Archive for October, 2010|Monthly archive page

Summer? It’s in the bag!

In Tips and Hints on October 27, 2010 at 11:00 am

Homemade MRE: "Meal - Really Excellent"

A vacuum sealer falls into the category of “things you never gave much thought to until you have one”.

Freezing has always been my favourite way to preserve foods.  I guess that is because I have always mentally characterized canning as rural-American Russian Roulette…

…”I wonder if this jar will be the one containing the extra fun of botulism?”

Vacuum sealing facilitates one of my summertime passions; meat rubs and barbecue.  Unfortunately, I now live in the America’s weather answer to the Ukraine…Iowa.  For almost six frozen months of every year, my smoker and grill lie dormant.

By the time spring arrives with its first warm grilling day, I used to be as meat-deprived as the only surviving vegetarian member of the Donner Party.

The FoodSaver vacuum sealer put an end to the mid-January onset of my barbecue Jones.

All summer long, my smoker and grill turn out pounds of smoked brisket, barbecued chicken quarters, and hamburgers; each seasoned with my own rubs.

The finished meats are set on a medium-sized baking sheet and placed in the freezer for about 30 minutes.  Meat juices and fatty liquids are not friends to vacuum sealers and the freezing solidifies the juices and fats in the meat.

After the meat has set, I quickly vacuum pack the nearly frozen meat, label the sealed bag, and toss it into the freezer.

These (pre-portioned!) meats are perfect for lunches year-round and are just the ticket to the tastes of summer when the snow is tukkes-deep.  You simply defrost the meats in the sealed bag, with their juices.  The meats can even be fully reheated in the bags if you stand close by to monitor the heating process.

I have blind-tested grilled meats stored this way against freshly grilled meats (oh the sacrifices we make for science).  The result?  Okay, it is not perfect.  But the meat has all of the character of grilled meat that cannot be reproduced indoors.

For a barbecue junkie, like me, it is summertime in a bag.

The FoodSaver sealer retails for about $150-175 and a HUGE box of rolled bags retails for about $40.

Editor’s Note:  Meats stored in vacuum packs MUST be frozen for long-term storage or refrigerated for immediate use.


Frying the Hatzilim (Eggplant)!

In Recipies on October 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

From beginning (top left) to delicious end (center) in minutes.Eggplant…another love-hate food presented as an alternative to Phyne Dyning’s readers.

This recipe is so easy that a non-cook can make it shine!

Okay, eggplant can be daunting.  Many people associated it with “slimy” or “tasteless”.  And, while eggplant can be mild flavoured or horribly bitter, it holds a special place in the diets of many cultures.

From the Asian “globe” eggplant to the more familiar (to Americans) Mediterranean dark purple variety, eggplant offers cooks and diners a healthy and versatile vegetarian alternative to meat.

I grow my own eggplant.  They can be grown in an 18-24” pot in full sun.  Each plant will yield 6-10 fruit per season (depending on the growing season).  The flowers are absolutely stunning and the sight of a growing eggplant screams “Urban Farmer!” to those who may visit your patio garden.  Harvest your crop before they get “gianormous”.

Eggplant can be peasant food or it can be elegant.  I once served this pedestrian staple as an elegant tribute to kibbutzniks when the Israeli consul general visited a local Orthodox shul. (I included the course variation, as presented to the general, in the notes below!)

We can start our eggplant “crawl” with a delightful eggplant “schnitzel”.

No, we are not going to beat our eggplant senseless, we are simply going to fry it like schnitzel.

WAIT!!  Healthy people…PLEASE stay!  This is healthy.  I eat fried eggplant at least twice a month and my total cholesterol never ventures above 188.  I always use a good olive oil for frying and serve the fried eggplant with a bold red wine.  Maybe it is my genetics?  I think it is my choice in wines and foods.

Let’s start cooking…

2-3 medium eggplants (2 if very large)

2 C olive oil for frying (use canola if you hate good food)

garlic powder

3C bread crumbs (Japanese panko*, matzo meal, cracker crumbs, etc.)

Italian/Tuscan seasoning

2 EXTRA large eggs beaten

4 tbs flour

Kosher salt

Salt and freshly ground pepper to serve

* I prefer panko (any variety)

** Penzey’s “Tuscan Sunset” or your own blend of dried oregano, basil, fennel, and thyme

(HINT:  Try to find small to medium eggplant.  The bigger ones are “seedy”.)

I prefer to fry this in a large, electric skillet because the temperature can be carefully regulated to prevent blackening of the coating or burning the olive oil (EEeeeewww!).  I have also prepared this on stovetop with equally good results…but it takes practice to do it right.

Slice the eggplant into ¼” (6mm) thick slices.  Spread the slices on a large cookie sheet and sprinkle generously with kosher salt.  Allow the eggplant to “sweat” at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.  COOK’S SECRET:  “Sweating” eggplant removes the bitter juices that can ruin an eggplant dish.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl, the beaten eggs in another shallow bowl, and the breadcrumbs (or panko) in still another shallow bowl.  Heat the oil in a large skillet (electric?) to 375-degrees (just below smoking).  Rinse the eggplant under the tap, shake off excess water, and place on paper towels or pat dry.

With one fork, run the eggplant through the flour (dredge).  Then, immediately dip the slice in the beaten egg.  The flour helps the egg stick and the egg helps the bread crumbs stick!  Now, coat the slice thoroughly in the bread crumbs (panko).  Repeat until the skillet is nearly filled.  When the bottom of each slice is golden brown (3-5 minutes), gently turn each slice over USING A CLEAN FORK.  Generously sprinkle each slice with garlic powder and the Italian/Tuscan seasoning mixture.  Continue to fry until the “bottom side” is deep golden (3-4 minutes).  Drain on paper towels or newsprint.  Serve hot with an Israeli cucumber-tomato salad and a stout red wine.

VARIATION 1:  Substitute zucchini for eggplant.  Please note, unlike when prepared with eggplant, the zucchini leftovers do not warm up well.  As though to compensate for this, the zucchini version (if eaten immediately) is a very sweet and mild dish!  Yes!  Sweat the zucchini for an extra-sweet flavour.

VARIATION 2:  Omit the garlic powder and Italian/Tuscan seasoning.  Before beginning to fry the eggplant, prepare the curry used in the “Fish Curry” recipe…omitting the fish and adding 1 tbs of granulated sugar during cooking.  Place the fried eggplant on a bed of long-grain rice and spoon the curry over the eggplant.  This is the variation (“hatzilim khouri”) I served to the Israeli delegation and their guests…it was a HUGE success!

Try a Fish Curry!

In Recipies on October 25, 2010 at 9:06 pm

(NOTE:  Please mentally picture me, …again…bashing my head on my keyboard as it dawned on me that I…again…forgot to take at least one photo of the finished dish.  I simply got caught in the moment and rushed to table before clicking some pictures for readers.)


Curry is a love-hate dish.  People either love curry or they hate it.  I believe much of the dislike for curry comes from experimental eaters having been subjected to recipes using “curry powder” instead of one where the curry results from blending individual spices.

Another reason some people do not like curried dishes may be that too many cooks over-do the heat.  Sure, there are some mouth-flaming curries out there that are excellent.  But, a good curry lets the diner taste the subtle notes of each spice in each variation of curries.

Most people are familiar with Indian curries and a growing number of diners are becoming familiar with the cardamom-based curries of Iraq.  Even if you do not like curry, experiment a bit with basic curry mixtures to find one you like.

This recipe is a classic curry enjoyed in much of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel.  It may be prepared as peppery as you like, or devoid of heat altogether.  Almost any firm fish may be used.  I prefer cod because it has firm flesh and a very mild taste that does not compete with the curry seasoning.

For busy cooks, canned tomatoes may be used instead of fresh and I like RO-TEL canned tomatoes (with chilies) because they add just the “right” amount of peppery heat.  This is a favorite for our Shabbat table because it can be made ahead of time, refrigerated, and re-heated in a 350-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  If you are using Aleppo pepper, add it in pinches and be sure to taste the curry before adding more.  Cayenne pepper may be substituted for Aleppo pepper, but do not use more than 1/8 tsp if you want a mild dish.


4-6 pieces of cod (loins) weighing 4-6oz each

2-3 tbs olive oil

1 pound tomatoes diced (avoid very juicy tomatoes if using fresh)

or 1 can diced tomatoes or one can RO-TEL, brand

1 tbs minced ginger or 1 tsp ground ginger

1 large yellow onion in course chop

2 jalapeno peppers, minced (optional)

2 tsp ground coriander

3 tsp ground cumin

6 large cloves of garlic, minced

½ – 1 tsp turmeric root (ground)

½ C minced, fresh cilantro

¼ to ½ tsp Aleppo pepper

juice of 1 lemon

kosher salt and fresh ground pepper.

Rinse fish in cold water, pat dry, and season with salt and pepper on both sides.  Add lemon juice over the fish and set aside while you prepare the curry.

Heat olive oil over low-medium heat.  Add onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently.  Do not brown the onions or overcook them.  Stir in the minced garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, and turmeric.  Stir-fry spiced onions for about one minute longer.  Add tomatoes or add one of the canned varieties.  Stir in jalapenos, if using.  Or, stir in small amounts of the Aleppo pepper until desired heat is obtained.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 8-10 minutes, uncovered.  Covering the dish as it cooks will yield more liquid, if desired.  Add the seasoned fish portions (discard lemon juice) and cover.  Cook for 5-6 minutes.  Using two spatulas, carefully turn the fish portions over and spoon some of the curry liquid over them.  Re-cover and simmer for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Fish should flake easily when done.  Remove from heat immediately when done.  Serve over a bed of Basmati rice and garnish with minced cilantro leaves.

If you are making this dish ahead of time (up to 1-2 days!), place it in a covered casserole in the refrigerator.  Re-heat for 15-20 minutes (covered) in a 350-degree oven.

Let’s eat!

(IMPORTANT LINK:  Look for the recipe for fried eggplant elsewhere on “Phyne Dyning”!)

Let’s do some herb(s), man.

In General Information on October 22, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Two-state Solution: Oregano and Chives next to each other in peace.

Herbs and spices can be a daunting topic.


If herb and spice basics do not give you chilly bumps or make your heart pound, here is something for you:

Beyond its romantic value, I cannot make a good argument for growing your own herbs. Well, unless those herbs are going into a pesto, taboule, or other salad. Dried herbs from Penzeys are consistent in flavor and are so fresh that you will toss out the assortment of grocery store brands that have laid dormant on your shelf since the Carter administration.

Hello? Still here, eh?

Despite my early sentiments, I need to make a pitch for growing your own herbs.

It is easy. Most herbs grow well in temperate climates. In some parts of North America, you can grow herbs year round. An herb garden can fit on an apartment balcony or in a sunny window…even a “New Yawker” can be an urban farmer.

Rather than burdening you, fellow Phyne Dyners, with a litany of horticulture, I will direct you to our friend Web. Everything you want to know about growing herbs can be found on the Web.

Hello? Still here?

What is the primary rule for using herbs and spices?

Use enough of them.

Toss out those little shaker lids, grab a spoon, and put the stuff in the jar into the pot. It does not come any easier. If it is worth putting in food, it is worth tasting.

Here are some more rules for herbs and spices:

– Give that spice rack over the stove a quick death. Heat and moisture degrade the oils in herbs and spices. So why put them where you are sure to ruin them? Might as well try to keep fish fresh by stacking it in the cupboard.

– Try to add spices and delicate herbs toward the end of cooking. Again, heat and moisture degrade the oil. Add a little at the beginning (about 1/3 of the total amount); then add the rest when the food is cooked, but well before plating it.

– Herbs and spices are the soldiers of cooking. Do what every army does; keep your soldiers in the dark. I generally use mine so quickly that I can leave them in a dimly lit corner of my kitchen.

– Buy only enough of an herb or spice to last 2-4 months. Sure it is more expensive to buy small quantities. But it is also expensive when you need to add more of an old spice or herb because the oils in them have evaporated or gone rancid.

– This is Phyne Dyning, so experiment. Instead of cinnamon on squash, try cumin. Okay, you may want to inhibit your experimental nature if you are cooking a forty-dollar lamb roast. But try this: Cut off a bit of that expensive lamb roast, dab your experimental herbs and seasoning mixtures on it, and pop it into the microwave to fully cook it. Now, taste. Like it? Go for it on the roast.

– When adding herbs or spices, wait a few minutes; season with a bit of salt and pepper, and taste. Flavors do not fully develop for several minutes. Taste again and adjust before plating.

– Invest in a mortar and pestle. Play “Ye olde-tyme apothecary” and mix up some blends. You can stick with “Italian”, “Cajun”, and “Mexican” for a while. But do not be afraid to mix cultures. Beans are a big part of Middle Eastern cooking and beans are a big part of Mexican cooking. Try some Mexican epizote in your fava bean stew. (PHUN PHACT: Cumin originated in Egypt. The Moors took it to Spain. The Spaniards took it to the Aztecs. The Aztecs took it to Taco Johns.)

We will talk more herb-talk again soon. Shabbat is upon me and I need to get cooking.

Let’s eat!

What to do with leftover broth and drippings.

In Tips and Hints on October 22, 2010 at 11:26 am

You do WHAT?

The turkey is a memory and the roast merely lingers as a scent in the air. What do you do with leftover broth, fat, and drippings?


Buy several ice-cube trays. Pour broths into them and freeze it into cubes. Remove the cubes and store them in zip-bags in the freezer. Use them instead of buying (BLECH!) canned broth. Drippings and fat can be similarly stored if the tray is lined with food wrap (it takes a bit of time) or if it is poured into small containers before being put in the freezer to set up. Use the blocks of fat or drippings for quick gravies or roux.

Next tip…substitute those toaster shakings for croutons.

Just kidding!

On kitchens…

In Editorial on October 22, 2010 at 10:57 am

My best friend is a newspaper publisher.  He says being a newspaper publisher is akin to being G-d.  Events, big and small, do not really happen if they are not reported by his papers and, like G-d, he occasionally speaks wisdom from high peaks.

Welcome to my mountain.

Today, I will hold forth my wisdom on kitchens.

My kitchen is my man cave.

You will not find granite countertops, a copper Viking range hood, or a sink filled from spout “inspired by the graceful neck of a swan”.

My kitchen has battered cabinets.  I once suggested we remove the doors so I can see what is on the shelves within.  While I never hear harpy-like screeches of “Wipe your hands before you touch those cabinet doors”, I was out-voted on the door removal project.

And it was a tie vote.

I can cut a pomegranate on my countertop, sans cutting board, without fretting about staining intricate marble patterns costing hundreds per square foot.  My stainless steel utility table does not de-laminate if I set a hot kettle on it.  Some of the drawers close.  The ones that do not close make it easier for me to quickly find my Microplane.  I have so many pots and pans, ladles, and other kitchen do-dads swinging from hooks that kitchen visitors experience hallucinations that they are watching a Gypsy wagon pass by.

My cookware is a gamische of brands.  I buy cookware for an intended purpose, not because the handles match the controls on my range.

I visit a lot of kitchens that are museums to the lost art of cooking…only the velvet ropes are missing.  These kitchens are not fun to cook in, so their owners most frequently use them to unwrap bad takeaway food which they carefully gulp down over a highly polished triple sink.

The machinery of cooking (mixers, fryers, slow-cookers, food processors, etc.) competes for space on every flat surface in my kitchen.  I close my eyes in sadness when I visit someone’s kitchen were the only item on the countertop is an over-priced object-d’art or the portly figure of a glazed, porcelain chef.

The porcelain chef is weeping porcelain tears at being so-marooned.

Dried Italian peppers swing jauntily from my ceiling next to a braid of garlic.  Baskets of shallots vie for space next to bowls of fruit.

We actually eat the fruit.

Bottles of colored cooking potions are arrayed next to the stove, next to the sink, and on top of the refrigerator.  Herbs and spices are in their original containers across from the stove and are arranged in no particular order.

The contemporary American kitchen explains much of contemporary America’s herbless and spiceless food.  If the spices are kept behind a cabinet door, they are out of sight and out of mind.


If I spill a bit of paprika on the floor it does not cause me to abandon my cooking so I can immediately clean it up before it stains the carpet.

People who carpet their kitchens should also carpet their shower stalls.

Some men have workshop caves filled with all sorts of carpentry tools, bins of nails, and half-completed birdhouses.  I am suspicious of the carpentry abilities of any man whose tools are neatly arranged on pegboard, with silhouettes of each gleaming tool painted in each “proper” place.

My kitchen is my workshop and the tools in it are used, not admired.  The skillets are black on the bottom because they frequently see fire.

I understand why so many homeowners want to “get out of the kitchen”.  I would too, if mine was a barren, IKEA-inspired wasteland.

The kitchen is the beating heart and breathing lungs of my home.  It is where my visitors stare in wonderment and awe.  Clouds of flour dust swirl in the sunlight that streams in the windows overlooking the street.

A greyhound pads through, hoping for a nibble or a rub on the head.

The “five-second rule” is in force.

It is my kingdom and the mountain from where I speak.


…Let’s eat!

Save the cheese rinds!

In Tips and Hints on October 21, 2010 at 11:47 am

You keep WHAT?

Don’t throw away cheese rinds. Use up every bit of the soft part of cheese and peel away any wax or muslin and wrap them in plastic wrap (vacuum sealing is best). Put the rinds in the freezer to add to vegetable soups later.

Jewish Vancomycin

In Recipies on October 21, 2010 at 11:28 am

The star of this show.

What’s the best way to intimidate a modest cook?

Start them off with a complex recipe that has them trying to find seasonings sold by swarthy men in dark, back alleys; or hand a novice a recipe having multiple intricate steps that must be as delicately synchronized as a NASA rocket launch.

I want my audience to dive right in without fearing the deep water. We’re about humble food made great. And there is no humbler food than chicken soup.

“Jewish penicillin” describes regular chicken soup.

Phyne Dyners, while disdaining all meals pretentious, will swoon for this souped-up version of Bubbe’s old-world classic. If Bubbe’s chicken soup is penicillin, this one is pure vancomycin.

The soup’s foundation is (wait for it) a grocery store rotisserie chicken.

These birds have their own allure. On Shabbat, which can be my busiest cooking day, they are a fast fix for suppers when even I do not feel like cooking. Serve them with fresh or (slightly thawed) frozen fruit, a steamed vegetable, and a fast pilaf. Another draw for rotisserie chicken is our ability to eat like a Viking.

After dinner, the still-useful (and nutritious) carcass too often finds its way into the dustmen’s trolley…gasp!

The true majesty of this lazy cook’s Shabbat meal sleeps in its bones when we make a classic chicken soup. Our version uses tarragon and wines, in opposition to bitter-leaning veggies, giving this Yiddish classic a French passport.

Most chicken soup recipes use celery. Here, turnips replace the celery’s bitter notes and add an interesting texture. Carrots add harmony to the turnips and a bit of the traditional colour that says “This is chicken soup”.

Sweet cream sherry in our adaptation imparts a hearty boldness that one seldom experiences with basic, homemade chicken soup.

Many good cooks also forget to slightly thicken their soups, leaving them watery and unappealing. Adding a flour-water mixture to any soup gives it some body. Of course, we do not want to make chicken-vegetable gravy either; so add the flour-water mixture slowly and allow the soup to cook a bit before you add more.

One caution must be raised with this recipe.

Carrots and turnips can stand a lot of salt. That is not a problem for me. I am partial to Israeli-style cooking that uses a lot of salt. Use the amount of salt that tastes right to you. Or, if you are sodium-phobic, you can season the soup at tableside with a splash of lemon juice.

Okay, let’s get started on our Jewish Vancomycin…

Here’s what you’ll need:

1 – rotisserie chicken carcass
3 – carrots peeled and sliced ¼” thick
4-5 – small, peeled turnips in a course dice
1 – vegetable broth cube (I like Knorr brand)
2 tsp dried tarragon (or 4 tsp fresh, finely chopped)
2 – cloves garlic, minced
3-4 scallions (white and light green parts) chopped. (Reserve dark green parts for garnish)
1 tsp rubbed sage
1 cup Chablis
½ cup cream (not dry) sherry
2 tbs flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the carcass in a stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low or medium low and simmer for at least three hours (or more). Add water occasionally to keep carcass covered. Give the broth a couple of twists of black pepper. The carcass is soup-ready when the remaining meat and skin fall from the bones. Sort through the broth with a slotted spoon to remove bones and bone fragments. Leave the cartilaginous parts in the soup; they add body as they cook. Add the carrots, turnips, broth cube, tarragon, sage, and Chablis. Add salt carefully. The broth should be a bit salty to offset the unseasoned veggies. Bring back to simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes. Do not overcook the veggies to mush! Add 1-cup water to the flour and stir thoroughly. Add 1 cup of hot broth to the flour-water mixture and stir well. Now…SLOWLY…add the flour-water mixture to the soup while constantly stirring. (OPTION: Remove from heat and cool. Place the soup in the refrigerator overnight to let the flavours blend.) A few minutes before serving your soup, stir in the cream sherry and turn off the heat. Check the seasoning, garnish with the finely chopped reserved dark green parts of the scallions and serve with crusty French bread and a garden salad.

So, was that so hard?

Let’s eat!

Hello Phyne Dyners!

In General Information on October 20, 2010 at 9:54 pm

Contact Phyne Dyning at:

Comments, questions, suggestions, new ideas, recipes, gadgets, etc.?

Who’s there? Come in. Pour yourself a glass of wine and sit down. We just started!

In General Information on October 20, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Welcome to Phyne Dyning, where regular folk gather to learn about food and share food experiences. Come on in, grab a glass of wine, and put your elbows on the table.

What is all this about?

It is about learning that being a foodie has little in common with television chefs who mew incomprehensible gibberish to convince us to pay $50 per plate for paper thin Kobe beef served alongside two stalks of asparagus. It is about learning what most of us know about box wines: they are cheap, they are good, and they have a lot in common with hiring an escort…both promise big fun while you pray nobody sees you make the purchase.

I’ve been an amateur chef for almost forty years. Some people can sing and some people can dance. I can do neither. I have a sense of vocal tone on par with a rabid cat and all of the natural rhythm of a bar mitzvah boy. But…I can cook.

Family and friends have been begging me to cook for them for years. I get more of a rush from watching the eyes of my dinner guests than Chef Ramsey gets when Michelin awards him another star.

And I do it with elegant food for everyday people. My meals are either a fusion of cultures, or an around the world journey with someone like uber-Bohemian Katie Brown, of PBS’s “Katie Brown Workshop”.

I will give you a minute to throw a silk scarf over that dented lampshade to set the mood.

But this is not a place where you will learn a new recipe using condensed cream of mushroom soup, dried onions, and green beans. Given my allegiances to my particular invisible friend who has an “ineffable” name, you will not find trieyfe here either.

If you stick around, and I hope you will, your time here will be spent learning about classic meals from around the Mediterranean and points east. We will blend everything from Southeast Asia and Jerusalem to Moscow and Turkey.

Got a favorite kitchen gadget? Remember “Show and Tell”? Why is it important that a veggie dice be uniform? Why do mushroom vendors leave those inedible stems on shitakes? (For some Freudian reason, I always slip a “c” into “shitake”.)

Got a favorite wine? “That’s nice, sweetie. Be a jewel and pour me another glass.”

Our edible journey will take us to farmer’s markets. We will buy the vegetable that looks like a carnivorous plant, subdue it, and eat it. We will grow, harvest, dry, and use our own herbs. We can even take the urban farmer concept further, to pots of eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and onions.

We will serve our creations on 150 year-old heirloom plates, paper plates, wrapped in leaves, or eat it communally out of a bowl with our hands.

We’re going to have one heck of a lot of fun.

Let’s eat!