jewish holiday

Wine-Poached Pears

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Purim is a loud, raucous, festive, hilarious holiday. Although its origins are somber - Haman’s attempt to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia - it didn’t end so well for him. But it did for us and, in keeping with the victory we celebrate!

It’s been one of the traditions of Purim for adults to, let’s say, make merry by imbibing in more alcohol than usual. In fact, some say, we are told to become intoxicated with wine, based on a statement in the Talmud by Rava, a fourth century rabbi, who said:

”A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.”

And so, on Purim, count on the fact that wine will be on the menu somewhere.

This year I decided that wine would appear on my dessert menu. I’ll poach some seasonal pears (I prefer comice or bartlett) in a hearty, aromatic wine-based sauce. I’ve made this dessert many times (tastes different each time of course because I use a different wine).

You can make it a day or so ahead; store everything in the fridge. Serve it with the sauce, strained and boiled down to a velvety finish, and maybe a garnish of whipped cream, ice cream or sorbet. Or just by itself.

Wine- Poached Pears

  • 2-1/2 cups red wine

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • peel from one orange

  • 2 2-inch strips of lemon peel

  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4" long

  • 12 whole allspice

  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed (or use 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger)

  • 3-4 pears, preferably comice or bartletts

  •  whipped cream, optional

  • crushed pistachio nuts for garnish (or use toasted coconut or fresh chopped mint), optional

Combine the wine, water, sugar, orange peel, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, allspice and cardamom pods in a stainless steel, pyrex, enamel or other non-reactive saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the ingredients for 5-6 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds. When the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, immerse the pear halves and cook them for about 4-5 minutes or until they are barely tender. Remove the pan from the heat; let the pears cool in the liquid. Remove the pears. Strain the poaching liquid and return the plain liquid to the saucepan. Boil the liquid over high heat for several minutes until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Let the liquid cool. When ready to serve, spoon some of the syrup on dessert plates and top each with a pear half. Serve with whipped cream, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts.

Makes 6-8 servings

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between. Except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory.

Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. So what’s next up?

Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith, which you can read about it here

For our family, in honor of Judith, I make lots of dairy items in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts. I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrass. And also Potato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese and Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel (actually that one’s a favorite). 

Desserts? Maybe Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

Btw, these make a nice tidbit for New Year’s, either as hors d’oeuvre or late night snack. 

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

  • 12 medjool dates

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)

  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cream cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

Plum Streusel Cake

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Even though it happens every year, somehow I am always sort of surprised that the Jewish holidays come in such a jumble. We celebrate one holiday on top of another and are busier than ever, observing and celebrating.

Not to mention — LOTS of food. 

I don't want to even count the calories.

And there's still Sukkot to come. 

This year I didn't make my usual Plum Torte for Rosh Hashanah. I needed a change of some of my menu items.

But I still can't resist those once a year Italian-style prune plums (President/Empress plums), so I decided to use them for this Plum Streusel Cake. It turned out to be one of my favorites during the holiday.

If you are still looking for a fabulous dessert for Sukkot -- try this one. Btw, you can make this with any variety of plum. But plum season is almost over, so do take advantage while you can.

 

Plum Streusel Cake

Streusel:

  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Place the sugar, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and nutmeg in a bowl and mix until well blended. Pour in the butter and blend it in. Let stand for 4-5 minutes, then crumble the mixture using your fingers. Set aside.

Cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup sugar

  • 1 tablespoon baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon peel

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1 cup milk

  • 6-8 Empress plums, sliced, pit removed (President plums, 10-12 Italian prune plums)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make the streusel and set it aside. Lightly grease a 9-inch springform pan. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon peel in the bowl of an electric mixer. In another bowl, combine the eggs, milk and melted butter. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and stir only to combine: do not overbeat. Turn the batter into the prepared cake pan. Top with the plum slices. Cover with the streusel. Bake for about 45 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove the outer ring from the pan and let the cake cool completely.

Makes one cake serving 8

Ricotta Tart with Lemon and Coconut

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Cheesecake? Wonderful! 

But how about cheese pie? Tart?

For Shavuot.

Or anytime at all!

This recipe started with a nut streusel top but I needed something nut-free, so substituted shredded coconut. You can change that to chopped almonds if you prefer.

You need to start ahead on this one so that the cheese can drain and become dry-ish. This gives the filling a tender texture and also helps assure the crust won't get too soggy too soon.

Ricotta Tart

For the filling:

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/4 pound butter, melted

To make the filling:

Place the ricotta cheese in a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, to drain as much liquid as possible from the cheese. Pace the drained cheese in a food processor bowl. Add the eggs, honey, citrus peel and cinnamon and process until the ingredients are well blended and smooth. Set aside while you make the crust.

To make the crust:

Place the flour in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, salt and citrus peel. Pour in the melted butter and mix the ingredients to form a soft dough. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Prick the dough with the tines of a fork. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the dough with aluminum foil and weight it down with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and weights, turn the oven heat down to 375 degrees and bake the crust for another 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon the filling in baked crust and sprinkle the coconut over top. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crispy looking and the center is set. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings

Chicken with Figs and Grapes

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Tu B'Shevat may not be the most well-known Jewish holiday but it always conjures up good thoughts and fond memories for me.

First: it was when my parents gave money to plant trees in Israel.

Second: it was when my Mom would buy dried figs that came in a wreath of sorts, the figs tied together with string, and I ate at least half of them.

Third: it was when my Mom made her famous Date-Nut Bread.

And more: spring is coming soon!

And finally: it is one delicious holiday, featuring foods that include lots of fruits and vegetables. 

So, this year, to celebrate I am making this chicken dish, which includes figs and grapes, and served on cooked, fluffy bulgur wheat.

 

Chicken With Figs and Grapes

  • 1-3/4 cups apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 bone-in pieces of chicken
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup diced dried figs
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or use 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup halved fresh grapes
  • chopped fresh mint
  • cooked bulgur wheat, optional

Boil the cider for about 5 minutes or until it has reduced to 3/4 cup.  Heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned, turning the pieces occasionally. Remove the chicken pieces and set them aside on a plate. Add the shallot, ginger and diced figs to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes over low-medium heat. Return the chicken to the pan. Sprinkle the ingredients with curry powder, Aleppo pepper and salt and black pepper to taste. Pour in the reduced cider. Turn the pieces of chicken to coat all sides with the pan ingredients. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Add the grapes and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint. Serve on a bed of cooked bulgur wheat if desired.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

Sweet Potato "fries"

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I know that for many people, including my family, Hanukkah is a fried-food-fest. That once-a-year indulgence we look forward to with glee. Whether it's the fried latkes, the doughnuts, the chicken -- whatever -- it's the fried part that counts for us. That crunch! That crust! That crisp!

Oy.

So, sure, let's enjoy that first round of classic holiday favorites.

But Hanukkah is an 8-day holiday! So -- how about what I like to call "sort-of-fried" for the remaining days (and anytime after).

Mock fried.

That is, food cooked at high heat that gets crispy, liked fried food, but without the calories, the mess, the fuss and the smell. 

I realize it is NOT THE SAME AS FRIED FOOD.

I get it.

But it is still really tasty, and with the proper crispiness.

Like these sweet potato "fries."

Try these the next time you want something resembles fried without the frying.

Sweet Potato Fries

  • 3 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or to taste (or use cayenne pepper)

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into julienne strips about 1/4-inch wide. Place the strips in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Pour the olive oil over the strips and toss to coat them all. Sprinkle the sea salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper on top. Bake, tossing once or twice, for about 15 minutes, or until the strips are browned and crispy.

Makes 4-6 servings.

 

Carrot Bread with Raisins for Rosh Hashanah

Somehow Labor Day is over and the food thoughts in my head go straight from tomato salad and grilled chicken to pumpkin soup and baked apples

Of course there's still time to enjoy the last of the summer fruits and vegetables, still time for outdoor-cooked grilled, marinated steak

But I'm thinking forward. It's almost a new season and -- yikes! -- the High Holiday season is only two weeks away.

Which leads toady's food thoughts to: carrots, because carrots are traditional during Rosh Hashanah. I usually cook them in soup -- one version or another. But last year I decided to experiment with a few recipes for carrot quick bread.

This is the one we like best. It's moist and sweet, so it can be dessert, and because it is parve, it is a good choice after a traditional holiday meat meal.

But also makes a good snack either by itself or smeared with cream cheese (softened is best and maybe even mixed with some lemon juice).

CARROT BREAD(P)

  • 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • 1-1/2 cups grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8-1/2”x4-1/2” loaf pan. Mix the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg into a bowl. Set aside. Beat the brown sugar, white sugar and vegetable oil in the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until well blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Stir in the lemon juice and peel. Add the dry ingredients and blend them into the egg mixture. Fold in the carrots and raisins. Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack to cool completely. 

Makes one loaf  

Banana Bread with Dates and Figs

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Every Purim I try new hamantaschen from different bakeries. I've also made my own hamantaschen using a variety of recipes.

But so far, after years and years of buying this one and that one, my favorites are the (parve) ones I get at The Bakery, in Plainview, NY. For me, they are the enduring treats of childhood, never failing to please, never changing, even in a world where innovation is honored.

And so -- I will buy my hamantaschen this year. Old fashioned flavors: prune and apricot. At The Bakery.

Which means that for Purim, instead of creating a completely new hamantaschen recipe or even trying a new pastry recipe with old fashioned filling, I am going to bake banana bread as mishloach manot gifts.

I have a zillion recipes for banana bread. Some with streusel. Some dairy-free. Some loaded with chocolate chips, some with coconut. Some all chocolate-y. Some spicy. And on and on.

This is my most recent banana bread recipe, one I came up with while revising my mother's date-nut bread recipe. 

 

Banana Bread with Figs, Dates and Nuts

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 large very ripe bananas, mashed
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt pan. Mix the flour, salt, cinnamon and baking soda together in a bowl. In the bowl of an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the shortening and sugar until well blended. Add the bananas and beat them in thoroughly. Add the eggs and beat them in thoroughly. Add the flour mixture and beat for a minute or so until the batter is well blended. Fold in the figs, dates and nuts. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one bread, serving 16-18

 

Mom's Date-Nut Bread

Tu B'Shevat is one of the lesser known Jewish holidays, but also one of the more delicious ones. From my childhood I remember it as a time when my mom would buy dried figs that came in a wreath of sorts, the figs tied together with string.

I ate dozens of them.

It was also when she made her fabulous Date-Nut Bread. She served the slices like a sandwich, with cream cheese slathered between the layers. 

I ate dozens of those too.

My cousin reminded me that her mother and mine baked Date-Nut bread in a coffee can. Yes, of course! Because our mothers were married young women during WWII, when metal -- and therefore loaf pans and other assorted baking equipment -- was in short supply. So they kept the cans from ground coffee and other foods such as fruit cocktail and used those instead.

I recently made a batch of date-nut bread using my mom's recipe. I used a loaf pan and was a little disappointed. Not in the pan. In the bread. It seemed dry. Maybe I over baked it. Not sure, but I always loved this recipe, so I tried again but made a few changes.

I used less flour.

I also thought it might be a good idea to include some figs (or, frankly, any other dried fruit) with the dates and I also thought the flavor would perk up a bit with a small amount of fresh orange peel. 

My mother added Madeira or sherry, but because I had a lovely sample of Cherry Heering that I got at Kosherfest, I used that instead. She also mixed in walnuts but because of allergies, I replaced them with toasted almonds.

Of course, the bread was completely different with all these changes.

I loved it.

Especially when sliced and slathered with cream cheese.

 

Mom’s Date-Nut Bread New Version

  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup chopped dried figs, apricots, cranberries, cherries, prunes or raisins
  • 1 cup chopped toasted almonds
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons Orange brandy, cherry Heering, Madeira, Port or Sherry wine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • cream cheese, optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 8”x4-1/2”x3” loaf pan (or a one-pound coffee can). Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add the fruits and nuts and toss the ingredients to coat the fruit with the flour mixture. In another bowl, combine the vegetable oil, wine and egg. Pour the boiling water into the fruit-flour mixture and mix thoroughly. Add the egg mixture and blend it in thoroughly. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake for about 50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the bread cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack to cool completely. Slice and serve plain or with cream cheese.

 

Makes one loaf

 

Plums - as Crisp, not Torte

A few weeks ago I spotted Italian prune plums at Fairway. It was 96 degrees out, in the middle of a heat wave, and here I was looking at the first culinary signs of autumn.

But there they were, the plums, and of course I bought several pounds of them.

My thoughts went immediately to Plum Torte, the iconic Rosh Hashanah dessert. I make one every year.

But those plums are too good to reserve for just one holiday.

So I made these Italian Prune Plum Crisps.

Crisps are a more homey-style dessert than a stately looking Plum Torte. However, I think they are just perfect for the holidays. Easier too.

Or, why not serve both?

 

Plum Crisp with Oat Streusel

Filling:

  • 36 Italian prune plums
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Crust:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking or rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine, cut into chunks

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the plums, brown sugar, lemon juice and flour in a baking dish. Set aside. Place the flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and mix ingredients to distribute them evenly. Add the butter and work it into the dry ingredients with fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Place the oat mixture over the fruit. Bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is crispy and brown.

Makes 6-8 servings.