Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveling the mystery of Jewish food. Her posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog Series. For more information on the series, please visit:
I am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of 20 to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo. But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for “The Kosher Carnivore,” my second book. My first book, “Recipes Remembered” featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told. Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust. But for “The Kosher Carnivore,” we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.
I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance. My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand. Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father. Allison would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography. But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink. He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.
The night before I diligently enforced the three words that every chef evokes: mise en place. In French, that translates to mean “everything in place,” and for cooks it is what stands between disaster and delicious. Prepping ingredients, stocking my pantry, and setting a timeline were part of my late night homework. Ziploc bags became filled with chopped onions, diced carrots and julienned leeks. The fridge was loaded with uncorked wine, lemons waiting to be zested and meat and poultry marinating the night away.
I didn’t need a rooster to wake me as I barely closed my eyes, reviewing my notes and plotting my course. I had the daunting task of preparing 19 separate dishes to shoot the 11 photos we had hoped to capture. I needed to be part circus juggler, part Julia Child and part Zen master as without calm the day would be a catastrophe.
With ovens preheating exactly on time, pans sizzling when they were supposed to and pots boiling in anticipation, I began my day well before the morning pundits were delivering the news. As the beef was seasoned and speedily tucked into the oven, the first of several timers was set. The bird was butterflied for the spatchcocked chicken and it waited its turn patiently as the roast began to brown. If the food emerges too soon it withers while the shot is being set up. Too late and you lose precious time and natural light. Ben and my personal assistants were terrific. Like Rocky retreating to his corner, I was given quick shoulder rubs, short pep talks and the occasional pat on the tush with a “go get ‘em mom” to renew my energy!
At the end of the day we had some fabulous photos and more meat lining my counter than a butcher shop the day before Passover. I was in a veritable food coma as we devoured every dish that emerged. We ate prime rib and Yorkshire pudding for breakfast, fried chicken and mashed potatoes for mid-morning snack and herb crusted lamb chops with creamed spinach (that’s right, without cream or butter) for lunch. Dessert was veal Milanese topped with field greens. Our midday feeding frenzy began with sliced hanger steak followed by pasta tossed with broccoli rabe and kosher sausage. With not much room left, we nibbled on brisket and kasha, pretzel rolled hotdogs and lamb sliders. We washed it all down with the last dish of the day, Asian chicken noodle soup.
I was happily exhausted as the sun began to set and the photos uploaded to Ben’s laptop. My hair was tussled, my apron stained, my feet aching — no one said it would be glamorous. But in a whirlwind 24 hours, I gained confidence — and pounds — and was completely satisfied with both.
Abundant Asian Noodle Soup
I like to think of this soup as a salad bar in a soup bowl, where everyone can add their own favorite vegetables to the sublime flavor of the sweet and sour broth.
Makes about 4 servings
Start to finish: Under 30 minutes
- 1 quart chicken stock
- ¾ pound bok choy, rinsed, white part chopped, leafy portion cut into strips.
- ½ pound Napa cabbage, leafy part only, chopped
- 6 ounces white mushrooms sliced very thin, caps only
- 1 (7-ounce) jar baby corn, drained
- 1 garlic clove, smashed
- 3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon mirin
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- Pinch of ground ginger
- 1 (3-ounce) package ramen, shirataki or udon noodles, prepared as directed
- 2 cups shredded chicken
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 scallions, chopped
- Chili-garlic sauce, to taste
In a large soup pot add the stock and heat just until simmering. Add the white portion of the chopped bok choy, chopped Napa cabbage, sliced mushrooms, baby corn and garlic clove to the soup. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger, and then add to the soup pot. Heat for about 15 minutes on a low flame.
While the soup cooks, prepare the noodles according to package directions, reserve.
Add the chicken pieces and strips of the bok choy leaves to the soup and cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust the soy (for salty), mirin (for sweet) and vinegar (for sour) to balance the taste. Evenly divide the prepared noodles into the soup bowls and ladle the hot soup over them. Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and for those who like it spicy, top with a shot of chili-garlic sauce.
The mixture of vegetables is endless, and you can easily add more veggies to this pot, you’ll have less broth to solid ration, but that’s OK. Straw mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots can all be added after being drained and rinsed. Fresh vegetable options include snow peas, green peas, thinly sliced carrots, and fresh bean sprouts. Use your imagination and your family’s personal favorites to create the perfect mélange.
Check back tomorrow for June Hersh’s final post and recipe for the MJL/JBC Author Blog.
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A Picture Perfect Day