Photo Credit: Jewish Press

It’s my favorite time of year.

Nope, it’s not just that it’s almost Chanukah, a holiday that is really hard not to love. And it’s not because my birthday is just around the corner or that those long Friday nights give you the opportunity to enjoy a great Shabbos meal and still get a good night’s sleep. What really makes me smile this time of year is that it usually means a bumper crop of new kosher cookbooks, released just in time for the gift-buying season, giving me page after page of new recipes to explore, one of my favorite activities. And with the past few weeks yielding an impressive number of new books, there are plenty of seasonally-themed recipes that may just have you forgetting about donuts and potato latkes and experimenting with some super-exciting new dishes this year.

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Real Life Kosher Cooking by Miriam Pascal

You know how you have all those cookbooks on your kitchen shelf that have really gorgeous recipes for things that you would love to taste but are never going to actually make yourself because you don’t have the time, patience or skills? Well, Miriam Pascal’s Real Life Kosher Cooking isn’t that kind of book. Sure, it is full of amazing dishes that look so good you may just find yourself nibbling on the pages, but this cookbook has the kind of recipes you can make at home, by yourself, and impress even the pickiest guests because you can have complete confidence that they are both foolproof and fabulous.

Both Pascal and her recipes are extremely approachable and there is good reason why her Overtime Cook blog and her social media pages have, literally, thousands of followers and why her first cookbook, Something Sweet, became an instant best seller. She interacts with her fans on a frequent basis, troubleshooting problems, offering menu suggestions and fielding questions on substitutions. On a personal level, I can tell you that Overtime Cook recipes are the ones I turn to first when that “Hmm…what should I make?” urge hits, not because my teenage daughter has served as Pascal’s cooking assistant on occasion, but because they are innovative without being intimidating and produce totally incredible results.

In addition to including more than 160 recipes, Real Life Kosher Cooking is full of the practical advice that has made Pascal so popular. A “Before You Start” section explains the difference between kosher and table salt, gives planning ahead suggestions to avoid the pre-Yom Tov crush, has a primer on when to use real baking pans and when disposable foil pans work just as well and more. Tips for planning ahead, variations and other notes are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, making it easy to incorporate these important factoids into your preparations and, for those days when you need inspiration, there are full menu ideas tucked into the beginning of each section as well as a page in the back listing recipes that can be easily adapted for Pesach use.

My favorites here? Omigosh, it is so hard to narrow it down to just a few. I was thrilled to see the inclusion of Pascal’s mock breaded cauliflower and ultimate honey whole wheat challah because I make both of those practically all the time and am forever running to my computer to bring up Overtime Cook just to check the recipes. (Disclaimer: Almost all of the recipes in Real Life Kosher Cooking are new, but Pascal did include a few reader favorites from her blog.)

Cream cheese glazed cinnamon bun pie gives you all the flavor of everyone’s favorite indulgence without the work and can be made with pareve cream cheese for the ultimate Shabbos dessert. The s’mores mousse trio is a showstopper that is deceptively easy to make and freezes beautifully, while hasselback zucchini is a healthy and low calorie twist on the delicious sliced and baked salamis that have been popping up everywhere. French onion panini is another can’t-miss recipe that may become a family favorite at brunch, lunch or even dinner, and cheesy pesto and sun dried tomato pasta is addictively delicious. Be sure to check out the caramelized onion and beef fry stuffed capons, a slightly more labor-intensive dish that may just steal the show at your next dinner party and the amazing crock pot chili that gets an unexpected flavor boost from cubes of diced pastrami.

Whether you are looking for diet-friendly, decadent, brown bag lunch ideas, or a Super Bowl menu, or are planning a sheva brachos, Pascal has got you covered with a cookbook that delivers on its promise of family-friendly recipes for any possible occasion. Sure to join the ranks of classic cookbooks that you can’t live without, Pascal hits another home run with Real Life Kosher Cooking.

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Recipes Unplugged by Rivky Manies

You know those days when you really want to make something homemade and yummy but you just can’t face taking out those appliances and then having to wash them and put them away when you are done?

Yeah, me too.

And while I try really, really hard not to be lazy, sometimes recipes get chosen by what I can mix up with a fork and a spoon and nothing more. If that line of reasoning resonates with you, or you happen to be in a place without electricity, whether by choice or by virtue of a power failure, or you are on vacation and are looking to whip up something quick and easy, or it happens to be Yom Tov and you have a craving for freshly-cooked food, then you are just going to love Recipes Unplugged, an all-new book with 259 mouthwatering pages filled with recipes than can be put together in 20 minutes or less without any kitchen appliances or gadgets (other than your oven or stovetop, of course).

Don’t let the simplicity angle fool you. There is lots to love here. For starters, every recipe comes clearly marked with how many it serves and whether it is meat, dairy or pareve, so on those days when you have no time to cook (which is probably almost every day of the week) you can see those vital details at a quick glance. Looking to up your family’s veggie intake? Staples like Caesar salad, a never fail cole slaw and the ever popular Nish Nosh salad share space with intriguing entries like the double mushroom sushi salad, a crunchy salad made with raw leeks, grape tomatoes and cashews and a truly outrageous salad that marries arugula with asparagus, mushrooms, quinoa and pomegranate seeds. Be sure to check out main dish salads which make for a great meal that won’t leave you feeling weighed down. For example, the corn beef and angel hair pasta salad and the edamame couscous salad which works equally well with quinoa.

Dairy lovers will rejoice at deep-fried stuffed shells, a tomato ravioli soup that is ready to serve in just half an hour and macaroni and cheese with a secret ingredient: defrosted butternut squash. (Let’s make a deal – I won’t tell your kids that you are sneaking healthy veggies into their beloved mac and cheese if you don’t tell mine!) And don’t forget to try out the pierogi lasagna which transforms two favorites into one really amazing entree.

As for all you carnivores, fear not. Recipes Unplugged has plenty for you to cheer about as well. An overnight crockpot pastrami roast may just become your new family favorite and whole pieces sesame chicken gives you the flavor of the popular Chinese dish without the hassle. Banish boredom from your weekly Shabbos menu with three different kinds of gefilte fish and be sure to check out the no-cook couscous which goes from raw to ready in just two hours in your fridge. Desserts get the Unplugged treatment as well, including a pair of pecan pies, unfried ice cream, plenty of muffins, cookies and cakes and two items that will have you in sugar heaven: dessert nachos topped with vanilla pudding and fruit and a graham cracker, melted marshmallow, coconut and almond mixture that truly lives up to its name of caramel triangle heavenlies.

So leave your food processor in the cabinet and give your mixer a rest. There’s plenty of tasty goodness ahead with Recipes Unplugged.

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Rising – The Book of Challah by Rochie Pinson

There are certain foods that I could probably give up and not really miss: meat, chicken, pasta. Beets. (I for sure wouldn’t miss beets.) But if I had to name the one food that would be the hardest for me to live without, it would definitely be bread. It’s not just the taste of bread. It’s the way it smells as it comes out of the oven. The way it starts to fall apart when you try to cut it when it is still hot because you just can’t wait for it to cool off. Oh, and of course the taste. Other than bread that is laced with evil caraway seeds, I never met a loaf of bread that I didn’t like, something that Rebbetzin Rochie Pinson totally understands in her new book which is a comprehensive ode to challah.

Rebbetzin Pinson devotes nearly a third of the 347 pages of this incredibly beautiful book to the story of challah, transforming the act of baking (or just eating) challah into something far more lofty than just satisfying those hunger pangs. In addition to using challah as a metaphor for our lives in a variety of ways, Rebbetzin Pinson validates our less than photogenic homemade challahs with the reminder that it is love and intention, not stunning good looks, that make for a perfect challah.

Thankfully, Rising appreciates that while the spirituality of challah, baking techniques and the laws and customs of baking challah are all fascinating topics, sometimes you just want to skip straight to the eating part, so the index offers a handy little arrow showing you exactly where to go for recipes. Challahs here are broken down by category: eight classic challahs include regular, two kinds of whole wheat, gluten-free oat, egg-free, spelt and two types of sourdough. The specialty recipes are truly fascinating with unique additions of unexpected ingredients like halvah, fig paste and marzipan as well as the ever popular pretzel challah. Travel around the world with recipes from Morocco, Yemen, Persia, Iraq and more with tantalizing ethnic breads or indulge in stuffed challahs filled with tuna, salmon, spinach-ricotta, peaches and cream, deli or sautéed onions. Want to really impress your guests, or even just your nearest and dearest? Try the show-stopping two-tone, rainbow or bridal henna challahs and, whatever you do, do not miss the recipes for challah toppings and accompaniments including everything, cinnamon streusel and garlic parmesan, as well as cinnamon maple butter spread, rosemary garlic oil and an exotic Egyptian dukkah dip made with ground hazelnuts, coriander, sesame, cumin, peppercorns, fennel, dried mint and salt.

Not quite sure how to braid your challah or looking for a new way to make your loaves look really wow? Check out Rebbetzin Pinson’s illustrated section on braiding techniques, 39 pages of step-by-step instructions that will teach you, literally, everything you could ever want to know about braiding, from fishtails to flat weaves, octopi, baskets, turbans, rosettes, bouquets and, of course, shlissel challah. Lastly, if you find yourself with more challah dough than you need, Rising includes recipes that will totally ruin your diet, including a chocolate babka twist, three different variants of French toast, garlic “chroutons,” stuffing and (don’t say I didn’t warn you) cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting.

It’s hard to decide exactly how to classify Rising. A meaningful book on challah, a kitchen guide full of tips and advice, a treasure trove of recipes or a magnificent coffee table book whose exquisite visuals may just leave you drooling? The answer to that question is a simple “yes” because Rising is all of the above and more.

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Family Friendly Mediterranean-style Cooking by Dr. Arnold Slyper

Let’s face it. By the time you light that eighth Chanukah candle, chances are good that your clothes might be a little tighter than they used to be, collateral damage of those holiday parties where donuts and latkes just seem to be everywhere. Fear not, Dr. Slyper is here to get you back on track, using his experience as a pediatric endocrinologist in a volume that is equal parts diet guide and cookbook. Using a Mediterranean diet as a vehicle for losing weight and keeping it off while promoting cardio-vascular health, Dr. Slyper presents a comprehensive but not daunting eating plan that addresses various issues, including understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats, how to control hunger and how to regulate your carbohydrate intake.

If all that seems a little intense, fear not. Well over half the book is dedicated to recipes, with the concepts of Mediterranean dieting broken down into chapters filled with yummy and healthful recipes. There are plenty of solid entries here that incorporate chicken, beef and turkey into enticing appetizers, but in keeping with the plan, those proteins are mixed with large amounts of starches, including pasta, couscous and rice, all of which are popular in the Mediterranean diet. Particularly enticing, at least to me, was the beef moussaka, where ground beef is balanced with onion, eggplant and tomatoes before being liberally sprinkled with spices and cinnamon. And, oh, how hard to resist a cholent recipe that calls for beef, potatoes, chickpeas, wheat berries and a full 16-ounce can of beer. Looking to really lighten things up? There are well over a dozen fish dishes that are bursting with flavor and, as I type these words, I am already trying to decide if it will be the brown sugar and Dijon mustard glazed salmon or the salmon and veggies kebabs with ginger, garlic and soy sauce that will be showing up on our dinner table tomorrow night.

If you are one of those people who keeps thinking about trying new grains but haven’t figured out how to cook them, Dr. Slyper has plenty of ideas, with recipes for brown and white rice, quinoa, kasha, orzo, bulgur, lentils, chickpeas, couscous, pasta and barley. Offerings range from a relatively humble kasha and mushroom pilaf to the more gourmet quinoa with roasted Brussels sprouts, leeks and slivered almonds. Vitamin- and nutrient-packed vegetables are clearly the stars of the show here and there are two full chapters dedicated to them, featuring cooked veggies like spinach kugel and fried green tomatoes, as well as salads galore.

Adopting a diet plan, instead of just going on a diet means a long-term commitment and in my book, which means there has to be a way to include at least the occasional dessert, and Dr. Slyper doesn’t disappoint. The 13 tasty treats here include muffins, cookies, crisps, cake and more, all fruit-based and scattered throughout the book are other great options including tropical and strawberry banana smoothies, crunchy granola and, my fave, maple nut granola.

With 190 healthy and delicious ways to eat your way to good health, Family Friendly Mediterranean-style Cooking may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Olive oil, Kalamata, & Rosemary Challah

Throughout the holiday of Chanukah it is customary to eat foods that have been prepared with or fried in oil. This helps us recall the miracle of the small cruse of pure olive oil that was found in the Holy Temple and miraculously burned for eight days.

This incredibly delicious challah is perfect for Shabbat Chanukah and is a great way to put some olive oil into our food without all the greasiness. We’ll save the doughnuts for dessert!

Yield: 8 x 1lb challahs

each 1lb challah yields 6 small challah rolls or napkin rings

Ingredients:

1 19-oz jar kalamata olives (in wine vinegar or just brined) pitted, and chopped fine
1 bunch fresh rosemary, checked for insects, stems & sticks removed, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, caramelized (optional)
dash red chili flakes
43/4 cups very warm water
11/4 cups sugar
7 tsp granulated yeast
13-15 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
21/2 tbsp sea salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 large  eggs

challah glaze:

extra virgin olive oil

Challah toppings:

rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
red chili flakes
coarse salt

 

Directions:

Prepare the kalamata and rosemary. Remove the pits from the olives and chop finely. Set aside. Wash the rosemary and remove the leaves from the stems. Chop finely. Set aside in a separate bowl. If using red onion, dice and sauté in a tablespoon of oil until caramelized. Set aside.

In a large bowl, pour the very warm water. Add the yeast and the sugar. Allow a few minutes for the yeast to bloom.

Add about half of the flour and all of the salt and mix until a smooth batter forms.
Add the eggs and olive oil and stir again until smooth.

Add the extra ingredients now: chopped olives, rosemary, a light dash of red chili flakes, and caramelized red onion if desired.

Mix in the rest of the flour gradually, working the dough with your hands or stand mixer when it becomes too stiff to stir.

Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. The dough will be somewhat stickier and more craggy-looking than usual, due to all the extra ingredients.

Pour 3-4 teaspoons of oil into the bowl. Turn the ball of dough around in the oil until the outer layer of the dough has been thinly coated.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a warm, damp dishcloth and place in a warm spot to rise.

Allow the dough to rise for 1.5-2 hours, until it has doubled in bulk.

Punch out some air and allow the dough to rise for another hour.

Separate the challah.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Divide the dough and braid or shape as desired. Place shaped loaves on lined baking sheets. For the challah napkin-ring braiding technique, see page 301.

Brush each challah with olive oil immediately after braiding.

Allow challahs to rise for an additional 30-45 minutes.

Glaze challahs again with olive oil. Sprinkle on rosemary leaves, red chili pepper flakes, and coarse salt for garnish. (Go easy on the chili pepper and salt—a little goes a long way!)

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes (medium challah, time will vary according to challah size).

The challah is fully baked when its underside is brown and it sounds hollow when tapped.

Place on cooling rack to cool.

* * * * *

Oven Roasted Vegetables

Ingredients:

1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into broad slices
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into broad slices
1 red onion, cut into medium sized slices
1 pound fresh asparagus, cut into medium sized pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
¼ teaspoon black pepper

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F.
  2. Place the zucchini, squash, peppers, asparagus and onion in a large roasting pan. Coat with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Cook in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes at 450°F, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are lightly browned and tender.

 

* * * * *

Zucchini Corn Fritters

Pareve

Yield 2 dozen fritters

As I stood frying these crispy fritters for a photo shoot, I wondered if they would be kid (and husband!) friendly. I didn’t have to wonder long; shortly after I finished, a friend stopped by with her family and they all took a taste. Her husband stopped munching long enough to say, “I don’t know what these are, but they’re REALLY good.” I guess I got my answer!

 

Ingredients:

2 ears corn
½ cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon chili powder
2 eggs
2 tablespoons oil
½ cup water
1 small zucchini, shredded
oil, for frying
guacamole, optional, for serving

 

Directions:

Cut kernels from the uncooked corn; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together cornmeal, flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, and chili powder. Add eggs, oil, and water. Stir until a thick batter forms.

Stir in zucchini and corn kernels. Mix until evenly incorporated.

Heat about 1 inch of oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Work in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Using a medium cookie scoop, scoop heaping tablespoons of the mixture into hot oil. Fry for about 2 minutes per side, until golden brown. Stir batter between batches to reincorporate liquid, as the batter tends to separate.

Remove to a paper towel to drain; repeat with remaining batter.

Serve immediately, with guacamole, if desired.

Variation You can omit the zucchini to make standard corn fritters.

Plan Ahead While these fritters are best enjoyed fresh from the frying pan, you can prepare them ahead of time and freeze them. Rewarm in a single layer, uncovered, in the oven at 350°F until heated through.

* * * * *

Super Easy Cheese Souffle

Ingredients:

8 eggs
¾ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups mayonnaise (you can use low-fat)
3 cups shredded cheese
1 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper, to taste

 

Directions:

In a large mixing bowl, combine eggs, flour, milk, mayonnaise, cheese, garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix well (it will be lumpy). Pour into a greased 9×13 pan and bake uncovered at 350°F for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown on top.

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Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at sandyeller1@gmail.com.