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Archive for September, 2011

A Date to Remember….

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Think “dried dates”…what comes to mind? For many of us, it’s the scarring memory of those tough, crusty things passed out at Hebrew school on Tu B’shvat , the Jewish New Year for Trees. In fact, it came as quite the surprise years later to discover that fresh dates are actually good. One of the shivat ha’minim (the seven species of the Land of Israel), dates are a highly symbolic item, whose branches, fruit and honey are mentioned throughout the Torah. But dates are also significant for the start of our New Year and hold a special place on the Rosh Hashanah table.

Rosh Hashanah is a time when wishes and prayers for the coming year are welcome. The Hebrew word for date is “tamar”, which sounds like “she-yitamu” – “that they be consumed.” Hence, we eat this fruit on the night of Rosh Hashanah and pray this year that our enemies be consumed. This is only one out of several symbolic foods whose names allude to good things. The source for this custom comes straight from the Talmud. Although the liturgy of Rosh Hashanah is exclusively dedicated to establishing G-d’s Kingship of the world, we use this small opportunity during our festive meals to pray for ourselves and the Jewish People in a covert way – by hinting to the things that we each deeply wish for. In this way, we acknowledge that the Source of all of the blessings we yearn for is G-d. And since Rosh Hashanah is also called the “Day of Remembrance,” we are asking to be remembered and blessed with good for the coming year.

For several years, I have enjoyed incorporating dates and the other traditional symbolic foods into my Rosh Hashanah menus. This is also a great approach to making certain “less popular” foods tastier as they are prepared in unique and creative ways. For those of you with date-phobia, you will be shocked at the transformation: super-sweet dates mellowed and reincarnated as the basis for a deeply flavorful braising sauce. Medjool dates are the way to go; they have a superior, meaty-moist flesh that holds up well when cooked. Start a day ahead to allow for marinating time.

Top of the Rib with Red Wine & Date Sauce

The rich, caramel flavors of Medjool dates and Silan (date syrup) flavor this wine-braised top of the rib. This recipe can also be made with brisket with delicious results.

Serves 8.

1 (4-lb.) Top of the Rib
1 (750 ml.) bottle dry red wine (Merlot or Cabernet)
2 cinnamon sticks
5 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. coriander seeds
12 black peppercorns
5 cloves
1 dried hot red chili pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
1½ cups sliced shallots (about 5 large)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
12 Medjool dates, pitted and sliced (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup Silan*

*Available in Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Place meat in a large deep container or bowl; pour wine over meat and add cinnamon sticks, garlic cloves, bay leaves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, cloves and chili pepper. Cover and marinate overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drain meat from marinade; transfer marinade to a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer until reduced by half, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and strain through a fine sieve. Set aside.

Season meat with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over high heat. Place meat in the skillet and brown, turning once, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer browned meat to a large roasting pan.

Reduce heat to medium and add remaining tablespoon of oil. Add shallots, onion, celery, and garlic and season to taste with more salt and pepper; sauté until softened, about 5-6 minutes. Slowly pour in strained marinade and bring to a boil, continuously stirring and scraping up browned bits from the bottom of the pan, about 3 minutes.

Remove from heat and pour mixture over and around meat, surrounding meat with vegetables. Distribute sliced dates around meat and pour silan evenly over the top of the meat. Cover and bake for 2½-3 hours. Meat is done when a fork slides easily in and out.

Remove from oven and cool slightly. Transfer meat to a cutting board and slice thinly against the grain; Transfer slices to a serving platter. Skim excess fat off of surface of liquid, if necessary. Pour sauce over meat and serve.

Wishing you a year of sweetness and may we all be remembered for the good in the coming year,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher family

High Holy Cooking

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Back to school, back to work, and back to all things routine: that’s how September goes, as we return from leisurely summer days to the pace and rhythm of ho-hum everyday life. That is…until the holidays come just a few weeks later. Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year that kicks off the “holiday season” in the Jewish month of Tishrei. And since repentance, prayer and Divine judgment can really work up an appetite for you and those you love, there’s a whole bunch of festive meals to prepare for this month as well.

Much like an accountant during tax season, I often think of September as “crunch time” – time to regroup from summer, reorganize for the coming year and to physically and spiritually prepare for the upcoming holidays. I make a lot of lists. My messy and tattered lists then give birth to new lists. I may not always know weeks in advance what I’ll be serving for holiday meals (c’mon, I’m not that organized!), but since it’s generally a given that food will be served, it’s a safe bet to pull out those “4F” recipes: family-favorite freezer-friendly. These are the ones worn and stained from years of use, and like an old friend you can rely on, quite a good place to get an early start to holiday cooking. These are often, but not always, cooking-for-a-crowd recipes – dishes which have a large yield or which can easily be doubled or tripled (and if you find yours are, then BONUS!).


Moderate batches. When cooking in advance, even if cooking for a crowd, I recommend freezing in moderate portions; you can always defrost 2 small pans of noodle kugel if expecting more guests, but you don’t want to defrost a large tray when only half was really needed. Practically speaking, this is also a much smarter move time-wise as it takes longer to both freeze and defrost larger items.

Know thy freezer. Meaning, know what freezes well and what doesn’t.

            Thou shalt freeze: meats, soups, kugels, cakes and cookies.

            Thou shalt not freeze: vegetable dishes, salads, soft cheeses, fruit pies

The right gear. Make sure you have freezer zip-top bags, freezer-friendly containers (especially if using glass), plastic wrap and foil.

Label, label, label. Writing the date the dish was made is also helpful.

The less air, the better. Squeeze out excess air when freezing in bags – it can cause freezer-burn and takes up more space. Containers should be frozen mostly full. However, some headspace is needed for freezing liquids as they expand when frozen.

Don’t freeze hot food. Allow hot food to cool before freezing (hot food will raise the temperature of the freezer, possibly spoiling all the other food in it). If not completely cool, allow plenty of space around the container when initially frozen so cold air can circulate around it – it will freeze faster and thus taste fresher when used.

Cooking ahead is essential when strapped for time, but also an invaluable way of staying stress-free when entertaining. More than this, before Holiday time, consider advanced preparations an investment into your holiday experience, one which will allow for more time focused on the holiday itself. So as I freeze and label this week, I’ll be reminding myself that on Rosh Hashanah we’ll be crowning G-d as the King of world…and not me queen of the kitchen!

Here is a “4F” (and child-friendly!) recipe for Sweet and Sour meatballs – perfect as a light entrée or as mini-meatballs for an appetizer served over rice.

Mom’s Sweet & Sour Meatballs

These can be easily doubled to serve a crowd.
Serves 6-8

3 pounds ground beef (neck)
3 eggs, beaten
¾ tsp. onion powder
¾ tsp. garlic powder
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. kosher salt
1/3 cup matzo meal or bread crumbs
1 (16-oz.) can whole cranberry sauce
1 (15-oz.) can tomato sauce
½ cup (4 oz.) chili sauce

Combine beef, eggs, spices and matzo meal together in a large bowl, mixing until well blended.
Using wet hands, break off small amounts (about 1-2 tablespoons each) and roll into meatballs. Repeat with remaining beef mixture. Set aside.
Combine cranberry, tomato and chili sauces in a large heavy pot. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to blend. When sauce begins to boil, carefully drop in meatballs. Return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer covered for 1-1½ hours. Skim fat from surface, if necessary (if making in advance, this is easily done after refrigerated or frozen as the fat will congeal). Serve hot over rice or couscous.