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!