Over the holidays my sister from NJ was at my house and complimented my (wicked) potato kugel. “How do you make it?” she asked.
Looks like this is “how to” month here on OOTOB, but this is a follow up from my post about intuitive eating, and I think it’s important to address here because a few people have observed the “frum 10” (also known as the “frum 15”) which is the weight you gain when you become Orthodox and start eating Thanksgiving dinner twice a week plus a bar mitzvah or wedding thrown regularly into the mix.
Regular readers and those who know me in real life know that I’m hardly the domestic goddess. Yet, I must modestly confess that I make a mean challah. The reason I would like to share my challah tips with y’all is this: I don’t make ANY food unless it’s EASY. I don’t have the time, interest, or talent. So if challah wouldn’t be EASY I wouldn’t make it. It’s actually that simple. People have all these intimidational fears of challah and frankly I just don’t know why. You don’t even have to separate eggs.
Inspired by the popularity of my post on How to Clean for Passover in One Day, I decided to tell y’all how I cook for Shabbos in an hour. Because I’m all about saving time and getting out of the kitchen. A friend of mine recently told me I am doing the Jewish world a service by standing up there and admitting that I don’t like to cook, so of course I’m all about doing a mitzvah, benefiting others, yada yada.
So hear this now: I’m Jewish, I’m religious, I’m the mother of a large family, my husband is even a rabbi, and I DON’T LIKE TO COOK. I’d much rather go for a walk with someone I love, or even like; read something really interesting; socialize with friends; or play a game with my kids. For those of you that love the patchke, you may click right away from the page with no hard feelings at all.
And yet I cook Shabbos food pretty much every week and love to host guests. Here’s how I do it:
Partially homemade gefilte fish
Homemade matza ball soup
Pareve ice cream dessert
There’s a secret. You have to prepare the challah dough in advance. And you have to do shopping in advance. And not everything will be homemade.
(I’ve only included the things you’re unlikely to have on hand.)
- loaf of frozen gefilte fish (I don’t find the brand matters much; I shop the cheapest brand)
- chicken, for the soup and for the main
- any bottled salad dressing or sauce
- veggies for the salads and roasted veg dish
- matza ball soup mix
- pareve ice cream or sorbet for dessert
- net bag for your chicken soup
PREPARING THE CHALLAH DOUGH IN ADVANCE:
Throw the following into a bowl:
- 1.5 Tbsp yeast
- 2 c. warm water
- 1 c. sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 c oil
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 7-8 cups flour
- Start by mixing up your matza ball mix according to package directions and put in fridge to firm up. Estimated time: 5 minutes.
- Next, peel all the veggies for your roasted veggies and for the soups (I like onion, carrots, sweet potato, celery, and squash in my soup). Throw your veggies for the soup in a large pot along with the chicken. I put the chicken in the bag for easy removal. Fill pot with water to the top, season with salt, pepper, dill, and whatever else you like. Put it up to boil. Estimated time: 10 minutes.
- Next, clean your chickens and arrange in a nice dish. Pour some bottled dressing or sauce (any will work) and put in oven for two hours uncovered at 350. Estimated time: 10 minutes.
- Now, take your gefilte fish, unwrap it from both the plastic and wax paper, and transfer to a loaf pan partially frozen. Spray or brush the top with olive oil and sprinkle with lemon pepper or any seasonings. Put it in the oven for two hours. Estimated time: 5 minutes.
- Next, arrange your roast veggies in a pan. I drizzle with two tablespoons olive oil, basil, rosemary, kosher salt, and freshly ground pepper. Put in oven for two hours. Estimated time: 5-10 minutes.
- Now prepare your salads. I can’t put a time on this; it all depends how you like your salads. I sometimes do the salads just before dinner anyway, so I’m going to leave it out of the equation.
- Now deal with your challah. I have instructions for that here. Not counting rising time, this should take 10 minutes, depending on how fancy you get with your braids and how new you are at it. Estimated time: 10 minutes.
- Take your matza ball mix out of the fridge and form into balls. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil. Drop in matza balls and allow to cook. Estimated prep time: 5 minutes.
- The rice is super-fast because I have a rice cooker. I throw the rice in there with water, a little oil, some soy sauce and frozen veggies, and just turn the thing on. But before I had a rice cooker, I did it in a pan in the oven and it was almost as easy. Estimated time: 5 minutes.
You’ve started cleaning after Chanukah? Used your snow days to tackle the attic for Pesach? Almost done?
Here’s how to let Pesach become a fun holiday again, one you don’t dread. But my method has a few ground rules:
1. If your children (or you) regularly eat chometz in odd places, like bedroom closets, and those places are not cleaned regularly throughout the year, you cannot clean for Pesach in one day.
2. You will need the help of one able-bodied adult. This may or may not take the form of paid help – more on costs in a moment. It can be a friend, an older kid (feel free to bribe) or a relative. You can’t do it totally alone, unless you live in a tiny condo and are the sole occupant. I have a cleaning woman help me. What should you delegate to your helper? Whatever you hate to do.
3. Some people spend money because they don’t want to spend more time, and some people spend more time because they don’t want to spend more money. Adjust my suggestions based on your budget and personality.
4. If you have young children, they will need to be out of your hair for the day – but remember, it’s ONE day. By “young” I mean too young to be truly helpful. Teens should stay and help, unless their job is keeping your younger kids occupied. And they won’t mind staying since it’s only ONE day. In fact, they will be bragging to all their friends how little they had to help. Help for your younger kids can come in the form of paid help, or a friend or relative – or your teen. Have someone take them out to a museum, out for a pizza lunch, whatever. Just out. Of. Your. Way. For the day.
5. For those of you that are concerned/curious about the halachic aspects of my suggestions, these ideas are based on talks I have heard from Rabbi Shmuel Fuerst of Chicago and Rabbi Baruch Hirschfeld of Cleveland. If you have family customs that are stricter than mine, it might take you longer than one day.
6. These suggestions are based on your typical single family colonial home. If your home is much smaller or larger than that, adjust your expectations accordingly.
7. I am not addressing WHEN to clean. This will largely be impacted by where and how you cook. If you have an alternative place to cook that is kosher for Pesach, you can cook in advance and clean literally 2 days before the Seder. If you don’t, you will want to do your cleaning day a few days in advance so you can cook in your newly Passovered kitchen. What and where your family will eat during those few days is not within the scope of this piece (heh heh). Ok, kidding, you will have to leave one space (garage, basement) not-clean-for-Pesach where chometz is still allowed. The morning of the Seder, this should take half-hour to clean up, max.
Ready? Let’s go.
We approach the house as though it’s concentric circles, with the dining room and mainly the kitchen as the epicenter. We start with the peripherals, since they are the easiest. In my home, here’s where we eat: the kitchen and the dining room;
occasionally in the family room and living room; chocolates and nuts by
guests in the basement (note: neither of those are true chometz); and
anything else is contraband. The kids are not allowed to eat upstairs. Do they sometimes? Yeah. We’ll deal. I don’t allow them to eat all over the house. Not because I’m Pesach-obssessed all year (I think it’s a big mistake to be) but because it’s gross.
9:00 am: Basement
Since the basement is a place where chometz generally doesn’t happen, I don’t clean it. Plus, even if chometz did go there, every now and then (not telling how often) the basement gets vacuumed. So it’s gone. No need to move furniture on the off-chance. I go down there, I give a quick look-see, peek under beds and pull out any large anything I can see, and we’re done. Shalom.
Estimated time: 15 minutes.
9:15 am: Upstairs
Since the upstairs is a place where I don’t allow chometz, any children who have offended during the year are responsible for their own clean-up, after which I inspect.
Estimated time: 15 minutes
At this point you might be wondering about organizing, emptying drawers and shelves, and cleaning. But maybe you forgot that this is about Pesach. So that’s why I didn’t mention it, and that’s why I don’t do it. I organize throughout the year, and sometimes after Pesach. In my opinion, the WORST time in the world to organize is before Pesach, when it gets attached to so much other stress. In fact, I think it should be illegal.
9:30 am: Garage
The garage contains a big job, which is my spare fridge and freezer. I empty everything that’s left in the big freezer, which is not much because I’ve been slowing down on the buying, and consolidate it in my small kitchen freezer. I leave the freezer open and turn it off to defrost. Later, my cleaning lady will clean it. She does a regular cleaning job, same as a good cleaning any day of the year, except we clean the rubber seal very well in its grooves. The spare fridge I have her clean and wipe down with some spray cleaner of some sort. Voila. It’s now kosher for Passover. No lining of shelves, no nothing. If I have some food items that are not used up (there’s always jelly and pickles) I designate one drawer, put all the stuff in it, and tape it shut. It gets sold with the chometz.
The rest of the garage involves just looking around and making sure there’s no chometz. No organizing.
Estimated time: 45 minutes.
10:15 am: Bathrooms
The only thing I am concerned about in the bathroom is toothpaste that might contain chometz. I find out which brand is ok to use for the current year, put the other toothpastes aside in a place that I am selling (we’ll come back to this), and make a note to get new ones (and new toothbrushes).
Estimated time for all bathrooms: 15 minutes, max.
10:30 am: Family room
My main job is the family room is usually the couch but this year we have a new couch where the cushions don’t come off. I LOVE THIS COUCH! We take the dustbuster and vacuum the crevices where we see stuff. Here’s what we don’t do: move furniture away from the wall that doesn’t get moved all year. Wash toys. Organize board games. Sort CDs and DVDs. Move the piano.
Why don’t I wash toys?
1. Because my children don’t eat while they play.
2. Because even if they did, I periodically sort and organize my toy closet and if there were a piece of birthday cake, it’s gone now.
Estimated time: 15 minutes.
10:45 am: Living room
My main job in the living room is the couches. Since we sometimes move furniture around, I move the furniture, me or my helper(s) vacuum under them, we pull all the cushions off the couch and it gets vacuumed inside. Ditto for the comfy chairs. Done. Don’ts: wash curtains. Dust lights. Rearrange the mantle.
Estimated time: 30 minutes.
11:15 am: Dining room
This is a big job so I’ll break it down into pieces.
1. Bookshelf. We take off the shelves all the “benchers” – little booklets that are literally used during the Shabbos meals and actually could contain challah. Do we clean them? Nah. We put them in a closet that will be sold for Pesach. We wipe the shelves where they sat. Time: 10 minutes.
2. Folding chairs. We have a little nook where we keep folding chairs. We take out the chairs, and, using a blowdryer, blow around them to blast out crumbs. We wipe down the inside of the closet. Time: 15-30 minutes to remove, clean, wipe, and replace.
3. Buffet. I have two sides of the inside of the buffet: one side I will use for Passover dishes, and one side I will sell. The side I will sell I don’t touch at all – I just tape it shut with masking tape. The other side I empty, wipe down, replace. I also blowdry and wipe the top, then cover it with a clean tablecloth. Time: 15-30 minutes.
4. Dining room chairs. I (or my helpers) bowdry the crevices of the chairs, then wipe them down. Time: 15 minutes.
5. Dining room table. I open the table without the leaves so any crumbs that may be lurking fall through. I wipe the leaves and put on a tablecloth. Time: 10 minutes.
Total dining room estimated time: With lots of wiggle room, 1 1/2 hours. (Really less because you and your helper are working simultaneously, so let’s settle on one hour.)
12:15 pm: Break for lunch
1:00 pm: Kitchen
Here, too, I am going to break the job down into parts.
1. Oven. This job I definitely delegate to my cleaning help. She cleans it just as she would all year, and then we will run the self-cleaning cycle, but before we do, I clean the cooktop, because I put the grates of the burners into the oven during the cycle, which kashers them. Time: 1/2 hour cleaning.
While self-cleaning cycle runs, we move on.
2. Fridge/freezer. We empty everything out into laundry baskets so my cleaning lady can clean on the inside. Some stuff I toss, some I put into little containers to put back in the fridge, some I give away. Don’t move fridge away from wall. Time: 45 minutes.
3. Tables and chairs. Ditto for blowdry/wipedown method mentioned above. I move the kitchen table away and sweep under it. Wipe down kitchen table and put plastic disposable tablecloth over it, which I tie under it to keep it anchored. Time: 15 minutes.
4. Small appliances: sandwich maker, toaster. I put them in the pantry, where I have all the chometz to sell. I don’t clean them at all. Actually, I move them to the garage where my kids will eat their meals till seder. Time: 5 minutes.
5. Cabinets. I designate a few drawers and cabinets that I will be using the week of Passover, and empty them. I put the contents into other non-Passover drawers or in the pantry I will be selling. My cleaning lady/kids clean out the insides of those drawers and cabs that I will use by wiping down with some cleanser. Voila. They are now kosher-for-Passover. I use masking tape to mark the “chometz” domains and move some stuff to the folding table in the garage that we will be using temporarily. Time: maybe an hour.
6. Cooktop, counters, sinks. These get cleaned really well, like a really good regular cleaning. The sinks get taped off for the next 24 hours to prepare for kashering (which my husband does). The counters will get kashered too the following night. The cooktop gets covered with foil and then I replace the grates that went through the self-clean cycle. Time: 30 minutes.
Total kitchen estimated time: 3 hours.
It’s now four pm and your house is clean for Passover. Mazel tov! When your kids are all home, they will take their backpacks and empty them outside of any crumbs. You will then throw them in the laundry and, if you have a mudroom, your kids are each responsible to clean their own cubbies. Estimated time: depends on how pokey your kids are.
The last item is the car. This is most definitely a place that I’d rather spend money than time. I take my car to a local car wash (yeah AlPaul) and for $20 all our chometz misdeeds therein are erased. But even if you tackle the car yourself, there’s no need to remove seats or anything drastic like that. You vacuum and remove visible chometz. Dirt’s cool, so just leave it there. Estimated time for car: 1 hour, tops. This is also a great thing to delegate to your kids or cleaning help.
Enjoy your holiday!
With all the heavy topics we’ve been covering lately, it’s definitely time for a light post. Um, thematically, that is.
For awhile I was tortured by brisket. Not as in heartburn, but in trying to figure out how it became a Jewish food. I posted it on Facebook, with not much info forthcoming. From there I wondered about rugelach, knishes, and matza ball soup. So I hereby present to you what I have learned. Turns out some Jewish food is seriously, spiritually Jewish; some peripherally Jewish; and some barely Jewish. Note: this list is specific to Ashkenazic eating, since it’s what I know. I’d love your input on Sephardic foods. Here’s what I know, in reverse order of Jewishness:
The Barely Jewish
What’s up with the ubiquitous Kosher Pickle? Turns out that pickling your food was a highly common practice in Eastern Europe, by Jews and non-Jews alike. But Jews discovered a great use for the pickled cucumber and imported it to the shores of NY marketed in just that way: as a palate cleanser while eating the highly tasty (and fatty) cuts of deli meats they favored. As such, the Jewish/”kosher” pickle became a fixture on the Lower East Side, to the point where Heinz made the marketing decision to brand their pickles kosher so they’d sell (even though pretty much all pickles are kosher).
Sorry, folks, there’s nothing Jewish about a knish. It’s a Russian food that Jews – once again – imported, popularized, and marketed on the street corners of the Lower East Side. And boy, is it good.
I could find absolutely no info about how rugelach became a Jewish food. Ah, well. I still highly recommend them. Especially the ones from the shuk in Jerusalem, warm and fresh out of the oven…mmmmm. But I digress.
4. Hummus, pita, falafel
Speaking of Israel, I am equally sorry to inform you that hummus, pita, and falafel are not Jewish at all. More middle-Eastern. More Lebanese, actually. But go ahead and indulge, if it makes you happy.
The Peripherally Jewish
I am going to out this Jewish food right here, right now. For those of you that haven’t yet noticed, mandelbroit is nothing more or less than Italian biscotti. Sorry! I know, it’s like the end of the Wizard of Oz. Turns out Jewish travelers from Eastern Europe went traveling and discovered this pastry in Italy. They immediately sniffed out the Jewish benefits: one, it was made without butter – and hence, was pareve – a big perk in kosher dining, especially for special occasions such as Shabbat and holidays when meat or chicken were usually served. Secondly, and this I’m making up, they last forever. Because, actually, they’re stale to begin with. So they brought it back to the shtetl, called it “almond bread” – or mandelbroit in Yiddish. Voila! A Jewish pastry is born.
This is a pasta, not dissimilar to couscous, that you will routinely find in the kosher aisle of your local grocery store. It became customary to eat this with Shabbat dinner, since its name is similar to the Yiddish “farfallen,” which means “it’s over with, it’s fallen already.” This was to remind ourselves that once Shabbat begins, the problems, decisions, and stresses of the week are to fall away.
3. Matza ball soup
Ah, that fixture of Jewish cooking. First let’s talk about the matza balls. Clearly, this custom began on Passover, when we were looking for just about anything that could be prepped with that bane of Jewish eating: the matza (also to be inexplicably found in your local grocery kosher aisle year-round, possibly due it’s always/never getting stale…see mandelbroit). In any event, matza balls must’ve been such a hit and as such spread (no pun intended) to the rest of the year’s menu. What about the soup it is featured in? Let’s call it what it is: chicken soup. It’s obvious what’s Jewish about chicken soup: chicken is kosher, so let’s start there. Many Jews in Eastern Europe could not afford meat, but it didn’t take much in the way of finances or property to buy some chickens and let’s face it, soup is the best method to make a little go a long way. Hence, chicken soup: a Jewish staple, and the perfect backdrop to those fluffy matza balls, also called by the Yiddish kneidlach (literally, “little kneaded things”).
4. Brisket, pastrami, and the Jewish deli
Brisket IS Jewish, after all. Here’s why: it turns out that not all cuts of beef are kosher. Jews don’t eat the hindquarters of the animal due to the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of Esau (yes, Jews believe in angels) and his thigh being dislocated in the process. Thus, states the Torah, a Jew is not to partake of the animal’s hindquarter. Brisket is from the front of the animal and as such is kosher (some are more kosher than others, cough, cough).
Pastrami on rye – Jewish? Well, pastroma
is a Romanian/Yiddish word for salted brisket cuts – and the Jews,
again, imported and popularized this cut of meat. They also changed the
name to “pastrami” to be similar to the Italian “salami.” What was
Jewish about it? It was from a kosher animal, and a kosher cut, to
boot. Why did Jews keep delis in the first place? There were some
kinds of foods (in the technologically simpler age) that one could buy
universally – fish, baked goods, produce – but kosher meat was not one
of them. The Jews always had to manage that one themselves. Hence,
Jews opened delis to provide their own meat, and it quickly became the
equivalent of the Irish pub: a place where Jews could gather, talk
Jewish talk, catch up on Jewish news, and just hang out and be Jewish.
To this day, the “Jewish deli” is a fixture – but make sure your
kosher-style deli is not serving you ham (which is neither kosher nor
kosher-style). As for rye, I have no idea.
5. Bagels and lox
Bagels were also a regionally Eastern European food, but became popular among the Jews for Saturday night consumption. It was a religious tradition to cook something new for Saturday night, pursuant to the belief that an “extra soul” was given to us for Shabbat, and departed on Saturday night, and thus, both to “console” ourselves on its departure, and to “escort out” its presence, a new food was cooked and eaten. Bagels may have become popular because it’s quicker than bread (if you prep the dough prior to Shabbat). And maybe the extras were readily available for Sunday morning – hence Sunday morning bagels! As for lox – again, the Jews of Eastern Europe discovered this from the Scandinavians, and considering it (and herring) came from kosher varieties of fish (salmon, carp), it instantly became a favorite. The way it was prepared was also ideal, since it didn’t need refrigeration. Some unknown person capped it off with a shmear of cream cheese, the immigrants made it famous in New York, and lo and behold, the bagel became synonymous with the Jew. Frighteningly, if you google bagels and Jews, expect to be hit with a boatload of virulently anti-semitic literature. It’s that iconic.
The Super Jewish
Kugel is a really, really good food. In High German it means “round things.” It started as kneaded dumplings and eventually morphed into the baked [insert insufficient translation here, such as pudding and casserole]. Word has it that it is similar to the Hebrew “k’igul” which means “like a circle,” and was intended to replicate the round manna (which is described in Torah sources as “round like a coriander seed”) which we celebrate on Shabbat. Hence, its centrality on Shabbat and holidays (and random Tuesdays when we’re in the mood…just sayin’). Why potato kugel specifically? No special reason other than… it was readily available in Eastern Europe. Now you can find recipes for all kinds of avant-garde kugel such as butternut squash, broccoli, strawberry and other random items more traditionally called “dessert.” But that’s the beauty of kugel. Mix it, bake it round, call it a kugel, and it’s a kugel. Check out www.www.joyofkosher.com for lots of awesome kugel ideas and recipes.
2. Gefilte fish
Guess what? The weird jarred stuff in the jelled broth is not up to par. But let’s discuss why it came to be Jewish. In halacha (Jewish law), there is a rule that on Shabbat one of the creative labors we refrain from is “sorting/organizing.” This would apply to eating fish, because you have to sort through the bones to eat the fish. So them Jews came up with an equally creative solution: grind them bones in with the fish, and cook! Ha ha! Then you can pretend there aren’t any bones. Throw in a carrot and onion, and maybe you won’t even notice them! No sorting necessary. Now we got a little smarter: we eliminate the bones entirely, beef it up with a little matza meal/breadcrumbs, and cook. Me, I buy the frozen raw loaves and I actually bake it. It’s goooooood. And very halacha-compliant. Bon appetit.
3. Braided challah
What makes challah challah? The braiding, of course. A braid has many spiritually significant themes. Here’s one, lifted from aish.com: Part of the preparation for the Shabbat is engaging in melacha,
creative activity. Braiding is creative activity. The braid is a shape
that does not appear in nature. (Ficus trees are hand-braided.) It is a
shape that is made by humans and it is representative of the human
ability to manipulate the raw material of the world. Braiding the
challah strands helps us harness our creative capacities for the purpose
of observing the Shabbat. I love that.
4. And finally, stuffed cabbage and kreplach
While these foods aren’t inherently Jewy, but merely a regional favorite in Eastern Europe among Jews and non-Jews alike, they were incorporated into Jewish eating on special occasions such as Yom Kippur pre-fast meal; Purim dinner; and Simchat Torah, due to their “wrapped” construction. This was significant as it symbolized God’s hidden and concealed plan on those spiritual days.
What Jewish foods are your favorites? Do you know what’s Jewish about them? Most importantly, are you hungry yet?
Related posts: Read about cholent!
Okay, so I shamelessly stole that awesome title from Azriela Jaffe’s book, and will pay back the favor by linking it here. (Thanks, Azriela.) I haven’t actually read the book but I’ve heard lotsa good things about it.
Neither have I ever dealt with this issue personally, but many of my friends have. The thrust is that when someone decides to keep kosher, or go from “regular kosher” or “kosher style” to strictly kosher, they may be unable (unwilling?) to eat in their families’ and friends’ kitchens. Result? Confusion, perceived judgment, and hurt feelings. IMHO, one of the main issues is that the parties involved become emotionally bogged down and thus unable (unwilling?) to see things objectively.
So, for the purpose of distance and illustration, let’s look at four analogous instances. Ready?
My husband is doing a bris. He suggests that the family serve kosher food at the bris to honor the Jewish symbolism of the occasion. They decline. They offer to order him a kosher meal. Or, sometimes, they don’t.
We have guests over that are gluten-free. It’s my first experience with gluten-free eating, so I poke around online and ask them for ideas. “Don’t worry,” they say, “don’t put yourself out. There are lots of things our son can eat. Thank you!”
My friend tells me an acquaintance invited herself over for Shabbat dinner, and asked what she’d be serving. “Brisket,” she said.
“Oh, sorry, I can’t have that. It’s too fattening.”
At a holiday dinner, my mother-in-law brings out a number of dishes, most of which, coincidentally, contain mushrooms. It turns out that her guest is allergic to mushrooms.
1. Is it the responsibility of the bris host to order my husband a kosher meal? Is it reasonable for him/her to be offended if my husband can’t eat the “regular” (non-kosher) meal?
2. Is it my responsibility to make sure I have gluten-free food for my guest, or should he/she fill up on GF food prior to coming? Should I be hurt if he/she won’t eat food that I thought, erroneously, was GF?
3. Is this guest rude?
4. Who feels worse: the guest, or my mother-in-law?
What do you think? Have you ever been in any of the above situations?