Plan ahead for Rosh Hashanah

The Jewish New Year is a good time for easy recipes, supplemented by takeout or catering.

Posted: September 06, 2007

Rosh Hashanah, Jewish New Year and the first post-summer holiday, is just a week away.

It's time to hone your easy-entertaining skills, to prepare for the coming season of hosting and attending holiday dinners and parties.

The goal is to simplify, delegate, plan ahead.

Or, in simplest terms, help the host - especially when the host is you.

That could mean supplementing your culinary efforts with the best takeout fare in town. Or hiring a caterer.

It should entail expanding your repertoire of quick-and-easy recipes (a few of which follow) and adding some (like the brisket and tzimmes) that can be made in advance.

Since no set menu is linked to Rosh Hashanah, there are many options. But individual favorites and family traditions are widespread, enough so that some foods appear repeatedly on holiday tables.

"People like the traditional dishes," said George Georgiou, owner of Chef's Market, which has been serving Jewish specialties - borscht and brisket, gefilte fish and kugel - on South Street for 23 years.

"They want foods they remember from childhood."

Yet, while respecting tradition, Georgiou also keeps his offerings fresh by adding new items to the menu: this year, the newcomer is golden and red beet salad.

Famous Fourth Street Deli is famous for its Jewish comfort foods - brisket, gefilte fish, plump yet crisp potato latkes, kasha and bowties, and, of course, matzoh-ball soup.

Around the holidays, owner Russ Cowan observed, "People mostly order things for takeout that they don't want to bother cooking themselves, like the matzoh-ball soup."

Neighborhood delis such as Famous - or Murray's in Bala Cynwyd, Jack's on Bustleton in the Northeast, and others - are apt to be the first stop for someone assembling a quick dinner, be it for one or a gathering.

As a host, you can cherry-pick winning dishes from several sources, even assign your guests to pick them up. This is especially true for dishes that demand finesse, that are best left to the pros (or, if you are lucky enough to have one, a friend who is a talented cook).

A few choice Rosh Hashanah accompaniments that can be picked up locally include:

Matzoh-ball broth at Famous Fourth Street Deli (4th & Bainbridge), $9.50 a quart.

Gefilte fish, made the traditional way with a blend of carp, whitefish and pike, at Chef's Market (231 South St.), $4.95 a piece.

Chopped chicken liver, a specialty with a following of diners whose tastes vary. Among preferred versions are those at Kibitz (703 Chestnut), $8.50 a pound, and at Chef's Market, $7.95 a pound.

Once you've delegated some of these dishes, you can choose to devote your time to a couple of specialties you can call your own. (Or just plan to spend time with your guests.)

Work ahead when possible. Cook Joan Nathan's traditional Jewish brisket (recipe follows) long and slow this weekend to have ready for dinner guests next week.

If you're entertaining a crowd, there are times when it makes sense to bring in the pros. And Denise Baron has made it her business to help people with Too Little Time, her lifestyle-services service.

She lines up and trains responsible workers to do the time-consuming tasks - major and minor - that tend to slip past us in life.

That includes preparing for, serving and cleaning up after parties. The going rate for a multitasking home helper is $35 an hour, says Baron, with the typical party hire spanning four to five hours. (Schedule help to come 30 minutes to an hour before guests arrive and to stay as long as an hour after they leave.)

And take notes. What works to make one event go smoothly can be used again for another. Soon, you've got a habit; then, an instant-party guide, with the help on speed-dial.

For Rosh Hashanah, the menu may not be set, there are many food traditions that have developed over the centuries: A piece of apple dipped in honey on the first night to bring a sweet year; a "new" or fresh-harvest fruit (often pomegranate) on the second night eaten with a special blessing. Dates, leeks, beets or pumpkin are often served. And challah loaves are shaped not in the usual braid, but are made round, the circle a symbol of the new annual cycle.

Several supermarkets offer extensive kosher food selections, among them ShopRite and Wegman's in Cherry Hill, Whole Foods markets, and the Narberth Acme.

For convenience, there are complete dinner packages.

Wegman's offers a kosher Rosh Hashanah dinner for 8 ($139) with a fully cooked 8-to-10 pound turkey, 5 pounds chicken broth, 2 pounds matzoh balls, 3 pounds each of mushroom-egg barley, roasted vegetable souffle, kasha varnishke, carrot tzimmes, and apple-noodle kugel, plus a pound each of cranberry relish and tagliach (a dessert), all packed, sealed and kosher certified, ready to heat and eat.

If you're not the host but a guest, contribute a special appetizer or dessert item, either of which is more likely to fit seamlessly into someone else's menu. (It helps to ask first what might be needed or preferred, but the easy orange salad and no-bake cheesecake (recipes follow) are good choices.)

For more adventurous palates - and an ideal option as that extra appetizer to bring to a party - consider kosher sushi. A dedicated kosher counter is the latest addition to the Kosher Marketplace in the Narberth Acme (829 Montgomery Ave.).

And in a pinch, there's always kosher Chinese takeout.


Brisket Jewish Style (Rosh Hashanah)

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 pounds brisket of beef

1 large onion, peeled, sliced

1 tablespoon prepared

mustard

1 tablespoon salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup molasses

2 cups boiling water, or to cover

1. Heat the oven to 225 degrees. To a 6-quart casserole with lid or covered roaster, add the brisket and onions.

2. Mix the mustard, salt, sugar, molasses and water; pour over the brisket. Cover. Bake for 8 hours at 225 degrees.

3. In the last hour, uncover the casserole to brown meat.

- Adapted from Jewish Cooking in America by Joan Nathan (Alfred A. Knopf, 2001)

Note: Cook brisket up to three days ahead. Chill it. Skim off any fat. Reheat, covered, at 300-325 degrees, about 45 minutes before serving. If desired, to make brisket with beans, add cooked navy or kidney beans at the start of cooking - a pound of dry beans, freshly cooked, or two 1-pound cans of cooked beans, drained.

Per serving (based on 8): 618 calories, 28 grams protein, 14 grams carbohydrates, 11 grams sugar, 50 grams fat, 129 milligrams cholesterol, 1,014 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.


Olive and Orange Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

4 oranges, peeled and sliced horizontally, seeds removed

About 18 ripe olives, pitted and halved

Juice of 1 lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh mint

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon paprika, plus 2 pinches for serving

1. Put the orange slices and olives in a serving bowl.

2. Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, garlic, mint, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Pour dressing over salad.

3. Finish with the 2 pinches of paprika.

- From The Healthy Jewish Cookbook by Michael van Stratten

Per serving (based on 6): 138 calories, 1 gram protein, 12 grams carbohydrates, 8 grams sugar, 11 grams fat, no cholesterol, 99 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber.


Carrot Tzimmes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons margarine (or schmaltz for a meat meal)

18 ounces carrots, scrubbed, cut into coins

18 ounces sweet potatoes, cut into small pieces

5/8 cup pitted prunes

5/8 cup chopped apricots (the best quality fruit available)

3 tablespoons honey

Zest of 1 lemon, 1 orange

Juice of 2 oranges and 2 lemons (about 1 cup total)

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper

1. In a large pot over medium heat, melt the margarine and saute the onion until soft and translucent.

2. Add the carrots, sweet potatoes, prunes, apricots, honey, citrus zests and juices, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Give it a good stir, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Taste and adjust seasonings, as desired. It should be sweet, but not sticky-sweet.

- From The Jewish Kitchen by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink, 2004)

Note: This is best made a day or two before serving to allow flavors to mellow.

Per serving (based on 8): 212 calories, 3 grams protein, 47 grams carbohydrates, 24 grams sugar, 3 grams fat, no cholesterol, 115 milligrams sodium, 6 grams dietary fiber.


No-Bake Vanilla-Orange Cheesecake

Makes 8 servings

Nonstick cooking spray

1 (3-ounce) box sugar-free, orange-flavored gelatin

1/2 cup water

3/4 cup orange-flavored tea

1 cup 3% soft white cheese, drained

8 ounces farmer cheese

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 container light whipped topping (4 ounces)

3 tablespoons sugar-free vanilla pudding

3 tablespoons low-carb, low-fat soy milk

8 thin orange slices, cut in half, optional

1. Line an 8-inch springform pan with baking paper and mist lightly with nonstick spray.

2. Dissolve the gelatin in water. Stir in the tea; set aside.

3. In a mixer bowl, whip the cheeses, salt and vanilla extract together until fluffy. Set aside.

4. Whip the topping at medium speed. Slowly add the pudding. As the mixture starts to thicken, add the soy milk. Mix until all is incorporated.

5. With a spatula, gradually fold the reserved gelatin and cheese mixtures into the whipped topping and pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan. Smooth the top with the spatula. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours.

6. Garnish with orange slices before cake is fully set.

7. Remove sides of pan just before serving.

- From Nechama Cohen's Enlitened Kosher Cooking (Feldheim, 2006)

Note: For the triple-layered variation on this cheesecake, you will need a moist cake layer, homemade or store-bought, split horizontally. Fit the cake into the pan (cut into wedges if needed). Prepare steps 1-4 as directed. Fold the cheese and topping mixtures together and cover the cake with it. Top with the gelatin, garnish and refrigerate until set.

Per serving: 176 calories, 7 grams protein, 8 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams sugar, 12 grams fat, 34 milligrams cholesterol, 257 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber.


Contact food writer Marilynn Marter at 215-854-5743 or at mmarter@phillynews.com.

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