Thursday morning, almost 7 am. Why am I not able to sleep later than 6:30? Even on the mornings after visits from my “friend,” In-Som-Nia? The kitchen is calling with piles of clean stuff to be put away – Constant Companion did his thing without the help of the shoemaker’s elves and almost all the dishes, cutlery, and pots and pans from yesterday are waiting. Also, if I’m to be good in these days of seclusion, my bike is calling for me – exercise! Even Jinx, the kitty is curled up rather than demanding her early breakfast. Instead, let’s write …
Holiday cooking is a two day affair. The first day is for the dishes that taste better after resting overnight, often the more complex items on the menu – more ingredients, more steps. Passover started on Wednesday evening this year. Even though we are just the three of us this year (me, Constant Companion, and Daughter) in seclusion like so many others celebrating their holidays this year, I still cook – lots. It’s not a holiday without the wonderful scents of cooking filling the house.
My menu is pretty simple and culturally mixed. For the seder plate, I needed to prepare my hard-boiled eggs and the haroset, the fruit and nut mixture symbolic of the mortar used to build the pyramids (or so we are taught as children). Next, the meal starts with some appetizers such as chicken soup, gefilte fish, the eggs. This year’s entree we’re having beautiful branzino, potato kugel, and fresh vegetables. Dessert is an old recipe, would you believe 1991, for a lemon pecan torte. The menu is part was chosen from ingredients harvested from the freezer because of limitations in the local supermarket.
Day One. hard-boiled eggs – for the seder plate and an appetizers – first foods eaten after the lengthy recitation of the Haggadah, and often an ingredient in other dishes. Mine are in the Sephardic style or huevos haminados. The amazing brown color on the shell is achieved from nesting the eggs in onion skins while they boil. Some cooks bake them overnight in the oven for the same result.
Next, chicken soup. I used some chicken thighs I’d had stashed away just for this purpose. I also used the chicken necks found in the depths of the freezer, waiting for just an occasion as this. First, sweat roughly chopped onions and celery in oil on the bottom of the pan. Add chopped parsnips to the mix. No carrots this year, but they are a usual addition. To this add the chicken parts and lightly brown, then about 8 cups of water. Skim off some of the foam from the chicken and add a nice bunch of fresh dill and fresh parsley and a handful of salt. Simmer for about one and a half hours. Take the chicken out; when cooled roughly shred and return into the soup. After lunch on Day Two I’ll make the matzah balls.
Haroset was next on the list. I use my mother’s “recipe,” nothing is written down. Rough chop two cored apples and one thick skinned orange, peel and all. Put them into the food processor with a good bunch of raisins and a bunch of walnuts. Give it a spin, then add some kosher wine, probably no more than 1/2 a cup. I use no measurements. Once it was done, I realized I should have soaked the raisins in the wine to soften them. Maybe they’ll marinate overnight (they did).
The food processor got its workout this day. Next, an almond pesto I’d seen on America’s Test Kitchen a few evening’s earlier. They proposed this sauce for salmon; I thought it might be nice on the branzino. Chop ¼ cup of roasted almonds with 4 rinsed and dried anchovies and 4 garlic cloves. Add 6 ounces of arugula, ¼ cup of lemon juice, ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil, and some salt. Give it all a spin in the food processor. No cheese like in other pestos. It’s interesting. We’ll see if it’s a match for the fish. (It was good, but too heavy on delicate branzino, it will get eaten this week no doubt.)
Chopped liver. I decided to do this last because it’s a really strong taste and though I was washing the food processor in between, I did not want to chance any remaining residue. I’ve already written about chopped liver (see Sept. 30 post) made with sautéed chicken livers. I had beef liver in the freezer and decided to use what was on hand. Sauté the onions, add the liver. When done, put chop it roughly and put into the food processor with two chopped, hard-boiled eggs. Instead of schmaltz, chicken fat, I used my duck fat. Can’t wait to try it on matzah during dinner and during the week of Pesach.
Lots of cooking and that was just the morning. Dessert waited til the afternoon. I used to enjoy looking at the ladies magazines and cooking magazines during the holidays to see what new recipes they introduced. I don’t remember seeing many for Passover this year. This lemon pecan torte came from Family Circle along with recipes for fritters (chremzlach), stuffing with chestnuts and mushrooms, and eggplant and green pepper kugel. I’ve made the last dish several times in the past and it’s delicious.
Lemon pecan torte. Ingredients: 7 eggs, separated, ¾ cup sugar (I never use all the sugar), 2 cups of pecans,* coarsely ground, 1 tbsp lemon rind, 1 tbsp lemon juice.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees, Fahrenheit, oil a 9” springform pan and dust with 2 tbsp of matzah meal. Whisk the egg yokes with the sugar. Stir in the pecans and the lemon rind. Beat the egg whites and lemon juice to stiff, not dry peaks. Stir ¼ of whites into yoke mixture, fold in remaining until mixed. Scrape into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour. Cool for 15 minutes
In the meantime, make the glaze – Combine 1 egg yoke with 1/3 cup lemon juice, 1/3 cup sugar, 1 tsp margarine, and 1 tbsp lemon rind. Simmer whisking constantly. Cool. When the cake is cooled, poke holes in it and pour the glaze over the top.
Wednesday morning. I had two errands to run before starting the second day of Pesach cooking. I returned to Constant Companion and Daughter kindly putting away all the cleaned stuff from the work of the day before … what needed to be done? Gefilte fish, matzah balls, vegetables, fish, set the table, find the seder plate, matzah cover, candle sticks, Haggadahs and song sheets. I even pulled out the Jan Peerce record in case we needed reinforcements. It’s all a mental checklist honed after years of doing it.
Gefilte fish. In the past, I’ve made my own. Yes, a recipe from a ladies magazine and it’s from one of Miami’s most noted chefs, Alan Susser. Not this year, no red snapper in the freezer. My neighbor gave me a frozen chub of gefilte fish which I dutifully boiled for 2 hours, put in the fridge, then sliced up to the enjoyment of my husband.
Matzah balls. I’ve always used the mix for this.* It’s so easy. Add 1 or 2 beaten eggs to the mix. Then add oil. This year we (Daughter helped with this one) added chopped dill to the mix. Let it sit for some time. Form into walnut-sized balls (I like them small) and drop into boiling soup. Voila, matzah balls.
*Note: After Passover, I buy this with the price marked down. It’s on the bottom shelf of my freezer with the shank bone. I have enough there now for maybe 3 or 4 years!
Kugel. For a starch, I tried a potato kugel recipe I’d seen on YouTube. I’ll not include the recipe; there are many …
I had some nice broccoli, asparagus, snap peas, and mushrooms in the fridge. On the same episode of America’s Test Kitchen with the arugula pesto they demonstrated steamed vegetables. Stack the vegetables into a steamer in a pot and … cook. It was ok, nice and fresh and green.
Branzino. I cook the whole fish, we’re not squeamish about the head. Wash the fish, pat dry. put on roasting pan. I use a Silpat for ease of cleaning. Insert a few lemon and orange slices into the cavity. Lightly spray olive oil on the fish, lightly dust with garlic powder. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Light and flaky fish.
The annual ritual of the Pesach seder includes reciting the story of the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Everyone around the table participates and reads, often many languages are represented as Jews come from many parts of the world. The telling is punctuated with songs and stories and discussion. After the tasting of the ritual foods on the seder plate – the bitter herbs, the matzah (the bread of affliction), the haroset – the seder is interrupted by the lovingly prepared, festive meal. After the meal, we return to the Haggadah to close the story. There are more songs including Had Gadya. This is a cumulative song that adds character after character, each verse sung with one breath.
Two versions of Had Gadya. The first is Nina Paley and Theodore Gray’s fantastic embroidered animation sung by the incomparable Moishe Oysher: https://vimeo.com/133054221.
Next a version in Judeo-Spanish: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fluCEV4EUcc
Pesah is celebrated for a week. It’s a time of commemoration of events of the very distant past which continue to be felt daily. Let’s keep our spirits up as we remember and make our way through the events of the present.