Food, food and food

Attended a very nice Parent’s shmooze session last Sunday organized by Rabbi Brody. We were challenged to think about our favorite Jewish traditions and for most people, of course there is some type of food involved! There was lots of food for thought in the interesting conversation that followed, although I sometimes wonder if we use food as ritual rather than as one component of ritual. For instance making and eating a challah bread alone is not a Jewish act. It is the baking challah including taking challah and eating the challah as part of making kiddush or hamoetzi that makes the activity Jewish (as oppose to Jewish-style I guess).

Check out the The Kosher Cooking Carnival – a monthly blog carnival about kosher food, kosher cooking, anything to do with kosher food. My original Etrog jam recipe “Etrog Marmalade with Myrtle Leaf Infusion” is included this month. Interestingly, the Etrog marmalade recipe is the most popular post on this site (by far).

Etrog jam jar

Here is another recipe, a rustic homemade pita bread with an international flair. The flour is locally sourced, the pitas were drizzled with Californian olive oil and a sprinkle of Palestinian za’atar.


  • 3 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tblsp olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup warm water
  1. Mix all ingredients well.
  2. Let the dough rise for a minimum of 30 min.
  3. Roll into balls and flatten into round shape (not too thin, not too fat).
  4. Let the dough rest and rise another 20 min.
  5. Heat up a frying pan (no oil!). Place 1 pita at a time into pan. Cover (I used a pan lid) and cook for 2-3 min on each side. When turning for the second side, flatten with a spatula for even cooking. The way the pocket just puffs open is pretty magic.

pita breadUPDATE: Hope to see you at the next parent shmooze. Please mark your calendars for Jan 11th 2015!



Simple Summer Borscht

summer borscht


  • Cooked beetroots (2-4, depending on size)
  • Couple sticks of celery
  • Goat yogurt (1 cup, can adjust to taste)
  • Balsamic vinegar (about a couple of tablespoons)
  • Dash of olive oil (about one tablespoon)
  • salt
  • Water (or ice cubes for a really cold borscht)

Everything goes into the liquidizer. Blend vigorously. Adjust salt to taste, maybe spritz in a grind of black pepper. Drink.

If everything is chilled before liquidizing it’s like a slushie and can seriously reduce one’s core temperature!

I used to laboriously peel beets prior to cooking before I learned that the secret to cooked beets is to leave the skins on. This takes about 12 mins in the pressure cooker after which the skins just slip off easily.

Alternatively, precooked beets are available in the supermarket which makes the whole recipe a lot faster.

precooked beets

On hot days my Grandma z’l used to make great schave. I always got a kick out of slurping the mushy dark bits although I was always having to fend her off trying to get me to put a potato or a boiled egg in it. I think I was the only one in the family who liked the taste of this soup, so it always felt special when she would bring it out of the fridge. I have no idea where she got the sorrel from and have never seen sorrel in the US.

Post-modern Gefilte fish (or Gefilte fish in 30 mins)

Yes, you can indeed make delicious gefilte fish in 30 mins.

Yes, there are some shortcuts.

No, this is not your classical gefilte fish, more like the traditional gefilte fish recipe deconstructed.


Gary is famous for his gefilte fish, so notable that my relatives presented his willingness to grind raw fish as exhibit A; proof that he would be an excellent husband. In fact it was not until I had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Yoskowitz, the proprietor of the Gefilteria before I was aware of another man who was so passionate about gefilte fish.

But the making of authentic gefilte fish is a laborious process. First off, the designated fish, carp etc has to be special ordered (I remember when I realized that gefilte didn’t refer to a fish species!), the fish heads and bones have to be boiled to make the jellied stock, one has to be fastidious about picking out all the small bones, assembling the special contraption for grinding the fish and so forth.

With all the demands on our time, it is no surprise that making gefilte fish hasn’t happened too frequently. And yet, perish the thought that we would eat the type that comes in jars. So it was that one day I started thinking about how gefilte fish became such a classic and the rationale for using carp. My understanding is that the recipe is generally thought to be the result of enterprising Jewish women developing a Shabbat-friendly dish with a readily available local ingredient; aquaculture being in wide practice in Eastern Europe. I remember my grandpa telling me about how his mother complained at coming to the industrial Britain in the years before his birth in 1905 and how much she missed the farm life in Russia with her beautiful pond.

Today, the most widely available fish is farmed salmon. To stay true to the spirit of gefilte fish in the sense of a dish made with the cheapest available fish I decided to use salmon. I also incorporated a milder white fleshed fish which is traditional for gefilte fish. This was branzini, which happened to be available at Wegmans and they will fillet the fish for you (see my previous post regarding availability of kosher fish in Ithaca).

The features that make this recipe so quick are first the starting point of using fish fillets (no deboning), second using the food processor (makes quick work of chopping), and third eliminating the jellied stock (believe me, you won’t taste a difference). Let’s get to the recipe.

gefilte fish ingredients

Once the ingredients are assembled and the greens washed, the recipe goes super quick.

  1. Before starting prepare a large mixing bowl and a pan of salted boiling water.
  2. Process the dill, onion, green onions, parsley in the food processor until finely chopped. Keep an eye on this, just a few pulses should be sufficient, you don’t want the mixture to turn to paste. Remove from the food processor into the large mixing bowl and combine with the eggs.
  3. Process fish fillets in the food processor. Careful to not over process, you are looking for a minced texture, not mush. I did this in two batches.
  4. Mix the minced fish with the remaining ingredients. Make rounded balls with about one heaped tablespoon of the mixture and drop into the boiling water. Boil for 10-12 mins. The gefilte fish balls increase ~25% in volume during cooking, make sure your pan can accommodate this expansion.

Useful note: This recipe makes a large quantity and these gefilte fish freeze well.

fish dish

For the optimum gefilte fish experience, you cannot beat the authentic accompaniment and I highly recommend home-made chraine. I will go through this recipe in another post but there are no short-cuts to its production, home-made chraine takes longer to prepare than the gefilte fish. But it’s definitely worth it. In the meantime, בתיאבון!

the Pesach on-ramp

New recipe!!!! “English” Charoset

  • ~10 dates
  • equivalent volume raisins
  • a few dried Bing cherries
  • 1 apple peeled and finely chopped
  • handful of almonds

Cook all ingredients except almonds with a little water until the apples are soft, Grind almonds in food processor, add cooked ingredients and pulse until mixture reaches desired texture.

I’m calling this “English” Charoset as this is inspired by a very famous English recipe that I happen to adore. I’m not to going to mention the name of this recipe publicly because it is not the type of recipe that one would normally use for Jewish cuisine inspiration. Those of you who know me well will will know what this is, and anybody who really needs to know the answer should message me and I will fill you in.

Even the pet rats are getting into the swing of things, enjoying their chometz-free environment and getting used to egg matzo.


Binky pesach copy


Matzo balls

All night we listened to the winds howling, feeling very grateful that we were tucked up in a warm and cozy house.

weather March 2014

Soup is the perfect antidote to wintry weather. I have previously written about the queen of soups, chicken soup in this post and now share the recipe I use for matzo balls.

In the old country we called them kneidlach קניידלעך with the anglicized usage being “How many knaidels do you want in your soup”. In America they prefer to say matzo balls although I am unsure if the correct term is matzah or matzo balls.

ingredients title

Mix the dry ingredients.

mix dry ingredients

Separately combine the wet ingredients.

mix wet ingredients

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients until just mixed, the goal is not to over handle the mixture. I like to do this all in a food processor – the mixing is completed in the time it takes to pour in the wet ingredients.

The matzo ball mix is allowed to rest for 20 mins at room temperature.

resting mixture

Spoonfuls of matzo ball mix are rolled and dropped into salted boiling water.

partially cooked

Simmer until done, about 20 mins. This recipe makes a large quantity! They freeze really well.

fully cooked

Serve with chicken soup. This soup is the same recipe as described in here, changing out the carrot juice for lots and lots of finely chopped carrots.

chicken soup with matzo ball

Ready for the taste test……

Gary taste test

A satisfied husband!

Menu for Tu b’Shevat

Foliage tu bshevat

Challah bread rolls


Black bean soup


Potato kugel

Kale chickpea salad with blue cheese grapefruit dressing

Tomato and cucumber salad with parsley dressing on the side

Chai raw fruit truffles

Fruit heads!

Fruit heads!

I’m used to cooking for large numbers of people although this was my first time doing so in another kitchen and I realized I have a lot to learn planning these dishes on a larger scale and I’m very grateful to all the wonderful people who stopped by to help out and offer their support and encouragement.


There was also a number of requests to share recipes which I’m happy to do as well as helping me to take notes on what we cooked.

Challah dinner rolls for large crowds


  • 28 cups flour (used most of a 10 lb bag)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup instant dry yeast (BJs item 4010000729)
  • 2 cups canola oil
  • 8 eggs (plus extra egg for glaze)
  • 1 qt lukewarm water (~30˚C)

Mix dry ingredients in large stainless steel bowl.

Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add oil, eggs and water.

Mix well and knead until smooth. This was great exercise!!

Cover the bowl with a teatowl and allow the dough to rise (we propped up the dough next to the radiators in the Nitzanim classroom).

When risen, take challah with bracha.

Portion out roll-sized amounts of the dough, roughly a small fistfull rolled into a ball. The rolls are placed onto parchment paper on a baking tray, spaced about 2 inches apart.

Brush the dough with a glaze made from an egg beaten with a small amount of cold water and a pinch of salt. let the rolls rest and rise slightly before baking.

Bake for 20-24 mins with at 300˚F. The synagogue kitchen has convection ovens and this temp was adequate although next time I might try raising the temperature slightly higher.


Cooking Under Pressure

How could I resist? Um-ba-ba-bet!

Anyway, now that I’ve given you a little ear worm for the day, let’s talk pressure cookers. Ruth should chime in here, because she’s used them forever, but I am a (so to speak) recent convert. A year or so ago, I contemplated buying a pressure cooker. I was trying to move our dinners to more vegetarian options: healthy for us, healthy for the planet, easier to have a recipe repertoire for guests who are vegetarian or kosher, and so on.

Did I hear you say tofu? Ithaca introduced me to tofu about 25 years ago. I buy it about every three months, and then throw it away when the expiration date is passed. Seriously. Occasionally, I manage to stir fry it, but the results are never thrilling. I learned that if I make a vegetarian lasagne, I can substitute some soft tofu for part of the ricotta, to boost protein and lower fat. But having grown up eating Italian food (really good Italian food), that sort of flimflam is a bit sacrilegious. Anyway, I’ve never found a tofu recipe that I actually liked, so that’s out.

That meant cooking beans. And I do like them: garbanzos, lentils, pintos… I have seriously loved lentil soup since childhood. lentilsBut for other beans, the overnight soaking was a problem. I do not think that far ahead. In fact, I usually plan dinner starting about 4:45. On a good day. ceciAnd no, I am not buying canned beans. They don’t taste as good, and the can linings usually have BPA, so no thanks. Escaping cholesterol in order to ingest endocrine disrupters was not a good choice.

A pressure cooker seemed like a good idea–everything cooks faster! But that meant learning a whole new way of cooking, and I wasn’t sure which features to look for: stovetop or electric? Nonstick? Were they safe? I remembered stories of the lids coming off and dinner on the ceiling.

Little did I know that Ruth was using for nearly every dinner we ate at her house. I could have asked her. Ah well!

Fast forward to a few months ago. A friend buys the Aldi version Ruth mentions in her post, and cooks beans from dry to done in front of me IN 12 MINUTES. She starts gifting me hummus made by cooking the garbanzos in her pressure cooker. OK, yum. But she says she’ll probably get a second one: the Aldi version is electric, with a timer. This is both good and bad. She can set it and forget it, and come back to cooked beans. But she can’t use it to sear anything, or soften veggies in olive oil for soup, and so on.

I like making soup. And I hate making extra clean up.

So after a talk with Ruth, the pressure cooker queen, I go all the way to the other extreme from the Aldi version and buy this.



Kuhn Rikon. Lots of gleaming stainless and cutting edge Swiss engineering. Let’s cook!

One thing I love and never cook is risotto. Too fussy, takes too much time. But the pressure cooker promised risotto cooked in 8 minutes. Hm. Let’s try. Here’s my recipe, slightly edited from the Kuhn Rikon recipe book that came with the pressure cooker.

So–sauté  1 cup of arborio rice in olive oil until it turns golden. Add about a cup of chopped mushrooms, one finely chopped onion, a handful of dried tomatoes, a big splash of white wine,  a grind of black pepper and some rosemary and basil. Hold off on the salt, because there’s a lot of parm going in at the end.risotto

Let it simmer for a minute, then add 2 cups of vegetable stock. When it comes to a boil, close it up, let the pressure come up, and cook for about 7 minutes. Use the cold water release method to open it. When you do, the mixture will still be very loose. Add about 1/4 cup of parmesan (I’m tempted, à la Ina Garten, to say “a good parmesan“), and stir. It will firm up.

RisottoSprinkle with some flat leaf Italian parsley, shave a bit of (good!) parm on top, and there you are! Add a green salad, and it’s wonderful light supper.