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Sunday, September 04, 2016

A nature moment with Ask Rula!

Hello, my people! It seems I have been AWOL for a while, so sorry! I have moved to the country! Long Island counts as rural, right? Along with fixing up the new (old) Chez Rula, I have been gardening! Or well, rather, watching the gardeners. Those guys need someone to bring them spiked lemonade, and hold their shirts for them when they get all hot and sweaty! But no matter where I am, people always seem to have questions. And I have answers! So let's get to a few of them right now, shall we?

Our first question is from Green and Blue, and she says:
Dear Rula,
This year has been both good and bad for my tomatoes. My plants have set a LOT of tomatoes, but it's already getting too cool at night for them to ripen. I enjoyed the few ripe ones I got, but what can I do with all these green tomatoes — besides frying them?
I'm so sad.
Green and Blue

Dear Green and Blue,
Pickle them! I slice and pickle green tomatoes all the time. They're great on sandwiches! I usually just wing it — a little dill, bay leaf, mustard seed, sugar, vinegar and a pinch of salt — but here's a simple refrigerator pickle recipe for you:

Basic Refrigerator Pickles

Ingredients - for every pound of vegetable
1 cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
Extras: fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, mustard seed, cumin seed, peppercorns, cloves of garlic, or any other pickling spices

First, clean and prepare all your vegetables. If it's a veggie you normally eat raw, leave them alone. If not, you can blanch them in boiling water, steam them, or roast them. You want them edible but still a little crunchy — like me!

Next, pack all your vegetables tightly into jars — slice them up to fit. You can use old canning jars or any other heat-proof container with an airtight lid. You can also combine more than one type of veg in the same jar — but make sure the combination will taste good together because all the flavors mix it up in there.

In a small saucepan, bring all the brine ingredients to a boil, then remove from heat and pour the brine over the vegetables. Put the lids on the containers, cool them to room temp, and then refrigerate for at least 24 hours before eating, if you can wait. They'll keep for about a month in the fridge, assuming they last that long!

This next question is from Probiotic Patty, and she asks:
Dear Rula,
As a middle-aged, smart-and-savvy woman trying to compete with thousands of millennials for low-paying jobs in the big city, I need all the help I can get. One thing I have started to do is try to take better care of myself, which means I am paying more attention to what I eat. There are those who say food can empower you, so I figured what the hell! I am now really into probiotic foods. Wondering about making sauerkraut, I looked it up and it seems to have only one ingredient. I know nothing about cooking and have seldom used my kitchen, so I was thinking this would be my speed. Any thoughts?
Probiotic Patty

Dear Probiotic Patty,
You know what they say, "A woman with guts needs a healthy gut," so you go girl! Yes sauerkraut is indeed simple to make and really good for you and delicious on a kosher dog. But let's talk about what probiotics are first, ok? Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. We usually think of bacteria as something that causes diseases. But your body is full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are often called "good" or "helpful" bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. Here is a short list of best probiotic choices: yogurt; sauerkraut; miso soup; soft cheeses; kefir; sourdough bread; milk with probiotics; and sour pickles. But honestly honey, most of this is above your pay grade so let's start at the very beginning — how to turn cabbage into sauerkraut. This recipe makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts and is very detailed, so pay attention!


1 medium-sized head of green cabbage (about 3 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional, for flavor)
1 big mason jar (like 2-quart size)
1 smaller jelly jar
rocks or marbles to use as weights

Clean everything. When fermenting anything, it's best to give the good, beneficial bacteria every chance of succeeding by starting off with as clean an environment as possible. Make sure your mason jar and jelly jar are washed and rinsed of all soap residue. You'll be using your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage, so wash your hands as well.

Slice or shred the cabbage into thin threads. Combine the cabbage and salt and start massaging and squeezing the cabbage with your hands. At first it might not seem like enough salt, but gradually the cabbage will become watery and limp — more like coleslaw than raw cabbage. This will take 5 to 10 minutes. If you'd like to flavor your sauerkraut with caraway seeds, mix them in now. Then stop for a cocktail, darling.

Pack the cabbage into the jar with your hands, as tightly as possible. Place one of the larger outer leaves of the cabbage over the surface of the sliced cabbage. This will help keep the cabbage submerged in its liquid. Weigh the cabbage down — once all the cabbage is packed into the mason jar, slip the smaller jelly jar into the mouth of the jar and weigh it down with clean stones or marbles. This will help keep the cabbage weighed down, and eventually, submerged beneath its liquid.

Cover the mouth of the mason jar with a cloth and secure it with a rubber band or twine. This allows air to flow in and out of the jar, but prevents dust or insects from getting in. Press the cabbage every few hours — over the next 24 hours, press down on the cabbage every so often with the jelly jar. As the cabbage releases its liquid, it will become more limp and compact and the liquid will rise over the top of the cabbage. If extra liquid is needed, you can dissolve 1 teaspoon of salt in 1 cup of water and add enough to submerge the cabbage. Ferment the cabbage for 3 to 10 days — as it's fermenting, keep the sauerkraut away from direct sunlight and at a cool room temperature — ideally 65°F to 75°F. Check it daily and press it down if the cabbage is floating above the liquid. Taste it and when it seems sour enough refrigerate and eat. I love sauerkraut with rice, it's like Jewish kimchi.

If you have any questions for me, feel free to send me an email or leave a comment here on this post!

Well, that's all for now, my little sprouts — all that sod isn't going to lay itself! Ciao!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Vegetable Galettes and Herbal Infusions


Seasonal Recipe of the Week
As my summer garden's harvest dwindles down to the stuff the rabbits and squirrels didn't think was good enough, it's time to access the usable bits and try to make them last through the winter. I have a few tomatoes, some eggplant, lemongrass, shiso, basil and lots of green herbs. So here is a recipe for a veggie galette, a whole wheat crust folded over a bed of vegetables cheese and fresh herbs — perfect vegetarian main dish with a salad. The other fun thing to do to save summer is infuse vinegars and make herbal simple syrup.

Vegetable Galette

Ingredients for whole wheat crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup ice water

Procedure for crust
Pulse all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and salt in a food processor to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few pea-size pieces of butter remaining.
Dump mixture to a large bowl; drizzle with vinegar and ¼ cup ice water. Mix with a fork, adding more ice water by the tablespoonful if needed, just until a shaggy dough comes together; lightly knead until no dry spots remain (do not overwork). Form a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

Ingredients for galette filling
1 cup cheese (Ricotta, Gruyere, Asiago, or whatever)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 ounces sautéed mushrooms, thinly sliced (maitake, crimini, shitake, etc.)
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 bunch large Swiss chard, or spinach ribs and stems removed, leaves cut into bite-size pieces
1 large egg, beaten to blend to brush crust
1 cup mixed fresh tender herbs (such as flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, dill, and/or chives)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Sea salt

Procedure for galette
Preheat oven to 400°. Shred up your cheese and set aside. Sauté your greens or vegetables and season with fresh herbs. Squeeze out extra liquid from greens, and set aside. Roll out dough on a lightly floured sheet of parchment to a 14” round about 1/8-inch thick. Transfer on parchment to a baking sheet. Brush crust with egg wash leaving a 2 inch border dry and sprinkle with Panko to help absorb extra moisture. Then layer in your ingredients. Bring edges of dough up and over filling, overlapping as needed, to create a 1 1/2-inch border; brush with egg and sprinkle with sea salt and fresh herbs. Bake galette, rotating once, until crust is golden brown and cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool slightly on baking sheet. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Infused vinegars

To make flavored vinegars, start with good quality organic apple cider vinegar and some clean glass bottles with tops. Stuff bottles with an assortment of herbs then fill with vinegar. I made four bottles of Salad Burnett infused vinegar (which tastes like celery) and one bottle of lemongrass vinegar using the long beautiful leaves. You just need to store it in a dark, cool place for 3 weeks, shaking it up occasionally. Then you can remove herbs or leave them in place.

Herbal simple syrups

As you all know, a simple syrup is made of equal parts of sugar and water boiled for 3 to 5 minutes until it is clear. Then you remove the syrup from the heat, add the herb and let it sit in syrup 30 minutes, strain out, and refrigerate. Great with seltzer, or in a cocktail. Some of my favorites syrups are bay leaf, rosemary, lemon verbena, tarragon (great in limeade).

Monday, May 23, 2016


Sandbar, Cold Spring Harbor, NY

Photo courtesy Sandbar

First of all, I am really sorry about my lapse in posting. Yes, I know my last post pictured a snowy back porch. So much has happened since then! Most importantly, we bought a house. It's a mid-century home with great bones and lots of potential. At last count our project list numbers in the 90s. Yes, I said 90, and that list includes big projects like redoing the entire kitchen, building a woodshop, rewiring the living room, removing carpeting, refinishing floors — you get the drift. So honestly, the house project has taken over my life and what little free time I have. But tonight we got a break. We decided to go out and celebrate a variety of events, including our wedding anniversary and my husband's and mother's birthdays.

Our usual celebration place is Peter Luger's. There are two locations: Williamsburg Brooklyn and Great Neck on Long Island, so it's an easy choice. Hard to beat, massive red meat (aged Porterhouse), but pretty heavy. I was feeling like something new, so I did a little research and found the only James Beard-nominated restaurant on Long Island. Run by chef Guy Reuge, Sandbar is 15 minutes from our house, so off we went.

The restaurant decor is yacht-club-chic with a little Restoration-Hardware-industrial-elegance mixed in. Modern landscape paintings of Long Island, and waiters in khakis and blue-checked shirts. Trés WASPy! The dark wood table was simple (no tablecloth) with beautiful white china, a single white chrysanthemum, and good thin glassware. Silverware could have been better. The menu is small and well-thought-out, with local, seasonal ingredients and many very tempting seafood options.
We started with cocktails; a margarita, a vodka tonic, and a Negroni. They were well-mixed and a little strong. They did have a few signature cocktails on the menu, but they were not that interesting and two had ginger in them (I'm allergic), so I went with my old standard.

For appetizers we had the foie gras of the day which was grilled, served with brioche toasts and a dark purple beet purée. When the beautiful dish arrived, I tried to cut the brioche into three pieces (because we were sharing each dish) and the knife slipped and went into the beet purée which splashed all over my mother's face, her orange sweater — wait there's more — I also got the wall, the window sill, and the white curtain. What a mess, I was so embarrassed and the waiter was such a gentleman, thank you! I should mention it was excellent, perfectly grilled with the sweet purée cutting the rich fat flavor. We also had the chickpea fries, which were super light and fluffy, with with chipotle creme — a tiny bit of heat.

The main courses were all superb. Jim tried the special of the day, soft-shell crab. They were simply fresh and delicious, lightly sautéed with a little lemon. Bernice had the duck, nice and crisp, with apricot sauce and her usual: "Please no vegetables, can I have French fries?" I had the swordfish which was moist and flavorful and served with edamame, peas, ramps, and potatoes finished with a Creole emulsion.

Left to right: soft-shell crab; duck; swordfish.

The dessert selection was solid, but not mind-blowing. There were about six choices, including ricotta doughnuts and a trio of sorbets. We had the chocolate bread pudding served with booze-soaked cherries and vanilla ice cream and the toasted lemon pound cake served with coffee ice cream. They were fantastic!

Besides the fact that the waiter did not know what the foie gras of the day was when I asked, and that the butter was ice cold (which kind of kills the warm bread service), I would have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this meal.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Snow Day!

Projects to do on an unexpected day at home
Yesterday we had a major snowstorm on Long Island. It took us one-and-a-half hours to shovel the stairs, the path to the car, and then release the car from the 3-foot snow drift that covered it. Aside from a sore back, it was kind of fun. This morning I carefully walked to the train station on the black ice in the dark, only to find the trains (in spite of the MTA website saying things were running on schedule) were not actually running. So I turned around and headed home.
Now what do I do?

It's time to bake bread! One kind of bread I have never tried is a classic baguette. So I went to Food52, my go-to reliable food website and found this recipe, here we go:

Dan Leader's 4 hour Baguette

Makes 3 baguettes

1 1/2 cup (12 ounces) tap water, heated to 115° F
1 teaspoon (1/8 ounce) active dry yeast
3 1/4 cups (14 2/3 ounces) all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons (3/8 ounces) kosher salt
Canola oil, for greasing bowl
1/2 cup ice cubes

Whisk together water and yeast in a large bowl; let sit until yeast is foamy, about 10 minutes. Add flour, and stir with a fork until dough forms and all flour is absorbed; let dough sit to allow flour to hydrate, about 20 minutes. Add salt, then transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Transfer dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and place bowl in a cold oven or microwave. Let dough rest until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and shape into an 8-inch x 6-inch rectangle. Fold the 8-inch sides toward the middle, then fold the shorter sides toward the center, like a T-shirt. Return dough, seam side down, to the bowl. Cover with plastic again, and return to oven. Let sit until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Remove bowl with dough from oven, and place a cast–iron skillet on the bottom rack of oven; position another rack above skillet, and place a baking stone or upside down or rimless sheet pan on it.

Heat oven to 475° F. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface, and cut into three equal pieces; shape each piece into a 14-inch rope. Flour a sheet of parchment paper on a rimless baking sheet; place ropes, evenly spaced, on paper. Lift paper between ropes to form pleats; place two tightly rolled kitchen towels under long edges of paper, creating supports for the loaves. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let sit until it doubles in size, about 50 minutes.

Uncover; remove towels, and flatten paper to space out loaves. Using a sharp razor, knife, bread lame, or scissors, slash the top of each baguette at a 30–degree angle in four spots; each slash should be about 4 inches long. Pull out the oven rack with the stone or baking sheet on it and, using the corner of the parchment paper as a guide, slide the loaves, still on the parchment paper, onto the baking stone or pan. Place ice cubes in skillet (this produces steam that lets the loaves rise fully before a crust forms). Bake the baguettes until darkly browned and crisp, 20 to 30 minutes; cool before serving.Where's the butter?

Okay so those are the original instructions which I found really confusing. I just put the dough ropes on a silpat, let them rise and then slid it onto the hot, up-side-down sheet pan in the oven. Check out the photos, they came out pretty well.