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Easter

I’m not a religious person. My spiritual beliefs align themselves around The The Golden Rule and a love and respect for the wonder of the world around me. While I’m not much for organized religion, I do love tradition and family history, which has clearly been influenced by my religious heritage.

That is why I love spring. My Christian upbringing provides me with an understanding of and respect for the rituals of Lent, Holy Week and Easter. My Jewish extended family gives me an appreciation of the significance of Passover. In the end, for me spring is a time of renewal and joy, rich with tradition. It’s a perfect time to celebrate with family and friends.

Over the years my family has created and refined our own version of a spring fete. We honor our combined personal history in a mash-up of longstanding traditions. Call it what you will — Passter, Eastover, or even Beltane — it’s a time when we gather to be together around a table laden with food, a time to welcome green grass and spring flowers, and revel in the spirit of rebirth and reawakening.

Most of the food I make holds years of memories, but we often introduce something new to see if it makes the cut. (We do the same with people. If they embrace the spirit of the gathering, they’re invited back. If it all seems too unorthodox, they usually run screaming to the nearest church or synagog.)

cupcakechoppedliver

The meal starts with chopped liver, served on matzo. I’ve used my own tweaked version of The Barefoot Contessa’s recipe forever. It’s divine!

What am I, chopped liver? Yup!

Next up, matzo ball soup. I always have home made chicken stock on hand. Whenever I roast a chicken, which is often, I make a pot of soup after. I throw the roasted chicken bones, skin, neck, gizzards, chopped carrots, onions, celery, a head of garlic, salt, pepper, rosemary, maybe some thyme and a cup or two of white wine into a stock pot. Then I cover it all with water, bring to a boil and then simmer. For a long, long time. Strain and voila! Perfect chicken stock.

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Chicken Soup. It makes me happy.

Into the chicken soup I float lovely, pillowy matzo balls, the making of which is demonstrated here.

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Matzo, matzo ball, I’m proud to be a matzo ball.

Next up, the Main Event. It’s always a perfectly roasted chicken. Or two. Or three. Depending on the numbers. Life is hard. Perfectly roasted chicken is easy. Start with a great quality bird. I’m a fan of Bell & Evans. Preheat oven to 425º. Rinse, pat dry and place in a roasting pan. Put half a lemon and two or three cloves of garlic in the cavity. Slide a few more garlic cloves under the skin on the breast and thighs. Give your bird a little shower in white wine. Have a glass for yourself. Sprinkle lovingly with sea salt and course ground pepper. Give you bird a little chicken broth to sit in while it’s cooking. That’s it.

I cook my bird faster and shorter than most, but it’s done when the internal temperature reaches 180º.

Whole roasted chicken with garlic, rosemary and carving knife

Life is hard. Perfectly roasted chicken is easy.

The bird is served with fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy made from those yummy pan drippings. Also on the plate are bright green beans sauteed with bits of salty pancetta. Definitely NOT Kosher for Passover.

Dessert is often the wild card of the Spring Fling. This year, because I am obsessed with Cabot Vanilla Greek Yogurt, I decided to make Vanilla Cupcakes with Greek Yogurt Buttercream Icing. I’m not much of a baker, but these were off-the-hook delicious.

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Light and tasty: Vanilla Greek Yogurt Cupcakes with Vanilla Greek Yogurt Buttercream Icing. Oy!

At this particular celebration, the Christians outnumbered the Jews and the non-observant outnumbered them both. But we were united in our feelings of celebration…of spring, of life, of each other.

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April is another one of those months where the complex cultural nature of my family comes into play. We’ll be celebrating both Passover and Easter with equal enthusiasm, especially at the holiday table. I wanted to create a substantial and seasonal side dish that would work for both occasions – and many others, for that matter. I wanted to be able to make something ahead of time so that I could pop it in the oven when people started gathering and it would be ready to eat when we were.

Combining my favorite ingredients and getting a little creative about the crust, I came up with a medley of vegetables on a crust of crumbled matzo, known as farfel, to make this Torta Primavera.

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Torta Primavera

2 cups farfel

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 tbl olive oil

1/2 cup shredded carrots

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 head cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can quartered artichokes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1 cup Cabot Horseradish Cheddar (any Cabot Cheddar will work), shredded

2 eggs

1/4 cup of milk

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The Ingredients

Preheat oven to 375º.  Soak the farfel in cold water for about 10 minutes, then drain and press out excess moisture. In a large bowl, mix farfel with melted butter. In a 9″ pie plate, press the farfel mixture on the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Bake in oven until lightly browned. Set aside.

farfelcrust

Farfel Pie Crust

Take whatever veggies you decide to use. I chopped an onion, used some leftover grated carrots I had from the salad bar, added a can of quartered artichokes, and broke the florets from a small head of cauliflower into tiny pieces. I also minced two cloves of garlic. You may want to only use one, or none at all.

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Veggies!

In a large skillet I heated the olive oil over a medium high flame and sauteed them for about 5 -7 minutes. Then I added the white wine and continued cooking for another 5 – 7 minutes, until most of the wine had absorbed or evaporated. You can easily substitute chicken broth in this step.

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Hooray for the Saute!

Cover the bottom of the farfel crust with half the grated cheddar.  I used Cabot Horseradish because it’s perfect with my Passover menu. Any Cabot Cheddar would work well in this dish. I can’t wait to try it with Seriously Sharp or Garlic and Herb. Then add the cooked and softened veggies. Top them with the remaining cheddar. In a small bowl which the eggs and milk together and pour over the vegetable and cheese mixture. At this point, you can store the pie covered in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours and cook it whenever you’re ready.

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Ready for the Oven

Place in the center rack of the oven and cook for about a half an hour until the top is golden brown and bubbly.

This is a lovely side dish, which with small slices will serve 8 or 10. It would also make a delicious vegetarian entree serving 4 or 5.

farfelcooked

Torta Primavera. Positively Perfect for Passover…or Easter

Don’t be afraid to mix it up and try your favorite veggies. Next time I plan to use zucchini, spinach and tomatoes. I think the combination of artichokes and sun dried tomatoes would be pretty fabulous, too.

Let your imagination guide your torta!

matzodreams

In 8th grade, I moved to a new city and was enrolled in a fancy private school. I was shy, awkward, and trying to figure out how I was going to fit in. Day one found me in my burgundy blazer, gray flannel skirt and knee socks, cowering in the girls’ bathroom. That first day I was rescued by a classmate who took me under her wing. With her big blue eyes and a head capped with blond curls, my new best friend, Lynnie, looked like an angel, but was full of the devil.  That year, and for many to come, we found countless ways to get into trouble.

Lynnie was my first Jewish friend. Though her family wasn’t particularly observant, they introduced me to magical new foods. It was a year of firsts for me. My first pastrami sandwich, my first sip (and then some) of Manischewitz wine, and, yes, my first encounter with matzo. We smeared it with thin layers of chopped liver on Friday nights and crumbled it into eggs for a breakfast of matzo brie. And on rainy Saturdays, Lynnie’s mother would melt chocolate chips and let us dip pieces of matzo into the melted, molten depths. Sometimes we squeezed mini-marshmallows in between the chocolaty layers, making impromptu matzo s’mores.

Last week, Foodista sent out an email blast with recipes for Passover. In it was a dessert recipe for Caramel Matzo Crunch, a treat that instantly brought me back to 8th grade. I decided to recreate a bit of my past and see if I could improve on it. After all, my own multi-culti family has Jewish roots and our Passover celebrations are some of our happiest memories. I am always on the lookout for new foods for the holiday.

To make these Matzo Dreams, I started with Yehuda Matzos, my favorite brand, imported from Jerusalem.

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I placed a layer of matzos on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

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In a sauce pan over medium heat, I melted a firmly packed cup of brown sugar and a cup of Cabot Salted Butter, stirring until the sugar was completely dissolved, about 5 minutes.

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I poured the caramel sauce over the matzos, spreading it evenly. The caramel-covered matzo went into a 375º oven, cooking for about 8 minutes, until bubbly. I watched it carefully, making sure it didn’t burn.

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Next, I spread 6 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate chips over the hot caramel. On a whim, I put a few mini-marshmallows on one corner of the baking sheet. The heat from the caramel melted the chocolate chips and softened the marshmallows. I spread the chocolate evenly over the caramel covered matzos.

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After the chocolate was spread, I refrigerated the matzo on the baking sheet for about a half hour, then broke up the sheets of matzo into small pieces.

In addition to the marshmallows, my twist on this recipe was a sprinkling of Maldon Sea Salt Flakes. The combination of rich chocolate, sweet caramel and delicate flakes of salt covering the crispy matzo is a dessert that is, at once, simple and sophisticated – a happy memory punctuated with a hint of salt.

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Covered in caramel and chocolate, dotted with marshmallows, and kissed with flakes of sea salt, these Matzo Dreams are the perfect end to a Passover…or Easter…feast.

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