Friday, October 14, 2011

L'Shana Tova, Now Pass The Brisket!

It only took a mere 43 years, but we did it, Mom and I FINALLY cooked together in one kitchen, side by side, and it was a success!

Standing very close to one another in the kitchen
It was touch and go there for a few minutes.  When we first connected in the kitchen, (1 day before Rosh Hashanah), we were starting with the creation of our matzo ball, chicken soup stock.  I had stuff to do first, and Mom wanted to get started right away, yesterday, if possible!  I didn't want to miss a trick, so I was very adamant that she not start ANYTHING without me being present.  "This is how I learn," I tried to impart to her, but once her motor starts going, it's not so easy to hit the kill-switch, which is great if you put a vacuum cleaner in her hands...  But she was ready to go-go-go, and I wanted her to stop-stop-stop!  We're not always moving at the same pace, she and I, or else we're moving at EXACTLY the same pace, but with different modus operandi, and we can't get on the same page to save our lives.  Either way, it can turn out to be the Perfect Storm, or, well...Hurricane Irene.  We butted heads, snapped at one another, and pretty quickly I thought this Rosh Hashanah dinner for 8 was going to be a colossal failure, and Mom and I were going to enter the Jewish New Year as enemies.  Oy vey.  I wanted to be able to cook with my mother, learn from her, a dream I've had for a long time, and I was afraid that dream would be dashed,  sniff, sniff....(enter therapy couch with a thud.)

But WAIT!  Something shifted, something gave way, the seas parted and Marsha and Leslie...stop the presses...WORKED AS A TEAM!!!!  We pulled off not only a beautiful holiday dinner, but emerged closer, more respectful of one another, and I think, an even better mother/daughter duo.  I'm very blessed and grateful to have my mother in my life to the extent that she is, and it was a great experience cooking with her, (plus, she cleans like no one's business!)
The table was set....

and WE ATE!

This brisket goes under the category of Best.  Brisket.  Ever.  A recipe from my dear friend, Amy's Aunt Cackles, who sounds like a gem of a lady.

Auntie Cackles with Henry's dashing friend, Isaac
We got a 4 pound, flat piece of brisket (it shrinks!)
1 envelope of onion soup mix (Liptons)
1 1/2 - 2 cups of red wine
1/4 cup water
2 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
1/2 cup orange marmalade
4 cloves minced garlic
1/4 pound sliced mushrooms

These ingredients are far from exact, and don't need to be really, whatever flavor you like more or less of, feel free to play with it.  It's idiot-proof.

Preheat over at 300
Put all ingredients in a medium saucepan, seriously, all of them.
Heat on medium for a few minutes, until blended.
Pour over brisket, cover tightly with foil.
Cook at least 3 hours, until tender.  Mom says you can't overcook brisket.  Is that possible?
Cool in the fridge for the next day.
Slice across the grain while cold, then reheat at 350 for about 20-30 minutes.

When it came out of the oven, my mom said, "Oy, it really shrunk, I hope we have enough!"  Which of course instantly stressed me out, sent me into a tail spin, and in the end we had leftovers for days!  What's WITH us Jews???

Ok, not the most appetizing picture, but trust, this beast was delish!
The matzo ball soup also turned out really well.  I won't bore you with the specifics of the recipe, because it turns out chicken soup REALLY is that easy, (also done the night before).  Just throw a bunch of veggies in a pot with water,

boil/simmer for a few hours, maybe more, skim the fat and icky floaty things off the top of the soup, drain the chicken, pull it off the bone, make chicken salad the next day, done!  As far as matzo balls went, we just followed the recipe on the back of the matzo meal can.  clever, huh?  

The kids enjoyed!
Can't go wrong with apples and honey
This is Anika, Henry's profound obsession
The other recipe that KILLED was the Potato Kugel.  Very easy and very satisfying, taken directly from a nice, Jewish boy's cookbook:  Arthur Schwartz's "Jewish Home Cooking."

3 pounds russet (baking) potatoes
12 eggs
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into chunks
2/3 cup matzo meal
1 tablespoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut, corn, or canola oil

Preheat the over to 350 degrees
Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks to prepare them for the food processor.
Reserve in a bowl of cold water until ready to process, but don't leave them there longer than 2 hours.
In a very large bowl, beat the eggs until well mixed.  In the bowl of the food processor, with the metal blade, pulse the onions until very finely chopped, careful not to liquify them.  Scrape the onion into the bowl with the eggs and stir them in.  Stir in the matzo meal.
Drain the potatoes, then set a strainer over a bowl.  In the same processor bowl, process the potatoes in three batches, until very finely chopped.  The pieces should be no bigger than a grain of rice and mostly smaller.
As each batch of potatoes is processed, immediately scrape it into the strainer.  With the rubber spatula or back of a spoon, press out the moisture so it drains into the catch bowl.  Immediately stir the potatoes into the egg mixture.  Discard the liquid and potato starch in the bowl.  Season the batter with salt and pepper.
Pour 2 tablespoons of the oil into a 13 by 9 inch baking dish, preferably heatproof glass.  Tip the pan so the oil coats the pan bottom and halfway up the sides.  Warm the empty pan in the preheated over for 5 minutes.
With MITS, remove the hot pan from the oven and fill with the kugel mixture.  The oil will rise up the sides of the pan, especially in the corners.  It's a good thing when the oil spills onto the surface of the batter, as it adds crispness to the finished dish.  Press the batter down near the corners lightly to fill them with potato batter.  Drizzle the surface with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil.  (Mom actually drizzled some of the chicken soup stock on the top of the kugel, she's a genius.)
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, until lightly browned.  Let rest for at least 15 minutes before cutting and serving, preferably somewhat longer.  Serve hot or warm, freshly baked or reheated.
The kugel reheats extremely well in a 350 degree oven, uncovered so the top can re-crisp.  I recommend reheating it beFORE cutting into it, so it doesn't dry out at all.  It can be kept in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for at least 4 days, and several months in the freezer.  Best to defrost in the refrigerator before reheating.

Brother goes in
This was a big a hit.

And without fail, ya gotta have Challah French Toast the next morning, to make brother Steve the happiest 10 year old ever.

He's the easiest man to make happy...

In the end, I'm certainly not the most observant Jew, not even CLOSE, but I'm realizing more and more that for me, what it's really about is family.  Being together and having the ability to do so is a wonderful luxury.  Stevie brought his gal, Lisa, and her amazing daughter, Anika, to stay with us.  I think 3 year old Henry captured them best here:

What a shot!
In fact, ahem, I must admit, after the family left, the following weekend was the highest holiday, Yom Kippur, and I spent it at the mall, clearly not atoning for my sins in the least.  I wasn't alone, I was with another very bad Jew who shall remain nameless, (her name rhymes with Shulie Fretzin.)

And because we were all together, even THIS didn't bother me:

A bit lip while under Uncle Stevie's watch...
Happy 5772!!!  Now go make some brisket!