Tu b'Shvat begins the evening of Wednesday, January 27 this year. It's too bad more people don't know much about this lovely biblical celebration of nature.
Technically, this date - the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat - marks the beginning of the agricultural year. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jewish farmers were required to tithe a portion of their crops to support the priesthood. The middle of Shvat marks the end of the rainy season in Israel; almond trees begin to blossom, so ancient farmers used this date to designate the beginning of the new crop year.
The most meaningful way we celebrate the New Year is to open a bottle of bubbly, look back at our good fortune, and make our charitable donations – tzedakah – for the year.
Here is the list of organizations that we supported this year. Each logo is a link to the organization's home page.
Many groups could fall into more than one category, but I tried to group them by their primary mission or population served.
Last week, I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption -
Busy and productive day in the kitchen! Had so much produce to use up, so I pulled it all out of the fridge and started chopping. Challah for tonight and some for the freezer. Vegetable stock. Chunky Vegetable Soup. Hamutzim - Israeli Pickles. Apple Sauce. Fresh squeezed Mandarin Orange juice. Banana Bread. Broccoli Kugel / Casserole for tomorrow. Now to make a simple dinner - Picante Cod. Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts. Roasted (or maybe mashed) Purple Sweet Potatoes. Shabbat Shalom.
So I decided to write about what I found in the fridge and my process. Overall, I spent about four hours doing all of this.
What I had to work with
Mandarin oranges, 1 lime & 1 lemon that were kind of shriveled | Apples, also shriveled | A bowl of pears that were pretty fresh, but a couple were starting to get soft | Two giant broccoli crowns | Two parsnips | About 10 small carrots (not the baby ones, just small) | One zucchini | One shriveled yellow bell pepper, half of another one & a couple of whole peppers in good shape | Half a head of cabbage | About half a pound of Brussels Sprouts | Celery | About half a pound of baby turnips | One Jalapeno | Two little bags of peeled garlic – one open and a little funky, one still sealed | On the counter, two very brown bananas and 2 dried up red hot peppers | In the freezer, one bag of vegetable scraps saved for stock and a cup of pomegranate seeds | Plus, a bag of onions and a bag of potatoes
Put on some good cooking music. I definitely believe the food tastes better when I cook with music. For Jewish holidays, I have specific playlists, but today I put on my go to - Classic Rock.
Finish up. Turn off stock and remove from burner; leave in pot to cool. Remove cinnamon stick and star anise from apple sauce. Use immersion blender to break it all up; put it into a jar. Preheat oven again to 325; bake challah for 20 minutes; pull rolls out to a cooling rack and bake loaf for about 4 minutes more. Remove banana bread from pan; peel off parchment and place on a glass plate. Cover with a tea towel; this will live on the counter until it’s gone. Wash all the dishes that I didn’t wash already; set table for Shabbat, including putting challah on its tray. Move frozen challah to a silicone bag for freezer storage. When pickles, apple sauce and soup are cool, put in fridge. Strain vegetable stock; also wait to cool and put in freezer. Clean up; wipe counters.
Open bottle of wine and start dinner. But that’s another post.
A Melting Pot of Miracles – Celebrating Hanukkah with Israeli Celebrity Chef Nir Zook
Wednesday December 9 | Sponsored by A Wider Bridge
Every smell has an idea that at the end will transform into design or into food or just a smile or belief in God. Because living life and being open to what you see on the way and what you feel on the way and what you smell on the way makes you realize that you’re just something small in a huge complex that God created for us
What's your source of creativity; where do you get your inspiration?
It’s very difficult to answer that because basically the source of what we do is in every minute of our life. So, it can be just walking here in Jaffa. Now it’s the beginning of winter, at least in Israel . . . . You walk on the same road every day and then it rains and then 3 days later it’s all starting to have weeds, you know very, very small weeds that have beautiful colors in the sun and then you say this is inspiration for life.
Explain, in your eyes, what is Israeli cuisine?
Israeli cuisine is the combination of anywhere in the world that Jews lived. Because then Jews came to Israel and they all lived in the same building. In the beginning they didn’t really like each other because the smells that came out of the kitchens were very awkward to each other. But then they had kids and kids started moving between apartments and fell in love with the neighbor’s food . . . .
For my Dad, a small batch of latkes just for the family, was five pounds of potatoes. He grated them methodically, by hand of course, using a reibeisen (rib-eye-zen), a grater.
The difference between shredding and grating is dramatic and significant. Grated potatoes result in a smooth, wet batter that pours like regular pancake batter. As it pours off the spoon into the hot oil, it spreads exactly the right amount, creating a thin, round latke. And yes, I said wet. I don’t understand why every recipe I see for latkes recommends squeezing the water out of the potatoes. You end up with dry, shredded potatoes, which make hash browns. When you grate the potatoes, you leave all the water and potato starch in the batter.
Russet potatoes. Not Yukon Gold. Not heirloom purple fingerlings. Not zucchini. Good old Russet potatoes. Peel ‘em and keep them in a big bowl of cold water until you’re ready to start grating. Onion? Nope. No raw onion or caramelized onion. Just onion powder. Plus, a little bit of flour, baking powder, salt, and egg. That’s all.
Oh. And add a little bit of Fruit Fresh as you go, to keep the batter from turning brown. It will begin to look a little pink, but that's OK. Just keep adding Fruit Fresh, about 1/2 teaspoon at a time. The inside of the latkes will be white. I promise.
Be generous with the oil. Start with about half an inch in the pan; enough for the latkes to float when they release from the bottom. And keep the oil clean. The biggest downside of shredded potatoes is all the little pieces that break off. They float around in the oil, batch after batch and burn, giving the oil a burned flavor too. If you insist on shredding, make sure to fish all those little shreds out of the oil after each batch of latkes to keep your oil clean.
As the oil is heating up, do a tiny test latke – maybe one inch across. It will start to sizzle, then brown around the edges. Let it fry; then flip. This is your tester both for oil heat and for salt. Under salt at first and adjust after the tester. Once the oil is hot, begin pouring latke batter into the pan one spoonful at a time. Don’t crowd the pan. Take your time. Wait until each latke releases itself from the bottom of the pan before flipping. The lacy edges will be golden brown, you will see the potato cooking from the edges in, and oil will start bubbling up through the latke. Then and only then, flip the latke, once and only once. Another few minutes, when the underside is also golden, remove them one by one to a board layered with brown paper bags, to keep them crispy.
How to Eat Latkes
The best way to eat latkes is with your fingers, hot out of the pan (after they sit on paper bags for a minute or two). Please don't make them ahead of time and reheat for the party. They will never be as good as when they are sizzling hot and fresh.