Sunday, March 21, 2010

Passover Time is Here

I love Passover time with family. As happens every year we spend some time reminiscing of Passovers past - and we have some good stories to tell. Like the year we went to Prague on the pretense of a package deal which included renting a totally Passover ready apartment and having all of our seders and meals at a local kosher restaurant. But three days before the trip my mother affirmed that the purveyor of this deal was a flake when seeking more information she finally called the restaurant who informed her they were closed for all of Passover.

So like the power trooper she is, my mom found a new place to rent, a kosher grocery delivery service and some Chabad Seders to hook up with. We arrived in Prague with half a day to turn a small rental kitchen over for Passover, buy a pot and a good knife and pick up some fresh produce. On two burners my mother churned out the most delicious Passover meals and by the end of the week we were hosting guests.

Our last pre-Passover beer was enjoyed on the airplane.

The provisions my mom brought from home.

Produce shopping.

The bags included some Israeli pomelos we found!

We visited Prague's famous Jewish cemeteries and synagogues that had been preserved by the Nazis who destroyed this Jewish community and others in hopes of serving as a museum to the lost race.

The Ungelt quarter where we stayed.

This year's Passover accommodations has afforded us more comfortable cooking quarters and I have been in charge of desserts (and some grilled veggies and quinoa).

I have already made up four batches of the Walnut Cookies (some were made with ground walnuts and some with ground almonds) and they have disappeared quickly.

For one of the batches I got adventurous and added some of the bananas that were sitting around our kitchen and some chocolate chips to delicious results! They taste very different from their predecessor - the bananas give them a soft and chewy texture, and they hardly tasted like a Passover cookie.

I also made two flourless chocolate cakes and tried a new recipe from my mom's friend Mindy for some very indulgent Matzah Brittle which everyone in our family enjoyed.

Banana Nut Cookies

2 eggs
2 cups sugar

3/4 cup of matzah meal

2 cups of finely ground walnuts or almonds
1/2 cup of chocolate chip cookies
3 ripe or over ripe bananas

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat eggs and sugar until very light. Then stir in walnuts and matzah meal. Mash in the three bananas. Drop from a rounded teaspoon two inches apart onto a silpat lined baking sheet. Top each cookie with a couple of chocolate chips. Bake for 20 minutes.

Matza Brittle
Mindy- thanks for sharing the recipe with us and for allowing me to share it with everyone else!

4 sheets of matza
1 stick of margarine
1 cup of brown sugar
2 cups of chocolate chips
1 cup of walnuts

Heat 350 degrees. Line a tray with a silpat or aluminum foil. Spread the matza out in a single layer. Melt butter and brown sugar in a small pot over medium heat and stir until it boils. Pour the mixture over the matza sheets and spread it around with a brush. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips and bake for 4 more minutes then remove from the oven immediately. Work quickly to smooth the chocolate over the matza evenly with a spatula. Roughly chop the walnuts and sprinkle them over the chocolate covered matzas. Chill in the freezer for up to two weeks and keep covered in tin foil.

Thanks to Ben for all the food pictures!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Inauguration - Parshat Tzav

When I was studying in Israel for a year after high school I spent the first three hours of my morning in a class where we went through all five books of Moses in depth, but rather quickly. When we got to Leviticus my teacher, Shani Taragin, told our class about a practice popular in the Cheders (religious school houses for boys) of the old county. Before a Rabbi would start teaching his students the book of Leviticus (which was usually the first book in the curriculum) he would take out a jar of honey and have them each dip their finger in the jar and lick. This was meant to foster positive associations with this sometimes tedious book. My teacher, Shani, wanted us to similarly get off to a sweet start with the book and devised a less messy way of updating the old custom - she handed out lady finger cookies to each student in the class and had us dip those into honey and enjoy before embarking on our studies of Leviticus.

This still has reverberations for me today. After reading this week's portion, Parshat Tzav, I need a cookie. Well, it's not so bad- there are again lots of different sacrifices mentioned (not all meat) but Aaron and his sons are finally inaugurated to priesthood. Instead of honey or lady finger cookies, I'm going to share my favorite Passover cookie. Did you know that the meal offerings were all of unleavened bread - how like Passover. In that spirit I'll share another unleavened and hence Passover appropriate recipe.

But first, I want to wish my brother Benjy a Happy Bar Mitzvah Parsha! I still wouldn't trade you for all the cupcakes in the world (a tempting offer I famously turned down from a baker in my synagogue when Ben was a newborn, a story I referenced in the speech I gave at his Bar Mitzvah).

Walnut Cookies for Passover
These are like a marriage of a meringue and a macaroon. The tops of them puff up nice and crunchy and a little pocket of air forms between it and the chewy bottom. We make lots of these in my family for Passover since they disappear pretty quickly and are easy to throw together.

2 eggs

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup of matzah meal

2 cups of finely ground walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Beat eggs and sugar until very light. Then stir in walnuts and matzah meal. Drop from a rounded teaspoon two inches apart onto a silpat lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes.

Smoked Salmon and Swiss Chard Quiche

Some of you got very excited by this recipe that I listed in my Passover menus in the last post - and rightfully so. It is delicious, and was a welcomed break amidst all the meat meals I was preparing. So, here it is as requested by my neighbor Jessica - the most divine baker and ultimate comfort food maker (Jess fessed up that she found the recipe here)!

2 tbsp butter
2 cups milk
8 ounces of salmon fillet, skin removed
1/3 cup of onion, chopped
1/2 bunch of Swiss chard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp marjoram
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Use 1 tbsp of butter to coat a 10 inch pie plate. Warm the milk in a pot over medium heat and then add the salmon fillets and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 10 minutes so that fish flakes when poked with a fork.

Melt the other tbsp of butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions along with washed and cut up Swiss Chard. Stir until tender and the liquid is reduced. Season with salt, pepper, marjoram and nutmeg. Spread this in the pie plate, followed by the flaked salmon.

Beat the eggs with a cup of the cooled milk from cooking the salmon. Pour the liquid mixture over the salmon and Swiss chard mixture. Bake for 35 minutes, make sure that the center of the quiche has set and serve warm.

Happy Passover to All You Readers!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Somethin Salty - Parshat Vayikra

We're onto the third book! Feels like we're moving along at a real clip now and I'm getting the hang of things here in the blogosphere.

The third book of the Torah is called Vayikra in Hebrew, Leviticus in English. The book can get a bad rap for being a bit boring because it's full of ethics and legal jargon. However you don't have to be a lawyer to appreciate some of the rules and ethical guidelines; kosher animal specs, the basis for all the holidays, forbidden relationships, the obligations to take care of the poor, love your neighbor and be honest in business. Plus, some of the work in the Tabernacle (sacrifices) and the dudes who worked there (the Priests and Levites) are pretty interesting.

Well, in the first portion of the book, Parshat Vayikrah (the books get their names from the first key word in the first sentence of each book, likewise the names of the portions) the focus is on the food offerings and a pretty tasty menu emerges. Gracing this "menu" are three different ways to prepare flat breads that made up the meal offerings - deep fried, pan seared and oven baked (for those priests watching a waist line). They would have mostly been burnt on the alter, but the priests would have gotten the left overs as a snack. And let me tell you, it was a salty snack - if you thought a bag of pretzels could get salty look at this: "You shall salt your every meal offering with salt. You may not discontinue the salt of your God's covenant from upon your meal offering - on your every offering you shall offer salt" (Leviticus 2:13).

Oh you hadn't heard about the covenant of salt? Yeah it's not as well known as say the covenant of circumcision. In fact most people need the commentators help to figure this one out. Let's turn to trusty Nachmanides (not to be confused with Maimonides). He says that salt can be destructive when corroding things or can act as a preservative - this teaches us, he says, that the alter service will preserve the nation if performed properly and if not, can cause destruction and exile.

Last winter my book club read Salt: A World History - I never finished it because it was way too long and soporific for me - but I can tell you that salt has been around for a while and for people like me and my mom (who is often asked if she's like some X with her salt), that's a good thing. But I have a little salt story of my own.

The year that Sam and I first started dating we spent the last days of Passover in DC with his family. I took over not only switching his kitchen over for Passover but introducing some meat into his kosher dairy kitchen. I come from a meat loving family and just didn't know how Passover would be done without some meat. Sam's friends all approved of this introduction. While I was food shopping in DC I found several containers of flavored salts packaged with a built in grinder and they served me well long after Passover was over. I still use the same brand to grind over wedges of home made sweet potato fries while they roast in the oven with some olive oil, add it to dressings and sprinkle over fish.

We've recently acquired a few more grinders of flavored salt from Trader Joe's. I've been using the lemon pepper salt to add a kick to canned salmon sandwiches we take to work for lunch. I recently added some of the everyday seasoning to omelets ala Julia Child but Sam actually enjoys that salt most when grinding it onto his palm and licking the stuff right off. Who can blame him? It's a blend of thick sea salt kernels, whole pepper corns, coriander seeds and chili pepper flakes.

I wanted to share two salt centric recipes with you - one to star in the main course and one to grace dessert. Salt already has a place on the Shabbat table - it is shaken onto the Challah slices before passing them around as a reminder of the meal offering and showbreads being paired with salt in the Tabernacle. Given the timing of the year I have decided to share kosher-for-Passover recipes (but you wouldn't know it from the taste).

Sweet Potato "Fries"
These aren't fried but roasted to a nice texture - when you bite into one it's crispy on the outside but nice and soft on the inside and really has an intense sweet potato flavor.

3-5 sweet potatoes
Olive oil
Coarse Sea salt and herb mixture

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Scrub the sweet potatoes and leave the skins on. Slice them into 1 inch by 5 inch wedges. Spread the wedges onto a silpat baking mat on a baking sheet.

Brush generously with olive oil and grind the salt and herb mixture over the top of the wedges. Roast for 30 minutes and keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn. Serve warm with or without ketchup.

Sea Salt Chocolate Cake
I made a version of this cake last year without salt and it went over VERY well. I recently had some salt brownies and loved the balance of baked chocolate and salt(it made me pine for a Vosges chocolate bar, which sadly are no longer kosher due to the bacon bar - damn bacon). So I thought the salt would be a good addition to this little cake.

4 ounces of fine quality bittersweet chocolate
1 stick of unsalted butter
3/4 cup of sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
Coarse Sea Salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8 inch round baking pan. Chop chocolate finely and melt with butter in a double boiler or a glass bowl set in a sauce pan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Add eggs and whisk then sift in the cocoa powder and whisk again. Finally add the sugar and whisk. Sprinkle the top of the cake with sea salt.

Pour batter into the pan and bake for 25 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes and then invert on a serving plate.


Everyone's favorite Matzah holiday starts on March 29th this year and I wanted to share with you a few of the highlights from our festivities last year. Sam and I ran three shopping trips and filled up 1.5 refrigerators in preparation for hosting twelve of our family members who all stayed at the hotel conveniently located across the street from our apartment. Aside from the nonstop family fun there was non stop cooking, eating and dish washing. Below are pictures of our Seder table all set and ready to go way ahead of when the holiday actually began (a veritable miracle that I was only able to accomplish and then capture on film with the help of said visiting family members). I've also included my menus and plan of attack in the kitchen. A high degree of organization is the only way to make it through this holiday!

Passover 2009 Menu

Wednesday Night- First Seder (10 People)
Matzah Ball Soup
(Fennel soup for non chicken eaters)
Roasted Vegetable Torte
Walnut Cookies
Mandle Bread

Thursday Lunch 7-10 people
Kufta Kebobs
Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday Night - Second Seder 10 people
Stuffed Bell Peppers with anchovies etc
Lemon Garlic Chicken
Meat Loaf
Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli
Chocolate Cake

Friday Lunch 13 people
Cold Carrot and fennel soup
Grapefruit, mango and cucumber salad
Smoked Salmon and Swiss chard quiche
Walnut cookies and chocolate cookies
Sliced fruit

Shabbat Dinner 13 people
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Relish
Garlic Spinach
Baked Apples with matza meal and sugar crust

Shabbat Lunch 13 people
Fish Kebobs
Roasted Asparagus
Fruit Salad
Chocolate Cake

Cooking Schedule
Monday Night
-Walnut Cookies
-Chocolate cookies
-Tuesday Night
-Shank bone for Seder plate
-Eggs for seder
-Roasted Vegetable Torte
-Tzimmes (Ema)
-Carrot and fennel Soup

Wednesday afternoon
-Mandle Bread (Judy)
-Prep parsley and chazeret
-Stuffed Bell Peppers
-Lemon Garlic Chicken
-Salt water
-Matzah Ball Soup
-Kufta Kabobs
-Sweet Potato Fries
-Guacamole (Sam)
-Roasted Cauliflower and Broccoli
-Meat Loaf (Ema)
-Roasted Asparagus

-Chocolate cake
-Smoked Salmon and Swiss chard quiche
-Garlic Spinach
-Mashed potatoes
-Baked Apples
-Fish Kebobs
-Chimichury sauce

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Skills - Parshat Vayakel - Pekudai

Who is ready to play some word association?

I am.

Biblical Architect
Batzal - the Hebrew word for onion

Ok so it's a short version of the game. But it's a pretty good recap of the game my brain played this week while I read the
double portion, Vayakel - Pekudai. Sam says it's a stretch to give an onion focused recipe for this week's portion, and I agree, it is. But I'm not going to make excuses for the patterns of association in my brain.

Let me take a step back and tell you what this Biblical architect is doing in the portion.

It's time for God's home, aka
the Tabernacle, to be built. The building materials God requested from the nation are pouring in (people are actually so generous that Moses needs to tell them to stop bringing those gifts - funny, this isn't quite a problem that modern philanthropies face). God chooses two head artisans to craft and build the entire Tabernacle - Betzalel from the tribe of Judah and Ohaliav from the tribe of Dan. God describes both of them as having "chochmat lev" or wisdom of the heart. This is one of my favorite terms in the Torah, and I think a great way to describe artists - it always makes me think of my dad.

Now before we get onto the onion association, let me just share with you some further musings on Betzalel. Some might surmise that the tasks given to him when it came to building the Tabernacle were very straightforward and didn't require a lot of artistic ability. But that's not how he got
an art school in Israel named after him. Sure, God gives him all the pre-determined building plans, but they're not like the instructions for assembling a piece of Ikea furniture (which presumably, most people could follow regardless of artistic skill). The instructions to construct the Tabernacle take quite a bit of skill to execute - both on a structural level, to get all those beams lined up correctly - and on an artistic level, to fashion all the details of the Menorah and to weave the many colored linens into curtains and into priestly garments. Betzalel carries them all out according to God's specs, but in his own divinely inspired style.

So back to the word association. Yes, Betzalel's name, which means "in the shade of God," reminds me of Batzal, the Hebrew word for onion. I was actually even wondering if there might be a connection between onions needing shade to grow, but found out that apparently they need
sunlight to do well. In any event, I've scoured my cookbooks for delectable onion dishes and have come up with the following menu in Betzalel's honor, and in honor of artists everywhere - especially my Abba, and another budding wise-hearted artist who had a birthday this week (which I shamefully forgot for the second year in a row). Happy Belated Birthday Devo.

Onion Flat Bread
French Onion Soup
Cucumber and Onion Salad
Chicken Smothered in Onion and Jalapeno
Stuffed Onions and Zucchini

Onion Flat Bread
This recipe is from a cookbook that Sam's mom, Judy, gave us as an engagement gift -
Classic Italian Jewish Cooking by Edda Servi Machlin

1 pack of yeast
1.5 cups of water
1 tsp salt
4 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
1.5 tsp coarse salt

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 warm water and let it rest for a few minutes. Put flour and 1 tsp salt in a big bowl and add the dissolved yeast along with 2 tbsp oil and the rest of the water.

Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes, shape into a ball, cover with a clean cloth and let rise for an hour or so (don't let the
rising time dictate your life).

Divide the dough into 8 parts and shape each into little balls and flatten them. Put the onions and 1 cup of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Drain and spread 2 tbsp of onion over each piece of flattened dough. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and remaining oil.

Heat the oven to 500 degrees and bake the dough for 8-10 minutes on a silpat line baking sheet.

French Onion Soup

I'll be using Julia Child's famous recipe, found in
Mastering the Art of French Cooking - but with non dairy buttery sticks and no cheese. You can really taste the white wine in this dish and the onions have such a rich flavor from their long period of cooking.

Cucumber and Onion Salad
Any good recipe for this dish will feature white wine or cider vinegar, sugar and dill. I'll be using one from my Jewish Cooking book by Martha Spieler.

Chicken smothered in Onion and Jalapeno
This recipe is from a cookbook I really enjoy -
Jeff Nathan's Family Suppers. I picked it up for a few bucks at TJ Maxx.

1/4 cup of onion powder
3 tbsp garlic powder
3 tbsp dried oregano
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp coarse salt
1 tsp pepper
8 chicken legs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
6 garlic cloves, crushed
1 jalapenos, sliced into thin rings
3 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix the first 6 ingredients. Put the chicken in a roasting pan, coat with olive oil, cilantro, garlic and sprinkle with the spice mixture. Top with the jalapenos and onions and pour a cup of water in the bottom of the pan. Roast for 45 minutes (add water to keep the spices from scorching).

Stuffed Onions and Zucchini

This one is also from
Jewish Cooking by Martha Spieler

4 onions, skinned
4 zucchini, halved width wise
2 garlic cloves
3 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp tomato paste
1/4 tsp curry powder
pinch of allspice
juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
8 tbsp vegetable stock or water

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes, then add the zucchini and cook for 6 more. Remove the vegetables and cool completely. Hollow out the middle of the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Chop up the cut out parts of the veggies and put in a bowl with the garlic cloves, half the olive oil, tomato paste, curry,allspice, lemon juice and parsley. Mix well and then stuff into the hollowed out vegetables. Arrange the vegetables on a silpat lined baking sheet and cover with the stock and remaining olive oil. Roast for 40 minutes.

I couldn't think of any onion desserts, which is probably a good thing.
But if you happen to have a good one please do leave a comment! P.S. You are more than welcome to comment even if you don't have an onion dessert recipe up your sleeve.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In-A-Propriate - Parshat Ki Tisah

If anyone has read Shalom Auslander you know a tortured Jewish soul. This young comedic heretic has such a constant fear of God that it hampers his writing - he is constantly deleting whole files and book drafts that he thinks may piss God off, which would then, according to his beliefs, lead God to kill him or worse, someone he loves. In this sense I'm feeling a bit Shalom Auslander like this week, but I'm not gonna delete anything.

For some reason the two recipe ideas I came up with at the beginning of the week were pretty inappropriate (or as Sam and I would yell in jest at each other In-A-Propriate!) but I just couldn't let go of them. The way that the process of writing this blog goes is something like this: after reading the weekly portion over once I usually have a few ideas, one jumps out and sticks for some reason or another, I mull the idea over and end up going with that idea. I try not to put too much thought into it and the creative ideas usually just arrive on their own in the crevices of my cranium.

Well the first one that popped up this week was to use something with cinnamon. Early on in this week's portion, Parshat Ki Tisah, God describes the sacred blend of spices that go into formulating the anointing oil that will be used to make everything in the tabernacle holy. A lot of the ingredients aren't recognizable to a modern day reader - with cinnamon being an exception. Well wouldn't it be fun to make roasted squash with cinnamon sprinkled over top? Well it wouldn't be if you reread these lines, spoken by God: "This shall be an anointing oil sacred to Me throughout the ages, it must not be rubbed on any person's body and you MUST NOT MAKE ANYTHING LIKE IT in the same proportions, it is sacred, to be held sacred by you." Okay so I'm not using any of the other spices, not trying to replicate it or it's portions, but I am still making this dish to mimic something that isn't supposed to be mimicked so it feels a little funny. Still, I can't give up wanting to make it.

Then the second idea that came along is inappropriate on two levels. One is that it sort of belittles one of the worst episodes in Biblical history- the incident of the Golden Calf. Moses has been up on Mt Sinai for the last three chapters and it's understandable that the nation is getting impatient. Some commentators explain that the nation thought that Moses died and they were looking for a replacement leader so they built this idol (not so smart given the number one rule in the ten commandments). And the second level of inappropriateness is that it uses veal sausage - how terrible! But it is reminiscent of the calf part of the story.

It's actually a dish I grew up on and love - not only do I love it but so does my brother and all of his friends who used to wolf it down when they came over for Shabbat meals. And believe it or not one of them is a Rabbi now and recently requested the recipe make an appearance here so at least part of this post has some official sanction. It was the only veal my mother served and only because there were no other glatt kosher sausages made at the time. But I also feel badly about cooking veal and Sam doesn't think we should serve it to guests, but maybe this will be our one time of year to have it (as he's reading this over my shoulder he's saying "I don't want to eat it at all"). I know, it doesn't make it much better. You can make it better by using any other kind of sausage of your choosing because there are quite a lot of varieties today - Jeff's carries savory and sweet sausages, Neshama even makes organic sausages, and let's not forget the amazing lamb sausages we got from Somkey Joe's.

So God, and for that matter all of you reading this, please don't be mad, I mean no offense. I'm only aiming for a tasty meal.

Cinnamon Roasted Squash Medley
I was pleased by the array of squash at Whole Foods today and selected a medium sized butternut, delicata and acorn squashes. I was especially excited to put our newly arrived Shun knives to the test. Well, I know they can do it because we already have one set we use for meat, so it's more a matter of inaugurating this new dairy set. I'm so elated to finally have this brand new set and to be getting rid of the one dull dairy knife I was subsisting on - and cutting my fingers on.

1 small-medium butternut squash
1 medium delicata squash
1 acorn squash
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
3 rosemary sprigs
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Don't peel any of the squash - the plan is to roast them in their skin. Slice open and de-seed each of the squash. Then cut them all into 4-inch segments. Spread the segments out on a baking sheet covered with a silpat non stick sheet and evenly coat them with olive oil (I like to use a silicone brush to do this).

Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then generously dash cinnamon over the slices. Lay the rosemary sprigs over the top of a few slices.

Bake for 40 minutes, watching to make sure that it doesn't burn. Cool and serve.

Sausage, Mushroom and Onions over Pasta
This was a staple at our Shabbat table growing up- one of my mom's invented dishes.

1 package of the pre-cooked sausage of your choosing
3 onion, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 package of button mushrooms, washed
1 package of Rigattoni
4 tbsp olive oil

Fill a 4 quart pot with water and set over high flame to boil for the pasta. Cook according to package directions.

In a skillet over a medium flame, heat the olive oil and then add the onion. Cook down for thirty minutes until nice and brown, stirring occasionally. Add in mushrooms and continue to saute for 5 more minutes.

Slice the sausages on the diagonal into one inch bite size pieces. Add the sausages to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes until browned. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the onion, mushroom and sausage and pan juices to the drained pasta. Toss to coat the pasta with mixture. Serve and enjoy!

P.S. I want to wish a very happy birthday to Judy (Sam's mommy). The above are virtual flowers, a picture I took a number of years ago in Israel, for you on your big day!