The Only Frittata Recipe You’ll Ever Need

Frittata

So since we are still in the period known as the Nine Days (see more about this by checking out two of my earlier posts from last year, here and here, or by visiting Chabad.org by clicking here.) I thought I would give you a quick and easy meatless supper idea that has an easy base, that can then be customized to meet your family’s personal tastes. A frittata fits the bill on all those counts! It’s meatless, it’s easy, it’s quick and it is totally customizable! In fact, you can make two different flavours! Or you can just make a lot of frittata, ’cause to be honest, it tastes even better cold/room temperature the next day!

The recipe below will give you the basic technique along with a few winning flavor combinations. These are great starting points for those who are new to frittatas, but they’re definitely not the end. The whole point of a frittata is that you can make it anytime, with almost anything. Just keep these few tips in mind.

Keep the size of your dish in mind:
Any 2-quart baking dish works well for this frittata. (For a classic look, bake your frittata in a cast-iron skillet.) Larger dimensions will work, too, but will yield shallower frittatas and require shorter cooking times.

Be kind to your eggs:
Beat the eggs only enough to blend the whites and yolks. Overbeating will cause the frittata to poof in the oven, then fall into a denser layer when cooling.

Mix-in moisture:
While just about anything can be stirred into the egg base, you should stick to ingredients that are already cooked. For anything with excess moisture, such as sautéed greens, be sure to squeeze out any liquid first, otherwise it will make your frittata soggy.

Ingredients:
4 ½ tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup diced onions
12 large eggs
¾ cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
⅓ teaspoon pepper

To customize:
Provençal:
1 ½ cups sautéed diced red bell pepper
1 ½ cups sautéed zucchini
⅓ cup finely chopped fresh basil*

Italiano:
12 ounces vegetarian Italian sausage, browned and crumbled
¾ cup cooked broccoli rabe, cut in 2 inch segments*
⅓ cup grated parmesan cheese

Springtide:
3 cups sliced cooked asparagus*
6 ounces smoked salmon, chopped
⅓ cup chopped fresh chives*
⅓ cup chopped fresh parsley*

Greco:
1 ½ pounds baby spinach, wilted and squeezed dry*
¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill*
3 tablespoons sliced scallions/green onions*

* Click here to learn how to clean basil, broccoli rabe, asparagus, chives, parsley, baby spinach, dill and scallions/green onions.

Directions:
Preheat your oven to 350°F. In a 10” oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil, then add the diced onions, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk together your eggs, along with the milk, salt and pepper. Add whatever mix-ins you wish, any of the above suggestions, or one of your own creation.

Pour the egg mixture into the skillet, stir and cook, until the edges start to pull away from the pan, about 5 to 7 minutes. Bake at 350°F until set, about 16-18 minutes.  To serve, cut into wedges and serve with a nice side salad.

If you are using a baking dish instead of an oven safe skillet, you can start the frittata on the stove-top, then very lightly grease a 2 quart baking dish and carefully transfer the frittata to the dish, to finish baking in the oven. It won’t be as pretty, but it will do the job in a pinch.

What happened on the Ninth of Av?

Tisha B'Av 2
I thought it would be interesting to see just what is so “bad” about the 9th of Av, or Tisha B’Av. Well, I found the following historical chronology about the day on Chabad.org. It’s definitely worth a read:

The 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av, commemorates a list of catastrophes so severe it’s clearly a day set aside by G‑d for suffering.

Picture this: The year is 1313 BCE. The Israelites are in the desert, recently having experienced the miraculous Exodus, and are now poised to enter the Promised Land. But first they dispatch a reconnaissance mission to assist in formulating a prudent battle strategy. The spies return on the eighth day of Av and report that the land is unconquerable. That night, the 9th of Av, the people cry. They insist that they’d rather go back to Egypt than be slaughtered by the Canaanites. G‑d is highly displeased by this public demonstration of distrust in His power, and consequently that generation of Israelites never enters the Holy Land. Only their children have that privilege, after wandering in the desert for another 38 years.

The First Temple was also destroyed on the 9th of Av (423 BCE). Five centuries later (in 69 CE), as the Romans drew closer to the Second Temple, ready to torch it, the Jews were shocked to realize that their Second Temple was destroyed the same day as the first.

When the Jews rebelled against Roman rule, they believed that their leader,Simon bar Kochba, would fulfill their messianic longings. But their hopes were cruelly dashed in 133 CE as the Jewish rebels were brutally butchered in the final battle at Betar. The date of the massacre? Of course—the 9th of Av!

One year after their conquest of Betar, the Romans plowed over the Temple Mount, our nation’s holiest site.

The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 CE on, you guessed it, Tisha b’Av. In 1492, the Golden Age of Spain came to a close when Queen Isabella and her husband Ferdinand ordered that the Jews be banished from the land. The edict of expulsion was signed on March 31, 1492, and the Jews were given exactly four months to put their affairs in order and leave the country. The Hebrew date on which no Jew was allowed any longer to remain in the land where he had enjoyed welcome and prosperity? Oh, by now you know it—the 9th of Av.

Ready for just one more? World War II and the Holocaust, historians conclude, was actually the long drawn-out conclusion of World War I that began in 1914. And yes, amazingly enough, Germany declared war on Russia, effectively catapulting the First World War into motion, on the 9th of Av, Tisha b’Av.

What do you make of all this? Jews see this as another confirmation of the deeply held conviction that history isn’t haphazard; events – even terrible ones – are part of a Divine plan and have spiritual meaning. The message of time is that everything has a rational purpose, even though we don’t understand it.

What Are the Three Weeks?

Tisha B'Av

So while yes, this is a blog about food, it is also about kosher, and everything that goes along with it. As some of you might know, for the past three weeks, Observant Jews have been commemorating a sad period in Jewish history. Since this Saturday night marks the end of this period, and the holy fast day of Tisha B’Av (9th of the Jewish month of Av), I though it would be appropriate to discuss what the three weeks are, the nine days (a part of the the three weeks) and then tomorrow, discuss Tisha B’Av itself. True, this isn’t my regular witty (okay, snarky) banter that I usually write about, but I thought it was important. I hope you agree. As always, I got almost all of my information from Chabad.org (www.chabad.org)

The Three Weeks in a Nutshell

The Three Weeks is an annual mourning period that falls out in the summer. This is when we mourn the destruction of the Holy Temple and our launch into a still-ongoing exile. The period begins on the 17th of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, a fast day that marks the day when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 CE. It reaches its climax and concludes with the fast of the 9th of Av, the date when both Holy Temples were set aflame. This is the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, and it is also the date of other tragedies spanning our nation’s history.

Observances:
There are various mourning-related customs and observances that are followed for the entire three-week period (until midday of the 10th of the Hebrew month of Av, or—if that date falls on Friday—the morning of that day). We do not cut our hair, shave, make parties or weddings. Most people refrain from purchasing new clothes, or listening to music.

On the 17th of  Tammuz we refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to nightfall. The final Nine Days of the Three Weeks are a time of intensified mourning. Starting on the first of Av, we refrain from eating meat or drinking wine, and from wearing freshly laundered clothes.

The 9th of Av is a more stringent fast than the 17th of Tammuz. It begins at sunset of the previous evening, when we gather in the synagogue to read the Book of Lamentations. Besides fasting, we abstain from additional pleasures, such as washing, applying lotions or creams, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Until midday, we sit on the floor or on low stools.

There is more to the Three Weeks than fasting and lamentation though. Our sages tell us that those who mourn the destruction of Jerusalem will merit seeing it rebuilt with the coming of Moshiach (the Messiah). May that day come soon, and then all the mournful dates on the calendar will be transformed into days of tremendous joy and happiness.

Lag B’Omer – The Bonfire Holiday!

Lag B'OmerSo we’re going to take a brief intermission from Mother’s Day Week (sorry Mom!) to celebrate the Jewish Holiday of Lag B’Omer. In English, the name of the Holiday translates to the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer. Lag, or the Hebrew letters Lamed ל and Gimmel ג, have a numerical valuation of 30 and 3, respectively, and this Holiday celebrates the break in the counting of the Omer, or the period between the Holidays of Passover and Shavout (the holiday where we received the ten commandments, and the rest of the laws, at Mt. Sinai). Lag B’Omer is traditionally celebrated with bonfire celebrations, family picnics with the children playing with imitation bows and arrows, and the eating of Carob.

So what is so special about the 33rd day? And why the bonfires, bows and arrows, and Carob? Well, let me explain (thank you Chabad.org!).

There are two main reasons why we celebrate this day. The first (in no particular order) explains both the day and the bonfires. During the 2nd Century, there was a great Jewish scholar known as Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (c.100 – c. 160 CE). He was a great Kabbalist, and shed a powerful light on the world through his mystical teachings. It is said that the secrets of the Torah that he revealed to his disciples was so profound and intense that his house was filled with fire and blinding light, to the point that his students could not even approach or look at him. Rabbi Shimon stated that the day of his death, the 33rd day of the Omer, should be a day of great joy, not sadness, for he was moving on to the World to Come. So to commemorate is death, we have great celebrations, and light great fires that emulate the fire of Torah and knowledge that Rabbi Shimon was famous for.

So what’s the second reason for the 33rd day? During the time of Rabbi Akiva (c. 40 – c. 137 CE), during the weeks between Passover and Shavout, a great plague ran rampant amongst his students, “because they did not act respectfully towards each other.” Therefore to this day, the Jewish nation treats this time period (7 weeks) as a time of mourning with no joyous activities. However, by a miracle, on the 33rd day of the Omer, the deaths stopped, so we treat this day as joyous one, careful to remember to treat every fellow man with love and respect.

Okay, so that’s why this day and the bonfires, but the bows and arrows? The carob?

It is a tradition for Children to go out into the fields and play with imitation bows and arrows. This is in remembrance of the Midrashic tradition that no rainbow was seen during Rabbi Shimon’s lifetime. Rainbows first appeared after the great flood in the time of Noah, when G‑d promised to never again devastate the world. When the world is deserving of punishment, G‑d sends a rainbow instead. Rabbi Shimon’s merit protected the world, rendering the rainbow superfluous. The children’s bows are a tribute to the “rainbow” that Rabbi Shimon’s presence gave us.

As for the Carob, this is in remembrance of a lifesaving miracle that Rabbi Shimon experienced. For 13 years, Rabbi Shimon and his son were fugitives from the Romans, and hid in a cave in northern Israel. Food was scarce and hunting was dangerous, should they be caught. G-d intervened and created a carob tree that grew at the entrance of the cave, providing nourishment for its two holy occupants.

So, I hope that explains why we celebrate Lag B’Omer, and how we do it too! For today, I’m posting two recipes, a barbecue chicken, in honour of the bonfires, and a delicious non-dairy carob cake! I hope you enjoy!

Matzo – Was it Always a Dry Cracker? (2 Days to Go!)

MatzoSo, as you know, during the holiday of Passover, no leavened products, especially items like bread, can be eaten. Instead we eat Matzo, and A LOT of it! Modern day Matzo is a dry, cracker like item, made of flour and water. Machine processed matzo is square in shape, with lined perforations running about half a centimeter apart, and is about a quarter of a centimeter thick, or less. I’ve heard rumour however of a time when Matzo was soft, flexible and more like a pita or laffa, rather than the dry cracker (read: cardboard) that we eat now. So what’s the deal?

Here’s the deal: Once upon a time, yes, Matzo used to be thicker and softer, however…. here is the nitty gritty on how this has changed and become what we know now a days as a thin, dry, hard cracker-like food. For centuries, Jews have been debating the thickness of Matzo. In the Talmud, there is a record of a discussion between the students of Shamai and Hillel regarding the allowed thickness of Matzo, being as thick as a handbreadth (about 2 ½ to 4 inches or 6 to 10 centimetres). In the end, Jewish law follows the school of Hillel, which allows the thicker Matzo, however, all halachic authorities agree that a thickness of a handbreadth or more is not acceptable.

However, there are a few problems with a thick Matzo, even one less than a handbreadth:

  • Thick Matzo is susceptible to becoming Chametz because of the baking time needed to fully cook it (Matzo must be completed and out of the oven within 18 minutes of the flour and water first combining).
  • Conceptually, we are supposed to be eating “lechem oni” or “poor man’s bread”. A thick luscious bread is not considered that of a poor man.
  • Thicker Matzos use a higher ratio of water in the recipe, making them softer. This allows for the Matzo, left over time to become hardened and possibly moldy. There is even an incident discussed in the Talmud where a moldy loaf is found on Passover, and one can’t tell whether it’s bread or Matzo that has rotted. Was this a missed loaf of bread or a kosher Matzo that has spoiled? Our cracker-like Matzo would be easy to identify.

While some Jews of Middle Eastern descent still make their Matzos thick and soft, the overwhelming majority of Matzos today are hard and thick. Over the years, especially once Matzos started being made predominately by machines, rather than by hand, the Matzo has gotten thinner and thinner, until we get the cracker that we have today. Chabad has a great (but too lengthy for this blog post) article all about the thinning down over the years. You can read it by clicking here. I will also talk a little bit more about this in tomorrow’s post on Gebrokts or the custom of not allowing your Matzo to become wet. Tune in tomorrow to find out more!

Got a Question? We have 4! (3 Days to Go…)

Four QuestionsThose of you that have attended a Passover Seder before will surely recall a guest standing up and singing (or what passes for singing in some families) the “Mah Nishta’nah” or known in English as “The Four Questions“. Literally translated “Mah Nishta’nah” means “What has changed” or “What is different“, and it is the opening line of four questions that are asked by the youngest (who is able to speak) attendee at the Seder. This tradition gets played out differently household to household, with sometimes the youngest member of each family unit attending asks (great if you have a lot of guests) or sometimes the “youngest” can be your 36 year old cousin in from Baltimore. It doesn’t matter if it is sung or spoken, or even what language the questions are asked in (we’ve had English, Hebrew, Spanish, French and Yiddish all at one sitting!) What does matter is that they are asked, and that they are answered.

So why are the four questions there anyway? Well of course, for every question there are a dozen answers, and in this case, we have four, so you do the math! But here are some highlights for you (yes, before you ask, of course I got them from Chabad.org!)

Why are the questions part of the Seder? A quick answer is to involve the children, make them curious, so they are part of the ceremony. But why have this part of the Passover Seder? Why not make children part of the ceremony of another holiday? What is special about Passover? Well, many things are special about Passover, but most of all, it celebrates our freedom from slavery. As a slave, you are not allowed to question anything. You have no opinion and no freewill. Especially a child slave, who would be even lower than an adult, lacking the maturity needed to articulate their own thoughts and beliefs. But here, on Passover, we are now free, the Jewish people, even the children were given the possibility to ask, to question. By asking, by learning, you grown beyond your current state and reach a higher level. The Jewish people, once freed, were able to do that, and asking the four questions symbolizes that quest.

I hope this answers some of your questions, but remember the essence here is to ask, to seek to learn. That is why, even if you’re having a Seder alone, you still ask the questions. On the bright side, if you’re alone, you’re also the one with all the answers!

* photo credit to Keren Keet. You can see more of her work at www.kerenkeet.co.uk.

4 Cups of Wine and 4 Days to Go…

4 cups of wineSo is it a coincidence that we drink 4 cups of wine at the Passover Seder, and we have 4 days to go until the holiday begins?! No, it’s not (I thought, 4 days… what else is 4 to do with Passover, ah hah! a link!). So while there is no mystical reason behind today’s syncing of numbers, there are reasons behind the 4 cups of wine.

Firstly, wine is considered a kingly beverage, and it is an appropriate drink for the holiday in which we celebrate our freedom from slavery and Egypt. As for the number four? There are several different explanations that the Scholars have passed down to us (again, thank you Chabad.org!)

  • When promising to deliver the Jews from Egyptian slavery, G‑d used four terms to describe the redemption (Exodus 6:6-8): a) “I shall take you out…” b) “I shall rescue you…” c) “I shall redeem you…” d) “I shall bring you…”
  • We were liberated from Pharaoh’s four evil decrees: a) Slavery b) The ordered murder of all male progeny by the Hebrew midwives c) The drowning of all Hebrew boys in the Nile by Egyptians d) The decree ordering the Israelites to collect their own straw for use in their brick production.
  • The four cups symbolize our freedom from our four exiles: The Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek exiles, and our current exile which we hope to be rid of very soon with the coming of Moshiach.
  • The words “cup of wine” are mentioned four times in Pharaoh’s butler’s dream (Genesis 40:11-13). According to the Midrash, these cups of wine alluded to the Israelites’ liberation.

Yes, for those of you who are counting, that was 4 reasons for the 4 cups. What can I say, I’m on a roll!

* photo credit to Steve Greenberg. You can check out his website at www.greenberg-art.com.

The Plagues – Creative Punishment (8 Days to Go!)

PlaguesSo most people out there, Jewish or not, secular or observant, are pretty familiar with the ten plagues of Egypt. If you’ve ever seen Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (who can resist Charlton Heston playing Moses?!) or even the more recent (and unfortunately bad) “The Reaping” starring Hilary Swank, then you know all about the rivers turning red with blood, and locusts consuming whole fields of corn.

Okay, we can admit, none of the plagues are good. Some seem worse than others, and scientists have over the years given different explanations on how these plagues could have occurred naturally and may in fact have created a cause and effect pattern, leading from one to the next.

Okay, those are the scientists… Let’s talk about the scholars though! First off, why 10? Why these 10? For those of you who read my blog often enough, you’ll start to see that I’m a big fan of Chabad.org. They of course had the answer… and spelled it out so well that I’ve included it below:

The number [10] is indeed significant. On one occasion, Moses approached Pharaoh and said: “So said the L‑rd G‑d of Israel, “Send out My people, and let them sacrifice to Me in the desert.” (Exodus 5:1) Pharaoh responded: “Who is the L‑rd, that I should heed His voice to let Israel out? I do not know the L‑rd, neither will I let Israel out.” (Exodus 5:2)

But in fact, Pharaoh was very familiar with the concept of G‑d. The Egyptians worshipped deities of all sorts, and Pharaoh even considered himself a god. But he did not believe in an omniscient, all-powerful G‑d who created absolutely everything out of nothingness. We know that G‑d created the world with His speech; to be precise, with ten utterances [to learn more about this, click here]. But Pharaoh denied these ten divine utterances.

And so, the ten plagues corresponded with the various elements that G‑d created in the world, each one demonstrating that a seemingly stable and independent aspect of creation—something which could easily be attributed to “nature”—was entirely in G‑d’s hands. Thus, the plagues proved that G‑d truly is the omniscient, all-powerful Creator.

1. Blood
The first plague, which eliminated drinkable water, established that G‑d rules over the water.
2. Frogs
During the plague of frogs, the creatures even got into the stone ovens, which proved that G‑d rules over all physical man-made creations.
3. Lice
With the third plague, lice, which was accomplished by striking the dirt, it became known that G‑d rules over all the dust of the land.
4. Wild Animals
The fourth plague, where the wild animals destroyed anything in their way, demonstrated that G‑d rules over all of the animals of the land.
5. Pestilence
Through spreading disease amongst the animals, it became known that G‑d controls all of the air we breathe.
6. Boils
The boils all over the Egyptian bodies established that G‑d can cause any living person or animal to suffer or to be healed.
7. Hail
The plague of hail, which rained in the form of fire in ice, declared that G‑d controls the element of fire.
8. Locust
When locusts consumed all the crops, it became clear that G‑d rules over the earth’s vegetation.
9. Darkness
By dropping thick darkness over the Egyptians for several days, G‑d demonstrated that only He can change that which is found in the sky.
10. Death of the Firstborn
Through the death of only the Egyptian firstborn, it became known that G‑d rules over the angels and the spiritual worlds.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that there really was ‘rhyme and reason’ behind the plagues and the purpose of them. Hopefully, we can learn from their mistakes, and move forward, to a time where this will remain only a history lesson and never become current events.

Bedikat Chametz – The Search for Chametz (9 Days to Go!)

Burnt ToastThe holiday of Passover was made for people with OCD. Think about it; the massive cleaning, the counting of cups and plagues… Even the strict time lines involved in the baking of Matzo (the Matzo only has 18 minutes from the time the water and flour first mix until it is removed from the oven, or it is considered Chametz, or leavened, and not allowed for use on Passover). So imagine, after you’ve done all that cleaning and preparing, you now have to go around your house, the very night before the holiday begins, and purposely put out crumbs of bread!

Okay, this is where my OCD’ers have minor heart attacks. Why? How? Huh? Okay, deep breaths people. Here is why we do it (thanks to Chabad.org for the following explanation. You can learn more by clicking here)

The dispersal of pieces of chametz around the home prior to the bedikat chametz (ceremonial search for chametz on the evening before Passover) is not obligatory — the obligation is to search, not necessarily to find — but has become accepted Jewish custom. Based on kabbalistic reasoning, it is customary to place ten pieces of bread around the home before the search. On the eve of Passover, when the entire home has been spotlessly cleaned, it is highly doubtful that any chametz would be found in the home. These pieces which will now be “found,” will give us “chametz fuel” for the traditional chametz burning ceremony on the following morning. Otherwise, it is conceivably possible for the entire chametz burning tradition to be forgotten.

I hope this helps explain a little bit about why we do it, and why, in Jewish neighbourhoods on the morning of the eve of Passover you can smell burnt toast for miles!