"Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day" (Mesorah Publications, $32.99).
If Pesach signals the emergence of spring, with Shavuot, the season bursts forth in a riot of color and luscious flavors. "Kosher by Design" by Susie Fishbein, captures the beauty of every holiday with a feast for the eye as well as the palate.
"The original concept for the book was based on a Shavuot idea," said the effervescent Fishbein, who edited the wildly successful "The Kosher Palette." And no wonder she bubbles over. In the first week, "Kosher by Design" sold 24,000 copies.
Each holiday is photographed as if it were a party. To celebrate Shavuot, Fishbein visualized a cascading flowerpot salad bar and intereviewed party planners to help execute the setting.
"There was a glimmer in one woman's eye as she started to rattle off ideas to make the salad bar even more spectacular and I canceled all my other appointments," Fishbein said. "I knew she was the one."
"The one" turned out to be Renee Erreich, and the luscious table settings and presentation ideas she and Fishbein created -- and photographer John Uher shot -- seem to leap off the page. Set in spectacular Manhattan apartments, the photos inspire rather than intimidate. Everything in this book is doable.
Take the edible individual challah napkin rings. Never baked bread in your life? You can create these with any challah dough, suggests Fishbein. Why not frozen?
"The recipes and serving ideas require a minimum of fuss to achieve the maximum aesthetic impact," Fishbein said. "I don't aim for the level of chef. I'm not a chef myself. No one I know cooks like a chef. I'm aiming for the person who cooks on an everyday basis, every Shabbat basis, every holiday basis; people who want things to look elegant and different, but don't want to spend seven hours in the kitchen."
The Flowerpot Salad Bar for Shavuot, while elaborate, is not that hard to duplicate. To create the garden effect, clay flowerpots are lined with purple cabbage and filled with colorful salad ingredients, then displayed at varying heights.
"The Midrash tells us that although Mount Sinai is in the desert," Fishbein writes, "it suddenly bloomed with fragrant flowers and grasses on the morning that the Torah was given to the Jewish people. The custom of decorating our homes and synagogues with leafy branches and flowers is based on this miracle."
Beginning with Shabbat, the book is divided by holiday. Fishbein explains the origin and customs of each, then offers a sample menu as well as unique and exciting ideas for presentation.
"Food is so much a part of the Jewish holidays that it enriches the experience to kind of tie the food into the holiday traditions," Fishbein said. "That's what this book does, without being overly biblical. It's not like we thought, we need a soup, let's put one here. We really tried to pair the food with the holiday. However, any recipe can be for any day, any night, any Shabbat. I picked recipes for specific menus if they fit in a fun or interesting way."
Most of us think of Shavuot first as the dairy holiday, and even the Baby Blintzes are easy but showy. No rolling here! A cheesy batter is baked in muffin tins and crowned with berries. A mascarpone filling for an nontraditional Tiramisu Cheesecake snuggles in a ladyfinger and chocolate sandwich cookie crust.
"Wherever I can, I try to keep in mind all levels of expertise," Fishbein said. "Many people don't have a lot of confidence in the kitchen. I want to give them that confidence. Cooking is fun. I don't want it to be frustrating."
8 ounces farmer cheese (regular,
8 ounces cottage cheese
(2 percent or 4 percent milk fat)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup all-purpose baking mix,
such as Bisquick
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350 F. Heavily grease a muffin tin with butter or nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the farmer cheese, cottage cheese, sour cream, sugar, baking mix, vanilla, melted butter and eggs with an electric mixer at medium speed. Fill each of the muffin compartments halfway with the mixture. Place one raspberry and two blueberries on top of each muffin. Bake 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven. Before serving, sprinkle each baby blintz with cinnamon/sugar mixture and a small dollop of sour cream.
Makes 12 servings.
14 chocolate sandwich cookies
2 tablespoons butter, melted
12-14 soft sponge ladyfingers
1 teaspoon instant espresso
powder or instant coffee
2 tablespoons whole milk
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 (8-ounce) package mascarpone
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 large eggs
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream
Milk chocolate bar, for grating
Preheat oven to 350 F. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process the cookies until they are finely crushed into crumbs. Add the butter and mix to moisten.
Press the crumbs into the bottom of an ungreased 9x9-inch Springform pan. Cut the ladyfingers in half, crosswise. Line the ladyfingers around the side of the pan, rounded side out and cut side down.
In a small cup or bowl, mix the espresso powder in the milk, stirring to dissolve. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and mascarpone until combined and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar. Beat on medium-high until smooth. Turn the speed to low and beat in the cornstarch, vanilla and eggs until just combined. Stir espresso mixture into the batter.
Pour the batter into the ladyfinger-lined pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 45-50 minutes. Center will appear nearly set when gently shaken. Remove from oven. Immediately spread the sour cream on top, starting at the center and going almost to the edges.
Cool in pan for 15 minutes. Use a small knife or spatula to make sure the ladyfingers are not sticking to the sides of the pan. Cool at least one hour. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least five hours. Sprinkle grated chocolate over the top of the cheesecake.
Makes 12 servings
Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of "Melting Pot Memories" (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at www.cookingjewish.com .