Just one year ago I was invited to spend the evening with friends and hosts Nancy (from Fun Playing With Food) and her husband Bob as they shared their home, their traditions, and their food during last year's Passover holiday. I was tickled once again to receive an invitation this year to their Passover festivities. Because Passover wasn't on time again this year (because according to Nancy, the holidays are always early or late, they are never on time), the meal fell closer to the end of April this year instead of last year when it was in March.
As with last year's entry, I didn't want to belabor the dishes I had already described so thoroughly the first year I blogged about them (Part 1 Part 2), so today's post will be mostly a pictorial of the meal from beginning to end, with notes interjected from time to time to bring up any interesting facets of the meal. This past Tuesday night, we all gathered in Nancy's kitchen around 6:30 PM to put the final preparations together for the Seder. Some of us chopped, some of us washed, and some of us opened bottles of wine to let them breathe and photographed others' activities (that'd be me).
It is important to begin the Seder ceremony before sundown. Here, Nancy was lighting the candles and singing the first prayer from the Haggadah.
The traditional Seder plate with roasted egg, roasted shank bone, charosis/charoset, two bitter herbs (onion and horseradish), and fresh parsley. Each played a symbolic role in the Seder.
This was a special matzoh flown in from Israel, Shmurah Matzoh. In accordance with tradition, each unleavened wafer was cooked precisely eighteen seconds, not a second more or less.
Nancy's homemade charosis and Bob's homemade horseradish from his garden. I think these two flavors alone are what make me yearn to return year after year.
As part of the Seder tradition, Hillel's Sandwich (Korech/Koreich) was made from two pieces of broken matzoh that had been stuffed with charosis and one of the bitter herbs, either raw onion or horseradish.
At the end of the first half of the ceremony, after we've eaten the parsley dipped in salted water, the matzoh, the bitter herbs, and Hillel's Sandwich, we finished by eating one of the steamed eggs that has been drizzled with some of the salted water.
Nancy's homemade gefilte fish made with whitefish, pike, and carp; a special grind that she gets from Mr. Brisket in Cleveland Heights. As odd as it seems, pairing this with the spicy horseradish makes the perfect complement.
Shaved fennel salad with lemon zest and pistachios and dressed in a simple olive oil and lemon juice vinaigrette. So simple and so delicious!
Here was my first course plate. You have to be careful not to fill up too early because there are three more courses coming! And trust me, it's hard because everything was so delicious.
This was our second course: Nancy's homemade matzoh ball soup. If I were sick, this would be exactly what the doctor would order to make me feel better. After the soup, we took a breather to clear the plates and make more room in our stomachs.
Sweet farfel kugel with apricots and Vietnamese cinnamon from Heather's Heat and Flavor. While I always love this dish, everyone agreed that this year's version was simply outstanding. I was even fortunate enough to bring a square home with me for breakfast the next day.
This was a carrot and prune tzimmes with shredded shortribs (also known as flanken). While this was the first time I had eaten a tzimmes for Passover, I remember eating Linda Griffith's amazing version at the last Rosh Hashanah meal I attended. It was amazing to me to see the range of this one dish.
Along with the sweet farfel kugel, Nancy and Bob always serve up a slightly spicy potato kugel as well. While the farfel kugel reminds me of a bread pudding, the potato kugel is a wholly different beast and really was its own thing in term of texture. Absolutely delicious though.
Of course, having a Seder meal at Nancy's house meant that the final savory course of the meal would contain brisket, this particular one from Aaron Miller's farm from grass-fed cows. She also served up a contrasting brisket that had been finished on corn from a different purveyor. It was a treat to get to try and contrast the two styles to see which we liked better. It really fell 50/50 among the guests. Both, however, were tender, juicy, and quite flavorful.
Here was a shot of the third course of tonight's Seder meal, all the usual suspects: brisket with onions, sweet farfel kugel, spicy potato kugel, and carrot and prune tzimmes.
After cleaning off the plates from the savory courses, desserts began making their way to the table. This was a mint cordial, unwrapped. Also available were my major weakness, cherry cordials. I had one of each.
Just like last year, David Leibowitz's chocolate flourless cake, also known as the Idiot-Proof cake, made an appearance.
My final taste of the evening was a slice of the ultra-dense flourless chocolate cake with some of Nancy's homemade creme anglaise. Talk about a rich and decadent way to end an amazing meal!
What had begun as a group of very hungry diners at 6:30 PM had morphed over the next four hours of ceremony, conversation, laughing, and eating into ten very satisfied, tired, and full eaters. With the meal at its conclusion, Nancy finished the Seder by reading the last of the incantations and blessings from the Haggadah. We gathered our coats and leftovers and headed out into the stormy, wet evening. I, for one, never get tired of spending so much time on a single meal. Coming from a non-Jewish household, and even though I'm not particularly religious as an adult, I love being able to see this wonderful culture that seemed so foreign to my childhood.
Even more importantly, I know that whatever Nancy and Bob prepare will be at its peak of flavor. I am so grateful to them both for exposing me to this wonderful alternative to the Christian holiday of Easter (with which I am much more intimately acquainted). While I do admit that at the first Seder I ever attended, there were some items about which I was fairly skeptical (gefilte fish downright scared the crap out of me ... have you ever seen those jars in the Jewish section of the supermarket?), I learned to step outside of my comfort zone and discover a world of new flavors that I now find quite delicious and look forward to every year.
For those celebrating Passover (it is actually a week long holiday), I wish you a very happy and healthy celebration. For those of my gentle readers out there celebrating the Christian holiday of Easter, I wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday, too. As for everybody else, have a great weekend and enjoy it with family and friends sharing good food and great conversation. It's really what makes life so enjoyable.