Canadian Jewish News April 2008
by Judy Bart Kancigor
Happy New Year! No, I haven't forgotten how to read a calendar (and can still find my way home and hardly ever drool on my sweater.) For Jews preparing for Passover (beginning Saturday evening, April 19) the spring holiday is another way to mark the beginning of the Jewish year.
While Rosh Hashanah, literally translated “head of the year,” is the spiritual new year, Nissan, the month of Passover, is sometimes considered the first month, because it denotes the beginning of our liberation from slavery and the exodus of our ancestors from Egypt.
And just in time for Passover, the culinary crescendo of the year for Jewish cooks, comes the long-awaited “Passover by Design” (Artscroll) from Susie Fishbein, with over 130 Passover-adjusted recipes, plus 30 brand-new ones, and the leap-off-the-page, glorious photos and clever décor ideas we have come to expect from this wildly popular author of the Kosher by Design series.
“Passover by Design” contains many of the recipes we love in Fishbein’s previous books, conveniently reformulated for the holiday, plus some enticing additions, including Teriyaki Chicken Satés, Beef Roulade on Creamy Parsnips, Sliced Beef with Shiitakes and Cherry Brandy Sauce, Steamed Sea Bass in Savoy Cabbage, Cranberry Chicken, Quinoa Timbales with Grapefruit Vinaigrette and Chocolate Chip Cheesecake.
Celebrating Passover with her large, lively family brings back vivid memories, said Fishbein by phone from her home in New Jersey. “It was just a frenzy, people of all ages celebrating together. The women tended to live into their nineties. That was always so beautiful, so many generations sitting at the table. There were so many people, so much to do. It was just a really happy, busy time.”
My grandmother, Mama Hinda, was a burier. No, not an undertaker. Okay, spell it berye. Yiddish for major-domo cleaner extraordinaire. As in white glove test above the door frame. As in you could eat off the floor. As in using the basement oven to keep the upstairs kitchen clean.
And if Mama was thorough during the year, before Passover she was fanatic, whipped to a joyous frenzy to ready the house for the holiday and remove all chometz (bread or any food containing leaven)…every last crumb.
Weeks before she would scrub, scour, scald, polish and shine. As the holiday approached, her Passover dishes – one set for milchig (dairy) and one set for fleishig (meat) – would be brought from the basement and washed. My Aunt Sally remembered, when she was a child in the 1920’s, Mama soaking glasses for three days and burying silverware outside with hot coals for use during the holiday. No closet, no shelf, no corner evaded her purification ritual.
On the night before Passover, Papa Harry and the children would search the already scoured home for any remaining crumbs of chometz, which would be swept up with a feather and burned. (So stringent is the prohibition that Jews are forbidden not only to consume, but even to possess such things as bread, noodles, yeast and other leavening agents, or anything made with flour during the holiday.)
Downstairs in the cold cellar, the earthen crock of rossl (fermented beets) Mama had started weeks before stood ready to infuse her borscht (beet soup), and eggs by the crate awaited her practiced hand to whisk them into ethereal citrus sponge cakes and irresistible chocolate nut tortes.
My story in the Orange County Register celebrates apples with recipes from "The Silver Palate Cookbook: 25th Anniversary Edition" by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, "A Passion for Baking" by Marcy Goldman and "The Santa Monica Farmers' Market Cookbook" by Amelia Saltsman.
You'll find recipes for Cinnamony Baked Apples, Rougemont Apple Pastry Cake, Ellen's Apple Tart, and Baked Applesauce.
From my family to yours, wishing you all a Happy New Year filled with sweet surprises.
The Orange County Register, Thursday, October 25, 2008
by Judy Bart Kancigor
Stroll through the farmers' market, and you feel fall approaching. As we say goodbye to summer's heat, those achingly sweet, soft, dribble-down-your-chin melons, peaches and plums give way to fall's bounty of apples: cool and crisp as an autumn's day. Read the whole story.
When I was growing up, my large, boisterous family would gather in my grandparents’ tiny apartment in Belle Harbor, New York, for the festive Rosh Hashanah meal. Papa Harry, who had emigrated from Russia in 1906 as a carpenter, would extend the dining table with boards reaching practically to the walls. The arrival of the aunties with their foil-covered dishes signaled the beginning of the holiday feast, a menu that seldom varied:
For the forshpeis (appetizer) Aunt Estelle’s homemade, lovingly shaped gefilte fish served with Uncle Lou’s horseradish, hand-grated on the back porch to keep out the fumes;
The centerpiece of the table was Mama Hinda’s grand spiral challah, round for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a symbol of the endless cycle of life. Only for this holiday would she add raisins, a sweet embellishment to enjoy a sweet New Year.
Sweet notes echoed from the beginning of the meal, as all assembled dipped apples in honey, to the dessert platters wedged onto Mama’s groaning sideboard: Aunt Irene’s dark, dense honey cake, Aunt Estelle’s mile-high sponge cake, Aunt Hilda’s chocolate chip
Orange County, CA caterer, Blueberry Hill
This week's recipe: BLUEBERRY HILL’S MANGO CHUTNEY BRISKET
I can tell Rosh Hashanah is approaching, because I’m already getting phone calls from my family and friends, my mother’s friends, even strangers!
“Can I make the brisket ahead and freeze it?” “Can I freeze the kugel?” “What should I do about my burnt honey cake?” (Yes and yes to the first two and “Um, do you have a dog?” to the third.)
Jewish cooks the world over are shopping and chopping, searing and sautéing – so many dishes, so little time.
In bygone days our foremothers, stay-at-home moms before that term ever became popular, had little distractions from the task at hand: putting a holiday feast on the table for their large extended families.
Today’s cooks squeeze the job in between work, carpools, meetings, etc. – all while trying to recreate those labor-intensive recipes their grandmothers slaved over. For what is a holiday if not the gathering of families connecting to their roots and traditions?
Now Orange County boasts its own kosher caterer, Blueberry Hill, that can provide a full dinner or even help out with a dish or two so you can enjoy your guests as you celebrate together.
(“The perception always was that kosher food is awful,” said Beverly Scheftz, who with her son Trevor owns and operates Blueberry Hill, “but it doesn’t have to be that way, and it’s definitely not that way.”
Up to my eyeballs with Rosh Hashanah preparations – lamb shanks roasting, honey orange sponge cake cooling upside down over a soda bottle, chicken soup simmering, apples all over my counter waiting to be sliced – I hear the doorbell. Slightly annoyed at the interruption, I open the door to find the UPS man delivering my eagerly-awaited copy of “Sweet Myrtle and Bitter Honey: The Mediterranean Flavors of Sardinia” (Rizzoli International) by restaurateur Efisio Farris with Jim Eber.
A cookbook with honey taking center stage arrives erev Rosh Hashanah. How beshert (destined) is that?
Sardinians flavor not only their desserts, but also their savory dishes with many varieties of local honey: miele millefiori (thousand flower honey), eucalyptus, chestnut, and the afodelo, acacia, and cardo flowers.
But two are truly unique in flavor – abbamele, a honey and pollen reduction they drizzle over ice cream, cheese, fresh fruit...even salads, and miele amaro or bitter honey, made from the flowers of the strawberry trees – a staple in every Sardinian kitchen – whose flavor Farris describes as “a deep yet fleeting sweetness, followed by an appealingly bitter aftertaste.” (Bitter honey as well as
Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, is a day of repentance, prayer, forgiveness…and fasting. So this would be a really short story if not for the fact that all good fasts must come to an end, and indeed they do in the lovely tradition called Break-the-Fast.
Dede and Ed Ginter have been hosting a Break-the-Fast at their Fullerton home for the past 35 years. “We have mostly the same people every year,” said Dede, “and we stagger the meal, because different temples get out at different hours."
“But we do have some turnover from year to year,” Ed pointed out. “Whenever we hear of somebody with no place to go, we invite them. Sometimes they are students, or my granddaughter will have a friend who likes to eat, so we say, ‘Bring her along!’”
After a day of praying and fasting, the meal, as in most homes, is dairy. “We have lots of fruit, lox and bagels, a kugel (noodle pudding), poached salmon, a variety of sweets, and my kids’ favorite, cheese blintz soufflé,” said Dede. ”It’s an old recipe and really nice, because you can prepare it before you go to temple. Then when you get home, you bring it to room temperature, and 40 minutes before your guests arrive, you just pop it in the oven, and it puffs up beautifully.”
Dede makes two kugels to please all. “My grandkids don’t like raisins, so I make one with and one
While Jews of Eastern European descent celebrate Hanukkah with mountains of latkes, Sephardic Jews fry sufganiyot. But for everyone – and every holiday – there’s always…chocolate?
Yes, just about everyone’s favorite ingredient never goes out of season, claims award-winning author Alice Medrich, whose book “Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season” (Artisan) offers 50 luscious, decadent recipes to crown every holiday and celebration.
“I wanted to do a season-to-season book,” said Medrich by phone from her Berkley, California, home. “Other ingredients we like to cook with change with the seasons. The constant is chocolate.”
Jewish cooks know that Hanukkah is all about the oil. The symbolism goes back to ancient times, when Judah Maccabee and his tiny army defeated the Syrian-Greeks and recaptured Jerusalem. In attempting to rededicate the Temple, they found only enough oil to burn for one day. Miraculously it lasted eight days, and we've been celebrating with a frying frenzy ever since! But who says traditional potato latkes are the only fritter fit to fry?
“Chocolate Banana Blintzes are fried, and Hanukkah is a great excuse to serve them,” noted Medrich. “They are just so delicious, a fancy party dessert that’s easy to do.” Restraint, she said, is sometimes the secret ingredient. “A little burst of chocolate sauce in a hot crepe with bananas is more seductive than a chocolate blintz with chocolate filling,” she writes.
Another lesser-known Hanukkah tradition involves the story of Judith, a beautiful Jewish widow, who dined with the enemy general Holofernes. She plied him with cheese to make him thirsty for wine, and when he fell into a drunken stupor, she beheaded him with his own sword. Because her bravery is said to have inspired the Maccabees, some communities remember Judith by eating cheese during this holiday.
It’s resolution time again! According to USA.gov, the most popular New Year’s resolution is (drum roll please) lose weight! What a surprise.
If, like me, you make this same resolution every year, two new books may turn things around, and then maybe next year we can all resolve to reduce carbon emissions and promote world peace.
In The Portion Plan: How to Eat the Foods You Love & Still Lose Weight (DK, $17.95) TV and radio personality Linda Gassenheimer says the key to losing weight and keeping it off may lie in the palm of your hand. Love that burger? A healthy portion is palm sized. Your baked potato should be the size of your fist. And you don’t have to give up French fries if you eat what will fit in two cupped hands (about 20).
“The portions of foods we are eating have ballooned,” writes Gassenheimer. “Restaurants serve extra-large amounts of food, yet we still clean our plates, just as we were told to do when we were children.” This “portion distortion” has completely perverted our sense of normalcy.
Take the bagel, for instance. “Originally the size of a hockey puck, bagels now have the circumference of a CD,” she says. Stick to a palm-size portion and use reduced-fat cream cheese and save 382 calories.
Seeing is believing, and “The Portion Plan” offers dozens of life-size food photos of ideal and not-so-ideal portions of common foods so we can make wise food choices. And learning to distinguish between what Gassenheimer calls “the good, the bad, and the ugly” (choices to savor, choices to watch and choices to avoid) will assure we’re not only losing weight, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle as well.
The book also includes a seven-day eating plan with recipes, an eating-out guide and oodles of tips for delicious alternatives to calorie-laden foods.
Remember the movie “If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium”? That was my life for the past few weeks when my book tour brought me to South Florida where I had 13 gigs in 11 days.
The highlight was my cooking demonstration at the KitchenAid Culinary Center at Robb & Stucky Patio, a chichi furniture store in Palm Beach Gardens offering cooking classes in its fully stocked, state-of-the-art professional kitchen.
The event was sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, and here are the four dishes I taught that evening – Layered Hummus and Eggplant Appetizer, Yemenite Haroset Truffles, Malaysian Latkes and a flourless chocolate cake we call Too Good to Call Passover Cake Bete Noire.
But enough about me!
The Center’s Chef Christian Mailloux, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, generously turned his kitchen over to me for the night, but more importantly, his services as sous-chef!
“I’ve been interested in cooking since I was a child, watching my mom and dad,” Mailloux told me as he chopped my onions in preparation for the class.
Mailloux’s grandparents and great-grandmother were from the Azores, and he grew up with the Portuguese cuisine of his mother’s family and the French of his father’s.
“There was always some sort of French-Portuguese dish floating around,” he recalled, “veal braised in tomato sauce, Portuguese sweet bread, cured olives. My brother and I would run around the house with an olive on every finger.”