Happy New Year to All My Tree Friends!

Tree HuggerYou may be thinking… huh? Wasn’t New Year’s like over a month ago? Firstly, I can’t believe it’s already been a month since New Year’s, and secondly, I’m talking about the New Year of the Trees. Tu B’Shevat – the 15th of the month of Shevat is celebrated as the New Year for nature. We actually have four new year’s in the Jewish calendar. The different new years all coincide with the tithing schedules (the part that you’re supposed to leave or give to G-d in thanks).

The first is the first day of the month Nissan. This is considered to be the New Year of the Prophets and starts the counting of the layout of the festivals for the remainder of the year. There are several sacrifices that are made at this time of year, and it is also around this time that the holiday of Passover begins (the 15th day of Nissan). This also marks the official start of Spring.

The second is the first day of the month of Elul. This is starts the year from the point of view of tithing cattle for Temple sacrifices. Since the destruction of the Temple, the Sages determined that this would also the beginning of when we start to recite Selichot, or preparation for repentance before Rosh HaShannah. This also marks the official start of the last month of Summer.

The third is the one that most people are framilar with and that we celebrate on the first day of the month of Tishri. This is called Rosh HaShannah – Head of the Year. Originally this date was associated with the last reaping of the harvest and the festival associated with it, though after the destruction of the Second Temple, the Sages decided that it would mark the head of the civil year, and therefore be called Rosh HaShannah – Head of the Year. This also begins the ten-day trial period where humanity is judged and ends with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur).

The fourth, and the one we are currently celebrating is Tu B’Shevat.  Originally this marked the date for calculating the tithes of the harvest that farmers would pledge to the priests of Israel. Today Tu B’Shevat represents a national Arbour Day in Israel, with tree planting ceremonies in Israel.

To celebrate the holiday, we tend to plant a tree or eat some of the fruits and grains from the land of Israel. So today I’m going to post two recipes. One that keeps cookie week going strong, and another that I’m actually re-posting from another blog. When you see it, you’ll know why I’m posting it! So enjoy, and Happy Tu B’Shevat!

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Hoshanah Rabbah

Well, with the first half of Sukkot finished, and now moving into the second half, we bring special attention to the seventh day of the holiday known as Hoshanah Rabbah, meaning “Great Salvation”. According to tradition, our verdict that G-d has decided for us, that was written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur, is now handed down by the Heavenly Court. To celebrate this, we circle the Bimah seven times while holding the Lulav and Esrog, while reciting special prayers for prosperity. It is also the custom that during the course of the morning prayers, to take a bundle of five willow branches and beat them against the ground five times. With all this circling and beating, one can work up quite the appetite. As mentioned in past postings, we eat foods during this time that are wrapped, or encircled. These are symbolic for many different things: The wrapping up of one year of Torah reading, and beginning again. The wrapping up of our prayers and the judgment for a brand new year. And of course, the wrapping, or circling of the Bimah, now with the Lulav and later on Simchas Torah with the Torah itself. So with that in mind I thought a rolled entree would be appropriate. Just make sure to put down your Lulav before picking up your meat!

Under the Weather

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Well dear readers, it turns out that despite wishing that one doesn’t get sick doesn’t actually prevent one from getting sick… who knew? That dreaded bug that has been going around claimed me on Monday, after taking down three of my loved ones. You would think that a cold bug would have more respect for the high holidays! So again I find myself in the strange position of NOT cooking for the holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I am appreciative of those doing the work for me, but as I’ve stated in the past, the joy for me comes from preparing, not the eating. I know I’m strange 😊

Being at the mercy of someone else however is very much part of the holiday of Sukkot. Essentially we are saying to G-d, “I trust in You”. I trust that You will protect me and my family, whether it is under a Heavenly cloud in the desert, or in a wooden shack in the backyard. I trust that the decree that You decided for me over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was the right decree, even if my human mind may not realize it. I trust that You have a plan in mind for me, my family, B’nei Israel, and the world at large. It is this trust in G-d that Sukkot is really all about.

So, we trust that it will be a good year, that the Succah will remain standing, despite the weather, and that we are loved and cherished in G-d’s eyes, even if we do get a cold now and then 😉

Another Holiday?!

Succah

Yes folks, we’re now on the home stretch. After Rosh HaShanah, and Yom Kippur, not to mention the regular celebration of Shabbat, we’ve been action packed lately with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to holiday feasting! But now we wind down to the last of the season, Sukkot! The combination of fine dining and an al fresco atmosphere, what’s not to love? During this 8-day holiday (or 7-days in Israel), we get to reenact the journey that B’nei Israel took, as they wandered the desert for 40 years after the exodus from Egypt. Things were a little different then… They had Ma’an to sustain them, so no planning menus, grocery shopping, or dishes to wash up; and instead of a man-made structure of wood or cloth, they had the Heavenly protection of clouds to surround and protect them from the elements. They were also in the desert, and not in Canada in October! So for us, who are not as fortunate to have G-d provide the food and shelter, He has provided us with the creativity and desire to make this temporary dwelling a warm and welcoming atmosphere, to sit and enjoy with family, guests, and a few Spiritual visitors! (click here to learn all about the Ushpizin). While there are not specific foods inscribed to eat during the holiday, it is traditional to eat foods of the fall harvest, as well as stuffed or wrapped foods, such as cabbage rolls and kreplach (meat dumplings). We’ve got 2 ½ days to go, so let’s get on with the cooking! Unless of course G-d would like to send down some more Ma’an… I always wondered what it would taste like 🙂

Fasting 101 – Dos and Don’ts – The Week Before The Fast

Yom Kippur Ahead

Well, after the marathon of eating from Rosh HaShanah and Shabbos, one would think that a fast would be welcomed, but we never seem to be fully prepared are we? For me, the killer is not the lack of food, but the lack of liquid, as it is with most people. The human body can go for quite some time without food, but withhold liquid, and we’re outta here! In preparation for Yom Kippur and this mammoth fast (c’mon people, it’s only 25 hours!) I thought I’d provide some tips on what to do and what NOT to do when fasting:

I should point out that everybody’s body is different, and everybody reacts differently to fasting. These tips may or may not work for you. Above all else, you should listen to your own body and do those things that tend to make you less hungry while avoiding things that tend to make you more hungry.

A Week Before Yom Kippur

You can ease your fast by preparing your body about a week before the fast.

  • Taper off on coffee or other caffeinated beverages about a week before the fast. Sudden deprivation on the day of Yom Kippur may produce caffeine withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches. Cutting back on coffee, or drinking decaf, may ease potential withdrawal. It is also advisable to cut back on cigarettes, refined sugars, or anything else that you eat habitually or compulsively, that you long for when you can’t have it.
  • In the preceding days, try to vary your meal schedule. If you normally eat at the same time every day, your body clock will automatically prepare to digest as lunch time approaches . . . By varying your meal schedule, you may find that it eases the hunger you might normally experience at mealtimes.

Tomorrow: Tips to do the day before the fast!

Ram’s Head – ראש כבש

The following is said while eating a piece of the meat from a ram’s head (or the head of another kosher animal or fish).

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה לְרֹאשׁ וְלֹא לְזָנָב

May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that we be a head and not a tail.

(The following is added only over the head of a ram:

וְתִזְכֹּר לָנוּ עֲקֵדָתוֹ וְאֵילוֹ שֶׁל יִצְחָק אָבִינוּ בֶּן אַבְרָהָם אָבִינוּ עַלֵיהֶם הַשָּׁלוֹם

…And You shall remember for us the binding and the ram of our forefather Isaac, the son of our forefather Abraham, peace be onto them.)

Spanish Morrocan Fish

Spanish Moroccan Fish

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, diced
4 green olives, sliced (optional)
1 (15 ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
3 tablespoons paprika
4 tablespoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons chicken soup powder
Salt to taste
5 pounds tilapia fillets

Directions:

Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion has softened and turned translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, olives, and chickpeas and continue to cook until the peppers are slightly tender, about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle the parsley, paprika, cumin, cayenne, and chicken soup powder over the vegetables. Season with salt to taste. Stir to incorporate. Place the fish on top of the vegetables and add enough water to cover the vegetables. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork and juices run clear, about 30-40 minutes. Serve over rice, couscous or with crusty bread. Can be served hot or cold. This dish serves 6 as an entrée, 12 as an appetizer.

Kebabs

Grilled Ground Lamb Kebabs with Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Ingredients:

1 ¼ pounds ground lamb
¾ cup finely chopped onion
½ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
½ cup finely chopped fresh mint
4 garlic cloves, minced
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 bamboo skewers
Olive oil
Warm pita bread
Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Directions:

Combine lamb, onion, parsley, mint, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne in large bowl and mix well. (Can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Place bamboo skewers in shallow dish. Cover with cold water and let stand at least 1 hour. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Drain skewers. Form generous ¼ cup lamb mixture into 3-inch-long sausage around centre of 1 bamboo skewer. Repeat with remaining lamb mixture and skewers. Brush lamb kebabs with oil. Grill kebabs until brown and cooked through, turning frequently, about 12 minutes. Serve in warm pita bread with Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste. Makes 12 skewers.

hot pepper sauce

Fresh Hot-Pepper Paste

Ingredients:

1 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped seeded fresh red serrano or red jalapeño chilies
¼ cup water
¼ cup olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in processor and blend until very finely chopped. Can be prepared up to 1 week ahead. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

New Year’s Countdown – 5775 is Here!

New Year 5775

Well folks, we made it! Another year under our belts. Out with the old and in with the new. I’m sure I could add a few more cliches but I think you get the idea. This year is 5775 in the Jewish calendar or תשע״ה. Over the past week and a half I’ve gone through quite a few of the symbolic foods that we eat on Rosh HaShannah, but I’ve now come down to one of the more difficult ones, at least from a visual and palatable point a view. The fish head, or for the daring, the sheep/lamb’s head. Yes, you read that right. The head. At the dinner table. Staring at you. You can imagine how your niece, the vegan, is going to feel about this one!

Most people I know use the fish head, and just eat a little bit from the cheek area (which by the way is the best part!). Additionally, it’s usually only the host of the dinner that does the actual eating of the meat, while the rest look on, and then quickly remove it from the table in case some of their fellow diners have weak stomachs. A little play on this that my mother does is she cuts the heads off jelly candy fish and passes those out for all of the guests to indulge in. The kids love it and the adults get a kick out of it. Plus, no one gets queasy from seeing a disembodied candy fish!

One year, my father actually got a lamb’s head. While we were impressed with his resourcefulness and his desire to fulfill the mitzvah to the extreme, the head had teeth! It could have been still chewing grass next to us it was so life-like! We very quickly made him remove it from the table after he said the blessing, and requested that he use fish heads from then on ONLY! For the rest of you, here is a fish and a lamb dish that I hope you’ll enjoy and I wish you all a healthy and a happy new year!

Apple and Honey – תפוח בדבש

While dipping an apple in honey, we have the custom of making the following request:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁתְּחַדֵּשׁ עָלֵינוּ שָׁנָה טוֹבָה וּמְתוּקָה כַּדְּבָשׁ

May it be Your will, Lord our G‑d and the G‑d of our fathers, that You renew for us a year good and sweet like honey.

This is the quintessential New Year’s food tradition! Apples and Honey! This year, instead of a raw slice of apple with honey, why don’t you try one of these recipes?

Apple Wedges

Apple Fries with Honey-Cinnamon Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

2 cups apple cider
2 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon coarse salt (optional)
4 tart but firm apples, peeled, cored and cut into 8 wedges (per apple)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400F. In large saucepan over medium-high heat, boil cider until reduced to ⅓ cup, about 20 minutes (it should have a syrupy consistency). Remove from heat and whisk in margarine and salt. In bowl, toss apples with 2 tablespoons of the glaze and ½ tablespoon thyme. Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the apples on the bottom third of the oven. Roast for 10 minutes. Drizzle apples with remaining glaze and move baking sheets so the apples are now on the top third of oven. Continue to roast for 15-20 minutes until apples finish caramelizing. Sprinkle apples with remaining thyme and additional salt if desired. Makes 32 fries.

Caramel Sauce

Honey-Cinnamon Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

14 ounces canned coconut milk
¾ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup honey
2 cinnamon sticks
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons coconut oil
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Small pinch of sea salt

Directions:

In a small heavy bottomed saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the coconut milk, palm sugar, ground cinnamon and honey. Bring to a boil and toss in the cinnamon sticks. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes and then remove from heat. Remove the cinnamon sticks and whisk in the coconut oil, vanilla, and sea salt.

Allow the Caramel Sauce to cool for 20 minutes. A thin film will naturally form over the top of the sauce; this is perfectly normal. Simply give the sauce a good whisk before pouring it into an airtight container. The sauce will continue to thicken (although not much) while it cools. Store in the refrigerator. Can be served warm or cold. Use within 5-7 days.

NOTE: When you first bring the coconut milk, palm sugar and honey to a boil, don’t leave it unattended on the stove. It can (and will) boil over if you aren’t careful. Keep an eye on it. If you can’t find coconut oil, you can use canola or vegetable. Just nothing with a strong taste, like olive.

Apple Filo Cups

Fruity Apple Filo Cups

This is a sweet and tasty appetizer, featuring filo pastry, fruit, cinnamon, lemon and more, could double as a dessert but also makes a nice appetizer.

Ingredients:

3 cooking apples, peeled and diced
3 teaspoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons honey
6 tablespoons raisins
9 sheets filo dough
6 tablespoons melted margarine
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 teaspoons lemon juice
Non-stick cooking spray

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Mix together the apples, honey, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon and flour. Brush one of the filo sheets with some melted margarine and put another filo sheet on top. Brush that one with melted margarine and put a third sheet on top. Cut this stack of filo sheets into 4 smaller squares. Repeat this process with the remaining 6 sheets. Take a muffin tray and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Fit each filo square into a muffin slot, creasing the edges to make filo cups. Spoon some of the apple filling into the centre of each filo cup, and then brush the remaining melted margarine over the tops of the filo cups. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden, then serve warm. Makes 12 cups.

New Year’s Countdown – 1 Day To Go!

Got Honey

One day left people! Are you freaking out yet? I can’t believe that I’m actually going to be eating out for all of my Holiday and Shabbat meals this year and won’t actually be doing any cooking! Now before I start getting hate mail, please know that 1) I miss the joy of creating and sharing what I’ve made with guests and 2) It ain’t so easy being a guest either! Having to be on your best behaviour all the time!? Hopefully this will be good practice for me for the new year, that I continue my good behaviour into the next 12 months.

This reminder to me to behave ties into something I read from Rabbi Baruch S. Davidson, a member of Chabad.org. He explains why we use an apple in particular on Rosh HaShannah, rather than any other sweet fruit. He says that the apple symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which according to the Midrash had the scent of an apple orchard, and in Kabbalah is called “the holy apple orchard.” He goes on the say that when Isaac commented regarding his son Jacob (Genesis 27:27), “Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the L‑rd has blessed!” the biblical commentator Rashi explains that this refers to the scent of an apple orchard, the scent of the Garden of Eden. Furthermore, when King Solomon depicts the love G‑d harbours for His nation, he writes (Song of Songs 8:5): “Beneath the apple tree I aroused you[r love].” Eating an apple on Rosh Hashanah is an attempt to remind G‑d of our age-old love.

So thank you Rabbi Davidson, now I have a reminder to behave and we have a reminder of G-d’s love for his people. For more information about Chabad, please check out their website at www.chabad.org.

Pomegranate – רימון

On Rosh HaShannah we eat a pomegranate and say:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְּפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱלֹהינוּ וֵאלֵֹהי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ, שֶׁנִּהְיֶה מְלֵאִים מִצְוֹת כָּרִמּוֹן

May it be Your will, Lord our G-d and the G-d of our fathers, that we be filled with mitzvot like a pomegranate [is filled with seeds].

With 613 to choose from, I’m sure we can find a way to be filled with mitzvot and pomegranates this year!

Pom Dip

Pomegranate Pepper Dip

This version of muhammara, a Turkish dip made with red peppers, pomegranate molasses, and walnuts, uses fresh pomegranate seeds instead of reduced pomegranate molasses, and pecans instead of walnuts. It has a fresh, bright flavor and is delicious spread on crackers or pita bread or used as a dip for fresh or lightly steamed veggies.

Ingredients:

3 to 4 red bell peppers
1 pomegranate
1 to 1 ½ cups pecans
1 clove garlic
1 to 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt
Fresh lemon juice to taste

Directions:

Use either the broiler method or live flame method, roast the red peppers until they are charred. Let them sit, covered, about 15 minutes. Heat an oven to 350°F. While it heats, seed the pomegranate and set the seeds aside. You should have about ¾ cup. Lay the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in the oven. Cook until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Set a timer and check frequently – pecans can go from raw to burnt very quickly. Set pecans aside to cool. While the pecans cool, remove the skin from the peppers – the charred skin should slip right off. Feel free to rinse them under cool running water, if you like. Gently rub the pecans with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels and lift the pecans off the towels. You won’t remove all the pecans skin, nor do you need to, but it should remove a fair amount of it. Put the peppers, pecans, pomegranate seeds (save a few for garnish, if you like), garlic clove, olive oil, and salt in a blender or food processor and whirl until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add lemon juice to taste and adjust salt to taste. Serve immediately or cover and chill to serve later (the dip will keep for several days). Garnish with reserved pomegranate seeds, if you like.

Pom Relish

Pomegranate Relish

Ingredients:

2 pomegranates, seeded (About 1 ½ cups of seeds)
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 ½ tablespoons orange juice
Dash of salt

Directions:

Seed pomegranates – see How to Seed a Pomegranate. Be careful because the juice does stain! Combine all ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon. Refrigerate for 4 hours prior to serving. Remove from the fridge about 15 minutes before serving so that it is not ice cold.