The Seder

So the wife and daughter are in Chicago for the next 4 1/2 days, leaving the son and I home to fend for ourselves.

Strip clubs, beware!

Alas, Emmett is only 4. And, last I checked, Thee Doll House doesn’t allow anyone under 7. So we’ll find different ways to entertain outselves. Like, for example, throwing a seder.

Monday night is the opening of Passover, a holiday annually celebrated by my wife and two sister in laws cooking their asses off. Now, however, two of the three sisters are away, leaving an empty spot at the head of the seder for 2011.

Enter: Me.

This year, Emmett and I are hosting the seder at the Pearlman Inn. Am I a good cook? Not especially. Have I ever prepared food for 14 guests? Certainly not. Might this wind up being a spectacular failure? Certainly. So why the need? Honestly, because I love challenges. Pressure. Anxiety, to a certain degree. I like trying things that I shouldn’t try. My efforts a few years back at skydiving is the example that comes to mind. Leaping from 13,000 feet? Not all that appealing. Doing it? Spectacular.

My wife is skeptical, and I’ve come to understand why. (a) She feels like she’s missing out (Not on my food. On the gathering). (b) Of the 14 people attending, all but two are from her side of the family. (c) I’m a lousy cook with no track record. (d) I’m a lousy cook with no track record. (e) I’m a lousy cook with no track record. (f) I’m a lousy cook with no track record.

It’s true. I am lousy. And the wife is spectacular. Beyond spectacular. Were you to enter in an arranged marriage with the single requirement of, “She’s gotta be an off-the-charts chef,” well, you’d wind with Catherine and smile with every meal.

That said, I think I can pull this off.

As I write this, I’m actually taking my first-ever shot at chocolate matzoh, which may well be the tastiest kosher food ever. Here’s the recipe I’m following.

Chocolate-Covered Caramelized Matzoh Crunch
Makes approximately 30 pieces of candy

This recipe is adapted from Marcy Goldman of Betterbaking.com, whose latest book is A Passion For Baking. It’s super-simple and requires no fancy thermometer, equipment, or ingredients. If you can’t get matzoh, use plain crackers such as saltines instead and omit the additional salt in the recipe.

For passover or vegans, Marcy advises that it works well with margarine. And for our gluten-free friends, this would be superb made with any gluten-free cracker. I’d love to hear about any variations you might try with it.

4 to 6 sheets unsalted matzohs
1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (215g) firmly-packed light brown sugar
big pinch of sea salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup (160g) semisweet chocolate chips (or chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate)

1 cup (80g) toasted sliced almonds (optional)

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet (approximately 11 x 17″, 28 x 42cm) completely with foil, making sure the foil goes up and over the edges. Cover the foil with a sheet of parchment paper.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

2. Line the bottom of the sheet with matzoh, breaking extra pieces as necessary to fill in any spaces.

3. In a 3-4 quart (3-4l) heavy duty saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the butter is melted and the mixture is beginning to boil. Boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, add the salt and vanilla, and pour over matzoh, spreading with a heatproof spatula.

4. Put the pan in the oven and reduce the heat to 350F (175C) degrees. Bake for 15 minutes. As it bakes, it will bubble up but make sure it’s not burning every once in a while. If it is in spots, remove from oven and reduce the heat to 325F (160C), then replace the pan.

5. Remove from oven and immediately cover with chocolate chips. Let stand 5 minutes, then spread with an offset spatula.

6. If you wish, sprinkle with toasted almonds (or another favorite nut, toasted and coarsely-chopped), a sprinkle of flaky sea salt, or roasted cocoa nibs.

Let cool completely, the break into pieces and store in an airtight container until ready to serve. It should keep well for about one week.

Note: If making for passover, omit the vanilla extract or find a kosher brand.

Just took the chocolate matzoh out of the oven, and it looks pretty damn good. The wife, obviously, makes it better. Not sure how, but hers is insanely addictive. Mine, I hope, will just be pretty solid. Just checked to see how it’s cooling. I’m a tad worried I used too much chocolate, because it’s still pretty gooey. Doh.

I think I’ll blog about this throughout the weekend. Went to the supermarket with the boy tonight, picked up some stuff. Including:

1. A big, nasty vat of big, nasty gefilte fish (or, as Emmett wisely noted, “White poop.”)

2. Three tins of matzoh farfel, which is really just small pieces of matzoh.

3. Two things of grape juice.

4. a 12-pack of Vanilla Coke Zero. Mmm.

5. Chocolate macaroons. Because they’re fucking amazing.

5. Two things of canned sweet potatoes and a smaller can of chunked pineapple. This won’t thrill the wife, but I’ve decided to make a sweet potato moosh. It’s like a dinner pudding—very sweet, very tasty. The recipe dates back to my late grandmother, Marta Herz, who made it for most every holiday. I like cooking this, because it reminds me of her. So even if nobody else likes it, well, hey.

6. Three jars of black cherry jelly. The main course is this chicken recipe I snagged from an old boss years ago. It’s actually made in a crock pot—with 14 mouths to feed, I actually borrowed my sister-in-law’s crock, so I have two to work with. The original recipe, which I probably make, oh, four times a year, calls for a corned bread stuffing. On Passover, however, no bread-based stuffing. So I’m debating whether to stuff it with a matzoh-based stuffing, or just keep it empty. Matzoh tends to get soggy pretty easily, so it could pose a risk.

On the other hand—what’s to lose? I can’t cook.

(The finished product)

3 thoughts on “The Seder”

  1. A good alternative to stuffing is matzah kugel, which you can make with the matzah farfel.

    And after you’re done with the chocolate matzah, refrigerate it. It hardens better that way and breaks apart deliciously in your mouth.

    You’ll also require some mandlen (soup nuts), matzoh ball soup (you can get it in packages) plus hard boiled eggs and all the other crap for the Seder plate, some truly terrible red wine and a bunch of old Drifters records, and a song sheet for ‘Chad Gadyoh’ and you’ll have an authentic Shulman family Seder.

    My dad would like to advise you that when you cook anything, do so a day in advance if possible, because he strongly believes in the power of letting things rest between cooking and serving to better absorb flavors(then you can reheat them) plus for the chance to start over if you foul it up.

    Good luck! 🙂

  2. P.S. If you want to make matzah kugel but don’t know how, I could ask one of my family for the recipe, by all accounts its not difficult at all.

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