Bar/Bat Mitzvah – B’nai Mitzvah Menu Dishes Up Bonuses


With the flurry that surrounds a b’nai mitzvah celebration, we often lose sight that this day — this passage from childhood to adulthood — will be one of the most meaningful memories of his or her life.

The memories will not be of the buffet table that boasted an ice sculpture replicating a Torah or a humungous Jewish Star comprised entirely of chopped liver. And the noisy dance floor crowded with unfamiliar gussied-up guests will become a blur lost to time.

What we want a bar or bat mitzvah to remember most is the outpouring of love from those who watched as the child read from the Torah and listened to the positive intentions he or she outlined for their life. And most of all, we want a child to re-live the sense of accomplishment that results from this achievement.

Then why do we feel compelled to host a no-holds-barred celebration that, to quote Rabbi Gil Marks, “is often all bar and no mitzvah?”

To challenge this trend of pleasing business acquaintances and long-lost cousins, rather than honoring the bar or bat mitzvah, many parents are planning the Saturday night party with, rather than for, their child, so that it is more personal, more creative and more reflective of what will make him or her the happiest.

Whether the child wants a noisy bash with a DJ at the synagogue, a make-their-own-pizza party in the family room or a casual beach party roasting kosher dogs and burgers with friends, let it be filled with an abundance of amusement but a fraction of the flash.

But for the Oneg Shabbat, give your child the unique experience of creating a unique menu built around favorite foods. A few rules: no burgers, no kosher dogs, no pizza — and no deli.

Otherwise, the sky’s the limit. But, because I am the proverbial Jewish mother, here’s one very delicious suggestion: What child doesn’t covet lamb chops?

If you’re worried that lamb chops for a crowd of hungry b’nai mitzvah-goers might get expensive, consider sandwiches of boned, butterflied and marinated leg of lamb, sliced thin and then piled between pieces of rosemary or olive bread spread with Dijon mustard and accompanied by arugula.

Choose a variety of his favorite salads, some cold asparagus sticks and, for dessert, strawberry tarts.

For colorful, healthful side dishes, let your child select favorite cut-up vegetables among carrots, celery, jicima sticks, tricolored bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, baby corn, broccoli and cauliflower. To accentuate their flavor, offer dressings of Thousand Island and vinaigrette and dips of olive tapenade, hummus or baba ganoush.

For a sweet life, set out platters of fresh fruit — sliced melons, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, mango and bowls of berries. And include a favorite after-school treat of sliced apples, pears and bananas with peanut butter and honey.

With your child, test the proposed recipes — from salads to dessert. Then when you’re both pleased, type up the recipes and invite your friends to play a special role in the Oneg Shabbat.

You are role-modeling friendship, generosity and a sense of community — qualities better shown than spoken. As a bonus, you are strengthening bonds, proving the paradigm, “It does take a village to raise a child.”

Given the opportunity — and a little guidance — your child can experience yet another accomplishment. Let your bar or bat mitzvah take the first step into adulthood with a healthy, delicious menu that has been specially created for his or her guests.

Baby Greens With Pansies and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Edible flowers are grown specifically with no pesticide or dangerous chemicals. Be sure to use only flowers cultivated in this way.

Vinaigrette

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed blood-red orange juice
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, red wine vinegar
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, cold water
1/3 cup dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups nut oil (hazelnut, walnut or pecan)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon orange zest

Place all ingredients, except oils and zest, in blender. Blend for 30 seconds. Remove mixture, stir in oils and zest, whisk to form a smooth emulsion.

Salad

3 pounds field lettuce or baby greens
3/4 cup fresh mint, torn into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup fresh basil, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cup pansies or other edible flowers
3/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups croutons (optional)

Place greens, mint, basil, sunflower seeds and croutons, if desired, in bowl; toss with dressing and sprinkle with pansies.

Makes 24 servings.

Butterfly of Lamb Sandwiches on Rosemary Bread

Remove all sinews and visible fat from lamb. Place lamb and marinade in large Ziploc bag. Let sit for at least four hours or overnight.

Let meat come to room temperature before grilling. Place lamb on grill about six inches from coals. Cover grill, let lamb cook for 15 minutes. Turn lamb over, cook until desired degree of doneness. The internal temperature should read 140 F to 145 F.

Remove to carving board. Cover with foil; let rest for five minutes before carving.

Marinade

3/4 cup sherry or Madeira
2 1/4 cups orange juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
12 cloves garlic, finely chopped or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
12 pounds leg of lamb, boned and butterflied

Combine marinade ingredients and pour into saucepan. Heat on low flame until flavors are thoroughly blended, about 45 seconds. Allow marinade to cool.

Rosemary Bread

2 packages dry yeast
2 cups tepid water (90 F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1 tablespoon kosher salt

In electric mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in water until it starts to work.

Add sugar, oils, salt, three cups flour; process for 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough leaves sides of bowl. Using either bread hook or your hands, knead in remaining flour until dough is smooth. Allow it to double in size and then punch it down. Divide in half and roll out each section to half-inch thick.

Combine garlic and olive oil; paint top of dough generously. Sprinkle on rosemary and salt. Roll into a jelly roll, pinching down sides. Put into two greased loaf pans. Let them rise until they double in size. Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes. When it’s sliced, it should look a pinwheel.

Makes two loaves.

Sandwich Garnish Suggestions:

2 cups arugula, well washed and dried
Fresh mint, chopped fine
Thinly sliced red or yellow tomatoes
Thinly sliced Bermuda or other sweet onions
Thinly sliced cucumbers
1 quart mayonnaise
1 pint Dijon mustard
Mango chutney
Horseradish
Mint jelly

To make sandwiches, slice bread thin and pile it artistically on a platter. Provide bowls of mayonnaise mustard, mustard, horseradish, chutney, chopped mint, mint jelly and platters of cucumbers, sweet onions, tomatoes and arugula.

Guests will be creative with which spreads they choose and which vegetables they select to accessorize their sandwiches. You or your child can demonstrate ideas of delicious combinations, such as: Spread lightly with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Place a piece of arugula, lamb a few garnishes and then another piece of arugula.

Makes 24 servings.

Crisp Asparagus Sticks

Spring asparagus is so tasty it needs little accompaniment.

3 pounds baby asparagus, with spears peeled and tough ends trimmed
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Fill a large skillet with salted water to within an inch of the top. Bring to boil; add asparagus. Simmer uncovered four to five minutes until firm tender. Pierce with point of paring knife to determine doneness. Plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking.

Dry on paper towel; toss with lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil, if desired. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. It will stay fresh for several hours.

Makes 24 servings.

Strawberry Brown Butter Tartlettes

Adapted from “The World of Jewish Entertaining” by Gil Marks (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Shell (Pate Sablée)

2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs or 6 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
Ice water as needed

Filling

6 eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
12 tablespoons flour
12 ounces margarine

Strawberries

6 pints strawberries, stemmed but left whole

Glaze

3/4 cup currant jelly
3 tablespoons sugar

Garnish, Optional

3 cups mint sprigs, stem removed

To make the pastry: Beat margarine and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg and salt.

Gradually blend in the flour. (The dough should have the consistency of a sugar cookie. If it is too stiff, add a little ice water.) Form the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one week.

On a lightly floured piece of wax paper, roll out the dough to a one-eighth-inch thick round about two inches larger than an 11-inch round tart pan.

Fit dough into tart pan and run a rolling pin over top to trim edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (The shell can be refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to three months.)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line bottom and sides of shell with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, pressing against the sides. Bake until pastry is set, about 10 minutes.

Remove weights and foil and bake until pastry is lightly browned, about 10 minutes more. Let cool on a rack. (The tart shell can be prepared a day ahead, covered, and stored at room temperature.)

For filling: Mix together eggs, sugar and flour in bowl. In saucepan, brown butter, stirring with whisk until golden and smells nutty (do not burn). Whisk into flour mixture. Spoon into tart pans; smooth it over. Decorate tart with strawberries in circular pattern. Top with glaze.

For glaze: Place jelly and sugar in saucepan. Cook on high heat stirring with wire whisk until jelly breaks down and turns into syrup, about two minutes. While glaze is still warm, paint strawberries with soft-bristled pastry brush. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

Makes three 11-inch tarts.

 

A Rehearsal Menu to Tickle Your Nose


When Dom Perignon invented the creme de la creme of spirits in the 17th century, little did he know that the drink he discovered while trying to eradicate those “irksome bubbles” from his wine would be considered so romantic that wedding guests wouldn’t think of toasting generations of brides and grooms with anything less.

Since today’s weddings are rife with new traditions, why not serve your guests a rehearsal dinner menu infused with Champagne? It will be good practice for your first official dinner as a couple — which, hopefully, you will be cooking together. While it seems extravagant to heat a liquid so precious — it has sold for as much as $25,000 a bottle — chefs praise the celebratory results.

Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica cooks with Champagne for the same reason he uses fresh truffles or searches out the best foie gras or caviar.

“A dish is only as elegant as its ingredients,” he said. “Champagne adds a touch of romance, a certain finesse. Its subtle acidity is the perfect foil for butter, which is why I use it in beurre blanc and other fish sauces.”

Citrin often cooks with a more moderately priced Champagne, then finishes the dish with a splash of a more expensive variety.

When deciding on which label of Champagne or sparkling wine to cook with, it’s important to really like the flavor, said Finbar Kinsella, chef at Lily’s in Louisville.

“It doesn’t have to be as expensive as the Champagne you’ll be drinking, but if you don’t like it in the glass you won’t like it on your plate,” he said. “The myth that the taste will be diffused in the cooking process is just that.”

For kosher consumers, wineries such as Baron Herzog, Hagafen, Abarbanel and Yarden make very good Champagnes.

Cooking with the world’s most celebratory drink is perfect for a wedding, New York chef Jerome Vidy said.

Originally from Apt, in the south of France, Vidy remembers, “It’s very French to always have a bottle of wine in the house, but if there’s a bottle of Champagne chilling in the fridge, you know something special is coming up. Carrying over the flavor from your flute to your plate is a wonderful way to toast your love.”

Vidy emphasizes the care aspect of cooking with Champagne since its sparkle rarely lasts more than a half hour.

“Assemble your ingredients, pop the cork and then use it immediately. In between additions, keep it in a cool place. Of course it’s fun to get a head start on celebrating by drinking and toasting as you cook,” he said.

Champagne Leek Soup With Caviar

From Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse Restaurant, Santa Monica.

Soup

1 cup white onion, sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

5 tablespoons butter, or more if needed, divided

2 quarts diced leeks, white part only

Salt to taste

1 cup Champagne

2 small Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into quarters

1 sprig fresh thyme

1 quart vegetable stock

2 cups water

1/2 cup cream

Garnish

1 cup diced leeks, white part only

1/2 cup cream

1 cup diced white potatoes

1 sprig thyme

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup Champagne

2 ounces kosher caviar

On a low flame sweat onions and garlic in 2 tablespoons butter until translucent, about two minutes, adding more butter if the mixture gets dry. Add leeks and a pinch of salt; continue cooking two minutes longer. Add 1 cup Champagne, raise heat, and reduce the mixture by half, making sure it doesn’t boil. Add Yukon potatoes, thyme, vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream. Bring to a boil again, immediately reduce heat to a simmer; cook for 10 minutes. Blend until smooth. Strain through a chinois sieve.

For garnish, sweat leeks in butter, about three to four minutes. Add 1/2 cup cream; cook until leeks are soft, about two minutes more. Boil potatoes with thyme and bay leaf until just cooked through. Drain and add white potatoes to leek-cream mixture. Mix well.

Heat soup; add 2 tablespoons butter and remaining 1/4 cup Champagne. Blend until light and frothy. Pour into a warmed soup tureen. Reheat leek mixture, adding a bit of butter, if needed.

To serve, place about 1 tablespoon of the leek mixture in the center of six soup bowls. Garnish with caviar. Carefully ladle the soup around the leeks so that the garnish is floating on top.

Makes six servings.

Spinach and Mesclun Salad With Champagne Tarragon Vinaigrette

Adapted from New York chef Jerome Vidy.

For Champagne tarragon vinegar

1 pint Champagne vinegar

1 cup Champagne

1/2 cup tarragon, thyme, and parsley sprigs

4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole

1 teaspoon red, white and black peppercorns

For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon Champagne tarragon vinegar

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons chopped shallots

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped chives

1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped

For salad

8 cups loosely packed greens

2 tablespoons pine nuts (optional)

2 tablespoons dried cranberries (optional)

For Champagne tarragon vinegar, pour vinegar and Champagne into a sterilized jar. Add herb sprigs along with garlic and peppercorns. Store in cool place for four weeks. When vinegar is finished strain out the herbs, garlic and peppercorns.

For Champagne tarragon vinaigrette, place olive oil, vinegar, Dijon, salt and shallots in a screw-top jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds to blend thoroughly. Stir in herbs just before dressing salad.

Toss with spinach, mache, mesclun, and, if desired, pine nuts and cranberries.

Makes six servings.

Halibut a L’armoricaine

From Uwe Nettelbeck of Merigot, France. If halibut is unavailable, use another densely fleshed fish such as sea bass. Armagnac is an earthy tasting type of brandy, made in Armagnac, France. Or substitute with a liqueur of your choice.

2 large shallots, peeled and sliced

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced

8 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded and halved

2 cups good fish stock

1 tablespoon butter

1 cup Champagne

2 tablespoons Armagnac

2 pounds boneless and skinless halibut fillets, cut into 2-inch chunks

Salt to taste

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons each parsley, chervil and tarragon, chopped

In a separate pan, sauté shallots and garlic in butter until translucent. Turn heat to low, add tomatoes; cook five minutes longer. Add fish stock, white wine, and Armagnac. Turn heat to medium, add salt and reduce by half. Lower heat, add halibut to liquid. Cook gently for about six to eight minutes, until fish is cooked through. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove fish to platter. Lower heat; add cream, half the parsley, chervil, and tarragon. Gently cook until you have a thick cream sauce. Add fish back into sauce; heat through and serve. Garnish with the remaining tablespoon of chopped parsley.

Makes four servings.

Champagne-Honey Granita

From Vincent Scotto, executive chef at Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.

This smoothing, refreshing granita is delicious served with berries or sliced fruit. You can substitute sparkling wine for the Champagne.

1 (750 milliliter) bottle dry Champagne

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup honey

In a bowl combine Champagne, lemon juice and honey. Stir until honey dissolves. Transfer to a shallow stainless steel pan that fits easily into the freezer.

Freeze for about an hour. Remove and, using a pastry scraper or metal spatula, scrape the sides and bottom of the granita, mixing the frozen particles into the less frozen center.

Freeze for about two hours longer and scrape again. Let the granita freeze for three to four hours longer, until completely frozen. Chop the granita into pieces and serve immediately or return to the freezer until ready to serve.

Makes about two quarts.

Gonzo Bellini

From executive chef Vincent Scotto of Gonzo Restaurant, New York City.

1 pint strawberries or peaches

1/4 cup sugar

2 bottles Champagne.

Puree strawberries or peaches; place in pan with the sugar; bring to boil, cool. Add ice and Champagne.

Champagne Apricot Truffles

From Kathy Cary, chef-owner of Lilly’s Restaurant, Louisville. The recipe was inspired by Camille Glenn, the dowager of Southern cookbook writers.

1 cup dried apricots, cut into sixths

1 cup Champagne, or more to cover the apricots

1 pound bitter chocolate

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup Champagne

1/4 pound shelled pistachios, toasted and finely chopped (optional)

Place apricots in a bowl. Add enough Champagne to cover. Soak apricots in Champagne overnight.

To make ganache, melt chocolate in a double boiler. In a separate saucepan warm cream to about the same temperature as the chocolate. Whip the cream into the chocolate mixture. Remove from stove. Add 1/2 cup Champagne to the ganache mixture. Cool.

With a small scoop, shape dollops of the chocolate mixture into walnut-sized balls. Press a few pieces of Champagne-soaked apricots into each of the balls. Roll completed balls in pistachios to coat the balls.

Makes about three dozen truffles.