Labor Day has passed, the summer is officially over and the children are happily picking out their new lunchboxes. That means…..
A) You wonder if you should put your white pants away or if there’s a really bright sunny day you can get away with wearing them one more time
B) Are lunchboxes environmentally friendly, or should you pack their lunches in recyclable bags, save a tree and avoid seeing Justin Bieber’s image every morning
C) You better start thinking about what you’ll be cooking for the holidays because they are a little early this year, not as early as they’ll be next year, but not as late as they were last year
If you answered all three, then you have way too much time on your hands, but if you answered (C) then you are like so many Jewish cooks this time of year and are scrambling to create the perfect holiday menu. To help you out, or at the very least to distract and entertain you for a few minutes, I’ve created this quick quiz. Your score matters little, but if it helps crystalize your menu, then my work is done.
1. You are considering making chopped liver for the first time you wonder if you should use chicken fat. You decide to….
A) Buy 3 chickens and render their fat
B) Use canola or olive oil because it’s much healthier
C) Purchase a container of chicken fat found usually in the fresh meat section or frozen food section where the frozen chicken & turkey products are sold
If you answered (C) you answered correctly. Here’s the skinny on fat.
During the year as I am preparing chicken, I will cut away the excess fat and store it in a Ziploc bag that I keep in the freezer. Eventually I will have enough clippings to make a batch of chicken fat. But an easier solution is to buy chicken fat at the market. Almost every market I checked out carries Empire chicken fat. It truly adds that extra “tam” to chopped liver, and a little in your matzo ball mixture goes a long way. The good news is; it’s not bad for you- when eaten in moderation. Because it is a naturally occurring fat it has a nice balance of fats: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Additionally, it has a fair amount of Omega 3 fatty acids. Duck & goose fat are actually a tad healthier, but canola oil- many people’s go to oil is often engineered so it is not always the best choice. Olive oil’s flavor is too strong and its low smoke point makes it less desirable for frying the onions. For my money- and holiday chopped liver- I vote for chicken fat!
2. You want to make a central meat dish and feel brisket, while traditional has been there and done that so you…
A) Opt for a standing rib roast
B) Buy lamb shanks
C) Consider a breast of veal
D) All of the above
If your answered (D), I applaud you for taking the road less traveled. A standing rib roast is an impressive choice. It presents beautifully and roasts easily. Have your butcher separate the ribs from the meat and then tie them back together, this makes carving the roast easier. Figure 2 people per rib. You might need to mortgage the house, but your guests will be very impressed. Another great choice are lamb shanks. I love any dish you can braise in one pot, leave on the stove or in a slow oven and not worry about over cooking. As for the breast of veal, it’s elegant and succulent- a bit fatty and skimpy on the meat to fat ratio, but it works beautifully with stuffing (again getting two things done at once) and it is a yummy departure for the holidays.
3. You want to make a creamy and delicious side, but it needs to be pareve, so that means no butter, no cream, no kidding. You decide to…
A) Bake a potato and steam your veggies
B) Buy an extra challah and serve it as a side dish
C) Try your hand at rich and sumptuous mashed potatoes
Duh, that’s an easy one. While baked potato and steamed veggies are a very healthful route, they are boring for the holidays, so I strongly suggest you try a flavor packed mashed potato that can be made ahead and will compliment almost any main course you would want to serve. The trick is to boil your potatoes in chicken or vegetable stock to infuse them with flavor, then mash them with lots of fresh herbs and roasted garlic. You will not miss the cream or butter, nor will your waistline. Try this Creamy Mashed Potato recipel.
4. You want to make 13 desserts and you only have 12 people coming you should
A) Ask your guests with what they might like to finish their meal
B) Make what you are comfortable with and throw in one new recipe just to keep things fresh
C) Keep it simple
If you scratched your head and were a bit perplexed as to the right answer, I can understand why. All the above are good options. I take my guests food habits into consideration. You should know if this is a chocoholic crowd or one that likes to finish with fresh fruit. If your guests are a bit adventurous, dessert is a good time to throw something new in the mix. You can make almost any baked good ahead of time, freeze it and if it doesn’t turn out (literally, if it’s stuck to the pan and doesn’t turn out), you most likely have several other desserts to rely on. But most of all, keep dessert simple. A good meal should be punctuated by a good dessert not ruined by an overly heavy one.
5. Inevitably you have leftovers, you couldn’t resist making that brisket or an extra roast chicken. The roast beef leaves you with a few choice slices, you….
A) Invite everyone back for another meal
B) Settle into your food coma and avoid the kitchen
C) Use the leftovers in creative ways
If you answered (A), you should seek medical counseling, if (B) was your answer, you are not alone. But I prefer (C) as the right answer. Leftover brisket can be shredded and added to a meatloaf mix, tomorrow’s meatballs or a great chili. Leftover chicken pairs so nicely with tarragon, mayo and green grapes for a light salad and leftover roast beef can be chopped finely and made into a fabulous hash.
I like to call leftovers Bonus Meat, so use them wisely and enjoy the holiday meal again and again.
On a serious note, we welcome the New Year with great anticipation and hope. We look for a year of miracles for ourselves, our family and our global community. We pray for sound leadership, wise choices and the blessing of good health. For me, for the past few years our New Year always begins with our sharing a story from my first book, Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival. We read about a Holocaust survivor who shared their story and recipe with me. We then enjoy their cherished dish that nourished and nurtured their family for generations. This is our way of honoring this remarkable community and preserving food memory. I would encourage you to do the same. The book is available through the Museum of Jewish Heritage who benefits from ALL proceeds. It is also available on line from Amazon and most major booksellers. Recipes Remembered is a perfect example of how to Eat Well-Do Good.
AKA The Kosher Carnivore