puu's passover challenge, day 1

growing up, i absolutely dreaded this time of year--which is really a tragedy because it's only now that the flowers begin to bud, the grass gets greener, the skies are bluer and the sun is more willing to come out and play. but ultimately i have to agree with t.s. eliot: april is the cruelest month.

although i doubt he and i use similar criteria when making that determination.

for me, it's all about passover. the dreaded eight days of the year when nothing containing or derived from chametz is permissible in a jewish kitchen. when i was little, we would take it seriously--up to a point. we'd expunge all of the flour, cereal, cookies and above all (and, in my opinion, most difficult to do without) corn syrup. and this would work for a few days, until my mother would inevitably get tired of my sister and i complaining about dinner, and would take us out for mcdonald's so long as we promised to get a hamburger and not eat the bun. my dad, usually around six days into the affair, would be so sick from the unleavened matzo that he would usually declare an end to our passover observation early.

passover was all about a damp matzo sandwich hiding in my lunch box--made damp from the sandwich meat, or the peanut butter, or whatever ingredient was selected in a futile attempt to give the stuff some flavor. it was about a matzo "pizza" or melting a piece of cheese over a few matzo crackers (again, with the dampness) and not being able to eat real pizza at my best friend's house when her mom would offer to have one delivered. by the time i was in high school and college, things had degenerated to a point where passover had turned into a sort of week-long fast. my weight, already on the dangerously skinny side, would drop even more after 8 days of near-starvation.

all of this changed when i learned how to cook, about two years ago. passover turned into this sort of challenge. i began to see that there are some interesting ways to adapt existing recipes for unleavened consumption. and i began to see that in comparison with lent, or greek orthodox lent, going atkins for a week wasn't really so bad--or difficult--in the long run.

that doesn't mean i've gotten any more amenable toward the deprivation, just that this year i decided to take a more pragmatic approach to the week. i began with my "spring sanity restoration project"--a multi-day, 3-page-to-do-list sort of spring cleaning, starting in the kitchen and working my way around the apartment (this, incidentally, is still under way, with a revised and expanded to-do list, over a week after its inception). i decided to pull out as many healthy and meatless recipes as i could manage (although i've already abandoned this in favor of using up some of the really high-quality meat i've been collecting from farmers' markets in an attempt to clean out the fridge and freezer), plan my menus carefully, do some good food shopping and even attempt some passover baking.

i'm pleased to report that after day 1, i'm doing a pretty good job. the kitchen is clean and organized, if not chametz-free. the fridge is empty except of all essentials. i wrote out a very detailed shopping list and stuck to it. and last night, in lieu of a seder, i made an israeli passover recipe i found on epicurious.com with great success.

and the baking? my passover brownies taste good enough to eat throughout the year. but i confess that i got a little over-decadent--i used the leftover scharffen-berger unrefined cocoa powder for the brownies. normally, i would never waste such a precious commodity on a mere brownie, but i figured that passover brownies could use all the help they could get! (this cocoa might not have been strictly KFP, but i figured that it stayed within the spirit of the halakha and was therefore acceptable)

roasted chicken with pomegranate sauce and potato rosti

For sauce
1 cup bottled pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar

For poussins
cut-up pieces of chicken (i used a butterflied breast, a thigh and a drumstick)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon crumbled saffron threads
3/4 cup roasted walnuts
2 tablespoons or more vegetable oil, for frying

For rösti:
6 baby yukon gold potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil

Make sauce
In small saucepan over moderately high heat, whisk together 1 cup water, pomegranate juice, and sugar. Bring to boil and cook, uncovered, until thick and syrupy, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Make chicken
Preheat oven to 375°F.

Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry. Cut out necks if attached and discard. In small bowl, whisk together salt, cumin, turmeric, pepper, and saffron. Sprinkle chicken with spice mixture; press to adhere.

Set large roasting pan on stove top, straddling two burners. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in 2 batches, sear chicken until well browned, about 5 minutes per side, transferring as done to large platter and adding more oil as needed. Return chicken to pan and pour pomegranate syrup over.

Roast 15 minutes. Baste chicken with pan juices and scatter walnuts around. Roast, basting occasionally, until instant-read thermometer inserted into 1 thigh (avoiding bone) registers 170°F, about 15 minutes more.

While chicken is roasting, make rösti
In large bowl, stir together grated potato, rosemary, salt, and pepper. In heavy 10-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until hot but not smoking. Pour in 1/2 potato batter and lightly press to form even layer that completely fills pan. Cook, without moving, until underside is browned, about 12 minutes. Invert large plate over skillet and flip pancake onto plate. Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet, then slide pancake back, uncooked side down, into skillet. Cook until underside is golden brown, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm, then repeat process with remaining oil and potato batter to make second pancake.

Cut into wedges and serve with chicken.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

i also added a blood orange relish as a topper for the rosti. either i have really bad blood oranges (a definite possibility) or i just don't get into making sweet fruit into savory condiments, but the flavor combination was pretty interesting and definitely went well with the pomegranate.

(adapted from a treasury of jewish holiday baking and the chocolate cake doctor)

2 cups granulated or brown sugar
1 cup ( 2 sticks) unsalted butter or unsalted Passover margarine, melted and cooled
3 eggs
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 scant cup matzoh cake meal
1/2 cup chocolate chips (not strictly KFP, i admit)
1/4 seedless raspberry jam, or seeded jam that has been melted and strained

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 7 by 10-inch rectangular baking pan, a 9-inch square pan, or an 8- or 9-inch springform pan.

In a bowl, mix the sugar into the melted butter, then the eggs, cocoa, salt, cake meal, and toasted walnuts, if using.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Drop the jam, approximately a teaspoon at a time, across the surface of the batter. Using a butterknife, swirl the jam into the batter and bake for about 25 minutes. Do not overbake. The brownies should be set and seem dry to the touch, but there should not be a crust around the sides. Cool in the pan. Cut into squares or (if baked in a round pan) into wedges.


Quellia said...

Happy Passover Puu! I wish you luck in the week ahead (we have several friends going through the same thing - one called me today and asked what she could use to make chocolate sauce that didn't involve dairy!) May your passover be a healthy one!

Freya and Paul said...

The chocolate brownies seem like they might help you through those 8 days!

Peabody said...

April is cruel...but only because it gives me allergies!

valentina said...

I so admire the type of 'commitment' you describe here. I am a very lousy catholic but I remember my grandmother on my mom's side really respecting lent. Put me to shame.The only thing I stick to is not eating meat on Good Frida. On a different note, I really love the idea of pomegranate juice for the chicken. Sounds delicious!!