Passover is one of Adam and my favorite Jewish holidays. It is a happy holiday with a lot of celebrating, eating, and drinking wine. Any holiday that invites eating and merriment, is a holiday for me!
Over the years, Adam and I have enjoyed sharing in each other’s family’s traditions and holidays. The look on Adam’s face, our first Christmas morning, was priceless! He couldn’t believe the abundance of gifts. It made my mother so happy that he enjoyed himself! My journey in learning Adam’s family’s traditions around the holidays, has been one that I have embraced whole-heartedly! I love tradition. I love the ritual of the holidays. I love knowing what I can expect of the day. This is why I love Passover so much. There is a book – the Haggadah – a manual of sorts, describing what the holiday should be about – remembering and retelling. This book, the Haggadah, tells the story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt. It also tells how the Passover Seder should be conducted, special prayers and songs, and even some fun games for the children (hiding a piece of matzo for the children to search for). The Passover Seder (ritual dinner) can take several hours to complete before the feasting begins. Oh, and do we feast!
I began planning our Passover Seder a week before. It is a challenge to plan a dinner party with a small oven that has only one oven rack (only one dish at a time in our oven!). Since matzo, unleavened bread, is the focus and star of the Passover meal, I decided to make matzo ball soup. I thought I had Adam’s grandmother’s recipe for matzo balls, until we were sitting down to dinner and realized that it was not his grandmother’s recipe, but one I had used 6 years ago, which I meant to throw out. Oy vey! They were still okay, but a bit too dense. I won’t share the recipe, as not to perpetuate the cycle of a bad matzo ball. I used my recipe for chicken soup but omitted the egg noodles.
For the main course, I made brisket. Brisket and I have a long history. Not a good one. For Adam and my first Passover together, I decided to try to make brisket – something I had never done before. I got a recipe from his family and bought a regular brisket from the grocery store. It was amazing! I mean, it was blow-your-mind amazing! I felt pretty confident about my brisket, so the next year, I decided to go all out. I went to Whole Foods and bought a $45 brisket – surely a grass-fed, pampered cow! Okay, so expensive meat, great recipe, experience form last year should have yielded an out-of-this-world brisket, right?! WRONG!!! It was tough, almost inedible, and sitting in watery soup, not a tasty sauce. Disaster! Feeling completely deflated and a bit gun-shy, I didn’t make another brisket until a Hanukkah gathering a few years later. Completely nervous, I forged ahead. Hoping that a different recipe would produce better results. The brisket was okay. Not like the first time I made it, but okay. This year, I decided to put my trust in The America’s Test Kitchen. They haven’t failed me yet. We did all of our Passover shopping at Fairway, and bought a fairly small brisket 2 1/2 pounds. I cut the recipe in half hoping this would work! I thought that by halving the recipe, I should also halve the cooking time – not so. I have now learned the secret to cooking brisket, and I am going to share it with you. Guess what it is? Cook the crap out of it & keep the lid on! Yep, low and slow forever! On the internet, people suggest 1 hour for every pound & I now completely get it. I checked my brisket at 1 hour, and it was rock hard, I checked it at 2 hours and it was getting softer! 2 1/2 it was even better, and at 3 it was almost falling apart, tender and succulent! I even threw in some carrots and celery to add flavor.
For a side dish, I decided to use my trusty recipe from the New York Times for kugel. Now, there is potato kugel and noodle kugel – there are savory and sweet kugels. The one I make is a sweet noodle kugel with a cornflake topping. It is perfection!
adapted from The America’s Test Kitchen
1 (4 to 5 pound) beef brisket, trimmed
salt and pepper
2 TBS vegetable oil
6 onions, halved and sliced thin
2 TBS brown sugar
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp tomato paste
1/4 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/8 tsp corn starch and water)
1 cup beef broth
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried
1 TBS cider vinegar
5 to 6 ribs of celery cut in 1 inch pieces
4 to 5 carrots cut into 1 inch pieces
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Pat the brisket dry with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until simmering. Brown the brisket on both sides, about 10 minutes, then transfer to a plate.
Add the onions, brown sugar, and 1/4 tsp salt to the fat left in the pot and return to medium heat. Cook until the onions are well browned, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the broths, wine, bay leaves and thyme scraping up any browned bits. Add the brisket, and spread the carrots and celery around the meat. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook in oven until fork slides easily in and out of the center of the brisket, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer brisket to a cutting board, tent with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Let the liquid in the pot settle for 5 minutes, then skim any fat from the surface using a spoon. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs, stir in the vinegar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the brisket thin across the grain. If you are making the brisket the day before, return the meat to the pot, cover, and refrigerate over night. Remove brisket from the refrigerator 30 minutes before reheating. Reheat on stove top or in oven. Remove and arrange the brisket on a platter, pour some of the sauce over the meat and arrange the vegetable around it. Serve and enjoy!
New York Times
Butter (for the dish)
salt, to taste
16 oz medium egg noodles
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup honey
1 cup sour cream
Cornflake Topping for Kugel
1 cup Cornflakes
1/2 stick butter, melted
3 TBS sugar
1/2 TBS cinnamon
Set the oven at 350. Generously butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the noodles according to package instructions until they are tender. Drain them and rinse with cold water. Spread them evenly in the baking dish.
In an electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese. Beat in the honey, followed by the eggs, one at a time. Beat in the sour cream. The mixture should be thick and creamy. Pour it over the noodles.
Bake kugel for 25 to 30 minutes. Mix all ingredients for the cornflake topping. Sprinkle cornflake topping evenly on kugel and continue baking for 25 minutes more, or until it is set and golden brown. Let the kugel sit for 10 minutes. Cut into squares.