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62

No recipe today, just a little picture from this evening’s Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration held by the Israeli Consulate to New England. It was a bit more low key than last year but the flowers were just as lovely — roses this year instead of tulips. And, of course, I couldn’t resist bringing one home.

Chag Sameach everyone!

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613

seeds

One year in elementary school, we had a “Mitzvah Fair.” Sort of like a Science Fair, but fewer experiments.

We had learned in Hebrew class that there were 613 seeds in a pomegranate, supposedly corresponding to the number of mitzvot — commandments or good deeds (depending on the context) — in the Torah. So, I paired up with a friend and we counted the number of seeds. Well, we tried to.  We bought two fruits, trying to make this project as scientific as possible, but weren’t able to count beyond about 400 per pomegranate. And, we did count the ones we ate.

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and to my pre-teen self, the fruit was the epitome of exotic. My friend and I had no idea how to remove the seeds. We cut the fruit in quarters, losing many seeds in the process, and then plucked the remaining seeds out by brute force with our less-than-nimble fingers. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is ubiquitous. And, thanks to a tip from my Atlanta family, I now know that the easiest way to remove pomegranate seeds is to carefully slice through the skin, gently pry open the fruit, and submerge it in a bowl of water. The water helps loosen the seeds (called “arils”) and they sink to the bottom while the membrane floats. You can then roll remaining seeds out of the fruit, re-submerging the clustered seeds periodically to help separate them from the membrane.

pomegranate

Our pomegranate experiment less than successful, my friend and I parted ways. Instead, I recorded myself as G-d giving the Ten Commandments to Moses.

Talk about hubris!

I found the room in the house with the best acoustics – the bathroom – and sat in the tub with a “boom box” taping my forced deep voice, enumerating each commandment and explaining it to the best of my nine year old abilities. To this day, I remember saying, “Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife” and explaining, “for she is your neighbor’s and not yours.” Yes, I really said “for” in lieu of “because.”

Pomegranate Chicken

pomegranate chicken

Adapted from Ethel Hofman’s Everyday Cooking for the Jewish Home. I doubled the recipe (and have included that doubling here) and used mostly boneless skinless chicken breasts. Essentially, you poach the chicken in olive oil which keeps the meat moist and the chicken can be easily reheated without fear of drying out. The original recipe calls for making juice from pomegranate seeds, but I take a shortcut, using either pomegranate juice of concentrate (which is just a juice reduction available in many Middle Eastern grocery stores).  Pomegranates are traditionally eaten on Rosh Hashana as a reminder of the commandments that we have kept over the past year, as we pray in synagogue for our merits to be counted. I have made this dish the past two years as part of my family’s Rosh Hashana meal.

Serves 8-10

- 1/3 – 1/2 C olive oil

- 4 T minced garlic

- 2 (3 1/2 to 4-pound) chickens, quartered or 8 boneless skinless chicken breasts or a mix

- 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/4 C pomegranate concentrate

- 1/2 C dry white wine (I used Beckett’s Flat 2004 Reserve Chardonnay)

- Juice of 2 lemons (~ 1/4 C)

- 1 T cinnamon

- 1 T sugar

- Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375º F.

Bake chicken. Spread chicken pieces in a pan in a single layer. Cover with minced garlic, salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. The recipe calls for 1/4 C oil per whole chicken, but this seemed like a little too much to me, so I cut the oil down a bit; use your judgment — there should be approximately 1-inch of oil in the tightly-packed pan . You could also toss the chicken, oil, and garlic in a ziplock bag and then spread the chicken in the pan. Bake in oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes. Baste every 10 minutes or so with the pan juices. My chicken did not brown at all.

Prepare sauce. Bring to boil pomegranate juice or concentrate, white wine, lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar. Lower heat for 5 minutes. The sauce should reduce to about 3/4.

Finish chicken. Drain excess oil from chicken. Pierce each chicken piece several times and pour sauce over chicken. Continue baking chicken with sauce for 10-15 minutes.

This chicken is great served at room temperature and on salads. If you have a pomegranate, sprinkle some of seeds on as garnish.

spinach and chicken salad with pomegranate dressing

Pomegranate Salad Dressing

pom seeds with lemon

Using virtually the same flavor combination as the pomegranate sauce, I created a salad dressing to complement the chicken that I cut up and threw on a bed of baby spinach.

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

- 1/4 C olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate concentrate

- Juice of 1 lemon (~2 T)

- 1 t cinnamon (optional)

- 1 t sugar

- salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and let the flavors mingle for at least 20 minutes.

Toss liberally over salad greens and sliced pomegranate chicken.

pomegranate dressing

pomegranate

That was the first time that I had ever seen or tasted a pomegranate and the fruit was extraordinarily exotic to me. We had no idea how to remove the seeds and did it by brute force, plucking each seed out with our less-than-nimble fingers, crushing many in the process. Perhaps that’s why we didn’t get close to the expected 613.

Now pomegranates seem fairly common, and the juice is

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big eyes

Growing up, my mom used to call me eagle ears — I could hear every single conversation going on in the house. I even listened to my mom doing an alumni interview for a kid applying to Princeton. This kind of got me in trouble since I was applying the following year and should not have been “overhearing” the interview.

There was no doubt that I *ahem* had a big mouth.a very full fridge

And when it comes to cooking and entertaining, I definitely have eyes that are bigger than my stomach.

If this is sounding strangely like a bedtime story gone wrong, fear not, I haven’t gnawed away at Grannie.

But, I do tend to grossly over-purchase groceries to the extent that much of my food has the potential to go to waste. I shop when I’m hungry. And I make half-hearted attempts at grocery lists. Reading foodblogs about mothers of 7 who feed their families each week on little more than I could spend on a pair of shoes puts me to shame. Or at least makes me reconsider my habits. A little bit.

A recent case in point – I was making a brisket for Rosh Hashana dinner and figured I would double the recipe since my parents love this so much. So I bought ten  pounds of brisket.

Ten pounds of brisket.

I should have known that I was going overboard when the butcher didn’t even have a single 10-pounder but had to give me two normal, family-sized briskets, one 4 pounds, one 6, to reach my desired weight. Then, of course, the briskets didn’t fit into the cocotte I had planned on using – actually a single one would have been a tight squeeze. But that didn’t stop me. I was determined to make ten pounds of brisket, so I pulled down my huge turkey roaster and layered it with the two slabs of meat, marinated them for an hour …

a perfect fit

…and filled the pan to the brim with tomatoes and onions.

ready to cover and pop into the oven

The result – five hours later, the apartment smelled fabulous and the meat had cooled sufficiently to be sliced down.

slicing can get a little messy

Six carnivores barely made a dent in the four-pounder. And my vegetarian sister even tried a bite. She was feeling adventurous. But didn’t feel so well after the bite.

And we still had more than six pounds of brisket left. And I had already cooked and/or prepped three more different meals. And there are only so many brisket sandwiches that my six-foot-three father can eat!

My more experienced brisket-maker friend Michele swooped in to the rescue – following her advice, I sliced down the remaining larger brisket, covered it with sauce, and froze it in a baking dish – a main course for another dinner.

the first layer

ready for the freezer, enough for 8-10 more

My spoiled little cat, Prescott Winslow III, hid behind the tablecloth, thinking I would not see him while I sliced (and sliced and sliced – ten pounds of brisket takes forever to slice, even when you spread out the slicing over a few days!), hoping for a few scraps to fall.

I can see you, PWIII!

Now I have learned my lesson for brisket, but what should I do with the six butternut squashes, four pomegranates, three bags of potatoes, and two cauliflowers that I still have?

Tomato and Onion Braised Brisket

Rosh Hashana Brisket

I found this recipe on Epicurean last year and it was such a success that I made it again this year, but went a bit overboard. The main modification I made to the recipe was to cut the amount of oil in half. I made a “rub” with the 1 1/4 C of oil that they call for, but it was so much that I now have a lovely jar of seasoned oil in my fridge that I have been using for salad dressings. I suggest cutting the oil down to 1/2-3/4 C depending on what cut of brisket you use.  I used a “New York Cut Brisket” which the butcher explained is a bit more marbled with fat than others. If you are given a choice of first- versus second-cut brisket, my understanding is that first-cut is leaner and is often less flavorful (but might not shrink as much).

Another tip – make sure to cover the brisket tightly with a well-fitting lid or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Last year, I didn’t cover the pan tightly enough with foil and forgot to baste every hour or so — which resulted in a lot of burnt bits of tomato and onion (if you’re being generous, you can call it a nice caramelized crust). This year, I basted better, and the brisket was fabulously moist and tender. While my dad had requested some special crusty bits, the lack thereof did not seem to stop him from having his fill, and taking a few sandwiches for the road.

Also, make sure you give yourself enough time to make the brisket: 5.5 hours minimum! It requires an hour of marinating, 4 hours of roasting, and at least 20-30 minutes of cooling before you can slice it — ideally it should be refrigerated overnight, and the brisket definitely tastes better the second day.

Serves 8 with leftovers (really!). I am NOT giving you the excessive doubling of the recipe that I did.

- 4-5 pound brisket (or slightly larger if you are neurotic)

- salt and pepper

- 1.5 t dried oregano

- 1.5 t dried thyme

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

-  1/2-3/4 C olive oil

- 2 large onions, thinly sliced (or chopped)

- 2 C coarsely chopped tomatoes (you can use canned tomatoes in a pinch)

Marinate the meat. Season the meat with salt and pepper on all sides. Then coat with a mixture of oregano, thyme, garlic and olive oil. You can either do this in a zip lock bag or in the pan you plan to use. Let sit at room temperature for one hour.

Preheat oven to 300ºF and prepare the vegetables.

Roast and baste. Put the brisket in your pan and cover with the onions and tomatoes. Cover tightly with foil and roast for 3.5 to 4 hours. Baste with accumulated juices every hour or so.

Cool. The brisket is ready when it has shrunk, the tomatoes and onions have lost their distinct shapes and formed a sauce (you might be able to see some bits of tomato skin, but not much else), and the end of the brisket can be pried off with a fork (but it’s not falling apart). Remove the brisket and sauce to a platter (or cutting board) and allow to cool before slicing. Degrease the pan juices and pour over sliced meat.

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easy does it

If there is a complicated way to do something and an easy way, I will inevitably choose the former.

But I was recently reminded of the beauty in keeping things simple. This time of year, the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is a time of self-reflection — not a bad time to review this lesson that holds both in the kitchen and out.

Having only cooked for Rosh Hashana once before, I received a lot of help from my family in  preparing to share the 2 days of holidays with over a dozen guests: we divided and conquered. I planned the overambitious menus (only parts of which ever came to fruition). My parents brought a case of wine up from Maryland. My dad and sister did most of the food shopping. My mom helped with much of the food prep, acting as sous chef in my kitchen.

Even with all those helping hands, I was nonetheless overjoyed to discover a cake that nearly bakes itself.

Not Derby Pie touts the base recipe as “The Easiest Cake Ever” and Rivka pictured it with ripe, juicy pears. I planned to add in some apples to the pears in honor of Rosh Hashana and to make it reminiscent of a gâteau pomme poire that I have been trying to recreate since I did a high school student exchange in the Loire valley followed by the Vendée in the northwest of France. However, given that my sister did the grocery shopping and doesn’t like pears, I ended up with just an apple cake. Not that this is just any apple cake.

The high egg content causes the cake to rise up as the heavier fruit sinks slightly. A light sprinkling of raw demerara sugar creates a crackly crunchy crust that caramelizes slightly at the edges and where the fruit juices pool.

corner close-up

Easy Apple Cake

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s “Easiest Cake Ever” which is recommended for ripe, juicy fruits such as pears, stone fruits, or berries. Given that I was using apples that were not particularly juicy, I decided to first saute them in some margarine and sugar, giving them a slight juicy caramelization as I would for a tarte tatin.

Serves 8-10 and there will be no leftovers. This is probably great with ice cream, but this cake needs no accoutrement.

For apples:

4 apples – I used a variety (1 each of Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Crispin)

lemon juice to prevent apples from browning as you cut

2 T margarine (or butter if you are making dairy)

1-2 T sugar (or to taste)

For cake batter:

1 C flour

3/4 C sugar

2 eggs

1/2 C canola oil

1 t baking powder

1 t vanilla

2-3 T demerara sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º F. Grease and flour a 9-inch cake pan, springform or square pan. (If you want to plate this, use a springform; otherwise, just serve it out of the pan.)

Peel and core the apples, then cut into ~12 slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice (you don’t need much – maybe a tablespoon or so for 4 apples) while the others are being sliced to prevent browning.

Heat margarine in pan over low heat and add apples and 1-2 T white sugar. Stir for ~10-15 minutes until apples soften. Some of the liquid will soak into the apples, but if too much of it starts to evaporate, then turn the heat down.

sauteed apples

While the apples are on the stove top, mix together the remaining ingredients (except for the demerara sugar) — flour, sugar (the 3/4 C), eggs, oil, baking powder, and vanilla. No mixer is required – you can just mix everything by hand even though the batter is quite thick.

Add half the warm apples (juices and all) to the batter and mix. Then pour into the prepared pan and spread the batter evenly with a spatula. Arrange the remaining apple slices on the top of the batter as decoratively as possible (though even a mishmash will look nice).

artful (?) arranging

for the record - I only used tongs because we were having guests that I had never met ... normally I'd just use my fingers!

Sprinkle the cake with demerara sugar if you’d like and bake for 1 hour.

sugar...

Let cool before attempting to remove from the pan. It can be a bit difficult to plate due to the stickiness of the fruit (I did a bit of clever patching that you can see close-up below).

a crack in the armor

I was a bit overzealous in the number of apples that I asked my mom to peel, and we had so many left over that in 5 minutes flat, I whipped up a second batch of batter and made another cake.

second apple cake

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Infused honey from Herb Lyceum

Rosh Hashana, falling around the beginning of the scholastic year, always feels more like the start of the year than the New Year according to the solar calendar. Like last year, I will be hosting my parents and sister as well as a bunch of other guests and will be cooking up a storm. As I prepare for the days of feasts, I’ve been collecting recipes and want to share my research, decision-making process, and menus. Please feel free to send me your favorite holiday recipes as well, either in the comments section or by emailing me directly.

By “holidays,” I am referring not just to Rosh Hashana, but Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. This year, RH and Sukkot fall on shabbat and Sunday so much of the food needs to be prepared in advance if you keep shabbat.

This Year’s Rosh Hashana Mealsthis is the one time of year that I make food that is more traditional. I will be dinner for 8 (basri, or meat), lunch for 8 (basri), dinner for 4 (chalavi, or dairy), and lunch for 4-8 (basri leftovers)

Included in all meals: the most beautiful challah in the world (challah à la danois, pic below, recipe is my bread machine challah, and braiding technique to come soon; I’ll make it into a ring for RH), apples and honey*, new fruit (kumquats? baby kiwis? star fruit?)

challah a la danois

Dinner 1 (for 8-9, basri)

- Soup – possibly Cauliflower Turmeric with Hazelnuts (parve) or Chicken Soup

C&Z's Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette - NOTE, mine is much yellower than Clotilde's

- Tomato and Onion Braised Brisket – I made this last year and have had special requests for it from my family — they particularly like the crusty bits; this year I will be making it in my new cocotte

- Moroccan-style Roasted Pomegranate Chicken – Another winner from last year and really easy, works for boneless-skinless chicken breast; Alternative chicken dish is Pomegranate Chicken Kebabs (pic and link to recipe below)– good on a grill or George Foreman and great served hot or room temperature

pomegranate chicken kabobs cooling, ready to pack up

- White Bean Salad or Black Bean and Corn Salad

- Quinoa Salad with lime cumin dressing or with sundried tomatoes and basil (pics and link to recipes below)

quinoa mango salad with lime cumin dressing

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

- Starch: Mashed Potatoes (my sisters favorite) OR Orzo or p’titim/Israeli CousCous with Garlic Scape Pesto (I froze much of my batch; pictured below on perciatelli)

scape pesto on perciatelli

- Large Salad (to be brought by our guests)

- Fruit Salad (to be brought by our guests)

- Apple Tarte Tatin or a Gateau Pomme-Poire – to use Not Derby Pie’s “The Easiest Cake Ever” recipe with apples and pears

Lunch 1 (for 6-8, basri)

- Leftover Soup

- Leftover Brisket and Chicken

- Smoked Fish – sable, tuna, salmon from Nantucket Wild

Nantucket's hot- and cold-smoked wild tuna

-Haricots Verts aux Noisettes (pic and link to recipe below)

close-up

- Kibbutz Herb Salad: arugula, spinach, herbs – mint/cilantro/basil, tomatoes, toasted almonds (pic and link to recipe below)

kibbutz herb salad

- Bistro Chocolate Cake (recipe just posted)

Bistro Chocolate Cake

- Honey Madeleines (pic and link to recipe below)bowl of madeleines

Dinner 2 (for 4, chalavi)

- Cucumber Gazpacho (recipe sent to me by Chef Chris Parsons, from Catch Restaurant, and using the Oikos Greek yogurt that Stonyfield Farm sent me)

- Pea Shoots Salad – pea shoots, tomatoes, roasted corn-off-the-cob (pic and link to recipe below)

pea shoots, tomato, and corn off the cob

- Salmon – recipe TBD…suggestions anyone?

- Baked Brie – another repeat request from last year (pic and link to recipe below)

baked brie sans croute, missing a slice

- Lemon Mascarpone Tart (pic and link to recipe below)

slice from above

Lunch 2 (6-8, probably basri)

- Whoo, I’m fresh out of ideas…last year I made deli wraps by the time we got to the 4th meal!

* Tapuchim U’dvash: Apples and Honey

It is traditional on Rosh Hashana to eat apples dipped in honey. Round apples (like round challahs) represent the world and cyclical nature of life. Honey is symbolic of a sweet new year. I found an article about different types of apples to help choose the best ones to eat and cook. My personal faves for eating are Fuji and Braeburn (and they are usually available and crispy year-round) and Crispins in the fall. For cakes/pies, I often use a mix of eating apples, more tart ones like Granny Smiths, and more soft ones like Golden Delicious for a variety of tastes and textures. I love buying apples at farmers markets when possible.

Before Rosh Hashana, I try to  buy a new jar or two of honey. This usually lasts me an entire year. Last year, I  bought Granja San Francisco Blossom Honey imported from Spain. This year, I bought some mint honey and some lemon verbena honey from the Herb Lyceum stand at the Copley Square Farmers Market (picture at top).

Yom Kippur Pre-Fast Menu – can’t deal with this yet and I’ll probably do something small, going to a friend’s for the Break-Fast

Sukkot Menus – can’t deal with this yet either

NOTE, the one meal I do love to make on Simchat Torah is late brunch post-hakafot. Sometimes I put my waffle iron on a timer. This year, I might make pancakes.

stacked

The Best of the Web (friends, Tweeps, Chefs, and Strangers): Feasting

- My friend Joel Haber (aka “Fun Joel” — seriously, Joel arrives and fun ensues ) wrote an article for the Jewish Journal (LA) with a bunch of internationally-inspired Rosh Hashana recipes. The article is entitled “Embodying Unity in Your Rosh Hashana Meal” and includes a recipe for sweet and savory Carrot Kugel that I just may try (coming from me, that’s saying a lot because kugel scares me!)

- Rosh Hashana Top Ten from Janna Gur, author of The Book of New Israeli Food (and whom I met a few months ago): check out the Beetroot and Pomegranate salad (I learned how to make it the class I took from her so I can personally vouch for it), Spicy Moroccan-style Fish, and Apple and Calvados Cake (I’d probably leave off the walnuts).

- NY Times article by Joan Nathan: “Rosh Hashana, Circa 1919″, including a recipe for poppy seed cake (9/16/09)

- LA Times article: “Rosh Hashana, Tunisian Style” with recipes from Got Kosher? Provisions take out and caterer in the Pico-Robertson area of LA. I was excited to find this article and accompanying recipes, including one for artichoke hearts with harissa salad, provided by Alain Cohen because he is related to the owner of Les Ailes in Paris — one of my favorite kosher North African restaurants, butcher, bakery, and take-out counter located next door to Folies Bergère. No trip to Paris for me is complete without at least one visit to the 9e arrondisement to grab a sandwich or salads to keep me going for the day or provisions for an overnight train to Berlin!

- 11 Holiday Menus from Epicurious for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur – I’ve chosen my favorite menus (and excluded the ones that are not kosher)

- Rosh Hashana Menus: Israeli, Sephardic, “Elegant”, Hungarian (by Joan Nathan – Jewish Cooking in America), and Italian (by Joyce Goldstein – Cucina Ebraica)

- Yom Kippur Break-fast Menus: Traditional Buffet (bagels and fish), Another Buffet (including apple spice cake and quiche – with non-kosher options, but quiche got rave reviews)

The Best of the Web: Imbibing

Every year, various publications put out top lists of kosher wines for the holidays. Sometimes these come out before Passover when every seder participant is required to drink 4 glasses of wine. My personal preference runs to Bordeaux and Bordeaux-style reds (including some of the nice ones coming out of Israel), but my family likes lighter white wines, including the infamous Moscato, which we call Sprite. Among whites, I also like a spicy Alsacian or German Gewürztraminer (Abarbanel makes a great one).

Here are a few lists that I have found recently (I have tried to post ones with prices when possible).

- Erika Strum’s Top 10 Kosher Wines – from March 2009, after attending the Kosher Wine and Food Expo and ranging in price from $15-$100; I attended this event in 2007 and first tried some of the wines that have become my faves and that Erika and I agree on. They include Domaine Du Castel Grand Vin 2005, Judean Hills (I actually prefer the Petit Castel and not because it’s less pricey but because it’s a bit of a softer Bordeax-style), Flor de Primavera Peraj Ha’abib, Capcanes 2005, Montsant Spain (I also like the Petita), and Hai, The Patriots 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Judean Hills, Israel (I recently bought this to try). As you can tell, I’m a red fan. Tasting notes and links are in Erika’s article.

- The Wine Spectator’s Kosher Wines for the High Holidays – referenced on HaKerem and including a few Gewürztraminer options in case I can’t find the Abarbanel one.

- Epicurious Top 5 Kosher Wines (date unclear, but probably recent as I have had some of these wines recently): I can personally vouch for the Gonzalez Byass Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry for drinking and cooking and the Goose Bay 2007 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (my friends and I used to order this all the time last year at Clubhouse Cafe). I am looking forward to trying the Flechas de Los Andes 2007 Gran Malbec (Argentina) and generally enjoy Segal’s Cabernets

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bonne fête … pour moi

le drapeau au port

Aujourd’hui, le quatorze juillet, ma mere m’a donné un petit (petit? bah non…grand!) cadeau. Une cocotte* ovale Le Creuset. Bonne fête à (pour?) moi.

Cocotte ovale (Oval French Oven, 6 ¾ qt. )

Cocotte ovale (Oval French Oven, 6 ¾ qt. )

Today, the fourteenth of July, my mom gave me a small (well, not so small … actually pretty large!) gift. A Le Creuset oval French oven (sometimes referred to as a “Dutch oven”). Happy Bastille day to me!

The Le Creuset Outlet near my parents was having a sale on all red enamel cookware, and when my mother called, they even offered to ship this incredibly heavy pot to me for free. It should arrive this weekend. I can’t wait.

For those who are loyal readers of this little project of mine, first off, thank you! Second, you might recall a little complaining that I’ve done about braising meat in a too-big pan without a cover and ending up with some extra, ahem, unintended caramelized crusty bits. I now finally have the right sized pot!

All that was exacted from me was a promise to make a brisket or some other meat in the cocotte the next time my parents visit. Ummmm … I’ll have to think about that one. Hello. I. Write. A. Food. Blog.

Fear not. The cocotte will be used. Many times.

Merci bien, mommy! Yes, I’m t****-something years old and I still call my mother “mommy.”

Paris

La Tour Eiffel, Juillet 2007

* I will adopt the terminology cocotte for my cadeau – much cuter than French or Dutch oven, n’est ce pas? It refers to a casserole or stewpan, but I like how it sounds a bit like coquette — let’s focus on its fun flirty nature, and ignore its insincerity and hope that my little (heavy!) cocotte treats me well.

Post script: the top picture was taken at the port of Nice, near the old city (vieille ville). For those who have asked or who are curious, this is also where my banner picture comes from. Contrary to some who have thought it is a random Caribbean island, it is not. If you walk from the port along the water in the direction of the main beach (towards the Promenade des Anglais), you’ll happen upon this concrete “beach” which I discovered on my last day in Nice and found strangely irresistible for some summer-end reflection and journaling. I’ll probably change my banner to a more foodie-appropriate one at some point, but for me, France — both Paris and Provence — holds special food and life inspiration.

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hagiga

The past two days in the US (sundown May 28 – sundown May 30) marked the Jewish holiday of Shavuot that celebrates Moses receiving the Ten Commandments. One of the ways that many people celebrate this holiday is by staying up and learning Torah all night in what is referred to as a “tikkun leil shavuot.”

green roses for shavout

one shavuot tradition is to decorate with flowers

In recent years (or perhaps not so recent, but I can only speak about what I know…), I have noticed a trend towards incorporating less traditional ways of learning into these tikkuns. I first participated in one of these a few years ago at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and co-sponsored by Alma NY and several other organizations. It was described this year as follows:

Learn, laugh, and nosh your way through an evening of music, film, dance, traditional (and not-so-traditional) study along with coffee, cheese cake and more! Educators and artists from New York and Israel will present engaging programs  until sunrise in a contemporary twist on the age-old tradition of Tikkun Leil Shavuot, free and open to everyone at every level of Jewish observance or knowledge.

- The Alma Tikkun

In attending these tikkuns over the past few years, I have participated in discussions about the election of Sarcozy in France with a political history expert, gone to cooking classes (my favorite and the source of a great summer salad recipe to be shared when I have a chance) with Israeli chefs, seen a re-creation of a Tel Aviv night club with trance music for those comfortable listening to music on a yomtov (holiday), and tried out an aerial yoga class. Classes span the height of the JCC building on at least six of their floors including the indoor pool, and the building is literally crawling with all generations, manners of dress, religious levels, and languages. I loved that there was truly something for everyone and that so many different people came together for this celebration of learning and art in what some think of as a “just religious” holiday.

When I was given the opportunity to teach a class this year at the tikkun run by my own minyan (lay-led prayer group, for lack of a better term), I embraced to chance to attempt a not-so-traditional class. I led a dance and movement session for a handful of friends and community members (with a diversity of dance, yoga, and movement backgrounds), based largely on key elements of jazz dance. In researching other dance-related Shavuot celebrations for inspiration, I came across two that took place in Israel this year, one called Hagiga (celebration or festival in Hebrew; article in DanceInIsrael.com) and hosted by Vertigo Dance Company in their Eco-Art Village and another called Hagiga Levana (“White Festival;” article in DanceInIsrael.com) hosted by Adama in the Negev desert. Below is a video about Vertigo Dance Company’s “Birth of the Phoenix” piece that they performed at this year’s Hagiga (the set incorporates a traveling geodesic dome — think Epcot Center).

In my own jazz class Thursday night (the first one I’ve taught in a while), I tried to incorporate some of the fluidity of modern and contemporary dance movement into a workshop focused on isolating body parts (head, shoulders, ribcage, hips) and counting out different rhythms.

***

Another Shavuot tradition is to eat dairy, so my minyan sponsored a dairy potluck before our tikkun. I prepared this tart as an alternative to quiche. I have to say that though I am rarely a fan of potlucks (how many pasta salads can one person eat???), I think our minyan must be the foodiest of all groups I have ever encountered. There was amazing variety (polenta, veggie chili, watermelon feta salad, and bucatini just name just a few), healthy options, and lots of vegetables. I am in the process to pulling together everyone’s recipes to share.

Zucchini Tart with Raclette

zucchini and raclette tart from above

Adapted from a recipe prepared by Natasha at 5 Star Foodie when she made a 7 course French-inspired brunch for her daughter’s birthday (!!!). I’ve been waiting for the right occasion to make this tart and Shavuot seemed perfect. Most people make quiche, but I hate making crusts and I’m not a fan of heavy creams or custards.

The original recipe calls for swiss cheese, but I wanted to try something a little  bit different and was planning to make it with brie. When I couldn’t find Président brie in Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods (what, you think I plan these things in advance after thinking about the food for weeks? No, I just embrace spontaneous action after way too much thought — see my first ever post, “notranches de racletten pensare, fare” — and it usually works out pretty well!), I discussed various options with the cheesemonger at Whole Foods and realized I had an amazing cheese – a Raclette made by Ermitage and imported from France – right in my fridge. Raclette is a Swiss cheese that I think has a nicer texture and flavor (nutty?) than the traditional holey and plasticy “swiss cheese” I grew up with in the US. It has a semi-hard texture and is fabulous melted with apples or pear thinly sliced and poached in white wine.

Serves 10-12 as side dish.

Ingredients:

- 2 cups large zucchini, grated (about 2 zucchini)

- 1 cup leeks, minced (1-2leeks, white parts only)

- 2 eggs

- 1/2 cup flour

- 1 tablespoon baking powder

- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

- 1/2 teaspoon salt

- 1 1/2 cup shredded raclette cheese – 2 oz (1/2 a package) – this is a pricey cheese from France ($18/4 oz from the Kosher Marketplace — see Resources) – aha, I still have some left to make a fruity, winey melted dish!

- Butter

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients together to blend well.

Batter will be thick. I initially freaked out because unlike quiches, this is not liquidy and there is no custard. But, it’s OK. Just butter your tart pan (you can use one with a removable bottom or a nice porcelain one like I did…either should work since this won’t drip out), spoon the batter in, and spread it evenly. The tart will rise a bit as it bakes.

zucchini and raclette tart entering oven

Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. At 45 minutes, mine was still a bit jiggly, so I kept it in for another 10 minutes — if you’re counting, that’s 55 minutes total. At that point, it pulled away beautifully from the sides of the pan. Mine showed a little bit more green zucchini than Natasha’s, cut beautifully, and was dense and tasty without being overwhelming.

zucchini and raclette tart

And of course, I will leave you with an excerpt of one of Vertigo’s more recent pieces, called White Noise:

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gils-picture

photo by Gil R., desserts by Andrew

You know you’re going to an Israeli event when the invitation states:

If you do attend, you’ll need a valid ID with you, no extra bags will be allowed nor weapons.

And there was nowhere else I wanted to be last night but surrounded by Israelis when the sun was setting and Yom HaZikaron — Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of terror — bled  into Yom HaAtzmaut — Independence Day. No strangers to symbolism, Israel starts Yom HaZikaron with a 2 minute siren and the country stops and stands in silence. It knows that its birth and continued existence are owed to the soldiers who protect its citizens, those who have been lost to terror attacks, and those who continue to be missing in action or in captivity. In a land of mandatory conscription, no one needs a reminder of this connection.

But you get a group of Israelis in a room and about the only thing (besides that um, interesting Maxim women of the IDF PR attempt by the Israeli government which in my opinion was creative though clearly a bit unbalanced) that can get their attention before the speakers begin is a video on a big screen that sounds something like Stomp (a personal favorite, given my previous tap dancing percussive days).

Starring Shekatek and created for Israel’s 60th Birthday last year; shows some of the best of Israel – its agriculture, technology (especially the biotech that I love!), cultural diversity, the beach, powerful women, tall dark men, all those religions, the serenity, the street culture and foods, the diversity, the beach (oh, did I mention that already?)

Nadav Tamir, Consul General of Israel to New England, then spoke, followed by Massachusetts Attorney General, Martha Coakley. The themes of their comments focused on friendship and partnership between the US and Israel, the importance of Israel as a strong democracy, and Israel as a country of high tech innovation (with Coakley citing statistics such as Israel having one of the highest per-capita rates of patents and companies on the NASDAQ). I was also personally touched by Coakley’s mention of Israel’s significant work in the area of  family violence given that my last visit centered on some of these issues.

flowers for Yom HaAtzmaut

Full of Israeli pride, I decided to make a dish from my new favorite cookbook with the “burnt eggplant” technique that Janna Gur demonstrated in her class and that I have mastered over the past few weeks. Gur said that her mother used to call this dish “the reds and the blues” because of the tomatoes juxtaposed against the eggplants. Eggplants are called chatzilim in Hebrew and are ubiquitous in the country. When rationing was in effect during the early years of statehood, newspapers and radio gave advice on making the most out of available food, and eggplant recipes abounded, yielding a mock chopped liver that most of my NY friends won’t have a Central Park picnic without. Traditional chatzilim salad adds some garlic, oil or mayo, and lemon juice. I like Gur’s milder tomato addition. Need I point out the symbolism of the red tomatoes and one of Israel’s (“blue”) national dishes, paired together like the the flags? Probably not, but subtlety has never been my forté.

033e

Yom HaAtzmaut Chatzilim, or “the Reds and the Blues”

chatzilim on toast

Adapted from Janna Gur’s The Book of New Israeli Food and dedicated to Israel and the US’s continued strong relationship, a safe return for soldiers in captivity, and fewer new things for all sides to have to remember.

I “burn” the eggplants in my oven since I do not have a gas stove — make sure to prick the eggplants a few times so that they do not explode. The main adaptation I made to Gur’s recipe is that I leave out the garlic and add both onion and tomatoes. I also significantly reduced the amount of oil.

When buying (standard) eggplants like the one on the upper left, they should be dark purple, unblemished, and should feel light for their size. Store them in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3-4 C of salad/dip.

- 2 medium eggplants (or 4-5 slender Thai eggplants)

- 2 tomatoes (to get ~ 1 C grated)

- 1/4 onion (will  use ~1 T grated)

- 2 T vegetable oil

- Salt and pepper (to taste)

Preheat your broiler.

Prick skin of eggplants with a fork or knife to prevent an explosion all over your oven. Place eggplants on a foil-lined baking sheet just below broiler and check on them every 10 minutes or so, turning them as necessary. The thinner Thai eggplants took about 20-25 minutes and were ready when they turn brown and dry.

One Thai eggplant ready after 20 minutes

The larger eggplant took about 25-30 minutes and you can tell that it is ready when the skin gets thin and papery, turns black in some places, and the eggplant softens and releases juices.

While the eggplants are broiling, prepare the other ingredients. Grate the two tomatoes on the medium sized holes of a box grater – this should yield about 1 cup of  tomato pulp and seeds without skin. Grate a quarter of an onion on the same side of the grater to get a pretty fine (without much work) onion liquid and paste-type consistency. There will be some onion left over — use it in guac or anywhere you like raw onion for a slightly milder flavor, or just use it in place of cooked minced onion. burnt eggplant, grated onion, grated tomato

Allow eggplants to cool – at least 10 minutes. Once cool, you can very easily separate the skins from the flesh.

eggplant flesh removed from skins

Mash the eggplant with a fork or put into a food processor. My preference is a fork. Drain any extra liquid so that the final salad isn’t too watery. Add the grated tomatoes (try to get mainly pulp and less liquid), 1 T grated onion, a few generous pinches of salt and some serious grinds of pepper, and stir everything together. Add 2T oil last.

I love spreading this on toast, or setting atop a plate of greens.

Romanian-style Roasted Eggplant Salad

Am Yisrael Chai! The People of Israel live (and prosper peacefully)!

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six million

6 million

Tonight and tomorrow mark Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance day. This memorial day holds special significance to me as the grand-daughter of survivors.

me with my grandparents

Tonight I participated in a  special seder, originally developed by Rabbi Avi Weiss, to ritualize remembrance of the Holocaust. We read from a short book, sitting on the floor as mourners in a darkened room around six candles to represent the 6,000,000 Jews who perished. The evening had four sections: physical destruction, spiritual destruction, destruction of children, and resistance. An important part of the seder is to pass the first-hand experiences of survivors to future generations so that the memories never extinguish and can continue to be passed l’dor va dor (from generation to generation).

Since no survivors were able to join us, I asked my mother to share with me some stories from her mother so that I could re-tell her experience as part of the “resistance” portion since my Bubbie’s attitude, wit, and courage is what helped her survive. Here is what my mother wrote as if she were speaking as her own mother:

I was born in a small town named Sandz (Novisoncz (sp?) in Polish), Poland. Since my mother was busy working in the family business, I was sent to live with my older sister in a larger city Katowicz. I went to school there and because at some point this was a town in Germany (borders changed a lot in those days) the schools taught German as well as Polish and I learned a “high German.” Who knew that it would later help save my life.

Money and diamonds helped some people live through the war if it wasn’t taken away from them by the Germans; knowledge/education was something that they couldn’t take away from you.

I was sent to a labor/work camp when the war broke out. I was in my late teens and thin and pretty; I always looked taller than I was so they thought I was older and would be a good worker. I worked in the kitchen, mainly peeling potatoes for the “potato soup” to be fed to the worker Jews in the camp — peels and water for the Jews, real hearty potato soup for the Germans. There was an adjacent men’s work camp and I could see young teenage boys, 11-12 years old, skin and bones, through the barbed wire fence. They were working hard too and quite hungry. One evening I was leaving the kitchen and stole a pail of potatoes, intended mainly for the teenage boys to keep them alive. On the way back to the barracks with the pail of potatoes, I was seen and stopped by a German guard. He asked me what I had in my hand and I answered in German that it was some potatoes and I was hungry. He said that I was carrying way too many potatoes just for myself and asked what was I going to do with them. I answered him in the best High German that I knew and said, ” They are just for me. Did you think I would be so stupid to just take a few every day and risk getting caught each time? ” He answered, “Verschwind!” in German meaning disappear, and said that I should get out of his sight quickly and never do that again.

My wise-a** German answer helped save my life.

One story that my mother had never heard, but that Bubbie shared with my younger sister was that in addition to working in the kitchen, she also worked in the laundry. This afforded her the opportunity to actually cook the potatoes in hot water under cover.

When my sister was in Israel a few years ago, she took some photographs in Yad VaShem‘s Valley of Destroyed Communities of the cities where my grandparents grew up: Poppie was born in Chrzanów and grew up in Krakow; my Bubbie learned the German that saved her life in Katowice.

Krakow - photo by RySq

Krakow - photo by RySq

picture by RySq

Katowice - picture by RySq

I am proud to say that though my grandparents are no longer alive, they worked hard all of their lives, passing on the legacy of higher education to their children and grandchildren, and even managed to save a few dollars to help provide for future generations. They had “made it” in America. And they did make some investments in jewelry and left this necklace to me which I cherish and wear regularly.

bubbie's necklace

In preparation for the seder, I thought about the potato peels that my grandparents often sustained themselves on. To help reenact part of the resistance experience, I made potato peel crisps.  Don’t be mistaken – this is NOT a dish to remember my grandmother by — I think of her when I eat grapefruit or Chinese food (we used to take her out to Kosher Chinese in Miami and she would always order a hamburger, insisting that she didn’t like Chinese food, and then proceed to pick from all of our plates, exclaiming how much better our dishes were…).

Potato Peel Crisps

I chose russet potatoes for this “recipe.”

Preheat oven to 500°F.

Wash potatoes well to remove any dirt. Peel potatoes and soak in water. Spread in single layer on baking sheet and spray with oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes until crisp.

potato peel crisps

Zachor. Remember.

[Thank you to Elisha for sharing this special ritual with me and other members of our community, and encouraging my family to document our stories.]

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of mice and men

Today is Purim, and I had elaborate plans to fulfill the mishloach manot mitzvah by baking Ashkenazi and Sephardi hamantashen, oznei haman, and fazuelos from around the globe to share with my friends and with you my new friends.

I did my background research. I looked into the history and my culinary options.

Ashkenazis make hamantashen, Haman’s pocket (since he accepted bribes) or Haman’s hat – a tri-corn like our Colonial “fathers” wore – filled with prune or poppy seed. The German word for poppy seeds is mohn, and Gil Marks in Olive Trees and Honey reports that the word’s similarity to Haman’s name is the genesis for this fillings. Prune — I have no idea where that comes from. Call them dried plums, but they’re still prunes  in my book. The few times I have actually made hamantashen, I used a cookie-like dough and filled them with chocolate and chopped hazelnuts.

Askenizim from different origins not surprisingly make different types of dough. There’s soft yeasty dough and more crispy cookie-type dough.  The former lets the filling shine. Apparently Poles and Hungarians tend to make the latter. And the French, bless them, sometimes make a brioche style dough (Faye Levy’s 1,000 Jewish Recipes).

To me, Sephardim are a bit more exotic – probably because I’m not Sephardic. Many Sephardim make oznei haman, Haman’s ears, as thin sheets of dough shaped in half circles and pinched in the middle, fried and covered with confectioners’ sugar, called  fazuelos (Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food),or, in Italian, orcchie di Amman (Joyce Goldstein’s Cucina Ebraica) — the name reminds me of orchiette, the ear shaped pasta. I had a really hard time picturing these until I came across step-by-step illustrations online.

And then come the nuts. Moroccans make Gorayebah – almond topped butter cookies (Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores). Greeks make a lot of interesting food for Purim depending on which area of Greece  you are from – marzipan (called novies) in the shape of the Purim characters,  buns (called folares) in the shape of Haman’s foot, sesame bars (multiple names) seen to represent Haman’s fleas (hmmm…), walnut squares to represent Haman’s teeth, and almond pastries. I bought  Nicholas Stavroulakis’ Cookbook of the Jews of Greece in the Jewish Museum in Athens a few years ago.

I looked to my friend Ellie Levi, aka The Baking Architect, for inspiration and motivation. Like KH Krena’s valentines (exhibit I mentioned in” sticky fingers“) Ellie’s mishloach manot deserve their own art exhibit. Somewhat more perishable and difficult to store over the years, I dare you to resist their call for more than an afternoon.

One year, Ellie and her sister Yali cooked and baked according to a Persian theme, in accordance with the site of the Purim story.

Purim-themed mishloach manot: Images from a hand painted 13th century megillah from Persia (The Baking Architect)

Persia-themed mishloach manot: Images from a hand painted 13th century megillah from Persia (The Baking Architect)

... filled with lots of (Sephardic) Persian goodies...

... filled with lots of (Sephardic) Persian goodies...

... described in detail

... described in detail

I had the best of intentions. Really I did.

Eventually, I decided to throw all of my research to the wayside and make Ashkenazi-style hamantashen my way. Different from every past year — no chocolate — but with a flair that I could only call á la francais. I was going to make mini apple triangle galettes — little hand-shaped freeform pies filled with freshly sliced apples (no prunes here!), perhaps atop a slather of dolce de leche or luscious caramel, sprinked with some turbinado sugar. Voilà! The perfect new Zahavah tradition.

And then I ended up fulfilling one of the other Purim traditions — ad d’lo yada — a few days early. Nothing crazy, just enough that I didn’t feel like spending my day baking.

NOTE: In case someone was concerned, I did make sure to fulfill my mishloach manot obligation – thank you, Monica Hirsh, for delivering with care such a classy, beautiful gift of flowers and food  to my sister’s office and really making her day a special one. What is great about Monica, beyond her amazing aesthetic and what I found out later is our shared time in Cantabrigia, is her personalized service. I requested delivery confirmation, having never sent anything to my sister’s office, and received an email note later in the day that detailed the delivery (time, signed by) and felt like a communication from a friend or colleague. Such small details make such a big difference in the whole experience.

Purim Celebration shaloch manot by Monica Hirsh

Purim Celebration shaloch manot by Monica Hirsh

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