Sunday, September 24, 2006

September 24, 2006: Knishes

My new workplace is turning out to be my kinda scene, with a culinary competition to be held tomorrow in honour of the birthday of one of my colleagues. For a day or so I fantasised about winning friends and influencing people with entries far superior to anything else on the table. Then I reflected on a conversation with the guest of honour in the past, in which she talked about making her own harissa paste. I struck up an innocent conversation about last year's entries, which turned out to include Thai fish cakes, gyoza with water chestnut filling, and souffles with goats' cheese oozing out of them.

OK... tough competition. I pared back my plan to simply to keeping up with the Joneses and not looking like a culinary klutz. Well, a little more than that: the email invitation incites me to "Increase your chances of winning!! Unlimited entries!!" I still have enough ambition to submit an entry for each category, Antipasto/Entree and Dessert. (Really, when I think about it, I'm not sure if it will increase my chances of winning. A good cook's always going to have an advantage over a lesser one, and maybe taking on more than one project will decrease the quality of each project, thereby reducing their individual chances of winning.)

My antipasto/entree submission is a plate of knishes from our Kurma Dasa cookbook. Knishes are something of a Jewish tradition, heavy European pockets of dough with a vege or meat filling. Kurma has his own vegetarian Krishna-style take on it, of course. The filling starts off with ground caraway seeds and asafoetida powder in butter, then a finely chopped mix of cabbage, carrot, green capsicum, celery and flat-leaf parsley are added and cooked until tender. Next are more spices: paprika, salt, pepper and sugar. The filling is bound with mashed potatoes and a bit of sour cream.

I'm relatively new to the making of shortcrust pastry, though I have long known that the frozen stuff is no substitute in both the taste and texture stakes. Having a food processor makes it achievable and I remember being surprised at how easy this recipe came together last time I made it. Unfortunately that meant that this time I was a little blase about it. Check out that first picture and note that this batch does not have quite enough water. This meant that the pastry was too crumbly and not sufficiently elastic. I made a better-hydrated second batch (and used both). This time I saw the tell-tale point where the dough wraps itself up into a big ball in the processor and whips around erratically. With both batches I struggled to roll out the pastry thin enough, and it stuck to the rolling pin a lot. I expect I'll gradually master the art, but I welcome any advice that will speed up the process!

Likewise, the oven is still a trial-and-error experience and these fellers don't change colour much as they cook. Might have helped if I'd looked at my watch when I put them in. I sampled a crumbled up one with more sour cream: tasty, but not exactly water-chestnut gyoza. During the pastry-making, I was kept company by Sunday afternoon TV: more specifically the 1976 version of 'Freaky Friday' starring a young Jodie Foster. By the time I was testing my careless cooking, Jodie was moralising about the responsibilities of being an adult, and of being a teenager. Between this and my dessert competition entry, I might have my own lesson to learn about biting off a little more than I can chew.


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