Tag Archives: holiday

My Breakfast with the Gefilteria Gang (Repost from The Forward)

17 Aug

The following was originally published by The Forward on August 16, 2016.  One of the subjects of the article, Jeffrey Yoskowitz, is the son of Sarasota resident Dr. Arnold Yoskowitz.  Here is the link to the original article.


By Leah Koenig

w-alpern-yoskowitz-1471293480Last week, I had breakfast with Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern (pictured above: photo credit Lauren Volo) — co-founders of the boutique Jewish food company, Gefilteria, and authors of the forthcoming cookbook “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods”.

We gathered for bagels at Hudson Eats, an upscale food court on the southern tip of Manhattan that has become a mothership of artisanal foods, including a kiosk of the wood fired bagel shop, Black Seed Bagels. Inside a glass-filled atrium with Gucci and Burberry shops looming nearby, our surroundings felt oddly opulent. But the bagels were still warm, and the wide tables overlooking the glinting river outside were great for catching up with some old friends.

For the near-decade that I have known, dined with and occasionally collaborated with Jeff and Liz, they have always felt like kindred spirits. Like me, they are people who got into the world of Jewish food not because it was trendy, but because it felt like an authentic expression of who they are, and because they sensed they might have something to add to the conversation.

Starting from scratch, they wrote a manifesto about the importance of reclaiming Jewish cuisine’s time-honored foods and launched their business with a high-quality take on Ashkenazi cuisine’s most infamous appetizer, gefilte fish. Their version is a far-cry from the soulless jarred stuff that most people associate with gefilte fish. It is made in small batches, uses sustainable fish, and is truly delicious, even without a dollop of horseradish.

In the days before Passover in 2012 — their first holiday in business as gefilte fish makers — they spent hours in a cramped synagogue kitchen in New York’s East Village grinding hundreds of pounds of fish while a young Yiddish singer (another friend of mine, Benjy Fox-Rosen), played a CD-release concert in the social hall outside. Quite an auspicious way to start a Jewish food business, no?

“Everything we did for the first three years of our company was new to us. We just had to jump in and learn on the job,” Yoskowitz said. As someone who has made a career as a food writer without formal culinary training or a degree in journalism, I know the feeling. “Luckily, people took the leap of faith with us,” Alpern said. “And soon, we became the gefilte people.”

Early on, they toyed with what it might mean to scale up their artisanal gefilte fish to compete with the big boys of Jewish food production like Manischewitz or Rokeach. But they quickly realized that was not the path they wanted. “The bigger you get, the more divorced you become from the food you’re producing,” Alpern said. “We couldn’t imagine sitting in some board room making decisions far away from the actual food.”

“What we really wanted was to put our recipes directly in people’s hands and give them the confidence to make this food,” Yoskowitz said. So they doubled doubled down on the educational portion of their mission. While continuing to offer their gefilte fish seasonally (around Passover and Rosh Hashanah), they began to travel around the country to teach cooking classes and host pop up events and dinners — including the Passover seder at the James Beard Foundation — that showcase Ashkenazi food at its best.

Their book, out in mid-September, is another major step in that direction. The collection of recipes aims to, as Yoskowitz put it, “recover the flavors of Ashkenazi cooking that got lost as Jews moved from Eastern Europe to America, or even from the Lower East Side to the suburbs and beyond.” So there’s a chapter on soups and dumplings and another on the many varieties of pickles that once brightened up the Ashkenazi table in the dead of winter. There are recipes for creamy noodle kugels with spiced plums, home-cured pastrami and updated classics like kimchi-stuffed cabbage. One of my favorite recipes is a homemade butter flavored with everything-bagel spice — a perfect breakfast spread to pair with a slice of Jewish rye or a bialy (both recipes that can be found in the book.)

Another delightful case in point is the cookbook’s recipe for Roast goose with apples and onions. In the old country, geese were prized within the Jewish household for their ribbons of fat (great for rendering into schmaltz), their feathers for down pillows, and, of course, their meat for roasting. “In the early 20th century, you could find Jews trying to raise geese on the Lower East Side,” Yoskowitz said. Of course, the practice of raising backyard poultry didn’t stick in Manhattan, and geese were replaced by the more industrial-friendly chicken. “The Gefilte Manifesto’s” recipe, then, helps capture a food that once delighted our ancestors, and brings it to the contemporary table.

For those cooks who might be intimidated by the thought of roasting a whole goose or making homemade pickled beets, fret not. Many of the dishes in “The Gefilte Manifesto” fall into the quick-and-easy category. And for those that are more of a project, Yoskowitz and Alpern offer substitutions and workarounds. “We provide shortcuts that don’t dilute the quality or spirit of the dishes,” Yoskowitz said. In other words, you won’t find wonton wrappers subbing in for dough in their kreplach. But if you don’t have a batch of homemade lacto-fermented pickles on hand to make their pickle brine bread, they suggest subbing in the liquid from a store-bought jar.

Talking with my friends over breakfast, I couldn’t help but kvell for them. Their gefilte fish, their events and now their cookbook are changing the conversation of what it means to make and connect with Ashkenazi Jewish food.


My First Thanksgivukkah!

5 Dec

ImageTalk about once in a lifetime events! For the first time since 1888, Chanukah and Thanksgiving fell on the same day and it was certainly an event to remember. Who thought that these two non-related holidays could mesh so well… of course I’m talking about the food at the table.  This collision of what have become food-centered holidays in the minds of many was quite the treat. Luckily our friends at BuzzFeed provided a plethora of innovative ideas to combine the holidays and my family may have stolen a recipe or two.  Our dinner table consisted of items such as your traditional turkey (cooked by yours truly), latkes but we X’ed the apple sauce and sour cream for cranberry sauce instead; we even tried this crazy idea of challah stuffing and it was incredible! It’s funny how we get accustomed to the same traditional foods and practices but when there is an uncontrollable change such as the clash we encountered last week, it opens up a whole new world for us. I can certainly tell you that I will not be reverting back to just the traditional turkey and sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving, even though the convergence of these holidays will not happen again for almost another 80,000 years (or something like that)! Good thing though as I think most of us are still in food coma recovery mode.

What new traditions or foods did your family try this Thanksgivukkah?  Inquiring minds want to know…

Len Steinberg is the Assistant Program Director at The Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee and the Youth Group Director at Temple Sinai.

Jewish Foods: Traditional or Modern?

13 Aug

What is the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Rosh Hashanah? For many of us, it’s food. Food brings people together, triggers amazing memories, and just plain makes us happy! So as we gear up for the Jewish New Year, we have to start thinking about what we will cook this year; however, the newest challenge is finding the perfect balance between traditional and modern Jewish cooking. Nowadays there are ways to alter our favorite holiday dishes to make them more suited to the world we live in. We are more focused on healthy eating than our grandparents may have been, have more concern for and obligation to protect the environment, along with the increasing popularity of animal-free diets.

Below are a few of our favorite Rosh Hashanah recipes that have been “updated.” How do they represent today’s societal values?

Carrot Tzimmes:

1 bag carrots

5-6 sweet potatoes

1/2 cup pitted prunes

1/2 cup honey

1 cup orange juice

1/2-1 teaspoon salt

1/4-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Boil water in large pot. Then wash and peel carrots and sweet potatoes. Place carrots and potatoes in boiling water. Cover pot. Let cook until tender but firm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Oil a shallow baking dish. Drain carrots and potatoes. Place in baking dish with prunes. Mix gently. Mix orange juice, honey, salt, and cinnamon together in a small bowl. Pour over casserole. Dot the top with margarine. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Stir gently and bake uncovered for 10 minutes.


Mock Chopped Liver

3 large onions, browned in 2 T vegetable oil

3 hard boiled eggs

1 8 oz can cut green beans, drained

1 8 oz can sweet peas, drained

1 cup chopped walnuts

Salt & pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in food processor and blend. Chill and serve with crackers or party rye squares. Best made a day ahead.


Fresh Apple Cake

4 cups apples (chopped)

2 cups white sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsps baking soda

2 tsps ground cinnamon

1 tsp salt

12 cup vegetable oil

2 beaten eggs

2 tsps vanilla extract

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9×13 inch pan. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar and apples, set aside. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. In a large bowl, stir together the oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the apples and sugar, mix well. Stir in the dry ingredients, then the nuts. Pour into the prepared pan and spread evenly.

Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until cake springs back to the touch.

What are some of your favorite traditional holiday dishes with a modern twist?  Share them with us in a comment below!