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A bagel is naked without a good schmear. The word schmear comes from the Yiddish word “to spread.” In the world of bagels and brunch a schmear has come to mean cream cheese or other, usually cream cheese-based, spreads for bagels.
This quartet of schmears has something for everyone: There’s a vegetarian, smoked salmon, egg & arugula and a sweet schmear. They are perfect to bring to a Shavuot brunch for a crowd or make one or two for a family meal. Dairy plays a central role on Shavuot because the holiday commemorates the revelation of the Torah. The Torah brings with it the rules of Kashrut (Kosher laws) and since it was given on Shabbat there could be no cattle slaughtered, so it would have been a dairy day. The Torah is also a symbol of nourishment like milk for a baby. Although dairy is the base for all four of these schmears, they are each very different, easy to whip up and full of flavor.
There are four schmears because each schmear is made with 1/2 block of cream cheese. You can also make three schmears and leave 1/2 a block of cream cheese plain for the picky eaters at the table.
Salted Lemon and Smoked Salmon Schmear
2. In a small bowl, put the room temperature cream cheese.
3. Slice the smoked salmon into long, thin strips and then slice them again into little cubes.
4. Add the lemon zest and salt to the cream cheese and mash it together with a fork.
5. Once the zest is thoroughly mixed into the cream cheese, carefully mix in the minced smoked salmon. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Vegetarian Tomato Schmear
This can be made vegan with vegan mayonnaise and vegan cream cheese.
2. Sprinkle Kosher salt over the minced tomato.
3. In a small bowl, add mayonnaise and with a rasp or smallest side of a box grater, grate garlic into the mayonnaise. You can also use a garlic press. Mix garlic into the mayonnaise.
4. Add the room temperature cream cheese into the garlic mayonnaise. Mash it all together with a fork until it is uniformly mixed.
5. Mince white onion, about the same size as the tomato. Mix the onion into the cream cheese and then carefully stir in the minced tomato and black pepper. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Eggs and Arugula Schmear
1. Hard boil two eggs. I like to use the J. Kenji Lopez-Alt method.
2. With a cheese grater, grate the 2 hard boiled eggs into a bowl. Add in salt, sour cream and mustard and mix together. With a fork, mash in the cream cheese. Toss in black pepper (freshly ground if possible).
3. Chop about 1 cup of baby arugula, for 3/4 cup of chopped arugula. I like to hold a small bunch of leaves and with kitchen shears, snip the arugula into the egg and cream cheese mixture. Stir together gently until combined. Serve immediately or chill and serve.
Sweet Schmear with Ginger & Blueberries
The last 1/2 block of cream cheese can be left plain or you can play a little with it for something sweet. I chose to add sugar and ginger.
Mash the sugar into the cream cheese with a fork. Grate the ginger into the mixture and serve with a bowl of fresh blueberries.
Shavuot. The “Festival of Weeks.” If ever there was a confusing holiday (Shmini Atzeret aside), Shavuot is it. The definition of “Shavuot” alone is confusing enough. Festival of Weeks? Who wants to celebrate a festival of weeks!? That said, if ever there was an example of why one should never judge anything by its name alone, Shavuot is such an example.
So what are we celebrating, exactly? First, there is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai (kind of a big deal). Then there is the completion of the counting of the Omer (the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, thus, “Festival of WEEKS”). The counting of the Omer reminds us of the important connection between Passover and Shavuot: Passover freed the Jews physically from bondage, but the giving of the Torah on Shavuot redeemed the Jews spiritually from bondage to idolatry and immorality. But I always wonder, have we really been “freed” from our bondage to idolatry? I’m gonna go with a hard, “NO” on that one.
In my role as a high school counselor, I am often meeting and talking with students about their personal expectations. Too often, adolescents (and their parents, for that matter) have expectations for themselves that are not remotely attainable. Whether it’s trying to fit their body or personal image to that of a celebrity or the pursuit of academic perfection, I would argue that we are still very much bound to worshiping of idols. As a society, we have given so much power to fame and perfection, it is worshiped as truth. Adolescents “follow” celebrities and try in vain to emulate their lifestyle in such a way that they are willing to risk their financial status and physical, mental and emotional health. If that’s not worshiping of an idol, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of worship, Shavuot has recently become of my most favorite holidays due to the foods that are traditionally eaten on this day: dairy foods and spring/summer veggies and fruit. I’m talking foods such as cheesecakes and fresh green salads and gorgeous, ripe fruit. It’s a time of newness and of a re-commitment to learning and spirituality. I dream of hosting a huge picnic in a kibbutz sometime, the sun shining down upon my family and friends and eating salads and cakes until we feel we’re about to burst! One of the cakes I’ll be offering up during a meal this Shavuot is this gorgeous Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake. Not only does it lend itself to a beautiful presentation, it just so happens to taste good as well. A double threat, if you will.
Semolina Cara Cara Orange Cake
Candied Orange Peel with Syrup Topping:
1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bring sugar, honey, cardamom and 3 cups water to a boil in a medium heavy saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add orange slices.
2. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer, turning orange slices occasionally until tender and syrup is reduced to 3 1/4 cups, about 40 minutes.
3. Arrange orange slices in a single layer on prepared baking sheet; remove cardamom pods and seeds. Strain syrup.
DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover syrup and orange slices separately; chill. Return orange slices to room temperature and rewarm syrup slightly before using.
Ingredients for Cake
Directions for Cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
2. Place the butter in a small bowl and melt in the microwave. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine together the sugar and yogurt. Now add in the semolina, baking powder and milk. Finally stir in the melted butter and let the mixture sit briefly so that the butter is absorbed.
4. Transfer the semolina mixture into a lightly greased 9″-round cake pan or baking dish. Bake for about 40-45 minutes.
5. Pierce the hot cake all over with a metal skewer. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup warm syrup all over. When syrup is absorbed, slowly pour 3/4 cup more syrup over the top. Reserve remaining syrup for serving. Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack. Once cool, run a thin knife around edge of pan to release cake. Remove pan sides. Arrange candied orange slices over top.
Some people have strong feelings about the kind of recipe that aims to create a Passover-friendly version of a dish that is typically leavened. Detractors think creating Passover bagels, muffins, and rolls miss the point of the holiday’s specific diet. Those in favor see the practice as helping to make a difficult holiday more bearable. Some will even point to foods like Passover Popovers as an example of Jewish ingenuity.
Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t see the point suffering through a week of “I can’t believe you want to call this a bagel.” (But hey, if you can convince yourself that whatever you’ve come up with tastes like a bagel, more power to you. I’ll have eggs for breakfast this week.) On the other hand, when the introduction of matzah into a dish creates a delightful new twist on an old favorite, I’m all for it.
This brings us to Matzah Kugel, a sweet, dairy-filled confection of matzah layered with sweetened cheese. Sure, you could make a kugel with Passover noodles and come up with an almost-but-not-quite-satisfying proxy for the regular version, but you will never forget that it’s not the “real” thing. Matzah kugel, on the other hand, takes the idea of a noodle kugel as a jumping off point and transforms it into something different but equally delicious.
This dish can function as a side dish or a main course. (It pairs well with a side salad and a piece of gefilte fish.) You can freeze leftover portions: they reheat well in the microwave and even make a delicious and quick breakfast when you just can’t take one more piece of matzah with cream cheese.
Cheese Matzah Kugel for Passover
2. Add cottage cheese, salt, sugar, cinnamon, and butter and mix to combine thoroughly.
3. Grease an 8 inch square baking dish with butter.
4. Arrange half of the matzah so that it covers the bottom of the dish.
5. Pour half of the cheese mixture over it. Repeat with balance of the matzah and cheese mixture. If you wish, sprinkle additional cinnamon and sugar over the top of the kugel.
6. Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes or until set.
Comfort food comes in many different shapes and forms. Each culture, each tradition, each household, each individual has a dish that is comforting to them. Comfort foods tend to be soft, warm and not overly seasoned. This Italian gnocchi al forno takes the flavors of a Jewish comfort food: matzoh ball soup, and puts them into a warm, oven-baked, cheesy, saucy dish.
This is made with pre-made gnocchi so it is a quick and easy recipe for any day of the week. The lemon adds brightness to the rich sauce. Italians understand the glory of this fruit and as Italian poet Eugenio Montale wrote: “… now it’s our turn, us poor ones, to have a share of riches/ and it’s the scent of the lemon.”
Lemon Dill Gnocchi al Forno with Roasted Carrots
1. Preheat the oven to 375℉. While the oven is heating up, put a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Peel the carrots and leave them whole. Line a cookie sheet or roasting pan with parchment. Put the carrots on the parchment and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of salt.
2. Roast the carrots in the oven for 30-45 minutes.
3. Once the water comes to a boil, put the gnocchi into the boiling water. The gnocchi take 3-5 minutes to cook. Once the gnocchi float to the top of the water, they are cooked. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and put them on a plate or baking dish.
4. Grate the mozzarella. Chop the kale into thin slices. Set both aside. Once the carrots come out of the oven, raise the temperature to 400℉.
5. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the dill to the butter and let the butter cook a little until it is nice and foamy.
Add in the flour and mix it together until you have a paste. Cook the paste in the pan for a few minutes.
Once the paste begins to bubble a little at the edges, add in 1/2 cup of wine, stir and cook down for 3-4 minutes. Add in the zest of 1/4-1/2 a lemon. Then 1 cup at a time, add in the whole milk.
Stir together until the sauce thickens and the flour paste is incorporated. Add in the cheese and stir until the cheese melts completely.
6. In a large baking dish, or several small dishes, put a layer of kale into the bottom of the dish. Top with a layer of gnocchi and then pour a generous amount of the cheese sauce over top. Top the cheese with some freshly ground pepper.
7. Cook the lemon and dill gnocchi al forno uncovered for 30-40 minutes. The sauce will bubble and caramelize slightly. Serve the gnocchi with a side of roasted carrots, and a glass of chilled white wine.
Food pathways show the influence on recipes from region to region and neighbor to neighbor. In Germany, a recipe for gingerbread men was adapted and adopted by Eastern European Jews to make Zimsterne, or “star” cookies to be served at the end of Shabbat after Havdalah services. Containing the spices found in the Bisomim box used during the close of Shabbat service, the symbolism was to take the sweetness of Shabbat with you into the coming week.
With the holiday season coming up and relatives visiting, this cookie is the perfect bridge between Jewish tradition and Christmas cookie baking. Everyone will enjoy the treat and you can share two celebrations with all family members at one time. Best of all, everyone can help make these soft spice cookies or, you can make them in advance. They keep very well in an airtight container and their flavor gets better, as all spice cookies do, with age.
Makes 4 or more dozen depending on size of cookie
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup honey
5 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ tsp. ground ginger
Confectioner’s sugar for rolling out dough
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tbsp. milk
1. Cream the butter and the sugar together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until mixture gets lighter in color. Beat in the honey.
2. Combine the baking soda and spices with 1 cup of the flour. Set aside.
3. With the mixer on low speed, gradually add the remaining 4 cups of flour, mixing well to form a thick dough. If your mixer is powerful, use it to add the reserved cup of flour and spices until well combined. If not, stir the remaining flour into the dough by hand. Make sure that the mixture is thoroughly combined.
4. Pat dough into a flat round and place in a plastic storage bag or airtight container. Seal and store in the refrigerator for 1 hour or until firm and easy to handle.
6. Cut the dough into star shapes using a cookie cutter, and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow the cookies to cool for 5-10 minutes while you make the icing.
To make the icing:
1. Place the cup of confectioner’s sugar in a 1-quart mixing bowl. Whisk in the vanilla and 1 tablespoon of the milk until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, whisk in some more milk until the mixture resembles mayonnaise in consistency.
2. Using a pastry brush, brush the icing over the tops of the warm cookies and let sit at room temperature until the cookies are cool and the icing is dry and no longer sticky. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, or freeze until later use.