Starry Wisdom

Entropic Words from Neilathotep

Friday, April 22, 2011

Comfort Food

Everyone has some comfort food or other – something that makes them feel comfortable, and likely reminds them of happy times during childhood. Unfortunately, just because a food is comfortable, doesn’t mean that it’s easy to make – especially when it’s holiday dinner type food!

Growing up in a family of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent, holiday dinners (save for Thanksgiving), were composed of more or less the following:

  • Gefilte Fish
  • Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls
  • Braised Brisket
  • Kugel or Kasha Varnishkas

The first is easy enough to get out of a jar, as long as you eschew the stuff actually labeled Gefilte, which is mostly carp, and mostly terrible (and I think why the food has such a bad name), and go for the stuff labeled “Whitefish and Pike in broth”. I’ll admit, it may be an acquired taste, but we’ll get back to it later.

The rest of the items pretty much require some home cooking – although I do know of at least one place in the area that serves proper Matza ball soup. The problem is, it is the sort of cooking that requires making a lot of food, not food for one or two people. You can’t braise a 12-16oz brisket for two people, and you can’t really make much less than a gallon of proper broth for the soup. So I was in a quandry, how can I get a hold of such foods without traveling back home for a holiday. Oh – I could host a holiday dinner myself.

Earlier this year I came up with the idea of hosting a Passover dinner. Not a Seder, since those are long and can be kind of dull, but a dinner in the spirit of the Seder, with a few of the oddities, but not the retelling of the entire Passover stories. The four glasses of wine? YES. Me being me, I kind of delayed scheduling it until two weeks before passover began, when I was sitting at a wine bar with Mackenzie and some friends. We were discussing a planned Easter dinner, and the realization of the overlap between Passover and Easter hit me. It was time to schedule, and it turned out that Monday April 18th (Tax day) worked for people’s schedules, and also happened to be the first night of Passover. So dinner was scheduled.

To make a long story short, I spent the day before making food – making stock from a chicken (alas, I couldn’t find a stewing hen, so a big roaster)(As a side note, I’ve been making a lot of stock in the past couple of months, and freezing it. However the stock I’ve been making is the sort from a cooked carcass, and while good, is just not the right sort of Matza ball soup), and braising the brisket. I also made Charoset, a passover dish made of apples, nuts, wine, cinnamon and sugar, but that was just a few minute endeavor to save time the next day. The real important thing here is that both the soup and the brisket benefit from a night in the freezer. In both cases it makes it easier to remove excess fat (save the schmaltz for the matza balls!), and for the brisket it makes it tastier and juicier – plus it’s a lot easier to cut a chilled, cooked brisket.

The night of, I came home from work a little early, and got started right away chopping the vegetables (carrots and parsnip) for the soup, and preparing the matza kugel so I could just put it in the oven at the right time. Meanwhile, Mackenzie made some chicken liver pate – not exactly the chopped liver of my youth, but still delicious stuff! Timing was tight but everything worked out.

As to the food, all of it being my first attempt, I was quite pleased with the results. The gefilte fish was enjoyed by everyone, despite me being the only person there who had eaten it before. The soup with matza balls was popular – even though I forgot to add some salt while I was heating it up – but this was easy enough to adjust at table. The brisket, well, I think I could have let it braise a bit more. It was tender, and tasty, but it wasn’t as tender and fork edible as I would prefer. That didn’t stop 8 people from eating over three quarters of a 5 and 1/3 lb brisket. There was just enough leftovers for everyone to have a slice or two for lunch the next day, along with some of the braised (and super soft) carrots and potatoes.

I’d offer recipes here, but I didn’t really have any, save for the kugel. I asked my mom and she basically gave me some stories about how to do the brisket and charoset, which are both pretty simple mind you, but very imprecise. If anyone is dying for any information, I’ll provide it.

I’ll close with this question – what are your comfort foods, and are they easy to make or do they require pre-planning like the ones I listed above?

posted by neil at 9:17 am
under cooking  

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