My Mystery and Chocolate lives cross again. Today, my friend Ilene Schneider, a Rabbi, a Mystery Author, and a Chocoholic, guest blogs. Over the years, we've exchanged emails, Facebook and Blog comments, but we didn't actually meet until Bouchercon, the World Mystery Conference, last October in Indianapolis. Not only did we have a chance to chat, but she located a fabulous chocolate shop in which to have that chat. Good chocolate-radar, Ilene.
Rabbi Ilene Schneider is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen Mysteries. Her Facebook Fan page is www.facebook.com/rabbi.author. Chanukah Guilt (Swimming Kangaroo Books: 2007) was nominated for the Deadly Ink David Award.
Today she blogs Passover Thoughts, Mystery Writing and Chocolate Passover Recipes! If you keep Kosher, you'll want to get Kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips in the recipes. You're going to love her recipes, and, especially her notes! Thanks, Rabbi!
Rabbi Ilene Schneider:
As I write this blog entry, Passover is only four days away. I am trying very hard not to think about it, but I have no choice. We have a total of thirty-five (thirty-six? thirty-seven?) people coming for the two Seders. This year will be the twenty-ninth time we have had our family and friends join us; that’s fifty-eight Seders, or approximately one thousand forty-four meals. You would think I’d be used to it by now.
The problem is that I am used to it. I know everything will be done on time, despite appearances to the contrary. I have a pattern – the same menu every year (with a few variations as I assess which dishes are always left over and which we run out of), the same basic shopping list (which, much to my delight, because I hate to shop, my husband handles), the same preparations beginning two days before the first Seder (carrot salad, cranberry-orange relish, onion kugel, fruit kugel on Seder-day-minus-two; chicken pieces, baking, set table on Seder-day-minus-one; boneless turkey breast, more baking, odds and ends like charoset and parve whipped cream and hot veggies on the day itself).
I admit that I am proud of my efficiency. I even print out the menu in a table with columns indicating which elements (including beverages and condiments) have been bought or prepared. On the night itself, I check off each dish as it is served. In that way, we avoid having broccoli for dessert.
So, why is it a problem? Because complacency leads to procrastination. And one thing I do not need is an excuse to procrastinate. (I’ll explain later.)
The protagonist of my mystery series, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, in her next foray into crime solving, Unleavened Dead, doesn’t need to worry about preparing for Seders. She attends the first Seder at her niece’s house and the second at her synagogue, where she leads a community Seder. Instead, during the week leading up to Pesach, she goes to a conference where she reconnects with a classmate who has been hired by a “rival” synagogue, tries to clear her niece’s partner from suspicion that she had murdered her new boss (who had fired her) in a hit-and-run accident, and wonders if the carbon monoxide leak that had killed a couple in her congregation had really been an accident. In between, she does need to clean her kitchen, though, and realizes again that one person living alone can produce a lot of wasted food. (You can read about Aviva’s cleaning out her refrigerator at my website: www.rabbiavivacohenmysteries.com. The direct link to the excerpt from this work-in-progress is: http://tinyurl.com/yeq6rb5.
Rabbi Aviva Cohen made her first appearance in the cozy mystery Chanukah Guilt (Swimming Kangaroo Books, 2007; available through amazon.com at http://tinyurl.com/yjevgdt, as well as other venues). Aviva and I are not the same person. She is a pulpit rabbi; I have mostly worked in Jewish education or non-profit organizations, serving in a part-time pulpit for a few years only when I returned to school for a doctorate in education. She has been married and divorced twice; I have been married to the same man, my first and only husband, for almost thirty-four years. She has no children; I have two sons. Her father died several years earlier and her mother, in her nineties, lives in an assisted living facility in Boston; my parents are in their early eighties, considered the “young elderly” these days, and live independently in a single-family house in Florida. She has an older sister; I’m an only child.
But we also have a lot in common. She is a rabbi in Southern New Jersey. She is short, beyond zaftig, has unruly red hair, was born and raised in Boston, and is in her fifties (okay, I’m now quite a bit older than I was when I first created Aviva). Want to know what Aviva looks like? Just look at me. People who know me say they can hear my voice when they read the book.
Another thing we have in common is recipes. Aviva doesn’t cook much, preferring to eat out (which is why there is so much spoiled food in her refrigerator), but when she does, her recipes are mine.
In addition to kugels for the Seder at her niece’s, Aviva is also doing some baking. The kugels don’t contain any chocolate, but the desserts do. I’m not the kind of cook who doesn’t share recipes (or, worse, one who leaves out some crucial ingredient or step), so here are my two favorite Kosher-for-Passover, gluten-free, non-dairy dessert recipes. I’ve copied the recipes as I received them, but I’ve also added the “secrets” that I’ve discovered after some disastrous results.
B’tayavon! (Hebrew for bon appétit.)
6 oz. package chocolate chips (Kosher-for-Passover)
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup sugar
Instructions: Make sure eggs are room temperature. Combine egg whites and vanilla. Beat stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar, and beat until very stiff and shiny. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto greased cookie sheet. Bake at low oven (200-225) until dry to touch.
1. Don’t make this recipe if it’s humid out (unless your air conditioner is on) or they’ll be sticky. The same will happen if you over or under beat them.
2. Separate the eggs as soon as you take them from the refrigerator and then let the whites come to room temperature.
3. For each egg, I put the egg white into a small bowl, dump the yolk into the sink (unless I have a use for it), and then transfer the white into the mixing bowl. I do it one egg at a time so I don’t ruin the whole batch of whites if yolk gets into one of them.
4. Don’t use fresh eggs – they shouldn’t be “old,” but the fresher they are, the more difficult to separate and to beat.
5. I always beat the whites until frothy and then add the vanilla.
6. Want more chocolate? Add some cocoa powder to the whites. (Careful. The powder tends to fly all over.)
7. I don’t like to grease the cookie sheet, as the bottoms of the cookies darken. Instead I use parchment paper.
8. Don’t make more than three eggs worth at a time, unless you have several cookie sheets. The mixture won’t hold its texture for long.
9. Make more than you think you’ll need, or hide the cookies. Otherwise, there may not be enough to serve for dessert. My guests tend to munch on them before we sit down for the Seder.
Frozen Chocolate Mousse Cake
(Adapted from an Israeli cookbook)
1/2 cup plus 6 tbs margarine
1 cup sugar
6 eggs separated (save yolks)
7 oz. melted bitter chocolate (kosher for Passover)
Instructions: Cream margarine with 1/3 cup sugar; add yolks one at a time, beating well after each. Add melted chocolate. Beat egg whites and 2/3 cup sugar, until stiff. Fold whites into chocolate mixture. Remove 1 cup batter and refrigerate. Fold nuts into remainder (optional). Bake in a greased 10" spring form pan or pie plate at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Cool and spread with reserved batter. Freeze.
1. If worried about salmonella, bake the entire mixture. That’s what I do.
2. I’m lazy. I use the microwave to melt the chocolate.
3. When the cake cools, it will sink. I fill the depression with bananas, strawberries, blueberries or other fruit.
4. I buy a parve whipping cream and use it to “ice” the cake. It hides all the cracks that appear during cooling. The fruit goes on top.
5. Again, I line the pan with parchment paper. Greasing the pan makes the outside of the cake too … greasy.
6. A birthday on the night of the Seder? Use this recipe for a great birthday cake.