Sunday, November 28, 2010

Parshat Miketz and Chanukah Roundup

Up till now Joseph's life has been like a roller coaster ride full of ups and downs. But that ride finally starts to slow down and keep an even keel (though at a high altitude) in this week's portion, Parshat Miketz.

That roller coaster ride started with a steep ascent when Joseph was doted on by his father and then took a real dive when he was beat down and almost killed by his brothers then sold into slavery. His ride took an upturn when he was sold to a man who was the chief steward of Pharoh, who treated Joseph with respect and gave him a good deal of responsibility.

But the ride plummets again when that man's wife falsely accuses Joseph, a pretty handsome guy, of unwanted advances and he is thrown into jail. The ride starts to slowly chug up an incline when he successfully interprets the dreams of two of Pharoh's stewards who he meets in jail. In return Joseph asks that they try and get him out of jail. But they forget all about him and Joseph's ride races downhill.

In this week's portion one of his former jail mates finally remembers Joseph when Pharoh is seeking some explanation for his own dreams. In Pharoh's first dream sickly sheaves of wheat swallow fat sheaves but don't look any fatter - in the second the same thing happens with skinny and fat cows.

They bring Joseph out of jail and spiffy him up so that he'll be presentable to Pharoh - the ride is slowly chugging upwards. He tells Pharoh that the two dreams mean the same thing - they're a sign of the next 14 years to come. First there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine.

Joseph suggests Pharoh appoint someone to oversee the years of plenty and put some wheat away into a silo savings account to dole out during the years of plenty. Pharoh deems that here is no better person to do so than Joseph and at the age of 30 he is made Pharoh's second in command. His ride is no longer in danger of dropping after this ascent.

Pharoh pimps Joseph's ride - giving him a kingly signet ring, a gold chained necklace, royal robes and his own chariot to ride in. He also gives him an Egyptian name - Tzafnat Panea- and a wife named Osnat.

Joseph becomes a successful family man and his smooth ride continues. He has two children, Ephrayim and Menashe, and he collects so much grain in the time of plenty that he can't even measure it. When the famine hits, the people of Egypt complain to Pharoh for bread and Joseph rations out grain to all the Egyptians. And when people start coming from far and wide because the famine had spread all over Joseph is able to help them all too.

It's a no-brainer that this week's recipe needs to involve some kind of grain or bread. I've decide to share a corn bread recipe with you. It's completely dairy free but, in my opinion, tastes just as good as the versions that contain butter and milk. I've had a Southern friend challenge me but it's true, I've just got to get him to taste some. I think you'll appreciate this dish whether you're famished or not.

P.S. Thanks to Sam for all the transportation shots. What you can't see in the shots is me in the background tapping my foot and looking at my watch and wondering when he's going to stop taking pictures of the train/bus/car etc and let us get onto the next site. But now I can appreciate this habit of his as these shots are a great addition to this post and quite artistic when I look at each one on its own.

Corn Bread
This recipe is adapted from Cooking Light’s Annual Recipes 2004 Cook Book
1.5 cups flour
1.5 cups of cornmeal
2 tbsp sugar
1.5 tsp salt
1.5 tsp baking powder
5 ears of corn
1 and 1/4 cup of water
4 tbsp of oil, divided
2 eggs
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a 9 inch round cast iron skillet into the oven.
In a medium bowl mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt and baking powder.
Shuck the 5 ears of corn and then cut off the tips of the ears. One by one balance the ear on the cut off ends and slide the knife down the sides of the cob to remove the corn kernels. After you have done this with each ear divide the corn kernels in half.
In a food processor, blend half the corn, 2 tbsp oil, and water for a minute and a half. Add the eggs and process until combined. Add this wet mixture to the dry flour mixture. Add the rest of the corn kernels and stir until incorporated.
Using an oven mitt pull the cast iron skillet out of the oven and add 2 tbsp of oil and swirl while it melts to cover the bottom and sides of the skillet. Add the corn bread batter to the skillet. Bake for 25 minutes.
Serve warm.

Have you noticed that this year there is more to retail Chanukah than shiny gelt and gilded menorahs?

On a recent shopping trip to Target I noticed three end caps devoted to new and cool Chanukah paraphernalia like candle counter place mats that rotate to reveal another lit candle each night. At Bed Bath and Beyond they've got silver colored mats to place under your menorah flecked with star bursts and the blessings in Hebrew.

CVS also had, in my own estimation, 50% more Chanukah cards to choose from than ever before. I was drawn by the humor and art on many of them that I ended up buying a whole bunch to send out - and I am not much of a card sender.

I'm also feeling a greater devotion of cyberspace to the Festival of Lights. Target's website has returns 12 pages for a "hanukah" search - I'm loving the woman of valor recipe card holder and the ballet menorah. And if you're looking for more menorahs check out Apartment Therapy - they rounded up their favorite "modern" menorah's in a post today.

If what you're really after though is food, visit Bon Appetit's website and dig through their Chanukah menus from the last several years. There are some great choices that go well beyond golden latkas: chickpea latkas with harissa, latkas with zucchini and sage and porcini paprika latkas.

This year Chanukah starts on Wednesday night.

Aside from all the traditional fried food, there's also a tradition to eat dairy foods on Chanukah. This comes from the story of Yehudit, a woman who lived in the time of the Maccabees and had access to a Greek army general. She fed him some salty cheese to make him thirsty and then gave him plenty of wine to quench his thirst, and he promptly fell asleep. Yehudit then killed him which threw the Greek army into a state of panic and they fled from their posts.

Suggested Double Portion Recipes for Chanukah

Fried Goat Cheese and Roasted Beet Salad
Lox and Cream Cheese Roll Ups
Crostini with Fig Spread and Chevre
Date Stuffed with Goat Cheese and Pistachios

Main Course
Green and Red Onion Latkas
Garden Vegetable Lasagna
Smoked Salmon and Swiss Chard Quiche

Drinks and Dessert
Winter Sangria
Key Lime Cheesecake

Have a Happy Chanukah!

And Happy Roni V'Simchi Abba!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Post Thanksgiving

It's nice and quite here in Cambridge. Yesterday we slept in until 11 and then I spent a leisurely afternoon in the kitchen whipping up our Thanksgiving dinner for two. Trying to evoke my family Thanksgiving table, I set ours with some candles and autumnal flowers and encircled them with the dishes I prepared. For our own touch we lit a fire in the fire place and put on some bluesy music. For cooking my first Thanksgiving meal on my own things came out pretty well.

I loved the new recipe for cranberry salsa- the lime juice and cilantro are some of my favorite flavors in guacamole, corn salad and other Mexican dishes that we often make at home. The pepitas gave the dish a good crunch and the bright pink cranberries paired beautifully with the green herbs.

This dish actually inspired a last minute cocktail for our meal - I boiled down some cranberries with water and sugar in a saucepan and then mixed it in a blender with fresh lime juice, tequila and triple sec to make a cranberry margarita.

My stuffing came out a little dry - I would add another cup of stock as well as an egg next time and cover it while baking (I've edited this in the recipe from my last post). I also heard a neat trick on npr this week from Alton Brown - put your turkey wings on top of your stuffing while cooking to add flavor and moisture. Too bad we ended up without any turkey wings.

That's right, my bargain turkey was actually a turkey breast and back. I didn't notice anything was missing until Sam came into the kitchen to help me prep the bird and he said - where are the legs? Huh. We looked at the package and peeled away the Shaw's supermarket label that said turkey to find another label that said turkey breast. Oh well. I still was able to stuff the bird with lemon, sage, thyme and rosemary and I cooked it breast side down which made the meat very moist- even palatable to Sam who normally prefers dark meat.

Dessert was a hit -a combination of pumpkin topped with candied pecans a la mode with surprisingly creamy non dairy mocha fudge ripple ice cream. After all was eaten, and we'd rested on the couch we went out to see Harry Potter in IMAX with our friends Oren and Tamara. I won't spoil anything for you - I'll just say that I had to hold Sam's hand a lot and that Tamara and I were glad that we bot have husbands who like to stay until the very last credit has rolls off the screen - it left no need to explain ourselves.

This morning we had leftover turkey and cranberry salsa with scrambled eggs in a warm tortilla! And now our house smells like chocolate from baking this cake to take to our Shabbat dinner hosts tonight.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Interpreting Dreams - Parshat Vayeshev

Joseph gets his start interpreting dreams way before another famous Jew capitalizes on the skill. Sigmund Freud would have had a field day with the two dreams that Joseph dreams in this week's portion, Parshat Vayeshev, as well as the two dreams that he interprets for some new found friends. But what matters more is what Joseph thought of them.

As we talked about last year, Joseph - the son whom Rachel had yearned for so long, turns out to be a real brat. He's always following after his brothers to report if they fell out of line, and he clearly thinks himself better than the rest of the brood. This comes through in two dreams that Joseph has in the portion - and while he doesn't explicitly share his interpretations, their meanings are obvious to his family. In his first dream Joseph and his brothers were binding sheaves of wheat when Joseph's sheaf stood up on its own and the others gathered around and bowed to his.

"Do you mean to reign over us?" his brothers exclaimed on hearing his dream. Without answering he continues to tell them about another dream - this time the sun, moon and eleven stars were bowing down to Joseph. Now his father is the one to get annoyed "What is this dream? Are your mother and brothers and I going to bow to you?" Again we get no answer from Joseph, and the dream sharing leads to his brothers plot to kill Joseph.

When that plot goes awry and Joseph ends up in an Egyptian jail he meets two men whose dreams he interprets. First, a sommelier tells him that he saw a vine in front of him with three branches, that rapidly sprouted grapes, and he pressed them into Pharoh's cup. Joseph explains that the dream means in three days Pharoh will pardon the sommelier and give his job back. Next, a baker tells that in his dream there were three open baskets of baked goods on his head and birds were eating from the top one. Joseph explains that the three baskets represented three days, in which time Pharoh will behead him.

Indeed, the interpretations of these dreams do come true, as do the first dreams that Joseph shared. In homage to Joseph's dreaming and his ability to interpret the dreams of others I've got a savory dish of sun chokes sauteed with sun dried tomatoes and yellow peppers, reminiscent of the sun in his dream that bows down to Joseph's star.


I hope everyone has a very happy turkey day. This year Sam and I are celebrating just the two of us in Cambridge, and we're keeping it simple. I bought a 7.5lb turkey for $11 (I'm so proud of that deal) which I'll smother in fake butter and stuff with herbs, lemon and onion. To go along with that I'll be making my mother's stuffing with roasted chestnuts, celery and challah (the recipe is below) and trying out a new cranberry relish recipe upon Sam's request - cranberry salsa with cilantro and pepitas that appeared in this month's bon appetit.

Sauteed Sun Choke, Yellow Pepper and Sun Dried Tomato

2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 yellow peppers, seeded and sliced
5 small sun chokes, peeled and sliced
5 sun dried tomatoes chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper

In a medium pan, heat olive oil and garlic. Add the onions and sun dried tomatoes and stir for 3 minutes. Then add the yellow peppers and sun chokes and saute for five minutes more. The sun chokes will be crunchy and sweet and the garlic, onion, pepper combo will be soft and rich in your mouth.

Thanksgiving Stuffing

1 loaf of 5 day old challah
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, washed and chopped
1 cup chestnuts, roasted, peeled and chopped
1 egg
2 cup stock
2 tbsp poultry seasoning

Slice the challah and toast in a warm oven for 5 minutes, until golden brown. Let the slices cool a bit and then cube them and toss them into a bowl.

Saute the onion and celery until the onions become translucent. Add to the bowl of bread cubes. Add the shelled roasted chestnuts and season it all with slat and pepper.

Mix the poultry seasoning with the stock and slowly pour over the bread cubes and vegetables. Beat the egg and pour that over as well ans then stir it all together.

Transfer the mixture to a baking dish, cover with foil and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Soups On - Parshat Vayishlach

The season is changing and this week marks a big change for me. After being at CJP for four and a half years - first as an intern and subsequently working in the Young Leadership Division - my time there is coming to a close. I have had some incredible experiences in the role - leading Missions to Israel, creating Jewishly rich and creative programs and connecting young adults to their philanthropic passions - all while working with amazing volunteers. I will be taking a short vacation and then starting a brand new job at Hebrew College in Newton Center. For those of you non locals that's still in the Boston vicinity. Now I'll be driving to work instead of taking the subway, which I'm actually kind of looking forward to (replace dark tunnels with tree lined Charles River and sneezing passengers with extra wbur listening).

I am someone who has always faced change with feelings of excitement and anticipation. Just as I like seeing new emails, meeting new people and trying new recipes - there's a rush when I face a big new situation in my life. I am especially anticipating this new job since I have been wanting to transition into the field of Jewish teaching and learning. It is something I am truly passionate about and that I manage to incorporate into my life via this blog and other teaching moments, but until now hasn't been my full time focus. I am very much looking forward to running the community programs that I will be working on at Hebrew College for parents and young professionals.

Speaking of changes, in this week's portion, Parshat Vayishlach, Jacob has an about face. Instead of making sure he stays as far away from his brother Esav as possible - since last he heard his brother wanted to kill him for stealing his birthright and his blessing - Jacob actually seeks him out. And he brings gifts - a huge heard of cows, camels, sheep and goats - preempting a strike from Esav. Jacob thinks that if he butters his brother up with gifts, Esav will forget all the bad blood that's between them.

There's a very strange vibe between the brothers in the text. They are overly nice to one another. Their words drip with saccharin "I have enough, keep your gifts" says Esav, at first refusing Jacob's herd. "But," Jacob responds "seeing your face is like seeing the face of God." That seemed to do the trick for Esav. "Let's travel together - after you my brother."
"No no you should travel first, my family goes quite slowly."

I'm not sure who they are fooling with all these niceties, but it may be helping them each deflect their true feelings. Jacob is trying to conceal his fear of his brother by being so generous and Esav is masking his anger and vengeance by returning the niceties.

In my humble opinion I think Jacob would've been better off offering Esav some no-strings-attached soup in place of that large herd. First of all, he knows Esav likes to eat more than he likes to cook - so why hand him a whole bunch of raw ingredients? And it could really patch things up from that time he made him that lentil soup but first made Esav hand over his birthright before Jacob gave him the soup. If Jacob would have cooked up some comforting, fall like soup, I think it would have been a much quicker path to honest reconciliation.

If it were me I would have served Esav a bowl of roasted butternut squash and garlic soup. I discovered the recipe in a friend's blog - Noshing Confessions - and of course ended up taking a few short cuts on my test run. Right off the bat I knew I didn't have it in me to peel any more raw butternut squash this season and get my hands covered in that filmy itch-oranginess. So I stuck two whole squashes into a 400 degree oven for an hour or so and deconstructed them once they had cooled down and were incredibly submissive under my knife. I also eliminated the beer when I realized that Sam and I had consumed the last bottle the night before. Oops. It still turned out rich and tasted like roasted fall goodness.

I met Leah-the-Nosher at a Jewish educators conference this summer in Boston and am thrilled to serve it up this week as I mark my transition into an official role in that field.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup

Adapted from Leah's Roasted Garlic and Fall Squash Soup at Noshing Confessions

2 whole butternut squash
1 onion
1 entire head of garlic
5 cups water
1 tbsp onion soup mix
Fresh thyme
1/4 cup of Balsamic vinegar

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Place the two butternut squash in a large baking dish, along with the entire head of garlic with the peels on, and cook in the oven for one hour. Let cool completely so that it is comfortable to hand with your bare hands. This can be done way ahead of when you're going to make your soup.

Once the squash are cool to the touch cut each in half and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. You can either discard the seeds or rinse and roast and save for another use (like healthy snacking). Using a clean spoon start scraping the squash flesh into a large pot that you will cook the soup in. Once you have gotten all of the squash into the pot (and none of the peel) chop the onion and add it to the pot as well.

Add the water, onion soup mix and thyme. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Turn the flame down to low and add the salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar. Simmer for 30 - 40 minutes.

Use an immersion blender to get the soup to a chunky/smooth consistency. Add a bit more salt to taste and serve warm.

And here's some eye candy - a pear cranberry tart I made this week - so seasonal and so flavorful with a not to sweet crispy crust and a gingery sweet compote inside.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mandrakes - Parshat Vayeitzei

If you thought Cain and Abel or Jacob and Esav we're bad, wait until you see the sibling rivalry in this week's portion, Parshat Vayeitzei. Sisters Leah and Rachel are at odds over one man, Jacob. For Jacob and Rachel it was love at first site, and Jacob's feelings are so strong for Rachel that he is willing to work for seven years in service of her father Lavan to win her hand in marriage. And when Lavan pulls a fast one on Jacob and gives him Rachel's sister Leah at the end of the seven years, he works another seven to take Rachel as his wife as well.

Leah and Jacob's marriage is not one full of love and there is much tension between the sisters which is heightened during their fertile productive years. Leah has six children before Rachel even has one, and despite Leah's hope that with the birth of each child her husband will finally love her, it's not the case. Jacob's passion belongs to Rachel.

The sisterly tension crescendos in a story surrounding a mysterious plant. Reuven - Leah's oldest, picks an unusual plant in the field during the wheat harvest and brings it to his mother. The text calls the plant dudaeem, and it's not entirely clear what they are, but it's clear that they are coveted by both women. Rachel asks Leah to give them to her and Leah is outraged "First you take my husband, and now you want to take the dudaeem that my son gave me?" But once Rachel offers Leah a night in Jacob's bed in return for handing over the dudaeem it's a done deal.

Biblical interpreters have a field day with the dudaeem. Many explain them to be mandrakes - the poisonous plant in the nightshade family. You may remember them from their screaming debut in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Harry and his classmates have to re-pot them while wearing earmuffs - this portrayal is legendary but in real life they are native to the Mediterranean.

It's possible that this plant was either an aphrodisiac or a fertility drug. Either way it didn't prove so helpful to Rachel, who already has her husband's love but must still wait for several more years before she conceives a child. While the roots of the plant are hideous, it does produce a lovely purple flower. (Note that none of the pictures above are of actual dudaeem or mandrakes, they're just pretty).

This week we'll keep it simple with a salad with edible flowers and Mandarin oranges - to evoke the look and sound of mandrakes. The antioxidants found in the oranges would help boost fertility according to modern sources (as will the leafy greens in your salad). Delicate edible flowers sound like they have aphrodisiac potential but would be unobtrusive on a Shabbat table.

Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Edible Flowers

1 head of red leaf lettuce
1/2 cup of colorful edible flowers
3 fresh Mandarin oranges peeled and separated into sections or 1 small can drained
1 lemon
1 clove garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coarse salt
Dash of water
Wash and tear the lettuce into edible pieces. Place into a large salad bowl and add the Mandarin oranges.

Make the salad dressing according to these directions. Dress the greens and oranges and then scatter the edible flowers on top of the greens and serve.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lamb Alive - Parshat Toldot

Happy Blog-a-versary to Double Portion!

It's been a year and I'm still here. Last year when the weekly portion of Parshat Toldot rolled around I rolled out this blog with a kicking lentil soup. Over the year I've covered nearly every portion in the Torah and found a complimentary recipe or two to share with you.

And now I'm back for more. While I am starting my work on the cookbook, I've decided to try to keep posting here. That decision is based on encouragement from you, the fact that there are foods in the text that I have not yet covered, and that there are many recipes that I'm still itching to share with you.

Let's dive into the weekly portion by giving props to our matriarch Rebecca. Not only is she a great cook, she also produced two sons who knew their way around a kitchen. The portion includes the story of her son Esav selling his birthright to his brother Jacob for a pot of stew Jacob was simmering (as we covered last year). Later on Isaac asks his son Esav to go hunt him some game and prepare it for him in the way that he loves before he blesses him. So both sons can whip up a satisfying meal.

As can Rebecca, who employs her cooking skills for a higher purpose. She's determined that her son Jacob receive both the blessings his father intended for him and for his brother. She dresses Jacob in sheepskins to resemble his hairier brother Esav and prepares some lamb, bread and wine for him to serve to Isaac and seal the deal.

The meal satiates Isaac and he blesses Jacob with Esav's blessing to prosper off of the land. Lucky for Jacob he also gets the blessing originally intended for him - to inherit the land promised to Abraham and Isaac and to continue the nation. So Jacob ends up with both the physical and spiritual blessings, enabling him to be a very well rounded forefather.

I have got a great recipe for chulent to share with you that is made with lamb. My mom made up this recipe and when I asked her where she came up with it she told me "well I like lamb, and I like chulent." Genius. It makes a really comforting winter meal and goes very well with a thick slice of challah and a glass of red wine.

It was my mom's birthday in mid October and while we feted her from afar I failed to congratulate her on this blog - a tradition I upheld for other family members over the last year. So now here is a belated happy birthday to her. My mom is one of my most favorite people to be with - she's upbeat, always talking, fun and creative. Kind of how I like to describe myself. I get some of my best qualities from my mom. And some of my best recipes!

Lamb Chulent

2-3 onions chopped
2 potatoes, unpeeled and quartered
2 chopped carrots
1 lb lamb stew meat
3/4 cup barley
3/4 cup of dried white navy beans
1/2 cup of dried chickpeas
1 tsp salt
2 tbs onion soup mix
6 cloves of garlic, peeled

Place chopped onions, potatoes and carrots at bottom of slow cooker. Trim as much fat as possible from the lamb (otherwise the dish will taste too fatty) and then add that to the slow cooker. Cover with the beans, chickpeas and barley. Sprinkle with the salt, onion soup mix and garlic. Cover all the ingredients with water - make sure the water is at least 1 inch above the ingredients since the barley will absorb a lot of water. Set the slow cooker on low for 8 -20 hours and serve warm.

*Wedding Photography by Cynthia DelConte