Rabbi Ilene Schneider, Ed.D., is currently Coordinator of Jewish Hospice for Samaritan Hospice, Marlton, NJ, She is the author of the Rabbi Aviva Cohen mysteries, Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, and is working on the third, Yom Killer. She is also the author of Talk Dirty Yiddish. Learn more about Ilene at her website/blog.
For someone who eats out most of the time, lives alone in a townhouse with a small kitchen equipped with a hot-air popcorn popper and a microwave (so she can melt butter to pour over the popcorn, thereby defeating the purpose of a hot-air popper), and doesn’t entertain much, Rabbi Aviva Cohen, the amateur sleuth protagonist of the cozy mysteries Chanukah Guilt and Unleavened Dead, seems to do a lot of cooking and baking.
In Chanukah Guilt, she helps out her niece, who lives with her partner and son in a mini-mansion large enough to have dozens of family and friends for a potluck, buffet-style Thanksgiving feast, by making a cranberry-orange relish and baking desserts: brownies, meringue cookies, a berry crumble, and chocolate chip cookies. (The last is actually in lieu of payment to her next door neighbor, who shoveled out her driveway after a late fall snow storm.)
In Unleavened Dead, Aviva helps out her niece and partner, now with 2 children, as they plan a huge sit down family Seder, by making two different types of kugel (a matzah “pudding”), and, again, the cranberry-orange relish and meringue cookies. Nothing she makes is particularly difficult, but they do taste good. (Oh, and the niece’s partner is the prime suspect in the hit-and-run death of her new boss who had just demoted her shortly before his demise.)
Excerpt from Unleavened Dead:
While I melted margarine (parve, of course, so it could be served with either a dairy or a meat meal) in the microwave, I squeezed out the excess water from the softened boards of matzah, crumbled them up and added them to the bowl with the beaten eggs, chopped onions, and salt. I coated some aluminum lasagna pans (the perfect size for kugel) with the melted margarine and added the rest to the mixture, combining it all well. Then I divided it into the pans and stuck them into a pre-heated oven. As I said, easy. After Steve, Ben, and I ate lunch – and, I hoped, talked – I would make a second double batch and then start on the sweet kugel. Instead of onions, I would add chopped up apples and raisins to the matzah and eggs. Also easy. It’s not as popular as the onion kugel, so I would make only one double batch instead of two. By then, the egg whites would be room temperature, and I could make the meringue cookies. If I timed it right, I would have time to catch a movie after dropping everything off at Trudy and Sherry’s. If, that is, I didn’t feel too guilty about enjoying myself while they were worrying about a murder charge.
Aviva’s recipes are all ones that I make. The absolute favorite – to the extent that I have to hide them or they get eaten before the meal – are the meringue cookies:
6 oz. package chocolate chips
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cream tartar (optional)
1 cup sugar
Make sure eggs are room temperature. Combine egg whites and vanilla. Beat stiff but not dry. Gradually add sugar and cream of tartar, and beat until very stiff and shiny. Fold in chocolate chips. Drop by teaspoonful onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at low oven (200-225) until dry to touch. (Makes about 3 dozen.)
Hints (all learned through painful experience):
· Don’t try to make these if it’s humid.
· Make sure the eggs aren’t too fresh.
· Separate the eggs and then let the whites get to room temperature.
· Make sure no yolk or water gets into the whites. (When I separate the eggs, I use 2 bowls; after I separate each white into the 1st bowl, I pour it into the 2nd bowl; in that way, if I do get yolk into one of the whites, the whole bowl isn’t contaminated.)
· Use parchment paper instead of greasing the cookie sheet, so the bottoms of the cookies stay white and don’t turn brown.
· Don’t use more than 3 eggs at a time. (If I need more than 3 dozen cookies – which I do for 2 nights of Seders – I let the 2nd, or sometimes, 3rd, batch of eggs whites get to room temperature while the previous batch is in the oven.)
I am not one of those cooks who refuses to share recipes or deliberately omits an ingredient or a step. If anyone would like any of my other recipes, email me at email@example.com. B’tayavon! (Hebrew for bon appetite.)