Pesach is over…and now PIZZA!

Hello dear friends and family – surely the only folks who are still reading this blog after such a long hiatus. I really love blogging and sharing life’s adventures in this format, but my time for advertur-ing (not to mention recounting those adventures) has been so low during this first year of grad school – it’s been a real challenge to find time to write. You know what they say, “all work and no play makes Mollie bad at blogging” – or something like that.

Anyway, I am back with a vengeance and feeling eager to give recaps of everything that’s happened since…sheepishly looks at old postsJanuary.

Pesach (Passover) has recently ended, and as Jews everywhere have metaphorically left Egypt, we now get to celebrate freedom by eating chametz (leavened wheat/spelt/barley/oats/rye products – forbidden during Passover) again. Noah and I marked the joyous return of bread with pizza tonight.

And if you are thinking we went out for pizza, think again! Because Noah’s pizza-making hobby is stronger than ever and I am reaping all the benefits.

 

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He is the greatest.

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I don’t want to complain about Pesach though – it’s actually one of my favorite holidays. In large part, probably, because of the two seders involved. Seder literally means order, and the seder is a ritual dinner held on each of the first two nights of Pesach (one night in Israel). The traditional text (preserved in the haggadah) as well as many of the seder rituals derive from thousands of years ago. How cool is that?! The seder is an important family/community/educational tool, and many find it to be so impactful and joyous that contemporary Jewish population studies show that even families who are uninvolved with other Jewish activities/events during the year still often participate in a seder (and light Chanukah candles).

…can you tell I’m studying Jewish community for a living grad school?!

Anyway, we had the chance to host Noah’s parents, some of his extended family, my brother, and a couple friends from Minneapolis at our house for the first seder. The table was set to impress:

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Cooking consumed the 48 hours before (huge efforts put in also by Noah’s mom who made a ton of the food and provided the classic family recipes!):

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And one of the seder plates we used was something I painted myself! I’ll hopefully recount that painting adventure in an upcoming post. Spoiler: it was part of a date night.

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Noah and his dad worked hard to determine the perfect seating arrangement:

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Overall, great holiday. And now, great pizza. 🙂

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Pesach in Israel

Every year, at the Pesach seder, I (and Jews all over the world) say l’shanah haba’ah b’Yerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem).

And am happy ecstatic to say that I have finally fulfilled this yearly wish. WOOHOO!

As I’ve said on the blog before, a HUGE highlight of spending this year in Jerusalem is to experience the Jewish holiday cycle in Israel. The feeling of being in a culture that not only acknowledges Jewish holidays but celebrates them in the public sphere and embodies the meaning of the days in the (agri)cultural realm is amazing to experience. From all the excitement I’ve felt during Sukkot, Chanukkah, and Purim though, I think Pesach takes the cake.

Pesach (Passover, in English) is a week-long (8 days in the diaspora) holiday commemorating the exodus of the Israelites form slavery in Egypt. Highlights of the story include Moses, 10 plagues, a stubborn Pharaoh, and the parting of the Red Sea…maybe you’ve heard of it. 🙂 During the holiday, Jews are forbidden from eating chametz (leavened wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt). Ashkenazi Jews are also prohibited from eating kitniyot (legumes) because they can be ground into flour and may sometimes be confused and/or processed with chametz (this prohibition doesn’t apply to Sephardic Jews). These restrictions are tied to the Torah’s command to eat matzah (unleavened bread) during the holiday in commemoration of the bread the Israelites took with them when they fled Egypt. The aforementioned bread was, in fact, unleavened because they were in such a rush to flee there was no time to let the bread rise.

In addition to eating matzah, a holiday highlight is the seder (or two seders in the diaspora). The ritual of the seder derives from the Torah’s command to tell the story of the exodus to your children. Thus, the seder is a ritualized dinner/ceremony that involves amazing food, 4 cups of wine, the recounting of the Israelite’s liberation from Egypt, and lots of singing! It’s notoriously long (one part of the seder mentions a group of rabbis whose seder went so long they were still discussing when it was time to say the morning shema – ie, until sunrise the next morning!). The seder Noah and I went to this year ended at about 1:30am, but I had a classmate who was at her seder until 5:30am! I don’t think I could have gotten through that one without sleeping…

And now, highlights of spending this holiday in Israel…

1. kosher l’pesach foods

Not only are chametz (and kitniyot for Ashkenazi Jews) prohibited during Pesach, but any foods that could have come in contact with forbidden foods during processing/packaging are also forbidden. Thus, many Jews only eat foods during Pesach that are certified as kosher l’pesach (kosher for Pesach). One of the most exciting kosher l’pesach finds available in Israel this year was Ben & Jerry’s charoset ice cream. Charoset is a traditional Pesach dish enjoyed at the seder. It is a sweet mix of apples and/or other fruits, wine, and nuts, and it is symbolic of the morter Israelites used to create bricks for the Egyptians:

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2. It’s easy to kasher your dishes

While Pesach is lots of fun and full of merriment, one aspect of the holiday that can take quite a bit of effort is kashering the kitchen. Many observers of Pesach prepare their kitchens for the holiday by either using special kosher l’Pesach dishes or kashering their current dishes for specific use during the holiday. The point of this ritual is to ensure that the dishes used to prepare food during Pesach don’t have any possible remnants of chametz. In the U.S., many Jews have specific kosher l’Pesach dishes. Here in Jerusalem, however, it’s made very easy to kasher the current dishes in your kitchen. In the days leading up to the holiday, small kashering stands pop up in nearly every neighborhood around town. At the stand, you can get your dishes dunked in a large pot of boiling water, thus having them kashered for the holiday:

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3. Search for chametz

The night before the holiday starts and the first seder, it is traditional to do a search for chametz. The search includes seeking throughout the house for pre-placed pieces of chametz. The search is to be conducted by candlelight, and when a piece of chametz of found, it is brushed by a feather into a wooden spoon and then placed in a paper bag. Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds a little weird, but it’s actually a really fun ritual that is intended to symbolize the attention and care given over to searching the house for chametz. The morning after the search for chametz (the morning before the holiday starts) the bags of chametz are burned. Noah and I didn’t have a feather and we were scared of using a candle (we’ll work on this for next year…), so we did a modified version of the search:

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4. Delicious food

Some people complain about Pesach food…I guess they just really miss bread. I have always loved traditional Pesach foods, and I don’t generally have any trouble with sticking to the dietary guidelines of the holiday. This year, Noah and I hosted a dinner on the second night – a seder night in the diaspora but just another intermediate night of the holiday within Israel. I did an insane amount of cooking for the meal (good thing Pesach only happens once a year!), but I had a lot of fun deciding what recipes to make and prepping in the kitchen. For the meal, I made two recipes from the kosher cookbook, The Modern Menu by Kim Kushner. I found this cookbook in an airport and really wanted to buy it. Unfortunately, I had to satisfy myself with remembering only a couple recipes – I definitely want to get the book when I am back in the states! From that cookbook, I made roasted chicken with a fig/pumpkin sauce and roasted potatoes:

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The meal also included tsimmes (recipe here)

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Brussel sprouts (recipe here):

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Vegetable kugel (recipe here):

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and a gluten and dairy-free (amazing) chocolate cake (recipe here):

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Even Noah, who is inexplicably not a huge fan of chocolate really liked this cake – I’ll take it as a success!!

Wow – so much food!

And, as a special Pesach gift from Noah’s parents during the holiday…

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You may ask…

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Because it’s organic, authentic, and fun.

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Yay!

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5. Pesach culture everywhere!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…a huge part of the fun of Jewish holidays in Israel for me is really feeling like the holiday is part of the culture – everywhere. Growing up in America, I always felt like Jewish holidays were unknown in the public sphere – or were maybe visible to the keen observer in between the Christmas Trees and Easter eggs. In Israel, Easter came and went in the midst of Pesach, and I literally didn’t even know it had happened! It’s hard to describe how remarkable that seems coming from American culture to Israeli culture, but it feels like a very special part of living in Jerusalem this year. Here are a few bits of holiday spirit from out and about this Pesach season…

  • a welcoming sign at the Tel Aviv airport wishing visitors a happy Pesach:

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  • Hag sameah‘ chocolates (featuring holiday-appropriate pyramids!) from Aroma wishing coffee-drinkers a joyous holiday:

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  • Even Coca-Cola was on the hag sameah bandwagon:

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6. It is SO EASY to eat kosher l’pesach around Jerusalem!

Seriously, even if you wanted to buy foods forbidden for Pesach in Jerusalem, it wouldn’t be easy to find them. Grocery stores look like this…

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…with non-kosher l’pesach foods sealed off and not available for purchase. Restaurants kasher their kitchens and create Pesach-friendly menus for diners (pictures below from The Grand Cafe – note the shakshuka served with matza!):

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What’s more, Israel knows how to do Pesach really, really well. So well, in fact, an innocent observer might not even realize anything is unusual at the restaurants since there are potato-flour imitations for basically everything (pizza, sandwiches, pasta…you name it!). Here is some potato bread that seemed to be at almost every restaurant throughout the holiday:

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A final comment about the special-ness of the holiday is the general sense of excitement and festivity all around the country. Unlike in the U.S. where different school systems have their own spring breaks, the whole country in Israel is on break for Pesach. This means there are families and kids everywhere. The country is abuzz with festivals, events, and entertainment. Moreover, there are an enormous number of tourists who descend on Jerusalem during Pesach – motivated in part by the reasons listed above but also as a harkening to the historical Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem every Pesach that took place during antiquity.

I think that’s a basic summary of my experience spending this Passover in the holy land – may I have the opportunity to say l’shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim in Jerusalem again!

A Final Note on Passover

Even though Passover ended last Tuesday night, I still have a few more recipes and dishes I want to share from the holiday. I already posted about matzah granola, charoset, brisket and tsimmes. Here a few more delicious recipes to round out the holiday…

Spaghetti Squash Kugel

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I used this recipe and it was delicious! This side dish takes a little extra time because you have to bake the spaghetti squash first, but with a little planning ahead it’s quite simple.

Matzah Pizza

A Passover classic, matzah pizza is quick, simple, and the pie with the crunchiest crust (harhar).

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Our matzah pizza used a very light layer of marinara, sliced tomatoes, fresh basil, and fresh sliced mozzarella.

Matzah Pie

Another classic, matzah pie is pretty much like matzah lasagna. I found inspiration for the recipe from this great cookbook I discovered last year through Noah’s mom:

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Like lasagna, you can stuff matzah pie with pretty much whatever you want. The cookbook had a recipe for a spinach and tomato matzah pie, but I modified and made something with dandelion greens, onion, tomato, tuna, and havarti cheese.
*full recipe below

First, take 3 slices of matzah and soak in warm water for three minutes. While the matzah soaks, saute 1/2 onion with 2 cloves minced garlic, half bunch dandelion greens, one can diced tomatoes, and one can tuna.

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When the matzah has soaked, remove it from the water and pat it dry. Then beat two eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the eggs (similar to french toast).

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Lay the egg-dipped matzah in the bottom of a casserole pan:

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Layer the vegetable and tuna mixture on top followed by shredded havarti cheese (you will need 6oz. shredded in total):

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Repeat this process again, ending with a final layer of matzah and cheese. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes or until cheese is melted:

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Tuna Vegetable Matzah Pie, serves 4-6
Ingredients
 - three pieces matzah
 - two eggs
 - 6 oz. havarti cheese, shredded
 - 1/2 onion
 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
 - 1, 15oz. can crushed tomatoes
 - 1/2 bunch dandelion greens
 - 1, 6oz. can tuna
 Method
 - soak the matzah in warm water for three minutes. Then set on a plate over
 paper towels to dry
 - saute chopped onion and garlic in olive oil
 - when onion starts to color, add chopped dandelion greens, tomatoes (with sauce),
 and drained tuna
 - cook until greens wilt
 - beat the eggs and dip a piece of matzah into the egg, coating on both sides
 - place the egg-dipped matzah piece on the bottom of a casserole dish
 - layer half of the vegetable-tuna mixture on top of the matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - repeat this step and then finish with the final piece of matzah and 1/3 of the cheese
 - bake for 30 minutes at 350º

Matzah Toffee

And finally, what’s Passover without some sort of dessert?! Like the granola recipe, this toffee came from Martha Stewart.

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The toffee was crunchy, chocolatey, and delicious…although perhaps a bit heavy on the butter. Nonetheless, it was a big hit with friends I had over for a Passover dinner.

Which brings me to the final point…Passover food can be yummy, but it is best enjoyed in the company of others. 🙂

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Passover Essentials: Brisket and Tsimmes

In addition to foods that are an integral part of the Passover seder, there are other dishes that have no literal significance for the holiday’s celebration but are customary dishes for the occasion. This is the turkey on Thanksgiving. No, you don’t NEED it…but what would the holiday be without?!

Two examples of such gotta-have-it dishes on Passover are brisket and tsimmes. Brisket is standard fare even outside the world of Jewish holiday observance, and anyone who doesn’t love melt-in-your-mouth, moisture filled, slow cooked beef has got to be a little nutty. Or vegetarian. Tsimmes is a traditional Ashkenazi dish made with sweet potatoes, carrots, and dried fruit. There are, surprise!, several varieties.

I made my brisket this year in my trusty slow cooker and borrowed the recipe from the trusty Smitten Kitchen blog. The recipe was stellar, although if you read the full original post I will comment that many non-orthodox Jews (myself included) avoid corn syrup during the holiday. This full recipe for this is HUGE, so I made only 2 lbs of meat and reduced everything else in the recipe to about 1/3 of the original quantity.

Here’s the rundown of the brisket magic from my kitchen. 

Cook the onions with oil, garlic and spices:

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Prepare the sauce with beef broth, ketchup, chili sauce (corn syrup free!!) and brown sugar. I didn’t put very much sugar in…maybe a 1/4 cup.

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Place the brisket in a slow cooker and then cover with onions and sauce:

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Cook on low for 10 hours:

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When it’s done, transfer to a pan to marinate in the fridge for one day before reheating to serve:

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This brisket was great, and the sauce was the perfect balance of sweet and spicy.

And now moving on to tsimmes…

This is always a favorite dish of mine given my overwhelming adoration for both sweet potatoes and dried fruit. There are several types of tsimmes, some resembling something more like mashed sweet potatoes with mix-ins and others more like a roasted potato dish. I decided to go the roasted route this year and made something along the lines of this recipe with a few tweaks. To begin, I baked two thin-sliced sweet potatoes for 25 minutes at 450º.

While the potatoes cooked, I sauteed a 1/2 onion and two carrots:

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Once softened, I transferred the onions and carrots to a large bowl and added one chopped apple, prunes, apricots, cinnamon, ginger, and orange juice:

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When the potatoes finished baking I added those to the mix and stirred it all up:

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I spread the mixture on an oiled baking pan and baked for 45 minutes at 350º.

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Wow! This was world class delicious and went great with the brisket.

Having these dishes fulfilled my base level of Passover craving and left me open to do some experimentation during the rest of the week. Check back soon for some less-standard Passover dishes!

Passover Essential: Charoset

As I mentioned in my earlier Passover post, there are certain rituals or customs of the holiday that become essential to the sense of true celebration. The Passover seder (festive fifteen-step meal) includes several food that are themselves part of the dinner rituals. Examples of foods that are always part of every seder: parsley, salt water, hard boiled eggs, bitter herbs (horseradish), and charoset.

Charoset is a food that is intended to symbolize the mortar that Israelite slaves used to build bricks in Egypt. The food itself, however, tastes nothing like mortar. It is a sweet fruit dish intended to be spread on matzah or (if you’re me!) eating completely plain by the spoonful. Different regions of the world have different traditional ways to make the dish. For example, Sephardic Jews typically make the dish more like a spreadable paste with a date base. Ashkenazi Jews, on the other hand, more traditionlly make a charoset with an apple base that is served chunky. There are too many wonderful and delicious kinds of charoset to try to make them all, so I settled on making a Sephardic style on this year.

I followed this charoset recipe pretty much step by step.

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After preparing the three essential food groups (nuts, dried fruit, and binder), I gradually mixed the ingredients in the food processor.

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The binder in this recipe was applesauce and orange juice, and I thought it gave the dish a great flavor! After a few minutes in the food processor, the charoset thickened into an even paste. I put the whole delicious mess into a tupperware to keep for the week and shmear on everything eat respectfully at meal times.

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What to eat for breakfast on Passover

Passover is an 8-day Jewish festival in the spring that commemorates the freeing of the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. I’ll venture to guess that most people know the story…Moses, 10 plagues, God splits the Red Sea. The story goes that when the Israelites fled Egypt, they had to leave so quickly that there wasn’t any time to let their bread rise. Thus, the bread baked flat on their backs as they escaped. The ‘bread of affliction,’ known today as matzah, is a flat, relatively tasteless, cracker-like form of sustenance that constitutes essentially the only bread(esque) substance that Jews can eat during Passover. Matzah itself contains a simple list of ingredients: wheat and water. Some hippie-dippie types of matzah these days include things like unleavened spelt as well. No forms of leavened wheat, oats, rye, barley, or spelt can be consumed. To increase the complication, Ashkenazi Jews (those whose ancestors are from central or eastern Europe) don’t eat corn, rice, beans, or any other sort of legume (yes, this includes peanuts!). Take a walk around your grocery store and notice all the foods that contain corn syrup, and you will quickly see why these dietary restrictions can become a bit difficult to maintain for eight days.

BUT ON THE BRIGHT SIDE, Passover is a wonderful holiday that reminds us that we should all remember the story of the Exodus as though we ourselves were freed from Egypt, providing a reminder to combat oppression and injustice within our own time. In addition to a beautiful message, the celebration of Passover includes two seders (a fifteen-step extended dinner designed for families and perfect for large groups of friends and loved ones), and seder rituals are passed down through families, creating amazing memories and strong sentimentality.

PLUS – despite the dietary restrictions, there is some awesome food! (more on that coming soon in upcoming posts)

One of the biggest things I hear people struggle with during Passover is what to eat for breakfast?! No oatmeal, no cereal, no granola, no toast, no pancakes, no waffles, no muffins. What’s a hungry girl in the morning to do?!

The day before Passover started this year, I decided to tackle the problem head on and make some matzah granola. It worked out great! The inspiration for the recipe came from this Martha Stewart recipe.

I started by crumbling three pieces of matzah in a bowl.

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Next, I added a 1/2 of pecans, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons honey, and 2 tablespoons of melted coconut oil and mixed everything around.

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I spread the mixture onto a baking sheet and cooked for 30 minutes at 300º. When the baking was done, I removed the baking sheet from the oven and immediately mixed in a 1/2 cup of currants:

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I’ve enjoyed the matzah granola with yogurt, milk, bananas, almond butter, and just on its own as a snack!

Passover Matzah Granola
 Ingredients
 - 3 pieces matzah
 - 1/2 cup pecans
 - 2 T brown sugar
 - 2 T honey
 - 2 T coconut oil
 - 1/2 cup currants
 Method
 - Crumble the matzah in a large bowl.
 - Add the pecans, sugar, honey, and coconut oil (melted)
 - Bake for 30 minutes at 300º
 - After removing from the oven, stir in currents and
 allow to cool