an oldie but goodie

Testimonial: Matzo Ball Soup Revealed!


April, 2010 — Perri Kramer

Last year, for my annual Passover Potluck, I decided to stage a little throw-down for my guests. For years, I had easily cooked up delicious Matzo balls using the simple pre-mixed packages. I alternated between the two Granddadd’s of Matzo ball soup mix: Streit’s and Manischewitz. Both were reliably delicious and wondrously simple to prepare. Get this – you open the box and there are two paper packets (eco-friendly!). In one Packet is the Matzoh ball mix. Pour this mix into a bowl, add two eggs, stir, let sit for 15 minutes, shape in to little balls, throw into a pot of boiling water that includes the contents of Packet 2, the soup mix, and you’re done. Ten more minutes and the Matzo balls will have tripled in size, the soup packet has dissolved in the boiling water and you’re ready to eat.

Last year though, I wanted to experiment. Pre-mixed boxes were great, but I couldn’t quite reconcile continuing to use a box recipe for a festive holiday when my lifestyle centered around using farm fresh, local ingredients, free-range organic chickens and nutrient–rich foods. I imagined that Matzo ball soup must be better than this. Surely, I could shell out more than three dollars and thirty minutes to create a dish that my ancestors had been cooking for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Perhaps, my 23-years of Matzo ball making had been stuck too long in a box (pa-dum-ching!).

I began researching from-scratch Matzo ball recipes online. I scanned through Moroccan and Indian-influenced recipes, hoping to infuse my Seder meal with Sephardic influences. I jotted down suggestions from famous chefs and online food bloggers. I mentally noted that I needed to add twice as much saffron as the majority of the recipes recommended. After days of juggling recipes, I finally molded together a few that I thought had the greatest possibilities for success.

The day before my Passover Potluck, or Seder as it is traditionally called, I shopped around Whole Foods buying all the best produce and chicken for my chicken stock. I eventually left the store with 12 lbs of chicken wings and a massive shopping bag full of produce, eggs and matzo meal. The tab was a gut-wrenching $72. I know what you may be thinking, and I was too – was I insane?

That night I make my chicken stock using organic, free-range chicken wings, organic and local carrots, onions and celery along with salt and pepper and tablespoon after tablespoon of saffron. As I stood over the pot, eating bite after bite of chicken, I began to understand that the “Slow Food” style had its merits. This stock was savory, fatty, and delicious. I covered it up and stuck it in the fridge for the following day when I would skim the fat and cook the Matzo balls.

The next morning, I awoke to find at least two inches of fat sitting on top of my chicken broth. If you’ve never seen two full inches of fat, I can tell you, it’s not appetizing. Especially when you realize that the previous evening you had gulped down spoonfuls of broth, blindly ingesting what may have amounted to tablespoons of pure chicken fat. I decided to compromise my health-conscious cooking techniques with flavor and while I skimmed off the majority of the fat, I left a sizeable layer to blend in as I boiled it. I comforted myself with the knowledge that the fat would blow my friend’s minds with its buttery, full flavor.

During the day, I cooked my from-scratch Matzo spinach balls, which looked beautiful striped through with greens. I threw in more colorful carrots streaked with yellows and purples. After two more hours of cutting and forming, stirring and spicing, I announced my project complete. Closing the lid, I set the stove to simmer, full of pride that I had just created possibly the most delicious Matzo Ball soup ever.

Quickly, with only thirty minutes before my guests would arrive, I cooked up my Matzo Ball soup’s challenger – the box of Manischewitz Matzo ball soup. I tossed the ingredients together, threw the balls into the pot and set it to simmer just as I buzzed my first guest up.

An hour later, more than twenty friends stood around my kitchen, pressing forward to try the two soups. After serving everyone, I too ladled out two cups of soup. I sat down and eagerly dipped my spoon in each bowl and took my time to savor each. The beautiful spinach Matzo balls were good, dare I saw wonderful. But as soon as a spoonful of the Manischewitz Matzo ball touched my lips, I knew perfection had been reached. How can one even try to replace its simple saltiness, creamy texture and light airiness?

While my free-range, locally grown, from-scratch Matzo ball soup glowed with the colors of beautiful heirloom carrots, there was no denying that somehow the flavors of the simple Manischewitz Matzo Ball soup raised my taste buds to delightful joy, ran down my throat with ease, and filled my belly with soulful warmth.

Perhaps, it was tradition. A new recipe would be forever outmatched by 23 years of Matzo ball eating experience. And so I pushed my time-invested, oh-so-expensive, organic soup to the side. Smiling at my friends, I raised my bowl of Manischewitz, fifty-cents-a-cup soup, to my lips and gulped down the perfect broth.

The end.

a dream come true.... frozen Earth Banana chunks!

what was once a dream is now a reality! I just received my WFM newsletter and lo and behold! we’ve got a new product - Earth Banana and Pineapple chunks. This banana bread and all things Earth Banana lover couldn’t be happier. Cheers to years of smoothies to come!

Spoiled

A short vacation begins tomorrow and while the entirety of my body of my being is singing songs of joy, there remains a part of me that is a bit reserved and a tad anxious about my short break. I will be in the mountains of Colorado and I find that my only impediment to pure and total happiness is that I won’t have all the foods I’ve been accustomed to living out in CA. How can I live without my mache lettuce? My santa barbara smoked salmon? My Earth Bananas? My homemade jam from Swantonberry strawberries?  

Yes, I know. I’m horribly spoiled by the Bay Area and by my job at a grocery store. But where at one time the idea of days of simple hummus, cucumber and pita sandwich would have sounded just divine (and I’ll admit that I still do love hummus and pita and eat it regularly) - now I’m worried that where I’m going they won’t have the hummus that I like (only the commodity brand will be available), that the cucumbers will be watery and flavorless (flown in from china most probably) and that the pita will be stale; or, that they simply won’t have pita at all!

The banana situation is one that I truly am distressed about though. Once you’re had an Earth or Whole Trade banana, it truly is difficult to go back. There is this sweetness to those bananas that renders all other bananas dull, bready in texture and like biting into an utterly flavorless piece of safeway brand mozzarella cheese. Bananas are a staple of my diet and so to imagine eating terrible ones for days on end seems a travesty. 

And so I feel that I must forget for a couple days of how sweet the fruit and vegetables here can be and remember that the rest of the world has plenty of delicious foods too. I just have been a bit overindulgent in my zest for freshness here in the beautiful CA. 

Perhaps now is the time to open my mind again to the wonders of other cuisines and see what delicacies I may find in my travels - even if they simply the basic agents of satisfying my hunger. Bland hummus and old bread can sometimes, if eaten after a long and tiring hike, still be the most delicious foods one can imagine. 

A New Pot de Creme

Can I share a confession? Somehow, something I never though would be possible; Rather, a love affair that I imagined could never be extinguished, has been blown out. I’ve stopped loving chocolate pudding.

For years, the sheer words of “chocolate pot de creme” printed on a menu would throw my taste buds into turmoil and I’d find myself incapable of tasting throughout the meal until the first spoonful of chocolate creme hit my tongue. I could visualize a perfectly executed pot de creme so clearly: small white bowl, rich and light in consistency, the top centimeter slightly more airy and dotted with the smallest of air bubbles, sealed with a toasted almond at it’s center. The first spoonful slicing through the side of chocolate mousse, scooping up the tiniest of tastes to my lips. All thoughts of conversation or sharing evaporating as the sheer thrill of flavor sparked across my body.

But, as the English say, all good things must come to an end. 

My relationship with milk ended many years ago and truth be told, there was no great love lost there. From the time I was seven, I had refused to eat cereal with milk. I preferred my cereal, as I liked to say, “plain.” For the past few years, my milk intake has consisted for the most parts of tastes of delectable cheeses here and there and milk products used in baking. Chocolate mousse, pot de creme, or the more common pudding (which I loved just much as it’s sophisticated cousin) was a close as I would dare venture into the lands of lactose. The milky richness was a rare treat and the small portions with which pot de creme is served proved the perfect portion. 

Recently though, I’ve cut back even more on lactose items and found it difficult to stomach the idea of even a milk filled dessert (ah, the surprising appetite changes that follow healthy eating). So, I’ve started making what I like to think of as poor mans pudding. Which also happens to be just about the easiest thing in the world: you take a banana, squeeze it out into a blender, cut up a navel orange and throw it in, measure and scoop out two tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, and you have an extraordinarily sweet, flavorful pudding. 

And here is what is so amazing. It’s so good. The mixture is just beyond flavorful and the flavors are real: fresh, layered and nuanced - have you ever experienced the sweet, juicy, thrill of an orange developing throughout a bite? How the sweet acid fireworks of the orange zip through your head? Suddenly, what I had once understood as an experience of richness, nuttiness and depth became a profusion of the senses. The natural fragrant sweetness of the banana coupled with the juiciness of the orange developing the pure chocolate into an endlessly yummy taste. 

And so now, I can’t go back. I’ve looked at milk-based puddings on the take-away shelves at work and turned away. No more do the words “pot de creme” on a piece of elegant white paper tantalize the senses. My secret fantasies of endless cups of pudding have slowly faded. I’m a woman committed solely to the divine pleasure of blended bananas, oranges and chocolate.  

Enjoy the, oh so simple, recipe. 

Perri’s Chocolate Pudding

Use a blender. Blend together for 1 minute. 

1 Earth Banana

1 Navel Orange (use more for thinner consistency)

2 TB Unsweetened Cocoa Powder (Sharffenberger or Dagoba works great!)

optional: 1/4 avocado for a smoother texture

NYTimes is on to it: "Google’s Most Wanted Recipes"

Julia Moskin’s article on recipe search engines discusses some the major players in that world, including the newest member of that group: Google’s Recipe View tool.

Google provided The Times with a snapshot of the most popular searches in one week in late March, removing queries that seemed like spam. Cookies figured on the list in three different ways (cookies, chocolate chip cookie and chocolate chip cookies). Chicken, lasagna, meatloaf and banana bread recipes were also sought after. (Why banana bread? Could there have been a surfeit of bananas browning on kitchen counters the world over?)

If you’re curious about how many users searched for “banana bread” over time, there is also a tool for that — Google Insights for Search.

Google Insights for SearchGadgets powered by Google

The number of searches for the term “banana bread” have risen steadily since 2004.

But not quite as dramatically as searches for “quinoa recipe,” which is an especially popular search in Oregon, Washington and Colorado:

Google Insights for SearchGadgets powered by Google

You can play around with Google Insights here, and be sure to share your findings in the comments section.

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Why the long hiatus?

You may have noticed (or not) but the banana bread lady hasn’t been at Art Murmur lately. Perhaps the winds of change that urged Rock, Paper, Scissors gallery to take a leave from Art Murmur are the same reasons I’ve taken a couple months off. Is it okay to miss the days when it was just me and the tamale guy (whose number I still have in my phone by the way after he made an hour long proposal to start our own business together)?

Now, I see moms who shop at whole foods hawking hummus and pita sandwiches for $2 a pop. Which, honestly, I think is kind of cool because I hope to be that kind of mom. Now, Vesta Flatbread is there, Aidell’s sausage and it’s just a little too big time for me. I loved it when there were no big names but and that all of us, nameless little chef nothings really, were just out on the street, selling what we had made that day. It was the spirit of Art Murmur - this fun, new entrepreneurial spirit. 

There’s other places to find it. The SF Underground Market was (until the NY times article last month) a dreamworld of creativity and entrepreneurship. And it is still cool, even though you have to wait 45 minutes for a vietnamese sandwich and you smell like sweat and dirt when it’s all over. 

Another reason why I’ve taken a break is that, as with most things in my life, I went a bit to far and I had to reign myself back in. I did an banana bread event a couple months ago and I made 33 banana breads in 4 hours. It was exhilarating but ultimately exhausting. The group I served it to (after I spoke about my work in food), liked it but everyone seemed like they were on a diet. I felt that the entire room had this vibe of restraint, an inability to truly enjoy and express (ahhh, what is life without gooey chocolate and hot bananas!) the pleasure of eating well. I wondered then, looking around, why we can’t all enjoy things more. Why the act of pleasure - or really, showing and expressing pleasure - is so repressed in our interactions with others. 

But recently, I’ve been getting questions. When can I try your banana bread? When are you going to bring some banana bread? So, are you going to go to Art Murmur this month? What is happening with your business? Can I just give you the bananas and pay you?  And, it’s making me think that I should start mixing and baking again; start writing about my banana bread again; and start sharing banana bread again. 

Look for it soon!

Baking Banana Bread with Mom

My recipe is a variation on my mother’s. Since my bread is a variation on hers, she believes that she has total license to make comments and “helpful” suggestions on every single bread that I make. 

Exceedingly proud of her Banana Bread-ing daughter, she flew out yesterday night to help me with my big batch of banana bread for tomorrow evening’s Art Murmur. 

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This is a picture of my mom checking to see if one of my breads is ready. Is it possible for one person could make any more baking suggestions? Granted, I could see her physically attempted to restrain herself from even more comments. Such is life with mother, I guess. 

We made one fabulous batch of banana bread that may rank up there as my best. We used these incredible chocolate chips from Guittard - Akoma Extra Semisweet Chocolate Chips. The taste just blasted through the chip and it was strong and delicious. The bananas and they were perfect. 

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The second batch (which I just tasted) was the brainchild of my mom. Because we were only left with unripe bananas, she suggested that instead of mashing them completely, we cut them up into chunks and bake them that way. We used Ghirardelli 60% cocoa which my mothers swears up and down has won all the magazine and newspaper taste tests for best chocolate. She then modified her statement with a mumbled, well, maybe that was before all these “nice” chocolates came out.

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This banana bread came out really different. Maybe other people might like it but this experiment just cemented in my mind the importance of using sufficiently overripe bananas. You just can’t use normally ripe or under ripe bananas. The banana breads cooked much more quickly and they taste more like cemented cooked bananas that the delicious breads I am used to. 

In any event, this experiment reinforced that I should just trust my gut - and make my banana bread my own way. 

Have Banana Bread - will travel!

So far, my banana bread has flown with my friends and family to feed hungry people in these places:

Alaska

Colorado

and my hometown in Illinois


This is the Banana Bread Lady. And this, is her blog. 
To find out about upcoming banana bread tasting stops check in here or find me on Twitter at BananaBreadLady.
For special orders, please contact thebananabreadladyoakland@gmail.com or submit a request here. All requests must be made 48 hours in advance. Special orders taken dai

This is the Banana Bread Lady. And this, is her blog. 

To find out about upcoming banana bread tasting stops check in here or find me on Twitter at BananaBreadLady.

For special orders, please contact thebananabreadladyoakland@gmail.com or submit a request here. All requests must be made 48 hours in advance. Special orders taken dai