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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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The Pesach Menu Hotline, Part 1

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

No sooner do we put our Purim groggers (noise makers) away, that we take out our Passover menus and brush off the haggadahs.  Passover will be here in less than a month, and my next few blog postings will be dedicated to getting ready and getting organized! (Breathe.  Breathe.)

Getting Organized:

Part of the pre-Passover stress can be reduced if you do your menu planning now.  Planning ahead will not only make shopping more manageable and organized, but if you make a large menu plan for all of your holiday meals, the cooking will become easier as well: you’ll be able to create an organized master cooking schedule.  Taking a few minutes to plan now will save you hours later, enabling you to effectively tackle how and when everything will be made.  Perhaps you’ll choose to double a main dish, freeze half and save it for the end of the holiday.  Maybe there is a vegetable dish that, upon further consideration, is best prepared closer to mealtime.

If you don’t already have one, create a Passover folder for menus, photocopied recipes, important shopping lists (not just for food), cleaning lists and even receipts.  Why reinvent the wheel each year?!  Loose scraps of paper are easily lost or misplaced and it would be a shame to lose all of that information.

Passover Menu-Planning: The Real Deal

Each year, another Passover cookbook comes out that we run to purchase without hesitation.  Our secret hope is that it will contain the answer to the real question we are asking: “how can I make the same chometzdik food I make all year kosher-for-Passover…and still taste good?”  The answer to this question is: you can’t.  Instead, let’s shift our mentality and rather ask, “Which are the best recipes to make which naturally do not require chometz* or that require only small substitutions?”  Let’s free ourselves from getting stuck in a rut.  The world is full of wonderful foods that do not require chometz.  If we choose recipes that are innately good and not just “not bad for Passover,” then we will all be happier with the food we are eating and how it comes out.   Roasted vegetables are a simple side dish, but delicious.  Marinated salads can be prepared in advance and are a great way of adding color and balance to what can be the heaviest meals of our year. Your favorite green leafy salad is welcome any time of year.  Start with main dishes and fill in as you go.

With your folder in hand, you’ll be on your way to freeing yourself from a stressful experience, and better able to focus on the enjoyment of the holiday.

The following recipe is a great example of an entrée that is innately good in all its simplicity, whether on Passover or the rest of the year.

*Chometz is leavened or fermented wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley – forbidden to be eaten on Passover.

Lemon-Herbed Roast Chicken


There is something remarkably aromatic and juicy about roasting a whole bird.  This “Julia-style” treatment is my go-to method!

Serves 4.

  1. 1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary, plus 2 large whole sprigs
  2. 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme, plus 3 whole sprigs
  3. ½ tsp. garlic powder
  4. ½ tsp. kosher salt
  5. ¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  6. 1/3 cup olive oil
  7. 1 lemon, zest reserved, and quartered
  8. 1 onion, quartered
  9. 1 shallot, minced
  10. 2/3 cup chicken stock
  11. 1/3 cup dry white wine

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Clean whole chicken inside and out, removing excess fat or pin feathers if necessary.  Rinse chicken and pat dry.  Combine chopped rosemary, chopped thyme, garlic powder, salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon zest in a small bowl and mix to blend.  Rub this mixture all over the chicken and inside of the cavity.  Stuff quartered lemon, onion, and herb sprigs into the cavity of the chicken.  Using a long piece of twine, tie the legs together tightly.

Place the chicken back-side up on a V-rack or grate in a frame-proof roasting pan.  Roast for 15 minutes, and carefully turn chicken breast-side up.  Roast for another 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to roast for another 45 minutes-1 hour or until an inserted meat thermometer registers 170 degrees internally.  Remove chicken from the oven.

Tilt the chicken forward, allowing the inner juices to run into the roasting pan. Transfer chicken to a cutting board. Allow chicken to rest for 20 minutes before serving.  Meanwhile, place roasting pan over medium high heat.  Add shallots and sauté for about 5 minutes, scraping up browned bits from the bottom.  Add chicken stock and wine, and bring to a boil.  Simmer over medium heat, continually scraping up browned bits from the bottom and stirring until they dissolve and the sauce thickens. Skim off excess fat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Cut up chicken into eighths (e.g. breasts, thighs, drumsticks and wings).  Discard lemons, onions, and chicken back (or save for your next stock). Serve chicken with sauce on the side.

 

By Naomi Ross

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PASSOVER 2010

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

On the 15th day of Nisan, which this year falls at sunset March 29th, Jews throughout the world will celebrate the Holy Festival of Passover.  This holiday commemorates the Hebrew’s escape from enslavement in Egypt.

In 1441 BCE, the Pharaoh became worried that the children of Israel would multiply and grow strong to wage war against Egypt.  He therefore decreed that all Jews be placed into slavery and all male Hebrew babies be killed. A couple named Amron and Yochevet tried to save their son from death by placing him in a basket and floated him down the Nile River.  The Pharaoh’s daughter, who happened to be bathing in the river, found the baby.  She took him as her son and named him Moses, which means “taken from the water”.

Moses was raised by the Royal Family, but somehow showed empathy for the Jewish slaves.  One day he saw an Egyptian Taskmaster beating a slave, and slew him.  He soon found out he was Jewish himself and fled to the desert for forty years to escape the Pharaoh’s punishment.

One day, while working as a Shepherd, the Lord appeared to Moses in the form of a burning bush. G-d commanded Moses to return to Egypt to free the slaves and lead them to the land of Israel.  Moses pleaded with the King to free the Jews, but to no avail.  The Lord sent down ten plagues against the people of Egypt.  The ten plagues are:  Blood, Frogs, Lice, Beasts, Cattle Disease, Boils, Hail, Locusts, Darkness and the Slaying of the First Born.  During the tenth plague, the Hebrew’s marked their doors with Lamb’s blood.  The Angel of Death “passed over” those homes marked with the blood and only killed the Egyptian first born of whom the Pharaoh’s son was included.  This is where the name Passover comes from.

Pharaoh finally granted the Jews permission to leave Egypt.  They gathered all their belongings and in their haste to flee, didn’t have time for their bread to rise.  They took the bread the way it was.  This is why Jewish people eat Matzah during Passover.  As the Jews were fleeing, Pharoah changed his mind and sent his army to bring them back. G-d parted the Red Sea for the Jews to cross.  As soon as the Jews were on the other side, the waters were closed and all the soldiers drowned.  The Jewish people were saved.

We celebrate Passover with a traditional meal called a Seder, where we read the story of how our ancestors were slaves and remind ourselves that we live as free people.  During the Seder we eat traditional foods that remind us of our affliction at the hands of the Egyptians.  We eat bitter herbs to remind us of the bitterness of slavery.  We eat Charoset, which is a sweet mixture of apples, nuts and wine which represents the mortar from which the slaves made bricks.  Another food we eat is a vegetable dipped in salt water.  The vegetable is a sign of rebirth, and the salt water represents the tears of the Hebrew slaves.  The book we read from is called the Haggadah which means “to tell”.  Jewish people look forward to being present each year at the Seder. It is a time for families to get together, tell the story of freedom, and rejoice with good food and wine.

Wishing everyone a Joyous and Kosher Passover from Michael, Murray and the entire staff at Park East Kosher.

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