Occasions

Yom Yerushalayim: A Day of Gratitude, Responsibility and Love

Yom Yerushalayim and Yehuda with flags.png

 

“Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is a gift given to our generation,” I declare often to my children.  “It is not a small gift and it is not a gift to be taken for granted.  It came at a high price and we have a huge responsibility to appreciate this treasure and care for it properly.”

For generations, we longed to be able to walk the streets of Yerushalayim in peace and in song.   We prayed long and hard for the opportunity to shed tears and pour our hearts out in prayer at the Kotel (The Wailing Wall).  When we visit Jerusalem now, we can enjoy the beauty and comfort of Jerusalem and it is easy to forget that it has only been 51 years since we have received this enormous gift.

My brother-in-law, Bezalel, recalls visiting Jerusalem for his Bar Mitzvah, prior to 1967.  He made the long journey by boat with great anticipation of finally reaching the Holy Land and seeing Jerusalem.  He describes the moment of the great reveal.

He had spent weeks traveling by sea.  Jerusalem was in his hopes and his dreams.  He along with the Jewish nation prayed and pray daily for the opportunity for our eyes to behold  Yerushalayim.  There was such anticipation and excitement.

Bezalel reached the Mandelbaum Gate, the closest place at that time that a Jew could come to the Old City of Jerusalem.  It was the checkpoint into the Jordanian-controlled part of Jerusalem, north of the western edge of the Old City.    Bezalel climbed up as high as possible to try and catch a glimpse of the Old City of Jerusalem.  He describes straining his eyes to behold Jerusalem.  He describes how fortunate he felt that his parents allowed him to make the long, albeit meaningful, trip to catch but a glimpse of the holiness and beauty of Yerushalayim.

Did he believe that just a few years later his children and grandchildren would be able to choose from scores of flights daily into Israel?  Did he imagine that he would be able to walk hand-in-hand with his progeny in the streets of  Yerushalayim?   Would he have guessed that the streets of Jerusalem would be filled with song and the many study halls of Jerusalem would be sweetened by the sounds and echos of Torah learning?

It is a dream come true and an enormous gift and responsibility not to be taken lightly.

Years ago, we visited Israel with Kaitlyn, who was a preschooler and just beginning to learn Hebrew.  She struggled with the basic Hebrew vocabulary and grammar.  I remember that during that visit, Kaitlyn exclaimed, “Wow!  Even the babies cry in Hebrew!”

Today is Yom Yerushalayim, a day commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City after the Six-Day War.  It is a day of drama and a day of appreciation.  It is a day of importance, a day of gratitude and a day of responsibility.

As I have written in the past, G-d chose the place for the the  Holy Temple in Jerusalem to be built as the spot where two men felt each other’s kindness, caring and  brotherly love. We are taught that there were two brothers living in Jerusalem.  One brother had a large family and the other brother lived alone.   One evening, each brother devised a plan to help the other brother.  The single brother thought, “my brother has so many children and probably not enough food. I will bring him a bundle of wheat.”  The brother with a large family thought, “my brother has nothing but his wealth.  I will bring a wheat bundle to him to fill some of his loneliness.”    That night, each brother carried a bundle of wheat through the hills of Jerusalem.  Under the cover of darkness, the two brothers met and embraced each other. God proclaimed.  “This very spot where these two brothers demonstrated love for each other is where the Holy Temple will be built.”

The boy in the picture is my three year old grandson, Yehuda.  When we visited Yerushalayim for Pesach (Passover), Yehuda had just turned three.  One morning, before the rest of the house awoke,  I invited him to take the Jerusalem light rail train with me to do some shopping.  On the way back, I offered that he could get himself a single item.  He chose a small Israeli flag.  As we were walking back to the train, Yehuda remembered that we had not bought anything for Avigail.  He asked if I would give him money to buy a flag for Avigail, as well.  We went back and bought her the same flag.

This picture was a candid shot of Yehuda at the Davidka station of the light rail waving his and Avigail’s flags in the streets of Jerusalem with the carefree happiness that we have hope for, longed for and prayed for.

May G-d allow us the opportunity to appreciate the gift or Yerushalayim, until the true rebuilding of this city in the times of Moshiach.

 

Simple No-Cook Salmon Appetizer

no-cook salmon appetizers

There are times that a simple no-cook appetizer is the way to go.

Like, when there are six Yom Tov (holiday) meals in a row and you’re looking for a new creative way to serve an appetizer with minimal effort.  The upcoming Shavuos holiday comes on the heels of a Shabbos, calling for six consecutive festive meals.  And, because it is fish, this appetizer can be served pareve (non-dairy) or with crème fraîche on the side with a dairy meal.

It is simple.  It is beautiful.  That simple and beautiful combination is a wow!

SUPPLIES

wide vegetable peeler

no-cook salmon appetizers-ingredients.jpg

INGREDIENTS

Long Seedless cucumber
lox or smoked salmon, sliced thin

celery leaves (optional)
salmon caviar (optional)

 

DIRECTIONS

Using a wide vegetable peeler, carefully peel long, thin slices of seedless cucumber.

Spread each slice of cucumber flat and top with lox slice(s), lining up bottom edges of cucumber and lox.

no-cook salmon appetizers-ready to roll.jpg

 

Starting at end that has both cucumber and lox, carefully roll up to form a rose.

no-cook salmon appetizers-in progress

 

Stand up and unfurl lox petals for a delicate rose-like formation.

Optionally, garnish with celery leaves and salmon caviar.

Voila!

no-cook salmon appetizers.jpg

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Basil Pesto Butter

basil butter flowers.png

Close to ten years ago, we shared a dairy lunch meal with our good friends, Neal and Marilyn, at their new home in Jerusalem.  They ordered food from Village Green, a well-known and delicious vegetarian restaurant on Jaffa Street right in the heart of Jerusalem.  They ordered a lavish assortment of salads, quiches, pastas and desserts.

It was a luncheon to remember.  The food was delicious, colorful and plentiful.  The camaraderie among the adults and the kids was remarkable.  But, there was one stand-out rockstar at that luncheon.

It was the herbed butter.

Village Green had packaged the food with small individual pats of herbed butter and those delicious flavorful butter treats transformed that afternoon.

So, ten years later, I decided that it was time to recreate that buttery sensation.   I simply added basil to the food processor and pulsed it into a rough pesto.  I then added softened butter and processed it until it was well combined.

Best of all, when I served the butter, it transported us back instantly to that afternoon in the heart of Israel.  Hopefully, this simple upgrade to your dairy meal will create pleasant memories for you, too….

 

INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, cleaned and pat dry (see kosher notes)
1 pound salted or unsalted butter

 

 

DIRECTIONS

Place basil leaves in the food processor.  Using the s-blade, pulse until roughly ground.  Cut butter into small cubes and add to food processor.  Pulse until smooth and well-combined.

Alternatively,  chop basil.  Soften butter by using the time-defrost mode on the microwave.  Defrost in 30 second intervals until softened but not melted. Combine chopped basil and softened butter until well-combined

Place pesto butter onto parchment paper and roll.  Twist ends of parchment roll.  Refrigerate until firm.

basil butter log.png

Cut into thin slices before serving.

basil butter log cut into pieces.jpg

KOSHER NOTES

Kosher laws disallow the eating of any whole insects and therefore herbs require a process of soaking, rinsing and in some cases, pureeing, unless purchased with a reputable kosher hashgacha (certification). Kashrut authorities differ on the proper checking of broccoli. This blog was not designed to be your kosher authority, so please consult your local rabbinic authority regarding using and preparing fresh herbs.

TIP

For an additional wow, place basil butter in individual molds or interesting ice cube trays.  Freeze until it is easy to pop out into individual decorative pats of butter.

basil butter flowers

Refrigerate or freeze leftovers and use as starter for dairy soups and omelets or as  a delicious accompaniment to roasted or steamed vegetables and fish.

Sukkos Lulav Napkin Fold

 

lulav napkin fold on plate.JPG

Among other mitzvos (Jewish commandments) unique to Sukkos (Jewish Feast of Tabernacles),  we acquire a set of Arba Minim (Four Species).  Each of the Four Species has its own unique character:

The Lulav (palm) is an impressively tall and straight green date palm branch with tightly bound leaves.  It has a sweet date flavor  but no fragrance.  The Lulav represents the Jewish scholar, who has impressive Jewish knowledge but lacks good deeds.

The Hadasim (myrtle branches) are fragrant branches with a spectacular waxy pattern of three leaves protruding from the same point.  Hadasim have fragrance, yet have no flavor.  Hadasim represent those who distinguish themselves with good deeds, yet lack Torah scholarship.

The Aravos (willow branches) are branches with smooth-edged oblong-shaped leaves.  They have neither fragrance nor flavor.  Aravos represent those who lack deeds and scholarship.

The Esrog  (citron) is a yellow lemon-like citrus fruit with beautiful fragrance and flavor. The Esrog represents those impressive Jewish scholars with both knowledge and good deeds.

lulavim

The Four Species represent the inherent uniqueness and beauty in different types of people.   The idea of acquiring these different types of species and unifying them symbolizes the importance of Jewish unity.  Each of the Arba Minim represents people with differing Jewish strengths, Torah knowledge and adherence to good deeds.  The Arba Minim signify the importance of Jewish unity and the recognition of the importance of different members of our nation.

We tie all the branches together: two Aravos on the left, one Lulav in the center, and three Hadasim on the right.   We recite the following blessing:

Hebrew

Hebrew Hebrew

Blessed are You, the Lord of the world, Who has sanctified us in His commandments and commanded us to hold the Lulav

We then raise all Four Species and shake them as one unit in all six directions (forward and backward, right and left, up and down).  The six directions represent G-d’s dominion over the entire world.

These Four Species are brought to synagogue each Sukkos day,  except on Shabbos.  We hold and shake the Four Species during the recitation of the Hallel (praise) prayer and the Four Species are carried as  during Hoshanos, where the men surround the Torah.

To allude to the lulav tradition on Sukkos, I created a lulav napkin fold using two paper napkins.  As long as the twine has been cut before the holiday, these napkins can be easily folded and assembled on Yom Tov (Holiday).

lulav napkin fold.JPG

SUPPLIES

light green napkins
dark green napkins
twine, cut into 2-3 foot sections

heavy-duty scissors

INSTRUCTIONS

Lay each of the light green napkins flat on the table.  Unfold so that it is folded in half lengthwise.  Fold each corner toward the middle to create a point.   Roll or fold  to create the long part of the lulav.

 

Lay each of the dark green napkins flat on the table.  Unfold completely and then fold on the diagonal to form a large triangle.

lulav napkin-triangle fold for leaves

Fold in small sections, back and forth, to create a large fan.

lulav napkin fold-1st fold for leaves

Fold fan in half to form a large “v” shape.

lulav napkin fold-both napkins and twine.JPG

Place fanned “v” dark green napkin in front of light green lulav napkin and twist twine around center of dark green “v”..

lulav napkin fold-tying both napkins.JPG

lulav napkin fold-securing holder

Gently wind the cut twine around and around the two napkins, securing the dark green napkin “leaves” to the lighter napkin lulav. Secure the end of the twine by tucking it in.

Voila!

Sukkos No-Knead Ciabatta: Harvest and Humility

harvest ciabatta

 

The Autumn Jewish holiday of Sukkos is referred to as Zman Simchaseinu  (season of rejoicing) and Chag Ha’Asif (Festival of of Gathering).  It falls at the time of year in Israel that the grain, grapes and olives are ready to be harvested and brought to market.  The winter, spring and summer months of hard work in the field, orchards and vineyards have finally paid off.  For anyone in the agricultural sector, it is truly the season of rejoicing.

At the time of harvest, it is natural for us to feel proud of our material accomplishments and to attribute our success entirely to our efforts and good fortune.   It is precisely at this time that we are commanded to rejoice humbly within the context of the holiday of Sukkos and to give thought to all that G-d has contributed to the success of our bounty.   We are cautioned to maintain our humility, even through the bountiful harvest.

G-d has given us the gift of Sukkos to enjoy the material benefits of a rich bounty within the context of Torah and mitzvos (commandments).  During Sukkos, we read King Solomon’s  scroll of Koheles (Ecclesiastes).   King Solomon, who was the wisest of men, reflects upon the vanity of the pleasures of this world and sums it up in the last verse of .Koheles.  He declares, “the sum of the matter, when all is considered: Fear G‑d and keep His commandments, for this is the entire purpose of man.”

In keeping with the Sukkos themes of Zman Simchaseinu  (season of rejoicing) and Chag Ha’Asif (Festival of of Gathering), I created this wonderful ciabatta recipe.  It uses the basic no-knead dough that I introduced in Ciabatta Challah: a Simple No-Knead Solution with some technique simplifications and addition of pecans, chocolate and raisins.  It highlights the bounty of the season and is the perfect bread to serve at the first Sukkos meal.

It is best prepared in a covered dutch oven but can also be prepared in a heavy loaf pan or crock with a pot lid on top.  It has an absolutely wonderful crunchy crust and delicious interior dotted with nuts, craisins and chocolate.  Although it is best served within 12 hours of baking, my family enjoys it way past those 12 hours.

Happy Sukkos!

INGREDIENTS
3 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups room temperature water

handful of craisins
handful of pecans, chopped
handful of chocolate chips
sprinkle of flour or cornmeal

DIRECTIONS

In a mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and yeast together.  Slowly add water and  mix very well with a wooden spoon or firm spatula to form a sticky dough.  If dough is not sticky, add a bit more water.  Fold in craisins, pecans and chocolate chips.

sukkos ciabatta.jpg

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 12 to 18 hours.

sukkos ciabatta covered

Preheat oven to 450 F degrees.   Place small covered dutch oven or heavy loaf pan with metal cover in the oven for at least 10 minutes.

Remove the pot or pan from oven and remove the lid.

Sprinkle a bit of flour or cornmeal on the top of the dough to ensure that dough does not stick.  Gently coax the dough from the bowl and shape into a rough ball.   Place dough ball upside down in the pot/pan and sprinkle a bit more flour or cornmeal on the top of the dough.

Bake for 30 minutes covered and then remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes more.  Dough should be golden brown when ready.

Apples and Roses: A Rosh Hashana Table Arrangement

roses and apples arrangement

I was looking to create a SimpletoWow fruit and floral arrangement worthy of the Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) table.  On Rosh Hashana, we dip an apple into honey as a symbol for a sweet new year (see Dip the Apple… Rosh Hashana Cupcakes), so incorporating apples into the arrangement was a no-brainer.    I wanted the apples to remain as pristine as possible so that they can be admired as part of the table arrangement but still be ceremoniously eaten later.

Voila!

roses and apples arrangement 2

SUPPLIES

2 large open-blossoms
2 unblemished apples
6 short but full boxwood branches
two to four foot section of 2″x6″ wood beam
copper spray paint
6 clear 4″ square glass vases
water

TOOLS

hand sander
copper spray paint

INSTRUCTIONS

Using hand sander, sand rough edges of beam.

Spray paint the top and all sides of the beams in your favorite color.   I used metallic copper spray paint.  Allow to dry.

Cut two open rose blossoms off of stem.  Float each rose in each of two vases filled with water almost to the top.

Cut six short and full boxwood stems.  Place three boxwood stems in each of two vases filled with water almost to the top.

Select interesting and unblemished apples sized to fill the remaining two vases.  Place these apples into the vases without adding any water.

Set up the six rose, apple and boxwood clear 4″ square glass vases at equal intervals along beam, aligning first and last vases with the edges of the beam.  Optionally, alternate vases on the left and right sides of the beam.

Please Note: This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Challah: Wrapping Up a Bit of Heaven

wrapping a bit of heavenTraditionally, we bake braided challah for Shabbos.    The Hebrew word, challah, actually means loaf of bread and alludes to the mitzvah (commandment) of challah, the blessing and setting aside of a small piece of bread dough during the bread preparation process.

At our Shabbos meals, after we say the kiddush (blessing on wine), we recite a blessing over two loaves of bread on a tray that are covered.  These braided loaves are referred to as Challah, for their importance in our fulfillment of the mitzvah of  challah.

challah x 2

In Numbers 15:17-19, we are taught that at the time of the Temple, when we bake bread, we were to set aside a small piece of dough and give it to the Kohen (priest) to eat.  Today, when we no longer have the Holy Temple, we separate a piece of dough whenever we bake bread.

 

If we have prepared a large batch of dough (at least five pounds), we make the following blessing:

Hebrew:
ברוך אתה י-י אלקינו מלך העולם אשר קדשנו במצוותיו וציונו להפריש חלה

Transliteration:
Ba-Ruch A-tah A-do-noi Elo-hai-nu Me-lech Ha-O-Lam A-sher Ke-di-sha-nu Be-mitz-vo-sav Ve-tzi-va-nu Le-Haf-rish Cha-lah

Translation:
Blessed are You, our G‑d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to separate challah.

We carefully discard the small piece of challah or we burn it.  We call this mitzvah (commandment)  challah.

challah top and bottom dew.jpg

As our ancestors traveled in the desert, the Maan (manna) fell from heaven to physically sustain them.  Every morning, they would go out and collect the Maan.  On the Friday morning before our very first Shabbos in the desert, two portions of the Maan (manna) fell for each person so that they would not collect the Maan on Shabbos.   To commemorate this double portion of Maan,  we set two loaves of challah at our Shabbos table.  The loaves are set upon a bread tray and covered with a decorative challah cover.  The layers underneath and atop the loaves of challah remind us of the layers of dew sent by G-d to lovingly protect the precious Maan, both on top and bottom.

challah a bit of heaven.jpg

The root of the word challah is chol which means secular or common.  The etymology of its name teaches us much about the challah and our relationship to Shabbos and to the world.   The challah tradition takes a mundane, though rhythmic and beautiful, chol (secular or common) task of baking bread  and elevates it into something extraordinary and holy.  It recreates a physical baking process into a spiritual tradition that provides service and generosity from the baker to the Kohen and ultimately to G-d.

The challah is typically braided with three strands.  The two loaves contain six strands of dough.  This symbolizes the six days of the week preceding Shabbos.  The braids allude to our bringing together the six weekdays of material sustenance into Shabbos, when we create unity and harmony by infusing our lives with spiritual sustenance.

Shabbos and the challah represents unity and spiritual direction.  The six weekdays represent the diverse secular part of our week.   The days, Sunday through Friday, each represent one of the six directions in our secular world: North, South, East, West, upward and downward.  During these weekdays, we move outward as we attempt to master our physical environment.

Shabbos is different.  It points inward, and we attempt to infuse our neshoma (soul) with the gifts of spiritual sustenance.  We try to achieve a sense of peace and unity as we direct the blessings of the week into our homes.   On Shabbos, we greet each other with the words, Shabbat Shalom (peaceful Shabbos) as that is the ultimate goal, one of finding great inner peace as we bring ourselves closer to the ones we love and to G-d.

In the past, when I performed the challah tradition, I either burned the challah portion or carefully wrapped it and discarded it according to the letter of the law.  After today’s baking of the challah, I added something else.  I added a pretty bag and a bow to the discarded piece of challah.  If I were to bring it to the Kohen, I would wrap it properly, so certainly, if I am designated this small piece of dough for G-d, I must present it well.  If my weekday recipes must be simple to wow, then certainly my spiritual traditions must be up to par!

Does G-d really care about the external trappings?  Maybe, yes or maybe, no.  But, there are at least two parts of every mitzvah (commandment).  There is the relationship part of the mitzvah that connects a person to G-d.  Then, there is another part of every mitzvah that is at least as important.  It is how that mitzvah cleanses and imprints the soul of the individual performing the mitzvah.  So, wrapping the piece of donated challah with a bow may not affect G-d’s relationship with me, but that special wrapping of the challah donation really imprints me with a greater sensitivity, understanding and yearning to perform the mitzvos (commandments).

 

 

Tisha B’Av: On Sadness, Continuity and Redemption

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We are in Israel and the saddest day on the Jewish calendar has begun. Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av) has been commemorated throughout the ages as a day of Jewish national tragedy. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears.

It is a day that the following terrible Jewish tragedies have occurred:

  • The First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE
  • The Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE
  • The city of Beitar was destroyed by the Romans in 135 CE and the Jewish population of that city was annihilated.
  • Turnus Rufus, a Roman warrior, plowed the city of Jerusalem in 135 CE.
  • Jews were expelled from England in 1290, from France in 1306, and from Spain in 1492.
  • Germany entered World War I in 1914
  • SS commander Heinrich Himmler received formal approval for The Final Solution and thus began the Holocaust.
  • The Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto. in 1942

We fast on this day, we sit on or close to the floor and we cry for the pain of the losses, the devastation and the void left by the destruction of the Jewish Temples almost 2000 years ago. Our tears are for the majesty that was lost and for the light of the connection to G-d at the time of the Holy Temples that was unparalleled. We cry over what we had and what we have lost.  And we pray for our tears of sadness will be replaced with rejoicing upon the final redemption.  .

According to the Jewish calendar, the festival of Pesach (Passover) always falls out on the same day of the week as Tisha B’Av. In Hebrew, there is no real word for coincidence because in Judaism things are just not coincidental. Things that happen in the same way were meant to be that way. And so, there must be a connection between Pesach, the festival of Geula (redemption) and Tisha B’av, the day of national mourning.

Redemption by definition implies that we will return to something that we have lost, something that we have already experienced. While Pesach commemorates our becoming a nation through the open miracles of our Exodus from Egypt, Tisha B’av dwells on our mourning the details of all that we have lost through the destruction of the Holy Temples in Jerusalem.

Only by understanding what we are missing can we ever hope to regain that which has been lost. And, so, on this day of national mourning, we lament the loss of the grandeur of the Holy Temples, the unity and the closeness that the spiritual relationship we experienced  during that time.  We read Megillas Eicha (the scroll of lamentations) and we shed true tears for all the tragedy and pain that has befallen our nation and has taken us from the holiness of an era long past.

Our fast begins on the eve of Tisha B’Av and continues until dark nightfall on the next day.  The mourning begins with great intensity and we sit on the floor or low chairs as Jewish mourners do.  We fast throughout the day, but the mourning gradually lessens throughout the day of Tisha B’Av. At Chatzos (midday), we are permitted to sit on regular chairs.

On this terrible day in history,  the structure of our precious Temple was set afire by our enemies. And, the most intense burning of the wood and stones of our Temples occurred at midday.

So, why would midday, the time of the most painful sight of the fiery destruction of our most holy site and of the holiest place on earth, be the time that we start lessening our mourning?

Because precisely at the moment that our precious Temples began burning did we see the hope for the future and the end of our mourning.

At midday, yes, our holiest Jewish sites were burning but we understood that our nation would survive. G-d had chosen to pour out his wrath on the stones and wood of Jerusalem’s holiest site and left our nation to repent, heal and hope for redemption.  That is true continuity and that is mourning with a mission.

And that is precisely the connection to Pesach. Pesach is the celebration of our becoming a nation and our hope for the Final Redemption. Tisha B’av, although painful, is integral for forcing us to recognize what we have lost.  It is the ultimate day for us to contemplate our continuity and redemption and return to what we had.   Tisha B’av is the day to elucidate what we had and cry real tears of understanding for the enormity of the void left by these losses. Only then, will we be granted the merit to witness the Final Redemption and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple.

Simply Perfect and Healthier Cheesecake

simply perfect cheesecake with fruitWe are counting the days until Shavuos (lit: weeks).

Yes.  Shavuos is the holiday that we literally count the days toward its arrival. We count 49 days (seven weeks) from Pesach (Passover) to Shavuos, blessing the sefira (counting) every evening from the second night of Pesach until Shavuos begins.

From a culinary perspective, many of us count the days until we can enjoy the delicious dairy foods that have become associated with Shavuos. We are commanded to eat dairy foods at our festive meals (Countdown to Shavuos: Floral Inspirations and Dairy Recipes) on Shavuos and cheesecake has become one of the iconic desserts associated with Shavuos.

Shavuos commemorates the receiving of the Torah by the Jewish nation. It also is the time that the wheat is harvested and the bikurim (first fruits) were brought to the Holy Temple in a lavish ceremony (Bekurim: First Fruits from Hollister).  So, this year’s cheesecake is decorated with fruits, so symbolic of the bikurim ceremony.

I have kept the preparation simple and have incorporated greek yogurt and light cream cheese into the recipe to make for a healthier cheescake.   The flavor and texture is still impeccably delicious.

Just like last year’s mini cheesecake recipe, this recipe does not require a springform pan or a water bath for baking.  It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature just before preparation.   Preparation takes a few minutes and the baking is simple. It can be prepared as one round or rectangular cheesecake or in 12-16 mini ramekins.

simply perfect individual cheescake

SUPPLIES

spatula

food processor

mixer

INGREDIENTS

2 pounds light or regular cream cheese
2/3 cup sugar
8 ounce container of plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs

2 cups cookies or graham crackers, crushed

4 tablespoons butter

cooking spray

DIRECTIONS

It is best to bring the ingredients to room temperature before baking to prevent cracking, although I have made this recipe effectively with ingredients right out of the refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Prepare cake pan or ramekins by generously spraying with cooking spray and/ or lining with parchment paper .

In food processor fitted with an S-blade, crush cookies and add butter, pulsing until mixture is fully incorporated.  You can also place cookies in a zipper bag and crush using a mallet or rolling pin, adding butter to the bag and kneading gently.  Gently press cookie-butter mixture into pan or ramekins.

Beat cream cheese, yogurt, sugar, eggs and vanilla in a food processor or with a mixer, just until smooth and creamy.  You can also use a whisk to incorporate and beat all these ingredients.  You will have to scrape sides of bowl to incorporate everything well until combined, smooth and creamy.

Pour mixture into pans or ramekins, filling 2/3 of the way to the top.  I find it easiest to pour the mixture from a glass measuring cup with a spout..

Bake mini ramekins for 15 minutes, 3-4″ ramekins for about 18-20 minutes and larger pan for 30 minutes.  Turn oven off and leave in oven to another hour.

Remove from the oven and cool completely.  Chill the ramekin cheesecakes for at least 2 hours and the larger cheesecake for at least 4 hours.  Gently remove cheesecake(s) from pan(s).

Garnish with fruit, berries, edible leaves and flowers. Dust with powdered sugar right before serving.

 

Charoset Ices

charoset ices

Last year in Israel, we discovered that Ben and Jerry’s manufactures Charoset ice cream for Pesach (Passover).  We bought it at the Israel supermarket for its Passover-themed value but we devoured it for its delicious taste.

charoset ice cream.png

After all,  charoset is a traditional dip consumed at the Passover Seder. It is typically prepared with chopped apples, nuts, cinnamon and red wine or grape juice.   The charoset is a  gritty dip for the Maror (bitter herbs) that symbolizes the mortar used by the Jews to fashion bricks while they were enslaved in Egypt.

The apples and grape juice or wine lend a sweet taste to this dish and make for the perfect combination of ingredients to prepare charoset ices.  This will make the perfect dessert for your Pesach meal.

 

INGREDIENTS

3-4 apples, cut into large chunks
1 cup wine or grape juice
dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup nuts
1 cup frozen grapes
small romaine heart (optional, for garnish)

DIRECTIONS

Using the s-blade of the food processor, puree all ingredients except romaine heart until just combined.

Freeze until solid or overnight.

Once frozen, remove from freezer and defrost just enough to scoop back into the food processor fitted with the s-blade.

Pulse sorbet in food processor just until smooth.  Refreeze.

To allow for simple entertaining, I usually defrost for 20-30 minutes before scooping.

Garnish with a small piece of romaine lettuce.

SUBSTITUTIONS

Any frozen fruit may be substituted for the frozen grapes.  Just make sure to taste puree and blend with enough wine or  juice for optimal sweetness.  Honey may be added as well to sweeten the sorbet.

TIPS

I scoop the sorbet into small cups in advance and freeze in the cups until ready to serve. That speeds up the serving of a frozen dessert and keeps everything tidy.    I add the garnish at the end so that the leaves stay fresh and green.charoset ices.jpg

Frosted Candied Grapes

Grapes are featured prominently at the annual Pesach (Passover) seder (festive meal, lit: order).  After all, we drink four cups of wine or grape juice and the seder ceremony begins with the kiddush (santification) over the first cup of wine (or grape juice).  Wine is featured in the charoset (fruit and nut dip symbolizing mortar) for the maror (bitter herbs).

The seder is a mixture of tradition and whimsy.  It is the only night on the Jewish calendar when we sing Hallel (songs of praise) and tell the story of Egypt at length.  It is an evening in which we engage the children and pass these Jewish traditions from generation to generation.  In fact, so much of the elements of the seder are intended to pique the interest of our children.

Which brings me to candied grapes.  We are taught that parents are to give their children special foods and gifts in order to engage them at the seder.  So, why not combine the elements of tradition and whimsy in creating these adorable and delicious candied grapes?

One note of caution, though.  The round shape of the grapes  can create a choking hazard for small children.  These grapes should not be given to young children, unless they are quartered.

These grapes can make a delicious snack or the perfect garnish for desserts.

 
candied grapesINGREDIENTS

1 box jello
grapes

 
DIRECTIONS

Rinse individual grapes thoroughly in a colander. Spread jello powder in a pie plate or large plate.  Coat grapes with powder.    Place on waxed or parchment paper to dry.
Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow gelatin to set.

NOTES

The round shape of the grapes  can present a choking hazard for small children.  These grapes should not be given to young children, unless they are quartered.

Goldie’s Vintage Sheva Brochos Menu

Last week, I hosted Sheva Brochos for my cousin, Goldie and her chosson (groom),  Tuvia. The Sheva Brochos are seven blessings that are recited at the wedding and then again daily for the first week of marriage.  Typically, the tradition of Sheva Brochos includes a festive meal followed by the recitation of these seven blessings in the presence of a minyan (at least 10 men).  It is a wonderful way to bring family and friends together to usher the new couple into a lifetime of harmony, friendship, song and blessing.   It is an exhilarating way to extend the excitement of the wedding for the first week of a Jewish couple’s marriage. Many of the seven blessings are recited in song and we traditionally end each of the Sheva Brochos celebrations that we host in our home with dancing.

So that we could enjoy the party and our many guests, I chose appetizer, entree and dessert menu items that could be easily set up in advance without too much attention. That way, I could enjoy the guests, the atmosphere and the spirit of these Sheva Brochos.

Whenever I entertain guests, I try to first get an idea of their food allergies, likes and dislikes.  The word was that this couple likes meat and potatoes and very traditional food. I decided to nix the Spanish fiesta and Asian fusion theme options and opt instead for a vintage-themed party.

The menu was simple to prepare and assemble and was so well-received by our guests. The room-temperature tortilla shell appetizers were plated and served in advance of the start time.  They were colorful, beautiful and delicious.  The salads and entree selections were served buffet-style and the dessert selections were set up on a Viennese table.

To create the vintage-inspired theme, I gathered old pictures of my cousin and her family. I printed them in 4×6″ formats and scattered them in frames on tables throughout.

Mazel tov, Tuvia and Goldie!

So often, I am asked to share the menus that I use for entertaining.  So, here is the menu that I chose for this wonderful sheva brochos celebration:

Tortilla bowls filled with corn, avocado salad and grilled chicken garnished with Curly Scallions

Asian Red Cabbage Salad…Simple and Wow
Bok Choy and Craisin Salad
Apple, Beet and Pomegranate Slaw
Israeli Salad

Simply Reliable One Pan Roast Chicken Dinner
Low and Slow Oven Brisket: No Braising Necessary

Simply the Best Potato Kugel Ever
Vegetable Kugel with lattice and monogram

strawberry pomegranate daquiris with gooseberry garnish
chocolate mousse flowerpots
individual fresh fruit cups
Simply Delicious Baked Apples garnished with Chards of Colorful Chocolate Bark

Sheva Brochos To-Go Station

 

Last week, in preparation for Goldie and Tuvia’s Sheva Brochos (one of seven wedding after-parties, each with seven blessings), I purchased a large box of hamentaschen (triangular Purim pastries) to add to the Viennese table. While I was setting up, Don mentioned that we should set up a to-go station similar to those that we had at our daughters weddings. He thought that we should set out the hamentaschen individually wrapped along with tea and coffee.

I thought that was a wonderful idea.

Except, the weather was unseasonably warm.

So, we set up a water bottle and hamentaschen to-go station with personalized labels for the hamentaschen and water bottles.

I covered an old desk with an elegant tablecloth and inserted a printed sign into a vintage frame that read:

“Please take
something cold and something sweet
for the road ahead”

Our guests loved it.  It really was simple to wow them.

And, we plan to do this again at our next home celebration.

Great idea, Don!

to-go-station-complete

White and Wow Wedding Arches

white-and-wow-arches

When Kaitlyn’s friends started to get married, we realized that there were no places in our community to rent or borrow wedding shtick (items of whimsy to adorn the wedding dancing).

That left only one choice.

We quickly needed to figure out how to make our own.

And we did. The most popular item that we designed were our wedding arches.

After the traditional Jewish wedding chupah (Jewish canopy) ceremony, the Jewish bride and groom have a few moments alone called Yichud (seclusion) in order to enjoy each other’s company before entering the reception room.

As the bride and groom prepare to enter the reception room after Yichud, there is palpable excitement in the air.  The band gets ready to perform a musical intro and the guests are on their feet waiting to dance the new couple into their lives together.

In the last few years, so many Jewish couples enter the reception by dancing under beautiful arches held by their friends and family.  There is nothing in halacha (Jewish law) or minhag (Jewish custom) that explains the significance of these arches.

So, we are truly left to our imagination.

Perhaps, the arches mimic the idea of the chupah, a shelter representing their new home and they represent the doorway from the new couple’s status as individuals into a life of togetherness. Perhaps, these arches connect earth and heaven.  Maybe, they incorporate the idea that the new couple is rooted in the friends and family that hold the arches.

Nonetheless, these arches carry the excitement and whimsy of an exciting new chapter just opened by this new Jewish couple.

And, that is what has guided the design of our wedding shtick.

These arches can be designed in so many different ways.  We have feathered and flower arches, but our most popular arches are our fluffy, curly and whimsical mesh arches.

We offer all of our wedding shtick with a donation to Camp HASC (Hebrew Academy for Special Children) in memory of Stephanie Cohen a’h. Stephanie was a very special friend of our daughter, Leah, and our family.  Her dear parents, Lisa and Stuart, are like part of our own family.  The joyfulness and whimsy of these arches were designed with Stephanie’s delightful character and joyful nature in mind.

stephanie-cohen

Stephanie lived a life of joy and lit up the lives of all those who knew her.  Although she was physically and cognitively challenged, she used every fiber of her body to bring happiness and whimsy to others.  She taught everyone around her about being positive and happy  in one’s life and she brought a smile to all who interacted with her.  The original set of colorful mesh arches were designed using Stephanie’s favorite vibrant colors in order to raise money for the place that she loved most, Camp HASC.  

arches-with-michelle-and-scotty

Stephanie’s colorful arches have been and continued to be borrowed over and over and have raised a great deal of money for Camp HASC.

This week, I  designed a new set of white and wow wedding arches to complement the colorful mesh arches that were designed several years ago. This time I documented the supplies and directions necessary to create their design.

Here we go!

SUPPLIES

hula hoop
heavy-duty scissors
scotch or cloth tape (optional)
duct tape or White Gorilla duct tape
21″ wide deco mesh (For each arch, I needed one 10-yard roll of deco mesh plus extra embellished mesh for accents)
pipe cleaners to match mesh or floral wire
white gloves (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Carefully cut a hula hoop using strong scissors.  Some hula hoops have beads inside to create hula hoop sound effects.  If you would like to add those sound effects to a plain hula hoop, add a few beads to the inside of the cut hula hoop.

Cover the ends of the hula hoop with duct or cloth tape to prevent the beads inside from falling out.  Use duct tape to coat the hula hoop from one end to the other.  I find that the easiest way is to leave a 2-3 inch section of tape exposed on the roll and wrap the duct tape roll around and around the cut hula hoop.

mesh-wedding-arches-hula-hoop-covered-in-duct-tape

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 12-16 inch sections.

Line up mesh near one end of the hoop.  Begin securing the mesh to the hula hoop by using a pipe cleaner or mesh to secure the mesh to the hula hoop about 6 inches from the end of the hula hoop.

Making sure that the mesh covers both sides of the hula hoop, wrap the mesh around the hula hoop, twisting slightly to form a swelling effect.  Secure mesh again to the hula hoop in about 12-15 inches.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-wrapped-around-hula-hoop

deco-mesh-arches-hula-hoops-covered-in-duct-tape

Continue to wrap the mesh around the hoop, securing it with the pipe cleaner or cut wire at equal intervals, making sure that the last interval before the end of the hula hoop is secured about 6 inches from the other end.

deco-mesh-arches-wired-at-even-intervals

Cut the mesh close to the end of the hula hoop, leaving the same amount of space for a handle at both ends.

Using the deco mesh, cut 8-12 inch sections of mesh.  The longer the sections, the more perfect your rolls will look.  The shorter the sections, the more rolls you will have.

mesh-wedding-arches-mesh-tubes

deco-mesh-arch-rolled-mesh

Prepare pipe cleaners or cut wire into 18-30 inch sections.

Take 3-4 deco mesh rolls and twist a pipe cleaner or wire section around the middle, forming a whimsical curly flower, making sure to twist the middle tightly, but to leave plenty of wire at the ends so that the curly flower can be securely fastened to the arch.  Here is where you can be creative and incorporate different colors, textures, ribbons or media.  For these arches, I used three white sparkly mesh rolls and one 4″ section of bubbly mesh for each curly flower.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish-with-wire

Continue to cut deco mesh rolls and create at least as many curly flowers as you have secured intervals on your hula hoop arch.  Each one of these flowers will cover the wire that you used to secure the mesh to the hula hoop.

deco-mesh-arch-flourish

I like to prepare a few extra curly flowers to fill in the middle of the arch, which will add whimsy and height to the final arch.  I also sometimes prepare a few smaller curly flowers, made with only 2-3 curls to fill in areas where the arch needs some more volume.

mesh-wedding-arches-in-parts

Using the ends of the wire or pipe cleaner, secure each flower to the arch covering the exposed pipe cleaner or wire that you created when you secured the mesh to the hula hoop, making sure to twist tightly and secure all wire ends.  Examine your arch carefully and critically, adjusting curly flowers to cover both sides of the hula hoop and making sire that the arc looks full.  Add curly flowers to areas on your arch that look unadorned.  To achieve a full look, each of these arches took 9-12 curly mesh flowers.

deco-mesh-arch

If necessary, cut the end of the deco mesh so that at least 2-3 inches at each end of the hula hoop can be handled.  Use heavy duty duct tape, secure the ends of the deco mesh to the handle.  Wrap the duct tape around and around so that the handle is neat, comfortable and secure.

To give the arches a more finished look, wrap matching pipe cleaners around all exposed wire securing the curly flowers to the mesh hula hoop.

If you would like to make a donation to Camp HASC  or would like information on borrowing these arches for an upcoming wedding, please comment below or email me at simpletowow@gmail.com.

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The Blessing and Renewal of Tu Beshvat

 

tu beshvat fruit salad with kiwi garnish.jpg

 

Tomorrow is Tu B’Shevat , ט״ו בשבט‎‎, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shevat.   This special Jewish day commemorates the New Year of the Trees.

We are  taught that the trees are judged on this date for the fruit that will be produced in the next growing year.  In Israel, this is the beginning of fruit trees emerging from winter dormancy to begin a new fruit-bearing season.

To commemorate this special day, we enjoy fruit, especially fruits synonymous with the Land of Israel.  In the Torah, certain fruits are praised as the bounty of Israel and we make certain to enjoy these fruits on this day.  These fruits of mention are olives, dates, grapes, figs and pomegranates.

Tu B’Shevat reminds us of the dormant potential in the trees and in each one of us.  Just as the trees and their seeds lie dormant during the harsh and cold winter months, often we have times of dormancy.  Our hope is that we recognize the potential in ourselves, our children and those around us, even in the harshest and most challenging of times. Precisely at this time, while it is still cold and unforgiving outside, the trees celebrate their New Year.

May each one of us celebrate this festival of potential, growth and blossoming in our gardens, our families and our hearts.

This fruit salad incorporates some new fruits and some of the fabulous fruits of Israel. We thank G-d when enjoying the vibrant colors, textures and flavors of fruit by reciting this blessing:

Hebrew:

Transliteration
Baruch atah A-donai Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam Borei Pri Ha-aitz.

Translation
Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the tree.

When we eat new fruits that we have not eaten for an entire season, we also bless G-d with this special blessing:

Hebrew:Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, v'higianu laz'man hazeh.

Transliteration
Baruch atah A-donai, Elo-heinu Melech Ha’Olam shehecheyanu v’kiyimanu v’higi’anu laz’man hazeh

Translation
Blessed are you, L-rd our G-d, King of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season

This fruit salad incorporates so many of the fruits that I love to purchase at the Machene Yehuda Shuk (Jerusalem open-air market) while we are in Israel.  I hope that it connects you to The Land, to G-d and to the potential that is Tu Beshvat, too.

Happy Tu Beshvat!

INGREDIENTS
dragon fruit
kiwi (see tips)
star fruit
watermelon
persimmon
Asian pears (see tips)
strawberries
dates
pomegranates

SPECIAL SUPPLIES
melon baller
scallop knife
peeler

DIRECTIONS
Was, dice, scoop and cut fruit into small pieces.  Gently toss and optionally garnish with Simple Kiwi Flower Garnish.

 

TIPS 

To keep fruits like Asian pears from oxidizing, place cut pieces in a solution of 4 parts water to 1 part of lemon juice r pineapple juice.

Peel kiwi with a vegetable peeler.  You will preserve more of the fruit.

Please Note:  This post contains affiliate links from Amazon, which means I earn a small commission if you click and make a purchase.

Don’s Birthday Ice Cream Cake

dons birthday cake sliced.jpg

For Don’s birthday every year, I prepare a birthday cake for him. It doesn’t need to be fancy or fussy.  It just needs to contain lots and lots of his favorite ice cream….Baskin Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge.

To Don, there is nothing quite like this flavor.  Because…Don knows what he likes in ice cream.

In Haagen Dazs, it is coffee.

In Breyers, it is Butter Almond (not butter pecan-I’ve made that mistake more than once).

In Friendly’s, it is chocolate almond chip.

But his most favorite,  most beloved food he’d take if he was stranded on a dessert island really is Baskin Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge.

So, I’ve learned to not mess with that favorite ice cream flavor choice. And, most years, I just buy cartons of this cherished ice cream and mold it as is with no other ingredients.

This year, I thought that I would be a bit more creative.  I made a simple ganache with coffee and chocolate and crushed some coffee-flavored wafers to place between the ice cream layers.  I was careful not to detract too much from the star of the cake, the Jamoca Almond Fudge ice cream.

Happy Birthday, Don!

 

 

INGREDIENTS

2-4 quarts of ice cream
milk
chocolate wafers
chocolate chips
chocolate for garnish
sprinkles (optional)
whipped cream

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Freeze ice cream in layers until firm.  I used disposable round pans.

Prepare crumb layers by crushing wafers and adding just enough milk for the crumbs to hold together.

Use a large disposable plate or parchment-covered base to create ice cream cake:  Starting and ending with ice cream layer, layer ice cream layers and crumb layers. Freeze until firm.

Prepare ganache by melting 1-2 cups of chocolate or chocolate chips, 2 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of coffee.  Melt over low heat until smooth and creamy.

Remove ice cream cake from freezer and carefully pour ganache over cake, allowing some of the ganache to puddle at the bottom.

Freeze until firm.  Using a spatula, reapply puddled ganache to the sides of the cake. Optionally, press sprinkles into sides of cake.

Garnish top of cake with whipped cream and favorite chocolate garnish.

Savta’s Sweet Potato Latkes

sweet-potato-latkes

 

Savta loves to make latkes and kugels.  I vividly remember how delicious they were when we were growing up and Savta’s kugel and latkes have become a real delicacy for my children.

This is Savta’s sweet potato latke recipe.  It is perfect.

INGREDIENTS

4 medium red potatoes, peeled
1-2 onions, peeled
1 sweet potato
3  eggs
4 tablespoons  flour
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

DIRECTIONS

Using the s-blade of the food processor, process 2 potatoes with the onions, eggs, flour and seasonings. Using the shredder blade of the food processor, shred the remaining potatoes and sweet potatoes. Gently combine all the ingredients together in a large bowl.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Spoon a ladle-size amount  of  potato mixture into the oil and fry for 2 minutes. Turn the pancakes over and fry for 2 minutes more.  Latkes should be crispy on the outside and golden brown.

Latkes are best served hot from the skillet.

Leah’s Parsnip Latkes

Leah has been in charge of preparing Sunday night’s dinner.  Leah has a taste and flair for interesting vegetable combinations.   Delegating the responsibility of preparing dinner frees me and gives others a renewed appreciation for all that dinner preparation entails.  Best of all, it introduces all of us, the diners, to the cook’s creativity and style.

This week, Leah prepared a masterful dinner of salad and parsnip latkes.

Parsnip is a root vegetable with a very unique flavor. Although it looks like a white carrot, it has a sweet, earthy and almost nutty flavor. Leah combined ingredients that we had on hand to wow us with this simple dish of complex flavors, just in time for Chanukah

 

INGREDIENTS

1 large russet potato, peeled

2-3 parsnips, peeled

medium lime, for juice and zest

1/4 cup flour

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

oil

 

DIRECTIONS

Zest lime and squeeze out the lime juice.

Coarsely grate potato and parsnips by hand or by using the shredder blade on the food processor. Sprinkle with lime juice and then carefully wrap the shredded vegetables in a kitchen towel to squeeze out as much liquid as you can.  Whisk egg and then add shredded potatoes and parsnips, lime zest, flour, salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Spoon a ladle-size amount  of  latke mixture into the oil and fry for 2 minutes. Turn the pancakes over and fry for 2 minutes more.  Latkes should be crispy on the outside and golden brown.

Latkes are best served hot from the skillet.

Simply Perfect Sufganiot in a Zipper Bag

I like to stay close to the latest trends in cooking and design.  One trendy and helpful technique in preparing dough is to use a zipper bag for preparing and kneading the dough.  It is a great idea for most dough and really reduces the cleanup.  Best of all, since the zipper bag can be discarded after use, this simple dough technique virtually eliminates those nasty dough-covered utensils and sponges that are so difficult to clean.

The ziploc bag eliminates the dusty mess of flour and allows all the dough crumbles to remain in the disposable ziploc bags.  Since the sufganiot in this recipe are amorphous and just dropped into oil, the ziploc bag can even be used  to dispense the doughnuts right into the frying pan.

I have adapted my favorite sufganiot recipe to use the ziploc bag.  I have tried it and it is just perfect!

sufganiot-in-a-bag-in-oil

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup warm water
2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dry active yeast

1 cup flour

1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup warm water
Olive oil, for frying

Powdered sugar (optional)

large zipper bag (1-2 gallon)

 

DIRECTIONS

In a ziploc bag, dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water.  To do this easily, I fold top of zipper bag over a small pan so that bottom of zipper bag is at bottom of pan and top of bag is folded over sides of the pan.    This ensures that the liquid contents do not spill over.

sufganiot zipper bag in pan.jpg

Wait until yeast mixture becomes bubbly or foamy.  If the yeast mixture does not bubble and foam, the yeast is not active and you will have to redo this step, making sure that the water used is warm but not too hot to touch.

 

Carefully add salt and flour to the yeast mixture, kneading the bag until all the flour has been incorporated, for several minutes.   The dough should resemble a thick, sticky cake batter.

sufganiot-in-a-bag-yeast-dough-before-rising-2

 

Spray your hands with oil spray or rub oil on your hands.  With your oiled hands, carefully rub the oil all over the dough. making sure to coat all sides of the dough.  Rub or spray oil on the entire inside of the zipper bag, too.

Allow dough to rise for 3-4 hours in the bag.  Open zipper and gently let the excess air out of the bag.  Gently push down the dough by pressing on the outside of the bag.

In a pot or sauce pan with a large opening, over medium heat, heat 1-2 inches of olive oil until sizzling.

Cut a corner into the side of the zipper bag to allow dispensing of the dough directly from the zipper bag corner.

sufganiot-in-a-bag-after-risen

Squeeze donuts into the oil by pushing dough into corner of bag and squeezing out small pieces of odd-shaped dough out of the zipper bag.  You may have to coax and pull donuts out of the bag into the oil using oiled hands.

Repeat until you have filled the oil with donuts without crowding, as the sufganiot will puff up during the ferrying process.

 

sufganiot-in-a-bag-in-oil

 

Turn them over once the bottom is golden brown.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove each doughnut from the oil and place on a plate lined with paper towels.

Sprinkle powdered sugar over the doughnuts and enjoy!

Happy Chanukah!

Simple Baked Potato Kugelatkes

 

kugelatkes-serving-suggestion

kugelatkes

Traditionally, we eat potato latkes (pancakes) on Chanukah.  We eat foods prepared with oil to commemorate the miracle of the oil in the Beis Hamikdash (Holy Temple) once the Jews were victorious over the Greeks.  After the miraculous war, the Jews entered the desecrated Temple and only found enough pure olive oil to light the Menorah (candelabra) for one day.  The tiny  bit of oil lasted for an entire eight days, enough time for the Jews to get new pure oil to light the Menorah in the Beis Hamikdash, so that the Menorah would be continuously lit.

While latkes are so traditionally linked to Chanukah, there are so many foods that contain olive oil that may just as well commemorate the oil miracle of the Temple.

Truth be told, I hate to fry latkes.

It just takes too much time, too much splatter and it is so hard to manage while entertaining a houseful of guests.

I usually make one batch of latkes just for the first night and find other make-in-advance olive oil alternatives when we entertain guests over Chanukah.

This year, I have adapted my favorite potato kugel recipe to make baked potato kugelatkes.  I made them in a bundt-shaped muffin tin, but they can easily be baked in a cupcake tin, as well.

They are simple to prepare, beautiful and delicious to behold, require no frying and can be prepared well in advance of the Chanukah meal.

(more…)

..In the Honey: Rosh Hoshana Honeycomb Cupcakes

 

beehive-cupcake

Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year) is coming and our friend (and Davida’s superMom), Staci Segal, is sponsoring a pre-Rosh Hashana bake sale to benefit benefit Ohr Meir U’Bracha, The Terror Victims Support Center of Israel.

Last year, Davida baked delicious muffins for this bake sale.  This year Davida and Staci’s daughter, Chava, are  studying in Israel, so I offered to bake and send over some cupcakes for this important event.  Although Davida and Chava are the true masters in my kitchen, I felt that I needed to prove that I still had some kitchen prowess.

I decided to bake two sets of cupcakes to represent the important and symbolic tradition of dipping an apple in honey on Rosh Hashana.  The first set of cupcakes were Dip the Apple… Rosh Hashana Cupcakes.

 

Now, all we needed were the honey cupcakes.  For these, I decided to prepare cupcakes shaped like beehives, with edible chocolate honeycombs and adorable jelly bean bees.

We dip an apple into honey at our festive evening meals on Rosh Hashana to symbolize our hope and prayer for a “sweet” New Year.   Honey is one of the symbols for the Land of Israel as the Torah describes Israel as a land “flowing with milk and honey.”  It symbolizes the connection between G-d, the Jewish nation and the Land of Israel.

The honey referred to in the Torah is date honey.  Today,  date honey is sold in Israel, but most of the honey found is bee honey.  These cupcakes were shaped liked beehives to represent this sweet symbol.

 

These cupcakes are available for sale among other delicious desserts at the Segal Home this Sunday, September 25th, 2016 from 2-8 PM.  Their address is 475 FDR Drive #301 on the Lower East Side. For more information, please contact Staci at 917-295-7295 or stacisegal@aol.com

 

SUPPLIES

Cupcakes

Melting wafers (for honeycomb pieces)

Parchment or wax paper

Clean bubble wrap

White frosting

Chocolate frosting

Mini cup cones

Black and yellow jelly beans

Slivered almonds

 

 

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Bake your favorite cupcakes.

Melt chocolate wafers or chips.  I use the defrost feature on the microwave.  I spread the chocolate out on a microwave-safe dinner plate and place it on defrost for 6-8 minutes.

Spread the chocolate out on a piece of parchment or wax paper, keeping the chocolate thin but not translucent.    Press clean bubble wrap with bubble side down onto melted chocolate.

beehive-chocolate-with-bubble-wrap

Keep bubble wrap until chocolate has hardened and carefully peel off.  Break the chocolate into chards that resemble pieces of honeycombs.

beehive-shards

 

Place a mini cup cone upside down in the center of each cupcake, pressing down until it is set into place.

Fill a ziploc or piping bag with white or yellow frosting.  To do this neatly, place a bag in a tall glass and fold the top of the bag over the edge of the glass like a collar.  Using a spatula, fill the bag.  Cut corner of bag with an opening big enough to pipe thick frosting.  Squeeze frosting to corner carefully.

beehive-cupcakes-in-progress

Pipe frosting on each cupcake, surrounding upside down cone and piping to top of cone.

Place a chocolate honeycomb chard on the side of each cupcake.  Place one or two jellybeans on each cupcake.   Place slivered almonds on either side of each jellybean.

Fill two small ziploc or piping bags with chocolate and white frosting.  To do this neatly, place the bag in a tall glass and fold the top of the bag over the edge of the glass like a collar and fill with frosting.  Cut corner of bag with a tiny opening to pipe thin stripes on the jellybean bees.   Carefully squeeze frosting to corner.

beehive-cupcakes-decorating-ingredients-and-bags

Pipe stripes of white frosting on black jellybeans.  Pipe stripes of chocolate frosting on yellow jellybeans.

beehive-cupcakes-in-carrier

 

 

Wishing you all a Kesiva Ve’Chasma Tova (a positive inscription and seal for the upcoming year).

Dip the Apple… Rosh Hashana Cupcakes

Rosh Hashana is coming and our friend (and Davida’s superMom), Staci Segal, is sponsoring a pre-Rosh Hashana bake sale to benefit benefit Ohr Meir U’Bracha, The Terror Victims Support Center of Israel.

Last year, Davida baked glazed carrot muffins for this bake sale.  This year Davida and Staci’s daughter, Chava, are spending the year studying in Israel, so I offered to bake and send over some cupcakes for this important event.  I wanted to make sure that the Segal bake sale would have adequate Respler representation.

I sat down to think about what I could bake that would be unique and delicious.  It needed to be something easy to transport,  interesting and something appropriate for Rosh Hashanah.

The first thing that came to mind was an apple dessert.  The apple is such a strong symbol of Rosh Hashana.

During Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year), we eat apples dipped in honey as a symbol for a sweet new year.   It is interesting that an apple is chosen as the fruit to dip.

One reason is that in King Solomon’s Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), the nation of Israel is compared to an apple.  “As the apple is rare and unique among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved (Israel) amongst the maidens (nations) of the world.”  Furthernore, an apple is symbolic of the love between the nation of Israel and G-d as we read in Shir Hashirim , “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you.”

We are taught that an apple tree sprouts the tiny core of each apple before the leaves surround and protect the young fruit.  In the same way, the young Jewish nation accepted the Torah before understanding the myriad of details within.  The famous acceptance of our nation was verbalized as “we will do and we will understand”.  We committed to the holy observance of Torah commandments even before we understood the full extent of what this commitment entailed.  Therefore, the apple has become a symbol and remembrance of the commitment to our faith and acceptance of Torah at Mount Sinai.  We recall this on Rosh Hashana when our mission is to proclaim G-d as our King.

I decided to prepare cupcakes designed to look like red apples.  I baked vanilla cupcakes for this recipe.  Perhaps, next time, I will prepare honey cupcakes to fully represent the Rosh Hashana tradition of “dipping the apple in the honey”.

apple-cupcakes-in-carrier

These cupcakes are available for sale among other delicious desserts at the Segal Home this Sunday, September 25th, 2016 from 2-8 PM.  Their address is 475 FDR Drive #301 on the Lower East Side. For more information, please contact Staci at 917-295-7295 or stacisegal@aol.com

apple-cupcakes

SUPPLIES

Cupcakes

White frosting

Red sanding sugar or sugar and red food coloring

Brown licorice, brown taffy or small pretzel nub

Green taffy or gum

 

INSTRUCTIONS

Bake your favorite cupcakes.

Cut pieces of brown licorice, taffy or pretzels to resemble stems.

spple-cupcake-embellishments

Flatten green gum or taffy and use knife to cut out leaf shapes.  Use blunt knife to form leaf veins.

apple-cupcakes-leaves

To make red sanding sugar, combine 1 cup of sugar with red food coloring, adding food coloring until the desired depth of color is reached.  I pulsed this in my food processor.  Alternatively, you can combine the sugar and color in a ziploc bag or in your mixer.

apple-cupcakes-sanding-sugar-ingredients

apple-cupcakes-sanding-sugar

 

Frost cupcakes generously with a small knife or spatula, heaping frosting to form a mounded top for each cupcake.

Using spoon, sprinkle sanding sugar on top of each cupcake until well coated.  Gently shake off excess sanding sugar.

apple-cupcakes-in-sugar

Insert brown stem and green leaf.

apple-cupcake

apple cupcakes in carrier.jpg

Wishing you all a Kesiva Ve’Chasma Tova (a positive inscription and seal for the upcoming year).

 

 

A Dozen Roses Stretched to Fill the Shabbos Table

Don brings home roses every Friday in honor of Shabbos.  The roses are always of wonderful quality and it  a surprise to discover what color roses will adorn our Shabbos table.  Most Fridays, we enjoy all twelve roses in one traditional arrangement.

This week, Don brought home peach color roses, one of my favorites.  Our home is decorated in earth tones and peach works well in our dining room.  The roses were large and robust and I decided to stretch the twelve roses into four different arrangements.

I lined up different vases and spread out the roses.

One arrangement took five roses.

roses in a row

One took a single rose.

rose in single bud vase

One arrangement took two roses and that left four roses.

roses in a pair

The last arrangement was a collection of glass bottles set up in a grid-like formation (Upcycled Glass Jar Floral Arrangement: Simply Stunning).  I placed the last four roses into these vases, adorning them with the ferns that accompanied the dozen roses.

roses in glass bottles

 

Here is how they all look together:

roses-four different ways

 

roses-a dozen in different ways

roses-3 different ways

Good Shabbos!

Tisha B’Av: The Day Our Nation Cries

This Shabbos is officially Tisha B’av (the Ninth of the Hebrew month of Av). It is the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, a day of Jewish national tragedy throughout the ages. It is the day that both of our Holy Temples were destroyed and a day that is filled with mourning, trepidation and many tears. Since Shabbos is a day of joy, this year, we commemorate Tisha B’Av on Yud B’Av (the tenth of Av), this Sunday.

It is the day that our nation cried and continues to cry throughout the ages.

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A Summer Version of Simply the Best Chicken Soup

Many of my friends stop making chicken soup for their Friday night Shabbos (the Jewish sabbath) meal when the weather gets too hot.  Not me.

My children would tell me that it doesn’t feel like Shabbos without the chicken soup.  So, chicken soup graces our Shabbos table, rain or shine, winter or summer.  Somehow, our Shabbos table is so much like the chicken soup itself.

summer chicken soup.jpg

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