Photo Credit: Jewish Press

We are indeed lucky to be living in a time where there are so many great kosher cookbooks and new idea-filled volumes popping up every year. Creativity and flexibility are major themes in two new arrivals to the scene with recipes presented in innovative formats that really lend themselves to tailoring meals to your personal preferences. I know, after all of those Yom Tov meals, you may still be on hiatus from kitchen duty, but these two cookbooks might have you rethinking that decision. So dust off your oven mitts, sharpen those knives and get ready to cook up a storm.

Variations, an Artscroll publication, is Daniella Silver’s third cookbook and, like her Silver Platter series, full of fresh ideas that are innovative without being overly complicated. Each of the 120 recipes is accompanied by another spin on the same ingredients, taking the identical concept, maybe enhancing it with an extra ingredient or two, and putting it together in a slightly different way. This gives dyed-in-the-wool recipe followers suggestions for shaking things up a little, while adventurous cooks will find themselves inspired to reinvent the culinary wheel, possibly even turning to their own recipe favorites and putting their own stamp on them as well.

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I am guessing that not everyone reads the introductory pages of a cookbook, but I actually enjoy them; they provide a wealth of insight into what lies ahead. Silver makes it clear that she is a creative cook, not a chef, an approach that resonates with those of us who want to serve up food that is inspired, but not intimidating. From the earliest pages, she notes that Variations is all about versatility because there aren’t too many of us who can spend an entire day in the kitchen.

The appetizers section alone gives a pretty good idea of what to expect. If eggplant slices topped with sautéed corned beef and onions sounds intriguing, then get ready to roll up your sleeves and bake up a batch of corned beef biscotti. Will you try the simpler version or go the extra mile and wrap each slice with an additional piece of corned beef to up the wow factor? Looking for lighter fare? Don’t worry, Silver’s got you covered with cucumber roll ups that are perfect for any occasion, stuffed with cream cheese and lox, chopped liver, chummus or egg salad. If the thought of rolling up cucumber ribbons doesn’t excite you then fear not – you can serve those same spreads in hollowed out cucumber boats. Bone marrow, a delicacy that I haven’t seen often in cookbooks, makes an appearance here as well, topped with panko, maple syrup and lemon zest and Silver offers readers the option of scooping it straight out of the bones and enjoying it as is, or spreading onto slices of crostini for an elegant presentation.

There are thoughtful inclusions that can be used in a variety of ways, including a pumpkin and sunflower seed crunch mix with hemp hearts, a high fiber salad topper with flax, coconut, rolled oats and your choice of nuts and seeds, and both toasted garlic panko and spiced popcorn toppings. Silver gets extra points for letting readers see at a glance which ones are gluten free (and Pesach friendly) as well as milchig/fleishig/pareve status and how many servings to expect.

There were more than a few can’t miss recipes here, but the ones that really called my name were the granola breakfast tart filled with honey drizzled Greek yogurt and berries, the apricot glazed sweet granola chicken, peanut butter chocolate popcorn bark and the French fried onion salmon. Oh, and the next time someone is making a simcha and you want to send over a little something, turn to page 278 and make Silver’s candied marshmallow lollipops, a practically foolproof goodie that looks impressive, but doesn’t require a whole lot of talent.

 

“Everything Bagel” Asparagus
Pareve. Gluten-free. Yields 6-8 servings

 

Ingredients:
2 bunches asparagus (about 2 lb/1 kg each)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds (black, white, or both)
1 Tbsp poppy seeds
1½ Tbsp dried minced garlic
1½ Tbsp dried minced onion
1 Tsp flaked sea salt
2 Tbsp extra light olive oil

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread asparagus in a single layer on prepared baking sheet.

In a small bowl, combine sesame seeds, poppy seeds, minced garlic, minced onion, and salt; mix well.

Drizzle asparagus with oil; sprinkle with sesame seed mixture, coating all sides.

Roast, uncovered, for 10-12 minutes, or until tender-crisp.

 

Variation: Asparagus and rice.

Prepare recipe as directed.

Cook 1½ cups rice according to package directions.

Transfer to a large serving bowl.

Cut cooked asparagus into 1-inch pieces.

Add to rice, mixing well.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

***

Taking a slightly different approach to the same concept is Supper 123, an Israel Bookshop publication that is nothing like any other cookbook I have ever seen. While the idea of a cookbook that comes with an instruction manual might seem a little daunting, in truth, Supper 123 is anything but. Instead of being laid out in conventional chapters, author Chanie Hirschfeld has almost every page divided into three: the top one listing a protein recipe (labeled P), the middle tackling starches (tagged S for starch) and the bottom segment dedicated to vegetables (marked, obviously, with a V). So while the three sections of page 131 (printed as P131, S131 and V131) have recipes for meat stew, cubed potatoes and baked vegetables, you can feel free to mix and match pages as you like. Your family doesn’t like cubed potatoes? Flip to a different starch page and make the yellow rice on page S191. Or swap the baked vegetables for the teriyaki roasted cauliflower and broccoli on page V157. The combinations are endless and should be able to please even the pickiest of eaters.

Navigating the triple sections is fairly simple. Proteins, starches and veggies are all subdivided into more specific categories and a handy table of contents makes it easy to find what you are looking for in just a few seconds. Each recipe includes both full color photos and a shopping list, with Hirschfeld assuming that most cooks have the basics like eggs, oil, sugar, flour and spices in their pantries, a leap of faith that seems fairly reasonable. Recipes in each section appear in order of difficulty, with the more complicated ones coming at the end of each chapter, followed by a few blank pages to add your own favorites.

Supper 123 does include a few conventional chapters. One deals exclusively with one-pot suppers for those nights when you just can’t face any real cooking, while the soup section offers great ways to round out the meal, especially enticing with the cold winter months ahead. Last but not least, a dessert/appetizer section offers a few cute ways to either start or end your meal on a sweet note.

The recipes in Supper 123 lean towards the basics and I would venture a guess that even a novice cook should be able to put these together easily and painlessly. The everything chicken strips looked particularly appealing, as did the two tone vegetable kugel, the pastrami pasta and the stone fruit cobbler.

Whether you are looking for fun contemporary ideas to feed the fam or tried and true recipes that hit the spot, both Variations and Supper 123 have you covered, broaching new horizons and taking kosher cookbooks in an exciting and innovative direction.

 

No Cook Baked Ziti
6-8 Servings

 

Ingredients:
1 12 oz package ziti noodles
1 jar pizza sauce
½ tsp oregano
2 tbsp sugar
1 8 oz pack shredded mozzarella cheese
3 cups hot water
8 slices cheese (any variety)

 

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°.

Mix noodles, sauce, oregano, sugar, shredded cheese and water in a 9×13 baking pan.

Bake covered for 50 minutes.

Remove from oven.

Add sliced cheese, and bake covered for an additional 15 minutes.

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