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No-rush Rosh HaShanah

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Just in time for the fall Jewish holidays, Laura Frankel, executive chef of Wolfgang Puck’s kosher restaurant/catering business at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago, has compiled an attractive and useful book called “Jewish Slow Cooker Recipes” (Wiley Publishers, 2009). In the book are 120 “holiday and everyday dishes made easy.”

As a fan of my slow cooker, I was thrilled to find a treasure trove of recipes, as my husband swears everything I make in my crockpot tastes like stew — and he hates stew! The book is easy to use, with a cornucopia of basic and exotic recipes for appetizers, soups, main and side dishes, desserts and breakfast, and sauces. There are also helpful holiday menus.

The Rosh HaShanah menu includes Roasted Parsnip and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup and Poached Fruit Compote (see recipe).

All the recipes are kosher, labeled meat, dairy, or pareve, and have a “seasonal key” noting the use of vegetables and fruits harvested at their peak. Many of the recipes require a large slow cooker — a six and a half quart model — but may be cut in half. The book sells for $24.95.

Here are two nice recipes for the holidays or anytime.


Makes 8 servings

Frankel writes that “cholent — a hearty beef and potato stew — feels as familiar and easy to me as my favorite reading chair. While there are infinite ways to flavor this Eastern European classic, I tend to save my more exotic spices and ingredients for other dishes. Some traditions, like this dish, are better left intact, although the modern touch of using the slow cooker makes it much easier to keep the tradition alive. A big pot of cholent is the perfect companion on a long Saturday afternoon with family and friends.”

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 pounds chuck roast or brisket, cut into 3-inch chunks

3 large Spanish onions, cut into large wedges

3 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups dark beer such as Guinness or Aventinus

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups dried kidney beans, sorted through, soaked overnight, and drained

1 cup pearled barley

4 large Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1 1⁄2 inches thick

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8 large eggs in their shells

Kishke [store-bought or home-made, can be added to the crockpot about three hours before serving; Frankel provides a recipe, but we don’t include it here]

1. Preheat a 6 1⁄2-quart slow cooker to low.

2. Place a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Lightly coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.

3. Salt and pepper the meat on all sides. Place the meat in the heated pan and brown on all sides, in batches if necessary. Transfer the meat to the slow cooker insert.

4. Add the onions to the pan. Cook the onions until they are browned and slightly softened. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic is very fragrant and has softened slightly. Transfer the onions and garlic to the insert.

5. Add the beer to the sauté pan. Scrape up any browned bits with a spatula. Add the tomato paste and stir to combine. Transfer the liquid to the insert.

6. Add the kidney beans, barley, potatoes, salt, and pepper to the slow cooker. Stir with a large spoon to combine. Gently bury the eggs in the mixture. Cover and cook on low for at least 10 hours.

7. About 3 hours before serving, place the whole unwrapped cooked kishke on top of the cholent. Cover and cook until you are ready to eat.

Frankel writes, “While many families serve the cholent right out of the slow cooker, I like to spread out the ingredients a bit. I recommend using a slotted spoon and scooping the kishke onto a platter. Then scoop some of the cholent onto another platter or into a large bowl. Finally, peel the eggs from their shells, slice them into wedges, and add the wedges to the kishke platter.”

Poached Fruit Compote

Makes 8 servings

Frankel writes, “While some swear that eating fresh fruit is the only way to enjoy this delicious seasonal treasure, many fruits definitely benefit from a nice long poach in a fragrant liquid. It is not always easy to find fruit in the perfect stage of ripeness, but when slightly underripe fruits are slow cooked, they soften and become juicy and delicately flavored. I wrote this recipe with the combination of peaches, apples, and plums, but there are no rules regarding which fruits to use. I do recommend that you choose firm, slightly underripe fruits as they will hold up better to the long, slow poach. I served this gorgeous colorful dessert for Sukkot. It was a true celebration of the season and bounty of fruit.

“This delicious compote can be served warm with ice cream or sabayon, or topped with yogurt and granola for a scrumptious breakfast or snack. It is equally delicious cold.

“The compote can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week, or frozen for up to 1 month. Once the fruit is gone, the poaching liquid can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks, and used again to poach more fruit.”

3 large peaches (firm, with no

2 large apples such as Honeycrisp (firm, with no bruises)

2 large plums (firm, with no bruises)

2 cups sugar

1 bottle (750 ml) sweet white wine such as Moscato

1 large rosemary sprig

6 whole black peppercorns (about 1⁄4 teaspoon)

Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon

Suggested Garnishes

Raspberry coulis, sabayon, vanilla ice cream, yogurt, granola

1. Preheat a slow cooker to high.

2. Combine the peaches, apples, plums, sugar, wine, rosemary, peppercorns, and lemon zest and juice in the slow cooker insert. Stir to help dissolve the sugar.

3. Cut a piece of parchment paper that will fit into the slow cooker and cover the surface of the fruits. Weight down the parchment lightly with an empty pie plate. This keeps the fruits down in the poaching liquid as they are quite buoyant.

4. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours.

5. Remove the fruits gently with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool until you can handle them. Peel off the skins. Cut in half and remove any pits or cores using a melon baller. Spoon the fruit into dessert glasses, bowls, or wineglasses. Serve with your choice of garnish.

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On Shavuot, remembering the day I almost dropped the Torah

LOS ANGELES— On Shavuot, we are reminded that the Torah is a tree of life to which we are to hold fast.

But what happens when that hold slips from your grasp?

It’s a question I found myself asking six weeks before Shavuot, late in the Torah service on the last day of Passover.

My wife, Brenda, and I had gone to Temple Beth Emet, in Anaheim, Calif., where I grew up. We both had come for the Yizkor service there, and to see her family, who continues to pray there. Not far from Disneyland, it’s a shrinking kingdom of Jewish memories, where, as I walked down the aisle to my seat, I could see my Hebrew school teacher, and the familiar faces of those who had been friends of my parents.

A little while after we were seated, the gabbai came down the aisle, blue card in hand, and asked me if I wanted to be “hagbah” — that is, to raise the Torah after it was read. “Thank you,” I said, accepting the honor.


Purim poser

What is our fascination with villains?

LOS ANGELES — Who is the Haman in your life?

The person, who like the bad guy in the Megillah Esther that we read on Purim, schemes to bring you down.

When we get to the place in the Megillah where Haman is forced to lead Mordechai though the streets of Shushan, saying, “This is what is done for the man whom the king desires to honor,” might we insert ourselves into an updated version of the story, the way we do in a video game? Imagining that a seriously negative person in our life is pushing our car down the street while we sit behind the wheel and wave?

Not that your neighbor is Lord Voldemort or Dr. Moriarty, but what about that boss who is omitting your name from the organization chart? The relative who always leaves you off the guest list? That student spray-painting swastikas on your son’s fraternity house? Or just the forever-interrupting “Rachel” from cardholder services?


Shalakhmones — a Purim story

Wearing a silk kerchief and a plain apron — a combination of holiday and weekday attire — Mama stood by the table, practically at her wit’s end.

It was no trifle, you know, receiving almost a hundred shalakhmones, the traditional Purim platter of sweets, and sending out a like number. Mama had to be careful not to omit anyone or make any mistakes, God forbid; she also had to remember what sort of platter to send to whom. For instance, if someone favored you with a fruit-cut, two jam-filled pastries, a poppy-seed square, two tarts, a honey bun, and two sugar cookies, it was customary to send in return two fruit-cuts, one jam-filled pastry, two poppy-seed squares, one tart, two honey buns, and three sugar cookies.

You had to have the brains of a prime minister not to create the sort of first-class muddle that once took place, alas, in our shtetl. What happened was that a woman named Rivke-Beyle mistakenly shipped back to one of the rich matrons the very same platter of Purim goodies that the rich matron had sent her. You should have seen the scandal this caused. The squabble that broke out between the husbands blossomed into a full-blown feud — smacks, denunciations, and unending strife.

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