Cooking

Book Review: A Taste of Pesach

April 9, 2014

taste_of_pesach_smI have a somewhat distracted approach to cooking and baking–especially for chagim or other events “shehazman grama” – with severe time limitations.

Put simply, I have an irresistible desire to patchke with the “want to’s” (those delectable desserts I love to make) rather than the “have to’s” (those dreaded but necessary main and side dishes).

On Thanksgiving, for example, for me it’s all about pecan pie and perfect pareve corn bread –who cares about turkey? Similarly, on Pesach I cannot help but bake the meringue layer cake along with four types of mousse before preparing a main or side dish.

You can now understand why I’d appreciate a precise, well-organized array of tasty recipes ready to prepare with even the most basic Passover staples. A Taste of Pesach —A Project of Yeshiva Me’On Hatorah (Roosevelt)—is just that. This beautifully designed book was clearly put together with me in mind.

Succinctly written and well-organized, with simple and concise recipes, the book even offers a separate collection of gebrokts favorites in the back. Elegant photographs accompany each and every recipe – a real treat for the aesthetic cook. Each recipe is clearly designated meat or pareve and clearly lists its anticipated yield/servings, making this a perfect book for the advance menu (and shopping list) writer.

TofP_saladBut more than anything else – the greatest compliment I can give this book is that I’m not sure if I will pack it up with my Pesach boxes. The book is chock full of simple yet creative recipes for Pesach and year round. In 230+ pages there are only a few dishes that require “Pesach specific” ingredients. And even those recipes can be easily adjusted to suit any non-Pesach menu.

The book offers a diverse assortment of hearty and delicious soups – only one of which uses potato starch as a thickener, Asparagus Soup with Veal Mini-Meatballs. This easy to make, refined and distinctive soup would be a welcome alternative to my (albeit tasty) weekly chicken soup on any of the remaining 51 weeks of the year.

Unfortunately, while A Taste of Pesach offers a nice variety of meat and pareve dishes, it’s noticeably lacking in milchig (dairy) options. This is a plus in my carnivorous household, but a conspicuous deficiency for a kosher, family cookbook – matza pizza can carry a household only so far.

Despite this minor flaw, the “want to” cook in me has only praise for the simple and tasty recipes offered to flesh out the meal before I break out my mousse, pavlova and meringue cookie varietals. From gefilte fish from scratch to heimish staples like potato kugel with flanken and chremslach – those fabulous, crispy hash brown-like treats made from leftover Seder potatoes for which both my grandmother and mother in law never had an exact recipe – A Taste of Pesach offers clear, intelligible instructions with just a few steps.

One of the most overlooked demographics by the Pesach cook is the “manly man.” These meat and potato aficionados should be the happiest during the eight-day meat/carb-fest, but I think they miss the variety (and the mustard) after the first couple of days — even the most creative cook runs out of unique potato dishes after day four. A Taste of Pesach’s Cabbage Beef Soup, adorable Hush Puppies, Balsamic French Roast and almost unbelievable Steak Stack are gastronomic wonders for the finickiest or grumpiest “customer” at any table–all made with unassuming and readily available ingredients.

TofP_cakeAh, the desserts! From basic to elegant, none require too big a patchke. Even the Meringue Layer Cake, Yodels and four-step Million Dollar Cake recipes can be handled by any cook with a mixer (hand or electric), some basic ingredients, a little vision, a lot of eggs and even more love.

I’ve got many cookbooks, Pesach and “stam,” and anyone who knows me has heard me say “I don’t stress Pesach cooking. It’s eight days and I’ve got plenty of menu favorites that can be converted into a Pesach recipe with little or no changes.” A Taste of Pesach now holds “top-shelf” position in my kitchen– if not for its fabulous content, it’s to keep the book chametz-free so it can be used year round.

Chag Kasher V’sameach and Happy Cooking!

Some select recipes from A Taste of Pesach

SWEET POTATO CRISPS SALAD (pareve)
YIELDS 8 SERVINGS

GARNISH
1 large sweet potato
¾ cup oil for frying

SALAD
1 (8-ounce)bag Romaine lettuce
½ red pepper, sliced into strips
½ yellow pepper, sliced into strips
1 (8-ounce) can hearts of palm, drained
1 small red onion, diced

DRESSING
½ cup olive oil
1/3 cup vinegar
½ cup sugar
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon imitation mustard

Prepare sweet potato crisps: Peel sweet potato. Using a vegetable peeler, continue to peel wide paper-thin strips of sweet potato.

Heat oil in a deep skillet. When oil is hot, add sweet potato strips a few at a time. When golden and crispy (about 5-7 minutes) remove with a slotted spoon. Can be made a few days in advance; store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Prepare the dressing: Place dressing ingredients in a small container. Shake to combine.

Assemble salad: Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Toss with dressing. Place sweet potatoes on top right before serving.

FLANKEN-POTATO KUGEL (meat)
YIELDS 12 SERVINGS

6 large Idaho potatoes
1 onion
4 eggs
1½ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup oil
1 pound boneless flanken, cut into chunks

Using a food processor fitted with the fine grater blade or the S-blade, shred potatoes and onion.

Transfer to large bowl. Add eggs, salt, and pepper. Mix until smooth.

Pour oil to make a thin layer on the bottom of a 9 x 13” pan. Pour half of potato mixture into pan. Layer with flanken and remaining potato mixture.

BAKING OPTIONS
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Bake 2 hours, uncovered.
2. Preheat oven to 500°F and bake for ½ hour, uncovered.
Lower oven to 200°F. Set a pan of water on rack underneath kugel to keep moist. Cover kugel well and bake overnight.
3. Layer potatoes and meat in a slow cooker; bake on HIGH for 4-5 hours, and then reduce to LOW; cook several additional hours until ready to serve.

MERINGUE LAYER CAKE (pareve)
YIELDS 12-16 SERVINGS

MERINGUES
6 egg whites
¾ cup sugar
8 ounces ground almonds, roasted and cooled
2 (3.5-ounce) bars good quality pareve chocolate (not baking chocolate)

CHOCOLATE CREAM
8 ounces baking chocolate
2 sticks margarine
1 Tablespoon boiling water
1 Tablespoon coffee
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla sugar
2 eggs

WHIPPED CREAM LAYER
1 (8-ounce) container nondairy dessert topping, not whipped

Preheat oven to 275°F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper; use a pencil to mark two 7-inch circles on the back of each sheet of parchment paper OR grease four 9” round pans.

Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites with sugar until stiff peaks form. Fold nuts into egg white mixture.

Use a spatula to spread batter over the marked circles, filling them completely OR spread batter in prepared round pans.

Bake for 1 hour. Cool completely. Remove from pans; set one meringue aside.

Melt good quality pareve chocolate in a double boiler. Pour evenly over the 3 remaining meringue layers.

Prepare the chocolate cream: In a saucepan over low heat, combine baking chocolate, margarine, water, coffee, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla sugar.

Cool somewhat so that eggs won’t curdle. Add 2 eggs while stirring constantly. Allow to stand and thicken.

Spread chocolate cream evenly over melted chocolate on the 3 meringue layers.

Prepare the whipped cream: Using an electric mixer, beat defrosted cold topping on high speed. Spread on top of chocolate cream on the 3 layers.

Stack layers to assemble cake, ending with reserved meringue. For a more decorative look, reserve some topping and press over top layer through a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. To serve, cut with a very sharp knife.

A Taste of Pesach is available for purchase at artscroll.com – get more information.