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Passover Favorites from Meal and a Spiel

Elana Horwich from Meal and a Spiel teaches intimate cooking classes in Los Angeles that are both informative and entertaining. After spending many years living and studying in Italy, she keeps her experiences abroad alive by infusing Italian influences in many of her recipes, even the Jewish ones!

Cooking for Passover can be daunting, but with Elana’s step by-step instructions, your food will be fantastic, allowing you to concentrate on keeping calm before your MIL arrives (or allowing you to concentrate on hiding the matzo for the kiddos to find).

We are so fortunate that Elana was willing to share her humor, recipes and spiel with us. These are some of her Passover favorites, however they are all wonderful recipes that can be enjoyed throughout the year by everyone.

Moscato Spice Charoset

Charoset (prounouned cHa-roset, with an almost silent “c” like cHa-nnuka) is the delicious chopped fruit, nut and wine mixture on the Passover seder table which symbolizes the mortar between the bricks that the Jews laid while slaves in Egypt 3000 years ago. Why the “mortar” we eat is sweet is not totally clear. Perhaps because we are no longer slaves? In any case, that is not what I intend to spiel about. I am sure there is a decent answer in any haggadah, but quite frankly I am too lazy to get up and look at one.

MY question is: why would we Jews, a People who have overcome so much pain and strife, millennia of refugee status, genocide and horrible PR, a People who have risen to great success in financial, intellectual and creative realms, still continue to choose the cheapest of the cheap sweet wines, Manischewitz, to make charoset on one of the most important holidays of the year!?

Sure, every nice bar mitzvah kid loves a good taste of Manischewitz and I am no exception, but have we not grown up as a People? Has our collective culinary
palate remained at adolescent status? Do we think we are still in the Great Depression when we added sugar and a little vinegar to grape juice and called it wine?

I can hear a tirade of yentas lashing back, “it’s because Manischewitz is kosher, that’s why we use it for charoset. “ But if you are reading this, there is a 99% percent chance that you don’t even keep kosher. And if you do, there are many delicious, high quality kosher wines to celebrate our exodus from slavery.

My personal anthropological theory is that we have been using Manischewitz in our Passover charoset for so many years and generations that, as a People, we never thought to question it. Well People, QUESTION IT!

Here is a recipe that is Italian in inspiration. Chilled Moscato is one of my favorite dessert wines and the thought of drinking it with fruit and nuts transports me to the rolling vineyards of Piedmont where Moscato grapes are grown. I actually did quite an extensive research into traditional Italian Jewish charoset recipes from various regions and found that many Italian recipes call for the use of chestnuts, which, other than seeming difficult to use, remind me of Christmas. Many Italian recipes also call for the cooking of the charoset, which mine here does. But don’t worry, it cooks only long enough to meld the flavors together. You will still have a crunchy charoset and it won’t look like applesauce.

Ingredients:

  1. 2 granny smith apples
  2. 1 pear
  3. 1 ½ cup shelled walnuts
  4. 7 dried figs or 7 pitted prunes or a handful or raisins
  5. 8 pitted dates
  6. 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  7. 1 orange, the juice and the zest
  8. 1 bottle of good Moscato (yes it will be a bit bubbly) There are many optionsfor Kosher Moscato. Click here for a list.

Directions:

  1. Cut apples and pears into equal size large chunks.
  2. Pulse in food processor until finely chopped, careful not to overdo it so they don’t become mushy. Put in a large bowl. (If you don’t have a food processor, this recipe can be a reminder of the times when we were slaves in Egypt. But the good news is, hand chopped food tasted better.)
  3. Pulse the figs, prunes or raisins until they are finely chopped and add them to the apples.
  4. Pulse the walnuts until they are finely chopped and add them to the fruit.
  5. Zest the orange using a microplane grater, a zester or the small holes of a regular grater. Add to mixture.
  6. Juice the orange into the food processor, along with the dates, cinnamon and cup of the moscato. Pulse until fully pureed.
  7. Add to the fruit and nut mixture. Stir.
  8. Add another cup of moscato to mixture and stir.
  9. Put mixture into a cooking pot over medium heat until it reaches a boil. Then turn heat to low and let simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.
  10. Put back into bowl and let cool mostly. Cover and put in fridge until ready for use.
  11. Right before serving, add another “glug” of moscato to the charoset for a little freshen up and there you go! Dayenu.

all photos courtesy of Meal and a Spiel

 

Chick-sa Soup: Chicken Soup Easy Enough for Shiksas

Homemade chicken broth should be made in large quantities and stored in the freezer so it can be accessed at any time. It can be used for risottos, soups (both lengthy and quick purees), meat sauces and briskets. The use of homemade broth makes a mediocre dish exceptional. There is no substitute for homemade broth. Furthermore, it is simple, quick to do and requires no chopping.

The basis for any good chicken broth has a few essential ingredients: chicken bones, onion, carrot, celery and something green like parsley, bay leaf or both. You can use chicken necks which are very flavorful and very inexpensive but have no “meat on the bones” so to speak. Or you can use the whole chicken which will provide you with the flavor of its bones and its meat that can be used inside soup or reserved for making chicken salad. As for the carrot, celery and onion, I don’t bother to cut them up because they are there for flavor only. Of course I might chop up some carrots, onion and celery for a soup in which I will put this broth, but as for the broth itself I like to make this process as lazy-friendly as possible. In addition, I leave on the some of the onion skin as it is very flavorful. As will come as no surprise, I throw the parsley in whole with stems; no fussing and the stems add flavor and make it easier to fish out the parsley in the end. Root vegetables can be added in whole as well for flavor or if you plan to make, for example, Celery Root Mashed potatoes or a parsnip puree.

Here is the recipe for basic broth. Below I have added some possible add-ins and why you might choose to use them.

Basic Chicken

Broth:

Ingredients:

  1. A 10-12 quart pot
  2. 3 pounds at least - you can have more- of antibiotic/hormone free chickennecks and/or backs.
  3. Two or three onions whole, only most outer skin removed, yes put it in withthe skin- it adds flavor
  4. 4-5  cloves
  5. 3- 4 carrots whole
  6. 3-4 stalks celery
  7. 1-2 bay leaves
  8. 5-6 peppercorns
  9. a large handful of parsley
  10. water to cover ingredients
  11. salt.

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients in pot and add water to cover. (You don’t need to chopanything!)
  2. Bring to a boil, cover and let simmer slowly for a couple hours atleast.
  3. Let cool, as this process adds flavor.
  4. Salt to taste. If it’s not good, add more salt!
  5. This broth is not too fatty as is, but if you like, put in fridge and skimoff fat the next day. Soups are always best the next day anyway.

Add ins:

  1. Parsnips- sweet earthy flavor, were always in my grandma’s soups.(Recommended if you are making Matzo Ball Soup)
  1. A chicken breast on the bone and remove while still tender, about an hour.You will then shred it and add it to whatever soup you are using it for. Onelarge breast will be enough to add to soup for 6-8 people. Add more if you will

    be feeding more.

  1. A whole baby bok choy, adds nice flavor and calcium to stock
  2. A large celery root- use instead of celery. Can be used to make Celery RootPuree. Peel it and cut into thirds and throw in
  3. One or two whole unpeeled russet potatoes. Adds root vegetable flavor and canbe used to make potato puree or used along with celery root to make Celery RootPuree.
  4. A whole chicken.  Adds flavor and the meat is great for Elana’s FamousChicken Salad
  5. Dill- also loved by Jewish chicken soup makers
  6. Knuckle, joint or marrow bones of beef….adds depth of flavor.
The Matzo Ball

Put a little schmaltz in your balls.

Those unschooled in Yiddish, might suspect that I am suggesting you add a little fire to your life, a spring in your step, a little chutzpah to your decisions. Yes, that too. However, schmaltz is the yiddish word for chicken fat and we are talking matzo balls.

For the past months I have been raving about my delicious matzo ball soup in advertisements for my cooking classes. I named it Chick-sa Soup (Chicken Soup Easy Enough for Shiksas*). The title did offend some, but since I came up with the catchy wording with my dear friend Caitlin, a self-defined shiksa of unparalleled order (a blond-haired, blue-eyed Texan who, much to the dismay of her parents, married a man with the last name of Cohen), I decided to ignore the upset. Jews own the domain of chicken soup, just like the Italians own the domain of pasta and Mexicans own the domain of the tortilla. If a Baptist automotive group held a class called “Emergency Tire Change So You Don’t Get Killed On a Lone Highway Easy Enough for a JAP,” I promise you, I would happily sign up!

But the truth is, I had never even made a matzo ball in my life. The closest I had ever come to making a matzo ball was watching Angie, our family’s housekeeper, make a batch according to package instructions. Who am I to profess expertise on the subject? Who am I to claim that my matzo balls are soooo easy that even a non-Jewish woman could make them? With what chutzpah do I permit such presumption!? Good lord, I’m walking around like I got schmaltz in my balls.

Having to deliver an easy and extraordinarily delicious recipe to my students that held up to my lofty proclamations presented me with the ultimate challenge. And ultimately, that is the game I love to play most in my job.

I have now explored the far and wide frontiers of the matzo ball. I have read countless recipes and endless explanations. The juries all point to the same factor: Put a little schmaltz in your balls. I choose duck fat as it is a more indulgent choice. (For those hypochondriacs who are already in the hospital for heart failure, I would have you know that the French, who have an overwhelmingly better state of heart health than we do, consider duck fat to be part of a heart healthy diet as it contains a unique type of saturated fat that is actually considered to be beneficial. That said, those who are following the new American movement to fry foods in duck fat, no promises kiddos.)

I would encourage you to read Bon Appetit’s Matzo Ball 101 which highlights Associate Food Editor and Matzo-Ball-Master Selma Brown Morrow’s best tips for perfect balls. I thank her as much of my recipe below is owed to her expertise, gained from years of feeding her family.

These matzo balls are incredibly flavorful and quite easy to make….Easy enough for Jewish women, who nowadays are in fact some of the worst cooks I know!

Ingredients:

Makes 12 medium sized matzo balls.

Note: Start this recipe the day before you plan to serve it. If it is already

too late, plan on chilling the matzo ball mix for at as long as you can, three

hours at least.

  1. 1 cup matzo meal
  2. 4 eggs
  3. 4-5 tablespoons duck fat or schmaltz, at room temperature
  4. 4 tablespoons (homemade) chicken broth
  5. 1 ½ teaspoons salt plus more for salting cooking water
  6. 1 teaspoon pepper
  7. ¼ teaspoon dried ginger (don’t worry, they won’t taste like ginger…itjust adds a taste of freshness to the matzo balls)
  8. 1-2 tablespoons chopped herbs (celery leaves and/or parsley and/or chivesand/or cilantro and/or dill)
  9. 1 quart homemade or boxed chicken broth
  10. 1 carrot
  11. 1 piece of celery
  12. some parsley or dill to throw into cooking water

The Day Before:

  1. In a small pot, add the 4 tablespoons of homemade chicken broth and set overmedium flame until it is reduced in half to 2 tablespoons. Pour into a glass andset in fridge until it reaches room temp.
  2. Whisk eggs, 1 ½ teaspoon salt, pepper, ginger and chopped herbs in a bowlinto well mixed.
  3. Stir in matzo meal and reduced chicken broth.
  4. Add duck fat or schmaltz and stir in well.
  5. Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge overnight.

The Day Of:

  1. In a large pot, set 5 quarts of water along with the boxed or homemadechicken broth, carrot, celery and parsley or dill over a high flame and coveruntil it comes to a boil.
  2. Add a small handful of salt to the boiling water/broth as if it were pastawater…it should taste salty like the sea.
  3. Using wet hands, form the matzo meal into imperfectly shaped balls, about 1 ½inches in diameter.
  4. Place each one in the boiling water/broth. Stir to make sure they don’tstick.
  5. Cover and cook for 50 minutes.
  6. Cut one open to make sure it is fully cooked. If not cook them for a fewminutes more.
  7. Lift out of water with a slotted spoon and place one or two in a servingbowl.
  8. Ladle homemade chicken broth into each bowl.
  9. Optional: garnish with a little chopped parsley or dill.

Note: If you are not serving them immediately, just keep drained matzo balls in a covered glass bowl until you are ready to use them.

*A shiksa is a yiddish word for a non-Jewish girl or woman. It traditionally has a negative connotation to it. However, much of the negative connotation comes from a certain jealous belief that non-Jewish women are more beautiful and could be a possible threat to Jewish women. For example, “Do you know Jonathan Goldstein? He’s not married but he’s dating a shiksa.” Shiksa, like goy, which is the general yiddish term for a non-Jew, points to non-Jewish men and women as outsiders. It is my hope, that by using these old Yiddish words in a playful new way, I will invite all to come inside for a little meal and a spiel.

**Schmaltz and Duck Fat are often available at local kosher butcher shops and specialty stores. In Los Angeles, try Doheny Kosher. I bought my duck fat at Surfas. Online, you can find duck fat at William Sonoma. Chicken and duck fat can also be rendered from cooking. See here.

THE BEST BRISKET EVER. with potatoes.

Yes, the best.

I don’t compliment myself too easily. In fact I have a complex about not being good enough. I am terrified that everything I do will suck and bring embarrassment to my family and the entire Jewish people at large. A neurotic Jew- that is so cliche`, which only makes me feel me feel more pathetic. I have been to therapy, I have seen healers, done yoga, tried alcoholism and acupuncture. If it wasn’t for a small dose of zoloft I wouldn’t even have the guts be writing this. But let me clear: I don’t need the zoloft to tell you that I know how to make a friggin’ brisket.

My brisket is made with Jewish heart and Italian flavors. I cook it much in the same way a Northern Italian might braise a different cut of beef ( in wine, tomatoes, and aromatics: ie. rosemary, bay leaf, etc) to create a dish that tastes like Tuscany but feels like Shabbat. While I am aware that there is such a thing as BBQ Texan Brisket, I do not acknowledge that as brisket. Until the state of Texas chooses to recognize reproductive rights, gay marriage and the replacement of oil with renewable energy, I will not recognize their brisket. Until then, no stars for the lone star.

Please let it be known that even though I keep throwing out the Jewish card on this one, my brisket is not only meant for the chosen people. Anyone who eats it feels chosen. You can line a hundred Jews up to tell me that my brisket is amazing but it won’t carry the weight of one Italian who gives me the same compliment. Of course, they call it spezzatino, but my Italian friends still remember and still talk about my spezzatino. (Fyi, spezzatino is usually made with cubed beef from a different cut of beef.)

One day a few years ago, I made a brisket to combat a wave of depression that was trying to creep its way in, quite a lot of food and time when no one but misery is coming over to eat. If you bake it, they will come. Just as I was taking it out of the oven, in walked a group of my Italian friends (they called about 2 minutes beforehand to notify- very typical) in order to pick up something they needed. When they smelled and saw an 8 pound spezzatino in my kitchen they almost went through the roof. They called other friends, had them bring wine and before I knew it a dinner party was well on its way with a meal that no one has ever forgotten. And as for that wave of depression, postponed.

Brisket is actually incredibly easy to make and pretty hard to mess up. You can add a little too much of this or a little too little of that but as long as you have a few basics (which I will of course share with you) all the flavors will meld perfectly with time in the oven to bring you a delicious, juicy brisket. The problem, however, with many briskets is that they are either too sweet, too dry and/or too fatty. Sweet briskets can be tasty but I don’t want dessert for dinner and I don’t want my main course to further contribute to my hang over. (note: It’s the sugars that makes you feel icky in the morning and quite frankly I would rather have wine and dessert than beef that topples over the glycemic index.) Furthermore, briskets don’t need to be dry in order to not be fatty. The trick to making a juicy, tender brisket is four-fold:

  1. Make sure you have enough liquid in the pot. (wine, broth, etc)
  2. Make sure you have a good pot. An important factor in making an amazing, fool proof brisket is to cook it in the right pot. I use a Le Creuset enameled cast- iron dutch oven. Everything I make in that thing turns out delicious. When my sister got married, she asked me what to register for and I told her to get as many Le Creusets as she could. She’s a novice but an enthusiastic cook. Her husband called me to thank me for turning Danielle into a chef. It wasn’t me. It’s the pot. There are other top brands and none are inexpensive, but they will last you a lifetime and really make all the difference in your cooking.
  3. Cook the meat with the fat still on it and with the fat side up so that the fat will insulate the beef and keep in the juices. Once the brisket is done, take it out of its juices, let it cool,  and scrape off the fat before slicing it and returning it to its sauce.
  4. Time.  Brisket is a slow-cooked, braised meat. As long as the liquid is plentiful, the longer it cooks the better. (note: The brisket cut of meat is historically poor man’s food; it cost less than tender cuts of meat like filet mignon, however if cooked long enough will be just as tender.) It needs lots and lots of time at a low temperature to break down the tension in the meat so that it will fall apart with no knife needed. I have even set my oven to 200 F, stuck the thing in at night and woke up in the morning to brisket breakfast. Time is so of essence that you will find your brisket to be even better the next day. (Always make it ahead of time for company and reheat.)

Ingredients: for 8-10 hungry people plus

leftovers:

  1. 1 6-8 pound brisket, kosher and/or antibiotic, hormone free
  2. 2 onions, coarsely chopped
  3. 1 28 oz. can San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
  4. 2-3 stalks celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
  5. 2-3 carrots, coarsely chopped
  6. 2-3 cloves peeled garlic, whole
  7. 2 bay leaves
  8. 2-3 branches of rosemary
  9. 2-3 stems of fresh thyme (if you have)
  10. 5-6 fresh basil leaves (if you have)
  11. 1/2 bottle wine (an oaked chardonay or medium bodied red  like chianti orwhatever leftover wine you have in kitchen)
  12. Homemade or store bought chicken broth (if needed for more liquid, or justmore wine- you want brisket to be just about covered with liquid)
  13. salt- about 2 very generous teaspoons
  14. extra virgin olive oil
  15. 5 or 6 russet potatoes, quartered

The day or two before:

  1. Preheat oven to 325 F.
  2.  Heat a dutch oven over a medium flame. When hot add olive oil.
  3. Put the brisket in on one side to brown, a few minutes and then turn to brownon the other side. (One side will have a lot of fat and you are trying to brownthe fat-less parts if any.)
  4. Remove brisket and set aside.
  5. If there is too much melted fat for your taste, remove a little beforecontinuing.
  6. Put in onions and cook until translucent.
  7. Put the brisket back in fat side up.
  8. Top with the carrots, celery, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, andbasil.
  9. The next step can get messy but its fun. If you prefer use a knife or aneater system. Take out the tomatoes, one by one,  and crush using your hand.Watch out for spurting juice. Pour in all juices from can.
  10. Add wine (and broth if you feel necessary to mostly cover meat.)
  11. Sprinkle generously with salt.
  12. Cover well and stick in oven for 4-5 hours or longer at an even lowertemperature.
  13. Go take a walk and a nap.
  14. When your brisket cuts itself with a fork, it is done.
  15. Take out of oven and let sit to cool a bit.
  16. Take brisket out of juices and let cool completely. When cool, refrigerate itcovered.
  17. In the meantime put the potatoes in the juice of the brisket in dutch ovenand put on stove, covered, over medium flame, until potatoes are soft andcooked.
  18. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  19. Save all brisket juices.

Next Day:

  1. Once cold, use a knife to slice off all the fat from the brisket. Then slicethe brisket against the grain into ¼ inch pieces. Place “in order” in a casseroledish fit for the oven. Add potatoes if there is room or put potatoes in separate

    casserole dish.

  2. If you think the brisket juices should be thicker, boil them down a bit onthe stove. Then when cool, you can cover the meat and potatoes with thesauce.
  3. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Day of:

  1. When you are ready to serve, you can heat up the brisket in one of twoways.
  1. Place the casserole dish dishes with potatoes and meat, covered VERY well inheavy duty aluminum foil or double wrapped in regular foil, and bake on 350 foralmost an hour until brisket and potatoes are well heated through. Place on

    serving platter, top with remaining juice and serve.

Rosemary Almond Cake with Olive Oil and Orange Zest

For years I had a reoccurring fantasy that I find myself in the Sienese countryside where Chianti grapes display themselves in Bacchanalian rows, inviting an aimless wanderer, me, in to taste a bite of its intoxicating deep purple fruit. With a bunch of grapes ripped off the vine, emblazoning my hands with its royal juice, I feared the eyes of the landowners who kept a vigilant lookout for pesty crows and hungry trespassing Americans. I skulked behind the vineyard leaves, lest they catch me purple-handed. In the fantasy the sunlight always came in from a 4 o’clock direction, which my therapist claimed, because the rays of light hit the “grapes” from an angle and not from a direct overhead noontime light, that this scenario must represent repressed Freudian urges that I have not yet dealt with and hence I was imagining myself in Italy. And yet, repeatably trapped in this nostalgic fantasy of perfect Renaissance landscape, crisp autumn colors, a late afternoon breeze carrying lavender and rosemary scents on its wings, and a bunch of freshly picked Chianti grapes in my hand, my anxiety was predictable and it always the same: What would be the perfect cake for this situation?

Finally I can put the Xanex aside.

Ingredients:

  1. one 9” spring form cake pan, well oiled with extra virgin olive oil
  2. 8 eggs
  3. a pinch of salt
  4. 4 cups almond meal, or finely ground blanched almonds
  5. ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  6. ½ cup 2% Greek yogurt
  7. ½ cup raw honey- less if not using raw
  8. 1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
  9. the zest of two (blood) oranges, chopped

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Beat eggs with a pinch of salt for 3 minutes
  3. Add honey to eggs and beat for another three minutes
  4. Fold in almond meal
  5. Fold in olive oil, yogurt, zest and rosemary
  6. Pour into pan and bake for 30-33 minutes, or until an inserted toothpickcomes out clean
  7. Let rest on a rack and then carefully remove from cake pan, using a knife topeel away bottom.
  8. Eat warm or save by covering with foil…will stay moist for severaldays.

To make your Passover a little more manageable, Elana has provided the

“order of events” for your preparation.  Here is how to organize the

cooking:

1 Week Before:

  1. Take Meal and a Spiel Passover Prep if you are in LA. Saturday March 31. 1-4pm
  1. Make sure you have someone/people to help you on the night of your Sederwhether they be hired help or friends and family that are joining. Reach out andask in advance. People are honored to be dinner party help. as long as they

    don’t have to clean dishes.

  2. Make a massage or spa appointment for the day after your Seder.

3 Days Before:

  1. Go to the market. (several hours).
  2. Take a nap.

2 days before:

  1. Make chicken broth/soup. (30 min of your time….several hours of cookingand must cool before going in fridge. I leave it out overnight and reboil itmorning and let it cool again before putting it in fridge until ready for use. )
  2. Make brisket.  Up to step 19.  (40 min of your time, hours of cooking inoven)

One day before:

  1. Make charoset. ( 30 min)
  2. Set table. ( 1 hour or more ?)
  3. Make matzo ball mix and set in fridge overnight. ( 15 min)

Day of:

  1. Make cake in late morning or early afternoon, give enough time to cool totake off molding. ( 1 hour plus time to cool)
  2. Cut fat of brisket, slice and put back with all juices into dutch oven oroven proof casserole. ready for oven or stove. (30 min)
  3. Boil matzo balls.  (1 hour)
  4. Take a rest. Feet up, eyes closed. 25 min.
  5. Make up, getting dressed, shower….take your time.

Next Day:

  1. Enjoy a well deserved massage or spa treatment.