Recession Food: Matzo Brei

Yes, folks, now that the financial sector is in total collapse and we’re staring down the very real possibility of a new Great Depression, it’s time for another installment of what will clearly be our ongoing series, Recession* Food!  Those of us who didn’t make millions running banks into the ground are tightening our belts, cashing in our change jars and wondering about that seven hundred billion dollars (!!) we’re being told we’ll hand over to the rich, so I’m afraid I won’t be reviewing many fancy restaurants on this blog anytime soon.  Seriously, a loaf of bread, a block of store-brand cheddar and a bag of Lay’s chips just cost me eight bucks.  It’s going to be a rough winter.  I will, however, be creative at finding ways to make tasty, nutritious food as cheaply as possible.  After all, that’s what most of the six billion people on this planet try to do every day.  Which brings us to matzo brei (or matzah brei), a Jewish favorite with Ashkenazi origins.

I’m not Jewish, and it’s been only recently (thanks largely to the lovely folks at the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation) that I’ve been introduced to the joys of Jewish culinary traditions.  So my introduction to matzo brei came from a book: the delightful Garlic and Sapphires, former New York Times restaurant critic Ruth Reichl’s memoir of her adventures in dining.  In one chapter toward the end of the book, Reichl is describing a period when the backbiting and snobbery of the food world began to get under her skin.  She reacts one night by cancelling her reservation to a lofty temple of haute cuisine and staying home with her two-year-old son making matzo brei, his favorite.

This matzo-and-egg dish is incredibly simple, quick and cheap.  (It’s also vegetarian and very Crohn’s-friendly, with its high protein and easily digested matzo.**)  I used Manichewitz ‘everything’ matzo, which, like the ‘everything’ bagel, has bits of onion, garlic and poppy seed for some added flavor.   There are lots of versions out there, including one that’s closer to a fritatta; there are also sweet versions with fruit and sour cream.

This recipe is meant for two, but Joe and I found that it took three crackers and four eggs to satisfy us.  Enjoy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.  This takes five minutes to make.  Really.

Matzo Brei (recipe by Ruth Reichl)

2 matzo crackers

2 eggs

Salt

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Set a colander inside a bowl (to catch the crumbs) and break the matzos into little pieces, dropping them into the colander.  Remove the colander from the bowl and hold it beneath running water until the matzos are damp.  Allow them to drain; then put the damp matzos into a bowl.

Break the eggs into the bowl and stir with a fork just until mixed.  Add salt to taste.

Melt the butter in a small skillet over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, add the matzo-egg mixture and cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes, or until the egg is cooked and there are a few crispy little bits.

Put on plates and serve at once.

(Note: This might be blasphemy, but the spice lovers in my household ate this with a generous dollop of Sriracha hot sauce.)

*Stay tuned, I may have to rename it “Depression Food” and start offering recipes for roadkill and bathtub gin if this keeps up.

**Celiacs, you can buy gluten-free oat matzo, or try this recipe.  I haven’t tried these, so I can’t comment on their quality.  For those with wheat allergies who can tolerate spelt, though, I have eaten spelt matzo and it is freaking delicious.  Both are available from MatzahOnline.com.

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Restaurant Week at Django

It’s Restaurant Week in Philadelphia, and Joe invited me out to dinner for a Date Night (which is something we old married folks like to do every so often). Django has a great reputation as one of the best BYOBs in the city– and in Philly, the BYOB capital of the east coast, that’s saying something. They’re part of the Buy Fresh, Buy Local alliance as well, so we headed to 4th and South, bottle of cabernet sauvignon in hand, to give them a try.

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Honey’s Sit’ N’ Eat: Texan-Jewish Fusion Brunch

It was a sunny fall Saturday, we’d slept in late after an exhausting week, and we’d heard great things about the newly reopened Silk City Diner in Northern Liberties, so Joe and I waited for the number 5 bus and schlepped over to Spring Garden St. We arrived at Silk City at 3:50 pm, salivating with anticipation, only to be told that they were closed already and would reopen at 5. There was no sign to tell hungry potential diners they were out of luck, of course.

I’m generally a friendly, easygoing person, but don’t get between me and food. It’s just a bad idea. We made our unhappy way up the street to Honey’s Sit’N’Eat and arrived at the stroke of four, just at closing time. We weren’t expecting to get anything to eat, but popped our heads in anyway, and a friendly, bearded server told us that if we ordered quickly we could still eat.

We both ordered chicken-fried steak, which came with gravy, two eggs, a potato latke and a buttermilk biscuit. Yes, a potato latke. Honey’s is run by Jewish foodies from Texas, and the cultural combination makes for a fascinating and eclectic menu— beef brisket and biscuits and gravy share space with Mexican breakfast dishes and matzo ball soup. Our latkes tasted and looked more like spicy hash browns, but they blended well with the slightly spicy gravy and savory buttermilk biscuit. And oh, the chicken-fried steak…

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Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake

Before you ask: no, I’m not Jewish.  (I get that a lot.)

I have, however, been lucky enough to get to know some wonderful Jews who have kindly included me in a few of their traditions.  I’ve always been fascinated by Jewish traditions and the ways they’ve been adapted and kept alive in different ways by diverse groups all over the world.  Jewish holiday foods, in particular, are rich in history and lore.  They’re also amazingly rich in flavor, and this honey cake is an excellent example.  Foods made with honey are a tradition at Rosh Hashanah, symbolizing sweetness in the new year.  I got this recipe from Recipezaar.com. 

I used local honey, eggs and flour and locally roasted coffee, so I’m thinking this is my second entry in the September Philadelphia Eat Local Challenge.

Honey Cake

1 cup honey (I used Lancaster county wildflower honey)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup oil
3 eggs
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup strong coffee

In a large bowl, mix together the first 5 ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda. Add the flour mixture to the wet stuff, alternating with the coffee; beat well. Put into one greased 9″x13″ pan (or, alternatively, three 8″ square pans). Bake at 325F– 90 minutes for the large pan, 60 minutes for the three smaller pans.

I found that this cake rises a lot more than you might expect, and then falls during the course of baking.  This resulted in some batter around the edges of the pan that burned slightly.  I’d also recommend putting parchment paper in the pan instead of relying on greasing alone– this is, after all, a honey cake, with all the stickiness that implies.  Also, be sure to keep an eye on it while it’s baking– 90 minutes is a long time, and ovens and pans vary.

The flavor of this cake is very dark and deep; it’s not a ton of cinnamon but the end result is definitely a spice cake.  It’s a little sticky and fairly rich, and it goes really well with coffee at breakfast.  And in allergy-friendly Jewish tradition, it’s dairy-free!  Enjoy, and happy new year.

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