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Archive for April, 2011

Wisdom from the Pesach Kitchen

Monday, April 11th, 2011

During the past few weeks, I’ve discussed the advanced preparations that can make for an easier Passover.  As the Seder night approaches, other important preparations come to the fore, all part and parcel of the Passover experience.

When I was a child, I remember begging my mother for a job to do on those momentous days leading up to Passover.  The anticipation in the house was contagious, and I couldn’t help but sense the urgency – something big was coming and I wanted to be a part of it.  Fortunately for me, my mother was adept at putting me to work, getting me involved in the Pesach preparations and effectively igniting a spark in her daughter to experience the joy and excitement of Pesach.  The mitzvah of chinuch habanim (educating your children) of the story of the Exodus from Egypt began there – not at the seder, but before in the kitchen.

Each part of the Seder is carried out in such a way as to arouse curiosity in the children in order that they might ask questions.  According to the Sages, one should explain the story in the way that will be most understood on their level.  By doing so, you will fulfill the mitzvah of “v’hegaditah l’bincha,” teaching the story to your children.  Children learn experientially.  They need to engage all of their senses to really internalize a concept or lesson.  By drawing your children in and inviting them to take part in the Pesach preparations, you will help stir their interest and make Pesach real for them, enabling them to take ownership of their own holiday experience.

There are many jobs that are perfect for this purpose and are appropriate for a wide range of ages.  Here are few suggestions:

  • Making CharosesWhen I was a kid, I thought making Charoses was an all-day process.  Peeling, coring and chopping the apples took forever.  And dicing nuts in our little manual glass jar chopper was such hard work for a little kid that by the time I finished, I truly felt as though I were enslaved in Egypt, too!   Truth be told, it was the perfect job – it kept me busy for a long time and I felt very accomplished afterward.
  • Peeling hardboiled eggs – all kids think this is fun.  I have no idea why, but they do…so teach them how and let them.
  • Setting the table – There are many more things to prepare on the Seder table than for a regular meal.  Assembling Haggados and pillows and preparing the Seder plate all take time.  In addition, if your children are creative, perhaps they can create some pretty folded napkins and/or handmade place cards.
  • Cooking and Baking for older kids who are able to follow a recipe (or interested in learning), this is a great opportunity to teach your kids basic lessons in cooking and baking.  I still remember being called over to taste and help season a dish simmering on the stove.  And there is nothing like Pesach baking to teach one how to separate eggs and beat them up stiff.  It was in my mother’s Pesach kitchen that I quickly learned what “stiff peaks” were and what exactly “folding” meant.  (And my mother?  She had to bake no more!).  

 

No matter how you enlist your child, the real secret to getting them involved is by exhibiting the joy and fun (yes, fun!) of making Pesach yourself.  When your kids see you enjoying yourself and getting into the spirit, then they will follow suit and reflect that joy into your home.

With the Seder plate in mind, here is one last recipe to share and enjoy.  Because we no longer have a Temple in which to offer the Paschal lamb, it is a strong custom not to serve roasted meats.  For this reason, braised dishes such as brisket have become a traditional choice for the Seder entrée.

Braised Brisket with Horseradish-Parsley Pesto

Inspired by the symbolic foods of the Seder, this brisket gets a boost from fresh horseradish and parsley, and is balanced with bright orange flavors.

Ingredients

½ cup parsley leaves, lightly packed

3 cloves garlic

½ cup fresh horseradish root, peeled and sliced

Zest of one orange (about 1 tbsp.)

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 (4½ lb.) first-cut brisket

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp. dried rosemary

1 cup dry red wine

½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

1-2 tbsp. tomato paste

Directions

Place parsley, 3 cloves of garlic, horseradish, orange zest and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor fitted with an “S” blade. Process ingredients until finely ground into a paste.  Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Season the brisket with salt and pepper.  In a very large, deep skillet or enameled, cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the brisket and brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes per side.  Using tongs, carefully transfer the brisket to a platter, fat side up.  Spread an even layer of horseradish-parsley pesto over the brisket and set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pan or casserole and return to medium-high heat.  Add the onions and chopped garlic and sauté over moderate heat until translucent, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the rosemary, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another minute.  Add the wine, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.  Add the orange juice, brown sugar and tomato paste, and stir to blend.

If using a cast-iron casserole, set the brisket, horseradish side up, in the center of the casserole. (Alternatively, if using a skillet, transfer the mixture to a 9×13 baking dish and set the brisket in the center of the baking dish).  Cover and transfer to the oven.  Bake for 2-3 hours or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and allow brisket to rest for 20 minutes before slicing.

Transfer brisket to a cutting board and using a sharp carving knife, make thin slices against the grain.  Transfer to a serving platter, spooning some of the gravy over the brisket and serve with additional remaining gravy on the side.

Do Ahead: This recipe can be prepared 2-3 days in advance, with the flavors intensifying after marinating in the cooking liquid.  To reheat, skim the fat from the surface of the liquid. Slice the cold brisket, return it to the casserole and reheat gently in a 350° oven. Transfer the brisket to a platter and serve.

Cook’s Note: For thicker gravy, reduce cooking liquid in a saucepan over medium heat prior to serving until it reaches desired consistency.

Have a happy and kosher Passover!

-Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

 

 

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The Pesach Menu Hotline, Part 2

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

The seders of my youth involved long tables, lots of folding chairs and, in general, a lot of guests.  Armed with a stack of Maxwell House haggadahs, an industrial-size can of macaroons and copious amounts of matzah, we who lived in the house knew that more than any other point in the year, it was a time to serve a crowd…to make some new memories and to relive old ones.

Serving a Crowd

Anyone who cooks and hosts knows that the dishes and menu choices to accommodate a large crowd may differ from what you might select for an intimate meal.  If large quantity cooking is new to you (or you just need a little refresher), here are some tips to help along your menu planning and preparations.

Menu Considerations

Make a list of all the dishes you plan on serving.  Then consider the following: the cost of the ingredients, how much time is required (and how complicated the recipe is), and the yield (i.e. how many it will serve).

  • Cost: Some recipes are just not cost efficient for serving a crowd.  For example, braised short ribs are a lovely choice for a small dinner party, but if you are cooking for 20, a large piece of meat (like a brisket or roast) will be a wiser choice.
  • Time: Cooking in large quantities takes longer than small quantities – obviously, it will take longer to peel 20 potatoes than 5 potatoes, so factor in that extra time. Limit (or eliminate!) long or complicated recipes, and if you do choose to make one, consider the timing carefully, breaking down the steps in your cooking schedule (see below).
  • Yield:  Look for recipes that have a large yield.  A recipe can be doubled or even tripled, but beyond that, the numbers don’t always add up, and the quality and taste of the recipe may be compromised.

Lists, lists and more lists!

  • Once you’ve made your master serving list, write a detailed menu of all dishes, breaking down and itemizing the recipes into individual components (for example, under “Stuffed Chicken Breasts,” list “matzo stuffing”).  This will help you to organize and group your kitchen tasks.  Then make a copy and put it in on your fridge so that you have something to check off as you go (also, when you lose your original or spill brisket gravy all over it, you’ll have a back-up!).
  • Next, review your recipes and create a master shopping list (or multiple lists if shopping at more than one store).  Check it twice.
  • Create a cooking and task schedule: Working backwards from the serving day, decide in advance the order of preparation, based on what can be prepared in advance and what needs to be prepared closest to serving time.
  • Some kitchen work may be done ahead of time, such as chopping vegetables or making soups, braised meats and mixes that can be baked or cooked later (like matzo ball batter).

More helpful hints…

  • Large quantity storage: Plan ahead to have space in your refrigerator for all you will be cooking. Don’t forget you will also need to store leftovers.  If you have a second fridge/freezer, plug it in and get those big Tupperwares and tins (with covers!) ready.
  • Be sure you have pots, pans and serving dishes large enough to prepare and serve your recipes.
  • When you’re multiplying recipes, keep in mind that cooking times may be different if you change the recipe size – doubling does not mean doubling the cooking time, but adjustments often have to be made with a watchful eye.
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate! Be realistic about how much you can do by yourself. Enlist “helpers” and delegate chores so that others can be involved in the mitzvah of making Passover…and the mitzvah of preventing the host/hostess from being overwhelmed!

The following recipe is a great choice when serving a crowd.  It’s simple to prepare, makes a ton, is a real crowd pleaser and won’t break the bank (cabbage is cheap and goes a long way!).  A sure win-win for your Passover menu and mine.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup

Flanken and beef bones give this soup a superior depth of flavor – homey and satisfying with each bite!

Yield: 12 servings

1½ lbs. beef flanken, cut into large chunks (slice in between the bones)

2 beef soup bones

9 cups water or more as needed

1 large onion, sliced

1 (28-oz.) can diced tomatoes

1 (15-oz.) tomato sauce

1 medium head green cabbage, shredded (discard tough outer layers before shredding)

1 large potato, peeled and diced

1 bay leaf

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)

¼ cup dark brown sugar

1-2 tbsp. tomato paste

½ tsp. freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

1½ tsp. kosher salt, plus more to taste

Place flanken, bones and water in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium-high heat. Slowly bring to a boil.  Using a small sieve or a large spoon, carefully skim off foam and impurities when they begin to rise to the surface.  Add the rest of the ingredients, return to a boil, and lower heat to a simmer.  Cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Taste soup and add additional lemon juice and/or brown sugar as needed to achieve a balanced sweet and sour taste.  Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.   Ladle soup into bowls with a portion of meat in each bowl.

 

By Naomi Ross

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