The Austin Chronicle

Mrs. Santa's Book Bag

By Amy Kritzer, December 7, 2012, Food

Jewish Holiday Cooking

by Jayne Cohen (Wiley, 592 pp., $32.50)

  What makes certain foods Jewish? With the Jewish culture's geographical reach – from South Africa to Austria – can there be just one definition? For author Jayne Cohen, Bubbe's (Grandma's) sacred holiday recipes create the common bond. This, her second cookbook, includes both traditional dishes and elevated modern twists to simultaneously connect to past generations and evolve traditions for the future. Most Jews have an image of Bubbe braising a brisket for Hanukkah, or simmering matzo ball soup for Passover. The customary ingredients, techniques, and holiday-centric meals transcend physical location.

Cohen begins with a description of Jewish cuisine and then dives into recipes for the common holidays (Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot) with suggested menus for all, including a Shabbat dinner for each season. Throughout the tome, there are notes on proper rituals and the why behind customs. There are even ideas on adapting meals for guests with dietary needs, such as vegans. Cohen pays respect to the traditional with classic chal­lah and potato latkes, but notes that cuisine cannot remain static. As generations and cooking techniques evolve, so must recipes and new traditions. And with that, Cohen offers challah french toast stuffed with mango with a ginger-maple syrup and roasted pear blintzes. Certainly not your Bubbe's blintzes! She challenges the notion that Jewish food has to be unrefined and dull.

  With nearly 300 recipes, Cohen provides inspiration for every holiday while creating a memoir of her family history. Each recipe is accompanied by an introduction or anecdote, such as her cousin Bernie's secret to perfect lox, eggs, and onions. It should be noted that although there are a few family photos interspersed throughout the book, there are zero food photos in the nearly 600 pages to make such mouthwatering recipes as braised brisket with rosemary, shallots, and red wine come alive.

  Cohen honors the recipes of generations past while igniting a passion in future generations. Jews and non-Jews alike who crave modern comfort food will find new favorites to share at their next holiday gathering.

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