Earlier this week, Efrat Libfroind wrote about her tribe; cooking and self-improvement, being a mother and a full-time pastry chef and the only kosher cooking student in class. Her new cookbook, Kosher Elegance, is now available.
I didn’t sleep much the night before we started taking pictures for my cookbook. It had already been a stressful few days. Taking pictures meant I finally had to decide which recipes were going into the book and which were out. We were not taking any pictures which weren’t needed – so receipes had to be chosen in advance. It was like giving up favorite friends. I love all my recipes. But I had to come to terms with the fact that I needed to love some more than others. Not easy.
Then, I had to shop. I had to get the best of everything. Freshest, most attractive…because soon cameras would be zooming in to every millimeter of my cooking. It had to look good. I shopped in Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda shuk. It is an amazing place and it has the most gorgeous food. All I can say is, “I must go to the shuk more often.” The best supermarkets don’t come close.
After all this, I was tossing and turning, not sleeping, worrying about the big day. I had experience with food photography for magazines which published my recipes. And I learned that the best dishes don’t always appear well in photographs and that it can take an hour (or two) just to get the portion to look just like I think it ought to (yes, I am a perfectionist). I was worried about what my book would look like.
We started taking pictures at 6 A.M. A whole slew of people were involved: Photographers, assistant photographers, food stylists, lighting staff….and me. I am sure they’d have been happy not to have me there – at times I made them a bit crazy – things didn’t always look exactly like I wanted them and I was pretty protective of my food – I wanted the pictures to be perfect.
We ended close to midnight that first day. We could barely stand on our feet. All in all, it really was a great day. We did eat a lot of the food I prepared, so that was a plus.
Most of the photography took place in my house (except for 2 grueling sessions in a studio). Since my kids would get home from school while we were still working I needed something special to keep them busy. I broke all my rules and gave them money to go out and buy….junk food. This is not something we do in our family. My kids were thrilled. They are lobbying me to start work on another book ASAP.
Makes approximately 15 focaccias, depending on pan size
In this recipe I managed to take focaccia, which is normally roundish and asymmetrical, and turn it into a perfect square. The new shape, together with a rich Mediterranean topping, makes this dish unbeatable.
3½ – 4 cups flour
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1½ – 2 cups water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch rosemary leaves
1 red onion, diced
2 zucchini or 1 small eggplant, diced
1 handful cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 handful olives
Dough: Put yeast in a mixer bowl. Add sugar and 1/2 cup of the water. Let yeast stand for 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and combine until a soft dough forms. Let rise in a warm place for about an hour.
Topping: Heat olive oil and rosemary in a frying pan. Add onion and saute on a high flame for about 3 minutes. Add zucchini or eggplant, tomatoes, and garlic, and saute for 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Discard rosemary and add olives.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Press the dough into any symmetrical silicone mold you choose. If you don’t have silicone molds, you can make traditionally shaped focaccias. (Divide dough into about 15 balls (for mini-focaccias, divide into 20–25 balls). Shape each ball into a flat oval and pierce with a fork.)
Top dough with a generous amount of topping and bake for about 20 minutes.
Tip: You can substitute whole wheat flour for white flour, but you may need to add 1/4 cup water.
Tip: For an even richer taste, sprinkle focaccias with cubes of feta cheese 5 minutes before they are finished baking.
Earlier this week, Efrat Libfroind wrote about cooking and self-improvement, being a mother and a full-time pastry chef and the only kosher cooking student in class. Her new cookbook, Kosher Elegance, is now available.
At times, Israel can feel like a very divided country. It is as if we Israelis all belong to our specific tribe and never come into contact with the others tribes unless forced to.
Publishing my cookbook has been a wonderful experience because I have come into contact with many Israelis who on the face of things, belong to a different tribe than me. I have enjoyed working with all sorts of people in the production of my book (photographers, food stylists, journalists etc). What I find really eye-opening is when the reactions these people have when they meet me. I have loved every minute of it.
At the same time, I speak fluent English, I run a business and have traveled. I keep up with trends in the world of food and cooking accessories. So, I do live within my tribe but I am quite aware of what is happening with other tribes. So while I don’t live or work all that much with members of other Israeli tribes…..I have a pretty good understanding of what is happening in the wider Israeli reality.
However, I think for many people I have been meeting due to my book….I am the first. The first ultra-Orthodox Jew that they are dealing with in an “up close & personal” way.
An example was when recently a reporter from a prestigious Israeli (secular) newspaper spent 6 hours with me at my home in order to discuss my new book and to watch me in action (in the kitchen). I loved spending so much time with her – she was wonderful, a real pleasure to talk to. For her, I think it was an anthropological experience. She couldn’t get over how I have 6 kids, run a successful business, published a cookbook in 2 languages and my husband learns Torah. It is true she did find me in the kitchen but….I think our time together broke down a lot of stereotypes for her. For, me it has been heartwarming to feel the openness and interest of so many of my fellow Israelis for members of “other” tribes (like me! ). I mean, the news seems to say we don’t get along! But I have been finding otherwise. Time and time again. Seems kosher gourmet food is a great connector.
Sweet and Sour Avocado Salad
Avocado is one of my favorite fruits. Its neutral taste goes well with a variety of unusual flavors. In this salad I created a sweet and sour combination. It’s quick and easy to prepare – just make sure you have all the ingredients on hand.
Serves approximately 6
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pinch black pepper
1 tablespoon date syrup or honey
Peel avocado and cut into small chunks. Pit dates and cut into cubes. Dice the peppers and red onion, and cut scallions into thin strips. Transfer fruit andvegetables to a deep bowl. Add the dried cranberriesand almonds. In a small bowl, mix the dressing, pourover the salad, and toss.
Tip: For an original presentation, purchasedecorative serving spoons at a paper goods store and serve individual portions of salad in them.
Part of my business is providing continuing education courses to Israeli public school teachers. In Israel, these courses have a bit more of a “sabbatical year” feel to them, so fun topics like cooking and pastry baking are acceptable choices. I love teaching these courses.Teaching cooking and baking to large numbers of women over the years has been very enlightening. It has become clear to me that while teaching these courses, I am a psychologist as well as a chef and baker.
The groups I click with the most are the women who are upbeat and happy. They come to each class with high hopes and expectations and they drink it all in. They obediently take notes of every word I utter and the have a digital camera going non-stop in order to record every move I make. It is always fun when I put together the various parts of a recipe. There are ‘wows’ from all over the room and cameras clicking so furiously from every possible angle that I feel like I am at a press conference with the Prime Minister.
Another type of student is the more….aggressive type. I have gotten used to this type of student over the years. They come to the course all ready to fail. When this type of student tries a recipe, if it doesn’t look exactly like what I modeled….she attacks. She doesn’t throw eggs, but it is a flood of complaints and frustration. I have learned how to calmly coach this sort of student out of the black hole of recipe failure. It is an art, believe me.
There are students who are so excited about their cooking efforts outside the classroom that they bring in pictures as part of an adult version of “show and tell.” Often, what they made looks nothing like what I taught them…but they are thrilled and proud. Nothing stops them. I love when this happens and I just keep encouraging them.
I often teach women who have a strong desire to achieve and express themselves. I find that the cooking or baking skills they learn become tools in these efforts. They may not find such expression in their jobs and maybe even at home. Often, it seems that their entry into the world of more creative cooking and baking allows these women to grow in life generally. Who knew? Baking for self esteem! Cooking for overall well being! This could be the new yoga.
Over the years I have developed a sense for identifying these women and I really try to give them special attention and encourage them to experiment and to create and…to take pictures every step of the way! This way they can show others and always refer to the great things they have done and (hopefully) continue to do. It really gives me a lot of personal satisfaction working with these women – especially when I see the look in their eyes…..I realize we’ve done a lot more than learned to cook together.
Stuffed Chicken Wedges
Tzippy is a close friend and an accomplished chef in her own right. Before every event she hosts, she calls me and we go over every detail of the menu from A to Z. When she called before her most recent party, she told me we would only discuss the details of the main course and on — she’d already planned the first course. She sounded a little secretive, but since I was attending the event in question, I didn’t pressure her to reveal her secret. This recipe was that surprise dish. It won rave reviews, and I received permission from Tzippy to share it with you.
9 chicken breasts, pounded thin
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 small leek, cut into strips
2 cloves garlic, chopped
15 sun-dried tomato halves, diced (to make your own, see page 74)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bunch chives, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon paprika
Filling: Saute onion and leek in olive oil for 10 minutes. Add sun-dried tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients and saute for about 5 more minutes. Arrange 3 of the chicken breast slices on the bottom of a 9-inch round pan so that the entire base of the pan is covered. Spread half of the filling over the chicken and cover with another layer of chicken. Spread the remaining half of the filling on the chicken and top with the last three chicken breasts.
Mix olive oil and paprika and brush the top layer of chicken with the mixture. Bake uncovered for 40 minutes at 350°F. Cool slightly and sprinkle with chopped chives. Cut into wedges and serve.
Tip: For a special presentation, bake individual servings in 2-inch food rings.
I’ll never forget the first time I entered the lecture hall at the most famous cooking school in the world. Even though I was already the mother of 3 children, I felt like a little girl on my first day of school.
Around me I heard a babble of languages from all over the world – something that was very new to me. I was convinced everyone was looking at me, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish woman with a wig on her head.
In the first lecture (“Intro to Food Technology”) I was unable to concentrate for the first half hour – I was way too self-conscious. I finally relaxed a bit and was able to lose myself in what turned out to be a very fascinating topic.
As the course progressed, I realized that I was not very different than my fellow students except for my headgear. Regardless, somehow, most of the students realized I was Jewish. If they didn’t, they figured it out soon enough.
As you might imagine, a big part of professional cooking courses is tasting foods. Besides the pleasure of eating gorgeous cakes and other creations there is also the important aspect of being able to taste various ingredients, to feel the textures and understand firsthand what was discussed in the lectures. So the first time when everyone stood around the chef and started tasting foods and
schmoozing about the dishes I just wanted to disappear into a corner so I couldn’t be seen. I was the “kosher student”. Now I was forced to deal with it.
Soon after, a kind-hearted American woman, about 60, came running over to me with a plate of something wonderful and could not understand why I wasn’t trying it out. I explained that as an observant Jew, I wouldn’t eat food that wasn’t kosher and cooked in kosher utensils. She didn’t really get it, and then a few other students leaned in to take part in the conversation (some have since become well-known chefs!).
They tried to make sense of what I was saying. “You won’t taste anything here? Never? So what are you doing here?” I did my best to explain what observing the laws of kashrut meant and how that played out in my life (and in cooking school!).
Since then, a lot of cooking and baking has happened for all of us. My first trial by fire wasn’t so easy but once I got used to the various responses I received….I was fine. Plus, I was pretty popular since I always gave away my food to others!
Over the years as I have participated in numerous professional courses I have developed a much better sense of smell which helps me during tests or other times when tasting food is important.
So while I have missed out on many food tastings (and calories) over the years…..I have learned a ton.
Being a full-time mom and also a full time professional chef and pastry chef is well….extraordinary. I have 6 kids and I have built an active business which focuses on teaching cooking, baking and now…..a cookbook.
I am, of course, the mom who makes the fancy cakes for all my kids’ school and birthday parties. And when my daughters have a party with some friends I always find myself “volunteered” to make the desert. Sometimes they leave it up to me what to make but always say “Mom, choose what you want to make, just as long as it has at least 4 layers….”
I find it very adorable when my kids’ friends come over to our house to play. Somehow, they often seem to find their way to the kitchen and watch me doing my thing with big eyes. My kids show off a bit and then always find a way to share the goodies. In Israeli Orthodox circles (and some American as well) my name has become “known” since I often write in magazines and hundreds of women have taken my courses. I think my older kids enjoy this. When people ask their names, they increasingly get the “are you the child of….?” treatment. Then the next question is always “So how come are you so thin?”
My kids always seem to know more about food than anyone their age. Recently my daughter in nursery school jumped into a class discussion on chocolate saying that her favorite is Ganache with chocolate liqueur. When the teacher asked her to elaborate my daughter told her “just call my Mom, she is good at it.” Of course, my kids know all the cuts of meat and the names of the latest & hippest fish that everyone is eating now. I must smile since I couldn’t even make an omelet when I got married.
Shabbat and holiday meals are really a highlight for my family. My family are my guinea pigs and they know (and love) it. This is when I try out everything, all my culinary experiments. So I roll out all the new recipes and decorations I am trying. It is always a big celebration. It is nice to have guests during these meals, because they usually love it as well, and I think it makes my kids feel great to see the reactions. The only problem is that we don’t get invited out all that often. Some have told me that having me eat their food makes them feel pressured or judged since I am a chef. They have obviously not heard the pearl of wisdom that “everything tastes great when made by someone else”.
So my career is important – no question about it. I teach, I write, I cook non-stop but my family and husband come first. If I can combine the two…that is a real plus. So considering how involved my family is with my food….I may be succeeding.
Makes approximately 2 cups
Ganache is a fundamental ingredient in many petits fours, miniatures, and desserts. It can be used as a liquid or solid. When preparing ganache it will first be liquid, and after cooling at room temperature (not in the fridge!) it will solidify. Liquid ganache is used to fill silicone molds to form components of petits fours. Solid ganache is used for decorating desserts and as a glue to connect various parts.
My professional secret for making perfect ganache is to add margarine to chocolate in a 1 to 10 ratio. The margarine makes the ganache glossier as well as easier to work with.
10 1/2 ounces pareve bittersweet chocolate
2 tablespoons margarine
1 8-ounce container Rich’s Whip
3 tablespoons good-quality liqueur
Makes 20 shells
1 recipe ganache
2 tablespoons rolled fondant (available at specialty baking stores)
Basic ganache: Melt chocolate and margarine in microwave. Add RichWhip and beat with a handheld whisk until a smooth, shiny cream forms. Add liqueur. If ganache hardens while you’re working with it, return it to microwave to remelt it.
Ganache seashells: Use Pavoni-brand molds, model xp006. Fill molds while ganache is still liquid. Freeze for 1 hour and release from molds. Shape fondant into pearl-sized balls. Connect the back edges of two seashells with a drop of ganache and place a fondant pearl inside the opening of the double shell.
Tip: If you want an especially firm ganache that will hold up for a few hours out of the fridge, increase the chocolate in the recipe by 20 percent.
Come back all week to read stories and recipes from Efrat Libfroind. Her new book, Kosher Elegance, is now available.