I love the Jewish holidays even if I may not be the ideal spokesperson for Judaism. Not really lighting the candles every Friday night or going to the synagogue as often as I should, and that’s when I belong to a real hip temple that offers funky programs like Jewish Meditation and Sushi & Sake In The Sukkah. They even stream their services live, so I can join them in my PJs, if I wanted to.
The thing is, when it comes to religion, or really anything, I tend to take the food route.
So, yes, I don’t know the prayers.
I’d fail miserably on any Bible trivia question.
Okay, let’s face it, I’d fail miserably on any Bible question.
I didn’t grow up with this stuff, even though my father was born and raised in Jerusalem, which is also known as, The Holy City.
But man, have I got it down on what you’re supposed to eat when.
For Rosh Hashana, a two-day holiday which began at sundown yesterday and celebrates the Jewish New Year (5775, for those of you scratching your head, like I was) there are a few essentials:
The first, the must-have, the easiest, is apples and honey, the main focus being the honey, for its sweetness and to bring forth a sweet New Year.
So you start with that.
Really eating anything sweet afterwards works. Chicken with fruit is a tasty main course. If you are of Eastern European descent, you’ll go for a large serving of tzimmes, a candied stew made from carrots and dried fruit. Another favorite is kugel, a baked casserole using undisclosed amounts of sugar, butter, sour cream and some sort of fruit: pineapples or raisins or cherries. Most people have memories of a grandma’s unbeatable version of one of these two dishes. The lucky few have a memory of both. If you want one with a killer secret ingredient, take a peek at mine.
Yes, it’s all high in calories, but God sort of ordained it, so you’re good to go. Which means you’ve gotta put a crumbly, crunchy topping on that kugel, maybe requiring a wee bit more butter.
Desserts on Rosh Hashana are popular, for obvious reasons. There’s the prerequisite honey cake, maybe throw in an apple cake too, since you are already slicing a bunch of apples for the dipping-in-honey bit. And, of course, rugelach, the crescent-shaped pastry filled with chocolate, raspberry, or apricot is a staple at any Jewish event (and they balance perfectly on the coffee saucer, you know.)
Since you’re not focusing on how tight your pants will become in the coming new year, I’ll take this opportunity to discuss the bread you will be eating as well. It’s the Jewish go-to standard: challah, that addictive braided loaf of goodness.
I eat this every Shabbat (candles or no candles), often slathered in butter. On Rosh Hashana, the same bread will make its appearance in a round shape and served, you got it, with honey.
Round is big on Rosh Hashana. Theories abound: that the round loaf represents the cyclical nature of the calendar year, that it is smooth and seamless like we hope the coming year will be, even, that it represents a long life span.
The cool thing about Judaism, whether channeled in a progressive synagogue like mine or in a more traditional setting, is that there is always more than one interpretation for everything. We Jews love a good discussion. Multiple viewpoints are encouraged, almost expected. Pair that with a warm, honey-dipped slice of fresh challah and I’d say that is the start of a very delicious new year.
In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water. Let stand for about 5 minutes to dissolve the yeast. Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, and eggs until blended. Gradually mix in flour. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for 8 to 10 minutes. Come on, get into it. This part is like going to therapy without having to cough up $200 afterwards.
Place the dough in a bowl, lightly oiled, put a dishtowel over it and forget about it for a bit (aka, until it is double in size.)
This part is also fun: Punch down the dough. You heard me. Take off that dishtowel and sock it dead center, as if you were Mohammed Ali himself.
Okay, this part gets a bit tricky. The braided round challah requires a spatial mind, or, I am a blundering idiot because I can’t figure out how to do it. Seriously, I’ve studied it closely, it entails rolling out long snakes of dough (like a traditional challah) but then forming them in tic-tac-toe type settings and going all crazy on it, whipping strands under and over and around that would leave even the most agile weaver confused.
So, I’m sticking to the spiral version. Seriously, it may be silly, but there is enough stuff to stress about so I am not going to throw visual perception into the mix. And many folks actually prefer this loaf for symbolic reasons:
Spiral = smooth = circular = Rosh Ha Shana. I can work with that equation.
So, here we go for the round shape:
Divide your dough in two pieces.
On a lightly floured surface, roll first piece into a very smooth 24-inch long “snake” of even thickness.
Here’s a tip: round challah can be filled with sweet treats, namely golden raisins, although some über cool moms (I won’t name any names) have been known to toss in mini chocolate chips instead. In any case, if you want to go this route (maybe do one loaf plain and another loaded up) then you are going to want to roll out each snake piece with a rolling pin so that it is flat, sprinkle your desired add-ins and roll that snake back up into a strand so these goodies are nestled inside the dough. At that point, you go on to shaping it in its spiral shape. Got it? Good.
Bring one end around to form a circle that is about 5 inches in diameter. Continue winding the rest of the snake on top of the circle so that it spirals inward and upward, finishing in the center. Tuck the end of the snake into the center.
Do next loaf. (Remember, you’ll have to roll it out first if you want to fill it with raisins/chocolate.)
Place on a baking sheet and allow it to rise another 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk together your wash ingredients and brush over the tops of the loaves. Sprinkle with seeds, if desired.
Bake for 30 minutes or until bread is a golden color and emits a hollow thump when patted on the bottom. "HUH?" you are thinking. Seriously, don’t panic. Just gently pick up your loaf, or turn it or whatever, and lightly tap it (like a criminal would lightly tap floorboards to determine where the hollow one holding the cash is.) When you hear that hollow thud sound, you’ll light up with happiness (like said criminal) because your fabulous challah will be done. Hey, don’t go breaking into anyone’s house or anything.
Which begs the question, ‘What other weird celebratory days are out there?’
I found this nifty little site that will tell you what you should be celebrating 24/7. It’s called daysoftheyear.com. Simple enough, right? And funny.
I checked what I missed out on yesterday: Constitution Day. It’s a logical choice because yesterday marked the anniversary of the signing of our constitution way back in 1787. I actually felt gypped out on that one, like there should have been more hoopla about it. I know Obama is busy right now, but come on, someone should have scheduled in a little tribute, a flag salute, some type of cake? Something.
Tomorrow is Talk Like A Pirate Day, which, of course, makes me doubt the legitimacy of this site altogether. If my daughter were looking over my shoulder right now, I’d be in big trouble. She’d remind me of the zillions of times I’ve reprimanded her for the tidbits of outrageous statements she regularly spews while navigating the Internet autobahn:
Cosmic rays from outer space often cause glitches in your electronics.
You replace every single particle in your body every seven years, which means that you are literally not the same person you were seven years ago.
If you could drive straight up, you’d be in outer space in one hour.
“I read about it online!” she asserts, feverishly tapping away at her iPhone.
“Check your sources, always check your sources,” I reply in my best Walter Cronkite voice.
I just won’t tell her why I’ll be calling everyone matey tomorrow, or why I may be sporting an eye patch. I’ll redirect things with National Cheeseburger Day. That’s like shinning a gold coin in front of any teenager.
I love learning about National Cheeseburger Day. It’s one allotted day to bypass salads or wraps and go for the kill. It does seem primordial, biting down on a huge, juicy, dripping patty of meat and oozing cheese nestled between two fluffy, grill-toasted buns. There’s some sort of hormone released chomping on that, I’m sure. If you did a brain scan at that precise moment, I guarantee your brain would light up like a Christmas tree, all in a good way. Something associated with cavemen and survival. I’ll have to Google that later. And even if I find the answer on some shady site, say ilovecheeseburgers.com, I’m going to own that truth, if only, at least, for today.
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until transparent, 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Place in a bowl and add all the other ingredients. Combine well. (Take off the rings and dive in there!)
Form patties (this should equal out to 4-6 patties, depending on how hefty you like 'em) and place on a grill or preheated grill pan. Grill over moderately high heat until well-browned on the bottom, 5 minutes. Flip and add cheese. Grill another 4 minutes, max!
Throw buns (I like brioche buns!) on the grill until warmed through (20 seconds or so) and assemble your burger with all your favorite fixings.
There’s more, there’s so much more, really. I could go on and on with this list, but, if you are anything like me, you may glaze over lists, maybe get a bit antsy, peek at your Smartphone to check what’s trending on Twitter or send a quick text. Maybe you only brake for exorbitant lists offering up 110 Hot New Sex Tips You Need To Know or Lose 50 Pounds in 50 Minutes Forever, stuff crazier than watching that merengue-dancing golden retriever your cousin Rob posted on Facebook. How does she do that?
My lentil list is not sexy, but it’s worthy of you, because:
LENTILS ARE CHEAP AND QUICK.
Yeah, I capitalized that, centered it and made it bold. I’d set it up with blinking lights and all, if I was computer savvy enough.
I want to tell you more.
I want to ask you to imagine coming home at the end of the day from work/school/the doctor’s/whatever.
Place yourself there, in that moment.
That moment where your body aches, where you’re fed up (because Casey didn’t like your Instagram picture or Horace informed you the Excel spreadsheet you spent the last 5 days preparing is of the wrong month. And he wants the right one on his desk tomorrow.)
Heck, maybe you just got a pedicure and banged your toe as you got out of the car.
So now your toe is throbbing and your Passion in Pink is messed up.
Would a list really do it for you then? Would you really give a crap that:
Lentils stabilize your blood sugar.
Lentils are a great source of protein.
But if you were to open the door to your house and be enveloped by the aroma of gently sautéed onions and garlic, fresh tomato, and earthy lentils, man, you’d feel revived; you’d feel better.
I remember I did when I was a teen coming home from high school drama, the kind that required a flow chart to properly comprehend.
I’d shuffle into the kitchen and my nanny, Yoli, would be there, hovering over the stove. There was always a lot of stuff going on in her kitchen, numerous dented pots and pans simmering or sautéing something or other. But when the lentils were showcased, I knew instantly from the comforting smell of her tangy tomato sauce and my mood automatically shifted for the better.
I’d sit at our scratched up, round wooden table at the far end of the kitchen and Yoli would present me with a bowl of steaming white rice topped with her reviving lentils.
Life instantly improved. After that, I could tackle anything.
Lentils increase energy.
Now, I realize we don’t all have a Yoli stirring in love and lentils upon our arrival from a less-than-wonderful day.
But we all dig the words cheap and quick (which is why I centered them before) and adding healthy and easy to the mix is only a sure win.
You may want to be proactive and get your lentil game on before you and your ruined pedicure grumble towards the rest of your day. The stuff keeps great in the fridge and then it’s really just a quick pop in the microwave until it is ready to work its magic on you.
But if you aren’t the planning type or are so busy you can’t even find the time to go to the bathroom, then, no worries, you can really whip this up in a flash. (And, hey, find the time to pee. That’s just not healthy.)
Here’s a good way to end the list:
Lentils are low in calories and have virtually no fat.
It’s true! One cup of lentils = 230 calories.
Which makes the whole experience delicious, nourishing, quick, and, best of all, guilt free: a happy list worth revisiting on dreary and delightful days alike.
During the summer I was pretty good. Salads were my hard-core norm. It all seemed easy enough really: I love lettuce. But once the school year started up again and I was slammed with that crazy schedule that begins at 5:00am and ends way too late with me frazzled and exhausted and wondering why I still have so much left to do, I’d let a piece of freshly baked epi loaf slip through. The one where the peaks of dough turn crispy and crunchy and could double as a weapon if I weren’t so dead set on eating it.
That, paired with an oozing slab of Bouyssou cheese is hard to resist.
Friday nights, of course, posed a challenge.
Maybe I won’t light the candles every Shabbat like a good Jew should, but, by God, I’ll eat the challah! The warm, soft, fluffy, extra-thick slice of challah! (Here skip cheese and go straight for creamy butter with a sprinkling of sea salt.)
You know once you have tasted that you gotta have more and more and more. That stuff is primal comfort.
So, maybe my hard core has some cracks in it.
Some restorative, heavenly cracks.
At that point I find myself saying, to hell with it,love handles are not so bad. And justifying, didn’t Lesley Stahl just report on 60 Minutes that it’s better to gain weight as we age, so long as we aren’t obese? Yup. It was something like that.
Have your salad, yes, but sometimes, when you need a bit of culinary love, have your salad on the side.
Risotto is the ideal carb comfort dish. You must, however, pencil it into your schedule. Don’t run away. It’s not a ten-hour ordeal or anything, but you’re in for a good 30 minutes of stirring, which is just the perfect amount of time to savor that crisp Sauvignon Blanc you’ve had chilling in the fridge.
This dish obviously wasn’t created for a multi-tasking solo mother with two starving and overscheduled teens, but maybe that’s when you have a piece of that yummy bread to throw at them and quiet them up for a bit; the challah, not the epi, as they may get hurt if you hurl a piece of that.
The premise to the whole thing is quite simple: onions and risotto fried gently in olive oil, a drizzle of white wine to elevate the flavor, and then, slowly, lazily, pour in tiny hiccups of hot broth which you will diligently stir on medium/low heat until fully absorbed. When you’re done with that, you’ll pour in some more. And then again, and again and again, until your liquid has melded with your risotto and created a creamy, slightly crunchy delight, to which you will add whatever else you wish. In this case, it will be shrimp and crabmeat and the magic ingredient, mascarpone cheese. Risotto is all about patience, none of that flash-in-the-pan business.
I can’t think of any better accompaniment to a green salad.
In a medium saucepan, combine clam broth and water and bring to a simmer. Keep warm.
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil. Add onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, until softened, five minutes.
Add rice and cook for 1 minute. Crumble in saffron and add wine to rice.
Cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed.
Add 1 cup warm clam juice and cook stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding juice, ½ cup at a time and stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The risotto should be al dente and thick and creamy.
Season with salt and pepper.
Melt butter in a large skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the shrimp and crab and cook until just heated through. Scrap the seafood into the risotto and stir in the parsley and mascarpone. Serve immediately.
I’m not reinventing the wheel, I’m just trying to get my kid to eat more fish.
Whatever it takes.
(It takes loads of mayonnaise.)
(And a personable, friendly chef.)
My fifteen year-old daughter and I watch a show called Check, Please! hosted by the talented, darling of Miami, Michelle Bernstein. Every week three amateur foodies sit around a table with Chef Michy discussing and rating the meals enjoyed at their favorite local restaurants. My daughter loves watching Chef Michelle’s cheerful and approachable style and is eager to point out the guests’ practiced waves and accidental blunders on television.
She also always suggests that I recommend our favorite culinary spots but then quickly changes her mind, telling me I’d make a terrible guest: I’d be too impatient with my fellow reviewers, the ones that struggle pronouncing mojito or have never tried quail. She giggles as she tells me this.
I think it’s a compliment.
Michelle always shares a recipe that runs with the theme of the show and last week’s was all about seafood so she offered up her tartar sauce.
About five years ago, my daughter declared she doesn’t eat fish, which is tricky, because the rest of the family could probably eat fish every single day. Still, she hears the word “mayonnaise” and is ready to reconsider. She loves anything slathered in the stuff, and when she learns this sauce has chopped pickles and capers (two of her favorite ingredients) and is mandatory for fish (according to her newest idol, Chef Michy) she listens and nods.
For added effect, she sends me an accusatory look, the one that screams I’ve been depriving her of nourishment by not providing her with this tartar sauce. Soon I’ll hear that this is the reason she hasn’t eaten fish. And, of course, it’s all my fault.
I’m impressed by Chef Michelle’s influence and wonder if she has a teenage daughter of her own. I also want to invite Michi over to my house, not necessarily to bond over one of her stellar recipes (although I’m sure that would be cool) but because I’m hoping she can work some magic on Daniela’s tepid sentiments towards neatness.
Or helping with the trash.
Or any request, really, that comes out of my mouth. Everything is up for grabs for an argument these days.
But this recipe has her quiet and attentive.
I think I even heard the word please, as in:
“Mom, you need to make that sauce. If you do, I’ll eat fish. Please.”
Yup. You gotta listen close, but, it’s there.
I pull out my vat of mayonnaise (restaurant size tub courtesy of Costco.)
I mix the ingredients.
I bake fish.
Dear God, I pray.
The salmon is done and the sauce is ready. It’s tangy, tart, and creamy. A thousand calories per bite, but who cares, my daughter, my daughter, is eating fish tonight.
(adapted from “Check Please, South Florida!”)
Ok, I like my tartar sauce loaded up and spicy, which is why I use way less mayo than the original recipe while keeping the other ingredients pretty much the same. Obviously, if you want it more mayonnaisey, add more of the stuff, less spicy, take it down a notch with the Sriracha.
2 tablespoons capers, minced
4 tablespoons dill pickles, minced
2 tablespoons flat parsley, minced
1 teaspoon dried dill
2 teaspoons Sriracha sauce
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup mayonnaise
salt, to taste
Plop in a bowl. Mix. Scoop onto fish, fish sandwiches, salad, whatever!