Tag Archives | passover

Links: Rhubarb Compote and Homemade Harissa

Happy April, friends! Happy Easter and Passover, as well! I hope you’ve all had lovely weekends, filled with family and celebratory meals. I’ve spent most of the weekend with my extended family, first on Saturday night for our annual Seder and then today for brunch and an extended hang out at my cousin Angie’s house.

Angie is starting the process of cleaning out after 50 years in her home, and so none of us left empty-handed. Scott and I came home with a terracotta fish baker that once belonged to my Aunt Doris, and a five branch candelabra that was originally part of the decoration in the Russian tea room that my family ran in Philadelphia many years ago. We’re all set if the power goes out!

I’m really sorry that it’s been so quiet around here lately. After nine years of writing here, my creative well seems to be running a little dry. I’m hoping that the return of warmer days will help me regain my footing. In the meantime, I’ve got some links for you!

  • I’ve yet to spot any rhubarb around these parts, but when I do, I’m sure to make some of this hot pink rhubarb compote.
  •  While we wait for spring produce, there’s always candied grapefruit peel!
  • My food processor makes a terrible noise when I ask it to make almond butter, but with the help of earplugs, it does turn into the most gorgeous, spreadable paste.
  • I love Alexandra Stafford’s Instagram Stories because she’s always making the most wonderful dishes. I’ve been particularly jealous about her homemade harissa and overnight focaccia lately.
  • It has nothing to do with canning or preserving, but doesn’t this vegan alfredo sauce look good?!
  • This olive oil cake speaks to me.
  • I love the idea of building a zero waste grocery kit. Whenever I go grocery shopping, I do try to think through my list and determine what bags and containers I can bring with me to reduce the amount of packaging I consume, but this takes it a step further!

Also, a reminder! I’ve restarted my Facebook Live series. This month, I’ll be doing a live stream demo on Monday, April 2 at 9 pm eastern (6 pm pacific). I’m going to make a batch of the Strawberry Cocoa Jam from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars (if you have the book, you can follow along!). Just head over to the Food in Jars Facebook page to join the fun!

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Cookbooks: Perfect for Pesach

I have had this copy of Perfect for Pesach by Naomi Nachman sitting on my desk for a better part of the last month. I’ve sifted through it several times, taking note of various recipes to try and appreciating each time the fact that there’s a picture for every recipe (as a cookbook author, I am painfully aware of how expensive this can be).

I’ve also hoped that inspiration would strike that would give me a good way to write about it. Because as a book, it brings up some stuff for me (I’ve written about other books with Judaism or kosher cooking at their core without this trouble. I don’t know why this particular volume got me. But it did).

I am Jewish by birth, but was raised in the loose, liberalism of the Unitarian Universalist church. I regret nothing about my upbringing and am deeply grateful for the space I was given to craft and cultivate my own belief system and perspective on the world.

But. Sometimes, I long to fit in. To be connected to that Jewish side of me without uncertainty or fear that I will be denied recognition. And this book triggers that longing. I think it’s happening because this is a book designed to help cooks out during the eight day holiday of Passover/Pesach.

It’s not a book about celebratory meals or festival food (those don’t haven’t caught me off-guard the way this one did). It simply about daily cooking for a time when grains, legumes and anything leavened is forbidden. And that’s not really a space in which I feel like I have easy footing or even feel like I belong.

Now, with that angst out of the way, there are things I want to tell you about this book. Like the cover says, these are “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year.” At its core, this is a book about home cooking and it has a lot to offer in that arena. Because grains are off the table during Passover, many of the recipes are, by default, gluten-free (if that’s your allergen of avoidance, make sure to steer clear of anything including matzo meal).

It’s a book that spends a lot of time focusing on vegetables and proteins as well, which makes it relevant also to the paleo and low carb crowd.

I have a long list of things I plan on making, including the Zucchini Mushroom Soup (page 72), Sweet and Salty Pecan Chicken Cutlets (page 112), the Zucchini Onion Frittata pictured above (page 164), and the Crispy Potato Stacks (page 186).

These thumbprint cookies are made using potato starch and ground almonds rather than wheat flour, and the filling is a combination of apricot jam and chopped pecans. Sounds like a good treat no matter what time of year it is!

This book is a solid collection of recipes that are terrific whether you keep kosher for Passover, or you’re simply looking for fresh inspiration for your family meals.

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Making Brisket for Passover

ten pounds brisket

About four years ago, I became the official brisket maker for my family’s Passover Seder. I’m not the most natural fit for this role, particularly since up until the time I moved to Philadelphia, I’d only ever attended Seder in the all-purpose room at our Unitarian Universalist church.

uncooked brisket

I started dabbling in brisket making during the years when Scott and I were regularly filming episodes of Fork You. We did one episode in honor of Philadelphia’s beer week, in which I braised a smallish brisket in a slurry of sauteed onions, herbs, and a generous pour of dark beer.

prepped onions

For the longest time, that beer soaked method was my favorite. However, once I took on the task of making brisket for Passover, the beer had to go because fermented grain products (like beer) are most decidedly not kosher for Passover. And while my people aren’t particularly observant, using that as my braising medium seemed a step too far.

slicing onions

Since this year is my fifth brisket adventure, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write about the process (I actually took these pictures last year, intending to write this post then). It’s not hard to do, but it is time consuming. I always start the day before I plan on serving the brisket. This allows me to remove the bulk of the fat that the meat releases and truly, things just taste better the second day.

brisket prep

My current approach is relatively simple but time consuming. I start with one pound of brisket for every two people I’m feeding, plus a little more just in case. This year, we’re expecting 18 people, so I started with 10 pounds of brisket (if the pieces have a substantial fat cap, I suggest buying even a little bit more).

sauteing onions

I use one pound of onions for every two pounds of brisket. They add a ton of flavor and lend substance and body to the eventual sauce. In the beginning, I sliced those onions by hand, but by year two, I got smart and pulled out the food processor. It’s still not easy on the eyes, but it is a lot less tedious.

pot of brisket

To brown ten pounds of brisket, I pull out two large pans and heat some oil with a high smoke point until it shimmers. Salt and pepper the brisket pieces (to get ten pounds, you end up with at least two big pieces) and brown them on all sides. Once the brisket is nicely browned, they get pulled out and I saute the sliced onions in the fond from the meat.

ready to braise

Once the onions are done, I put a little down in the bottom of the pans I’m using for braising. Because of the amount of brisket I make, I tend to divide them between a low, wide Dutch oven and a large cast iron roasting pan so that I can fit them all into my oven.

in the oven

I pour beef stock in so that it comes up most of the way up the sides of the meat. Finally, I arrange the remaining onions on top of the meat and tuck sprigs of fresh rosemary and thyme into the pans. I cover both pans and cook them in the oven for 3 to 4 hours at 300 degrees F. They’re done when you stick a fork into the center of the meat and it feels tender instead of tight.

finished brisket

Once the brisket is finished braising, I let everything cool down. Then I separate the beef from the sauce and refrigerate them both separately.

A few hours before I want to serve the brisket, I remove the container of braising liquid from the fridge. I pull off the fat that collected (keep it and roast potatoes in it later) and I push everything through the fine screen of a food mill. This removes all the woody herb bits. Then I pour the milled liquid into my crock pot and taste it. I’ll add a little balsamic vinegar and salt, if necessary. If it feels too granular, I’ll sometimes zap it with an immersion blender.

brisket fat cap

The last thing is to cut the brisket against the grain and add the pieces to the sauce. This way, it heats slowly and never develops any of that funky, reheated meat taste. Special occasion food, at its finest!

finished brisket

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My Imaginary Seder Menu

Jewish cookbooks

One of the joys of living in a city with a huge extended family is that our holidays are chaotic and deliciously boisterous. These days, my cousins regularly host just the kind of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Passover gatherings I longed for when I was young and lived far away from any grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.

However, there is just one (very small) downside to these large, collaborative holiday meals for me, and that is the fact that I never get to be in charge of the menu. I certainly always make contributions to the buffet and over the years have graduated from bringing secondary side dishes to the main course. But, as a food writer/blogger who reads cookbooks for recreation, I often find myself longing to craft the entirety of a celebratory menu.

kippered salmon snacks

I could certainly have secondary holiday gatherings and next year, when I’m not working on a book and life isn’t quite so frenzied, I hope to do just that. This year though, with Passover (and my cookbook deadline!) fast approaching, I thought that I’d indulge in a little fantasy menu planning instead of tackling the real thing. This way, I get all of the pleasure of flipping through cookbooks and imagining a meal, without any of the work of shopping, cooking or cleaning.

For my imaginary Seder, I pulled out four cookbooks. The Jewish Festival Cookbook (first published in 1954, but available in more modern editions), The Kosher Carnivore (a particularly good resource if you have kosher friends), The Mile End Cookbook (classic Jewish food with pages and pages of pickles), and The New Jewish Table (beautiful food). After a couple hours of reading, marking and stomach rumblings, here’s what I’d serve if I was hosting my family for Passover this year.

pickled heirloom beets with hard boiled eggs

For when people first arrived, I’d put out the Kippered Salmon Snacks and the Pickled Heirloom Beets with Hard-Boiled Eggs, both recipes from The New Jewish Table. Kippered fish has been salted and hot smoked, so that it’s fairly dry and meaty (more like the smoked salmon you get in the Pacific Northwest than the moist Nova salmon you put on bagels).

The pickled eggs with red beets are traditional in a number of cultures and are a nice symbol of the fresh, newness of spring. I did a version for Serious Eats last year that was quite tasty and very easy (you cheat with already-pickled beets). Chances are good that I’d also pull out a few jars of other pickles and chutneys that would complement these two official recipes.

Matza Knaidlach

After we made it through the Hagaddah, we’d move on to Matzo Ball Soup. I’ve long meant to make matzo balls according to the directions in the Festival book and this could be my chance (I love the line in the headnote encouraging young housewives to develop their knaidlach skills to win laurels as a cook). I’d use homemade chicken broth that was cooked ahead and pressure canned to save space in the fridge.

gefilte fish

I think gefitle fish gets a bad wrap. Most of the time, the stuff served at Passover comes from a can and tastes a little stodgy, fishy and funky. But homemade gefilte fish? It’s actually incredibly delicious and deserves a spot on the table. I’m hankering to try this recipe from The Mile End Cookbook.

Classic Brisket

For the meat eaters, I’d make brisket. And actually, this is the one thing I actually am making this year. I will take some cues from this recipe (she uses lots of aromatics for flavor) from The Kosher Carnivore and combine them with my own tricks (lots and lots of sauteed onions).

I’m also a believer in making brisket the day before you plan on serving it, so that it can rest in the fridge over night and develop more flavor. This also gives you an opportunity to skim the fat from the sauce and make a luscious puree from the juices and vegetables in which to gently reheat the brisket.

vegetable kishka

For vegetarians, the Vegetable Kishka with Sage and Paprika from The New Jewish Table seem like a good fit. And ever since watching a recent episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in which they made kishka, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with it.

Along with those main course options, I’d also make a big salad with baby arugula, sheep’s milk feta, and pomegranate seeds. Because any big meal needs a mountain of greens to balance things out.

homemade matzo

If there was time, I’d also make a batch of homemade matzo (I may actually make a batch of this in the next few days, with half whole wheat flour and some finely chopped rosemary. Because it sounds awfully good). For dessert, my beloved flourless chocolate cake.

For those of you who are hosting holiday meals in the next couple weeks (Easter is coming up soon, as well), what are you planning on serving? Are there any cookbooks that you’re using particularly heavily?

Disclosure: I received review copies of The New Jewish Table, The Kosher Carnivore, and The Mile End Cookbook for consideration. I bought my copy of The Jewish Festival Cookbook years ago. All opinions are my own. 
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Charoses Inspired Jam for Passover

DSC_0007

A couple of weeks ago, I got the most inspired idea from a reader. Knowing that Passover is around the corner, she wondered whether it would be possible to make a jam based on charoses (also spelled charoset), one of the traditional components in the Seder meal. It’s a dish traditionally made from chopped apples, nuts, honey, cinnamon and wine, and it on the table to represent the mortar that Jews used when laying brick, during their days of slavery in Egypt.

eight cups chopped apple

Though my mother is Jewish, we didn’t observe many of the holidays when I was growing up. In fact, the bulk of my experience with the ceremony of the Seder came from gatherings in our Unitarian Universalist church parish room and my repeated readings of the All-Of-A-Kind Family books.

1 1/2 cups grape juice

However, since moving to Philadelphia in 2002, I’ve attending at least one family Seder every year, and have come to really appreciate the yearly ritual, and the ways in which it celebrates the struggle for freedom.

toasted and chopped almonds

As far as food and Jewish holidays go, Passover is somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of delicious. You’re instructed to surrender leavened items for the eight-day period. But even in with the restrictions, one can find moments of culinary joy. Personally, I find a lightly buttered and salted piece of matzo to be pure bliss. Add a scoop of charoses and a dollop of horseradish (another traditional Seder plate player) and I’m a happy girl.

juicing a lemon

In thinking this particular batch of jam out, I knew it wouldn’t be an exact replica of what is essentially an uncooked apple-walnut salad. But I did want to create something that would be somehow similar and familiar. Apples were a given, as was honey and cinnamon. I used grape juice in place of the wine and added a bit of lemon juice to balance things out. And I chose to use almonds in place of the more traditional walnuts, thinking that they would retain their crunch better.

a cup of honey

Initially, I was uncertain about the addition of the nuts in the jam, as I wasn’t sure how they would effect the pH level of the jam and thus its safety. However, after doing some research, I eventually came across this recipe for Apricot-Orange Conserve that used similar proportions to what I was planning. If the National Center for Home Food Preservation could comfortably include some nuts in a batch of jam, I knew I could too.

stirring in almonds

I am really pleased with my initial attempt at this recipe. It’s thick, spreadable and not too sweet. Some might call it more of a chutney than a jam, because of the texture that the chopped nuts lend. However, since it doesn’t include a savory component, I’m going to keep calling it a jam (unless someone has a better name for it). Making this had also had me thinking about other ways that Seder elements could be transformed into preserves (Apple Horseradish Jelly, perhaps?).

finished jam

I’m thinking that this jam might make for a nice gift if you’re having friends over for a Passover Seder and want to send them home with something delicious and thematic. Passover starts on Monday, March 29th this year, so you’ve got just under a week to whip up a batch!

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