream

Baruch (and his mom) were guests of ours over Passover. He liked my egg-free non-dairy banana ice cream and wanted the recipe to serve at his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.

It was embarrassingly simple, but okay.

What I did was:

Mash (I used an immersion blender) 6 ripe bananas together with a drop of lemon juice to prevent them from oxidizing/turning brown. Add a half cup of melted pure coconut oil (our newest Passover favorite), a pinch of salt and some sweetener of choice to taste. Blend to a smooth, even consistency.

Dish into serving cups and freeze.

See, embarrassing easy.

Enjoy, and Mazel Tov!

Passover Pantry Note

I appreciate all the great feedback on the ‘how to make lox’ video. But having gone through the process of making some this Passover, I had an epiphany, which is maybe just common sense.

Being in a rush, for the first time, I didn’t skin the salmon before rubbing it with the curing mixture. And lo and behold, I now realize why most recipes say not to. Leaving the skin on makes it SO much easier to slice. It holds the flesh of the fish securely from the bottom, which allows for the trademark thin, diagonal slicing that give the lox its look.

So, live and learn, I guess. I just thought I’d fess up and let us all become better cooks together.

Enjoy!

Marriage and Matzoh (or give me a break)

“Oh, you must have got that part of the matzah,” I tell my wife – or maybe she tells me. We laugh. It’s not even Pesach (or anywhere near), and there isn’t even any matzah in the house.

What’s going on?

You know how when you break the middle, Afikomen matzah at the Seder? How it virtually never breaks into two smooth and perfectly identical halves?

Usually it’s more like a jagged, craggy break. One piece jutting in where the other protrudes and vice versa.

A husband and wife are one soul divided between two identities. But that split isn’t usually smooth and even either.

He may have a lot of one trait – while she has hardly any. Another trait may play out just the opposite.

She’s outgoing, he’s introverted. He’s a spendthrift, she’s a tightwad. Couples who are so different might come to ask themselves: how did I ever end up with someone so not like me?

That’s because he/she is not like, or not not like me. He/she is me. Just the other half of me. The other half of the cosmic Afikomen split. The jagged, cragged, division of the perfect circular whole.

‘But some couples are more similar to each other’, you may claim. Not a problem. Their matzah-soul might have gotten one of those rare smooth, nearly identical breaks.

But if your marriage is not like that (and I’d venture most aren’t), don’t fret.  Get to know and revel in your one-of-a-kind Afikomen split. Get to know who got what ‘part of the matzah’. (Check this theory out – many couples have found the pattern to be true and harmonizing.) And most of all…

Learn to compliment your complement.  

Happy Pesach!

Fire, Air, Earth and Water – The Four Elements of Cooking

People have told me that they like my blog, but that it’s false advertising. After all, it’s called Soul Foodie, and while there’s plenty of ‘soul’ in it, they say, how about letting its ‘foodie’ side come out more?

What could I say? I agreed.

So with no further ado, here comes NYS’s (in)famous ‘kabalistic’* theory of cooking.

The way I see it, cooking is all about the interplay of four elements that parallel the four primal mystic elements of creation.

These are: Fire, Air, Earth, and Water.

Creating a successful dish depends on nothing more than achieving a balance-point, or harmony among these four elements. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all four elements will be equally expressed within a given dish or cooking process, but rather that they’re combined in a way that produces a gastronomically appealing result.  

Virtually every recipe incorporates these principles, although perhaps subconsciously on the part of a recipe creator, and almost certainly unconsciously on the part of a recipe follower.

While I realize this all may sound a little stratospheric, it’s really quite down to earth, and not only is viewing cooking through this ‘4-Element’ lens and adopting its technique is a learnable skill, but it’s very practical, satisfying (and fun!) as well.

One of the biggest benefits of mastering this method of cooking is the ability and freedom to organically custom-create your own recipes based on your own priorities, preferences, budget, and available ingredients time and tools. (Sounds pretty good, no?)

So to begin at the beginning, let’s get to know our elements:

FIRE – Obviously refers to heat. This includes the intensity of heat at which a food is cooked, as well as the type of heat which is used (oven, stovetop, grill, crockpot, sous vide, etc.)

‘Fire’ also refers to the degree of doneness at which the cooking process stops (or is halted). 

Subcategories of ‘fire’ include reheating (which is an art unto itself), warming or maintaining heat, and serving temperature.

A food’s spiciness is also related to fire.

WATER – Besides water itself, the element of water refers to a food’s moisture (both regarding its cooking process and its finished state).

It also encompasses the concepts of liquidity vs. solidity, as well as a food’s (or liquid’s) degree of concentration and/or dilution.

Oil is related to the element of water, as is blandness or subtlety of taste.

Air – How dry something is depends largely on air. Also how dense something is. Air facilitates evaporation and condensation as well.

It also tends to enable crispness and crunchiness; it can also make things stale.

EARTH – Earth generally refers to solid ingredients, alone or in proportion to liquids. It also includes ingredients that cause things to solidify (starches, rennet, etc.), as well as the process of freezing (and/or congealing), which turns liquids into solids.

‘Earth’ can also refer to utensils used to maintain or alter the shape of food, and also those which hold it while it cooks, thus separating it from its fire source and at times controlling its exposure to air.

For now let’s end on that ‘earthy’ note, and next time we’ll begin to bring things further ‘down to earth’ as we discuss how the four elements interrelate.

(*Disclaimer: I am not a kabalist in any sense of the word and merely borrow certain terms and concepts as a convenient frame of reference.)  

Self Seeking

“If I’m not for myself, who will be for me?”

(If I don’t have faith in myself and my projects, who will? How can I expect anyone to be more enthusiastic about me, than me?)

“But when I’m for my SELF, what am I?”

(But when that faith is based on my own power – as opposed to Yours – I’m nothing.)

“And if not now, when?”

(And if I don’t muster that faith and feel that success can come RIGHT NOW, when will/can that success possibly come, as life is an ongoing series of ‘right now’s’?