Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pray, fast, eat

Yom Kippur is one of those holidays that makes me think about food. It's not supposed to do that, of course. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and it's a holiday that should get you thinking about confessing, forgiving and atoning, making peace with the people you love, trying to reconcile your feelings for the the people you used to love and don't really love anymore but are still thinking about, making plans to be kinder to your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues, and eventually, hopefully, forgiving yourself, even if you've made some mistakes that you shouldn't necessarily be forgiven for.

You're not supposed to eat on Yom Kippur, and there are many reasons for that, but I think the main one is that when you fast, your feelings are heightened. Your stomach grumbles and you think a lot. You think about the things you said that you wished that you could take back, the people you complained about or ignored, the events you skipped, the games you only half-watched, the invitations you tossed, the comments you rolled your eyes at. With fasting, comes forgiveness. When you're sitting for long stretches of time on a wooden pew in the same place with a prayer book in your lap, listening to the cantor sing and the rabbi speak, you end up (metaphorically) in a different place. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you end up with a sense of peace.

That all sounds very high-minded so I'll just confess right here that I often end the day thinking about how famished I am and wondering how many calories I've burned fidgeting. Around 4:30, I start to wonder when I can go home, heat up the casseroles, make a pot of decaf, take the platters of lox, white fish, tuna, egg salad, herring and chopped liver out of the basement refrigerator, set them out on the dining room table and wait for company to come. Thank God, they do. Friends, relatives, neighbors, gather around the table at the end of the day, exhausted, hungry and grateful for a wide range of things, one of which is that the fast is over.

I love a good break fast. We started hosting them years ago when I realized they were an easy, fast way to have a dinner party that I didn't have to do much for. I'd order cold platters of bagels, fish, and cheese the day before the holiday, let the guests bring fruit and dessert, and call it a day. Then, five years ago, my friend Wendy and I got puppies within a few weeks of each other. We started spending time in her back yard, talking about food and kids while the dogs played. Wendy is an excellent and generous cook and one morning, she started describing her mother's challah soufflé. She said it was really easy and gave me the recipe. It was easy and my husband and kids loved it, so ever since then, I've been cooking that, plus other casseroles and kugels, for break fast. I don't make anything fancy or l0w-cal and I don't make anything that can't be made or frozen several days before. You won't lose weight eating any of these dishes but at the end of a fast, you're thinking about expanding your belly, not shrinking it.

This morning, my neighbor and I went for a run. We started talking about what we've been talking about all week: What we were making for break fast. My neighbor then asked me what I was making for dinner tonight. Uh, nothing. Okay, macaroni and cheese out of the box. My neighbor said she'd bought a huge piece of salmon at Costco. Did I want half? I sure did. She offered to marinate it first. Bring it on, sister.

I spent a couple of hours making my mother-in-law Dorothy's sweet potato casserole and a potato-and-onion casserole that calls for fresh, chopped rosemary (a call you should answer), which comes from Jayne Cohen's excellent cook book The Gefilte Variations. Then I went to pick up my younger son from school and while I was gone, my neighbor let herself in the back door and left a dish of marinated salmon in the refrigerator. I broiled it for five minutes on each side. It was one of the most delicious pieces of salmon I've ever eaten. It would also work beautifully served cold for break fast. All I can say to my neighbor is thank you. Her recipe works for any religion and will make you a true believer in the power of buying vast quantities of fresh fish from Costco and sharing it.

Laura K.'s Costco Salmon
Salmon (2 pounds)
Lemon juice
Soy Sauce
Olive Oil
Combine equal quantities of moist ingredients, then add a little garlic powder. Marinade salmon for two hours. Broil for five minutes on each side.

Wendy's Challah Soufflee
3/4 pounds cheddar cheese, sliced from the deli
9 eggs
3 cups milk
1/4 pound melted butter
12 slices stale challah

Beat eggs, mix with milk and melted butter.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cube challah and lay half the cubes in a greased baking dish.
Layer some of the sliced cheese on top. Alternate layers of cheese and challah.
Pour milk/egg/butter liquid over challah/cheese.
Let set overnight.
Bake uncovered in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45-60 minutes. Should be golden brown and only slightly wet.

Onion-Crusted Light Potato Kugel
1 1/2 pounds onions (6 cups), thinly sliced
Salt, pepper
6 tablespoons oil, with additional for drivingly at the end
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
6 large or 8 medium russett (baking) potatoes
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon baking powder
1-2 tablespoons fresh, chopped rosemary

Separate onions into rings. Toss in a large bowl with 2 teaspoons salt and set aside for 20 minutes so moisture is extracted. Turn onions from time to time. Dry onions between sheets of paper towels or kitchen towels, pressing down to soak up liquid,

In a large frying pan, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 15-20 minutes until golden brown. Add salt and pepper.

Dice two large or three small potatoes in Cuisinart or with hand grader, and place in a saucepan of salted a water. Bring to a boil an, then simmer until potatoes are tender. Mash potatoes, and place in large bowl Stir in half the fried oven, setting the other half of the onions aside for later,

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Grate remaining potatoes. Place potatoes in colander and then rise with cold water to remove starch. Add these potatoes to the other potatoes.

Beat eggs in another bowl until thick and light. Whisk in baking powder, combine eggs with potatoes and season generously with salt and pepper.

Pour 1-2 tablespoons of oil into each casserole dish (use ceramic or metal, not glass.) Rub oil around bottom and sides of dishes and place both dishes in oven until hot (about a minute.) Remove dishes from oven. Transfer potatoes to casserole dishes, spread out with spatula and top with fried onions Sprinkle with rosemary and a few drops of olive oil.

Put casserole dishes on top shelf of oven and cook for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. After 30 minutes, turn heat down to 350 degrees and continue baking for 25-40 minutes longer until onions are crunchy and dark on top.


2 cups (one large can) of sweet potatoes
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk (I used skim)
3/4 stick butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/3 cup brown sugar
3/4 stick melted butter
3/4 cup mashed graham crackers

Set oven for 400 degrees.
Mash sweet potatoes in food processor. Mix together sweet potatoes, butter, milk, sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon. Grease a casserole dish and pour in filling. Cook for twenty minutes.

While casserole is cooking, make the topping. (If you don't want to use graham crackers, just mix the brown sugar with the butter and pour it on top of the casserole). Mix the graham crackers with butter and brown sugar, take casserole out of the oven and cook for 10 more minutes.

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