Marcy’s Break-Fast Pear Plum Kugel, with Ricotta and Thoreson Farm Apples

marcys-kugelby Marcy Epstein

This is a no-holds-barred, creamy sweet kugel (noodle pudding) that necessitates a good amount of improvisation. In other words, I made this up. There are two conventional kugels Ashkenazim have turned to for over a century– the sweet apple and raisin variety, and the even more common starch-salty kugel of matzah meal, potato, leek or just plain cream sort that serves as accompaniment to a main course.

Because I made this kugel toward the end of Yom Kippur, I aimed for the happy fusion between the two, the dessert you eat as an entree, something to fill a stomach after ten servings of contrition. I combined a salty, creamy starchiness with many eggs and the earthy tang of sweet and earthy fruits. I reconstructed the tradition of eating new fruit of the fall harvest, taking t’shuvah to mean the literal turning of the spoon, I prepared noodles, ricotta cheese custard, and a great combination of fruits I doubt can be exactly replicated: this year’s extra sweet fresh Italian plums, some Bartlett pears, and (learning from Nancy and Drake Meadow how to set up jars and jars of local fruit) fresh raspberries, strawberries from Tantre Farm, serviceberries gleaned from outside a hospice, and Lodi apples gathered from a wild edge of Thoreson Farm (ironically, this farm was first to cultivate cherries in Michigan, but I only had dried cherries about, and dried fruit Kugel is a whole ’nuther casserole.) As I mentioned, improvise. Look to this recipe with open invention, an invitation into the sweet coherence of a signature on baker’s parchment in life’s divine cook book. The secret of kugel is in its ingredients and coherence.

As for coherence, I had a spiritual and practical problem. Homemade noodles would have made this recipe sound that much more home grown, true to humble roots. But practically, it was already torture not to taste the kugel while fasting– to make homemade noodles would have done me in and tripped me up. (I read the al Chet while the kugel cooked.) Wide store bought egg noodles were used instead.


If you really want to stretch this recipe in another locavore way, hang out with Allison Stupka and Harry Fried, and perhaps you, too, can be enthralled to the seasonal Michigan Paw Paw and its light, complex custard– this fruit could carry the kugel on its own.

One more note: this is not the kugel of my humble roots–that is a fantastic suburban pineapple kugel that I used to make with my mother, Ruth. Among the many things I turned over with the spoon was how I missed making this kugel with her. Mind you, I did most of the making, and she would talk with me, take or make calls to people from our JCC, or tell me about her hayday of hosting Hadassah meetings with this and that. Those are the missing ingredients of my own kugel, the kavanah of turning and folding, the awkward but satisfying slops where the cream and salt hit the fruit. It is in the spirit of lost-ness and return that I dedicate this little kugel to my mother and to Karen, Debbie Zivan’s mother, whom we lost this past month. I was lucky enough to share the holy days with her, to eat kugel with her, and to feel her Jewish motherliness when I could not be with my mom. So this recipe is for them and for yours.

Salt, one big pinch
Butter, salted, two pats
1/4 cup Olive oil
1 bag of wide egg noodles
1 healthy cup sour cream
1 healthy cup ricotta cheese
3 tbsp of strawberry cream cheese
3 tbsp of regular cream cheese
1/2 cup milk
6 eggs
Two pears, diced
8-10 Italian (prune) plums
One pint jar of preserved fruit: mine  was apples with raspberries and serviceberries. Apple sauce can work in a pinch.
Honey to taste.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Set a couple of quarts of water with pinch of salt to boil. Add egg noodles when water is just at a boil, watch for 4-5 minutes, turn off heat and let sit. In a large mixing bowl, add cream cheese and microwave 1 minute till soft. To this, add and turn over a little milk, sour cream, a pat or two of salted butter, olive oil, eggs, vanilla, ricotta cheese, salt, and honey and cinnamon to taste. This mixture should prove to be nearly the mass of the noodles. Strain but do not rinse noodles. Add to a large casserole dish and have another smaller dish nearby in case you can make an extra for someone special. Core and chop pears. Pit and chop half the plums, leaving several halves intact. Fold cheese mixture into pan of noodles and turn. Fold canned fruit into the pan and turn. Fold chopped fruit into the pan and turn. Don’t worry about a topping for this kugel, the starch and oil in the recipe keep it from sticking (as long as you don’t over oil it), and it should have crunchy, pliant noodles on top. Bake for 40 minutes. Check to see if the custard has formed by putting in a knife and seeing it come out relatively clear of batter. Let the kugel sit a little before serving. It is best served luke warm.

Ideas for kugel are most welcome here on the AARC blog, and I can use suggestions before I expand this entry for my little Tumblr blog, New Jew Food.


Rena’s Fall recipe: Farmer’s Market Potato Salad

farmers-market-potato-saladAdapted by Rena Basch from Cooking Light magazine June 2010

Looking for a change of pace from traditional potato salad? This dish could be called “Not-Just Potato Salad.” This recipe is a flexible, vinaigrette-based powerhouse that you can load up with your favorite veggies. I particularly love it because it can be made from whatever fresh vegetables are available at the farmers market during the harvest season, or if it’s winter, sub out the ingredients like fresh corn, zucchini and green beans for frozen. During the winter-time, skip the cherry tomatoes; it’s still delicious.

For a beautiful looking salad, use a mix of red, purple, Yukon and brown-skinned potatoes. If you don’t have a variety of colorful potatoes, just use fingerlings or small red potatoes. You can serve this dish at room temperature just after it’s tossed together, or you can make it ahead, and serve chilled.

1 cup fresh corn kernels, about 2 ears.  
2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 ½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce (such as Tabasco)
3/4 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Cooking spray
¾ cup vertically sliced red onion
¾ cup diced zucchini
 ¾ cup chopped green beans
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Preheat oven to 425°.

Cut the corn off of the cobs. Place corn and chopped potatoes on a jelly-roll pan (or cookie sheet). Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil and toss to coat. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Place roasted potato and corn in a large bowl.  Combine tarragon and next 5 ingredients (through pepper) in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, stirring constantly with a whisk. Drizzle potato mixture with dressing; toss gently to coat.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, green beans and zucchini to pan; cook 4 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring occasionally. Add zucchini mixture and tomatoes to potato mixture; toss gently to combine.


Thoughts on Beit Sefer, and delicious challah recipe

By Leila Bagenstos

challahThis year, I helped Morah Sharon Alvandi with the Beit Sefer G’dolim class. The class had eight kids, ages 10-12. We did a lot of things over the year: learning about Jewish communal responsibilities and communities around the world, improving Hebrew skills, and mastering the core Shabbat morning prayers.

The kids worked really hard to learn about the Shabbat service’s structure and prayers, and yesterday, they led the central part of the AARC’s Second Saturday service.  The afternoon before, we gathered to bake for the kiddush that followed the service. We made brownies and cupcakes, and I showed the kids how to bake challah.

Here’s the recipe:


  • 4 (.25 ounce) packages quick-rise yeast
  • 4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup pareve margarine (but I use butter instead), melted
  • 5 eggs
  • 12 cups bread flour, or as needed
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (but I don’t use these)
  • Prep time: 40 minutes / Cook time: 30 minutes  / Ready in 2 hours, 40 minutes

  • NOTE:  I usually only make half of this recipe.  It makes 4 loaves.  if you make half, you can still make 2 loaves.
  1. Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a large bowl, and stir gently to moisten the yeast. Stir in salt, sugar, margarine [but I use butter], and 4 eggs, and beat well. Gradually mix in the flour, 1 cup at a time, up to 12 cups, until the dough becomes slightly tacky but not wet. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Grease baking sheets, or line them with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Cut the bread dough into 4 equal-sized pieces [I make a half recipe and make only two loaves]. Cut each piece into thirds for 3-strand braided loaves. Working on a floured surface, roll the small dough pieces into ropes about the thickness of your thumb and about 12 inches long. Ropes should be fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Pinch 3 ropes together at the top and braid them. Starting with the strand to the right, move it to the left over the middle strand (that strand becomes the new middle strand.) Take the strand farthest to the left, and move it over the new middle strand. Continue braiding, alternating sides each time, until the loaf is braided, and pinch the ends together and fold them underneath for a neat look. Repeat for the remaining loaves.
  4. Place the loaves onto the prepared baking sheets, and let rise until double in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  5. Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Whisk 1 egg with vanilla extract in a small bowl, and brush the loaves with the egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with about 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds. [I skip the sesame seeds]
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are shiny and golden brown, about 30 minutes. [I’ve found this is actually closer to 25 minutes.] Let cool before serving.


Beautifying your Pesach Table

Spring Greens Saute from The Jewish Seasonal Kitchen by Amelia Saltsman

Spring Greens Saute from The Jewish Seasonal Kitchen by Amelia Saltsman

By today, you’ve probably decided what you are making for your first Passover meal tomorrow night. Patti and I will be making Stuffed Cabbage, with the recipe posted last year at this time. I’m about to go make some, and if you come to the AARC Family Seder on Sunday, you’ll get to have a taste!

But there is a long week ahead of Pesach food restrictions, and I want to share with you a stand out cookbook that could make your week more culinarily delightful: The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman. With a Romanian grandmother and an Iraqi grandmother, growing up in a farming community in Israel and her extensive writings on local and fair food production, family farms, and farmers’ markets, she is an author whose interests are close to my heart. You can access some recipes and read more about her on her website and blog.

I’ve often thought about the contradiction between the limits on foods we can eat on Passover, the necessity of sticking to the dry “bread of affliction” for a full week, and our communal focus on the Passover feast, creating ever more scrumptious Pesach foods. Rabbi Yael Levy’s “Thoughts on Matzah” post from her Jewish Mindfulness site helped me come to a satisfying understanding of this.

Thoughts On Matzah

Rabbi Yael Levy | 4-20-2016

When we begin the Seder, the matzah is lechem oni—the bread of affliction.

By the middle of the seder the matzah has become the afikomen—the dessert—what we seek, what we long for.

The transformation starts as we lift up the three matzot, break the middle matzah and call, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.”

As we acknowledge the suffering and brokenness that exists in us and in our world and reach out from this place to make connections, to share who we are and what we have to offer the matzah goes from being the bread of poverty to being the bread of connection, hope and faith.

Dish for a Cold Winter Evening

Rena's Basch's Veggie Barley Bake

Rena’s Basch’s Veggie Barley Bake

Veggie Barley Bake: A Rena Basch Recipe

Once upon a time, my friend Beth–a charming book club hostess–served this dish for dinner on a cold winter evening, and I went nuts for it.  I think of barley as a wonderful hearty and healthy grain, but it’s rarely served except as part of a beef barley soup. Barley has a rich nutlike flavor and an appealing chewy, pasta-like consistency. It’s quite versatile; you can use it as a breakfast cereal, as a substitute for rice in pilafs and risottos, in cold salads, and in hot soups and stews. Or in this casserole-like dish.

Beth said she loves serving this dish which she found in a very old, dog-eared cookbook; the kids eat it, it’s healthy with barley and lots of veggies, but it tastes like lasagna. What’s not to love about that? You can use whatever combination of veggies suits your fancy or your leftovers. You just need approximately 10 cups of chopped vegetables in all. If you have bits of different vegetables leftover in the refrigerator or freezer, this recipe is perfect for cleaning them up.

As I mentioned I went a little nuts for this dish, and have made many variations. Here are some versions:

  • The Book Club Selection: green beans and sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed, no need to pre-cook)
  • Locavorious This & That: As many of you know, I own and operate a locally grown frozen produce CSA, so I’m always trying to help folks use the frozen vegetables that come as part of their share. Some recipes call for a cup of this, or a cup of that. This recipe can use up all those leftover cups of this and that. For example: 16 oz frozen summer squash, (or ~ 4 cups fresh), ½ bag of frozen broccoli florets, ½ bag frozen green beans, a handful of red peppers and some leftover snap peas or shelled peas.
  • Another favorite: 16 oz frozen cauliflower florets (or ~ 4 cups fresh), 2 cups blanched greens such as kale or chard, and sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed) or more carrots

The Veggie Barley Bake Formula

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 average carrots, sliced
  • 9 – 10 cups chopped frozen or fresh vegetables
  • 3/4 cup barley
  • 15 oz frozen stewed tomatoes, thawed + ½ cup water *or* 1 1/2 cups tomato broth *or* 15 oz can of diced tomatoes plus a little water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat oil in large heavy skillet and sauté garlic and onion until softened, 3 -5 minutes. Add remaining vegetables and sauté, stirring a few times, for 5 minutes. If using all fresh vegetables, may want to add a little cooking time here, maybe 3 extra minutes. Add barley, tomatoes/tomato broth, and seasonings; bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Transfer contents of the skillet to a shallow 4 quart casserole; stir in 1 cup of the cheese. Cover and bake for 45 minutes. Veggies and barley should be tender. If not, cover and cook longer. Top casserole with remaining cup of shredded cheese if desired and return to oven uncovered for about 10 minutes.

More reasons to love barley: It’s good for you! It’s tasty! It’s full of fiber and nutrients! It can be used to make beer! Nice place to read up on barley’s health benefits is here.

Rena’s February Recipe: It’s Hot and Sweet

side-gochujang-sesame-butternut-squash-940x560Gochujang-and-Sesame-Roasted Butternut Squash

by Rena Basch

When the latest, miraculously delicious, trendy ingredients are promoted by for-profit cooking magazines, I ususally try to ignore them. Or just smirk smugly, as in “I’m not getting sucked into searching for the impossible-to-find, often expensive, use-it-once-and-never again latest-n-greatest ingredient.” But, there are exceptions. Gochujang. I love this stuff. Gochujang is a Korean hot pepper paste; a savory, spicy, sweet, and pungent fermented Korean condiment made from red chili, glutinous rice, fermented soybeans, and salt. It’s got this sweet & spicy thing going on. If you’ve had bi bim bap at a Korean restaurant, the flavor will be familiar, as it is an ingredient in the sauce typically served with bi bim bap. It’s not that difficult to find in the Asian sections of local grocery stores or any of the Asian grocery stores around town, such as the Galleria Market on Packard in Ann Arbor, or Hua Xing Asia Market on Washtenaw in Ypsilanti. Look for it in square-shaped red tubs.Gochujang container

On to the recipe. Gochujang & sesame roasted butternut squash from bon appetit magazine. According to bon appetit, “This would work with any other winter squash—acorn and delicata don’t even have to be peeled.” However I love it with the butternut, which roasts well, and is easy to find at this time of the year, unlike delicata which does not keep as well as the hard winter squashes. These days, I’ll say this is my favorite preparation of butternut squash.  Hope you enjoy it!

2 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, sliced ¼” thick
Scallions, thinly sliced
Flaky sea salt

Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425°. Whisk sesame seeds, oil, gochujang, and soy sauce in a large bowl. Add squash and toss to coat. Divide squash between 2 rimmed baking sheets, arranging in a single layer. Roast, rotating sheets once, until tender and browned on some edges, 25–30 minutes. Serve topped with scallions and salt.

Here’s the link to the recipe in bon appetit

A New Monthly Recipe Column by Rena Basch


kale saladMassaged Kale Salad with Dried Cranberries and Feta

Want to get more kale into your (or some family members’) diet?  Here’s a technique to win over the doubters, kale-o-phobes and greens-resisters.  Sprinkle the kale with a little salt and then give it a massage.  Seriously.  Hang with me here.

I learned about “massaged kale” salad from Living Zen Organics, the café and organic food nonprofit associated with The Detroit Zen Center.  For a while Living Zen was coming to the Ann Arbor Farmers Market selling raw foods such as dried kale chips and delicious, tender kale salads.  I could not understand how the kale was so tender without being blanched or cooked first, so I asked, and learned you just need to gently massage the kale.

The other secret to crowd-friendly kale salads is really no secret: pair the bitter green with sweet things, fresh or dried fruit and/or a sweet salad dressing.  This recipe below is one of my 3 favorite massaged kale salads (it’s so hard to choose just one), but I’m sharing this one because it’s easy, can be made with local ingredients, and I’ve seen kids actually enjoy eating it.

1 big bunch kale, Lacinato is nice, or a big box of baby kale leaves works too

1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt or sea salt

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1/2 cup dried cranberries or cherries

3/4 cup small-diced apple

1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese


If using Lacinato/dinosaur kale: wash leaves and pat it dry. Slice off the stiff stems below the leaves and continue slicing the stem away from the leaf until you have cut a thin v-shape into the kale leaf and removed the tough stem all the way up. Stack the kale leaves two or three at a time, roll them up, and slice the leaves into thin ribbons. If using curly kale, remove the stems and slice it into bite sized pieces.

Place the sliced kale in a large mixing bowl.  (If using baby kale leaves, just toss them into the bowl without de-stemming or slicing.)  Sprinkle the kale with ~ ½ t salt and massage it into the kale with your hands for two minutes.  Set a timer!  Grab big handfuls of kale, squeeze, release, toss, grab big handfuls, squeeze, release, toss, etc, you get the picture.  You’ll notice the kale start to turn a darker green and the texture of the kale will begin to soften a bit. If using baby kale, you’ll need only about 45 seconds. Sometimes if using baby kale leaves, I don’t even bother to massage it at all.

Toss in the red onions, dried fruit, apples, and sunflower seeds.  Combine everything.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar and sugar. Pour over the salad and toss. Sprinkle feta cheese over the top and serve.  A few grinds of black pepper over the top are nice too.

Adapted from recipe found on blog.

Planting Parsley in a Leap Year!

parselyThe days are just beginning to lengthen, and though the cold is just settling in, the extra light signals the tree sap that spring will come. And so begins the Jewish cycle of springtime, full moon holidays: Tu b’Shevat, Purim, and Passover.

In addition to the Tu b’shevat Shabbaton on Friday and Saturday January 22/23, Rabbi Strassfeld will help our Beit Sefer students on Sunday January 24 to do some Tu b’shevat planting. Though the holiday is the “New Year of the Trees,” in our cold climate it is a custom to do some indoor planting of parsley in anticipation of Passover. I’ve done this many times and noticed that sometimes the parsley is ready to harvest by Passover, and sometimes not. I consulted with Erica Kempter of Nature and Nuture Seeds about how to better ensure our parsley seeds will grow by Passover (keep them in a warm and lighted place). But the Jewish calendar gives a very strong reason for why some years are better than others for growing indoor parsley for Passover. In each 19 year cycle there are seven leap years during which an extra month is added between the holidays of Tu b’shevat and Passover. Some years there are ~60 days between the holidays, and some years (like this year!) there are ~90 days! A good year for planting parsley on Tu b’shevat to be harvested for the Passover seder plate!

This year, the Beit Sefer students will be planting not only parsley, but arugula and lettuce, too. Here are some instructions if you want to try this at home. This is the year!

Dina’s Cranberry Relish Recipe

latkes and relish

Cranberry Relish on latkes? Yes! Thank you Dina Kurz for this delicious addition to the Hanukkah Party.

2 whole seedless oranges, zested then peeled and separated into about 6 parts
1 teaspoon orange zest
12 oz fresh cranberries, preferably organic
3/4 cup (6 oz) sugar
(Optional) 2 tbsp Grand Marnier (or more to taste)

Put the orange slices in a small food processor or blender and make into puree. Place in a small pot with the orange zest and sugar. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the cranberries and cook, continuing to stir occasionally, over medium heat, for about 10 minutes. The cranberries will break and pop, and eventually look like cranberry sauce. Optionally, stir in the Grand Marnier liqueur and remove from heat. Serve hot or cold.

At Farm Education Day and Sustainable Food Fest

Despite periodic torrential rain, Matthaei Botanical Gardens was a beautiful place to be on June 14 for the Farm Education and Sustainable Food Fest. Marcy Epstein, Carol Lessure and Idelle Hammond-Sass talked to many people at the AARC table.

Despite periodic torrential rain, Matthaei Botanical Gardens was a beautiful place to be on June 14 for the Farm Education and Sustainable Food Fest. Marcy Epstein, Carol Lessure and Idelle Hammond-Sass talked to many people at the AARC table.


Blair Nosan from Hazon Detroit taught 40 people how to make sauerkraut.

Blair Nosan from Hazon Detroit taught 40 people how to make sauerkraut.

Massaging the salt into the cabbage

Massage salt into the cabbage

Add flavors

Add flavors

Pack into jar.

Pack into jar.


There you have it.

There you have it. “Food Fest Sauerkraut June 14 2015”


Learning where the food comes from.


Challah Rising irresistible samples!


Oh the flavors of local food!

Local food, in so many flavors!