Hanukkah

From the LA Times

latimeshanukkahAs a child in Hebrew school, I was taught the story of the Hanukkah miracle: When the Jews in the land of Israel defeated the foreigners, the priests seeking to rekindle the temple's eternal light found enough ritually pure oil for only one day. Miraculously that oil lasted for eight days.

Since then, Jews have been celebrating Hanukkah every year by lighting candles every day for eight days. Children in Israel play with dreidels inscribed with the first Hebrew letters of the phrase "a big miracle happened here"; in Washington, D.C., my birthplace, our dreidels had the first letters of "a big miracle happened there."

Until I lived in Israel, I associated the holiday with latkes, or potato pancakes. But when I moved there I discovered that for many Israelis, sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts, are the favorite Hanukkah treat. I also realized that the connection of such foods to Hanukkah is the oil in which they are fried.

What we hadn't learned in Hebrew school was that the oil of the Hanukkah miracle was olive oil. In ancient Israel, olive oil was used for lighting lamps, for religious rituals and for cooking. Based on archaeological evidence, the land of Israel was an olive oil production center.

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mollygoldberg.jpg I was recently given a gift of an out of print cookbook called The Molly Goldberg Cookbook.  When I first saw it I was amused and when I opened it up, I immediately saw a cabbage recipe I wanted to make. Score! Here was a cookbook that had that “Through The Looking Glass” aspect to it. These were recipes long forgotten, mysterious in their 1950-ness, soon to be resurrected by me!

I had a faint notion of who Molly Goldberg was; however, despite the constant ‘jokes’ in my house about my age I was actually too young to have seen The Goldbergs on TV. It still amazes me that I saw Amos n’ Andy. The premise of this prototype for all subsequent sit-coms was the lives of Jewish immigrants, usually featuring a solvable family or friend-related problem.  Molly, in her infinite “Jewish Mama” wisdom would involve herself in these neighborhood and family dramas dispensing invaluable advice. 

Upon closer inspection of the book, three things struck me.  One, the book was arranged almost like a ‘wraparound’.  That’s a reference to a strip show on TV that had interstitials.  Molly had her ‘bits’ that introduced the story behind some of the recipes. These bits represented a microcosm of cultural idioms and the social challenges and changes that arose from the Diaspora.  The other thing I noticed was that many of the recipes were ‘from hunger’.  An expression meaning, well, lacking in taste or desirability.  The third thing, which reminded me of something my dad said about brisket:  that it killed more Jews than bullets.  Some of the recipes were so BAD for you, its no wonder high cholesterol and constipation plagued my people.  

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chocolate-gingebreadstars1.jpgOn the first night of Hanukkah, I wanted to make something representative of our holiday. On the nights that we are not entertaining friends and family for dinner, we are invited to others for food and fun.

With that said, I wanted to make cookies that everyone could enjoy. I doubled the recipe and then cut out 3 1/2″ stars. After freezing the rolled dough, I cut them into shapes and froze once again (I find the cookies keep their shape when baking when I do it this way). When I was ready to bake them I sprinkled with turbinado sugar and added some white non-perils.

I had so many cookies that I decided to make cream sandwiches out of half of them. I whipped up a batch of the best white chocolate ganache. These were absolutely delicious!

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bestbrisketI’ve tried many brisket recipes and this has become a longtime favorite. The method comes from a Cooks Illustrated recipe that requires a few hours of unattended cooking, as well as advance preparation. After cooking, the brisket must stand overnight in the braising liquid that later becomes the sauce; this helps to keep the brisket moist and flavorful.

Defatting the sauce is essential. If the fat has congealed into a layer on top of the sauce, it can be easily removed while cold. Sometimes, however, fragments of solid fat are dispersed throughout the sauce; in this case, the sauce should be skimmed of fat after reheating.

If you prefer a spicy sauce, increase the amount of cayenne to 1/4 teaspoon. You will need 18-inch-wide heavy-duty foil for this recipe. If you own an electric knife, it will make easy work of slicing the cold brisket. You may substitute matzo meal or potato starch for the flour in this recipe.

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leahThe Hanukkah crown, to be worn by the person most representing the spirit of the holiday, this year would have to go to Leah Adler, the proprietor of the Milky Way, famous for being the best upscale kosher restaurant in Beverly Hills, and because it’s owner, Leah Adler, also happens to be Steven Spielberg’s mom.

Opened over 30 years ago, the Milky Way is in its second location, neatly tucked away in the Jewish strip of Pico Blvd., and is charming and inviting from the get go. The dining room is fitted with comfy red leather booths, the tables are set with white tablecloths and oversized well-framed posters of her son’s movies hang everywhere. Looking up from a yummy cheese blintz one can see a picture of ET riding in the bicycle basket or Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler. Even without several dozen family photos crammed on top of the bar, (in this case many with smiling celebrities and politicians) the place would feel like you were visiting your favorite Jewish aunt’s house for dinner.

One is awed by the life force of Leah Adler. She stands no more than five feet tall, if that, and at ninety-three is as alert as her radiant eyes are blue. She has worn her hair shorter than Mia Farrow’s ever was, forever. Short and still buttercup yellow, it frames the face of this beautiful leprechaun. Beaming her eyes directly into yours, she welcomes one to her restaurant the way she has for years, stopping at every booth to bestow a smile, she flashes her headlights and greets her guests.

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