We're partied out, simply partied out. Rich food, libations, bright lights and late nights - or were those early mornings? Now, it seems that the world has gone into hibernation, preferring to cocoon at home rather than venture out into the cold dark night.
Relax! This winter, wrap yourself in a comforter, slip your feet into slippers and curl up in a cozy armchair. Get set to indulge in a home-based journey from China to Curaçao. You'll lap up winter soups as you slip from Russia to Scotland; explore Joan Nathan's New American Cooking; and, for the lactose-intolerant among us, savor Chocolate-Cognac-Espresso Cake from Dr. Patricia Morales Fine's Dairy-Free Entertaining.
The topics in cookbooks and other food-related works are enormous. Thick tomes tempt the reader with glorious photos, while thin paperbacks are illustrated with clever black-and-white drawings. Within the covers are witticisms, international culinary history and dietary delicacies.
Here are some personal favorites that may have been overlooked while you leafed through your bookstore's cookbook section.
• Soup: A Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss has brought soups into the realm of kosher fusion. From traditional cure-all Chicken Soup to exotic Strawberry-Sambuca Soup, the recipes, inspired by Reiss' world travels, span the globe. She admits to not being a trained chef, but her cooking theory is right on target for good nutrition: "Keep it simple and use the best ingredients." The recipes are tantalizing; best of all, they're easy to follow. Great soups for every season.
• Crowning Elegance: A Kosher Culinary Experience, edited by Valerie Kanter and Mandy Bachrach, was created by the parents of Arie Crown Hebrew Day School in Chicago. This is not your usual brisket-and-kugel cookbook. The 300-plus recipes represent a unique collection of extraordinary dishes - Asian, French, Israeli, Italian, Mexican, Moroccan, Persian and Syrian. The nearly 200 photographs, by award-winning photographer Jay Friedman, show the finished dishes in casually chic settings. The recipes were tested and scrutinized at tasting parties, and are categorized by level of experience beginner to advanced. No need for Martha Stewart when you've got this book.
• Kosher by Design: Kids in the Kitchen by best-selling cookbook author Susie Fishbein is really a guide for parents and grandparents who want to introduce kids to the pleasures of cooking. Included are safety rules (have an adult nearby to help), how to keep the kitchen kosher (check for reliable kosher symbols), a pictorial list of equipment in kid-friendly colors and tempting pictures to go with each recipe. This book admirably fulfills her concept to challenge children, and inspire them to want to start cooking or to cook more.
• The New American Cooking is by Joan Nathan, a familiar and trusted name to kosher cooks. Although this is not a kosher cookbook, a great number of the recipes slip neatly into kosher cuisine. Nathan traveled across the country talking to organic farmers, artisan-bread bakers and cheese-makers. She shares recipes from the Hmong farmer in Minnesota to an entrepreneur of Indian frozen foods. She shows how new, creative cooks have updated old American favorites to fit in with contemporary tastes. Each recipe has a story, all reflecting the most innovative time in America's diverse culinary history. It's a riveting read, certain to inspire the chef in all of us.
• Kosher for the Clueless but Curious by Shimon Apisdorf. You may know all about kosher, but this enlightening book is written with such humor you won't want to put it down. Who could resist reading a page headed "From Whole Foods to Holy Foods"? The seven chapters go beyond whatever you always wanted to know about kosher. Included is a 24-page color cookbook with recipes from Susie Fishbein (Kosher by Design) and chef Scott Sunshine. Jewish or not, this is an excellent reference kosher food book.
• Elegant Dairy-Free Entertaining by Patricia Morales Fine, M.D. When Dr. Fine was diagnosed with both a milk allergy and lactose intolerance - two different ailments with the same severe symptoms - she couldn't tolerate dairy products or dishes that contained even a minute amount of milk. The enterprising family physician refused to accept the limitations of the usual dairy-free diet and set about creating recipes that would appeal to her sophisticated palate. After five years of experimenting, the result is a comprehensive, lavishly illustrated, 175-page cookbook. In it, she explains dairy sensitivity in detail, and information is given about hard-to-find nondairy products. The recipes are so tempting that even those who delight in butter and cream will enjoy this "virtual bible for dairy-free home entertaining."
• From Lokshen to Lo Mein by Donald Siegel. His day job is as a professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University in New York. Weekends and nights, he caters 10-course, kosher Chinese banquets as fundraising events for Jewish organizations. This unique kosher cookbook goes far beyond mere recipes. We read about the evolution of Chinese cooking, the contrasting ingredients and techniques used in each area of China, the Jews of China going back to the Middle Ages and the American Jewish Chinese connection (sociologists argue that the Jewish love for Chinese food began in New York in the early 1900s.)
Siegel has the ability to impart his vast knowledge in a breezy manner, and the recipes have been cleverly adapted to be authentic in taste and appeal. It's one of the best kosher Chinese cook/food books I've come across - and a jolly good read at that.
From Soup: a Kosher Collection by Pam Reiss. One of my favorite soups made easy. I use a sharp cheddar for the best flavor. Sodium nay be reduced by using a low-sodium cheese, a salt-free broth and just enough salt to taste.
1 small yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 lb. broccoli florets cut in small pieces
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
5 cups vegetable broth
1 cup half-and-half
5 Tbsps. all-purpose flour
1/2 lb. grated cheddar cheese
In a large pot, sweat the onion in olive oil over medium low heat for 5 to 8 minutes. Wilt onion. Do not brown.
Add broccoli, salt, pepper and stock. Cover and bring to boil over a high heat.
Reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until broccoli is tender but not overcooked.
In a small bowl, whisk together the half-and-half and flour until smooth. Add to the soup, whisking briskly.
Let simmer about 3 minutes more, or until the soup is thickened. Add the cheese.
Stir until blended and soup is heated through.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 315; protein, 15 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 23 g; cholesterol, 55 mg; sodium, 1,864 mg.
Cumin-and-Lime Grilled Skirt Steaks
From Crowning Elegance by the Arie Crown Hebrew Day School. For a dish that's less spicy, reduce the jalapeño peppers and black pepper.
6 jalapeño peppers, stems removed, halved and seeded
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cups fresh lime juice
1 tsp. black pepper
3 Tbsps. ground cumin
6 sprigs fresh cilantro
11/2 cups olive oil
2-3 tsps. salt
3 lbs. skirt steak
In blender jar, place peppers, garlic, lime juice, black pepper and cumin.
Blend until finely chopped. Add cilantro, oil and salt. Blend until smooth and puréed.
Cut steaks in half.
With a basting brush, generously brush both sides of steak with marinade.
Place in a large, plastic zippered bag. Pour remaining marinade in bag. Refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.
Preheat outside grill or broiler to very hot. Cook steaks 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until just seared for medium-rare.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 631; protein, 46 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 48 g; cholesterol, 145 mg; sodium, 899 mg.
Bluefish With Ginger, Garlic and Basil
From New American Cooking by Joan Nathan. The recipe comes from Priscilla Wamba and her husband, who came to this country in the late 1990s as political refugees from Cameroon.
4 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
1 stalk celery, halved crosswise
2 inches fresh ginger root, peeled
7 cloves garlic
2 handfuls fresh parsley
1 handful each fresh mint and fresh basil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
white pepper to taste
1 whole bluefish (4 to 5 lbs.), gutted and cleaned
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Brush a baking dish large enough to hold the fish with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Put the celery, ginger, garlic, parsley, mint, basil, salt and freshly ground pepper, and white pepper in a blender or food processor, and purée. Rub the fish inside and out with remaining 3 tablespoons oil, juice of 1 lemon, then the garlic-herb mixture.
Place the fish in the baking dish and bake for 30 minutes.
Lower oven heat to 250 degrees and continue baking until the fish flakes, about 30 minutes more.
Thinly slice remaining lemon into rounds. Use to garnish fish before serving.
Serves 6 to 8.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 349; protein, 45 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 17 g; cholesterol, 134 mg; sodium, 136 mg.
Egg Foo Yung
From Lokshen to Lo Mein by Donald Siegel
5 Tbsps. vegetable oil, divided
1 cup shredded cooked chicken or turkey
1/2 cup finely shredded scallions, white part only
1/2 cup bean sprouts
1/4 cup shredded celery or chopped water chestnuts
1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mushrooms
1/4 cup shredded napa cabbage
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
6 large eggs, well-beaten
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok until hot. Add the meat and vegetables, and stir-fry for 15 seconds. Add salt and pepper.
Stir-fry for 1 minute. Remove meat and vegetables; set aside.
Beat eggs in a large bowl. Add meat and vegetable mixture.
Add remaining 3 tablespoons oil to wok. Heat until very hot.
Add the egg mixture in small batches. Cook until the bottom is crusty. Flip over with spatula.
Cook until just done. Inside should still be soft.
Serves 4 to 6.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 207; protein, 10 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 18 g; cholesterol, 225 mg; sodium, 389 mg.
Chocolate-Cognac- Espresso Cake
From Elegant Dairy-Free Entertaining by Dr. Patricia Morales Fine. In this recipe, she specifies particular products by their name brands in order to ensure perfect dairy-free results.
Pam canola-oil cooking spray
11/2 cups, plus 1 tsp., cake flour, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) lactose-free, pareve unsalted margarine (Fleischmann's)
3 oz. unsweetened pareve chocolate, coarsely chopped (Callebaut 811)
1/3 cup espresso, freshly brewed
1/3 cup Rice Dream
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup cognac (let it spill over)
12/3 cups granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/3 cup Tofutti Sour Supreme
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Spray 9x5x3-inch loaf pan or 8-inch square baking pan with cooking spray.
Lightly dust with 1 teaspoon flour, shaking off any excess.
Cut the margarine into tablespoon-size pieces.
Place chocolate, margarine and hot espresso in large microwave bowl. Set aside for about 1 to 2 minutes.
Microwave on high for 30-second intervals until chocolate is melted. Stir until smooth.
Add Rice Dream, vanilla and cognac.
Stir until well-blended.
In a medium bowl, sift the remaining 11/2 cups flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, beat the egg and egg white together for about 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in melted-chocolate mixture alternately with dry ingredients. Mix in the Sour Supreme and pour into prepared pan.
Bake for 60 to 65 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Cool for 5 minutes before removing from pan.
Serve immediately, with plain tea or black coffee.
If you need the dessert for future use, allow the cake to cool before storing it at room temperature for up to three days.
Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 241; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 34 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 13 mg; sodium, 177 mg.
Ethel G. Hofman is a cookbook author and a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Reach her at: www.kosherfoodconsultants.com .