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.