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Rosh Hashanah 2013/5774 Simanim and Elvi Ness Blanco

Rosh Hashanah (literally translated ”head of the year”) has come and gone again (Wednesday Night – September 4th, 2013), and once more I am reminded that it is a holiday that is more about your relationship with God than your gastronomic relationship with friends and family. Yes of course it is not a fast day like Yom Kippur, of course, but still the frivolity needs to be toned down a bit, and the attention placed on the fact that we are all being judged at this time of the year. So with that frame of mind, yeah too many early morning Selichot Services kind of kill the mood, my wife and I set out to make our menu and meals.

This year we gave the hosting task to friends of ours, and it was quite awesome! Like two years ago, (sorry I bailed on writing up RH last year), we had the same simanim (literally translated to “signs”), except that we made few of them, as we were eating out. The simanim are a play on word and are a very basic Jewish tradition of using word play to bring out symbolism and actual changes or good tidings. The simanim are a yearly rite of passage, and one of my favorite Jewish traditions.  Many of the recipes have been changed to protect the innocent.  The customary recipes from my mother recipes consist of 4 basic ingredients, oil, more oil, honey, and some vegetable, and one cooking style – frying.  We decided that this tradition was awesome, but that it needed to be toned down such that it could be enjoyed for years to come and not just for the few where we are vertical.  So it called for some baking and less oil.  This year, as stated above, we were at our dear friends home, who are Ashkenazi, so we had a slightly modified order, but otherwise, much is the same:

  1. Sweet apples dipped in honey
    1. The symbolism here is that God should grant us a New Year as sweet as honey
  2. Instead of butternut squash or gourd, our hosts made a beautiful display item! They took small yellow squashes – tiny yellow bell shaped summer squashes, cored, and then filled with a salad of quinoa, summer squash, mushrooms, and onions – just lovely!! A feast for the eyes and palate!  (Kra in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should tear up our evil decrees and read before him our merits
  3. Leeks – prepared masterfully by our hosts. She took whole wheat cups and filled them with a mixture of sauteed leeks and others things that I forget now, but they made for a lovely and stunning dish (Karti in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should cut down our enemies
  4. Spinach – prepared masterfully by our host again, but not with spinach but rather beets (Salka in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should remove our enemies
  5. Black eyed peas  (Rubya in Aramaic)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should increase our merits
  6. Pomegranate seeds (Rimon in Hebrew)
    1. The symbolism here is that our mitzvot (observance of the Jewish laws) be as plentiful as the pomegranate seeds
  7. Dates or Figs (Tamar in Hebrew)
    1. The symbolism here is that God should end our enemies
  8. Fish head – Salmon head poached in white wine and water
    1. The symbolism here is that in this New Year we should be at the head of the class and not at the tail

After the LOVELY simanim, we enjoyed roasted fish, BL’s world famous teriyaki pasta, vegetables, and other things that I gobbled up, but forget now (this is what happens when I slack off on my blog)!

Thanks so much to our hosts – may BL and ML and your entire family have a year filled with joy and happiness and success! The wine we enjoyed throughout the meal was the 2009 Elvi Ness Blanco, with enough residual sugar to make for a sweet but balanced year!

The wine note follows below:

2009 Elvi Ness Blanco – Score: B++
This is the second iteration of this wine (2008 was the first year for this unique belnd). This wine is a 50/50 Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc blend, one that is not very common to me. The first time I tasted this wine, a few years ago, the wine was showing far more Sauvignon Blanc than the Moscato. Now, the wine is showing far more of the Moscato and the honeyed nose and mouth are screaming with pineapple and melon. The nose on this gold colored wine is screaming with rich honey, mango, fig, bright citrus, pear, melon, pineapple, floral notes, smoky toast, with a nice sweet and bright/tart nose to boot. The mouth on this full bodied wine is off dry to semi-sweet with more rich honey, bright citrus, pineapple, melon, mango, and pear. The mid palate is bright and acidic with toast, dirt, floral notes, honey, and fig. The finish is super long and spicy with rich mango, honey, pineapple, green tea, and toast. This is quite a unique wine and one I really enjoyed.

Kosher European Wines, Hagafen Wine, Kosher Meat Lasagna, White Bean and Kalamata Soup, Vegetable Kugel

This past weekend we had a bunch of friends over to the house and we were so happy to celebrate the good health and recovery of a dear friend of the family who honored us by coming on over for the meal. It is starting to feel a bit chilly around here, so we thought it would be great to try some lovely White Bean and Kalamta Olive Soup. The link to the recipe was the best I could find on the web. The one I use is from Mollie Katzen’s cookbook, which I have no right to place on my blog, please buy her book she is a genius!

The soup is simple to make, and I follow her recipe to the tee, short of adding in a wee bit more wine than her recipe calls for. Personally, that is the ultimate compliment, using someone’s exact recipe, with little or no change, because it is perfect as it is.

We then cooked up meat lasagna. I have modified the lasagna many times, as I am constantly looking for the perfect lasagna that is not too dry or too runny. I think I have finally done that! This past week the lasagna was killer, very tasty, and it was solid without being the least bit dry. The recipe is a change from another cookbook I use, but I have modified this one to not worry about sharing it. Also, I wrote a lot about the process, so the recipe looks long, but I am just adding in my years of struggle with these recipes to make sure you do not. Overall a pretty easy recipe:

Meat Lasagna Recipe: (Makes two pans of lasagna)
2 Tbsp. Oil
2 chopped onions
5 garlic cloves smashed (or just use the frozen garlic)
2 lb. of ground meat
1 sliced green pepper
1 sliced orange or yellow pepper
3 28 oz. cans of crushed tomatoes
2 15 oz. cans of tomato sauce
12 oz. of red wine (more acid and tannin the better)
4 to 5 Tbsp. parsley
2 tsp. sugar
3 tsp. of basil
salt and pepper to taste

16 oz. (18 pieces) of dry lasagna noodle (normal pasta that needs to be cooked)
1 LARGE eggplant sliced 1/2 inch thick

In a large Dutch oven or tall walled pan, heat up the oil until shimmering and then throw in the chopped onions and cook them till they are close to being browned. Then throw in the crushed garlic and as soon as it starts to smell garlicky, throw in the ground meat. Be careful never to burn the garlic, as that is nasty! Move around the meat and make sure it nice and browned. Now throw in the sliced peppers and lets cook until tender. Then throw in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, red wine, herbs, salt and pepper. Now mix the pot around a fair amount until the wine color disappears and the tomato color is bright. Keep cooking the sauce until it reduces by 20% or until the sauce looks nice and thick. This step is VERY important, so do not skimp on this, it takes time but you will be generously rewarded.

At this point, bring a very large pot of water to boil and then place the lasagna noodles and cook them 1 to 2 minutes before al dente. We do this because we want them to finish in the oven. NEVER TRY the already cooked or NOT cooked pasta – it does not work. Cook the pasta and you will get the lovely texture that is not available any other way. Once cooked, pour out all the water, and put in some cold water in the pot to keep the pasta from drying up. Read the rest of this entry

Herb encrusted Gefilte Loaf, Sweet and Sour Brisket, Quinoa, Kugel, and lovely wines

This past weekend was still Passover and we invited friends and family to hang out and join us for a lovely meal. Passover is a time meant to represent rejuvenation, freedom, and the need for each of us to spark the embers of possibility that lie deep within us all. The combination of Passover and the Sabbath meant we needed to dig deep and make some really fun stuff, so that is exactly what we did. We made my favorite cut of meat, a brisket in the manner that we always do, with help from friends of ours that were hanging out with us for Passover. We also made other Passover favorites this year, including our Herb Encrusted Gefilte Fish Loaf, and a new vegetable kugel, that was killer. Most kugel has some kind of binding agent in it, and on Passover that is either Potato Starch or Matzah Meal. However, this recipe has neither! This is a slightly modified recipe from an insert we saw in a magazine created by the folks at the Pomegranate Supermarket in Brooklyn, NY.

Passover Vegetable Kugel Recipe

4 red potatoes (unpeeled)
4 yellow zucchinis (unpeeled)
6 carrots (unpeeled)
2 onions
6 eggs
3/4 cup of oil
Salt, pepper, and garlic to taste

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grate all the vegetables in your food processor. Mix in the eggs, oil, salt, pepper, and garlic, and then pour into either a single 9″ x 13″ pan or two 9″ round pans. Bake at 425 for 30 minutes. Then lower the temperature to 350 degrees and bake for another hour. The kugel should be slightly charred on the top and sides but cooked thoroughly within, which is easy to check with a toothpick or fork.

The recipes for the brisket and the Gefilte Loaf can be found here.  We changed the brisket recipe only slightly, by NOT using ketchup, and using tomato sauce instead.

To pair with this feast we had a few wines, some that people brought over, and some that we took out of the cellar. One of them is a rather unique wine, a blend of Moscato and Sauvignon Blanc. This is not a common blend and one that many dislike, but one that we really liked and one we spoke about previously, when we wrote an article about Elvi Wines. Jay Miller, a wine writer and critic for Robert Parker‘s highly influential Wine Advocate newsletter, echoed the words “Kudos to the Cohens (of Elvi Wines) for this remarkable array of Kosher wines…” when tasting the Elvi’s wines. We have now tasted the wine in question a few times, the 2008 Elvi Ness Blanco, and each time it has put a smile on my face. Some critics did not like it, but Mr. Miller and I seem to like it just fine. This time around the wine is showing more Alsatian in nature, with rich honeyed styling and good minerality to boot. The wine went perfectly with the herb encrusted fish, the honey pairing well against the herb and the mineral notes pairing nicely with the fish’s slight sweetness and weight.

Read the rest of this entry

Whisky and Brown Sugar braised Short Ribs, Quinoa, Fresh Salad, and Elvi Ness, Ribera del Jucar

This past weekend we were lying low again and after emailing with Moises a few times, I could not help but try another one of his wonderful wines. We were also looking for some serious food to go with it, so we went for some of my Whisky and Brown Sugar braised ribs along with some Quinoa, and fresh green salad. To pair with the heavy braised ribs, I went for a wine from Moises’s portfolio, the 2007 Elvi Ness. The only slight I have on this bottle was that there seemed to be effervescence or bubbles in the wine. Of course these were not on purpose, but they took a fair amount of time to dissipate.

The wine note follows below:

2007 Elvi Ness, Ribera del Jucar – Score: B to B++ (blend of 25% Tempranillo, 32% Bobal, 39% Merlot, and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon)
The nose on this garnet to black colored wine was rich with cedar, vanilla, coffee, dirt/bramble, blackberry, black cherry, currant, plum, and mint/eucalyptus. The mouth on this medium to full bodied wine initially showed bubbles, which was a bit offsetting, over time it dissipated, along with blackberry, black cherry, currant, and bramble. The mid palate was bracing with acid, a rich mouth, oak, and spice. The finish was long, with nice spice, black cherry, black currant, oak, and vanilla.


ElviWines Ness and some lovely Buffalo steaks

This past weekend saw us enjoying a meal at home with a pair of grilled Buffalo steaks and vegetables, along with a wicked cool bottle of wine that I have had before, but not documented until now.  We placed the steaks into a marinade of wine, herbs, and stone crushed mustard.  The marinade helped to soften the buffalo steaks and added a really nice herb and mustard flavor to them.  I popped some charcoals into my small grill, and lit them up and let them get nice and white.  I then dropped the vegetables on the coals, and started working on a salad with my wife to complement the dinner.

Once the vegetables were grilled, I threw the meat on the grill for a few minutes on each side, and then let them rest for a couple of minutes.  I used the marinade to baste the meat while it was cooking on the grill and then we tucked into them once they had rested.

I chose to pair the steaks with a fun loving wine called Elvi Ness.  The wine is really fun and explosive, but not overly complex.  It is one of those wines that can be construed by some as all over the place, but to me and others, a really fun loving wine, especially with steak.

The wine notes follow below:

2004 ElviWine Ness (50% Tempranillo, 20% Bobal, 20% Syrah and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon) – Score: B+
The nose on this dark garnet to purple colored wine starts off with Syrah characteristics, it is really powerful with roasted herb, fig, vanilla, blackberry, plum, dark chocolate, tar extraction, and oak.  The mouth on this full bodied wine is concentrated with blackberry, red plum, and herbs.  The mid palate is bright with acidity, tar, and oak.  The finish is spicy and long with pepper, oak, dark fruit, tar, and chocolate.  The wine is clearly showing its Syrah components, with its extracted and peppery flavors – quite nice!

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