Monday, December 11, 2017

Cookbook Review - Real Life Kosher Cooking

I've said before that I think cookbooks make a wonderful Chanukah gift - for hostess gifts, mother and mother-in-law gifts, etc. One size fits all, they are pretty to look at, and hopefully useful.
I was sent a review copy of Miriam Pascal's (you might know her from her blog Overtime Cook) brand new cookbook, Real Life Kosher Cooking and I certainly think it bears consideration for those on your gift list. Miriam shows the home cook that you don't need hard-to-find ingredients or pricey equipment to make interesting food; all you need is a touch of passion, a dash of caring, and a hearty helping of creativity. 
Here are some of my thoughts. The book gives you exactly what it says it does - family friendly recipes for everyday and special occasions. It is beautifully photographed with easy-to-follow instructions and welcome "plan ahead" and freezer tips. The recipes are made with everyday ingredients you are likely to have in your pantry already or at least know where to procure easily. They are also ingredients that are not likely to scare away your children (and if they are, they are likely hidden ;) ). There are no great revelations in this book and it is certainly not for the more adventurous cook who likes experimentation. I must also note that some of these recipes have been previously published on Miriam's blog. But they are hearty, delicious and you are sure to find something that piques your interest.
I was instantly drawn to the Grilled Pastrami Corn Salad, which was a hit with both the adults as well as the children at my table. I also made the Tomato Roasted Potato Wedges and the Broccoli Zucchini Soup.  For Chanukah there is even a Chocolate Funnel Cake recipe!
All in all, a solid choice for this gift giving time of year.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Secrets of Skinny Cooking - A Review

When Artscroll contacted me and asked if I was interested in receiving a reviewer's copy of their new cookbook - Secrets of Skinny Cooking - I was very excited.
My friend and I have been joking lately that what is missing from the Kosher cookbook aisle in Jewish bookstores is a cookbook entitled "Diet Food Your Family Will Eat" or "What to Cook for Shabbos Guests When You Are On a Diet".  Well that's almost exactly what this cookbook IS, albeit with a slightly more eloquent title. 
In this volume, bestselling cookbook author, Victoria Dwek, teams with successful nutritionist Shani Taub to creating delicious and easy to prepare meals that are low in calories but seriously high in flavor. Unless you want them to, no one will know they are eating "skinny"
Not only are over 135 easy-to-prepare recipes beautifully presented in this book, but they also come with tips on clever ways to reduce calories from your dishes without sacrificing flavor. For example, how to saute and caramelize onions without oil and how to bulk up carbohydrate dishes with vegetables.
I've already tried out numerous recipes on my family and it seems like every one is a winner - from the Portobello Mushroom Towers and the Forever Crunchy Snap Pea Salad to the Better with Veggies Spanish Rice and Warm Roasted Garlic Farro, my family has asked that I make them all again.
Every meal is covered. There's even an extensive section on breakfast.
Every course is covered. Yes, even dessert.
There are meat, fish, soup, salad, friendly carb and dairy sections as well, all served up with a healthy dose of encouragement and inspiration for those either seeking to lose weight or merely to find a healthier style of eating for themselves and their families.
This cookbook is unlike any other on the shelves today and offers flavorful dishes and ideas that will help you make this style of eating a way of life, not a "diet".

Portobello Mushroom Towers
Yields 2 large servings
Dairy ▪ Gluten-Free ▪ Low Carb ▪ Sugar-Free
Calories: 181 per serving; Shani Taub Exchange: 1 protein, 1 Vegetable

One summer Sunday afternoon, my family and I passed through Monsey, stopping at the Evergreen shopping center. I really wanted iced coffee, so I headed to Hava Java. As I waited for my Skinny Frappe (one of the best ever), I watched the hot dishes emerge fast from the kitchen. One dish that caught my attention was the towering Portobello Mushroom Sliders. I went home and recreated the dish … and it was just as
good as it looked.

2 Portobello mushroom caps
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dried basil
½ tsp salt

1 red pepper
½ onion, sliced
1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
½ onion, diced
8 oz frozen spinach, thawed, drained
2 (1-oz) slices Muenster OR mozzarella cheese

[1] Place mushroom caps into a ziplock bag. Add red wine vinegar, garlic powder, basil, and salt. Seal; marinate for 1 hour or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

[2] Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place mushrooms and marinade into a baking pan; bake for 25 minutes.

[3] Meanwhile, place red pepper into the oven (on its own or in a baking pan). Roast until skin is blistered, about 35-45 minutes. Let cool; peel and discard peel and seeds. Slice pepper; set aside.

[4] Coat a sauté pan with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add sliced onion; lower heat and sprinkle with salt. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan; set aside.

[5] Coat the sauté pan again with nonstick cooking spray; heat over medium-high heat. Add diced onion; lower heat and sprinkle with salt. Cover; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft, about 5 minutes. Add spinach; cook an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt.

[6] Assemble the towers: Top each mushroom with half the spinach mixture, half the peppers, and half
the onions. Top with one slice of cheese; bake until cheese is golden and bubbling, 9-10 minutes.

Make Ahead: All the components of this dish can be made ahead and stored separately in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Simply assemble and bake when ready to enjoy.

Recipe(s) from SECRETS OF SKINNY COOKING: Mouthwatering Recipes You Won’t Believe are Low Calorie
By Victoria Dwek and Shani Taub C.D.C.
Artscroll/Shaar Press; May 2017

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Crafting a KAJ Poroches

Tonight marks the 20th (!!!) yahrzeit for my dear father-in-law. Avram is very meticulous in sending out emails before a yahrzeit to family members who might be interested, with history, thoughts and remembrances about the niftar.
Today's email was specifically about how many (but certainly not all) of the poroches in Breuer's came into being, and I thought that it was of enough historical significance to include here on the blog. I am copying the letter in it's entirety as it went out.

24 Adar 5777

Dear Family,

Tonight marks the 20th yahrzeit of our father, grandfather and great-grandfather. It is hard to believe that 20 years have gone by since he left us. Perhaps it is because of his unique personality which made such an impression on all of us who knew him that we still think of him so often. Yes, he certainly had strong opinions. But those opinions, whether one agreed with him or not, were always based on well thought out reasons and facts. He was a true thinker and scholar the likes of whom are so rare today.

One of the things that people always mention when they speak of Daddy was his artistic talent which he used to beautify his beloved shul. He was very involved in the building and design of the shul in Washington Heights and over the years designed many of the poroches which are still used today. As we well remember, Daddy did not like to throw things out. When we cleaned up the apartment after Mommy died we found amongst many other things there were every bank statement that he ever had, every receipt for any large purchase, even the hospital and doctor bills for when Miri, Ricki and I were born! Amongst these things I found a number of the sketches and drawings that Daddy made when he was designing the different poroches. When I looked at them they brought back memories of watching him work on each design. Each one had a story behind it and he spent days and weeks working on them until they were finished. Today many of these drawings would be done by computer. But as there were no computers back then, and even if there had been I doubt that Daddy would have used one, Daddy drew each design by hand and to exact scale. I remember him meticulously measuring each facet until it came out just right. He even did the lettering for the inscriptions as he always picked a particular font to match the rest of the design. I often went with him to Miriam Religious Supplies on the Lower Eastside where the poroches were made. They loved him there and were always excited whenever he brought a new project. It was fascinating to watch them sew these beautiful creations all by hand. Daddy never accepted any monetary remuneration for his designs. They were truly a labor of love. I remember for one of his designs the donor gave him a generous gift certificate from Feldheim Books with which he purchased a Mikro’os Gedolos on Tanach as well as a Yochin Uboaz mishnayos. I’m sure the other donors were equally grateful, I only happen to recall this one.

Here are some pictures of Daddy’s creations that are still hung in shul as well as his drawings. I have tried to add a brief explanation and memory that I have about each one. Enjoy.




This poroches was donated by Uncle Jerry and Tante Meta in 1955 in memory of Oma Breuer. I have a letter from Uncle Jerry to Daddy asking him to design the poroches. You’ll notice that on the back of the envelope in which this letter came (above, right) Daddy already made his initial sketch. This poroches is hung on Rosh Chodesh and Chol Hamoed. Originally the poroches also hung on Chanukah and Purim, hence the two menoros at the bottom and the megillos on top. The two circles above the megillos were added later on when a stain appeared on the kapores. Rather than replace the whole piece which would have been very difficult to match, Daddy suggested to just add the decorative motifs. Later on a poroches just for Chanukah and one for Purim were donated. The main design is the Mizbe’ach which is symbolic for the special korbonos that were brought on these days. The overall design for all the poroches were always approved by Opa Breuer and later by Rav Schwab. They also suggested any pesukim that would be included in the design.


This poroches was donated in 1962 by the Bamberger/Hellmann families. I didn’t find any drawings for this one but I clearly recall Daddy measuring out the height of the side menoras and that they were the exact same length of the couch we had in our living room as Daddy laid out his design on the couch. I was four years old and I remember Daddy taking me to shul on Friday afternoon before the first Shabbos that this poroches was used to see that it was hanging properly. I vividly recall how proud he was and I, in turn, was very proud of him. I know, as with most of his designs, this was based on an archeological finding. I think that part of the reason he picked this particular one was because of the depiction of a pitcher at the top. As both the Bamberger and Hellmann families are Leviim he found this most appropriate given their jobs of washing the hands of the Kohanim before they duchen. This poroches hung at Miri and Abe’s wedding in 1979.



This poroches was donated around 1970 by the Stern/Baranker families. It clearly is a depiction of the entrance to the Bais Hamikdosh with the two large Yochin and Boaz pillars on each side. Daddy based this design on various archeologic finding from that period. For this color drawing Daddy borrowed my sister-in-law Yael’s crayons (the big 64 crayon box which was very special!).She felt so honored to be able to have had a hand in the design. You will notice that the actual kapores (valance) is different than the drawing as the three large original designs would have been too heavy. Daddy also wanted gold balls at the bottom but I think it turned out to be too costly. I have seen a number of elements from this design used in other shuls. Daddy was very generous and allowed Miriam Religious Supplies to reuse his designs at no cost. People have asked why there is no posuk. Daddy told me that he consulted Opa Breuer and they both felt that the design speaks for itself and doesn’t require a posuk. This poroches hung on the Shabbos of my Bar Mitzvah in 1971.



This is actually the third poroches with this design. The original design was on the Shabbos Mevorchim poroches in the shul in Frankfurt depicted on the right. It was donated by Shuli’s maternal great-grandparents, Isaak and Alice Strauss. At the bottom of the design there were removable panels where the month and day of the coming Rosh Chodesh could be inserted. Years later Daddy wanted to use this idea on the Shabbos Mevorchim poroches in KAJ, but it didn’t work out. Daddy first copied this design in purple which was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Semi Wechsler in honor of their son Marcel’s Bar Mitzvah in the 1950’s. Around thirty years later the poroches was no longer in usable condition. At the same time Mrs. Esther Katzenstein approached Daddy to design a poroches in memory of her late husband Manfred. I suggested to Daddy that he re-use this design. When Mrs. Katzenstein heard that this was a design which had been used in the shul in Frankfurt she immediately approved.



This poroches was donated in 1975 by Mr. and Mrs. Norbert Strauss in memory of the fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War. Daddy was very excited about the unique shape of the kapores. Originally he wanted the side panels of the kapores to hang down all the way to the floor. It was a very original idea but he then felt that the opening of the Oron Hakodesh was to narrow for such a design. I remember on the first Yom Kippur that the poroches hung Mr. Strauss bought Daddy Hotzo’oh Vehachnosoh for Shacharis which was quite costly in those days. Mommy was not aware of this and she bought Daddy Hotzo’oh for Mincha as well. It was quite a big deal for the same person to have two kibbudim on Yom Kippur. I also recall that Daddy wanted to make sure that the kapores hung properly. As it is rather heavy, as is the entire poroches, he was afraid that the rod it hangs on might sag a bit and it wouldn’t hang straight. He therefore had a special double width rod made which is still used just for this poroches.

Daddy originally designed this poroches to be used for Shabbos Mevorchim (see the first sketch above). You can see the open panels in center of the design for the day and month. In the end the donor decided not to use the design. Shortly thereafter Mr. Manfred Adler asked Daddy to design a poroches in memory of his wife Julia. As Daddy already had this design he showed it to Mr. Adler who immediately approved. The second picture above is a copy Daddy made from one of his archeology books which he used for the design of the kapores. I’m not sure if it was done intentionally but people used to joke that the poroches was very fitting to Mr. Adler. As he had red hair he was known in German as “der rotte adler” which translates as “the red eagle”. People thought the two birds at the top were eagles and the poroches was red! You can see in the bottom sketch Daddy’s instructions for the exact size of the letters of the inscription and the spacing of the words. I recall him painstakingly drawing the feathers on the wings of the birds to make sure that they would look just right.  No detail was left out. This poroches hung at Shuli and my wedding in 1984.

Although it has been two decades, Daddy remains with us in the legacy which he has left in his outlook on life, his many stories and his wonderful designs which are still enjoyed today and enhance the davening in our Bais Haknesses. May he be a Meilitz Yosher for our family and his beloved Kehilla.

Ad Bias Hagoel Bimheiro B’yomeinu.