Sunday, March 28, 2010

Preparing for Passover - Up Close and Personal

Blu Greenberg quotes her mother in "How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household". She says her "mother used to say that the Jewish housewife was the only one who didn't go out of bondage on Pesach" (Passover). I think of this expression every year when Passover approaches and it's time to start the cleaning preparations. Ideally, every drawer - every pocket - every nook and cranny should be vacuumed or washed.
I am not a "traditional Jewish housewife" and I would far rather spend my time in other pursuits. But get the cleaning done I must, for Passover comes - like it or not - and in our household we observe.

This year I had cleaners come and do the major cleaning in the rest of the house. What a blessing! We do not go to the extreme that some folks do - but what we do works for us. Extreme dusting and vacuuming suffices.

The kitchen is a different story. This is the one opportunity each year in which I am "forced" to go through cupboards and fridge and ruthlessly clean.

The whole goal of preparing for Passover is to rid the home of leavened products, called chametz, for the eight day period. This includes all breads. cookies, cereals, pastas, cakes - any products where grains will have made contact with water for 18 minutes or more - which would be enough time to start the leavening process. For most families, this would create a financial hardship, so any of these items that might remain in the home are packed away and not used for the eight day period. Instead, we eat matzah - which, although made with wheat, is prepared with supervision so that flour and water are mixed and baked within the 18 minute time frame. Which is why matzah is flat and hard. During the biblical exodus, there was no time for the Jews to bake bread to take with them in their hasty retreat out of Egypt. So we commemorate that exodus by eating matzah or products made with matzah meal.

Back to my kitchen - or, to be precise, my fridge. There are pitfalls to having a big fridge. It hides all sorts of sins!  Salad dressing - best before June 2009. A brand new cream cheese - best before January 2010. Tofu - best before December '09.  Past dated yogurt. This is a small sample. All get pitched. A shameful waste of money. I resolve not to buy so much in the coming year. The items that will still be good after Apr.6 are packed up and taken to the downstairs fridge. The shelves and drawers are washed and replaced, and the new foods - purchased specially for Passover - are removed from their bags and ready to use when Passover begins. A small area in the fridge contains the foods we will try to use up before Monday.
I still need to buy more groceries - primarily the fresh fruits and vegetables and other kosher for Passover groceries we will need for the coming week.

We do not use the same pots and pans and dishes during Passover that we use every day. Because they have been used with chametz, we will pack them away or tape up the cupboards in which they are housed.
Instead, we bring out of storage the several tubs containing the dishes, pots and pans that we use at Passover only. It's a little like "moving" every year at this time. Some of the cupboards are emptied, washed out, contents put into boxes for temporary storage to make room for the Passover items.

For a couple days the house looks like it has been ransacked. I think if a burglar broke in, he would leave because he would think someone beat him there. But as Passover draws nearer, order is gradually restored.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Clean Out the Fridge Suey

I've heard that good food takes a long time to prepare. Well, so does mediocre food! It wasn't bad, really - but it wasn't "have a second helping" great - which can be good if you're a weight watcher!
I shopped last week with the best of intentions - stocked up on vegetables and had every hope of using them throughout the week. It seems that my intentions exceeded the available time, and I ran out of week before I ran out of veggies. So, it was "sell 'em or smell 'em" - or in my case, "use 'em or lose 'em"!
What were my choices? Tonight -  either soup or a stir fry.  I opted for the stir fry so as to use the lean ground beef I took out of the freezer this morning as the meat in my dish.

Among my veggies starting to grow tired in the crisper were baby bok choy. They were so cute, I had to buy them - without the slightest idea of how to prepare them. They should be good in a stir fry. The bag of cole slaw mix with a best before date two days ago.  Still looked fine. This would do. The large mushrooms, the broccoli crown, some baby carrots, a couple stalks of celery - all good for a stir fry. Oh - and that 1/2 pound of asparagus that I didn't use earlier in the week - that would add a touch of sophistication.
Wash, wash, wash, chop chop, chop.....all the prep for a stir fry certainly takes time!

I precooked the ground beef with a large chopped onion and 4 cloves of crushed garlic along with pepper and Mrs. Dash for seasoning. I precooked it and then drained it and measured how much I had so that I would be able to calculate the WeightWatcher point value of my dish. I reserved 3 cups of the ground beef for my stir fry. (The remaining 3 cups will become spaghetti sauce tomorrow.)

Time to sir fry the vegetables. Some vegetable spray into my non stick pan - and then the carrots (quartered lengthwise), celery and the stalk of the broccoli - all chopped into bit sized pieces. A splash of vegetable stock to help them cook - then the asparagus (cut into thirds), and the package of cole slaw mix.
Once wilted, I added the broccoli. After a few minutes - the baby bok choy and the sliced mushrooms went into the pan.
It really did look very pretty - all bright and colourful!

As seasonings, I used 3 tablespoons of Soy Sauce and some Victorian Epicure Stir Fry Seasoning . I added more vegetable stock and allowed it to steam.

The final addition was the ground beef - back into the mix to warm up. And then it was ready to eat - served on rice.

I would have preferred more spiciness to it - it was a little too bland. My DH added ketchup (he thinks if it's ground beef, adding ketchup is a given). I added soy sauce - but it would have been better if I had put some hot pepper flakes into the mix as I was cooking it - or something with a little kick!

However - I did reduce the vegetable inventory - which was, to quote Martha Stewart, "a good thing". (Does she still say that?)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Not My Mother's Cabbage Rolls

My late mother used to make the most wonderful, delicious, dainty cabbage rolls - or holubchi.
She would patiently par-boil the rice, prepare the cabbage leaves by trimming the veins and steaming (or even freezing) the cabbage leaves in advance to make the rolling easy. Her holubchi were a work of art. They were all of uniform size and they lined up smartly in the roaster as they waded in a tomato soup sauce.

I have made REAL cabbage rolls a few times. They were often irregular in shape and often had rice spilling out of the ends that I had not managed to tuck in properly. I don't make them anymore. Instead, I make - you guessed it - Lazy Holubchi! They taste the same - but they are half the work and they don't highlight my incompetence as a cabbage roller!

Here's my version. My husband loves them.

Lazy Holubchi (Cabbage Rolls)

2 cups uncooked rice
3 cups water
1 large onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp pepper
1 tsp. salt (optional - if you are trying to avoid salt)
1 tbsp. oil
Approx. 1 pound coarsely shredded cabbage (8 cups raw)
1-10 oz. can of tomato soup. (Alternatively, use 2 cups tomato juice or canned tomatoes.)

1. Par cook rice in the salted water. Remove from heat while it is still underdone.

2. Spray a non-stick pan with vegetable spray and add 1 tbsp  oil. Saute the onion until transparent.  Add a little water or vegetable stock to the pan if it starts to stick. I keep the amount of oil at a minimum to reduce the calories.

3. Microwave the cabbage to partly cook. (I like to use the sensor cook for fresh vegetables on my microwave. Alternatively, the cabbage could be steamed long enough to soften it a bit. I found the 8 cups of raw cabbage reduced to 6 cups partly cooked.

4. Spray a roasting pan with vegetable spray and combine the cabbage, rice and onions. Pepper it and mix it well to distribute all the ingredients.

5. Dilute a can of tomato soup with an equal amount of water and pour it over the rice mixture. Poke the mixture with a spoon in several places to allow the liquid to penetrate.

6. Cover and roast at 325° F. for 1-1/2 - 2 hours. Check part way through - and if it appears to be dry, add some liquid - either tomato juice or water.  Mine took 1-1/2 hour, but if the rice had been par-cooked less to start with, it would have needed longer. Best to test. If cabbage and rice are soft, you know it's ready to eat!

This recipe makes about 10 cups of lazy holubchi.  In WeightWatcher points®, it works out to 2.5 points per cup.

We had it with veal chops and salad, but I can easily make a meal of it on its' own.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oven Baked Pickerel Fillets

I'm not a particular lover of fish. I do, however, try to include it in my diet as often as is tolerable. I like the non-fishy tasting fish the best. So pickerel (known as walleye to you folks south of the 49th parallel) finds favour with me. It's light and mild. And especially delicious breaded and pan fried in golden butter.  Alas, the weight watcher in me knows that's not healthy, so I'm experimenting and trying to find an acceptable substitute.  Dipping the fish in egg whites and dredging it in seasoned breadcrumbs worked. It lacked that buttery goodness - but - hey! That buttery goodness is what packs on those extra pounds. One has to make sacrifices!

Seasoned Breadcrumbs

2/3 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp. garlic powder
pinch of pepper
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1 tsp. Mrs. Dash® seasoning

This recipe made too much for 1 lb. fish fillets, but there was some leftover. Next time I will double the recipe and use about half a cup and freeze the rest for future use.  I would also use this on chicken pieces. It's a salt-free Shake'n Bake® substitute!

Oven-Baked Pickerel Fillets

Preheat oven to 400°  F.

1 lb. pickerel fillets 
1/3 cup egg whites
1/2 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Rinse pickerel fillets and shake off water. Dip in egg white and dredge in seasoned bread crumbs.
Lay the pieces of fish onto cooking parchment on a cookie sheet in a single layer.
Bake at 400° for 15 minutes.
We liked it, and I would make it again this way. This method would work for other soft fish that don't take kindly to pan frying - such as sole. Next time, I might give the breaded fillets a quick spray of vegetable oil .

As for WeightWatcher® points, each of our pieces was approx. 3 oz, and each piece had no more than 1 tbsp. breadcrumbs in all, so that would be 3.5 points per piece of fish. The amount of egg white used per piece was negligible. 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Olympic (aka Greek) Salad

I couldn't let the Olympics go by without some sort of food tribute. Since it was the Greeks who originated the Olympics, what else but Greek Salad with Olympic Rings!

I made the "Olympic Rings" by dipping sliced onion rings in egg white and then in seasoned breadcrumbs and baked them at 350 for about 25 minutes. They were not a culinary delight, but it was the thought and not the taste that "inspired greatness"! 

We had friends over for lunch prior to the Canada - U.S. Gold Medal Hockey Game ( Yay, Canada!) and I served Greek Salad and crustless quiche made with shredded potatoes, dill, mushrooms, asparagus and cheese along with the eggs.  

The "Olympic (Greek) Salad" was pretty traditional - made with lettuce, cucumbers, red onion, green onion, radishes and tomato along with black olives and feta cheese and Good Seasons Dressing. I'm a fan of Kraft's "Good Seasons" Salad dressing which I make up using the lower fat version with less oil and more water. I can't buy it in my city, so when friends or I go to the U.S., I have to have some brought back! It's the best!
I never seem to tire of it. 

I've used travel to Toronto and the Olympics as an excuse not to track WeightWatcher points over the last couple weeks . I confess, I've slipped back into some old bad food habits. Now that these events are behind me, it's time to get back on track lest those pounds start to creep back!