Photo Credit: Jewish Press

So, are you ready?

Pesach is sneaking up on us super fast, and I don’t care how many times you have made Yom Tov, chances are that you, like me, are probably busy scrubbing down your kitchen chairs and trying to use up all the chometz while trying to come up with foods that will wow but don’t involve tons of labor. Well, lucky for you, I have three gorgeous cookbooks sitting on my desk, chock full of great Pesach ideas that will turn you into a kitchen hero and will have everyone licking their plates.

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A Taste of Pesach 2 (Yeshiva Me’on HaTorah – Roosevelt)

It was hard not to get excited about A Taste of Pesach 2 (ATOP 2) when its predecessor has become one of those go-to Pesach cookbooks. You know what I’m talking about – the kind of book you reach for when you need to come up with an innovative idea because you just can’t face another pan of Pesach brownies or you need a side dish that falls into the anything-but-a-potato category.

Well, get ready to put on your party shoes and do a happy dance. ATOP 2 is filled with yummy recipes that won’t have you spending your entire day in the kitchen. Understanding that making your food look good is a big part of putting together a great meal, ATOP2 devotes a full 20 pages to plating for those of you want to put together an artful presentation. Even a humble slice of gefilte fish gets the all star treatment here, turning the ugly duckling of your Shabbos/Yom Tov meals into a figurative culinary swan. All but three of the 110 recipes in this gorgeous picture-laden book are non-gebrokts, including those iconic Pesach matzah meal rolls that I loved as a kid.

There is so much to love in ATOP2, starting with recipes for crackers and egg kichel “chips,” two wonderful ideas for those moments where you need something to crunch on but aren’t in the mood for matzah. Pastrami egg rolls are a great addition to any meal, and turkey and pastrami cubes transform plain old vegetable soup into a sublime creation with a unique smoky flavor. Tempt your family with poppers and a fiery sweet sauce, or impress everyone with a stuffed breast of veal seasoned to perfection with a truly awesome spice rub. But I admit it – what really drew me to this book was the sides section which has so many non-potato choices, including a relatively simple apple apricot kugel made with granny smith apples and a full jar of apricot preserves, Spanish rice made out of cauliflower, a crunchy pecan-topped sweet potato pie, heavenly drunken mushrooms and a spaghetti squash apple kugel. And yes, while they may be potato based, those doughless potato knishes do look awfully good.

So grab a copy of ATOP2 and get ready to rake in the compliments this Pesach. Oh, and don’t forget to save some room for the grilled pineapple and the rainbow cake. I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.

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Food Files (Yeshivah of Flatbush)

You know how on some nights all you want to eat is a simple piece of roasted chicken and a salad and then there are those times where you crave something truly unique and inspired? Get ready to enjoy Food Files, a stunning volume that more than lives up to its subtitle, Uncovering Recipes From Flatbush’s Finest, with more than 350 pages of yumminess. These are the dishes you can’t wait to order when you go out to eat, only here they are, with clear, concise instructions so you can make and enjoy them in the comfort of your own home.

Why discuss a year round cookbook when we are smack in the middle of the Pesach zone? Because so many of my personal favorites are actually regular recipes that just so happen to be chometz-free. Thankfully, in addition to featuring some really outstanding chometzdik recipes, Food Files is also chock full of perfect-for-Pesach ideas. Don’t believe me? How about a citrusy ceviche, with fresh fish, peppers, avocado and plenty of lime, or a yummy cauliflower soup subtly nuanced with coconut milk and garnished with frizzled leeks? Spice up your dairy meals with the intriguing date hazelnut feta salad, or for those days when you are really craving “regular” food, indulge in spaghetti squash baked ziti with a basil-laden homemade tomato sauce that literally bursts with flavor. The main course options here are truly dazzling – blackened salmon with a mango jalapeno salsa, crispy whole red snapper with a hefty dose of fresh ginger, spices and blood orange, a stunning whole roasted pomegranate chicken and magnificent mushroom stuffed rib-eye steaks (though you will need to substitute potato starch for the corn starch). There are even several Pesach-friendly desserts: a gluten and sugar free almond banana cake, flourless chocolate cake, tiramisu, avocado chocolate pudding and pots de crème, among others.

Best of all, when Pesach is over, turn to page one and start again, checking out those recipes that were off limits during the holiday that you just can’t wait to try, like the crispy spaghetti cups stuffed with mini meatballs, the peanut butter granola with oats, the can’t miss deconstructed spinach stuffed shells and truly tempting artisan pizzas. Be sure to try out the movie theater bark that pairs melted chocolate with popcorn, peanuts, marshmallows, pretzels and, get this, Pringles!

Pesach-time or anytime, whether you want to impress your guests of just enjoy a super-special meal, Food Files is that cookbook you are going to be pulling out over and over again.

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Take It Easy (Mindy Rafalowitz)

Rafalowitz’s name ought to be familiar to regular JP readers since her recipes often appear on these pages.   A freelance writer and a recipe developer, Rafalowitz’s Po Mitbashel Mashehu, a Hebrew gluten free/non gebrokts cookbook released in 2008, was so popular that she created an English version, giving a whole new audience the opportunity to enjoy her relaxed and practical approach to taking the terror out of making Pesach.

True to its name, it’s all about simplicity, turning the basics into things that are wholesome, potato starch-free and most importantly, delicious. Almost every page is accompanied by a practical cooking tip that will broaden your culinary horizons and there is plenty of encouragement to get even the biggest Pesach-phobes ready to face the music. There is a full section dedicated to homemade basics including mayonnaise, chrayn, borscht, tomato sauce, ketchup and several jams, including a mock-apricot version that is actually made with, believe it or not, tomatoes. Get into the holiday spirit with your choice of lemon, passion fruit or chocolate mint liqueurs or put together a batch of delightfully fruity pomegranate wine, a project that does require two weeks lead time, but is well worth the effort.

Of course, there are plenty of great meal ideas here that you might just want to sneak into your repertoire all year round. Check out the fried fish patties, which can also be potted in tomato sauce, homemade lox, zucchini balls with a spiced ground chicken filling, exquisitely beautiful almond chicken Kiev and be sure not to miss Rafalowitz’s colorful vegetable trifle with a light lemon dressing.

With Rafalowitz’s flair for words, the absence of pictures in the more than 130 recipes in this book is barely noticeable. Perfect for Pesach, especially for those who use minimal processed products, and a great year round resource for the gluten free, Take It Easy is full of fabulous ideas to ensure that your Pesach is deliciously stress free.

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Spinach Nests
From A Taste of Pesach 2

 

I tried this recipe for our tasting party and while it looked beautiful, the taste fell a little flat. I made it again for our photo shoot, tweaking the seasonings and using fresh baby spinach leaves, and voila! Beautiful and delicious.

Pareve. Yields 8 nests

Potato Nests

4 large Yukon gold potatoes
2 teaspoons salt
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 eggs, beaten
4 teaspoons oil

 

Spinach Filling

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
16 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves OR frozen spinach
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare the potato nests: Using a food processor fitted with the shredding blade, shred potatoes into “strings.” Add salt, pepper, eggs, and oil, and then let rest in a colander set over a bowl to drain for 20 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the spinach filling: Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until translucent but not brown. Add spinach and garlic; sauté until spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes. Stir in seasonings and beaten egg.
  4. Generously coat a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add potato mixture to each muffin cup, pressing it against the bottom and up the sides.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes, until slightly browned.
  6. Remove from oven; fill each nest with spinach mixture. Bake for 10 minutes.
  7. To serve, loosen the edges of each nest with a narrow metal spatula or butter knife; unmold onto individual plates or a platter.

 

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Savory Cinnamon Pumpkin Soup

From Take It Easy

 

Orange veggies are a great source of vitamin A, beta carotene, and other essential vitamins for growing children (as well as adults!). You won’t need to do any coaxing with this bright orange soup, as kids just love the color and texture. The cinnamon adds an amazing aroma, too! If you like, you can substitute butternut squash for the pumpkin. Yields 8-10 servings.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon crushed garlic
14 ounces (400 grams) pumpkin, peeled and cubes
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 small zucchini, peeled and cubed
1 medium potato, peeled and cubed
Water to cover plus 2 cups
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cinnamon

 

Directions:

In a large nonstick saucepan, heat the oil.

Sauté the garlic in the oil on medium heat for about 2 minutes

Reduce the heat and add the pumpkin, sweet potatoes, zucchini and potato. Cook, stirring intermittently, 15 minutes longer.

Add water, salt and cinnamon and cook until vegetables are softened, about 20 minutes. Puree with an immersion blender straight in the pot or transfer vegetables to a blender or food processor.

Return the pureed vegetables to the pot and add boiling water for a thinner consistency if desired.

Add salt if necessary.

 

* * * * *

Eight-Layer Macaroon Torte
By Julie Ebani – From Food Files

 

This recipe came about by accident, as many great recipes do, when a simple almond-based cake I was making for Passover flopped and was looking more like a pancake than a layer cake. I doubled the recipe, added a hint of coffee, and voila, the most fabulous looking Passover cake I have ever made. The best part is that it can be enjoyed all year round. Serves 8 to 10.

For the Macaroons:

Oil, for greasing the parchment rounds
2 cups almonds, toasted (or 30 ounces almond flour)
2 cups plus 4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon table salt
12 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

 

For the Chocolate Filling:

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon brewed coffee (optional)

 

For the Whipped Topping:

1½ cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
3 tablespoons sugar

 

For the Decoration:

Semi or bittersweet chocolate bar, for shaving (optional)

 

Directions:

Make the Macaroons: Position oven racks in the top and lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Outline eight 8-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Place the pieces of parchment paper on large baking sheets and very lightly coat each piece with oil.

Place the almonds, 2 cups of the sugar and the salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground.

In a large, dry bowl, use an electric mixer to beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Drizzle in the vanilla, then slowly add the remaining 4 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the nut mixture into the egg whites in 6 additions. Using a piping bag, fill each circle evenly with one-eighth of the batter in a spiraling motion. Bake the macaroon layers until golden and dry to the touch, about 20 minutes. Cool the macaroons for 5 minutes in the freezer.

Make the Chocolate Filling: While the meringues cool, in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, heat ¼ cup water, half the chocolate, and the coffee (if using), stirring until smooth. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the remaining half of the chocolate until melted, which should also cool the mixture to lukewarm. Spread the chocolate evenly over the tops of the meringue rounds, making just a thin layer on each. Rest each disk in the freezer for 5 minutes, or until firmly set.

Make the Whipped Frosting: In a mixing bowl, use clean beaters to beat together the cream and sugar until the mixture holds stiff peaks.

To assemble the torte, gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Arrange the first disk on a cake serving plate. Spread one-eighth of the whipped cream over it. Repeat with the rest of the macaroon rounds, stacking each disk on top of the previous ones, then top with the final round. Frost the top of the torte with the remaining whipped cream.

If desired, use a vegetable peeler to shave chocolate curls on the torte for decoration. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

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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.