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!