I’ve eaten at quite a number of seders, and shabbat and sukkot dinners in my lifetime, and so there’s a special place in my heart for good latkes or braised brisket, or even the taste of charoset.
I’ve also eaten quite a number of meals from Todd Gray and Equinox in my lifetime, and whether it’s a celebration of mid-Atlantic seafood or a ricotta agnolotti in a parmesan truffle butter sauce, there’s a soulfulness that emanates from each bite.
“The New Jewish Table” Cookbook
So what if I told you that you could have the tradition and flavors and culture of Jewish cuisine, but with the seasonality, refinement and elegance that only comes from a brilliant James-Beard-award-winning chef? That’s what jumps out from every page of “The New Jewish Table,” the new cookbook from Chef Todd Gray and wife Ellen Kassoff Gray.
From a pure design perspective, the cookbook is brilliant: the fonts are crisp and handsome, the pictures beautiful and the layout intuitive and friendly. If you didn’t cook from it, you could easily feature it out as a coffee table book. Dishes are organized not only by season — a nod to the Grays’ commitment to seasonal foods — but the book also notes each recipe’s kosher status, so as to warn home cooks about mixing dairy and meat.
The recipes themselves are to die for, and range from modern re-conceptions of old family recipes (the cover is Not Exactly Aunt Lil’s Matzo Ball Soup, for example), to plates straight from the Equinox kitchen (such as the Mac and Cheese).
Our Adventures with the Book
Our fondness for this cookbook is great, both aesthetically and gastronomically. In the span of a few days, we had our own adventure testing out the aforementioned mac and cheese recipe (see below), and had the chance to sample some more dishes at a loving seder thrown at Equinox by the Grays, where they featured three dishes straight out of their Passover menu and cookbook.
All four samplings showed what is best about Chef Gray’s food: bright, crisp flavors that accentuate fresh ingredients, and a deep soulfulness that reflects the chef’s care and precision.
- A roasted beet salad with golden raisins and pistachios conquers even my companion’s beet-ambivalent heart, with warm, sweet bites.
- The beef brisket in red wine sauce on a golden potato mousseline is the best brisket either of us have ever had the pleasure of eating, by a large margin. It perfectly marries tender meat with the cut’s natural oily fat into melt-in-your-mouth goodness.
- A flourless chocolate cake is buoyed by salted caramel ice cream, and reminds you that a dish can temper decadence while still ramping up flavor.
- And the mac and cheese? Let’s just say we gladly made the full six- to eight-person portion, and its three-cheese-and-bechamel base was more than enough to remind ourselves why Equinox holds such a place in our heart.
If you add one cookbook to your shelf this year, give this one some strong consideration. You won’t be disappointed.
- “The New Jewish Table”
- by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray
- St. Martin’s Press
Full Disclousure: I received a copy of the book at no charge to review it for my personal food-blog.
Today is the first day of Passover. Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) commemorates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt and is observed for seven or eight days. During that time, Jewish Kosher dietary laws become more challenging, and even those who do not keep Kosher are expected to at least refrain from eating leavened food products such as pasta or bread.
The reason for this is rooted in the story of The Exodus: when Jews escaped Egypt with Moses, they were in such a haste that they did not have enough time to wait for their bread to rise before heading out into the desert. As a result, Matzah or Matzo, a pretty tasteless unleavened bread, is the star of the Passover kitchen.
I personally do not observe Passover, but I can’t resist all the boxes of Matzo that suddenly pop up in my grocery store in the weeks leading up to Pesach. And beyond the basic Matzo Balls, there’s a lot of ways to use Matzo in fun and simple recipes. Here are three of my favorites.
Matzo Crusted Salmon
Ingredients: Two Servings
- 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard (I used old fashioned Maille mustard with grains, but any Dijon would work)
- 1/2 tbsp plain yogurt (mayonnaise would work too but plain yogurt is healthier)
- 2 boneless salmon fillets
- Half a matzo cracker, crumbled
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil or canola oil spray. While the oven heats up, whisk together mustard and yogurt.
- Season the salmon with salt and pepper. Brush each fillet with the mustard mixture then sprinkle crumbled Matzo over them, pressing it down to make a crust.
- Transfer salmon to greased baking sheet and bake until just cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Serve with steamed vegetables.
- Just spread some of your favorite tomato sauce (around 3 tbsp) on a matzo. Top with some shredded mozzarella (around 3 tbsp) and graded Parmesan (around 2 tbsp) and bake at 400 degrees F, directly on oven rack until cheese melts, 6 to 7 minutes.
- Once out of the oven, top with the toppings of your choice (try to avoid pepperoni though… and while we’re on that topic, check out Buzzfeed’s hilarious list of Passover food fails such as a fried egg, basil, mushrooms or anchovies.
My personal favorite. It’s pretty much a regular s’more but with Matzo instead of Graham Crackers, and Nutella instead of chocolate.
- Start by breaking the Matzo into squares (that can be tricky).
- Melt the marshmallows in the oven; it’s pretty quick under the broiler.
- Spread the Nutella on a square of Matzo — since the Matzo isn’t sweet like the Graham Cracker, you might want to put a little more chocolate.
- Top with the melted marshmallow and sandwich with another square of Matzo.