Rosh Hashana inspires dishes for the soul
Personal chef Helen Gottesman of Helen’s Home Cooking prepares a kosher holiday meal. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post)
Before Helen Gottesman looks into the depths of the new year, she glances back to remember the sweetest, most flavorful dishes of her childhood.
The most vivid culinary memory of Rosh Hashanas past: Pflaumenkuchen, her Czech-German grandmother’s special plum tart.
“I remember the smell of the plums. My mother made a couple of dishes wonderfully, and one of them was my grandmother’s plum tart. She would use Italian prune plums. They came into season shortly before Rosh Hashana – and it was a short season,” recalls Gottesman, a New York native who works as a personal chef in Boynton Beach.
This is the great motif of Gottesman’s home cooking – comfort foods that pay homage to family memories. And as the Jewish New Year begins at sunset tonight, ushering in 10 days of reflection and repentance, she will greet it with prayer, introspection and kosher dishes reminiscent of her younger years in the Kew Gardens Hills neighborhood of Queens.
“We would always have the matzo ball soup and, typically, challah,” says Gottesman, 55, who now bakes eight loaves of traditional challah bread at a time.
And because Rosh Hashana exalts the sweetest of foods – as in honey-dipped apples to beckon happiness – there was always a piece of that fragrant, open-face plum tart, a culinary prayer for a sweet life.
Today, in accordance with her Orthodox Jewish faith, Gottesman keeps a kosher kitchen. But “kitchen” is a movable notion for a woman who turned a love of cooking Shabbat dinner for friends – and a knowledge of nutrition and kosher standards – into a small enterprise she calls Helen’s Home Cooking ( helenshomecooking.com).
Usually, she cooks in other people’s kitchens.
“Because I focus on kosher cooking and I keep kosher myself, I’m aware that people are particular about anything that comes into their house,” says Gottesman, who shares her home with husband. Robert, an educator, and 16-year-old son, Adir.
So when she cooked an early Rosh Hashana dinner at a friend’s home on a recent weeknight, Gottesman worked with fresh ingredients her friend had shopped for and brought only the items her friend was missing. While other mobile chefs may carry their own knives and trusty spice kits, she used her friend’s cooking vessels and kitchen utensils.
On the menu that day: one soul-warming comfort dish after another. She roasted a chicken with sweet potatoes, white potatoes and carrots, a sweet noodle kugel with sugar and apples, a batch of almond-flecked green beans, a steaming pot of matzo ball soup and her grandmother’s plum tart.
It’s the kind of cooking that stirs easy conversation with friends and clients.
“If I’m in their kitchen, I hear their food stories, what they like and what they don’t, what their idea of comfort food is. For some, it’s lasagna. You never know. It all depends where and how they grew up,” says Gottesman.
She says a lot of her clients are seniors who don’t cook for themselves anymore. “And they don’t like the takeout places. Typically, what they want is the comfort foods they grew up with,” says the chef.
She dreams of opening a healthy kosher café one day, “a place of coffee, homemade breads and vegetarian items.” But for now she cooks wherever a kitchen welcomes her.
“I love cooking,” says Gottesman. “When I start cooking, I can get a little carried away and my husband tells me, ‘Don’t you realize there are only three of us in this house?'”
PFLAUMENKUCHEN (PLUM TART) WITH MUERBETEIG DOUGH CRUST
TO MAKE THE CRUST:
1 cup margarine
3 cups flour
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Cream margarine and sugar, add flour then egg yolks along with grated rind of lemon along with the juice. Chill dough for at least half an hour and then pat into large pie tin with fingers.
TO MAKE THE PLUM TART:
6-9 Italian prune plums
1 teaspoon sugar
Cut plums into eighths and place them skin side down in the pie pan starting with the outside going halfway up the side. When all of the space is covered, sprinkle with sugar and bake for about 30 minutes at 350º. Tart is done when crust is lightly browned. Allow to cool completely before serving.
ROAST CHICKEN WITH VEGETABLES
Serve with vegetables on the side.
1 chicken cut into eighths or serving size pieces
1 large sweet potato or 2 medium, peeled and cut into chunks
2 white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 large onion sliced or cut into chunks
1 zucchini, sliced
Garlic, a few cloves
1/2 red pepper, thinly sliced or diced
Salt and pepper, to taste
Paprika, to taste
In a roasting pan place bed of vegetables and mix them up and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Then, top with chicken pieces skin side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and paprika.
Place in preheated 350º oven. After 30 minutes, turn chicken pieces over and sprinkle salt and pepper and paprika on the chicken if you have not already done so. When this is done (it will be browned) turn chicken pieces back to skin side up and cook for another 30 minutes. (Cooking time is about 1 hour, 15 minutes to 11/2 hours.)
STRING BEANS ALMONDINE
1 to 11/2 pounds string beans
1 tablespoon margarine
1/4 cup almonds, slivered or sliced
1/4 red pepper, slivered
Salt and pepper, to taste
Cut tips off string beans. Either leave beans whole or slice into 1 to 2 inch pieces. Place into boiling salted water until they are tender, but still bright green in color.
Drain the string beans. In the same pot, melt margarine and lightly sauté almonds. Add red pepper and cook to soften slightly. Then add the string beans to heat through.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon, and serve.
Recipes by Helen Gottesman, helenshomecooking.com
MICHELLE BERNSTEIN’S WHOLE STRIPED BASS WITH ARTICHOKES AND FENNEL
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced in rings
2 (1.5 pound) whole bass, gutted and scales removed, cleaned
1/4 cup olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon, reserve juice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon zahtar (a sesame seed-based Middle Eastern spice blend)
1/2 cup Italian parsley, chopped
1/2 cup dill, chopped
8 plum tomatoes, quartered
2 artichokes, trimmed of outer leaves, cut in quarters
1 fennel bulb, cut in small diced pieces
Preheat oven to 375º.
Place the onion in a single layer onto a roasting pan. Season with salt and pepper.
Place the fish in a large bowl and add the oil, lemon zest, fennel seeds, garlic, zahtar, parsley, dill, salt and pepper. Mix well. Place the fish over the onions, reserve the oil and spices in the bowl.
Place the tomatoes around the fish, as well as artichokes and fennel bulb. Drizzle the reserved oil and spices over the fish and vegetables.
Cover the pan with aluminum and cook for 25 minutes. Remove the aluminum and raise the heat to 400º. Squeeze the lemon juice over the fish and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Check doneness of the artichokes, if they are tender they are ready, if not, remove the fish carefully with a spatula and set aside covered to keep warm and cook the rest of the vegetables until the artichokes are tender.
MICHELLE BERNSTEIN’S CHICKEN SOUP
(Serves 4 to 6)
1 chicken, about 4 pounds, skinned, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 6 pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, and 2 breasts)
2 cups minced Spanish onion
1 cup finely diced celery
1 cup finely diced carrots
1 bay leaf
About 4 quarts chicken broth
1 cup finely diced chayote (small green squash popular in Latin American cooking)
11/2 cups peeled sweet potato, medium dice (from about 1 large potato)
2 medium ears of corn, cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 cup dill leaves
1 teaspoon habanero pepper, or jalapeño, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves and stems
1 lime, quartered or cut into sixths (1 wedge per person)
Salt and pepper
Put the chicken, onion, celery, carrots, and bay leaf in a large stock pot and cover with cold chicken broth or cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, moist, and tender, about 1 hour. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside until cool enough to handle.
Add the chayote, sweet potato, corn, dill, and habanero to the pot. Simmer until the vegetables are cooked, about 30 minutes.
Shred the cooled chicken meat by hand and return it to the pot. Stir in the cilantro and cook for about 5 minutes to rewarm the chicken and further develop the flavor. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the soup into 4 to 6 bowls, making sure to get a good mix of vegetables in each bowl. Serve with a wedge of lime.
CHEF ALLEN’S EXOTIC SPICE BRAISED BRISKET
5 pounds brisket, first cut, well marbled
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced onion
1 cup diced carrots
3 large cloves garlic, smashed
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sticks cinnamon
3 stars of star anise
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
1 large orange, cut in eighths
3 teaspoons bitters
2 tablespoons good tomato paste
1 bottle pinot noir (use kosher wine for a kosher recipe)
To prepare the brisket: Rub the brisket with 3 tablespoons salt and set aside in a dish for 1 hour. Rinse the salt off under running cold water and pat dry. Place a heavy braising pan over high heat. Drizzle in the olive oil. Carefully add the brisket and sear the first side for 2-3 minutes. Turn the beef with a meat tong and brown the second side for another 4-5 minutes. To braise the brisket: Preheat the oven to 325º. Remove the brisket from the pan to a platter. Add the vegetables, spices and orange to the pan. Stir in the bitters and tomato paste. Place the beef on top of the braising mixture and add enough wine to cover the meat by a good 2-3 inches.( You may add more wine or water.) Cover the braising pan with a lid or tightly with aluminum foil and place in the preheated oven. Slowly braise with the cover on for 3 hours until fork tender.
To serve the brisket: Remove the braised beef from the oven and place on a cutting board. Let the brisket rest for a good 5 minutes before attempting to slice. Skim the fat from the braising liquid, and remove the cinnamon sticks. Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary. Spoon the vegetables and pan juices into a gravy boat. Now carefully cut the beef across the grain in short thick slices. Serve with pan juice