Cunning General, Hidden Empress
Purim, and disguise the limit! Tradition has us featuring costumes relating to the characters named in the Megillah (The, ummm... err... extensive and quite thorough... story of Purim) as hiding the truth inside an inapt metaphor is part of the holiday theme .
What's it all about, then? We read in Dvarim:31 "...And I will surely hide My face..." and G-d’s face and hand, were there in the story of Purim, but hidden and masked. So we too hide our face on Purim.
Here's two bits of tid further:
"Esther did not reveal her nationality and her descent, for Mordekhai had commanded her not to tell." (2:10)
"Esther would not reveal her descent and her nationality, as Mordekhai had commanded her." (2:20)
Remember that Mordekhai (Mordechai) was acting in loco parentis since her father had died before she was born and her mother died in childbirth but the Ibn Ezra tells us this wasn't just a parental whim... (2:9)
"It seems correct in my eyes that Mordekhai acted thus in order that she could observe G-d's Torah in secret; that she would not eat forbidden meat and would observe Shabbat in such a way that the servants would not become aware of it, for if the matter became known then perhaps the king would force her to act contrary to her religious beliefs or kill her."
A request came in here for an entire Seudah, one that can be assembled quickly for easy entertaining as well as for a crowd. There's not much leeway to do a large (I think the number mentioned was 30!!) meal by yourself. So I'm going far afield into using prepared foods and getting courses/dishes together a day or so in advance as well as using recipes that can easily double, triple, or more. Don't look at me with that tone. Yes, like that. We're still staying to a late winter/early spring set of ingredients!!
Let's begin our Seudah--vegetarian, in keeping with our heroine's astounding accomplishment not to consume non-kosher meat while in the Palace--with a "Veloute" or "Velvet." (maybe like Esther's gowns!) This is one of the Mother Sauces that others can be made from--essentially, it's a white sauce made with stock instead of dairy. The technique we're demo'ing can used as a base when preparing any cream soup, as well as non-dairy sauces where you'd adjust the texture with more stock. This particular veloute stars earthy, tenderly bitter-sweet artichoke bottoms; in season back in my home stomping grounds of Castroville, CA--they grew in our backyard.
We go on to Mushroom Roulades (the two per serving, side-by-side remind us of Sifrei Torah), with touch of deep woodsy dried mushroom flavor in the hidden filling. Of course the filling can be prepared the day before or even two. Once you get the hang of the rolling technique, it's easy. But you can also make a kind of kreplach, also quite Purim-like since the rolls can be made in triangular shapes as Haman's famous hat. . What would be a festive dinner without a sauce? In the topsy-turvy Purim world, this lemon light and luverly "jam" goes UNDER the main dish!!!
One of my favorite ways to cook beets is to roast them--what a rather twisted friend of mine refers to as "sun-dried beets"--and bring out the hiding sugars. And they go great in a side salad along with candied walnuts and cool-weather romaine lettuce.
We're going to finish up with a poppylicious variation of a recipe for a "hot milk cake" cake I got from an almost-93-year-old friend. Her stepmother (loosely described, relationships were more fluid 100 years ago in rural California), "Mom Oakes," made it for her so this recipe goes back quite a way. The original recipe was also featured in WWII pamphlets as a way to stretch out scarce rations since it's sparing of both eggs and butter. It does come out as an easy-sneezy one-bowl sponge cake so I'm intrigued with this less-than-demanding process. Watch thisspace for further developments, I see Pesach in the future!
Add bread, or rolls or biscuits of some sort, plus purchased sides such as olives, pickles of various kinds, or lay out stalks of the season's pencil-thin asparagus for a quick five-minute roasting (just lightly coat with olive oil, salt/pepper before putting into a 375:F oven) and it's a complete feast for a Queen!!
2-1/4 cups vegetable broth or pareve "chicken" stock, divided
1 can (15 ounces or more) artichoke bottoms
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced or 1 tsp. garlic-herb seasoning
salt and white pepper, to taste
3 tbsp. flour
3 tbsp. butter or butter-flavored margarine
8 oz. nonfat plain yogurt
2 tbsp. chopped chives or parsley
Croutons (either home-made or packaged)
Open and drain can of artichoke bottoms (note: these are not the marinated kind in glass jars). Rinse drained 'chokes with water. Reserve 2.
Throw the remaining bottoms in a food processor with 1/4 cup of the broth/stock and whizzzzz until pureed and smoooothhh. Add mustard, lemon juice, garlic, and a couple pinches each of salt and white pepper. Remember, the artichokes were packed in salty water so be sparing.
We'll adjust later.
Now the fun part. In your soup pot, melt the butter on low-ish heat. Add flour and mix together until a paste forms. This is a "roux" rhymes-with-boo. Let the roux cook for about 2 minutes or so.
Here's the tricksiest part, because you'll need either both hands or a helper. First, turn up the heat to high. With one hand, begin to pour in the broth/stock; and with the other hand whisk it into the roux. About half-way through (approximately one cup of broth/stock), stop pouring and smooth out the veloute. By "smooth out" I mean to let the sauce come to a boil and do the brisk whisk thang until thick and lump-free. Turn it down a little to keep from splattering. If there should be a smoothness malfunction, just strain out the lumps, no worries.
Add the rest of the stock, again, slowly while whisking and smooth it out as above. Let the veloute simmer for about 5-8 minutes to cook out the raw taste of the flour. Give it a stir now and again. Give two, they're small. Then mix in the seasoned artichoke puree and blend well.
Thin down the soup with the nonfat yogurt to the texture you like, and taste and re-season with the salt and white pepper. Once the yogurt has been added to the veloute, keep warm but do NOT bring it to a boil again or it may curdle.
Sliver the reserved artichoke hearts/bottoms, and put one or three in each portion; shprinkle on the chopped chives or parsley. Place gently two-three croutons and there ya are.
1. Drain artichokes and rinse. Reserve 2-3 bottoms.
2. Puree artichokes with small amount of stock and season.
3. Make veloute.
4. Mix together puree and veloute.
5. Thin with yogurt, season to taste, garnish, and serve.
MUSHROOM ROULADES WITH LEMON-ONION CONFIT
8 oz. mushrooms, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 tbsp. butter or butter-flavored margarine
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1 tsp. wild mushroom powder (that is, dried wild mushrooms ground into a
4 oz. goat cheese or cream cheese
1 scant tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. thyme
pinch of red pepper flakes
8 eggroll wrappers or more for seconds
vegetable oil for frying
Grind wild mushrooms into a powder in food processor, and remove powder. Chop/pulse first mushrooms and then onion in food processor coarsely.
Heat vegetable oil on medium-high heat and fry the mushrooms for about 90 seconds, stirring often. Add onion and continue to fry for another minute or so. Add garlic and dried mushroom powder and cook over high heat until the liquid has evaporated, another 5-7 minutes. Stir in the rest of the ingredients, down to eggroll wrappers. Check seasoning.
Take an eggroll wrapper, and lay flat on the counter. Place about 2 tbsp. of the duxelles in a line--make a fat log shape--on the upper edge of the wrapper, that's the one away from you. Not to the edge, but about 1/4" away from the top edge and maybe 1/2' away from the sides. Now roll burrito-style.
If you don't know how to do that, take the top edge of the wrapper and wrap it around the duxelle log. In one motion, tuck it under the log and give that a kind of backwards skooch to tighten the roll. Fold over the side edges and roll the log down, keeping the edges folded as you go. Take a bit of water, rub it on the bottom edge and finish rolling the roulade. Press the edge down to form a seam and set the roulade seam side down. Cover roulades with damp-ish towel until ready to fry.
Place enough oil in your pan to about 3/4" Heat until an edge of one of the roulades sizzles when dipped into it. CAREFULLY, with a tongs, place roulades in hot oil and fry for about one minute until the eggroll shell browns. Turn rolls and fry other side. The shell should be evenly browned and crisp, but if not, turn any "stripes" into the oil and finish.
Place a paper towel on a plate and drain/dry roulades of the excess oil.
Place a few tbsp. of the lemon-onion jam on the plate and place the roulades on top of that (with fried/breaded foods, the sauce goes under the item, not on top).
1. Grind wild mushrooms in food processor and remove powder.
2. Chop mushrooms, then onions in food processor.
3. Fry mushrooms briefly, then onions, add garlic and fry until almost dry.
4. Add rest of ingredients.
5. Form roulades
6. Shallow-fry rolls, drain, and serve with lemon-onion confit.
LEMON-ONION CONFIT (“JAM”)
Serves: 4-6, depending on quantity used
2 tbsp. oil
2 red onions, sliced
2 lemons, peeled and sliced into rounds
1 clove garlic, minced or 1/2 tsp. garlic-herb seasoning
1 cup red wine
2 bay leaves
1 scant tsp. "Italian seasoning" blend
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
Heat oil in frying pan, and toss onions in. Sweat onions as instructed before (see Basquaise).
While this is going on, Slice lemon rounds into quarters (first half moons, then those in half). Save juice and add to pan later.
When onions are schvitzed and limp, add the rest of the ingredients, including any lemon juice, and bring to a full and rolling boil. Thassa boil that cannot be stirred down. Turn down the boil to a high simmer (not quite boiling) and reduce jam until thick and reduced, stirring occasionally. Season to taste, and use with Mushroom Roulades.
ROMAINE SALAD WITH ROASTED BEETS and CANDIED WALNUTS
1 15 oz. can whole beets, drained
2 tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 cup walnut halves (to candy)
2 tbsp. sugar + 2 tsp.
1 qt. (4 cups) romaine lettuce leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
2 oz. blue cheese (optional)
Croutons (see Veloute, above, optional)
1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
5 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
big pinch "Italian seasoning" blend
First, let's get the beets roasting... You can do this the day before when you make the cake, even. Start oven or toaster oven to 375:F. Here's the hardest part: dry the beets with a paper towel. Now the second hardest part: cut the beets into quarters or halves if they look too small.
Toss the beet quarters in olive oil, and lay out on a tray in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and place in the oven for 40 minutes or so. Take 'em out and let cool, and that's that with that!!
While beets are merrily "sun-drying," let's candy the walnuts. Another day-before chore if you want. It only takes a moment so why not take care of the small stuff ahead of time? Put the walnuts in a small frying pan (but enuff room to move them around). Turn heat on high, and sprinkle with the sugar. Toss walnuts for about one minute, 90 seconds, until sugar melts and nut halves are glazed. Let cool.
Let's make the vinaigrette before assembling the salad, 'mmmkay? OK. Put the mustard into a small bowl and mix in olive oil slowly with a fork. Likewise with the vinegar and when blended, add the rest of the ingredients. You may need to mix this up again before dressing the salad.
Toss the greens, beets, and walnuts together in a bowl, add cheese chunks if using. Toss with vinaigrette and serve.
1. Roast beets.
2. Candy walnuts.
3. Make vinaigrette
4. Assemble salad, dress, and serve.
LEMON-POPPY “SPONGE” CAKE
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. lemon extract
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. poppy seeds
2 oranges, peeled and cut into rounds
3 tbsp. orange liqueur
Preheat oven to 350:F
Beat eggs until light and at least tripled in volume. Add sugar and beat until lemon-colored.
Add flour and baking powder and salt; mixture will be thick. Add extracts and poppy seeds.
Pour melted butter into the buttermilk--kinda like coals to Newcastle but there it is. Add to batter and mix. Be sure to mix thoroughly, because the batter at the bottom may be tardy to the party.
Pour batter into a greased loaf pan and bake at 350:F for about 45-50 minutes or until it tests done (that means, you push a thin-bladed knife in and when you pull it out, it's clean). Turn pan upside down onto a rack (this will make the steam rise and loosen the bottom for removal). Cool, loosen the edges with a blunt knife and then turn upside down
again to remove. Then slice. On each portion, put a couple orange slices and drizzle with orange liqueur. Add a mint sprig for fancy if you like.