Friday, March 30, 2012

Passover Planning (For Real)

So things are starting to amp up in the Culinary Converter's household today. I had a total anxiety dream about Passover on Wednesday night and realized that the only way to begin to alleviate this particular neurosis was to start making a list. Happily, Joan Nathan (culinary superstar of all Jewish festivals) provided such a list in the New York Times (print guide to all things Jewish). She gives this advice: "My seder survival tactics boil down to a few basics. Make a list. Follow it. Always accept help when offered. And remember to create your own family traditions." I began to adapt the guide to suit my needs and now feel like I have conned myself into thinking this is all do-able.

Now, this is not my first Seder. The Man and I began hosting the family seder in our home twelve years ago, well before marriage and children. For years there were no kids and my younger sister had to play the part of the youngest child well into her late twenties. She is getting married in a few weeks and due to physical distances coupled with wedding planning, she will be spending Passover with my mother in a state South of here. So, this is the first year our seder has no family outside of the nuclear unit. I thought, ok, well we'll just do something small with a few friends. The head count is now up to twenty-three people, including ten kids! Clearly, the table is not big enough.

So the seder, the pre-game show before dinner, will be held in the living room (on couches and chairs and pillows), which gives the whole thing more of a cocktail party feel. And given the four glasses of wine consumed at the seder, this vibe is appropriate. I plan to also amp up the appetizers, which will lessen the anxiety about when the meal will begin. There is no need to restrict yourself to just the foods on the seder plate, you can serve anything that is kosher for Passover, crudites with eggplant spread, etc...

My Menu so far:

Salmon Cakes with Horseradish and Cucumber Sauce

Soup w/Matzoh Balls, Chicken and Vegetarian

an intermezzo of grapefruit sorbet and cava

Some roast lamb dish

Soy Ginger Chicken in the Slow Cooker

Perhaps a vegetarian crustless quiche?

Other veggie sides will be arriving courtesy of my guests

Dessert: Matzoh Baklava and an Orange/Mint/Date salad

There is more to come on all this, but my question for you, gentle readers (besides what you're making): what are good plan b dishes for kids who may look askance at these offerings?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Purim Cocktail!

Ok, so maybe my kids didn't get the homemade hamantaschen experience this year, but at least the Man and I got our drink on. This drink (I'll post again below) is delicious! I used orange and ginger marmalade, but I would also try apricot preserves as well.

You can taste the Aquavit and, while the drink is sweet, it isn't too sweet. Deelish. But it needs a name other than the "Ethel". I like the Scandinavian/Jewish nature of it. Just like me and the Man.

1 1/2 oz North Shore Aquavit
¾ Galliano l’authentico
Spoon orange marmalade
¾ lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, shake, and strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Use a vegetable peeler to cut a strip of orange peel, mist cocktail with oil, and place decoratively.

Hamantaschen Fail. Now What?

Well, they say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions... So, I really meant to make hamataschen this year. In fact, I was so close. My youngest was in a flour-covered smock and everything. We made the dough, smelled the delicious orange zest, and put it in the fridge. But then I was tired. So I took a nap. And then the kids had a birthday party to go to. And when we got back, the Man and I were wrecked. So the next morning I pulled out the bowl and... Totally dried out block of cookie dough. Rock hard. Solid. I left it out to thaw, but it didn't. Sadness in the house. And now I'm tired. So: addendum to my recipe. Refrigerate for half an hour, not overnight!!!

But, let's talk Purim Party!

While my last post had to do with making attempting to make delicious hamantaschen, today's has to do with the holiday itself. In addition to sending gifts of food, Jews are obligated to have a seudah, a feast with symbolic foods. Foods typically eaten are filled foods (for holding secrets) such as kreplach, a dumpling much like a wonton. Some Jews eat chickpeas and other beans because tradition suggests that Esther kept vegetarian in the king's palace in order to avoid breaking the kosher dietary laws.

But the fun thing about this feast (for adults) is the drinking.

This is what we in the ritual biz call a "tension release" holiday. Alcohol is liberally consumed, making the festival unusual in Jewish custom. It is in fact a tradition to get so wasted that one doesn't know the difference between "Blessed be Mordechai" (the good guy) and "Cursed be Haman" (the bad guy).

A classic reversal holiday such as Mardi Gras, there is a carnival-like atmosphere to Purim. In late 19th and early 20th century America, German Jewish women used the holiday for fundraising balls, throwing lavish masquerade parties. Eclipsed in the mid-twentieth century by the growing importance of Chanukah, Purim is enjoying a resurgence among American Jews of all movements. Among the Orthodox, this holiday functions much like Halloween (which they do not celebrate). The children (and adults) dress in costume and consume candy and other sweets by the handful.

But, for those of you who know the Culinary Converter, you know that what I'm really interested in here are the cocktails. Help me brainstorm:

My instinct would be to go in the direction of pomegranate in order to suggest the Persian influence on the holiday, but my favorite cocktail that I've found online is the Ethel. It's a hamantaschen-inspired cocktail designed by Chicago-based Charles Joly, the chief mixologist at the Drawing Room:

1 1/2 oz North Shore Aquavit

¾ Galliano l’authentico

Spoon orange marmalade

¾ lemon juice

¼ oz simple syrup

Combine all ingredients in mixing glass. Add ice, shake, and strain into chilled cocktail coupe. Use a vegetable peeler to cut a strip of orange peel, mist cocktail with oil, and place decoratively.

Read more about this here:

I'm totally making this after work, mainly because I have all the ingredients. I'll let you know!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Purim and Planning

My husband looked up at me from his IPad the other day and said, "What about roast lamb shoulder with parsnip fries?" I responded, "For when? This weekend?" He said, "No, for Passover." To which my response was, incredulously, "Like, as in April? Passover??"

But this is what we do. We haven't even hit Purim yet, but the planning for Passover has begun. For my family (the Jewish side), Passover and Thanksgiving are the big holidays. And my beloved Presbyterian-raised partner has embraced them both with gusto. For me, Passover is the apex of everything I love about holidays. With the rich symbolism of the food stuffs served to family and friends, I'm in ritual heaven.

But for my man, Passover is a culinary challenge. And I don't mean challenge as in problem, but more like an Iron Chef challenge. What is the most amazing food he can prepare without using some of the most common ingredients in cooking? Stay tuned. It's going to get crazy here.

But for now, we find Purim in the offing.

Purim is a Jewish holiday that takes place in early spring to commemorate events detailed in the biblical Scroll of Esther/Megillat Esther. The book describes a failed genocidal plot against the Jews of Persia. The scheme, led by the king's advisor, Haman, was uncovered by Mordecai. Esther, the niece of Mordecai, won the heart of King Ahasuerus. Through her bravery in speaking up for her people, Haman's evil plot was foiled and the Jews were spared their planned execution.

The holiday falls on the 14th day of Adar in the Hebrew Calendar, which takes place in early spring. The rituals of Purim come from the Scroll of Esther and two obligations involve food. According to the text, Purim is to be a festival "of feasting and joy, and sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor" (Esther 9:22). In adherence to this text, Jews are obligated to feast on Purim afternoon and to do mishloach manot [sending portions]. The mishloach manot are gifts containing two different foods that are ready to eat with no needed preparation (including beverages) to at least one person. These gifts are often sent through a third party, usually a child. Oh, and did I mention the costumes? The first time we actually had someone bring us mishloach manot, it was a father-son duo dressed as firemen. My husband saw them coming up the walk and panicked, "Do we give them something?? Like on Halloween?" Once I realized what was happening, I said, "Um, no. I think they are bringing us something!"

There is often great creativity expressed in theme baskets, and some may become quite elaborate. In the United States, sweets, particularly hamantaschen are the most common of gifts. Known alternatively as "Haman's Hats" or "Haman's Ears", hamantaschen are three cornered cookies stuffed with filling.

The traditional Ashkenazic (Eastern European and German) flavors are prune and poppy seed, but I never make those (although my sister-in law keeps hinting that she really likes the prune ones; maybe this year will be the year!). These cookies can include endless varieties of fruit fillings, as well as chocolate and even Nutella. Some Jews bake hamantaschen in order to use up their flour before Passover, much like the pancakes consumed on Fat Tuesday before the Lenten season begins.

So what is the plan for Purim in the Culinary Converter's house this year? Hamantaschen, of course. I say that like I make them every year. Which I don't,much to my husband's despair. But I have really good intentions this year. Sadly Purim falls during Lent this year, so there may be some of my dear friends who may have to abstain from the yummy cookies this time. Luckily, these freeze well!

This recipe is adapted from Sundays at the Moosewood. I only use the dough recipe, because I like that these cookies come out cake-y rather than crumbly (like other recipes I've tried). Also, the citrus flavor is great, I added orange zest to the juice. As for fillings, I tend to use fruit preserves. My daughters have requested chocolate this year. And I think I need to try the Nutella version.


For the Dough:

1 cup butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
4 tsp baking powder
5 cups flour
4 tsp orange juice and the zest of one orange
2 tsp vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and mix. In a separate bowl, stir the baking powder into the flour. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the juice/zest to the butter/sugar/eggs mixture. Stir in vanilla. Refrigerate dough for at least ½ an hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

2. Take half the dough and on a well-floured surface, roll to ¼ inch thickness. Cut into circles w/a 3 inch cookie cutter (I use a glass).

3. Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of each circle. Pull 3 points of the circle toward the center (over the filling) in order to form a triangle. Pinch the dough together along the seams.

4. Repeat steps 2-3 w/leftover dough as well as with reworked scraps from the first batch. Place hamantaschen 2 inches apart on buttered baking sheet. Bake for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned.

Makes about 40 hamantaschen.

Any other ideas for filling? Or maybe for making mishloach manot?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Eating and Mourning

People are kind. Incredibly kind.

I've taken an extended break from my new practice of blogging in order to mourn the passing of my father. I don't plan to write about this loss here, except to say that food seems to be integral to the mourning process. Jewish practice is for mourners to be served a "meal of consolation" after they return home from the funeral. This meal frequently features hard-boiled eggs as eggs are almost universal symbols of new life, whether the meaning be fertility, resurrection, or the cycle of creation. However, almost any round food will do. While this meal is imbued with symbolism, this practice also serves as a way to make sure that the mourners eat something, as they might not feel hungry during their grief. I will say that personally, I ate a ton during shiva (the week-long period after the funeral). Partially, this was due to feeling incredibly sad and being convinced that my pain was physical. Not being able to determine what was wrong with me, I just assumed I was hungry. I attempted to fill the void with traditional Jewish soul food: deli and Chinese. No, really. All I wanted was pastrami, wonton soup, and Singapore noodles. And people brought so much food. But it turned out, despite my massive consumption of carbs and salted meats, I was not hungry. I was just sad.

One of the most jarring features of the shiva was being in my mother's house and not seeing her cook. Not once. She barely used the stove to make her constantly brewing moka pot of espresso (a neighbor lent us her Keurig). I like to say that I come from food. And from cooking. And that all comes from my mother's warm and hospitable kitchen. And I know that cooking makes her happy. But when you're mourning a loss of a loved one, you can't do things that make you happy. And so this post includes no recipes.

Have you any associations with eating and mourning? Any cultural traditions? Sad or funny stories?

Thursday, October 6, 2011