Why is this night different from all other nights?
For one thing, it's the food -- or, rather, the food that's featured on television. But there's also plenty of food for thought in the form of Passover-related travel and Jewish news features.
Food for Filling Up
Get Passover cooking with some fresh ideas from the Food Network's "Essence of Emeril," "Wolfgang Puck" and "Sweet Dreams."
On "Sweet Dreams: Passover Favorites," host Gale Gend and chef Ina Pinkey showcase recipes that are heavy on matzah meal and potato starch to achieve a consistency more like regular desserts. They make apple tea cake muffins from matzah meal, a savory alternative to plain matzah for breakfast. Their practically solid chocolate cake looks rich, while the untraditional Passover cobbler makes for a lighter alternative. The Food Network, April 19, 9:30 a.m.
In "Wolfgang's Passover Feast," viewers get a backstage pass into the celebrity chef's kitchen as he leads a seder at one of his restaurants. The show features commentary on the holiday from Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of the University Synagogue in Irvine. Puck's contributions are not especially user friendly, though. He fails to give precise measurements for ingredients in his recipes, while also using cooking equipment not found in noncelebrity kitchens. Some of his concoctions are kosher and some not -- he shows how to make a not kosher for Passover but tasty-looking matzah with herbs in the dough. Watch Puck for entertainment or concepts, but not specific recipes. The Food Network, April 20, 10 a.m.
Kick your seder up a notch with a Passover segment of Emeril Laggase's "The Essence of Emeril." He may be out of his element when pronouncing Jewish foods such as charoset as "ha-ro-SET" instead of "cha-ROH-set." Or when he tries to explain the seder plate. But he's the expert when it comes to cooking. In his charoset, he uses practically a whole bottle of Manischewitz, when his own recipe only calls for two tablespoons. I guess good chefs really don't measure. His matzah farfel kugel looks delish -- with plenty of his signature essence. He also does a flavorful recipe for brisket, stuffing garlic cloves in the meat, and coating it with chili sauce and onions. The Food Network, April 21, 2 p.m. All Food Network Passover recipes can be found at foodtv.com.
Food for Thought
While digesting all these new treats you've just cooked, continue the Passover theme with Jewish Television Network's (www.jewishtvnetwork.com) one-hour specials: "Exodus to Freedom" and "A Passover Celebration."
The thought-provoking tone of "Exodus to Freedom," hosted by Dick Cavett, would appeal more to adults and older children. It examines the lives of eight extraordinary individuals who overcame oppression. These stories aren't just about the Jewish experience, but about the universal experience of exodus. Liz Murray grew up homeless with two drug-addicted parents, but turned her life around, eventually attending Harvard (her story was told in a 2003 Lifetime movie, "Homeless to Harvard"). Azar Nafasi led an English literature-reading group in Iran during a time of extreme Islamic fundamentalism. Francis Bok, a Sudanese man, was captured and sold as a slave, before escaping and later immigrating to the United States. Hungarian Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos worked in a forced labor camp during World War II, and now is a Democratic congressman representing the San Mateo area. Airs April 26, 10 p.m. on KVCR 24 in the Inland Empire; Channel 55 in desert cities.
"A Passover Celebration," hosted by Jeffrey Tambor ("Arrested Development") embodies a lighter tone. The St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble and New York Concert Singers sing Passover songs from "Chad Gadya" and "Dayenu" to Sephardic and Ashkenazic renditions of "Adir Hu." Irwin Kula of "Simple Wisdom" narrates Passover tales, as well personal anecdotes of his family's emigration from Poland to the United States. On the craftier side, TLC host and Jewish Journal singles columnist Teresa Strasser shows how to make various colorful Passover creations. These include a matzah box centerpiece, a clay encased Elijah cup and a reverse-decoupage seder plate to brighten up the Passover table. For the little ones, there's an "Aleph, Bet Blastoff" segment featuring Dom DeLuise as a comic pharaoh, with a kid-friendly amount of menace. The final segment, a mouth-watering chocolate matzah creation by chef Jeff Nathan, looks simple enough even for the cooking averse. Airs April 24 on KLCS. Check klcs.org for scheduled times.
The Rugrats get locked in the attic with Grandpa Boris, and he narrates the Passover story as seen through the eyes of 3-year-old Angelica (who takes on the role of a pharaoh who won't "Let My Babies Go"). "The Rugrats Passover Special" airs April 24, 7:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. For more information, visit www.nickelodeon.com.
Food to Go
Among other thrills, experience a hot-air balloon ride over the pyramids. (Consider them, in Cecil B. DeMille terms, a testament to the Jewish work ethic.) "Globe Trekker: Egypt," hosted by Megan McCormick, airs April 21, 8 p.m. on KCET. For more information, visit www.kcet.org.
Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt; today we are free to choose our Passover programming.