In my previous entry on Rosh Hashanah, I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the pre-dinner festivities at Nancy and Bob's house. Arriving about ten minutes early with my aunt, I was able to take numerous photographs of the gorgeous table setting and some of the foods that had already been placed out for the first of many courses. While I enjoyed talking about the foods and symbolism regarding certain dishes, celebrating Rosh Hashanah by eating our way through it was ultimately more satisfying.
Going into tonight's dinner, what was really piquing my curiosity was the amount of ceremony involved with celebrating Rosh Hashanah. Having been to several of Nancy and Bob's Passover Seders in the past, I knew that there was a lengthier ceremony involved in celebrating that holiday. For Rosh Hashanah, however, it turned out that there was considerably less ceremony. After having lit the candles,
Nancy gave three blessings. The first was a blessing over the candles:
"Blessed are you O Eternal our God, who has commanded us to light the festival lights."
The second, a blessing over the bread:
"Blessed are you O Eternal our God, who brings forth bread from the Earth."
The third, a blessing over the wine (also known as Kiddush):
"Blessed are you O Eternal our God, who gives us the fruit of the vine."
With blessings pronounced, we were told to start our meal by dipping Honey Crisp apples into the ramekins of honey before eating them:
Apples and honey are both used symbolically to indicate the wish for a sweet year. While the apple was already sweet on its own, it also had just a bit of acidity to it that balanced very well with the honey. After we finished our apple slices, everything on the table was open for consumption.
This year Linda bought two loaves of challah, one plain and one golden raisin, from On The Rise Bakery. Here was a shot of the golden raisin version:
The bread was a wonderful pale yellow color from all of the egg yolks it contained and the golden raisin version had a lovely mild sweetness to it. I ate the golden raisin challah by itself, but decided to smear a bit of Linda's chopped liver pate onto the plain challah:
This wonderful chicken liver pate was unctuous and fatty and at the same time had a lightness to the taste. Linda told us that she had used both chicken fat and butter to give the pate a wonderful mouthfeel. If you don't like the mineral taste of liver, I don't know that this would've changed your mind, but it was an excellent version, nonetheless. The cherry tomatoes, Sugar Snaps, were from Bob's garden and were absolutely sublime. The combination of tomato flavor and natural sugars exploded in your mouth when you bit into one of these gems.
Next up was one of my all-time favorites, Nancy's gefilte fish with Bob's homemade prepared horseradish:
Nancy's gefilte fish is unusual because she uses a three fish blend, whitefish, pike, and carp, that she gets specially ground for her at Mr. Brisket. These three are ground up with some onion to form the ground fish that she then seasons and shapes into the oblong fish balls that she then gently poaches in fish stock. The fish balls on their own have a very clean, fresh fish flavor. It's only after you pair a bite of fish with some of the horseradish, however, that this dish really comes alive. The heat and the zip from the prepared horseradish surprisingly doesn't overpower the delicate flavor of the fish, but actually compliments it.
One of the nice treats about Nancy's holiday meals is that often times, simply prepared fruits or vegetables are laid out on platters and each person can customize the dish how he or she wants. I took some of the marvelous homegrown heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil from the platter and placed it on my plate:
At this point, I could have dressed it with some of the extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar available on the table to make a quick and easy vinaigrette or use one of two varieties of salts that were sitting on the table. I opted to use a simple sprinkling of volcanic black salt on my tomatoes. Besides the dramatic black color they added to the top of the tomatoes, it also added a certain mineral quality that regular sea salt didn't have. The tomatoes were at their peak of ripeness and it was all I could do just to close my eyes while I ate these to try and remember this taste until tomato season comes next year.
Our first course now complete, we had a ten minute respite during which time dirty plates were cleared from the table and the next course prepared. At the end of our break, everyone received a wonderful bowl of Nancy's chicken soup with a lone matzoh ball:
Before we sat down to dinner, Nancy had explained to us that because we were celebrating Rosh Hashanah and not Passover, leavening (in the form of baking power) had been used in the matzoh balls. While the end result looked the same as what I had experienced before, it wasn't until I took my spoon and cut into the ball that I realized the amazing difference that the leavening made in the final product. While I never considered Nancy's Passover matzoh balls to be that dense, the ones she prepared for Rosh Hashanah were ethereal and light. Even before I put the first bite into my mouth, I knew that I was in for a real treat. The chicken soup was also wonderfully rich and had a slight vegetal undercurrent to it. Lovingly referred to as "Jewish penicillin," this soup would've definitely warmed me on a cold day.
Our first two courses now underneath our belts, we took another small breather to get the most substantial course ready to serve. First on the table were some fantastic garden beets that had been roasted, sliced, and served cold with toasted almond slivers:
Growing up as a child, the only version of roasted beets I ever knew were the kind that came out of a can. As you can imagine, gentle reader, I absolutely abhorred the not only the taste of, but even the very thought of, roasted beets. It wasn't until several years ago that I tasted locally raised and roasted beets that I have learned to absolutely fall in love with them. When treated properly, the delicate beet flavor and the amazingly intense sweetness of a well-roasted beet is truly something to savor. Tonight's version ranked up there with the best that I have ever had.
Next onto the table was Linda's sweet potato and carrot tzimmes:
This dish was truly a revelation to me. Made with sweet potatoes, three kinds of organic carrots, locally grown Ohio honey from Lucy and topped with a spice blend containing ginger, coriander, Vietnamese cinnamon, and nutmeg, this immediately took me to Thanksgiving dinner. But this version was immensely better than my family's rather tired and dated candied yam casserole. This one exploded with flavor and the balance between the sweetness of the honey and the vibrance of the spices was spot on. I was so impressed with this dish, in fact, that I decided to have seconds and ask Linda for her recipe. I've already re-invented the dreaded Green Bean Casserole for my family's Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps it's time to give the Candied Yam Casserole a makeover as well.
The third item onto the table was a perennial favorite of mine, the potato kugel:
Made with grated potatoes, matzoh meal, eggs, oil, salt and pepper, this dish could be most closely associated with a bread pudding. Not that it was creamy, mind you, but the final product had a similar consistency to a bread-like product. While the previous samplings of this dish had some of Bob's chilies sprinkled through the kugel, this time it was sprinkled only on the top of the dish. While the texture of this version was identical to previous ones, I think my preference would be to have the chilies scattered through the kugel instead of just on top. But, that is just my preference, and certainly not meant to indicate that I didn't enjoy tonight's kugel just as much.
The fourth, and final, component to our third course was Linda's beef brisket in gravy:
This was a grass-fed brisket from Miller Farm that had been generously seasoned and then braised for many hours with an assortment of root vegetables in liquid. Once the brisket was completely cooked, the braised liquid and vegetables were run through Linda's Vita-Mix blender and fortified with some beef stock to make the wonderful gravy you see in the picture above. The beef was exceedingly tender and literally melted in your mouth. I did end up using my knife to eat the brisket; it wasn't to cut the meat, but to corral bits of beef, gravy, and potato kugel onto my fork before placing the morsel of savory goodness into my eagerly awaiting mouth.
When I finally managed to get a sampling of everything, my dinner plate runneth over with what Nancy described as "Jewish soul food":
I won't bother rehashing all of the fantastic flavors on that plate since I've already done so. I will say that even with two previous courses already in my stomach, I was surprised at how quickly and completely I cleaned my plate. I even had room for more of Linda's delicious tzimmes.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that we had some really fantastic wines with our dinner tonight. I didn't get a picture of all of them, but here are two that were rather well-liked, an Australian shiraz from Jacob's Creek and a cabernet sauvignon from Simi:
With the main meal out of the way now, we took a little bit longer break to completely clear off the table before serving the desserts. While I was feeling a bit full at that time, I decided to eat through the discomfort in order to enjoy the two wonderful desserts I had seen on the printed menu earlier in the evening. Our first dessert was made by Linda and consisted of a honey cake baked in a bundt pan:
She also made homemade apple sauce and her husband, Fred, whipped up some slightly sweetened heavy cream to be served alongside the cake:
I then managed to assemble all of the components onto my plate:
The honey cake was dense and moist. It tasted of honey and spices, but wasn't overpowering in either category. Mixed with a bit of the apple sauce and the freshly whipped cream, this was an excellent way to start off the dessert course. Honestly, had the other dessert not been so small, I would've happily ended my entire meal with the dressed-up honey cake.
Our final taste of the evening would be something that Nancy happened to come across while shopping at one of her favorite Cleveland locations, Casa Dolce (she has even written about having lunch at Casa Dolce). Some time ago she almost accidentally noticed that Casa Dolce was selling a traditional Jewish delicacy called Rainbow Cookies:
Made from marzipan, these cookies were something that Nancy remembered from her childhood but had never seen in Cleveland until now. She tried some back then and vowed to come back during Rosh Hashanah and place an order for her guests. I'm certainly glad she did. I could've walked by the case in Casa Dolce hundreds of times and never have guessed what these actually were.
Here was a shot of a single cookie, accentuating the many colorful layers:
I've had marzipan paste before (the principal ingredient being ground almonds) and know the flavor well. The surprising thing about this cookie, however, was how cake-like the texture felt. Had I not been told this was a cookie, I would've just assuming it was a multi-layer cake. The almond flavor was intense and clean and the combination of almond with the chocolate frosting on top was a nice way to finish the meal.
At this point, everyone was too full to move, so we sat at the table and lazily conversed about current events and politics for another forty-five minutes. Realizing that my aunt and I had a fairly lengthy drive ahead of us, I suggested that it might be time to depart. Still fairly full from the momentous meal, everyone arose from their chairs, thank you's and good-bye's were exchanged between guests and our gracious hosts, and we quickly found ourselves back outside in the cool, moon-lit air. On the way back to my grandmother's condominium, I asked my aunt if the meal had lived up to the hype of my previous post on Nancy and Bob's Passover Seder meal. She answered emphatically, "And then some!"