Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Surprise - Parshat Miketz

I love surprise parties, but never have I ever been to one as prolonged as the one in this week's portion, Parshat Miketz. Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt seeking relief from the famine, and Joseph, who is in charge of food rationing, recognizes them immediately. But they don’t recognize him. It will be quite a while before he reveals his identity to them - hey it’s me brother Joe.

Joseph first wants to see if they have changed since they threw him in the pit and devises an elaborate plan to test their loyalty to one another. He accuses them of being spies and says that the only way they can prove otherwise is to leave their brother Shimon behind as collateral and bring their brother Benjamin back to Egypt.

With a heavy heart the brothers return to their father with bags of grain. Jacob is livid when he learns that they want to bring his youngest and beloved son Benjamin back to Egypt - and they are all upset when they discover that the money they paid for the grain was returned to their sacks. Not that they don't like free things, but they don't want to get accused of stealing on top of the spying accusation.

While their father tries to stall their return to Egypt, the provisions eventually run out and they have no choice but to return.  Judah promises to be personally responsible for Benjamin’s welfare and Jacob consent to send Benjamin with them. Jacob also sends them with double the money they first went with as well as some gifts to win Joseph’s favor, including honey, pistachio nuts and almonds.

Once back in Egypt the brothers get invited to Joseph’s home for a meal. This makes them a little uneasy - wondering if they are walking into a trap that is meant to be retribution for not paying for their goods. But Joseph’s butler assures them that all has been paid for and is well. Joseph is so overwhelmed to be united with his little brother Benjamin and to hear good news of his father’s health that he almost spills the surprise then and there. But he has yet to be convinced of any change in the brothers so he holds off for a bit longer.

In the final phase of his plan Joseph has his butler slip an expensive goblet into Benjamin’s bag and when the brothers leave Egypt the next morning his servants chase after them and accuse them of stealing their master’s cup. Of course the brothers deny any wrong doing, but when the cup is discovered in the bag of Benjamin they're all dragged back to Joseph’s home where he confronts them again.

Judah takes responsibility for the crime and pleads with Joseph not to hold one of them responsible but to detain them as an entire group. Joseph pushes back and says he is not that tyrannical, he will only exact punishment on Benjamin since he stole the cup. The portion ends with a cliff hanger - Judah's response doesn't come until next week’s portion. So you'll have to wait a week to find out how Joseph finally does reveal his identity : )

The gifts that the brothers bring are the essential ingredients for nougat - a sweet, creamy, fluffy, chewy white confection that can easily be made into airy ice cream.

Nougat Ice Cream with Honey, Pistachios and Almonds
This dish, adapted from this Epicurious recipe, is more like a fluffy frozen confection than a solid ice cream. Picture less dense, less sticky marshmallow fluff studded with toasted nuts. It is made in four easy steps and doesn't even require an ice cream maker (only 4 hours of patience while it hardens in your freezer).

2 egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup of sliced almonds
1/2 cup of unsalted, shelled pistachios
3 tbsp honey
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt in a stand mixer until soft peaks form.

soft peaks

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan simmer the honey, sugar and water. Stir until the sugar dissolves and then boil the liquid for 1 minute.

Add to the egg whites slowly while beating. Continue to beat for 4 minutes until stiff peaks form (it should look like light weight marshmallow fluff).

Toast the nuts over a medium flame for about a minute, or until fragrant. Allow to cool and chop them up.

Put the beaten egg whites and honey into a large rectangular baking dish. In the stand mixer, beat the whipping cream into soft peaks - pay attention to it's progress and try not to over beat it or your ice cream will be crumbly.

Fold the beaten cream into the beaten egg whites and gently incorporate the chopped nuts.

Evenly spread the confection out in the baking dish. Cover and put in the freezer for 4 hours before enjoying.


Happy First day of Chanukah! I hope you all have occasion to celebrate Jewish Pride, religious freedom, fighting for what you believe in, and gratitude.

I’m also very excited about eating a lot of latkas - including these:
Butternut Squash Latkas
Healthy Vegetable Filled Latkas
Sweet Potato Curry Latkas
Potato Latkas topped with Pomegranate seeds and Greek Yogurt (Ironic?)And...

Beet Latkas with Horseradish Creme Fraiche

1 potato, peeled
2 beets, peeled
1  small onion, peeled
1/3 cup of flour
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of creme fraiche
1/8 cup of beet horseradish

Slice the potato in two and feed into a food processor with a shredder disc attachment. Do the same with the beets and onion. Drain the grated vegetables in a large swath of cheese cloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.

Put the drained vegetables in a bowl and add the egg, flour, salt and pepper. Form the latkas by heaping tablespoons and flatten them out using the palm of your hand.

Heat the olive oil in a small nonstick pan over high heat. Place 2-4 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.

Mix the horseradish and creme fraiche and serve over the latkas.

What are your favorite latka and topping combinations?

Past Recipes for Parshat Miketz
Corn Bread
Wheat Berry Salad with Onions and Citrus
Lean Mean Spicy Meatloaf

Chanukah Recipes
Potato Latkas with Red and Green Onions and Apple
Suggested Dairy Chanukah Menus

This post is linked to Real Food Digest Hanukkah 2011 Blog Carnival

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fear and Loathing - Parshat Vayishlach

Last week's food on a stick - very enjoyable.

Pumpkin Pie on a Stick

Last year, for this week's portion, Parshat Vayishlach,  we talked about the fraught reunion of brothers Jacob and Esav. The year before that covered Jacob's struggle with the angel. This year I want to string the two together, as the stories are in fact intertwined.

While Jacob must be feeling pretty free to be on his own with his family after 20 years under his father-in-law Lavan's roof, he is also feeling fearful of being out in the open. What if they encounter the reason Jacob ran to Lavan's community in the first place? The reason was of course that his brother Esav wanted to kill him, his mother Rebecca overhead this and sent Jacob away to protect him. She promised to fetch him from her brother Lavan's home when things cooled down. Well it's been 2 decades since then and Jacob takes the fact that his mother never came to get him as a bad sign.

But Jacob is done being passive, and decides to face his fear of his brother head on by sending his messengers to find Esav and offer him nice words. Jacob is certainly shivering in his boots when they bring back news that Esav is coming their way - with 400 men. But again he springs into action, sending presents on ahead to his brother and dividing his family into two groups in case of attack.

While Jacob waits for his brother to appear he has some time alone, in which he wrestles with someone - the text actually calls him a man but commentators deduce his actions to be that of an angel. After injuring Jacob in the sciatic nerve, he gives Jacob a new name - Israel. This will become the nation's name in the future, and in the interim serves to bolster Jacob in his moment of great trepidation, to better understand the dimensions of his own identity.   

Right after this struggle and renaming, Jacob sees Esav approaching. After much kowtowing on Jacob's part Esav embraces him and weeps. All seems to be forgiven. Except that Jacob wont agree to Esav's offer to travel together, blaming it on the slow pace that his large family must travel at. But it seems like Jacob still doesn't trust his brother completely and wants to keep his eye on him as he travels.

This week's dish combines elements from both stories. Among the gifts that Jacob presented to Esav were 220 goats.  This past Sunday I taught at Limmud Boston and was pleased to see the Adamah Fellowship selling their food products there. I bought some of their goat's milk feta cheese and think it would pair well with some winter greens lightly sauteed in olive oil and garlic, over thin angel hair pasta. And of course angel hair pasta is a very corny, though delicious, way to pick up on the second story. Enjoy.

Feta and Sauteed Greens with Angel Hair Pasta

1 box angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 cup of liquid reserved from cooking the pasta
2 cups of winter greens such as kale or chard
1.5 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup feta cheese - for a real parsha tie in use feta made from goat's milk

Warm olive oil in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add garlic and winter greens. Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently until wilted - about 5 minutes.

Toss with angel hair past and feta cheese - add the liquid reserved from cooking the pasta and additional olive oil if desired.

Past Recipes for Parshat Vayishlach
Mustard Encrusted Lamb Roast
Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Enough is Enough - Parshat Vayeitzei

After 14 years of being bullied by his father-in-law Lavan, Jacob finally stands up for himself. Sure, he was a sucker for spending seven years working for the privilege of marrying Rachel only to be handed her sister Leah and a sap to keep working another seven years to stay with Rachel. But now he is a father to a dozen children and he draws the line - he requests to leave his father-in-law's house with his entire family.

But Lavan isn't so keen on letting a good deal go. He knows that God has blessed him on Jacob's account and doesn't want to loose that blessing. He figures if he starts paying Jacob it will entice the family to stay longer. Jacob is none too pleased with this approach - finding it impossible to calculate the amount Lavan is actually already indebted to him. "You know well how I have served you and how your livestock has fared with me - the little you had before has turned into a lot." Instead he asks Lavan to pay him with a flock of his own. He proposes to remove the few dark colored sheep and the streaked, speckled and spotted goats from Lavan's flock in order to start building his own.

Lavan finds this minor donation reasonable but before he knows it Jacob's flock has exploded in size.  Jacob devised the following strange plan. He cut branches of poplar and almond trees and carved white stripes into them. He sets these sticks by the animals water troughs, which is, in case you didn't know,  the hot spot for flocks mating.  By proximity, and some divination, the animals mating near those shoots produced only dark, speckled and spotted lambs. Before long Lavan's sons start bad mouthing Jacob, claiming that Jacob's assets were all due to their father, and Lavan started acting strangely towards Jacob.

At this point God tells Jacob it's time to hightail it out of there. No more asking permission, just go. Before they can get too far Lavan catches wind of their Exodus and is none too pleased with Jacob slinking off with his daughters and grandchildren and the new flock. He catches up with Jacob and demands to know where they are off to without so much as a goodbye kiss. That really sends Jacob off the handle - "for 20 years I worked for you - 14 for your daughters and 6 for your flock - and time and again you went back on your word to me." It's time to back down. They agree to a pact - of trying to stay as far away from each other as possible - and head on their separate ways. A family feud held at bay.

This week we're making food on a stick - to mimic the sticks Jacob creatively employed to increase his flock. I first thought food on a stick when I saw Joy of Kosher's parsha menu featuring kabobs to remind you of Jacob's ladder. Then, my friend Amy, a devotee to food on a stick, recommended a desert item I wouldn't have considered - pie pops. I am a big fan of kabobs but haven't experimented with too many other foods on a stick. Though I did love it when my dad would bring home teriyaki beef strips on a stick from Kosher Express Chinese food in NJ, there was always something a little dangerous about eating food on a stick - you might poke yourself in the mouth or end up with falling food. But I'm willing to take a chance this week after finding so many intriguing savory and sweet options for food on a stick that one could actually make in your own home. Thanks to Shifra for pie pop recipe resources.

Savory Food on a Stick: Thai Chicken Thai Skewers 
This recipe comes from Rachel Ray (for a veggie options check out Spiced Squash on a Stick)

1 lb skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1/4 cup of coconut milk
1/4 curry curry powder or paste
8 scallions

In a medium bowl combined the coconut milk and curry. Cube the chicken and marinate in the curry mixture for several hours.

Discard the white portions of the scallions and cut the green parts into 20 equal pieces. Alternate marinated chicken with scallions on kebob skewers. Broil for 5 minutes on one side and flip, then broil for 5 minutes longer.

Sweet Food on a Stick: Pie Pops (if you're more of a cake person than a pie person try cake pops, or for a low fat dessert try Grilled Fruit Kebobs)

6 skewers or paper lollipop sticks or wooden Popsicle sticks
2-3 inch round cookie cutter(though you can use a more playful shape)
Prepared pie dough - equal to 18 inches in diameter
6 tbsp of pie filling (you could go with apple pie, or take a short cut with store bought apple butter or canned cherry pie. If you aren't pumpkin-ed out try these)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Roll out dough and cut 12 circles in the the dough - remove extra dough so you are only left with the circles.

Lay 6 circles of pie on a silpat lined baking sheet. Press the sticks into the dough. Spoon a small amount of pie filling into the center of each circle. Cover each filled circle with another circle of dough - line them up evenly and press down all around the edges with the tines of a fork. Poke a few holes in the dough with the fork so that air can escape while cooking.

Coat each pie pop with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with cinnamon, sugar and nutmeg.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool and enjoy.

Past Recipes for Parshat Vayeitzei:
Salad with Mandarin Oranges and Edible Flowers

Stone Ground Molten Chocolate Cakes

Thanksgiving Shots - we had a grand time with our mostly vegetarian Thanksgiving. Those turkey legs were so large that it took us several meals to polish them off - the blackened spice rub, lemon and herbs were the perfect balance on the poultry.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Leave Well Enough Alone - Parshat Toldot

To quote a friend; "holy Double Portions," it's our two year anniversary here at this blog! How to celebrate? Perhaps with a full day of cooking and eating without any restrictions on picture taking. Coming soon. You could also help celebrate by making one of the past two recipes for this week's portion (see the bottom of this post).

If ever a child was destined to follow in a parent's footsteps it's Isaac in this week's portion, Parshat Toldot. Like Abraham, Isaac and his family are faced with famine and Isaac formulates a plan to seek food in another area and protect himself and his wife by claiming that she is actually his sister. Like Abraham and Sarah their scheme is revealed, but the discovery doesn't have such negative consequences at first. Instead of being banished, they receive protection from the local Philistine king Avimelech.

Isaac and Rebecca decided that it would behoove them to continue living under the reign of this king and they do quite well for themselves in his region - sowing crops and reaping abundantly. They continue to grow richer by the day, amassing cattle and building a large home. But soon the Philistines start to get jealous and take to sabotage. They stop up all the family wells, ones that we learn were actually dug by Abraham's servants when Abraham was still alive. King Avimelech sees the unrest in his people and quells the situation by asking Isaac to move away because he has become "far too big for us."

Isaac relocates his family and takes to digging new wells - but they actually seem to not be new at all. They too had previously been dug by his father's servants, and then were buried by the Philistines after Abraham's death. During the re-digging of these wells Isaacs' servants discover an underground spring of water. And it's back to conflict time - the local herders in the area insist ownership over the water. Isaac has his men keep digging and he gets a visit from King Avimelech, who explains that though his people were hostile to him in the past they now understand that God is with Isaac and they want to make a treaty with him. They agree to not harm one another and Isaac prepares a feast to enjoy together. Isaac's servants dug a total of seven wells that connected to water and therefore they called the area Be'er Sheva - which means seven wells and is a contemporary city in Israel.

If I had been tasked with preparing that reconciliatory feast I would have chosen something that looked like a well to remind them just who those wells belonged to. And that's what I'll do for our dish this week. You could make anything in a ramekin like a soufflé, a fish pot pie, or a Thanksgiving pie, the deep ceramic container invoking the image of a well. The parsha inspired me to buy mini graham pie crusts to prepare my pareve pumpkin cheesecakes in for Thanksgiving. I hope you give it a whirl and that you have some left overs for Shabbat.

Wells of Pareve Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake

1/2 can pumpkin
1 package of diary-free cream cheese (such as tofuti)
1 egg
1.5 tbsp molasses
½ tsp vanilla
½ cup sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground ginger
⅛ nutmeg and clovers
12 mini non-dairy graham cracker crusts
Candied pecans (optional)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. 

Using a hand mixer or a stand mixer, beat cream cheese until smooth. Add the rest of the ingredients and pour into the small crusts. 

Bake for 30-50 minutes until set and golden brown on top. Let it cool and then place in the refrigerator for two hours before enjoying. Top with candied pecans if desired.

Past Recipes for Parshat Toldot:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What's a Few Shekels Between Friends? Parshat Chayay Sarah

While the name for this week's portion, Parshat Chayay Sarah, is translated as "the life of Sarah," it actually opens with the death of our matriarch. Though Sarah lived a long life, dying at age 127, Abraham is still beside himself with the loss. He mourns for Sarah and then sets about finding a proper place to bury his beloved.

Ever since God promised Abraham the land of Israel as an inheritance for himself and his future nation, Abraham has been on the move in and out of the area. They are back in the land when Sarah passes and he must now put roots down in purchasing a burial plot for her in Hevron. He feels like an outsider in the country right now and approaches his Hitite neighbors admitting "I am a resident alien among you, sell me a burial site among you." While the Hitites respect Abraham, they too see him as an outsider and are hesitant to sell him a plot of land for burying his wife, which they know will remain in his family for generations.

Abraham asks them to help him negotiate with a man named Ephron who owns a cave that Abraham has eyed as a perfect place to bury Sarah. But Ephron overhears the conversation and simply offers the cave - and the field too - for Abraham to use (but not buy!) to bury his wife. Abraham insists that he wants to pay for the plot and Ephron slyly replies "listen, a piece of land worth 400 silver shekels - what is that between you and me - take it and bury your dead." But Abraham insists on owning the place to indeed pass on to future generations so that more of his family can be buried there, visited and respected.  Abraham pays him the money and buries Sarah in the cave of Machpelah and comes to own the cave and all the trees in the adjacent field.

The coins that so reluctantly passed hands to purchase a place that remains holy to so many people today can be represented in many different food dishes. Below I have recipe for a Middle Eastern inspired salad crowned with golden roasted eggplant slices.

Sabich Salad
I read about this Iraqi egg and eggplant sandwich on kveller this week and made it for lunch to take to work. It was beyond delicious (with the addition of a veggie burger and farmers cheese)  and I realized it would make a great Shabbat salad.

1lb of thin eggplant
1 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper 2 eggs
2 veggie burgers, defrosted (you could use meat if you want to omit the farmers cheese)
2 tbsp tehina
2 tbsp lemon juice (fresh)
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
2 tbsp farmers cheese (optional)
1 head of lettuce, rinsed and torn into bite sized pieces

Slice the eggplant into 1/4 inch rounds and salt on both sides. Let them sit for 30 minutes and then rinse.

Meanwhile Boil the eggs in their shell a small saucepan as you would for making egg salad. Once cooked and cooled, peel the eggs and chop them up.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lay the rinsed eggplant out on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 30 minutes to one hour until dark brown and tender.

Brown the veggie burgers in a pan and then crumble with a fork or spoon. Set aside.

To make the dressing mix the tehina, lemon juice and parsley with 1/4 cup of water and a touch of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To assemble the salad throw the lettuce into a bowl and add in the egg, eggplant slices, crumbled veggie burger, chopped tomato and cucumber and c=farmers cheese if using. Toss with the dressing.

Thanksgiving Menu
This year we're having a vegetarian centered meal - but there will still be a bit of turkey for me and Sam - legs to make up for the ones we missed out on last year

Roasted chestnuts

Cinnamon apple sauce

Butternut squash fries

Brussels sprouts

Roasted cauliflower with date sauce

Cornbread and vegetarian sausage stuffing

Cranberry sauce with maple apples and ginger

Turkey legs

Pecan/pumpkin pie

Non dairy vanilla ice cream

P.S While it's annoying that stores already have Christmas merchandise out before we've even cooked the Thanksgiving Turkey - Target gets a shout out for having a whole aisle devoted to Chanukah items!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hospitable - Parshat Vayeyra

Avraham and Sarah sure know how to show guests a good time in this week's portion, Parshat Vayeyra. They tell a trio of traveling men who happen upon their tent to make themselves comfy, offer them a little shade, a little water and then parade out an entire feast - freshly baked bread, tender meat and fresh cheese. Not the most kosher meal, but there is much we can learn from the way that this famously hospitable couple took care of their guests. 

I'm related to a woman who also knew how to make someone feel welcomed and special in her home - this week was my paternal grandmother's yartzeit (anniversary of passing). In her honor I brought the following text and some delicious desserts to work and learned with my friends Sara and Rosa in her memory. Here is what we we studied and the lessons we peeled away:

2) Looking up [Avraham] saw three men standing near him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them and bowing to the ground 3) he said My Lords, if it please you, don’t go past your servant 4) Let a little water be brought, bathe your feet and recline under the tree. 5) And let me fetch a morsel of bread that you may refresh yourselves then go on, seeing that you have come your servant’s way. They replied, “do as you have said.” 6) Avraham hurried to the tent to Sarah and says “quick, prepare three servings of our best flour – knead it and make cakes.  7) And Avraham ran to the cattle and took a young good calf and gave him to a servant boy who hastened to prepare it. 8) And Avraham took curds (butter or cheese) and milk and the prepared calf and set it in front of the men and he waited on them under the tree while they ate.

Here's what we ladies took as lessons from the text:
- Under-promise and over deliver
- Give the best of what you've got
- Be at ease with spur of the moment hospitality
- Enlist the help of others in your kitchen - know how to ask for it and be sure to accept help

In the spirit of help in the kitchen and visitors, we have a guest chef this week - my husband Sam! Though I tend to spend more time in our kitchen than he does, there are a few things that he cooks much better than I can cook. Case in point - his mother's enchiladas, which he makes each year for his Shabbat birthday meal. I asked him to make a batch this week in honor of the weekly portion since it is the only way we can enjoy the "meat," cheese and great bread found in the text in one sitting (thank you recipe crumbles). 

 He rolls recipe crumbles (a meat substitute), olives, cheddar cheese and green chilies in tortillas

Places them in a baking dish 

Spreads on sauce

 and some cheese

then into the oven they go to get bubbly and browned 

Sam insists that fake meat does a much better job at getting at the texture of real meat than fake cheese can ever do for real cheese. When it comes to his enchiladas I most certainly agree - the cheese melts perfectly and we use recipe crumbles, a morning star farm product, to achieve that meaty texture.

6 flour tortillas
1 can Enchilada sauce (green or red - comes in cans or you can buy a packet of seasoning to add to a can of tomato sauce)
3 tbsp onion flakes
Sliced canned black olives
6 ounces Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup of recipe crumbles
1 mini can of green chilies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lay out all ingredients in bowls or dishes and set out a Pyrex baking dish.

To make the tortillas easier to work with heat them up for a few seconds in a microwave or over a low flame in a skillet.

Take each tortilla and put some recipe crumbles, cheese, chilies, onion and olives down the center of the tortilla in a thin strip and then roll the tortilla up. Place it seam side down in tray. 

Repeat until you have filled 6 tortillas. Ladle the enchilada sauce over the full pan and top with cheese and olives.

Cook for 30 minutes until bubbly and brown.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Journey - Lech Lecha II

Citrus brightening our kitchen this week
We first get to know Abraham in this week's portion, Parshat Lech Lecha, as he begins his journey of self discovery. We learn that he is son to Terach, husband to fellow God-devotee Sara, and uncle/fellow sheepherder to the sketchy character Lot. He looses his father, is unable to have children with Sara (both at the tail end of last week's portion) and is commanded by God to leave his homeland for a new land which God will give. Ever since that command, Abraham has been trying to figure out who he is.

Over the course of the journey we see he cares about others and also cares about himself. When a famine strikes the land Abraham takes Sara and Lot to Egypt for relief. Right before they enter the country Abraham acknowledges Sara's beauty and requests that she tell others that she is his sister so that men who are attracted to her will not harm Abraham. Sara complies, but the plan backfires when Pharoh takes a liking to Sarah and his household is struck by a plague. Pharoh is none too pleased when he figures out that Abraham is her husband and they get booted out of Egypt. After this incident Lot's herdsmen and Abraham's herdsmen quarrel so badly that Abraham suggests they part ways. He gives Lot first choice of land to settle and shepherd in and later when Lot is involved in a conflict with foreign kings Abraham steps in to negotiate for his safety.  We see Abraham is devoted to family and has a yen for self preservation.

Throughout the portion God repeats the mantra that He plans to make Abraham into a great nation and give the nation the land of Israel. Whenever things seem to go off track from that vision - they travel to another country, get involved in a contentious situation or struggle - God steps back into the picture and utters that promise again. "You will be as uncountable as the sands of the earth"... "As numerous as the stars in the sky." "Look westward, eastward, northward and southward ... all of this land I give to you."

As numerous as the grains of quinoa
But to a guy in his nineties, married to Sarah who faces infertility, it's a hard thing to fathom. He asks God if this promised nation will come from his servant Eliezer. God tells him no, it will start with one of his own children. When he asks if it will come from the child he has with his Egyptian handmade Hagar, God says, no that's not it either. It's going to be a son born to his wife Sarah - and with that one little seed, a great nation will grow. God promises that they will have a child in one year's time - they just have to have faith, and before they know it they won't even be able to count their descendants.

That image of a nation starting so small and eventually overflowing translates well into food. Imagine a pot of water flecked with little slivers of hard grain quinoa transformed in less than 30 minutes to a fluffy mound of soft grains that overtake the liquid and nearly fill the pot.  I love quinoa for it's nutty flavor, it's punch of protein, and it's ease in pairing with other flavors. I find its soft grains mimic large grains of sand and evoke the repeated promise to have a nation as numerous as the sands of the earth. My friend Batya recently let me know that a box of the stuff can be procured at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods for just $4 - another reason to love it. This week I was in search of a quionoa recipe to pair with cider braised chicken this Shabbat (look out for that recipe soon over at Grow and Behold) and recalled a fall dish of ricotta, butternut and sage on toasted baguette bread that I came across in a magazine. My how some of those flavors translate well to a pot of quinoa (minus the ricotta this time of course, but I would certainly give it a go under different circumstances). 

Roasted Butternut and Sage Quinoa 

1 large Butternut squash 
2 sprigs of thyme
5 fresh sage leaves
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp pepper, divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the butternut squash and wash hands well. Cut and remove the seeds and then cube the flesh. Spread cubes over a baking tray lined with a silpat mat. Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Roast for 20-40 minutes, until tender - turning once.

Meanwhile, add quinoa and 2 cups of water to a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until the water has been absorbed. Fluff with a fork and season with remaining olive oil, salt and pepper.

Chop the sage and remove the thyme leaves from the stem. Stir into the quinoa along with the roasted butternut squash and additional olive oil.

Serve warm.

P.S. This week I made apple sauce - a great warm snack for chilly fall days. Simply place firm apples in a pot, add a few inches of water and simmer for 20 minutes. Process the apples and some liquid in a food mill. Add cinnamon and serve warm.

simmering apples
Food mill in background

Food mill close up

The end of the apples in the food mill

Finished product - just apples and cinnamon!

Friday, October 28, 2011

This Year's Cake

The blueberry base is quite dense as it is a muffin recipe, but nice citrus and tart yogurt flavors. The chocolate cake/arc is super moist and I like that it has olive oil in it - a nod to the olive branch that the dove brought to Noah. The vanilla frosting I made came out a bit thick, but the chocolate frosting was too thin so I added more powdered sugar and it was just right.  I just delivered it to our friends Sara and Gershon, who will be hosting us for dinner. Tallying up the history this will be the third time I have brought the cake over to hosts. I hope everyone likes this years visually tame cake (Top Chef Just Dessert worthy it is not) - I think the flavors are going to outshine the flavor from past years' cakes.

Have Your Cake - Parshat Noach

Sam and I spent a blissful four days with my parents in their home in Upstate NY last weekend. Aside from rediscovering how much I love napping in an indoor hammock, I found a treasure - a picture of an early mabul cake I baked for Parshat Noach.

Mabul cake circa 2000

I had totally forgotten that I made a round version of the cake - it looks so much more elegant than the rectangular aluminum pan version. It's inspired me to revamp the mabul cake this year and class it up a bit. But first, we have the portion to discuss.

Last year we cleared up all the misconceptions about the portion (7 of some animals, not 2, they were in the arc for a lot longer than 40 days and nights). This year I'm pondering what there is to learn from the cataclysmic flood. With messages from the high holidays in the recesses of my mind it's troubling to read of a time when humanity went so far astray, were so corrupt, that repentance wasn't an option. God gives a sliver of creation a second chance by having Noah assemble his family and the back bones of the animal kingdom into the arc. There they wait out God's fury for close to a year as He causes water to burst from every directions and drown all other living things. Cooped up together, possibly in fear, it's a long "time out" until they are released onto dry land to start rebuilding their lives.

But it doesn't seem like the redo improves the situation of the world. Noah starts things off on the right foot by offering a sacrifice to God upon emerging from the arc. In return God displays a rainbow across the sky as a symbol of his covenant with the rest of the generations never to wipe out the world again. But soon after, Noah becomes intoxicated and gets into a scuffle with his children, cursing one of them for generations. Fast forward a few generations and people attempt to build the tower of Babel, which they plan will reach the sky as an expression of their power. God and His angels don't like that attitude and confuse their speech to disperse them.

So the lessons God was trying to convey with the flood, of respect for one's fellow and  devotion to a higher power, weren't so well learned. Yet God can't start over anymore with humanity after his promise with the rainbow covenant. But one thing He does set up is responsibility for humanity going forward: "I will require a reckoning of human life, every man for that of his fellow man." We are responsible for how we treat one another, and this story reminds us of it.

I guess we could make a tower of Babel cake this week, but baking a mabul cake is too strong of a tradition for me to give up.

This year I'm feeling a pull away from the overly sugared technicolor mabul cake tradition and have been thinking about how to achieve the water and arc look in a more natural way. I've made a round base of a blueberry cake which will get white frosting as well as a loaf pan of chocolate cake which I will shape to look like the arc and frost with chocolate. The cake recipes I'm using the following recipe for inspiration for the two parts of the cake:  I'll be adapting this dairy blueberry muffin recipe and this chocolate cupcake recipe (secret ingredient - vinegar).

I'll post again this afternoon after all the pieces have been assembled. Check out this other cute Noah themed cake. 

Mabul Cake 2000 construction - fluff not as strong as hoped
Shifra and Shoshana help with the construction in our Jerusalem dorm

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tumultuous Beginings - Parshat Breishit

I've been blogging for two years now, but haven't written a post about Parshat Breishit - the very first portion in the Torah. In year one I went public a few weeks too late and in year two I got caught up in the swing of the holidays. This year I'm not gonna let that happen. On Wednesday night we'll extend the celebration of Sukkot a few more days with Shmini Atzeret ("The 8th day of stopping") and Simchat Torah ("Rejoicing in the Torah"). On the latter we'll complete the reading of the Torah only to  start reading it all over again the very same day. Then, the next day on Shabbat we read the full portion of Genesis - so I'd better get to it.

In Genesis we read about God creating the world in seven days. He starts with heaven and earth - but it wasn't how we think of them now- at first they are unformed and void, think primordial soup (no, that will not be the recipe this week). God sets about bringing order to chaos - on the first day creating light and dark and proclaiming it a good thing (way before Martha ever did).  Day two brought a distinction between the waters of the earth and the sky. Day three brought the appearance of dry land masses between the seas and sprouting of vegetable and fruit plants. Also good. Day four brought the moon and the stars to shine at night and the sun to distinguish the day - another good idea, a way for us to forever measure time. Day five brought some more living breathing things come into being - creatures of the sea and birds of the sky - not only are they good, they get blessed to increase and multiply. Day six things get crowded - cattle, critters and humans oh my! This was not just good, this was very good. And humans get a special blessing - increase and multiply and master the universe. On day seven it was time to create rest, establish a holy-day, and take a break.

Bringing order to chaos is a favorite activity of mine, under certain conditions. I love transforming a pile of groceries into a few delicious dishes, overturning a basket of laundry onto the bed and then folding it all neatly into drawers, or culling several post it's with messy scrawls into one neat to do list. Perhaps it is the divine impulse in me, or the type A personality, but there is a pull for me towards the unformed. The text calls the state of the world on that first day before order was implemented "Tohu Vavohu." As a play on the word, I've been thinking of a "Tofu Vavohu" stir-fry.



Delicious order

Every time I make a vegetarian stir fry, the tofu doesn't get the kind of crackly, crunchy crust that I'm after. I've tried using a lot of oil in the pan and giving the tofu it's own time in there before involving any vegetables. But the saute pan method wasn't doing it for me so I tried a baking pan. Last time we were making stir fry I tossed cubes of tofu with some of our soy sauce, sugar and sesame seed "dressing" and spread them out on a baking pan. They went unto the oven at 375 for 15 minutes, and came out exactly how I wanted I served them over the stir fried vegetables that I prepared while the tofu was roasting, and I doused it all with our lip smacking dressing. So order was made of yet another mess.

Tofu Vavohu
Makes 2-4 servings depending on how hungry you are.

1 clove garlic
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/2 cup of rice wine vinegar
1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp grated ginger
pinch of chilli powder
1 package of extra firm tofu
1 red pepper, washed, seeded and sliced into match sticks
2 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup of sliced mushrooms
1 tbsp olive oil
optional: cooked rice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Drain the tofu and cut into 1 inch cubes.

Mix the first 7 ingredients to form the "dressing." If you are having trouble dissolving the sugar heat the dressing gently over a low flame and stir until it dissolves.

Take half of the dressing and toss it with the cubed tofu. Spread the tofu out on a silpat lined baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes, until golden brown and a bit crackly.

In the mean time, heat the olive oil in a wok or a large saute pan over medium high heat for 1 minute. Add the cut vegetables and stir for 3 minutes until slightly soft. Add 2 tbsp of the dressing and stir fry for another minute.

If you'd like to use rice in this dish, portion some into 2-4 individual bowls. Divide the vegetables into each bowl and spoon the tofu over the vegetables and drizzle another 1-2 tablespoons of the dressing over each bowl. Enjoy warm.

A meat stir fry

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sukkot 2011

Sam helping to build a Cambridge Sukkah last year

Last night was supposed to be the night that Sam and I went to buy our set of four species (lulav/palm frond, etrog/citron, hadasim/myrtle and aravot/willow) for Sukkot, the week long holiday which starts this Wednesday evening commemorating when God settled the nation in sukkot (booths/huts) after the Exodus, marking the beginning of the harvest and judgement time for rain. Shopping two nights before the start of the holiday would have been the most advanced planning in my history of buying lulav and etrog - but alas, a meeting ran long and a Judaica shop closed early, and we again found ourselves buying the night before the holiday.

A harvest bouquet

But I used to cut it even closer. Since I was about eight-years-old, my dad would take me and my brother down to the lower East side on the morning eve of the holiday to look for the best sets at the best prices. Vendors were wrapped along Essex and Grand Streets, hawking their agricultural cum religious goods from rickety folding tables. Long-rectangular card board boxes in front of the tables held dozens of jostled, thin, palm fronds from Israel, and leafy willow and myrtle stalks sprayed in a myriad of directions from white buckets flanking the tables. The table tops were reserved for the crown jewels - individually boxed yellow and green citrons, fragrant and padded by Styrofoam. It's the beauty and the value of those etrogs, sourced from Israel, Spain, Itlay, that drive the price of the sets - and if you've ever seen the movie Ushpizin you know some people are willing to pay A LOT for one. But vendors still burdened with merchandise at the 11th hour were willing to part with their etrogs and accompanying species for rock bottom prices - $30, $20 even $15.

Past him and hers etrog selections

In our hunt for our sets, my father taught us what to look for in each of the four species that makes them kosher - a lulav must have a straight spine and a green tip that isn't split or dried out, an etrog ought to be blemish free and have it's special stem, called a pitom, intact (or grow without one), aravot and hadassim should be healthy and leafy and not have significant gaps between the leaves. Aside from the legal markings, we each had aesthetic preferences that we sought - I like pitom-less green etrogs and a manageable sized lulav - my dad loves large yellow etrogs with an indentation around its middle to grip on to and for his lulav to be covered in brown. Being with someone you love when they find their perfect set gives you the same satisfaction as when a good friend finds their soul mate - though the feeling is shorter lived as the whole process will be repeated this time next year. I have schooled Sam in picking out a set according to Jewish law and according to what is beautiful in the eye of the beholder. He loves yellow etrogs - but it's smell that is more important to him than looks.  Unfortunately, in Beantown we lack the Lower East side fair market for the four species - so we end up shelling out more than double the NY prices to each get a set that we love.

Sam and set circa 2004

Now you may have read all of this and thought - is she nuts? That much money on non-local produce, that much time examining leafy greens? But to me it isn't tedious and it isn't a waste of money - it's a true joy (though slightly obsessive behavior - especially after we get the sets home and debate the best way to store them for the week - Fridge? Vase? Wet paper towel? Tin foil? We want them to look their best during holiday services when we will parade around with them). It is a process that involves appreciating natural beauty and is part of the Biblical commandment for this particular holiday to "rejoice in the holiday and be only happy."

Our High Holiday Vichinsky honey pot - you can get your own at

The other way that we ensure that we are "only happy" is by bundling up to eat warm food at night in the sukkah with friends and continuing to pour honey over round challahs in the face of buzzing bees during the day. I have experienced the holiday of Sukkot in warmer climates - Israel, California - but what those of us stuck in colder climates need is warm soups on cold nights. I have one to share that was a hit over Rosh Hashana - as well as six more so that you can have soup at every meal. I'm hoping that the roasted red pepper soup wards off the threatening rain here. The bright red color perks you up, while and the smooth texture lulls you into relaxation and enjoyment.

Cardulo's Rosh Hashana Specials in Harvard Square

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

8 red peppers
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, husk removed
5 cups Vegetable or Chicken broth
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)
Chile or Curry powder (optional, for heat)

Clean and halve the red peppers, remove the seeds and broil them until they are partially blackened and limp. Pop them into a brown bag to cool - you'll then have an easier time removing the peel.

In a large pot saute the onion in olive oil for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the broth, potatoes, garlic cloves. Peel the skin off of the red peppers, add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Using an immersion blender, puree the soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also want to add a bit of heat with a spice such as curry or chile.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Sukkot Soup Round Up:
Here are soups from Double Portion that are sure to continue warming you up in the sukkah
  1. Lentil Soup With a Kick 
  2. Oxtail Soup (buy Osso Bucco at Grow and Behold with the Double Portion discount!)
  3. Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup
  4. Tomato Bisque
  5. Chicken Soup with Ginger
  6. Lamb Chulent

This post is linked to Real Food Digest Sukkot 2011 Blog Carnival.

Farmer's Market harvest