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High summer and High Holidays

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Before you start preparing your favorite chicken soup, brisket with all the trimmings and other standard Rosh Hashanah fare you might want to check the calendar. It is still SUMMER and still hot!

Yep, the holidays are early this year and while I really do know that technically the holidays are exactly on time, but due to some quirky issues of the Jewish calendar, they are falling during the summer and the heat will be on.

Jewish holidays are usually the time the time when we remember family and past holidays. One way we do that is through food. We make family favorite recipes and the flavors and smells take us back in time. We recall family members and the good times we had with them. I love that about food and that is probably one of the reason I love my job. I can conjure up memories just by cooking recipes. This year, I cannot imagine a hot bowl of chicken soup and heavy brisket with potatoes. It is just too much with Midwest summer heat and I am looking forward lighter, brighter flavors.

This year will be different. I am going to create some new traditions. I am looking to the farmer’s markets and the weather to guide me to a delicious and flavor packed holiday season.

The High Holidays could not come at a better time for produce. The stalls will be overflowing with eggplants of all colors and sizes, tomatoes with flashy names, and colors to match like Purple Cherokee, Green Zebra, and Hillbilly. I can’t wait for the plums. They come in shades of purple, green, gold, and burgundy with floral sweet-tart flavor and luscious texture.

YES! The holidays are early and the food will be amazing and the memories lasting.

New Year and New Age Borscht

This vegetarian and healthy chilled borscht utilizes seasonal summer produce. The stock is a quick do-ahead flavorful vegetable stock that is loaded with flavor and bright-gorgeous ruby color. The veggies are healthy, crunchy, and delicious. This soup is a perfect way to start the new year and celebrate the season.

The stock can be made up to 5 days before serving and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator.

For the stock

1 pound beets, peeled and grated
6 celery ribs, chopped
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
2 red onions, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
Several parsley stems
Several basil leaves
8 cups water

1. Place all of the ingredients in a large saucepan or stock pot and bring to a simmer. Cook, uncovered for 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

2. Strain out the solids, pressing on them to get all of the liquid, and discard. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Chill the stock.

For the soup

2 pounds mixed beets, (red, candy stripe and golden-all easily found at most farmer’s markets and produce driven markets)
2 cups stemmed and finely chopped Tuscan kale
1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups chiffonade-sliced red cabbage (cut into very thin ribbons)
1 cup thinly sliced celery
2 apples (your favorite variety), cored and cut into very thin julienne
1/8 teaspoon celery seed
2 large ripe tomatoes (go crazy here and use colorful heirloom tomatoes!), cut into dice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
Suggested garnishes: pomegranate arils (seeds), celery leaves, fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350

1. Drizzle oil on the beets and wrap each beet in foil. Roast the beets in the preheated oven until tender and a fork can easily pierce the beets.

2. Cool the beets and then peel off the skins. Cut the beets into small dice. (the beets can be stored for up to 3 days before serving)

3. Before serving: Place all of the ingredients for the soup in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and toss with olive oil and lemon juice.

4. To serve: mound the soup ingredients in the center of each soup bowl and pour the chilled stock around the mound. Garnish with Pomegranate Arils and celery leaves.

Slow Braised Chile Spiced Lamb Shoulder with Apple-Beet “Butter”

When the heat is on and summer is still in full swing, I crave big, bold flavors. This tender, mouth-watering lamb is just the ticket to usher in the holidays. The lamb practically cooks itself while you sit back, relax, and prepare for the holidays. The whole dish can be made up to three days before serving. The lamb can be braised either in the oven or in a slow cooker.

Serves 8

1 3-pound boneless lamb shoulder
Olive oil for browning
1 large red onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
¼ cup water
4 ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded (ancho chilies are not spicy or hot! They are earthy and fruity, with flavor similar to a peppery raisin or plum)
6 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1 tablespoon sweet smoked paprika
2 teaspoons coriander powder
¼ cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 bottle fruit red wine
2 cups chicken stock
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley stems, thyme stems, rosemary sprig
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

1. Place a large sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium high heat. Pat dry the lamb should and season with salt and pepper. Brown the shoulder on all sides until dark and caramelized (about 5-7 minutes per side). Transfer the lamb to a rack and cool.

2. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the same pan (you may need a bit more oil) and sauté until browned. Be sure to season the vegetables with salt and pepper.

3. Heat the water in a small saucepan with the ancho chilies until the water comes to a simmer. Turn off the alt sit for about 15 minutes.

4. Puree the chilies and water with garlic, brown sugar and spices in a blender until they form a loose paste.

5. Place the lamb shoulder and vegetables in a casserole or Dutch oven. Rub and coat the lamb with the chili paste and stir any extra paste into the vegetables. Allow the lamb to marinate in the paste for at least 2 hours at room temperature or overnight.

6. Preheat the oven to 325 or slow cooker to HIGH.

7. Add the wine and chicken stock the roasting pan and cover with foil or lid , Braise the lamb for 2 ½ hours. Uncover and continue roasting, adding additional stock or water to prevent scorching and occasionally spooning juices over the lamb, for an additional 2 hours until the lamb is tender and very dark brown, or place the lamb, vegetables, wine and chicken stock into the insert for the slow cooker and cook for 5 hours until a fork can inserted can be pulled out easily.

8. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and allow to rest. Strain the roasting pan, discarding the solids. Skim off the fat and reduce the liquid to a glaze. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

9. Cut the lamb into 2-inch chunks and pile onto a platter. Dollop with Beet-Apple Butter (see next recipe) and serve.

Apple-Beet "Butter"

This “butter” is a gorgeous and flavor packed thick puree that dresses up braised meats, poultry, and fish.

1 pound red beets, scrubbed and trimmed
1½ cups apple cider
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons grated orange zest
Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
Preheat oven to 350

1. Drizzle the beets with olive oil and wrap the beets, individually, in foil. Roast until very tender and a fork can easily pierce the beets (about 1 hour).

2. Cool, and then peel the skin off. Using the largest holes of a four-side grater or the medium shredding disk of a food processor, shred the beets.

3. Place the shredded beets in a heavy saucepan with the apple cider, honey and orange zest. Simmer gently over low heat, stirring often, until very thick, about 30 to 40 minutes (or longer, depending on how thick you want it). Let cool. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Sweet Corny Cakes

Hold the potatoes! Yeah, I know, Meat and Potatoes. But we live in the Midwest and it is corn season. Take advantage of local sweet corn and serve these do-ahead cakes with the braised lamb. The cakes will sop up all the juices and are the perfect vehicle for the tender meat.

Purchase the best tasting sweet corn from a local farmer’s market. The corn will be picked fresh and within hours of appearing at the market. I urge you to make the corn cakes the day you purchase the corn. The sweet sugars in the corn begin to convert to starch immediately after picking. For the best flavor, buy local and cook fast!

3 cups corn kernels (from about 6 ears of corn)
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup water
2 large eggs
1 medium red pepper, cut into small dice
½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons chopped jalapeno (optional)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper

1. Puree 1 cup of the corn kernels in a food processor or blender. Combine the pureed corn with all if the juices with the corn kernels and set aside.

2. Whisk the dry ingredients together in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, eggs and corn mixture. Stir to combine but do not over-mix. Add the peppers, parsley, and salt and pepper.

3. Heat a large sauté pan or griddle, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat.

4. Add about 2 tablespoons of the batter to the pan per cake. When browned on 1 side (about 3 minutes), gently flip, and continue cooking on the other side. Transfer the cakes to a parchment lined baking sheet.

5. The cakes can be reheated before serving in a 300 degree oven until hot and can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days before serving.

Easier than Pie-Plum Galette

Rustic tarts are the way to go for summer desserts. They are delicious and do not take tons of time to put together or bake and you can take advantage of the seasons best produce.
For many home cooks, a pie crust is the final frontier. Pie and tart dough just frightens them. The thought of rolling out a crust and fitting it into a pan without tearing it is enough to make die-hard cooks—well, it is enough to make them purchase a store bought crust, even if they know it won’t taste good!

Fear not! This crust is supple, tender, homemade and easy as pie. C’mon people, gather your rolling pins and fearlessly roll that dough. You can do it!

The secret to a supple and easy to work with dough is the addition of an egg yolk. The yolk makes this dough very forgiving and manageable.

1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
11 tablespoons very cold, non-hydrogenated shortening (I use Earth Balance)
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons ice cold water

1. Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or if mixing by hand, in a medium bowl). Cut the shortening into 1/2-inch cubes and add them to the flour. On low speed, mix the butter and flour until the flour is no longer white and holds together when you clump it with your fingers, 1 to 2 minutes. If there are still lumps of butter larger than the size of peas, break them up with your fingers. Run a spatula along the bottom of the bowl to loosen anything stuck to the bowl. (If mixing by hand, mix with a pastry cutter or two forks until the butter is mixed into the flour as above).

2. In a small bowl, mix the egg yolk and water and add them to the flour mixture. On low speed, mix until the dough just comes together, about 15 seconds; the dough will be somewhat soft. (If mixing by hand, add the yolk mixture to the flour and mix gently with a fork until the liquid is well distributed. The dough will still look crumbly and dry.

3. Dump the dough onto a clean counter and work it with the heel of your hand, pushing and smearing it away from you and gathering it up with a bench scraper and repeating until the dough comes together and is supple). Turn the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, press it into a flat disk, wrap it in the plastic, and let it rest in the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes (or up to four days) before rolling it out.

4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Line a heavy-duty rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Remove the dough from the refrigerator; if the dough is very firm, let it sit at room temperature until it is pliable enough to roll. On a floured surface, roll the dough into a round that’s about 13 to 14 inches in diameter. It’s all right if the edges are a little ragged. If you can’t get a roughly round shape, trim the dough so that it’s a rough circle and roll the trimmed scraps back into the dough. Transfer the dough round to the baking sheet and put it in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the filling

2 pounds ripe plums, pitted (I prefer Stanley Prune plums for their shape and amazing flavor)
½ cup sugar + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup cornstarch
2 tablespoons apricot preserves
Preheat oven to 350

1. Cut then plums into halves lengthwise. Toss all the ingredients, except the apricot preserves, together. Arrange the plums on the rolled out galette dough, leaving a 3 inch border around the edges.

2. Start at one side draw the dough toward the center, leaving the center open so the plums show. Keep gathering and adding pleats to the dough. It is ok if the galette looks rustic!

3. Sprinkle the sugar all around the dough (this makes the galette sparkly).

4. Bake for about 45-55 minutes or until the fruit is bubbly and the dough is golden brown. Brush the galette with the apricot preserves and allow to cool before serving.

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