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Good morning GUSyoungerthanspringtimers!!!  I'm typing on Saturday and it is one heck of a glorious day here in northwestern Connecticut.  Around 70 degrees, sunny and I saw buds on the lilacs at my local liquor store!!!  I've cut way back on wine but no way I'm cutting it out permanently.  It is a weekend treat.

One of the great joys of being a semi-sentient human is that there is always, always, always something new to learn.  Many of us have learned stuff about our health and bodies we sort of wish we didn't have to know because we are/were smokers.  I just learned that my lungs got in the way of my heart from an echocardiogram expert.  Seems years of smoking screws up the sacs in the lungs.  Hopefully when I have a few years of non-smoking under my belt and I get very serious about exercise:  physical, breathing and mental -- I'll correct some of that damage.

From quitting smoking I've learned to look forward (not a political statement).  If I looked backwards I'd say -- what the hell, I might as well smoke, drink copiously, eat dangerously and sit on my ass.  I don't want to spend my dotage thoroughly unhappy.

So, like most things, it is never too late to learn something new and beneficial.  The GUS diaries have provided an amazing education not just in how to quit and stay quit but also how incredible the human spirit is when good people share their humanity, warts and all.  I've said it before and will say it ad infinitem (ok, till I'm an arthritic old prune and can't type) youz guyz are really an amazing inspiration to me and so many others who may just be lurking.

Today's learning involves Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jewish traditions.  I'm still researching but my truly favorite recipe goddess, The Shiksa in the Kitchen, has a glorious post on Ashkenazi Passover Recipes via PBS.  Besides offering consistently brilliant recipes, Tory Avey publishes The History Kitchen which is an educational delight wholly separate from her Shiksa blog.  She is an entertaining writer and I would love to meet her and give her a hug.  

Tory's recipes are for everyone and who doesn't love excellent flavorful food?

Cheers for the really really true start of spring -- even though my area is dropping back into the 40s after this burst of warmth.  Totally expected.

GUS (Gave Up Smoking) is a community support diary for Kossacks in the midst of quitting smoking. Any supportive comments, suggestions or positive distractions are appreciated. If you are quitting or thinking of quitting, please -- join us!  We kindly ask that politics be left out.  

  You can also click the GUS tag to view all diary posts, or access the GUS Library at dKosopedia for a great list of stop-smoking links. Check it out! GUS library.

    A message to ALL quitters. You don't have to avoid GUS if you have a failed quit.  We won't give you a bad time and we consider the failed quits as "practice" for the real quit.

    Quit Keeper widget which is an outstanding aid for those beginning the difficult path to quitting.  It lets you know how long you haven't smoked, how many cigs you haven't smoked, how much money you've saved.

   Quit Smoking Counter    h/tGDbot.  For those of you who have had a problem with Quit Keeper or want a different counter!

I truly recommend clicking the links to the Shiksa's recipes.  The pictures are wonderful  and she provides step by step instructions.  With the matzo ball soup, her explanation of how she arrived at a rich flavor without chicken broth is well worth the read.  Saffron!  Descriptions and history can be found in each recipe below at the links.

Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

SOUP INGREDIENTS

1/2 lb. carrots (about 3 medium carrots) sliced into 1/2 inch chunks
1/2 lb. celery (about 5 stalks) sliced into 1/2 inch chunks, including leaves
1 onion, rinsed and halved (skin on)
1 leek, sliced and cleaned (white and light green parts only)
1 small bunch fresh dill + 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill, divided
1 small bunch fresh parsley
2 bay leaves
10 whole peppercorns
6 whole cloves
Pinch of saffron threads - not American or Mexican saffron, which have no flavor - buy the good stuff! It's expensive but necessary in this soup. Do not sub turmeric! The flavor is completely different.
2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt

MATZO BALL INGREDIENTS

2 eggs
2 tbsp vegetable oil or light olive oil
1 tbsp seltzer water
1/2 cup matzo meal
1/2 tsp baking powder (if making for Passover make sure the brand is certified KFP)
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
Pinch of saffron threads

YOU WILL ALSO NEED

2 heavy pots - 6-8 quart capacity each, wire mesh strainer or cheesecloth, slotted spoon

Directions

Combine all soup ingredients in a large pot with 1 tbsp kosher salt (reserve the 2 tbsp chopped fresh dill for later). If you're salt sensitive, you can start with 2 tsp salt, however please note that for the saffron flavor to shine here, you do need salt in the mix. I really recommend 1 tbsp if you're not watching your salt intake.

Cover ingredients with 4 quarts (16 cups) water. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to a simmer (around medium heat). Let the stock cook for 60-90 minutes till the liquid reduces by a third and the stock is flavorful. Note: the olive oil may taste strange in the beginning, but don't fret. As the stock slowly cooks the flavors will meld, and that olive oil will give the broth some much-needed richness and depth.

While the stock is cooking, make the matzo balls. Whisk eggs in a small mixing bowl with vegetable oil and seltzer water. Use a fork to stir in the matzo meal, baking powder, salt, garlic powder, onion powder and chopped fresh dill to make a thick batter. Place the batter in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

While the batter is chilling, in a second pot combine 3 quarts (12 cups) of water with a pinch of saffron and 1 tbsp salt. Bring to a simmer, stir to dissolve the salt. Keep the salted saffron water hot until the matzo ball mixture is fully chilled.

Place a small dish of cold water beside the pot of saffron water. Take the chilled matzo ball batter out of the refrigerator. Bring the saffron water to a simmer. Wet your hands and roll the matzo ball batter into walnut-sized balls, then gently drop them into the simmering saffron water. Wet your hands between each ball; this makes forming them easier. Don't make them larger than walnuts, they'll expand a lot as they cook!

When all of the matzo balls are in the water, bring back to a low bubbling simmer (not a heavy boil) and cover the pot. Let the matzo balls simmer for 30-35 minutes, keeping the pot covered for at least the first 30 minutes. No peeking! Keeping the pot covered will help the matzo balls become fluffy. Let the matzo balls simmer until they're cooked through. When they are fully cooked, turn off the heat and keep the matzo balls in the hot saffron water until ready to serve. If you won't be serving within an hour, remove the matzo balls from the pot with a slotted spoon and reserve (so they don't get mushy and fall apart).

When the vegetable stock liquid has reduced by a third, strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth into a large bowl.

Separate out the carrots and celery from the cooked vegetables and herbs.

Rinse the pot and pour the stock back into the pot. Add the carrots and celery back to the stock along with 1 tbsp chopped dill. Adjust seasoning to taste, adding more salt if desired. Keep the stock warm till ready to serve.

Serve 1-2 matzo balls per bowl; ladle the hot soup and vegetables over the warm matzo balls.

Total Time: 2 Hours
Servings: 8
Kosher Key: Pareve

Apple Cinnamon Charoset with Candied Walnuts

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs. Gala or Fuji apples (about 4 medium apples)
5-6 tbsp sweet kosher wine
1 tbsp honey (use agave to make vegan)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
Salt to taste

CANDIED WALNUT INGREDIENTS

1 cup raw walnuts (no shell)
1/2 egg white
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of nutmeg (optional)

TO MAKE CHAROSET

Peel and core the apples, then chop them fine. I usually put them in a food processor and pulse a few times till they're chopped fine but with texture. Careful, it's easy to over-chop if you go this route and you could end up with applesauce!

Place the chopped apples in a bowl. Stir in 5 tbsp sweet kosher wine, honey, cinnamon, ginger, allspice and a pinch of salt (to taste). Taste the mixture; if you feel it needs more moisture or sweetness, add a bit more kosher wine. The wine will be soaked up a bit as the charoset marinates, but you don't want it puddling too much at the bottom of the bowl... a little puddling is fine.

Cover the bowl, place in the refrigerator, and allow the mixture to marinate for 24 hours.

TO MAKE CANDIED WALNUTS

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Separate egg white from yolk, then pour half of the egg white into a mixing bowl (just eyeball this, it doesn't half to be exact). Use a whisk to beat the egg white till frothy, then beat in the sugar, salt, cayenne, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add the walnuts to the egg mixture and stir till the walnuts are fully coated in the seasoned egg white mixture.

Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake for 15-20 minutes till crisp. Remove sheet from the oven and allow the nuts to cool on the sheet.

Pour the candied nuts onto a cutting board and roughly chop them into smaller pieces.

Sprinkle on the candied nuts just before you put it on the table, or serve the nuts alongside the charoset and allow people to sprinkle their own onto each serving. The walnuts here are served as a topping to the charoset; you shouldn't mix them in or they'll lose their delicious candied crunch.

Prep Time: 45 Minutes
Total Time: 24 Hours
Servings: About 8 servings for Seder

Here's a flumpty recipe -- GOAT CHEESE!!  Ok, I'm with flumptserina.  I don't like goat cheese either and I'm a fallen away Catholic so I'd substitute some cow cheese I could crumble or not crumble.  Frittatas are generally cheese forgiving unless you use a cheap cheese that is basically vegetable oil.
Mushroom Harissa & Goat Cheese Frittata

Harissa recipe is below

INGREDIENTS

6 eggs
1 tbsp milk
Salt and pepper
1-2 tbsp harissa (more or less to taste- or substitute sambal oelek)
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 oz. fresh sliced mushrooms
1 tsp minced garlic
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 tsp paprika

YOU WILL ALSO NEED

10-inch seasoned cast iron skillet or nonstick skillet with oven-safe handle
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 20 Minutes
Total Time: 30 Minutes

Servings: 6
Kosher Key: Dairy

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a medium mixing bowl, beat the eggs with milk, 1/4 tsp pepper and 1/2 tsp salt till fluffy (if salt sensitive use 1/4 tsp salt). Reserve.

Harissas vary in thickness/pastiness. If your harissa is a thicker, drier paste, stir in a little olive oil till it becomes more liquid and easier to spread. Reserve.

Heat olive oil in skillet on medium high till hot but not smoking. Add the sliced mushrooms in a single layer. Let them sear for 3-4 minutes without stirring till golden on the bottom.

Stir the mushrooms, then stir in 1-2 tbsp of harissa to taste. I used about 1 1/2 tbsp-- you may need more or less depending on the spiciness of your harissa. The mushrooms should be spicy and well seasoned, but not too spicy to handle. Stir till the mushrooms are golden brown and coated with harissa.

Stir in minced garlic and chopped parsley (reserve 2 tsp parsley for garnish). Saute for 1-2 minutes till the garlic is fragrant. Spread the mushrooms and herbs out in a single, even layer.

Sprinkle the goat cheese evenly across the top of the mushroom and parsley layer.

Rewhisk the eggs till fluffy, then pour them evenly over the top of the other ingredients, tilting the pan in each direction to make sure all ingredients are evenly covered with egg. Cook for 2 minutes till the edges begin to solidify and brown a bit. Sprinkle the paprika lightly across the top of the eggs.

Place the fritatta carefully in the oven. Let it bake for about 10 minutes, till a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. It will be puffy when you first take it out of the oven, then it will settle.

Slice the fritatta and serve. I plated this with some organic mache greens. It goes great with a light spring salad or Israeli salad on the side, and a slice of whole grain toast if you're not gluten intolerant.

Harissa  

8 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed
   and seeded (about 2 oz.)
8 dried new mexico chiles, stemmed
   and seeded (about 1 1⁄2 oz.)
1⁄2 tsp. caraway seeds
1⁄4 tsp. coriander seeds
1⁄4 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. dried mint leaves
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil,
   plus more as needed
1 1⁄2 tsp. kosher salt
5 cloves garlic
Juice of 1 lemon

1. Put chiles into a medium bowl, cover with boiling water, and let sit until softened, about 20 minutes. Heat caraway, coriander, and cumin in an 8" skillet over medium heat. Toast spices, swirling skillet constantly, until very fragrant, about 4 minutes. Transfer spices to a grinder with the mint and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.

2. Drain chiles and transfer to the bowl of a food processor with the ground spices, olive oil, salt, garlic, and lemon juice. Purée, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until the paste is very smooth, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a sterilized 1-pint glass jar and fill with oil until ingredients are submerged by 1⁄2". Refrigerate, topping off with more oil after each use. Harissa paste will keep for up to 3 weeks.

MAKES 1 CUP


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