Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homemade Yogurt -- Worth the Bother

 Homemade Greek-style yogurt with strawberry-habanero jam

Inspired by an April 2012 primer by Megan O. Steintrager on, I recently made several batches of homemade yogurt.  Without specialized equipment (apart from a good thermos), I was able to turn out yogurt that tasted the way it did when I was a kid (and didn't like it): really really tangy.

I started, as recommended, by making a batch of whole-milk yogurt with pasteurized (not ultra) organic milk.  The taste was great but it was too liquid to be very useful.  Next I made a batch of Greek-style yogurt from the same milk, and it came out beautifully creamy with the same wonderful tang.  The Greek-style variation involves straining the milk through a cheese-cloth lined colander overnight in the refrigerator. (For a somewhat more liquid version, stop the straining after one hour.)

Emboldened by my earlier success, I made a batch of Greek-style using 2% organic pasteurized milk.  Perfect texture, although the taste (not surprisingly) was less creamy than for the whole milk version; still, it's a good compromise.

I am not swearing off Greek-Style yogurt from the supermarket (my favorite is Fage), which is very good and comes ready-made.  However, if I have the small amount of time it takes to make it, I plan to keep a supply of homemade yogurt on hand.

Bobby Jay

Monday, April 16, 2012

En passant (5) . . . Kitchen Utensils

I have way too many kitchen gadgets. Lots of them sound good, but don't do much, and I never throw away the useless ones and end up wasting space. But some really do earn a place in the kitchen. Here are a few.

Danish Whisk

I learned of this device from my favorite food blogger, Clotilde. It's good for batters and doughs, especially those, like bread doughs, that are a bit difficult to plow through with a wooden spoon. This is not a necessity -- your hands can do equally well -- but a nice convenience. Available from King Arthur Flour for $14.95.

Parrot's Beak Paring Knife

When I bought a set of inexpensive Victorinox paring knives, this one was included. I didn't understand what it was for and didn't use it until recently. What a revelation. You have total control over the knife and can cut slices of soft or medium-hard products (e.g. cheese, small vegetables) with great ease and precision. I feel like Jacques Pépin when I use it. Available all over for about $10.

Lemon Squeezer

Some people don't like this device, but I use mine all the time, for lemons and limes. It gets all the available juice out of the fruit without the seeds. What's more, you can use it to produce exact measurements, by weight or by tea- or tablespoon. Don't get the lime one (too small) or the orange one (too big and there are other solutions for oranges). Available all over for under $10.

Bobby Jay

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Macarons vs. Macaroons

Readers of this blog will know that I adore macarons, French cookies consisting of almond meringues surrounding a creamy filling. I recently made a bunch of my best ones -- lavender orange (courtesy of Cannelle et Vanille) -- for a cousin who had invited me to dinner. As it's still Passover, these flourless delicacies are appropriate as well as delicious.

Lavender Orange Macarons 

But what we grew up with were Passover macaroons, a whole 'nother thing. These are confections made of syrupy grated coconut, often flavored with chocolate, formed into little mountains. They come in cans, and are really not great, at least for adults. A recent post by David Lebovitz gave a recipe for pineapple coconut macaroons, so I made a batch to see if homemade ones would be worth eating. They came out quite beautiful, if I say so myself, and have an interesting taste as a result of the pineapple's sweet/tart notes. By the way, these are French, too, called rochers à la noix de coco, or rochers coco for short.

Pineapple-Coconut Macaroons

So macarons or macaroons? For me, it's easy (the former), but there is room in the world for both.

Bobby Jay

Adventure in Little Egypt

My friend John and I shared a food adventure in Queens this week, going to the famed Kabab Café in the tiny Egyptian enclave on Steinway Street (it's at number 25-12).

Kabab Cafe
Things are pretty relaxed at the Kabab cafe. Upon arriving at the restaurant at 1:00 PM, the purported opening time, the owner, Ali Rahman, was cleaning his oven and informed us that he would not open until that task was completed, estimated to be 20-25 minutes. So we went next door to the Nile Deli to see what an Egyptian market was like. Apart from the many hookas on display, the Nile contains a wealth of Middle Eastern products, chickpeas and favas in every possible form, tahinis, etc. A fascinating side trip.

Nile Deli
By the end of our little detour, the Café was ready to open, so we went in. After a Paris-length interval, Ali approached us and we began to chat about what we might eat. Ali, a warm and humble man, sizes up the customers during this preliminary interview and makes appropriate suggestions. We ended up with a plate of assorted mezze with fava bean falafel, a vegetable salad, and small plates of lamb parts: we had brains (looked and tasted like a very tender schnitzel) and sweetbreads (perfectly browned outside and tender in the middle). We passed on the liver and the testicles. All was well-prepared and we enjoyed the mild but pungent spice profile. (A spicy homemade seven-pepper sauce is available to kick up the flavors to those – me included – who so desire.) Abundant mint tea and pita accompanied and enhanced the meal.

Laziza Pastries
Leaving, we passed by the nearby Lebanese pastry shop, Laziza, where John bought a mixed batch of miniature pastries in the baklava mode: various configurations of nuts and honey in filo. All very tasty and a perfect counterpoint to the Egyptian seasoning still occupying our mouths.

Queens is the ultimate melting pot today. Nearly every nationality is represented there, and enjoying their foods is the best way to partake of other people’s cultures. Well worth the trip.

Bobby Jay

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Passover Seder 2012

Our Seder Plate

Our family's Seder migrated to our apartment this year, after countless years at my in-laws' home. The important thing about the Seder, of course, is the opportunity for a family to gather together from disparate places to catch up on the year's events and to celebrate its family-ness. Then there is the recounting of the stirring story of the Jews exodus from Egypt, which links us to our ancestors through a thousands-of-years-old tradition. Finally, there is the meal, which generally involves multi-generational cooperation and preparation and consumption of enormous quantities of family favorites. Our Seder was no exception.

Here's the menu, all presented at tables magnificently set and flowered by my wife Joan:

2012 Passover Menu

Hors d'Oeuvres Charred eggplant (Ottolenghi, Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

  • Tapenade (Jacques Pépin, Essential Pépin)
  • Matzo Flour Gougères (Clotilde, Chocolate & Zucchini, Essential Pépin)
  • Artichoke hearts in oil and lemon (Poopa Dweck, Aromas of Aleppo)


  • Naomi’s chunky charoses
  • Heidi’s spectacular matzo ball soup
  • Gefilte fish with smoked whitefish (Bon Appétit, April 2002)
  • Chicken tagine with two lemons (Elizabeth Bard, Lunch in Paris)
  • Quinoa with pomegranate seeds (oops, forgot them), almonds and parsley (yes, it's kosher for passover, neither a grain nor a legume)
  • Ina’s incomparable brisket


  • Ina’s plum sponge cake (from an ancient New York Times recipe)
  • Vicki’s delicious assorted cookies and bars
  • Winter fruit compote with cognac and crème fraîche (Laura Calder)

A good time was had by all, and I look forward to an even better Seder in 2013.

Bobby Jay