Photo Credit: Jewish Press

So much of our lives revolve around food.

In addition to eating our three squares every day, there is a signature dish for every Jewish holiday and we all get a good chuckle when we hear about people having panic attacks over hosting ten people for Thanksgiving when for so many of us, that is what a regular Shabbos looks like. That old joke about all of our yomim tovim boil down to “they tried to kill us, we survived – now let’s eat,” may have been said in jest, but the reality is that food plays a very big role in our lives. With Chanukah in the proverbial rearview mirror and Purim still quite a few weeks away, now is the perfect time to take advantage of a rare lull in the calendar and focus on smarter eating and cooking, with two recently released cookbooks proving that great food doesn’t have to pack on the pounds or take all day to make.

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Cooking with Tanya is nutrition guru Tanya Rosen’s first cookbook, and while it is a great resource for the many clients at the 13 Nutrition by Tanya branches spread out all across the greater New York area, Florida and Israel, it is equally helpful for anyone trying to prioritize healthy eating. Rosen, who has worked with thousands of clients over the years, is a big believer in teaching her clients to make nutritionally sound choices so that they not only lose weight, they can keep the pounds off as well. Releasing a cookbook filled with recipes that incorporate portion control, low calorie ingredients and plenty of flavor is a natural outgrowth of Rosen’s nutrition empire which also includes a full line of prepared foods, giving dieters everywhere an easy way to make healthy eating part of their day to day lives.

You don’t have to be a Nutrition by Tanya client to appreciate Cooking with Tanya, though every recipe is accompanied by a notation informing Rosen’s clients how it fits into their daily food plan. Rosen is a big fan of using cooking spray instead of oil, subbing sugar substitutes and egg whites for the real thing and incorporating whole grains, low fat items and veggies aplenty in order to keep calorie counts down – the result is a book with over 130 recipes that will have you turning the pages and wondering aloud, “You can eat this on a diet??”

While it comes as no surprise that a diet-focused cookbook is going to have recipes for salads, soups and vegetable-based side dishes, there is an entire section dedicated to treats and snacks, giving even dieters occasional indulgences that help them stay on track. There are recipes for peanut butter cups (lightened up with powdered peanut butter instead of conventional Skippy) and strawberries stuffed with amaretto flavored low fat cream cheese, although it goes without saying that moderation is the key to successful weight loss and you can’t eat these items endlessly and expect to lose weight.

Cooking with Tanya makes it easy to get through the week. There are great breakfast choices, including four different kinds of pancakes, a fruity acai bowl topped with chia seeds and sliced almonds and a stunning shakshuka that starts the day off on a high note. A wide variety of mains cover just about every possible type of protein including shake and bake chicken made with a ground spice mix in lieu of crumbs, a stunning garlic-balsamic-mustard steak whose picture alone will leave you drooling, a trendy poke bowl bursting with colorful vegetables and even eggplant parmesan made with baked eggplant rounds and reduced fat mozzarella. Understanding that Shabbos and yom tov are diet killers, there is an entire section dedicated to the holiest days on the calendar and while potato kugel may not be on the menu, several others are, and for those like me who simply adore bread there is even a recipe for honey whole-wheat challah.

A Menucha Publications release, Cooking with Tanya appreciates that sentencing yourself to a life of lettuce leaves and shredded wheat is an approach doomed to failure. Rosen makes it easy to commit to healthier food choices with nutritious, appealing and delicious recipes, paving the way towards realistic and sustainable weight loss.

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I don’t quite know where the phrase “everything old is new again” came from, but that was the thought that went through my head as I leafed through Sharon Matten’s Shabbos Under Pressure, which to the best of my knowledge is the first kosher cookbook devoted exclusively to the latest much-have kitchen gadget, the Instant Pot. My first look at an Instant Pot had me wondering what made this any better than the pressure cooker my mother has had in her cabinet for at least 50 years. The answer was pretty simple: Instant Pot is the pressure cooker’s younger and cooler kid brother, albeit a souped-up electric version with plenty of digital bells and whistles, rebranded to make it cool and to appeal to a new generation.

Not that that is a problem. Pressure cookers were popular back in the day because the intense pressure that built up inside the airtight pot had the contents cooking lightning fast. However, like so many other items, they eventually fell out of favor until someone decided that the time had come for their triumphant return.

And, oh, was their return triumphant.

Instant Pots became hotter than hot, but because the cooking times and technique were radically different than conventional cooking, people found themselves hunting high and low for recipes that would let them take advantage of their many features. Like microwave cooking when it first debuted, there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to figuring out cooking times and cycles. Gaining a level of comfort with an Instant Pot is a good investment of time, although it is important to remember that in addition to the cooking times listed in every recipe, you have to allow extra minutes for the pot to build up and release the pressure that makes the magic happen.

While many of us associate pot roasts and soups with pressure-cooking, Shabbos Under Pressure takes things to the next level with more than 70 recipes and pictures, some of which are quite unexpected. Matten has recipes for sushi and gefilte fish which cooks in just ten minutes under pressure and even challah which rises and bakes most of the way in an Instant Pot. While her crispy fried chicken doesn’t take advantage of the pot’s pressure capabilities, its sauté mode keeps your kitchen clean since the potential splatters stay neatly inside because of the pot’s high walls. Both cholent and yapchik, another relic of yesteryear that has thankfully become popular again, can be made using the pot’s slow cooker mode and there is even a spaghetti squash-based Yerushalmi kugel that cooks in 20 minutes at high pressure. Get ready to have some dessert fun including a cinnamon oat topped apple cobbler, pumpkin pie, peach torte and a chocolate banana cake, all of which start off in the Instant Pot and are finished in the oven. Others, such as the hot fudge pudding cake, poached pears and “baked” apples made with Hot Tamale candies don’t even need any oven time, getting them onto your table and to your hungry fan club in record time.

Whether you call it an Instant Pot or a pressure-cooker really makes no difference.

Especially this time of year when the days are short and candle lighting times are early, Matten will have you rocking that timesaving pot both for pre-Shabbos prep and all week long, getting you out of the kitchen faster than ever. Shabbos Under Pressure is a Feldheim release, and its subtitle Cooking with Pressure = Pressure Free Cooking! Is as true now as it was decades ago, proving once again that moms, and even grandmas, really do know best.

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Easy Cheesy Nachos

1 serving
Counts as one lunch

A fun party food, now in single serving size. They’re so easy to make, your kids can join the fun too!

Ingredients:
1 ounce reduced fat whole grain tortilla chips (about 14 chips)
1½ ounces reduced fat shredded mozzarella cheese
½ small red onion, diced
½ small red pepper, diced
¼ cup salsa
¼ cup nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon sliced black olives
2 tablespoons chopped jalapeños

 

Directions:
Place tortilla chips on a microwave safe plate and top evenly with shredded cheese. Microwave on high for one minute or until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Top with remaining ingredients and serve immediately.

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Margo’s Smoky Red Lentil Soup

Serves 6-8
Modes: Sauté/Brown | Manual High Pressure Pressure Release: Natural Release | Manual Release

I met my dear friend Margo online in her Kosher Me & Gluten Free Facebook group. We found we had a lot in common and often traded recipes via the group. A while after we had met online, we corresponded in a private message. I asked Margo where she was from and found out she lives only 3 blocks away, right here in Chicago! We’ve become even better friends and recipe tasting buddies since then. This is the favorite Friday night soup of Margo’s family.

 

Ingredients:
For the Soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
3 carrots, diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 marrow bones
2 smoked hot dogs, such as Romanian’s beef sticks, sliced
1 pound red lentils, rinsed
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
salt, to taste
8 cups water

For the Hot Dog Croutons:
1 teaspoon canola or avocado oil
1 regular hot dog, diced

 

Directions:
For the Soup:
Set the EPC to sauté/brown mode. Add the oil, onions, celery, carrots and garlic to the EPC pot. Sauté for about 5 minutes, until the vegetables are sot and browned.

Add the marrow bones and smoked hot dogs. Sauté, stirring periodically, until the bones are browned on both sides.

Cancel the sauté/brown mode. Add the 8 cups of water. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a heat resistant spatula, making sure no browned bits are stuck to the bottom. Add the remaining soup ingredients.

Lock the lid and close the pressure valve. Cook for 40 minutes using manual high pressure mode.

When the soup is finished cooking, naturally release the pressure for 20 minutes then manually release the pressure.

For the Hot Dog Croutons:
While the soup is cooking, fry the regular hot dog pieces in the teaspoon of oil in a small skillet until browned.

To Finish:
Serve the soup hot with fried hot dog croutons sprinkled on top.

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