Today I Cleaned the Oven - היום ניקיתי את התנור
It has been a major challenge for me to adjust to the scale of kitchens (and bedrooms and bathrooms) in this country. Often an entire apartment in Tel Aviv is smaller than the living room in a suburban house in the tri-state area. I know, I know. I can hear the cry from the Manhattanites bemoaning their own quarters. But really. Manhattan apartments may be small but they come equipped with appliances, water pressure and adequate electricity.
In Tel Aviv a rented apartment often comes with no appliances - no fridge and no stove - hardly any outlets, and those that exist may be located smack in the middle of the wall and connected to a junction box in the ceiling by a very iffy cord - and is the only place in the whole apartment to put a tv but you can't because you won't have an outlet for the router.
So when you rent a place and it comes with an oven and a refrigerator, you thank the real estate gods and grab it. The euphoria lasts for three days after you move - the first time you decide to cook. At the point you (me) find out that the oven's interior light oven does not work, the actual oven space is no bigger than a microwave and the racks that were sitting on the counter belong to the previous unit that was removed years ago.
This may not be a problem for many people but for me it was a disaster. I cook every day and I want to cook everyday. Every dish and pot we own is way too large for oven and the refrigerator does an excellent job of producing ice but there is no where to put the food. ?אז מה לעשות (what can you do?) The answer. Make do.
Making do is the national sport of Israel. Do not believe the hype about loving football or clubbing or hummus or the beach. Israelis love to make do and brag about it. And if you complain, as I often do, no sympathy comes your way. Quite the opposite.
So I bought smaller baking and roasting dishes. And we bought an extra oven that we plug in when we have a big party and have to make a lot of food at the same time. Not convenient and certainly not enjoyable. Sometime I don't use a pan and wrap the one flimsy oven rack, that I eventually found under the sink, in aluminum wrap and use it like a plancha. I did this two weeks ago with a half a salmon. The salmon fit, it cooked well and tasted good but afterward the oven resembled the site of a volcanic eruption - black, oozy, sticky, burnt, full of acrid smoke.
We cleaned up, including the oven, and everything seemed fine until the next day when I turned on the heat. The moment I opened the oven door, I was hit with a wave of heat and noxious gas that made my eyes burn. I backed away and shut the door. But the oven has no light so I couldn't see anything without risking another atack. I played cat and mouse with the oven after that. I opened the door and ran and when the smoke dissipated I put the pan in and prayed for the best.
This went on for a few weeks since it didn't seem to affect the cooking times or the quality of the food. But today I surrendered and decided to clean the oven properly, light or no light. I try not to use toxic materials but I went straight for the lye. Two years ago I tried baking soda and vinegar and it resulted in grease covered by baking soda and vinegar. So today I opened the doors and windows and went for a full on chemical attack.
It more or less worked. The grease is gone. The rack is shiny and clean. The oven walls are clean but there is still baked on black stuff on the oven floor. I doubt I will get it off since I really don't want to use as much lye as it requires to do the job.
After the cleaning, the oven was still off-gassing. The only way to get rid of this is to turn on the heat and let the remains of the cleaner dissipate. I opened the windows and doors again and let it be for a half an hour. But what a waste! A perfectly heated oven. I threw in two acorn squashes and decided to make a soup.
I hope you enjoy this spur of the moment creation.
As with all the recipes it will be also be published later under a Creative Commons License. The attribution is important to me. If you enjoy the soup, let me know and don't forget the shout-out.
BT's Fennel and Acorn Squash Soup
2 tablespoon vegetable oil - preferably safflower
1 large leek
1 or 2 jalapeño chilis - depending on heat preference
3 kumquats - or 1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 small or 1 large fennel bulb
2 small or 1 large roasted acorn squash
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoon Arak - or any other anise flavored liqueur
1/2 teaspoon Fiori di Finocchio
8 cups filtered water
3-44 ounces cooking cream - 10-15% fat
Kosher salt to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
Fennel fronds or dill for garnish
Turn oven to 375 F or 180 C.
Thoroughly wash acorn squash
Place squash in baking dish. When oven comes up to temperature, place dish in oven
Thoroughly wash leeks
De-seed and devein chili
Rough chop leek
Dice chili into very small pieces
Place heavy gauge pot on medium low heat. Add oil
When oil is heated add leek and chili
Cook until leek becomes translucent but not brown
Dice kumquats into very small pieces. Add to pot. If using lemon zest add to pot
Cook on low for 2 minutes
Add Fiori di Finocchio
Add Arak, sugar and a pinch of kosher salt
Turn heat down to low
Let alcohol cook off - approximately 2 minutes
Add water. Turn burner up to medium low and let stock cook for 15 minutes
Remove pot from heat
When squash is fork tender (approximately 25 minutes) remove from oven and let cool
When squash is cool split in half, remove seed and scoop out the flesh
Add squash to soup stock
Return pot to heat. Turn burner up to medium low
Cook soup for 15 minutes
Remove soup from burner. Let cool
When soup is cool, purée soup with wand blender
Add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Add 3 or 4 grinds of black pepper
Add cooking cream
Return pot to stove. Heat on low for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally
Soup should take on a velvety texture
Serve soup cold, warm or hot. Garnish with dill or fennel fronds. In summer adding julienned cucumber as a garnish makes for a lighter dish
Enjoy - בתיאבון