Monthly Archives: April 2011

Matzah Lasagna Recipe Below

Having told a number of people that I would be including this exquisite recipe in the blog this week, I have a feeling that may be why a number of you are here.  Keep reading.  I’ll get there.

When Marc and I went Pesach food shopping last week, we bought a lot of stuff with the Grad Network’s Pesach Shabbat dinner in mind.  We ended up having to go back to the store Thursday night to get some more things.  As the RSVPs kept coming, we made one final trip on Friday afternoon.  The preparations also involved a half hour phone consultation with my mom about whether or not I was going to have enough food.  Thanks Mom!  Spoiler alert: We had enough food.

This is 2/3 of the asparagus. There were 2 spears left at the end of dinner.

Very luckily for me, Sheila, Deborah, and Suzanne spent several hours on Friday afternoon helping to cook.  More accurately, they spent several hours cooking while I sat comfortably and watched them work.  They rock.  Seriously.  Thank you ladies!  The menu was as follows:

Green salad
Gefilte fish (the frozen logs of fish are MUCH better than jarred!)
Vegetarian kishka (the mix came out of a box and is kind of like stuffing)
Roasted sweet potatoes
Lemon pepper asparagus
Tzimmis (leftover from Marc’s family’s seder)
4 GIANT pans of matzah lasagna
Israeli pickles (thanks Joline!)
Shmura matzah (thanks Edward!)
Lots of wine (bottles just kept appearing, so thanks everyone!)
Lots of store-bought cookies and candy (best decision ever: not making homemade dessert for such a big meal)

Passover food is known for being heavy and yet unsatisfying at the same time.  If I do say so myself, this meal did a pretty good job of defying that stereotype.  The final count was somewhere around 34 people, and everyone seemed happy and well-fed.  Every seat in our house was taken; even the basement was packed.  It was loud, it was crowded, and it was a great reminder of how truly awesome and unique my job is.

Part of my job, a big part, is schmoozing, but honestly, it was  a little too packed for me and my belly to do such an effective job weaving around the crowd.  Fortunately, almost everyone made it into the kitchen at some point, so I still got to talk to most people.

So about that matzah lasagna: Shoshanah gave me the recipe 3 years ago, and I’ve made it for Pesach Shabbat dinner for the Grad Network every year since.  I was a skeptic at first, since, really, it just doesn’t sound that good.  But it is!  During the cooking, the matzah even becomes wavy like lasagna noodles.  Here’s the recipe, verbatim from Shoshanah (Thank you!!!), though, you must know, we octupled it (yes, that’s 8 times the original, but actually a little more, since each tray had a dozen sheets of matzah in it).  The assembly line action was inspiring and efficient, and it resulted in deliciousness.

Matza lasagna ingredients:
8×8 disposable pan
3 boards matza
3-4 eggs
Cottage cheese (About 8oz)
Mozzarella (some amount in between layers and on top)
Tomato sauce
Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation:
Boil a few cups of water
Crack and beat two of the eggs.  Mix the cottage cheese, the other 1-2 eggs, and salt and pepper.  Pour boiling water over the matza boards. Don’t let them sit in the water, or they’ll get soggy and stick together.  Right before adding each Matza board to the lasagna, dip both sides in egg.  In the pan, layer tomato sauce, eggy matza board, cottage cheese mixture, and mozzerella. (There should be three boards of matza but only 2 layers of cottage cheese mixture.) Make sure to use plenty of sauce on the bottom and top of the lasagna to keep everything moist.  Bake in a 350 degree oven for about a half hour, until it looks done.  Serves 4 (or 34, depending).

Yes, that knife in there is pointing to the corner I ate before dinner was served. I had to make sure it was ok...

Ilana had us over for lunch today, and it was so lovely.  We had chicken, potato kugel, gazpacho, and lots of other things I’m forgetting, plus so. much. dessert.  I just couldn’t stop eating the sweet stuff, especially when I discovered the chocolate meringues.

As if that wasn’t enough, we also had a fantastic meal of leftovers at Beverly and Naomi’s later in the evening.  I guess it was dinner, but after that much eating in 25 hours (not even getting into the first two days of Pesach – I am restraining myself – there was so much good food over the first days), the whole distinct meal concept starts to break down. And with Pesach Shabbat behind us, we’re less than a day away from the last two days of Pesach where our plans consist, almost entirely, of more food.

You know when I said we had enough food for Friday night dinner?  We actually had more than enough, and there’s a half tray of matzah lasagna waiting for me in the fridge.  I better get to work, since, as good as it is, I’m still not gonna want it after Tuesday…

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Bottom of the Barrel

As a kid, the weeks leading up to Passover were a complicated puzzle:  how can a family of five eat three meals a day created from the food left in the cabinets without going grocery shopping?  The prize for surviving these weeks of stone soup was getting to arrange many, many boxes of chocolate-covered marshmallows and ring-jells on the empty shelves.  (The other prize was polishing the silver, which my parents managed to convince us was the ultimate fun activity.  And we believed them.)

As I prepared food for the Grad Network’s salon potluck Friday night and for a small Shabbat lunch at our house on Saturday, I channeled my parents’ ingenuity and created menus based on what I found in the cabinets while cleaning up.  It felt great to be resourceful in the particular way that only comes from ridding yourself of chametz.  It also felt like the phrase “bottom of the barrel” was invented for the last few meals before the seder.

Rice and beans, Naomis rice pilaf, and pasta all in process at once

I made rice and beans for Friday night, and I was so happy with how it turned out.  I used to make this all the time and hadn’t in years (another advantage of finishing things from the back of the cabinets: rediscovering old recipes).

Rice and Beans

1 1/2 cups of brown rice (or another kind that you like better)
3 cups of water
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for sauteing
2 15 oz. cans of black beans
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
salt, pepper, dried oregano, and red pepper flakes to taste

Cook the rice, and while it’s going, saute the onions and garlic and rinse the beans.  When the rice is done, add everything else to the pot and cook over low heat until you’re happy with it.  Also good with cheese and hot sauce (and probably tortilla chips, if we’d had any of those around).

There was a lot of good food at the salon, plus we had a  great discussion about using Passover as a platform to talk about a variety of social justice issues.  My take-away was that this strategy works for some people and doesn’t for others, and, like my approach to Judaism in general, I hope people will use what works for them.

This article made me so mad (that’s how we knew it would make a good salon topic).  It upset me because the author assumes that everyone grew up going to rote, meaningless seders and, on top of that, that the traditional seder experience isn’t enough to stand on its own as a meaningful ritual.  I know some people have terrible seder memories, and that other people have a great time with plague props, Pharoah costumes, and afikomen scavenger hunts, and I don’t begrudge anyone’s experiences.  Still, my family’s seders as a kid were an absolute highlight of the year, and they were based around family, friends, the traditional text, and time to ask a lot of questions.  You don’t have to try to make the seder kid-friendly: it’s already designed that way.

I dragged out another old favorite recipe for lunch today, pasta and bean salad, but this one didn’t turn out quite as well as I remembered it.  We also had edamame hummus, which Marc described as an “astounding color,” a few other noshy things, and, for dessert, nutella ice cream pie.  It was so lovely to have a 6-person meal where everyone could be part of the same conversation, and besides getting other people to help eat our chametz, not having to go out in the rain was an added bonus of hosting.

As soon as Shabbat ended (ok, maybe a little bit before), it was on to the cleaning.  For just a couple hours of work, we made a lot of progress, including cleaning out the fridge.

We are so ready for ShopRite tomorrow. Kids, do not try this at home!

Here’s a special shout-out to anyone reading this to procrastinate from cleaning.  I hope everyone has a wonderful and liberating holiday, and here’s a sneak preview: next Friday night, there’ll be matzah lasagna.

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Boston Brain

I learned this past week that “Mommy Brain” is a real thing.  Basically it means that pregnant women, in addition to being clumsy, awkward, and having to pee all the time, are also more forgetful than their former, non-pregnant selves.  I made a number of slip-ups over the last several days, but at no time was this condition more obvious than when I was standing in front of an apartment I used to live in feeling like I’d never seen the place before in my life.  Ok, maybe it’s a more generalized condition called “It’s been almost 5 years since I left Boston,” but either way, this Shabbat (and the whole weekend) was an experience in memory adjustment.

I wish I were getting paid to say this, but Amtrak is just the best way to travel.  It felt like Shabbat as soon as we got on the train on Friday.  Not in the “no electricity or travel outside your vicinity” way, but since that’s not always my thing anyway, the sense of relaxation, unencumbered-ness, and free time hit me (and obviously Marc too!) instantly.

When we actually arrived in Boston, it was like being an amnesia patient told that I should remember all these parts of my life that really just weren’t familiar at all.  But we plugged along, read maps, and made it to our hotel just in time to get a whole bunch of awesome take-out to eat in our room for dinner.  Again, not so traditional perhaps, but if one should choose to emphasize the rest and relaxation part of Shabbat over the ritual once in a while, this was a spectacular way to go.

Saturday morning, we took a nice long walk over the Mass Ave Bridge to go to Minyan Tehillah for services.  I was marginally part of this community when I lived in Cambridge, and I actually recognized the room where they meet, which was a relief, but for the most part, I felt like a stranger looking in on someone else’s community.  It was a nice community, and I was glad to be there, but it wasn’t “my community” in any substantial way.  What “involved in the Jewish community” means in my life now is so radically different from what it meant then, and that was especially poignant in that we were at Tehillah at the same time that Tikvah was meeting back in Philly.  It’s the first Tikvah meeting that I have ever missed, and I really missed it.

We went from services to Adrien’s for lunch.  We haven’t seen each other since Marc and I got married, but the conversation picked up as if it had only been a few weeks instead of a few years.  That really is an amazing thing about friendship, and one that I was grateful for several times this weekend.  Bagels and spreads are always a welcome Shabbat lunch, and that, plus the copious quantity of berries that I probably ate half of myself, perfectly complemented the unbelievable springtime temperatures outside.

I also learned that “Mommy Brain” apparently does not extend to food.  On Sunday, we went to Veggie Planet, the best most amazing vegetarian pizza place in the whole world, which happens to be in Cambridge.  We got off the bus in Harvard Square, and my homing instincts took us straight there, arriving 5 minutes before they actually opened for brunch.  Though this isn’t about Shabbat, I have included several recipes in this blog from “Entertaining for a Veggie Planet,” so I feel totally justified in going back to the source, or something like that.

This is the perfect plate of food: a personal-sized pizza divided in half with a Caesar salad chock full of broccoli, olives, and tofu croutons on one half, and black bean puree, cheddar cheese, and homemade salsa on the other.  I pretended to look at the menu for old time’s sake, but I knew I was going to order this since the day we got Stacie’s wedding invitation.  Marc got the tofu scramble with butternut squash, and I managed to help out with his plate quite a bit as well.  The food.  Is just.  So good.

That's right - this is the empty plate. I ate it all.

And now, though I’ve veered far and wide from Shabbat meals in particular, I might as well go a little further in order to say what an incredibly lovely wedding this was.  (And Mommy Brain part 3: I forgot to give Stacie her card and forgot to take the favors with us.)  The genuine love of everyone involved in the celebration was palpable, and it really is a gift to see a friend so happy.  As the sun is setting on Monday evening, and I’m back on the train again, it still kind of feels like Shabbat.  What a great weekend.  Let’s just hope I remember it tomorrow.

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April’s Food Day, and Reinterpretation

Another Shabbat where I didn’t cook anything!  It’s getting a little weird.  Nonetheless, I ate really, really well…

Friday night, the Grad Network co-sponsored Shabbat dinner with Davai, the organization for Russian-speaking Jewish young adults in Philly.  We had about 40 people, which was a lovely-sized crowd, and it was wonderful to see people meeting each other across backgrounds.

The food came from Klapholz, and they did an amazing job.  The salad was beautiful, and I couldn’t resist these strawberries from the fruit guy on 40th and Locust.  Spring WILL get here!

Saturday, we went to Beverly and Naomi’s for a serious feast.  Though I’ve never made this BBQ sauce myself, it’s from Veganomicon, and I plan to make it soon, especially after practically licking the plate from the BBQ tofu.

Here it is from Veganomicon, (almost) verbatim:

1 T vegetable oil
1 onion chopped really fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t salt
1 t red pepper flakes
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup molasses
1/3 cup white vinegar
2 T sugar
1 T yellow or Dijon mustard
2 t liquid smoke

“Preheat a saucepan over medium heat.  Put the onions in the pan and saute in oil until browned.  Add the garlic and saute for another minute.  Add all the other ingredients except the mustard and liquid smoke, and cook for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally.  Lower the heat if the sauce begins to spatter everywhere.  Add the mustard and liquid smoke, and taste for sweetness/sourness.  Adjust the flavors if you think it’s necessary, and cook for 5 more minutes.  If you like a smooth BBQ sauce then puree it, but that’s not entirely necessary.”

Marc made pizza for lunch, plus pineapple ice cream which he served in the pineapple.  I mean, seriously!  Alan contributed rainbow cookies (though he insists it’s “rainbow cake”), so that’s two weeks in a row on the rainbow cake!

It’s also two weeks in a row that I’ve spent a significant amount of time thinking about the parsha, especially surprising because this is typically the time of year where I really tune out and just kind of ignore all the talk of sacrifices.  I learned that there’s actually a tradition behind paying less attention right about now: you’re supposed to start learning the laws of Passover 30 days before the holiday, and some commentators have said that that’s in part so that rabbis have something more relate-able to talk about while all these parshas are about sometimes hard-to-relate-to sacrifices.

There are two other elements of this week’s parsha. (Tazria, by the way.  Normally when one says “this week’s parsha,” they’re talking about the one coming up.  I’m talking about the one just past.  Oh well.).  The first element is the emphasis on skin disease.  It is not easy to read about or understand, and honestly, it’s kind of gross.  But I think it forces us to think about how we treat people with any kind of sickness, and also how we welcome people back into our communities after any period of isolation.

There’s also a line of thinking that says this disease was punishment for gossiping.  Lashan hara (wicked speech) is easy to do, and avoiding it is hard, but let’s just not speak ill of people, how about that?  (Imagine coming down with a scaly white skin disease resulting in quarantine every time you share a juicy secret.  It really makes it easier to hold your tongue…)

I’ll end with how the parsha begins: the laws of purity following childbirth.  (Here’s the reinterpretation part of things.)  At first glance, the message seems to be, “women are dirty after giving birth, and they better be avoided.”  But I have a new take on it.

These laws about what happens after giving birth could be rewritten in a way that would be incredibly beautiful and empowering to women.  Rather than reading it as, “women are impure for x number of days,” (which, by the way, translates to roughly the amount of time that modern medicine suggests avoiding penetration following childbirth), we could rewrite it to read more like, “women deserve to be pampered and taken care of for x number of days so she can adjust to being a mother and allowed to heal.”  Perhaps (thanks to Alex for this one) Biblical-era women needed to be considered “impure” by men in order for new mothers not to be forced to have sex before their bodies were healed/before they were emotionally ready.

Ok, and here’s really the last thing (I know, I know, you thought you were reading a food blog): I say x number of days because the number is different if it’s a boy baby or a girl baby.  And it’s a whole lot more days of impurity if it’s a girl baby.  Yes, feminist red flags should be flying.  BUT.  From what I hear, many women bond with their babies differently depending on the sex of the little bugger, and maybe this law is allowing for the natural course of things, giving women more time alone to bond with their girls.  Presumably, in Biblical times, women would spend more time throughout their lives with their daughters than with their sons, so this could be laying the foundation for that closeness.  I’m just saying, these laws don’t have to be as bad as they might sound at first, and they could even have some positive aspects.

Thanks for bearing with this theological strain the past couple weeks.  I think I better start cooking again soon…

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