Beef Stock + Israeli Onion Soup

I had planned on making chicken soup for the Seder, but we read on the kol foods brisket cooking tips site that brisket is particularly absorbent, and that it’s a waste to cook good meat in bad beef stock.

So we ordered a whole passel of bones from kol – mostly beef with a few lamb (I needed a couple for the shank bones anyway), and made homemade beef stock. I was guided by the stock recipe from, and here’s how I did it:

6 lbs beef bones
2 lbs lamb bones
2 onions
2 carrots
5 cloves garlic

a bunch of peppercorns
a couple of bay leaves
(note: no salt!)

I did need to buy a bigger stock pot: I got a 16 quart stock pot, which includes a lid with a small vent hole in it – this is a critical component, because a regular pot (a) won’t be big enough and (b) tilting the lid to vent is a huge PITA.

First, roast the upper-half of the list in a 400° oven until the bones are browned, turning once or twice – it took me about an hour. After roasting, put all of the roasted stuff, along with the lower half list into the pot and cover with water. Simmer on very, very low heat (barely simmering is ideal) for ~8 hours. If it goes long, that’s fine. Occasionally skim the surface for fat or scum. After it’s done, remove the bones & vegetables with tongs and discard (or give a bone to a dog, who will like it a great deal). Strain the stock through cheesecloth+colander and let cool. This will require several very large containers – it took 3 13cup containers and a small one. Refrigerate the stock overnight. After refrigeration, imperfectly remove the fat that has congealed on the surface of the broth (i.e. don’t worry about missing a little bit, but get rid of most of it).

In the morning, I started to make onion soup – I was guided by the obviously non-kosher simplyrecipes french onion soup recipe. Obviously, cheese & bread were right out, and I didn’t have the little oven-crocks, so here’s how I did it (I’m calling it “Israeli Onion Soup” to differentiate it from the cheese-loaded French Onion):

Passel of onions, very thinly sliced (about 5 medium-sized ones)
garlic, finely minced
olive oil
fresh thyme, minced
bay leaf
8c homemade beef broth
2.5-3 teaspoons salt
1/2c dry white wine

Caramelize the onions & garlic in the olive oil (medium heat, minimal stirring, they should be a nice dark color) – this will take ~35 minutes or so. Add the white wine, and use that to pick up any of the bits of onion that are stuck to the sauté pan. Add the beef broth, thyme and bay leaf. Salt and pepper to taste – I was concerned about a guest who has to track salt, so that’s why I measured it. 3 teaspoons is about right for most tastes, but it could easily be reduced to 2.5 without much loss. 2 would taste like a “low-salt” recipe, without actually being “low-salt.” Typical Jewish soup salt levels are probably about twice the salt content of this recipe.

I made this in two batches and then joined them. Cook them on the stove for ~ an hour and serve as desired. This soup refrigerates well, although the stock is pretty gelatinous, so don’t be too surprised.


An interesting thing that I’ve seen among many folks I know and have encountered is to presume that expertise in one field means expertise in allfields. The Freakanomics phenomenon may be taking advantage of this: the use of unexpected and unusual tools of analysis can lead to unexpected and unusual solutions; whether they are correct or not bears investigation. A related behavior discounts the thousands of hours of study & practice that a real expert puts into mastery of a subject – it’s easy to forget that whatever one knows about topic X may be completely orthogonal to topic Y.

I have, in recent days, come to appreciate what true expertise is in some fields, and I appreciate all the more the value of real experts in society. It’s one thing to pooh-pooh the medical establishment, but when you need a doctor, nothing else will do. Likewise, it’s easy to forget that the famous Shakespeare quote about killing all the lawyers was said by a villain.

When the courts get it right

The DC courts just denied an injunction brought by a local rabbi regarding the special election on April 26th. As an Orthodox Jew, I think that the DC court has it right, and that particular rabbi has it completely wrong.

I am grateful that the board of elections decided to offer all kinds of early voting options, up to and including being open on Easter sunday, a holiday observed by far more DC residents than the 8th day of Passover (which does not appear on secular calendars). I am also grateful that Jews are not being compelled to violate any of our religious principles to participate in the election.

I think that the rabbi should re-examine his behavior and motives: this is the season of freedom, where God told Pharoah, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me.” The DC government is hardly Pharoah, so there is no need to rhetorically imply that they are oppressing us or denying us our ability to both participate fully in democracy while living a halakhicly-correct, God-fearing lifestyle. I’m pleased that justice has been served.

Wearing craziness on the outside

So I happened to click on a link from Orthonomics regarding Pesah resources, and it took me to the Seattle Va’ad’s guide for Passover. In that, I noticed (on page 5) some quite surprising items under the “kitniyot” section – specifically cumin, which Sarah and I had just purchased with an OU-P on it at the DC Va’ad (not to be confused with the band Capitol K) supervised Kosher Mart. So I went to the OU, and found their list of kitniyot for year 9691 (which is amazing, because it’s only 5771 this year) – and there on that list was quinoa, which according to the OU article “what is kitniyot?” (helpfully linked from the first page) we learn that neither cumin nor quinoa are in fact kitniyot.

That last link is actually a relatively helpful discussion of the history of the topic, but it seems like the folks writing the other lists haven’t actually read the history – how else could they spectacularly disagree on so much, and yet speak with such authority? Besides – while cottonseed oil is the generic “go-to” oil for Passover, thus demonstrating that it is not accepted as kitniyot, the real reason not to eat cottonseed oil is that it’s nutritionally horrible, and has lots of unpleasant health effects as well.

When a mensch runs for office

I have contributed to a total of two political campaigns in my life. One of them was for a relative who shares very few political opinions with me, but is a good person nonetheless. The other was for Pat Mara, currently an at-large candidate for DC City Council (election on April 26th, or if you’re busy with Passover then, you have until the 19th to get an absentee ballot).

Mara hand-wrote a thank-you note. I’m impressed. I had already been impressed with him during his 2008 campaign, where he won the Republican nomination away from Carol Schwartz, the incumbent – he knocked on our door and spoke to us for about 20 minutes about why he thought he was the best candidate, and what he would do to make DC better.

So I think Mara is great, and is a refreshing change from the typical Democratic machine politics in DC – I hope he wins, because we could certainly use more like him.

Puncturing falsehood with pictures

I’ve been a fan of Edward Tufte’s work for several years, and one of the significant elements of his approach is to use pictures to accurately represent datasets without either distorting the data or suggesting false conclusions. In this spirit, I am tremendously pleased when I see images which are used to improve one’s perception of the world as it exists, rather than as partisans would have it spun.

So Randall Munroe, of XKCD fame, has successfully (in my opinions) demonstrated the relative significance of the many of the various levels of radiation.

Randall Munroe's chart about radiation dosages (from

Munroe correctly points out that for all of the discussion about radiation in Japan, the exposures and dosages are theoretical concerns, while the actual impact of the tsunami and earthquakes killed thousands of people and are real, rather than merely theoretical concerns.

Couscous or quinoa (gluten-free/passover) pilaf

I often make a pilaf as a starch side-dish, and this is how:

pine nuts (pinoli)
1 large or 2 medium onions, finely minced
2 peppers (red/yellow/orange), finely minced
chicken broth
quinoa or Israeli couscous
rubbed sage

Toast a handful of pinoli in olive oil over low heat until half of them are deep brown. Remove the nuts from the oil, and add the onions – sauté until they are almost clear, and then add the peppers. Add sage and fresh ground pepper , and sauté until the onions are transparent. Add the quinoa or couscous, using chicken broth for about half of the required liquid (1.5:1 for couscous, 2:1 for quinoa), and re-add the nuts. Simmer on low heat until the liquid is absorbed. Fluff and enjoy!

Provincial chicken

This is a very useful recipe if you don’t have a lot of time or need to make vast quantities. The biggest key to it is the quality of the spices. I prefer Penzey’s spices. According to the opinion of RDBF, spices which are not themselves ḥarif (sharp) only need supervision due to drying agents and the like. Penzey’s doesn’t use those, and brags agout it, and thus he said they were fine when I asked.

Several chickens, cut into eighths.

skin and flense the chicken parts
brush lightly with olive oil
spinkle heavily with herbes de Provence (“from Province” => “provincial”)
bake at 350 for around 45 minutes, check temperature of several pieces: chicken needs to be at or above 165 at an absolute minimum.

A New York State of Mind

Sarah and I had planned to go to New York for the wedding of a dear friend to a nice fellow (whom we like but don’t know as well), and decided to make a whole vacation of it – so we ended up seeing Book of Mormon and Wicked (the latter is a notably better musical and story than the former, and I’m not only normally predisposed to prefer comedies, I thought that Orgazmo was top-5 funny). Of course, our plans were made before both of us got sick: man trakht und Gott lakht, I believe the saying goes (man plans and God laughs). My hands have been a source of much consternation, and Sarah came down with a case of the barfies on the trip up.

We actually had to drive up (!) because we needed to be in multiple parts of the city and state over the weekend, and I got the most-excellent awesome parking space right across the street from our friends’ apartment in Manhattan. Whoo hoo! Of course, when I had to move the car for the street cleaning I apparently came too close to a fire hydrant (NY standards in this regard are thoroughly ridiculous: 15 feet? Seriously?), but happily, it turned out that the ticket I got was given by someone who can’t tell the difference between Washington DC and Washington state, and according to the official rules of the city of New York, §39-02, if any required information is missing or incorrect, then the ticket is invalid. Yay!

One thing that was really nice about the stuff in Manhattan was getting to go to restaurants which are high-quality, kosher, and completely non-hamish (I realized that hamish doesn’t translate well – perhaps “folksy in a traditional Jewish way”). I get pretty tired of the decor and style of a lot of the kosher restaurants – the more that the place brags that it’s kosher, the lower my expectations get – and many of the places I can get to are festooned with pictures of rebbes or other decor that would get tossed out of a movie set for being too stereotypical. Bleah.

A surprise, for me, was a direct example of the paradox of choice – I went to the Strand books store and was sufficiently overwhelmed that I walked out with exactly nothing. It was like staring at the sun…

Anyway, from the über-cosmopolitan Manhattan we went to Queens for shabbat. Now, all I knew about Queens was that it was the right place for a prince to find a wife – so as a wedding-weekend location, that works out pretty well. The shul is a small congregation in a mid-size building which has some neat elements but could use a pretty thorough renovation (the stained glass is excellent; the kitchen, not so much). The people were pretty friendly – another Washingtonian and I were amused by how politics is discussed outside the Beltway (very, very differently, but it’d be hard to precisely capture what the difference is), and one visiting rabbi (R’ Schwartz) gave a talk where he mentioned a famous (but new to me) Rashi regarding Adam and Eve – that the phrase describing Eve ezer k’negdo (a help-meet for him [lit. “opposed to him”]) is used to teach us that if he is zokheh (idiomatic – closest is “proper/worthy”), then she is an ezer (helper) and if he is not zokheh, then she should be k’negdo (opposed to him). Not a bad message, all told.

The wedding itself was lovely, although from a selfish perspective I wish I had been feeling better: clapping and dancing was quite painful, so I didn’t do much of that, but my natural instinct is to want to be one of the people in the thick of the scrum of the dancing (or as close to dancing as the typical male “festively shuffle-in-a-circle” gets).

This week has been slower, thank God, except for preparations for both a sheva berakhot party (Friday) and for Passover (10 days – eeek! Our hosts in Queens were already thoroughly into their Passover cooking…). Recipes tomorrow, sleep tonight.

Dogs and their humans resemble each other

I now know, thanks to prednisone, how Kacy feels: hungry all the time that I’m not actually eating. Maybe it’s the parvo.