There is nothing like three sets of three-day yomim tovim to strike terror in the hearts of meal planners everywhere as they struggle to plan a staggering quantity of delicious, varied and attractive meals for potentially large numbers of people. While they can’t help you find room in your refrigerator to stash your edibles or to wash the never ending barrage of pots, pans and cooking utensils, two recently released cookbooks can make the job of deciding what to prepare this inordinately busy time of year a whole lot less stressful.
Starters and Sides Made Easy, the second volume in the “Made Easy” series introduced this past Pesach by cooking stars Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek, is a true gift. Am I the only one who doesn’t want to see gefilte fish as a first course at every single meal? While traditionalists like my father and several other members of the clan insist that the only possible substitute for gefilte fish is either chopped or sautéed liver, my tastes tend to wander towards the lighter, more whimsical and un-boring – and while I don’t mind serving cholent, potato kugel, cucumber salad and coleslaw, I don’t want to see (or prepare or serve) these same items week after week after week.
With sixty uncomplicated yet original recipes, some inspired by submissions on CookKosher.com, Sides and Starters is a treasure trove of ideas for those who like to think (and eat) outside the box. Once again, the authors have pooled their talents to produce an enticing array of recipes that reflect their Ashkenazic and Sefardic roots, bundled together with mouth-watering photographs, time saving “Ahead” tips designed to take the stress out of food prep and “Plate It” suggestions for those who are looking to up the “wow” factor in the presentation of their culinary creations.
A four-page spice guide takes the mystery out of seasoning and offers helpful practical advice. Ever wondered when you should use table salt versus sea salt versus kosher salt; the difference between freshly ground, fine black pepper, coarse black pepper and their proper usage? Been mystified by mace, za’atar or turmeric? You’ll find the answers here plus an illustrated Building Blocks section that tells you everything you always wanted to know about mashing and roasting vegetables as well as tips for foolproof rice. Finally, the “Make It a Main” page at the end of the book offers tips on transforming fourteen recipes into full blown main courses with little or no extra effort.
Broken down into sections – Vegetables, Grains, Meat and Chicken, Fish, Dairy and Sweet, Starters and Sides – has something for every palate and for cooks of all skills. Several recipes jumped out at me while I was flipping through the pages: Coleslaw Balls with Jalapeno Dip – can you really make coleslaw into balls and deep fry them? (Apparently you can.) Kishka and Zucchini Towers – there is no doubt that my men folk, who need no excuse to include kishka in any meal, will ask me to make this one repeatedly. Corned Beef and Spinach Spring Rolls looked mighty appealing, especially since they are baked, not deep-fried and could potentially be a great way to use up those leftover Shabbos cold cuts. Shawarma Egg Rolls not only look amazing but includes a recipe for making your own shawarma spice blend, practically a staple in my house, but obviously more economical when made at home. And Peach Cracker Crumble looks like my favorite kind of side dish, one that can double as dessert, but doesn’t count as a splurge since it is served on the same plate as the chicken.
Best of all, while the 128 page Starters and Sides is priced at a very skinny $15.99, making it an inexpensive yet invaluable addition to any kitchen. Published by Artscroll’s Shaar Press, it is available online at www.artscroll.com and in Judaica stores everywhere.
And Then There Was Cake – Seriously, doesn’t the name of this magnificent cookbook published by the Hebrew Academy of Montreal say it all? It doesn’t matter how stuffed we are, when it comes to dessert, somehow we always manage to find room to eat just a little bit more. (Or in some cases, quite a lot more!) Subtitled “Desserts to Enjoy and Impress,” And Then There Was Cake features a wide array of baked recipes for the novice to the advanced.
Published as a school fundraiser, with recipes submitted by parents, tested by the cookbook committee and eventually by professional chef and food stylist Jacques Faucher, And Then There Was Cake has an international flair and includes chapters on cookies, coffee cakes, muffins, chocolate, cupcakes and tarts, with special sections highlighting dairy recipes, Pesach desserts and fancy recipes for the mega ambitious or extremely talented baker. Interspersed in the 206 pages are words of inspiration submitted by current and former staff members as well as community leaders.
Almost five years in the making, And Then There Was Cake is a truly beautiful volume and you might find yourself torn between placing it on the shelf with your other cookbooks or leaving it on your coffee table to thumb through in a quiet moment (assuming there ever are quiet moments in your life.) While cupcakes may be all the rage today, for me they can’t hold a candle to a good muffin (no, the two words are not interchangeable) and I fell in love with such tempting selections like Babka Bites and the cheese topped Frothy Cappuccino Muffins. Ooey Gooey Chocolate Mud Bars look both uncomplicated and delicious and I am hoping my twelve-year-old daughter agrees to bake up a batch (or two) of them for me. That same daughter has already requested the You Are My Sunshine Lemon Meringue Cupcakes for her birthday “cake” this year. The Maple Pecan Pie sounds like a match made in heaven and the Coconut Tree Crepe Cake, comprised of layers of crepes, slathered with a white chocolate whipped cream coconut filling and coated with a coconut meringue topping is too intriguing not to try some Shabbos when I want to impress my guests. The Pesach section features a number of recipes that don’t use matzah meal, a special treat for those of us who don’t eat gebrokts, and the aptly named Cloud Cake, a glossy white cake made entirely of meringue, topped with whipped cream and fruit, is spectacularly breathtaking.
Not currently available in stores in either the United States or Canada, although that will hopefully change soon, And Then There Was Cake is priced at $50 Canadian (approximately $48 US), and can be ordered online at www.ha-cookbook.com or by phone at 514-489-5321.
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Preparation time: 30 minutes
Rising time: 1 hour 45 minutes
Baking time: 45 minutes
This brioche ranks near the top of the list of all-time favorite homemade baked goods. The unbelievable cinnamon scent diffused while this one is in the oven deserves special mention. Needless to say, the taste is second to none! The simple joy that comes from tearing off a warm chunk of brioche dough is simply the icing on the cake. Serve it comfortably after an elegant dinner or as part of a lovely breakfast with butter and jam.
Ingredients for the brioche dough
1¼ cups milk or soy milk
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast
½ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (¾ stick) unsalted butter or margarine, melted
1. Bring milk, sugar and vanilla extract to a boil in a small saucepan until sugar dissolves. Set aside and allow mixture to cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes (the yeast will not rise properly if the milk is too hot).
2. Follow preferred method for kneading the dough:
Directions for kneading the dough by hand: Mix flour, yeast and salt in a small bowl. Add warm milk mixture and stir until dough comes together. Add melted butter gradually until combined. Turn out dough on a floured surface and knead for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
Directions for kneading the dough with a mixer: Mix flour, yeast and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add warm milk mixture and mix at low speed until dough comes together. Add melted butter gradually and mix dough for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and slightly sticky.
3. Transfer brioche dough to an oiled bowl. Cover and allow to rise for 1 hour Topping 4. Place melted butter in a small bowl and set aside.
5. Place brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon and ginger in another bowl and set aside. Assembly 6. Grease a Bundt pan
7. Turn out dough onto a floured surface. Divide roughly into 30 to 40 pieces of different sizes and round into ball-shaped pieces by hand. Working with one ball of dough at a time, dip completely in melted butter, roll in sugar mixture and place in prepared Bundt pan. Once all the dough has been placed in the pan, pour the remaining butter and sugar mixture on top of the dough balls. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 45 minutes.
8. Preheat oven to 350°F
9. Bake for approximately 40 to 45 minutes until the sugar mixture has dissolved into a golden, bubbly caramel on the sides of the pan. Remove from oven and unmold brioche immediately onto a serving plate. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before eating. Eat warm or cold, ideally on the same day.
Tip: This recipe can be made earlier in the day and left in the refrigerator to rise for the second time until needed. Take out of the refrigerator and bake during supper. Alternately, the recipe can be made the night before, allowed to rise overnight in the refrigerator and baked fresh in the morning for a warm breakfast treat or for brunch!
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Preparation time: 20 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes
Serves: 6 to 8
This is our interpretation of the classic American apple pie – a dish that makes you feel like all is right in the world. Buttery pastry gathers around the edges to partially cover the filling while the centre is left exposed to reveal warm caramelized layers of apples. It’s the perfect dessert for your Rosh Hashanah table, a time of year when freshly picked apples are bountiful or an elegant way to end any holiday meal.
For the crust
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or vegetable shortening
1½ tablespoons sugar
Zest and juice from one orange
1 cup flour
For the apple filling
5 apples, peeled and cored (Empire, Cortland or Spartan are best)
½ cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
For the egg wash
1 teaspoon milk or soy milk
1 egg yolk
For the assembly
2 tablespoons sugar, for sprinkling
1. Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Mix all the ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough just comes together. Roll out the dough to a ¼-inch thickness
Cut a rough 12-inch round, lift and place on prepared baking sheet. Apple Filling 3. Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. Egg Wash 4. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl and set aside Assembly 5. Place apple filling in the middle of the pie crust, leaving a 2-3 inch border of crust and brush border with egg wash.
6. Fold border over apple filling, brush edges with egg wash and sprinkle the whole pie with sugar.
7. Bake for approximately 15 minutes until apple filling starts to bubble. Reduce temperature to 325°F and continue bake for approximately 15 minutes more until the crust is lightly browned. Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before serving.
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When these olives bake, they shrink a bit and the flavor intensifies, so they’re even more flavorful than any “raw” spiced olives. During an olive taste test, these two olive and-spice combinations were our favorite. Pick one or prepare and serve them both. I love that I can toss the ingredients together, throw them in the oven, and not do anything else. Serve them along with the salads and dips during the first course of a meal. Your guests will think you splurged on some gourmet antipasti.
Ingredients for Za’atar Black Olives
2 (6-oz) cans whole black olives, drained
2 tsp za’atar
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
Ingredients for Rosemary
Green Olives 12 oz whole green olives, drained
1 tsp dried rosemary
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
2. Prepare the za’atar black olives: In a baking dish, combine olives, za’atar, garlic, and olive oil. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
3. Prepare the rosemary green olives: In a baking dish, combine olives, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil. Bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes.
You can serve the olives separately, or combine them in one serving dish. These olives turn into a perfect spread for garlic bread or challah if you smash them up a bit.
Can’t find za’atar? Make your own: Combine ¼ cup sumac, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, 1 tablespoon thyme, 1 tablespoon oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor or mini chopper and blend.
AHEAD: You can prepare these olives up to one week ahead. Keep refrigerated and serve at room temperature.
Yields about 4 cups
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4-5 medium red or Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into wedges
½ tsp chili powder
2 Tbsp ketchup
½ tsp salt, plus more to taste
2 Tbsp oil
Ingredients for Sticky Sauce
2 Tbsp oil
2 Tbsp ketchup
4 tsp vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 Tbsp honey
½ tsp chili powder
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Grease a baking sheet.
Add potatoes to baking sheet. Add chili powder, ketchup, ½ teaspoon salt, and oil and toss to combine. Spread potatoes in a single layer and bake for 45-55 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the sticky sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine oil, ketchup, vinegar, garlic, honey, and chili powder. Cook until well combined, 3-4 minutes.
Toss potatoes with sticky sauce. Return potatoes to the oven for an additional 5-10 minutes. Season with additional salt to taste.
About the Author: Sandy Eller is a freelance writer who writes for numerous websites, newspapers, magazines and many private clients. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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