Pretty Cheesy


Shavuot is one of those holidays that is known by many names and has something for everyone. It is called Pentecost and the Feast of Weeks because it falls on the 50th day after the second night of Passover. It is also called Hag Ha-bikurim, the "Feast of the First Fruits."

Insomniacs can stay up all night embracing the tradition of tikkun leyl Shavuot, which is a nightwatch in remembrance of receiving the Torah. Flower and plant arrangements can be brought in to mark the holiday's agricultural significance.

Vegetarians can partake in delicious meals consisting of fruits, vegetables and dairy products — never having to worry about "where's the beef?" Cooks can create new dishes with cheese and the biblical "first fruits."

What's in it for the kids? In Israel, they wear wreaths of greenery and help decorate the house with flowers and plants. Here, occasionally, it is marked by children's confirmation ceremonies.

Taking a walk with your youngsters in a nearby state or county park to identify and perhaps gather some spring wild flowers is also a meaningful activity to encourage participation in this festival.

In addition to a dairy picnic, you can read the story of Ruth, a beautiful tale of commitment. If picking flowers are not permitted, have some crayons and paper ready for the children to draw them and then hang them at home as decorations.

Here is a family-friendly a Shavuot dinner menu, complete with dairy treats.


7 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsps., all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
11/2 tsps. dry mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne or to taste
1 lb. elbow macaroni
3 cups coarsely grated cheddar cheese (about 12 oz.)
11/3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 4 oz.)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350°.

Butter a 3- to 4-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish.

In a heavy saucepan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over moderately low heat.

Add flour and cook roux, whisking for 3 minutes. Add milk in a stream, whisking, and bring to a boil while whisking.

Add mustard, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer sauce, whisking occasionally, until thickened, for about 2 minutes.

In a pot of salted boiling water, cook the macaroni until just al dente, about 7 minutes, and drain well.

In a large bowl, stir together the macaroni, sauce, cheddar and 1 cup Parmesan, and transfer to prepared dish. In a small bowl, stir together the bread crumbs and remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan, and sprinkle evenly over macaroni. Cut remaining 1 tablespoon butter into bits and scatter over topping.

Bake macaroni in middle of oven 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling.

Serves 6 to 8 as entree, or 8 to 10 as a side dish.

Asparagus-and-Cheese Strudel

4 oz. mild goat cheese
4 oz. cream cheese
2 Tbsps. chopped fresh tarragon or 1 tsp. dried
2 Tbsps. chopped chives
1 cup oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes, drained and cut into strips
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
8 sheets phyllo dough, at room temp
1/4 cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 375°.

Grease baking sheet.

Combine the cheeses with the tarragon, chives, tomatoes, salt and pepper till smooth. Stir in cooked asparagus pieces.

Place a sheet of phyllo dough horizontally in front of you. Brush with butter. Continue until you have a stack of 4 sheets. Do not brush top sheet with butter.

Using half the filling, spread an even 3-inch-wide strip about 1 inch from the bottom and 2 inches from the sides. Fold up, the bottom and fold in the sides of the dough and roll up like a jelly-roll.

Place the strudel, seam-side down, on the baking sheet.

Brush the top and sides with butter. With a sharp knife, cut several slits in the top of the strudel. Repeat with remaining phyllo sheets and filling.

Bake until golden-brown and crispy, about 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Cut into 3-inch thick slices.

Serves 8.

Ricotta-Blueberry Pancakes

2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs
3/4 cup water
1 tsp. lemon zest
6 oz. fresh or frozen blueberries

Combine all ingredients except blueberries in blender or food processor. Remove to a bowl and stir in berries.

Over medium heat, warm greased griddle 5 minutes. Using 1/4 cup measure, pour batter onto griddle. Cook 4 minutes or until golden, turning once. Repeat. Dust with confectioners sugar, if desired.

Serves 2 to 4.

Chocolate Cream-Cheese Brownies

Filling Ingredients:

1/4 cup purchased chocolate syrup
2 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped, or chocolate chips
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg
1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour

Batter Ingredients:

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

11/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
11/3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 tsp. baking powder

To Make the Filling: Combine the syrup and 2 ounces chopped chocolate in a heavy small saucepan. Stir over low heat until chocolate melts; cool. Beat the cream cheese and egg in medium bowl. Stir in chocolate mixture. Blend in 1/4 cup chocolate chips and flour. Set aside.

To Make the Batter: Preheat oven to 350°. Grease a 9-inch-square baking pan with 2-inch-high sides. Line bottom with waxed paper. Butter waxed paper.

Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in large bowl until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.

Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into medium bowl. Stir dry ingredients into butter mixture.

Spoon half of the chocolate batter into the prepared pan. Top with the filling. Spread the remaining batter over top.

Bake brownies until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer to rack. Cool 5 minutes. Run a small sharp knife around edges of pan to loosen. Cool completely in pan.

Cut into 16 two-inch squares.



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