Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Passover, Past and Present

Passover 2003

I love Passover. I know that may seem odd to some. This holiday has many courses and uses many dishes, making setting up and cleaning up a hassle. Passover cooking is a challenge too. I think I have hosted somewhere between 18 to 20 Seders.  Some being more memorable than others.  I recall one of my earlier Seders where I panicked over matzo crumbs everywhere. There was the year I had so many people that I had tables in three different rooms of the house, and I had to set up baby monitors so that we could all hear and follow the service. I remember making dishes that didn't quite turn out as I had wanted, served brisket that wasn't tender, and I remember one year I served leg of lamb, not taking in consideration that all my guests may not even like leg of lamb. Lastly, I remember the year our electricity went out, and I had to finish cooking the brisket outside on the gas grill, and we dined by candlelight, which made it the most beautiful Seder of them all. So, what I have learned about cooking for Passover all these years and how can you make your Seder less stressful? Here are a few tips that I hope will help you to be inspired to host a memorable and stress free dinner.

  • Set your table a day or two ahead. Set out serving platters and serving utensils. I have gotten teased for this, but put a label of what is going in each bowl or on each platter. It helps me to be organized so I don't forget to put something out.
  • If you are having many guests, use place cards. I have found that people feel more comfortable if you choose where they should sit.
  • Dress your table with fresh flowers. It's spring, let your table reflect the season.
  • As for cooking, cook your brisket low and slow until fork tender. This could take hours, but be patient.
  • No ones says you have to make brisket.  It is OK to break tradition and serve something new.  Roasted chicken, lamb, veal or salmon are other options.
  • Test your recipe before hand, if it is something you have never made before. 
  • Make something you know your guests will eat. If you have a vegetarian guest, or someone who may have diet restrictions, don't fear. Find out what they would like. Maybe it is something that everyone would like as well, and you can incorporate it in to your menu.
  • Your side dishes don't have to be dry and tasteless. Cook with fresh ingredients and serve steamed or roasted vegetables. Watch cooking time and taste and season as you cook traditional dishes. Most often the reason that these recipes fail is because they are over cooked or not seasoned well because they contain matzo meal.
    Passover 2002
  • People may ask, "what can I bring?" If you like to cook and have it all under control, let people bring a bottle of wine, or a box of matzo, a bag of ice (I always forget this) or fruit.  Let them bring something, if they ask.  I think people truly want to help, and they are grateful for the invitation to a Seder.  If you need a little help with cooking, then divide the courses and let people bring something from each course. 
  • For desserts, my secret is that I use a little extra sugar than what is called for in some recipes. Flour-less cakes are a great alternative to using matzo cake meal, or there are some recipes that call for very little matzo cake meal, like the recipe listed below.

My advise for this year is, don't let cooking for Passover stress you out. Whether you have hosted a Seder many times, or this is your first, make your table memorable, have patience in the kitchen, and don't sweat about the matzo crumbs.

Banana Sponge Cake

7 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup matzo cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed bananas

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks and sugar until light in color and texture. Combine the matzo meal, potato starch, and salt. Ass this a little bit a time to the egg yolk mixture, and alternate with the bananas, beating until smooth.
In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Pour batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake for 45 minutes, or until tooth pick comes out clean when inserted. Cake should be springy tot he touch. Invert the pan on to a wire rack and cool. With a sharp knife, loosen the cake from the side and center of the cake pan.

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