Monday, December 28, 2009

Blessing in Disguise - Parshat Vayechi

In Parhsat Vayechi, the last portion of the book of Genesis, Jacob is nearing death and blesses all of his sons and his two grandsons (for the who's who list, indulge me in one last Joseph and the Technicolor Dream Coat link). In some ways these blessings have very much become a part of Jewish culture - the traditional blessing that parents give to their sons on Friday night starts with the words of Jacob's blessing to his grandchildren "May God Make You like Ephraim and Menashe." Also the famous depictions of the tribes were extrapolated from these unique blessings. But, in other ways these blessings remain strange and ambiguous.

The truth is that they're really not blessings so much as they are Jacob's reflections on his sons' lives and his prophecies of what will befall the future twelve tribes that descend from them. I admit that the text which records these "blessings" rather confuses to me. For instance Reuben, Simeon and Levi get rebuked more than they get blessed and from what Jacob says to them it's a wonder he even wants to talk to them (curious? Read Genesis Chapter 49, verses 3-7) . Other brothers get one-liner blessings about military or agricultural might, and others get long winded exalted descriptions (can you guess which is the longest? The one he gives his favorite son Joseph). Though I still don't understand this part of Genesis as much as I would like to, it seems that these separate blessings-in-disguise are meant to unite them as a family and as future tribes by teaching that they are only whole as a group.

The blessing that caught the eyes of this food blogger is the one given to Judah. It happens to be pretty positive (and I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person), but it also happens to mention wine. Do you see where I'm going with this? The prophecy that Jacob gives Judah is that he will be the progenitor of the nation's monarchy. And monarchy will be pretty sweet; "he will launder his garments in wine and his robe in the blood of grapes" (Genesis Chapter 49 verse 11 ). Not sure how clean that will get things, but if you're a Biblical king you're probably wearing a lot of purple.

Where I'm going with this is actually sangria.

I have a recipe that I tore out of an In Style magazine 4 years ago and still love to use. I always prepare it at least a day ahead to let the cinnamon and fruit flavors work it's way into the wine nicely. The first time I made this sangria I had just moved to Cambridge and was in need of an airtight container to gestate this potent beverage in. I bought this blue and green glass jar that seals like a mason jar, and have been using it ever since, exclusively for sangria making.

Between sangria batches it sits on top of our hutch in the dining room. Strangely, every few weeks it creeps from the front of the hutch to the back, and we have to repeatedly move it back up front because it starts banging against the wall as we walk by. I guess in a Toy Story sort of way it's demanding more sangira.

Winter Sangria
Adapted from an In Style party recipe

1 bottle of red wine (I used an Israeli Petite Sirah - see picture above)
1/2 a bottle of white wine (I used a California Chenin Blanc - see picture above)
1/2 cup of white rum
1/2 cup of fine sugar
4 sticks of cinnamon
1 pear
1 apple
1 orange
1 lime
3 or 4 anise seeds, optional (they have such a pretty shape, but a strong flavor. I find them in the Mexican section of the super market with an ou)

In a large, sealable glass pitcher combine the red and white wines as well as the rum and sugar. Stir to dissolve.

Wash all of the fruits well as you will keep the peels intact when slicing and adding them to the sangria (this makes for a very pretty presentation). Core and slice the apple and pear into approximately 1/2 inch slices (don't go too thin or they will get mushy after being in the wine for a long time). Simply slice the orange and lime into 1/2 inch slices.

Add in the fruit and cinnamon sticks (as well as the anise seeds if you are using them). Seal the pitcher and refrigerate overnight.

To serve, either pour the liquid and fruit into a large clear glass pitcher that will be easy to serve from and bring that to your Shabbat table, or ladle it in individual glasses by dividing the fruit amongst the glasses and then filling them with the sangria.

My mom wants me to tell you that leftover sangria can be stored in the fridge. Not out side of the fridge, because fermentation will cause it to explode - like it did in my mom's apartment after a party she hosted back in the day. Leftover winter sangria would be the perfect thing to enjoy in front of a fire crackling in the fire place.

Photo by Sam Gechter

Friday, December 25, 2009

Granola Report - Parshat Vayigash Part II

My husband, Sam and I both hate when people tell us what to do. This becomes tricky in many areas - we play the cute card when wording our requests to each other and pad our critiques and suggestions to soften the blow. Funny thing is that when it comes to following recipes, Sam, a sometimes cook, loves to follow a recipe to a T, whereas I prefer to take a recipe as a set of suggestions. When we cook together this drives Sam crazy, but when I cook alone, I usually produce results that he loves to eat.

Every once in a while not following a recipe backfires on me. For example, this morning, I didn't even follow my own recipe for the granola. Now to be honest, it was more a case of distraction than disregard, but I made the mistake of mixing the dried fruit in with the oats and oil to be baked in the oven, when they are supposed to be added after the oat mixture has already baked. Only after pulling the baking pan out of the oven did I chastise myself for my mistake, but I chuckled too. Apparently I don't even like to tell myself what to do.

Luckily, I pulled the granola out about 20 minutes earlier than I had suggested in the recipe after stirring the mixture twice in the oven. The fruit have a slight burnt taste, but when consumed with the rest of the granola they are fine. I actually think I had the cooking time in my previous post set for too long - 40 minutes would have burnt the granola. So I have edited the recipe to instruct cooking for 20 minutes only, and at a slightly lower temperature (325 degrees) Try to avoid my mistake and add the fruit AFTER cooking the granola, you will avoid any burnt flavors.

In truth, this granola recipe is very adaptable - it can easily be halved to make a smaller amount (which is what I did this morning) and you can really substitute any kinds of oats (I used Irish), nuts (I only used chopped pecans) and dried fruit (I used cherries and cranberries) depending on your preferences or what you have on hand (it was what I had on hand - this often determines how I cook and I am frequently adapting recipes to what I have on hand).

Here are some pictures of the incorrectly mixed granola - please don't be lead astray by them. But if you are, the granola will still be edible, Sam and I are munching on it right now; according to him "mm pretty good, they're a little burnt though." But he continued to snack and didn't tell me what to do!

P.S. Yay for no work today - I was finally able to take pictures in day light!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snack Pack - Parshat Vayigash

If any of you might be getting together with your families this week and think there could be some family drama, wait till you get a load of this week's Torah portion. Joseph and his brothers have a family reunion in the previous portion, only they don't know it. A quick recap: Jacob sent his sons to Egypt for grain during the famine, and Joseph, who to them is merely the grand vizier of Egypt, recognized them as his brothers. He took his opportunity for revenge and accused them of being spies. Then he forced them to bring their youngest brother (Jacob's other favorite son) Benjamin to Egypt whereupon he frames Benjamin for stealing.

In this week's portion, Parshat Vayigash, brother Judah intercedes on Benjamin's behalf, and tells Joseph, if you must take someone to jail let it be me, because Benjamin and Joseph were the apple of my father's eye. "We have already lost Joseph so I can't pain my father with another loss." Joseph, amazed at his brother's protectiveness, breaks down and reveals his identity. The brothers are shocked and pretty freaked out. Joseph assures them that he holds no grudge, that everything was God's will. He invites them to bring their father and move to Egypt for the remaining five years of the famine.

Joseph sends the brothers on their journey back to Canaan to get their father Jacob, but not without giving them some "tzeidha laderech" some "food for the journey" first. I picture this being a hearty, crunchy granola that could keep well while riding on a camel for a few days. It would even still have it's crunch as they approached their father and delivered the news he never dreamed he would hear "Your son Joseph is alive and well in Egypt." Not only that, your son is a big shot there, in charge of dolling out all of the stored grain to get everyone through the famine. Not quite a doctor or lawyer, but still. Soon the move south is complete and with Pharoh's blessings the whole family is settled together in Goshen, a nice little suburb in Egypt.

Before I impart my granola recipe, I need to share a quick tzedah laderech story. This phrase is still used in modern Hebrew to mean a snack for the road, and when I lived in Israel people were always offering me leftovers to take as "tzedah laderech." Well I must have let this idea get to my head because one weekend, my best friends Devo and I were going to a family's home together and had gone to some great lengths to bake them an angel food cake (with only the amenities of a dorm room available to us). In the taxi cab on the way from my school to our hosts' home (a 15 minute ride at most) we decide we needed some tzeida laderech, a quick snack on our trip. We didn't think anyone would notice if we picked some crumbs off the cake to nibble. One thing lead to another and before we knew it we were tearing hunks out of that cake and devouring it. When the taxi deposited us at their home we were left holding a plastic blue cafeteria plate from my school with only a few crumbs on it. Embarrassed by the evidence of our eaten gift to them, we tossed the plate into a nearby dumpster and rang their doorbell empty handed. That year I gained 15 pounds - so a word to the wise, go easy on your tzedah laderech.

I dedicate this recipe to Devo, Avidan, Shefa and Nachliel, who we just spent a wonderful Shabbat with, and who will soon need some tzedah laderech when they make aliyah this summer (I miss them already).

Tzedah Laderech Granola Over Ice Cream

This recipe is very adaptable - it can easily be halved to make a smaller amount and you can really substitute any kinds of oats, nuts and fruit depending on your preferences or what you have on hand.

4 cups of old fashioned oats
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
1/4 cup of honey
1 and a 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
2 tbsp of flour
1 tbsp of flax seeds
2.5 cups of sliced or chopped nuts such as almonds or pecans
1 and a 1/2 cups of dried apricots, cherries and cranberries (or any combo you prefer)
Soy or regular ice cream (For soy, I like Trader Joe's brand and the So Delicious brand)

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.

Toss the oats, nuts, flour, flax seed and cinnamon in a big bowl. Do not add the fruit as it will overcook in the oven. Whisk the oil and honey in a small bowl and then pour the liquids over the oats and stir with a spoon until well coated.

Pour the mixture onto a 13 x 18 inch baking sheet that is covered with a non stick mat (such as Silpat). Bake for 20 minutes, occasionally stirring, until it turns golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let the ingredients cool. Add the dried fruit to the mixture and stir it in a bowl. Then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

You can serve this over soy or regular ice cream for a delicious dessert on Shabbat, or with milk for breakfast during the week, or eat it plain as a snack!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not Wheat Free - Parshat Miketz

Sixteen years ago to the week, I stood in the social hall of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, wearing a calf-length cream lace dress, belting out the first lines of Parshat Miketz to a room full of female family and friends (and a few men watching from the side). I distinctly recall feeling a little nervous and a little proud on, this my Bat Mitzvah day. For months I had learned with my neighbors how to sing this portion for the service in the Women's Tefillah. I love when I still get an opportunity to do it today especially since most (but to be honest, not all) of my nervousness has faded.

The prominence of wheat in the portion gave my mom a number of ideas for the bat mitzvah party decor (aside from the purple and gold theme); wheat featured in the flower bouquets (see picture below), huge stalks of wheat flanked the stage where Andy Statman and his band played, and to complete the theme she had found an antique pin in the shape of wheat for me to wear.

Here is how the wheat comes in. In the opening lines of the portion Pharoh has two dreams and doesn't know what to make of them. In his first dream, he finds himself standing on the banks of a river. Seven fat cows emerge from the river, followed by seven skinny cows. The skinny cows swallow the fat cows but remain totally skinny (the gossip magazines may want to get the scoop on that diet). In another dream he sees seven ears of grain growing from one healthy stalk of wheat, and next to it a sickly stalk with seven sad looking grains growing on it. The sickly stalk consumes the hearty and healthy stalk of wheat but remains gaunt and sickly looking.

Being stuck in pre-google times, Pharoh seeks someone to interpret these two dreams, yet none of his advisers come forward with an explanation. Pharoh's sommelier tells him that he met a man in jail whose name was Joseph, and this Joseph had correctly interpreted a dream of his. So at Pharoh's command Joseph is brought out of jail, cleaned up a bit and sent directly to him. Pharoh anxiously tells Joseph his dreams.

Joseph tells Pharoh that both of his dreams mean the same thing - a seven year period of abundance is about to begin in Egypt and will immediately be followed by seven years of famine. Joseph recommends that Pharoh appoint someone to oversee wheat and grain collection in the seven years of plenty and distribution of grain during the seven years of famine. Pharoh is so impressed with Joseph that he immediately appoints Joseph to oversee the whole process. So there's wheat again.

In the spirit of the wheat theme and both of Pharoh's prophetic dreams I'm recommending two dishes this week. The wheat berry salad came to mind first. The second, the lean meat meatloaf, covers Pharoh's second dream.

Wheat Berry Salad with Onions and Citrus
Adapted from an epicurious recipe

1.5 cups wheat berries (you can buy these in bulk raw from Whole Foods)
5 cups of water
4 tablespoons olive oil
1.5 cups finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3 green onions, minced
3 clementines peeled, pitted, and chopped
Salt and pepper

Soak wheat berries in water overnight, or a few hours. Bring the soaking water and berries to boil in a sauce pan. Reduce heat to medium-low to simmer for about 1 hour. Once they are tender, drain the wheat berries from the water.

Heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the red onion and saute for 6 minutes, try and get a bit of a crisp on them. Remove from heat and add the rest of the olive oil and balsamic vinegar to the pan or a separate container and whisk with the red onions.

Combine wheat berries, green onions and clementines in large bowl, and pour the dressing over. Add salt and pepper and toss well. Cool before serving.

Lean Mean Spicy Meatloaf

This meatloaf gets a kick from jalapenos and has a mellow citrus note from lemon juice and zest.

1 lb lean ground meat
2 fresh or canned jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
1 egg
1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs (If you don't have panko you can use regular but I like the texture they add to the meatloaf)
Juice of 1/2 fresh lemon, plus some zest
2 tbsp ketchup
salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and knead together with hands until fully combined.

If you line a loaf pan with a strip of parchment it comes out of the pan easier - fold the ends of the strip over the top of the meatloaf to keep the top from drying out.

Put the mixture into the loaf pan and bake for 30 - 45 minutes.

Also, Happy Chanukah! This is a surprise bonus. My birthday present to you.

My Hebrew birthday is the 4th night so this holiday always has some added excitement for me. Each year on Chanukah I like to taste as many different brands of jelly donuts as I can and as many different kinds of latkas. This year, inspired by a recipe from Gwenyth Paltrow's blog and the recipe for the wheat berries I came up with the following unusual but delicious concoction.

Potato Latkas with Red and Green Onions and Apple

1 large baking potato, peeled
2 large apples, cored and peeled
1 medium red onion, peeled
3 green onions chopped
1 egg
1/3 cup flour
1 tsp coarse sea salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
sour cream and applesauce for serving

Slice the potato in four and feed into a cuisinart with a shredder attachment (should yield about 1.5 cups). Do the same with the apples (should yield 2/3 of a cup) and the red onion. Put the grated potato and apple in a bowl of cold water and swish them around to get the starch out (makes for crispier latkas).

Drain the potato and apple and add the red onion to the mix. Put all of it into a large swath of cheese cloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can (got this great tip from my neighbor Eli!). Put the drained fruit and vegetables in a bowl.

Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, except the olive oil. Form the latkas by tablespoons and flatten them out using the palm of your hand.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick pan over high heat. Place 4 latkas at a time in the pan and fry them for 2-3 minutes on each side- the oil should be hot enough that it turns the latkas a nice brown, but the oil never smokes. Drain the latkas on paper towels and serve with sour cream and applesauce, or whatever your favorite toppings are!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Torte It Is - Parshat Vayeshev Part II

In the last two days I've learned that I'm not such a kugel girl. It's true that there have been a few kugels that I have greatly enjoyed eating in my life, so much so that they still stand out in my mind; that tri-colored one at my brother's bar mitzvah, a spicy Yerushalmi served by Rav Brown of Midreshet Lindebaum, and recently a sweet oily kugel at a Minyan Tehillah potluck. However, I can only once recall making a kugel myself (a Passover spinach kugel at Sam's DC apartment - there was a lot of matzah meal involved) and recall passing over many kugels that have been served to me, not wanting to flirt with all that oil and heaviness. In searching for some way to make a tri-colored kugel this week (I never could find that original recipe so I was attempting a conglomerate) I just couldn't bring myself to use nearly an entire carton of eggs and a cruet of oil in a single dish!

So the torte it is.

I enjoyed making this and learned several things that I would tweak about the recipe:
1. I sliced the onions into nice 1/4 inch rounds and sauteed them separately after I was done cooking the zucchini and garlic. I think this helped them stay more intact as slices and they look prettier.

2. I divided the veggies in half and layered them in a pattern which I think is a good way to mimic Joseph's coat.

3. Don't refrigerate the torte until after you have pressed it and drained the liquid. Refrigerating it makes it too hard to drain the liquid since there is some oil in the dish that ends up coagulating.

If you already were lead astray by my other instructions here are some tips on how to drain the liquid. Bring the dish to room temperature and then drain as usual. If the liquid is still resistant to leave the pan, stick a butter knife into the side of the dish and gently wiggle the torte the the side to make room for the liquid to escape. Be sure to do this while tipping the pan (over the sink would be a good idea) and holding the torte in place with tin foil. I will revise the recipe in the previous post to reflect these changes.

Roasting veggies is always a fun and simple thing for me to do. I love brushing each raw slice with oil, sprinkling it with a pinch of salt and maybe pepper, slipping it in to the very hot oven and waiting. As I wait the smell slowly builds, until my timer chimes on my phone and I open the oven door to the smell of deep veggie goodness. Putting these roasted (and sauteed) vegetables in a torte is a pretty way to serve them and a change from just scattering them about on a platter.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Color Schemes - Parshat Vayeshev

The Torah portion of Vayeshev opens with the affectionate relationship between Jacob and his favorite son Joseph. Joseph was the second to last child born to Jacob and earns a special place in his father's heart for being a son of Rachel, Jacob's true love. To exhibit Jacob's great affection for is son he makes Joseph an amazing, technicolor dream coat (to borrow from the name of the famous play).

I loved this play when I was little - saw it twice on Broadway and in countless school and camp productions. To me it was amazing that a story that I learned in my Judaic studies class was part of mainstream pop culture. It was a veritable miracle to my 5th grade self - right up there with the Nickelodeon Rugrats Chanuka special. I came across some youtube videos of the movie with Donny Osmond as I was writing this blog and had a grand old time belting out the show tunes late at night - much to Sam's amusement.

So, while Jacob's love certainly helped Joseph in the fashion department, it didn't help him in the brotherly love department. His brothers in fact hate him because of the special attention he gets from their dad. Lest you think Joseph an innocent lamb, I should mention that he seems like a pretty bratty teenager in the text - he spies on his brothers while they are shepherding and tattles on them to his dad. Plus, he has these grand dreams that he interprets and shares with his family about ruling over his brothers (the eleven sheaves of wheat all bowing down to the one in his dream - according to Joseph that would be his eleven brothers bowing down to him).

Joseph's relationship with his brothers reaches a breaking point after he shares these dreams, and they plot to kill him; "then we'll see what he dreams about" they all snicker. But the oldest brother, Reuven, talks the gang of brothers out of fratricide (mostly because he wants to be #1 in his dad's eyes for saving Joseph) and instead they devise a plan to stage his death and sell him as a slave. Unfortunately, while they had Joseph stowed in a pit during their deliberations about his fate, a band of travelers comes along, kidnaps him, and sells him as a slave. So while their brother is no longer their problem, they're bummed that they didn't make a buck off him.

It is Reuven who discovers that Joseph is no longer in the pit and he gets pretty panicky. He devises a cover up scheme, and takes the colorful coat they had previously stripped off of Joseph - that coat that reminds them all just how much more their dad loves Joseph - and dips it in animal blood. They then rush back to their father and play dumb. Showing him the coat they ask "do you recognize this coat - is your son with you?" At which point Jacob breaks down, believing that his favorite son Joseph has been killed, and he goes into full mourning.

A sad ending for a beautiful coat.

As a tribute to it, I'm thinking of doing either a tri-colored kugel or a colorful roasted vegetable torte this week. I was first introduced to tri-color kugel during the planning for my brother's bar mitzvah. When our family sat down with the caterer Uri, who owns the Middle Eastern style Riverdelight , he had lots of great ideas he wanted to try for the Shabbat family luncheon on the bar mitzvah weekend. The tri-colored kugel really caught my mom's attention as something totally new, and a way to have something of everything (an objective my mom often strives for).

Here's the recipe for the torte, I'll let you know later in the week what I end up doing. I'm still searching for the recipe for the tri-colored kugel, but generally you will need eggs, onions, carrots, potatoes and broccoli (or spinach if you prefer).

Roasted Vegetable Torte

2 zucchinis cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 red onion sliced
1 tsp minced garlic
2 red peppers
2 yellow peppers, halved, cored, and seeded
1 eggplant (1.5 lbs) peeled, cut into 1/4 inch slices
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In a large pan, saute the garlic and zucchini in olive oil over medium heat for 10 minutes until tender. Remove from pan. Saute the red onion slices in olive oil for 4 minutes on each side. Place the onion and zucchini on a roasting sheet, season with salt and pepper and roast in the oven for 40 minutes.

In the mean time, set the eggplant slices in a colander and salt both sides. After 5 minutes rinse the slices. This helps remove the bitterness from the eggplant.

Set the eggplant and the peppers on a roasting sheet, brush with oil and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes on one side, then flip the eggplant and peppers and roast for 30 more minutes until soft. Watch that they do not burn. Remove from the oven, let cool slightly, then remove the skin from the peppers.

Divide the eggplant, peppers, zucchini and red onion in two. In a 6 inch round cake pan start to arrange each vegetable in a single layer, and repeat the pattern once. Cover with parchment paper, plastic wrap or tin foil, and put a plate on top and then heavy objects, such as cans, to weigh it down (to extract liquid).

After several hours drain the liquid (do not refrigerate the dish before this step as the oil in the dish will congeal and make it difficult to drain the liquid). Invert the cake pan onto a platter and coax the torte out. Slice the torte with a serrated knife and serve.

I hope you will notice how reminiscent the colorful layers of the torte are of Joseph's striped coat.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

What You Need to Know About Sciatica - Parshat Vayishlach

In this week's Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob is on the run from his brother Esav. Things aren't so smooth between them and while Jacob has been trying to patch things up by sending gifts - sounds fool proof to me - he is still pretty afraid of his brother. One night, while on the run with his family, he is alone on the banks of a river and encounters an angel. They wrestle, and the angel injures Jacob in the leg, in the sciatic nerve to be exact (so technically, Jacob is the first recorded case of Sciatica). As dawn breaks the angel asks Jacob to let him go, but Jacob first wants a blessing. The angel asks his name, and then tells him that he won't be called Jacob anymore, but will be known as Israel/Yisrael from now on because he struggled with God and prevailed (the Hebrew word for struggle and God combine to make up the word Yisrael).

But Jacob isn't ready to put down his dukes and wants to know the angel's name - in Hebrew he says "Hagidah Na Shimecha" "Tell me your name." But the angel has no more fight in him and leaves. As Jacob limps away the Torah inserts a verse into the narrative: "Therefore the children of Israel do not eat the sciatic nerve that is on the thigh, to this day because Jacob was injured in his sciatic nerve" (Genesis 32:32). Interestingly, the word for the sciatic nerve is "Gid Hanashe," which sounds very similar to Jacob's words "Hagidah Na Shimecha" "Tell me your name". The Torah is full of these kinds of plays on words and connections and this has always been an interesting one to me.

The prohibition of eating the sciatic nerve, the gid hanashe, is a rule that made it into the traditional laws of keeping kosher (for a great illustration of the nerve on a cow check out my dad's Mishna Chulin). The sciatic nerve is the longest and widest nerve in a mammal's body, running from the lower back down to the lower limb. In animals it can technically be removed through a process called nikkur, but it is labor intensive and costly to do so. So no rump roast, leg of lamb, sirloin, or fillet mignon for us. Apparently, cuts that contain the gid hanashe, are available but are expensive and harder to find. I looked at the menu from my favorite kosher NY steakhouse, La Marais, and didn't see any of these cuts on their website, but did find fillet mignon for $40 a pound somewhere else online. I have heard that these cuts are more available in Europe.

Ah Europe. I just finished My Life in France by Julia Child and and Alex Prud'Homme and now all I want to do is go to France to eat meat and drink wine. I saw the movie Julie and Julia over the summer with my friends Jess, after which my mother offered me her 1961 copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I snapped it up. Yes, my mom is a major supplier for my personal cookbook library. She claims that she has offered the book to me before but I don't recall, or the sad truth may be that it took a movie to make me appreciate one of the greatest chefs of all time. I am enjoying the cook book even more, now that I know what went into it's production!

The first recipe that I tried from Mastering was for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year. I wanted to make a lamb roast and went to my favorite local butcher in Newton, Gordon and Alperin. I wanted rack or leg of lamb. He was out of rack and explained that he never carries leg because the sciatic nerve rule makes it hard to find. So instead he gave me a wonderful shoulder roast. Once I got home from that shopping trip I cracked open Mastering and chose my first recipe to execute - Herbal Mustard Coating for Roast Lamb. I cross referenced the cooking time and temperatures for the different cuts and weight of lamb to accommodate my 5 lb shoulder roast. The recipe is very straightforward and the dish has a rich yet mellow flavor. It was enjoyed by all of our Rosh Hashana guests, including my father-in-law Ruben (who was the impetus for a roast since he has a serious aversion to poultry) and my mother-in-law Judy (who gave it rave reviews).

So I present to you Julia's recipe for a delicious, gid hanashe free, shoulder roast of lamb. I dedicate the recipe to my brother Ben, (unlike Jacob I am not afraid of my brother) whom I love very much and love when he calls me asking for recipes for sweet and sour meat balls.

Mustard Encrusted Lamb Roast

From the recipe for Herbal Mustard Coating for Roast Lamb found in Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Berthole and Beck- adapted for a 5lb shoulder roast.

5 lb shoulder roast (my butcher tied it up for me and it formed a nice square - this allows for more even cooking, so ask yours to do the same)
*beware the roast will shrink considerably
1/2 cup of Dijon mustard
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 clove crushed garlic (I recommend using my all time favorite garlic crusher - there's no need to peel the garlic!)
1 tsp fresh rosemary or thyme (pulled from the leaf or roughly chopped or ground)
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, mix together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Beat that in last to create a thick sauce.

Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan. Use a brush to cover the meat with all of the mustard sauce.

Let sit for about 20 minutes and then put into the over for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Let the lamb cool and slice right before serving. If you will be reheating it before serving don't slice until after you have reheated the meat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

More Than a Stone's Throw - Parshat Vayeitzei

Well, last week was quite the perfect week to start a blog about recipes that correspond to the weekly Torah portion; the portion of Toldot pretty much handed me the lentil soup recipe. But this week left me with a number of choices, because several food items are mentioned in the portion of Vayeitzei: oil (Jacob anoints an alter with some), bread (gets mentioned twice but it's not central to the story) and water (in a well at Jacob and Rachel's love scene). Sheep and goats are mentioned in the story as well (when Jacob has tremendous success breeding his herd). Yet the item that stood out to me this week was not a food at all, since it's stones that star in the story multiple times!

First, Jacob sleeps on a stone when he dreams about angels ascending and descending a heaven bound ladder. Then, he builds an alter to God out of that stone to mark the place where God promises to grant him leadership of a great nation and inheritance of the land of Israel. Later, in a moment of superhuman strength, Jacob is able to move a huge stone covering the mouth of a well when Rachel arrives in need of water (cue the love scene). Stones make a final appearance in Jacob's truce with his uncle/father-in-law Lavan, the guy who made him work for 14 years before he was allowed to marry Rachel. They each build stone piles to mark their territories - picture that moment as a kid when you drew a line down the middle or your bedroom or your bathroom sink and told your sibling they couldn't come onto your side.

This week's recipe is going to be more of a stretch, because what the heck am I going to cook with a stone? Stone soup came to mind, but I did soup last week. A stone fruit cobbler would be great (stone fruit being the category for fruit with large hard pits such as peaches, plums, and nectarines), but they're totally not in season in Massachusetts. Next to a stone fruit cobbler recipe I found one for stone crab - not too helpful either. Then I thought of stone ground ingredients and found myself on the Taza Chocolate web page. A Somerville , MA based company, they are not only organic but are also focused on sustainability and fair trade and they are in the process of being certified as kosher. All their chocolate is stone ground, which gave me the inspiration (but sadly not yet the ingredients) for a molten chocolate cake with stone ground chocolate.

I've actually never made a molten chocolate cake before, but I am on a constant search for the best one, tasting it in as many places I can. My favorites are at Abigaels and Le Marais in NY and Little Italy in Jerusalem. While it's easy for me to criticize the ones that don't live up to the oozy, chocolaty standards I have set for this kind of dessert, I'm still really afraid of making one myself and messing it up. In a Martha Stewart Cookbook that I got from my mom for my 20th birthday there is a beautiful picture of mini sunken chocolate cakes. I've read the recipe over many times and always liked that there wasn't too much butter nor too many eggs and that Martha made them in cupcake tins instead of ramekins (something I don't have room for in my kitchen). But still, there was the fear. Then, browsing through this month's Bon Appetite magazine, I saw a recipe in an ad by McCormick for molten chocolate cake with cinnamon and decided to go for broke and create a hybrid of the two recipes. Sadly, it failed pretty badly. Just what I was afraid of.

It might not look bad, but trust me, it tasted bad.

But I picked myself up by my apron straps and made a second attempt. I decided to leave Martha in the dust (I know that is so bad for a woman who loves to craft, and please don't tell her, but the McCormick recipe let me just throw all the eggs in without whipping them first - I have a real hang up about whipping eggs). The McCormick recipe was shockingly easy and tasted incredible! Plus, the recipe calls for a tablespoon of wine, and I enjoyed drinking a bit more than that in a glass while I was mixing the cakes up.

These little cakes were so delicious, and tasted so similar to the ones I love, that I had to restrain myself and Sam (my hubby) after our first bites so that I could get a picture. I have to say that I really impressed myself - and you can impress your guests if you make them. When these little guys come out of the oven, they kind of look like stones... ok I said it was a stretch, but if they look a bit like stones and they are made with stone ground chocolate - aren't two stretches better than one? If you have other thoughts on what I could have made for this parsha I'd love to see your comments on my post!

Stone Ground Molten Chocolate Cakes

Adapted from the McCormick recipe for Molten Spiced Chocolate Cabernet Cakes, as it appeared in an ad in the December edition of this year's Bon Appetite Magazine

8 tablespoons of a butter alternative such as Earth Balance
4 oz of stone ground chocolate, chopped (I like Sharffenberger's, but if it's too hard to find a non-dairy chocolate you can always be sneaky and use Trader Joe's chocolate chips)
1 tbsp of red or white wine (I had a white zinfandel on hand)
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp of ground ginger
Optional- soy vanilla ice cream (I like Trader Joe's brand and the So Delicious brand)

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the "butter" and chocolate in any double boiler type of concoction; I don't own an actual double boiler so I set a big glass bowl inside a shallow pan with water over a medium-high flame. Keep the water at a gentle boil while stirring until the "butter" and chocolate melt. Remove from heat, carefully. Add the wine, vanilla, and sugar, then whisk in the eggs and egg yolk.

Add in the flour, cinnamon and ginger and blend well. Divide among 6 cupcake cups (I use silicone ones because they're reusable and hold their own shape so you don't need a muffin tin, you can just put them on a baking tray) and bake for 10 minutes, then cool for a minute, run a knife around the edge of each cake, and invert onto a serving plate.

If you're not serving these fresh out of the oven, then it's best to reheat them in a warm oven for 10 minutes before serving them (they reheat very nicely). I highly recommend topping them with some soy vanilla ice cream.

Oozy, chocolaty standards met!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

In the Beginning-Parshat Toldot

This blog began as a gentle suggestion from my friend Shifra. For years I've been mentioning to her that I want to compile a cookbook with recipes that relate to the weekly Torah portion, but a busy life full of endless plans has lead to many distractions from writing such a book. My cookbook laments usually surface around this time of year when we re-start the Torah reading cycle in synagogues. This year, when Genesis came along, I started a Google doc with a rough draft of the cookbook (literally just jotting ideas down about what recipes I could use for each of the first few weekly portions) and I reported my progress to Shifra. But she was one step ahead of me. "Instead of keeping it all in a google doc why not blog about it?"

At once I loved and loathed this suggestion. I loved it because it would hold me more accountable to adding to my "rough draft" than a Google doc would. But I loathed it for the fear of not stacking up to the food blogs of friends and for the regularity it requires. I surprised myself by starting to casually drop, "I'm thinking of starting a food blog..." when around friends. I was more surprised that one of my close friends, Jess, who writes the most amazing food blog, was uber into the idea (and didn't think it was too kitchy). Thanks to Jess's encouragements over the last month (name ideas, posting schedules and a peppering of questions) I was almost ready to start. After two more excuses to procrastinate (the url I wanted was taken, and I absolutely wanted my father - a graphic artist - to design the masthead, even though he was in the middle of a move to Florida) time is up! The name is set, the url is ligit, and isn't my dad's illustration great?

On to this week's recipe. In synagogue this Shabbat we will read parshat Toldot, the 6th portion in the book of Genesis, and hear about an infamous Biblical instance of sibling rivalry. Isaac and Rebecca give birth to twins, Esav and Jacob, who grow up to be interested in very different things: Jacob is very interested in his older brother Esav's birthright and Esav is very interested in hunting and eating food. Jacob essentially gets Esav to sell him his birthright for a pot of lentil soup (the lentil translation is debatable, but we're going with it because frankly, I don't have a recipe for pottage).

So I thought I'd share with you my favorite vegetarian lentil soup recipe, which I learned while studying in Israel for a year after high school. Get ready, this soup has a kick - achieved by adding whole grain mustard and red wine vinegar after it has been cooked. I think the twang goes nicely with the drama of the Esav and Jacob story.

If you decide to make this for a meal this Shabbat (and I hope you will!) you could totally drop a reference to the weekly portion, or not. I work full time in the Jewish community and Jewish education is my passion - so I think this kind of thing is pretty cool and would throw an unabashed reference out. But subtlety works too.

Lentil Soup with a Twang

1 tbsp Olive Oil
2/3 cup of diced celery
1/3 cup of diced onion
1/3 cup of diced carrots
3 tsp crushed garlic
2 quarts vegetable stock or water
1 1/4 cup of lentils, washed
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tsp whole grain mustard
2 tsp red wine vinegar

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Saute all the vegetables and garlic until the onions are translucent. Add the vegetable stock and lentils, as well as the salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and cook covered for about 30 to 45 minutes until the lentils are tender (but not too soft).

Before serving, remove the pot from the heat and add the red wine vinegar and mustard.

P.S. My plan is to generally post twice a week - once on Tuesday/Wednesday with my recipe plan for Shabbat and again on Thursday/Friday with the results of how it turned out and pictures. I hope you'll enjoy these light-hearted connections to the Torah portion and that you'll come back... for a double portion.