Monday, October 10, 2011

Fun Playing with Rosh Hashonah & Road Trip, Part 1

We are now returned from our 1300+ mile odyssey through Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts. It was an amazing and wonderful trip, highlighted by some truly fun food and great times with family and friends. 

We began by driving out to Long Island and sharing pizza with mom after we arrived. The next day would be for shopping - Bob and I intended to prepare and serve my mother's traditional Rosh Hashonah feast to the family, and though we had brought with us from Cleveland a gorgeous Meyer's brisket flat from Mister Brisket, together with a huge basket of garden tomatoes, there was much to acquire. After returning home from what had become a day-long project, we prepared supper for my parents:

Tomato Cobbler with Garden Tomatoes, Corn and Basil
Fried Flounder

Cobbler and Flounder - Yum!

Matzoh Meal (breading)-Eggwash Leftovers Pancake

The fish was sourced from my favorite local fishmonger - Catfish Annie's of Commack and now also King's Park, according to their website! It was exquisitely fresh and barely wanted any breading.

We worked on the holiday food all day for the next three - Monday through Wednesday. More on that in a moment. First - here's a look at Monday night's dinner for Bob and I, and my parents. The shot of the serving platter next to the dinner fork is intended to give perspective on the size of the platter.

Pasta tossed with Soup Chicken Shreds, Garden Tomatoes, Garlic, EVOO, Garden Basil and Parmesan Cheese

By Tuesday, we were sufficiently exhausted from the food prep that we ordered in a pizza, which made for a perfect dinner. But this trip was all about the holiday food, only some some of which I photographed.

In this phase of the prep, we were working on a delicacy my Grandma Anna used to make for my dad, called French Loaf. It is essentially a meatloaf that contains hard cooked eggs. While it's not my favorite thing (I prefer my HB eggs cold), I consented to make it for my dad. First, the eggs. I generally steam mine. Mom, however, who once prepared hard boiled eggs for the entire Hebrew School of the East Northport Jewish Center (about 750 of them in one session in the temple's commercial kitchen), insisted on boiling them. Who was I to argue with the Jedi Master of Hardcooked Eggs? 

After boiling, Mother Yoda runs cold water into the prep pot, then taps the eggs against the sink, then peels.

Mother Heller is one with the hard boiled egg.

This is the finished French Loaf - we used the ubiquitous Manischewitz Tomato Mushroom Sauce to cover the Meyer ground meat we'd also brought to LI from Mister Brisket in Cleveland.

The eggs, and the chicken you are about to see, all came from the local and organic Makinajian Farms, located at 276 Cuba Hill Road, Huntington, NY 11743. Since they do not process on premises, we were not able to get any chicken feet for the pot (even with an advance order), but these two older hens yielded a delicious soup!

Cleaning the soup pot contents lead to an amazing moment. By "cleaning," I mean after the liquid is drained from the pot and strained, picking through the solids to extract the tasty bits - the carrots, for serving in the soup, the liver and poopick (or gizzard), which my dad loves in his soup, and any chicken meat I missed when grabbing out flesh for our pasta dinner earlier in the evening. So, Bob and I are sitting at the dinette table with the pot of stuff, and I'm picking out carrots with my tongs. Suddenly, for no actual reason I could fathom, I left the tongs on the table and began to pull out carrots with my fingers, the better to wipe then clean of parsley or other nasty bits. I realized after a few moments of this that I was cleaning the soup with the exact same motions as my dear Grandma Lillie had done for all of the years of my childhood in this house, an activity which I studiously avoided as a youngster. A strange and strangely wonderful moment, as I could almost feel her smile upon me.

The matzoh balls came out a little too stiff - I think the straight ratio of 1 cup matzoh meal to 6 eggs is just too much matzoh meal when doubling the recipe to 12 eggs and I will make an adjustment next time. They were still delicious!

The most fabulous thing we made was the Gefilte Fish, the raw materials for which were also sourced from Catfish Annie's. I'd never seen a raw gefilte fish order prepared as they did it, though I could understand the sense of it. Sorry there is no photo - but each of the three types of ground fish (whitefish, pike and carp), as well as the ground onion, were in a separate round plastic take-out type container. The flesh was sweet and fresh, probably only a day or two out of the water when we received it. Here's the final product:

We served it with garden horseradish, which Bob prepared before we left for NY. He also, for the first time, added some cooked garden beets to some of the horseradish to produce a milder, sweeter product, which my parents prefer.

Here's the traditional raisin challah, from Park Bake Shop in Kings Park, which apparently does not have a website, but is located at 112 Route 25A, Kings Park, NY 11754, (631) 269-3825. It tasted as good as it looked!

We also plattered a bunch of Bob's amazing tomatoes - I was going to dress them with EVOO, salt, pepper and basil, but they looked so beautiful that I couldn't bring myself to touch them! Next to them went a platter of sliced apples (Macoun and Empire varieties) from Richter's Orchard nearby at 1300 Pulaski Rd., Northport, NY 11768, (631) 261-1980.

The table, set with two challahs, the fish and horseradishes, tomatoes and toppings, honey and wine.

Family gathers, the brucha are recited, and dad cuts and serves the challah. My brother, his wife, her mom Ann, and their two boys are with us; my sister is unfortunately far away in Florida.

I'm afraid that the only other dinner photos I got were of the French Loaf.

We also served the marvelous chicken soup with matzoh balls and noodles, a potato kugel, and the Meyer's Brisket. You can see what these delicacies looked like by looking at my previous blog posts here and here.

Desserts came from Park Bake Shop, the same bakery which provided the challah. I didn't get any photos of them, or the chocolatey babka that Ann brought. After a full day of shopping and almost three full days of cooking, it was time to rest.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. Thursday night, we enjoyed a second Rosh Hashonah dinner at the club my parents used to belong to, The Hamlet. There is simply no comparison between this mostly food-service food and the homecooked goodness we'd enjoyed the night before. It was, however, very nice to sit and be waited on!

Chopped Liver, Caramelized Onions & Salad

Matzoh Ball Soup - the smell and taste of bullion cubes was unmistakable
Potato Pancakes - the freezer-burned taste and tepid temperature gave them away as frozen

This cornish game hen wasn't bad, but the rice and asparagus stuffing in my entree likewise tasted (and had textures) of the freezer.
I could not bring myself to taste Bob's brisket - not after the melt-in-your-mouth goodness we'd enjoyed the night before (and there were leftovers in the parents' fridge!).
The three plates of fruit and veggie sides likewise smacked of food service preps - assorted carrots, green beens, and cooked apples. The desserts also don't merit much attention. But the company, which again included my brother's family, made it all worth while. And even my two teenaged nephews, who care more about sports than food, seemed to be able to tell the difference between the two meals - there may be hope after all! I am so glad that we were able to re-create the culinary magic of my mother's holiday meals, even if just for one night, and share it with both the previous generation and the next.

In the next post - the second leg of our trip, Long Island to Jamaica Plain, MA!

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