Kosher cuisine - simply divine!
The Canadian Jewish News
September 21, 2006
by Judy Bart Kancigor
With the first crisp breeze at summer’s close, I am filled with memories. Color War and the end of camp. The smell of newly sharpened pencils. New school clothes, and for the High Holidays: new hat, new gloves, new dresses for each service. Smells of roasting chicken and honey cake wafting downstairs from my grandparents’ apartment, where Mama Hinda busily prepares her erev Rosh Hashanah feast for the onslaught of Rabinowitzes that will soon fill those tiny rooms.
In choosing a menu for the holiday, some traditional dishes beg for inclusion. Would it be Rosh Hashanah without Mama Hinda’s majestic spiraled challah or Aunt Sally’s tzimmes? But I also like to mix it up with some new twists on old themes as I explore the new cookbooks of the season.
One that catches my eye is “Divine Kosher Cuisine” by Risé Routenberg and Barbara Wasser (Wimmer), the long-awaited, all-volunteer fund-raising project of Congregation Agudat Achim in Niskayuna, New York.
Routenberg and Wasser draw on their years of experience with As You Like It, the synagogue’s kosher catering service, which for decades has been a magnet in the area for all events Jewish, garnering national attention in 2003 when it won the Gold Solomon Schecter Award.
“When we were catering a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding, invariably people would come in the kitchen and beg us for a recipe for this or that dish,” said Wasser. “We would tell them we were thrilled they loved the dish, but we were really sorry, and promised that when Risé and I retired, we would write a cookbook.”
Retirement might mean leisure to some, but for these two the work was just beginning. Fortunately they had enthusiastic assistance from almost 150 congregants as well as local businesses who signed on to donate recipes and test them and work on the cover, art (over 200 luscious photographs), layout, publicity, etc. – all the myriad of details it takes to put a project like this together.
“This cookbook touched a nerve in the community,” said Routenberg. “All the proceeds go to education, and in our synagogue that means everyone from age three to 103. We are somewhat unique in that our synagogue does not charge for religious education. We feel that the onus is not just on those who have children; it is on everyone.”
Worthy as this cause is, there are far better reasons that every kosher cook should have this cookbook, although Wasser is quick to point out that "this book is for everyone who loves cooking, eating and entertaining, not just for those who keep kosher." Over 400 tried-and-true recipes, from treasured family collections as well as the synagogue’s catering archive, are easy to follow and reflect a wide range of traditional and contemporary American and international favorites.
Sure, you’ll find chicken soup, tzimmes and latkes, but also Black Bean Stuffed Cabbage, Asparagus-Smoked Salmon Strudel, Seared Tuna with Wasabi Sauce, Chicken Satay, Dijon Crusted Lamb, Goat Cheese Terrine and dozens and dozens of decadent desserts from Bourbon-Pecan Pie to Chocolate Dipped Peppermint Patties, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Cheese Cheesecake and Triple-Layer Chocolate Mousse Cake.
“The book also addresses what a lot of cookbooks don’t,” noted Routenberg. “There are recipes for vegetarians and those who are lactose intolerant, and every kosher cook is always looking for really great pareve recipes.”
“It used to be that when people talked about pareve pastries, they weren’t as tasty as the dairy variations,” added Wasser. “These pareve recipes, from main courses to sides to desserts – you would be hard pressed to know the difference. If you placed our pareve rugelach side by side with the cream cheese variety, you would not know it was pareve. We’ve finessed these recipes with nondairy ingredients and flavoring agents so they’re not just substitutes for the real thing – they’re really good!”
Cooks will especially appreciate the traditional and updated sample menus for Shabbat and the Jewish holidays and the tips for entertaining large groups that evolved from years of catering experience.
“Start warming everything up much earlier than you think is necessary,” advised Wasser. “Cover your dishes well and warm them at 350. Then turn the heat down to 250. We have found you won’t dry things out, but if your dish does need a little extra moisture, add a little water and rotate the dishes in and out of the oven.
“Most of our recipes you can prepare and freeze ahead. Keep last minute things to a minimum so that you can relax and enjoy your company.”