Make Each Meal Count

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During this period on the Jewish calendar, we are counting the days between Pesach and Shavuos, the holiday when we celebrate receiving the Torah.

Although I don’t regularly think about carrying over the dishes I make at Pesach into the year, my thoughts are shifting. That’s because, I have to admit, I really do love the food I make on Pesach. Why then do I habitually brace myself right around Purim as if preparing for something unpleasant? I accept that Pesach is hard work, and I’ve learned to free myself from other commitments in the lead-up, but why do I have such a hard time thinking about my Passover kitchen as a year round resource and refuse to capitalize on its benefits?

When I plan my Passover cooking, I usually begin thinking about what I can’t use-chometz. I’ve noticed that this is not such a positive approach. If I was going to make a meal and my family asked me; “What’s for dinner?” I definitely would not respond; “Well, we’re having such and such, but that’s only because I couldn’t make so and so.” I’m sure you would agree that it’s not the best sales tool, for either the cook or the consumer. So this year, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to focus on what is special at Pesach. If you refer to the COR Pesach guide, http://www.cor.ca/view/434/cor_passover_guide_20135773.html, you will see some of my favourites, but there are a few other dishes that are really excellent and I had to taste them to remember how good they are. Not to mention that I received an ice cream maker from my kids for a pre Pesach birthday gift (talk about the gift that keeps on giving), and we really enjoyed that.

In reviewing my Pesach meals, (so that I’m not starting from square one next year), there is something I make that has no history, symbolism, or particular eye appeal, but is downright delicious and that is a Sweet Potato Tart. I would like to call it a Sweet Potato Pie, because the name rolls off the tongue in such a sweet Southern way, but then you might risk serving this only for dessert. Although the flavour is a little on the sweet side, and can fall into the ‘afters’ category, it definitely is a savoury dish and belongs during the meal, especially if it’s served with a mess of caramelized onions on the side.

In trying to bring Pesach into the year, and making each day (meal?) count, I’ve decided that the focus of my next few blogs will be on savoury tarts, of which the Sweet Potato is an example. They are so lovely and light and equally delicious either pareve or dairy, especially if you like to serve cheesy-milky meals during the holiday of Shavuos. They can also be prepared in advance and served hot for Friday night or room temperature for Shabbos lunch.

Although, this tart looks rustic, it’s taste will convince you to include it in your recipe repertoire (and there is no oil or margarine in the filling, only the creaminess of the sweet potato).

Let’s change the world, one recipe at a time,
Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

PS In the pictures above, one tart was make with walnuts and the other with pecans. Please click on the following Recipe Title to take you to the recipe:
Sweet Potato Tart

The Truth about Dinner

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Even during the mounting activity that goes together with the week before Purim like your favourite shoes goes together with your favourite handbag, I still have to make dinner.

The reality is that the ones I love go off full each morning and come back hungry at the end of the day. Unless I, myself, am hungry, I am still almost always taken by surprise.

In the midst of this icy-rainy-slushy-freezy weather buffet we are experiencing daily, it’s hard to know whether we should put on rain boots, mukluks, or skates to go do our marketing. Some days it seems to make more sense to minimize running around, stay in, and make dinner from the (ever dwindling, Pre-Pesach) pantry.

But how can I possibly do that? How can I happily stay home when, in my mind’s eye, I see the colour coordinated, bow tied Shaloch Manos waiting to be created? How can I cozy up, comfy clothed in the kitchen, when I imagine the delectable homemade dishes to be made for the Seuda and the ingredients that need to be procured? What about the cards that beg to be written and posted to dear ones who are far away? And me? I can barely get my engine started (not just the automotive one) and put into the first gear of making dinner!

When I was younger, and had way too much energy, I used to cram all my imaginings into the precious few spaces that remained at the end of the day. The arts and crafts and baking tins used to come out in the wee hours. I knew even then that something was out of whack, but I just had to finish that one last detail.

Now that I’m older (and I can’t claim wiser, but certainly slower) I understand that I was doing it all backwards. I should have been chugging along at my own merry speed, sharing what I was already doing along the way. Not putting the whole kit and caboodle of life on hold to focus on the whipped cream-with-the-cherry on top. Perhaps you are more clever than I. Perhaps you have discovered the truth of self knowledge and prioritizing long ago.

A friend of mine sent me an email that claims you can tell where a product comes from by the first three numbers of its barcode. Apparently, the alleged ‘jig’ is up because now we’ve figured out when ingredients come from China, even when they don’t admit it. A savvy team of sleuths looked into this and discovered it was a hoax. There may still be information covertly hidden about the origins of nationality of a food product, but the bar codes don’t tell the secret.

I found this incident very telling because, as in life, there is no sneaky little formula that figures stuff out for you. Delusions abound, and the insight that Purim offers, if I am paying attention and not running around tying up bows, gives me the chance to realize what I really need to focus on. Making dinner.

Here is a recipe that can be offered anytime, (yes, its even perfect for your Purim seuda) that is based on a recipe by a favourite English cookbook author of mine, Rose Elliot. Her style of cooking is frugal, no-nonsense, and not particularly pretty, but it sure does the job when they come home hungry. This recipe lends itself to experimenting with other varieties of beans paired with different seasonings. Simple and satisfying.

Chickpea Pancakes
makes 12 medium sized pancakes

2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 19 ounce tin or chick peas, drained
3 Tablespoons tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1 egg
1 teaspoon cumin (optional)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
2 pinches of cayenne pepper
A little water
¼ cup wholewheat flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil

In a food processor, mince the garlic. Add the chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, egg and seasonings. If the mixture is too thick, let it down with a little water.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the flour.

Heat a skillet with the oil and form pancakes with a large spoon. Fry until lightly browned on one side, about 5 minutes, and gently turn over and continue cooking for another 5 minutes.

Serve warm on their own or with a garlicky dipping sauce.

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Purim,
Nancy Weisbrod, Director of Culinary Education, Kashruth Council of Canada

Knowledge is Power

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This week marked the first class of the 3 part series called Mashgiach @ Home. While we are all busy in the next week or so getting ready to celebrate the holiday of Purim, this series offers a unique opportunity to learn how to apply the laws of kashruth with COR’s Director of Community Kosher, Rabbi Tsvi Heber.

We were enthralled as Rabbi Heber walked us through the first class of Mashgiach @ Home. From young students to Bubbies, there was a wide range of backgrounds among the participants that spanned from ‘new to the world of kosher’, to women who have been keeping kosher for decades. What united us all was the desire to gain more knowledge and understanding of how to be cleverer, more informed and joyful in managing our kosher kitchens.

Mashgiach ‘secrets’ and back door insights were shared that definitely reframe the way many of us think about keeping a kosher home.

Rabbi Heber introduced the idea of applying a 3 layered model, entitled the Kosher Pyramid, in formulating our thoughts and decisions. The foundation layer is Ingredients, the second layer is Equipment, and the top layer is Process.

In the first class, we discussed Ingredients. One of the most surprising pieces of information taught was that there is a category of ingredients (approximately 20,000!) that are innately kosher and do not require certification. These are called Group 1 ingredients. Now lest we became giddy, we were cautioned that this list is constantly changing. Therefore it is also important to consistently ask questions if we want to use these ingredients, because although the ingredients, themselves, may be kosher, the equipment or process may not.

It is a wonderful feeling to be able to settle all the small inconsistencies and stories we hear that cloud our clarity when it comes to keeping the mitzvah of Kashruth. It is also empowering to know we can exercise our judgement and
1. save money by purchasing certain ingredients at a lower cost, and
2. buy some items (such as extra virgin olive oil) that have unique properties.

I would like to leave you with a recipe for a vegetable kugel, using either zucchini or broccoli that would be lovely served at a Shabbos meal, Purim seuda or even baked in small loaves or muffin tins and given as Mishloach Manos.

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

Zucchini or Broccoli Kugel
Serves 8

3 Tablespoons margarine
3 Tablespoons flour
2 cups unsweetened almond or soya milk
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper

Either:
8 medium zucchini, grated or 2 lb bag of frozen broccoli
2 onions, finely chopped 2 onions, finely chopped

2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ tsp pepper
4 eggs, separated with the whites stiffly beaten

Prepare a 9” square pan by lining it with parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the white sauce, heat the milk to just below scalding.

In a saucepan, melt the margarine over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring continuously until the flour is cooked but not browned. Add the hot milk and cook until the sauce thickens. Lower the heat and cook for a few minutes more. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a deep sided skillet. Sauté the onion for a few minutes or until translucent and then add either the zucchini or broccoli.

If making the zucchini kugel, it has to be cooked for about 20 minutes because it gives up a lot of moisture.

If making the broccoli kugel, sauté for about 5-10 minutes, season with salt and pepper and coarsely puree in a food processor.

Blend in the white sauce and egg yolks, one at a time.

Fold in the egg whites.

Pour the pudding in the pan and bake for about 50-60 minutes.

Meet My New Friend, Kohlrabi

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One thing that I value about writing this blog is that it gives me courage to try new things.

With that being said, I’ve been walking through the produce aisle these last few months, and believe I saw a new vegetable winking at me. I couldn’t help but notice it. It seemed to say; I can’t make up my mind if I’m a greens, a root, or someone’s idea of a science experiment, but go ahead and try me, I’m (kind of) local, affordable, and I don’t need to be checked for bugs.

You wouldn’t think that at this stage of the culinary game, I would be so tentative, but I guess there is always reticence when it comes to experimenting.

Deciding to take a chance, into the basket it went.

When I got home and looked through some books to see how to prepare it, I read that some put it in soup, and some cook it (steamed or roasted), but the idea that was most appealing to me was using it in a salad, raw.

Although it was difficult to cut away the green leaves and not use them (someone out there, if you do cook kohlrabi greens, please let me know), all that remained was to peel and we were off to the races.

Into the food processor using the large shredding disc, along with a carrot, tossing it with a creamy dressing, and voila, kohlrabi cole slaw.

This vegetable, a member of the Brassica family, (which also includes cauliflower, broccoli and cabbage) is rich in vitamin C and minerals, and makes a welcome addition to our, occasionally monotonous, winter vegetable repertoire.

Do give it a try, and, if you see me in the supermarket aisles having conversations with the produce, feel free to interrupt.

Kohlrabi Slaw
serves 8
1 bunch kohlrabi, (about 2 pounds) leaves and stems removed and peeled
2 carrots, peeled
½ cup mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
a little water

Shred the kohlrabi and carrots using the large shredding disc of your food processor.
Mix all the dressing ingredients together and toss with the shredded vegetables.

Remember to register for Mashgiach @ Home, a 3 part series, Tuesdays Feb. 12, 19 and 26 at 8 pm taught by Rabbi Heber, COR’s Director of Community. Use the following link to see the details.

http://cor.ca/assets/static/node/201301/files/427/moshgiach%20at%20home%20poster.pdf

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

The Last Word on Becoming a Good Cook: Cooking Role Models

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If you want to become a good cook, look to others you admire and ask them “What is one thing that you can teach me?” Listen carefully to the answer. It might come in the form of a recipe or it might be a piece of valuable kitchen wisdom. But making the people you look up to into your mentors can yield rich rewards untold.

In my opinion, cooking is not about the ‘showstopper’ or the razz-a-ma-tazz, but rather, the quiet consistency and dependability upon which a person can be relied.

I look to the women who have made a commitment to building their families and communities, in part, through their kitchens. These are the Rebbetzins, teachers, and neighbours down the block who have turned their kitchens into holy spaces that warmly draw me in.

This week’s recipe:
When I’ve sent out previous blogs, several readers have asked where are the recipes? They are cleverly, or so I thought, imbedded in the articles. Perhaps this is not the case. Therefore, I am including a dynamite recipe for Smoked Turkey quiche that we prepared in this week’s class, Savoury Baking. I hope you can try this one because it is a winner!

Smoked Turkey Quiche
Serves 8

Crust
6 ounces margarine/shortening
2 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons ice water

Add ½ the flour and salt together in a mixer. Cut the shortening in and blend for a minute or two. Add the rest of the flour and mix until it is crumbly. Sprinkle on the water and mix until the dough comes together.

Let the dough rest for 1 hour in the fridge.

Roll out the dough and line a 10” springform pan with it pressing the dough into the corner. Line the dough with parchment paper and weigh with pie weights (dried beans work well).

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 30 minutes. Turn oven done to 350 degrees. Remove pie weights and parchment paper and bake for a further 15 minutes.

Filling
2-3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 pounds zucchini, coarsely chopped
1 cup shredded skinless smoked turkey
8 eggs
1 cup almond milk
2 cups coconut milk
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat oil in a skillet and sauté onions on a medium high heat. Add the zucchini and sauté for another 10 minutes.

Scatter the onion -zucchini mixture, as well as the smoked turkey over the baked shell.

Mix the eggs, almond and coconut milks, and seasonings together.

Pour the custard into the shell and bake for 1 ¼ hours or until set.

Shabbat Shalom,

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

More on What Makes A Good Cook?

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In continuing the discussion of what makes a good cook, some connect it to their emotions and creative natures. Their cooking is an expression of the love that they feel.

Certainly this is a wonderful motivation, and, no doubt, part of the picture, but can a cook sustain herself solely on giving? Operating from this mindset can sometimes lead to burnout.

Some mentally assign cooking for their families as their job. Although this mindset can get you through some rough patches, ultimately we do a job because of what we get in return. Can you imagine hanging a sign on the fridge saying “Kitchen is Closed. Employee on strike.” (Hmmm, maybe we’re on to something here.) Although it is a job to cook for our families, cooking is not our job.

Let’s be real. We’re in it for the long haul. My friend Bev says it best; “a good cook never gives up trying”, and then adds “now a smart cook…that’s a different story. A smart cook sticks with what they know best and keeps repeating it!” And although we may think this approach leads to boredom and dissatisfaction, the truth is that this is the key to mastery.

Skill development is an essential ingredient to acquiring mastery and that means practice, practice, practice.

Robert Greene in his book, Mastery, writes in order to master a skill, we must learn to focus our concentration and that multitasking leads to the death of the process.

No wonder I often feel conflicted when I cook! On one hand I feel there is so much to do that I can’t possibly ever get it all done and on the other hand, that cooking gives me the opportunity to go inside myself and work on something I find fascinating.

I vote for more of the latter.

I enjoy making this week’s recipe, Braised Sweet and Sour Cabbage with Apples and Onions at this time of year. Shredding cabbage on my wooden board with the snow falling outside is meditative. The ingredients are simple, colourful and come together in a homey way.

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