Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Eat THAT, Pharoah!

by Erin and Xani

This past weekend, the BCD family traveled to sunny Detroit, MI for our annual Passover celebration with our family. Celebrating in Detroit at the home of cousins Karen and Don and their two adorable girls is a relatively new tradition for our family, but it's SO fun and I'm sure we'll be coming back for years to come. Recently our tradition has been that both BCD girls go up to Detroit a day before the BCD parents get there to help Karen with the cooking and to spend some QT together. Then the rest of the family shows up on Friday night or Saturday morning (this year family members came from Las Vegas, Chicago, and Baltimore), and we all spend the weekend together.

But, enough blathering on about tradition ("TRADITIOOOON, TRADITION!"), let's get to the food! Karen, EP, and Xani had been planning the menu via email for months, and we decided to go with some old favorites but also try some new recipes. The final menu was:

  • Chopped Liver
  • Seder Snacks (haroset, parsley dipped in salt water...mmmm)
  • Gefilte Fish
  • Chicken Soup with Matzo Balls
  • Prime Rib with Horseradish Sauce
  • Braised Endive
  • Potato-Parsnip Kugel
  • Dessert (including Matzo Candy, Macaroons, Brownies, Almond Jamprint Cookies, and Fruit Plate)

To keep things clear, let's discuss in terms of order of courses, shall we? Good - I'm so glad we're on the same page.

So, to begin, while we were catching up and enjoying some delicious champagne before we sat down for seder, we enjoyed some homemade chopped liver courtesy of BCD Mom, who made it at home in Columbia and brought it with her to Detroit. (We're sort of surprised it got through security. Doesn't TSA consider chopped liver to be a hazardous material?!). She bought kosher livers from a kosher grocery store up in Pikesville, MD called Seven Mile Market, which is a really cool place in general if you're into that sort of thing. She bought THREE POUNDS of livers and reports that it is the most chopped liver she's ever made! As usual, it was GREAT! We're told that BCD Dad was the tester to make sure all the ingredients (most important: chicken fat) were in their correct proportion, so thanks go to him as well.

After cocktails and chopped liver, we sat down to begin the seder. The seder (which means "order" in Hebrew) is a traditional ceremony where we listen to the story of how the Jews were slaves in Egypt and how Moses helped them escape from the evil Pharaoh. (Remember the "10 Commandments" with the late Charleton Heston? That's the story we're talking about.) Throughout the seder there are many symbols, such as when we eat bitter herbs (usually parsley) dipped in salt water, which represents the bitterness of slavery and the tears of the Hebrew slaves. We also eat haroset, a mixture of apples, honey, wine, nuts, and cinnamon, which represents the mortar used when the slaves had to lay brick for Pharoah. A main theme running throughout the seder is that we should be thankful for the freedom we have today to do as we please and we should remember those who are still not free. To learn more about seders, go here.

Seder plate (notice our "shank bone" - we didn't have one so we had Zoe draw one!)

Ingredients for haroset

The family (minus a few in the kitchen)! Going clockwise, that's BCD Dad in the back, then Xani, John, Yelena, Zoe, Stephanie, Great Uncle Sheldon, and BCD Mom

Anyway, after the seder was over, it was time to eat! The first course we had was gefilte fish. Gefilte fish are made from ground fish (usually carp or pike) that is mixed with eggs, onions, and matzo meal and poached in a fish stock. The BCD parents contemplated making their own gefilte fish but they nixed the idea because they didn't want to make guinea pigs out of the family. So, we had store-bought GF, per our tradition. (Note: Xani's very favorite Passover e-card of the season references gefilte fish. See it here).

Next, we had homemade chicken soup with matzo balls. Karen made the soup in advance, and we all made the matzo balls together. As some of you may know, there is a raging debate in the Jewish community that often rears its head around this time of the year: "sinkers" versus "floaters". Some like fluffy, cloud-like matzo balls, while others prefer matzo balls that require a (sharp) knife and fork. Our family is in the latter camp, and we pulled out all the stops to make sure the matzo balls were true "sinkers." To make them, we followed BCD Mom's advice: we used the recipe on the matzo meal cannister, but made a few changes, including adding about twice as much matzo meal as the recipe called for, using soup instead of water, using chicken fat instead of oil, and keeping the batter in the fridge for only 10 minutes or so, not the recommended 15 minutes. Upon cooking, they barely expanded and were quite firm and DELICIOUS in the yummy homemade soup.

Quick note about the chicken fat: When we started to gather the ingredients for the matzo balls, Karen pulled out the chicken fat she bought at the store, but it was unrendered, a state which we were not expecting. But have no fear! The BCD girls know how to render chicken fat, of course! Just cut up the fat into cubes, put in a little water, and when it begins to melt down, throw in some chopped onion. Cook together until the onion starts to turn golden brown and voila! Now you have rendered chicken fat. PLUS, you also have gribenes! This is the best food ever. Period.

Ta da! Gribenes! Sometimes known as "chicken bacon"

After the fish and the soup, it was time for the main course! For this course, we served prime rib, braised endive, and potato-parsnip kugel. We used our traditional prime rib recipe, adapted from James Beard, where you slather the meat in butter (hey, we never said the meal was totally kosher!), salt, and pepper, then place it in a 500 degree oven for 5 minutes per pound, then turn the oven off and do not open the door for two hours or until the meat reaches 123 degrees (for rare-medium rare) on an instant-read thermometer. Karen bought a 14.5 lb roast (oy!) but the method described above only works for roasts greater than 5 lbs and less than 10 lbs, so we had master butcher Xani cut the meat in half (we then named the roasts Thing One and Thing Two). Then we cooked each roast separately and served it at room temperature. Xani had the honor of carving the meat, with BCD Dad giving guidance. This method is amazing - it works every time!! The meat turned out great - so flavorful and perfectly cooked.

Thing One and Thing Two



Dad helps Xani and Zoe looks on

Perfectly cooked!

Along with the meat, we served a horseradish sauce (aka "horsey sauce"), which EP quickly whipped up by mixing together sour cream, a bit of mayonnaise, a lot of horseradish, and salt and pepper. Yum!

For the braised endive, we referred to a recipe from Orangette, a beautiful and well-written food blog (one much more popular than our dog-and-pony show), for Braised Endive with Proscuitto. We omitted the proscuitto because even we thought that was going a little far for a traditional Jewish meal. This was a brand new recipe and we were eager to see how it would turn out, especially because most of us had never had cooked endive before. The recipe was relatively simple: trim and clean the endive, then slice in half lengthwise, brown in butter and oil for a few minutes, then place on a sheet pan and add chicken stock (we used the soup!). Then cover the pan and let the endive braise in the stock for 35 minutes or until tender, then uncover and cook some more, then add a bit of heavy cream and cook for a few minutes more until browned. The verdict? The endive had great flavor and a nice richness to them, though they were still quite bitter. All that cooking just didn't get the bitterness out. Maybe we should have cooked them longer? Or is this bitterness in until the bitter end? Har har.

Last we had the potato-parsnip kugel, a dish we made for the first time last year and it was so good we had it again this year. This recipe was also pretty simple, but it had a lot of steps so it took some time. First, you boil together peeled and cubed potatoes and parsnips. Then, you saute chopped onions in chicken fat (though we used butter because we forgot), and then mash the potatoes, parsnips, and onions together. Then add eggs, salt, pepper, matzo meal, and a bit of nutmeg to the mixture. The recipe says to then put the potato mixtured into a greased and matzo-mealed pan and bake. But, we used a little trick from BCD Mom where you put extra matzo meal on the top and dot it with chicken fat, which results in a nice crust on the top of the kugel. The kugel turned out great - there was great flavor from the potatoes and the sweetness from the parsnips and onions was a nice added bonus. And in the end, who doesn't love mashed potatoes?? No friend of mine!

After all the dishes were cleared from the big meal, it was time to start thinking of dessert. As some of you loyal readers may recall from last week, EP was having a bit of a dilemma about what to make. Thanks to your votes, she chose to make macaroons using Ina Garten's recipe (of course). They were so simple to make, even in EP's ill-equipped kitchen. Simply take sweetened shredded coconut, sweetened condensed milk, and some vanilla, and mix together in a large bowl. Meanwhile, whip egg whites with some salt until they make medium-firm peaks, then fold the egg whites into the coconut mixture. Then drop spoonfuls onto parchment-lined baking sheets and bake until golden. EP made the cookies smaller than the recipe called for since they are so sweet, and they were such a hit! There is really no need to buy macaroons at the store - this recipe was so delicious and SO easy.

Check out those medium-firm peaks!

In addition to the macaroons, our cousin Stephanie (aka Motherocker) made several desserts, including matzo candy, brownies, and almond jamprint cookies. All of them were delicious (a feat for Passover desserts, which usually taste like cardboard!), especially the matzo candy - that stuff is like crack! In addition to all the bad-for-you sweets, we also had a fruit plate with some delicious strawberries, watermelon, canteloupe, honeydew, and blueberries.

It was such a fun evening with three generations present. We are so thankful to be able to get together with our family, even if it's only once or twice per year. It's an added bonus that we are all lovers of food and wine and we are perfectly content to talk about food all night if we want. ;) I guess it's genetic...

Happy Passover to those who are celebrating! Yay freedom!! And stay tuned: posts about the OTHER meals we had in Detroit coming soon!

Team Passover 2008

Happy noshing,

EP & X



  1. Oh man, my mouth is watering...

    First, 500 degrees?! Do ovens go that high? I've never heard of that way to cook meat. Will have to try soon...

    But most importantly: Why have I never had gribenes? I feel like I've been living in a windowless room my whole life and someone just told me about the sun. Will try this before the above-referenced meat-cooking technique...

  2. I am the one friend who usually doesn't eat things....but it all looks good to me....well maybe I'd pass on the GF....


    Looks like fun was had by all...


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