Jewish Archive

Friday, September 26, 2008

best challah (egg bread)

best challah

I only know one Yiddish phrase (well, two, if you can count farshikkert, which is a pretty awesome way to say someone is three sheets to the wind), but conveniently, it is my favorite. A shonda for the goyim means, roughly, that someone of the Jewish faith is not only doing something shameful (shonda), but doing it in front of non-Jews, which of course is an entirely worse offense. Like, it would be bad enough to, say, eat ham and cheese on matzo on Passover (or, I suspect, ever and boy, do I have a great story about that but first let me see if I can get my mother to pay me not to share it) but it would be doubly more awful to do it in front of a person outside your faith. You would, in fact, bring shame upon your entire people, mostly because when given the choice between the most or least dramatic interpretation of an event, I think can safely say that my people will generally opt for the former.

round challah

Anyway, I love the phrase so much, I use it all of the time, including times when it’s probably totally inappropriate. For example, the other day someone suggested that I might consider adding a Jewish Recipe index to smittenkitchen.com’s new Topic Indexes. I began to look for Jewish or holiday-themed recipes in my archives and came to a terrible realization: The offerings were quite paltry. Not only is there no brisket in there, where are the kreplach (dumplings), the kugels and my mother’s amazing apple cake? How can I not have a single recipe for challah?

A shonda, indeed.

braided

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

majestic and moist honey cake

majestic and moist honey cake

A few days ago, someone emailed me asking me if I had a recipe for honey cake. You see, honey cake is something traditionally eaten on the Jewish New Year, which falls next week as eating honey is supposed to encourage a sweet New Year, doubly so if paired with apples.

slow like honey

But every honey cake I have been forced to try has been wretched (apologies if it was yours). They were dry and never sweet enough. They were coarse and totally unloved. And if I find myself at an occasion where I see a honey cake, well, I wonder why they didn’t ask me to make dessert instead, but then I steer clear of it just the same. This life is too short to eat terrible cake.

I said as much to this reader, and that’s when it hit me: Right, this is my job! This is what I do! I take things that I think are terrible and I try to find a better way to go about them. That’s why this person emailed me, right? (Sometimes I forget.) And seeing as I don’t dislike honey, and I don’t hate spices and I don’t hate tradition or the Jewish New Year, well, it was time.

honey

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

hamantaschen

hamantaschen

Sure, we’re a couple days late on these this year, but I couldn’t let Purim weekend (see how I added two days to the holiday there? Brilliant) pass without one more chapter in my annual attempt to make hamantaschen that suit my fancy. Was I more successful this year than last? Only slightly. But this has in no way made them less enjoyable.

mega-taschen
hamantaschen, unbaked

Living in New York City, I sometimes forget that the rest of the world isn’t aware of Jewish holidays and foods the way they are here, where babka and challah are bakery staples and admirable efforts at hamantaschen are available year round at diners and coffee shops. So for a quick review, hamantaschen are three-cornered cookies typically filled with jams or a poppy seed paste and eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Their shape is modeled after the three-corner hat purported to be worn by the holiday’s villain, Haman. I always think of the holiday as kind of a Jewish Mardi Gras, replete with carnivals, costumes and a good amount of libations–a fun reprieve from the fall’s more somber High Holidays.

jam gems

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Monday, February 4, 2008

matzo ball soup

matzo ball soup

A confession: In spite of my current, ongoing, seeming-like-it-will-never-ever-end condition, I don’t like traditional chicken soup. Obviously, boasting such sacrilege, I am undeserving of your sympathy. Obviously, this is why, four days in, I am still on the sofa on my second box of tissues, chugging down my 20th Brita pitcher of water, my nose as red as a rail-thin starlet at 4 a.m., the bitterness of having a SuperBowl party of one only slightly mitigated by the fact that the Giants triumph–I do not embrace everyones’ grandmother’s sworn-by home remedy.

matzo ball soup

Honestly, it’s not all chicken soup that I do not like; it’s just the stuff I can normally get. Those short noodles? I can never get them on my spoon! Those bits of chicken? Always overcooked. Those carrot specks? They’re just mush. I’ve tried X Deli’s and Y Market’s and Z Restaurant’s and they always disappoint, namely because these three ingredients were never meant to be cooked for the same amount of time, nor kept warm for hours on end, which is why I was given no choice this weekend but to take the matter into my own hand and make my favorite variety of chicken soup: matzo ball soup.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2007

latke redux

latkes

When I brought you rugelach pinwheels last week, I told the story of watching women make this on the Martha Stewart Show and grumbling to myself about why they felt the need to change a cookie that was just perfect from the outset. Why fix what wasn’t broken?

Of course, in the end, the recipe yields the most delicious rugelach in the whole world–even if not better than the original, well-deserving of a heroic place aside them in your repertoire. But, I still stick to my original schtick, which is that if you have a recipe that works splendidly each time, there is no reason to change it.

Why repeat this today? Because I did it–yes, again. Along with a few more recipes from last Saturday’s Hanukah luncheon I hope to work my way through this week, I of course made a batch of latkes. Yet for some harebrained reason I chose to use a new recipe, and not one of the two I made last year that were flawless in every way. They ended up undercooked, then overcooked in the when I decided to finish them in the oven and though not a single person complained, I seriously need to work on practicing what I preach.

Maybe next year I’ll learn.

Happy Hanukah to those who celebrate it! May you eat many delicious latkes, even if you do not.

first night

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