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Archive for the ‘Jewish Holidays’ Category

The Meal Before…

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

The ”High Holy Days,” as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have come to be known, are referred to in Hebrew as the “Yomin Noraim” – Days of Awe. I like the word “awe.” Encapsulated in three short letters are all the reverence, astonishment, solemnity and grandeur that is associated with standing in judgment before the Creator. Feeling true “awe” is not unlike a moment-of-truth, an epiphany, an “ah-ha” experience…the catharsis of realizing who you really are and how you fit into the greater scheme of things. As such, we each experience due apprehension as Yom Kippur approaches, knowing we have much to answer for both individually and collectively as a People.

Strangely, despite obvious trepidation, the meal preceding the holiest fast of the year is considered to be a festive, joyous meal. Just as it wouldn’t occur to me to have a lavish banquet prior to a court sentencing, the seudat ha-mafseket (last meal before fasting) seems a bit counter-intuitive, no? But here’s where practical meets spiritual: the practical need to satiate and strengthen ourselves before a day of fasting and prayer is met with the spiritual joy and gladness derived from a chance at forgiveness, of starting anew with a clean slate. That hope, that opportunity is enough to infuse a festive spirit into an otherwise serious time.

And so we prepare our menus just the same way. Practically, we minimize the spiciness, reduce the saltiness and prepare foods that are filling, yet easily digested. Spiritually, we set the table with our finest and create an atmosphere of holiday. Were I born of Hungarian roots, I’d imagine myself walking into my would-be Hungarian bubbie’s kitchen, only to be met with a homey dish of Chicken Paprikash before the fast. It just seems like the right thing to have. Also mashed potatoes (I’m all about mashed potatoes before a fast): comforting, nourishing, and fit for a feast. In that alternate Jewish-Hungarian universe, here’s how she’d prepare it…

Chicken Paprikash

Traditionally this dish is made with sweet Hungarian paprika (or sometimes a mix of sweet and hot paprika). Using smoked paprika adds a smoky element of flavor – be sure to look for the highest quality paprika you can find.

8 chicken leg quarters
1½ tsp. Kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 large or 3 medium onions, sliced (about 4 cups)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 large red bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. flour
½ cup white wine

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Season chicken with ¾ tsp. salt and a good sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch Oven or large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Brown chicken quarters, about 2-3 minutes per side, turning once. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.

Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper to the pot. Sauté until onions are translucent and softened, about 6-8 minutes. Season with remaining salt, more black pepper and paprika. Stir to blend and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in flour. Stir and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Add wine and stir to blend. Return chicken to the pot. Spoon liquid over chicken quarters, cover and transfer to preheated oven.

Bake covered, for 1¼ -1½ hours. Serve hot over egg noodles or mashed potatoes.

Shavuot 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

On Tuesday night June 7th, at sundown, we celebrate the Festival of Shavout. Shavuot which in   Hebrew means “weeks” refers to the Jewish festival marking the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Shavuot began as an ancient agricultural festival, marking the end of the spring harvest and the beginning of the summer harvest. Shavuot was distinguished in ancient times by bringing crop offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Shavuot, also known as the Festival of the Giving of the Torah, dates from biblical times, and helps to explain the holiday’s name, “Weeks.” The Torah tells us it took forty-nine days for our ancestors to travel from Egypt to the foot of Mount Sinai (the same number of days as the   Counting of the Omer) where they were to receive the Torah. Thus, Leviticus 23:21 commands: “And you shall proclaim that day (the fiftieth day) to be holy” The name Shavuot symbolizes the completion of that seven-week journey.

Customs on Shavuot are the reading of the Book of Ruth, which reminds us that we too can find a continual source of blessing in our tradition. Another tradition includes staying up all night to study Torah and Mishnah, a custom called ,”Tikkun leil Shavuot” which symbolizes our commitment to the Torah, and that we are always ready and awake to receive the Torah. Traditionally, dairy as well as meat dishes are served on this holiday to symbolize the sweetness of the Torah, as well as the “land of milk and honey”.

Shavuot is a time when Jewish families come together to eat, learn, and reaffirm their dedication to the Torah. In this tradition, Park East Kosher will be closed on Tuesday June 7th before sundown and reopen Friday June 10th, so put your orders in early.  Chag Sameach!

Michael, Murray, and Staff.

 

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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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“Fast” Meals

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Over the course of the Jewish year, there is no dearth of food-related ideas to write about.  In fact, considering how central food is to Jewish observances and lifecycles, I rarely find myself lacking in material.   There’s always another holiday coming up, and always the need for what-to-serve, what-to-eat.  But Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement is the biggest fast day of the year.  It’s not about food. Come this Friday night, Jews all over the world will stop eating and drinking for a day (that alone is something to write about!)   But Yom Kippur is not about fasting either; It’s about rising above the absence of food, and all the distractions in order to connect and think and pray.

It’s hard for us to celebrate without food to mark the occasion.  Consider the “seudat hamafseket” (the last meal preceding the fast of Yom Kippur).    I always find this to be the most conflicted meal of the year – highly functional while at the same time festive and yet also in keeping with the seriousness of the day.   Go try to put that into a menu – it’s slightly paradoxical, from a cook’s perspective anyhow.      The meal needs to be homey and satisfying, without spiciness; sweet and celebratory, with solemnity.  It needs to be a meal that ends with contentedness, knowing that we’ve eaten all that we want so that we no longer have to, and no longer need to.  At that point we can go into Yom Kippur prepared and ready to focus on the meaning of the day.

You’re of course wondering then, well what do we eat?  (It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it?)  I recommend this fruity, tangy chicken recipe, smothered in sauce over a bed of mashed potatoes.  The following dish is simple to prepare, and the sauce can even be prepared a day ahead.  Serve with green beans and a nice salad and don’t forget to drink lots of water.     

Fresh Apricot and Orange Chicken

12 oz. jar orange marmalade

4 fresh apricots, pitted and sliced

¼ cup white wine

Juice of 1 lime

¼ tsp. ground ginger

1 whole chicken (4 lbs.), cut into 1/8ths

¾ tsp. garlic powder

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Place first five ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until apricots are very tender and sauce has slightly thickened.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Rinse chicken parts and pat dry.  Place chicken in a roasting pan and sprinkle with garlic powder, kosher salt and black pepper.  Pour sauce over chicken.  Bake uncovered for about 1¼-1½ hours, until chicken is nicely browned and sauce is bubbly.   

Wishing you an easy and meaningful fast,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family
By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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FIGS FOREVER

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Searching the markets for this year’s “new fruit,” an object to be sanctified and enjoyed by many on Rosh Hashanah, is always an adventure.  Unfortunately, it is often an anticlimactic experience for me.  Much as I enjoy scouting out the exotic cherimoya (out of season and unripe this time of year) or the much sought after star fruit (which looks much cooler than it tastes), I often end up with a misunderstood fruit that commanded a misunderstood price at the center of my holiday table (or likely later in my holiday garbage).   And so, each year I return to the aisles in anticipation of finding that fruit which marks the newness that Rosh Hashanah is all about…and secretly hope that it will taste good, too.

But this year is different.  This year is sweet with inspiration.  I didn’t have to look to the far ends of the earth to find a fruit pregnant with newness; I had only to look in my own backyard – my own Biblical backyard, that is.   This summer, I enjoyed many walks and hikes in Israel, and was frequently reminded of the “shivat haminim” (the seven species including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates) which the Torah declares are abundant in the Land of Israel.  And indeed they are.   One of my favorites is the fig.  The plump beauties I encountered on my trip bore no resemblance to the crusty, dried Tu B”shvat specimens of my youth.  Dark and dull on the outside, you only had to pull them apart to reveal the rosy-red juiciness that lies within, the myriad internal flowers that are the actual fruit.   It says in the Talmud that Torah is like a fig tree, which has fruit at various stages of ripening; the longer one works at it, the more one finds.  This idea gave me much hope – that each day there is something new to learn, ripe for the picking and filled with blossoms of potential.  That’s an idea to start the New Year with.  That’s a newness to bless.  Move over cherimoya…the fig is back.

Figs are not only delicious to snack on, though; they also lend a terrific element to cooked dishes.  Figs possess a delicate flavor that can add depth and sweetness to your holiday cooking.   Pairing veal with fresh figs worked wonderfully for me when developing the following holiday recipe, infusing the meat with subtle fruitiness.  I hope your guests with think so too.

Roast Veal with Muscato-Fig Reduction 

Serves 6.

A meat thermometer is an invaluable tool in determining perfectly cooked meat.  Be sure to use one in this recipe for perfectly moist veal.

 

  • 1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • ½ small fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped (a scant cup)
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 3½ lb. veal shoulder roast
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 10 fresh black mission figs, halved
  • 1 cup Muscato (sweet white wine)
  • ¼ cup beef or chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch (optional)
  • Kosher salt and Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

 

Preheat oven to 450°F.  Place chopped onion, fennel, garlic, and shallot in the bottom of a medium roasting pan (large enough to fit a rack).  Season with salt and pepper and toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil.  Place rack over vegetables.  Rub remaining tbsp. oil all over the veal roast and season liberally with salt and pepper.  Place roast on the rack.  Place pan in oven and roast for 10 minutes, until browned.  Turn roast over and repeat for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove pan from the oven and reduce oven to 325°.  Drizzle honey over roast and add figs and wine to the bottom of the pan.  Cover with tented foil and return to oven.  Bake for 1 ½ hours or until meat thermometer reaches 155 degrees internally.

Remove from oven and transfer veal and rack from pan to a platter or cutting board.  While veal rests, pour the contents of the bottom of the pan through a sieve set over a small saucepan.  Reserve the figs and set aside.  Press the vegetables against the sieve to release any additional liquid into the saucepan.  Discard vegetables.  

Place saucepan over medium heat, add stock, and bring to a simmer.  Reduce liquid by half, about 15 minutes (sauce should thicken to syrupy consistency – if sauce is too thin, pour off a small amount into a cup, dissolve cornstarch into the liquid and add back into the sauce.  Stir until thickened.).

Slice veal into thin slices, and place onto platter.  Pour sauce over veal (or serve on the side in a gravy boat) and garnish with reserved cooked figs. 

Just when you thought Rosh Hashanah couldn’t get any sweeter, here’s a bonus recipe incorporating another of the “seven species” into the menu, one that is also one of the symbolic foods eaten on Rosh Hashanah: dates.  Two symbolic fruits for the price of one!

On Rosh Hashanah night, we eat dates because the Hebrew word for date is “tamar”, which sounds similar to “tamu”, to consume.  We pray that G-d will consume our enemies and grant us all a very sweet New Year.

Orange-Scented Date Crumb Bars

If you weren’t a date-lover before, you will be after these treats.  Perfect for dessert or tea, these bars are great anytime.

  1. 1 1/4 cups water
  2. ¼ cup triple-sec or orange flavored liquor
  3. ½ tsp. grated orange peel (optional)
  4. 1 1/2 cups chopped pitted Medjool dates (about 10 oz.)
  5. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  7. ¾ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  8. 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  9. 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  10. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  12. ¼ tsp. cloves
  13. ¼ tsp. allspice
  14. 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, diced, room temperature
  15. ½ cup toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Grease an 8×8-inch metal baking pan.  Bring water, liquor, and orange peel to simmer in medium saucepan.  Add dates and simmer until very soft and thick, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  Stir in vanilla.  Cool to room temperature.

Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, cloves and allspice in large bowl.  Stir to blend.  Add butter.  Using fingertips, rub the butter into the mixture until moist clumps form. Press half of oat mixture evenly over bottom of prepared pan.  Spread date mixture on top.  Mix chopped pecans into remaining half of oat mixture, then sprinkle the mixture on top of the dates.  Press gently.  Bake until brown at edges and golden brown and set in center, about 40 minutes.  Cool completely in pan on a cooling rack.  Cut into bars and serve.

 

Wishing you a Happy and Healthy New Year,

Naomi Ross and the Park East Kosher Family

 

By Naomi Ross

 

 

 

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