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    Copyright 2008-2015Slow Food Fast. All writing and images on this blog unless otherwise attributed or set in quotes are the sole property of Slow Food Fast. Please contact DebbieN via the comments form for permissions before reprinting or reproducing any of the material on this blog.

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Rosh Hashanah DIY: Coming around again

Ashkenazi (eastern European) Jewish food goes through phases of trendiness in America, and it’s coming around again.

When I was about twelve, in the mid-1970s, The Jewish Catalog by Richard Siegel and Michael and Sharon Strassfeld sparked a renaissance of enthusiasm among younger and non-Orthodox Jews for everything from Israeli dance to Hebrew calligraphy to tying the knots correctly on the corners of a prayer shawl (the early 1970s was not just the “me decade,” it was also the era of macrame). Siegel and the Strassfelds took a DIY approach to creating a full Jewish life outside the shtetl. They made it hip, interesting and fun to observe Shabbat, understand the holidays, gather friends to plant trees, bless the sun and the new moon, cast bread on the waters, pen your own Hebrew inscriptions, and make–and of course blow–your own shofar. The book quickly became a top bar and bat mitzvah gift and influenced not only the way our synagogues practiced and our religious schools taught children but how young adults, affiliated or not, felt about being Jewish in public. Everything became more hands-on and more celebratory.

What would a Jewish DIY catalog be without food? The diagrams for how to braid challah in three, four or six strand loaves were unprecedented. So were the cartoons, which leavened everything but the homemade matzah. Cartoon matzah balls flirted at the edge of the bowl before diving in, one of them tipping his kreplach hat. A man up to his armpits in a garbage can full of grapes asks if this is really the way zaydeh (Grandpa) made his Shabbos wine, and another explains ruefully to his girlfriend that he thought more yeast would make the challah lighter, not more aggressive, as it overflows the bowl and oozes toward his foot.

The Catalog also introduced a lot of people to their first taste of Israeli and Sephardi food–felafel and hummus recipes were included alongside the chicken soup and cholent, even though they were admittedly limited to ingredients most people could find in a suburban supermarket in the mid-’70s.

All in all, The Jewish Catalog set a very high bar and is still something of a classic.

By the mid-1990s, though, bagels were mainstream American food and very different from the real, crackle-crusted deal. Rye bread was soft and bland and delis were dying. Meanwhile, Sephardi and Mizrahi food were becoming more familiar and more popular in the US and UK. Prepared hummus started appearing in supermarket refrigerated cases along with spinach-artichoke party dips. Hummus from scratch started requiring dried chickpeas, not canned.

In the past few years, delis have been making a comeback–though mostly not kosher ones–and so has traditional Ashkenazi baking, though mostly via cookbooks. Kosher and otherwise Jewish cookbooks of every culinary stripe have been churning out of the big publishing houses, and Jewish authors are prominent in vegetarian and vegan cooking as well. We’re in the midst of another DIY Jewish renaissance–though more foodie- than observance-oriented.

The Gefilte Manifesto is one of the newest and possibly best of the books from a new generation of Jewish food artisans and restaurateurs, and it manages to capture some of the spirit of The Jewish Catalog.

Authors Jeffrey Yoskowitz, a pickle maker and fermentation enthusiast, and Liz Alpern, a former aide to Joan Nathan, own and operate the Gefilteria, a millenial-style craft food business based on their gefilte fish and accompaniments. It currently combines a line of frozen gefilte fish loaves and jarred condiments with direct sales at farmer’s markets and pop-up catered events in several cities around the country.

This book is the product of that collaboration, and it’s remarkable this year not least because its authors actually respect the traditional Ashkenazi foodways they’re representing. There’s no braggadocio (eep! hints of 3 pounds of bologna on white bread! sorry!) and no slavishness toward food glam, or what the Los Angeles Jewish Journal likes to call “foodie-ism.” They keep the recipes kosher and avoid the temptation (such as it is) to add tired treyf tropes like bacon or shrimp (although they do have some kimchi-infused recipes). Instead, they refresh the classics by making them fresh, with real ingredients and good technique.

Gefilte fish becomes an elegant terrine with herbs or smoked whitefish (the authors’ limited-distribution frozen signature gefilte loaf,  featuring a whitefish base and a pink salmon top layer, is also pictured in a picnic shot but not given a recipe in the book). Horseradish gets a citrusy twist, and pickles range from classic half-sour dills to cardamom-spiked pickled grapes. Soups–mushroom barley, borscht for those who like it (I unfortunately never have, except for the color), chicken, blueberry, and an unusual one–zurek, an unusual Polish soup based on rye sour starter. Kreplach–Jewish ravioli–join pieroshki and include both meat and vegetarian fillings.

Yoskowitz and Alpern update cholent, brisket, chicken and tsimmes. They show you how to cure your own corned beef and pastrami, work out gribenes and knishes, and offer a selection of desserts both traditional–rugelach–and not so traditional, as in beet-chocolate ice cream.

DIY pantry items like homemade sour cream and farmer cheese, spicy mustard, wine vinegar and “everything” butter join fresh salads and breads and several varieties of pickled herring or trout. Drinks include beet kvass–there’s a general direction toward fermentation, one of Yoskowitz’s specialties–and flavored syrups for nostalgia sodas along the lines of Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray and Cream sodas.

The book isn’t comprehensive but exploratory. Yoskowitz and Alpern trade cooking and tasting notes, childhood and family memories, and their experiences discovering and recreating Ashkenazi foods they didn’t necessarily grow up with. Along the way they adapt recipes and refer readers to a number of other Jewish cookbooks and authors whose ideas and food they’ve liked.

The results are attractive, modern, humorous and appetizing. Except perhaps for the shot of the two of them grating horseradish–and wearing safety goggles and kerchiefs soaked in vinegar or, as Alpern puts it, “classic protest gear.” Altogether, a Jewish Catalog-worthy production.

Yoskowitz and Alpern are touring the country this fall to promote The Gefilte Manifesto. Locally they’re staging a couple of tasting events across Los Angeles in early November and will appear at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair.

 

 

Fish Tale: Omega-3s and Greenland’s shores

Well…another shining example of “magic bean” and “superfoods” wishful thinking has bitten the dust, thanks to more careful research. It may be a good thing.

In recent years, several reassessments of the heart health benefits of popular fish oil supplements have failed to find a significant protective effect from omega-3 fatty acids. A new genetic study of the Inuit in Greenland revisits the old 1970s finding that started the whole fish oil phenomenon (and salmon farming) and explains a lot of that failure. The researchers found a specific gene variant in almost all the participants but not in other populations.

The gene in question helps package fatty acids from the Inuits’ traditional all-fish-whale-and-seal-meat diet more efficiently to keep blood lipid levels down. Researchers noted another striking effect: participants who have two copies of this particular gene variant are also significantly shorter and ten pounds lighter on average than those without it. And although this gene variant is very common among people of mostly-Inuit descent (today a lot of Greenlanders have mixed Inuit and Danish heritage), the ethnic and racial group with the next highest concentration of this gene variant, as far as it’s been tested, appears to be the Chinese, but only about 25 percent of them have it. People of European descent mostly don’t have this variant.

What does this mean for omega-3s and fish oil supplements in North American popular culture? The New York Times article didn’t go that far, but the implication should be clear: Unless you’re Inuit, you probably don’t have the specific gene variant that helps your body deal with omega-3s, so for you, omega-3s are like most other animal-derived fatty acids–adding more to your diet is just adding more to your blood lipid burden. Rich fish like salmon may taste nice, but lipids are lipids, and calories are calories. Given the likelihood that they’re really not cardioprotective after all, overeating them doesn’t make sense, especially for a population as overweight as ours has become.

Fish oil supplements are probably even less of a good idea, and they don’t even taste good. They won’t really protect your health as claimed, not for omega-3s, anyway (cod liver oil is still probably good for vitamin D, if you can still find it, but most people would probably prefer a mercifully flavorless vitamin pill).  So save your shekels, buy actual salmon once in a while, and enjoy it–but sparingly.

Tehina goes with fish

tilapia pan-fried with tehina, hummus, onions and curry spices

Two large tilapia fillets pan-fried with a hummus, tehina and yogurt coating. The fillets pick up a lattice of browned onions and curry spices when you flip them over.

This is no great surprise if you like Middle Eastern food, I suppose, but tehina or sesame paste is not just for hummus, felafel and eggplant (or roast butternut squash, for fans of Yotam Ottolenghi). It’s also a great match for white-fleshed fishes such as sole, red snapper and tilapia, because it’s rich-tasting and smoky, goes really well with cumin-type spice combinations, and can be dressed up or down.

But despite its richness (it is an oily paste like peanut butter, after all) it has very little saturated fat, mostly mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (the heart-healthy kinds) and it has enough flavor that a little goes a long way. So if you like fish and have a jar of tehina handy and some garlic (a must) and a few basic spices like cumin on your shelf, you can take advantage a couple of different ways without a lot of work.

I’ve already tried Poopa Dweck’s recipe for cold whitefish salad (much like tuna salad, but made with lighter-textured cooked white fish) where tehina, lemon juice, cumin, paprika and garlic stand in for the more usual mayonnaise, sour cream or yogurt in conventional western versions. The basic version was very good, even though I cut the quantities severely for home use and didn’t bother making sliced-cucumber scales to lay out over the whitefish salad (because I’m not that arty just for us). Although maybe if I do a brunch sometime later this year I’ll “scale up” in both senses…

More often, though, I cook tilapia as a standard hot weeknight dinner. It’s relatively inexpensive for fish, lighter and much quicker to cook than chicken, can be served with dairy in kosher homes like mine, and it’s pretty adaptable. But as with skinless, boneless chicken breasts, it can get a little boring if you don’t do something new with it once in a while.

One of the dishes I recall fondly and still miss from the Pita!Pita! Lebanese restaurant when it was still on Fair Oaks in Old Town Pasadena (must be something like 10 years ago now!) was sole fillets baked under tehina sauce. May Bsisu gives a recipe for two similar dishes (samak harra b’tehina and tagen al-samak) in The Arab Table, which I highly recommend. I think I mentioned this book in passing in a post about making your own yogurt in the microwave, but it really deserves more attention.

I think the elegant casseroles of fish baked in tehina sauce are worth doing for a larger crowd and with more time than I usually have. But I’ve always thought the flavors would be good in a quick frying-pan version with tilapia too. The coating in this version is a mixture of  hummus and a thick Greek yogurt/tehina/garlic spread I had originally made for pita and vegetables (and uncooked, it’s pretty good  for that). Because of the hummus, the coating cooks to a breading on individual fillets rather than remaining saucy, but the flavors are really good and it takes maybe 20 minutes, including browning the onions well. I tried this twice last week and it was terrific both times. Continue reading

Breaking the Rules: Fish with Red Wine

tilapia fillets Veracruz-style, with smoky salsa, onions, garlic, alfonso olives, red wine and fresh za'atar or "wild thyme"

One way to cook fish well using red wine

Wine is something I drink mostly for taste, not volume–I can’t really hack a lot of alcohol at once, blame my ancestors–but I do like wine tastings, even though I have to limit myself to about three small sips per glass if I don’t want to wobble out the winery door. Focusing on the flavors in a wine, and comparing several side by side, sharpens your palate and makes you think very specifically about what you’re experiencing. It’s rewarding even for someone with my drinking limits.

I also like to cook with wine, maybe more often than I like to drink much of it. Decent wine has such a complex combination of flavors that when you figure out how to do it well, cooking with wine can make even rapidly cooked dishes come off like serious Slow Food.

We hear a lot about long-cooking stews and coq au vin and so on, but many simpler and less time-consuming dishes benefit from smaller amounts of wine. Adding a couple of spoonfuls of dry white wine to mustard vinaigrette tempers the sourness, the garlic and the mustard sharpness a little and gives the sauce a quiet depth. And if my experiment with giant favas marinated in rosé and rosemary was any indication, we should be thinking about wine a lot more often and a lot more creatively as a cooking ingredient.

So I’ve been on the lookout lately for clear and simple techniques for cooking with wine without wasting it, and for doing it in less than a three-hour stew, because to me that’s slow-food-slow in large crowd-feeding quantities, to be attempted a maximum of once a year. I want better, more sophisticated-tasting food fast, using at most half a cup to a cup of wine, not a whole bottle, and preferably without huge cleanup.

But these days, when so much of the cookbook aisle in your local independent bookstore is taken over by Food Network Channel collateral, cooking with wine is almost a lost art. Most of the popular TV chefs aren’t even doing it anymore. Everyone’s gone sorta-Asian (but without Martin Yan’s shaoxing wine-wielding expertise or sense of humor) or sorta-Middle Eastern or bacon-filled-Tex/Mex or wishful-thinking-Indian-or-Moroccan wannabe (if I hear the words “ras el hanout” mispronounced one more time by any TV chef, anywhere…)

Most of those cuisines don’t include wine as a regular ingredient because of religious restrictions against alcohol, which I fully respect, or, in the Tex/Mex case, because wine doesn’t go with football (the true religion of Texas, although if you see the documentary Somm, you might be surprised at how many American master sommeliers and exam candidates are former football players.)

The new vegan and vegetarian cookbooks don’t consider wine at all, as far as I can tell, even though there are plenty of  vegan-approved wines and organic wines touted throughout Whole Foods (and even a few at Trader Joe’s). And a number of seitan and bean or lentil dishes (and certainly Roman-style lentil soup) would probably do all the better for a tinge of red, white, or rosé, either in the sauce or as a marinade ingredient.

Even the French- and Italian-trained chefs don’t use wine on TV very much, and if they do they don’t really explain it–why they chose that particular type of wine, how much to use and why, how to get the best flavor out of it in the dish, what else you could make using the same technique. Or else they’re kind of wasteful about it, using a whole bottle of wine for a single dish. Most people cooking for themselves would balk at that. Should balk at that.

It bothers me that I don’t actually see a lot of solid advice about cooking with wine, or at least not specific techniques that make sense in a home kitchen with a standard family budget.

Where am I going to get this advice? Not from the churn-a-minute Food Network chefs, clearly. Not from Harold McGee, either. To my great surprise, he devotes a total of about three paragraphs to “cooking with alcohol” in his food science books. The most interesting thing he says, other than to make sure and boil out the alcohol (duh) is that tannins will concentrate unpleasantly if you boil down a tannic red wine, but adding a protein to pick them up will tame them.

But since most of my uses for wine so far are to do with fish, I guess I’m already doing that…

As you might expect from some of my odd microwave-centric ideas, I tend to cook fish with wine in ways that probably seem unorthodox to anyone professional. For one thing, I cook several kinds of fish with red wine (sound of Francophile traditionalists screaming, then fainting in shock). Continue reading

An Appreciation of Lox

bagel with nova lox

Homemade bagel with nova from a local Los Angeles smoked fish company

 

For its annual Mother’s Day brunch, the Men’s Club at our synagogue always serves a surprisingly lavish spread with the woiks–lox, bagels, fruit salad, eggs and mimosas. Although I’m not a huge fan of big and slightly-kitschy gatherings featuring big and slightly-kitschy piano acts, I really deserved someone else making me a lox-and-eggs Sunday brunch right about then. But at the last minute I had to miss it in order to hock my kid about her last oversized ridiculous semester projects for 8th grade (due the next day, naturally). Better mothers complained to the principal, who just smiled nicely but did nothing useful. I just figured we’d get through it all so my daughter never had to be an 8th grader again. It worked–salutatorian, even–so, moving on but not required to give a speech: win/win.

But the lost lox! and the not having to cook or do dishes for Mother’s Day! Then I agreed to chaperone a school science camping trip the last week before graduation and  ended up with sand, grime, KP duty, outdoor showers, iffy Boy Scout Camp-style food, and not just one but 32 whole teenagers preoccupied with their hair and late to class.

So now that it’s all over I’m in serious need of payback.

My local Armenian greengrocer has locally-smoked nova lox (they have sable, too–I was tempted) and I had a bowl of dough in the fridge just sitting there waiting to be used up–so I made a few impromptu bagels the last Sunday morning of the school year, as soon as I’d gotten all the sand back out of everything and my kid was done with classes for the year. The bagels weren’t quite as dense as they ought to be because I used my standard pizza/pita/calzone dough instead of the genuine classic, but they did well enough because the dough was several days old, cold-proofed and straight from the fridge, and I boiled them before baking. And there was lox. Throw in a few once-over-medium eggs and some shmear and some fruit and hot coffee and you’ve got the ideal late-spring/early-summer breakfast, even if you have to make it yourself.

Now I know lox is a high-salt item–even the Nova. I anticipate it not for the salt, which I always think we could do with a little less of, but because it’s lox. A delicacy. Something to enjoy on the rare occasion when you get to celebrate. Something to treat with respect.

I’m not going to apologize for enjoying it, either. In the modern world of food publishing, people are forgetting how to do that. Even Jews. Maybe especially Jews, some of whom act as though our traditional deli and “appetizing” (bagels, cream cheese and smoked fish of all kinds) is suddenly something to shove under a rug or apologize for liking on the grounds that it’s not organic or locally sourced or Whole Foods or food-mag-trendy enough, and because it doesn’t include bacon or pancetta. Or kale.

The idea that enjoying lox simply because it’s lox isn’t cool enough anymore has gained a lot of traction in the past few years of foodieism. A couple of years ago, Martha Rose Shulman committed a serious travesty in the New York Times with “Lavash Pizza with Smoked Salmon” (she didn’t even call it lox). Toasted lavash is perfectly good for other things, but not for lox. Too fragile, and frankly too flavorless. I mean, why not rice cakes, as long as you’re being tasteless? But it wasn’t just the bread choice.

Somehow Shulman had abandoned the Joy of Lox. Shulman actually called her lox on lavash “a great way to work more salmon, rich in omega-3 fats, into your diet.” I have to ask, are most of us really having that much trouble “working in” more salmon? More to the point, does any lox fanatic really want to be thinking about fatty acids of any kind while eating it?

But at least she wasn’t agonizing over it as too Jewish. Mark Bittman pulled this inexplicable self-flagellation-in-print a few weeks ago in the New York Times, apologizing publicly for eating lox and bagels on a Sunday morning. In New York, yet. (Maybe it’s because he moved to Connecticut?) He’s kvetching about skipping his morning run, his usually-so-virtuous-but-betrayed-just-this-once-by-shameful-genetic-temptation stance on (gasp) farm-raised salmon, his devouring of shmear, which he says is too bland for the calories to like officially. He even had the nerve to blame his decision to eat it all on a sudden mental breakdown. And then he went further and called bagels and lox “comfort food.” As though it were in the same low-grade category as mac and cheese or mashed potatoes from a box.

Vey ist mir! I mean, come on. I’m pretty sure Woody Allen still eats lox without apologizing for it.

Bittman should be apologizing for being ashamed of enjoying lox (all the while glupping it). Along with apologizing for promoting pancetta and guanciale while professing a greener and more affordable diet. And for forgetting to add garlic to his recipes. That’s almost worse than deprecating lox.

More recently, Melissa Clark met with one of the scions of Russ & Daughters, which by now you’d think was the only serious lox and whitefish emporium left–it’s the subject of a documentary I just missed at the last LA Jewish film festival. The two laid out a spread for at least thirty or forty very lucky people, by my standards, but I think they were doing it mostly for a few family and friends–maybe 10-15 people–and posing it all on the table for the camera. It was beautiful but way too much. At least, though, she was both thrilled and nostalgic, the right way to be when faced with a complete beauty pageant of smoked fish.

Altogether, I could only think Shulman, Bittman and Clark all grew up in big cities with too much lox around. Because when I was a kid in the small-town South, we could only get lox twice a year when one or another set of grandparents came down from New York.

Other people’s grandparents bring toys. Ours brought pastrami, corned beef, half-sour kosher dills, pickled green tomatoes, real bagels, serious breads you just couldn’t get down South, and lox. All of them were special, not just to us but to our grandparents–real deli was part nostalgia, part roots, part pride, part simply great eats.

Pastrami and corned beef to go with the pickles and the tough, chewy pumpernickel and rye with the union label pasted on the end (you were supposed to fight for it)–these were the working people’s foods of their youth on the Lower East Side and the Bronx,  and they still loved them. And so did we.

My mother’s parents, born in the shtetls of Poland and Ukraine, came to America as children and, thank G-d [only instance of poverty being worthwhile], couldn’t afford to go back when their parents got homesick.

Fast forward to the ’70s: My Grandma Thel, short, plump but ladylike, coiffed, and wearing those pale oxford pumps I used to think of as librarian shoes, would step off the little regional plane in Charlottesville loaded down with huge grocery bags full of chewy, crackle-crusted bagels, Jewish kornbroyt or “corn bread” (a heavy European wholegrain sourdough; no actual cornmeal except what’s dusted on the baking sheets to keep the loaves from sticking), rye bread laced with bitter caraway seeds, sometimes a babka, and always, a huge half-wheel of her own light chocolate-flecked sponge cake (for which I’ve inherited the recipe but haven’t tried it yet–will post when I get it right). I hope the other passengers were smart enough to be jealous. The aromas alone should have clued them in. Grandpa Abe, of vishniak fame, was a lucky man.

On the drive home from the airport, Grandma Thel would tell me and my sister how she just managed to argue another customer at Andell’s or Goodman’s out of the last loaf of kornbroyt with seeds because she was bringing it down to her very special grandchildren so we would grow up knowing the real thing, and that the other lady Continue reading

Breakfast without Matzah Overload

Last night we were very much in the spirit of Pesach–a total rush job at home, to the point where I realized I was supposed to have a boiled egg somewhere on the seder plate just as it was getting pretty far past sundown. Organization isn’t always our strong suit, especially on school nights. Last year I posted my Bart Simpson-style Passover Chalkboard Litany of kvetches and survival tips. This year: how to deal with matzah when they won’t sell you anything less than enough for 70 people for $2.99–such a deal! (well, okay, it is). You could feed nearly the whole Sanhedrin (because in our family, everyone argues about everything and I’m sure my 13-year-old is ready for law school as we speak. Good thing I can’t afford it yet!)

As with any style of food, too much of a good thing is still too much. I think I learn that the hard way every Passover. How to eat mostly vegetables and lean proteins and fresh fruit and yogurt…and not just sit there eating matzah like it’s going out of style? There’s more than enough matzah to go around–even in gefilte fish, especially in gefilte fish, which I’ve lost my taste for over the years since discovering how to cook regular fresh fish well, aka “not-gefilte”  (though I still buy a jar for my noncooking husband for lunches during the week.)

I don’t do matzah kugel, sweet or mushroom (a waste of mushrooms in my jaundiced opinion). I’m not a huge fan of matzah brei (exception: matzah brei “blintzes”), matzah lasagne, mina de espinaca, or any of the other matzah-plus-egg-heavy adaptations of regular food. Although I have seen one attractive-enough looking picture of a mina de espinaca, I’d still do it without the matzah sheets…

I try hard these days not to make matzah balls either, though this year I might make an exception–once–for my poor daughter who never gets any because she’s vegetarian and the “not-chicken” soup at Shabbaton this March didn’t have any flavor and there were no matzah balls in it like there were in the yes-chicken soup. Oy! Maybe it’ll be a weekend project to figure out a good from-scratch version–we have school and taxes this week. A lot of school and taxes.

My mother, who is famous for not cooking more than necessary, taught me how to make pretty-good fresh-tasting haroset Russian Jewish style (’cause that’s what we were). Apples, walnuts (though almond flakes are also just fine with me), cinnamon, sweet wine or grape juice, maybe or maybe not honey, chopped coarsely so it stays crunchy. But I’ve been to a couple of community seders out here in Pasadena where the haroset was mashed down like baby food and to add insult, had matzah meal in it. I know, matzah bits probably started out as a less expensive alternative to nuts, and I can’t blame anyone for that in their own homes. A professional caterer is quite another story. There’s really no excuse in California, where nuts are pretty plentiful (both the human and the arborial kind).

Well, anyway. Second seder is tonight, but what about the rest of the week–after taxes, as it were? Passover brings on a lot of nutritional challenges if you eat dairy or vegetarian. How not to eat too many eggs in a single week? How to stay away from the canned coconut macaroons and other assorted “Kosher for Passover” horror sweets my husband brings home because he thinks that the kashrut labeling makes up for the “nutrition” labeling (which really oughtta say, “WHAT nutrition?! This is pure sugar and potato starch, buddy! And palm oil! And artificial colors and flavors! Almost as good as Froot Loops!”) I’m pretty sure I’ve already mentioned this, but it’s because he’s a boy, and there’s nothing much to do about it except shudder, put the box of “goodies” in some inaccessible place on a low shelf, preferably behind the broccoli, which is merely green and mysterious or better yet, okra (which he fears more than taxes, and that’s saying something).

Note it down: ALL the packaged cake and cookie substitutes are a bad deal for anyone diabetic or even marginally thinking about becoming diabetic–very, very spiky, and almost never worth it. Also guaranteed to induce repetitive eating and the false sensation that you’re “starving” about three seconds after you eat them. And in the last 20 years, they’ve been faked-up further–even the kichel, a dry, stiff, barely-sweet puff halfway between an empty creampuff shell and a biscotti, has had artificial flavorings added recently–why bother?

Do we really even need such matzah-filled “delights”? Nowhere is this poverty of product more evident than in the kosher-for-Passover cake “mixes” (for which I always hear Julia Sweeney’s line “Where are yer mixes, hon?” from God said, Ha!). Last year’s example, which I’m not letting happen again: the Manischewitz Blueberry Pancake mix box my husband proudly brought home one day “on sale! it was 99 cents!” And naïvely suggested I could make for breakfast–this upon seeing that I’d just finished making cheese blintzes from scratch with real ingredients, and real raspberries. Don’t squint at me like that–he’s still breathing. I just decided his sudden brainfreeze in the wife department had been caused by jetlag, and contented myself with reading the ingredient box back to him.

The man is not a cook and is pretty happy not to be. Still, he does like to eat. And read. Somehow it never occurred to him to read in service of eating by checking what’s actually on and in that pancake mix box. It had 20 ingredients, no nutrition, and no blueberries. “Blueberry bits” contained–are you ready?–food coloring, sugar, artificial flavor, and sodium alginate. So suddenly you can’t tell the difference between berries and blue goo?

I had to go into extra innings with the cauliflower and broccoli and eggplant and asparagus and tomato/artichoke heart salads just to overcome the unusually high crap factor, even though I didn’t use the mix. Just reading it was enough to require emergency grapefruit. I was too ashamed to donate it to a food pantry, either.

So….real is definitely the best way to go with food for the week. Breakfasts can be tricky–matzah and jam, matzah and cream cheese, matzah and almond butter…it gets pretty tired pretty quick. And on the other hand, blintzes are for weekends only and frankly? I’m still annoyed about that pancake mix incident a year later! Nu…

Three relatively low-crap, moderately-low matzah alternative breakfasts that are (most important!) low-labor for those post-Seder mornings when you are Done and Off Duty to your nearest and dearest (except for coffee):

1. Matzah-nola, what it sounds like, ingredients straight from the cupboard or freezer. There is actually a product out commercially this year called “Matzahnola”; my version I invented a year or two ago out of desperation against the nutrition-free Passover version of Cheerios my husband brought home, but I didn’t think it was that good a name–who knew? Anyway, I’m not bitter (though the fresh-grated horseradish is still stinging my sinuses from last night).

2. The old-style Israeli breakfast, not the modern endless hotel breakfast buffets–more like the kibbutz specials where you’re expected to get out there and weed a cotton field right afterward. Which I have actually done in my less cynical youth.

3. The bonus “I can haz CAKE?” breakfast, a favorite of fridge-scrounging champions everywhere Continue reading

Post-Kiddush: our leftovers are better than yours

Round spare spanakopita just for us after the big kiddush

Round spare pinwheel-style spanakopita just for us at home. The big ones for the brunch had three pounds of spinach apiece (and were cut in small diamonds), but they still went together pretty fast–except for squeezing all that spinach dry…

This weekend I did it again–I made the kiddush, or in common speech a lunch buffet, for my congregation’s Saturday morning service. My husband kind of volunteered us for this week and because he doesn’t cook, most or all of the cooking, shopping, chopping and schlepping landed on my shoulders.

Last time he volunteered us, it was for our anniversary, and  I was ready to skip ahead to the divorce until I got over it, because it’s a lot of work to cook for 60 or so people who like to eat. And kibbitz. Especially when the 60 suddenly turns into 80-plus and having to use the synagogue kitchen with the more complicated and confusing rules on only a week’s notice. As they did this time…..

Soooo….a two-day hell of shopping and then marathon cooking-and-juggling in my little galley kitchen. The microwave got a serious workout. So did the food processor and the oven. Sometimes all at once. And it was raining hard for three days, so bringing things over to the synagogue kitchen as I went got a little tricky. I triple-wrapped the chocolate cake and stuck it in a USPS Priority Mail box so it wouldn’t get left out in the rain. Same idea for the spanakopita trays.

A few hints about cooking big and real for a synagogue brunch, learned the hard way by moi and passed on for your edification and safety (and sanity):

1. You can buy a 6-lb can  of chickpeas for massive half-gallon batches of hummus (Mid-East brand, maybe Goya as well). Cost? about $5. But–as I found out, and I’m glad no one was filming the process–industrial-sized can equals industrial-strength steel. A dinky hand-operated can opener is no match for such an item. I got just far enough to be able to pry open a kind of spout but there were tears and long-fluent-repetitive-all-throughout-the-house swearing sessions involved.

Still….

2. If you have a good corner greengrocer, you can buy quantities of eggplant for cheap–eleven or twelve eggplants made for a large tray of roast eggplant and onion slices (with garlic slivers and za’atar sprigs and olive oil) plus a large vat of baba ghanouj. Only the five eggplants I nuked for the baba ghanouj didn’t feel like cooperating fully when it was time to peel them. Might have been easier to peel first, then nuke, since it was all going into the food processor eventually. Next time…

3. Whole smoked whitefish for whitefish salad comes two ways–cold-smoked or hot-smoked. What’s the difference? I asked the counter guy at my favorite Armenian grocery. “Cold-smoked is a little less hard,” he said. So I bought it, thinking he meant the hot-smoked was tough as shoeleather and twice as chewy. I was wrong. Cold-smoked actually means the fish is smoked raw, like lox, only a little drier and tougher. But you don’t necessarily want to put it in whitefish salad that way. Man, it still had the scales on too. I couldn’t get it off the bones for love or money, and there were a lot of bones.

However, the microwave came to the rescue. I cut the fish in half and Continue reading

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