Shavuot, cheesecake, yum! But why? Here we are at Sinai, and Moses is about to receive the Torah, which contains the new dietary laws concerning meat. But wait! We have no animals that have been properly slaughtered and no proper utensils to eat them with! I know. We’ll eat dairy until we prepare kosher meat and utensils. And besides, the Torah itself is compared to milk and honey in the Bible. Easy transition from there to cheesecake, no?
But the holiday celebrates so much more – the giving of the Torah itself, our mainstay for over 3,300 years, as Susie Fishbein tells us in Kosher by Design (Artscroll), her first cookbook in the immensely popular series. We decorate the synagogue and our houses with flowers and leafy branches because of a Midrash that tells us “that although Mount Sinai is in the desert, it suddenly bloomed with fragrant flowers and grasses on the morning that the Torah was given to the Jewish people.” With this in mind, she assembles a Shavuot buffet using purple cabbage-lined terra-cotta flowerpots of all sizes, on varying levels, for a dazzling display, a brilliant idea that can be used year round.
In Fishbein’s latest book, Kosher by Design Cooking Coach: Recipes, Tips and Techniques to Make Anyone a Better Cook (Artscroll), she shares her best-kept secrets for success in the kitchen, gleaned from her almost ten years’ experience with seven previous Kosher by Design cookbooks.
“I’ve been cooking in front of audiences for 10 years,” she said when I spoke to her by phone from her New Jersey home. “I realized that the strength of the demonstrations was not that people learned the three recipes I was teaching, but that they were learning good techniques.”
The ten coaching sessions in the book cover everything from how to cook different cuts of meat to choosing and using equipment, how to skin and pin-bone fish, plating and garnishing techniques and how to “reincarnate” leftovers. There are also 120 brand-new recipes (Honey Pomegranate Chicken; Red Snapper with Warm Olives, Capers and Tomato; Lamb Shanks with Cherries and Port; Baked Coconut Brown Rice Pilaf; Chocolate Peanut Butter Molten Cakes…), more than 400 luscious color photos and budget-stretching tips. Throughout, Fishbein guides the novice cook or “old hand” all along the way, instilling confidence and creativity.
“At the very beginning of the book I talk about setting up your kitchen,” she noted. “That doesn’t mean an endless shopping spree to Williams-Sonoma, but spending money only on what you need.” Case in point: knives, the most essential pieces of equipment in your kitchen. “They will try to sell you a 12-piece set, but three knives will do 95 percent of what you to do in the kitchen. You need a chef’s knife, a paring knife and one with a serrated edge. Buy that once, buy that well, and they will last you a few generations.”
The focus here is less on recipes and more on techniques. “You learn something once and you own it,” she said. “My obligation is not to teach recipes, but the techniques and concepts that will make any cook become more independent on her own.”
Entertaining for holidays or other occasions need not be stressful, she said. “Don’t overplan your menu,” she advised. “Think about what people eat in a restaurant: an appetizer – maybe soup or salad – a main dish with a vegetable and some starch and a dessert. People put intense pressure on themselves to serve a buffet table of desserts. People don’t want to eat that way. They don’t want to leave your table feeling awful. Make just a few things that are doable.”
To enjoy your guests, plan ahead. “Make sure there are not too many last-minute items. You might prepare parts of recipes two or three days in advance, like the dressing or marinade or dough, and then the completed dish still comes fresh out of the oven.”
Butternut Squash Broken Lasagna is a delectable dairy dish that’s perfect for Shavuot. And, of course, what would the holiday be without cheesecake!
Butternut Squash Broken Lasagna
Rigatoni may be substituted for the broken lasagna noodles.
2 (12-ounce) boxes frozen cooked winter squash, defrosted
5 ounces frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
12 fresh sage leaves (about 1/4 cup loosely packed), chopped
1 (16-ounce) box standard lasagna noodles (not no-bake)
1 cup heavy cream
2 (10-ounce) bags frozen butternut squash cubes
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, shelled
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
2 In large bowl, mix ricotta, garlic, onion powder, salt, garlic powder, pepper and chopped sage. Set aside.
3 Break lasagna noodles into 3-4 pieces each and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain; rinse with plenty of cold water. Drain very well.
4 Mix noodles into ricotta. Add winter squash and spinach. Stir well. Mix in cream and squash cubes. Transfer to 9-by-13-inch oven-to-table casserole or baking dish. Smooth top with spatula. Sprinkle on pumpkin seeds and Parmesan. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes. Serve hot.
Cheese Danish Galette
This simple tart is part cheese Danish, part cheesecake and part strudel. What a great mix!
Nonstick cooking spray
1 (8-ounce) block cream cheese (not whipped), at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1 lemon
6 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted in refrigerator
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
Ground cinnamon, for garnish
Raspberries, for garnish
1 Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. With nonstick spray, coat 9-inch tart pan with removable bottom. Place on cookie sheet. Set aside.
2 In bowl of stand mixer with paddle attachment or in mixing bowl with hand mixer, on high speed, cream cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Lower speed to medium, add eggs one at a time, and beat until incorporated. Mix in heavy cream, vanilla and lemon zest. Set aside.
3 Open package of phyllo dough. Lay one sheet in pan, allowing it to overhang on all sides. Brush with some melted butter. Lay second sheet of phyllo, rotating it so that corners of second sheet are angled slightly away from points of the first. Repeat with 4 more sheets, laying each at an angle so all corners form a design.
4 Pour cheese filling into tart. Fold edges of galette in toward middle of pan. Filling will be visible. Brush undersides of dough with any remaining butter.
5 Bake 30-35 minutes, until phyllo is golden brown. Cheese filling will be slightly puffed, and center won’t jiggle. Remove galette from oven and allow to cool completely before storing in refrigerator. Serve cold, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with raspberries.
Source: Kosher by Design Cooking Coach by Susie Fishbein