Passover Recipe Ideas: Chocolate Coconut Mousse and Brisket

Food plays such an intensely important role in our lives, and it isn’t just the fuel required to sustain us. Taste is an enjoyable phenomenon that can bring happiness into any moment. Unique ways of preparing food is a cultural foundation for all people. When friends and family come together they usually gather around food in some way, whether it’s a dinner party or chicken wings during a football game.

When we celebrate an event there is food. When a person mourns they are immediately provided with food from their loved ones. It is the most instinctive way we care for those we cherish, and preparing a meal for a guest is a simple way to honor them. Taking the time to choose dishes you know to be someone’s favorite, or putting in the effort to creatively and deliciously meet the dietary needs and/or restrictions of others can be an incredibly touching gesture.

I love everything about hosting. I love having friends that know our door is always open to their company. I love providing a feeling that my home is their home. I love feeding people. I love the sound of children giggling together in the playroom while the parents enjoy some adult time. I love providing a space to worship G-d through conversation and fellowship. After all, doesn’t the Bible say in Matthew 18:20 “For where there are two or three gathered in my name, there am I among them“? My closest friends know that in my mind someone’s home can be their own personal ministry, and most people who spend significant amounts of time in my house know that I enjoy welcoming company, and I especially love feeding people. I don’t let you walk out of my door hungry if I can help it.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why Passover and Sukkot are my two favorite holidays. Both are home based festivals that encourage an open door (or tent flap in the case of Sukkot) for guests. They are an exercise in extreme hospitality, and I feel completely in my element when I prepare for these awesome celebrations.

Naturally, the details I tend to focus most on when it comes to inviting people into my house is food. What would they like? Are there any allergies or other dietary restrictions? What foods pair well with one another? Is this enough or should I throw in another dish? (Side note: I always have enough food). With Passover specifically it can be even trickier. Some guests may have varying levels of observance regarding their regular religious food restrictions. On top of that we have holiday specific dietary needs (no leavened foods), and even within those restrictions there are various levels of observances to consider. So every year I stick with relatively the same menu that I’ve perfected over time.

Matzo ball soup. Salad. Roasted vegetables. Curried fruit. A potato dish. Matzo kugel. Salmon. And a delicious brisket.

This year I finally figured out that a chocolate coconut mousse was the perfect dessert to go along with our Seder meal. It requires only a couple of ingredients, is very easy to whip up, and most importantly it is light, fluffy, and delicious. It will definitely appear on future Seder menus.

So, if you’re looking for a dessert that will feed people with any number of dietary restrictions, this mousse is perfect. If you’re planning a special dinner and want to share something nice and tasty with your guests, this brisket is great choice!

Chocolate Coconut Mousse

Ingredients

2 13.5 oz cans coconut milk
2 tbsp powdered sugar
5 tbsp coco powder

Directions

  1. Scoop the cream at the top of the coconut milk into a bowl, and discard the rest of the liquid. Add sugar and beat together using a hand mixer until creamy and thick.
  2. Fold in the coco and continue beating. The mixture will begin to have a more fluffy texture.
  3. Place in the refrigerator to chill in order to give it a little more form, otherwise it can be served immediately

 

Brisket

*NOTE: I have three necessary rules about cooking a brisket. First: You cook the meat with the fat on it. This is crucial for maintaining flavor. Second: Baste every 30 minutes. It will give you that nice fall apart texture. Third: You should cook the brisket a day ahead, and serve reheated. This gives it time to soak in the juices and takes in as much flavor as possible.

Ingredients

1 4lb beef brisket
6 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (needles taken off of the stem and chopped)
1/4 cup olive oil
Black pepper
4 large carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
3 celery stalked, cut into chunks
4 red onions, chopped
1 bottle of dry red wine (or about 2 cups)
1 16oz can of whole tomatoes (hand crushed)
a handful of fresh parsley
3 bay leaves

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Stir together garlic, salt, and rosemary. Combine with olive oil and set aside.
  2. Season both sides of the brisket with a decent amount of salt and pepper. Place the brisket into a dutch oven or pan over medium-high heat and sear both sides until browned.
  3. Transfer to a roasting pan (or keep it in a dutch oven if there is room). Arrange vegetables around the pan, and pour the garlic rosemary mixture over the entire brisket. Pour in the wine and tomatoes, and add the parsley and bay leaves.
  4. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, or the cover of the roasting pan. Bake for 4 hours, basting every 30 minutes.
  5. Store the brisket in the refrigerator over night (keeping it in the pan with the juices). Reheat in a warm oven before serving (I started on 350 until it heated through, and then left it at 170 for a couple of hours before we were ready to serve).

Seven Species Muffins

I am a firm believer in the saying “without tradition, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on a roof“, and as my husband and I continue to build our home I find myself relying heavily on tradition for help. Growing up in a secular household I only had speckles of traditions here and there, but nothing particularly concrete or foundational. It was more along the lines of routine rather than tradition.  When I came to Messianic Judaism as a young adult, I suddenly entered into a world overflowing with traditions. As Tevye the dairyman in Fiddler On The Roof elaborates: “we have traditions for everything! How to sleep, how to eat, how to work, how to wear clothes…“, and that is no exaggeration. In Judaism there is a way to confront anything and everything in life. How to mourn, how to celebrate, how to face the big and important stuff, and how to get through everyday routines. Having transitioned from a life without traditions into a life overwhelmed with them, I very clearly realize the importance of keeping them alive whether they be great or small. With the traditions I’ve eagerly taken a hold of as my own I find myself on a steady surface that helps hold me upright while the world around me seems unsteady and shaky. As a mother trying to raise her child to be righteous and G-dly, I am in great need of such steadiness.

While I try to incorporate certain traditions into the nooks and crannies of the everyday, holidays are perhaps most dominated by traditions. One of my favorite things about Judaism is the fact that these holidays are almost always observed kinesthetically. On Rosh Hashanah we blow shofars. On Yom Kippur we fast. On Sukkot we build and dwell in sukkot. On Hanukkah we light the menorah. On Purim we literally reenact the book of Esther, and on Pesach we go through the motions of Israel’s escape from Egypt during the seder.

And then there are minor holidays such as Tu B’shevat, which is the “new year for trees”. While it was once a day used to calculate agricultural cycles, it quickly became a sort of Jewish Earth Day. While I’m not particularly hyper with go-green sentiments, I do appreciate nature as G-d’s creation, and I most certainly believe it is our responsibility to tend and enjoy it. Even more important to me is the fostering of a culture which we now deeply connect with, even for the minor stuff. So this year Tu B’shevat was on my radar.

I was then left with a question of how to observe. After an ice storm we couldn’t plant trees as is tradition to do. I have a strong aversion toward “Tu B’shevat sedars”, and while it is completely appropriate to donate money toward planting a tree in Israel, it isn’t something my toddler could be involved in.

So I went with two activities that gave a nod toward the day (three if you count watching the Tu B’shevat episode of Shalom Sesame). First we planted my son’s very first herb garden which included cilantro, parsley (hopefully to be used at our seder in a few months), chives, and oregano. We placed the containers in front of a large window at my son’s level so they continue to be his responsibility and enjoyment.

Of course, like almost all other holidays (with the exception of Yom Kippur), there is  traditional food to be prepared. With Tu B’shevat it is customary to eat a new fruit and/or the seven species of Israel (wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and honey, which is all derived from Deut. 8:8). Originally I wanted to make a full meal that incorporated all of these elements, but ironically enough our ice storm had us locked in the house a couple days prior to Tu B’shevat, and that had me hustling at the last minute.

I ended up going with one recipe that included all seven elements, and it was delicious. My toddler enjoyed helping since there was plenty for him to pour and mix. It’s a simple enough process, though I did have to grind my own barley flour since my regular groceries store didn’t carry it (I found the grain in the Mexican aisle though!).

The result was delicious, and definitely something I will continue to do every year.
A nice little way to celebrate a nice little holiday. A new tradition.

Ingredients
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dried figs
1/2 cup dates
1 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup applesauce
1 tbs cinnamon
1 tsp all spice
2 eggs
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup barley flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup pomegranate seeds
honey as a spread

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Chop up dates and figs and put them in a blender or food processor along with milk, applesauce, cinnamon, and allspice. Blend until the consistency is smooth and thick. Set aside.

In a bowl mix eggs, olive oil, sugars, and the vanilla. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix the flours, baking soda, and salt. Toss in the pomegranate seeds until they are well coated.

Pour the blended fig/date mixture into the flour mix and stir until well blended. Add the egg mixture.

Fold in the raisins

Spray a muffin tin with cooking spray, and spoon in batter. Place prepared muffin sheet in the oven, and immediately turn heat down to 375 degrees F.

Bake for 23 minutes.

When muffins are cool, cut in half and spread honey in the middle of them.

Enjoy!

High Holiday Reflections

This was not my proudest week. I’ve been feeling awful, crummy, and burdened with a sense that life is being held together with bubble gum and shoe string. While I normally feel like I have this wife and mother thing figured out, I was put in my place by a mix of frantic car shopping, a broken air conditioner (which we still needed even in September), failed plans, a messy house that was beginning to drive me mad, lack of sleep, and a very real case of terrible twos that I am still trying to figure out how to deal with. It has been a week of a constant battle in my mind between one half insisting that I am doing okay and will conquer the chaos, and the other latching onto feelings of failure and defeat.

Now we enter into the holiday season, where my time is consumed with Rosh HashanahYom Kippur, and Sukkot. While I am about to face many hours at our synagogue over the next couple of weeks, preparing various foods for the numerous community meals, and an overall topsy turvy schedule, you would think that the constant rush would push my anxiety over the edge. On top of the hustle and bustle of holiday season, this is also a time of heavy reflection and acknowledgement of the ways we fall short as humans, as if I didn’t have enough guilt over my faults recently. Yet as Shabbat rolled in on Friday night I was able to release the breath I had been holding in all week, and take in rush of fresh air.

As a major control freak it is almost as if the sudden burst of stress and panic was a form of pre-holiday preparation. I am regularly attempting to force life to go my way, stepping in to do everything myself when I feel things are going opposite of what I desire. If you were to ask me who the ultimate authority is over my life I would quickly answer “G-d“, and deep down I know that to be true. In practice, however, it seems as if I am making routine attempts to high jack that authority for myself. This week I had to acknowledge all of the strengths I lacked, and confront my weaknesses. I failed at so many things, and the tasks that I did successfully accomplish took so much energy and effort that it didn’t feel at all like achievements. By the time Shabbat arrived I was completely drained.

As we inched closer to this holiday season I had so many plans and goals. I wanted a cleaner house, better food prepared, less stress, more confidence in my parenting, and I wanted the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah to be filled with excitement and anticipation. Instead I received what I truly needed. This week of chaos left me with little of what I had set my mind to. My ego was bruised and my confidence wounded. It left me the way we all should feel coming into these holidays. Broken and ready for repair.

This is the time of year when we face G-d straightforward. Admitting our defects can make these days heavy and difficult, but there is also a sense of freedom accompanied with our confessions. It is commanded that we set aside this precious time to reflect, and while our worship is directed solely onto Him, this is also a time for our benefit. Last week I continued to push through and spared no time to regather myself, and if I struggled with that in one week then imagine what the rest of my year looks like.

Our all knowing G-d tells us to pause. We are drowning, and our instinct is to flail our limbs in every which way as we try to save our panicked selves, which only accelerates our sinking. Instead, what we need is to be still long enough to float on the surface. We are told these holidays “…shall be to you like a Sabbath…“, and we are expected to set everything aside to rest, observe, and sift through the deepest places in our hearts. We are to halt our panic, and instead calmly rise away from whatever is pulling us under.

In between the food, music, and schmoozing, there is the uncomfortable and intimidating process of encountering our transgressions, whether they are against another person or G-d Himself. For anyone who truly takes these holidays for what they are, it is a tough process. Just like swallowing a spoon full of medicine. However, just like medicine, once we overcome the initial challenge we can feel ourselves begin to heal. We can realize what it is in our everyday life that leaves us broken, and start to repair for the future. We are not stuck on a carousal of saying and doing the wrong things. Through the Days of Awe we are receiving a chance to step away, realize where we are going wrong, and decide to change. We are given the chance to catch our breath before we re-enter the title wave of everyday life.

As I think back on the core feelings I experienced just within this past week, I can pin point sensations of pride, envy, jealousy, distrust in G-d, and various other experiences that can be traced back to my sinful nature as a human being. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are reminders that I cannot save myself, and with all the mistakes I make in my life that is an incredibly reassuring reminder. I know that if I were expected to provide my own salvation I would fail gravely, just like I fail at so many other things. Just as G-d continues to hold our hands through the process of accepting that redemption, He provides us a time to step out of our routine in order to reevaluate what that deliverance means for us.

It means we have another chance to do better. We do not need to be enslaved to our mistakes, and they do not have to define us. Humanity has such a hard time admitting that we do wrong, and our excuses can run rampant when our sins catch up with us. When we are forced to bow our heads in defeat and admit our faults, setting excuses and denial aside, we are able to begin the process of improvement.

I want my life to be so much more than balancing between justifying my wrong doings and hanging over feelings of guilt. I want to be revived when my imperfections overpower me, and be continuously molded so that whoever I am when I decease is the best person I could possibly be. I should be able to refocus whenever I make a mistake. I should be able to recall everyday the fact that G-d provides for me what I cannot provide myself, while also giving me the power to overcome my lapse of righteousness and goodness. Among all of my other struggles, however, is my forgetfulness to pause and reflect. When the average day becomes too much for me to handle I once again start to drown in my panic, forgetting to still myself long enough to be lifted above the surface. So I am given Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. A time to encounter what is most difficult in my life, be freed from it’s subjection, and brought further into the dominion of The One who truly holds His merciful authority over my life.

And that is such a sweet experience every single time.

Mothers: An Image of G-D

We live in an age where women are not bound to a specific role in life. They can heal people as doctors, defend justice as lawyers, spread knowledge as teachers, voice a message as authors, or lead an entire nation as politicians. Women have the ability to be of great influence, and they can choose among a variety of opportunities in life.

For those women who choose to stay home with their children, it can sometimes be discouraging to think about our worldly influence. While we proudly make the decision to put all our efforts into raising a family, our self-worth can be damaged by the question of “what do you do?”. It sometimes may seem that people ask that question expecting to hear something exciting and worthwhile. When we answer “I stay home”, it’s suddenly as if our influence in the world is minuscule. All believers strive to have a role in the coming of the kingdom. We all want to participate in bringing forth “tikkun olam” (repairing of the world). If we choose to stay in our homes, concentrating on our specific family, how are we ever going to contribute to G-d’s greater plan? It’s a question many of the stay at home mothers I know struggle with.

Overall I don’t dwell on this question too much. I’m thrilled to do what I do, and I chose to stay home because I feel it is a necessity for my family. G-d made it very clear to me that I need to focus on my child, and I dare not question His intentions for me. That does not mean, however, that I am not struck with self-consciousness every now and then, especially when I’m speaking to someone who is out and about changing lives through their work. Every now and then I need something that uplifts my spirits, and reminds me that my role in life is worth a great deal.

A great encouragement, however, came this past weekend at my community’s annual women’s retreat. The theme this year focused on being created “in the image of G-d”, and how we as women reflect that image. For part of the time we glanced at the characteristics of G-d, and how He possesses both masculine and feminine traits. We are familiar with the masculine language used to describe G-d (such as the Bible’s use of the word “He”, or referring to Him as “The Father”), but there are also times when G-d is compared to a motherly figure as well (Isaiah 66:13, or Luke 13:34 for example).

For me, this presented a new and improved perspective as the matriarch of my household. We know that G-d created both man and woman in His image, as stated in Genesis 1:27. However, the first time we see G-d declaring something as “not good” is in Genesis 2:18 when He says that it is not good for man to be alone. As G-d is the definition of what is good, His reflection (man) should be good as well. So G-d solved this by giving man a woman.

This small detail really hit me, and it’s something I have been thinking about ever since coming home from the retreat. I had already known that my son needs both a mother and father figure for a variety of practical reasons. However, I walked away from this weekend realizing that together as man and woman, husband and wife, father and mother, two people working as one unit, we present a reflection of G-d.

The two distinct roles of father and mother are not required solely for the every day functions of our house. These roles are needed to help show my son who G-d is. G-d presents Himself in many ways, whether it’s through His word, prophetic dreams or visions, blessings, the words of our congregational leaders, or even the actions of complete strangers. One of these manifestations is the reflection a father and mother show their children. The role of a mother, half of a complete image of G-d, is no small thing to be. It is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly, and one that can have great impact not only in the lives of her children, but in the world as a whole.

As we raise our kids we are presenting them with a message and way of life that will be passed down from generation to generation. They are the future. The people who will continue leading by example and spreading this message. What we instill in them will be spread to their friends, their coworkers, their own children. There is something special and important in the decision to give up any personal success in order to focus solely on one’s family. It’s something that shouldn’t make us feel ashamed, but proud. We see that what we impress upon our children will have a variety of ripple effects, so we might as well give it our all.

This does not mean that G-d expects all women to stay home with their children. It does not mean that there isn’t another purpose and path that G-d may lead some women through. Women have made great impacts throughout history outside of their homes, and they too have contributed to tikkun olam. Their work should never be diminished, and everyone should be encouraged to follow the path G-d has set forth for them, traditional or not. It most certainly doesn’t make them any less of a mother.

I am, however, saying that those of us who choose a more subtle and traditional life are worth something as well. We are not stuck in the house because we would be unsuccessful in other areas of life. We are not the weakened damsels who remain locked away at home under our husband’s enslaving authority. Our kids are not the chains that make our lives a miserable Hell. That imagery is pathetically deceitful, yet very common in the mindset of general society these days.

We are so much more than that. We too strive to accomplish G-d’s work, and we have a purpose in our roles. We play a part in the completed reflection of who G-d is, and we present that image to our children who will continue the progress of tikkun olam.

So, remember that next time someone asks “what do you do?”.

You strive to present the future generations with the image of G-d.

Above all else, that is what we were created to do.