Don Your Aprons, Light Those Ovens

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Manischewitz Matzos Box
05 Feb 2008
.Please note: fresh fruit and vegetables need to be inspected for insect infestation. Please consult our guide
photo credit: John Storey Semifinal winners Evan Levy and Julie Hession with emcee Brian Malarkey (left) and Manischewitz VP of Marketing David Rossi (right).

Don your aprons, light those ovens and…go!

Thirty contestants in last month’s Second Annual Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off semifinals chopped, seared and sautéed their way for the chance to compete in the finals, to be held in New York on February 27. The grand prizewinner will take home a $25,000 prize package, including a GE Profile kitchen, cash and more.

Three semifinal events were held in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Ten contestants in each area, selected from thousands of entrants, had one hour to prepare and serve their original recipes, each using at least one Manischewitz product and containing no more than eight ingredients.

As one of the judges in the Western competition held on December 20 at the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco, I sampled all the entries (yum!) and voted with my peers on taste, appearance, ease of preparation and originality.

Over 200 onlookers attended the event, free to the public, which included a kosher lunch and a first-hand look at the contestants as they donned their aprons and used their allotted hour to produce their dishes and wow the judges.

“San Francisco is a dynamic and captivating city and home to some of the greatest restaurants in the country, making it the perfect place to host this event” said David Rossi, Vice President of Marketing for Manischewitz and the R.A.B. Food Group.

Fans of the Top Chef series on Bravo TV were thrilled to see Brian Malarky, one of this year’s finalists on the show, do the honors as emcee. Malarky, chef-owner of Oceanaire Seafood Room in the Gaslamp district of San Diego, is more familiar than most with what it takes to be a winner! Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco proclaimed December 20, 2007, as “Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Day.”

“This is the largest kosher competition in the country,” said Rossi. “We have the highest level of kashruth happening here.” All ingredients, utensils and equipment were provided to the contestants under strict rabbinical supervision, including kashered GE ranges. The judges tasted the dairy entry first, then the pareve and finally the meat on paper plates with new plastic utensils provided for each dish.

According to industry analysts, only 10 to 30 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews. So just who is eating them? Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters.

With 20% of the population lactose intolerant and millions counting themselves as vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal.

The Mad Cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either. Because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef. And there’s a definite perception that if something is certified kosher, it’s purer. Kosher has certainly gone mainstream.

The semifinal winners (drum roll, please) who received a free trip to New York for the finals are: Julie Hession from Las Vegas, Nevada, for her Rib Eye Steak with Marsala Mushroom Sauce, and Evan Levy from Danville, California, with his Southwestern Potato Kugel.

“This is the first cooking contest I’ve ever entered,” Hession confided. “It was definitely an adrenalin rush competing doing something you love to do.”

Levy, who had his own rooting section, added, “Potato kugel has always been a comfort food for my family. I wanted to update it, so I came up with this new and improved version.”

Other entries included San Francisco Salmon Cakes, Easy Matzo Ball Dumplings Stuffed with Portabella Mushrooms, Crusted White Fish, Dapper Red Snapper Parchment Paper Packets, Raspberry Glazed Tilapia, Poblano Stuffed Chicken, Lamb Chops with Twist of Rosemary, and Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Apricot-Hoisin Glaze.

Being part of this Manischewitz event held a special nostalgia for me, as the company figured prominently in my childhood.

Jan Bart and the Barry Sisters, from “Cooking Jewish” by Judy Bart Kancigor, courtesy Workman Publishing.

During the forties, fifties and sixties, my dad, singer Jan Bart, was a weekly regular on the Yiddish Swing radio show and later the American-Jewish Caravan of Stars, appearing with Molly Picon, the Barry Sisters, Mickey Katz, Moishe Oysher and so many others. Every Sunday my brother and I would accompany my parents to the WEVD studio where we’d play with the microphones during rehearsals and then attend the live performance.

Manischewitz was the sponsor, and every year for Passover the company sent us cases of matzos and other products – enough to feed our enormous extended family for the weeklong holiday and beyond. The company is so tied into those childhood Sundays and my dad’s radio show that I can’t look at a Manischewitz product without humming that theme song.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 532 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman Publishing) and can be found on the web at

Rib Eye Steak with Marsala Mushroom Sauce



  1. Combine sliced mushrooms and flour in a medium bowl and toss well to coat.
  2. Combine Marsala, shallots and balsamic vinegar in a medium skillet. Bring mixture to a boil and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes
  3. Reduce heat to medium. Add beef broth to skillet and cook for 1 minute
  4. Add mushroom mixture to skillet and stir to mix. Cook, stirring constantly, until mixture has thickened, about 3-4 minutes
  5. Season with salt and pepper
  6. Cover saucepan and keep sauce warm over very low heat while you prepare the steaks.
  7. Prepare steaks: In a small bowl, mix Brisket and Steak Seasoning with ½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper. Rub seasoning mixture evenly over steak.
  8. Heat a non-stick skillet (or grill pan if preferred) over medium-high heat. Add steaks and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

Serve steaks with Marsala-Mushroom sauce.

(Julie Hession – Las Vegas, Nevada – semifinalist winner)

Southwestern Potato Kugel



  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine eggs and water in a large bowl. Stir in Manischewitz Potato Pancake Mix and let mixture stand for 5 minutes to thicken up.
  3. Add beans, chiles, corn, 1¼ cups of the cheese and the chili powder and stir to combine.
  4. Spread 3 Tablespoons of the oil in a 9½x11-inch glass baking dish. Pour in kugel mixture and spread the remaining 3 Tablespoons oil on top.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and sprinkle the kugel with the remaining ¾ cup cheese. Continue baking until crisp and golden, 5 to 10 minutes more.
  6. Garnish individual pieces with fresh cilantro, salsa and sour cream.

(Evan Levy – Danville, California – semifinalist winner)

San Francisco Salmon Cakes



  1. In a small bowl, mix together mayonnaise and soy sauce until well blended. Stir in sesame seeds. Chill until ready to use.
  2. Break matzah up and place in a food processor. Process until fine crumbs are formed, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Cut salmon into 1-inch cubes. Place salmon in food processor and pulse 8-10 times to break salmon into small pieces. Transfer to bowl with matzo. Add eggs, 2/3 of scallions, salt, and black pepper and, using hands, gently combine. Form salmon mixture into 4 cakes.
  4. Heat 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook cakes 3 minutes, then flip over with spatula. Add remaining Tablespoon olive oil, if needed. Cook an additional 3 minutes or until done to preference.
  5. To serve, plate salmon cakes, drizzle with soy-mayonnaise dressing and top with reserved scallions.

(Elizabeth Bennett – Mill Creek, Washington – contestant)

Whitefish and Potato Knish

Makes 32 pieces



  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a large, rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter
  2. Place instant potatoes in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir to combine.
  3. Measure 2 teaspoons of the melted butter and set aside. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mix well. Stir in fried onions and parsley.
  4. Mash fish and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
  5. Remove both pieces of puff pastry onto a floured board. Unfold and cut along natural folds to form 6 equal rectangles. Remove 2 rectangles for another use. With a floured rolling pin, roll remaining 4 rectangles slightly to flatten.
  6. Spoon ¼ of potato-fish mixture onto each of the 4 rectangles and level to within ½ inch of the edges. Fold edges of dough and roll each piece into a log (like a jellyroll). Pinch seam lightly to seal. Trim unfilled dough ends. Place logs seam side down on a baking sheet and brush with reserved melted butter. Sprinkle with Fish Seasoning. Using a serrated knife, cut each log into 8 equal pieces and place them ½ inch apart.
  7. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
  8. To serve, arrange knishes on a serving platter. Garnish each piece with a ¼ teaspoon Creamy Horseradish Sauce with Lemon. Sprinkle with parsley.

(Michaela Rosenthal – Woodland Hills, California – last year’s semifinalist winner and one of this year’s judges)

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.