Monthly Archives: March 2012

Parshat Tzav – March 31, 2012

In this week’s Parsha, Moshe is commanded to address the Kohanim (priests)with instructions on the processing of  different type of Korbanot. (sacrifices) In the third Aliyah, (Vayikra/Leviticus 7:11) the Korban Shelamim (Peace Offering) is discussed. This sacrifice is particularly unique because it’s a voluntary offering and is eaten mostly by the person bringing it. With this Korban, the person has two days and one night to consume most of the meat, following the Kohen’s processing of the animal.

This Parsha gives special attention to a specific kind of Korban Shelamim – the Korban Todah. (Gratitude) According to Rashi, a person would bring a korban Todah is he is giving thanks to God for a miracle, such as a) returning safely from a sea voyage b) or desert journey, c) getting released from prison or d) recovering from illness.

The Korban Shelamim is a relatively ‘happy’ Korban; giving gratitude and showing love to God. The Korban is eaten by the Kohein as well as the person bringing it. The Korban Todah in particular is given less time to eat than a regular Korban Shelamim – under 24 hours. It also requires bringing ten types of four different breads.

How to eat so much food in so little time?

According to a friend who did the math, Shabbos/Yom Tov works out to, on average, one in every 5 1/5 days. (!) And considering that Shabbos/holidays are pretty food-centric events, you could safely say that we Jews are pretty serious eaters.

Somebody was born?  Kiddush! Bris! Someone died? Take a meal. Even an anniversary of someone dying is Kiddush time. Historically whether we almost got killed, or we actually did get killed, food is is going to be involved in our commemoration.

The ritual act of eating is part of how we show gratitude to God. The volume of food involved with the Korban Todah, however, was beyond most of our capacities. (Although admittedly, after spending all this time on this food blog, I don’t know how I’d fare if tested…) How to finish forty loaves of bread and a cow in less than a day and a night? The Netziv points out that considering the short amount of time allowed to consume the food of this Korban Todah, the only way to do it is by involving others. We showed gratitude to God by inviting and involving others in a communal celebration of His greatness.

Here’s a meat recipe to commemorate the Korban – specifically Shelamim.

Vayikra 7:15 And the flesh of his thanksgiving peace offering shall be eaten on the day it is offered up; he shall not leave any of it over until morning.Vayikra 7:15 And the flesh of his thanksgiving peace offering shall be eaten on the day it is offered up; he shall not leave any of it over until morning.

(Kounterfeit)  Kofteh Kabobs

I say counterfeit, because true kofteh is a Persian dish that is usually made from lamb, which I refuse to eat. This version is made from medium ground beef.

  • 1 1/2 lbs. (or so) chopped meat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats (I would have used matza meal but since we’re in the month of Nissan, I’m staying away from Matzo products)
  • 1 tsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. mixed Eastern spices (curry, turmeric, cumin…I used spice I got in Israel for this.Really cool spice from Israel.
  • 1 tsp. cumin (in addition to the above)
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. hot chili sauce
  • eggplant, mushroom, zucchini, or pepper for the skewers
  • 12 skewers (approximately)
Directions:
Mix ingredients. Go ahead – just use your hands! It’s so much easier.
Squish the meat into little logs that are approximately 1 1/2 inches long and thread on the skewers with the vegies. Bar-b-q until browned.

B’tayavon and have a great Shabbos!

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Parshat Vayikra (HaChodesh) – March 24, 2012

This week’s Parsha is the last of the four ‘special’ Shabbatot — HaChodesh (the month.) This special Torah reading takes place on the Shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Chodesh Nissan and deals with Pesach; the Passover offering, bitter herbs, and matza. It begins however, with the first commandment that the Israelites receive together as a people – the mitzvah of sanctifying the new moon. We are instructed to structure time according to the lunar calendar.

Shemot 12:2  This month shall be for you the head [beginning] of months. It shall be to you the first of the months of the year.

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, since time was the very first creation in Bereishit (Genesis), sanctifying time is the first commandment that Israel receives from God. The Hebrew word Chodesh has the same root as Chadash – new. A month is a new beginning and represents an opportunity. According to the Sfat Emet, the verse can be interpreted as the start of ‘newness.’ The moon practically disappears, but than reappears in full strength. Each month is an opportunity of renewal; of faith, love, and redemption. And we are almost beginning the new month that brings us the ultimate redemptive experience (Passover).

Here is a dessert for Parshat Ha Chodesh – Chinese Mooncakes.

 

Shemot (Exodus) 12:2 This month shall be to you as the head [beginning] of months. It shall be to you the first of the months of the year."

In the process of doing this recipe I had great help from the lovely Allaya Fleischer. She’s a kosher foodie and saved me from disaster when I started working on the mooncakes. After all, what do I know about glutenous rice flour?

I

Glutinous Rice Flour

did learn, after placing a call to the COR, that rice flour does not need a hechsher. Allaya‘s confirmed that Star K also holds that way. This flour is standard fare at Asian supermarkets and cost  only a dollar for a small bag.

I have to warn you: this recipe is not for the faint of heart. This was my first attempt and I found it time-consuming and frankly, I’m not thrilled with the results. I’m going to try it again later today and see if I can simplify the process and get a better result.

The first thing you need to do is turn the glutinous rice flour (also known as ‘sweet rice flour’) into ‘fried’ glutinous rice flour. (Known also as Gao Fen or Kau fen or Koh Fun, if you want to google it.)

Here are some methods for cooking the flour, which include steaming or baking. I did the steaming method by placing the flour in a metal bowl which sat in a pot of steaming water for half an hour. This was followed by microwaving the flour for a couple of minutes, mixing the flour every fifty seconds, or so. The flour will remain dry but becomes hot and ‘cooked.’

You’ll also need some moulds. I bought an inexpensive one in Chinatown. The handle helps ‘tap’ out the mooncake, once it’s stuffed inside. A plastic mould ($3.99) I found in Chinatown is less expensive than a wooden one ($19.99) Both have handles in order to 'tap' out the mooncake.

Snowskin Mooncakes

  • 3/4 cup fried glutinous rice flour
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup shortening (EDIT: this is way too much. Use only 1 – 2 tablespoons of shortening only)
  • 1/2 cup water (approximately) (EDIT: start with 1/4 cup of water)
  • food colouring

Directions:

  1. 1. Sift the fried glutinous flour and icing sugar and green tea powder into a mixing bowl.
  2. 2. Add shortening into the flour mixture and mix.
  3. 3. Gradually add in cold water a little at a time until a soft dough forms.
  4. 4. Let sit for 20 minutes before using.

Red Bean Paste:

  • 2/3 cups red adjuki beans
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Put beans in a pot and soak for 12 – 24 hours.
  2. Bring beans to a boil and then let simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Drain water.
  4. Add 4 cups of water to the beans and boil until soft. (Approximately an hour.)
  5. Drain the water.
  6. Add sugar and salt and cook on a low heat until the ingredients thicken to a paste.
  7. Remove from heat and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

To assemble the mooncakes, roll a ball of bean past and surround with a rolled out piece of dough. Place in a mould (can powder it with fried glutinous rice flour) and tap out.

Voila!

EDIT: I’m making them again and experimenting with baking the glutinous rice flour. I baked it at 400 for 30 minutes and the rice turned brown which made it difficult to colour. Also, the inside of my kitchen turned white and it honestly felt like my main floor had transformed into an asbestos-removal operation. It was actually hard to breathe. For my third attempt, I’ll bake it at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes. I’m also wondering if 1/4 cup of Crisco is a bit too much. I’ll let you know!

EDITED AGAIN: Here’s the final product. Not the easiest dough to work with and the taste is somewhat…exotic. But it’s still a fun dish for Parshat HaChodesh.

Shemot (Exodus) 12:2 This month shall be to you as the head [beginning] of months. It shall be to you the first of the months of the year."

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Parshat Vayak’hel-Pekudei

Meet the Sisterhood of the Travelling Freilachs

Alex, Jackie, Channah, and Arielle: the sisterhood of the travelling freilachs

Here are four young women who have all changed their lives.

Three are in public school. One transferred to a Jewish high school. Their journey back to Judaism brought them together and much of that path was centred on Shabbat. (This week’s Parsha opens up with the mitzvah of Shabbos!) They celebrate every Shabbos together, all over the city, in different people’s houses. (I had to book them two months in advance – that’s how popular they are.) Next year they’ll be studying (together) in a seminary in Jerusalem. One day this is going to be a book, because this is one inspiring story.

It’s not an accident, that there’s a theme of FOURS this week.

The double parsha here is almost an identical repeat of the parshas Trumah and Tetzaveh. Four Parshas that deal with the design and construction of the Mishkan. (Sanctuary) But the repetition occurs after a significant event occurs – Eigel Hazahav – the golden calf.

Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky describes the meaning of the difference between the two double parshas. Terumah-Tetzaveh gives instruction for building the Mishkan, while this week’s Parsha recounts the actual construction. Rabbi Sobolofsky writes:

The area of the mishkan endowed with the highest level of kedusha was the kodesh hakodashim (holy of holies) which housed the aron containing the luchos.(tablets) While the aseres hadibros (Ten Commandments) appeared on both the first and second luchos both, the essence of the two sets was different. The first set is described as “v’haluchos maaseh Elokim – the work of Hashem”, whereas the second set was carved out by Moshe Rabbeinu, with only the letters being carved out by Hashem.

This loss of holiness corresponds to the two Batei Mikdashot (Temples).

The first Beis Hamikdash resembled the original plan for the mishkan – present were the shechina, the urim vetumim, and prophecy. It had all the qualities of “maaseh Elokim – the work of Hashem.” On the other hand, the second Beis Hamikdash, devoid of the urim vetumim and nevuah (prophecy), was built by the Jewish people and endowed with sanctity through human effort and fervent prayer that the shechina rest upon it to some degree.

Continuing the theme of four

There are four Shabbatot during the year, which are unrelated to holidays or Rosh Chodesh, but feature two portions. (The Maftir and Haftorah are read from different Parshas). These Shabboses are:

  1. Shekalim
  2. Zachor
  3. Parah
  4. HaChodesh

The first Shabbos after Purim is Shabbat Parah – the Parah Adumah. (red heifer -Bamidbar/Numbers:19)

The ashes of the of the red heifer were used for the purpose of ritual purification before making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Pesach. (Passover). This particular Mitzvah (commandment) is a Chok, meaning that it is practiced on the basis of faith and not logic. Between Moshe and the destruction of the second Temple there were only eight or nine red heifers.

According to Rabbi Frand:

The Be’er Yosef offers a powerful insight. The reason G-d hid the understanding of Parah Adumah from us, is to teach us a vital lesson. The lesson is that there are things in life that are inexplicable. We must learn the lesson that things will happen in life that we will never be able to understand. We will come across things that will be terrible paradoxes, things that have apparently no rhyme and no reason.

In honour of this being Shabbat Parah, I bring you the following recipe… Red Velvet Cake.

Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2 This is the statute of the Torah which God commanded, saying; speak to Bnei Yisroel that they shall take to you a red, perfect cow without a blemish, upon which no yoke was laid.

This one baked and decorated by my daughter Aliza!

Bamidbar/Numbers 19:2 This is the statute of the Torah which God commanded, saying; speak to Bnei Yisroel that they shall take to you a red, perfect cow without a blemish, upon which no yoke was laid.

Red Velvet Cake

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup or margarine
  • 1 ½ cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • red food coloring
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa (heaping)
  • 1 cup soy milk
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon vinegar

Directions:

  1. Cream shortening or margarine, sugar and eggs.
  2. Mix the red food colouring and cocoa.
  3. Add to the margarine mixture.
  4. Add soy milk, flour, salt, and vanilla.
  5. Mix soda with vinegar, and add to the batter.
  6. Pour into a greased and floured 8″ cake pans.
  7. Bake at 350°F for 35 -40 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.Read more:

Here’s another four in the Parsha:

The Shulchan (table) and Aron (ark) each had four rings on the corner, with which the rods could be threaded through. But the poles were never removed from the rings. Why? To teach that the no matter where the Jewish people travel, the Torah must always be with them.

Here’s a dessert with four rings:

Shemot 37:3 And he cast four golden rings for it upon its four corners, two rings on its one side and two rings on its other side.

I used a cookie cutter that was the same size as the dessert cup to cut out the fruit. Four rings for four colours.

Here’s another ring recipe:

Frozen ice rings with fruit.

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Ki Tisa – March 10, 2012

Thanks Allan Robbins for your help with this blog post! (He suggested I do the ‘Bagel HaZahav’ but I already had chosen my recipe.) You’ll be seeing more of Allan when I post the cooking videos for my series, ‘Burnt Offerings.’

Now, about the Parsha… At the end of this Parsha, Moshe teaches the Israelites about various laws.

34:22 And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest, and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year.

We were slaves in Egypt and 49 days later received Torah on Sinai. The barley harvest is brought on Pesach, from which point we count the Omer 49 days up to Shavuot. On Shavuos we bring the loaves of bread (wheat) because wheat is considered human food. We ascended from incomplete humans (animals) up to humanity when we received the Torah.

Bezalel designed the Mishkan, including the Shulchan (Table) for the Lechem Hapanim. (showbread) Who is Bezalel and where does he come from? In 31:2-6 God tells Moshe that Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Chur from the tribe of Yehuda has been imbued with divine with ‘Ruach Elokim’ the spirit of God. He has received ‘wisdom, with insight, with knowledge for all manner of craftsmanship.’

Bezalel’s grandfather Chur was murdered during\ the Golden Calf because he tried to prevent it from happening. He paid with his life. In his merit, his grandson Bezalel was the designer of the Mishkan and its vessels. There’s a poetic justice here. The Mishkan was the Tikkun (rectification) for the golden calf. A fine line exists between the Kruvim (cherubim) and the golden calf. But one is idolatry, and the other is God’s commandment. We learn that the drives and talents of humans should be channelled for the good, to glorify God, instead of evil.

Food has long been depicted by artists. Bakery shops in particular were a popular subject for paintings by Dutch artists in the mid-17th century. In Job Berckheyde’s painting from 1681, “The Baker,” a baker is seen blowing his horn to announce that his freshly baked bread and pretzels are ready for sale.

Dutch artist Job Berckheye's 1681 painting, 'The Baker.'

Here’s this week’s wheat  recipe – pretzels!

34:22 And you shall make for yourself a Festival of Weeks, the first of the wheat harvest, and the festival of the ingathering, at the turn of the year.

Pretzels  (adapted from Food.com)

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • 4 cups flour (approximately)
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1/4 cup water

Directions:

  1. Mix the warm water with sugar and sprinkle on yeast. When it’s bubbled up add the flour. If you’re using a Kitchen Aid (yay! I LOVE mine) you want the batter to ball up. I had to add the oil and water to get it to a good consistency. You might be lucky but don’t hesitate to add some extra ingredients if it’s too dry or wet.
  2. Let it rise until double. That could take less than half an hour.
  3. Roll out into 12 18″ long strings. Shape into pretzel shapes.

In a pot, boil:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  1. Put each pretzel in the baking soda mixture for ten seconds or so.
  2. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle (VERY sparingly) coarse salt and bake for six minutes at 425 degrees.
  3. Remove from oven and try not eat to eat them all at once.

Sorry this blog post is so late. You know…the whole Purim thing.

Have a great Shabbos and B’tayavon!

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Purim – March 8, 2012

For Ashkenazic Jews, Purim’s cuisine features two main staples: hamentaschen and kreplach. The variety is greater among Sephardic Jews. For example, Koloocheh is a Persian Purim cookie in which a walnut and rosewater filling is encased in a buttery cookie dough. Ghouribi are Moroccan sugar cookies, Orejas de Haman, Sephardic hamentaschen.  Sambusak el Tawa is an Iraqi chickpea turnover that represents the ‘secrets’ of the Purim story as well as the vegetarian fare that Esther had to eat in Achashveirosh’s castle in order to maintain her kashrut. Hadgi Badah is another Iraqi Purim cookie that’s made with cardamon and almonds.

I was tempted to cook up a Persian Purim feast to commemorate the community of Esther and Mordechai. I also contemplated branching out to more Sephardic Purim fare. But the fact is that we live in a generation where Ashkenazic food is quickly disappearing. When Purim rolls around the ubiquitous hamentaschen seems to be increasingly seen more than its eaten. After years of making chocolate-filled hamentaschen, chocolate-dipped hamentaschen, reverse-chocolate hamentaschen, and white-chocolate coated hamentaschen, I tried something new today — Meringue Hamentaschen. It was a hit, so I’m posting it.

Purim Recipe #1:

Meringue Hamentaschen

  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. Cover two cookie sheets with parchment paper and heat oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.
  3. Add sugar gradually, then salt and vanilla.
  4. Drop spoonfuls of meringue ‘batter’ and place on cookie sheet. With the back of a spoon, shape the ‘batter’ into an approximate triangle. With a clean finger, smooth the edges to a sharp triangle.
  5. Place a spoonful of chocolate chips into the middle of the meringue.
  6. Place in oven for ten minutes. Shut off oven and leave the meringues for an hour or so until slightly golden in colour. Remove from oven.
  7. When cooled, drizzle chocolate across the ‘hamentaschen’ and over the centre. Enjoy!

 

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Parshat Tetzaveh – March 3, 2012

28:21 And the stones shall be for the names of the sons of Israel twelve, corresponding to their names; [similar to] the engravings of a seal, every one according to his name shall they be, for the twelve tribes.

The Choshen of Mishpat was the ‘breastplate of justice.’ It was worn by the Kohen Gadol (high priest), and displayed twelve precious gems, each one engraved with the name of a tribe. The Choshen hung from the Eiphod suspenders where two gems were engraved. Rabbi Israel Rubin asks the question – if the Ephod includes the names of the Shevatim (tribes) than why does the Choshen have to repeat them?

The  pairing of the Choshen and Ephod represent a concept highlighted by Hillel in Pirkei Avot 1:14 which points out the balance between group and individual values. “If  I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I?” According to Rabbi Rubin:

The tribes were listed collectively as a group on the Ephod, while on the Choshen featured them individually on separate stones. The Ephod Stones could b likened to a GROUP PHOTO while the Choshen could be likened to the individual. Judaism recognizes our individuality, each a gem in its own right, shining forth with unique sparkle, talent and style. At the same time, however, we must always tie in with our community and our common origin and heritage. 


In honor of the Choshen, I’ve prepared twelve cake pops in chocolate cup holders. (Disclaimer: The colours are not arranged according to the gems of the Choshen, so if you’re a Kohen studying for potential high priesthood, you might want to find a more credible source.)

28:21 And the stones shall be for the names of the sons of Israel twelve, corresponding to their names.

Recipe #1:

Choshen Cake Pops in Chocolate Cupcake Holders

Part 1: Chocolate Cake (any recipe will do, you can use an instant cake mix) You can also buy a ready-made frosting but they tend to be dairy. For the chocolate cake, you can use part of a cake or a whole one. I don’t have set amounts here.

Part II: Buttercream Icing

  • 1/2 cup Crisco shortening or margarine (I know this is gross, but it makes the consistency work)
  • 2 tablespoons soy milk or orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2-3 cups icing sugar

Beat the first three ingredients, then add the icing sugar. You want to get a doughy consistency that won’t drip off of a spoon.

Part III: Mixing the chocolate and icing

  • This is easily done in a mixer. I use a Kitchen Aid but a food processor would probably work as well.
  • Mix the cake until it becomes crumbly.
  • Add enough icing to make it into a play-dough like texture.
  • Refrigerate for fifteen minutes.
  • If you have a plaster or metal ‘baller’ you can use it. Or else, just make small balls of dough and place on a waxed-paper lined cookie sheet.
  • Freeze for half an hour, while you prepare the glaze.

Part IV: The glaze

  • 1 teaspoon margarine
  • 1 teaspoon soy milk
  • 1/2 cup icing sugar (approximately)
  • food colouring

Microwave the margarine and add the soy milk and icing sugar until you’ve got a creamy consistency. If it’s too thin, the effect will be watery and transparent. Too thick and it won’t spread properly.

Place the cake pops on a food rack and pour the glaze on top.

Part V: The cupcake holders

Melt chocolate chips in the microwave. Remove them after 45 seconds and stir and return to the microwave to continue cooking. When the chocolate is completely smooth, use a food brush to “paint” the inside of a paper cupcake holder. It’s best to use two cupcake holders to give it support. The Choshen had twelve gems, so paint more than twelve cupcake holders in case some of them break. Pop them in the freezer for 15 minutes. Remove and carefully peel off the holders. Place the cake pops inside the shells and arrange on a square plate three across and four down.

Recipe #2

The first Pasuk of this parsha states:

27:20 And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.

This bridges the instructions on building the Mishkan (previous Parsha – Trumah) to details of the clothing of the people staffing it.  Rabbi Pesach Winston notes that miracles and olive oil seem to always share a connection. The word for oil – Ha Shemen has the same Hebrew root as soul (Neshama) and eight (Shemona). Since the number seven is associated with the days of the week, eight is considered to be above this world, ie the supernatural, or spiritual.

Something I was wondering about – where would the Israelites have gotten olives from in the desert. I asked Rabbi Mordechai Becher and this is what he said:

The Jews a. traded with people that they encountered. b. sometimes came to places where there was some agriculture. c. Could have made an olive-press from stones in the desert fairly easily. d. Also keep in mind that they lived in Kadesh Barnea for 19 years (according to Rashi, based on Seder Olam)


27:20 And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.

Olive Salad

This salad is inspired by a dish that was served at my niece Racheli’s wedding in J-lem.

  • One cup mixed olives
  • handful of grape tomatoes
  • three mushrooms, sliced
  • 5-10 baby dill pickles, whole or sliced in half
  • one head roasted garlic (this is optional. Wrap garlic in foil and roast in oven for at least 15 min@350 or until done)
Salad Dressing:
(Note: you might not want to add any dressing since the flavour is going to be rather strong at this point. If you don’t add dressing, than do add at least one teaspoon of Italian spice or rosemary to the olive salad.)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves,
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning and/or rosemary
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 5 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Have a great Shabbos and B’Tayavon!

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