Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sugar and Spice - Parshat Ki Tisah

Since the cow in the room was addressed last year, we can move on to other topics.

At the beginning of this week's portion, Parshat Ki Tisah, a census with cash flow is taken. Each person gives a half shekel to be counted and their coins go to the upkeep of the Tabernacle.

That money buys some good things - from big objects like copper lavers and washing stations to smaller spice mixtures that were either mixed with oil for anointing or burned each day in the Tabernacle. These spices seem a bit mysterious to us now-a-days, with the only recognizable spice being cinnamon. But if there was cinnamon I bet it was good.

This gets me thinking about how amazing it must have smelled in the Tabernacle each day with bread baking, sacrificial meat grilling, a cinnamon anointing oil being rubbed over all surfaces and incense burning all day long. Yum, sounds like a place I'd like to hang out. You too?

Here are several recipes that if you cook up all at once in your home you may get close to evoking the sweet and savory smells from the Tabernacle. One recipe is for snickerdoodle cookies. I just found out that these were a childhood favorite of my mother's. My parents have a history of mailing long distance goodies to me but I hadn't known the tradition goes further back in our family's legacy. My mom's mother may have been the jello queen, but she had a few dessert recipes for solid items that would ship well. She used to bake snickerdoodle cookies - a plain cookie dough batter flavored with cinnamon and sugar - and mail them in a round tin to her college dorm. Now that's love. So Emma - this one's for you.

Cinnamon Snickerdoodles

6 tbsp butter or buttery sticks, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 and 3/4 cup flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla. Add in the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

Cover a baking sheet with a non stick mat.

Mix the cinnamon and sugar together. Form each cookie by scooping out a tablespoon of dough, rolling it into a ball, dredging it in the cinnamon and sugar so that it is totally covered in the mixture. Then place the coated cookies two inches apart from one another on the non stick mat and flatten a bit with the palm of your hand.

Bake for ten minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Enjoy them or pack them up to ship to one of your favorite people'!

Herbed Polenta with Crispy Corned Beef
Sam loved this dish when I made it this week and said "you've got to put it on the blog." You can thank him when you've enjoyed your last spoonful of the dish.

2.5 cups water

½ cup ground corn meal

½ tsp salt

2 pinches pepper

2 leaves each of fresh or dried sage leaves, thyme, rosemary, and oregano

1 lb of corned beef slices

Simmer water in a medium pot. Whisk in the ground corn meal and dissolve. Let the cornmeal and water bubble for 20 minutes over a low flame, continually stirring with a wooden spoon.

Add in the salt, pepper and herbs and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste to see if more seasoning is needed.

Heat the meat under the broiler for 5 minutes until crispy.

Serve the corned beef over the polenta while it is warm and creamy.

Pita or Lavash
Adapted from Jewish Cooking by Marlena Spieler

Lavash is simply a longer, pocketless pita. The pitas in this recipe generally come out pocketless. This is best cooked in a cast iron or a grill pan (or over the grill if you happen to have access to one in the winter). Feel free to cut out the rising time.

4.5 cups of flour
1 packet of yeast (rapid rise)
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup of water
Optional spices such as fresh garlic and rosemary

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in one bowl. In another large bowl, mix together the oil and water, then stir in half the flour mixture. If you want to add spices, such as the garlic and rosemary I suggested, now is the time. Knead in the rest of the flour and shape into a ball. Cover the bowl with a damp dishtowel and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to 2 hours (depending on your time frame).

After it has risen, knead the dough for ten minutes. If you have time, cover and let it rise again. If not, divide the dough into 12 pieces for nice round pitas, or fewer for larger longer lavash. Dip your hands in to some flour to keep them from sticking to the dough and flatten each piece with a rolling pin or your hands. Try to keep the pita ½ an inch thick. Keep the dough that you aren’t working with covered.

Heat a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Wait for it to get smoking hot and then add one of the pitas and cook for 20 seconds (cook the lavash for slightly longer). Turn it over with tongs a cook for 1 minute on the other side (again, longer for lavash).

When large bubbles form on the bread turn it over again and watch as it puffs up. Press down gently with a dishtowel, and then cook for 2-3 more minutes. Remove from the pan and wrap the pita in a dry dishtowel. Repeat with the remaining dough, adding the finished pitas to the stack in the dry dishtowel.

Serve hot and moist!

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