From Chilli to Chocolate

As home cooks, one of the things we want to do for our family is to offer a variety of tastes. Restaurants and take out, no matter how much of a welcome break we think they may provide, cannot meet this goal. Store bought food has to be standardized. This is the only way that a business can be successful. It can’t experiment or respond to each customer’s unique preference. This lesson really hits home during the holiday of Pesach when these establishments are usually closed.

Aside from the obvious advantages that making food from home offers, to me, the greatest one is the ability to develop an appreciation for different tastes. It is interesting that the same word, pallet, refers to our array of tastebuds, and also, on what an artist arranges and mixes paint colours.

It is at the times of our holidays, our celebrations, that we can really let loose and take our cooking to new heights. Sometimes we relish in the comfort of familiarity, and we don’t want to ‘fix what ain’t broke’, but in adding a new flavour note, we can liven up a well loved tune. This Pesach, consider adding a surprising element of heat to your repertoire. The sweet-hot flavour that fresh chillis deliver can enhance side dishes and even the humble shnitzel.

I really enjoyed making this unique spread over the last few weeks and trying it in different ways. Keeping it as a thick paste, it can be tossed with simple steamed vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini or cauliflower. Thin it down with a little more oil and hot water and toss it with roasted root vegetables, bake for an extra 30 minutes and you’ve got delicious chilli-nut coated morsels. Thin it down a little more and dredge your schnitzel (turkey, chicken or veal) in it before coating with crumbs and baking.

Here is the basic recipe,

1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots or small onions, peeled and finely chopped
½ cup whole almonds, toasted
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2-3 fresh bird’s eye or Thai chillis
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Heat the 1 Tablespoon of olive oil and saute the shallots or onions for a few minutes.
Place the almonds, garlic, chillis and sauteed shallots/onions in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is smooth adding the oil, honey and seasonings until it reaches a pastelike consistency.
This chilli paste can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Use it to add a little sweet spiciness to your Pesach menues.

Next week I look forward to sharing my favourite Pesach dessert, a meringue layered with chocolate and hazelnut ganache-not at all difficult.

Shabbat Shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Mashgiach@Home 1st class
PS Here is a picture of the first graduating class of Mashgiach@Home taught by Rabbi Tsvi Heber, our 3 part series, teaching everything you need to know about expertly managing your kosher kitchen.


Not quite ready to say goodbye to Purim and hello to Pesach

Now that the house is finally cleaned up from all the Purim festivities, we know what’s coming next. But Purim was fun and I don’t want to say goodbye so fast. It was unexpected, surprising and, as one visitor stated, more low key than in previous years. I am getting big on low key. When things are low key, there is room to improvise. Who knows, (“U-me yodea?” as it says in Megillas Esther), what might happen?

I don’t know about you, but for me, in order to ease into a new experience, rather than run smack dab into it, I look for a ‘hinge’, something that two separate events share in common. So let’s say I was looking for a hinge that I could get excited about, that links Purim to Pesach. Hmmm…both holidays share time with family and friends…wine…cleaning (lots of it) and of course, the ever popular Jewish holiday theme of; ‘We were oppressed, we fought and won, now let’s eat.’

But let’s go back to the “U-me yodea?” Mordechai asks. These simple words are posed to Esther when she is reticent to act on the opportunity that ultimately leads to her greatness. But, hold on, this question sounds familiar. Isn’t “Ehad me yodea?” (“Who knows one?”) one of our most beloved Seder songs? We have sung this song at very high speed, complete with hand actions, each year, evidently soused from four cups of wine.

If we stick with this line of reasoning a little longer, both Purim and Pesach are pointing to the same idea, but in a remarkable way. These holidays are all about the question. As the saying goes, a good question shmekts (is tasty). Does the converse hold true? Does a good taste make a question? Do people want to know what makes something taste good? Maybe inspiring curiousity is the inspiring hinge? And, if the question is the thing, how do we spark one? We all know rewards and praise are motivating, but how about the spark of a real question? How do we ignite that?

At this point, I have to say that this year I made a new hamentashen. I was experimenting with a twist on my classic green beans, based on a recipe by Mark Bittman, which called for a dressing of almonds, chilli, garlic and oil. It was thoroughly delicious. Emboldened by working with chilli, and ready to make hamentashen, I thought why not add some to the chocolate hazelnut filling? Cautiously, a small batch was made. Realizing that we had sampled a more-than-needed-to-test portion of the filling, we put down our spoons and declared a victory!

Here is the recipe for the hamentashen filling, which I urge you to make note of for next year.

3 cups hazelnuts, toasted, with the skins rubbed off
a 9 ounce bag of semisweet chocolate chips
zest from the rinds of 2 oranges
2 fresh chillis, seeded
3-4 Tablespoons simple syrup (1 cup water simmered with 1/2 cup sugar for 10-15 minutes)

Mix all ingredients except the syrup in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients form a paste.
Add enough syrup to bind the chopped mixture together.
This is enough filling to stuff 2 dozen large hamentashen

Flavours were found that created something unexpected for Purim and that will add a deliciously different spark to Pesach and although I cannot use the chilli almond paste (recipe provided next week) with green beans on Pesach, you can be sure it will show up in a major way. And when it’s prepared, may our loved ones ask “Mmmmmm…What’s in this?”

Shabbat Shalom,
Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

PS Please join us for COR’s Pre Pesach Community Lecture at Clanton Park Synagogue on Tuesday March 5th at 8:00 pm. Please click on the link to view the poster for details

Make a Date with your Chicken

As mentioned in last week’s blog, my old friend, chicken baked with dried fruit and olives, in which all take delight, actually got jilted, because I ran out of olives. (Let’s not discuss the Wednesday night fridge raid that must have taken place evidenced by a tidy pile of mounded pits that were discovered when I came down to cook Thursday morning.)

So, necessity being the mother of invention, I looked around the kitchen and spied my little container of dates, and thought, Hmmmm…what can I introduce you to? Dates are naturally very sweet. Chicken goes well with sweet, but needs something to balance the flavour to create that symphony, that when hit upon, is an instantly recognizable classic.

I wandered over to the pantry to see what was in cold storage. My local supply of garlic ran out before Chanuka and I really don’t like buying the garlic from China which is all that seems to be available at the market.

In 2008, Trader Joe’s stopped selling garlic and other “single-ingredient” foods from China. When I looked into it, I learned a few unsettling facts. The bulk of the world’s garlic is produced in China and the hat trick that did me in was;

1. it can be doused in chemicals to stop sprouting,
2. it is whitened using bleach, and
3. it can be grown in untreated sewage.

I use peeled fresh garlic from California, under the brand of Christopher Ranch, which is sold in the refrigerated section. It is a little more expensive, but I am a true believer in the power of the bulb, so I don’t mind. So I was delighted when Pat the Produce Man showed me that they are now carrying fresh bulb garlic from this same California source alongside the usual Chinese stock. Garlic is going in everything these days, now that flu season is upon us. I don’t know if it’s the powers of garlic keeping everyone away, or its immune boosting properties that keep the germs at bay, but its liberal use is perfuming the kitchen the way caramelized onions do in the fall.

Now I have plenty of garlic in the larder. But last week I didn’t. What I had last week was shallots, which is a French kissing cousin to garlic and onions (they are a little more delicate), wonderful either finely minced and paired with mushrooms, or roasted halved. Providing the perfect counterpoint to the dates, rounded out by the spicy notes of a little fresh ginger and cinnamon, bathed in a little honey and lightened with a little lemon juice, it truly was a dish fit for the New Year of the tree.

Spiced Chicken with Shallots and Dates
serves 6-8

2 whole chickens, cut into eigths
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
2 Tablespoons peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 cup chicken stock or water
250 grams or ½ cup pitted dates
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons lemon juice

Heat the oil in a sauté pan and brown the chicken pieces lightly.

Transfer to a baking dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Add the shallots and brown. Add the ginger, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock while scraping up the browned bits left from the chicken.

Add the shallots and cooking liquid to the baking dish. Scatter the dates and drizzle the honey over the chicken.

Cover with a tight fitting lid (ideally), or tin foil, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.

Remove the cover and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until the chicken is browned.

Squeeze the lemon juice over the dish before serving.

Please join Rabbi Heber, COR’s director of Community Kosher, and myself at the Village Shul for a very special series entitled Mashgiach @ Home on Tuesday nights, Feb. 12, 19 and 26. These classes are designed for those who have been keeping kosher for years and, also, for those who are considering keeping kosher, by educating in very practical terms how we apply the laws of Kashruth in our own kitchens.
There will be recipe handouts, follow-up fun quizzes after each class and a completion certificate for you to proudly display.

Shabbat shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Smoked Turkey in honour of Tu B’Shvat?

On the 15th day of the month of Shvat we celebrate Tu B’Shvat. As every child is taught, it is the birthday of the trees. One custom is to eat fruits of the seven species for which the land of Israel is praised; wheat, barley, olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates.

Since the holiday falls on Shabbat, dishes that feature these ingredients will be offered. (Athough I must admit, I never thought of wheat and barley as fruits.)

Wheat is Challa and then there is barley in the cholent. I’ll make a baked chicken dish with shallots, olives and dates, (which is as simple as it sounds-olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper for the marinade, then add shallots cut in ¼’s, pitted olives and chopped dates, bake in a 375 degree
oven for 1 ¼ hours) with fresh grapes and pomegranate seeds sprinkled on something creamy for

Which brings me to figs. I remember serving figs on fresh fruit platters, cut in half and looking so fetchingly Mediterranean, so artfully Rembrandt-esque. But does anyone ever eat the figs? No!

So I asked myself, when have I enjoyed eating figs? And I remembered sitting at a Café in Israel spooning fig jam onto a warm croissant and sipping a café au lait watching the world go by and realized I like fig jam.

Surfacing from my moments of fig mindfulness, I wondered with what else fig jam might go? I recalled sweet and tangy chutneys accompanying coldcuts and, beside a variety of mustards, I
often serve savoury red pepper jelly. It’s a British thing, and it’s very good. Can you guess where I’m headed?
Fig jam and smoked meat doesn’t sound too radical, does it?

It just so happened that this week my brother took me on a field trip to visit the new Perl’s. I was offered samples of some of their products (which should be in supermarkets soon) and tasted their smoked turkey. It was nothing short of delicious.

They explained that their product is unique because they dry smoke, infusing the flavour into the meat using slow burning wooden chips (as opposed to injecting meat with liquid smoke).

Sent home with a smoked turkey thigh loot bag, I took the meat off the bone and used it in a kosher version of a Cobb salad (pictured above). The thigh bone that you see on the cutting board will be tucked into the cholent.

Slices of smoked turkey accompanied by the following version of fresh fig jam, that was made when figs were in season, complete our Tu B’Shvat Shabbat celebration. Tuck this recipe away until next fall, when this delectable comestable can be made again.

Fresh Fig Compote

8 fresh figs, cut in ¼’s
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 Tablespoons spoons orange liquor (optional)

Dissolve the sugar in the water and simmer for 10 minutes making a syrup.

Poach the figs in the syrup for about 12 minutes until softened.

With a slotted spoon, remove the figs to a bowl. Add the lemon juice and liquor and continue to boil the syrup until reduced by half. Pour over the figs and chill.

This is delicious served either with meat or spooned over cream cheese.

Shabbat shalom,

Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

PS Join COR and The Village Shul for a 3 part evening series entitled Mashgiach @ Home Feb. 12, 19 and 26.
Visit the COR website for more details.