Recently I got a chance to review The New Jewish Table cookbook by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray, owners of the D.C. restaurants, Equinox and Muse. This book is a collection of Jewish recipes (mostly traditional) which have been thoughtfully interpreted by Todd and Ellen for today's cooks. Since I've been feeling a bit stale lately, I have been wanting to try something totally new and different and this looked like my chance.
Being a die hard foodie, there isn't a style of cooking that I don't enjoy preparing and eating. I guess out of all the types of cooking, kosher recipes must be the most foreign to me. Not only do I not have a kosher kitchen, it just seems like there are so many rules that I am really afraid of breaking that I have just stayed away, but no more, this book has empowered me. I'm going in.
For those of you, who like me, are unsure about the rules of kosher cooking, this book kind of spells it out in simple terms; and after reading that Todd was actually raised in a ham and cheese friendly Episcopalian home, I now know why. . . he totally understands. After reading about his upbringing I also understood why there is a recipe in there for mini Reuben sandwiches with pastrami and Swiss (even I know that's not kosher). It was only after marrying his Jewish wife and enjoying her family's recipes that he fully embraced Jewish cooking.
As Ellen explains it, the laws that govern observant Jews when it comes to eating are called "kosher" which means, fit or correct in Hebrew. This word's implied meaning is to do what is moral and virtuous. She also goes on to explain that keeping kosher is not so much about a Rabbi blessing the food, but preserving and respecting the spirit of the things consumed. This may explain why many people are drawn to kosher food today regardless of their religious beliefs.
After a little research I learned kosher cooking really isn't as confusing as it sounds. Now I am in no way an expert on this, but as I understand it, the basic rules are that you cannot mix milk products and meat in the same dish. Vegetables, grains, fruit, eggs and fish are parve (neutral foods that are neither milk or meat) and can be eaten with anything (according to some views, fish and meat should not be served together). Only fish that have scales and fins are kosher, so no shellfish, and only animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud may be consumed, which of course means no pork. I really don't want to simplify this too much so for more in depth information about kosher foods (and there is a lot), please CLICK HERE.
To help make menu planning a bit easier, the Gray's have divided the book into seasons. Each season is then divided into six chapters: brunch, starters, lunch, dinner, sides and desserts. Chapters are then broken down by headings such as meat, dairy, parve and mixed (for the Episcopalians and Presbyterians out there). Each recipe also comes with a meat, dairy or parve designation. There is also a special section reserved for traditional Jewish holiday dishes. One of my favorite features is the chef's appendix in the back that provides recipes for seasoning blends, salad dressings, stocks and condiments.
After flipping through the book about a million times I finally settled on testing the recipe for Potato and Cheese Knishes because I have heard about them my entire life and never had them, and besides that, the name is kind of fun to say. In the book this recipe is categorized as a side dish, but I thought it would also be great as a vegetarian main course. Seeing that this was a dairy dish I wanted a parve recipe to go with it, so I chose Todd's recipe for Spring Asparagus and Pickled Red Onion Salad, leaving out the Parmesan to cut down on the cheese content and calories of my meal.
Since everything for both dishes was made from scratch this was an involved meal, but the recipes were well written and easy to follow. The only real adjustment that I needed to make was the baking time for the knishes, but that's not rocket science. Since I live at 6,300 feet, it is not unusual that cooking times are often longer for me, so my knishes took 35 minutes to bake instead of the suggested 20. They turned out flaky, buttery and all and all delicious.
To sum it all up, I am so glad that I got to review this beautiful book. The recipes are not only well written and beautifully photographed, but are also prefaced by interesting personal notes by both Todd and Ellen. If you are looking for elegant and delicious recipes with kosher guidelines, this is a great resource. Even if you are just looking for great recipes and don't care about the kosher aspect, this is a still a wonderful book.
Personally, this is going to be my go to book for the summer. I can't wait to make the Fried Green Tomato Sandwich with some of my leftover pickled red onions or the Grilled New York Strip Steak with Caramelized Artichokes, or even the Smoked Salmon and Sweet Corn Beignets with Lime Sour Cream. It's going to be a delicious summer at my house.
Not only did the wonderful folks at St. Martin's Press provide me with a free book for this post, but they also are providing me with an extra copy to give away to one of my readers. Even if you think you don't need one more book in your collection, I encourage you to sign up for this giveaway or go out and buy a copy.
This giveaway is open to all of my US readers. Just leave a comment saying you'd like to be entered. If you'd like extra entries you can follow me by e-mail (just type your address in the field at the top right of this page), follow me on Pinterest by clicking on the button under the e-mail sign up, follow me on Facebook by CLICKING HERE, or on Twitter by CLICKING HERE. Be sure and leave a separate comment for each method of entry. Entry time for this giveaway is from today 5/14 until noon on Tuesday, 5/21. Good luck!
*Please be sure to leave me a contact address if your info isn't available to me by clicking through on your name. Winners have 48 hours from the time I contact you to claim your prize or another winner will be chosen.
Potato and Cheese Knishes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter (I know, I know, but it's worth it)
3 teaspoons vegetable shortening
1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup ice water
1 pound (about 3 medium) russet potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters
2 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup diced yellow onions, sauteed
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Egg wash (1 egg + 4 tablespoons water, beaten)
Prepare the dough:
Sift the flour and 1 teaspoon salt into a large bowl. Cut in the butter using two knives. Add the shortening and egg yolk, beating until blended with a hand-held electric mixer on low speed; add the water and continue beating until the dough comes together.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 2 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
*I used my food processor to prepare the dough and it worked beautifully. I also prepared it in the morning, refrigerated it most of the day and baked it in the evening so I did not let it sit overnight. My dough was flaky and tender. Since I've never made it before, I don't know how good it would be with the extra time in the refrigerator, but mine was fabulous.
Prepare the potatoes:
Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling over high heat. Drop the potatoes into the pot and cook until they are fork tender, approximately 20 - 30 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside to dry. Put the potatoes through a food mill or the grating attachment of a food processor and place in a large bowl. You will need 2 cups; if there is more, reserve the excess for another use.
Make the filling:
Heat the oil in a small saute pan over medium -low heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute until shiny and aromatic, approximately 3 minutes. Transfer the onion mixture to the bowl with the potatoes. Add the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, the parsley, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and the pepper; mix together with a wooden spoon.
Fill the knishes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Roll out each piece to a 6 x 8-inch rectangle strips (I made mine just a bit bigger, like 8 x 11"). Cut each rectangle into equal halves lengthwise. Spoon 1/3 of the filling along the center of the three strips, leaving a 1-inch margin along each edge and at the ends. Brush some egg wash along the margins; lay one of the remaining strips on top of each filled strip (stretching it a bit to cover the filling) and press together along the edges forming a rectangular packet.
Bake the knishes:
Arrange the knishes on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, approximately 20 minutes. Cut the knishes into 2 inch lengths and serve immediately.
Spring Asparagus and Pickled Red Onion Salad
36 jumbo asparagus spears, peeled
2 cups Pickled Red Onions (recipe follows)
3 cups mixed baby salad greens
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
Parmesan cheese to shave over salad (I omitted this to make my salad parve)
Cook the asparagus:
Bring a medium saucepan of lightly salted water to simmering over high heat. Add the asparagus and boil until al dente, approximately 3 - 4 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the asparagus to a bowl of ice water and chill completely. Transfer the asparagus to paper towels to drain.
Arrange the salad:
Lay six asparagus on each of six plates. Divide the Pickled Red Onions equally over the asparagus. In a large bowl, toss the salad greens with sherry Mustard Vinaigrette to taste; mound them on top of the onions and asparagus, dividing equally. Using a vegetable peeler or cheese plane, shave very thin slices of Parmesan cheese and lay on top of each plate of salad. Drizzle with additional vinaigrette if desired.
Pickled Red Onions
Makes about 2 - 1/2 cups
Thinly slice enough red onions to equal 4 cups (about 2 large red onions). Combine 2 cups of water, 1 cup of red wine vinegar, 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper in a medium saucepan; bring to simmering over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Wrap 1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds, 1/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, and 1 bay leaf in a small piece of cheesecloth, tying closed with kitchen twine (I never have cheesecloth so I emptied out a tea bag, stuffed it with the spices and stapled it closed). Add this spice sachet and the onions to the sugar mixture and bring to boiling over high heat; immediately remove the pan from the heat and set aside to let the onions reach room temperature in the pickling liquid. Discard the spice sachet and if not ready to use the onions, transfer them with the pickling liquid to a container and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks.
Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
Makes about 1 cup
Whisk together 1/4 cup sherry vinegar, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 - 1/2 teaspoons whole grain mustard, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, and 1 teaspoon honey in a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/4 cup olive oil and whisk until well combined. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.