In search of a local, seasonal, organic etrog.

28 Sep

So dear readers, guess what?  I am driving my husband crazy with all this talk of cooking ‘Jewish’.   He even told me so.  Never has he been forced to give the subject this much thought and the more he thinks about it – the more he wants sushi.  Sure, it was cute and interesting at first, but I feel he may have reached his limit.

Tonight after our Yom Kippur dinner at his sister’s house, he gave a very definitive ‘NO!’ to the idea of having the guys over from hockey to build a Sukkah.  Sukkot, a celebration of the great outdoors and the harvest celebration.  Where the men build a four sided structure that we sleep in and eat in for a whole week.  Sounds fun, no? 

Apparently no. 

“BUT,” I insisted, “We can  do it the easy way.  Let’s put up one of our camping tents and enjoy a picnic inside it to get a bit of the flavour of the thing”.  He left the room. 

Seeking to woo him back with lots of exciting Sukkot recipes, I did some preliminary digging in my copy of Judaism for Dummies.  Hmmm… not much talk of food here for a harvest festival.  Some mention of nuts and sweet things and wine… but wait!  What’s this?  An etrog!  That’s a ‘citron’… apparently similar to a large lemon.   I must have one! 

Since Sukkot begins on October 3, coincidentally the same day we are celebrating with 70 of our closest friends at our house (just got married) my next mission will be to  go on an etrog hunt and try to incorporate some into the evening somehow.  Hey, it’s a start.  Wonder if anyone will notice.  Maybe an etrog sorbet or etrog punch will be exciting.

The etrog.  Kinda like a lemon, but not.

The etrog. Kinda like a lemon, but not.

OK.  So I conceded defeat on Sukkot – but watch out – Simchat Torah is coming!!!  That’s the holiday where the Jewish people finish reading the Torah, celebrate, and start reading it all over again.  October 10.  The same weekend as Thanksgiving.  I am sure I can rustle up something fabulous for that. 

Until then, it’s all about etrogs.

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Second Helpings? Oh no, I couldn’t possibly.

25 Sep

One of the cookbooks I picked up on my mission to learn to cook traditional Jewish foods was “Second Helpings Please”.  It’s plastic, coil bound spine held promise of many great meals to come.  I bought it at a Judaica shop while my husband and I were trying to purchase a new menorah for our table last December.  Flipping through it, it seemed like a version of The Joy of Cooking.  The man behind the counter assured me that “every good wife must have this.”  Well.  Never one to back down from a challenge, I bought one.

SECONDH

On the first page of this book, I am reassured that this edition includes the ever popular ‘One Helping Please’.  Now, I am not too excited about cooking recipes that people can only stand one helping of, so I’m just going to skip that section.  As well as Microwave Basics. 

‘Second Helpings Please’ is a book that has been around a while, it would appear, and it has a rich history.  The first printing was in 1968.  The book is sold to raise funds for Jewish Women International and their very worthy projects.  It’s a good thing.  Could use some updating.  Here are some random recipes I found flipping through:

Chinese Chicken Livers with Unhatched Eggs.  Now this recipe could have it’s place in the French Laundry cookbook, judging by the title.  What on earth is an unhatched egg?  I assume all eggs are unhatched, by definition, no? 

To make this dish, you basically fry the livers, add cooked eggs, dry garlic spare rib sauce (a sauce intended for pork, go figure) and brown sugar to the pan.  It is recommended as an hors d’oevres… serve with toothpicks.  (obviously)

Mama’s Pitcha  This one’s a doozy.  Knee bones (I assume beef, though no animal species is specified) Boiled with onions, carrots, and garlic for 4 hours.  Strain, chop up the meaty bits that fell off the knees, chill, and set.  Mmmmmm…. pitcha.

 

I shouldn’t make fun.  I am sure that someone, somewhere will write in to tell me that I don’t know what I am missing and that unhatched eggs and homemade gelatin are the highlights of their family meals.  That I couldn’t possibly understand how delicious this food is because I wasn’t raised with it and I am not Jewish.  Fair enough. 

Perhaps we can hold out hope that in the next printing of this book, they might include some modern recipes.  That people such as myself might actually want to eat.

Here’s a recipe for a salad I served at Rosh Hashannah.  I have received two requests from guests so far for the recipe and there was none left at the end of the night.  Here it is, ladies!

 

 Grilled Vegetable Salad with Caper Dressing

2 red peppers

2 red onions

2 zucchini (green or yellow)

1 pint cherry tomatoes

Mixed greens for the plate

2 T Capers

1/4 cup olive oil

1 T sherry vinegar

1 t Dijon mustard (smooth)

Generous pinch of salt, Fresh ground pepper.

1.  Fry the capers in a small amount of oil until they pop!  (careful… don’t get splashed)  Set aside to cool.

2.  Slice the peppers, onions, and zucchini and toss in oil.  Grill on the bbq on ‘medium’ until nicely marked.  Remove and let cool.

3.  Cover a flat serving dish with mixed greens, and spread grilled, cooled veggies on top.  Scatter cherry tomatoes around the salad.

4.  Whisk remaining olive oil with vinegar, mustard, capers, salt, and pepper.  Drizzle over salad.

Enjoy!

A new year, and some old recipes.

22 Sep

As I planned my Rosh Hashannah menu, I toyed with the idea of updating traditional recipes to better reflect current tastes.  One person I spoke to about this very notion had the nerve to suggest that I cook two versions of everything – one conventional, the other avant garde, and present it in a tasting menu format. 

Riight.  Like I have that kind of time.

I was of two minds.  On one hand, it is both reassuring as a cook, and soothing as an eater, to enjoy traditional foods in the way in which they were originally intended.  Food that has not been spoiled by the pretentious addition of lemongrass.  Or shiso leaves.  Or truffle oil.  But on the flip side, what’s wrong with adding a modern twist to traditional fare?  Is there something to be gained, apart from the obvious entertainment value, by the creation of a square Matzah ‘ball’? 

I would love to hear your comments, gentle reader, as Yom Kippur is on the horizon and there is another menu to plan.  

Perhaps an elliptical Matzah ball is the answer.

Shana Tova is pronounced…

21 Sep

‘Shanatova.’ not ‘Shanna Tova’.  Just for future reference.  And while we’re on the topic, ‘matzah’  (sometimes ‘motzoh’ on the cracker boxes) is not pronounced Mottsa, but Muttza.  Now you know. 

Now that we have that straight, I have an apology to make. 

Arthur Schwartz, I am sorry I doubted you.

Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz

Jewish Home Cooking by Arthur Schwartz

 While your five strand chullah braiding diagram left me mystified, and the preparation of the Shlishkes (I called them gnocchi in my previous posts) was labour intensive,  I must admit that you hit it out of the ball park with this one!  What started out looking like a mess of packing peanuts left out in the rain ended up looking like this:

 

Shlishkes... they are the new gnocchi!

So thank you, Arthur!  Of course when I unveiled them at the table and announced “the Schlishkes are ready!” no one knew what the heck I was talking about.  So I pulled out your book and we all shared a learning moment.  They were delicious.  Schmaltzy, crispy, potatoey goodness. 

I served the shlishkes with smoked brisket, which I cooked in my smoker to ‘medium’.  Now I understand this was a courageous choice because typically, I am told, the brisket has a texture roughly equal to shoe leather and is cooked grey.  Horseradish on the side and some pickled peppers (just hacked your pickled beets recipe Arthur, they turned out great) half sours and full sours, and pickled onions.  

The cous cous salad, a completely ad-libbed recipe (using random ingredients I happened to have on hand) was a triumph!  I cooked the cous cous with a vegetable stock and stirred in some sauteed onions and mushrooms.  Then I diced a butternut squash and fried it in a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and steamed it for a couple of minutes.  Here’s the final result:

Cous Cous Salad with Butternut Squash

Cous Cous Salad with Butternut Squash

 Now my dad called this ‘ball bearing salad’.  Very funny, dad. 

 

This chullah could hurt someone…

20 Sep

I kind of glossed over the entire chullah episode in yesterday’s post, because, well… it was a very hectic day at my house.  But I wanted to give you something and not leave you hanging ALL day with no news from me.  My last ‘photos only’ post was lame.  Sorry readers.  I showed you all the chullah glamour shots using tricky angles and great lighting (ha!) and did not tell the whole truth.  My bad.  Here it is:

My sister in law thought I was nuts when I told her I was making the chullah from scratch.  CRAZY.  But, I have to say -and it was not smooth sailing as you will see later – I am glad I tried it!  The most important thing was that it was edible.  And our guests were all really nice about it.

The chullah started out on a very promising note.  OK, so I forgot to half (halve?) the recipe.  The result was that the dough kept flopping out of the bowl on Kitchen Aid mixer on the knead cycle with a naughty ‘slap!  slap!  slap!’ sound… providing much entertainment for the kids.   I gotta say though, that dough looked beautiful turned out on the marble counter.  Just gorgeous.  Divided it into 4 loaves worth.  Formed the dough balls, let them rise.  They did.  A bit.  Then divided each ball into 4 mini balls for the ‘ropes’ to braid the chullah.  No worries.  Let those rest a bit…. hmmm… they aren’t getting much bigger.  Rolled them into equally long pieces, not as easy as it sounds… and let those rise.  They looked a little sad.  But let’s soldier on!   Braided the loaves with an innovative 4 strand system (could NOT figure out Arthur Schwartz’s 5 strand diagram for the life of me), egg wash, into the warmed oven with a pot of hot water, wait 30 minutes,  and voila!

It's a little flat.  Nice shine though!

It's a little flat. Nice shine though!

 Not exactly what I was hoping for.  I cranked the oven to 375, convect setting and popped two of these shiny little chullah losers (I’m still a bit sensitive about them) into the oven.  I went off to do a thousand other things that needed to be done to prepare for the dinner, and 20 minutes later they were ready!

 

chullah2 (2)

Nice colour and shine, shame about the, um, flatness.

These chullah were serious.  Dense.  Heavy.  We could have varnished them and used them as doorstops.   But where’s the fun in that?  Onto the table they went.

Well… it’s been a busy morning.

19 Sep
Nothing like the smell of charcoal at 7am...

Nothing like the smell of charcoal at 7am...

 

D'oh!  I made wayyy too much this!!  Enough for 4 giant loaves.

D'oh! I made wayyy too much of this!! Enough for 4 giant loaves.

 

They aren't exactly round...  (or symmetrical) but they'll do.

They aren't exactly round... (or symmetrical) but they'll do.

 

Pretty!!!

Now THIS looks pretty convincing...

It’s going to be OK!  Meat is in and in 8 hours… perfection.
I hope.
Mmmmmmmm... meat!

Mmmmmmmm... meat!

Kreplach. Are they supposed to be this big?

18 Sep

Now that's a big Kreplach!

 

Just askin’.  Cause they grew.  More than I thought they would.  I am wondering how I am supposed to fit one of these suckers in the bowls I have with a matzah ball, and noodles.  Maybe I will have to cut them in half.  On the up side, I did try one of the more grotesque looking specimens and it tasted great! 

You know, no one’s going to have any appetite left after eating this soup.  Maybe I can get away with just a salad to go with it.  I know, I know… I’ve come this far.  Too far to give up now!

The stock is now done.  So that’s two things down.  Oh, and I boiled the gnocchi:

A bit gluey looking, no?

 

They do look a titch gluey, don’t they.  I am quite sure I didn’t overcook them… and they will be fried in breadcrumbs and schmaltz tomorrow and held in an oven for a while.  so I am hoping that the gluey bits around the edges get crispy when I fry them, and any undercooking will be corrected in the oven.  Here’s hoping.  Right now they look a little like soggy packing peanuts. 

I only have another hour to go before I have to leave the house for the rest of the afternoon.  Everything else will have to wait until tomorrow. 

It’ll be fine, right?

I’m firing up that smoker at 7am.