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The Joy of Kosher


Jamie Geller, the "Jewish Rachael Ray" and founder of the Kosher Media Network, is the author of several successful cookbooks, magazines, a popular website, and a TV show. In the beginning, though, she was raised on takeout and it wasn't until her mid-twenties that she gravitated to Jewish observance. The "Bride Who Knew Nothing" was at first clueless about cooking; joining her husband's family meant celebrating more than 100 traditional holiday meals annually for the immediate and extended family. Thankfully, Jamie's experiences learning to cook kosher have benefitted the rest of us with the newest Joy of Kosher cookbook; you'll find dependable, delicious recipes that can be dressed up or down for the occasion, many using pantry staples that you already have on hand. As soon as I got my copy, I put a sticky flag on any recipe that looked interesting; my book soon looked like a colorful porcupine! I ended up trying Uputzi's Vegetarian Chopped "Liver" Pâté, Butternut Squash Mac `n' Cheese, Blue Cheese, Pear, and Arugula Pizza, Country Spinach, Tomato and White Bean Soup, Hearty Mushrooms with Herbs and Wine (phyllo cup variation), Cold Soba Noodles with Sweet Sesame Tofu, Gooey Chocolate Cherry Cake, Cran-Rosemary Challah and Sun-Dried Tomato, Garlic, and Herb Braided Challah. The book opens with a compact equipment and ingredients list and a brief overview of "the kosher thing" (no pork or shellfish, no mixing meat and milk in the same meal, and processed foods require rabbinic certification). Recipes are clearly labeled with kosher status (meat, dairy, or pareve), prep time, cook time, and number of servings. I also loved that every recipe comes with ideas on how to dress it up, dress it down, make a meal, and variations that allow you to get several results from a single dish. Each recipe also has a suggested kosher wine pairing as well. Instructions are simple and ingredients should be readily available at your local supermarket; this would make a great housewarming or wedding gift as it is approachable by any level of cook. I loved all of the recipes I tried and found they worked exactly as written; for the bread recipes, I used Voilà! Hallah Traditional Egg Bread Mix and combined them with the various toppings / fillings from the challah chapter. My absolute favorite find was the Vegetarian Chopped Liver - I've tried other vegetarian chopped "liver" recipes in the past that were bland and forgettable, but this one is AMAZING. A puree of toasted walnuts, mushrooms (I used cremini), garlic, onion, thyme and chopped hard-boiled eggs, it is meaty and satisfying and is wonderful on bread, crackers, or as a sandwich spread. I loved experimenting with the "dress it up, dress it down" variations (I tried the butternut squash mac and cheese both ways; I split the batch and made half in an 8x8 pan and the rest as the suggested muffin cups, which made perfect individual servings that I then froze for a quick and easy snack or light meal). There are nods to Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Israeli cuisine, Asian (I loved the cold soba noodles with sweet sesame tofu), Mexican (blackened tilapia tacos, skirt steak with salsa verde), Middle Eastern, kid-friendly recipes...in short, something for everyone (even vegetarians like myself will find plenty of quick, tasty recipes to try). The dessert chapters deserve special mention as well, with many impressive cakes and cookies (I loved the cardamom-scented Chanukah cookies, candied-orange cheesecake, gooey chocolate cherry cake, and the olive oil dark chocolate mousse shots). There are suggested holiday menus at the back with a very thorough guide of how to adapt the given recipes for Passover, a (brief) food glossary, and a more comprehensive Hebrew/Yiddish/Yinglish glossary. Jamie herself sums it up best: "Food is an expression of love. And it doesn't matter if you've never eaten kosher, always eat kosher, or go "kosher casual." What's important is that food brings us together, and we all want to share our best, most delectable meals with the people we love. And when it's kosher, we're also pulling in thousands of years of love and tradition." (Review copy courtesy of William Morrow / Joy of Kosher)

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