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Deadline Blues

vertical rhubarb stalks

Friends, I am feeling more than a little bit unhinged right now. I can count the number of days before this book is due on my fingers and toes and I am feeling every morsel of that stress. I am embarrassed to admit how many times I’ve lost my cool over the littlest things.

So I’m just going to leave this picture of rhubarb here in place of a recipe, canning tips, or anything truly useful. I’ll be back with something more fulfilling soon.

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Making Brisket for Passover

ten pounds brisket

About four years ago, I became the official brisket maker for my family’s Passover Seder. I’m not the most natural fit for this role, particularly since up until the time I moved to Philadelphia, I’d only ever attended Seder in the all-purpose room at our Unitarian Universalist church.

uncooked brisket

I started dabbling in brisket making during the years when Scott and I were regularly filming episodes of Fork You. We did one episode in honor of Philadelphia’s beer week, in which I braised a smallish brisket in a slurry of sauteed onions, herbs, and a generous pour of dark beer.

prepped onions

For the longest time, that beer soaked method was my favorite. However, once I took on the task of making brisket for Passover, the beer had to go because fermented grain products (like beer) are most decidedly not kosher for Passover. And while my people aren’t particularly observant, using that as my braising medium seemed a step too far.

slicing onions

Since this year is my fifth brisket adventure, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about the process (I actually took these pictures last year, intending to write this post then). It’s not hard to do, but it is time consuming. I always start the day before I plan on serving the brisket. This allows me to remove the bulk of the fat that the meat releases and truly, things just taste better the second day.

brisket prep

My current approach is relatively simple but time consuming. I start with one pound of brisket for every two people I’m feeding, plus a little more just in case. This year, we’re expecting 18 people, so I started with 10 pounds of brisket (if the pieces have a substantial fat cap, I suggest buying even a little bit more).

sauteing onions

I use one pound of onions for every two pounds of brisket. They add a ton of flavor and lend substance and body to the eventual sauce. In the beginning, I sliced those onions by hand, but by year two, I got smart and pulled out the food processor. It’s still not easy on the eyes, but it is a lot less tedious.

pot of brisket

To brown ten pounds of brisket, I pull out two large pans and heat some oil with a high smoke point until it shimmers. Salt and pepper the brisket pieces (to get ten pounds, you end up with at least two big pieces) and brown them on all sides. Once the brisket is nicely browned, they get pulled out and I saute the sliced onions in the fond from the meat.

ready to braise

Once the onions are done, I put a little down in the bottom of the pans I’m using for braising. Because of the amount of brisket I make, I tend to divide them between a low, wide Dutch oven and a large cast iron roasting pan so that I can fit them all into my oven.

in the oven

I pour beef stock in so that it comes up most of the way up the sides of the meat. Finally, I arrange the remaining onions on top of the meat and tuck sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme into the pans. I cover both pans and cook them in the oven for 3 to 4 hours at 300 degrees F. They’re done when you stick a fork into the center of the meat and it feels tender instead of tight.

finished brisket

Once the brisket is finished braising, I let everything cool down. Then I separate the beef from the sauce and refrigerate them both separately.

A few hours before I want to serve the brisket, I remove the container of braising liquid from the fridge. I pull off the fat that collected (keep it and roast potatoes in it later) and I push everything through the fine screen of a food mill. This removes all the woody herb bits. Then I pour the milled liquid into my crock pot and taste it. I’ll add a little balsamic vinegar and salt, if necessary. If it feels too granular, I’ll sometimes zap it with an immersion blender.

brisket fat cap

The last thing is to cut the brisket against the grain and add the pieces to the sauce. This way, it heats slowly and never develops any of that funky, reheated meat taste. Special occasion food, at its finest!

finished brisket

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Worker B Rescue Putty Saves My Hands

Worker B rescue putty

I am deep in the recipe testing phase for my next book. This has meant lots of chopping, shredding, and peeling, as well as many loads of dishes (so many dishes). The end result is that between the acids in the fruit, the hot, soapy water, and the bitterly cold weather we’ve been having and my hands are broken.

The skin on my fingers crack and split to a certain degree every winter, but this season has been the worse to date. I have a basket of salves, balms, and ointments, each one purchased in the hopes that it would be the magic bullet, but each ultimately leading to disappointment.

rescue putty

A couple of weeks ago, on a desperate whim, I ordered a little jar of Rescue Putty from Worker B. When it arrived, I opened the jar and rubbed a small portion into my hands. It was thick, not at all greasy, and just a little bit sticky (but not in a bad way). Once on my hands, it felt like it formed a protective layer on my skin. Coupled with a pair of goofy cotton gloves, my skin is finally starting to heal. Nothing else has worked like this.

At $19.90 for a 1.75 ounces, Rescue Putty isn’t cheap, but is amazingly effective. Made from just beeswax, raw honey, and olive oil, I feel completely okay applying it throughout the day. When I run out (happily, a little goes a long way, so that day is far in the future), I may try to make my own version, but for the time being, I’m delighted to have Worker B’s version (their lip balm is also excellent, if you’re in the market for a good one).

Now, for the disclosure. Worker B doesn’t know who the heck I am. I bought this product with my own dollars. I just thought I’d share it with you guys, in the event that some of you also suffer from chapped and cracked hands this time of year.

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