Easy Lo Fat Moussaka

Here in Israel, moussaka has taken a bum rap. I think it’s because wedding caterers offer a dish by this name constructed with fried and breaded eggplant and bread crumbs mixed with a microscopic amount of meat, so little in fact that can wonder if this dish is truely fleishig.
I personally never touch the stuff. I make it a point to eat as little as possible at weddings. First of all the meal is served way to late–anyone who is concerned about keeping their weight down knows that it’s a big no no to eat a heavy meal after 7 pm. Amazingly, it’s best to sup at five, like a small child in a nursery and wedding meals dont’ follow that schedule.
But homemade Moussake is another matter entirely. I wasn’t really planning it as a supper–anyone who reads my blog knows that advance meal planning is not my strong suit but I found myself alone with two eggplants, a package of ground beef and some tomato paste and crushed tomatoes plus onions and garlic and no desire to go out and replenish my rather depleted pantry. The really amazing thing about this story is that the day in question was Sunday when I’m usually overloaded with leftovers from the previous Shabbat. What happenened here is that on Saturday night my kitchen my sons came home from a spiritually uplifting but nutritionally inadequate Shabbos in the holy town of Meiron and they turned my leftovers, which I had imagined might be Sunday night’s and even Monday night’s dinner into their Melave Malka, the post Sabbath feast in memory of King David.
That meant that on Sunday I had to start again and so necessity always being the mother of invention I made a moussaka. Most moussaka recipes are rather rich and fatttening. They involve steps like sauteeing the eggplant–boy do those babies suck up oil, and dousing the whole dish with a bechamel sauce. While I don’t doubt that those steps are fine on the tastebuds, though not so fine for the digestion, I streamlined. In this recipe, the eggplants are baked and the bechamel, well lets’ just say it’s gone South for the winter.
This does mean a rather stripped down version of the ancient Turkish meat eggplant casserole but my test eaters aka my husband and sons gobbled up the results. What can I say? This recipe is hearty, and tasty and a departure from the ordinary. Enjoy
1-2 medium sized onions, diced
2 T vegetable oil
1 or more cloves or garlic,peeled and diced
1 handful of cilantro (optional) chopped fine
250 grams of tomato paste
400 grams of crushed tomatoes
About one and one half cups of water
Spices to taste. Salt, black pepper, a pinch of sugar, cumin, even a pinch of cinnamon.
1 large eggplant sliced into half inch thick rounds (they can be slightly thicker)
Olive oil
Cooking spray
2 lbs ground beef
Cut the eggplant crosswise into thin round slices (about 1/2 inch thickness,) sprinkle with kosher salt and sweat for an hour or more to remove the bitter juices.
Place eggplant on an oiled cookie sheet (sprinke 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet, then spread with a pastry brush and place eggplant on top in a single layer. Bake at 420 or until soft–they don’t need to be brown, just softened (about 30 minutes).
While the eggplants are baking saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Add garlic and meat. Saute until the meat is crumbly. Then add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes cilantro, water and spices. Simmer together until bubbly (about 10 minutes)
Spray a 9 by 13 or 8 by 8 cooking pan (pyrex is fine). Layer eggplant and meat tomato mixture, eggplant, meat tomato until you’ve finished . Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for a half hour.use this oneIMG_3713

You wont believe its pareve cheesecake

Maybe I’ve been living in a cave, but it wasn’t until I attended Kosherfest, the kosher food industry’s trade fair and specifically chef Avi Roths’ fab cooking demonstration that I discovered the myriad possibilities of Tofutti cream cheese. While I can’t get many hip American ingredients–I have yet to sample farro, ponzu or srichacha sauce (hope I’ve spelled them correctly) Tofutti cream cheese is sold at my local makolet. It’s kept in the the dairy case.-whoever stocks the shelves seems to think that it’s dairy–that white plastic container is deceiving. While Tofutti cream cheese is not something you’d want to spread on a bagel, when it is sweetened up and combined with pareve cream, sugar and eggs it can become the foundation for a yummy desert.

Chef Roth used it to make a heavenly tasting chocolate cookie peanut butter, cream cheese trifle. I wanted to try to recreate it but I was out of chocolate cookies and well stocked with empty Graham cracker crust shells so I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at pareve cheesecake. Most of the time I cook with recipes but for this recipe I winged it, adapting a dairy cheesecake recipe and hoping for the best. To my great surprise, my pareve cheesecake came out so delicious that even my cheesecake maven husband asked me if I was sure that it wasn’t dairy. No kiddin. He felt a bit strange eating it after a chicken meal.
Yes, for those of us who keep kosher, pareve cheesecake can seem strange.I imagine that there are old timers who may even refuse it, on principle, not wanting to pretend to be eating a forbidden combination but for most of the kosher eating public fake treyf is just fine. It’s more than fine. It’s become a mega trend.
On display at Kosherfest I saw displays of fake sea food, fake bacon, even fake bread for Passover (potato starch is a magical ingredient) and of course Tofutti fake cheese products.
Does this trend point to a hidden, or perhaps not so hidden treyf envy? Do we orthodox Jews secretly long to eat cheeseburgers or do these concoctions indicate that we kosher eaters aren’t missing anything at all thereby proving the Talmudical statement that every forbidden flavor has a kosher equivalent? I don’t know
Since the Rabbis declared these things permitted we are free to indulge in these slightly bizarre pleasures. In that spirit here’s my easy and delicious and very fake Tofutti Cream Cheese Pareve Cheesecake recipe.
1 16 oz container of Tofutti cream cheese
1 small pareve whip
2 eggs
1/2 packet of vanilla pudding mix (about 1/2 cup) powder
1-2 T lemon juice (fresh)
1 t vanilla extract
Graham cracker pie crust
Sugar to taste (about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup)
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer combine everything into a thick, smooth paste and pour into a prepared Graham cracker crust. This is a very runny filling–mine spilled on the floor and inside my oven. You may want to take precautions such as covering your oven tray with silver foil or resting the pie pan in an aluminum foil case. Don’t say I didnt warn you. (for a thicker batter, you can take the slightly more time consuming step of beating the pareve whip alone until stiff before adding the other ingredients)
Bake at 180 C or 350 F until set (about one hour) Cool and then refrigerate for 12 hours before serving
Freezes very well.use this one

Yummy Winter Veggie Soup with, no kidding chestnuts and pears.

When vacuum packed chestnuts first hit Jerusalem’s supermarket shelves, I grabbed a bag. Somewhere deep in my heart, I hoped that the shiny metallic package contained the wonderful taste of the roasted chestnuts sold in brown paper bags I had eaten on the streets of midtown Manhattan as a child. They didn’t. There were cold and slightly slimy and I wasn’t sure what to do with them so I threw them into a roast but their starchy sweetness was overwhelmed by the flavor of the meat. So I forgot about vacuum packed chestnuts for a while until I met Ronnie Fein. Ronnie Fein is a food blogger and cookbook author and cooking teacher and lawyer and wife and Mom and grandma and probably a whole more, in a word, a maven and her latest cookbook, the Modern Jewish Kitchen she features Thanksgiving Stuffing Soup made with it vacuum packed chestnuts!!! A solution at last. I wrote a short piece on Fein and her cookbook for Tablet and after qvelling about her and her cooking for a mass readership, I felt like a fraud never having tasted the soup myself, so two nights ago I made a batch for myself and for a house full of company. Yes, I experiment on my guests…shameful but true. My own kids probably wouldn’t eat anything made with pureed chestnuts and pears but I figured that at least one of my guests would, and they did.

One more confession -I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, not because it wasn’t an excellent recipe but for more prosaic reasons. (1) I didn’t have all the ingredients. I only had 2 and a half bags of chestnuts (my son snacked on the other half bag. I substituted with fresh pumpkin cubes (2) I left out the fresh thyme. It’s not available here and frankly, I’m not turned onto it. and (3)I’ve got a chronic inability to follow recipes exactly. Maybe it has something to do with being an orthodox Jew whose life is governed by rules I can’t change. In cooking I can cut myself some slack.
Anyway, to my surprise and delight the soup was lovely. To my amazement the pears added a note of sweetness and complexity balancing the starchy nuttiness of the chestnuts. If you’re curious, here’s my adaptation of Thanksgiving Stuffing Soup. You can find the authentic version on Tablet
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil
Then add one medium onion diced and three celery ribs (2 if they are fat) plus leaves chopped fine. Saute until softened, the add four ripe pears peeled and seeded (I used tiny green D’Anjous–the only ones they have here) and 300 grams of peeled vacuum packed chestnuts (not in syrup). I added 2 cups of diced pumpkin. but you can add another 200 grams of chestnuts if you’ve got them.
Add five cups of vegetable stock (I faked it with consomme powder combined with onion soup mix. I sure real stock is better) , and salt, pepper and thyme (if you like it) to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the vegetables are soft and then puree with an immersion blender. AFter that you can add a half cup of almond milk to make it creamier but it’s fine without. Ronnie Fein serves the soup with croutons.
Serves 6. Freezes well.

Hot Cocoa for Dieters: Comfort Food when we Need comforting.

I’ve got no words to say about last week’s brutal attack but like many people here I feel a great need for  comforting and my  go to comfort food is hot cocoa which presents a problem. As anyone with any sense knows hot cocoa with milk and or milk and whipped cream is fattening. Having spent the better part of last winter and spring, shedding 15 extra pounds  I didn’t want to revert to my old tubby self so I  created a more slimming alternative. Yes, I guess that qualifies me as a recipe developer–an occupational category in 2014, though I prefer to think of myself as someone who potchkes in the kitchen. My tiny stroke of genius involves the decision to combine whole milk   with  soy milk.

I’ve been drinking soy  milk for years mostly as a whitener for coffee substitute but frankly I always thought of it as a food that had certain limitations, one of which was that it couldn’t survive boiling or microwave boiling. Without testing this hypothesis, I took it as a article of faith that when set on a flame or blasted at high temperatures, soy milk would freak out and  curdle into something disgusting but it just isn’t so. Amazing right? Soy milk is microwaveable and combined with whole milk and cocoa and sweetener it makes a very good hot chocolate.Unlike hot chocolate made from skim milk this hot chocolate is  rich, smooth,  and not watery tasting and it has a a more manageable calorie count than a hot cocoa made with only whole milk. (don’t ask me to provide it. I’m not a nutritionist. All I know is that my weight stayed the same over the past two days)
1 tablespoon best quality unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use 1 and 1/2 T for a richer taste)
3 saccharines or 3 teaspoons of sugar or other sugar substitute
Combine cocoa and sugar or sugar substitute in a mug
Meanwhile in a microwave safe cup combine 3/4 of a cup of soy milk (I use Tnuva whole or lighly sweetened) and 1/2 to 3/4 cups of whole milk. Microwave together for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave. Then pour off two tablespoons of the heated milks and combine with the cocoa sugar combination to make a paste. Return the milk to the microwave until it’s almost boiled and then combine with the paste. Yumcocoal melt step 1hot choc

Lazy Person’s Lentil Soup

With the biblical story of Jacob and Esau’s infamous business deal ” one pot of lentil soup extra hot for one birthright, thank you” included in the Torah reading, I’m not surprised that I craved lentil soup this week. Alas Jacob’s recipe has been lost to history –the Bible excludes information that is unessential for eternity so I created my own. Though perhaps not worth a birthright, it was nonetheless quite tasty .
My secret ingredient was one large and fat parsnip which I smuggled back from the US.For some unknown parsnips are scarce e in Jerusalem. Its a great piece of luck to find one or two small and scrawny specimens, so I import my own. Yes, you can pack vegetables in your suitcase, just not tomatoes. Nothing else has that has the same sweet, earthy taste but you can make do instead with one turnip plus one small sweet potato. Y
If you’re’ pressed for time, and who isn’t then chop the vegetables with the food processor, using the blade attachment to make the prep quick work but  peel the veggies first–these are root vegetables and they are dirty.
The one thing you can’t rush is the cooking time (well, unless you have a pressure cooker but I don’t). Lentils need time to soften–my soup simmered for  over two hours until the lentils had become soft but not mushy and the vegetables and tomato sauce blended into a mixture that could tempt even Esau.
Lazy Persons Lentil Soup serves six
One small Vidalia onion diced and sauteed in two tablespoons of olive oil until translucent.
After that add four carrots peeled and diced or processed into chunks, two medium sized zucchinis diced, one fat parsnip, peeled and diced and 3/4 cup of brown lentils.
Add one 15 oz can of tomato sauce
Add enough water to cover and cook on a low flame for two hours
Adjust seasonings adding salt and pepper as needed
Eat right away.

Winter Soup for Lazy People

Last week I attended Kosherfest, the kosher food industry’s annual extravaganza, where I witnessed a cooking demonstration by New York chef Avi Roth of Gotham Burger. Roth’s subject was Shabbos cooking–updating it and simplifying it at the same time and he  demonstrated a delicious and oh so  hip  menu, grilled Ahi tuna steaks in place of gefilte fish,  bulls eye soup instead of chicken soup with kneidlach, grilled steak instead of brisket and mashed  potatoes with mustard instead of potato kugel. Cool!!!!

I liked Roth’s menu appealing because it was tasty, fresh and quick –a meal you could put together in under a hour! I especially liked the soup and I wanted to  replicate Chef Roth’s bullseye  made from   two chicken stock based vegetable purees   plated to look like a bullseye–as in dart board . The trick is to pour one of the soups into a mould ring. (you can improvise with a disposable coffee cup and cut off the bottom) for a circle within a circle effect and drop a dot of pesto in the center for the bullseye. Neat.

And so  I headed off to the makolet in search of fresh basil frozen cauliflower–the bulleye is a combination of  a tomato, basil  puree and cauliflower cream but I couldn’t find fresh basil or frozen cauliflower. Instead of sulking in disappointment, I embraced what I did find which was   California mix  a combination of frozen broccoli, carrots and yes cauliflower.

Following Chef Avi’s instructions I baked the mix  in  a hot oven , added two garlic cloves and sprinkled a bit of olive oil on top   (Chef Avi uses a dozen cloves plus shallots but I omitted the shallots (another ingredient my makolet doesn’t  stock and I limited myself to two garlic cloves) I roasted the vegies  until they were soft and starting to toast(about 40 minutes)  At the same time I boiled up a pot of instant consomme–I didn’t have homemade chicken stock and then  I blended them both to create a surprisingly tasty soup and no peeling, chopping, grating or dicing anything at all. The perfect warmer upper for lazy people on cold rainy days.

By the way, it’s exquisite with croutons. For this. Make your own–Slice up any leftover homemade challah–cube it and saute it with three tablespoons of olive oil a clove of garlic and a pinch of salt  adding more oil as needed until the cubes are crunchy )(about five minutes). Store them in a tightly closed jar and they will keep for a month in your pantry or freeze for up to three months. Yum.IMG_3391IMG_3407

Winter Soup for Lazy People with apologies to Chef Avi Roth

1 bag Bodek California mix

8 cups of chicken stock, Home made is always best but consomme powder will do in a pinch

Roast the California mix. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add one of more garlic cloves

Bake at 400 F for 45 minutes or until the vegetables start to toast

Then using a stick blender, regular blender or food processor puree the vegetable and add to the consomme. Adjust seasonings adding a pinch of black pepper.

Eat right away or freeze

Serves 8

Garlic Croutons

Dice left over challah or any good quality left over bread (preferably home made) into cubes (this recipe works for about a half a  challah sliced)

Head three tablespoons of olive oil and one of more garlic cloves in a frying pan. Add the cubes and saute together until the challah pieces are toasted. Add kosher salt to taste.

Eat right away or store in a tightly closed jar for up to a month or freeze for up to three months.

Edith’s Chicken, The Recipe

I wanted this recipe to appear alongside the photograph but for some reason WordPress wouldnt let me , Ah the woes of being untech savvy in 2014.

This is a wonderful and extremely  easy recipe which I used to make all the time forgot about and rediscovered. The reason it is called Edith’s chicken is that I learned it from Edith Fuchs of Sydney Australia, my mothers lager shvester, her concentration camp buddy, a wonderful woman and wonderful cook who taught it to us while visiting  New York almost a decade ago. It’s so amazingly easy that I wonder how I didnt think of it myself. Chicken, red peppers, paprika , garlic and  potatoes? How could you possibly go wrong with those ingredients? Its a one pot supper that looks and tastes elegant enough to serve company. I’ve been making it every Shabbos for the past few weeks and don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. If this has whetted your taste buds, here’s the recipe


1 medium roaster, whole, excess fat and pin feathers removed

4-5 medium size potatoes, peeled and diced

2 red peppers sliced into strips

3 tomatoes , cubed

Lay vegetables   on the bottom of a roaster under the chicken

Spice Rub

1 and 1/2 tablespoons best quality Hungarian paprika

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1-2 garlic cloves minced or crushed

Combine into a paste and rub on the chicken

Preheat oven to 450

When the oven is really hot (this could take 15 minutes of preheating) put in chicken and vegies. Bake covered for 50 minutes. Then remove cover and bake another 10 minutes

Eat right away. Serves four. Don’t freeze



Onion Pletzl

IMG_1976own square. Onion Pletzl as a superannuated onion roll, a  sandwich bread fit for Gulliver the Giant.  Pletzl means square in Yiddish as in town square and this bread is square, albeit imperfectly so. Think of it as Sicilian pizza with the sauce and cheese replaced by raw  onions. According to Arthur Schwartz, the author of Jewish Home Cooking,which inspired this recipe, Onion Pletzl is still produced at  Jewish bakeries in New York where it is called  “Onion Board.” .  I lived in New York for twenty five years and , I never heard of it  until I stumbled upon Schwartz’s recipe .That was my loss because Onion Pletzl is not just delicious, it’s  easy to make.    It’s basically a variation on challah    but instead of braiding the dough you roll it out , dot it with fresh onion pieces and seeds and bake it that way..

During the summer, I serve this loaf  for Seuda Shlishit , the third Shabbat meal together  with salads, dips and cheeses. My family loves it and so do my guests.   Aside from uncorking  a rare vintage, there’s almost nothing that impresses guests more than home made bread It always get eaten, but if there is some left over, it’s also excellent toasted.

Note: your guests make confuse this recipe with it’s close cousin foccacia. This loaf does resemble a foccaccia but it’s sweeter and richer.

Onion Pletzl

1/2 tablespoon of  instant yeast

2 and 1/4 cups of  tepid water

3 tablespoons of sugar

3 tablespoons oil

1 egg yolk

3 and 1/2 cups of flour, unbleached white or whole wheat pastry flour (in Israel Rubinfeld 80 %)

1/2 tablespoon salt

Topping: I medium sized white onion diced , 1 teaspoon olive oil. 1/4 teaspoon poppy seeds, black sesame seeds or a combination and  pinch of kosher salt

Knead  using a stand mixer with a dough hook until it forms a ball. Use a slow speed. It could take up to five minutes.

Oil the ball , that is pour one tablespoon of oil on the surface and rotate so that it forms a thin film over the entire dough ball. This prevents the dough from drying out.

Cover with a kitchen towel and set the down in a warm place to rise

Punch down and roll out into a big circle or oblong–the shape doesnt matter large enough to cover the entire surface of your baking tray. It’s best to roll it out on the tray.  Let the dough rest for 15 minutes–it needs to relax after all that kneading and rolling. Then sprinkle on the  topping.

Prick holes in dough with a fork

Bake in preheated oven at 375 F or 180 C until brown on both sides (about 40 minutes, give or take some depending on the strength of your oven)

Freezes well