Archive for the 'Judaism' Category

A Taste of Honey

I know that I said a few days ago that I would post some Passover menus and recipes. With everything that has been going on with Avi, I have not had the time, or for much of the time the desire. But Passover is coming regardless of Avi’s location, and we are concentrating on our preparations. Noam is very excited about Passover. He is learning a lot of the songs in school and we go over some of them each night. Noam is thriving at Schechter and I for his sake (and ours as well) we will have great Passover Seders. Shayna is getting into the act too and she has learned at least the first of the four questions.

Our Seder plans are basically firmed at this point, with 21 the first night and 22 the second. Our menu is mostly complete as well, and I will include that below. One thing that is always an issue, especially when you have Seders with a lot of kids is how to keep them occupied with the Seder (you can look at some sample pages of my Haggadah where I discuss this as well). One thought that I got from our friend Lisa (who will be at our Seder) is to have a list of questions prepared for the kids. The lists can be set up in so that you have questions that are age appropriate and then you ask questions throughout the Seder. Whoever answers the question correct gets a win ticket or a token. At the end of the Seder, the kids can trade in their tickets for prizes (which we will pick up at the dollar store). This way, everyone will get something, and there will be less rivalry in terms of finding the Afikoman. Also it helps the kids want to stay at the table during the Seder. I don’t know how well it will work, but I will report back after the Seders.

Now let’s get back onto the main topic of this blog entry, FOOD! It is interesting to note that of the 5 main mitzvoth surrounding Passover, 4 of them have to do with food and eating. We are commanded to eat Matza, Marror (the bitter herb) and the Pesah sacrifice (during the time of the Temple in Jerusalem). We are also commanded to stop eating food that come from the five grains (wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye). And people wonder why there is always food at Jewish events! The whole Seder is built surrounding a festive meal. Without food there really is no Passover.

Our menu this year is actually very much the same as in past years. We begin our Seder this year at about 6:30 which is actually too early to start Passover. We do this because starting at the correct time makes getting to the meal very late. In order to make sure that we do not say Kiddush before the proper time (about 7:05) we will start with serving soup and fish first, and then start the Seder with the Kiddush. We do the same the second night just starting a little bit later.

So here is the menu:

Chicken Soup with Matza Balls
Gefilte Fish – We use the frozen logs that you cook in a pot with your own extras
Roast Turkey
Chestnut Stuffing – This is Lisa’s and I will try to post the recipe
Pot Roast with Orange and Dates
Quinoa – We have not yet determined how we will make the Quinoa
Green Beans, Broccoli, Cauliflower
Apple Cake
Fruit Ice

And probably some more surprises!

I want to end off with the recipe for Haroset that we use at our Seders. This is a Mizrahi recipe rather than the traditional Ashkenazi recipes that many of us are familiar with. Mizrahi means eastern and it is a term used to describe Jews from the eastern Arabic speaking lands. Often this is called Sefardic, but that really is a term for Jews of Spanish origin.

Before the recipe, I have to throw in some Jewish education. Sorry it’s my nature. Haroset is the sweet apple mixture that is found on the Seder plate. The tradition of Haroset goes all the way back to Mishnaic times (before 200 CE) as it is mentioned in the Mishna as something brought to the table on Passover. The Rabbis come up with three reasons for its inclusion. Everyone will probably think of the first which is in remembrance of the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to make the bricks. This is one. The second reason is in remembrance of the apple. Why the apple? Well the Midrash tells us that the Jewish people survived in Egypt because of the actions of the women. Pharaoh decreed that the men and women should be kept apart in order to stop childbirth. According to the Midrash, during the heat of the day, the women would lure the men under the apple trees and have relations. So to remember this, we have apples in the Haroset. The third reason is to remember the blood by using wine in the Haroset. So to this day, EVERY Haroset recipe (and there are hundreds) have three things in common. They all use apples, they are all thick like the mortar and they all have wine. Beyond that, the sky is the limit. There are traditions to add cinnamon or ginger in remembrance of the straw that was used in the brick making. Some have the tradition to add the fruits mentioned in Song of Songs in the bible.

Here then is my recipe which my mother got from a Mizrahi Women cookbook.

2 Apples
½ C Dates
¼ C Walnuts (or pecans)
1/3 C Sweet wine
½ C Raisins
¼ C Almonds
1 tsp. Ginger
1 tsp. Cinnamon

Quarter and core the apples. Grind apples, raisins, dates and nuts. Add ginger and cinnamon and wine. Mix Well

That is the original recipe. I do it a little differently. First off, for one Seder we make 4 or 5 times this recipe. Second, I core and quarter the apples and put them in the food processor. I process them for a minute. Then I add the rest of the fruit and nuts and process until it starts to get smooth but is still a bit chunky. Then mix in the wine and spices (you can do that in the processor as well, just add and pulse for 20 seconds).


What You’re Doing

Just a quick update on what we are doing in terms of our Passover Prep. We cleaned a lot in the kitchen today and brought a lot from the upstairs fridge to the downstairs one. Our pantry is almost bare and by tomorrow night, the fridge and freezer should be ready for the big clean. On Wednesday night we should be able to start bringing in the Passover foods.

Our menu is pretty complete and hopefully tomorrow I will post with as many recipes as I can get together.

Current guest count for the Seders –

1st Seder – 21
2nd Seder – 22

I don’t think we will know the final number until later this week. Hopefully not the 26 we had first night last year!

Here’s a funny one.


Chicken Soup for the Soul

My friend Michelle (who I know from my USY Israel Pilgrimage trip) asked me for a chicken soup recipe to bring to a friend’s Passover Seder. I am putting down the recipe that we use here in our home, but I have to note that this is not like any other recipe that I write, in that there are no exact amounts for most of the ingredients. I often say that baking is science and cooking is art. Well if cooking is art, then making Chicken soup is the highest form of art.

So here for your gastronomical enjoyment is Chicken Soup with Matza Balls


1 Chicken
1 large or 2 medium leeks
1 medium to large sweet potato

I usually use a chicken cut up into quarters. The best would be to cut up your own chicken so that you have all of the back pieces but you can buy one in quarters from the supermarket. The chicken should be about 3 lbs.

Place the cleaned chicken in a large pot. There should be ample room in the pot for the chicken, the rest of the ingredients and plenty of water. Cover the chicken with water to fill about 3/4 of the pot. Bring to boil and allow to boil for 10 to 15 minutes.

While the pot is coming to a boil, cut up all the vegetables into 1/2″ chunks. Chop the herbs as well.

Depending upon how clean the chicken was, there will be some stuff floating in the water as well as some chicken fat. You should lower the heat and skim this off at this point. Add all the vegetables (except the dill and parsley) and simmer covered for at least 2 hours up to 6. The longer the water simmers the more chicken flavor. Taste the soup. If you think it needs more flavor, simmer longer.

15 minutes before the soup is done, add the herbs and salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve it at this point, or allow to cool and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, the chicken fat should have solidified on the top of the pot. You can easily remove it.

Matza Balls

Matza balls are actually very easy. You just need to follow these simple directions for about 10 Matza Balls

Beat 2 eggs with 2 TBS of oil. Add a tsp each of salt and white pepper. I also like to add a tsp of ginger. Add about 1/2 to 3/4 cup of matza meal in ¼ cup increments. Mix in well after each addition. The mix should still be a bit watery so watch the mix and stop adding matza meal if it starts to get thick. If you think it is too thick, add a little water or seltzer.

It is important now to refrigerate the mix for at least 30 minutes up to an hour. You can cook the matza balls in the soup or in a pot of water. Either way, bring the liquid to a boil. To make the balls with your hands, wet them and then take a bit of mix and roll a ball in your hand. Do not overwork the balls. Drop into the boiling liquid. You can also make with melon ball scoop. After all of the balls are in the liquid, cover the pot and boil for about 15 minutes. You should end up with very light and fluffy matza balls.

That is about it. Any questions let me know.



Well, we’re off and running. Passover is 3 weeks from Wednesday and this past Saturday night the three moms got together like last year to plan out the Seders. Marsha went over the Lisa’s house at about 9:30 or so after the kids were in bed, and she did not come home until about 4:30 am! Don’t worry; they did not spend the entire time planning Passover, just shooting the breeze.

Our core group for the two Seders is the same as last year. We are five plus my in-laws make seven. One of the other families is five and the other six, so that brings our core group to 18. Then there are the extras. First night will be my parents and sister, so we will be at least at 21. Second night is still open. We are checking with friends to see who does not have a place for Seder. Last year we were at 26 for the first night, so who knows, we might just make it up there again.

For the past ten years or so, I have been working on a commentary on the Hagaddah. I have written more pages this year and I will continue to write some between now and Passover. As I did last year, I will post some pages at I really would love feedback. Please take a look and let me know what you think.

And for those of my friends from USY who remember Rabbi Paul and his wife Nina, here is something you might enjoy!


We just returned a short while ago from the megillah reading at our synagogue. Purim is always a lot of fun, but this year we were one short. Noam was not feeling well, so my father-in-law stayed home with him while the rest of us went to shul. Avi had a pirate costume, but it ended up being too small, so he went without. Shayna was the requisite princess. Here is a photo of Shayna.

Now that Purim is past, we start getting ready for Passover. More on that tomorrow!


Phil’s World Famous Never Fail Hamentashen

OK, maybe not world famous, but it was published on a long ago defunct website called JCN (Jewish Communications Network) where I wrote their cooking column.  It is very easy and creates about 2 dozen great Hamentashen.  I posted this here last year, but here I add some commentary.

Ingredients –

1.  1 stick of margerine (or 1/2 C of Crisco)
2.  1 C sugar
3.  1 large egg
4.  1 1/2 t baking powder
5.  1 t vanilla
6.  2 C flour

1.  Cream the margerine and the sugar in a large bowl.  Creaming just means mixing fat (usually butter) with sugar.  You want it well mixed together .  I use my kitchen aid standing mixer, and highly recommend using a mixer.

2.  Add the egg and mix well.

3.  Add the baking powder and vanilla and mix.

4.  Add one cup of the flour and mix in.  Depending on many factors you may use any amount of the second cup of flour (perhaps even a bit more).  The most major factor is humidity.  The more humid, the more flour you will use.  Today for example, doing a double batch I only needed 3 cups of flour!  I suggest adding the second cup by quarter cups.  You want the dough to be like cookie dough, but just a bit dryer as you will need to roll it out.  You also do not want too much flour as you will add flour to the board when you roll.  I like to let the dough stand for a short while to allow everything to incorporate.  You can wrap in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for about an hour.

5.  Roll out to about 1/4″ thickness and then cut out circles with a cookie cutter or a glass.  I use an “old fashion” glass which is about 3 inches in diameter.

6.  Put about 1/2 t of filling in each and then fold up the edges to make a hamentashen (see photo).  Place on cookie sheet sprayed with non stick spray.

7.  Bake in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes.  You want the hamentashen to just start browning.  Don’t let them get dark brown.  Remove from cookie sheet to cooling rack.

Fillings –

This is not meant to be an endorsement, but I have tried them all. The best filling that one can buy for Hamentashen is Solo brand pie filling. It has the best consistency of the pie fillings I have found. Traditional flavors would be Prune, Poppy or Apricot, though they have many different flavors. You could also use Chocolate Chips, or Nutella, which is a hazelnut chocolate combination.  Be careful with Chocolate chips though as the cookie will dry up when baking.  I like to put a small amount of raspberry or strawberry filling in the center and put two or three chocolate chips in the filling.

If you would like to make your own fillings, you should take your fresh fruit, peel then and take out any seeds or pits and then cut them into smaller pieces. Place in a pot and put in some sugar to taste. If the fruit dried, like apricot, you should just cover the fruit with water.  Cook this down slowly until you are left with a thick syrup. If it is not the right consistency, mix one teaspoon of corn starch with 1 teaspoon water in a glass. Pour into the fruit mixture. It will thicken up quickly.

You can use 1/2 stick of regular Margarine and 1/2 stick light margarine to cut down on some of the calories.

You can use your food processor for this recipe. Put the Margarine and the sugar in the bowl of the food processor, and process for 30 seconds. Add the rest of the ingredients except the flour and process for about 1 minute until mixed through. Add the flour and process until the dough begins to form a ball in the center of the bowl. At this point, take it out and finish it on your floured board.

It is best to chill the dough before rolling so it is easier to work with.


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