Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving is upon us!  Thanksgiving, although not a Jewish holiday, is a holiday that is very Jewish.  The value HaKarat HaTov, Gratitude, is a very Jewish idea.  There is a Jewish tradition of saying 100 blessings every day.  There is a story behind this.  During the reign of King David, there was a terrible plague that took the lives of exactly 100 people each day.  The rabbis at the time instituted the practice of reciting 100 blessings per day.  The plague immediately stopped.  

There are blessings to show gratitude for almost everything: from seeing a rainbow, to seeing the ocean, to wearing a new special outfit, to eating and drinking.  During this holiday, think about all of the times where you can make a blessing and be thankful.

If you are looking for a healthy start to your Thanksgiving (or Shabbat) dinner, try this roasted cauliflower soup.  It is very easy to make and delicious.  If you want to make it dairy, use vegetable broth and add 1/3 cup of cream.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup
1 head of cauliflower
2 leeks (whites only)
2 cloves of garlic, diced
4 cups of chicken broth
1 cup of water
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Chop cauliflower into small florets.  Place them on a baking sheet with a little oil, salt and pepper and roast for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile saute sliced leeks with a little more oil in a large soup pot.  After the leeks become translucent and the cauliflower is cooked, add the cauliflower to the pot along with the garlic and broth.  Cook for another 5 minutes, then blend the soup with an immersion blender.  Season with salt and pepper as necessary.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Roasted Squash and Spinach Gnocchi

Autumn is my favorite season.  The leaves turn beautiful colors, the air is crisp and clear, my birthday...  And also because it is squash season.  I love the versatility of squash.  Spaghetti squash, true to it's name is a great low-carb alternative to pasta.  Acorn squash has a sweet nutty flavor and is the perfect shape to be little edible bowls.  Kabocha squash is so sweet, you can easily use it for a dessert recipe.  And of course, one of the most well-known, butternut squash has such a versatile flavor that it works in so many different recipes.  You can roast it with spicy cumin or sweet brown sugar.  Either way, you have a delicious dish on your hands. 

Last week, I was in the mood for real comfort food and opened my fridge and pantry to see what I could make.  I saw that I had gnocchi and butternut squash.  After just a little googling, I saw a Rachael Ray recipe that I had to try for a creamy spinach and squash gnocchi.  Perfect!  I have actually never cooked with real cream before.  Every time a recipe calls for it, I either omit it completely (to make the recipe kosher) or I use milk.  It always tastes fine, but it never really "wows" me.  This time, I decided to try real cream.  WOW.  There is a real difference in flavor and texture that comes with the cream that I had previously always underestimated.  Lesson learned. 

I made some changes to the recipe that I found online.  I added some more spinach and changed up some of the spices.   The result was delicious and warm and very comforting.  It was also a really easy recipe to throw together and would be great for company, served along side a large salad mixed with dried cranberries and toasted pumpkin seeds to keep the autumn theme. 

Roasted Squash and Spinach Gnocchi
1 package of cubed squash (or about 1.5 - 2 lbs cut up squash)
2 boxes of chopped frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1 package of gnocchi
2 cups of cream
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of dried rosemary (could also use fresh, if on hand)
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste
grated Parmesan cheese, optional

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss squash with salt and pepper and some olive oil.  Spread out on baking sheet and roast in the oven for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, boil salted water for the gnocchi to cook.  Separately, in a large pan, saute the garlic in a little oil.  Add the cream.  Bring to a slight boil and reduce the heat to let the cream thicken, about 8-10 minutes.  Add the rosemary, then mix in the spinach.  When the squash and gnocchi have finished cooking, add them to the sauce and serve.  Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Brisket Two Ways

I bought too much brisket for Passover.  I tend to do that.  I get nervous that I won't have enough.  My family tends to eat a lot of it, and though I have been known to invite extra people for Seders last minute, this year was different. I only had family over, and so I was stuck with a lot of uncooked brisket still in the freezer.

I wanted to come up with a new way to make brisket - and the leftovers - since it was just the two of us (and the baby).  Having lots of vegetables on hand from the CSA (community supported agriculture) that I belong, I had an abundance of vegetables that I wanted to incorporate.  For Shabbat, I made a brisket, with a little Asian flare, and then Saturday night, I took the leftovers and made lettuce wraps.  The brisket was delicious. And the lettuce wrap was a great way to make use the leftover meat to have a lighter, quick meal. 

Duck Sauce Brisket
3-4 lbs Brisket
1 cup Gold's Duck Sauce (I used the regular, but the spicy version would probably make it better)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 small onion, sliced
1 pint mushrooms, sliced
2 bell peppers, sliced (any color)
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
Scallions, chopped for garnish (optional)

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker, set on low and cook for 6-8 hours or set on high and cook for 4 hours.  Alternatively, you could cook in the oven, using a Dutch oven. 

The next day....

Asian Brisket Lettuce Wraps
Leftover cooked brisket, shredded
1 cup cooked brown rice
2 Tbsp soy sauce
Large lettuce leaves
Sriracha sauce, optional

Combine leftover brisket and vegetables with rice and soy sauce in a skillet to heat.  Place on lettuce wraps.  Serve with Sriracha spicy sauce for a spicy kick. 

Even if you don't make this recipe in particular, I encourage (and challenge) you to make something unique and fun with your leftover brisket.  Share your creation in the comment section here.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dairy Meal for Shavuot

Most Jewish holidays are celebrated with meat: a roast chicken or brisket, to elevate the meal to represent the joyousness of the holiday and to separate it from the norm of everyday meals (this tradition started long before meat was the main focus of most American meals). But on Shavuot the tradition is to have a dairy meal. It is not because Shavuot is a sad holiday - the exact opposite. On this day we receive the Torah! Instead we eat a diary meal because the laws of kashrut were not fully known as the ancient Israelites waited for the Torah. There are other reasons why we eat dairy, such as Torah being likened to milk, "Like honey and milk [the Torah] lies under your tongue" (Song of Songs 4:11). There is also gematria (numerical value) that supports eating diary. The gematria value for the word chalav, milk, is 40 and Moses spent 40 days on top of Mt. Sinai receiving the Torah.

Growing up, for our Shavuot meal, we had tuna fish salad and blintzes from the freezer.  Delicious, yes.  But I wanted something a little more gourmet and fun for this year.  In preparation for Shavuot (beginning Tuesday night, June 3, 2014), I started perusing different websites and cookbooks to come up with a new diary meal idea.  I came across a recipe on the Joy of Kosher website for grilled fish and polenta.  Polenta!  I had never made that before - that was going to be my Shavuot dish!  I did not follow the recipe I found online.  Instead, this is what I did:

Tilapia Filet with Creamy Polenta
Tilapia filets (1 per person)
1 tube of pre-made polenta
1 cup of milk (adjust based on your preference)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tsp garlic, diced
1 lb asparagus, trimmed
olive oil or butter for cooking
salt, pepper, and garlic salt for seasoning

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spread asparagus on cookie sheet, top with olive oil and garlic salt and pepper and roast for about 15 - 20 minutes.  Slice the polenta and add to a sauce pan.  Mash the polenta and thin it out with the milk.  Add enough milk so the polenta has similar consistency to mashed potatoes, or as desired.  Add garlic and pepper to taste.  Before serving, add shredded cheese and mix together.  Prepared polenta is already a little salty and cheese also has salt, so do not add salt to this mixture. If you are making fresh polenta (ground cornmeal), then additional salt might be necessary.  Prepare the fish filets by lightly seasoning with salt/pepper.  Cook in a large frying pan with a small amount of oil or butter (or both).  Flip only once.  If making for a large crowd, multiple filets could be cooked in the oven together.   Assemble and enjoy!


Not only is this meal delicious, but it is light enough for you to be able to enjoy cheesecake for dessert without feeling too guilty. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Double Chocolate Cookies for Passover

This year, the first day of Passover is on April 15 (first Seder is Monday night, April 14).  That means, in addition to cleaning our homes, changing over our kitchens, shopping for a whole new pantry, and cooking for multiple guests - we also need to make sure our taxes are done by then too!  Talk about stress!   Thankfully, I have a super easy - and amazingly delicious and decadent dessert for you to share at your Seder.... or maybe sneak one beforehand to relax and indulge.

This chocolate cookie is very simple.  Only 5 ingredients and a bake time of only 10 minutes.  There is no matzo or cake meal in this cookie, so it isn't heavy and doesn't taste like a traditional Passover dessert.  Be careful - they are addictive!

Of course, if cooking for Passover isn't your thing, come to Beth El for our community 2nd night Seder.  Call the office:  301-652-2606 to check for availability.  This year it will be lead by Hazzan Matthew Klein.  It is sure to be a musical exodus!

Double Chocolate Cookies
3 cups powdered sugar*
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2-4 egg whites
1 cup chocolate chips

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.  Sift or whisk sugar, cocoa powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Add two egg whites and mix.  Consistency should be similar to thick brownie mix.  If you need additional egg whites, add one at a time until the correct consistency.  I find that 3 egg whites works best, but it can vary.  Fold chocolate chips into batter.  Spoon batter onto cookie sheets.  Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, until cookies inflate slightly and tops crack.  Remove cookies from cookie sheet and let cool completely.  Makes 24 - 30 cookies. 

*Kosher for Passover powdered sugar can be found in kosher markets around town, or, it is easy to make yourself.  In a food processor, use the ratio of 1 cup granulated sugar to 1 tablespoon of potato starch.  Blend in food processor until mixture resembles powdered sugar. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Chocolate Peanut butter Hamantaschen

Purim is around the corner!  That is hard to believe since there is still so much snow on the ground.  I took advantage of this snow day and started baking.

Every year I try a new recipe for hamantaschen.  Some are cake-y, others dough-y, and others are more similar to a cookie dough.  They each have their loyal followers.  This recipe creates a delicate and crunchy cookie.  It is sweet, but it is not overly sweet, so it doesn't take away from your filling.  First, I made a classic hamantaschen with a peach filling.  Use whichever flavor you like the best.  [A little tip:  don't use jelly.  It gets very runny when baked.  Instead use pie filling or make your own.]

After I made the peach hamantaschen, I decided to shake things up a little.  I added cocoa powder to dough and filled the hamantaschen with peanut butter!  Even Haman would like these!

Hamantaschen Dough
2 eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
* ( 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder) *

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk to combine eggs, sugar, oil, zest and vanilla in large bowl.  In separate bowl, sift all dry ingredients.  Slowly add dry ingredients to wet and mix.  Knead at the end to fully combine dough.  Lightly flour a clean dry surface and roll out dough.  You might need to add a little extra flour or a little extra water to ensure the dough is the correct consistency.  It should be moist, but not sticky.  Use a 3 inch round cookie cutter or glass to cut out cookies.  Fill with no more than a teaspoon of filling, fold up sides to create a triangle.  Bake for 18 - 20 minutes.

* Directions for Chocolate dough *
Add the cocoa powder to the dry ingredients and prepare as mentioned above.  When rolling the dough out, use a mixture of flour and extra cocoa powder.  Fill the circles with no more than 1 teaspoon of peanut butter (or filling of choice).  Fold, bake and enjoy!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

My Lighten Up Brisket

This blog is titled Brisket and Beyond.  It is about time that I actually cook a brisket!  I normally only make brisket for Rosh Hashanah and for Passover.  However, I had a small brisket in the freezer and I had my Lighten Up dinner to host, so I thought it would be a perfect time to try a new recipe.

Lighten Up is our community engagement program where host families invite other members to their home for an informal Shabbat dinner.  The program promotes building relationships and friendships between member families.  Hosts are asked to invite one or two families to their house and have an opportunity to befriend new members through the warmth of the Shabbat table setting.  This is the third year that we have done this program.  Each year, I love getting the feedback from families. 

One family just wrote, "We had a lot to talk about and the kids played together nicely, so we actually had time to chat." 

A different family responded, " I don't think I would have gotten to know these families if it wasn't for this event.  What a great way to meet families and make a large synagogue feel smaller!"

This year we invited a new family over.  They also have a baby son!  It was so nice to meet them and bond over being new parents and connect.  And of course, eat brisket.  This recipe is very delicious and so easy! 

Sweet BBQ Brisket
3 - 4 lb brisket
3/4 Cup BBQ sauce
1/4 Cup soy sauce
2 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1 Cup water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Take very large piece of heavy duty aluminum foil and place into roasting pan.  Place brisket onto foil.  Mix all above ingredients in a bowl and pour over brisket.  Wrap the foil over the brisket, making a pouch.  Leave a small opening in the foil to allow steam to vent.  Bake brisket for about 4 hours, until tender.  Cut and serve.

I served mine with kasha and asparagus.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Slow Cooker Chicken and Fennel

When I bought my first slow cooker, its sole purpose was to make cholent, the traditional stew that cooks all night to be served during Shabbat lunch.  Growing up, my mother never made cholent, so for me, eating cholent was a real treat; I love the warmth and richness of this humble stew.  Until recently, the only action my slow cooker had was in the winter when I made the occasional cholent. 

However, now that I am a working mom, I am finding that the slow cooker can really help me get dinner on the table mid-week as well as on Shabbat.  I have been reading a lot of slow cooker recipes in magazines and on Pinterest (did you know you could even bake a cake in one!?!).  I got inspired to try something new. 

This dish is a perfect one pot meal.  It has a protein (chicken), a starch (brown rice), and a vegetable (fennel).  It works great as a weeknight meal, as a Shabbat dinner entree, or as a cholent replacement for Shabbat lunch.  Don’t be scared away by the fennel.  This licorice tasting vegetable gets very sweet and tender when cooked.   In fact, it is quite child friendly: my one year old son gobbled up the fennel faster than I could get it on his plate!

Slow Cooker Chicken and Fennel
(This recipe is an adaptation from Real Simple magazine)

2 lbs chicken thighs and legs, bone-in, with as much skin removed as possible
1 cup dry brown basmati rice
2 fennels, sliced.  Reserve some fronds for serving
½ onion, sliced
2 ½ cups water mixed with 1 scant Tablespoon bouillon (alternative could be 2 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth)
1 Tablespoon paprika, divided

Place chicken in bottom of slow cooker.  Sprinkle some of the paprika on the chicken.  Pour dried rice on top of chicken and layer onion and fennel on top.  Sprinkle remainder of paprika over vegetables.  Pour water/broth into the crockpot.  Cover.  Cook on low for about 7 hours or high for about 4 hours.  Garnish with fennel fronds.  Serve with a green vegetable or salad.