Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I can’t think of a better time for two new cookbooks to cross my desk than now, when the yomim tovim are looming. Surely you know me well enough after all this time to know that my freezer is already stocked with plenty of holiday goodies, but this time of year, the cooking is never done and the opportunity to try out new recipes had me doing my happy dance. Ironically, I can’t think of a more diverse pair of cookbooks than The Gefilte Manifesto, a contemporary look at traditional Ashkenazic foods, and Our Table, a visual stunner whose Swiss and Italian influences transform heimish cuisine into something truly spectacular.

I confess that I did not have high expectations for The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern, the pair who brought gourmet gefilte fish to New York City through Gefilteria.   It’s not that I have anything against gefilte fish, it’s just that it hardly seems worth the calories involved. But from the minute I opened up TGM, a Flatiron Books publication, I realized that Yoskowitz and Alpern had struck gold, taking on traditional favorites and blowing them out of the water in a hip and trendy culinary renaissance.

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Take sauerkraut for example. The canned sauerkraut sitting in my pantry right now tastes absolutely nothing like the homemade sauerkraut my mother used to make in a big glass jar, a water-filled shot glass stuffed on top to keep the cabbage submerged. TGM’s sauerkraut is of the same ilk, and the recipe calls for massaging the cabbage by hand for a good 10 minutes to start the approximately 10-day long fermentation process. Time consuming? Yes. But the results are oh so worth it.

Sauerkraut is just one of a dozen recipes in TGM’s Pickles section (pickled watermelon rind, anyone?) and if you think of pickles as nothing more than tricked-out cucumbers to serve alongside your corned beef on rye, think again. There are recipes for pickle brine bloody marys, sour dill martinis and both pickle brine bread and salad dressing. A section on pantry basics includes recipes for spicy whole grain mustard and buttermilk, two items I have never before considered making on my own but are no doubt significantly yummier when made in house.

In addition to recipes for herring and horseradish, there are several gefilte fish recipes in TGM, including one where the fish mixture is stuffed inside fish skins to reconstruct the original fish, albeit in slices, and then wrapped in paper and tied before baking. (Seriously guys, I could have done without the picture of the fish heads!) But it is the deli section that really beckons, with recipes for homemade corned beef and brisket, which involves brining the meat for a week to 10 days. Kudos to TGM for understanding that while smoking your pastrami is obviously the way to go, not all of us own smokers and so there are directions for making pastrami in your oven. Desserts range from Old World bow tie kichel to the intriguingly nouveau chocolate and beet ice cream and everything in between. All in all, whether you are craving traditional Jewish fare or food that is more cutting edge, TGM has what it takes to make you salivate. Best of all, the book is loaded with fabulous thoughts, vignettes and other bits of wisdom, making it a great read even for those who can’t tell a spatula from a sieve.

You don’t have to turn more than a few pages in ArtScroll’s Our Table to realize that its author, Renee Muller, is a talented food stylist. It’s not just that the pictures are beautiful and the food is artfully arranged, it’s the way the caramel sauce is shown dripping off the spoon and the knife is photographed slicing midway through a vertically-stretched hunk of yeasty challah dough. It is clear that Muller views food as an artistic medium, one that is visually enticing and just so happens to taste amazing – her warmth and personality are evident on every page. Best of all, Our Table has a list of companion videos available at www.artscroll.com/ourtablevideos showing preparation techniques for eleven recipes in the book.

Typically when I get a new cookbook, I flip the pages looking for things that catch my eye. When they do (pretzel sausages, I am talking to you, my little hot doggy friends) I make a mental note to add them to my list of things to try for the next Shabbos/Yom Tov/special occasion. But as I turned the pages of Our Table, something unprecedented happened. I saw this roast that looked like it had some kind of thick mesh covering it. Only it wasn’t mesh – it was a puff pastry lattice draped over a minute steak roast. I just stopped and sat there staring at the picture dumbfounded for a few minutes, wondering why I have never seen this done before. Of course, while I am positive that when Muller makes this roast hers probably slices up beautifully, Murphy’s Law dictates that even if I am able to create a normal-looking lattice, it will likely self-destruct as soon as my carving knife comes within five feet of the cutting board.

Not every main dish has to be time consuming, because, let’s face it, we don’t just cook for Shabbos and Yom Tov; we have to eat during the week also. Weekday pot roast is one of those delicious dishes that you just pop into the oven and let the heat work its magic while you go about dealing with the realities of life. Oven-baked honey mustard chicken is another one of those foolproof recipes, quick enough for a weeknight meal, yet classy enough for more impressive occasions.

Lest you think that Our Table is for meat lovers only, there are quite a few dairy superstars that will have fleish-phobes jumping for joy. The candied sweet potato salad topped with fricos, which are baked Parmesan Italian cheese crisps, is heavenly and the caramelized onion and goat cheese tart is truly unique (unless you, like me, have family members who find goat cheese to be a bit too “goaty”). Looking for a filling and easy meal on the go? Check out lunch in a bowl – a layered salad with feta cheese, red onion, quinoa, salad greens, avocado and strawberries that you pack up in a jar and mix when it’s time to eat. Oh, and the fried mozzarella balls. Be sure to try the fried mozzarella balls!

Because no meal is complete without dessert, every cookbook review should include mention of at least one, and while I am a chocolate person through and through, my favorite dessert in Our Table is the deconstructed lemon meringue pie. Not exactly a one-bowl recipe but still more forgiving than its traditional counterpart, this sweet yet tart taste of heaven is small enough to enjoy when you are trying to watch your weight but can also be made in larger portions for those moments when you are only pretending to be on a diet.

Pull out your mixing bowls, your favorite knives and let the cooking begin. Our Table is coming to your table and the results couldn’t be yummier.

* * * * *

Sweet Chili Salmon Cubes
Serves 4

I’ve been on the lookout for a fantastic appetizer for a while. It needed to be the type that could be prepared in advance, taste amazing at room temperature, and still look gorgeously elegant once plated. I thought I was asking for too much and kinda gave up. It seemed like it was going to be grilled chicken salad. Again. Then I met my new, friendly, and super talented neighbor, Yocheved. She introduced me to this amazing salmon and it’s been love at first bite ever since. See? It always pays to be neighborly.

 

Ingredients

1½ pounds salmon, cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup sweet chili sauce
¼ teaspoon cumin, optional
¼ teaspoon za’atar, optional
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup everything spice
¼ cup breadcrumbs
3 tbsp black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon Montreal steak seasoning
2 medium zucchini
2 medium yellow squash

 

Directions

Place salmon cubes, sweet chili sauce, cumin, and za’atar into a resealable bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for up to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a shallow dish, combine panko breadcrumbs, everything spice, breadcrumbs, black sesame seeds, and Montreal seasoning. Mix to combine. One by one, coat each salmon cube in the panko mixture. Place on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 6 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Using a vegetable peeler, carefully peel the zucchini lengthwise into long strips, making sure to leave some peel at the edges. You will get 4 to 5 nice strips on each side. Repeat with yellow squash. (Save remaining zucchini/squash for another use.)

Place squash strips into a microwave-safe bowl; microwave for 30-60 seconds. This will ensure that the strips are soft enough to fold without cracking, yet not entirely cooked. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To assemble: Fold one zucchini strip like an accordion, then thread onto a skewer. Next, thread on a salmon cube and a yellow squash accordion. Keep alternating between the yellow squash and zucchini between each salmon cube.

This is a great Shabbos-day appetizer, as the fish will be flavorful and still moist. Bring the fish to room temperature before serving.

* * * * *

Meat Manicotti
4-6 servings

All kids love meatballs and spaghetti, can we agree on that? And when we take an old classic and make it chic, we score super points. All of a sudden, the familiar, comforting flavors are presentable, even elegant. Oh, and here’s the kicker: freezer-friendly! And you don’t have to cook the manicotti first!

This recipe is now a staple in my family. It’s the kind of thing we will send when someone had a baby or moved to a new house. Quick, easy, delicious. Perfect.

I traced the recipe back to its roots, and I owe many thanks to Faigy O. Also, thank you, Faigy, for taking the time to share with us all the little tips that make it easier to assemble this recipe.

 

Ingredients

1 (8-ounce) box manicotti, not cooked

 

For the Filling

1 pound ground meat
1 egg
3 tbsp ketchup
½ cup cornflake crumbs
1 small onion, grated
½ tsp salt
½ tsp paprika
½ tsp garlic powder
dash black pepper
½ (15-ounce) can tomato soup

 

For the Sauce

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1½ cans tomato soup
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp garlic powder
dash of pepper
½ cup water

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, combine filling ingredients. Working with one at a time, stuff each manicotti; place filled manicotti into a baking dish in one layer. (If freezing, do so at this point, without the sauce.)

Prepare the sauce: Combine sauce ingredients in a bowl. Refrigerate, covered, if preparing in advance.

Pour sauce over filled manicotti. Using a spoon, make sure the sauce flows between all the manicotti. If sauce doesn’t flow to the edges of the pan, add some water at the corners of the pan.

Cover with foil; bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes. (You can assemble the manicotti and refrigerate until ready to bake, up to 24 hours in advance. Add the sauce just before baking. If manicotti were frozen, partially defrost before baking; do not defrost fully.)

Low-carb version: I was once left with some extra filling and, you know how it goes, necessity is the mother of invention. I had a few zucchinis in my veggie drawer and I came up with a great dietetic alternative. Cut each zucchini in half vertically, remove the stem ends, and then use an apple corer or a spoon to remove the core of the zucchini. Stuff the zucchini with the meat filling, place them into the pan alongside the manicotti, cover with the same sauce… and… voila! An almost perfectly carb-free dinner! Try it.

* * * * *

Beef Kreplach

JEFFREY: Kreplach are juicy, pillowy Jewish dumplings traditionally stuffed with meat, which too often play second fiddle to the matzo ball when it comes to Jewish soup. What a shame. In eastern Europe, a Jewish woman proved her cooking chops by rolling her dough paper-thin and stuffing her kreplach without a puncture. Kreplach are high art in the Ashkenazi kitchen, and they deserve to return to prominence. A few tips for making these dumplings: Start by making your fillings so that they are completely ready by the time you make the dough. This will keep the dough from drying out. We’ve included both a meat and a vegetarian filling, but if you want to make both, just make a double batch of dough. If you want to prepare them in advance, the kreplach can be formed, placed on a baking sheet, and frozen, then placed in an airtight container and boiled later (no need to thaw first). Some people fry their kreplach and eat them with caramelized onions. You can do that, I guess, but to me, kreplach belong in soup. Period.

Makes about 60 kreplach

 

Ingredients

 

For the Classic Beef Filling

6 ounces beef (chuck or flank)
1 small onion, diced
1 celery stalk, coarsely chopped
1 dried bay leaf
1 large egg, beaten
2 tsp schmaltz or vegetable oil
½ tsp kosher salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

 

For the Dough

3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
1½ tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1½ cups hot water
Hot broth, for serving

 

Directions

  1. To make the classic beef filling: Place the beef in a small saucepan and add water to cover. Add the onion, celery, and bay leaf and bring to a simmer over low heat. Cover and simmer until the meat is soft, about 2 hours. Remove from the heat and drain. (Feel free to save the cooking liquid for later use as beef stock.) Cut the meat into smaller chunks and place in a food processor, along with the onion from the pot, the egg, schmaltz or oil, salt, and pepper. Pulse the ingredients to form a loose paste.
  1. To make the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the oil and hot water and stir gently to form a dough. Using your hands, knead to form a soft, smooth ball. If the dough is sticky, add a bit more flour.
  1. To assemble the kreplach, take half the dough and roll it out on a well-floured surface; keep the other half covered to avoid drying. The dough should be rolled out as thin as possible or your kreplach will be tough and doughy. Cut the dough into 21-inch squares. If you do not have a square cookie cutter, cut out rounds instead using a glass. Keep your surface well-floured to prevent the kreplach from sticking.
  1. Place 1 teaspoon of the filling in the center of each krepl (yes, that’s the singular). Work quickly or the dough will dry out. Do not overstuff. You will be tempted to do so, but we cannot stress enough that overfilling will not end well. Fold the dough over into a triangle, pressing the edges together and sealing them, applying water at the seams if necessary. Fold again to connect the two ends of the triangle. Repeat the process with the remaining dough, putting the finished kreplach on a baking sheet and keeping them in the freezer while you work on the second half.
  1. Meanwhile, fill a large pot with water, add salt (the ratio should be 1 tablespoon salt for every 1 quart water), and bring to a boil. Drop the kreplach into the boiling water and cook for 15 minutes. Remove one krepl with a slotted spoon and taste to ensure that the dough is fully cooked, just like you would with pasta. If they need more time, boil for 5 minutes more, then remove, drain, and place in hot broth just before serving.

 

Excerpted from the book THE GEFILTE MANIFESTO by Jeffrey Yoskowitz & Liz Alpern. Copyright © 2016 by Gefilte Manifesto LLC. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Lauren Volo.

* * * * *

Roasted Garlic Potato Knish

JEFFREY: Before the dawn of Tupperware, Jewish cooks would wrap leftovers in dough for an easy-to-carry package for a long day of work. Square, mass-manufactured fried knishes are now sold in most New York City hot dog carts. When I was thirteen, my father took me on a tour of Brooklyn centered on Coney Island amusements and Mrs. Stahl’s, his favorite knishery, known for its iconic round knishes. I vaguely recall ordering both a kasha and a potato-broccoli knish while my father ordered his beloved cherry-cheese. I didn’t know I had to savor those knishes, since they’d be the first and last I’d have from the iconic shop; it closed its doors for good back in 2005. We use Mrs. Stahl’s knish dough, a recipe developed by Toby Engelberg and Sara Spatz and adapted in Laura Silver’s book on the topic, Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food. A tip we learned from Mrs. Stahl’s recipe is to bake the knishes in logs, rather than squares or rounds, and slice them – it’s easier for serving to groups, as we often do. For a sweet dairy knish like my father prefers, take our sweet cheese blintz filling and stir in ¼ cup cooked cherries and a little extra sugar. Note that the potato knish filling also tastes great stuffed inside savory blintzes.

Makes about 15 small knishes.

 

Ingredients

 

For Mrs. Stahl’s Knish Dough

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ cup vegetable or grapeseed oil, plus more as needed
½ cup lukewarm water

 

For the Mashed Potato Filling

1 head garlic
1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup schmaltz or vegetable oil, plus more for the knishes
2 medium onions, diced
4 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
1½ pounds russet potatoes (about 4 medium), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

 

To Assemble

¼ cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
Vegetable oil
1 egg, beaten
Mustard, for serving

 

Directions

  1. To make the dough: In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, and salt. Pour in the oil and lukewarm water and knead lightly until a sticky dough is formed. Set aside, covered, for at least 1 hour while you prepare the filling.
  1. To make the mashed potato filling: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Trim about 1 inch off the head of garlic, exposing the cloves. Drizzle the olive oil on the garlic skins and rub it in. Wrap the head of garlic in aluminum foil and place on a baking sheet in the oven. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the individual cloves are completely soft.
  1. In a medium saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the schmaltz or oil over medium heat. Add the onions and 2 teaspoons of the salt and sauté until golden, 5 to 7 minutes, then remove from the heat and set aside.
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until the potatoes are very tender and can be easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, then roughly mash with a fork or the bottom of a jar. Stir in the onions, remaining 2 tablespoons of schmaltz or oil, remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, and the pepper, and squeeze the roasted garlic cloves from their skins into the potato mixture. Stir to incorporate and break up any large chunks of potato. Taste and adjust the salt levels to your preference.
  1. To assemble the knishes: Preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack set in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  1. Divide the dough into 3 balls and the filling into 3 equal portions of about 3 cups each. Roll out the dough on a floured surface, one ball at a time, into a very thin square, about 10 inches on all sides. Place a 2-inch-wide line of filling along one end of the dough, leaving a border of about 11 inches along the edge. Pick up the top edge and fold it over the filling. Brush schmaltz on the dough in a thin strip on the bottom edge of the filling. Pick up the filled dough and roll again, onto the oiled dough. Brush another line of schmaltz at the bottom edge of the filling and fold the filled dough over the oiled dough once again. Repeat the folding and brushing until you reach the end of the dough. Tuck the ends underneath the log.
  1. Place the knishes on the prepared baking sheet, seam side down. Slash the top of the dough rolls with a knife every 3 inches or so. Coat the rolls with egg. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Keep an eye on the knishes while they bake to avoid overbrowning and drying out. The knishes are ready when they are soft and golden. Serve warm with mustard.
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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.