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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Farmer's Chop Suey

The culinary connection between the Chinese and Jewish cultures is well established.  In our family, Sunday night dinner at Pekin House on Devon Avenue in Chicago was a tradition, maybe not every week but often enough.  I'm certain many of you have similar Chinese restaurant dine-in and/or take-out stories.  (Sadly, Pekin House closed its doors in March of this year -

In fact my friend Bonnie and her family still have "Chinese" at least once a week.  She also is a lapsed mah jongg player, so she was happy to go with me to the Skirball Museum to see the current exhibit "Project Mah Jongg".  The exhibit, open thru 9/2, is a colorful, fun, and fascinating look at this American Jewish tradition, which was adapted from the ancient Chinese game.

While the culinary connection between the two cultures mainly consists of Jewish people eating Chinese food, there's a classic cross-cultural recipe that also was a tradition in our Chicago home.  On nearly brutally hot summer days my mother would whip up a cool, refreshing dish called "Farmer's Chop Suey", consisting of fresh vegetables cut into chunks and covered with sour cream.

                                                                                                                                                                                            For this month's Food Bloggers Los Angeles potluck, with tomatoes and zucchini as the featured ingredients, my version of Farmers' Chop Suey, garnished with fried noodles and served with chopsticks in little take-out containers,  was a refreshing way to honor both the theme and tradition.

Farmers' Chop Suey
2 mini cucumbers, cubed
1 1/2 cups baby heirloom tomatoes
6 radishes, cubed
1 medium zucchini, cubed
1 cup carrots, cubed
1 cup celery, chopped
2 green onions, diced
2 cups Greek yogurt, plain or sour cream
1/2 cup fresh dill
1 garlic clove, minced
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
Chinese fried noodles

1.  Mix the yogurt, dill, and garlic together and set aside.
2.  Put all the veggies in a bowl and toss to combine.
3.  Add the yogurt mixture to the veggies and toss until well coated.
4.  Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
5.  Portion into take-out containers, garnish with Chinese fried noodles, and dig in.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Champagne Grape Cheesecake

Grape season is here and there are more varieties than ever to enjoy. There's the Thomcord (a marriage between a Concord and a Thompson), Green Muscato crisp, firm, richly sweet), Black Muscato (plum-like in flavor), Niabell (earthy and similar to the classic Concord), Red Muscato (sweet and crunchy), and "the toast of the produce aisle" the Champagne Grape (like a lightly sweet, refreshing, and very drinkable wine).

The delicious flavor and darn-right cuteness of the Champagne Grapes inspired me to go into the pantry and bring out the two darn-right cute 6 1/4" spring form pans that I found at a charity rummage sale a few years ago. Then all I needed was to refer to my favorite tofu cheesecake recipe from Patricia Greenberg's The Whole Soy Cookbook   With an adjustment or 2 for the amount of filling I needed for the diminutive pans,  and some fresh lemon zest for pizazz, here's the perfect results:

Champagne Grape Tofu Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp. Earth Balance soy margarine
1 pkg. (12 oz.) firm silken tofu
1/2 cup organic sugar
8 oz. Tofutti brand Better Than Cream Cheese
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest

1 1/2 cups Melissa's Champagne Grapes (de-clustered)                 
about 1/3 cup jam (whatever flavor you like)

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

To make the crust, process the graham cracker crumbs until finely ground.  Add the margarine and pulse until the mixture becomes coarse crumbs.  Pat the mixture in a layer about 1/4-1/3" deep on the bottom of each darn-right cute spring form pan.  (If you only have an 8" spring form pan then adjust the recipe to 2 cups cracker crumbs and 6 Tbsp. soy margarine.)

To make the filling, blend the tofu in a processor until smooth.  Add the sugar, "cream cheese", vanilla, and lemon zest and process again until smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.

Pour the filling into the pan(s) and bake for 50 minutes until slightly browned.  Turn the oven off and leave the cake(s) in the oven for 1 hour.  Remove and cool to room temperature.  Refrigerate overnight.

Melt the jam in the microwave on in a saucepan until smooth.  Let cool slightly then spread on the top of the cakes.  Place the champagne grapes on the top of the jam to cover.  Chill again for about 1 hour.  Serve.

The season's tastiest table grapes are harvested by hand from California's San Joaquin valley and delivered by Melissa's Produce Company to stores all over the country.  Be sure to go out and get some, ok?