Fall, Dinner, Holiday

Matzoh Diaries #2

You’ve read the prequel,
now onto the main event.

Matzoh Making!

After I cleared the flour hurdles, I had one more rule to consider:
Matzoh must be made in under 18 minutes. According to the Talmud, the leavening process begins after water and flour have been in contact for 18 minutes, and leavened bread is exactly what we’re trying to avoid on Passover.

I knew that my mix would have to include some oat flour, much to my chagrin. In order to fulfill the commandment in the Torah, matzoh must be made from one of these five grains: wheat, spelt, rye, barley or oat. Knowing oat flour’s penchant for dusty textures and its preference for the crumbly over the crisp, I decided to use it for only half of my flour blend. I had hoped this would mitigate its more unfortunate character flaws.

I was wrong. The first batch was 50% oat flour and 50% quinoa flour-it had an irritatingly sour taste. I obviously poured scorn onto the oat flour, blaming it for the poor taste and thoroughly un-crisp texture, but I was mistaken. Well, partially mistaken. There were, in fact, two villains in this culinary caper. As a firm believer in tasting all ingredients, I pinched some quinoa flour into my mouth and discovered the source of the unfortunate bitterness.

I apologized to the oat flour for my quick condemnation and scurried the quinoa flour away for another day (perhaps it would lend a good flavor to my sourdough…).

After round one, the flour blends became distinctly more complex. I found that there were several features of matzoh I was trying to mimic, and each time I conquered one, I lost another to the abyss. I wanted my matzoh to be easily rolled out, crisp, and relatively neutral in taste. I also knew that what I’d be producing would have much more in common with shmura matzo than with its angular, commercially produced brother we see on most grocery store shelves. It would, of course, not be white.

The amount of oat flour in my blend began to drop as I realized its only redeeming quality was a name drop in the bible. Buckwheat stepped in when I wanted to use sorghum, providing some backbone and crunch to the cracker. Then, as I rounded the bend of blend #5, things got sticky. Literally. The dough was incredibly difficult to roll out, partially due to excess water, but mostly the fault of tapioca flour. I was getting nostalgic (a potential kitchen chemistry killer) and tried to lighten the color of the matzoh by adding in more tapioca flour.

And it was a mistake.

I liked the taste of the un-rollable cracker #5, but knew it was terribly impractical to release a recipe that was more mess than success. On a whim I began using potato flour, a staple in the “kosher for Passover” kitchen. What a joy it was to roll batch #6! It was springy and didn’t stick to the table or the rolling pin. I could roll it so very thinly without much trouble and then slide it into the oven without it splitting and tearing. A true joy.

And then it came out of the oven. Ugh.

I had certainly solved the rolling issue, but in the course of tackling that beast, I lost control of the flavor wagon. This new batch tasted distinctly of potato flour, not terribly unpleasant in and of itself, but far to un-neutral. It would simply stand out too much, everyone invited to dinner would wonder about its ingredients. To get the flavor under control without losing the supreme rollability of batch #6 I began incrementally cutting back the potato flour.

And then another thought struck me (bluntly as they usually do)-what about using an additional potato product to improve the texture? My love affair with tapioca dashed to pieces, I felt no hesitation adding another starch into the blend (tapioca is a jealous lover, very absorbent in baking). I tossed some potato starch into my mix and rolled out batch #8. When it came out of the oven I knew I was on the right track. One more batch to finalize the proportions and I was finished!

Now, as you look through the recipe you will notice there are five different flours in this final blend. Do not distress! If you don’t already have them on hand, these are all ingredients you will use for other gluten free baking adventures. And trust me-I would not have needlessly made a complicated blend. If I could make matzoh that was easy to roll out, crisp and distinctly flavor neutral with only two flours I would have. But I am chasing perfection (more dangerous than Chasing Amy), and that has led me to this point.

As for the baking, do it on a pizza stone and you are guaranteed the scorched flavor of traditionalshmura matzoh. Spending only 4-5 minutes in the oven, the baking is the easiest part of this journey.

Stick around for the next installation of The Matzoh Diaries: Matzoh Balls!

No joke. 
I really make them.
And so will you.

Fall, Holiday

Matzoh Diaries #1

 will not be satisfied until I master gluten free matzoh.

I’ve had a list of hurdles in the back of my recipe box for years, and with Prince on the radio and a clean apron around my waist I’ve been able to fly past a number of those gates. Biscotti, an easy win. Almond Genoise Cake? Significantly more challenging. As I shaved down the list, one contender remained brooding and defiant in the corner.

Gluten Free Matzoh.

This journey began four months ago. I knew I’d need some help in the biblical department so I called upon my favorite rabbi (don’t we all have one?), Rabbi Deborah Bronstein. While we discussed the challenge she dropped this rabbinical gem: “The gluten free matzoh on the market that is kosher for Passover is oat-I’ve tasted it and if anything is the “bread of affliction” described in the bible, this is it.”

Growing up with the commercially available gluten free oat matzoh, I knew exactly what Rabbi Bronstein meant when she referred to it as the “bread of affliction.” Chalky barely hints at the dessicated texture, but the real offense comes at the checkout line. Gluten free oat moatzoh regularly prices in at $20-25 per box. Passover is all about retelling the story of suffering in exodus, but this seems to take the idea a little too far.

Since I was bouncing between New York and Boulder, Rabbi Bronstein and I conversed through email to hammer out all the rules. Here’s what I knew: All bean and rice flours would be off limits. Sephardic Jews (mostly of Mediterranean ancestry) eat legumes and rice during Pesach, but Ashkenazi Jews (mostly of Easter European descent) do not. I wanted this recipe to work for as many people as possible, so I planed to make something Ashkenazi Kosher.

I ran my list of potential flours by Rabbi Bronstein and she gave most of the alternatives a thumbs-up. The few flours that made the no-no list, however, were devastating. Sorghum and Millet were off limits. I needed some explanation, so Rabbi Bronstein brought in a heavy hitter-Reb. Zalman (even rabbis have favorite rabbis). Here’s what Reb. Zalman had to say about Sorghum: “Sorghum remains in doubt to me since it is a grass, thus related to wheat. Yet what is rice if not a grass? So the question remains, is oneyotze with rice? I think not with Sorghum Matzoh.”

I wanted some clarification on the meaning of yotze from Rabbi Bronstein, so she helped me out with this: “Reb. Zalman asks: Can one be yotze, that is, has one fulfilled the mitzvah of eating matzoh at the seder by eating matzoh made of something unclear which may be related to rice? Reb. Zalman rules no.”

With Sorghum out of bounds I knew I’d be up against a wall when it came to texture. Still, Buckwheat, Tapioca, Arrowroot, Potato Starch, Potato Flour and Quinoa were all safe, so I had plenty of room to play. I thought I was ready to strap on an apron and get in the kitchen when I received one more cryptic rule from Reb. Zalman: “For matzoh to be yotze you will need a grain in the mix…”

I did some research and learned that fulfilling the biblical commandment of eating matzoh during Passover meant that the cracker had to be made from one of five grains: Wheat, Barley, Spelt, Rye or Oat. On that list only one flour is gluten free, and it happens to be my least favorite baking alternative. Oat.

The very thought of oat matzoh conjures a dry mouth and a heavy stomach. But the matzoh didn’t have to be all oat flour, it just needed some in the mix to fulfill the commandment.

I like challenges.
Game. On.


Cupdate Cakes

I’ve been working on Cupcakes since March 8th, 2007.

Yes. These took a while. 
See, March 8th marks the birthday of the woman who introduced me to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Obviously an important person, a geek in arms. 

We will call this woman “Britt.”
Because that is her name.

Here is a list of things Britt loves:
Harley Quinn
Of Montreal
The Real World
South Park

Britt is a cartoonist, and the wonderful instructional guide to the right is courtesy of her. Britt and I lived together for a year when I moved to New York, and there is no singular person from whom I have learned so much about cooking. I’m sure you had no idea that asparagus boiled in Budweiser was palatable.

It is not.
Of course, Britt and I still argue this point.

Anyways, Britt’s birthday was fast approaching and I wanted to make something extra delicious for my cartoon comrade. Mere cupcakes would not suffice, so I looked for inspiration and ripped a page from Madame De Laurentiis’ book and baked up a round of almond cupcakes. Knowing that Britt would rip the top off the cupcake and invert it, I decapitated each cake and plastered the top back on with a dollop of raspberry whipped cream. The cakes were then stacked on a platter in a giant pyramid and dusted with powdered sugar. A birthday celebration fit for a queen. Queen Britt.

And so, since March 8th, 2007, when I made a tray of lovely princess-y cupcakes for Britt’s b-day, I’ve been thinking of making a gluten free and dairy free version for myself.

Because I was jealous.

I wanted to make gluten free cupcakes as light and delicious as the platter I prepared for Britt, and the experimentation has led me down some horrible paths. Consider, for instance, the batch that began to leech out its oil. Once out of the oven, their tops rejected the oil I had mistakenly thought to be baked into the batter, which left me with vile little grease cakes. Of course, in correcting this mistake I accidentally swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. This time? It seems I had invented foam rubber. Now these cakes had some interest factor. I held one in the palm of my hand, closed my hand (crushing the cake completely) and when I opened my fist, the cake re-inflated, like some perverse stress ball.

I’m sure school children would have loved them-take a bite, stuff it in your pocket, pull it out an hour later and it’ll show no signs of distress.


Why am I even telling you about the mistakes?
Because here at Renegade Kitchen I make the mistakes so you can make the food.

The final cupcakes are awesome.

Get ready for the Pretty in Pink Valentine’s Day post.
You might gag it’ll be so cute.

Please don’t.

Dinner, Fall, Holiday

Thanksgiving 2009 Part 2

The table was full.

With Family, Friends and Food.
(the most important “F’s” in the world)

OK-You’ve no doubt read all about the dangers of baking in an unfamiliar oven from my last post. If you haven’t, click here.
The desserts emerged beautifully, despite the early trouble with a flaming oven, and knowing that the oven was going to be difficult, I approached my next task with wisdom and patience.

Well, I tried.

Once dessert was prepped, the tarts were set aside to cool so I could wrap them and slide their lovely buns in the freezer to hang out for a few days. This meant I could get to work on my Holiday Spiced Nuts. If you haven’t checked out the Renegade Spiced Nuts yet, you should, they are delicious.  But I wanted to make something different for the holiday so I started to brainstorm.

The storm was barely a drizzle until I was shopping with my sister (at the Park Slope Food Co-op) and happened to find whole candied oranges and lemons from Spain.  I know I should have shunned something flown in across the ocean in favor of a locally produced delicacy BUT I AM LIKE A RACCOON AND INEFFABLY DRAWN TO SHINY PRETTY THINGS.

Really though, as soon as I saw the candied citrus, my brain drizzle upgraded to a full blown brain tropical storm and I knew how I’d update my Spiced Nuts for Thanksgiving.  To balance the sweetness of the oranges I punched up my usual spice mixture with extra paprika, loads of cumin, fresh shallots and sesame seeds.  And then, just to beat a dead horse and proclaim yet again that it was Thanksgiving, I added dried cranberries and pepitas to the mix.

Alright, table snack done, time to move onto my experimental relish.  This is the dish I know my sister was least interested in seeing on the final table, and the dish I was most unabashedly looking forward to trying.

I vaguely like cranberry sauce.  I refuse to eat it from a can, but as long as it’s homemade, I generally like it.
I also generally want to alter it in some way that is blasphemous to traditionalists like my sister.  Which is why I promised her that the cranberry relish I would be making was not a replacement to her sauce, but rather, an addition to the condiment table for then night.
I toyed with various spiced cranberry sauces in my head, and then realized that what I really wanted was something cold. Yes, I did not want warm jam-like sauce on my turkey, I wanted something crisp, cold and biting.

I wanted a pickle.

I pickled red onions and cranberries in cider vinegar and spiced it with cumin, cinnamon, clove and celery seed.

And I love it.  The relish is certainly not for the feint of heart.  But it is the most beautiful color and cuts through Turkey like a chainsaw in butter.

After that I moved to my sister’s place (everything above was prepared at my parent’s apartment).  I loaded up two mega shopping bags (the kind you really only find in New York) and trekked my gear over to Terri’s place in Park Slope. At her place I really only had one task-make stuffing.

Yes, this year would mark a first for our family, we’d have our stuffing and eat it too.  I had super bizarro plans for my stuffing, which I gladly put aside to make a traditional stuffing my sister would love. In fact, that was the main goal. I like stuffing and was looking forward to eating it, but it would mean nothing if my sister did not enjoy it.

I will preface the rest of the story with the fact that she did indeed enjoy the stuffing.

I had made two loaves of bread back in Colorado which I froze and flew with me to New York.  Yes, I flew with two loaves of bread.  I wasn’t going to make this with boring GF bread from the market. I wanted to use my lovely egg bread.  Recipe coming.  Duh.

The stuffing was uber traditional, celery, onion, mushroom, bread and a ton of carmelized onions, which I must say, were my favorite part.

Ah, I almost forgot-

There were potatoes.
My sister made whipped sweet potatoes with maple and I worked on the white potato for the evening.
Now, I’m sure you will agree with me that there is no better white potato than the Yukon Gold.  I decided to smash them with an herb infused oil and gobs of roasted garlic. The result was a bowl full of pale green potatoes spiked with caramelly garlic.  I loved it.
(side note, the potatoes were amazing fried the next morning underneath some eggs over easy)

From here I turned the stage over to my sister, who prepares a most beautiful bird, if I do say so myself.  She seasoned it with garlic and sage, stuffed with an orange, roasted and basted over carrots and parsnips.  My sister’s turkey was everything I look forward to on Thanksgiving.

We rounded out the meal with some roasted brussels sprouts and some sauteed green beans with lemon and pinenuts, set everything on the table and prepared to give thanks.

I hope your Thanksgiving left you full to the brim with Family, Friends and Food, thanks for reading!

Holiday, Fall, Dinner

Thanksgiving 2009 Part 1


The biggest American gustatory holiday.


So what happens when we take Renegade Kitchen out of Colorado and drop it in New York?

This is what happens.

Now in addition to making everything free of gluten, dairy and processed sugar, this meal had to be prepped between two different kitchens. Yeah. And we’re not talking large, modern, crisp kitchens.

These are New York kitchens.

Small, cramped, old appliances, older smells.

But that’s what makes this a Renegade Thanksgiving, right?

The prep. began in Manhattan, where my parents have a place. I tried to get as much done there as possible, because the final destination (my sister’s apt.) is even smaller in the kitchen. Working in a different kitchen was like wearing someone else’s dress to prom. Everything turned out fine, but “getting dressed” was a trip.

With the prep. list split between two kitchens (one in Brooklyn, one in Manhattan), my sister and I had the Herculean task of synchronizing shopping lists.

Which mostly worked.

And also made for days of two and three trips to Fairway.


Plan of action?

Anything that can be made ahead of time MUST be made ahead of time.

I started with dessert (it should always come first). Our menu planning had determined we’d definitely be needing multiples of everything. 13 people were coming to this feast. With that in mind I knew one tart would never be enough (is it ever?). The Caramelized Apple Tart would be lovely and seasonal and someone was bringing a pumpkin pie, which really just left a gaping hole in the dessert train that could only be plugged with chocolate.

Thinking it would be easiest to double the tart crust recipe and figure out another fruit filling, I set to work.

And this is what happens when you work in a tiny kitchen with ovens made in 1965.

Everything started out perfectly.

And then the crusts went in the oven.

It seems that the oven in my parent’s apartment is fueled by neither electricity nor gas, but rather, the raging fires of Hades. The tart shells burned from raw to ash in about 7 minutes (they normally cook for 15-20).

Obviously there was no way I could serve tart crusts forged in the Inferno, so I started over, scrapping the ash and moving forward with a wary eye on my new friend, the ancient, uncalibrated oven. Next up? Duh. Filling. The apple tart was set, frangipane, caramelized apples, beautiful.

But what to do with the other tart shell?

Obviously it needed chocolate, but what else?

I pretended I’d be seasonal for a hot second and then, after debates with my mother, realized that I wanted little more than chocolate and bananas (dressed up of course, this is a holiday). So, I took my regular frangipane recipe and replaced the almonds with hazelnuts, and added dark chocolate to the mix, blending together a heavenly spread to fill the other tart shell.

I topped the chocolate hazelnut tart with sauteed bananas. It was spectacular. You’ll get the recipe soon enough.

Want to see more? Check back for the next installation of our Thanksgiving Special. I’m hungry now. So I’m turning off the computer and turning on the stove.

I’ll try not to burn anything.