Month: March 2013

Just a Simple Seder

About a week ago, my friend Lisa invited me to a 2nd night Passover Seder. I immediately got a little nervous because I wanted to go, but I tend to shy away from anything too religious. I had no idea what to expect, but, two things made me feel like it was going to be fine— it was a potluck, and everyone was asked to bring a bottle of wine. Seriously, two of my favourite things. 

I knew I didn’t have any cookbooks that covered Jewish celebrations or traditional foods, so this time I turned to the internet for a little guidance on what kinds of things would be appropriate to bring. I suspected this wouldn’t be the most Orthodox Seder, but I also didn’t want to offend anyone. I finally settled on a simple side dish of roasted root vegetables with balsamic vinegar. I’ll give you that “recipe” (if you want to call it that; it was so easy!) in just a few, but first, I think it’s important to share what made this night really special and meaningful to me— the fact that the observance is so tied to food.

Each food item on the Seder plate symbolizes a part of the Exodus story. Yes, even the wine—four cups of it in a traditional Seder observance. As we all took turns reading from a children’s book that walked us through the story of the Hebrews escape from Egypt, we partook of one of those symbolic foods, and I just got the strongest reminder of how closely a culture is tied to its food. These weren’t just random items on a plate, but each of them had a place in the story, and a meaning far beyond pure nourishment. 

The food that stood out to me most was the Charoset, which symbolizes the mortar used by the Israelites to make the bricks for Egyptian structures while they were slaves. The Charoset we had was made primarily from apples, with cinnamon and grape juice. I asked our hosts how the ingredients in the Charoset came to be— why those ingredients?  They told me that each country, and even each cook has his/her own take on what goes into their Charoset. That made sense to me, because the story is very clear about the fact that this group of people had to use what was available to celebrate the first Passover, so in one country it might be dates, figs, or apricots, while in another it’s apples, walnuts and cinnamon.

I borrowed a Passover cookbook from Lisa and I’m going to take a stab at making a couple different versions of Charoset later this week. Of course, I’ll share the results with all of you.

On a side note, just a quick word about Gefilte fish. Yes, I tried it. No, it wasn’t bad at all. I believe tonight it was laughingly referred to as “Jewish spam.” It’s not something I can imagine ever craving, but it certainly wasn’t anything close to the “awful” I’ve always heard it called. 

As for the roasted veggies…

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

Cut 2 fairly large parsnips, 3 medium sized golden beets, and about six rainbow carrots into medium sized chunks. You can actually use whatever root veggies you want for this dish, just try to get all the chunks about the same size so everything cooks in the same amount of time.

Arrange all your chunks of veggies on a sheet pan, drizzle fairly generously with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Toss it all together so each piece is coated, arrange into a single layer on the pan, and then pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes. When I pulled mine out of the oven, the knife would easily pierce the parsnips and went through the beets and carrots with just a teensy bit of resistance. Transfer all the veggies to whatever you’re going to serve them in, drizzle with about a tablespoon of decent quality balsamic vinegar, give it all another little toss, and serve. This can be served hot, right out of the oven, or at room temp. As an added bonus, all those roasting veggies made my apartment smell wonderful!

Dessert, Thy Name is Charlotte

You guys, I’m going to start out by asking you to remember something for me. If I tell you I want to make something with beef suet ever again, remind me to go back and read this post. At least it was cheap! Just 60 cents for half a pound. 

In case you’re curious, here’s what it looks like. I had to trim it up a bit because, as you can see, it still had some meat attached.


In case you’re not curious, pretend you didn’t see that.

We’ll talk more about the beef suet in a mo’, but before I walk you through tonight’s festivities, let me tell you about the recipe. It comes from the August-September 1930 issue of American Cookery— Formerly The Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. Seriously, that’s its whole name.


I’m not sure why you’d shorten the name of your magazine and then still go to all the trouble of printing the whole damn thing on the cover anyway, but I’m sure they had their reasons. Old timey reasons we’ll never understand because we live in this modern age of computers and Wonder Bras. 

If you are a cookbook collector or culinary history buff, you might recognize the Boston Cooking School in connection with Fannie Farmer, who wrote a fairly well-known cookbook called, naturally, the Boston Cooking School Cookbook (aka The Fannie Farmer Cookbook). I picked up seven issues (ranging from 1920 to 1930) of American Cookery a couple of years ago from an antique store in Denison, Texas. Maybe one of these days, I’ll dedicate a whole post to the great advertisements in these magazines. They’re awesome, and probably my favourite part of the magazines. Along with recipes, there are short stories and helpful articles for homemakers like, “How to furnish a home while paying for it.” That one was actually kind of insightful. 

Anyhoo… the recipe.

Crumb-and-Berry Charlotte

“Grease quite thickly the inside of a bowl or other mould of earthenware. Spread on the bottom one-half a cup of fine, stale crumbs, over these spread one cup of berries, then one-fourth a cup of fine shredded beef suet. Proceed thus until three layers of crumbs, fruit, and suet have been made. Beat three eggs, add one cup and one-half of milk, and one-half a cup of sugar (the mixture should be stirred until the sugar is dissolved) and pour over the contents of the bowl. Cover, and steam for an hour or until firm. Strew sugar over the top to the depth of about a quarter of an inch, and place under a gas flame until melted and brown. Serve either hot or cold with a custard sauce or one of melted jelly or sifted jam with whipped cream.”

The folks who wrote the recipes in American Cookery assume that they are dealing with someone who already has some basic cooking skills. It gives you the measurements, the steps, and that’s about it. No coddling here! If you don’t already know how to go about steaming something, or what beef suet is, or what sifted jam is, you’re on your own to find out. No pictures, either, to show you what it should look like during or after. Just cross your fingers and hope you don’t burn down the joint.

I was so excited to get the beef suet last night, I wanted to start right away. However, I realized that I would never be able to do anything with a bunch of floppy, greasy fat, so I froze it for 24 full hours, thinking that’d make it easier to grate. I guess back in the day, you could buy it pre-grated. Now, obviously, that kind of convenience is not available in “vintage” ingredients. You really gotta work for it. People, I bled for this stuff (aka, I cannot be trusted with a grater).


I grated for a really long time. I would grate and grate for 2 or 3 minutes, lift the grater, and find only a tablespoon or so of grated suet for my trouble. 

The more frustrated I got, the warmer I (and my hands) got, and then the fat started to thaw and get slimy. I kept having to stop and wash them because I was losing my grip on the grater and this handful of melty fat at which I was valiantly hacking away. I bought this eucalyptus-mint foaming kitchen soap from Bath & Body Works, which I thought sounded refreshing. Turns out, it kind of smells like a cross between men’s aftershave and a mojito. A Man-jito, if you will. I spent the last 30 minutes of grating daydreaming that I had a boyfriend. And also a cocktail. Or maybe a boyfriend who would mix me a cocktail. 

So.. yeah…

I will spare you too many more photographs of all the gross carnage in between. Let’s just suffice it to say that 45 minutes later, I finally had the 3/4 cup of grated beef suet that I needed for the recipe. 


After that things got pretty easy. I don’t really have a “mould of earthenware” (at least, I don’t think I do), so I just used this big casserole dish thing that looks like a giant ramekin. I followed the instructions in the recipe…ending up with three layers of breadcrumbs, berries, and suet, which all got drowned in the egg custard mixture.


I honestly wasn’t really sure how to steam something that large. I have a little steamer that I use for veggies and rice and whatnot, but it isn’t large enough to accommodate anything bigger than the steamer basket that came with it. So, I had to improvise with my giant stockpot and the bundt cake insert to my springform pan, which I used to keep the dish from touching the bottom of the pot.

In it went…


and an hour later here’s what it looked like:


I’m not sure if that looks appetizing or not. The berries smelled good. I also couldn’t tell if those little pools of liquid were melted beef suet or liquid from the berries, or both, and I’m honestly not sure how I feel about that. Hold me!


So then the recipe says I’m supposed to cover the top with a quarter inch (does that sound like a lot to anyone else?) of sugar, and put it under a gas flame. Well, I’m in an apartment in Denver, Colorado, and they don’t really make many apartment kitchens with gas ranges or ovens here very often anymore, so I used the broiler setting in my electric oven (always a dangerous proposition in a 530 square foot apartment). A brulee torch would probably work, but I don’t have one, so there. (My birthday is in September. HINT.) 

Here’s the final result:


Truth be told, all that suet grating and bleeding kind of left me a little bit exhausted, so I did not make any sifted jam or custard sauce. I threw a little vanilla Greek yogurt on the plate and called it good. 


And now the real question… how’s it taste?


Not bad. Not like a hamburger, like dessert. I had no idea plain old bread crumbs would become anything cake like, just by pouring some custard over them. Whodathunk? Seriously, though, that was a lot of work to get dessert, and it’s just the teensiest bit greasy. Not overly so, but after all that, I honestly can’t tell you what the beef suet added. It’s not an overly rich dessert at all. 

Flavour-wise, I’d say it tastes “pretty good.” Not too sweet. The flavour of the berries really comes through, which is nice. I think if I made this again, I’d probably use maybe half a cup more fruit, and a little less fat. I’d just go ahead and use butter, but definitely not a full 3/4 of a cup of it. I would also add just a little vanilla to the custard mixture.

After all the suet grating, it came together awfully fast. In fact, if you take out the drama and gore of the the beef suet, this would actually be a pretty easy dessert recipe for a weeknight dinner or potluck.

Especially if you had a brulee torch. HINT.

I’m pretty pleased, all in all, with my first little culinary adventure. It was kind of fun hunting down an unusual ingredient, and in the process of explaining why I wanted it I had to explain what I’m doing with the blog, and that sparked a lot of interesting culinary conversation. I really want this blog to be about more than just flipping through a cookbook and finding a recipe, but as a vehicle to learn, and talk to people, and tell whoever’s reading this about new cooking methods, cuisines, and ingredients as I discover them. 

So kids, we ate dessert first. Next time, I will make something savory, and maybe I’ll dig up a fun little cocktail recipe to go with it. 

(Not a mojito. For that, I can just smell my hands.) 


Kickin’ it Old School: In which Jordan tries to find an ingredient no one has ever heard of…

I’ve picked the recipe with which I’d like to start off this blog. I’m not going to share too much just yet, but I’ll maybe gross you out a little give you a hint by telling you that it’s a dessert and the recipe (a pretty old one, circa 1930!) calls for beef suet. I’ll be cooking tomorrow and you’ll get all the details then. However, I didn’t want to spend all your precious recipe reading and picture viewing time tomorrow with a tutorial on “What is beef suet?” So, I’ll just give you the lowdown in advance so that tomorrow we can carry on with the business of cooking. Sound like a plan? Good.


Beef suet is fat that comes from, as you might have guessed, a cow. More specifically, from around the loin and kidney part of a cow. When we think of beef, and cows, we imagine savory things. It’s counter intuitive to think of it as a dessert ingredient. However, in the “olden days,” beef or mutton suet was used for lots of things other than getting a good sizzle out of a steak…candle making or bird feeders, as well as the fat component in pastries, puddings (steamed, bready things of which the Brits are so fond, not the Jello instant kind), and pies. Many mincemeat pie recipes call for beef suet, even to this day. 

Why wouldn’t I just use butter or shortening? Trust me, I Googled “substitutions for beef suet” and every other iteration of that little query. A few sites gave me permission to use another type of solid fat, agreeing that if you’ve never heard of beef suet until trying to find it for a recipe it might seem a little… well… weird. However, even the articles I read that reluctantly agreed that there could be a substitution cautioned that whatever I made would absolutely not taste the same. If I skipped the suet on the first try, I would never know the difference, and therefore probably never know what I was missing. 

That idea is not comforting to me. I wanted to know what I was missing, dammit! So, as I often do when I need some weirdo ingredient no one ever actually uses anymore, I paid a visit to my local Whole Foods. It took me three tries, but eventually I found a nice guy back in the meat department who knew what i was talking about, totally got why nothing else would work, and promised to order some beef suet for me. Hopefully, I’ll have it tomorrow and I can tackle this recipe armed, not only with all the right ingredients, but the peace of mind that comes from knowing I’m making the recipe exactly as its original author intended. 

Fingers crossed that by this time tomorrow I can update with a little show and tell on my foray into the wonderful world of “American Cookery” (another very obscure hint)… and also, dessert that doesn’t taste like a hamburger.