The blast of the shofar is the signal -- the alarm -- that the Days of Awe, the ten-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, has begun. This is a time of serious introspection and soul-searching, because everything done during this time period can affect the outcome of the year to come. It is a time to heal hurts, offer apologies, mend misunderstandings, and right wrongs. It is also a time to increase acts of kindness and charity. If our efforts are undertaken with a sincere heart, then God will look on us favorably and inscribe us in the Book of Life for another year. This process, called teshuvah, which means "return," allows us to return to our best true selves and to embark on the New Year with a clean slate. * The Days of Awe begin with Rosh Hashanah, meaning literally the "head of the year," on the first of Tishrei. It is the crown jewel of the Jewish calendar, marking the beginning of the Jewish New Year and the birthday of the world. * Rosh Hashanah is a delicious time of families and friends coming together. Family meals. Crunchy apple slices dipped in honey, as wishes for a sweet New Year. Fat, fragrant round challahs, sometimes studded with sweet raisins, just begging to be pulled apart and passed around. Kosher markets struggle to fill the many orders for fresh briskets of beef, and granddaughters thumb through old recipes for tzimmes, the Ashkenazi sweet potato, prune, and carrot side dish. Pomegranates, the traditional first fruit, are served so that we may do as many good deeds as there are seeds within the fruit. * The Jewish world is bright and joyous; even the fruits and vegetables served are vividly hued -- oranges, carrots, the many varieties of apples. Whatever traditions you opt to embrace or decide to create, make sure your Rosh Hashanah is bright, light, and sweet.
New Year Cards
This is one of the holidays during which Jewish people send greeting cards to friends and family. Card companies have gotten much more creative in recent years with their Rosh Hashanah cards, selling them singly or by the pack, but why not try your hand at making your family's own? They're much more personal, and recipients will treasure them more, knowing the effort and creativity that went into each card.
New Year's cards may be sent before Rosh Hashanah up until the beginning of Sukkot, so you have a couple of weeks to get them into the mail. Ours are made from both blank cards from the stationery store and colored paper that can be cut to the desired size. Quality art supply stores also sell handmade papers, some with flower petals or fiber pieces pressed right in. They're a beautiful canvas for handmade cards.
Open House Buffet
Our Rosh Hashanah open house buffet is short on prep time, long on pleasure. The spirit of the Jewish New Year permeates your home. The talk is relaxed and unhurried. The food is abundant yet simple. And a menu like this allows you to enjoy this special time with the people you love, not careening back and forth from the kitchen to the dining room. Here, we've created ideas for an easily elegant buffet table, headlining food that needn't be eaten at a sit-down meal, foods prepared days ahead, using a vibrant tumble of vegetables from the summer's rich harvest.
We've loaded our table with garden treasures: a heady eggplant dip, a mélange of crudités, and traditional challah-turned-bruschetta. The cognac-laced chopped liver is a dense, surprisingly delicious treat, and tiny apple honey tartlets blend the season's celebrity fruit with the symbolic sweetness of honey. Consider jugs of cold local cider, and keep a crock of long cinnamon sticks nearby.
Some extra perks for you: Except for the tartlets, the foods on our buffet needn't be heated, totally eliminating panic time. This is intentional -- Rosh Hashanah services at different synagogues end at different times, which means that your guests don't arrive en masse. Each element of this light luncheon fails into the finger food category -- enough to satisfy, never to overfill, since many of your guests will be going on to traditional multicourse family dinners later in the day.
The setting is up to you, but we've chosen earthy autumn colors. As a centerpiece, you might want to use pomegranates -- a seasonal "first fruit" -- in an attractive glass bowl. These dry beautifully and look great in the house all year long. If your buffet is set up in a room with a fireplace, try this for the mantle -- scoop out a large oblong gourd or overgrown zucchini, tuck in some florists' foam, and insert bittersweet.
If you live near a body of fresh running water that contains fish, take a walk after the meal to experience tashlich. This is the ceremony of reciting prayers and throwing bread crumbs into the water as a symbolic casting away of our transgressions so we might make a fresh start for the New Year. This ceremony teaches us that, just as a fish's eyes are always open, so is God always watching over us and waiting for us to resolve that we will not repeat our sins. Then, like the water, our sins will also move on. Tashlich is a beautiful tradition, and one that children especially love. Adults find something very cleansing about the ceremony, which binds us to nature and reminds us that we are all part of the Creator's world.
Herbed Challah Bruschetta
Cognac Chopped Liver
Mediterranean Eggplant Spread
Harvest Tomato Compote
Roasted Beet Relish
Apple and Honey Tartlets
Nana's Basic Mandel Bread
Crudités with Dip
HERBED CHALLAH BRUSCHETTA
1 large challah
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
2. Cut challah into 1/2-inch slices and cut each slice diagonally into 4 pieces.
3. Mix oil, seasoning, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Place challah on a baking sheet and brush the pieces with the oil mixture. Bake for 5-8 minutes or until golden. Turn pieces over and brush remaining side. Bake for an additional 3-4 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool. Repeat with remaining pieces.
* Any type of challah will work. We prefer a pullman style because you get even pieces.
* This can be made ahead of time and kept in an airtight container or Ziploc bag.
* Any type of dried seasoning will work, such as sage, thyme, rosemary, or chives.
COGNAC CHOPPED LIVER
MAKES 2 CUPS
1 pound chicken livers Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 cup minced shallots
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon cognac
2 hard-boiled eggs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat broiler to high.
2. Chicken livers need to be kashered -- salt livers on all sides. Place on a broiler pan, on a screen-type rack so that blood can drip off.
3. Broil chicken livers for 4-5 minutes or until blood has exuded. Wash salt away.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté shallots for 6-8 minutes or until golden. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add chicken livers and 1/4 cup cognac. Let simmer for 12-15 minutes over medium-high heat, until liquid has evaporated and livers are cooked through.
5. Transfer mixture to a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process liver mixture, eggs, and remaining oil until smooth. Remove mixture to a bowl and fold in parsley and chives. Splash with 1 tablespoon cognac. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
6. Serve with herbed challah bruschetta.
MEDITERRANEAN EGGPLANT SPREAD
1 large eggplant
4 cloves roasted garlic
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pitted, chopped Kalamata olives
2 tablespoons chopped sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat grill or broiler. Place whole eggplant on grill or under broiler, turning often, until all sides are charred. Cool eggplant, peel skin, and remove pulp.
2. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, process eggplant, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil until smooth. Fold in olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill for 30 minutes.
3. Serve with matzo crackers.
HARVEST TOMATO COMPOTE
This can be made in advance and frozen. Omit the herbs when cooking and add just before serving.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups diced red onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced
1/3 cup shredded basil
1/3 cup chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped oregano
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a large sauté pan with oil, add onions, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and tomatoes and cook for 15-18 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated.
2. Stir in herbs and capers; cook until heated through.
3. Splash with vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
* Serve with toasted challah.
* Substitute half yellow tomatoes if in season.
ROASTED BEET RELISH
5 large beets (approximately 3 pounds), tops removed and scrubbed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large navel oranges
f0 1 teaspoon chopped orange zest
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking dish with aluminum foil.
2. Toss beets in vegetable oil. Season with salt and pepper and place in baking dish. Roast in preheated oven for 1 hour 15 minutes or until beets are fork tender. Remove and cool.
3. Peel beets and cut into small dice. Place in a large mixing bowl Remove the skin and membrane of the oranges, cut into sections, and dice. Add oranges, orange zest, scallions, and tarragon to beets. Toss to combine.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar and mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil, fold in parsley, and season with salt and pepper. Pour over beet mixture and toss to coat. Cover and chill for 1 hour or overnight if desired.
* Serve with pita or toasted challah.
* Beet will stain your hands badly, so wear rubber gloves.
APPLE AND HONEY TARTLETS
MAKES 36 TARTLETS
This can be made ahead and frozen.
8 tablespoons margarine
4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup currants
12 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Heat a large pan with 2 tablespoons margarine. Sauté apples over medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes or until slightly golden and soft. Add cinnamon and honey and continue cooking for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in walnuts and currants. Cool mixture slightly.
3. Melt remaining margarine. On a clean work surface, place down one sheet of phyllo. Brush liberally with margarine and repeat with 3 more sheets, brushing the top sheet. Cut phyllo into 12 even pieces. Place margarine side of each square down in a mini-muffin tin.
4. Fill each square with a heaping teaspoon of filling. Gather the sides of the squares in the center (as if you were making a beggar's purse) and push down to seal. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.
5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.
* When working with phyllo, keep unused dough well covered so as not to dry out.
* Always defrost phyllo overnight in the refrigerator.
* We usually buy 2 boxes of phyllo when making a recipe because sometimes you get a box where the dough is stuck together.
* If you freeze tartlets, reheat them on a baking sheet in a 400°F oven for 10-12 minutes or until warm.
NANA'S BASIC MANDEL BREAD
MAKES A LOT
Because of the large quantity, this freezes beautifully!
7 large eggs
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
8 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
8 ounces chopped walnuts
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a large-bowl combine eggs, sugar, oil, and juices. In a separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, and walnuts. Fold dry ingredients into wet and mix until combined.
3. Shape into 5 even logs and place on an ungreased jelly-roll pan. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until golden.
4. In a small bowl mix sugar and cinnamon. Cut logs into 1/2-inch slices and dip in cinnamon-sugar. Place standing up on a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Turn oven off and let stand for a few hours.
A new twist for Rosh Hashanah: the honey tasting. Set up a separate table at your open house buffet just for honey tasting. We had some fun with the table covering -- using a permanent-ink pad from the craft store to rubber stamp plain, inexpensive fabric (unbleached muslin is perfect) with a whimsical bee stamp. Beautiful jars of flavored honeys share the table with honey straws for the children, baskets of challah chunks (plain and raisin), and bowls of apples. Use a variety of apples for color and taste -- green Granny Smiths, red Macs, yellow Delicious, blushing Fujis. Remember to keep accompaniments simple and of a fairly neutral flavor -- to serve as palate cleansers between one honey and the next. Serve with big mugs of dark-roast coffee.
The tastes of honey are heady, complex, and varied.
Gourmet shops, natural-food stores, and farmer's markets in recent years have begun to offer dozens of honeys that vary in flavor and texture from sunny and light to dark, dense, and rich, some even with hues of red and green. The differences in taste, texture, and color depend on the kind of nectar the bees have been collecting, and there are as many subtle flavors of honey as there are plant nectar sources. (A little nature trivia with which to dazzle your guests: Did you know that bee must tap the nectar of two million flowers to produce one pound of honey?) Finally, stump your kosher-conversant friends with the fact that honey is the only kosher food that comes from a nonkosher animal. The reason for this? The bee is concentrating flower nectar into honey for the hive -- honey is not a product of the bee's body.
Now for the handling of honey. Temperature is very important. The delicate bouquet and fine flavor of honey are vulnerable to heat and improper storage. Excessive heat should be avoided -- the damaging effects of heat on honeys can produce an "off" flavor. Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight, or the liquid honey will become granulated. If this happens, simply microwave for two or three minutes, stirring every thirty seconds, or so, until the honey is smooth again, good as new.
A Brief Honey Primer
Orange Blossom Honey
This honey is found everywhere, with a mild taste and golden color. Many of these honeys come from the nectars of tropical citrus trees, including orange, grapefruit, and tangerine, and most of these honeys are produced in Texas, Florida, and California.
Strong, aromatic, and bright yellow in color, this honey comes from the basic backyard dandelion plant.
A strongly flavored, robust honey that comes from the eucalyptus tree, an Australian import. This honey is produced mostly in California and the South.
This is one of the most commercially popular of all honeys. With a mild taste and a brandy coloring, it comes from the red, white, and sweet yellow clover vetches, or tiny blossoms.
This comes from Canada and the United States. Mild and light, alfalfa honey is one of the most commonly sold commercial varieties.
Black Locust Honey
Strong, aromatic, and very bright yellow in color, this honey comes from the black locust plant.
Copyright © 1999 by Rita Milos Brownstein