Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Passover Cooking Olympics- the next round

For the improv award – chocolate spiced biscotti.


I completely faked these. I’m not even exactly sure what  I put in but I think that I started out with dried fruit ground up in the food processor, I also added shredded coconut, a bunch of cocoa and some dried chilies along with a bit of matza meal and a couple of eggs.


I formed two logs, wetting my hands to form the logs, just like my mother taught me when making mandlebroit. I baked the logs until they seemed done enough, cut them on the diagonal and re baked them.  they could have been a complete disaster but they surprised me by working. My son ate one and really liked it. So my thinking that this experiment was a success is not completely delusional.


Earlier in the week I was mostly making the foods that my father used to be in charge of making for Passover. Today, now that I am baking, memories of baking Passover cakes with my mother have been coming to the surface.


I made the cake that we always eat for dessert for the first night of Passover, a chocolate nut torte. it came out wonderfully, except that I did a really stupid thing as I took the cake out of the pan and the cake broke. I shoved al of the pieces back into a cake shaped thing.


I may make a chocolate custard to top the cake and further disguise the damage.  As the cake broke I thought of all of the many times my mother had to remake this cake because her cake broke.


The lemon almond cake is baking right now.


We need to eat actual meals around here. I turned some of the boiled chicken from the soup into chicken salad. I faked a home made mayo. That is after several attempts at making mayo over the years while carefully following a recipe…the one time I just pretended I knew what I was doing and winged the whole thing --it worked and I ended up with actual fluffy mayo.


I also made a spicy eggplant,


and some matza rolls.


I have gone through most of my Tower O Eggs so tomorrow I go back to Costco to get more.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Moving right along

Today I cooked lots of meat. How much meat you ask? Three briskets and two giant London broils. All of them got the same coffee/spice rub


All of the meat is now sliced up and in the freezer all three gallons of it.


I also made a gravy out of the pan drippings.

Now it’s time to think about dessert. My nephew is joining us for the first Seder. He is severely nut allergic. Passover desserts tend to be chock full of nuts, if they are good. If they are bad they are made with lots of matza meal.

I made some of these coconut apricot balls for my nephew.


I could only find Turkish apricots which are missing that tang that in necessary for good apricot flavor. I cheated and added a couple of shakes of citric acid. The smashed apricots and coconut is all that’s in these apricot balls, or as my kids call them, apricot turds, or doodies.SAM_4077

Despite my kids’ name for them, they are delicious.

Claudia Roden’s excellent Jewish cook book has a recipe for Sephardi fruit and nut cookies that are made out of dried fruit and nuts that have been run through a food processor and baked.


I suppose I could have actually consulted the cookbook. But instead I just added pecans to the smooshed apricots and some dates plopped them on a baking sheet and added a pecan to the center of each one and baked them.


These aren’t the most elegant looking cookies, but I have seen worse. They do taste good though.


I have a mess of baked sweet potatoes, pears and apples baking in the oven right now. I guess I could call it a baked tzimmis.   I also need to make another side dish. My daughter’s boyfriend is allergic to potatoes. Between the no nuts and the no-potatoes  it’s making some of this meal planning something of a challenge.

I think tomorrow I will start baking cakes. Tonight I have to iron a bajillion tablecloths and napkins.

Matza Brei

This variation on the usual matza fried up with scrambled eggs is one of my father’s great culinary contributions to the world. It is essentially matza suspended in custard. The elements are simple but it is deep, deep comfort food. I made this pot full this morning before I went to morning services because my son asked me so nicely.  I could pretend that it is a difficult dish to make and make my son feel obligated to me and do my bidding for the rest of the day. But in reality, this is a dish simple enough to make before your brains are fully plugged in. If you have a heavy bottomed pot like I do you can cook this in the pot on low. If you have pots like my father did, nearly thin enough to read a news paper through, make this in a double boiler. I assume that this would be even more lush made with a dollop of heavy cream, but that is something I have never experienced.

It is our usual Passover breakfast.

Put some butter in a pot.


Matza, assume 1 sheet per hungry breakfast eater.


Roughly crumble matza into the pot.

Add milk.


Add one beaten egg per sheet of matza.


Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low until custard sets.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Working my way out of Egypt

Well, since the Haggadah says that in each generation one needs to see themselves as if they themselves left slavery in Egypt. Today was a slavery day.

I took the easy way out and made the charoset in the food processor.  It’s a whole lot easier than 90 minutes of hand chopping( but less emotionally satisfying)  I was just too emotionally and physically worn out after my mother’s death to deal with the hand chopping this year.We now have a gallon of charoset in the fridge.
The charoset recipe was developed by my father. It sort of started out with a base of Ashkenazi charoset and is embellished with ideas my father got from reading Maimonides, references to fruits in the Song of Songs and stuff my father liked.

The quantities for everything is  lots.
figs ( it’s better to have a few varieties, and they are even better if they are pre-soaked in sweet wine)
prunes ( not a lot)
apricots ( California is better but Turkish are better than nothing)
dried peaches if you have them ( I didn’t this year)
fresh ginger – lots
whole orange
whole lemon
Sweet kosher wine
Chop everything up until it is a nice rough texture. Add wine , more than you would think and some honey. It’s better if it sits for a few days for the flavors to meld.

I also made a no nut charoset for my nephew.  That was the easy part of my day.

The hard part of the day was the soup. It had cooked for a day and a half. It was time to create not the usual peasant soup we eat all year but the refined clear soup my father was so proud to serve on Passover.
I first need to explain that the pot I’m using is big. My son and I reckoned that you could cook a year old child in the pot with no trouble. The pot SAM_4054  would be a bit too small for a two year old.  I’m saying this not because I plan to cook a child, but because I want you to get a sense of the volume of soup I am dealing with here.
First I had to mash all of the vegetable matter through a strainer.
All of the pureed gunk gets added back into the soup.
Then you take all of the vegetable matter that is left inside the strainer and put it in a tea towel and squeeze out every bit of liquid.  This means that every bit of vegetable goodness is inside a  flavorful clear broth.
This makes for really good soup but it is hard on the hands and shoulders.

I then pulled out all the bits of chicken flesh and put them into a bowl. On it’s own the chicken tasted like old rubber bands. I know, because as a kid I used to put all sorts of things in my mouth, including old rubber bands.
I then ground up celery and parsley with some fresh lemon juice and olive oil and made a dressing for the chicken scraps. I flavored it with lots of black pepper and paprika and that was supper 9 along with some soup and some paprika and ginger flavored matza balls.

We now have 11 quarts of soup ready for Seder.My hands look like they have been pickled. I am sore and bone tired.

I think tomorrow I will cook the meat and start thinking about side dishes.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

And the Pesach races begin

Last night we switched the house over.  My two big kids and I worked from right after havdalah until 1:00am. My husband folded laundry, lots of laundry, while the three of us cleaned and covered surfaces.  I do need to mention how grateful I am that my daughter gave up a fun Saturday evening with friends to come home to work and that my son was, as always, a great sport and a great worker. My husband got through a veritable Mt. Everest of unfolded laundry

We carried dishes and pots out of their usual places, pulled the Passover dishes and pots out of their hiding places. The during the year dishes are now all hidden away and the Passover stuff is ready for use.


I rarely dream. Last night I had several dreams. All of them were Passover anxiety dreams. I dreamed that someone was painting the hallway next to the bathroom so I couldn’t get there to take a shower and start my day. I dreamt that the furniture in my apartment was moved so I couldn’t get into my kitchen. I also dreamt that I woke up so exhausted that I spilled coffee beans and coffee grounds all over my kitchen while attempting to make my morning coffee. I woke up to discover, with great pleasure, that none of my dreams had come true.


One of my cousins in Israel just quipped that he didn’t understand why anyone would like Passover. I actually love the labor involved in getting all of the elements of the holiday to come together. It isn’t that I am a glutton for punishment.


One of the words for worship in Hebrew is avodah . The common translation of avodah  is work, labor. But as I get ready for Passover I think of all of the hours and hors of prep as part of the visceral understanding of the directive in the haggadah, “In every generation we need to see ourselves as if it were we who were liberated from Egypt.”

I see getting ready for Passover as the Jewish version of the Zen priests whose spiritual practice is sweeping the monastery courtyard.


This morning I got the soup going.


I can’t help but think about my father as I cook for Passover.  The work in this soup is less the actual cooking but much more in the straining and squeezing out all of the vegetables and bones after the soup is done.


Here is the soup about half way cooked.SAM_4059

I cook the soup in the same pot my father used, a giant lobster pot.SAM_4055

The eggs for Seder are boiled. I plan to turn them into beet-eggs for the Seder plate simmering the cooked eggs in beet juice, sugar and vinegar and then letting the eggs marinate in the purple pickling juices for several days. The end result is incredibly beautiful, neon pink egg whites that glow next to the yellow egg yolks. Beet eggs were a discovery we made on a trip to Amish country a few summers ago.  My kids suggested that our Seder plate eggs be beet eggs.  I love the magenta egg on the Seder plate.I will make a few plain eggs for the guests who can’t stand beets.


I also made the chicken for one of the nights of Seder.


I made vaguely Indian chicken with turmeric, and cardamom, black pepper and cinnamon , onions apples and dates.


I have lots of work ahead of me. As I work I think about helping my parents do this very same work  from the time I was a little kid. I think about how  over the years my kids have become my work partners in this endeavor. I think about who will be sitting at our table this year, and who will not be with us this year.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Getting ready for Pesach

I know.


You don’t expect to see a batch of boiled bagels ready to go into the oven in a blog post about getting ready for Passover.


But I am going my best to use up a 10lb. bag of flour before we switch over the house. for the holiday.


I live with two guys who live on bread. Tonight’s dinner and the rest of the meals we will be eating between now and Saturday evening will be in the category of festival of randomness.


Tonight we will be eating codfish cakes made with some salt cod I found in the freezer. We will be eating whatever vegetables are left in the freezer.


A friend invited us for dinner tomorrow. I made a berry pie to use up more flour and the rest of a bag of mixed berries from the freezer.


It’s an oil crust. let me see if I remember what I put in it, 2/3 C of oil, 2 C of flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger and some water and a bit of ginger booze.


The filling is berries simmered with tapioca, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cardamom.  I grated some  dark chocolate onto the crust before I filled it and over the top of the berries.A bit of chocolate is nice with berries.  I like the look of a rough and rustic crust.


Actually my plan was to make a free form pie. The filling was just to runny to attempt that this time. I realize that a free form pie would work better with sliced peaches or apples. The frozen berries were far too wet  to attempt a free form pie.


Well, with this batch of baking my goal was less excellence of product and more use of ingredients.

A gift from a dear friend


sabba& savta 001

This morning I got a call from one of my childhood friends. My friend lives just a couple of blocks from my mother’s apartment.

Soon after I got to Boston that week before my mother died, my friend came over with apple sauce for my mother and flowers for me and for my sister. She just sat and talked with me ,and with my sister. She brought over her photo album from her bat-mitzvah and we looked at photos of the grown ups,, many of who are no longer living, and our contemporaries.  Our classmates were wearing maxi dresses if they were girls, and the boys were wearing bell bottoms and really loud jackets.


We remembered who we were then and caught up on what various of our contemporaries were doing.  One of our classmates had died in his thirties, some of our classmates are living exactly the lives they had fantasized about, other have had more difficult paths. Some we had completely lost track of. 


There was something so deeply comforting about that visit.  My friend in her kind, kind way helped me to prepare for the difficult work ahead.


This morning, my friend called. We talked about her parents  ( who I adore) and mine. We talked about people we knew in common. We talked about getting ready for Passover. And then my friend said that she wanted to tell me something about my mother.


My friend then told me about how when she was younger she was going through an emotionally difficult time. My friend’s parents had sent my friend to professionals and yet, a heavy cloud still hung over her.  My mother called my friend and had a long, long talk with her.


My mother kept telling my friend that she needed to listen to her own heart and that she would be ok. My friend told me that this conversation pulled her out of the abyss and was the turning point for her.

My friend then told me that she had gone to visit my mother earlier in February to tell her just how much that conversation so many decades ago had meant to her. My mother didn’t really understand what my friend was saying.

Yes, I wept as I heard my friend’s story.


I am so grateful for the gift my friend gave me by sharing that story.